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Archive for February 2005

monday moaning

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The hotel was cheap, at least – £35 per night, which is remarkable for London, but that rate was part of a “getaway” rate I found. I paid the price in other ways, though. The hotel was in Harrow-on-the Hill, which looked accessible, but I hadn’t been aware that the main Tube line there was subject to disruption, as I have described already. At least Harrow has another Tube station, Harrow & Wealdstone on the Bakerloo line, which was operational if slow.

I can’t see me going back there, however, for a few reasons. First, it’s an old hotel with paper-thin walls and creaky floorboards. When any of my neighbours in the horizontal or vertical planes were up and about there was not much chance of sleep. On Saturday night the bar below played disco till midnight – no later, thankfully – after which my neighbour crashed into his room. How do I know it was a man? No woman I ever met, or would want to meet, wields such a basso profundo snore. At least the TV had a headphone socket, which kept me sane until I was so tired I didn’t care about the noise.

I’m flying back later tonight, loaded with luggage that is holding a surprising amount of computer components for its size. Packing that lot was a bracing intellectual exercise for a Monday morning. The cleaners were rapping on my door before 8AM, and breakfast was annoying. The waitress interrupted me to ask “is everything OK”, which is a moronic thing to do. (If there’s a problem, you’ll be the first to know, girlie. Go back to terrorizing that gentle old lady: so what if the table is “set for lunch” before 9:30AM, why does she have to move around just to save you a little work?) I told the receptionist about this as I was checking out, though I doubt you’ll hear about it – I’m just a grumpy old man who has spent too long in “customer service” to expect any consideration from anyone. Right?

Luggage means there’s not much wandering about to be done today, which makes the easyEverything internet cafe a fine place to be at £1 an hour (a promotional offer at the Trafalgar Square branch). After I finished blogging on Saturday night it became a little hairy; bottles of vodka were being passed around, and before long a few of them nekulturny Bolsheviks were falling-down drunk, no exaggeration necessary. Climbing over the tables, singing folk and metal songs (think “Beserker” from Clerks) and looking like they were about to assault other customers; I walked out before too long. I could handle myself against a couple of drunk Russkis, but the best way to win a fight is not to get in to one in the place, that would have been totally pointless and a massive inconvenience.


Written by brian t

February 28, 2005 at 11:42 am

Posted in culture, internet, london


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Saturday Night in London, and here I am at the easyEverything Cafe, blogging. Not to worry, this won’t take long, before I head back out to do something more interesting. Or not. The local Russian mafia are holding a loud meeting just behind me, and I have no idea why they might choose this venue, apart from the fact that it’s open to the public and is was quiet. A couple of mohawk-ed punkski have just joined them, to even louder greetings and salutations. I can hear talk of Rammstein and other metal bands, so it’s probably more social than familial.

This is what I might call an expensive day: I haven’t quite totted up the damage yet, but I have the guts of a new computer to carry home with me on Monday. It starts with a Asus A8N SLI motherboard, AMD 64 3200+ (socket 939) CPU, and a MSI NX6600GT graphics card, and 1GB DDR400 (PC3200) RAM, followed by a 200GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 SATA HDD, a new PSU, and a front-mounting card reader with audio ports. I needed a new bag to carry some of it home in, and also a camera bag, so I have a new LowePro Computrekker AW to boot.

The motherboard is bleeding-edge, but the other parts are not: I could have paid a lot more for extra performance, but I was seriously shocked by the prices of the NVidia 6800-based parts. It takes a serious gamer to pay more for the graphics card than for the rest of the PC, and a serious gamer I am not. It’s a SLI board, meaning that I can pick up another identical graphics card later, when the prices drop, to gain 50% extra performance. If I feel I need it.

After visiting a few computer fairs, I was surprised to find the parts I wanted at sensible prices in a shop on the Tottenham Court Road: I went in to a couple to check prices, and came out of one with the main parts (motherboard, CPU, graphics). I could have shaved a few pounds off by shopping around some more, but it wasn’t worth it, and the shop had the advantage of secure credit card facilities (Chip + PIN).

There is some bad news, on the other hand: I appear to have done some damage to my new camera. It was probably before I left, when I was charging batteries: when I finished charging one set I yanked them out the charger and put them in the camera, and started charging the other set. They were still hot, and it seems that one or more of them expanded in the confined space. The heat warped the battery cover a little, so now I can’t open it to check or replace them.

The electronics are still OK, the camera powers up with a “low voltage” warning. Further inspection will have to wait until I get home, but a few attempts with some cheap jeweller’s screwdrivers have done nothing, and I’m not prepared to do any more damage without the proper tools. I can always send it back to Pentax for repair on my own tab, since I probably violated the warranty by using hot batteries.

The trip to the Focus 2005 camera show is off, at least by train, since there won’t be any for half the day, due to engineering works. I’ll try the coach station, to see if I can do it by road, but I don’t expect much. Oh well. I have plenty I can do tomorrow. There’s a Joseph Beuys exhibition at the Tate Modern, which will be a start.

At least today went well, and this evening I treated myself to a Chicken Teriyaki Bento at the Tōkyō Diner, but I should be getting back now. My head hurts and there’s no Tube to Harrow-on-the-Hill this weekend, because of the work on the new Wembley Stadium complex, but at least there’s a main line train today, which is less frequent but much faster. They won’t even have that tomorrow, but they might be running the train into Paddington, rather than Marylebone. There will be buses too, which might work on Sunday’s less-crowded roads. Ah, London. ‘Night.

Written by brian t

February 26, 2005 at 8:28 pm

Posted in london, technology, reorganized

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Welcome to the new home page: is being reorganized around the WordPress content management system.

WordPress is best known as a Blogging system – though that’s not all it can do – but this change is a tacit admission that the Blog has become the heart of this site, and will remain so in the future. WordPress appealed to me because I could implement it at the top level while retaining the static content that this site is also known for, especially the MPC1000 pages.

Technorati link: .

Written by brian t

February 24, 2005 at 1:04 pm

Posted in sitenews

the february of technology

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How technology has moved in the last few years gives me some pause for thought today, along with the effect imposed by the way technology is packaged.

I’m off to London early Friday morning, on a RyanAir flight that costs less than one night in the hotel I’ll be using, and it’s not exactly an expensive hotel either. As I like to do, I’ll be hitting the “computer fairs” on Saturday, on the prowl for cheap parts. I have a list of my own, but also a request from a colleague to pick up an USB2 external HDD, something friendly like a Maxtor OneTouch II, not the pile of parts I would choose for self-assembly. If I read the prices right it will be about £120 for a 250GB drive in a package with software, a little more for the 300GB model. I might even pick one up for myself too.

Doesn’t sound like much? When I was a lad… I wasn’t feeling this old. It’s the “OneTouch” aspect that appeals to my colleague: hit the button on the box and the supplied backup software kicks in and backs up your data. I saw one in action last year and can confirm it does work as advertised. There’s some initial configuration to do, but could the user interface be any simpler? This is what I mean by packaging: making things accessible.

I would say that we, as a technological race, are emerging from a particular phase in our development: one where the technology itself was the driving force, where the aim was to get functionality out there to everyone at a low cost. We can do that now, way beyond our wildest dreams, we don’t need more power. My Compaq notebook PC is heading for the three year mark, and the hard drive has just been replaced, but it’s still incredibly powerful. (The new Western Digital hard drive slotted right in. At first I thought it had failed to start up; it was just beautifully quiet.)

Current mobile phones are a case in point. They can be miniaturized to a point where they are unusable; my last phone, before I gave up on them three years ago, was so small the microphone was halfway up my cheek, and I was moving the phone from mouth to ear during a conversation. The keypad was so small that two of my large fingers could hardly squeeze across a row of three keys, text messaging was not something I used too much. I’m not alone in worrying about cellphone usability, and so the flip phone, with the microphone in a better position, is becoming more popular. Even Nokia are doing some now, after swearing they would not. A few even have usable keyboards for email work.

I may come back from the UK with parts to revitalize my old PC, to take it from the current Pentium II 450MHz to a firebreathing AMD 64 3500+ with 1GB or more RAM and a PCI Express interface to a powerful NVidia 6800GT graphics card. (The latter might be a bit too expensive, so a 6600GT will suffice.) Do I need this much power? Of course not; it will be a total luxury to run games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator at maximum resolution with all the graphic enhancements enabled, which I can’t do at the moment. New games such as Doom III require this level of power, even though I’m not a serious gamer by any stretch of the imagination.

The point is that I can afford to do this now, and it’s a good time; a few months ago the hardware situation was far more volatile, with many new product introductions muddying the water with unavailable or pricey configurations. (“Q: Should I wait a month and pay £100 more for a 20% graphics performance improvement on some games?”) Now that the Xmas rush is over, things are looking more sensible. I’ll need to carry the suitcase and the rucksack this time, as well as my credit cards.

Written by brian t

February 23, 2005 at 11:18 am

Posted in london, technology

oh, georgia

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I have been rather lax on some aspects of this site, and one of those is the Font I use. Time for a rethink, methinks.

Until now I’ve liked the Courier (New) style, because it fit the “workaday” style of the site, but the addition of the Image Galleries, and this Pivot-based Blog, have made it a little more complicated and interesting. One requirement I have it that the fonts are cross-platform, covering at least Windows, Linux, and the Mac, and while Courier fit that bill nicely, I think it’s time I paid a little more attention to the aesthetics of typefaces.

After a little research, I came to roughly the conclusions espoused on DesignTutor, and will be trying out Georgia for a while. I’ve also removed the extra Padding statements I had used – I think they were causing more problems than they resolved, so I’ll take a little time to see if they’re still necessary.

I can see there’s a little problem with the right-hand bar overlapping onto the main section – which is not common to all browsers I’ve tested – and I’m also getting “referral spam”, the fake “referral” addresses in that column. Gee, I can’t even have a referral list up without it getting abused, eh? Off it comes: referral monitoring has been the source of some amusement in the past, and it’s still in effect on the rest of this site, but if someone really links to this blog I hope they will post a comment or let me know by mail.

Written by brian t

February 17, 2005 at 3:38 pm

Posted in sitenews

money walks

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Money Talks, as the old saying goes. Thanks to advances in technology and inter-species communication, we understand what it’s saying. It’s a simple message: “bye….”!

How does money leave me? Let me count the ways:

  1. Electricity bill is due soon, covering the two coldest months of the year. Can’t wait for that one. At least €100 each.
  2. Rent. Our place may be small, but it’s in D4 (Dublin 4, the posh part of the city). Convenient for my job and my flatmate’s – – but not exactly cheap.€550 p.m each. She works 5 minutes away from home, I’m 30 minutes away, but I like to walk anyway.
  3. TV License is due for renewal. Here in Ireland the Government broadcaster, RTÉ, charges a license fee and carries commercials. Go figure. €76 each.
  4. New laptop hard drive. At least it’s much bigger and faster than the old one. €150.
  5. Camera is fully paid for: I have a credit card, but the bill got paid, in full, before it arrived: €1500.
  6. And finally: medical bills, an uncommon expense for me, but there’s a story attached. €140 so far.

Last summer I visited friends in Dubai; between the flights there and back, the unfamiliar bed, and trying out their vicious massage chair, I did something odd to my neck. It hurt for a bit, I was careful and it got better, and I thought no more of it. In the last couple of months, however, I’ve been getting what feels like nerve interference down my back. It’s not painful, but it is worrying. It seemed random, and it took me a while to link it to my neck, and it’s now clear the problem is when I bend my head forward.

Since I’ve moved around so much in Dublin, and only had to visit a doctor once before in my five years here, I had to go looking for a doctor, this time closer to the office. He’s baffled, and sent me for X-rays last Friday, which I should be hearing results from this week. My worst-case guess is cervical foraminal stenosis: if I’m that good I am at self-diagnosis, I’m in the wrong job, and I hope I’m wrong about this.

I wonder what will be involved in resolving this? The worst case would be surgery, but that’s unlikely, or we could be looking at a keyhole job. A more likely possibility is physiotherapy or just massage, which would be nice if covered by my health insurance. I can’t see pills or a neck brace helping, unless it’s a brace that radically realigns my spinal cord. Fitness is also a factor – as if I needed another excuse to go to the gym.

The big problem with medical services here in Ireland is that everyone wants money up front, even for X-rays. They don’t care whether you have insurance or not, as long as you pay them, all major credit cards accepted. Maybe you can claim it back later, but it’s not their problem. I’ll have to eat the cost of the X-rays because of the “excess” on my health insurance anyway, and GP fees are not covered.

If the treatment costs money, well, this is why I’ve been buying medical insurance for five years and not claiming on it at all. They will only pay up if the treatment is ordered by a doctor, so that’s one more reason to go and see one. The other is: while I know enough about medicine to take care of myself, when it comes to the neck or the spine I’m not going to take any silly risks. I don’t want to get it in the neck, if you follow me.

Written by brian t

February 16, 2005 at 12:53 pm

Posted in life, medical

newsfroup recycling

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It’s been about six months since I ventured back onto Usenet, after essentially forgetting about it for several years. I moved to Dublin to work for my current employer, and I’ve only had limited Internet access at work. I’ve gradually learned that some of the limitations can be worked around, and some aren’t limitations at all.

A classic example is the way Telnet terminal sessions are not permitted to or from my company’s network, for security reasons. Telnet is about as basic as it gets: no encryption, passwords transmitted in plain text: no thanks. When I investigated hosting services for this web site, a few years ago, SSH (secure shell) access was on offer, and I initially ignored it, thinking it would be frowned on too… but it’s not, because of its secure functionality. I use it regularly in the management of this site, through the corporate firewall, and haven’t managed to break the server yet.

Usenet is another example, one I had no real success with when I landed here, so I gave up on it. I could have used a web gateway to Usenet, such things were available long before Google Groups cornered that market, but I had too much else going on to bother about it. It turns out that my company manages its own internally-accessible Usenet server, It doesn’t carry the suspicious newsgroups, such as those offering binary files, but I have no problem with that.

Since I ventured back on to Usenet, the results have been mixed. Some newsfroups* I looked at have cliques of entrenched characters who delight in the most abusive language conceivable, safe in the knowledge that the other cliquista won’t get offended, and everyone else should take the heat or get out of the kitchen.

One of the good newsfroups* is, a generally safe environment with only a few nutters. (Hi Dougie!) I picked up the Mike Keneally Band’s new album “Dog” last year, and was bowled over by a few songs. “Bober”, in particular, sounded like nothing I had ever heard before: it’s what happens when technical and lyrical virtuosity are not ends in themselves, but work in the service of a larger and more emotional concept.

I allowed myself to run off at the keyboard a little, in the spirit of the newsgroup, describing what the song meant to me; not much exaggeration in there, but I’m normally more restrained about such things. I discovered yesterday that my Usenet post has been adopted by Mike as a positive review, and he’s had it posted on his official website as an endorsement of the album.

I couldn’t be happier, though I wrote to the webmaster with one slight correction to make: take off the Usenet nom-de-plume (stereoroid, of course) and put my real name on the quote. The way I put it was something like this: I don’t need to hide my appreciation of great art under a bushel. I have no problem standing up for music like Mike’s.

* Yes, that’s what I said: newsfroups. Look it up.

ps: I’ve just fixed a horrendous number of typos and grammos in this entry – think I was in a hurry when I wrote this…

Written by brian t

February 11, 2005 at 12:53 pm

Posted in internet