Saturday, 25 June 2011


Having had a whinge about BT, I should at least acknowledge when it works. The new hub arrived, it looks a lot nicer than the old one, it was easy to set up (in that there was very little to do) but most importantly it works. The BT Vision box needed a little coaxing, but powering everything up in the order suggested did the trick. Also it’s worth giving the hub a few hours to settle on a speed. Initially I was still only getting around 1Mb/s and - having ignored the advice about waiting before running any tests - had surrendered to the thought of needing to check all the wiring; a few hours later it had settled at just under 12Mb/s. The literature says to wait ten days for a more accurate reading, but for once I am optimistic. Assuming the hardware problem has been sorted, I now need to wonder on the user problem; somehow this month the house has averaged in excess of 1GB/day usage, and I’m beginning to think it may be less a daughter/YouTube problem and more a parent/iPlayer problem. Yes, alright, it’s my fault.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Putting all your eggs in one BT basket

This has happened to me twice already, and having come from the lovely fibre-optic world that was Telewest (now Virgin Media) it’s frustrating. On the day when BT upgraded my broadband to ‘up to’ 20Mb, I instead (or as a result) experienced a fault at the exchange leaving me without broadband or telephone for three days. And since Freeview comes with my BT Vision box, I was without that too. That was a surprise; fair enough that a loss of broadband means a loss of on-demand content, but to lose the ability to set a recording (which was my first indicator that this too was broken) and once you try rebooting the box as a result, find you’re unable to watch anything, was decidedly odd. Is this ‘bad design or ‘by design’ I wonder? I suspect a bit of both.

Last weekend the connection speed dropped so low the on-demand service stopped working again. A couple of speed tools suggested I was getting a measly 500kbps, and the diagnostic suggested by the BT engineer indicated I was configured for ‘up to’ 4Mb; so I’d found something else on which to deliberate. I suspect, but who knows, I am a victim of BT throttling; my daughter having found the delights of YouTube, corresponding with an email warning that I had used 32GB of my 40GB monthly allowance, is a clue. However, if I believe BT, since the on-demand service doesn’t contribute to the monthly allowance, I wouldn’t have thought this should make a difference and at least that part of the service should still work.

It doesn’t help that my rather creaky Home Hub instils so little confidence. I reboot it on an almost weekly basis and often get stronger signals from wireless devices other than my own; this I hope to address with the new hub I’ve ordered today. But BT, if you’re able to hear this, because with your service there’s no telling whether you’ll get the message, don’t stick “free delivery” on the image unless “free” really is one of the delivery options; it’s kind of annoying.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Six thousand dollars? It's not even leather!

On second thoughts, £350 for a web browser? It doesn’t even have an optical drive! Out of curiosity I shall persist with the challenge of web-only use on my home machine, though since all this means is giving up Microsoft Office... well, I think I can manage that. I have greater challenges ahead. On Monday I have to correct the disaster that was Friday, where I managed to live my life backwards; now, nothing works. Nothing on my virtual desktop; my old fashioned right-in-front-of me desktop (though since I was working from home, I had remote access to that too) carries on regardless, whereas its replacement can’t even finish installing a service pack before rebooting.

Courtesy of BBC iPlayer, Saturday was better. Rubicon, which has occasionally threatened the fate of a shaggy dog story, defied my expectations and delivered the best episode yet. Will’s private investigation into his boss and the shady company Atlas McDowell, is dovetailing nicely into his team’s search for terrorist mastermind Kateb. It’s a throwback to those conspiracy films from the seventies, such as The Parallax View and Winter Kills; that sense of an individual’s hopeless stand against the tide, overwhelmed by events.

I could say the same for the best drama of the year, The Shadow Line; of which - save for an unnecessary salute at the end - I don’t think there was a duff moment in the whole series. What impressed with the final episode was how, even with the nature of the conspiracy revealed to Jonah Gabriel early on, I wasn’t sure how it would be resolved. I didn’t see it coming, though I really should have; the scene where Joseph Bede, played by Christopher Eccleston, leaves his house and stops momentarily when he sees his car waiting for him, was perfect. He knew.

Follow up some excellent television with some equally good films in Sin Hombre and There Will Be Blood, and the result is a quality weekend... albeit a bit grim. I’ll need a week or more of Pixar to restore the balance. And it would help if I could get my machine to work.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Chrome yumminess

It says a lot about how much I like the Google Chrome browser that I can say ‘yumminess’ without too much embarrassment, also that I should spend a more-than-is-healthy-for-me amount of time salivating over the new Google Chrome Notebook. As a software developer I default to the position that a Chromebook is of no use to me, though I confess that, particularly with a VDI solution implemented for work, this will become less of a barrier. Besides which, I’m stubborn enough to believe that portable means secondary, and as an additional device it has an attraction.

Two applications that I already use with Google’s browser are Gmail and TweetDeck for Chrome; both use HTML5 notifications and both are preferable to their client application alternative. In moving to the browser they gained simple advantages that I’d never previously considered; integrated search for example. And I could learn to use Google Apps, though I admit in the past to having returned to Microsoft options rather than making the effort.

So where are we on this evolutionary path and is Google’s fundamentalist ‘everything in the cloud’ approach the right way? Or is Apple’s comparatively conservative ‘data in the iCloud’ more likely to succeed? And what gives with Microsoft’s Windows8 emphasis on HTML5 and Javascript? I digress; it’s the shiny objects that have my immediate interest, even though it’s hypothetical. I am on the outside looking in; iPads, Chromebooks, Snoozeberries, Everlasting Updates… such goodies are beyond my reach, and it's probably healthier that way.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Ranking behaviour

What a strange inconsistent lot we are. Whilst I don’t care for ranking the seriousness of a criminal offence, I am forced to this position with rumours that the Prime Minister wants to drop the 50% discount on sentencing altogether, as opposed to Kenneth Clarke and Nick Clegg who are prepared to exclude sexual offences from any discount. It seems Ed Miliband and various other apparatchiks, in another unholy alliance with our less salubrious members of the press, have made a good fist at trying to wreck this piece of progressive reform.

Yet I am unsure whether to praise Ken and Nick for trying to at least get a part measure accepted, or the Prime Minister in the unlikely hope that his stand was based on a refusal to indulge the often politically-motivated outrage generated. No single person is wholly good or wholly bad, and monstrous crimes should not blind us to the possibility that any one person can be rehabilitated. That it often fails is not the point; that it can succeed is our hope. What greater hope for an enlightened society?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The happiness of angels

I find no meaning in the happiness of angels. I know simply that this sky will last longer than I.
There was no rancour, only a gentle parting of the ways. Sometime in my early teenage years I came to the conclusion that I no longer believed in God, realising that I couldn’t remember the last time I had. That my outlook on life - some vague notion of leaving the world a better place - didn’t change as a result, might suggest it was never serious; certainly, I don’t think I’d ever thought of the life that came next. Of course my outlook did change, or rather the scope, but not until much later and at an age when such goals feel foolishly optimistic, conceited even.

At first I never gave it more than a passing thought; life would appear to have little purpose but there was plenty to keep me occupied. Age granted me time to think again, not through a fear of death, more a building curiosity on a question for which I suspected an unedifying answer. Thus I came to The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays.

Albert Camus; born in 1913 in Algeria, died in 1960 in Paris, a contemporary of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, a one-time communist - albeit during the 1930’s - who in criticising Soviet communism after the war managed to alienate his colleagues on the left, including Sartre who publicly denounced him. I confess, as with George Orwell, this only makes me like him more. Camus was a proponent of absurdism; a philosophy describing the conflict borne from our desire for meaning in a meaningless world, and discussing how we should react when conscious of this fate.

At least I think that’s it. I could hardly claim a complete understanding, yet for a work portraying the “philosophical suicide” of others, notably Kierkegaard of whom he suggests “an almost intentional mutilation of the soul”, The Myth of Sisyphus is a positive life-affirming read. Camus examines whether realisation should logically lead to suicide and answers with a defiant ‘No’, concluding such an act to be rejection. “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn” he says, though I think he describes it better in one of the other essays:
For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


In 1980 I was thirteen, Leonid Brezhnev was in his 16th year as leader of the Communist party and therefore the USSR, the Soviet Bloc - having survived the Hungarian uprising - was a reality, it would be five years until Gorbachev’s leadership, nine until the fall of the Berlin wall. To someone my age, politics on a global stage was a duopoly; the free west versus the oppressed east. 1980 was the year a Polish electrician and trade union activist, Lech Walesa, became leader of the Soviet Bloc’s first independent trade union, Solidarity. It was my first indication that things could be different; albeit not without struggle, arrests, detention... martial law.

It’s why every time I see an avatar or comment tagged #Solidarity, I can only shake my head in disbelief. At least that’s one emotion; another was annoyance, this appropriation of the past to romanticise their own role as agents of change. But I settled on bemusement; this lack of self-awareness, I wonder if they’re prone to talk of an ‘elected dictatorship’? Some might be too young to remember, it could be mere coincidence yet, accidental or not, from my viewpoint they still look awfully silly.