Thursday, 29 December 2011

On walled gardens...


I am frequently asked by colleagues and friends why it is that I detest both Apple, and anything made by Apple, these days.

It's simple. It's called the "Walled Garden" (Click for definition link on Wikipedia).

Put briefly, my interpretation of the theory goes that if you buy into walled garden tech (such as Apple's iOS as used on their iPhones), you'll never be able to get out of the walled garden again, as you'll have too much invested in it by the time you realise that you actually want out of it, and by that time anyhow, you'll be so institutionalised and indoctrinated into the walled garden, that you'll think existing outside it is worthless and frankly impossible.

In short, the problem is one of control and trust, of which apple exert, in order, all and none in apparently equal measure.

While it may well be an excellent piece of marketing strategy (and I've tried to fault it, really), it's also hideously insidious and horrible, again in equal measure.

It started when Apple released their first iPhone, and became apparent when their batteries started to have problems (see the press reports at the time). All of a sudden, it became very apparent that Apple didn't trust people to be able to change a cell-phone battery, and to control who could do this, they required that only Approved Apple Service Centres could be permitted to change the battery. Since there is no battery hatch on an iPhone, and you cannot remove the back without tools, if you do remove it yourself, and you're not an approved Apple Service Centre employee (with the appropriate training certification to prove it), then you'll void the phone's warranty.

You were also trapped in which networks you could and could not use the phones on - the SIM cards being inside the casing, meant that you couldn't easily change the SIM card and thus the network if you so desired, until someone twigged that a bent paper clip could open the chip tray without opening up the body as well, allowing a customer to swap out the SIM chip - whereupon those self-same customers then found that the phones were SIM locked to the specific cellphone networks that Apple approved only (in the USA, this was AT&T/Singular, as they'd footed the development bills for the iPhone): Another almost subliminal and insidious form of control over the customer.

Simply put, this was the first step in the way Apple were re-inventing an insidious totalitarian control over their customers.

The second step was to ensure that their customers could only get software - "Apps" - from Apple themselves, via their rigidly controlled "App Store". The concept was simple enough: Go to one place online that was easy to find and access, give it a neat-sounding name that was easily memorable, and there you'll find software packages to add to your phone (the 'applications', or "Apps" as they called these software packages).

The problem is that this inhibits a free market. In order to get your App onto the 'App Store', you have to submit it to Apple for approval. This is a frequently long drawn-out process - just follow how difficult Pocket GPS World found it to get their CamerAlert App approved, and re-approved on updating it every so often (for a time, it seemed as if Apple didn't want in on the "App Store", with all the delays they returned), and they're not likely to be the only ones having these problems.

The same control aspect applies to music for these phones. In theory, you should be able to upload your own MP3 music files to an iPhone. Not so, it seems (this, according to colleagues at work who have iPhones). They must come from the Apple-owned supplier, iTunes, or the iPhone won't play them. So, again, Apple exerts totalitarian control over your choices - or lack thereof. Apple do NOT want people being non-dependent on Apple for either software, OR music.

About the ONLY things you can get from third parties are hardware add-ons, such as gel cases, mobile hands-free car adaptors, and so on. And that's because it's bloody impossible for Apple to control this area of free trade. But, as they developed the operating system - the firmware - that runs the iPhone, they can exert massive control over software and music sources. And they do, indeed, exert such control over their customers, as mentioned above.

But it's not just the customers that have a problem, even if the customers currently don't realise it, cavorting as the do in their green and apparently pleasant walled garden. The suppliers, those who write the software that make up the "Apps", and those who produce and sell the music to iTunes, have to pay Apple a slice of their takings to have their wares appear there. I don't know what the slice is for the "Apps" themselves and the music, but it hit the news earlier this year that Apple take a whopping 30% fee for all periodical subscriptions sold on the "App Store".

At the same time this figure came out, it suddenly transpired that if you had a subscription to a news feed application, say, the one for the London Times, Apple not only required the subscriber list to be maintained by - you guessed it, Apple themselves - but they also wanted to keep getting that 30% slice. Caused a massive row with a couple of news magnates that did, and resulted in a fair few column inches slagging off a certain Apple CEO and founder, God rest his now departed soul (I try not to be unkind about the departed).

There's also the privacy aspect of Apple owning these subscriber listings to concern customers, by the way. Do you WANT Apple to know that you subscribe to  - for risqué example - Muppet Fancier Monthly? No? Best not use your iPhone or iPad, then. Or anything else with an "i" at the start of the name and with a partially eaten fruit as a logo on it, come to that.

Also, who controls who gets to see that data - Apple? OK, do they sell it on to other companies? What are the controls like at those other companies? It's a worrying aspect, to be sure, because despite what Apple might say today, come tomorrow, they may very well and very legally change their terms and conditions, to allow themselves the right to sell on that privilaged and very personal information to a marketing company that'll spam you until you bleed from the ears. Don't forget: Apple is a business. They are in it to make money, boys and girls.

So, with all the negative things above, are there any positive things?

Well, maybe a couple, in all honesty. Because it's a walled garden, and Apple takes so much control in things, it's unlikely that a malicious or virus-laden "App" will get very far, if one actually can make it through their approval system (a couple have, and were stamped on ruthlessly and remotely removed from users phones by Apple).

Likewise, because of the controls and approval systems, most applications - excuse me, "Apps" - are pretty rigerously checked before release, so the chances of one accidentally bricking (a word that's come to mean wrecking) your phone is very remote indeed.

But sadly, that's about it.

Compare these issues with Microsoft Windows Phone, or Googles' Android operating systems. These do not require that you join in a walled garden. You can get your "Apps" and music - and videos, come to that - from anywhere you like, so that innovation and free trade are not inhibited. The downside is that you have to pay a lot more attention to not only where you're getting these things, but what permissions are granted to them, and watch out for any news regarding detrimental effects or malware that may be doing the rounds.

Microsoft, for example, almost inevitably required that users invest in anti-malware and anti-virus packages. I was lucky, I never did, and at the time (a couple of years ago, now), the requirement was pretty thin. These days, were I to use an MS phone, I've be getting AV/AM packages first thing after getting the phone. The risk is still pretty small, to be frank, but one still treads carefully. For Android,  there have been a couple of fairly well-documented incidents of malware designed to cause users big bills or other problems, but again, Android had a remote kill-switch that can allow Google to remove offending "Apps", so there is a small level of safety net in place. You still have to watch those permissions on installing an "App", mind you.

Still, I much prefer being treated like an adult by Google, than a child who cannot even be trusted to change a battery properly by Apple.

And that's why I will not buy into the Apple walled garden.

Because Apple will not extend trust to their customers.

And because Google allow their phone users to change batteries - oh, and memory cards and SIM chips too, come to that.

Case closed (sic).

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Foreign marketing calls, a.k.a. the plague of 'im downstairs...


So, six in the bleeding morning, and the landline rings.

"Hello?" (real original, but then I'd only hit the sack a couple of hours beforehand. What? I'm on Christmas leave!)

The line was slightly crackly, and there was a mild hiss in the background. Only on international calls does this noise seem to happen. I checked the caller display, to find that, oh joy, it said 'Blocked'. "Hello, my name is Sanjay, I would like to tell you about-"

I interrupted. "Is this a marketing call?"

"Sir, I would like to tell you-"

"Yes or no, please."

"Yes, sir. I would like to-"

"You know it's six in the bloody morning here, right?"

"No sir, I did not. I would like to tell you-"

"I don't do marketing calls. Especially on two hours sleep. Goodbye."

And then I hung up. They ring me at six in the goddam morning, they can expect me to be abrupt, if not downright moody.

Half an hour later, no joke, the same damn thing, with a different person. And again, half an hour later.

Sod this, thought I, and turned the landline to silent ring. They could leave a sodding message. Not that they would.

At eleven, my mobile rang. Luckily for the caller, their number wasn't blocked: It was my folks, on a completely different subject. I told them about the calls on my landline, and my old man chuckled, the evil wotsit. Then he told me about their own experience, and my Mum's response...

Seems they had a spate of these marketing calls from places like India, Malaysia, and so on, a little while ago.

The way my dad tells it, my mum, it seems, is like me: She doesn't suffer these fools at all. Her call went something like this:

Ring ring

Mum: "Hello?"
Caller: "Hello, I would like to tell you about-"
Mum: "Are you trying to sell something?"
Caller: "No. I would like to-"
Mum: "Good." And then she hung up. *click*

Absolutely priceless

Now, I happen to know that my folks, like me, are on the telephone Preference List, and Silent Call Guard, that is supposed to prevent marketing calls like this. Only problem is that they only tend to work for companies based here, in Great Britain. They most definitely do not work on call centres based abroad.

I wonder why those hacking "collectives" haven't targeted these moronic marketing call places? They'd win the hearts and minds of most of the bloody planet if they took out one or two of those, instead of ISPs, banks, supermarkets, and mail order shops.

The end result might be a final marketing call sounding a bit like this:

"Hello, my name is- *sound of flushing toilet, emptying sink, and a failed engine start* Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr *click*"

You gotta wonder about these things from time to time, right?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Well... one out of three can't be that bad...


Having cast heavy hints for the last month or so, I actually got one of the items that I desperately wanted this Christmas: A USB-to-IDE/EIDE/SATA converter cable adaptor, and let me tell you, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

This is it: IOMAX USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter Kit with Power Adapter for 2.5/3.5/5.25 Inch SATA or IDE Drive.


As you may recall from an earlier entry here, my desktop PC, an aging 2.6gig machine running XP, died on me mid-boot some time ago. Luckily, I had most of the data already backed up (remarkable foresight for me, as the last two machines I had weren't even partially backed up), so no great loss there, but I have long since lost the disks for a lot of my old software, including my copy of Pagemaker, and was hoping that the main boot disk was recoverable, so that I could attempt to move the package across to the my netbook.

Unfortunately, of the three hard drives from the desktop PC, only one wasn't completely borked, and was recoverable (as well as already being backed up externally for other reasons, which was nice). The other two, sadly, were completely unrecoverable: One (the boot drive, C:) was recognised by the adaptor and drivers, but couldn't be read, and the other (the primary data drive onto which I'd carefully backed up a load of software, including PageMaker, D:) wasn't; as neither of the failed drives could be read, it somehow suggested that either their file allocation tables were stuffed, or that they were physically broken somehow. Given the masses of clicking and clacking from them when they were plugged in, I strongly suspect the drives had physical errors that prevented their being read.

So, it's out with the big magnets, and render the two unrecoverable drives totally blank, then the industrial drill to ensure that they remain so - the only way, short of nuking them from orbit, to assuring one that old personal data cannot be recovered from old drives. It's extreme, but then I still haven't been ID thieved as far as I know, so I must be doing something right!

Anyhow, all in all, this converter cable is a very useful bit of kit that has, I reckon, saved me a packet in IT support costs from the local shop. It's also sized for both 2.5 and 3.5 inch IDE/EIDE drives, as well as the new SATA format, so it's fairly well future-proofed, I think :)

In the mean time, I guess I'm going to have to save up my hard-earned and either buy a copy of Adobe "InDesign", or find an open source DTP package that'll read the layered pagemaker files. Oh well. These things happen, I suppose.

One out of three can't be that bad, when all's said and done, after all, can it? ;-)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas with the family, and the post Christmas sprawl...


We've all done it; and will, likely as not, do it again. Leaving the assorted year-long animosities in the hallway, you sit down with the rest of the warring factions - I mean family - and act civilly around the table as the feast, supplied by the masochist that is the cook (in my case, my Sister, for the must be fifth or sixth time on the trot), is placed before you on the table, your mouths watering as the aromas of perfectly prepared foods assault your nostrils...

It was, of course, delicious.

Reluctant as I am to admit it, my sister (who will remain nameless here, to protect her from the amusement of her neighbours for having a raving madman like me for a brother) is a damn good cook. Amongst other things on the menu this year, were a truly humongous roast Turkey (done to perfection, and Lord knows how she fitted the thing into her oven!) with all the trimmings, roast potatoes (crispy, not singed or soggy), baton carrots (with, I think, a touch of parsley sprinked on them), sprouts and roast chestnuts, red cabbage and onion, a very nice herb and berry (at least I think they were berries, no doubt I'll be corrected on this later today when my sister reads this) stuffing, proper giblet gravy, and the list went on for the main course. Good grief, it was delicious. A proper and decent traditional British Christmas lunch. It was amazing. And very, very filling. My doctor, of course, would probably have defecated masonry at the sheer amount of cholesterol on offer, but the hell with that on this particular day of the year

Next up, the dessert course. Sticky toffee pudding, and the pièce de résistance, something called 'Christmas Pudding Crackers' (apparently, and to my not very surprising ignorance in this field, a Delia Smith recipe), served with either double cream, or in my case some butterscotch ice cream, and ye gods, was it marvellous, and somehow, and God Alone knows how, not heavy or bloating, like a traditional Christmas Pudding tends to be (which my sister avoids, as she detests raisins and sultanas with a passion bordering on insanity, much the same as my distaste for courgettes and similar vegetables!). The photo is after seven of them had been already snaffled up by the assorted Gannets at the table!).

For once, I wasn't working the next day (there are no TfL bus services on Christmas Day, that's traditional too, and the rota showed me as being off on Boxing Day as well), so I was able to have a few drinks. So I did  - but not wine. I had beer. Call me common if you like, I just prefer the taste

Anyhow, after this amazing repast, there was only one place to go, and that was the sitting room, with it's incredibly comfortable sofas and recliners (I'll give my sister and brother-in-law this: They know how to furnish a home!), where we all managed to get maybe five minutes of post-meal sprawl and breath-catching, before my two nieces blew in with all the force of a mid-winter storm, and demanded that they open more presents!

Even the cats got in on the act - and they too will remain nameless for the sake of their standing with the other cats in their neighbourhood; it's a closely guarded thing, but they can talk. Apparently, they can also read, and as we all know, they act like they run the country, so I'd best not tick them off here!

The Ginger one claimed his place with my brother-in-law, while the practically black one wandered around and grabbed skritches (cat owners will know what a skritch is, but for the rest of you, it's the combination scratch and tickle you give a favoured pet) around the ears and neck from everyone else.

After a while, however, the ginger one got tired of the lap he was occupying, and went on the prowl, eventually finding a perch from where he could lord it over us (looking for all intents and purposes like a T-3½ Moustinator waiting for its next victim, whereupon the black one nicked the arm of the sofa... all this, while my two nieces dashed about like mad things, distributing presents to all and sundry.

Christmas is, after all, for the kids

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

How Nucking Futs is this?!


The train fares go up next month. Apparently, by an average of 5% or so. Since my other half lives some 70-odd miles away as the crow flies, it's cheaper for me to use public transport to get there, even when I *did* have a car. You will recall that a car that I owned was AGAIN stolen from where I live, close to a year ago now (the second in four years, dammit), so I haven't bothered getting another, since it seems to be open season on cars that I own, and in this economy, I can ill afford all the associated costs anyhow (hint: 'Protected No Claims Bonuses' aren't really protected very much at all: You car insurance premiums always seem to go up, no matter what). So, since TfL gave me a staff pass, I use public transport. What the heck: One saves money where one can, these days, after all.

So, I decided to check at the National Rail Enquiries website, to see what the new fare would be. £36, up two quid. Not so bad. Then I wondered what it would cost if I separated out the journey, and took advantage of my staff pass to eliminate the cost of the tube element of the trip from the railway journey ticket cost - they give you London connection journeys by tube in the cost of the ticket. The full trip is: A bus to my local railway station in the south London suburbs, a train to central London, a connection tube journey to Paddington, then a train from there to my other half's town in the sticks, and either a half-hour walk from the station, a cab ride, or a local bus, depending on how lazy or cheap I may be feeling when I get there.

So, one might think a couple of quid could be saved from eliminating the cost of the London tube connection fares, and using my staff pass on the tube instead (OK, so it'd be there's be four tickets in the amended journey plan, instead of just two, but what the hell: Two outbound, two return, instead of two tickets, out/return).

So, imagine my "WTF!?" moment of disbelief, when the cost of the two separate rail-only journeys came to eighty pence MORE than if I kept the tube connections, instead of dropping by the expected two or so quid from removing the cost of the tube element of the journey cost.

Now just how nucking futs is that, eh?

And yes, I'm still banging my head on the desk in disbelief.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Not to blow my own trumpet, but...


To misquote Colin Clive from the movie Frankenstein: "It's alive! It's ALIVE! IT'S ALIE-YIVE!"

Ahem.

What am I talking about? You will recall that I recently ordered a Parallel to USB cable, in the hope that I could revive my old prehistoric-like LaserJet 6P, following the discovery of a post in "Pete's Blog", where he did exactly that.

Well, the cable arrived from Amazon while I was at work today - damn, that was fast, and in the Christmas postal mayhem too - very impressive!

Having connected the printer end, I did what home users don't normally do: I installed the printer drivers downloaded from Microsoft first. It's what one should, after all, do. It says to do this in every computer product manual I've ever read, after all.

I needn't have bothered. It didn't work. I wound up with two printers labelled Laserjet 6P, and LaserJet 6P (Copy 1). Neither would print. So, I deleted both printers, and did my last-ditch fix. I performed a cold reboot of the netbook, plugged both ends of the cable in, and let the machine do it's thing.

Bingo. It loaded the cable interface first, then it correctly identified the printer, downloaded fresh drivers from Microsoft, and PRESTO! the printer is working just fine, thank you very much!

Sorted 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Annual National Finals of Murderwalk...


Like a fair number of the people I know, I do a fair amount of my Christmas shopping on-line. I find it soothes the fevered brow, allows me to browse at my leisure, and shop in the comfort of my own home - or, now I have a decent smartphone, almost anywhere I can get an internet connection.

Unless, of course, I'm physically out and about, playing at the Annual National Finals of Murderwalk, the extremely short-tempered game of physical prowess, hunting, and survival.

This is otherwise known to pretty-much the rest of society at large, as the "Annual Christmas Shopping Expedition".

This time, we played it in Newbury, as I'm visiting my better half (I have a week of leave from work before Insanity Incarnate Day, or as you lot call it, Christmas Eve shopping in the London area), and we wanted to avoid going into Reading, which would have been a right bleedin' saga, and no mistake (it's a modern and major county town town, where the sheer amount of traffic, and lack of effective and meaningful directional signs, is guaranteed to make me reach for a chain saw and do a Freddy Kruger in about five seconds flat).

So, we thought "Yeah, let's do Newbury this time. There are loads of shops, it's a regional market town, and besides, there's a half-decent market there on Saturdays too!" This, where the thinking was that we might actually pick up a bargain or two, and save some money on pressies for the assorted oddballs - Ahem. I mean relatives - that we both have.

Right off the bat, we realised that it wasn't going to be quite that easy. The pavements - such as there are in the countryside - were covered by an almost invisible coating of black ice, and here we were, with no skates. I could hear the strains of the song "Slip Sliding Away" in my head, as we managed to navigate our way to the main road. We eventually - somehow without going base over apex even once - travelled in by bus. Well, why not, I work on the buses in London, after all, and it saves on parking fees, and it's reasonably cheap, right? Actually, not that much. I forgot (heh, silly me, thinks I, beating my noggin on the table a little later on) that outside London, it's not a fixed flat rate fare, they still use those goofy blasted ascending fare charts, designed to empty ones pockets of the lower-value notes in one fell swoop if you go any distance further than say, two miles. Ouch already! went my pocket change, as it passed from my pocket, to the drivers' cash tray.

Anyhow, we got return fare tickets (we don't do those on London Buses. Odd, but true) on the assumption that we might very well be a tad out of pocket on the way back. It's happened before, and experience is a wonderful teacher.

Bull, and other nonsense. If experience was a wonderful teacher, we would have stayed back at my other half's place, playing tiddlywinks or something (I'm getting a sore throat from all this polite coughing, you know), like staying nice and warm and toasty, not freezing our... um... behinds... off, waiting for a bus that was delayed by Crimbo traffic the next village over (insert Robin Williams doing his helicopter over the Ho Chi Min Trail 'Jack-knifed water buffalo' gag from "Good Morning Vietnam").

Anyway, we got into the Newbury bus station in one piece, aided in no small part by some of the best driving that I've seen in a long time by the driver of the 'Newbury & District' bus (Good lord, they even have new buses in the Counties! I thought they got all of our old TfL hand-me-down crap out here?!), as the roads were more slippery than the stuff streaming from our noses. WOW, was it cold. Did I say that already?

Luckily, the local council had apparently gritted the roads and walking surfaces - I mean pavements - in Newbury, so getting around wasn't an experience of the ice-rink encounters variety.

Also, we had managed, somehow, to get into town a little while before everyone else did, so were able to see a few things before we got down to the serious business of divesting ourselves of cash and melting our plastic.

One thing stood out head and shoulders above everything else, for me, at least. The local War memorial was possibly the best cared for and clean that I've had the pleasure to see in many a day. In a day and age where these are vandalised by mindless young gits, or robbed of their plaques by thieving scum who aren't even fit to scrape the shoes of our veterans, it was heartening to see such care given to such an important memorial. Long may it last. Well done, Newbury.

Sadly for me, that was the peaceful highlight of the day. We traipsed from one stall to the next in the market square, and then from one shop to the other, in search of those items that we couldn't get online, or for which inspiration had completely avoided us all year. In between sojourns into the freezing bleeping cold, we ducked and dived between the increasing masses that had come out to play Murderwalk, as we tried, reasonably successfully, to not tread on the feet of, bowl over, run over, ram into, slam into, back into, or otherwise collide with, crash into, or cause compound fractures to, bawling toddlers, screaming kids, angry teenagers, stubborn Mums and Dads, and pee'd-off pensioners, not to mention the occasional local coppers who'd come out to witness this, the hunter-gatherers of the public, behaving like spoiled and short-tempered stampeding oxen.

By eleven a.m., my hips hurt, my knees ached, and my feet were killing me. I must have walked about five hundred miles back and forth around the town centre, and I was in desperate need of a toilet, a coffee, and a snack, in that very order.

And lo!, my heart and spirits rose, as there before me appeared in my sights a branch of Caffé Nero, fitting the bill right there and then.

The queue was almost out the door, of course, and could we find a pair of bloody seats? Yeah, right. Pick a winning lotto number, me bucko.

Well, we eventually got our coffees and snacks, found a pair of seats which the better half snagged as I found the queue to the toilets. Returning to the corner table, I noticed that the place offered free WiFi, so out came the phone for a bit of online shopping for the couple of things we couldn't get in town, to find that one had to register with The Cloud in order to benefit from the free WiFi. No problem there, thinks I, makes sense for them to outsource this facility, so I try to register. Yeah, you guessed it. No joy. The attempts (five of them) to register ended each time with a 'time out' non-response from the server, which either meant that it wasn't fit for purpose, or, more likely, had been deluged with registration requests on Murderwalk Day.

So, I gave up on the WiFi, and used my three-and-a-half G connection (that's HSDPA, in case you were wondering), and ordered a couple of items through Amazon. Well, at least that was painless enough.

And that was that; we'd risen early, got ourselves into town, avoided rending anyone to pieces, and reasonably successfully shopped both in person, and online. And avoided having to go into bleedin' Reading, to boot. Now, to get back home to the better half's place.

Oh, BUGGER.

I'd lost the sodding return tickets.

Sometimes, you just can't bloody win, you know?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

OHO! There may be life in the old dog yet!


So, my desktop PC died a few months back, when the primary hard disk - the boot drive - catastrophically failed. Well, it was, I'll admit, only a matter of time, and I'd been half expecting something like that to happen, so had (wisely) been doing what I tell others to do: I'd quietly been backing most of the data on it to one of my external USB hard drives, so (queue the bugler in the background, sounding the last Post) RIP (Rust in Pieces) desktop XP machine, you served your user well over the last five years *sniff*.

For the rest of the stuff on the three remaining EIDE drives inside the old XP machine, I'll just need to lay my mitts on a drive reader, a small piece of hardware that you physically put an old hard drive into, which allows you to plug it into a USB port - such as the ones on my Acer One D255 netbook (that's running Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit), so no real problems there: The devices are available from Amazon easily enough, and are on my wish list for Christmas *hint to relatives looking for a pressie for me, lol*.

However, this still left me with an excellent and practically bomb-proof laser printer that was still turning out crisply printed pages from the old PC like there was no tomorrow: An HP LaserJet 6P. The problem with it is that I cannot directly plug it into my netbook, as the damn thing only uses the old Centronics 64-pin plug, not the more modern USB system.

So, there I was, idly surfing the net at oh-my-God-o'clock this morning (I couldn't sleep. Seems I'm a part-time insomniac. *shrug* It happens from time to time), and found myself meandering down the HTC Sensation Forums, and noticed a thread that mentioned that converters from MiniUSB to MicroUSB plugs were available. Interesting. Like many people, I've got a shedload of old miniUSB plugs for my old phone, and as my new HTC Sensation uses the new, smaller MicroUSB socket, they're somewhat useless for it - so the converted plugs will breath new life into the old kit.

And that's when the two-watt Toc-H lamp illuminated above my head, as my eyes wandered across to the LaserJet 6P on my desk, now gathering dust following the demise of the XP desktop machine... if they can make converter plugs and sockets for USB connectors, what about Centronics to USB converters?

Well, it seems that they do. The problem, however, is not purely a hardware issue - there's a firmware, or driver, issue as well. There are conflicting reports (Google search link) as to whether you can make a centronics printer like the LJ6P series actually work with a PC running Windows 7. Seems that HP have previously said that while some of the LJ6 series may be made to work, the LJ6P series may not, and as a result, they apparently haven't updated their drivers for them. Then, on one of their other links, apparently they *have* got updated drivers for the LJ6P series. Confusing isn't the word. Frustrating is rather more accurate.

And then I blundered across this: http://pete.akeo.ie/2011/05/installing-drivers-for-hp-laserjet-6p.html. So, here's hoping. I'm ordering a converter cable later, and then I'll download the driver. I'll let you know how I get on

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Malware. The modern way to mug people.


OK, so a fair few people recently got hit by malware that they loaded onto their phones. Android phones, to be precise. It would appear that the software packages (Applications, or as lazy people call them, "Apps") they installed to their phones were slightly modified popular games. The uploader of these games cracked them open like a Piñata,and inserted some of his own lines of computer code, before closing them up again, and uploading them to the Android marketplace. The changes caused any phone loading this package to send text messages using premium-rate numbers.

I recently got an Android phone too... and I'm careful...

Now, if you've been reading this Blant for any length of time, you'll have noticed that I recently took delivery of a shiny new HTC Sensation, one of their flagship Android phones. It's a very nice phone, too. But I'm very selective about what I download to the phone - especially in the way of software packages. And I ALWAYS check the permissions that these packages want to access.

For example, is there any valid reason for a game to access any type of messaging, browser history, contacts, or, in fact, anything other than the sleep function of the screen (to stop the thing shutting down after twenty seconds of inactivity), and maybe internet access to show you advertisements as you play a 'free' game? No? Then don't install the damn thing. "Simples" (insert Merekat-like tongue sucking sound now).

If it's asking for the keys to the safe...

Simply put, if a software package is asking for the electronic version of an all areas pass to rummage around your phone, willy-nilly, then you can bet the last fiver in your wallet (the one you were going to buy a pint of beer with) that something is Not Exactly Kosher with that package, and that you ought to drop it like a hot coal, like right that blasted second.

I would have thought that this would be common sense to people these days, what with the phrase InfoSec (and variations thereof) having been tattooed onto their foreheads by the popular media over the last couple of years, but apparently this is not the case. As evidenced by this latest electronic mugging.

And, just to add insult to injury, apparently Microsoft are getting in on the act, and asking people who got enraged by their own stupidity to defect to a Microsoft Windows mobile phone. There's a Twitter trend on it already, would you believe. Look up #droidrage over there. You'll see it yourself.

Pardon me? They did what?!

You heard - I mean read - what I said. Microsoft, the paragon of insecurity (evidence the sheer mountain of viruses, malware, etc., that have hit their products over the years, causing them to have to 'patch' them repeatedly to close these security holes more times than I've had hot dinners, it seems), are spinning this to read like the Android Apocalypse, saying that Android is full of security holes. Wellllll, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, but HA! Microsoft're FINE ones to talk, really! Can you say "Sheer hypocrisy"?!

But who's really responsible for this?

And yet... it's the phone owners, the users who got hit, who are to blame. Yes, really. They rolled snake-eyes, and failed to make two basic security checks.

First, they FAILED to ensure that they were getting the genuine games, from the genuine producer. Here's a hint: Angry Birds is made, and distributed through the Android Market, by a company called "Rovio". you can check this with a simple Google search. Try it. If the supplier blurb in the description of the package on the Android marketplace says it was uploaded by, say, Fred Bloggs, for example, then maybe, just maybe, you should avoid it like the bloody plague. There's your first blasted clue.

Then, they FAILED to check what permissions the packages were asking for. See above for why this is necessary.

And now, like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they're blaming everyone but themselves for screwing up.

Good practice is always good sense.

Google, who run the marketplace, give us solid advice when we use the place. Check the permissions. I go one step further, and check the supplier too. It's a belt and braces approach to a world that'll steal the trousers right off your legs, given half a chance.

The point is, you cannot, ever, be too damned careful. These electronic thieves and muggers are getting more clever by the minute, and you can't give them a chance, as they'll take your wallet, identity, and possibly the whole of your life history too, in an instant: They have no scruples, or even morals.

Don't cry foul when there isn't one, and don't crow.

So, don't blame others for your cock-up. Blame yourself.

And tell Microsoft to stop being so hypocritical. It's not pretty, and it's certainly not clever.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Good lord, I need more patience...

There I was, on the tram to work, earlier today, when, at the stop before I got off, two young women - barely out of school by the look of them - got on the tram, and loudly continued the conversation that they'd obviously started some time before.

Nothing new in that, really, we all continue conversations on public transport, although most of us have the decency to moderate - that is, lower the volume - of such converations, so as not to broadcast, television soap drama-like, the innermost details of our... shall we say messy? ... lives. So, there we were, with, for want of better and more accurate names, Sharon & Tracey, blathering on about whose boyfreind was doing what, where, and to whom, when it occured to me that practically one word in five out of these two sorry examples of humanity was "Like?" or "d'yaknowwoteyemeen?"

I'm very glad I was getting off at the next stop, or I would have either been giving them an English lesson they'd have never forgotten, or throttled them both to save the population from their propogating!

As it was, I was muttering words akin to "God give me strength...!" As I got off the tram...!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Americanisms in the English Language...

I suppose that I'm probably as guilty as most of you when, from time to time, I use American English, slang, and idioms. However, I'm slowly coming to the boil over some so-called words creeping into the language over here, when they should have firmly stayed over there instead.

One, at the time of writing, really stands head and shoulders above the rest for sheer stupidity. It's the use of the word "prepackaged".

When one packages something, one is either wrapping something, or putting something in a box or other form of container. The way the Americanism was used in this case, was by a wholesale trade food supply company. "Prepackaged foods to the food industry", was the slogan on the side of the van, its refrigeration unit, perched on to of the cab, was almost big enough for the diminutive driver to have walked into, I suspect.

The image that emerged, unbidden, from my mind as I read the slogan, was of a cow, walking into the slaughter shed and, as it died, falling apart to land on the ground as a couple of dozen cardboard boxes. It would certainly put a fair few qualified butchers out of work, were this to happen, but that's not the point.

What does "prepackaged" actually *mean*? Anyone?

I do appreciate that English is a constantly evolving language. I also feel that for a word to be used in everyday language, surely it should actually have some meaning, rather than be some kind of buzz-word that someone the other side of the Atlantic thinks sounds 'cool'?

I'd appreciate a few comments on this, if you have the time.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

New masthead...

You might have noticed that I've updated the masthead image.

I reckoned that since not everything in this Blant was bus-related, a better idea would be for a photo of london. So, there it is.

Anyway, I hunted for a spot in London that would give me a good vew of the centre of the city, while including a few iconic buildings, and in a place that I could take the photo without having to ask permission, or pay good money for the privilage of standing in one place long enough to compose and take the darn thing. This is the end result. Taken on a nice sunny day a few months ago (when the smog was still rising!) from Westow Hill in Crystal Palace, I then had a heck of a lot of work in digitally removing all the telephone wires from the photo (The Gimp - a photographic software package much like Adobe Photoshop, but open-source and thus free - can be very handy at times, even if the learning curve is a pain!), but the end result has been worth it, I think :)

On the downside, it's not as colourful or bright as I'd have liked; it's amazing how we all seem to remember it as a colourful place, when in reality, all the modern structures tend to fall into one shade of blue-grey or another, when viewed from a distance. I'll be working on and off over the next few months to see if i can introduce a colour difference into the background image, but don't hold your breath ;-)

In the meantime, if you've got comments or suggestions, I'm all ears :-)

Grammar! AAAAAARGH!

Grammar drives me nuts at times; I'm generally good at it (you may have noticed this, reading the many entries in this blog), but even I get things wrong from time to time (most especially with the use of the apostrophe). However, one thing that drives me completely round the twist, when I read other peoples' work, is the ever-lasting battle between "Your" and "You're".

So, in a hopeful spirit of assistance, here's a handy guide...

"You're" is a contraction (a shortening, in other words) for "you are". It is easy enough to decipher, again just insert "you are" into your sentence instead of "you're" or "your" and you will know the correct usage.

Examples of "Your"

  • It is time for your English Language lesson.
    (It is time for you are English Language lesson doesn't make sense.)
  • We will go to your re-enactment display after we eat.
    (We will go to you are re-enactment display does not make sense.)

Examples of "You're"

  • You're going to be the first in line.
    (You are going to be the first in line.)
  • You're going to be driving the first car in this parade.
    (You are going to be driving the first car in this parade.)
And in case you're rather lost on the use of the apostrophe - as I can be from time to time - here's a helpful guide... enjoy!

I hope that helps everone.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Nice old-fashioned pub...

Well, I'm on the way to our head office today, as some twit in the EU decided, a few years back, that it'd be a jolly good laugh to make LGV & PSV drivers take some after-market training in how to do our jobs - after, that is, we actually get through all the hoops to get our vocational licences. Another way to either bleed more cash from self-employed drivers, or rake it in from our employers. Either way, another damn fine reason to get out of the EU.

Anyhow, while on the way to the main depot, I saw this nice old pub - it's at Catford Bridge, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't get its name, but wow, you don't see many buildings like this - especially inside the M25 belt - these days - and wonder of wonder, it's still being used as a pub! In these hardened times, where pubs are closing down at a truly horrifying rate, it's gratifying to see a pub, built ages ago, still trading!



Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Well, now...


My new upgrade phone arrived a couple of hours ago - by Parcel Force, no less. Those who know me well, will have heard me turn the air blue (and many other colours besides) when muttering about their shortcomings in delivering - or rather, not delivering - stuff to me. To keep it polite, let's just say that we've had issues, Parcel Force and I.

All this appears to be changing, though. Including the last delivery - I wasn't home so, rather than take the items (presents for someone) back to the depot, the driver stuck a note through the door, telling me to collect the items from the local sub-post office - which was nice, as their local depot is over ten miles from here. I was very pleasantly surprised at that, but didn't expect it to be more than a one-off occurance.

This time, their lad actually not only found the place (even the local Pizza Delivery places occasionally have CRAFT moments, as there are two roads with the same name as mine within a mile of here!), he hit the buzzer and delivered properly - unlike a fair few of his colleagues in the past - so maybe, just maybe, PF are getting grip after all. We shall see.

Oh yeah, the new phone? Impressively solid, with a truly massive screen compared to my last phone, swift in doing what I've tried to do on it, and - lo and behold - all i had to do was enter my gmail account details and the phone did the rest, importing my contacts, mail, and calender. VERY nice. I didn't even have to enter the settings for Vodafone, they were already in there!

Next up, get to grips with Android, and get a couple of accessories, like a rubberised armour case, a screen protector film, and a belt pouch. I can do that over the next couple of days easily nough, anyhow.

What I have seen of its capabilities, though, has been very impressive, and thus far, I'm very satisfied - heck, it even came with an 8 Gig MicroSD card installed!

Can't say much better than that, can you?

Oh yeah. CRAFT? It means "Can't Remember A Flaming Thing". Well, close enough to that as makes no real difference, anyhow. Blame my Old man for that one. I was drinking a pint when he told me. Guess where it landed up, aerosol-like *grin*

Monday, 24 October 2011

It's official. I really, truly, and whole-heartedly...


... hate having a cold.

My entire body above the waist, less arms, neck, and head, ache through repeated coughing and sneezing. My nose is regularly blocked, and kleenex and (would you believe it, they make Soothers) Cadburys need to really start better marketting of their stock, as I'm going through their products like a hot knife through butter (there's a much more appropriate simile involving wildfowl, but it's not at all polite, so use yer imagination).

Anyhow, I phoned Mobile Phones Direct today, in a rare few moments of light coughing (as opposed to rafter-raising sneezing and industrial strength coughing), and explained that I'd like to upgarde to either the HTC Sensation or the Galaxy S II. And once again, it seems that the deals I saw online related to new contracts, not existing upgrades.

Oh deep blue-language joy.

However.

If I was willing to go for the Sensation rather than the Galaxy, then I could have it on a two year contract for the same cost as my existing (roughly 31 quid a month) contract, and without having to change my mobile number. Oooo. My ears perked up. In between coughing fits, of course.

While I did the maths on this, I looked over the specs on both phones again. About the only thing, materially, that I'd loose out on, would be USB-On-The-Go, a way of plugging conventional USB devices, such as external hard drives, memory sticks, and such like, into the phone directly, rather than via another computer when monted on that, as a throughput device. I'm not sure I've worded that correctly, but I think you get the gist.

Honestly, it's something that would be nice, but which isn't, really, an urgently must-have thing. Yeah, it'd be nice to be able to plug an external USB keyboard into the phone, and be able to type quickly and accurately, without having to visually check that my finges were in the right place for every key, but I'm sure there are hardware add-ones - such as wireless keyboards via bluetooth - that I can get and use, should I feel the need to use an external, rather than the built-in firmware/software keys that the phone comes with, so the lack of this USB thing isn't a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination. Besides which, it's an optional extra requiring a plug-in accessory from Samsung, so it's not something that comes with the phone, after all.

The other thing is the smaller Storage and RAM on the HTC Sensation. That gave me brief pause, until I realised that really and truly, I could use a microSD card in the phone, and still have 16 gigs of storage (already have one, just needs a major reformat). And storage  cards are currently really cheap, compared to what they were priced at two years ago, so again, who'm I kidding? Yes, onboard storage would be nice, but it's really that essential, as long as there's the avilability of card storage. As to RAM, the Galaxy has 1 Gig, the Sensation 768 Megs (about three quartes of a gig). Is it that much of a difference? For high-end mobile applications (I mean software packages, bit my tongue, lol), yeah, it could be, but will I be using them? Let's be realistic: Probably not. So again, it makes little difference.

One thing that MAY make a difference, though, is the almost instant photo capture processing on the Sensation, which should enable faster photographing speeds - and that IS an important feature for me, as I take photos for this blog, and having the capacity to take fast photos is a useful one.

As to the battery life of the Sensation. I already have a stand-alone emergency recharger for my Touch Pro 2, which uses the standard miniUSB charging plug to recharge the phone, and this can be used on the new phone with no modifications, so that's not a real problem either.

So, on balance, while it'd be nice to have some of the bells and whistles of the Galaxy, the solid features of the Sensation have won (well, that and the price).

So, I've ordered the free upgrade, which should be with me in the next couple of days.

We'll see how I get on with Android over the coming months.

Stay tuned - I mean Soothed ;-)

PS - it took nearly an hour to type this up, mainly as I was back to my industrial coughing and sneezing again.

And the muscles in my chest STILL bloody hurt.

I know Flu's a killer, and important to combat, but here's a hint, bio-medical types - more days of work appear to be lost to the common cold than Flu - can't you come up with an actual CURE for the common cold?

Please?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Long Weekend...


...and of course, I've come down with a stinker of a cold in the last two days. Just as well I had the 'Flu jab a fortnight ago, if this cold is anything to go by.

*Insert window rattling sneeze and obligatory "YeeeeeeUCH!"*

You see what I mean.

Anyhow, it's given me a chance to go over the on-line mobile phone deals again; you will recall a few months back, I was looking at a couple of phones, the HTC Sensation, and the now prize-awarded Samsung i9100 Galaxy S II (here's the award news: it got 'phone of the year').

Well, there are good deals on both at the moment from my preferred supplier, Mobile Phones Direct, so it appears that waiting a little while has earned me dividends, as all my previous calculations have been blown out of the water (in a rather excellent way) by mobile phones that have even more recently been released, will soon be, or may soon be, onto the market.

So, I have to decide which phone I want. the HTC, or the Samsung.

Decisions, decisions.

On the one hand, there's very little to choose between them; they have practically identical screens - the HTC one seems to score better on resolution, meaning smaller and thus more detailed inconography, text, and so on, on the screen, but with my aging eyes (hells bells, I'm only three years shy of the big Five-Oh, AAARGH!) that's not much of a worry. The HTC seems to promise the ability to take and process to storage rapid photographs, which would be nice for action shots on one's phone, and the resolution appears to be a damn sight better than my current offering (Touch Pro 2 at 3.15mp versus the Sensation and Galaxy both offering 8mp); the list goes on with similar features, or competing features. Read the technical comparison linked to above.

The things that appear to be over and above the other, in favour of the Samsung, would be that it's got Gorilla Glass (that's a toughened screen, more resistent to scratches and impacts), a higher on-board storage and RAM facility, and, the most important feature, a better battery life than the HTC offering; and that's the most important factor, when all is said and done. Yes, I want the features, yes, I want a smartphone that'll run Android, to replace my now aging and slightly faulty HTC Touch Pro 2 (which runs Windows Mobile 6.1) that's done me stirling service over the last two years, but if it's one thing I've learned, it's that these darn things are well battery-hungry.

So, it looks like my original choice, the Samsung, stays the same.

So, I'll be on the phone to MPD in the week ahead, to talk more my potentially free upgrade. And the beauty of this? It looks like I can upgrade the phone, AND reduce my monthly bill, from 31 quid a month down to 26 quid a month. OK, it's a two year contract, but it's even cheaper than I'd dared wish for a few months back, so here's hoping!

In the mean time, wrap up warm, and don't catch a cold. This seasons offerings are a real pain, as I can truly attest to, as I've been coughing and sneezing like a champion while I've been writing this.

So, I'm off to do my on-line Lotto lines, and then I'll relax for the rest of the day.

God knows I deserve a rest after doing a week of up-before-the-crack-of-sparrows-breaking-wind shifts!

Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Idiots, Screaming Kids... And Oh Yeah...


It's Saturday. Normally, this means that a shift at work is going to be overly hard work, with short turn-round times, loads of traffic, and short meal reliefs...

Imagine my vast relief when I found out it was to be a short shift, two rounds only, with close to an hour meal relief!

Unfortunately, the feeling was not to last long.

First trip...

For practically half the trip, I had the Screaming Brat From Hell on the bus. Not even two years old, and probably already the less-than-proud owner of a noise abatement order, her lungs could likely as not have out-blown the brass section of the London Symphony Orchestra. And she was on my bus. My ears are still ringing, hours later as I write this on the way home. Or was that the bus stop bell?

Second trip...

It's normally Sundays when white van man makes even amateurs look talented. Not this one, though. This git was on the other side of the road, and pulled right in front of me, across my front, causing to have to stand on the anchors, lean on the horn, and hope like heck that I could stop in time. The cussing of the punters on the bus attested to how close a shave it was, and on of my safety razor blades *might* have fitted in the gap once I managed to stop. How I didn't broadside the twat is a matter of discussion for my now somewhat paler passengers. And no, he never indicated, said sorry, or even acknowledged my being there, he just carried on regardless into the loading bay alley he was aiming for, the bastard. Unfortunately, I never got his vans registration number, or I'd number and shame him here.

At this point, it was my meal relief time, and much needed it was, too. Amazing how a bit of food tends to help you unwind for a short while...

Trip three...

This time, it was a minicab driver, and I DID get his number. AD08CVW, you are a bloody dangerous ****wit of the worst order, having overtaken me in the face of oncoming traffic.

Again, I was forced to brake hard to avoid being forced off the road by this miserable excuse for a motorist. I have no idea what my passengers thought of this gormless pea-brained halfwit, but I know what I thought, and as it's rather vulgar, I won't repeat it here!

Trip four...

Literally right out of the gate, trip four almost didn't happen.

I'd served the first bus stop - at the western end bus stand - and, having waited patiently for a gap, pulled out, to find that a car, parked just after the stand, had the same idea, but without the right turn indicator being used - who then slammed on her anchors at the pelican light ten yards later which was showing green.

I was still accellerating - thankfully gently - when this git stopped.

An accellerating bus doesn't like stopping suddenly. It tends to confuse the ZF model automatic gearbox, which is still in 'lets get moving' mode. Consequently, hard braking at this juncture is pretty messy, to say the least. It's abrupt, not at all smooth, and bloody uncomfortable. And that's just for the bus driver, who has, at least, got the steering wheel to brace himself against.

The passengers are nowhere near as lucky, and tend to impersonate nodding donkeys, and try headbutting the back of the seats in front of them. The air was definately blue, and not just from my comments. I wasn't able to get the registration number - I was a bit too peed off with the female wotsit to grab my pen and paper, but I'm sure she knew I was a tad frustrated, as the horn on the bus was, for a change, rather a loud one, and I leant on it for a rather long time - this in addition to my and my passengers comments, and I feel sure she knew that she screwed up. Of course, like almost all amateur motorists, she didn't acknowledge either that she'd messed up, or even our very close presence behind her. she merely pootled off to the roundabout the other end of the road, went round it, and came down the road the other way, studiously ignoring everything around her. Typical, that.

So, a usual weekend shift, then.

Thank whatever you might beleive in, that it's my day off tommorrow.

I damn well need it!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A few small things, really, but they really irritate us bus drivers...

You may not think of these as irritating, but try being on the receiving end, day in, day out, all year long, and you might just realise how damnably aggravating the following can be...

When you're standing at a bus stop and you hail a bus to stop, please, stand by the bus stop 'flag' (the pole with the bus stop sign on it). When stopping at bus stops, we're trained to stop the bus, when possible, with the front doors by the flag; this way, we've a fairly safe bet that the rest of the bus is within the road-painted 'cage'. It also means that the chances are good that the first in the queue will be able to get on first, not last.

Next up: Do not, please, advance towards the bus as it slows to stop; The driver's unlikely to slam on the anchors to stop by little old self-important you. More likely, is that you'll have to walk back to the flag, where the front doors are now open and waiting.

Also, do not bloody wave, or flap your hand like some mad thing trying to get airborne when hailing a bus to stop at a bus stop. Not only does it insultingly imply that we couldn't see you hiding behind a four-inch thick pole (what, are you the size of a garden rake, or something?!), it also encourages us to sail past, smiling widely and waving back. A nice, bold, clear, arm stuck out, horizontal to the ground, will suffice nicely, ta very much.

Thanks for cooperating ;-)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Everyone and their dog...

...was out there in their cars today. This, on a Saturday, you will quickly understand, was Not Good™ (spot the capitalisation and Trademark signs), at all; it clogged the roads worse than I've seen since the run-up to last Christmas, let alone the last snopocalypse we suffered.

This, when coupled with the roadworks on the route, made the traffic the worst we'd seen in quite some time. As a result, buses running late by three-quarters of an hour and worse were not unusual for a few hours today, despite the best efforts of the roadside controllers. It's unfortunate for the passengers, but one of those occasional things.

In amongst this however, was a small note of comic relief...

I had one prospective passenger ask me, with a very strong foreign accent, at the mid-point bus station, "How much to Eastbourne, please?".

Not sure I'd heard correctly, I asked "Sorry, guv, where?"

"Eastbourne". He then showed me the address that was being displayed on his phone (for once, a Nokia, not an i-whatever). Sure enough, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

"Guv, Eastbourne's something like forty miles that way!" I pointed roughly south, and continued, "This is a local bus service for London, not a coach; your best bet would be to get a train from over the way there!" and pointed to the train station.

"No, I go to Eastbourne, not London" came the fractured English in reply. Oh, hell, this was going to descend to farce, I could just feel it. Luckily, the second time I told him where Eastborne was, it seemed to sink in. "It's on the south coast, mate, sixty kilometres that way!" (there I was, pointing again, probably vaguely southwards)...

He stopped, and a faint light of comprehension came over his face. "Ah, Eastbourne, that way, yes?"

"Yes! Catch a train, it'll take you there!"

"OK, thank you, I go now!"

And go he did. Southwards. Walking.

There are moments in this game where you either want to start banging your nut on the steering wheel, or giggling like a lunatic.

Most of the passengers on the lower deck were already chortling away nicely, so I decided that giggling like a little schoolboy was suitably in order, and did just that. I'm bloody sure the horrified stares from passing pedestrians weren't warranted, naturally

Anyhow, short story, for a few minutes, I think I had the happiest bus in south London.

Then we hit more bloody queuing traffic.

I swear, you just can't bleeding win, sometimes. Cue headbutting the steering wheel...

..If you're not already giggling like a loonie, of course

Friday, 16 September 2011

It's 9am, it's Friday, that means....

...that it must be F***wit day!

OK, here we go...

Both of these miserable excuses for motorists, within ten second of each other at the same set of traffic lights, carved my bus up, missing the offside front corner by scant centimetres, as they cut from the outside lane to the inside lane, to get past the queue turning right, forcing me to brake hard and likewise causing my passengers a great deal of discomfort. Folks, it's not just the bus driver you piss off: it's the many passengers on the bus as well.

Here are today's F***wits:

The driver of a silver BMW, Y5DGP, and
The driver of a white LDV van, AE07BXW.

Congratulations folks: I hope you both get quadruple punctures as penalty for your incomprehensibly selfish and outstandingly crap driving. hells bells, Neither of you even bothered to signal - so much for Mirror, Signal, Manouevre!

A parting thought for you two cosmically crap examples of clown drivers. Buses weigh a heck of a lot (a fully laden double decker can mass close to 19 tonnes), and because of this, the engines tend to take a little time to wind up to a decent torque to move the bus at anything like a decent speed.

If you force your way past, yeah, you might get through the lights. But you'll have cause great inconvenience - or worse - to the passengers of the bus. And no, I'm not joking: Bus passengers have been injured as a result of bus drivers being forced to take avoiding action due to idiots on the road before now: It's happened to me and passengers on my bus before now, it's happened to others, and likely as not, will happen a lot more before the goldarn message finally gets through.

Now, there's idle talk in the corridors of power that the driving examination needs to be tightened up.

Nonsense. It's fine as-is.

What needs to be tightened up is the enforcement of standards of driving. at present, Traffic Police are tasked with everything from road traffic enforcement, anti-terrorist patrolling, and so on. They need to have their numbers increased, and their remit narrowed back down to road traffic policing again, so that they can make damned sure that standards are maintained properly. Let us not forget; Those that kill through stupidity and recklessness in their driving are no less criminals than those who go equipped with knifes, guns, or simple big sticks.

How long, do you think it will be, before these potentially moronic road rage-driving f***wits in their cars actually see the point, and tone their cavalier and reckless driving down to acceptable levels?

Or will it require the sticks of the judicial process to do it for them?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Amusing variations...

I saw this the other day, just took a little while longer than normal for me to get it here, as it was taken on my Fuji camera, as the phone camera is still playing silly wotsits.

Read the small print below the number plate (click the photo for a larger version) :-)

Nice to see that even bug stompers have a sense of humour ;-)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

I'm looking to update the masthead a bit...

So, it's been over three years since I started this blog, and I reckon that it's now time for a minor facelift.

I'll be doing this in small increments, since I'm generally very happy with the layout and look of the Blant. One of the things I want to do, is add an image of the London skyline, or something similar, like a panoramic photo of London, to use in the masthead.

The problem is in either finding royalty-free imagery, or free stock photos, for this purpose. Failing that, the problem is in finding a suitable vantage point from which to take my own panoramic photo of London.

So, here's the question. Do you know of a decent vantage point, or free-to-use-and-abuse imagery that I can use?

Any ideas?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

I am really, really, REALLY, starting to hate Apple...


Here's why...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14652482

These guys just really take the sodding cake, they really do. The idea of a hand-held computer is nothing new, after all. It's been around in science fiction for decades, even longer, maybe. Likewise, the idea of using a touch-sensitive screen is nothing new either - there are two types, resistive, where only one touch works at a time, and capacitative, where you can use two simultaneous touches to achieve a better result - that, by the way, is a hardware solution, not software, and has been known about for a fair while as well. Neither, come to that, is there anyting remarkably new in the way to show icons on a screen, or to combine the lot into a mobile (or cellular) telecommunications package, and call it a smartphone.

Yet, here's bloody Apple, waving a shedload of patents that should NEVER have seen the light of day, crying "foul" because, frankly, someone else has the temerity to challenge their so-called right to dominate the market. What Apple appear to be trying to do, by the way, is get a stranglehold, a complete dominance and monopoly, on mobile tablet computing. That's called restrictive trading practices, in my opinion. Wonder if a court will catch onto that theory and make it stick?

The people who run Apple are described in other places online as something of a bunch of control freaks, who demand that you only buy "Apps" from THEIR online store. They also apparently demand as much as 30% of the sale price as a fee for allowing such software packages to be sold there. So much for reasonable commisions. So much for free enterprise.

Microsoft have never demanded that third parties do that, and that's on a so-called 'closed' or proprietory operating system (Windows, in all its various incarnations), for pities sake. Even Android (Google) don't demand you use their "market place", there being a couple more out there, such as the Amazon version, to name but one.

Yet, here's Apple, screaming "Foul" at the top of their army of lawyers lungs, whenever they feel like it.

Enough is enough, and to misquote a King, will not SOMEONE rid us of this troublesome "Priest" (preferably in the courts, of course)?

Anyhow, the upshot for me would appear to be that unless I find the readies to buy a Galaxy S 2 inside the next seven weeks, I probably won't be able to get one at all, ever, thanks to those bloody ranting and tantruming brats over at Apple.

I mean, come ON, you'd think that having more disposable cash than the US Government would've been more than enough, right?

I really have had more than enough of those patent-waving wotsits, I really have.

Monday, 22 August 2011

I.C.E. / CRASH Cards...

It occurred to me, while watching a clip on youtube (of collisions caught on video), that many of us out there don't carry any form of emergency identification at all.

Even bike riders, for pities sake.

So, in the hope that this might actually help someone someday, a few ideas...

I have a pair of ID discs that I always wear; they're modelled on my old Army ID Discs, they've got the "big 6" on them (Surname, Initials, Service Number, Date of birth, Blood Group, and Religion), and there's an extra disc, red in colour, that says "HEART ATTACK RCA", to give the hint to anyone providing emergency medical help to me that I've had a heart attack in the past.

In my wallet, I also have what I call an ICE card, or "In Case of Emergency" card, printed on high-visibility yellow card, briefly detailing my personal details, who to call in the event of emergency, who my General Practitioner (Doctor) is, and what medications I'm prescribed.

I found a website a while back that allows you to fill in an online form, and print out your own ICE card. here's the link. They assure you that they do not record anything you put there; the details you enter are used to produce the image that you then print out, fold, laminate, and carry with you. Or, you could do what I did, and make your own design up. As long as it's got the details outlined in the online generator, you're on the right track. And don't forget your ten-digit NHS and nine-digit National Insurance numbers, while you're at it!

There are, of course, many, many, many other ways of carrying this information around with you.

Existing ones, that have been around for a while, include medical alert style jewellery, such as necklaces, bracelets, bands, and so on. There are a few retailers of this stuff online, and a simple google search will find them. Remember to use google UK, and specify UK results, so that you get results that have a chance of being useful over here in Great Britain; American resources, while obviously very useful over there, might omit certain details that British medics need (and vice verse, if you're an American, search google.com, and specifiy US results, and so on, for whatever counrty you live in).

An innovative one is ZAP tag (click for link); tied into your Doctor's records on you, the card incorporates a small USB storage device, which can be synchronised with the secured online files held with zaptag themselves; the hiccup with this is that it requires a computer to access the files, of course. But that's the only drawback, as far as I can see.

Still, it's important that you carry at least one thing that lets the emergency services know who you are, and of any medical problems that you may have, such as allergies, and so on; a low-tech solution for all situations is, in my view, a better solution, so human-readable discs or tags around the neck, or a bracelet/band around the wrist, coupled with a crash or ICE card in the wallet, is the best bet.

And if you're thinking of sticking this very useful information onto your nice shiny phone, well, don't bother. The emergency services will take one look, see that you're password locked the damn thing, and carry on regardless - which COULD spell disaster.

So go low-tech.

Cards, tags, bands, whatever, but carry at least ONE thing to let them help you is you're unable to communicate with the emergency services for whatever reason.

It may just help to save your life.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fast work indeed...

Well, following the truly disgusting events of monday night, it appears that triple Seven (777) demolition pulled out all the stops in performing their task for the Reeves Family; the roads are once again open to traffic, four or five days earlier than expected by London Buses (Our diversion notices were saying it'd be the weekend before things got back to normal).

Congratulations on the fast work, folks.

Just sorry it had to happen because of a retarded fudgewit with no common sense or respect for others.

I still hope they throw the offender UNDER the gaol, and lose the key, though.

OK... and now everyone's staring at me like I've grown a second head...!

This "Nemi" cartoon in todays' Metro got me laughing myself practically off my chair in the cafe opposite the eastern Bus Stand in my meal relief this morning - and got me some very odd looks from staff and customers alike ;-)

http://img.metro.co.uk//i/pix/cartoons/nemi/2011/08/16.gif

Enjoy!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

More aftermath photos from Reeves Corner in Croydon.

This is a shot from Google Streetview, from a year or two ago.

That's close to a hundred and fifty years of building history, family history (The Reeves Family), and local history as well, all wrapped up in one, there.

I took the next set of photos on the way home from work yesterday. Unsurprisingly, a fair few others were doing the exact same thing.


This is all that's left.

It's almost as one might have expected from a German bombing raid during the Blitz in the Second World war, minus a crater, of course.

I'd imagine the feelings of the Reeves Family were close to the same as many families felt when their homes were hit during the war.

Sadly, this was not caused by war. This was caused by an unthinking, malicious, (delete certain words guaranteed to earn me a few days in court). You get the idea, anyhow.

This is the view of the re-set tram tracks towards Wimbledon. Note the relaid aphalt. The heat from the fire actually melted the original seals between the cobble bricks and the rails, requiring this quick fix. I'd imagine that there'll be some more engineering works to be performed to make a more permenent fix, before long.

Notice also the cut-down street light pole (wrapped in red-and-white fire cordon tape; there's a few like this all around the site of the building. Hardly surprising, I'd imagine the aluminium poles melted due to the heat involved.

Next, the buildings on the Church Street side of the block, singed and burnt in places through the heat and ashes from the main Reeves Furniture building on Monday. The Chemist on the left corner of the block here (you can just see the green frontage on the ground floor at the edge of the photo) is only just able to be open again. Note the relaid road surface. Like may things around the fire, the original asphalt actually melted due to the temperatures that the fire generated. Gives you a good idea just how savage that fire was.

The almost completely demolished Reeves building, with their original and remaining annex in the background (the white building). Even that got some of the heat. Note the two pole bases, wrapped in red-and-white barrier tape, in the foreground.

The demolition work went on all weekend, by the way. The next stage, I'd imagine, will be the removal of the rubble, and finally, one has to assume that the site will be partitioned off with a fence, before any rebuilding takes place. That'll require planning permission, architects, and so on. I'd imagine it will, barring more miracles, be at least a year or two before we see anything resembling a shop on this site again. It's a crying shame, it really is.

There's no other way of describing this horrendous event but by using the right words: It was a tragedy of horrendous proportions.

This is the remaining wall still standing.

That'll be gone soon, too. You can see the heat and fire damage to the other nearby buildings behind it (Church Street side).

Let's hope that the Reeves family manage to get everything rebuilt as fast as possible - and not with some horrid modern monstrosity, but something that actually resembles what was lost to the arson attack.

We're told that the areas going to be blocked to road-going traffic for around another week, according to the London Buses 'Notice Of Event' that details our diversions in Croydon at the moment. At least they've got the trams running again, anyhow.

How no-one was injured or killed by this arson insanity I'll never fathom. Small miracles, and all that.

Before the riot, I'd walked, driven, and riden past the Reeves Furniture store countless times in my lifetime without really giving it another thought; My parents bought their latest sofa and chairs from them in the last couple of years, even.

To say that it almost all went up in smoke and flames thanks to one thoughtless and malicious individual, would have been unthinkable mere days beforehand.

Suffice to say, I hope that they throw the bloody book at the half-arsed slow-witted pea-brained jerk of the lowest order that caused the fire, and throw away the damn key.

I'd say more, but I'd only be re-hashing what professional journalists, polititians, and so on, have been blathering on about since the riots happened.

Every so often...

...there's a view that I have to photograph. Here's two such photos, taken this morning.

This is looking across south east London, at about 6.30 this morning. Rather appropriate for a Sunday, with all the beams of light shining down.

I like it, anyhow.

It's not often that I've got a camera of doing such a sight even half its justice, so whenever I can, and I've got the camera with me, I try to get the shot.


Hope you like it.



This next one was taken this moring, on the way to work, at about 3.45 am.

A right ungodly hour of the morning, you will doubtless agree, but occasionally, itr results in a shot like this.

And the same again, a few moments later...

 Again, hope you liked them :-)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Aftermath...

Having spent the last couple of days off sick with a crook neck (I was reversing a bus on the southern bus stand, and CRACK, there went me neck, aaaargh!), I got into work this morning to find the wreckage of the bus that was torched in the Riot in Croydon on Monday night. That's it, on the left. the yellow bit is the "Vehicle off Road - Do not Use" steering wheel cover that some comedian has stuck there. As if.

Anyhow, this is the aftermath for us. Luckily, I'm told that our driver got away from it unharmed, if somewhat shaken, of course.

This, when new, was about three hundred grands-worth of double-decker Alexander Trident bus and fittings.

Now? Maybe a couple of hundred quids-worth of scrap steel, aluminium, and maybe a little scrap of rubber here and there that may have escaped the fire.

Thanks be to whoever you believe in, that no-one was hurt, or worse, killed, by the completely brainless thuggery that caused this.

I think it's high time that we told Europe to naff off, and stuck Stocks and pillories back in Town Squares, along with the required rotten vegetables retail stand, to be used in the first case against the scum that do these things. we might also think about a Ducking Pond for repeat offenders, followed by actual Hard Physical Labour sentences for third-time losers.

What sayest thou? Yay or nay?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Hmm. Vodafone retentions need to wake the hell up, I think.

OK, my major rant below done, time for a smaller one...!

It appears that my current contract with Vodafone's up for renewal soon; I had Mobile Phones Direct tell me this the other week (I got my current HTC Touch Pro 2 from them), so looked into it today.

I'm far from impressed.

Seems that if I go for the phone that I want (a Samsung Galaxy S II running Android v2.3 "Gingerbread"), then instead of the £26 a month contract that Vodafone are offering new punters, as an existing punter, I won't be paying less, I'd be paying MORE?! What?!

Have they completely lost their marbles?!

Add to this, if I want the phone at my current 36-odd quid a month contract, I'd have to shell out something like 60-65 quid for the privilage?!

I think that they can stick their ideas into a dark smelly place, thank you very much.

I'll save some money, and buy an unlocked, SIM-free one in a few months time, then DOWNGRADE my contract to a SIM-Only contract instead, thus saving me ooodles of money in the long term.

Think about it: Sim-Free, one of these phones is around the 500 quid mark.

How much am I paying in contract terms over two years? £864 or so. Add in the off-plan phone, text, and data, and that adds to the cost, and let's also not forget that Vodafone aren't paying retail pricers for the phones - they're probably paying about a half to two-thirds the retail price through bulk purchasing from Samsung.

Now, let's call the two year cost £870, plus the £65 upgrade charge, that's £935 over two years.

Costs of Sim-Free? £500 for the phone. SIM-Free contracts can be had from all the Mobile operators, of course, and a comparison of those costs can be found here. It's quite revealing.

Now, I've got a SIM for mobile internet (for a dongle) from 3, their tenner a month PAYG (Pay As you Go) option, and very good it is too; I use it on my Acer "Aspire 1" netbook. On the strength of that, if I go SIM-Only, it's going to be a toss-up between Vodafone and 3; currently, I'm thinking a 15/month SIM-only contract from 3, so costs on that would be, over two years: £360.

The deal that 3 offer, by the way, is VERY attractive:

Talk Time Text Messages Extras Contract Length Monthly Cost
300 minutes anytime cross network 3,000 inclusive text messages 1GB mobile internet;
FREE Delivery;
14 Day return;
Keep your number
30 day rolling contract £15.00

 

So, total costs over two years on that combination, would be: £500 + £360 = £860, a tenner less over two years than my current contract, if I replace my existing phone with a new one. Even excluding one-off accessories (belt pouch, and such like), it's still a good deal.


It's an even better deal if I instead deep-six Vodafone altogether at the end of my contract, and go with the deal from 3, while retaining my existing phone - it would also save me fifteen to twenty quid a month., which is somewhat attractive too.

You do the maths.

Don't get me wrong: Vodafone have been good for me over the last couple of years; their customer services folks, the very few times I needed them, were pretty fast on the nuptake, and good at their jobs. But customer loyalty is all about giveing your existing punters a good deal, while also making sure that they KNOW that they're getting a good deal. It's therefore rather sad that their marketing and sales department can't seem to grasp this concept. To a certain extent, it would appear that all the Mobile Operators need to pull their fingers out for their existing punters. So, again, I'll ask: WHY do existing punters get the short shrift from Vodafone and similar?

it's easy enough to follow, sadly. It's because they know that the vast majority of us will NOT look twice, we'll simply nod blindly, and accept the charges that'll cost them more in the long term.

Well, Not me, folks.

I'm buying SIM-Free again. It may well mean that I have to wait just a little longer for that new phone, but, long-term, it'll be a damn sight cheaper for me to do so!