Saturday, December 18, 2010

Finally, a little white stuff.

I've been watching the news about the north with a certain amount of jealousy - I know, grass greener (whiter) et cetera, I wouldn't want to be there, etc - but truth is I really want to snowboard in the field opposite again :-)

Now it's come, and it's continuous. Advising to the Met office (those famously accurate* people) this'll keep up until 1700 or so. If so, we'll be well and truly snowed in again in our little valley here in south bucks.

This is good. Quiet, peace, time to think, south east england forced to contemplate its' navel for a while - I believe B&Q withdrawal symptoms will claim several in Slough this weekend, as they are forced to put off choosing a new sofa in a range of ****ing fabrics (ta renton).

A little enlightenment would go a long way around here. Maybe people could wake up and realise we're being crushed by the government and businesses and we need to take the power back. It's happening now - people are rising back up, realising what's actually going on. Our government is not scared of us. They bloody should be.

(*this may be sarcastic)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Android experimental "Trojan" angry birds add-on

http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/00002063.html

This was only an exercise in proof on the part of the researcher, but I'm afraid this marks the beginning of the end for android. Note where this story is, and it closes with "buy F-secure's crappy antivirus software for your android handset". All the vendors are pushing hard, just ask Graham Clueley from Sophos, who pops up all the bloody time regarding mobile security issues.

Those nifty 1GHz snapdragons are going to seem pretty crappy when antivirus gets in there. Stick with platforms which don't allow unsigned code to be installed BY DESIGN - why did google leave that backdoor in there? Idiots!!

Btw another rehearsal on the 29th, and the cheese keeps on coming. New strings for the Tobias I think.

Airbus jets - not the A380 oil leaks, something worse... Software?

Something caught my eye yesterday. My day job is in software, mainly in testing. Anyone who will listen to my droning on this subject will know I have huge worries about the reliance we place now, and will in the future, on embedded software systems (e.g. Google's recent trials of a driverless car in California).

It seems airbus has more than mechanical troubles (recent A380 oil fire and the rather journalist friendly shots of bits of engine cowling). Mechanical issues don't worry me enormously as they get fixed (this is a very rare error on Rolls Royce's part), but what is happening to some A320 series airlines worries me enormously.

Now, it could be electrical, but the idea that at any point cockpit systems, including computers, might just "wink out" scares the living daylights out of me. These planes are exclusively fly by wire. Do they have manual backups? And even if they do, do the pilots still have the skills to pilot a plane whose aerodynamic profile is at least partly compensated for by auto stabilization systems? God, I hope so.

If it's software, it would feed into my software engineer tinfoil hat paranoia about software in everyday life; I'm perilously close to choosing the devices I use and rely on by their reliance on embedded software and not upgrading where possible. I'm starting to think I should get a pre-1974 car, a very old washing machine, and extremely cheap TV... Where could it end?

We don't fly often, which is a comfort, and I'm actively considering next summer as an exercise in what can be done without using modern airliners.

Human beings are human, they get bored and lazy. Software project managers are stressed and driven by gantt charts. Software engineers are at the bottom of the heap. Software test engineers are at the end of the project (and usually that gets squeezed so hard the testing is compromised).

All this makes me think that increasingly complex software (and it's usually just enhancements of existing software, they rarely do rewrites, too expensive, so it's patching and extension all the way, baby) will lead to higher failure rates in devices which use software as control systems, and it doesn't get more critical than airliners.

Watch the skies, and wear rollerskates.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

First rehearsal in a while... Oh yep.

Well, the function band thing has kicked off. The exploratory operation on 2/11/2010 turned out to be in a surreal location - the main hall area of a preschool in caversham! I was cranking it out surrounded by painted lizard cut outs on the Walls (one of which was labelled "tortoise" - education education education eh?).

Ts been a while since I did any serious live playing so it's fair to say I was worried about levels of preparedness. I didn't do as much work on the tracks as I wanted to, but I figured this was a get together to see what our dynamic would be like.

After about an hour I'd loosened up a lot: things started to flow a little. Then I realised I was dancing while I played and my face was sore. From smiling. Grinning, actually. This is what I was made for: the interplay, the vibe, the groove, the good feeling, the drummer and me tearing the roof off.

It was a little rough at the edges like you'd expect, and I don't have the tones ready on the pod yet, plus I took the synth with me and didn't use it (not sure if I need it yet - I could do the brass into on celebration I guess!), but it was simply glorious.

I lit up like a dusty bulb after the pullcord ping. Can't wait to dig into the tracks properly now, get them bang on so I don't fall into my Jaco habits when overplaying! I tend to bubble a bit.

People, live music is a joy everybody should experience. Go out there, do it now.

Location:Bassland

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bassist: original and covers. And now, cyber political activist

What a weird week.

Before I get kicked off - the music projects are continuing: Tony is recording further material with a click track to get us to work with: he's also got some potentially awesome support slots we might do through a swimming buddy (of all things)... hope that's not a euphemism (I'm sure it isn't...). The Function Band from Hell is having a first get together on the 2nd of November so I'll be working on the first 10 songs double-time from this point onwards. Good tracks too, they've thrown in "this love" by Maroon 5 at the last minute - the baseline is surprisingly well-formed. I'd forgotten how instructive it can be to listen with a musician's ear to chart music sometimes: just because it's popular doesn't mean it isn't well written.

Anyway...the last few days have been a bit... well... odd.

A week ago last sunday the ol' Xantia (142000 and counting) decided to stop starting - a first, it's been bulletproof until now - so I was stranded at home working remotely for the week, something of a busman's holiday.

On thursday lunchtime I read about the Vodafone UK Tax "deal" from the government: a long-standing tax demand for an estimated accrued £6Bn from Vodafone's profits and acquisition of a german company years back, and subsequent profit stashing since then: they have a company called "Vodafone V2" *eyebrows arch* based in Luxembourg, that well-known place of business (for those who wish to escape european taxation), and have been using this to purchase the German company and give a tax-friendly haven for their profits since.

The whole thing has been grinding along for years, but lo and behold with our new Uber-Priviledged government, the negotiations are suddenly taken out of HMRCs hands and given to someone who would apparently take a less hard line approach: net result, Vodafone are eventually billed for only £1.2Bn over 5 years. What a joke.

I got angry. I surveyed twitter and facebook and the web and found an utter lack of interest, apart from Private Eye, who broke the story ages ago.

So I thought "Why is nobody else saying anything?" and I wrote a few tweets. Including this one:

https://twitter.com/basexperience/status/28014835912

and now it looks like this:

http://twitoaster.com/basexperience/important-please-retweet-this-if-you-believe-that-vodafone-uk-should-be-made-to-pay-their-6bn-tax-bill-to-offset-the-cuts-osbourne/

this is the tweet's entry on a site which tracks their popularity. Currently the tweet is number 6 in the world (seriously - in the WORLD) and has reached over 400,000 twitter accounts, being retreated by nearly 2000 people.

Since then, and spurred by the strength of feeling and goodwill I've received by some excellent people, I've turned it into something of a campaign. We're starting to get noticed (guardian unlimited story last friday).

I've started a petition - funnily enough, the e-petitions site at number10.gov is offline! What a coincidence.

Mine is at gopetition: http://www.gopetition.com/petition.40035.html - if you believe as I do that it simply doesn't matter if it's legal, what Vodafone have done is rob food from the mouths of every single one of the 500,000 jobs which will go as a result of the government's cuts. The benefit cuts alone are something like £7Bn - how much would the original £6Bn have offset?

The petition has over 1000 signatures since I started it last thursday, with some comments made by people who are just as angry.

The whole experience has completely changed my mind - I was one of the apathetic, but now I see that through technology I had thought was irrelevant a few months back, public strength of will can be expressed.

Stand up and be counted. Oh - and it turns out George Osborne is a tax avoider as well. Nice. A hypocrite as well as an idiot.

Location:Cyberspace, baby

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's all kicking off...

Excellent. The vocalist Tony found is stunning - simply stunning - her voice is like Alicia keys meets marcella Detroit: soulful, with a range and depth which belies her age.

Meanwhile the function band for gigging fun has first rehearsal 2nd Nov. I've got 10 songs to cram, many of which are quite funky. Excellent.

<<<<<< Posted While Roaming / Gigging >>>>>>

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Discover" - the offline WikiPedia app - VERY useful.

While out in Paris, we visited many many places. Actually, we need to go back for a week to get around the places we missed out on, including going up the eiffel tower (discovered you can book online now, but was all booked up!). I digress.

While using the excellent wifi in the "Secrets de Paris" hotel - an EXCELLENT hotel, very reasonable too - I found "Discover" for iPad, which is a rather nifty reader for Wikipedia. Free, too.

Turns out it's more than nifty, it caches your history - which means you can load it with up to 250MB of info on the places you're seeing, then use it as an offline tour guide! Worked wonderfully for the eiffel tower, we sat with ice creams and read all the stuff a tour guide would tell you!

Good app. Rated highly.


<<<<<< Posted While Roving / Gigging >>>>>>

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New project - when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up

Well, tony's given me a CD of the new vocalist he recorded the other weekend. It's a rough cut of 5 single takes of her and an acoustic she was playing (in a pretty simple style too).

This 17 year old has quite simply got the voice of an angel. She's got marcella detroit's range, with a sort of smokiness that maybe Sheryl crow has sometimes. And her lyrics are excellent.

At the moment I keep feeling like I want to put something very massive-attack like on it, but this is a personal thing only. I know we're trying to look at a band for live work only at this stage. I suspect it could be a little like a slower version of maybe some of KT tunstall's work - but much less of the pop.

It's a totally new genre to me, this. It's not fast, furious or funky (although she'd have no issues whatsoever cranking out the attitude of Alanis Morissette and I could go v Flea a la "you oughtta know") and I am well outside of my comfort zone on it.

I must like it though. One tune in particular has the chorus stuck nicely in my head.

Hmmm.


<<<<<< Posted While Roving / Gigging >>>>>>

Filming at Green Park???

I suspect it's only some form of cheesy corporate promo - possibly for a market research company if my ears don't deceive me - but there is something mesmerizing to me about watching a production team and actors going about their business.

They seem to be playing roles associated with working out what consumers want in a mobile phone, I think, and how to market it. An irony given my vociferous rantings in the past about just that topic.

<<<<<< Posted While Roving / Gigging >>>>>>

Location:Green Park in Reading

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Simplifying digital life

I got an iPad recently. The purpose was largely a business thing, so I can help out my wife with Black Swan Analysis work - I look after website analytics, etc.

I was well aware of what the apple mobile platform will and won't do, so I considered it a challenge of sorts. Would it do the job? I was pleased not to be an early adopter (it's been out since early 2010 really) as this gave the platform time to get some applications for serious use under it's belt.

I can report that it's coming along very nicely as a serious productivity tool. But the purpose of this little missive is a more general point about increasing complexity, size, and the human frailty of thinking that progress is about making things bigger.

One of the things I don't have on iPad is Microsoft office. Thankfully recent movements mean that the "doc" format is phasing out, and more third party apps exist which will use it; so I spent a whopping £5.99 on "pages" for the iPad to try it out.

Easy to use, word loads the files fine, but the biggest revelation was how little of the bloated, enormous, buggy MSWord I actually use. Pages is tiny. It costs next to nothing. And yet I reckon it handles 95% of day to day word duties I would need it for with effortless ease. Note, I'm no secretary or report writer. I do have a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad as well, but that's portable and not essential (for instance I've been editing my homepage at www.funkybass.co.uk using "Gusto" this morning using iPad onscreen keyboard work).

We have allowed ourselves to put up with bloated crapware which we pay a fortune for, for backward compatibilty, and made Bill Gates and his ilk very rich. Why on earth did we do this? It's viral junk!

Go openoffice (note, now libreoffice thanks to Oracle being arseholes)! Use that for your PC office needs instead.

Let's simplify our lives and keep using older machines to do the same work, instead of this relentless and destructive upgrade madness.


- Posted on the move

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wow am I out of live practice!

It's been a few months so doubtless it'll take a little time to get back into the live thing again. Bringing the 5 string fretless was a baptism of fire, the guitarist played dropped D and nobody told me so I found out the hard way ;-)

Luckily it's a fretless so you can get away with a few Les Claypool moments heh heh

Tonight at Tilehurst...

... I'll be playing my first live stuff in about 9 months :-)

The function band thing will ramp up soon, I'm told - I've been using Spotify with the free 2 hours service as a way to compile and practise along with set lists. Extremely useful, and helps a lot as I don't have to but a track here and a track there. I'm not a fan of downloading tune by tune from iTunes, I think it's going to kill creativity in any music for commercial release as anyone who has half a hit will have demands placed upon them for "the difficult second single".

How many artists from the golden ages of the last 50 years have had free licence to experiement a little on their albums? This will end completely if the current trend of all music becoming the equivalent of the 99p woolworth's bargain bin continues.

I digress. This subject does press my buttons.

If you want to come and see me sweat with a Warwick Fretless 5 string, come to the Plough in Tilehurst and see some great musicians. Weird pub, this - seems to have a concentration of excellent musos within spitting distance, resulting in a decent jam night nearly every time.

The Plough Inn
78 School Rd
READING
Berkshire
RG31 5AW
United Kingdom

See you there, maybe...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why people are buying android phones

It's because they're better then symbian. But as this fellow found out, android is still too geeky and windows-like in some aspects:

http://m.zdnet.com/blog/bott/why-i-dumped-my-droid/2487?tag=nl.e550

Plus, the device sounds like a pisspoor hardware platform.



- Posted on the move

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Apple GameCentre

Wow. This got pushed onto my iPhone with iOS4.1 - but I hadn't looked at it yet.

What a piece of crap - this software is definitely not up to apple's usual standards. I would wager it didn't come through the same teams as work on iOS proper, and I'm surprised it was approved in the first place, for several reasons:

1. the font is ugly as hell
2. All the text is black on DARK GREEN which renders it hard to read
3. The slider switch controls only seem to respond to tapping (!!)
4. When I registered my usual apple ID email address, I then had to re-authorise it(?)
5. The graphics (stupid bloody banner things on every button) make it hard to work out what is and isn't a control

There are other points, but the overall point is this application is a miserable addition to the iPhone. I've hidden it away in a distant folder in a distant corner so it doesn't offend my eye (even the app icon sucks).

Has anyone used the feature?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A cautionary tale for iPad users!

A friend of mine at work is in the Apple Developer Programme, and also has an iPad. At the moment, the iPad is a little behind the rest of the iOS devices, in that it's still running a v3.x.x version of the operating system. Lots of people would argue that that's fine - and my experience so far has been that it's a wonderful device - but anyone with an iPhone with iOS4 on it knows that there are some very useful features which definitely enhance the user experience.

As part of the developer programme, he gets early releases of upcoming iOS versions and he got v4.2 for the iPad and tried it out. It seems apple quality control is not that applicable to their beta releases - his 3G connection was well and truly borked and the mail application crashed a lot.

"Fair enough" thought he "I'll downgrade back to V3"

unfortunately this proved to be a vain hope - it appears he can't get the baseband to downgrade as well, so he's stuck with the dodgy beta or an iPad which won't power up.

So if you're an iPad user and you're on the dev programme - it would appear you need to consider taking the beta release very carefully. Apparently forum postings indicate that the non-3G iPads may have an easier time of it - which might well indicate a problem with the baseband software as, of course, a non-3G equipped iPad probably doesn't have baseband software at all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Spofity - late to the party but impressed.

I've recently started using spotify; I had thought you had to be invited but was pleasantly surprised to see I could start an account myself.

I looked again as I've got a function band project starting up, and the playlist, while containing a lot of standards I know well, does contain the odd one I don't have a CD for and haven't played live.

I really enjoy immersing myself in bass lines, working out the style, phrasing, touch, so I really fancied finding the original tracks.

I'm allergic to iTunes' quality and as a musician I hate the buy-one-song philosophy as I believe it stifles artist's potential to experiment in an album format and grow.

So when I realised what you could do with Spotify I was really impressed with it as a resource. Got the whole setlist with original recordings in 10 minutes. And now it's a playlist I can use it on the studio machine, plug the laptop into the headphone amp... Nifty.

I'd recommend it to any muso learning tracks.


- Posted on the move

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Corporate stooge? Maybe for a minute.

I've got a couple of things coming through - one is a rather interesting and brand new project with a folk pop feel (not done that before!) and the other is a function band job.

I swore I'd tell everybody the setlist so I could get fingers pointed at me and lots of hoots of "sell out!" so here it is;

Set 2

1) Smooth
2) Moondance
3) There’s Nothing Like This
4) Summer Breeze
5) Ain’t No Sunshine
6) Fly Me To The Moon
7) Delilah
8) Can’t Take My Off Of You
9) Can’t Smile Without You
10) September
11) Celebration
12) Never Too Much
13) Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now
14) High n Dry
15) Creep
16) Sweet Home Alabama
17) Won’t Get Fooled Again


-----------------------------------------------------------

18) Superstition

Luckily lots of these have seen lots of service in my repertoire over the years.

Wish me luck ;-)


- Posted on the move

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The insurance saga... I've emailed swiftcover.

I decided I'd do what I did with Direct Line when they did EXACTLY this same stunt: give them a chance to explain and redeem themselves.

While I appreciate than customers are now just dumb cash cows, and that customer relations are more a question of FAQs and automated helpdesks rather than talking to actual people, I want to believe that there is someone at swiftcover who still gives a shit.

Here's the email:

---

"Regarding my upcoming renewal quote: price has ballooned by approx 22% from 377.27 to 461.74 in one year. This does not compare favourably to previous years increase.

Admiral are quoting me 411.80 for identical cover. This represents an increase of just over 9%, which would contribute to a reasonable profit margin for your company and dividends for your shareholders.

If you can match this quote, I'll stay with you. If not, I'll walk.

I'm offering you a chance to impress me. A chance to do better than Direct Line did when they pulled a similar stunt a few years back.

Seriously, explain your quote. Match my figure. Or I walk."

Now it appears the comparison sites are bent as well!

OK, I've done a search on Go Compare. Admiral quote: £445.40

Now I do a search on Confused.com with EXACTLY the same details (and I have checked): £398.15 from ADMIRAL. Same conditions.

Someone want to explain this? Where did that £50 come from?

Not happy. I'll go back to getting individual quotes from individual companies now. I can see that the arc of the comparison websites is on the way down - no doubt either their scraping algorithms are getting too complex, or they don't fill in all the fields correctly, or (frankly) they're on the take from the insurance companies involved. I would wager comparison sites, with their huge advertising campaigns (funny how often we see go compare ads, eh?) are getting large kickbacks from the insurance companies.

I wonder what Direct Line will quote me...

I know insurance companies are bent, but...

This is beyond a joke.

I gotg a renewal notice from Swiftcover, who were pretty reasonable last year. This year... a rise of over 25%.

With this in mind, I logged on to gocompare, and discovered that they archive previous searches from years gone by. All are at the same address here in south buckinghamshire I've got 2007 (£320.22), 2009 (£342.60 - not too bad for a year's increase) and now... 2010... £437.83!!!!

What the hell happened in the last 12 months? Are these bastards trying to claw back losses, or prepping for a crime spree in the next few years? An increase of over 25% in 12 months?

If I change the postcode (speculatively, of course, to check out how much I'm being ripped off for) to Nic's parents place up in Rutland, it drops to £293.95. No kidding. The bastards are charging me an extra THIRD for living around here.

take note people. The south east really REALLY sucks.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pot repair?

How satisfying! I think the pickup selector stacked rotary pot on the 6 string doesn't need replacing after all!

Thank you, servisol, once again. :-)

Time to get cracking.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Geekery, Democracy, Jiggery-Pokery

This is quite a serious posting for me.

http://bit.ly/dDhevd

this link is to a story about subversion of Digg, a site I hadn't really taken any notice of until now. If the stats in the story are to be believed, there is a growing cabal of right-wing tech-savvy individuals who are manipulating the stories which "bubble up" in Digg's rating mechnism such that right-wing conservative stories make it up, and anything regarded by their close little group as "liberal" is voted down (and indeed out).

What this represents is nothing more than an organised attempt to recreate the conditions which got Hitler into the position of power. And we all know where that ended up.

What's fascinating is that this is happening through a technological medium: these people have organised themselves through a yahoo group, have shadow accounts they keep as backups - the whole thing is very cloak and dagger - but you can see why: they are attempting to influence the thinking of the body public, you and I, through the exposure we have day to day to news stories - you know, the sort that say "crime rife! Crap liberal government to blame" and "castrate paedos now!".

If you've got any enlightment in you, read the article. It's scary reading. I don't know what anyone can actually do about it though: boycott Digg?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

iPhone 4 mixed signals

You can't have escaped the hooha about the iPhone 4 and the antenna design / now apparent oversight of apple on every iPhone ever regarding the algorithm used to calculate RSSI (received signal strength indication). I worked in mobile phone comms until 3 years ago when I moved into doing work with tetra radios.

The way the story has been covered has been your typical bad science reporting, with this morning's BBC slot by some fellow from "click" explaining the problem.

Much as I love apple's products, the last 10 years of consumer electronics have persuaded me of one thing; resist the urge and don't be an early adopter. The iPhone 3GS I've got was around for quite a while before I got hold of it, and even then I only went for it because it finally offered the features I'd been enjoying in phones for many years. Kudos to apple for not rushing features out btw, which is one reason why this 3GS is a joy to use.

I've done a lot of apple defending in the past, but the iPhone 4 appears to have been something of a cockup. The antenna design is, I think, a good basic idea - internal antennas are a compromise and will never get as good a signal as a proper or stub antenna. Apple locating the surface of the signal receiver around the edge is a good idea, but the co-locating of the wifi antenna and the close proximity (allowing the 3G/2G antenna to ground through it) were poor design choices.

I had thought, in my admitted admiration for the polished feel of apple products, that this must have been some small software issue but now I think I know how this poor design got through. Secrecy. Pete Stewardson from work takes credit here, it didn't occur to me at all.

See, apple have to field trial phones like the rest of us. They love the slavering anticipation their product cycle produces, and hence they keep a tight lid on things; iPhone 4 was no different. So, to keep the physical design a secret, they had testers using the devices inside a case which gave the phones a 3GS "look".

This, of course, insulated the antenna from the testers' hands. And totally masked the antenna grounding issue. Woops.

What is happening now with apple suggesting that the rssi meter algorithm has "always been wrong" and that they were "astonished" to discover this, this I think is a total damage limitation exercise. If the meter had been wrong all along I simply cannot believe that 3 iterations of the iPhone would not have seen it fixed. Simple field trials would have shown it up.

Sean Cody, where are you matey and can you give me the lowdown!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm writing again...

Collaborations are gearing up for the summer.

I've got 4 ideas I'm working on.

Should get a mix from Aussie Rob with my rubber stringed Ashbory bassline soon.

Studio is humming nicely, automated desk is a dream.

Woohoo!

And great jazz band last night at the Wenlock Arms. Regret not seeing Blackmaninoff but there y'go...

Oh and the iPhone FB app sucks.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Good old fashioned acoustic fun.

Over the weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to one of those impromptu BBQs that spring up amongst friends when the weather improves. Ours will be shortly I suspect.

Anyway, the occasion was firing up the Ozpig (www.ozpig.co.uk) amongst other things - this fantastic little piece of steel ingenuity is the result of Aussie outbackers converting gas bottles into portable wood burning stove/heaters. There is even. Community of OzModders, I understand, who weld further brackets and acoutrements on to utilise more of the heat.

This is by the by though. I brought the trusty Acoustic Bass with me, and had a grand old plonk well into the evening while being warmed by the pig. Some ├ętude style pieces, a little bach, a lot of funk and some two-handed buffoonery. I must perfect the Inspector theme tune, although the full brass section middle 8 is probably a pipe dream without the MIDI driver.

A great night. My first public performance in a few months, so to speak; best compliment was the agreement that people only realised how much they enjoyed what I was playing when they detected the silence as I took a swig of beer or zhivago (Nic, of course, had a full portable kit with her - we have converted further masses to the zhivago cause).

Otherwise the warm weather is, as usual, and in an entirely predictable way, playing merry hell with any practice schedule I try to keep. But it's the best reason to spend more time on he acoustic. I just need some good backing tracks. Hmm...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Ash cloud remnants...

All that recent ash cloud goings-on and the way in which the airlines got back in the air troubled me; it seemed to me that a financial imperative put the planes back in the sky; now it seems the CAA have pointed a finger at aircraft engine manufacturers-this is from the BBC;

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines told Radio 4's The Report: "The critical path for this decision was the time it took for the manufacturers to satisfy themselves on the safe level of contamination. How long does it take for a manufacturer who has declined to determine something for many years to actually say, 'Given the evidence we've now got, we're happy to nail our colours to the mast and say that these are safe levels of contamination that don't present a hazard.' I suspect that manufacturers knew much of this, that they knew there was an acceptable level of safety but what hadn't happened is that they were prepared to underwrite that and validate it. I suspect that a lot of these things come down to a combination of commercial and safety pressures and actually there are levels of contamination which might impact on the life of the engine without impacting on its safety. But that's only a speculation on my part.... I'm just grateful that they came to the table and worked very hard to get it resolved. If we'd had the assurances from manufacturers that we have now at the start of this crisis, the response would have been different."

I see. Buried in there is a tiny little phrase

I suspect that a lot of these things come down to a combination of commercial and safety pressures and actually there are levels of contamination which might impact on the life of the engine without impacting on its safety

I stand by what I said before. I expect at least one plane to suffer from unexpected engine failure in the future due to pisspoor maintenance scheduling which didn't take this into account. The airlines were in trouble before this happened; I simply don't trust a financially driven organisation to be 100% vigilant.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Honest mistakes

I made a cracking mistake this morning; there's a hatch at the back of the boat you grab weeds from where they wrap around the propeller shaft (as part of essential maintenance). During our show-around, we were shown how to remove the retaining bar (which has two screw threaded handles which push down and keep the hatch in place) and a tip for remembering to put the bar back in-if you forget, the boat sinks.

Don't panic, this story isn't calamitous.

The tip was to place the bar across to top of the deck hatch, along the edge of the hatch's hinge edge. This means you can't try to shut the hatch without noticing the bar, at which point you slap your forehead, issue the time-honoured Homer Salute to Mistakes, and put the bar in.

Now, I had followed this to the letter, and the weed hatch cover (which comes out completely) was to the right, on deck, while I froze my hand removing weeds and checking the cotter pin.

As I moved the hatch cover to replace it, I knocked the end of the bar, which promptly fell down the weed hatch, briefly waving at the prop shaft as it headed for the bottom of the canal. Oops.

After a couple of minutes of reflection, I rang the guys hiring out the boats, and a fella with a hve magnet got the bar in less than a minute. He said he'd never had to fish out one of the retainer bars before, which surprised me !

I reflected on my mistake, and realised it was entirely honest; I was half awake but followed he instructions faithfully. The fella with the magnet said he'll make sure it gets fed back into the show-around, so I now feel quite pleased with my novel mistake as it should ensure nobody else panics (we didn't panic btw, it was all very logical).

Have you made any honest mistakes like this recently?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Success: what does it mean to you?

I had a conversation with Nic today which got me thinking, on several levels. It was about "success", and before I move on to my own musings I should give the whole thing a little context.

Nic's brother, it's fair to say, is what you might call a generation X casualty (my words!). He's pretty much opted out of interfacing with modern life, and on several counts I agree with him.

Nic worries about him a lot, which is admirable. I understand why he feels the way he does (and I am assuming I do understand, for the purposes of this piece, as we've talked at length about things in that way people do when they want to work out how to fix the world). There are personal compromises about the way society has decided to work itself out which mean if you didn't keep an eye on your path when you were younger, you find yourself in a situation you know you wouldn't have wanted if you'd thought about it back then.

I understand because I now hate desk jobs where you work in a large organisation. They're now the epitome to me of collective human worthlessness, where those who come up with great ideas and want to implement them have them squashed by accountants, middle managers and bureacracy. The tyranny of the project plan, the awful inevitability of the wash-up meeting, the liturgy of the lessons learned. All of it created by a group think so stifling no new ideas can be quickly brought to being.

This is my opinion: nic's brother has gone straight to opting out, before he ended up behind a desk. Nic believes that you just have to suck it up and put up with spending 1/3 of your time doug stuff you don't want to do so that you can do stuff you wantto do for the other 2/3, but when you pull 41 hour weeks, and add another 1.5 hours 5 days a week in the car, where is the 2/3 coming from?

Nic is right, of course. She's got the brass neck to start her own business, and opt out another, more constructive way. Those of us too timid or too entrenched (an excuse?) to do that can only look on and wonder. Or take to our beds and stop.

What do you do to stay alive? Or am I howling into the void again?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mobile geek alert... Android's popularity amongst manufacturers could be its' undoing?

First up, in case you didn’t know, I have an iPhone. I’ve been using “smartphones” for many years, the first having been a P910i, then a P990i, both of which I kept using for more than 2 years. They weren’t bad, but the iPhone in my pocket makes them seem pretty slow and primitive, especially with regard to user interface elegance. I spent 7 years in mobile phone software testing (mainly in depth protocol stuff but I did a lot of UI testing as well).

I’ve had a fiddle with an android device and I thought it was pretty good: it was a G1, pre-recent Android 2.1 update (I think that’s what is gradually being rolled out). Smooth, slick, nice interface.

I’ve read a few things recently though, which make me think Android could have a problem…

I think there are several things about android which may result in a gradual slide away from it, and they stem from thinking about Android as a platform for “app” developers rather than as a nice open-sourced attractive operating system with good user interface characteristics.

  1. Different hardware vendors produce different devices with different hardware platforms. Primarily, the issue here is screen size. If, as an app developer, you have to code for several devices with different screen sizes, it’s analogous to the awful situation web developers find themselves in trying to cope with rendering and processing differences between IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera… etc. Over time, app developers will grow tired of either having to compensate for small screens and rejigging their application interface to take advantage of larger ones, or only having their app run on one screen size and limiting their audience (and therefore their revenue – nobody’s going to keep doing this for free and produce good content).
  2. Different Android handsets are on different software versions with different capabilities. Although there are a variety of methods of updating android firmware (including rather nifty over-the-air) the updates are by no means guaranteed to go out to EVERY android device – some will be on the end of a cable; some will be over the air; this proliferation of different Android versions across the handset population is corrosive to coordinated application development.
  3. There’s the issue of no “central point” of Android OS software development as well: Google ain’t providing the firmware for HTC devices, Google are only looking after the overall state of Android, in the same way as Mandrake aren’t going to fix Linux issues in Ubuntu – but if core problems occur, they will find their way back into core Android eventually, but will they percolate out quickly? Another reason why an app might need to be tied to older versions of the OS to keep itself available to as many punters as possible.

There’s a spat going on between Orange customers who have their android app store view knackered by the latest updates, and apparently HTC aren’t interested, saying it’s an orange issue…

Some of this can be overcome using clever coding, and I’ve little doubt a second-tier industry will spring up to create tools to try to design UIs for a range of androids, with a range of OS versions, but it’ll still be compromising at every turn and that means the apps will miss compelling features.

Some of this is actually diplomatic – issues between companies who produce android hardware and networks. This is the really nasty one as large organisations are appalling at coordinating this kind of stuff.

But the overall picture, if it’s not reigned in damn quick, will see android descend into a pile of mush for developers – a great platform ruined by a lack of central control.

Most of the people who complain about the iPhone rant about the restrictive APIs, the lack of multi tasking, and the general feeling that it’s not “your” handset, that Apple retain control all the damn time. That’s why the iPhone keeps getting jailbroken, and there’s a community who have their own jailbroken apps store.

Good for them. But 99% of the population don’t give a shit if the iPhone is locked down, they just enjoy running apps on it, interacting with it and using it: it really isn’t an issue for them. The righteous indignation and anger of the Geek brigade is futile, even if it is justified. And in the current malware-obsessed criminal internet environment, we’re looking at moving towards always-connected mobile devices. Ask yourself, would you prefer a device with some locked-down aspects or an open-source OS with freedom for programmers? (well, Android is sort-of open source)

I decided I wanted a smartphone which wasn’t so “smart”. I’m a programmer during the day, I geek out building stuff from scratch… but I’m seeing that Apple’s approach has many benefits on many levels. Tied down APIs and a single point of delivery for OS updates and applications which is distinct and separate from the network I’m on are definite advantages if you want a popular, populist platform you can really code for and get to the widest possible audience.

Good luck Android, I think you’ll need it.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Total facebook FAIL

Wow. Not impressed this is the only way I can post anything to FB at the moment.

It seems facebook's glorious transition from interpreted PHP to cross-compiled C++ has not gone smoothly. In addition to totally screwing with the look and feel of FB again, they appear to have completely FUBARd the actual guts of the site.

Apparently the idea was to save cash and trouble reatnig ever larger server farms, by making the existing machinery work more efficiently - by running compiled code rather than PHP. They got quite a lot of kudos for this but my guess is that, as usual, not enough testing was done, and it's blown up. Very messily indeed.

Currently my iPhone will get some status updates (not all of them) - I can't log in to FB at all, or reset my password (everything is closed for "maintenance", that lowest of innuendos for "We're screwed right now, try again later")... oh dear.

As Dylan put it the other day - what's this Google Buzz business? Sounds interesting, even if it will always be in Beta, at least the bloody thing might work?

Or does all of this just feed my emerging belief that modern software systems are so huge and complex that we will either have to be connected and spend a lot of time with low-level angst and annoyance (with our Windows installation, our 27 inch iMac screen, our OS in general, OR our social networking sites) - OR - disconnect and go back to the way stuff was a few years back.

I'm getting v. close to closing the FB account for good, I suspect it wasn't doing me any good even when it was working...