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Tech stuff

Back to the Future – Robotic Gardening

A very innovative combination of rapid prototyping using both a 3d printer and software technology to develop small scale agricultural automation in your own back yard. Not only does it provide the basics for growing your own fruit and vegetables, by providing an open source platform it supports the potential for viral growth of other approaches and dynamics from the initial form (quite correctly known as “Farmbot genesis”).

Thinking about the long back gardens that are behind many houses in the United Kingdom, rising fruit and vegetable costs, time paucity and the desire for localism in food production, Farmbot seems like an ideal integration point.

Why books still matter.

I don’t read books much. I have “x” number of computers in various states of order and an smartphone and a Kindle Fire. So why do I also have a very high quality slip-case edition of The Lord of the Rings? In four volumes (the fourth is the appendices etc). My Sindarin is probably better than my French! Well, better than my Quenya anyway.

Well, three reasons. My old copy from way back (single volume paperback) was falling apart – not from neglect but from use. My mother wanted to get me a birthday present and I wanted a nice set. In a very real sense the information revolution of the last couple of decades has created a demarcation between the “bit” and the “it”*. Anyone with internet access knows at a visceral level they have access to the Library of Babel** (and mainly free or very cheap) so a book in a sense becomes more of an object as we transfer our understanding of information from paper and ink to the ephemeral 1 and 0.

This was brought home to me (although I knew it at some level before) when I stood in awe just last year at the one book I’d love to own above all gold and silver. It was in Trinity College, Cambridge and was the first edition of Principia Mathamatica and not just any copy. This was Newton’s very own with his hand-written marginal notes for the second edition. It was like, for practicing Jews, looking at the first Torah written in blood and fire by YHWH Himself. Wow. And here is the three odd things. It is written in Latin (and I am very limited in that), it dates from an era when mathematicians didn’t want to disclose methods so even if I grokked the Latin the maths would be obscure to me (Newton didn’t want to disclose the calculus so re-wrote his proofs using da olde skool sums). And finally it is available free for download (in English).

So why does it matter? For the same reason the Wailing Wall matters to Jews or why old Beatle’s vinyl matters to music lovers. It is “it” and not “bit”. It is an actual physical thing. Over the last few years vinyl record sales have increased as CD sales have declined. It is about having soul. Which is an odd way of thinking. That the physical in some way embodies soul more than the abstract.

So that is why I cherish books. Because they are “things”. They are beyond mere information now. They once were information but they are now “stuff” which oddly elevates them because they are the thing in itself because the information is all online now.

They have lost their informational shackles to become free.

*Sorry to the late John Wheeler for that.
**Sorry to the late Jorge Luis Borges for that.

Microsoft OneDrive – Bait and Switch

Important Changes to OneDrive

So ponder this, you are one of the worlds largest suppliers of computer software, competing in a highly competitive market which is already saturated. Which of the following sounds like a market winning strategy?:

  • Increase the value-add to your existing data mining customers by providing ever more dimensions on which to analyse customer information (Facebook, Google)
  • Look around at the offerings from your competitors and cut your offering (which is currently the same) to 1/3rd of that and tell customers that all that stuff they were getting for free, they are now going to pay for (Microsoft)

Maybe I’m missing the point here and Microsoft thinks that, despite their many and obvious failures from Bob to Bing, they are somehow beloved by their customers, who will not simply dump them in favour of Google?

Anyone? *crickets*

For myself, I’ll copy everything over to Google and just leave my 10.6 GB of data on the OneDrive. What are they going to do? Charge me?

In fact I’m severely tempted to fill it up to the maximum 15GB 30GB with any old crap and let them sort the wheat from the chaff.

As the Americans say “Good luck with that

[UPDATE - I forgot that as I have both OneDrive and the Camera Roll Bonus I have twice the storage space to screw over - Whooopee!]

Screwing the Copperopoly

I Hate BT

I hate British Telecom aka BT, the UK’s national telecoms provider with a visceral hatred that is usually reserved for mother-in-laws and cheating ex’s.

Back in 2002 I bought a new house in Stevenage, all well and good, but needed a phone installed, fair enough, only problem was only BT installed lines to new homes and required a fairly sizeable fee and minimum 12 month phone contract.

So much for deregulation and the end of BT’s Telecom monopoly.

Anyway, a couple of years later deregulation did indeed come knocking on our door in the form of a deregulated service from Tiscali, which was much cheaper as we didn’t use the phone much for anything except the internet. I signed up for 12-months with a price promise – so for 12-months it was at a guaranteed price and lower than BT. So far, so good.

I was somewhat chagrined then when I received a letter from BT to say “New BT Together Option 1 price reduced by £1.00 per month” so the service I’d just dumped was now slightly cheaper, but the corker was they we’re raising their line rental price by £1.00 per month.

Net effect BT customers no change, deregulated customers who didn’t want BT or directly use their services get stiffed for an extra quid a month.

Now don’t get me wrong, I could easily afford the rise, but it was the sheer deceitful effrontery of the thing. My anger knew no bounds and included letters to the CEO’s of both BT and Tiscali as well as an official complaint to the regulator who dismissed the connection between BT customer pricing and line-rental pricing, pleading ignorance being preferable to the hard work of monopoly investigation.

Ever since I have been on a mission to avoid or evade the egregious line rental. Which brings me to my current predicament. How to get some element of Internet into my new flat in Perth, Scotland without paying line rental. As a laugh I checked the broadband comparison sites

Excellent Deal

£48 ($75 USD, $102 AUD) as an introductory price for the first year seemed a pretty good deal, but somehow I am dubious, lets click on the “Show Details” box for lurking heffalumps…

Not Quite So Excellent Deal

Not quite so good when you add in the £16.99 ($27 USD, $36 AUD) per month subsidy to BT’s copperopoly is it? £48 per year suddenly becomes a whopping £251 ($392 USD, $534 AUD) per year. It is this back-door mugging that I find most offensive and this is but one example.

Over the years I have developed a variety of solutions towards this such as wireless extenders capable of accessing a free wifi signal from up to 1 kilometre away, to using a mobile dongle from 3-mobile (£10 for 1GB of data within 30-days)

The solution for the new flat is a bit simpler, it is 30-yards from a pub with a strong wifi signal from “The Cloud” pub wifi service (a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky empire), will give me unlimited access for £6.95 ($11 USD, $15 AUD) a month.

Sure, it’s not dedicated and it depends how much it’s being used by pub users, but its a lot cheaper than BT line rental on its own, never mind the internet element.

So fuck you BT.

* The guy from the official regulator OFCOM told me a genuine consumer complaint on the grounds of “anti-competitive exclusionary behaviour” was virtually unheard of, which was why he contacted me directly to verify the complaint.

Original text of my complaint


Get your ass to Mars

Phobos Base

“Mars is possible, and in a time horizon of interest,” Hoppy Price, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said May 20 during a presentation with the space agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. “It could happen in our lifetime, and it wouldn’t take a trillion dollars to do it.”

This effort would require four launches of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, which is currently in development and is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2018.

The first Phobos-oriented SLS launch, in 2029, would loft a space tug and two chemical-propulsion payloads — a Phobos Transfer Stage and a Trans-Earth Injection Stage. The tug would use solar-electric propulsion (SEP) to haul the two payloads to Mars orbit in just less than four years. (The team’s concept requires no big breakthroughs in propulsion technology or other areas, Price said.)

A second SLS liftoff would carry another SEP tug and the Phobos base, which could support a crew of four. The tug would take the base to Phobos and deposit it on the moon’s surface, then stay with the habitat to provide power and move it to different locations on Phobos if desired.

The third SLS launch, around 2032, would carry a deep-space habitat (with the same basic design as the Phobos base) and a Mars Orbit Insertion Stage to Earth orbit. Another SLS liftoff would then send NASA’s Orion capsule and a crew of four up to meet this preplaced gear, which would help take the astronauts to Mars orbit in a journey lasting 200 to 250 days.

A Manned Mission to Mars: How NASA Could Do It

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of a landing on Mars and indeed human colonisation thereof (if it’s worth colonising), but I suspect that NASA’s bureaucrat heavy costing model and desire for ‘big new kit’ is essentially the problem here.

If we put the entrepreneurs in charge instead of the bureaucrats I suspect we could get a mission to Phobos by 2025 and landing on Mars soon thereafter.

We already have a marshalling yard and habitation module in orbit in the form of the ISS. Simply build the interplanetary components of the cargo and habitation units on earth in a modular form and powered by electric motors and boost them into space using the SpaceX Falcon Heavy alongside the ISS with a limited final assembly in orbit alongside the ISS.

At next opposition (when Mars and Earth are closest) fire them to Phobos so that food, water and habitation are ready and waiting for astronauts upon their arrival and we can test and monitor equipment remotely. Do the same with the Phobos-Mars descent/ascent vehicle.

The speed of the journey here is not critical so it doesn’t matter if it takes 18-months to get there as long as they are operational before the astronauts depart the ISS.

Then do the same for the ISS/Phobos shuttle with the crew module and powered by a multi-megawatt Vasimr engine capable of reaching Mars at opposition in 40/50 days.

The ISS/Phobos shuttle would be completely reusable as none of the components would be subject to damage by atmospheric re-entry albeit a chemical powered Phobos descent/ascent module would probably be necessary.

All of the technology to do this is available today (albeit both the  Vasimr engine and Phobos-Mars descent/ascent vehicle require more work, this could be undertaken during the preparation phase for the Phobos habitation module.

All of the above could be achieved for a fraction of the current NASA proposals for MARS and in less than half the time. The ISS/Phobos shuttle could be reused to support a genuine space base on Phobos (transiting at every opposition) and the ISS would have a genuine purpose.

P.S. – Currently reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. :-)

We’re not jamming wifi for money – honest guv…


Marriott International and the American Hotel and Lodging Association are asking the F.C.C. to give hotels the green light to remotely disable the Wi-Fi devices that some travelers use to connect their laptops and tablet computers to the Internet through cellular services from companies like Verizon. This would force guests to buy the wireless Internet service provided by hotels.

In its petition, the hotel industry asks the commission to create an exception to rules that prohibit anyone from “willful or malicious interference” with wireless communications that are “licensed or authorized” by the government. The industry asserts that because Wi-Fi signals use unlicensed frequencies, they do not deserve the same protection as licensed services like cellphone networks. That is an absurd argument, since the government has authorized unlicensed Wi-Fi devices and networks. Other countries, like Britain, prohibit “deliberate interference” of wireless communications.

Brazen Attempts by Hotels to Block Wi-Fi

Yes, sure – I quite understand. The hotels are losing their profit margins because “tired and emotional” guests staying at their top hotel chains for conferences and business meetings are bypassing “Debby does Dallas episode 26″ – reasonably priced at $9.99 per shot (so to speak), in favour of finding unrestricted flavours of pornography over the wi-fi link.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are any number of ways that Marriot and others could have avoided this problem, such as installation of a “net nanny” software to block guests from accessing porn within their hotels, but while that would have been easily justified under the usual cry of “will somebody please think of the children”, it probably wouldn’t pass muster with those very adult executives, thus this rather draconian approach of attempting to block all WI-FI signals and then flogging ‘protected’ access at extortionate rates.

As someone who has lived in European and American hotels for months-on-end, this whole matter of charging for wifi has pissed me off time and again, to the point where during my 2008-2012 stay in a major hotel chain in Germany I basically said unless they provided a bundled wifi rate I would take my business elsewhere – despite it being “utterly impossible”, the sight of a guaranteed €3,000 per month about to walk out of the door soon changed their minds.

I Say It’s Spinach

So this is dedicated to Nick (and the first part of it is meant in the spirit of friendly teasing; no serious criticism intended). It was brought on by his response to the discussion on “Bibi to Obama,” but somehow it got so long and was so far O/T that I thought I really shouldn’t entirely derail that discussion. Hence the new posting. It happened like this….

Nick ended his passionate defense of the Israelis’ contributions to the Global Good by referring to their improvements in computer technology thus:

August 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Write a program once and… I have more computing power on my lap in this Lenovo S440 Thinkpad than probably existed in 1960 on the planet. The CPU was designed in Israel.

Never one to keep to the subject, I interjected the question,

Nick, one can actually program that sucker?

meaning the Lenovo Thinkpad, that is.

Nick responded to that:

August 5, 2014 at 8:12 pm

You don’t program a computer, you program a language. I know BASIC (I love BASIC – it’s great for five minute calculations and “sketching ideas”), Pascal, Fortran(!!!) and a few scripting type stuff like Javascript. And of course HTML and CSS but that’s not quite the same thing. I’m quite good in a limited sense – basically mathematics is my thing. I’ve been considering learning to write Android apps. I never could hack Machine Code and whilst I can write basic C, C++ defeated me. I just didn’t get the object-orientated paradigm. Part of the problem with learning C (and it’s descendants such as C++ and C# is the flexibility of syntax which means other folks programs can be unbelievably cryptic).

I adored that response, because I too am a HUGE fan of Fortran. Besides, it offered me an opportunity to issue a correction, a hobby of mine which, surprisingly, some people seem to find tiresome. Ah well, their loss…. :)

So I commenced, and the thing grew, and, well, here we are. Or here I am anyway. You, dear reader, may have gone on to washing your hair, or cleaning the groove in the patio door….

* * *
Nonsense, Mr. Mc[I-forget-the-rest] *g*. You program a computer IN a language. You USE a language to program a computer (in any given particular case). More correctly still, you write a program FOR (or to be RUN ON) a computer IN a language. I trust this clarifies the matter. *haughty sniff*

By the way, one does not write “machine code.” At least, not unless you mean writing in actual hex, or octal, or, to really get right down to it, binary. And it is insulting and fake elitism to talk about “writing code*” or saying something gaggingly sophomoric like “do they ship code on time.” Yes, I’m looking at you, Eric Raymond.

*Toward the end of my “career,” there developed a custom where System Engineers designed the layout of programs, including writing the specs; these were handed off to the “programmers,” who (I guess) drew up flow-charts and indicated where blocks of instructions (i.e. “code,” f’rgod’ssakes) would go, and passed those on to mere “coders,” who wrote out the actual instructions comprising the program. Division of labor, don’tcha see.

The upshot of that was that real programmers, now called “coders,” got a bad name as being the less-than-bright grunts of the data-processing hierarchy. I hope this dreadful faux-efficiency-system dropped dead long ago. Complete modularity in creative endeavors does not work.

But as to the main point. Basic rocks. No it is NOT a “toy”; it comes within hailing distance of Fortran. And Fortran IV-G or IV-H, awesome !!! is the only high-level language worth using professionally. Ahem. At the lower level, Assembler (for the S/360-370) and its cousins in the Assembly Language level, Autocoder for the 1401 and 7070 series, Map for the 7090-7094, so forth are the best of the best.

I LOVED Fortran and Assembly Languages, specifically Fortran IV and Assembler. You could get at the machine! You could tell it step by step exactly what to do, you could make it change its instructions, you could tell it to stop using valuable space for instructions and stick some data in there instead, and vice-versa. You could probably have told it to unplug itself, and then plug itself back in!

You sure couldn’t do that with COBOL. COBOL was for people who couldn’t be trusted to go messing about with the machine’s insides. Such things as “peek” and “poke,” even, could not be allowed to Business Types who probaby needed help tying their shoelaces.

I used to try to write COBOL in Fortran, just because of the whole logorrhea business. Thankfully I subsequently worked for an outfit that actually had programmers. Assembler, YUM.

Nick, do not feel like the Lone Ranger. I have messed about a bit with C and follow-ons, and as far as I can tell, the object of so-called OOP languages is to complify, complify, complify. The syntax would seem to defy any vaguely-human logic. Ostensibly these languages were developed so that any fool could read and understand at once any other fool’s program. Tchah! In any case, I was trying to correct an information deficit, as is my Nature, but not trying to put biscuits on the table, so lacking that incentive, in the end I treated the Book as the Koran was not treated by the boorish wardens at Guantánamo, and never looked back. :>))

. . .

Really, there’s nothing mysterious about the basic idea. In assembly languages and the next level of languages, Fortran, COBOL, whatever else qualifies, you have “routines,” which — and this is all as it was denominated in my day, back before the Silurian Epoch — meant the entirety of a program. Some portions of the program were dedicated to particular tasks and were distinct enough from other portions to be little mini-programs — “subroutines” — in their own right.

Somewhere along the way some bright language-designer or programmer (they once upon a time occupied the same physical body, can you imagine!) figured out that some of those subroutines were used often enough that it would be convenient to plunk them down, pre-fabricated, into his program. So he dreamed up a way to “call” the subroutine from within the main program. This little block of instructions that executed the “subroutine call” was incorporated into the main program with a special name or mock op-code of its own. IIRC, which I might not, in Fortran you just wrote “Call so-and-so” and then wrote a list of parameters the called subroutine would use.

Of course, you could get the exact same result by branching to the subroutine in the normal way, provided you knew where everything was (Assembly languages, Fortran). But the Subroutine Call was more elegant in a way, and when it was properly written at the assembly-language level (or IN Fortran FOR Fortran programs) you could use it pre-fab in any program into which it could be compiled. (Assembler subroutines for Assembler programs, Fortran subroutines for Fortran programs, even COBOL subroutines for COBOL programs, etc., though the subroutine itself might not be in the same language.)

Thus were developed Subroutine Libraries, which when you licensed whatever language and its compiler from whomever (by which I imagine I mean, chiefly, IBM) you could get the subroutine library as well, with all its useful pre-fab routines.

Then, some dingbat had the idea of obfuscating the basic logic of the pre-fabbed subroutines system by calling these subroutines “macros.” So now instead of having a subroutine call in a program, you used a “macro,” which as far as I could tell was just the same old thing under a new name.

Macros were used in Assembly languages, like Map and Assembler. I can’t remember if Autocoder had any macros or not. When we got our first Mac, a Mac Plus, it still had macros. In that case at least (and in Excel) one could write one’s own macros. But they were still just subroutines.

Now we have Object-Oriented Programming languages, OOPs. Indeed! In which, I gathered, the idea was to write programs by assembling blocks or “modules” of “code” (read, putting together various sets of subroutines) to accomplish the program’s results.

The syntax would appear to be a nightmare. Why go through all that when you can just haul out the ol’ Fortran, or the appropriate assembly language for the machine-cum-OS.

I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.

Back in the land of the living…

I am with Sky for most everything – net, TV, landline… Now the modem/router has been “on the blink”* for sometime and finally joined the digital choir invisible on Saturday. So I’d got a TP-Link replacement. Top-notch piece of kit. Think fine – set it up – and all that – easy as falling off a log. Except I tried everything short consorting with wiser heads and virgin sacrifice**.

It turns out – and at no point did Sky or TP-Link make this clear that Skynet** only works with Sky modem/routers. And I’d spoken to Sky and they’d only told me to get a new gizmo – they didn’t tell me it had to be a Sky one! It was only later when my wife howled at them they said, “Er…” So had to buy one from them. I had originally thought they might replace their hardware buckshee but we seem these days to live in the land of negative customer loyalty. I mean they offer reduced deals for some months to new customers but if you have been with ‘em for years they couldn’t give a toss. I don’t like that. And they are all at it. BT, TalkTalk and all the rest of ‘em.

So, I’m back online. Thank the Gods of TCP/IP!

If anyone in the UK needs to buy a pretty high-spec wifi modem/router which is really nearly new then I am your man.

But being de-netted was dreadful. It was almost like being dead. It was like I kept on thinking things like, “There’s gotta be a solution online”. Then, “Oh bugger!”. It was like having a Speccy without a tape recorder. And it was really pissing me of because of my recent getting of a new laptop (8Gb Lenovo S440 with a Core i5 CPU). I was peeved.

*a techie term meaning roughly, “Circling the drain in the House of the Fucked”.

**Problem is round here there is no way to find three wise men and a virgin so no second-coming for us.

***For that is what I call it.

It’s important to have vision

Nasa's Warp Drive Concept Ship

This is NASA’s idea for a warp drive spaceship, capable of interstellar travel. It’s not a fantasy sci-fi ship but a concept based on the equations of Dr. Harold White—lead at NASA’s Eagleworks Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory—who also works in ion engines and plasma thrusters.

This is NASA’s new concept spaceship for warp drive interstellar travel

Although my preference is for the next stage of space exploration to be undertaken by private enterprises, there is still a place for the research of fundamental technologies which will underpin our journey beyond the solar system. The only question is should such research be undertaken under the aegis of NASA (a notoriously bureaucratic organisation) or independently at a private institution.

Given the enthusiasm with which wealthy entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk have entered the race for genuinely transformational technologies I think it is time that the dead hand of government was gradually removed from the space technology arena.

NASA Starts Work on Real Life Star Trek Warp Drive

Working at NASA Eagleworks—a skunkworks operation deep at NASA’s Johnson Space Center—Dr. White’s team is trying to find proof of those loopholes. They have “initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble” using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer.

Home Build Hybrid Rocket Demo

Space Shuttle Launch

One of the inherent problems of space craft utilising Solid Rocket Booster technology (such as the now retired NASA space shuttle) is premature or alternately asymmetric ignition because unlike liquid propellants (hydrogen/oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, etc.), the burn cannot be controlled or shut off, an SRB will simply burn until there is no fuel left, it explodes or it self-destructs. In all of these scenarios catastrophic loss of both craft and any crew is almost guaranteed.


Android – I have no Desire for thee

A signal a signal my kingdom for a signalFurther to NickM’s post on his Android woes (of the current technology telecommunications variety rather than the future technology anthropomorphic electronic servant one), I was just going to post a comment, but it turned into a bit of a middle-aged-bloke-techno-rant.

Android vs Androids

However, since that is a perfectly valid perspective with a reasonable market share in the blogosphere, I thought I would upgrade it to a full-on blog post. I mean what the hell, it’s only electrons being shoved about isn’t it? – it’s not like they’ve got anything better to do – like holding together the structure of the universe…

So first-things-first, Sorry Nick, but I can’t help you with your problem, but it’s not because I don’t understand either the technology or your perspective (not that my knowledge of either necessarily helps your current predicament), because I have played a very, very minor role in developing the technology that you are currently afflicted with.

In between building hoppers for surface-to-air missile systems that couldn’t hit a barn door if they were holding the handle, I also worked on some of the 2G and 3G mobile phone technology at Marconi Electronic Systems as part of their military communications portfolio. I also sold part of a company based upon WAP and SMS-based message notification, so I’m not exactly clueless or even old-fashioned as far as both analogue and digital phone technology goes.

The problem is that the Motorola RAZRi you are holding in your hands is not really a mobile phone in the accepted sense. You might think it is, it might even be advertised as a mobile phone, but it fundamentally isn’t. What you are coveting in your palm is a piece of “Convergent Digital Technology

It is certainly the way of the future, along with James Tiberius Kirk , his toupée and the Tribbles, but it ain’t a part of the here-and-now.

Now don’t get be wrong, in actual fact it is a wonderful example of technological development, but it has been developed without any fundamental understanding of where it, or indeed the whole field of mobile communications is actually going.

Put simply, Nick’s Motorola RAZRi is about as close to a mobile phone as a Leopard 2A7+ tank is to the Trojan Horse.

One of these is not a Trojan horse

Now I may well be a cynical old sod, harking back to a technological antediluvian era which never really existed, but I tried out some of the 2nd generation Android technology with my last corporate mobile phone (an HTC Desire), back in 2011 and although it was very flashy in everything else, e-mail, contacts, storing data, mobile internet, games consoles, emulators, blah, blah, blah – it was fundamentally a shit mobile phone.

Half the time the call would either never pick up when I pressed “Accept” or if it did pick-up I couldn’t hear what the other party was saying anyway, or I got disconnected or it ran out of power or it just plain froze up on me or etc, etc, etc. You get the picture (unless its by MMS)

Now, I’m sure the technology and the reliability have moved on since 2011, but I was so fucked off with my initial experience of Android (and I expect iPhone’s are no better), that I decided there-and-then that my next phone would be a phone, not one of these fancy multimedia MTC gadgets, but just a phone – i.e. a 10-number keypad and two buttons, one to dial and one to hangup.

Since then I’ve been happy as Larry with a cheap, SIM-only, no contract, dual-SIM (Malaysian and European), battery-life-of-a-week Nokia 108 that I picked up in Penang for a groat (well 140 RM to be honest, but never-the-less cheap enough for me). It has a camera I’ve never used  and about the only accessory I have used on it is the Alarm Clock.

It works perfectly in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Europe and I’ve never (to my knowledge) lost a call or misheard an address.

Maybe the technology has moved on since my failed experience in 2011, but I as a customer, certainly have. When Motorola invent a working teleportation device, let me know – but someone else can be the guinea pig – after all, I’ve read Stephen King’s “The Jaunt”.

Paranoid Android

So, Ray Kurzweil has joined Google (or Skynet) in an attempt to push AI into the Nexus 6 phase or something. I have some thoughts on all this but they are quite complicated and can wait.

Meanwhile back on Planet Nick I’ve got a problem with my Android phone.

I was trying to change my wallpaper to a nice photo I’d taken and got the error:

“Unfortunately, Google+ has stopped.”

My vague understanding is Google+ handles a lot of the multimedia type antics so this is bloody magic. This has happened apropos of nothing I can think of. I really haven’t messed around with the phone which I’ve only had about 3-4 months. It’s a Motorola RAZRi* on the Three network. It’s a nice phone and hasn’t been any hassle. I got it because it was cheap(ish), tough as hell (aluminium, Gorilla Glass, Kevlar) and has a one-touch from dead straight into camera which is cool because I wanted a snap-shot camera (lugging a DSLT and lenses etc being something I only do if I know there is something to photograph). It’s Android 4.1.2. The only app I have installed is Google Starmap and that was a while back and was seamless. It’s free and a pretty good app.

Now. I have tried clearing the cache and doing a hard reboot. I haven’t cleared the app data (I saw that suggested but I am loathe because I dunno what that deletes exactly though it’s about 800K so it can’t be too much). I guess I could always just yank the piccies to a computer and do a factory reset but I kinda want to understand what is going on and all that. And I’d have to put all my contacts in again…

Any help gratefully appreciated.

*i.e. a Google Motorola. Ask me Lenovo can’t get cracking soon enough.

Modern Life is Rubbish #2 of 10(-ish)

#2 – Facebook

I don’t have a problem with Facebook per-se. But I do have a specific issue.

Now consider my situation. I am 40 and lots of people I was at school with try and get in touch via Facebook. Now leaving aside the fact we largely haven’t seen each other in 20 years – leaving that aside for good reason what I despise about Facebook can be summed-up in a simple question, “How the fuck do you know who it is?”. Seriously. There are three mammoth probs here (all related).

First. The piccies are passport size – titchy. This is not easy if you ain’t seen the bugger for twenty years. One fella on my Facebook is bald as a coot but he wasn’t when I used to have a pint with him when we were 19. He also clearly took his avatar from the Skype-cam on his lappy in very poor lighting. Fortunately he has a moderately unusual name and no kids.

So why does those things matter? Because it is vastly easier to clock whether a Facebooker is the first person you ever properly kissed if they are a bloke and are therefore vastly less likely to have changed their name due to marriage(s) – alas due to my general heterosexuality this does not apply to me.

This happened to me a couple of years ago. J poked me. Right, I hadn’t seen here since we got our A-Level results in 1992, second, she had changed her hair-style (probs several times being a girl and all that), thirdly she had a scanned passport photo as an avatar but finally she’d got married and changed her surname yet (of course) kept her first name which should have been handy if it wasn’t a very common name.

So I replied to her poke (which is rude anyway) and she got very snotty with me when I asked if she was the same J from my class at school. Very snotty. Well, I’ve kissed girls from multiple continents since and she was nowt special. But what really annoyed me was she seemed to think I should automatically recognise someone I hadn’t seen for 20 years and only snogged once in 1988 as the result of a game of “spin the bottle”. And she was a Brosette at the time (note my point on hair).

There is another thing though. Apart from dreadful images (they don’t help) for obvious reasons (being 40 and all) a large number of folks I was at school with are married with kids. Now I mentioned the surname change but a hubby and kids? Look, nowt against it but within the space of a Facebook piccie 5 people and a dog and a changed surname means it could be anyone.

It narks me.


I have a Snapdo infection on Win Vista on my old Toshiba Tecra M9. I have tried all the spells in the book but it keeps on coming back. Essentially Windows installer just goes round and round when I nix the installed Snapdo and that has to be removed. I’m normally pretty good on this sort of stuff but this is a bastard and no mistake. Any ideas?

The main problem seems to be it just seizes when you try and do any of the sensible things. I couldn’t even get as far as trying to expunge it from the Reg.

And no, I have tons of stuff on this so “nuking it from orbit” is not an option.



PS If I ever catch the bastard behind this then it is a case of Mr Soldering-Iron meet Mr Urethra.

Magnifying Specs…

I’m in the market for a pair of them magnifying/ illuminating specs for digging inside computers. Any ideas? If it’s avail. on Amazon that’s grand for I have vouchers.

PS. I just bought a new smartphone from Three. They put it in a bag clearly marked “Three” or in Charver “Mug that guy”. It’s a Motorola RAZRi which suits me. Thanks to all the folks who commented. I have often posted on personal consumer choices here and always been astonished and humbled by how good you guys are. Central Manc-land was panda-fucking-monium this after.

I overheard this gem from some geezer in the Carphone Warehouse. He was trying to flog a high-end Sony to an middle-aged couple…

“Well, it’s waterproof so you can take pictures of yourself under the bath water mind that depends on what assets you have to photo”. I just left. They seemed to think it OK. Yup, the possibility to photograph sodden genitals on 4G and upload to facebook and see if anyone “likes”. Magic. That is precisely what this tech was invented for.

About 18 years ago I bought my first PC – a Elonex 386SX clocked at 16Mhz with 4 Meg of RAM and a 120Meg HD. This bugger has (if memory serves) !Gb of working RAM, a 2GHz Intel Atom chip and 5Gb of storage (which is upgradeable by micro SD). The computer cost GBP350 (inc monitor) second hand. The brand new phone cost GBP150. In some bizarre sense I am aware of this progress and it repels me that a salesman might even suggest this wondrous technological advance is great so that a middle-aged man might take sub-aqua pictures of his cock. That and the salesman just sounded a sleazy git.

No matter. The nice lady in the Three shop made no crass sexual comments, was helpful and friendly and I now have more computing power in my top-pocket than a Bond villain had in his volcano. And no I didn’t ask if they’d throw in a Mao suit and a Persian cat. Or the fit birds with up-does, specs, lab coats and clipboards. Ah, well, I guess World domination can wait. I have to clean the bathroom anyway.

Having said all that about my spanky new phone the trip in or out of town on Northern Rail was Asoka. Not for the first time I fare-dodged not through any desire to do but because I simply couldn’t buy a ticket. Having said that I felt Turd World – especially when I entered the bog which was veritably Greek in standards partly because any quantity of junk had been chucked down it because there were no bins. The Dame Judith was… Well, if you’d bottled that Tony Blair would be off the hook over Iraqi WMDs. It smelt like their had been a fucking cholera epidemic localised to one train khazi. It was unbe-fucking-believable. But if Northern Rail can’t be fecked to sell tickets (one wonders what their gubbmunt grunt is?) I can’t be fecked to buy them. Or more to the point I just simply couldn’t. And I had the money on the hip.

Christ almighty! It is dismal. There was no way I could have easily walked-out of the Three store with my phone without paying for it but Northern Rail… Put it this way, which company would you buy shares in?

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