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Thursday 30 December 2004

Working? [lurks]

Who's back at work then? I am. It sucks. Bugger all people here and most importantly, no one else in the country is working so I can't really do any more work anyway. Still, better off dossing at work now than take the time off. That way I'll have some up my sleeve to actually go somewhere later in the year...

Wednesday 29 December 2004

Tsunami - Donate to help [Slim]

Saw the following useful information from Sports Interactive, if you want to donate, this looks like an easy way to do it:
We've been spending the last couple of days trying to find one of themany worthwhile charities that are doing work out there to support. It's been a nightmare, as they are all doing such good work. This morning, I spoke to the press officer at Cathod, and she informed me that all the UK based charities have pooled together to have one donation line to make decisions like this a lot easier for people to know where to donate to.
The organisation is called the Disaster Emergencies Committee (DEC), and their website is
If you want to make donations, you can do so directly through - if you are a UK resident and working, PLEASE remember to tick the "Gift Aid - Yes" box, and the goverment will then pay any tax on the amount (28p in every £1 donated) through to the charity through your own tax payments (this is not an extra payment, just money taken directly from tax you've already paid), which means that for every £1 donated, the appeal with get an extra 28p.
Thank you for reading this far, and if you haven't made a donation yet, please do.
I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year, and hope that you can spare some time to think about those less fortunate than yourself at this festive time.

wanky banky [Shedir]

Well this one year I tried to be sensible.
I transfered my wages (which arrived 10 days early in december) to another account, then setup a transfer which would put them back the day before my DDs.
Got the kid out on his bike and we went for an ice cream that day.
Arrived at bank, bosh no dough and well overdrawn.
DD's came off a day early and the money transfer hadn't happened!
Called bank and was told that money transfers can't happen on a non working day.
On an IT system of course this is utter tosh.
I've emailed them below but I'll be onto the branch next.
Wankers the lot of them.

I have phoned the telephone number and am not happy with the outcome.
I have been been advised that the origional T&C's said that the transfers would not work on a non business day.
In that case why am I able to schedule them?
Due dilligence should make sure that the bank cannot allow me to input inappropriate transactions.
I've used this facility in the past to great effect and have been very happy with it.
However this instance has soured me to the whole idea. Given the website is available 24/7 and I transfered the money by hand via the website *that day*, I fail to see how the money wasn't moved.
I work in IT myself and unless the transfer is approved by hand somewhere, I cannot understand how a scheduled task (or cron) on a computer cannot run because it's a bank holiday.
I look forward to your explanation on this, hopefully with a promise that it can be rectified for the scant 20 days public holiday there are in the UK.
Also that the service is unable to be set to weekends as I assume that it will not work then either.
Yours, Pete

Tuesday 28 December 2004

A reading list of a different variety [Muz]

Having heard good things about Dan Simmons' Ilium from both Lurker in blog 181 and a friend of mine who is a professor of literature, I thought "Hey, might be something good there" and picked it up.
However, I thought before reading this reworking of Homer's classic, it might be worth reading the Iliad first. (I know most of the story, having read books about Greek mythology, but never the great work itself). I ordered the Oxford World's Classics edition and have just gotten around to starting it. What can I say, other than "woah", in a suitably monosyllabic Keanu Reeves fashion. This is nearly 500 pages of verse, with a cast of dozens if not hundreds of characters, composed by a man who very probably didn't have the aid of a formal written language to write it down. Poets would memorise this literal epic, and then recite it verbatim. The sheer scale of it boggles the mind.
Anyway, I digress. I'm only a few books (chapters) in, but already there's been enough about ancient Greek culture and mythology to get me wanting more. I've already ordered the Odyssey and the Aeniad; can any of the more cultured and learned among us suggest any more sagas in a similar vein that might be of interest?

Creative Zen Micro review [Lurks]

MP3 players have come a long way since my first one, the Diamond Rio withits 32MB of memory and 115k serial link. Creative's newest Zen Micro isabout the same size as the ancient Rio but of course sporting a hard drivethe Zen Micro is gunning for the iPod Mini. This here blog is a review ofthe Zen Micro but I'm going to have to digress a little to discuss whereCreative fits in the scheme of things.
Until fairly recently, Creative shipped more MP3 units a year than Appledid, thanks to the solid-state Muvo series. That'd still be the case ifthey owned all of the solid-state market like they did, but now pretty muchevery shed in the Pacific Rim is churning out solid-state MP3 players thesedays and many of them were just plain better.
On the hard drive side of things, Creative pretty much invented thatconcept. The Zen Jukebox series were basically CD player cases with themechanism ripped out and a 2.5-inch hard drive inserted. Of course when1.7-inch drives came along, it was Apple that realised that with a bit ofdesign there was a mass market device waiting to get out.
When hard drives got so small that they threatened the smaller pocketablesolid-state players, Creative also beat Apple to the market with a 4GBmicro-drive based player, the Muvo 2. The Muvo 2 is still a reasonablelittle player but it suffered from a particular Creative disease. It lookedlike it cost £5, even though it cost over £200. It didn't help that theyslapped it in a plastic clamshell box. A year-or-so ago I had a meetingwith Creative where I ranted that they were an inch from the finishingpost, if only they would sort out the presentation and usability.
Then I got a plain package in the mail with a note attached, "Happy now?".Inside was a proper cardboard box for the new Creative Zen Micro with tendifferent coloured Zen Micros on the front of the box. Changable faceplates? Actually no, it comes in ten different colours.
Alright but let's look at the player so I bust open the box and I findsomething which Creative have never done before, presentation. It's notexactly iPod level but it's pretty good and surely no coincidence that thePSU and USB cable are bone white too. It's difficult to illustrate themassive difference this makes from the nasty transparent plastic clamshellof the Muvo 2.
What of the player itself? Smaller than a pack of cards, the Zen Micro hasa bone white back with a compartment for a changable battery. The frontface is flat and painted any of the ten colours. The display is on thesmall side but is quite high resolution. 160 x 104 in fact. This is enoughto show you really what's going on and allow proper browsing.
Here's the kicker, the Zen Micro doesn't have regular buttons as such. Theentire front panel is touch sensitive. Depending where you're at, the tallrectangular section in the middle serves as a volume control, scrollerthrough your music collection or menu options and as a selector by simplytapping it. I confess I'm quite used to difficult and fiddly controls onother MP3 players but nevertheless, I was up and running with it inminutes. The only real drawback here is that you really have to remember tolock the device before tossing it into a pocket but fortunately they'vemade that easy with a slidey dual purpose on/off and lock control.
The display has its own backlight while the buttons and a thin transparentline around the entire front face are backlit with another deep turquoisebacklit. No power supply is necessary for the Zen Micro, it charges on USBand in fact through the USB is the only charging mechanism. For thatreason, they've provided a PSU with a USB mini connector on it to chargeaway from your computer. When the Zen Micro is charging, itslowly pulses the keypad, surround backlight. Nice touch, very tron.
With the Zen Micro, Creative have moved away from the device simply showingup as a mass storage device in Windows. At first, that upset me. I'vealways preferred to just be able to shovel my own music on how I like.However doing so means that the player has to scan your collection on powerup, which can take a little while. The Zen Micro steps over to the iPod wayof doing things and uses a database on the player. It doesn't show up as ahard drive but you can, if you wish, partition some of the 5GB drive toshow up as a hard drive for portable storage purposes. You can't play anyMP3s you shovel onto that though.
We'll touch the user interface in a moment but given that the Zen Microneeds software to upload files - it's going to live or die via how easythat is to do. The software installation is sadly bloatware deluxe butCreative have provided three out-of-the-box mechanisms to get stuff ontothe player. Firstly there is your standard obligatory all-in-one music ripper,organiser type application called Creative MusicSource. It seems serviceableenough but, well, for aficionados of the 'old way' of doing it - it'spretty horrible. And even if you like this way of doing things, it'scertainly no iTunes.
Fortunately the player shows up under 'My Computer' as a virtual devicecalled the 'Zen Micro Media Explorer' and if you browse to itin Explorer, it will show you what's on the player. You can importdirectories and access the nifty functions such as syncing up the built-inorganiser with Outlook and so on. The third option is to use Windows MediaPlayer, which has this sort of standardised mechanism to sync to supportedMP3 players. So if you use that to organise your music (and obviously a lotof people do) then using the Zen Micro is as painless as it gets.
Out of the provided mechanisms, I found the Media Explorer mechanism to bequite serviceable. The only real problem I found with it was that itdidn't work with my Explorer replacement, Directory Opus. Buggery.
At long last, let's discuss the player interface itself. It is, not to puttoo fine a point on it, absolutely wonderful. Of course a fogey like me hasto get used to browsing by artist and/or album, rather than directorystructure but it's very easy to do. So's adding things on the fly thecurrent playlist. The interface is, for Creative at least, revolutionaryand I must say a country-mile in front of iRiver.
One thing I particular found intuitive is that there's a button on thebottom right which looks rather like the 'menu' key thing on a Windowskeyboard, between the right hand windows key and alt. It does the samething, basically like hitting right mouse button on whatever file/optionyou're on to offer a context sensitive menu which you can scroll through(with the volume/scroller control) to select the right option. It'sbrilliant. In fact the touch controls work so well it took me no time atall to enter in my entire (long) name in as the owner in the settings.
There is a built-in microphone for meeting recordings, which I found moreor less acceptable but nowhere near the superb iRiver 100-series andthere's a built-in FM radio. Reception seemed fairly poor using theprovided headphones (which get used as an aerial) inside but I found itworked well enough outside and it does carry the usual features includingan auto-scan. You can record the FM to PCM, although I never worked out quite why you'd want to. In addition to MP3, the Zen Micro also plays AAC, WMA and - vitally, DRMed WMA files courtesy of all those MS-powered music download sites that are appearing.
Audio quality wise, Creative have always known a thing or two here and haveincorporated good quality headphone amplifiers with separate dc-to-dcconverters offering higher voltage rails for the amps to work with. Thatmeans that even if you plug in a set of decent hi-fi cans with highimpedance drivers, you still get a good level out unlike many other devicessuch as the iPod. The Zen Micro doesn't disappoint here either but the realsurprise was also the presence of some actual bass with the provided in-earheadphones. Now they're not fabulous by any means, and I'd soon scrap themfor the sublime Sennheiser PX100 portable headphones but these things areactual useable, in stark contrast to the abortions which come with theiPod (yet miraculously still get used by seemingly endless iPod owners).
Extras wise, the Zen Micro comes with a nasty belt clip thing that does,usefully, double as a desk stand when a little plastic foot is slotted intothe back inside of the belt clip. Given the device necessarily needs you tobe able to touch the entire front panel, your options with regards to carrycases are limited but it strikes me that so long as you're putting in apocket by itself, it will be resilient to wear and tear.
It's also worth mentioning that the third party Notmad Explorer works atreat with the Zen Micro and allows simple copying of music files to thedevice where upon it will extract the tags and update the databaseaccordingly. I found this worked with Directory Opus so it is my currentfavorite choice of getting music onto the player.
In all, I'm going to stick my neck out here and call the Creative Zen Micro the best MP3 player I've seen. Good looks, 12 hours of battery life, 5GB micro drive, FM radio, microphone, excellent interface and superb audio quality have really made an impression on me where I didn't expect to find it.All this for less than £170? Bargain.

Friday 24 December 2004

Xbox KAI, i.e. xbox live lite! [Shedir]

This is superb.
For the unscruplous among you this thing is just fantastic.
Download but run as the engine only version.
Install that and reg a nick.
Using XBMC on your beloved xbox you can slap in your ID/passy and IP of PC running KAI engine.
Spot a mate online and arrange a quick game of something. In the media centre :)
Slap the xbox game on your larger than retail HD and it can auto load it and you just hit system link to play.
tres handy
ho ho ho!

Merry Xmas! [Spiny]

Merry Christmas everyone :)
Anyway. I don't care what vouchers your nan got you, go out & buy this. I can't believe most of you slackers didn't buy this. It's worth it for the multi player alone.

Thursday 23 December 2004

Big Ass Stilton and Broccoli Soup recipe [lurks]

One of the presents I got from the industry involved a pretty flash wooden box with a smart french cab sauv and a huge kilo lump of stilton. The wine wasn't difficult to dispose of :) but the stilton proved a little more problematic. I quite like a bit on crackers but this was a whole quarter of a round so what the hell do I do with that.
I just took a big ass delivery from Asda today and it seems I had fucked up the quantity of broccoli so I had three full heads of that. Accordingly I hatched a cunning plan to play to the strengths of the surplus and lashed up a lovely Broccoli and Stilton soup. I must have a full gallon of the stuff so I expect my neighbors will be getting some :)
It turned out stonkingly nice so here it is in full glory:
  • One chopped onion
  • One chopped leek (just the juicy bit)
  • One peeled potato cut into 1cm cubes or so
  • One and a half full heads of brocolli (300gr-400gr)
  • 500ml of chicken stock
  • 300ml of skimmed milk
  • Big ass dob of double cream
  • Big ass dob of butter
  • 150gr of Stilton (or less)

Making it is pretty easy, particular if you have a huge big ass pan. Get the gas heat on the pan and melt the butter. Heave in the onion and leek. Soften it all up. While that's happening, carve up the heads of brocolli. Keep the skinny stems but dump all of the thick stuff. Then chop ti up a bit and chuck it into the pan along with the potato.
Then add the chicken stock. To make that, one and a half of those 'premium' chick stock cubes will do. Anyhow, get a big ass lid on your big ass pan and simmer it there between 15-30mins or so until the potato has softened up (probably on the short end of that time frame).
Now you wanna get the contents of that pan into a blender and blend it good and nice, and get into a big ass pot. No way all that is going to fit in your blender, unless you have a big ass blender, so you probably have to do it in stages.
When you've got all that in the big pot, add the milk, cream and season it up with some salt and pepper. Then lastly, pitch in the stilton and bring the temperature up again. Don't be boiling it now, that would be bad. Stir the shit out of that, so the melted stilton gets all through it.
You'll probably want to eat half of that for dinner and chuck the rest in the fridge for another time. Or do it when you've got visitors, should happily stretch to 4 persons. Perfect with stilton and port bread which I might dosh up a recipe for later. :)

Tuesday 21 December 2004

So who would you like to be then? [houmous]

I grabbed a copy of 'The Pet Shop Boys discography - the complete singles collection' last week for a bit of laugh - but the truth is I've been playing it non stop since - I'd forgotten how beautifully crafted their songs were, as evidenced by the way so many of them have stood the test of time, and how well they quintessentially capture those magic moments of the 80's and early 90's.
Now without appearing to be an even smugger cunt than I actually am I have to be honest with you and say that I am quite satisfied with my life i.e. there isnÂ’t many people I would rather be. However the assault on my senses of all these Pet Shop Boys tunes somehow jogged my memory to a time, during their heyday, when I decided I wanted to be Neil Tennant. I cant elaborate on why that was with any huge degree of clarity, but it was primarily driven by, not just his talent or his coolness, but that somehow he seemed 'comfortable in his own skin' ( to literally interpret a French proverb). It also helped that he was quite tall.
Anyway this got me thinking - had I ever wanted to be anyone else apart from Neil?
Well apart from a brief period in the 70's, when I became so obsessed with Roxy Music that I announced that I was changing my name from Robin to Roxy, and would forthwith only be answering to that name (I put up with non stop ridicule for a week before giving in) – but I still follow Eno's activities to this day :-), the only other person I have wanted to be is Dave Stewart - I love his....
1) Artistic integrity ( I emailed him a few weeks ago to offer my accountancy services for The Hospital - his new media arts centre),
2) The way he doesnÂ’t give a damn about success in any conventional sense - like the way he went from the Eurythmics - one of the best bands in the world to form The Spiritual Cowboys....... - which was one of the worst haha - but he is like...what the fuck....he enjoyed it!
3) The fact that he is one of the few pop stars who openly talk about that very silly phase we all went through in the 70's where the drug of choice was barbiturates - take a mandrax, go to pub, fall on people and then start a fight - I still cant suss why we thought this was a pleasurable experience...hehe
Anyway - to the purpose, apart from my own self indulgence, of this Blog - who would other fellow EED members like to have been? The woman behind the deli counter in Sainsbury's Clapham? The man who invented velcro? Do reveal all!

Graphics card bargain of the year [lurks]

Anyone after a decent graphics card would be well advised to take note of this blog. ATI Radeon 9800SE cards have come onto the market and these are essentially the same R350 cores as regular 9800s but 4 of the 8 pipelines are disabled. Some also have memory running at 9800 non-pro rates and some really shitty ones have 128-bit memory interfaces (instead of 256).
There's one card, however, which has become pretty well known of late. It's Hercules' Radeon 9800SE All-In-Wonder (AIW for short) card. This has a 256-bit memory interface and the memory is clocked at Pro rates (340MHz) instead of non-pro (290MHz).
The thing is, you can just head over and get some softmodded drivers which unlock the other 4 pipelines. So whammo, you get an ATI 9800 Pro with a TV tuner, video in and out and an RF remote control for £160. Bargain!
The thing is, the 4 disabled pipes aren't guaranteed to work but they work for most people. If they don't work, return the card under the distance selling regulations and buy a new one. This is madness, I've just replaced the monster card from blog 495 which retailed for £400 with a card worth £160 and it's better in pretty much every way.
They're getting in a little short supply now but these guys have them.

Sunday 19 December 2004

Christmas Party Time [vagga]

The Christmas party is upon us. Who would have thought it, me organising an EED event, as opposed to dodging one at the last minute with a flimsy excuse!!
Where we are going is The Dragon Inn. It is number 12 Gerrard Street (post code of W1D 5PP for multimap / streetmap). Gerrard Street is the ‘main street’ of Chinatown, which has the ornamental arches at each end of the street! You know the one :)
(As a backup BTW, shinji and brit also know where the place is, so if you are a pe0n and you cant reach me, contact one of them!)
The booking is for 13 and is under my name. We are booked for 7pm, the restaurant has my number and anyway I have a deposit paid so they should not fuck us about.
I will be in the area early as there is not much going on at work as everyone gets ready to fuck off for Christmas next week. There is an OÂ’NeillÂ’s at one end of the street (At the other end of the street there are what looks like private houses, so you canÂ’t miss it really) I will head in there, with the aim of being there between 5 and 6. I could be there earlier if someone like Daire was standing about on his own with fuck all to do?
My mobile is 07815 801 671 if there are any issues or problems! I have most of your numbers, saying that they are all a year or so old so who knows how accurate those numbers are anymore!
Everyone Happy?

Perfect antispam! [lurks]

Over in blog 567 I was discussing spam and how I had decided to take a serious look at some anti spam solutions. Actually over the course of the last month, I would say that I am more or less an expert in what spam software exists on the market by sheer virtue of the fact that I have installed around 2 dozen applications. Most of them were written off for missing major features but a few I gave serious trials to and still moved on.
I would like to announce today that I have found my ideal application and I am, in fact, in a state of spam-free bliss. It's a good day all right given my Tannoy loving from blog 591 eh?
Before I get onto that, I need to qualify what I'm talking about. I don't use Outlook, I use The Bat. Therefore I need a generic pop3 solution. Secondly, I get a lot of spam. 60% of my mail is spam and that's running at 175 a day. Thirdly, I want Spamcop blacklisting and I want Bayesian learning because I've seen how powerful both are.
I also want a proxy based solution because I aint fucking around with an application before I decided to get my mail. I also really don't mind having lots of things to twiddle with under the hood because industrial levels of spam needs an industrial solution. Spam Sleuth is that solution.
This is pretty much a monster anti-spam toolkit. It has a heck of a lot of built-in modules, only some of which are actually enabled out of the box. In fact out of the box it's pretty shit. One look under the hood though, and I wasn't detered. It will handle multiple accounts and work in proxy or poll mode. In fact it'll also poll even when in proxy mode. One of the modules is a relay which will send your mail on to somewhere when it passes a certain number threshhold. The threshold stuff is like Spam Assassin only in Spam Sleuth there's all these modules which can modify the final score on an e-mail.
Anyhow, that forwarding shit is brilliant because I've got it to forward passed mail to my web mail. So my Squirrelmail is being despammed right on my own mail server, only valid shit is sent up to Slim's Dodgy Hosting TM. So anyway, I've had to fiddle with it right. I've adjusted some weightings. I've plugged in my mailing lists (so they're whitelisted). I've added some bad phrases. I've got it adding spam weight to mails to my older legacy addresses which I don't use.
Now tonight I've classified enough shit that I got to train and use the Beyesian filter too. Suddenly it's working with seemingly 100% efficiency. Ace! This from a little tray thing which I've got running on Wench. So it's despamming away on that box 24/7 for me and squirrelmail and it's already performing better than anything I've used with the exception of SpamAssassin + another RBL looking. It might even be performing that good, I haven't enough data yet.
I've got a niggle in that the RBL lookup stuff doesn't appear to work but I fired a mail to support and they got back to me quickly, saying they're looking into it. Very nice. Very high quality app, good support, right price. If your values are in line with mine, you really can't go wrong with this thing. Highly recommended.
If you don't want to fiddle to get it set up and to get it all running pukka, then it aint for you. You shouldn't play with scissors either.

Saturday 18 December 2004

How Chuffed am I [spiro]

Its not the entire team, but I have a smile on my face from ear to ear

ebay ups and downs [lurks]

I've been doing a load of ebay shit of late. So much so that I needed to start tracking my auctions in excel. Has anyone seen an app that tracks auctions and stuff? Specifically what your payment status is on something, delivery, how many times you've reminded some fucker to send you something, give you feedback etc. If not, it needs writing I tell ya.
Anyway, as usual with eBay - I've had some wins and some losses. I think I can count myself lucky that out of 90 transactions - I've only had two bad ones. One where some bloke in the US sold me something, claimed it was delivered to my address but I wasn't there to get it and they err, flew it back to the US. Yeah right. Second, in the last week, some bloke sold me a duff D-link router and is claiming it's all fine. Time to dish out some big neg.
Yet for all that, this evening I've had the biggest win ever. I won an auction for a pair of Tannoy 609 Mark IIs. Ten year old speakers of the dual concentric design. Fucking awesome and I sniped the bastards for £122. Bloke brings them around tonight. Mint condition, absolutely fucking amazing. Chuffed as hell - I would have paid twice as much!
I have to say this is the first time where, as opposed to how much kit I get to dispose of and hence partially fund my techno-lifestyle, I have actually had a major buying win.
The strange thing is, I've still meeting fairly clued up people that own their own computer and have a broadband connection who don't have an eBay account...

Thursday 16 December 2004

Telewest Cable - binning BT, SKY and going 'all in one' [Brit]

Yesterday morning, I finally binned both BT and SKY - opting instead for the total TV, broadband & phone package from Telewest.
I've been unhappy with SKY for some time, after all despite paying the top notch rate of £41 a month and having spent cumulative hours on the phone with their entire technical support staff, I've been without BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, ITV, ITV2 and twenty or so other channels for over a year. I'm quite aware of the problem of course - but despite me being within warranty they insisted that an engineer would cost £65 plus parts. Fuck that.
So, at 8.45am yesterday the cable guy turns up. I like a couple of other clannies have been on Telewest's uber broadband service (now running at 4MB downstream thankyouverymuch) for a good while and I'm impressed with them. Simply put, they shit on any other internet service provider I've ever been with.
First off, the telephone is costing me £25.00 a month - the price of which includes all calls at any time to any landline number in the UK (this excludes premium rate numbers as you'd expect). No peak hours or friends & family crap. Line rental is in there too. No hidden charges. Bosh - Telewest 1, BT 0. Calls to mobiles are extra, but since I would use my mobile for those calls anyhow, its a moot point.
Secondly, the cable TV. Now I've heard horror stories about cable or rather the quality of service. Complaints concerning heavy artifacting due to the compression used to squirt data down the cable line abound. I have to say however, that I've found no such issues - the picture, if anything, is actually sharper than SKY's - hell, the colour tone is visibly better. All the characters in one of my favourite shows - Navy NCIS - used to have orange skin on SKY. Now they've got proper skin tone. Bosh - Telewest 1, SKY 0.
More importantly, I get ALL the channels (admittedly Telewest only carry one God channel, SKY carries four) and its cheaper than SKY each month by over a fiver. I get all the regular channels, all the 'SKY' channels (but not Sky MIX, that comes next year) and SKY movies etc, for £35.60 a month. Bosh - Telewest 2, SKY 0.
Of course, the highlight of this whole episode was informing SKY that I wanted to cancel my subscription. After a twenty minute phonecall with the subscription handling lady where I kid you not she spent fifteen minutes slagging off the technology behind cable, I finally completed the exercise and stuck it to the man...
Still, I do now have a letter from SKY informing me that as a valued customer in the past, should I find myself unhappy with Telewest, I would be most welcome to go back to SKY. Let me get this straight; SKY are telling me that they are happy to take my cash again? Jeez, they need a letter full of bullshit for that? :)

Oyster sucks part II [Lurks]

You may recall that back in blog 786 I expressed my dissatisfaction with the technological marvel of London transport known as the Oyster card. To cut a long story short, my card just mysteriously stopped working and getting it replaced was a saga of considerable inconvienience, dogged by confused London Underground staff all the way.
Eventually I got that resolved. My card expired and then my week in South Africa happened, I got back and needed to whack on another three months travel for the princely sum of £272.40. What happens is you nominate a station, the next day, which will update your Oyster card with this new season ticket. It happens automagically as you use the card at a barrier. I had to use Paddington because my local Finsbury Park station doesn't have ticket barriers.
On the day of the ticket updating, yesterday, I came through from Finsbury park (since they don't check tickets there) and was met with the dreaded 'Seek Assistance' message, irritating beep and the slam into my back as the gates refuse the open and the chain of commuters come to a sudden stop and huff and puff at me, assuming in some way that this massive inconvienence to their zombie-comute is my fault.
I tried to explain it to the ticket barrier LU assistant guy. He isn't interested, it's an Oyster, clearly it's magic so he just waves me through. Day goes by. I return home in the evening, quite late as there was a work bash, and again the barrier wont let me in.
I explain this to the current surly LU assistant who does a great line in condescending speech, it's my fault. Clearly the ticket has no credit. It does, I say, I paid two hundred and eighty pounds and got the email in the morning saying it was ready. This guy was deeply unpleasant, as indeed most LU staff are in my experience - proof that his £30,000 a year sallery indicates money does not indeed buy happiness.
I go to the ticket selling window, there's no one there but yelling EXCUSE ME for a couple of minutes results in someone appearing and pointing aggravatedly to the OTHER window which I'm clearly an idiot for not understand that this is the one she is manning. There's no money on my ticket. She tries, in fairness, to call the Oyster card hotline to query this only they're closed, she says with a resigned huff. Closed. But um, London transport is 24 hours.
She says try it on the gate guys 'swipey thing'. I communicate to this guy, who has decided to take a serious dislike to me for interrupting him from reading his newspaper in the deserted station. He says it wont work, call the hotline. I say it's closed. He says it's not. He gives me the number, I dial it on my mobile. It's closed. He doesn't care one jot, of course. Suggests I buy a single.
So... had I not had any cash on me, despite the fact I've paid a huge wodge of cash and been confirmed my card is updated, I'd find that I have no right of travel on London transport and absolutely no way of resolving it. Obviously Oyster is, on the basis of this experience, quite rubbish. I indicate this to this LU staff and he has the cheek to tell me that thousands get by with it fine, once again intimating that this is somehow my fault. To be frank, the red mist of rage descended upon me but now older and wiser, I managed to walk away without incident, buy a single and get my arse home.
Next morning I log onto the Oyster web and find out that despite issuing me a new card, they haven't updated it here. I've bought a ticket, by the looks of it, for my old card which they took off me. Obviously this is a defficiency with them, not I. I register my new card on the system, never told by anyone that I would need to do this and if it's not obvious to me, well... I can only imagine how Doris the Chav is going to deal with it.
I call them up to explain this. I get on the phone, similar to the last exchange I had with Oyster customer service, the most bored and condescending woman I can ever recall conversing with. She's slow, stupid, she doesn't get the whole thing and as it slowly becomes clear over the course of 30 minutes of sorting this out - and all they did was refund my ticket and force me to buy another - there's never an apology, never an indication that this is their system having failed me, always the ever-present insinuation that this is my fault. She raises her tone and gets snotty with me. She tells me to do things like 'disassociate the old card' which clearly has nothing to do with the web site because there's no such feature.
So who's going to give me back my two pounds that was on the old card which mysteriously stopped working and they took it off me. What about refunding my two-days travel expenses when the card stopped working? What is the possible justification in having the telephone helplines close at 6pm? What about refunding yesterday's travel expenses and today's travel card too? She 'doesn't know about that' and then hangs up on me.
I was absolutely flabberghasted. I've complained bitterly about the state of the British customer service industry before but never has it been rammed home with quite the nuclear force of this escapade.
Incensed, enraged, disgusted. I'm now writing an official complaint letter which I expect I shall escalate to the regulator and as this correspondence unfolds, I will send it on to the Lord Mayor's office as well. This shall not stand. I'm sure this is ultimately futile but by God, I cannot sit back and take this sort of treatment.

Sunday 12 December 2004

XMP [Spiny]

Remember the multi player addon for Unreal 2 UT XMP? I played it a bit, Slim said it sucked, I still liked it. But as not many people bought Unreal 2 & Lengend went tits up, its slowly fizzled out.
Enter stage left Free Monkey Interactive who've redone the game as a mod for UT2004. Beta one was released this week & there seems to be a shed load of players already.
For the uninitiated, here's how it works:
Two teams each start with two artefacts, the goal being to nab the other buggers artefacts before they pinch yours. You spawn at deploy points which can be caputured for strategic advantage, natch. There's three classes which are light/med/heavy, each with their own predictable advantages & disadvantages. Some classes can lay deployables like rocket turrets & so on. Trouble is see, there's a need for energy and you have to maintain control of the generators too. Fail to control the generators & when your team looses too much energy shit stops working, including the ability to capture artefacts & use fixed guns etc.
The authors have done a commendable job for a first beta & produced a very professional release. All the gameplay elements are there, stuff's well animated, modelled & textured. (Although from memory, the textures don't quite match up to Ledgends output). Being a UT mod of course, it's got a far greater potential user base, and well... its good, see. I does rely on teamplay, which is why it needs a decent crack at it before passing verdict.
So, give it a go. I think I may have even seen a shiny floor or two...

For your Reading Pleasure....... [Houmous]

We are all well aware of information overload – but how do you balance not getting stressed with piles of unread publications (or web pages), or end up considering suicide as you have to wade through something about celebs living in the jungle, while trying to satisfy a genuine interest to know what’s going on in areas that interest you?
Well I think I’ve finally got that balance with the following well crafted package of magazine subs coupled with a careful shunning of newspapers – having a crap has never been so good! (supplementary question –why don’t women read on the toilet?)
Anyway for your amusement and edification here they are – but pray tell – what other magazines do my fellow EED members subscribe to?
1) Ready Made – a cult US magazine that shows how to make art out of everyday objects but with a sense of humour.
2) National Geographic – I just love the pictures after years of looking at them in dentists waiting rooms.
3) GQ – essential reading for the man about town and one of the few mens mags that hasn’t dumbed “ look at those tits” down.
4) Private Eye – something I’ve read on and off all my life – incredibly funny – witness the cartoon with the cat and the fiddle standing there looking at a black dot in front of the moon, with the cat saying to the fiddle “ Oh no! The cows burning up on re-entry! “ It also inspires confidence by showing its not just you that hates hypocrisy and is amazingly cheap if you subscribe.
5) The Economist – I used to think this was really dry and boring before I started reading it – what I now know is that its concise articles are amazingly informative , easy to read and have a gentle dry humour. I read the UK section from beginning to end.
6) PC Zone – nuff said although this has definitely gone downhill over recent months.
7) Time Out – essential for reading about movies and music to *find out more about* on Bittorrent and for planning my weeks TV viewing.
So come on then - whose going to own up to Asian Wives?

Rough Trade [Houmous]

No don’t get excited folks, I haven’t changed sexual preferences – I’m referring to the record shop in Notting Hill. I don’t know how well known Rough Trade is to you all, but effectively it’s a record shop that its unlike any other, and is the shop on which Nick Hornby's book High Fidelity is loosely based.
I first got involved with the shop in the mid 70’s when I was heavily into punk and reggae, running my own fanzine "Situation 3" (one of the outlets I was selling it from in Scotland got raided for having obscene material after I put a drawing of an erect penis in it – I left work immediately when I got the call from the shop, went home and set fire to 200 copies in the garden – haha – but that’s another story!). I was also selling army surplus clothing dyed black in Notting Hill market which is how I discovered Rough Trade.
Its hard to describe the elation of discovering somewhere selling (and publishing) music that you didn’t dream could have existed (remember we are in the mid 70’s). My first purchase was a single by Richard Hell and the Voidoids – something I had only been able to read about previously. I became friends with the owner Geoff Travis and his shop became the biggest seller of my fanzine.
Anyway scroll on another 27 years and we find yours truly flicking through the Financial Times weekend magazine supplement *cough* when I come across an article on an outfit which operates a subscription service sending customers CDs which they think are good every month. Its not one where you can send back anything you don’t like (although if you really are unhappy they will replace it with another from their selection).
Normally the mere thought of the sort of crap you could end up with would make me quickly flick the page with a shudder – but fortunately before this happened I noticed who was behind this – Rough Trade !
A quick look at examples of CD’s they had previously selected included Nouvelle Vague, Black Keys and Devendra Banhart – all of which I love and took a lot of time and effort to find. – I’m hooked!
Joining fee is £30 and then you decide how many CD’s you want a month – the cost is about £12 per album – you can go from 3 right up to 10 a month! I went for the 3 albums. While this is obviously not cheap what I intend to do is the same as I do for all CD’s – I buy them, rip them and put up for sale on Amazon or Ebay.
As you can see from the web site everything is fairly aesthetic. I received a nice membership card, a trendy little calendar showing me the date each month I would get my CD’s (all of which went in the bin) but also a double CD of a sample of Rough Trades favourite tracks, which is great.
I’ve now just received my first CD’s – The Superimposers ( The Superimposers), The Glimmers (Various), and Eye to the Telescope (K T Tunstall). Each CD comes with a great little card with 3 paragraphs about the album under the headings of Who/What/Why. First listening impressions are that they are all good and very different so I’ll be giving more *details* about them on Wench shortly!

Saturday 11 December 2004

Hi girls! Its the EED mens facial correspondent here with more important facial product news for you! [houmous]

Sat morning at Jersey airport - returning home from our 2 day national partners conference (about 200 of us). I'm hanging out in duty free in the beauty section seizing a few minutes before boarding to examine the new Clinique mens 'surge extra' moisturiser oil free gel and pick up some more Clinique Aloe (and other mineral extracts) aftershave. While examining the contents of the box and discretely trying some of said moisturiser on my hand a random fellow partner wanders past.
'Hello Robin what you doing - buying some moisturiser? hahahaha'
'Errrr - yes'
Said partner looks at me with part disgust/part horror and without another word turns around and walks away.
p.s I know alot of you having been worrying about whether you should go for the Gillette Mach 3 turbo or the new Wilkinson Quatro four blade. After extensive research I can advise you that while the Wilkinson has a more solid feel to it, you get a closer shave with the Gillette :-)

Netgear Routers [lurks]

One of the benefits of my job is that when some equipment doesn't function as it should, I find that placing a call through the firms media PR agency actually starts to yield results. I recently resorted to that concerning my Netgear FR114P firewall router. This router has a denial of service feature whereby it decides that something is a DoS attack and then chokes off that IP address for a time. Good eh?
Good apart from the fact that the numpties at Netgear A) decided to have this DoS feature apply to outgoing traffic from the LAN and B) decide that an outgoing UDP storm from a game server scanner such as Gamespy or All Seeing Eye, should be classified as a DoS attack. Do you see where I'm headed with this?
In essence anyone that has this router, regardless of firmware revision, will get unceremoniously dumped off the Internet when running a game browser scan. Then some 10 seconds later, it lets you back on. There's absolutely no firmware control over this. There probably would have been had Netgear kept the old telnet interface to their routers but since the new millennium, in keeping with the culture of rounded corners and flaming logos, no such feature exists via the spartan web interface.
Oh, of course the router's DNS relay is randomly broken as I have seen on a number of other Netgear products also but I'll ignore that for now.
I went to Netgear support and logged a ticket. Zero response. I look around the web. I'm not alone. No one else is getting a response.
So I went via Netgear's PR agency in the UK and bingo, I have a nice man at Netgear UK who I've had to coach through repeating the problem. He's now replicated the problem and now kicked it up to the engineers in the US and will keep me informed.
Meanwhile... I bought a cheap D-Link 604 off eBay and I can't log into the router, it wont reset and the bloke that sold it to me claims it has no password and that he had reset it in the past. It looks duff and I'm going to have to give the guy negative feedback and cop some in return, most likely.
I only bought one off eBay because I happened to have money in my PalPal account - bleh, you win some and you lose some. Oh, Mr Netgear Man also managed to reproduce the problem on one other model of ADSL router with a firewall in it. I forget which one, a DG* type thing. Has anyone else seen this problem?

Friday 10 December 2004

XBMC again and Karaoke, sorry! [shedir]

Well, current XBMC builds support karaoke files. A bit hit in our house and is the old karaoke fun.
Have your MP3 files and CDG in same dir, press X and you've got karaoke on your chipped xbox.
Not up to singstar standards with scoring etc... but still a giggle nonetheless.
Now. No mic support, but the guy is working on that part.
So now I've got "in the right corner" my TV & Xbox. A single DVD with 4 gb of mp3 and cdg files. A virtual megajukebox of tunes to mangle.
"in the left corner", the origional karaoke box. PURELY now to do vocals. Independent volume! Music on TV and vocal boost can be customised, you don't see that everyday.
So if you can get a cheap mic and speaker setup for your living room, and have kids who want to sing it's another big WIN for xbmc!
Your honoured members of the jury, I put this blog forward as the one most likely to be deleted.

WinXP Activation [beej]

  1. Took XP CD home from work and installed it (how many people do this? Faaasands!)
  2. XP tries to activate, but as its already been done at work, it fails. You get 30-days for free, with the balloon reminder each login.
  3. I accidentally let the 30-day 'grace period' expire. At this point, its too late to enter another product key as documented on many forums. It won't have it at all. So you can't login at all... it logs you straight back out...only... you can by choosing 'register online', then opening a hyperlink in the activation app, which kicks in IE and of course that's complete access to your PC.
  4. After a week or so this is a real PITA (you've no Desktop, Task bar, or Start menu) so I called the Microsoft Activation Line to test the water on what sort of details they'd ask from me in order to get a code out of them.
  5. You key in the installation id from the reg app over the phone. The computer doesn't like this, so passes you on to a human being. She then asks for the first 6 digits again... after which she reads out the code to activate XP! Sorted!
  6. And I didn't even say my name or address. Whoah! Obviously the XP activation stuff isn't as sinister as the raving loony leftie lunix crowd make out.

Thursday 9 December 2004

Nintendo DS - handheld envy [Brit]

Driving from Ossining (just outside Manhatten) to Cape May is a tedious affair, especially when you're thirteen and the car is crammed with everything your American cousins can rip out of their town house. The epic 'max 60kph' voyage was made bearable by the presence of an original Gameboy, its tinny Mario music annoying the hell out of the adults up front more effectively than anything we could come up with.
That was fifteen years ago and I can't honestly say I've even given a second thought to handhelds since. I dabbled briefly with the Lynx (whilst a mate had a brief foray into the world of Neo Geo) but always went back to my PC. Verily, handhelds sucked.
Until last night, when at a bash thrown by a supplier one of their techies sidled up to me and produced a Nintendo DS (courtesy of a Canadian mate of his who had delivered it to him that very afternoon). I can't say first impressions amounted to much; a slab of bevelled silver plastic which whilst weighing convincingly in my hand looked like part of a wheel clamp - visually pretty, it isn't.
I'd seen photos of course - but up until that point hadn't actually seen one in real life (let alone played it). Super Mario running across the dual screens is fantastic and visually looks very lush indeed; the quality of the screens and the colour reproduction were bloody brilliant. I've no idea what it sounded like of course, I was trying to balance a Kir Royale with one hand, drive a baby dino round with my thumb and, most importantly, remain upright after some serious drinkage.
I assume there is audio however ;)
The deal was sealed when I realised that I could make my chap move by using my thumb - as the screens are touch sensitive too. This is something of a marvel since one thing that's always bugged me about handhelds and indeed consoles is the inability to simply click on the appropriate icon and go where you want to go... usually you're left steering a highlight box of some sort round a defined tab order.
Of course, the touch screen niceness would be a good idea regardless; what makes it a great idea is the fact that it works so well you can intuitively play games using it rather than the traditional (and somewhat clunky) four/eight point directional pad. It was a bit wierd at first, but dead easy and I realised that I'd been playing it for twenty minutes whilst all around me stared on bemusedly and poured booze down their necks.
Handhelds shouldn't be like this - for god's sake, this rocks!
I'm going to see what the games are like (the DS owner tells me there are only ten available currently and most of them are quite poo) in Q1/Q2 of next year - hopefully they'll be great, because I want one. Oh yes.

Tuesday 7 December 2004

Compulsory ID cards: welcome to our 1984 [Brit]

It appears that by 2012, every man, woman and child in the UK will be required to register for and carry a personal ID card.
The Independent newspaper published an article last week that identified in more detail than before the penalties for anyone found not to have registered for one, and they are (as you would expect from our current Home Secretary) unsurprisingly draconian (refusal to register will result in you being fined £2,500 for a start).
These biometric credit card sized devices will be a mandatory requirement for UK subjects, and are being sold to the general public as a way of combating everything from terror to benefit fraud to the somewhat ambiguous 'identity fraud'.
Currently, there is a voluntary trial in progress - quite how that will tell anyone in government anything useful is beyond me, other than the number of volunteers on the trial.
We're no stranger to having identity cards in one form or another of course, after all at sixteen everyone is issued their National Insurance number card (the equivalent to the social security number in the States) and then you have your DVLA issued driving license card, credit cards (the easiest 'id' card to track) and so on.
Where the new personal ID card differs however, and where is becomes distinctly Orwellian in nature, is the amount of information it stores and the number of organisations who will require its presentation before approving or offering services and products. The new ID cards will store fingerprint data (amongst other sensitive personal information) and give each person a number that would be tied in to a centralised database.
Personally, I don't see how these cards will do anything other than offer yet another opportunity for government to lay yet more red tape and associated penalties on a populace already sinking under the same. National databases have a long history of going badly wrong and costing an absolute fortune to implement; the government has estimated a £3bn cost for making ID cards a reality. If anyone needs convincing that central government led hi-tech initiatives are nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen, look at the laughable air traffic control service move to their new headquarters a while back.
The Great British Public (as they are so fondly referred to by observers hankering after a simpler time) are quite used to putting up with all sorts of nonsense from Whitehall, but this time I think they might find themselves facing another Poll Tax.
ID cards do nothing to assist in the protection or promotion of a democratic ideal - but do everything possible to erode it.

Wednesday 1 December 2004

DVD Player Face-Off [Spiny]

Having recently applied my decorating skillz to Spiny Towers(R), turning our dining room into a playroom for the kids, the plan was to bung the old telly in there with a budget DVD player.

Of late, here's been a bit of an explosion of big name DVD players supporting DivX. Not wanting something that would fall apart after 6 months, I was first interested in the new Sony players. However, the DivX forums revealed that they can only pump out DivX, not Xvid. Not a Good Thing(R). So I consulted endless mags & plumped for the WhatHifi product of the year, Toshiba SD340e. Eighty of your earth pounds from Amazon.

So far so good, but then our lounge DVD player died. A shame as it was very good. A Sony 735 with cracking dvd playback. However, as we all know, the march of technology is relentless. I was hardly surprised to find I could replace the Sony with a better performing model for around half the original price of the dead player.

The player I chose is a Pioneer 575A on the basis that I'd never seen less than a 5 star review & forums were full of happy customers, not bleating. (For bleating look to Dennon DVD player customers in the AV forums). Again, this plays DivX and Xvid with the addition of SACD & DVD-A should I want to run another 6 cables into my Amp. I picked one up from my local Sevenoaks when I had the chance. Not as cheap as on line, Richer sounds have them for £120 & I paid £140, but Pioneer are stuggling to meet demand for these players & the're rare as hens teeth.

So, how do they compare?...

Well, the reviews I've linked pretty well match my experience with the two players. The featherweight Tosh performing way beyond my expectations for the price & the Pioneer, just beeing damn good. But you want to know about more interesting stuff eh?

DVD-R Compatibility
The Pioneer beats the Tosh here. Using my Lite-On dvd writer the Tosh wouldn't accept DVD-Rs but would play +Rs happily. The Pioneer on the other hand, plays everything I've thrown at it. I've also been flexing the plastic on PC upgrades & bought a Pioneer DVR-108 burner to replace the Lite-On. DVD-/+Rs burnt with the Pioneer drive play happily in both. Navigation with discs bunt with the Pioneer seems faster than with Lite-On burnt discs too. Less errors I guess.

Again the Pioneer wins hands down. While the Tosh plays stuff fine, it's not too clever about aspect ratios. Playing an anamorphic ratio file stretches the picture rather than introducing horizontal black borders. You can bugger about with telling the tosh you have a 4:3 and then selecting widescreen on the telly to squash the picture a bit, but I didn't find an obvious remedy in the menus. The Pioneer on the oter hand, just works.

Bother players are obviously a lot quieter than Bill's Big Black Box. But the Pioneer is quieter than the Tosh's mechanism which can be heard when the volume is very quiet.

As far as I'm concerned the convenience of a networked Xbox is still king of the DivX players, but if you need better DVD playback & non networked DIvX compatibility you can't go wrong with the Pioneer DVD-757A.

Oh, and while you're at it, get a decent SCART lead. I upgraded to a QED P2110 & the difference was startling, a much "cleaner" picture than my old el-cheapo SCART.