Tag Archives: Tech Stuff

Half a bottle of wine later…

…my equanimity is on it’s way to being restored… and we’re in Tallahassee after yet another satnag failure at a critical juncture. For four hundred miles the bloody thing behaves itself impeccably, but ten important minutes from our destination our route gets erased. Wiped. Eradicated. AWOL. Now I was driving and I’m naming no names, but there’s only two of us in the car, and one was supposed to be reading instructions off the screen to the driver. Now I wonder who that could be? Cough, “User error” cough. Bloody thing.

Anyway, I’ve decided to save our destinations as offline bookmarks in future, so a certain person, yes dear, can’t lose our directions because there won’t be any. Directions that is. Just a general set of instructions because whenever there’s a set of road works appear blocking off our plotted route so does a certain persons navigational flexibility and it’s all tears before bedtime.

Fortunately I took the precaution of memorising the directions to our hotel for tonight, and apart from some arse parking a bloody big red bus blocking our turn, I followed the Sticker family motto that I learned from my late mother which goes; “If at first you don’t succeed – cheat.” Well, it works for me. You have to know what the rules are to understand when they can be considered mere guidelines and broken on the rack of experience. Adapt and improvise, that sort of thing. Vocibus nihil mali est? (No harm, no foul, right?) Whatever.

We are here ready for the next hop to Jacksonville, but the launch I wanted to catch has been rescheduled for June, so we’ll be going to Daytona Beach instead. Rule two: always have a fallback option. Anyway, I’ve had the lions share of a bottle of wine so I’m not really bothered. Well, you can’t win ’em all. Time for bed, said Zebedee. It’s been a long day on the road and I’m ready to crash.

Oh yes, if you’re in the USA and need a good low carbohydrate feed, the carnivores among you could do a whole lot worse than visit Dickey’s barbecue pit. They might not have Wi-Fi, but they sure as hell do cook great barbecue meat meals. Tell them Bill sent you, and just watch their faces go blank.

Nighty night.

Challenging my preconceptions

Tonight we’re well into central Texas (Abilene no less) and it’s raining. Again. Worse than Manchester on a wet day. And lightning. No risk of Tornadoes today in our neighbourhood as they don’t form this far south and west (Allegedly).

Anyway, How do I describe northern Texas? Flat. Currently wet. Prone to flooding. Full of Wind Turbines. If my British reader thinks East Anglia or Lincolnshire is flat, sorry, the fenlands are comparatively lumpy compared with the country between Amarillo and Lubbock. I have honestly never seen a land horizon so straight. Which incidentally makes for seriously dull driving, even at Texas’ generous 75 MPH speed limit. Mrs S, in the co-pilots seat for this leg of the journey, was chafing at me well before we’d even gone a hundred and fifty miles, but once she’d taken over at the wheel after a placatory Ice Cream, equanimity was restored.

As far as the scenery is concerned, once you get past Lubbock it’s not so linear. As you pass through the oilfields, the landscape is peppered with Nodding Donkey a.k.a. “Pumpjack” engines and the periodic smell of warm oil straight out of the ground. Further south, yet more wind turbines pepper the landscape and brood over the tops of the Mesas. More are going up all the time. We saw a trainload of turbine blades and passed three tower base units on their way south and east on Highway 84.

In my idle moments I’ve been experimenting with collective nouns for huge expanses of Wind Turbines. Front runners are ‘blight’ or perhaps ‘obscenity’, as they sure as hell ruin the view for precious little return. The relative lack of visible transmission lines and some Amarillo folklore also tweaked my bullshit antenna. Apparently the local power grids in Amarillo and Abilene do not get any power from these massive whirligigs. Instead, all the electrickery they produce goes direct to Houston, some five hundred and fifty miles distant. If you understand anything about power grids and transmission, that’s whole a lot of conductivity losses and no mistake. Even at 110kv. Two hundred miles, okay. That’s not too bad, but over five hundred and fifty miles? Ouch. Something is missing from this story.

And if any F4-F5 Tornadoes touch down only twenty or thirty miles west of their usual track, as they have been known to do, there is a risk of serious damage to these big wind farms. While F1-F3 Tornadoes won’t hurt most wind turbines, a big F4-F5 tracking through a wind farm would be a different matter. How often do the big ones occur in this neck of the woods? Not that often, but I wouldn’t underwrite the insurance risk. I guess time will tell, and there will be much wailing, gnashing of teeth and pointing of fingers when it does.

Anyway, at the moment all the downpours mean everything is green and fecund. Even in the desert areas. Whatever happened to General Philip Sheridan’s famous “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell” Civil War quotation?

Then there’s the food. Specifically the steaks and pork ribs. The Texans do meat very, very well. Perhaps even better than that. I’ve taken to tucking into a 6-8oz slab of beef and salad every other day. By comparison, last year we resided in Paris for a month and on several occasions were treated to a splendid plate of ‘Steak Frites’. But the Texan version is better. Much better. Sorry mes amis, but the Texans win the Bill sticker award for serious steaks. Even in relatively average roadside eateries.

So. Do I like Texas? Well so far yes and occasionally no, but it certainly is challenging my preconceptions of the state as a dry and dusty wilderness. We’ll see what San Antonio brings.

Time to ditch Netflix?

Well folks, it’s sledgehammer to crack a nut and cut off ones nose to spite one’s face time for Netflix. News has surfaced that they’re going to block users who use proxies and VPN’s to view content. Which is going to go down like a lead balloon here oop norf of the 49th.

Now I’m not sure about how Netflix are going to go about this, but blocking the IP’s of known VPN servers, or possibly entire ranges of same may just prove business suicide. Canada’s chief beef is that we only gets a fraction of the catalogue available to our cousins less than sixty kilometres distant. Competitors with better content are springing up, to whom the Sticker household has already subscribed, and like cable TV providers, it’s not too big a leap of imagination to see Netflix’ market share (And some of their more shonky content) dwindling into a black hole.

Future of NetflixNow Netflix are not entirely at fault, the people behind this crackdown are the corporate copyright holders who want even more revenue from the same product, not just once, but again and again and again. To them, streaming services like Netflix are just a cash cow. Which won’t actually help when Netflix start to lose subscribers because what their customer base wants is advert-free content and if they as a service provider can’t give their customers what they want, well do I have to paint a picture here?

As an example; at the end of March this year, our household is planning to ditch its Netflix subscription because the Canadian content is becoming too restricted and we’ll have come to the end of our viewing choices. If enough people do the same, then the boys behind the big red banner are going to have to start looking for some other employment.

I think if this problem persists with the big guys pressuring legitimate subscriber services we could go back to doing Torrent downloads, maybe watching DVD’s, or we might even subscribe to CraveTV on top of our existing Shomi subscription (Which is already beginning to look a little restrictive). Depending on how good Crave’s catalogue is. We’ll sign up for the free first month and see if it’s any good, if so, bye bye Netflix.

What the hey, it’s only TV. I can live without it.

On the bright side, the Raccoon Arms is open again.

Meanwhile…

Over in the UK, Sky Broadband have enabled ‘porn’ filters by default to all new customers from the New Year until 9pm(?) for the ‘sake of the children’ as promoted by the UK’s current Prime Minister. Forgive me for sounding cynical, but all this sounds like fiddling while Rome burns. Shouldn’t the UK government be focusing on more pressing problems like the migrant crisis, the economy being in the tank and fuel poverty to mention but three? Compared to those, porn is a very minor issue, and this decision may just blow up in Sky’s face as they find their market share shrinking. Why? Because human nature.

Some Internet filters block specific web sites and traffic to and from specific IP addresses. For example readers coming to this blog from a certain set of anonymous proxy servers may find themselves unable to comment because, due to a previous troll infestation, I pasted in a tranche of ‘anonymous’ proxy IP addresses into WordPress’ handy dandy little spam filter feature. However, arrival from a ‘non-anonymous’ source means you can contribute or not as much as you please. Just Cave Canem and be aware that the blog authors have a robust attitude which some might not be comfortable with. This is not a ‘safe space’.

Other filters work on web addresses and URL’s and yet more on text strings. Which means that intellectual works such as Somerset Maughams classic work ‘On human bondage‘ might be unavailable along with references to the Wessex novels of Thomas Hardy. So, bang goes the English Literature homework. Or won’t you be able to write ‘bang’ any more? Especially when this piece of onomatopoeia is used as a verb to describe the sex act? Oh, and any Junior School PHSE homework may go out of the window too for those brave new UK Sky customers. Whoosh! There go your kids grades.

Then there’s the assertion than anyone discussing the prohibition and control freakery surrounding drugs, tobacco, vaping, alcohol and sweet stuff will get caught up in the ‘mission creep’ of said filters. To the point where anything not strictly allowed will be Verboten. Unless of course the Sky customer in question has invested in a low cost VPN connection to bypass all the filtering. Lots of people need VPN’s, like a ‘road warrior’ sales rep who doesn’t work in a regular office but needs a secure ordering connection to their companies network. People working from home or those needing secure remote server control. Like it or not, VPN’s are a growing market sector.

Better still, don’t use Sky. Especially if you may need to change address, ever. The tales of Sky subscribers who have difficulties cancelling their subscription are legion. If legend is to be believed, they’re worse than BT used to be. And that takes some doing, believe me (Had to do it once – never again). There are plenty of other, much better, UK ISP’s out there. I used to like Zen up to 2007, but have no idea what they’re like nowadays.

As for trying to impose a ‘top down’ morality? What may be moral to some people may be completely immoral to others. Which may lead to prohibitions on just about every human activity. That said, I tend to fall back on Heinlein’s maxim; “The principle [of censorship] is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.”

Which leads to the thought that the young children this filtering is supposed to protect are generally not interested in sex at all, in fact there’s a massive “Euw” factor for pre pubescent children as far as matters of the flesh are concerned. Conversations generally go like this;
Child one (Giggling); “I heard Mum and Dad having sex last night.”
Child two (Hides face); “That is soooo gross.”
As for children being ‘damaged’ by porn. Maybe not. Incest has been a crime for centuries, and as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, is no more widespread than previously. Besides, sexually violating children, the activity which this measure is presumably supposed to suppress, is Internet independent. Those who have such urges will indulge their baser impulses (so my lawyer stepdaughter informs me) whether there’s any such material available or not. Even if it isn’t in ‘Fifty shades of Grey’. Which I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Mr & Mrs Camerons bookcase.

Regarding bans, it’s worth noting that such blanket prohibitions always make any given problem far worse than it was in the first place. See effects of Prohibition and the ‘War on Drugs‘ to name but two.

But no, you can’t get that through Cameron’s (Or many other modern politicians) thick head because ‘morality’ is such an easy soundbite. He’s saying “Hah! Look at me, I’m fixing something which isn’t that big a problem…” when there are so many more pressing issues. Heavy sigh….

Orphans down and up again

Dropped by ‘Orphans of Liberty‘ this AM to see what Julia, James and Mike have been digging up, only to be diverted to some nonsense pet site about dogs. It’s not the first time the site has been interfered with to my certain knowledge. Apparently someone who doesn’t like what they say over at Ool and instead of simply passing on by, did the petulant toddler thing and diverted all incoming web traffic to another site. Which is very mature and sensible isn’t it? The Violet Elizabeth (“I’ll thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick”) approach to web discourse. “I don’t like what you say, so I’m going to shut you up!” Giving us an insight into the alleged saboteurs state of mind, or lack thereof.

As for sabotage, there are whole ‘how to’ sections on how to sabotage a web site out there in Interwebland, and you don’t need much in the way of brains to use them. As anyone who has worked in tech support knows, any bloody fool can and often does screw up a system, but it takes real brains to fix the temporary chaos they create.

Notwithstanding, upon discovering the divert I dropped Julia and James a quick email to let them know something was amiss, and by the time I finish typing this post all should be well once more. Which it is. As a one time contributor, I have the greatest respect for ‘Orphans’ and what they’re trying to say. Working on the premise that if someone is trying to shut them up, I think perhaps they’ve hit a nerve. Far from deterring their efforts, it should encourage a more spirited effort at finding out what it is some cretinous arsehole doesn’t want discussed in public.

I know this comes from the church of stating the bleeding obvious, but if anyone disagrees or takes issue with what others say on a blog, that’s for the comments. The idea being to make a point in a cogent or even witty manner, and perhaps people will listen to what you have to say. To discuss, debate, examine and dissect. Simply shouting others down or sabotaging the blog simply makes the saboteur look like an incoherent ignorant dickhead with all the social graces of an incontinent three year old with Alzheimer’s. Because in the final analysis what has he or she done? Created a temporary annoyance, that’s all. Regular readers will come back after the temporary glitch is fixed and the saboteur has achieved precisely nothing, well, apart from increase the blogs readership. Why? Everyone likes a little drama, and will turn up just to see if there’s any blood on the carpet, figuratively speaking.

No doubt the offender will break cover in a fit of characteristic vaingloriousness, they always do, but all they’ve actually done is proved to everyone else is what a total cunt they are. It’s so very, very sad and so are they. Time for breakfast.

A small note about Search Engine Optimisation

Achtung MinenTo all those Search Engine Optimization companies out there; please stop trying to spam my comment threads. It doesn’t work and I’m not interested. Not one jot, not an iota, or any other unit of measurement too small to be worth mention. All your advertisements and solicitations end up in my clever little spam trap, which is the waste disposal for this blog. Rather like a Septic Tank, it needs the turds clearing out from time to time.

Why? Oh heavens to Betsy this is a blog, FFS! A sort of mental gym where I flex my satirical muscles from time to time. It’s not something I generate any income from, nor expect to. One which receives on average fewer than twenty unique hits per day. A level which I’m quite content for it to dip below. Mainly as it means less work for me. I’ve got quite enough real life work ta very muchly and I’m very happy for this state of affairs to continue.

Read my comments policy page if you’re that bored.

TTFN

Scooters and stuff

In our little Arondissement (District) as well as many others, I’ve noted before how many scooters there are cluttering up the sidewalks and promenades. Particularly this type of thing and their contemporaries made by Piaggio and Peugeot. While I’m not a fan myself, I can see the utility for those who find it difficult to keep a motorcycle or scooter upright at walking speeds (You pussies).

No, what I’ve been looking at is a simple piece of kit marketed by an Italian company, mostly for scooters, but I’ve also seen their ilk wrapped around BMW LT1200’s, and having seen how useful they can be, I’m quite taken with the idea. Basically the cover acts as combo leg shield, bike cover and waterproof leggings. Not only that, but it costs less than a pair of leak proof waterproof trousers. Oh, and you have to love their advertising.

A set of these and some handlebar cuffs, and those long rainy Vancouver Island Winter months won’t seem so damp any more.

Oddities and space

I’ve never understood why certain people feel compelled to approach obviously busy strangers simply to indulge in ‘social’ chatter. Don’t know about the rest of you, but I like my personal space. Especially when working. To totally focus on a task to the exclusion of all else, detesting unnecessary distraction. I’m not totally asocial, I’m just picky, that’s all. Life has taught me that not all conversations are safe. Got something meaningful to say? Unload your soul in the comments (if you must), it’s what they’re there for. I may reply. I may not. Depends how busy I am. Yeah, I’m a party pooper, so don’t invite me, okay?

While the kids were growing up I made allowances, and always tried to respond to their anxieties / questions, hug when needed, and sometimes exercise extra care when getting up in the morning as Youngest had a habit of sneaking into our bedroom and sleeping on the floor next to our bed. Poor lamb, I almost trod on her one morning when I was new to the game of married life and every day was an ‘adventure’. Those were the days, eh, Bill? Clucking bell. Never mind, despite all the humps and bumps, both stepkids have turned out relatively okay, and I love them both dearly, so maybe I got it right. For a given value of ‘right’.

The future of social mediaOtherwise the whole multi tasking thing has rather passed me by, apart from when I’m cooking. It’s probably why I killed off my Farcebook account (twice), and while I do have a Twitter feed and ID, never Tweet. Why? Because they’re both time killers, distractions. Filling up empty lives with fluff and replacing actual thought. Hmm. Now there’s an interesting notion. Maybe social media will eventually evolve into some kind of electronic hive-mind for the ‘connected’, leaving them wide open to manipulation. An unwitting zombie army to be directed onto non participating ‘unbelievers’ or ‘deniers’ who don’t agree with the goals of the manipulators. I’m sure Leg Iron could twist that into one of his excellent scary stories or use the concept to taunt one of his drone co-workers.

As for me. Others might consider my relative standoffishness odd, but I’ll give the whole social chatter thing the go-by. Life is too short, and I have a flight to catch.

Life before the Interweb

I love gadgets. I own several. One of which, a Samsung ten inch screen tablet S4 is proving its worth with every single advancing day because it has built in GPS, and I don’t have to bother with logging on to every single dodgy Wi-Fi connection every time I use most of the non-Interweb maps. Do I care that ‘the authorities’ can track my every move when I bother to take said item with me? No. I don’t feel the need to cart it around, so whoever wants to figuratively read over my shoulder will know what city I’m in, but that’s it. If I’ve locked it in the Hotel safe they won’t be able to find it at all, as a quarter inch of pressed steel makes a reasonable RF shield. That and the RF shielded carrying bag I keep it in when travelling. Switch it on when I need it, the rest of the time it’s pretty much invisible.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. Yesterday had me thinking. Over the weekend I’ve found myself remembering times past, and how we young ‘uns (as I was then) got by without the instant in-your-face immediacy of modern mobile communications. We had no Windows, Android, Tweets, blogs, Skype, Whatsap, Texting, Sexting, aps, iPhones, mobile phones, or Tablets. Computers and Telephones were far too unwieldy to be mobile, but we did have access to a form of Radio Telephony. If Dad was a high level service or Civil Engineer. Which one of my boyhood friend’s Dad’s was. No-one else we knew was, so it was no use to us. Yet we got by without much fuss. No zombie cannibal gangs dropped by to eat our brains. None of the nightmares conjured up by Hollywood came to play. The Apocalypse was for other people.

Yet we had the three day week. Scheduled power cuts for eight hours at a time in Winter. Strikes that seemed to shut everything down for days. The phone worked, but we kids weren’t allowed to use it. Later on I had my own place, and the joy of getting a phone (or trying to get) put in by British Telecom. BT’s advertising slogan ‘It’s for You-who‘ carried particular irony.

Indeed, the pace of life was slower. Much slower. Treacleishly so. People raised in today’s society would have trouble coping because their brains would be set up wrongly. Their memories are not so well developed. I also remember doing a hell of a lot of walking to see far flung friends. A brisk twenty five minute hike down unlit English B class roads with a national (60mph) speed limit which was more of a guideline than an absolute, to the nearest form of public transport. Which was usually late. Closest shop in the next village. One black and white TV in the house. My Dad liked watching snooker, which is a slightly surreal experience when you have to guess the colours. No remote control (That was me). And only, horror of horrors, three erratic channels! Remember signal ‘ghosting’?

So we kids spent a lot of our time outside. Tramping across ploughed fields. Dawn to dusk. Hunting water rats, pigeons and rabbits with catapults (slingshots) or air rifles. Or just walking, simply because you had bugger all else you could afford to do. Under age sneaking into local pubs and clubs, the closest of which were a fifteen minute shank up and down some quite steep hills and dales. Learning about building our own cars and motorcycles in our mid to late teens, if our parents allowed us the garage space, and the guy with a car was king. Or at least someone to sponge lifts off with up to eight of us crammed into an ageing Ford Corsair with suspect brakes and limited power on a Saturday night. Using side roads which we knew the local coppers rarely patrolled. Come to think of it, the Police didn’t figure much in our lives. And we were invariably unsupervised. Walking and talking. Face to face.

You had hobbies, part time jobs. You experimented. Especially with something dangerous (Particularly the local girls – especially those who rode horses). Travelling for two hours just to go ten pin bowling or to see a movie. Hunting through poorly indexed racks of twelve inch vinyl for your favourite bands latest album. Then the luxury of hours spent reading, standing rapt, almost statue like in front of the paperbacks in W H Smith.

Some would call it ‘idyllic’, even a ‘golden age’, but I disagree. There were long, dare I say interminable periods of boredom, staring listlessly out at traditional English weather (rain, sleet, hail). Rarely getting out to play under heavily cloud punctuated blue or more often totally grey skies. Come to think of it, that’s what the Internet is; like constant sunshine with occasional light refreshing showers. Information to bathe, soak, indolently loll and roll recklessly around in the long grass. A world of knowledge and opportunity at your very fingertips. Book a rail ticket on the other side of the world. Book a restaurant or day trip. Learn a language. Watch a movie. Watch endless ‘banned’ content. Compared to the pre internet days, when all information was closely guarded, hard to find, and only sporadically available via the nearest library (two hours away on foot and by public transport) today is the golden age.

Workarounds and sidesteps

Have managed to get around WordPress defaulting to their silly ‘bingledy beep boop’ whatever post editor by ducking out to the main WP admin page and launching the post editor from the sidebar. Bit of a pain, but at least I’m now back in the driving seat.

Unlike the presenters of Top Gear. May has quit. He, Clarkson, Hammond and the shows old producer who also quit, Andy Wilman, have been meeting up, possibly to discuss creating a whole new car show. They won’t be able to call their new show Top Gear of course, but there are a bunch of digital channels that will happily fork out part of their budget, and sponsorship can fund the rest. It’s as good a workaround as any. As for marketing and distribution; globally there’s a host of avid ex-Top Gear fans who will gobble up the content as soon as it’s uploaded, sidestepping any attempts at restriction. The advertisers and sponsors who get on board with any new show hosted by the three goofs will make a mint, while any BBC relaunched Top Gear will sink slowly into the self imposed mire of BBC politically correct green lunacy, rarely to be seen again as they try to impose Hybrid solar self driven cars with backup wind turbines on the market. Unless the Beeb by some miracle rediscovers the personality magic that made Clarkson, Hammond and May work so well. Breath will not be held waiting for that to happen.

Eco Friendly Stig NotSo the blokey car show is not dead, It will come back under another name simply because the audience is there. Despite the wishes of the politically active but personally inept. Life’s like that.

As a side note; the law of unintended consequences was last seen gleefully prancing in through the back door of the BBC TV centre, up the back stairs and out through an emergency exit with a whole tranche of future BBC revenue.