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The Great Freeview Postcode Lottery October 14, 2008

Posted by Steve in General Wittering.
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If you have the misfortune of living in an area which doesn’t currently get Freeview signals you might have been encouraged by promises that by 2012 you’ll get what the rest of the country has been enjoying for several years.

What OFCOM and Digital UK haven’t been so keen to tell us is that you won’t be getting what the rest of the country has been enjoying, you’ll only be getting half of it.

There are two main types of TV transmitter for analogue services:  high powered main transmitter sites – you know the ones, Emley Moor, Belmont, Pontop Pike, Bilsdale, Winter Hill, Crystal Palace and smaller relay stations like Cop Hill, Armitage Bridge, Holmfirth, Beecroft Hill.  These relays pick up the signal coming from the main site and rebroadcast it on another frequency.

Each of the relay stations is allocated 4 or occasionally 5 frequencies on which to broadcast.  Except when it goes over to digital it will only have three so the government can flog off a batch of frequencies to the highest bidder.

Each frequency will be used to transmit one of the freeview multiplexes (muxs).  So three frequencies means that of the 6 muxs transmitted from main stations, a relay will only be able to transmit three of them.

The channels you won’t get include Dave, Sky Sports News, Virgin 1, UKTV History and 4 Music.

It’s little more than a postcode lottery based on where it was practical to plonk a main transmitter some 30 or 40 years ago, and those of us not blessed by signals from a main transmitter will continue to receive a second class service.  And it’s a disgrace that OFCOM haven’t done anything about it – a single frequency network (SFN) on the commercial multiplexes which have no regional changes would eliminate the need for finding new frequencies.

A Bank Holiday by the Sea May 5, 2008

Posted by Steve in Photography.
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Amazingly the forecast rain held off. I decided I’d give the car a bit of a run out and take my digital camera off to take some pictures of sea birds at Bempton Cliffs – it’s somewhere I went probably the best part of 20 years ago as a kid, and it’s famous for being home to lots of puffins during the summer. There was approximately 1 there today!

My trusty Kodak Z740 has a 10x optical zoom, but that wasn’t enough to get good shots of distant birds, so the digital zoom came into play. People can often be dismissive of the digital zoom, but if it’s a question of not getting the shot or getting it, but with a few digital artefacts, there’s no choice. That said having a decent optical zoom for the digital to extend is far better than digital alone.

Is it wireless or something? February 18, 2008

Posted by Steve in General Wittering.
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In the pub, during a power cut.

Girl: “I can hear some really quiet music, where’s that coming from?”
Me: “The DJ’s laptop”
Girl:  “Oh.  How’s that working with no power then?  Is it wireless or something?”

in hindsight I wish I hadn’t simply pointed out that laptops tend to contain batteries, that could have made for a great wind up!

Don’t you just love being in control? February 11, 2008

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants.
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At the start of the year I changed my gas and electricity supplier to British Gas, partly inspired by an offer of a £60 backhander from Quidco to do so.

Last week a letter turns up telling me that as I haven’t had my gas meter inspected in the last 18 months they were going to come today to inspect it, and if wasn’t here to let them in and I hadn’t called them to rechedule the appointment to a time that was convenientthey would have to consider applying to a magistrate for permission to enter the property.

Somewhat taken aback by the arsey tone of the letter I phoned to have words, and was assured that it was just the wrong form letter which had been sent out, and they were able to reschedule the appointment for this evening between 18.00 and 20.00.

So I get home from work to find a card stating that they turned up at 8.20 this morning. Pillocks. So back on the phone to have further words. “Ah, there’s a note here that they tried to contact you to tell you that they couldn’t make the appointment but couldn’t get through”.

“So given that you knew the original appointment was no good for me and I wouldn’t be here, you turned up anyway rather than cancelling it?”

“Umm… yes. It’s this computer system, it doesn’t let you cancel things very easily”

Sigh. We’ll see how badly they cock up the newly rearranged appointment for Thursday. Otherwise we’ll be seeing how well the system lets them cancel other things… you know, like accounts.

If your only hammer February 9, 2008

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants, Techie Stuff.
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There’s a saying in IT circles that “if your only hammer is Microsoft Office, it’s amazing what looks like a nail”.  And it’s quite apt, lots of technologists get irritated seeing people struggling to do things because they’re using the wrong software.  But I think there’s more to it, and I propose an update to the proverb – “if your only software is Microsoft Excel, it’s amazing what looks like a spreadsheet”.

The problem with the way some people use Excel is that they think it’s a database.  I was asked by one of the admin staff at work for some help identifying rows on a spreadsheet in which one of the columns values also appeared in a second worksheet.

To me Excel’s VLOOKUP function is a pain in the arse.  To use that, you’re almost certainly dealing with relational data.  So why not do the job properly and use a database, where you can craft an SQL query and get much more flexibility?

Until very recently I had a severe dislike of Access, but I’ve found a great feature in it – Linked Tables.  These turn out to be fantastic for getting out of the kind of problems where some well meaning but misguided person has used Excel when they neded a database.  You can use their Excel mess as a table or tables in your database.

Using Linked tables means that you can continue to update the Excel file and the queries will have access to the updated information.  This came in very handy with a ridiculous system where a friend of mine was having to enter some information onto a spreadsheet from a pile of paperwork, then trawl through it to create a seperate report which aggregates the data into a different format.  Because it had always been done that way, naturally.  Of course because both reports were compiled manually there were discrepancies and a lot of stress.  By adding some extra fields to the  spreadsheet outside the printable area, it could be linked to a database and the second report generated automatically, with no possibility of the two reports having totals which disagreed.

A modern fable? February 2, 2008

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Techie Stuff.
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Working in IT, users who can be difficult come with the territory. But for every few cretins who seem to think they way to get things done is to email you (with insufficient detail to know what the problem is)  CC’d to your boss, your boss’s boss and their boss, there’s usually somebody really nice who couldn’t be more appreciative of your work.

And so it was that on Friday one of my fellow IT guys mentioned that a particular lecturer had commented that it was hard to see a projector if you were sitting at the back of one of the computer labs.   Since we’d upgraded to a Smart board, the size of the screen was limited, to make sure that short arses vertically challenged users would be able to reach the top of it.  We’d considered a number of possible ways to fix it, such as a plasma screen suspended from the ceiling halfway back, but not come up with anything that seemed workable that wouldn’t require spending money.

But this time the “complaint” came from one of the nicest blokes you could ever meet, a true gentleman, the kind of guy who is embarrassed to cause a fuss and complain about things.  For him to be complaining (albeit in the weakest possible terms) there was clearly a problem, rather than somebody whinging for the sake of it.

So an idea I’d floated that VNC with listening clients might just work was resurrected.  We hadn’t tried it before in case it brought the lecturer’s PC to a crawl.  A couple of hours tinkering and the lecturers’ PC had two sparkly new shortcuts on the desktop – one to start broadcasting its output to the 12 PCs at the back, and one to stop.  Fairly elegant, and it cost absolutely nothing, and doesn’t seem to be a significant performance hit.

So I guess the moral of the story is that being a nice guy can get results a lot faster than being a pillock.

hmm August 6, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants, Techie Stuff.
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I guess I ought to send this one to The Daily WTF but I’ll post it here. The Lycos account creation procedure needs you to create a security question. Unfortunately it’s dictating that your dad’s name needs to be 6 characters or more. Because of course no names contain less than 6 characters…

Lycos form verification WTF

(name changed for security reasons!)

One of the other security questions offered, “where did you spend your last holiday” is stupid too -when the time comes to retrieve your lost password you now have to work out when you created the account and then try to remember where you went on holiday before???

Water set of numpties! July 28, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants.
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So a card arrives through the door on Tuesday saying that Balfour Beatty, Yorkshire Water’s contractors, need to turn my water supply off on Thursday and Friday from 0800 to 2000 for some work they’re doing. Fair enough, so I bought several litres of cheap bottled water just in case.

Thursday, come home to find the water is still on and isn’t mud coloured so assume it hasn’t been turned off.

Friday, come home to no water. 6.30 bloke in yellow hi-vis vest comes to ask if it’s back on yet and advising me to wiggle the stop-cock to free any muck that’s got into it. Nope, not working, says I. There’s a plumber coming down the street who’ll be with you shortly, says he.

7.00 Friday, go out for the evening and come home to find still no water.

9.00 Saturday ring Yorkshire Water and politely ask WTF is going on, and am told somebody will ring back within the hour. I point out that as I’ve been without water for about 24 hours now that that isn’t good enough and suggest that they ring back in the next 15 minutes and get themselves here to fix it within the hour, and am told that she’s already put it a high priority, it would usually be 2 hours for the call.

Call happens within an hour and plumber sets off. When he gets here he tells me he’d been working his way down the street fixing people’s supply last night, got to me about 10pm – only 2 hours after the water was meant to be back on – and nobody was answering the door (I was in the pub) He discovers that no water is getting to the meter chamber and that the gang is going to have to come back to dig the road up and fix it. A lash-up is possible in the meantime but he has only one set of the parts it needs and the lash-up needs two.

So as things stand, I still have no water, and a gang is coming back this afternoon to either dig up the road again or install a trip hazard between next door’s meter chamber and mine to lash it up.

Ah well, should be a nice bit of compensation on the way…

Update Sunday morning: The plumber did indeed call the gang out to fix both mine and a neighbour a few doors down. Their innovatove solution to the neighbours’ problem? A long pipe going from an outside tap at a house several doors down, through the sodding letter box! The plumber bloke was back on site to sort out next door (my new neighbour is moving in today amidst this chaos), and he took one look at this bodge and described the gang who had done it as “wankers”, and mentioned that their letter box bodge is actually illegal.

They hadn’t bothered to do anything to put my water back on, so he added an extra lash-up onto the one the main contractors had done and added a T piece into the hose pipe and fed it into my meter chamber. So I now have water, courtesy of somebody else’s outside tap. That’s gonna be nice, clean drinking water then ::sigh::

Update Tuesday PM: Well here we are, water still fed via a glorified garden hose. Balfour Beatty have been on site most of the last two days and still haven’t managed to fix whatever it is they buggered up!

Update Thursday AM:  Still on the hosepipe, but their Customer Service Co-ordinator came round yesterday with an update, it seems that they’ve been spraying the inside of the water main with something to reinforce it, and in doing so they’ve managed to block the spur that my water is fed from.  And they need to dig it up and drill a hole in to clear it.  And they tried it on Tuesday but dug in the wrong place.  But they’re going to send me a hamper to apologise for the inconvenience, and hopefully I’ll still get the compo from Yorkshire Water themselves.

Good Thing… Bad Thing June 15, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants, Techie Stuff.

Good thing: Developing and deploying an innovative system[1] so that the UPS on a server at work can text me when the power goes off.

Bad thing: Being worken up by news of power cuts at work in the middle of the bloody night.

[1] An over-complicated lash-up because the UPS software and the authentication method on the mail server aren’t compatible.

Here comes the maths bit… concentrate May 28, 2007

Posted by Steve in Photography, Techie Stuff.
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When you print digital photos you have a couple of options – print them on your computer printer, or take/send them to somewhere that will print them for you.

So, confused about which was the best option, I set about doing the maths to see what the DIY method would cost per 6×4 print. Given that the maths are a bit tricky I figured I’d show my working here.

So the starting point – my printer is the Lexmark Z35, and a colour cartridge for it costs me £18.00 at Asda. Asda’s photo paper costs £3.90 for 50 sheets.

Lexmark claim the yield of the No26 cartridge to be 275 pages at 15% coverage.

So first thing to do is work out what area 275 pages at 15% equates to at total coverage.

An A4 sheet is 210x297mm which comes to 62370mm2
Multiplied by 275 comes to 17151750mm2 and 15% of that is 2572762.5mm2, the area which one cartridge can totally cover.

So we’re interested in 6″x4″ sheets. In metric terms, that’s 152x101mm, an area of 15352mm2.

A simple bit if division tells us that we can totally cover 167 areas of 6×4″.

So we now know that from one cartridge we can produce 167 prints. Except I never believe these yield figures so I’m going to round it down to 150 for the purposes of these calculations.

The cartridge cost £18.00. So 1800p/150 = 12p per print, for ink.

Looking at the paper, £3.90 gets you 50 sheets, so 390p/50 = 7.8p for each piece of paper.

Totalling that up you’re looking at 20p pre 6×4 sheet.

So given that even one-hour express photo printing on the high street is usually less than this, it would appear that printing at home is best held as a reserve option for emergencies!