Saturday, 31 December 2011

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Most annoying noise while on holiday ?

Take a moment out of your busy day to picture yourself on holiday. Think relaxing in the sun and snoozing by the pool as the world goes by. Which of the following noises would most disturb that calm tranquility ?
* Next door badly maintained gate opener clanking and screeching.
* Thuba, Thuba bass from a passing car,
* Distant car alarm,
* Truck reversing bleepers,
* Ambulance, police, fire truck siren,
* Very large truck with broken baffles exhaust note ( and burnt derv smell wafting through the palms )
* Kids electric truck with hollow plastic wheels rolling round on gravel scattered tarmac driveway,
* Tyre screening round a corner or from roundabout Grand-prix,
* V8 pickup truck doing domestic shopping,
* Small 2-stroke scooter being over revved going up and down road,
* Salvation army xmas collection bell tinkling from when supermarket opened and going non-stop the entire day from 1 Dec..30 Dec,
* Late night party (to which your not invited) including yelling, bad singing to 60s Disco hits from a knackered boom box,

No wonder it took a little longer to relax and chill out on recent holiday. Next time will take a bit more time to choose a villa that is more than 200 yards from nearest road and habitation.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Best PC tools for Processor and Disk space usage

If you ever get the feeling that your PC is working for some one else ? or that HDD space has disappeared without a trace for no understood reason ? Take control with these utilities.

ProcessExplorer takes over when the [ctrl] [alt] [del] task manager leaves off. Process Explorers originally from Sysinternals provides graphical details of what's happening inside your machine. Its free, lightweight and will provide clear insight as to which processes are eating your machine. Each of the graphs provides a rollover tooltip with the process name causing the peek. This graph shows the cpu consumption of a screensaver recently deployed across our organisation. The large drop in cpu usage is when the user logged back in. Having Flash based screen savers such as shown here is a really bad idea; power consumption goes up and all those idle time processes become work time activities.

For C: and other disk drive space; find out what is eating your HDD is made clear by WinDirStat. Originally this drive visulisation tool was created on Linux but this free port delivers a reliable way to find what is eating your hard drive. The interactive bump map shows by size when the large files can be found. Hovering the cursor over a bump will reveal the file path and clicking will show the files place in the file directory hierarchy. Each of the squares of the bump map represents a directory contents.

In this example a data loss prevention utility decided to copy all data sent external hard drive to a location in /WINDOWS/vendor/software name/temp directory location.

Take ownership of your own PC know what happening inside with these useful free system visualisation tools. Other tools available for interior PC examination can be found on this link.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Pricing fail @ Morrisons

Bag says "Any 2 for £3" shelf ticket says all varieties £1 each. Seen at Morrsions 15 Oct 2011.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Credit card - tied interest rates - it's win/win for the bankers

Interest rates are at an all time low here in the UK. This low interest rate mostly applies to savers who are paid at 0.1 to 2 % per year. Credit card lenders are routinely charging 2 % per month and are currently working through changes that will increase those charges further.

The current Bank of England base rate is 0.5% per year. This rate cannot realisticly go much lower. This interest rate history contrasts credit card charges and interest rates that have been going up steadily for years.

A recent change announced by Lloyds TSB Platinum is as follows...

"We wrote to you in June about how we're linking the the standard interest rate on your credit card to the bank of England base rate after 26 November 2011.

If the base rate changes after this date, your interest rate will increase or decrease by the same amount from the last working day of the months in which the base rate changes. ......"

So when the interest rate goes up ( remember that the rate can't go down far from here) the credit card interest rate charge will go up to match. So your credit charge interest rate is now locked to something that that is only ever likely to go up and cost you more.

This is an interesting tactic that was never applied when interest rates were falling. The credit card maintained high interest rates saying that the costs were based on the "risk" of the loan. This increasing spread between borrowing and savings has been increasing for years; something that only benefits the bankers.

What's more with this new change the credit card company have an an excuse to "blame" the rate rises on an external factor. So it's win/win for the bankers, no change there then.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Standing charges - the big energy rip off

Energy bills here in the UK are formed of two parts, the standing charge and the usage related charges. These charges are billed to customer in a couple of ways. Either the standard charges are separately listed on the bill or the first units used are charged at a higher rate compared to the later units. With the later method, once the standing charges are amortised into the higher price early units, the per unit charge decreases. Recently many utilities companies have moved from the higher price early units charging methods to the listed standing charges method.

We have been looking after an unoccupied house recently, and received a combined gas and electic bill that comprised of £19 gas and £1 electric usage charges and £80 of combined standing charges. The standing charges were £16 for the electric £40 for the Gas, £10 as a Non-Energy charge and £20 gas transportation charge. We had the central heating on low and used the lights occasionally so the units are reasonable. The standing charges are an outrageous rip off for lower usage consumers.

We were also upset by the change of fundamental contract, without agreement. When we took over the property it was on a split price units tariff but EDF changed the electric contract to one with standing charges without content and refused to continue the supply on the previous agreed basis.

When EDF was asked to explain the bill or at least provide some justification the following lies were included in the explanation :
  1. It works out cheeper for the users of more units.
  2. EDF was compelled by the regulator to change the tariffs to separately listed standing charges.
  3. It's easier to understand the bills.
Those points are bogus because :
  1. The standing charges are fully included in the cost of the higher price first units. Once the threshold to the lower cost units is crossed there is no difference between a bill that has separately listed standing charges and one that have higher and lower unit charges.
  2. Consumer Direct, the government consumer advice service, said that tariff structures are within the energy companies remit to decide.
  3. Bills that are bigger the more energy used are less confusing than paying large standing charges for almost no energy usage.
Minimum billing amounts only benefit the utility companies and penalise low energy users. Fixed standing charges give no possibility of an energy charging holiday, every bill will be at least the minimum standing charges amount.

Small quantity users are paying a disproportionate infrastructure subsidies for the larger users. Consider the user that has a small flat and goes on holiday a lot. The standing charges are the same every quarter regardless of the low usage holiday periods. In most retail business the infrastructure costs are folded into the prices. Would you go to a petrol station that charge £5 every time you drove onto the forecourt even when you only bought a small top up of petrol ?

How it should work, is the exact reverse of the previous high cost for the first units arrangement.
If standing charges are to be used then the first units should be set at lower cost, until a cross over point of average usage then uplift the fixed price units. After the unit price threshold is crossed the units are charged at a higher level to discourage profligate use.


Friday, 30 September 2011

Innovative solutions for an awkward customer.

I had a customer recently that needed an intervention, a few patches to be applied and a bit of cluster reconfiguration work. Problem was that customer was being a bit awkward insisting that who ever did the intervention stay on site of for the following 7 days to ensure that there were no bad side effects. I was not alone in the situation as vendor problem manager I had a company technical resource, a service partner company, regional technical consultants on hand to assist.

The deal was that who ever did the intervention had to stay for the monitoring and the customer preferred a vendor resource to perform the install. We all sat down to consider our response to the customer demands and came up with the following escape tactics...
  • The team takes ownership of the whole operation, sliding different folk on to the critical terminal for each stage.
  • Install the patch and at the next customer meeting have a few rounds of "He installed the patch." .. "No I didn't he installed the patch" Rinse and repeat.
  • "Sorry I sipped on a banana skin, hit the return key and installed the patch by mistake."
  • Explain that Auto update popped up dialog box, and no one was available to click "Install later".
  • Have a person in a Santa Claus suit install the patch telling the customer that he is free until christmas for what ever you want to pay him to do.
  • Try the Spartacus defence, All stand up and say "I installed the patch.","No I installed the patch."
Turns out that the customer deferred the whole install leaving them vulnerable to various crashes and hangs etc. I suspect that by the time the customer does get round to have the patch installed it will have been superseded by a later version.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The old cons are the best even in cyberspace

Some say that the old jokes are the best that fits nicely with the old con tricks being the best.
Here we are in 2011 some 20+ years after the first advice in 1987 that email attachments are dangerous seeing a huge rise in the volume of dangerous email attachments.

Come on people get your Norton installed, raise the trust barrier and kick this shit to the kerb. Just how dumb is anyone to fall for this one .... ?



Monday, 15 August 2011

PC world - Just don't

I broke one of my technology rules over the weekend and as usual regretted it almost immediately. That rule being "Don't buy anything at PC World". The store is no more a specialist store than Dixons and Curries. All those store are just "Pile it hight and sell it cheap." box shifting business models. That model can be ok if you see exactly what your after and know what you want to pay. For anything else there are better choices and better quality products at specialist stores.

These big box shifters buy in bulk with tight profit margins and rely on a huge choice to befuddle most consumers into buying something. Quality is a statistical exercise and service just a revenue opportunity.

This time I was browsing and liked the look of a Microsoft ARC slim small keyboard At 1p under £50 it did seem a bit spendy. I got the last one and off I went. Doh ! when home I realized I had fallen for the old the last box is empty because that's the box for the demo item trick.

Worked out ok in the end as with the prospect of having to go back to the store anyway, I checked on Amazon and found same item in the marketplace. Available from stock and only £30. Back to the store for a refund.

So don't buy at PC World because
1) You won't really get what you want,
2) It will cost more than is available elsewhere.

An alternative and good computer tech store is Novatech. Helpful assistants and a good spread of economical to top end computer kit.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg

Wow - a great read. Medium length stories that demo Mr. Silverberg awesome talent.

BA lost bag phone madness

Here is a bit of a communication failure that really just fits the process. I flew back from Ankara via Dusseldorf yesterday and arrived safely. My single checked bag however has yet to arrive.

Waiting by the carousel as all the other bags squeaked round is a rather lonely experience but near to hand was the "Arrivals service team". I had the sticky baggage tag issued in Ankara that has the original and connecting flight details listed. The clerk cheerfully took down a few details and issued a lost bag receipt and uploaded a few details to the World tracer lost baggage tracking service.

The receipt had a URL for an online tracking web page for the baggage search process that showed the details I had submitted. Unfortunately the on-line version showed an incorrect baggage tag number, the last digit being one out. Such a flaw in the data was bound to fail the whole tracking service so I decided to call and correct the number.

Calling the Local Baggage Tracing office on the number listed on the receipt started a merry phone trail.
Calling 0800 408 1100 - gave the message "This number is no longer in service please redial another number."
Calling that number 0800 727800 - gave the message "This number is no longer in service please redial another number."
Calling that number 0844 493 0787 - gave a two level phone tree resulting in the message "Please call 0844 493 0785."
Calling that number eventually gave a vaguely helpful baggage tracing person. After updating the Baggage tag number to the correct value a search revealed that bag was likely to be still in Ankara. "A message will be sent and the bag hopefully delivered back to you." was the update. We will see how that turns out. Such a phone bounce around makes me think of an organisation held together with sticky tape and string. I hope that the planes are better maintained than this business processes.

The IATA travellers faq as some useful information on lost baggage and its retrieval. Including the faq that "globally 98.2% of all baggage travels with the passenger as planned" That works out at about 5 bags a plane going missing.

One item in the bag that I will be sad to loose was my trip reading Time Restored - The Harrison timekeepers and R.T. Gould, the man who knew (almost) everything" by Jonathan Betts. This excellent biography of the restorer of the first experimental Marine chronometers follows it's subject through the interesting parts of his life. Staring with a brief naval career, an ugly divorce, through the intense restoration work and on to radio celebrity status. An intriguing life from the last century of a fragile genius who first restored the important Harrison "longitude" clocks.

As for that festering bag of washing with the book - if they don't get that bag back to me soon I am sure it will be declared a Bio-hazard and humanly destroyed.


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bogus technical support, 2011

Do not accept technical support phone calls from people you don't know.

There is a big scam about that involves people being called by fake technical support people. Accepting their advice may result in lost money and lost security of your PC.

The crooks cold-call people at home and claim to be calling from Microsoft or a well-known security firm and offering "free security checks".

See this link for more details of the scam.

Some websites have been behaving in the same way tricking folks into downloading expensive and bogus "Security programs" see for more details see this link.

For good advice on home internet security see books such as this.

Lets be safe out there.


Friday, 17 June 2011

The last resort - Zimbabwe's story from the inside

I have just finished "The last resort" by Douglas Roger. A book about the author's retired parents struggle to hold on to a small bar and lodging business in Zimbabwe. Set during the difficult years after the shine and sanity of independence had disintegrated into rapacious tribal greed and decimating political turmoil.
This book is a great read documenting the true face of how post colonial Africa can go so very very wrong. A human story of courage and determination told from the ground floor of a society with a very broken government.
Read this book and understand just how bad the ordinary working folks of a once prosperous nation were driven into grinding poverty and destitution by a deluded political leader.



Monday, 9 May 2011

Wrz my cheezburger ?

Spent three days and nights game spotting in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi based at the delightful Masinda Lodge. The better weather in the area has enabled a recovery from the droughts of recent years so the game spotting was good. With Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe and Impala in abundance there were plenty of great photo opportunities. Also a pack of African wild dogs were spotted. Mr Hyena in photo was caught lurking round the BBQ pit.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

From Deepest Africa, An Innovation for open src..

Gnu porn

Shape Shifter Plagues Karoo Town - From Local South African News paper -

From "The Mercury (Independent newspaper of KwaZulu Natal) published Tuesday , April 26, 2011

Shape-shifter plagues Karoo town

A "MONSTER" plaguing the sleepy Karoo town of Steytierville struck again over the Easter weekend, Eastern Cape police said yesterday. Another two sightings of the "shape-shifting creature" were reported· on Sunday evening, said Warrant Officer Zandisile Nelani. "Two men were walking near a tavern when they saw a man wearing a black jacket. One of the men, identified only as Nozipho, went up to the stranger and asked him, "What is your problem?," said Nelani.

When the stranger did not respond, Nozipho went closer and saw that the man had no head. The man then turned into a dog that was "very angry" and "as big as a cow", Nelani said. He said that as they ran away, the monster allegedly turned on another group of people in the same road. "They said it turned into a big monkey, and then it was' gone," Nelani said. Last week police were told by residents that the monster changed shape while one looked at it. One man had reported that it changed from a man wearing a suit into a pig and then into a bat.

There had also been rumours that it could fly. Previously, it had only been seen near the church. It had even been seen peering through the windows during a service, but had vanished by the time the congregation went outside. Nelani said that the community had dubbed the monster "Bawokozi", meaning "brother-in-law". "It is a very strange thing happening in Steytierville, but no one has been hurt by it," Nelani said. - Sapa .


I think the clue is in the Phrase " "Two men were walking near a tavern when ... "



Just Back from South Africa had a great time down there.

Just back from South Africa and had a great time down there.

In a local Spar store Marmite Cheese spread was discovered. I can report that this local South African delicacy has a mostly cheesy flavor with just a hint of Marmite. It may not be strong enough for the hard core Marmararti but does go well for a novelty. More notes here.

In a local book store "50 People who stuffed up South Africa" by Alexander Parker. These biting satirical portraits are complimented by sketches by Zapiero. A very good read that provides an insight into a cross section of South African history and the people who held key turning points in their hands and failed. More notes here.

Good times.


Friday, 18 March 2011

And here is the perfect crossover product

In a neat follow up to the previous post we have the perfect cross over product between the Yin and Yang of fine foods.
"Very Peculiar Milk Chocolate, with A hint of marmite indulgaence a perplexing treat that bewilders the tastebuds."


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Yin and Yang of fine foods.

This wall hanging most certainly falls into the category of "It's not art but I like it."
On the top row we have a selection of 100g bars of Green and Black's.In order from left to right we have Myan Gold, Ginger, Butterscotch, Milk, 70% Dark and White. Certainly a fine collection of desirable chocolate.

On the bottom row we have even more objects of desire being a collection of special editions Marmites. From Left to right we have Original, Guinness, Champaign, Marston, XO and Squeesy. A real treat for the marmarati.

G&B chocolate and Marmite, the Yin and Yang of fine foods mmmmmmmmmm. All I need now to complete the display is a small metal hammer and a note saying "Break glass in case of emergency".


PS: Thanks to Steve for donating the display case, the like of which I had been looking for ages.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Monday, 28 February 2011

What are the four horsemen of the personal Apocalypse 2011 ?

While we were having a chat over an ale of two at the local pub, conversation wandered across fields of doom and gloom. Depression both personal and economic was very much on topic as we looked for an updated set of doomsday indicators signaling the end of days. This is the "Me and instant news" generation; we already see too much of the countrywide doom and devastation predicted in the Bible's book of Revelations.

We are not learned scholars or religious fanatics looking for post doomsday success just looking for a way to relate past wisdom to current modern life. We wanted a more personal and up close set of predictions that foretell the downfall of mankind, which comes one person at a time.

These concepts we propose as the new "Four horsemen of the personal Apocalypse." When there is more than one of these in your life, Doomsday is not far away.

War is now Broken Relationships. Those can be relationships that used to work or relationships that have never worked, except though the lens of obsession or force of violence. Don't confine relationships to just the personal interactions that support families consider the all relationships within the community. Robbery, fraud and even road rage demonstrate broken relationships between self and the community. Love who your with or at least make an effort to get along so everyone wins.

Famine is now Debt and poverty. Debt is one of the chains that binds changed circumstances to poverty. A good job and stable income can be wiped out by illness, relationship breakdown or other unforeseen civil crisis. Insurance and rainy day nest eggs will not always help but the old fashioned values of living within means available will certainly help. Circumstances change, sometimes too fast to understand so be prepared. Favors in the bank are worth as much as spendable cash.

Pestilence is now Addiction to what destroys. There is no shortage of addictions to choose from, gambling, drink, drugs, overeating, shopping and strange sex all make the list of possibilities. All will take wealth, crush joy, overwhelm the lonely and rot communities from the inside out. There is a line between tasting the weird, pushing the boundaries of experimentation and addiction; however the person who can tell if you have crossed that line is not usually you.

Death is the Loss of ambition and loss of drive to develop. Death now starts with the death of the soul, the loss of hope and ambition. Without something to live for, to strive for, life is just downhill till six ft under.

There is help for much of the above, support communities abound in real and virtual life. Getting support requires seeing the need to take the first step or better still, building a kinder self with stronger relationships and fewer vices before the crisis strikes.

Cheers from a somewhat philosophical


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Smoking - it really is addictive

I used to smoke, not a lot and not often, just enough to enjoy them. At most it was about a pack a week, often when taking the dog out late at night. When the habit started to grow in '06 after a long boring business trip I gave up. Giving up then was aligned with going on holiday. Was grumpy for a few days but the change of location helped detach from the habit.

Since then months would go by between ciggies. Occasionally smoking only when "I am too pissed to know better"; down the pub after a couple of pints of fine english ale.

About 22 days ago I got a pack of 20 and started having one at the end of each day. Not sure why just fancied some. You know in the garden looking at stars and listening to the night sounds of a peaceful neighborhood. mmmmm

Now that was a mistake.

I know what it says on the tin, Smoking Kills. I have seen the health information films full of brown lungs and coughing blood. I know that insurance companies don't give money away and smokers get preferential rates when it comes to annuities ( pay until you die). So there is no excuse but come on, only one a day, what harm could that do ? Well now I know, I have none left and I really really want one. I am not going to get any more; such an ugly habit has to be broken.

Not sure if it was the ceremony or the chemicals that gets you hooked, but hooked I feel. What is spooky about the whole thing is that for the last few days of the packet the certain need for a ciggi was stronger each day and came just a bit earlier each day. I guess that there is just enough chemicals to last 22 hours and kick off the cravings.

I have none left and the nearest shops are shut. If I go hunting for a packet at pub or garage I will know that this is not just a passing fad and the hook is in. Just keep got to keep typing, keep browsing, and burrow into some good TV. I own my destiny and won't be a slave to the chemical works.

Let's see how that goes.

Fashions in personal transport

What the heck is driving the latest fashions in personal transport ? It's all out of scale and broken. Cars are 3 * the necessary size squandering the last 10 years worth of improved engine efficiency with added inertia and useless aerodynamic drag. Even the great modern Mini has gone all bloated and become the countryman.

At the other end of the scale kids don't fit their bikes anymore. Unless peddle axis to seat hight is approximately equal to ankle to bum length, unnatural flexation of the knees occurs. The current fashion seems to be an exaggeration of the BMX style that is useless for anything else than bum-in-the-air peddling and tricks; hopeless as a form of transport.

And what the heck is a Segway for ? In the UK you can't use them on the road and you can't use them on the pavement (sidewalk) - here is a hint don't waste your cash and get a proper bike. Get two bikes mountain and race but for heavens sake don't get a BMX style.

Cheers Gannett