Tag Archives: Tech Stuff

I can’t win

It must be cabin fever. Mrs S has received one of those Amazon widgets that does sound and voice control. The kids bought it for her for her birthday. Personally I don’t like them. Won’t have them anywhere near me due to the well documented privacy issues. To me, they are junk that has no real facility. I call them junk because they report to outside entities, rather like Windows 10, which is a shit operating service Microsoft won’t let you control and is full of bloatware. Besides, voice control and recognition has many drawbacks. Did play around with a few voice activation programs a few years ago, but when those report outside of my control, well… ’nuff said.

Today Mrs S waved the uninstalled item at me and said that I “Won’t let her use it.”
To which I had to respond; “Use it if you like, but I want nothing to do with it.” Now guess where I ended up. Go on. Guess. All because I like to keep my personal affairs private.

So the sound on her PC is now ‘inadequate’, because she wants to fill the house with Andre Boccelli singing the Easter Mass, which is my fault apparently. Not Boccelli, but the inadequate sound. If Mrs S wants to install the wretched gadget herself, she can do it.

Not that I care much for opera. The only Opera I’ve got any time for is using it as one of the five web browsers I use on a daily basis. When it comes to some opera I’d rather saw my own head off than be exposed to it any longer than necessary. Opera as an art form is an acquired taste I have chosen not to acquire. Not surprisingly there is no opera in my music collection. There’s classical music, a lot of Prog rock and electric folk, but no opera. Okay, I’d go to a performance if the tickets were free, but only if you didn’t mind tracking where I was in the audience by my snoring.

Add to that I’ve got a minor headache and a seasonal sniffle. A sort of light echo of what Mrs S suffered the day before yesterday and shrugged off in forty eight hours. So today we took a drive out. Unlike in Ontario and New Brunswick, the RCMP here in BC have better things to do with their time than randomly stopping people and demanding to know where they’re going, or if they’ve been buying stuff the prodnoses disapprove of. It was just a nice day for a drive, even if there was nowhere to go.

We have officially been in self imposed lockdown since 10th March. When the panicking is all over I am going to have the mother and father of all timeouts.

Deeply sorry to hear about Tim Brooke Taylor, comic actor who made the nation laugh in shows like I’m sorry I’ll read that again, At last the 1948 show, The Goodies and many more. The man was a national treasure, but now we have to bury him. He’d probably have enjoyed that gag.

Bugger.

Utter coblenz

There’s complete cobblers running around Twatter that the Johns Hopkins Covid19 stats site is infested with malware and trojans. Newsflash kiddies! I run a premium antivirus suite and ran a series of scans while online via a VPN. See result below.

Did the ‘Advanced’ scan too. Same thing. This isn’t freeware either. I keep my pro antivirus bang up to date.

Two possible conclusions; either there are no Trojans and Malware as claimed on Twatter or my Antivirus suite is crap (It isn’t). Well you might say, but, but, but the malware claims are on Twatter so they must be true.

To which the only sane response is “Yeah, right.

It’s tough to make predictions…..

“….especially about the future” thus spake Baseball hero Yogi Berra. However, I’ve been looking at a post written over five years ago about the state of nuclear fusion. Nothing has happened to change my mind since then. Not even news of the German Wendelstein 7-X Stellerator. It’s still only half way to sustainable fusion. And it’s still a Tokamak at heart. Yes, they do work, after a fashion. However, the design concept has it’s limitations. I’m not a nuclear engineer and even I can see that. Although I dare say those involved have their doubts and would like to follow a better track, but nuclear physics is expensive and short sighted politicians hold the purse strings. So, Tokamaks it is.

About the future, you never know what is coming around the bend. In our case it was having to chase up Highway One, exercise our power of attorney for Elderly Friend who fell off her chair and brok her arm, then getting a flat at 8pm on our way home. Then finding out, having driven like Miss Daisy all the way home in pitch darkness on a skinny spare, that the one inch screw causing the puncture had done so in such a way as to render any attempted repair useless. On a brand new tyre with less than five hundred K’s on it no less. So, there’s another two hundred and fifty dollars down the pan.

Oh, did I mention that Accounts are getting on my case over a minor matter? They’re stressing over me not doing something I couldn’t have done because I wasn’t given the right information in time on Friday. They want it done now, now, now and aren’t prepared to wait while I deal with the chaos caused by all the other work related matters where some clever clogs was using our departments credit card for stuff they weren’t entitled to. Which means we have to get a new departmental one issued. Which shuts part of our operation down for two whole weeks.

So it’s all been fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fucking hell, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.

Oh joy.

Could be worse I suppose. Could be in China. Plague of Locusts, Coronovirus plague. No frogs, boils or rains of blood (Wait a minute, what was that in 2014?) yet, and the firstborn don’t seem to be affected, but we shall see.

This is cool

While the UK lamestream are doing hit pieces on free speech activists and someone who was once a comedian (Briefly, sometime around 14th November 1983 I believe) used their bully pulpit to make foul insult and then claimed that such crudity constituted a ‘joke’ (Not even close – jokes have to be funny), I thought I’d offer up this little bit of techno-fun as a form of mind bleach.

First saw this item on Rt.com under the headline “Humanoid robot gets tired of merciless bullying & pulls gun on meatbags” It’s actually by turns disturbing and hilarious.

How the parody was put together.

Now the current state of the art. April 2018 but still interesting and fun.

Now I’m off to check my inbox and get all my paying work related tasks out of the way. My Lemon tree plants, Carnations and Roses are doing well but I’m going to have to re-seed the Sweet William after their foul strangling by the now-executed pansies. Such is life.

As for the ‘apology’ for the “Throw battery acid over people you disagree with” meme. Not acceptable. It was bandwagon jumping of the most mean and petty kind. When a free speech activist does get battery acid thrown in their face, we’ll know who to blame, won’t we?

Put not thy trust….

“Put not thy trust in Princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no hope.” Goes the old scripture verse (Psalms 146:3) or the words of The Earl of Strafford in 1641 when he heard King Charles 1st had signed his death warrant. Which is one of the odd pieces of wisdom scattered across that venerable tome. Hey, just because I’m an agnostic doesn’t mean I can’t cherry pick my references. Wisdom is wherever it is found and even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Even Noam Chomsky gets it right sometimes. Not often but sometimes.

A while ago, my financial advisor pressed me to put money into Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, the Google parent company. I strenuously declined, describing them bluntly as ‘bubble stocks’. On reflection I think my pejorative was unfair. They’re more ‘Tsunami investments’. Which isn’t a bad analogy if you think about it. Such stocks arise and move very quickly and do a lot of damage when the wave breaks on the shore of reality. The trick is to stop surfing the crest just before it starts breaking. Buy low, sell high and cash out just before the market peaks. A worthwhile piece of investment advice is when everyone else is buying the answer is to look elsewhere. By the time the press get hold of a gold rush story it’s usually far too late to make real money on a buy-in. Unless you’re in the middle of a serious bull market.

Facebook broke last July and its value has been like a dead cat bouncing down the stairs ever since. Despite the latest scandal, Twitter is still at the beginning of this process so there’s still time to get out with minimal loss. Their market peaked in mid 2018. Indeed Google (Alphabet) share values are down about USD 200 since then. Peak value was slightly over the USD 1280 mark, now Google shares are bobbing around USD 1080. None of these three are worth the buy in. Facebook is heading the way of Myspace. Twitter will follow (Are following?) As will Google. There is a slow fragmentation of Internet related services as increasing numbers of people seek alternatives.

Expect Microsoft to follow next year as people increasingly look for alternatives to the utter abortion that is Windows 10. A well-marketed strain of Linux might just do it. The Microsoft product is rotten to the core. They’ve tried to turn what was a moderately useful but buggy operating system into a ‘service’ and come up with an appalling piece of crap. Full of bloatware I can’t get rid of.

Sixteen hours later…

Early yesterday afternoon my Windows 10 laptop informed me that there was yet another ‘upgrade’ for my machine and that it was going to nag and nag until I let it do what the Micro-Serfs wanted it to. In the early hours of the morning, some time around five thirty AM it finished ‘upgrading’ and to be quite honest I can’t tell the difference. Apart from some losses of functionality, like losing the zoom function on my webcam, for which I have since installed some proprietary software. Stuff that actually works and is stable. Unlike Windows 10.

Now here’s the thing; I started my working life in IT configuring and sorting out Windows based kit back in the early 90’s and I can safely say with my hand on my heart that I have never had to upgrade computers this often and take so long to do it. Even back in the early days when all upgrades had to be done manually, but never this often. It seems that never a month goes by that the ‘upgrade’ warning comes on and your machine is essentially unusable for four to five hours. This time sixteen hours elapsed between me heaving a heavy sigh, clicking on the ‘Upgrade and restart’ option and going off to read a modestly long book, water the deck garden, dead head the roses, clean my kitchen, watch a couple of YouTube documentaries, get most of a nights sleep and make some sausage rolls for tea this afternoon. Which left me another six hours to play with before the ‘upgrade’ finished its last reboot. I could have cloned ten hard drives in that six hours using Ghost, working sequentially and starting over on a fresh hard drive that needed formatting and wiping first.

It’s the longest I’ve ever spent upgrading a machine. To ‘upgrade’ three apps? Not to mention that my laptop feels like it’s running almost twenty percent slower than before the upgrade. Now I would go down the Linux route if I could find a version that would work with my laptops wi-fi card. Don’t even get me started on Apple, over-priced, data-slurping S.O.B’s. So I’ll be switching off the ‘upgrades’ using the tips and tricks listed in the video below.

The upside is that for my next laptop, I will definitely be looking at one which will function properly with a Linux build and KDE desktop. Windows will not be a purchasing option. Which is a pity. They’ve had a couple of really good platforms; Windows 2000 (SP4) and Windows 7. The rest have been, in varying degrees, total kak. I will be a Windows user no longer.

A handy hint

Recently took delivery of a Samsung 4K TV screen after our old one went “Pft-fizz” and died a few weeks ago. Lovely definition, terrific picture, decent sound and intuitive setup with our DVD player and AppleTV box. One problem. When streaming a movie or TV show, every so often, the sound blanks off and needs to switched out to the main menu and back again. An evening with a stop watch found no pattern. Swapping the ports likewise. A total pain in the bum and an annoyance because as is the nature of these things, it always failed just when on screen stuff was getting vaguely interesting. Mrs S was reduced to snarls and loud shouts of “Bill!” Sometimes less than two minutes after I’d got the sound working again. Dark noises were being made about “Taking the bloody thing back.”

So I did what I always have when stumped for an answer, gone and checked out the support forums and tried all their solutions. HDMI connections were checked. Ports swapped (again). Firmware updates checked (Both for set and streaming box). All the suggestions on the Samsung support forums were tried and failed. Then I checked my cable specs. I’d bought my HDMI cable at the same time we bought the AppleTV box some five or so years ago. At the time it had been top of the line, 12Gbps full bandwidth and operated flawlessly. So what had changed? In the end I went shopping to one of the local electronics emporiums and put my reading glasses on. The answer had been staring me in the face. My old HDMI cable was not fully 4K compliant. Almost, but not quite. So I got out my wallet and stumped up for a full on 18gbps HDMI cable with gold plated connections (All right, it was on sale). A couple of hours after fitting I’m fairly sure the sound is fixed and domestic harmony is restored to the Sticker household. Well, for now. Until the next wanked-up Windows 10 upgrade.

I love this

Hey young Earth person! Are you tired of the dull life here on Earth? Do you want to be someone special? Someone great? To defend not just your country but the world? Become a Space Marine!

Yes it’s true. This is Trumps Star Wars moment. (H/T ZeroHedge) He’s just authorised the militarisation of space. Which rather walks all over a couple of old cold war treaties regarding military assets in Earth Orbit. Not that anyone was paying these treaties any mind you understand. The Chinese have been testing killer satellites for the last two decades to my knowledge and the Russians simply can’t afford them. Which means these treaties have effectively been ignored for years, so what he’s just said (See speech below) shouldn’t raise anything more than an ironic eyebrow.

So what good will the creation of this new ‘US Space Force’ do? Well, create a bit of competition for the private space efforts and add a spur to Musk and Bezos’s Falcon X and Blue Origin programmes. Maybe light a fire under NASA’s sluggish arse. Perhaps they’ll even think of putting some money into ‘Spike’ rocket engine development or Hybrids like the old Hotol concept or even resurrect the wholly reusable X-33 spaceplane concept. See Curious Droid’s video assessment below.  Which I can access off YouTube, but the linking has somehow gone awry.  Oops, no.  The trained Monkeys have done their thing and the 500 error is fixed.

For a sci-fi freak like me the possibilities are endless. I’m genuinely enthused.

P.S: Have just checked my Lemon Tree seedlings to find that all thirteen have pushed tiny shoots above the soil and even as I type are raising little green heads toward the sun.  Yay!

Social death

Facebook is hurt. Badly hurt. 30 points down and falling as of 28th March.
See my screenshot taken on the 23rd, a mere five days ago.

Yes I know one is for over the last twelve months, the other for the last three, but neither paint a pretty picture. I have a feeling that the Cambridge Analytica scandal is just the tip of a very big problem-berg. Over the next few months I can see a larger loss en-route, as in shit, fan, incoming! Perhaps a complete collapse. Who knows? It’s like watching a run on a poorly funded bank.

While this is all very entertaining in the median term, it may blow over, it may not. Facebook may survive, but it is what I’d describe as a ‘Castle in the Air’ stock. Looks pretty, but has no real fiscal security, as like one of the fairy fortresses, the only thing that keeps Facebook going is the power of belief.

Elon Musk (To name but one) has pulled his companies out of Facebook and there’s a class action in the offing. As far as some of the other tech giants go, Alphabet, parent company of YouTube and Google is also suffering with a less drastic 4% fall after accusations of bias, which they strenuously deny, but a number of their users who have had their content demonetised and even deleted aren’t convinced. Amazon may be worth a punt though, as their share value has taken a hit. But they actually sell real things, so I’d view them as a fairly safe bet and treat the current downturn as a buying opportunity for their stock.

Facebook on the other hand, what do they have to sell, apart from their users data? Twitter likewise. Which begs another question. Where will all the Twatter outrage mobs go if the platform collapses? Will they suddenly find themselves suffering a form of electronic social death? Mmm. Couldn’t happen to a nastier bunch of people.

Talking of social death, the institutional antisemitism endemic within the UK Labour party has surfaced once again. This is no surprise to me, as every extreme left winger I’ve ever met has been a racist anti-Semite. Never understood it myself. I think the only half way sane reason must be that extreme left (and right) wingers are avidly pro big government and the Zionists are big on family. The family (A very human, grass roots institution) and big government (Big state, top down driven) are philosophically opposed. The big government people see the family as the biggest obstacle to their authoritarian utopian fantasies, so to their mind anyone who has a strong family as the basis of of their culture must be undermined and if need be, eliminated.

Well it makes sense to me.

Snow drama

We’ve just had a dump of snow that has come and gone. Probably at least twice what the UK has had during it’s latest ‘Snowpocalypse’. For example, on Sunday Mrs S and I were driving across to the south west of the Island and big white flakes were coming down like nobody’s business, hitting the ground then disappearing. But then we’re geared up for it over here, all weather tyres and every other car is an AWD or a 4×4. Some AWD’s being more equal than others. The Winter tyre change is just something you do every year. Those with only traction on one axle tend to have a spare set of Winter wheels ready for driving. There’s none of this nonsense with ‘The wrong kind of snow’ either. We get the same kind of cold wet and heavy type of stuff as the UK, and the occasional six inch fall is treated with insouciance. Anything more, well, road clearing is mostly done by local contractors who have their own chainsaws for clearing fallen trees. On rural roads they don’t wait for the Council workers to get out of bed, the problem’s in front of you buddy, you fix it. Likewise, airports and suchlike keep running no matter what. It takes a fall of over a six inches (All right, fifteen point two four centimetres) within twenty four hours to come anywhere close to shutting those down.

Today there’s no snow left except for the odd north facing slope or compacted pile of dirty ice shunted over into a sheltered corner, slowly melting in the rain. Business as usual. No drama. Only a month or so away from Spring. Even then we’ve had serious snow in April, over two feet on one occasion, which was my first encounter with the term ‘snow day’. There’s even been the odd strinkling in June around the 49th parallel. But that’s weather in the northwestern Pacific rim for you. And we’re about the same latitude as Bordeaux, France.

Not that it matters, it’s all Milankovich cycles, Solar irradiance and changes in albedo anyway.

Apart from the cold outside, Windows 10 is screwing with my wireless keyboard and mouse setup. Both started playing up out of the blue two days ago. Tried fixing with the Logitech receiving package, but no improvement. Windows 10 is truly shite. Every update brings new fuckups. I haven’t had this much messing around with an operating system since MS-DOS, which at least had the benefit of being a stable platform. Windows 10 with the latest upgrade is a buggy, unreliable pile of crap. Mostly because I’ve had to go digging through Device Manager to reconfigure the power management settings after this last fucking update. Not just in one, but all devices, from USB hubs to Mice and Keyboards.

From an ex-support technicians perspective, there were only two versions of Windows that were any good. Windows 2000 because with service pack 4 it was almost bulletproof and Windows 7, because it was the last Windows package to do what the bloody hell it was told, and not allow some Microserf to remotely mess around with your well-configured systems. It’s why I used to switch off the latest update until the tech forums reported all clear. XP was barely tolerable, Vista was utter crap and 8.1, well, best avoided if you want my advice. 10 is a complete abortion. The ‘Home’ edition worst of all.

What scrolls my knurd is the constant basic system changes every time a new bell and whistle becomes available. I spend time and energy setting up my laptop to do exactly what I want, when I want it to. I don’t want the fucking thing to keep second guessing me. Firstly it’s annoying, secondly it’s time wasting, and thirdly it’s completely patronising. It’s got to the point that if old Spoonbanger petulantly did drop a nuke on the good old US of A, I’d bloody cheer if ground zero was Microsoft.

Update: on the topic of driving in adverse conditions, I’ve always wondered why, given Northwestern Europes propensity for cold wet weather, that most vehicle retailers don’t simply spend a couple of extra hundred bucks on all weather rubber for their vehicles. The Ice / Mud ‘All Season’ rating would seem to be the most sensible choice, rather than trust to less grippy compounds which are only really effective above 7 Celsius. Not that there’s much advantage because Summer rubber doesn’t add to the grip if you spend half your time (Like the majority of UK drivers) in heavy traffic commutes.

For a personal anecdote, our Geolander G95’s hold the tarmac nicely in all conditions (Tried and tested) from temperatures in the high 30’s Celsius, heavy snow to intense downpours and packed ice. The rear tyres are due to be replaced with a new pair at 130,000KM (80,000 miles) this September. Still with 1mm remaining on the ‘safe’ tread. Wondering which make is best for your shiny tin box? Start here with a 2017 survey.

All of the above is rather academic really, if as JuliaM puts it so succinctly in the comments, “No machine is worth much if the meatsack behind the wheel hasn’t bothered to RTFM!”

Earwigo again

“It was the worst of times, the best of times. the age of tech, was the age of feelz, the epoch of meme and trolling. It was the era of Pepe, the rise of Kek, the season of Autism, a spring of hope, the winter of lies.”

Which Dickens misquote (From the opening lines of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’) rather sums up how I feel about the online world at the moment. Either that or it’s the last vestiges of jet lag. It’s all academic anyway. All my ‘social media’ accounts are either deleted, dead, or weed strewn and abandoned.

Now we’re back in BC, in the not so frozen north the Trudeau government looks ever more like becoming a kind of soft fascist regime with it’s focus on Justin’s cult of popularity and the Liberals determination to control everything, including thought and speech. Which certainly ticks at least three boxes on the ‘Are you a fascist regime’ checklist. After hearing Justin’s performance at Davos, I’m thinking it might even be time to think about bailing out while the getting is good. I’ve also overheard people in the streets bitching about price increases and my eyes tell me they’re not far wrong. As for Trudeau, his sockpuppet popularity is slipping and no-one outside of Canada really takes him that seriously.

The trouble is with Canadian politics that there’s no statesman with enough balls to stand up to all the wishy washy PC crap which is driving a lot of really bad legislation. There’s no one who seems to want to stand up to all the vested protectionist interests and touchy feely bollocks prevalent in Canadian Society.

Anyway, non existent Tsunamis notwithstanding, I’m back flying a desk again and Mrs S has delegated a few tasks to me while my line of work is slack, of logging on and off this Worksafe BC malarkey for her. Despite me being less than thirty feet away, she is classed as a ‘lone worker’ and must be ‘protected’ by phoning in every four hours to an automated service that takes a monthly fee. According to the operational terms, if she misses a call, she’s supposed to get a callback by a human operator to see if she’s okay. Which doesn’t happen by the way, it’s a completely automated system which just calls back repeatedly, as we found out yesterday when I missed a check in. Some ‘protection’ eh? Mandated by a BC Government agency that won’t check out less safe work environments like up island logging operations. At least this is what Mrs S’s contacts tell her. Yet because she works from home, she must be ‘monitored’. Yeah, right. Because she’s ‘at risk’ of getting a paper cut or stubbing her toe at home within ten metres of a husband (Me) who has had proper medical training and real life experience of assisting in real emergencies and almost half a dozen means of calling for some form of assistance. Voice, cell phone, home phone, skype, email, as well as yours truly popping by every hour or two to make tea or coffee. So an automated callback system which doesn’t really do anything apart from ring off if there’s no response is, as I am wont to say, “the next best thing to useless.” But we have to have it by law. Or else we get fined. Is that ‘fair’? You tell me.

Another annoyance since I returned from the fabled land of Oz, is Google and my cell phone company being a pain. I’m not receiving calls or text messages despite my phone bill being paid up to date. Then Google wants to do stuff ‘to improve my security’ and every time it does, and every time I get on a plane, it fucks with my email. Which I resent. I have good security. I run VPNs, a full range of anti-virus, anti-spyware and change my email password intermittently. Yet still I have to put up with all their ‘security’ crap when I won’t let them know if I’m taking a figurative shit or not or which bathroom I’m using in which country. So Gmail has to go. All my accounts. Sorry guys, it’s been fun but it’s time for me to move on with all the other grown ups.

Given the aggravation with my cell phone, I’m also shopping for a new one as it looks like Canada will be shutting down the GSM network in 2018, leaving my old Nokia 6310 useless for anywhere within North America, but I’m also looking for a multi-Sim phone which isn’t Google dominated. Or at least lets me use non-Google services and apps. If my last remaining reader has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Restrictive practices

The longer I’m a global citizen, travelling the globe and finding what differences there are between countries, the more amazed I become. Today’s object lesson came from those jape-a-minute practical jokers, the main Canadian cell (Mobile, whatever) phone companies. Let me enlighten my one remaining reader. I have a GSM phone. One that works in just about every country on Earth. Tri-band, three frequencies, great range. Yet GSM phones are only supported by one Canadian company, Rogers. Bell, Telus, and all the sub variants of these companies, including Virgin Koodoo and Fido don’t support GSM-only phones. They have gone straight to LTE, 3G and 4G networks. So if you need a SIM card for a retro GSM phone, don’t waste your time with at least three of the ‘big four’.

There’s also the bit of news that GSM phones are being phased out in Australia. Vodaphone is the last supplier of GSM pre-paid SIM cards down under and will be shutting down their last GSM network in March 2018. So there’s just enough of a window for me to have a working phone while I’m there. In the new year I’ll be in the market for a new phone because otherwise I’ll have no means of emergency contact. Not that I’m that bothered, but Mrs S does fret when she can’t get hold of me in ten seconds flat. Besides, I like to talk to people rather than text at them.

One of the issues up here in the not so frozen north is that Canada is so mired in protectionism it acts as a direct hit on the bank accounts of the general populace. Calling long distance is a credit killer, and you would be amazed how short a distance that can be. Every cell phone ‘plan’ I’ve come across is designed to get at least CAD$50 out of a users pocket every month as a bargain basement figure. Then there are all the other little charges that hungrily suckle on your financial teat that were abandoned in Europe back in the early 00’s. I’m loathe to say ‘rip off’ but it’s funny how the layers of costs mount up.

As for those who trot out “Well, Canada is a big country…” to justify the cell phone companies glaring omissions and excesses; that’s a very poor excuse. My considered opinion is that Canadian monopolies and their subsidiaries just can’t be bothered to cater to the market sector that neither wants nor needs to upgrade their cell phone every three years. Indeed, they could be missing out because at present there is a very strong ‘retro’ movement. Even if the planned shut down of 2G networks goes ahead. A lot of people only want their phones to make calls and texts. To them, Data is just a character from Star Trek- the next generation played by Brent Spiner in heavy makeup. Besides, who wants to ruin their eyes staring at tiny screens all the time? Do your eyeballs ache a lot? That could be a clue you spend waaay too much time checking the mindless garbage on Twatter.

By way of a personal observation, two of the people served before me at the four cell phone stores I visited today bought old style flip phones. That’s two out of seven people in total without me going after a GSM compatible prepaid SIM card. With my input that’s just over a third of the total customer base in a random Sunday sample. Now there’s a message in there for those who would but see.

This sort of thing is true for many other services and goods this side of the border. Especially when every attempt to import has certain folk raising their arms in horror and shouting about ‘protecting Canadian Jobs’, which probably don’t really exist because Canada has huge manpower overheads and a relatively high minimum wage, which means many goods are simply too expensive to manufacture this side of the 49th parallel. Then the Government gets lobbied into leaving economic power with a few large companies who have had what some might call a stranglehold on the Canadian economy since the early days of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Take for example cheese. A recently successful motion to allow specialist French imports raised a loud outcry because, claimed the protectionists, it would ‘cost Canadian jobs’. Even when Canadian dairy manufacturers can only just managed a very average Brie or Camembert. Although they can manage a halfway decent Aged Cheddar, but not much more. But don’t ask about the near tasteless ersatz yellow rubber substance called ‘Monterey Jack’.

Now when it comes to cheese, the French rather bake the quiche, with the Italians and Germans coming in a close second and third and the British finishing a very creditable 4th, having clawed their back way up from the bottom of the cheese producing pile where they had languished for far too long. Well, that’s my estimation, having spent quite some time around British, French and German street markets and the local fare on offer. Same for beer. It’s only since the mid 00’s that we’ve seen a proper resurgence of what are called ‘craft’ beers over here.

Talking about markets, that’s another thing Canadians don’t really understand. Street markets, which are found throughout the rest of the civilised world, are almost unknown up here. The last time I went into a Vancouver Christmas street market, it wasn’t really a market at all as I understand them. It was a theme park designers idea of a street market. It was fenced off, you had to pay fifteen bucks each to get in to get in and it was full of tourist trap garbage. Nothing like the open access, noise, bustle and sheer doggoned fun of a proper street market. Far too twee. Far too restrictive, and there lies the crux of the matter. Something will have to give.

Anyway. I now have what I need, my tomato plants are beginning to develop fruit and the deadline for stepping onto that plane for a sunshine filled festive season in the fabled land of Oz draws ever closer. Yeah.

Back to the future

Well, we’re all set for our first odyssey to the fabled land of Oz, where according to some men who work, Where beers flow and men chunder. Flights are booked and paid for, visitor visa’s obtained, hotels booked and confirmed and cars hired. Eldest is taking care of SIM cards for our cell phones, so we’ll be in full comms less than two hours after clearing immigration and customs. So short of some unforeseen disaster or a direct nuclear strike we’ll be down under over Christmas and the New Year. In the case of cancellation we’re insured three ways to breakfast, so any financial losses by cancellation or delay will be minimised. Sometimes all you can do is try to stack the odds in your favour and let the cards fall as they may.

On the topic of cell phones, I sometimes look at all these handy little things that have so many Darwin Award contestants wandering across the road without looking, or getting killed driving while texting and wonder why they’re so fixated. What is it that’s so important they’re willing to court an untimely demise? It’s worth noting that some 16,000 of cell phone related road deaths were recorded in the USA alone between 2001 & 09 (I think – studies differ). In the UK drivers distracted by cell phone (Calls and texting) overtook the kill rate of all other forms of road death back in 2014. Allegedly (It was in the Daily Express). But even if it’s not completely true, that’s a hell of a lot of dead bodies just because dimwits can’t focus on what they should be doing. Specifically, keep their eyes on where the hell they’re going. If it was down to me, I’d set up a law that says if you were using a mobile phone at the time of a fatality causing crash, that should automatically upgrade to a manslaughter charge. But that’s just me. I’ve almost been run off the road many times because some tit behind the wheel simply can’t leave the phone alone. So colour me prejudiced. I don’t want my death certificate to read ‘Death by social media’.

Aslant to that topic, recently I’ve been suffering a bout of nostalgia for my old UK mobile, which even fifteen years after I bought it still does sterling service. As you can see from the picture below, I also have one of those rinky-dinky smartphones. The problem is that one of these devices is not really that much use to me any more. Guess which one it is, go on, have a wild stab. (Although not at me, I’m allergic to the sight of my own blood) Correct! it’s the Samsung Smartphone on the left. Yes it still does wi-fi and bluetooth, but so does my tablet. The main problem appears to be my version of Android. Now according to Samsung’s web site their devices will still support stuff like Whatsapp on Android version 2.3 up to 2020AD. The Samsung on the left has version Android 2.3.3 (and will update no further). Which might lead one to think; “Supported to 2020? Oh, that should be fine.” Only it isn’t. Unfortunately my network (Thanks a bunch Virgin) will not allow any of the new App upgrades like Google Maps and Whattsapp to update any more. So this all singing all dancing mobile phone, once a fully functional piece of kit, barely limps along. Not to mention the battery life being pretty crap. It no longer fulfils the purpose I bought it for and I’m still shelling out CAD$XX every month just for the privilege of connecting to my carriers cell phone network. Without the ability to make international calls, which is one of my chief beefs against Canadian cell phone companies. It’s not that phoning overseas costs, it’s just that my Canadian network block me from calling them altogether. Surely they can make more money if I’m allowed to call one of my overseas contacts like at 50+ cents a minute. Don’t they see that? Although perhaps they can, as an international ‘roaming’ charge is CAD$10 a day. Then they add your metered call costs on top of that. Sounds like a licence to print money.

“Well that’s okay Bill.” you might advise. “Go out and get a new phone contract. There. Fixed it for you. Off you go.” But honestly, as far as I’m concerned, a smart phone’s utility is limited. Especially if you’re prohibited from upgrading the operating system so that certain Apps can run. Yes, there are workarounds, but honestly, it’s a lot of faff for far too little return.

Frankly I’m buggered if I’m going to shell out for a sparkly new mobile phone every three years just so I have a functional means of communication. So the Samsung is going to be replaced by the phone on the right, my basic call and text only Nokia 6310i which plays no music or games yet after 15 years still has a battery standby life of over twelve days and three hours talk time and connects to any GSM network. For email, games, writing notes and general Interwebbery I’ll still have my Android tablet.

As for my new Windows 10 laptop. It’s not that wonderful. For onboard applications the ‘upgrade’ really doesn’t do a lot more than Windows 7, which was a worthy successor to the only other decent Windows platform, Windows 2000. The bundled application software like Windows Movie Maker are still better with Windows 7 than 10. Not sure what Microsoft are up to, but if Windows 10 is their best effort, then I’m distinctly underwhelmed.

Yes, yes, I could have bought a MacBook or iPad, I’ve got the funds, but I’ve never had the urge to be an Apple Fanboy. On the various occasions I’ve walked into an Apple store the customer service has been worse than useless. The only time I got decent service at an Apple store was because a mate was working as Tech Support Manager at that particular franchise. Every other time I’ve tried to attract the attention of an Apple store employee, all I got was a vaguely contemptuous look that said “What’s an old fart like you doing in here?” So I walked right out again. Which makes me wonder if there’s a part of the Apple store interview process that goes; “Are you a narcissistic fuckwit who loves Apple and won’t sell one of our darling devices to an over forty?”
If the answer is “Yes.” Trust me, you’ll be hired. At least if my previous encounters with Apple Store staff are any guide.

Anyway. My old Nokia 6310i. Is it unlocked for any network full size SIM card? Oh yeah. Does it work as a phone? Yep. Bluetooth compatible with my new stereo headphones and relatively new HK250 earpiece? You betcha. Does it pair with my cars satnav / radio / handsfree? Perfectly. Connects to any GSM Network? Dee-fine-ately. I’ve got a tablet, so why on earth would I need one of those new tiny screens to do my emails, notes and other general Interwebbery?

Answers on the back of a plain brown envelope please.

Taking a fence

My lady wife has been complaining at me. Not because I did something wrong, but because I did it absolutely right. In discussion about a new part of her job we identified a business need for extra screens. Now setting these up off a desktop is relatively easy, buy an Nvidia multiport video card and install in the right slot. Load drivers and configure display. Plug in Monitors.   Easy peasy. Not so easy off a laptop, which is what we use because we travel for up to four months out of any given year. However, not a problem. Well, not for the tech-enlightened. We saw that particular techno-fence and took it in a single bold leap. Seem to do a lot of that.

For this tech recipe, all you will need, as well as a new monitor, is a multi-port USB hub if you don’t have enough USB spare ports on your slaptop plus one of these handy-dandy little USB to VGA (Or HDVI or DVD) converter widgets for each extra screen. Once the drivers for said widget are installed, plug in extra screen via widget and arrange on desk. As soon as the extra screen is active, go into settings and select the ‘extended’ video option. Alter toolbar views and other options as required. Rinse, repeat for as many screens as you have accessible spare ports. Robert then becomes one’s Father’s brother. This is not dragon magic. Anyone even mildly tech-savvy can do it with ease.

The reason for Mrs S’s complaint is that apparently now I’ve made it “Too easy” for her to surf the web, manage big spreadsheets, write emails and take video calls between watching her favourite Netflix series and delving into the ‘murkier waters’ of the jolly old Interweb, which to those in the know is more of an adventure playground than an ‘unsafe space’ requiring the intervention of some brain dead bureaucratic bungler. Just in case someone’s feelings get hurt, the poor ickle bunnies. So, a more comfy office chair has been provided so she’s able to relax a lot more without so much eyestrain. Yes I’m catching some good-natured flak about her not getting up often enough, but seeing as I’ve just made her job easier by a factor of ten, which she now acknowledges, her stress levels, and therefore mine, have just taken a nosedive. Cool beans. She now has time to pro-actively manage her work and is currently reading up on Byzantium in our kitchens sunny corner. Just waiting for the notifications to go ‘bleep’ at her so she can put in a bookmark and saunter off to her desk for half an hour to deal with the issue.

Apropos ‘safe spaces’, they’re fit for nothing but overindulged brats whose EQ is sub-zero. ‘Safe’ is dull. ‘Safe’ is no fun. ‘Safe’ is unchallenging. ‘Safe’ means stunted intellectual and emotional growth. Ditchwater is positively coruscating by comparison. This blog, as my last regular visitor will attest, is not ‘safe’. Toxic thoughts abound. This is my equivalent of the mildly dangerous part of a landfill where all the really icky stuff like mid-to-low level radioactive waste is buried. The ‘biohazard’ marker in the header picture is only partially meant in jest.

Anyway, sorry about the pun title, but it does seem to me there are far too many people in this world setting themselves up as moral arbiters on behalf of others. Aside from remarking on the sheer arrogance of their claim on the right to do so, to whom I would address the age old maxim; “Who rattled your cage, dimwit?” especially whenever someone ‘takes offence’ on behalf of someone else that they’ve never met, and probably didn’t even care existed. Right up until the opportunity arose for some pointless self-aggrandising virtue signalling on social media. Then it’s everyone to the barricades, comrade! While the rest of the world goes WTF are these people on? Don’t they have real lives? Well, the loudest complainers seem to be lefty politicians, students and academics, so perhaps not. If only we could persuade them to stay away from the rest of us.

Frankly I find the whole concept of taking offence on behalf of people I don’t know and have never met somewhat eccentric. Abhorrent even. If this makes me a Dinosaur I am happy to wear that badge because that class of life thrived on the earth for 145 Million years until they were blatted out of existence by a stray space rock. Even so, their relatives are still with us today as birds and various saurians, so fine, ‘Dinosaur’ may mean ancient, but it doesn’t mean rubbish. Mammals have only really had the run of planet Earth for a relatively short period, as bipeds far less. So we’ll have less of the derogatory remarks from you jumped up excuses for primates front bottoms. This Dinosaur says come back when you’ve been around for another million years or so. Or at least twenty. If you last that long. Because Evolution can be a right bi-atch. Rogue asteroids, supervolcanoes like the Siberian and Deccan traps and subsequent crustal shifting notwithstanding.

And there are social factors which can have the same effect on social justice warrior types, like would-be employers researching archived Twatter and Farcebook feeds (Not dragon magic or even rocket science) and going “Nah, too much trouble. – Next.” consigning their CV’s to the eternal darkness of file 13. Destroying careers before they’ve even begun. Which would be justice indeed for all the damage SJW Twatter hate mobs have done to people.

Agree, disagree? Even take a fence if you like. Just so long as it’s not mine or there will be tears before bedtime, and they won’t be mine.

Hi-ho. At least my tomato plants (See below) are doing very nicely ta muchly. I’ve even found that my used coffee grounds make a nice mulch / fertiliser.

Update: I liked my wife’s dual screen setup that I went out and bought myself an extra monitor and VGA converter this afternoon.  Half an hour after opening the box I had two 24″ screens to work off.  Bloody brilliant.

 

 

The future of transport

There’s a lot of political motion about transport at the present moment. First there’s the ban on sales of Internal Combustion Engine powered vehicles from 2040, which California looks like replicating in order to ‘save the planet’. These impending bans to reduce air pollution due to ICE powered vehicles are all well intentioned but one is tempted to ask, what will said proscriptions actually achieve?

For practical purposes not much, because the nature of logistics within cities is already changing. But the future does not lie with self driving electric cars. Nor electric cars or any variant thereof. Except on an extremely limited scale. For reasons as discussed here. The changes that are coming are more far reaching than a simple change in how tin boxes are powered and controlled. For a given value of ‘simple’. Which has already turned into a whole different, and over-subsidised bunch of complicated.

For example; both Mrs S and I ‘telecommute’ every day using video and other online messaging services, rarely needing to physically visit clients or sites more than once a year. Up until ten years ago our jobs didn’t, couldn’t exist. But thanks to the dear old Interweb, we earn a reasonable crust and pay our way in the world without too much drama. Yes, we have a car, and in the next five years this will have to be replaced and a motorcycle added to our means of getting about two or three times a week. But we don’t need to commute every day. Which adds hours to our productive working days. Which means we can pick our time of day to go out to enjoy a bit of a drive. As well as keep things up to snuff at home without losing precious ‘us’ time. And there’s a growing number like us who don’t have to turn up at the office to put in a (very) full day’s work. We’re also contractors, so we don’t show up in public employment stats. Like the people who run small businesses off a laptop over a coffee shops wi-fi link and cell phone. There’s part of the future, and it’s already here.

The coming changes will be as radical as the migration of methods between travel by horse and the first steam powered railways and they are right on our doorstep. Indeed, delivery companies and start-ups are already experimenting with what was up until recently merely a toy. Especially in heavily congested areas. Particularly for small, highly specialised manufacturers and distributors. Amazon have been running trials and there are a bunch of other startups which recognise that where drones will really come into their own is in the short run courier business, at first as an adjunct to, then as a replacement for, inner city bicycle and motorcycle couriers. Point to point small packages, high speed and high security with the capability to home in on a mobile phone or tablet so that no matter where the recipient is within a given radius, they will be able to receive a physical document or critical replacement part at exactly the time the text or component are required. Or medical supplies on a Just in time basis.

As for personal transport, no matter how it is powered, as the ability to deliver to a precise location at an exact time improves, the need for someone to physically get in a car and drive across town to an appointment or to hire an expensive courier will slowly decrease, therefore so will the road congestion of the inner cities. In short, we’ll stop needing to drive everywhere quite so much. That’s where the future lies. Not Electric Self driving cars. Batteries will never be that good, but they will be good enough to transport small packages a hundred miles or so. Like John Hopkins Medicine managed with this trial, beating Team Roadrunners previous 97 mile record, set in May 2017. In the UK, Centrica have run trials for remote inspection of production sites out in Morecambe bay. And that’s only three examples.

This is the way real change for the better begins. Not with governments, but with people utilising an idea in new ways.

Now there is a major impediment. Legislation. Whether lawmakers fail or succeed to address the benefits of point to point lightweight deliveries. From a purely safety perspective, Drones with semi-autonomous Artificial Intelligence packages can be made to navigate crowded airspace to and from sensitive locations, but this must be mandated by clear laws that lay down a simple legal framework for the new technology to operate within. Simply banning their use does nothing but stave off the inevitable.

Of course, early adopters will (and probably do) already include your friendly local illicit substance provider and smuggler. A drone that can fly more than twenty plus kilometres carrying a kilo or two of whatever substance the market demands is no more detectable than a bird. The only real risks to drones being the territorial instincts of large birds, such as with Wedge Tailed Eagles in Australia, or the French and Dutch Police training Bald Eagles to take down unauthorised UAV’s.

On the topic of drone interdiction, Mr Trumps much vaunted border wall is no more use than the proverbial chocolate teapot at preventing cross border drug trafficking by drone. Short of shooting at everything that crosses a certain line, and that would be simply impractical. For example, two people with backpack sized controls and half a dozen drones could run rings around any number of border guards, eliminating the risks and expense of human ‘mules’ and couriers across say, the US-Mexican or US-Canadian borders. Who is to say this is not already happening. Because it already is.

Thus far, even prison walls have proved little use against drones, like with this smuggling operation into a prison. Although contrariwise, Enforcement monitoring Drones will be, (are and have been) used to remotely monitor and detect illegal activity so that flying squads of border agents can home in and make arrests. However, so far these drones are of the larger, military types and have so far proven uneconomic, but as quadcopter technology improves, the cost per enforcement unit will decrease. For example; Los Angeles Police Department is even experimenting with smaller drones.

What overall effect this technology may have on cities is covered in this interesting little TED talk by Julio Gil (See below). And he’s right. The technology is almost with us. In fact it’s so close early adopters are already using much of it. The rest is trying methodologies until we find one that really works.

I particularly like his idea of the mobile drone delivery platform. Post office or delivery van pootles down suburban or rural road while a squadron of drones busily drop mail and small packages off on doorsteps leaving the driver (and maybe a helper for the heavier stuff) free to concentrate on dropping off the bigger packages. Maybe even some form of pickup device could be provided to save on postal delivery people having to traipse around emptying mailboxes. Drone picks up your mail, reads a printed address bar code or number and pre-sorts it before the delivery van even arrives back at the distribution hub.

While much of the above may be conjecture one thing is certain; the future is almost here, and that future contains Drones.

Update:  You know that naughty man (Well, most of the lamestream pundits say he is) who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC?  Well, kiddies, he’s just signed an executive order enabling the testing of Drone Technology for deliveries and the FAA has just given CNN a waiver for camera drone flights to take place over crowds.  So yes, the future is closer than we think.  Cool.