Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A year in Prog!

It's New Year's Day 2014 and I'm reflecting on the music of past year.

Album wise there were several okay...ish releases in the world of Progressive Rock. Steven Wilson's The Raven That Refused To Sing not the absolute masterpiece some have eulogised a solid effort though but it did contain some filler. Motorpsyco entertained with Still Life With Eggplant not as good as their previous album but again a solid effort. Magenta as ever didn't disappoint with The 27 Club, wishing Tina Booth a swift recovery from her ill health.

The Three stand out albums in no particular order for me were Edison's Children's Final Breath Before November which almost made it as album of the year and Big Big Train with English Electric Full Power which combined last years Part One and this years Part Two with some extra goodies to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Also Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close fame pulled one out of the bag with his side Project Jet Black Sea which was very different and a challenging listen, hard going at first but surprisingly very good. This man is one superb guitarist especially if you like emotion wrung out of the instrument like David Gilmore or Steve Rothery.

The moniker of Album of the Year this year goes to Fish for the incredible Feast of Consequences. A real return to form and his best work since Raingods With Zippos. The packaging of the deluxe edition with a splendid book featuring the wonderful artwork of Mark Wilkinson was superb. A real treat with a very thought provoking suite about the first world war really hammed home the saying "Lest we forget". A fine piece that needs to be heard every November 11th.

Gig wise again Fish at the Junction in Cambridge was great. His voice may not be what it was in 1985 but he is the consummate performer, very at home on the stage. As a raconteur between songs he is as every bit as entertaining as he is singing songs themselves.

The March Marillion Convention in Port Zealand, Holland where they performed their masterpiece Brave was very special as every performance of incredible album is. The Marillion Conventions are always special but Brave made this one even more special than it would normally be.
Gig of the year goes again to Marillion at Aylesbury Friars in November. I had waited thirty years and forty odd shows to see them perform Garden Party segued into Market Square Heroes that glorious night it came to pass, I'm am now one very happy Progger or should that be Proggie? Nevermind Viva Progressive Rock!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

LinuxMint 14 Add Printer Issue

 LinuxMint 14 Add Printer Issue


I wanted to print from my LinuxMint 14 (Cinnamon) PC via a shared Windows printer on my network. Problem is it isn’t found by the printers dialog in system settings. I thought I’d done all the normal things to get samba to play nice like rearranging the name resolve order in /etc/samba/smb.conf to a more sane bcast host lmhosts wins. Having host and wins, neither of which I’m using first in the order cocks things up some what. Every time I tried to search for the printer in the system setting dialog it told me “FirewallD is not running. Network printer detection needs services mdns, ipp, ipp-client and samba-client enabled on firewall.” So much scratching of the head there then, because as far as I can tell there ain’t no daemon by that name available!

It turns out thanks to /pseudomorph this has been a bug since LinuxMint12 (based on Ubuntu 11.10). It’s due to that particular daemon (Windows people daemon pretty much = service) being Fedora specific and should have no place in a Debian/Ubuntu based distribution. Bugs of this nature really should be ironed out sooner.

Anyway the simple fix is to use the more traditional approach using the older printer dialog which is accessed by inputting system-config-printer at the command line. Which works just fine so why the new (over a year old) printer config dialog that is inherently broken I ask myself.

The CUPS web interface also works apparently http://localhost:631/ in your favourite browser which should be there as long as CUPS is installed which it is in LinuxMint by default.

So come on Minty people get your bug squashing boots on and stamp on this one please.


Bug #871985 only affects Gnome3 so as long as its not affecting Unity that will be okay Canonical will it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrate the Hammer of the Gods

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day 

36 years ago on 17th May 1975 I, as a spotty 14 year old, witnessed the unbelievable spectacle that was Led Zeppelin performing in the flesh. Today the excitement was just as intense. Celebration Day @ 1080p the film of the 2007 concert at the O2 Arena - just stunning! Yes there were a few slight wobbles, Robert Plant chose to improvise rather than hit on or one or two of the really high notes but what an incredible performance this was. The chemistry between them was so evident, smiles at each other at the odd bum note, as if to say "yeah we just about got away with that one" were few. Jimmy Page still gurning his way through the solos and John Paul Jones playing the bass with finesse. My nineteen year old son summed it up saying "they make it look so easy", despite the pressure this was a very relaxed band enjoying themselves. John Bonham would have been very proud of his son Jason who was incredible throughout, his drumming in 'Kashmir' was just stunning. His proud nod to his dad showing off his tattoo of the Bonzo symbol from Led Zeppelin IV was touching. No grandiose show this though with runways extending into the audience a la AC/DC, just a tight group centred around the drum kit, just as it should be. I thought this band had peaked in 1977; the shows at Knebworth in 1979 weren't disappointing but the sharpness just wasn't as keen as I recall, but this performance was a band on top of their game in 2007 and not a collection of has beens in their 60s. Yes there was something to prove, to lay the ghosts to rest on the the appalling performance at the 1988 Atlantic 40th Anniversary Show and the under rehearsed lack lustre performance at Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985 and prove them selves they did.
If you were one of the lucky 20 million who applied an managed to get ticket for the show count yourself as being very fortunate. You were in the presence of 'Rock Royalty', it could be said even 'Rock Gods' well at least "The Hammer of the Gods".
When I try to explain to someone how incredible Led Zeppelin were live they will have a decent record to look at rather than "The Song Remains the Same" a film that never did them justice. We have been waiting 40 odd years for a decent live album/video from Led Zeppelin now at last we have one and don't have to refer back to those incredible performances marred by awful sound that came as standard with the old bootlegs.
I'm sort of glad in a way that this is never going to happen again because it could have turned into a huge tour which would have watered town what was for one night, sheer magic which will be remembered for ever.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Backup! Backup! Backup!


Keep Calm and Backup

I nearly came unstuck the other day. I was asked to sort out a fairly trivial problem with Firefox on a Windows 7 system. It wasn’t displaying the downloaded files information in the downloads dialog which, although not a common issue I have encountered before. The problem is a corruption within the users Firefox profile that can be cured by either deleting the profile and letting Firefox recreate it next time it starts or, as was needed in this case completely uninstalling and reinstalling Firefox whith a newer version.
I used the portable stand alone Revo Uninstaller which is a nifty freeware application that should be in any PC Tech's toolbox. It did it's job very well and I dutifully removed all traces of the old and reinstalled upgrading the latest version. What I should have done is persuaded them to install Pale Moon but that's another story (see earlier blog post).
The glue really started to melt when the user said "where's my bookmarks?", it was a bit of an "oh bugger!" moment. Now I know the bookmarks are stored in C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<somerandomcrap>\places.sqlite which of course was where I should have copied the bookmarks from but inevitably wasn't there now because I'd hosed it. So you can see why it was an "Oh bugger!" moment.
I thought about Pirfiorm's Recuva and did give it a go, alas the file had been over written. It was then I remembered I'd set this fellow up with a backup solution using a portable USB hard drive. I remembered because he'd complained earlier that his backup software couldn't find his downloads folder as he'd inadvertently moved it into his Documents folder then further moved it down another couple of levels into the depths of the file system so it was nesting with the plans for the destruction of the Arthur Dent's house! Two minutes later GFI Backup had restored the file and everyone was happy again. Just goes to show that you never know when you are going to need a backup so don't be a "pleb" sort yourself out a backup today.
Indecently I much prefer the earlier version of GFI Backup (2009) as it isn't as stripped down as later versions, it will still send email reports if you ask it to. If you can't get hold of the 2009 version then Crash Plan is the way to go. It even has a paid for cloud based service or you can back up off site to another machine but way more challenging to set up.
And I expect there will be one of these in the new year, you can give yourself Brownie Points if you do it before!

World Backup Day

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

What a waste!

Shock Horror Resource Waste Expose!

I just sent an email as a test with the same text encoded in different file formats; below is a list of the files:
  • Test File Documentation.pdf (application/pdf) 41K
  • Test File Documentation.rtf (application/rtf) 27K
  • Test File Documentation.doc (application/msword) 16K
  • Test File Documentation.txt (text/plain) 3K
What a waste of resources the .rtf file is over 15 times bigger than the .txt, the .doc (both created with Libre Office Writer) is 9 times bigger and the .pdf (Libre Office's in built pdf creator) is a whopping 13 time bigger. Just as a thought; I wonder how much band width is wasted by using rich text  to send email. I bet if everybody stopped and used plain text the whole Internet would speed up dramatically.
How about if we transfer the analogy to the road network and only allowed a vehicles below a defined emission level, or journeys that were impossible to make via public transport. How much quicker do you think road journeys would be. I know it's never going to happen but don't complain that the network is slow if you really must send that mail with comic sans font and animated gifs of spinning bunnies. Yes it's you the Incredimail user hang your head in shame.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

BT Vision Network Problem

Comtrend Homeplug Weirdness!

If you are one of the poor souls who BT have conned that their BT Vision service is a viable alternative to BSKYB's satellite of Virgin Media's cable TV services then you may well have encountered the Comtrend PowerGrid 9020 home plug Ethernet access point kit. These kits are basically two plugin devices that enable an Ethernet signal to be carried over the mains voltage wiring of a house. This gives a more reliable and faster connection than WiFi which enables HD video to be streamed from the router to the BT Vision box. Thus enabling BT to charge you a small fortune for re-runs of crap TV shows you were fortunate enough to miss first time around. The upside of these is you can get pretty reliable wired Ethernet connection around your house without ripping up carpets and floorboards to run Cat5 cables. Having said that nothing beats proper wired Ethernet for reliability if you can it is well worth doing. Next time you rewire forward plan and run with Cat5e or even better Cat6 cable.

The reason for this post is the ham fisted way these things are set up. Well not set up as such but configured, because they should come pre-configured to just work out of the box, which for the most part they do. The problem come when they don’t work for some reason and the unsuspecting user starts pressing the little button on the front marked CONFIG/RESET. Now you'd have thought that maybe pressing this button would put it into a configuration mode and possibly pushing and holding it for a few seconds would perform a reset back to defaults. Well whatever you seem to do make the leds on the front of the device flash at random which only seems to be a way of telling you that all you now have is an extremely ugly expensive paper weight.

This problem is highlighted in a DigitalSpy forum post citing four interesting things regarding this problem:
  1. Basically the button has to be pressed really hard or it does nothing apart from making the leds flash.
  2. The red Status led does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with or that connection between units is slow.
  3. This can show up as being a phantom problem when it isn't really one if mains supply is interrupted.
  4. To reset the security buttons on both units must be pressed (real hard) simultaneously (you may need very long arms for this).
The instructions given by the manufacturer [pdf] can be found on the Comtrend's web site but as so often the case they aren't always straight forward. Doing the afore mentioned security reset turns an AP device into an EP device so that has to be turned back with more pressing of the errant CONFIG/RESET button and it all goes tits up again. Jonathan Hadden posts in his blog on a different approach to resetting the devices which gives much better feedback whether the reset has taken or not. I wish I'd seen his post before I had spent valuable time working it out for myself. To accomplish the factory reset the security has to returned to default settings as well as the networking set to DCHP etc.

I did it thus:

Noting the serial numbers of the devices the AP (Access Point) device has a serial ending in an A an the EP (End Point) device has one ending in a B, I wrote down serial of the AP device serial because I was going to need it later. Plugged the AP device into the mains and connect to the network with an Ethernet cable. Logged in to my router to see the ip address of the device, mine was under Attached Devices different routers vary where they display the info. Logged onto the 9020 AP device using the ip address in a web browser using the default password "admin", have these people never heard of security? The device's webserver threw up a configuration web page, I clicked "Change Configuration" then "Mac" where I changed the Network Identifier to the serial number which I'd made note of because I was going to need it later, clever huh? I gave the device an ASCII Encryption Key which I made note of because guess what... I was going to need it later, then I did several okays and came out of the configuration. Repeated the previous with the other device using the SAME SERIAL the one ending in an A and the Encryption Key I'd made a note of, smart or what? Again several okays and I had all green lights and the units are playing nicely again.

What I think's happening is the reset using the hardware button is not actually resetting the security which for some reason is getting screwed up. Resetting via the configuration webpage fixes this. Anyway Johathan Hadden also explains the operation so if mine confuses his most likely will clarify.

I know I'm moaning but these are pretty good little units which work really well most of the time it's just these little glitches that are a bit of an annoyance.  If you don't use BT Vision, I most certainly do not Comtrend 9020s are great for extending your wired network without the upheaval of rewiring and can be obtained at around £35 per set on eBay. Hang around because there are always loads for sale you may just get a bargain, I have seen them sell at auction or as little as £20 per set.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Pale Moon the real deal not a pale imitation!

An Alternative Alternative!


My browser of choice has been Mozilla based for many years; Netscape, became Mozilla, then Phoenix, onto Firebird and then eventually Firefox. Firefox has served me well I like the way it works, its plugins and add ons and have got used to its foibles. I've tried other browsers, various incarnations of Microsoft's IE, the lesser known Opera and Apple's Safari. Also the new contender Google's Chrome which is the nearest I have so far come to jumping ship but have always gravitated back to Firefox. On my Linux machines I use IceWeasel which is in reality Firefox rebranded by the Debian Project to deal a 2006 software branding dispute the Mozilla Corporation. On my Windows machines I now prefer to use Pale Moon.
Around for a while the Pale Moon Project is a customised build of Firefox especially optimised to run on Windows systems. Custom built and compiled to be as efficient as possible within Windows it certainly feels snappier then the standard Firefox build. It however does have a few lesser used features disabled, so if you are user of accessibility features or happen to need parental controls take a look at a standard Firefox.
A couple of my preferred features of Pale moon are the fully functional status bar, strangely removed by default in Firefox and a familiar interface unlike the originals slightly weird redesign.
Main features:
  • Highly optimized for modern processors 100% Firefox sourced: As safe as the browser that has seen years of development.
  • Uses slightly less memory because of disabled redundant and optional code
  • Significant speed increases for page drawing and script processing
  • Stability: experience fewer browser crashes.
  • Support for SVG and Canvas, and downloadable fonts including WOFF
  • Support for HTML5 and WebGL
  • Support for Firefox extensions (add-ons), themes and personas
  • Support for OOPP (Out-of-process plugin execution)
  • Able to use existing Firefox bookmarks and settings
Systen Requirements:
  • Windows XP SP3/Windows Vista/Windows 7/Server 2003 or later
  • A processor with SSE2 support
  • 256 MB of free RAM
  • At least 50 MB of free (uncompressed) disk space

Pale Moon as it states on its web site "Aims to remain what it is: a web browser." and that "Added tools" are nice, but may be removed or disabled by default in Pale Moon if they go beyond what should normally be part of a web browser for general use." So it looks like the project is focused on providing a lean and mean browsing experience to counteract the inherent bloat and feature creep that seems to be accompanying recent Firefox releases.

You can give it a try, download here.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The iGoogle retirement dilemma

An open letter to Google

Since its introduction in 2005 I have used iGoogle as my default browser homepage. It has become a friend, a well worn in comfortable pair of shoes. I use it every day and have grown to love its idiosyncrasy but alas Google have decided to decided to retire the service as from the 1st November next year (2013). They give reasons such as mobile platforms bla bla... Android bla bla... Google Chrome bla bla... This is little consolation to the desktop user, some of us still like to use a nice crisp hi-res screen while sitting at a desktop rather than squinting at a tiny compressed space on a smart phone. So Google please reconsider, remember your corporate philosophy "Don't be evil" thanks.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

HTPC, MCPC, XBMC, BIOS and other FLAs (four letter acronyms)

Or Home Theatre PC Pt II

Once I had got my new HTPC booting up to the BIOS without it sounding like a jet fighter on take off, it was time to decide which interface to employ, bearing in mind it has to be usable from around 3-4 metres away on my Sony Bravia KDL-46NX723 46" LCD TV. These interfaces are known as a TFUI (Ten Foot User Interface) for obvious reasons. Anybody who has tried to use a standard desktop from 3m+ on a TV will understand how difficult it can be to use.
So which operating system and which UI?

The OS boils down to two choices realistically; Windows or Linux, both having various versions to choose from. Windows has the choice of four XP Media Center Edition, Vista, 7 or possibly Windows 8. For the Microsoft platform I immediately discounted Vista, because it is resource hungry and just plain sucks, XP is pretty much end of life now, MS are killing it of for good at the beginning of 2014. Windows 8 has only just been released to manufacturing so I would have to install the consumer preview and upgrade later, also the Windows Media Center UI is an add-on and it still isn't clear if that will be a pay for extra. So Windows 7 looks like a candidate. I like Windows 7 it is the best version MS have released to date, stable and has some nice features for the desktop. But this isn't going to be a desktop and I would need to either use the Windows Media Center UI with its restricted availability of codecs and not particularly pleasant GUI or install a different TFUI. The cost of a full stand alone Windows 7 in its Home Premium guise at the time of writing is a shade over £100 at

There is an interface for windows with far better codec support which is Free Software; that is "Free as in Freedom not as in Beer" see XBMC "is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media. XBMC is available for Linux, OSX, and Windows". This has the bonus that is is also free in cost so for the Windows platform the cost for software come in at £102 plus shipping that with the £42 for the case and we are looking at less than £150.

If the TFUI/Media playing software is available for free and is cross platform there is no reason not to use it on a different operating system. This is a PC so to all intents and purposes Apple OSX is out. I know I could go down the Hackintosh route but as this machine runs an AMD processor we are at another cul-de-sac. Anyway as anybody who has tried creating a Hackintosh can lead to a whole load of hurt if you don't choose the components to be compatible right from the start. I you do fancy trying OSX out on PC hardware I suggest you check out Life Hacker's "Always up to date guide" or tonymac86  who seems to be the most clued up on this dark art.
So XBMC on Linux; it seems to be in many distribution's repositories but as I want this to be just a Media Centre I don't need a full desktop install of Linux. I found a version of Ubuntu Linux that is a stand alone HTPC OS, TFUI and media player. It is based on Lubuntu 11.10 which is an officially supported Ubuntu Linux variant so is not of questionable provenance should be around for the foreseeable future. It boots into the XBMC interface by default but you can log in to XBMCbuntu an LXDE desktop using the Open Box window manager. This has very few applications just a file manager and a terminal emulator but does also have the Synaptic Package Manager enabling the installation of any of the myriad of applications available in the Ubuntu software repositories. I just installed the Leafpad text graphical text editor in case I need to edit any configuration files and left it at that, although it has Vim and Pico installed so that was not strictly necessary.
XBMC runs great however I had issues getting sound to work, extensive googling came up with the answer. I from the command line in XBMCbuntu had to do an

aplay -l

this give me the numbers of my sound cards and devices which resulted in

card 0: SB [HDA ATI SB], device 0: [Analog]
card 0: SB [HDA ATI SB], device 1: [Digital]
card 1: HDMI [HDA ATI HDMI], device 3: [HDMI 0]

I could then log out and back into the XBMC interface and tell it to use customised hardware settings under settings | system | audio output | audio | output device | custom, and in the format of  [device name]:[card number],[device number] as the defaults do not work so

works for analog audio through the sound card speaker output and

for my HDMI to the TV, I input the same values for passthrough and set the audio output field to HDMI then had great quality sound coming through the sound bar attached to my TV

All my files are stored on a Windows network so to be able to play them sources are input directly as a Samba  path  i.e. smb://[share]/[folder] with the the username and passwords saved.

The library function is not much use to me for video as I have my files categorised by file/folder names but for music it is invaluable as my music is stored in an iTunes library. So a database scan by right clicking my music source and selecting "Scan item to library" pulls in all the meta tags and the library pretty much works like iTunes, only a million times quicker, and doesn't fall over every two minutes. The image below shows the library categories rather than just files and add-ons, and the side bar pop our allows searching via genre, artist, album, song, year etc.

All in all I'm quite pleased with this even though I'm still getting some fan noise. I especially like the ability to play my iTunes library and the way it manages to play just about any video file format I throw at it. To make for a nicer user experience I have invested in a mini wireless keyboard and trackpad solution from RiiTek which was a very reasonable £19 from an eBay seller. There are many compatible Microsoft Media Center remote controllers available but the general consensus of opinion around Internet forums is they are of dubious quality/functionality unless genuine Microsoft certified. This little device however works perfectly.

Now I have done this build I'm thinking is this possible on a ultra micro computer with minimal power overhead and no fan noise whatsoever? Rasberry Pi can it be done? Watch this space...

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Home Theatre PC

 HTPC (Home Theatre PC) aka The Media Centre PC

I had a thought, I know that's a dangerous thing to have, never the less I had one, "Wouldn't it be handy to have a HTPC". So I have a spare motherboard and processor, 4Gb of DDR2 memory and a 500Gb hard drive; just need a case. This is where my troubles began. I wanted a full height media centre case because I happen to have a fairly decent 500w power supply that runs fairly quietly, which is essential for a HTPC. Looking around the Net for a case I found loads of ITX and slimline micro ATX form factor cases and one or two very expensive enclosures from the likes of Antec, and Zalman costing upwards of £150, way out of my price range. My requirements were fairly modest, it had to be a black desktop style case to match my TV and peripherals, microATX and have a minimalistic appearance. Front facing USB naturally to accept thumb drives etc. and a card reader would be nice.

I settled on a X-Case Q100 from at £36 + £7 next day shipping well under my £50 budget for a case. Their site has a few reviews mostly positive, it looked the part and came with a remote for Windows Media Centre although it didn't have a card reader it ticked all the other boxes so I took the plunge. true to their word delivered next day.
This case is a strange beast with the power supply surprisingly situated at the front of the case. There is a vent in the case lid immediately above the power supply air intake and it exhausts out of the underside of the case fascia.
Hot air is expelled by two 60mm fans to the rear of the unit roughly where the power supply would be on a more conventional case. It is supposed to be designed for microATX for factor motherboards at (244mm x 244mm), however to fit my Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H microATX board, which is a full 1mm smaller in both dimensions so some percussive maintenance was required. The drive cage encroached on the motherboards turf by 1.5mm so I had to use a large flat blade screwdriver to hammer a slight dent in the upright pillar at the bottom enabling the board a snug fit.

Once I had fitted the motherboard I built the rest of the PC up without much incident although the drive cage wasn't the sturdiest nor easiest I have encountered, so all seemed well at this point.
However booting the machine into the bios it was apparent that cooling was going to be a serious issue. Now was where I discovered the the obvious mistake the designers made, plenty of vents to expel hot air but not enough opportunity for cool air to enter. This results in the screaming fan of my stock AMD cooler running at full blast and spectacularly failing to cool the processor while making my ears bleed. To cure this problem more cool air over the processor was needed so I performed a case modification by installing a 90mm whisper quiet fan in the case lid directly over the CPU cooler to force cool air onto the heat sink and fan, thus turbocharging the cooling. The two 60mm exhaust fans I left in place to expel the hot air and its good to go.

The image above shows the intake vent for the power supply at the bottom and the case mod intake fan I installed above the processor. Quite why are selling what is essentially a seriously flawed product your guess is as good as mine. If it hadn't visually complimented my existing HiFi separates and BlueRay player so well I would definitely returned the unit, but it looks damn good so it stays. One other gripe the blue power led is seriously so bright you could almost read by it in the pitch dark.

Next entry operating system and software for HTPC...

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Duel to the death? Logos at dawn?

Network World reports two movements of the Open Source World are getting ready for a cat fight over their logos. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) have taken offence that the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) have infringed the trade mark of their logo. Aparantly the keyhole cutout at the bottom of the gear emblem is too alike the cutout in the OSI design.
Personally I think the OSI logo looks like a doughnut with a bite out of it so beware of low flying lawsuites coming from the general direction of Cupertino! The gear logo is great it obviously gives a rather large nod to the OSI and so it should. So for pittites sake people get over it people you are both batting for the same side. It seems a little ironic that a movement promoting open source ideals should be bleating about trade marks. What next open source claiming copyright infringement!

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

I suffer from IBD Inflammatory Bowel Disease. IBD is often confused with the problematic but less severe IBS Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome. IBD in my case it is Ulcerative Colitis which affects the colon or large intestine and bowel. Other IBDs include Crohn’s Disease however there are other less common forms of IBD.

The symptoms of Ulcerative colitis I have experienced are:
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood and pus in the stools
  • Abnormally frequent bowel movements very often diarrhoea
  • Rectal pain
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Mouth sores (ulcers)
  • Nausea and severe fatigue
I was first diagnosed in October 2005 and spent a time in hospital early 2006 getting it under control. It has been kept at bay since then by immune system suppressants and other medication. Just after the new year 2012 I had a massive flareup of the colitis and had to spend some time in hospital again being treated with very large doses of intravenous steroids to bring it under control. This time it was slightly different in that it is affecting my lower bowel and is less extensive but more acute with some diverticula disease present in my lower bowel. The worse part of this disease is the treatment of immune system suppressants which leave your body open to infection. I have 5 times managed to contract a very nasty virus infection that causes immense head ache and vomiting for 36 hrs since being discharged from hospital in the middle of February that is pretty much once per week and is not pleasant.

The reason for this blog post is that when people ask me about my IBD I can point them here to see it in black and white or glorious colour if you look at the pretty (gross) pictures.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The downside of M$ Office 2010 Starter Edition

Apart from the cost and lock in file formats why would anybody choose Microsoft Office Starter?

Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition has been with us for a while. It is a striped down basic version of Office Home and Student Edition minus the PowerPoint and OneNote components. So what do you get? Word and Excel with basic viewing and editing features that meet undemanding home users basic requirements. Power user features are omitted such as macros and it's advertising supported showing a small ad box in the bottom of a side bar which cannot be turned off, hidden or resized. This version of Office Microsoft only licences to be pre-installed by an OEM. It uses Microsoft Click-to-Run application virtualization and streaming technology which doesn't have a standard executable application file like we are used to in windows applicatons. Why am I blogging about this?

This week I had to set-up a brand new Dell consumer grade laptop where the owner wanted to transfer is files, mainly pictures and Word/Excel documents from a retired XP laptop to this new Windows 7 machine. User requirements are modest just standard letters and a few personal finance spreadsheets and a moderate quantity of photos which are edited with a 1.0 release of Adobe Photoshop Elements, which seems to work fine in Windows 7, a nice surprise. Because of the modest requirements the pre-installed Office Starter Edition was chosen rather than a Home and Student licence at £70 to replace an obsolete copy of MS Office 2000. The first sign of trouble was the user first finding the ads intrusive and the sidebar taking up far more screen space than is necessary. The real issue however, because the user uses this feature frequently, is that Microsoft in their infinite wisdom have decided to remover the ability to scan an image directly into an office document. I believe this has been a feature since at least Office 95 and most probably even before that back in the bad old days of 16 bit versions of Windows and Office. There are of course work-arounds, involving macros but of course these features are unavailable in the Starter Edition.

There is a simple solution for users of other versions of Office 2010 to scan directly into Word 2010 explained at which uses a simple macro that can be assigned to a ribbon bar button, details here.
Sub InsertFromScanner()
On Error Resume Next
End Sub

Of course this is only useful if you are not using the crippled version of Office and are willing to pay the inflated price for the privilege. You didn't really expect Micro$oft to give you something for nothing now did you? For new improved read retrograde step! The best fix for this...

Funny how you can still scan directly into or LibreOffice; truly free software any takers?

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Monday, January 09, 2012

The Netbook From Hell

Acer Expire Aspire???
I've had a problem with an Acer Aspire One D255 Netbook over the past few days. I have previously restored this one back to factory default setting via the recovery partition. Luckily when I last had it here I made the owner, a teenager, a set of recovery media. These DVDs were tested and verified and all seemed well.
Well the inevitable happened teenagers and Windows don't make good bedfellows and Windows XP Home was unusable. It was looping at boot time giving a millisecond glimpse of a blue screen of death. I did all the usual fixes after backing all the owners data using a USB optical drive, The Ultimate Boot CD for Windows and my trusty copy of Fab's Auto Backup For Tech. This comprised of; chkdsk, fixboot and fixmbr from a recovery console accessed from booting a Windows install disc. Enough time was already spent so I decided a nuke and pave the system was in order.
Nuke and pave is where the old system partition is deleted along with the entire operating system. Any user data stored on that partition is also destroyed and a fresh copy of the o/s, Windows XP Home in this case, is installed. This should eradicate any virus, malware or root kit infection which may have been causing the boot failure.
For some reason the recovery partition was toasted as was the small Android partition, which is no great shakes, if you have ever tried Android on a netbook you will know it's not a pleasant experience. This may well have been due to what I expect was a serious malware/root kit infection. Installing via the verified recovery DVDs went smoothly until the reboot where the damn thing went straight back into the same boot loop. So either the recovery media is corrupt or I'm thinking there is some issue with the master boot record area of the hard disk. I tried installing LinuxMint on it just to verify that it isn't a hardware issue and it worked flawlessly except the Mint installer really does not like the paltry 600 pixel vertical screen resolution and some guess work with the tab and enter keys was needed.
So I'm thinking a fresh clean install repair install of XP Home over the top of the non-booting install from the recovery media may work. This fails after inputting the product key attached to the machine, which is accepted, a dialog box requires activation before it will login. I tried an automatic activation via the Internet using hard wired Ethernet which was also accepted but a repeat of the same dialog box requiring activation before it will allow a login. The same happens when it prompts me to do a phone activation. And no amount of Googling helps for fsck sake!
I then had a brain wave maybe its my XP Home OEM disc that is the problem, this is a proper authentic MS install disc with all holograms and product key stickers that came with a machine purchased from a reputable source. So I downloaded a OEM iso via bit torrent and installed via that with the genuine product key from the underside of the netbook. Bingo it worked, great so now I do a recovery media install coupled with a repair install from my new torrented iso and reboot.
Some Acer recovery configuration program runs on startup and hangs on the Android setup because there isn't Android partition partition anymore, so I stopped it from auto-running on boot. Now the issue seems to be that it will not activate at least the Windows Activation Utility won't run and my only choice seem to be which of the four walls I'm surrounded by I should throw this b'stard feckin' thing at first!
More Googling... according to this post “After system repair, Windows Activation Wizard won't run” on Microsoft's TechNet Forums the answer is to install IE8 from a standalone file. I expect this was due to the original recovery install being SP2 where as the repair XP Home OEM cd is a SP3 disc. This seems to have done the trick and allows Windows Update to run and fix the miriad of other niggles that reared their ugly head too.
Finally IE8 wouldn't run properly due to incompatible addons so needed to be run in "No Addons" mode to disable the errant beasties, a download of all the normal freeware and Open Source goodies to trick it out,, Java, Ccleaner etc. Run MS Update and restore the backed up data and we are good to go.
So Acer you don't make it easy do you. How's a lowly PC tech supposed to calculate the invoice for this one? If I billed it by the hour they could have bought a shiny new MacBook Air with the money they wasted on this troublesome beast.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Kodak RIP?

The Demise of Kodak.
If you had told me 5 years ago that Kodak would be filing for bankruptcy I would have thought you a fool, however this week I'm not the slightest bit surprised. Technology has moved on and even though Kodak were the company that brought photography to the masses they failed to capture that market in the digital age. So what could they have done to prevent a 90% drop in their share worth in the last year. I don't know the answers maybe the fact that more photos are taken with phones than any other type of camera these days or how few images are ever printed. What I do believe though is it's a shame that there is a high possibility that a brand that was once synonymous with everyday photography and the "snap shot" may well disappear. Keep up or get left behind, its a jungle out there, Woolworth's anyone?

The day after I originally posted this has an interesting post claiming "Camera Phones Not To Blame" for Kodak's imminent demise, but the way we take photos and how we share them with the lack of film sales. Doh! That's a no brainer, why am I not surprised? Kodak used the Gillette business model selling not camera hardware but film (software). Where have I seen that played out before? Oh yeah the PC industry, how many PC hardware vendors have we seen go to the wall? Software makes the money folks! Microsoft anyone?


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Google Fail


Google Mail Fail - I find it increasingly evident that for “New Improved” we should read “Cocked Up”. Why is it that everything has to change, the constant quest for a so called “new look” and “improved user experience” seems to be change for change sake. Take the new Googlemail interface, Gmail has been my mail service of choice since it was first beta released way back when you had to be invited to join. It has had plenty of new features added but the core of the service has remained the same, great mail handling via search technology with oodles of storage space. So why now do they fsck it up by so called cleaning up the interface and removing essential features like being able to choose between mail and web search right from the search input widget? And what’s this, extra clicks to get around cause the new drop down chooser is cleaner? What the hell was the matter with the old system where at least I could tell what mail had been read from a quick glance, something that is most definitely more difficult in the new look?
Google are you changing this just because Yahoo and Hotmail have released new and un-improved services in their quest to catch up with with your (what was) superior service? For now I'm thankful that at least there is a get-out and I'm able to revert albeit temporarily to the old interface. Google watch out you are about to “do evil” and that wouldn't do for a corporation that has the motto “do no evil” now would it?

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Monday, January 02, 2012

It's 2012!

So what's my New Years Resolution? It really should be to blog a little more frequently!

Well the last time I posted here it was 2008, admittedly it was 31st of December but 2008, come on get a grip and get on with it man 3 years is not a blogging release frequency in any universe, even the 'Hexpekverse'.

Well 2011 was crap, hardly any good new music a dearth of decent gigs and Ubuntu fscked it up big time.

The Ubuntu insistence that we use Unity as our desktop was just plain dumb. The damn thing wasn't any good on netbooks (where is was designed to be used) let alone on a full blown workstation environment. Yes I know Gnome 2 is end of life and I realise it is an alternative to the Gnome 3 Shell but making it default on 11.04 and forcing it on users from 11.10 was a huge mistake Mr. Shuttleworth. Canonical have just dropped the ball and they better quickly pick it up 'cause Mr. Minty is waiting in the wings and he has the solution.

Music wise the Marillion convention was as always brilliant and made more special than ever due to my solo attendance. I met some amazing people who will remain friends for life and discovered some quite astounding new music from Adrian Jones and his band Nine Stones Close. Who is an all round good bloke and top notch guitar player. If you have any leanings towards Pink Floyd et al or the more modern ProgRock sounds of bands like Radiohead this is well worth checking out. As is Paul Cusick whose new album P'dice, may well be my album of 2011 if only he could get my copy to me. I pre ordered it nearly a year ago, get your finger out mate.

Roger Waters reprised Pink Floyd's The Wall at The O2. I was fortunate to have seen Floyd perform it both in 1980 and 1981 which was simply stunning, Rog surpassed himself this show was incredible. Yes I know it wasn't Floyd but with the technical advancements of 30 years it is going to take one hell of a show to top that one.

Great album releases of the year were thin on the ground with nothing totally new to get excited about. The Beach Boys finally released Smile as The Smile Sessions, Pink Floyd tried to flog us its back catalogue all over again, The Beatles finally succumbed to the iTunes machine and became available to download legitimately. They released the entire back catalogue in a remastered form which did clean up the sound somewhat but had the normal problems of too much gain to make it radio friendly. However the release of the original mono recordings was a much better sonic affair. Fair play it was worth scraping that one out of the barrel but why was it so damned expensive? EMI as all the major record companies just love to rip us off time and time again. I think the time has come where music purchasing is going to move to a completely different model and there draconian, neolithic business model is ripe for extinction.

New music as I mentioned was thin on the ground but one beacon shone out. Alice Cooper released a sequel to his 1975 Welcome To My Nightmare. Welcome 2 My Nightmare an album of completely new tunes except for an overture just to remind us how utterly brilliant the original was. Do you know what 35 years on he's pulled it off again, it's definitely my most played release of 2011 so gets my award for album of the year.

Welcome 2 My Nightmare

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