Thursday, 16 December 2010

A perfect logo

Sometimes a logo captures the very essence of a corporation. A fine example is the logo for Betfair; a uk gambling and sporting bookmaker. The logo represents both the communication and cashflow between the company and it's customers. The company may bet fair, but you can be sure that as with all institutional gambling, the odds are stacked and the direction of money flow is predictable. You will lose. How much you lose is up to you.

Cheers and here is to "00", a predictor of your bank balance.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Do Telecom companies keep a shadow phone bill ?

Here is an idea that deepens the feeling of all pervading surveillance. Each quarter the telecoms companies sends or just charges you for the outbound calls made to other numbers. You will also get a bill of the calls made to your mobile phone if the phone has roamed to another area. If you have itemized billing enabled or a web account you can even see the list of calls made, time, date and the cost associated.

That's all very well and those web accounts are useful for those doing surveillance, just one master password is needed for all the phone accounts at a single company. To complete the picture for the watchers that password will enable the shadow phone bill that you never see. On that shadow bill are all the times, date and phone numbers of the inbound calls made to the target number.

The next step is to pull the complete phone bills of those inbound and outbound numbers and so on three or fours steps out. Once consolidated a complete picture of who is talking to who around the target number is generated.

Lets not get too uneasy but remember ... "The telecoms companies keep shadow phone bills and know who is calling you."

PS: Like all the best rumors this has yet to be proved.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Website form selector madness at IBM

This classic example of clumsy web form design brought to you on the IBM customer enrollment profile form. Screen shot on 15 Nov 2010.

What does this form say about the company ? Lack of attention to detail, does not customer test web interfaces, cannot tell the difference between a number value and alphabetic sort ?

Its says all of that along with making me grin as I struggle to find the correct selector for 8 employes. Oh and what the heck are "unsized employees"


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's not you in control. That's a Placebo button.

Just when you thought that you were controlling your environment, turns out your not. All those buttons that you push, they don't really have the control you imagine. Let's look at some examples
  • Close the door button in lifts,
  • Request to walk buttons on crossings,
  • Office thermostats.
Many of the above have no effect what so ever except maybe to show a "The button is pressed" light. And it makes sense to have it that way, lets see why..

Pushing a floor button tells the lift you want to go and most lift doors have person sensors. Would you want to get sued if you had your finger on the close button and someone was caught in the door ?

Traffic flow in cities is computer controlled often through many sequential junctions. Road censors provide the input for fine tuning and coordinating the cross flow of traffic. Having pedestrians generating random flow interrupts really does not help. Pedestrian crossing time is factored into the normal sequence.

For office thermostats, one persons hot is another ones cold. The overall environment is controlled by balancing between sensor points and flow control areas. Giving finer control by adding control points would not achieve anything unless there was a corresponding increase in flow control points. For many offices that is just not possible within the ducting infrastructure.

So why give the pretense of control ? It keeps people happy. "I am master of what I ( think I ) control." Make no mistake placebos work but only some of the time, you just have to believe, or not know about the fakery.

On the downside superstitions are born when folks think they are in control of a random event. poor predictions are made when control is assumed but not actual. Stepping out into the road 10 seconds after pushing the crossing button is really not a good strategy even if that's how it is supposed to work.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The collected stories of Theodore Sturgeon are complete

September 28th 2012 : Finally the collected (short) stories of Theodore Sturgeon are complete. For the last 16 years arriving slowly have been the volumes comprising this opus of this genius of fantastic fiction.

Volume One: The Ultimate Egoist (1994), Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Wolfe
Volume Two: Microcosmic God (1995), Samuel R. Delany
Volume Three: Killdozer! (1996), Robert Silverberg, Robert A. Heinlein
Volume Four: Thunder and Roses (1997), James Gunn
Volume Five: The Perfect Host (1998), Larry McCaffery
Volume Six: Baby is Three (1999), David Crosby
Volume Seven: A Saucer of Loneliness (2000), Kurt Vonnegut
Volume Eight: Bright Segment (2002), William Tenn (Phil Klass)
Volume Nine: And Now the News ... (2003), David G. Hartwell
Volume Ten: The Man Who Lost the Sea (2005), Jonathan Lethem
Volume Eleven: The Nail and the Oracle (2007), Harlan Ellison
Volume Twelve: Slow Sculpture (2009), Connie Willis, Spider Robinson
Volume Thirteen: Case and the Dreamer (2010), Peter S. Beagle, Debbie Notkin, Paul Williams

Love them.

And here is a useful reference document showing the covers, story listings and index all published by North Atlantic books.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

My books on my iPod Touch

With the recent update to ipod software 4.1 finally the device is coming into it's own. The 4.0 software included slug like performance and nothing compelling for this iPod touch user.

However that has been turned around with the 4.1 update. The performance is back to where it should be. Now with the previously announced iBooks application I can put my own .pdf files on the device. There have been apps to put reformatted .pdf files on the iPod but for technical books that is as useless as reading the text with /usr/bin/strings.

After fixing a minor photo sync glitch I can honestly say the device is starting to be rather great.


Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Craft project - covered

Here is an idea for a craft project where you don't have to get your hands dirty and get to use all those expensive applications you have lying around. Recreate your favorite book cover as a work of art for your wall. Using a tidied up scan or artwork from Amazon as the starting point build out the cover using a scable vector art package such as Adobe illustrator or Inkscape. With this one I was lucky enough to get a good quality print of the artwork from the original artist.

Try to find fonts similar to the originals paying attention to the character spacing and alignment. Compose the lettering and artwork in photoshop and print to size required.

My personal favorite is A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon with the Tim White art work which now graces my wall at 30 * 45 cm.


Saturday, 7 August 2010

Your pension pot is £ 53.

In a recent article in the usually much respected Daily Telegraph printed Quote " The National Association of Pension Funds .... which represents 1,200 pension schemes with 15 million members and assets of £800 million, " EndQuote

Do the maths 15,000,000 members with £ 800,000,000 of assets that works out to each member having asset backing of £ 53 each. Looks like a poverty stricken retirement for us all. Even if that asset number was supposed to be billions ( 1000 Million ) that just boosts the assets per member to just £ 53,000. At current annuity rates that's an yearly income of £ 3260 for a 60 year old bloke. I think I currently spend that per month.

Cancel that gold watch its a cheepo Timex for you. On the other hand maybe a better plan is to fondle a contractor and get a $ 12 million pay off.


FGW Live by the fine book, die by the fine book.

I hate companies that fine and charge the public for transgressions of there rules but will not pay a fine when they break there own rules. These companies are hypocritical s**ts.

For example ...

I am trying to charge FGW (First Great Western) a penalty notice because the ticket machine sold me the wrong ticket for a journey.

The ticket machines do not offer the cheapest available fare for any given journey. They do not apply group discounts even when you buy three identical tickets at the same time for the same day of travel. Nowhere on either the website or by the machine do they state that "cheaper tickets" may be available at the manual ticket window.

I think it is only fair that when FGW sells you the wrong ticket that they should pay a fine and refund the difference between the paid and actual cost. They are quick enough to fine passengers caught with the wrong tickets so live by the fine book die by the fine book.


Monday, 5 July 2010

IT makes you go AAARRGH

Lets face it, IT can really make you go bonkers. There are just so many ways that your PC can screw you over. Here are just a few :

  • Monday morning snooze fest - reboot at the start of the week or month and every bit of AV and configuration control software forgets it's history.
  • 1/2 started hang - the march of icons hangs, the problem is the next icon that has not appeared yet how does that help diagnosing the problem ?
  • Scan mania - searchIndexer, AVscans, Google desktop, system configuration checkers; why is that they all want to scan the machine at the same time ?
  • Backup of death - you just want to save your data but the very process of copying the data makes the machine unavailable for normal use.
  • Flash past options during the boot cycle - Please choose between booting on a) windows b) something sensible .... opps too late snooze you loose, no time to wait the damm thing just boots what it whats to.
  • Legacy applications that break after OS upgrades.
  • Legacy websites that break after browsers upgrades.
  • Poor websites that only work in certain browsers for no good reason.
  • Predictability of restart - every one needs to reboot once in a while, why is the process so unpredictable ending up with random sets of services and process running.
  • Upgrade leap frogs - Reinstall an application, an auto update is suggested, update the application, an auto update is suggested, rinse and repeat. Acrobat reader did that every step from 10.0.2 all the way up to 10.14.
Damm that IT that makes you go AAARRRGH.

The only antidote to this madness is of course the "It Crowd" now available on box set at Amazon. :-)



Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Gannett's law of internet shopping

"Whenever multiple dependent items are ordered from the internet, they will arrive in the most inconvenient order."

For example if you order a camera outfit the first arrive will be the case, then the camera, then the batteries, and only finally the memory chip needed to actually take pictures.


Monday, 31 May 2010

Endowment policies - Keep the profits - dump the cost

The sorry tales describing the failure of UK Endowment policies to deliver on their promises are well documented. What is not so widely recorded is how the insurance and endowment providers managed to keep the profits and dump the risks on the policy holders.

The promise of an endowment policy was to pay off a house debt at a predicted time in the future by means of regular payments invested over time with (the same) insurance company. In addition to that there was a life insurance component that would pay back the debt in the event of an early demise.

The insurance company get from the deal, regular premium payments split between commission, life insurance premiums and cash to invest. The policy holder gets life cover ( that only really benefits the mortgage debt owner ) and a share in possible future profits of a fund he does not control and cannot influence.

When things started to go wrong in the 90's and 00's and the returns from the investments did not match the generous projections upon which the policies were sold, the insurance companies dumped the risk on the customers and just gave up on the moral obligation of meeting the target returns for the policies. The colour coded letters being your guide to their abject failure. What they did not do was reduce the management charges on the investment funds, reduce or remove the cost of the life insurance premiums ( many people would have alternative cover available) or anything that actually alleviated the shortfall costs to the policy holder.

At the time the provision of cheaper monthly payments just drove up house inflation giving no more purchasing leverage as everyone else had the same deal. Basically the payments were cheaper because the debt was not being paid back. The actual overhead costs of the policies life premium, selling commissions, and investment "management" charges are obscure or not disclosed leaving the policy holders with no option to challenge the life companies to tighten-up as they will have to do to meet the repayment due.

They promised to pay for your house, you will be lucky to get the price of a second hand car out of most endowment policies. Given that may folks will still have the entire original house debt, will have paid the full interest on that debt for 25 years and will have put in premiums to the endowment policy on top, this all adds up to the Great British housing finance rip off.


Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Technical support in 3 stages ( not easy )

There are three stages to the technical support process. Follow these for good service delivery. See if your supplier follows theses critical stages on your next call.
  • Knowing.
  • Understanding.
  • Predicting.
Knowing is about getting a good picture of the situation, gathering the evidence, logs and environment. Knowing is more than just the technical aspects of the situation. Registering the impact of the issue on the customer and consequences of the issue is as vital. That will be the driver for the pace of intervention.

Understanding is built buy pulling the knowledge from the gathered evidence and placing that along side a detailed insight to the environment in which the situation arose. The situation could be a PC failure, Data centre outage or a car that won't start. Unless there is good understanding, technical support is just Googling, "been there done that" and guess work. Lets not pretend a lot of tech support can be done with just a browser, research and good set of documents but moving beyond first line take understanding of product, environment and the interactions that bind them.

Predicting is vital to the technical support process and is more than just guess work. Based on a clear knowledge of the problem, an understanding of what changes can be done to vary the situation, prediction will provide the answer. Sometimes that prediction is based on hard logic and sometimes a combination of intuition and research but you can be sure that the techs that can effectively predict the outcome of their recommendations close more cases first time. Predicting, at it's best, is as near to science as tech support comes. A few experiments may be needed to set the direction but that last interaction along the lines of "This *will* solve your problem" is a thing of beauty. The "will" is emphasized because if you get a "could", "should", "might" the outcome is not certain.



Sunday, 18 April 2010

eBay is a warehouse.

My mate Pete reckons that eBay can be used as a warehouse to store your less used stuff. The idea works on the principle that everything is for sale on eBay so what ever you need you can get. If this is the case why bother storing stuff that you may never need again ? Sell it now and if you should ever need it again just buy it back. Chances are that you will sell more than you ever buy back so the whole idea can be self funding.

The same can be said for storing books, Why bother storing them when you can use Book Moocher to free your house space ?

The cost of storage is the difference between what you get for selling the item and what you have to pay for getting it back. Sometimes that storage fee is money to you when the "value" of the item has gone down.

I can see what he means - Great thinking Pete.



Thursday, 1 April 2010

There is always one...

There is always one...
Who claims too many outrageous expenses,
Grabs all the best bits from the buffet,
Spoils the Aprils fools joke, before others have time to be tricked.

Today that numpty showed his colors, don't you just want to give em a right slapping.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Overclocking is the new hot-rodding

Back in the days when you could improve a car using a set of spanners and a trolly jack the craze for Hot rodding was all over the streets. These days the testosterone filled teens ( and other geeky enthusiasts) overclock their PCs instead. There are many similarities, both activities are all about getting the best performance from what starts as commodity equipment; both interests involve a combination of detailed information, home engineering, trial and error tuning, and of course those manly pursuits of bragging and racing.

The purchase of carefully selected bolt-on goodies from RipSpeed, Demon Tweeks has been replaced these days by Corsair and Zalman specialities. "Throwing a rod" has been replaced by a catastrophic meltdowns as the cost of getting it wrong. Unlike racing on the public road to compare performance, Lan parties and folding teams are where system performance are compared and debated.

My first overclock in 1992 was pushing a Mac IIsi from 20Mhz back to the 25Mhz the motherboard was designed for. A hardware hack described here. These days pushing cpu clocks from 2.8Ghz to over 5Ghz ( 5000Mhz) is not routine but possible.

The pattern for both hot rodding cars and overclocking PC follows the same levels, use stock parts, get the best replacement parts, swap out the weaker parts with reengineered parts, buy or build exotic replacement parts. Tweak tune and adjust at each level to get the best performance and discover the weakest link.

The common fascination of tweaking and tuning, pushing a set of carefully assembled kit up to and beyond the meltdown limit joins the hot rodder from previous generations to the PC overclocker of today.



Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Addition to the folding farm..

I like to fold and I just installed a gtx275 in an ubuntu normally smp folding box. I also followed this guide to set up the necessary "windows on unix" wine environment.

Things that were different for my install ...
1) The mobo I have has built in Nvidea graphics chips (non-foldable Gforce 7100) which caused the Nvidea graphics drivers to be installed at Ubuntu installation/upgrade time.
2) Also because of 1, I needed to make some adjustments in the bios to put the pci-xpress card as the first graphics head and the onboard as second. This is so I can try out the new card and only have to plug in one monitor.

I would suggest that you test the graphics cards and adjusted system for cooling/stability using fancy screen savers, some games etc. Also using the temp sensors.

The step "wine notepad" does two things. Firstly it does indeed create some directories for the wine environment. Secondly it shows that your wine environment works correctly by starting the building accessory application notepad.

I also saw the permissions message on ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/system32/cudart.dll
easilly fixed with a
chmod +x ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/system32/cudart.dll

Looking forward to doubling my ppd with the gpu client, just hope it doesnt melt the PSU &| mobo.

I won't know it it actually works until someone plugs in the Stanford folding server room back in again (power outage today). Currently waiting for both SMP and GPU units now.