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We live in litigious times, so I should say that content reflects only my opinions!

Saturday June 19 2004

A certain amount

of hardware hacking on this page. Most interestingly, a "Mystrad" project to get some usefulness out of the Amstrad e-m@iler - a godforsaken device marketed to, well, who knows? This thing sits there all high-tech, allegedly, and allows you to use it as a telephone, an email device, to play senescent computer games and to do a certain amount of limited web browsing. Maybe it does other stuff, I can't remember. Nothing of any consequence, at any rate. You can buy it for £30 (it used to be £99, by the way) and I must admit that it seems like a lot of technological-thing-to-fiddle-with-for-an-hour-before-sticking-in-the-cupboard for the money. But it's subsidised by a horrendous 17p a day average charge as it sends and receives mail. Yep, another £62 or so per annum. So if the thing manages to creak along throughout its warranty period you have already paid nearly a hundred quid for it. Keep it for three years and you're over the two hundred quid mark. And this is pretty much a minimum cost for the service, I might add. It all becomes a fairly frightening prospect in the long term.

But that's not all... As a part of the "subsidised" hardware's costs there are adverts. Yes, that's right, you pay to download spam. I mean even on broadband, where the cost is fixed, it's galling enough to wade through a tide of shite to read the one or two genuine emails you have received. The idea of paying a premium rate to receive a load of junk mail and some bloody graphical ads is appalling. Because let's face it, as soon as you have an email account it begins to gather this sort of crap with almost magnetic power. You could end up paying an absolute fortune to be hounded in your own home. No thanks.

Amstrad's reputation was founded on cheapness rather than quality, so a long and useful life is by no means a given. You have a phone, and many people will find that they can get a perfectly serviceable old PC for somewhere between nothing at all and forty quid. Anything over about three years old in computer terms is essentially worthless in the marketplace. So you get some old clunker of a PC with a modem and you run it on a pay-as-you-go dialup service for your email. This is going to cost about 5p a shot to send and receive mail. And, of course, you're going to have a computer in to the bargain. You can store all your phone numbers on said computer and use it as an auto-dialler using any number of pieces of free software. And you can play much better games on an old 386 under DOS than you'll ever get on a re-boxed Amstrad 8 bit machine with a black and white display.

I find it amazing that in this day and age there is still perceived to be a market for something that offers a pathetic subset of the functionality that anyone (who is at all with the program) already has, or can easily and cheaply get by other means. While I can appreciate that there are Luddites out there to whom the very thought of a PC is anathema, I hardly think that selling them a crap PC in a telephone is such a great idea. And these days there are deals from telephone companies that mean you can converse properly and at length with someone so cheaply that paying 17p to email them again and again seems extortionate.

Want to do email and play games? Buy a PC for the love of Mike. Better still bung your mate thirty quid for the one in his or her cupboard.


Posted at 10:58 pm by Jim Woods



Friday June 18 2004

Mozilla 1.7

is out. Free open-source internet browsing, mail, news, HTML editing and IRC chat for one and all. Obviously we've many of us been using it for years, but I make note of this release because it's considered to be a milestone. Also, many things that have been annoying me, like aspects of the bookmark and cookie handling, finally seem to have been sorted out in large measure.

As usual, I'll be letting you all know when I've found something I don't like about it...


Posted at 11:49 pm by Jim Woods




I forgot

to add an explicit item for this yesterday: For those who have it, my mobile phone number is valid again. You know - the one you've had for years. I erroneously told a lot of people to forget the old number when my phone was stolen last weekend, but Vodafone have been able to give it back to me. Goodo.


Posted at 11:47 pm by Jim Woods



Thursday June 17 2004

Poking around,

as we select brethren often do, on the splendid website of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (go there in reality too, I command you) I found something called the virtual tour. In for a penny, I thought, and downloaded it. It's a piece of viewer software that allows you to walk around a representation of the real museum in 3D. Quite quickly actually, but then I have a fastish PC. I'm sure it would run well enough on any 21st century box. Hardware acceleration isn't turned on by default, so do look at the settings when you start playing. And it's really good, with loads of pictures to look at and notes on each, as well as one really fun feature: you can text chat to other people taking a look around. And if you have broadband you can even voice chat with a microphone and speakers! Beast.

Don't persist in trying to use the stairs though. At the moment the exhibits are all on the one (first) floor.

I'm running the bare minimum of software I need on a clean install of XP Pro at the moment, as I'm experiencing various annoyances with my setup - almost certainly software-related. I had therefore forsworn all fripperies. But art's art isn't it? And this is Vincent we're talking.

It's fun...


Posted at 10:14 pm by Jim Woods




One good thing,

and I can assure you that it's the only good thing, about being out of action is that I get to write a great rant here and you - lucky, lucky readers - get to read it. I'm out of action because the latest development in my recent dental saga is that I have to stay at home and suffer appalling pain and take two kinds of horse pill on which I am not allowed to drink. Pity, that - a good drink is my usual response to such maladies. Mind you, my most recent attempts to apply this age-old cure have only resulted in making me more ill and run down; mademoiselle infection has taken advantage of this to reside in most of the right hand side of the Woods head. This is bastard, double-plus agonizing. So much so that I am reduced to whimpering at home and spewing bile into my computer. Did I mention the dental saga? Half a molar went west - thank you, bony tuna, don't f*cking turn up in my pond if you want to live to collaterally damage another dolphin by the means of your departure, and I was unable to get a dental appointment for over a month. When I finally did, they made it worse and charged me a fortune. I guess that's what they're for. Jolly good...

And the antibiotics give one frightful shits. So that's a bonus. At least I get to return to the dentist (we've all seen Marathon Man) in a fortnight to have the principal offender pulled out. One with three roots, apparently. "Should be simple enough", I said hopefully. The Man fixed me with a jolly gimlet eye and said "you're a big lad, it'll be like landing a blue marlin", or words to that effect. It's nice to have something to look forward to. One of the manifold joys of being a big ugly bastard is the endless selection of amusing medical complications, of course.

Aargh, it's painful.

Anyway, enough dental digression. The last week wasn't all bad: I got a parking ticket and a stack of bills, and the pikey kids stole my stuff last Saturday (as I wrote). And I've not been troubled by any sleep to shake a sheep at during the last week or so. I tell you, I'm so happy I could cry.

The Vodabastards (search the site for last year's fun with this lot) have partially redeemed themselves by furnishing me with a new, unnecessarily complex phone at a reasonable price. Bless the Veda boys for forcing me to let them pay for it - gents to a man. It has a small and illegible colour display, good for impressing kids to the point of larceny. And they even engineered it for me to keep my number and calling credit! This despite my calling them when the old phone was stolen and making good and sure it was nobbled to uselessness. It's bad enough not to get the chance to administer a nitric acid and barbed wire enema to the thief, without having to consider that they might materially gain from their efforts. If I find some kid in Jericho with my sentimentally and actually valuable Leatherman tool (non-standard titanium finish and all) I'll take the opportunity to remove their bollocks with the pliers. And if I see my favourite Ecuadorian hat on one, I'll be repossessing their head along with it. Anything above the eyebrows is my property. Mind you, there not a lot that protrudes above the eyebrows of that sort of scrote - apart from my hat. Why should others be gorgeous at my expense?

Any of you that have the BBC4, which means those with anything other than wind-up analogue terrestrial TV, should have twigged by now that there's a huge amount of excellent stuff on it as part of their Sixties Season. Loads and loads of great stuff. I'll be trying to take the edge of my pain with The Prisoner, Performance (a fine film), Brian Wilson and Vivian Stanshall to name but a few highlights. And if you don't know who they are then you're not old enough.

Recent webular prodding has turned up a few items of interest. Here is a good little table of specifications for the various kinds of CD and DVD formats. I hold the dual distinction of being the only person I know who has the player (Pioneer 656A, a cracker) and surround rig to fully enjoy, let's say, SACD in full Dolby Digital 5.1 and does not own a single item of media beyond plain old 16 bit CDs and standard (as rented in bulk by women with tattoos at the base of the spine and fat guts in hopelessly inadequate hipster jeans, whose parents thought that the social stigma of being called after the cheap wine that resulted in their conception might be lessened somehow were they to misspell it) DVDs. Not that I have to queue for hours behind them to rent some improving title of my own from Blockbuster, no sirree. Quel cockshrinker. Nothing wrong with large women, unless they're in small clothes. And nothing wrong with emerging standards of silver disc - because let's face it, 16 bit CD is bollocks sound-wise - as long as people buy them and have the means to play them. Well, I'm half way there.

Nice site on aviation archaeology here, if you like that sort of thing.

And in other weirdness, I took my non-driving historian friend over to Pas-de-Calais a few years ago to visit Bethune and other nearby places in search of background on his family's military service in the area for his ongoing family history. We had an enjoyable trip, with warm spring weather, and he got all the pictures and data he wanted. We saw a fair few war memorials and cemeteries, because that part of Europe has had a ghastly history from a military point of view. Last week I finally remembered to use the excellent online database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to try to trace the grave of my great uncle William, lost with many of his friends from the Wiltshire Regiment in the Great War. His body, apparently, was not found; blown to smithereens by a shell or sunk in the terrible pervasive mud, I imagine. But his name is on a memorial which, if we didn't actually scrutinize it, we must have driven past. Funny how paths cross unknowingly. I'll go back one day. My father tells me that of the ten brothers, for they were a big half-Irish part Spanish Jewish family, grandfather loved the older William the best. He never talked about William to me - it was my dad who filled me in about that. It was probably too painful for my grandfather to go into.

My grandfather, Tiger, who'd sit up all night with me when I was little and tell me stories of flying in the RFC in Sopwith Camels. He was in the RAF all his working life, having (not unusually amongst volunteers at the time) lied about his age to get out of the poverty of the East end of London and fly. He spent the twenties and thirties flying in India and over the North-West frontier, where they were given revolvers for armament; when questioning what you could usefully do with a revolver while flying a collection of wire and wood and canvas bits that required both hands, and heroic strength and concentration, at 80 mph over mountainous terrain they were told that if they came down they'd need it to shoot themselves before being captured by Pathans. Many, of course, came down. The planes were unreliable and the Pathans good with a rifle. And doubtless the Pathans had a point, but back then things worked rather differently.

Tiger was evacuated from Dunkirk later in his career, having stolen a Belgian's motorcycle to get to the beach at the last minute. He never forgave Belgium for that, although it must be observed that his RAF uniform would not have been a dissimilar shade to the German field grey and in any case the Belgian in question was probably fond of his bike. My father remembers the commotion when his father arrived home in the middle of the night, uniform mostly missing and what there was of it still damp, to tell of what had happened. He'd managed to pick up a couple of bottles of French brandy though, one in each pocket of his greatcoat. He may even have swum off the beach with them - he might have sunk, but then French brandy was not exactly common in the household. And he probably needed a good drink after Dunkirk.

In the late forties and thereafter Tiger relied on various old cars consisting of four wheels, an engine and a chassis, usually with a wooden box for a seat. In rural Wiltshire at that time you could do that sort of thing, apparently. Eventually, though, he had to forgo motor vehicles altogether in order to send my father to college. Much later my uncle, who stayed living at home to keep an eye on the parents, would lend him some fearful antediluvian Viva or similar to go to market. Anyway, when they eventually retired him from flying his desk he had a fair few medals. After a while they even awarded him an OBE, although there was precious little E left by then. They also rewarded him for forty-odd years of hazardous and unstinting service to the whims of his leaders with a disgraceful pension on which he and my grandmother struggled to live. He'd never have dreamt of complaining, since he'd considered that he was doing his duty. That's how the shits in government still get away with it.

He took a part-time job at Wadworth's brewery in Devizes, and he ran an immaculate smallholding to grow his vegetables and keep some chickens and a pig. It was a hive of industry, and the food he produced was incredible. As a family we'd go down to Etchilhampton every other Sunday or so for lunch. Best lunches I've ever had, honestly. He'd keep bringing out more food, and my grandmother would toil over the coal stove, and he'd cackle and say "eat it up while it's there". Even at the time I remember thinking that, largely due to guys like him, we'd probably never go hungry. I ate up nonetheless...

He was stooped with the hard work on the land by then, and he'd always had a gammy leg since, I imagine, he'd been shot - although he didn't go into detail on that either. Given his experiments with old cars I was always a little surprised that he didn't take more interest in the old motorbikes on which I used to visit him when I was old enough. It only occurs to me now that of course they were invariably East German or Japanese bikes. Another of my great-uncles died in the Second World War when the Japanese torpedoed the hospital ship in which he was being invalided home from Singapore. Under the circumstances, I was probably lucky he didn't take more of an interest in the bikes. He confined his motoring advice to one simple, but invaluable, axiom: "look out for the other one". It's good advice. The other one's nearly had me a few times.

When the war over the Falklands began Tiger wrote to the Queen in his careful handwriting, offering to go down there and have a go should his services be required. Her Majesty thanked the crippled eighty-six year old, but said she thought that they could probably handle it. Thanks for offering, though. He hid his disappointment manfully; I'd imagine the Argentines were mightily relieved. No doubt they then felt they had a chance. A couple of years later he was gone, at the end of a long life, simply old and tired. I hope he sleeps well, but then he never did sleep much at all. Too keen to guard the chicken shed from the foxes or tell stories to his grandson, or needing to keep the coal stove going.

My grandmother went soon after, as is often the case with couples who've been together forever. She'd been the first headmistress in the West Country, or perhaps it was even England; I must check. She played the piano, and was strong in a quiet sort of way - always unsuccessfully trying to make me take an interest in nature when I was only taking an interest in Fender Strats, and beer and girls and other good stuff. Long after she died I found out that in addition to my father and my uncle there'd been a daughter, but she'd only lived a few weeks. It wasn't at all unusual then, but I can see now why my grandmother was more often than not a little subdued. She had a good sense of humour though.

I don't know how I got onto all that family history, but it's handy to record these things somewhere in case I should forget them - although I can't imagine I will. I think I'll sit in the garden for a bit, and keep the cats away from the fish.


Posted at 4:09 pm by Jim Woods




Why

Windows is a security nightmare. Trust me, every Windows user needs to read this article. It's very relevant to a lot of what I've been saying too.


Posted at 12:54 am by Jim Woods



Tuesday June 15 2004

Email

is still not reliable. Bugger. What on earth can this be?


Posted at 6:56 pm by Jim Woods



Monday June 14 2004

A clean reinstall

seems to have had a miraculous effect on some of my software; Xnews is now much faster at accessing articles - or maybe that's just the good-today-bad-tomorrow nature of the Pipex news servers. My email may also be back in full flow. Not everything is perfect, but most things are better. I know that this tends to be the case after a clean out.

What I don't get, however, is how the TCP/IP stack in all versions of Windows gets hosed so easily. I mean, it's not like I install masses of crap or anything. Just a handful of popular, major applications. Sigh. And yet as soon as internet protocols in general get slow and unreliable, on any version from 95 to XP, cleanly reinstalling everything sorts it. You'd almost think it was a conspiracy. I've never got to the bottom of it and I don't suppose I will.

 


Posted at 6:00 pm by Jim Woods




Just finished

the marathon business of doing a clean XP Professional reinstall. The usual palaver...

I hate technology.

Better get off to bed, as I need to get a mobile phone organized in the morning...


Posted at 4:59 am by Jim Woods



Sunday June 13 2004

Thieving b*stards Thieving little bastards Thieving bastards

managed to steal my bag, containing various items of sentimental value and my mobile phone, from beside me while I was playing at the Jericho Street Fair yesterday. Presumably they did this by creeping up behind the stage - which was on a truck - and reaching up behind the backdrop. I don't intend to go on about this at tedious length, except to say that there were a lot of dodgy kids running around stealing drinks and so on, and one of them was prevented from stealing our sax player's lighter only by his well-placed foot. I just perused the dying stages of the Cowley Road Carnival today, and saw a healthy contingent of scummy kids abroad there too, generally being a pain and vandalizing stands in a pathetic, low-key manner during packing up. I think we need to sterilize the clueless, and fast, because frankly they breed like flies and produce, of course, clueless kids. Still, at least the Cowley Road event was properly organized, which is rather more than can be said for the Jericho Street Fair which seemed to me to have no security or medical contingency plan for that matter.

Anyway, don't anyone bother trying to call me on my mobile. It won't be me that answers.


Posted at 7:20 pm by Jim Woods





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