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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???

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!

What’s your TQ? March 10, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Techie Stuff.
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Got this through a PayPal newsletter thing, a 20 question test to find out your TQ = that’s your Technology Quotient. I got 134 which apparently makes me a “Techy genius or near genius”. So there.


FWIW I reckon questions 5 and 14 are a bit dubious… in fact scratch that – their answer to question 5 is plain wrong. And I must know what I’m talking about because I’m a “techy genius”.

Vista Simulator February 10, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Techie Stuff.
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Some of the most incisive commentary on Vista so far, courtesy of Simon Travaglia at The Register

“So you like Vista?”

“Not really, no. I run a Vista simulator.”

“Virtual Server?” the Boss asks.

“Nah, I just turned on all the flashy crap in XP, changed the background image, took some memory out of my box and clocked down the CPU. Then broke Media player. Works like a charm.”


::sigh:: These guys just don’t get it January 6, 2007

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Moans, Whinges and Rants, Techie Stuff.
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This video appeared on YouTube yesterday, posted by researchers at Cambridge. They’ve managed to make a Chip and Pin card reader run a Tetris game


Now this is scary stuff, it seems that it is possible for these allegedly tamper proof card readers to have the program running on them replaced with something arbitrary. Which means that somebody could replace it with a program which looked exactly like the interface you normally get on such a reader but have it take the card details and PIN number and store it.

But, the people commenting on YouTube seem more concerned with slagging off the guy’s Tetris abilities. I give up.

A challenge October 26, 2006

Posted by Steve in General Wittering, Techie Stuff.

I am nerdier than 90% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Beat that! <g&gt;

Autopoilot update October 14, 2006

Posted by Steve in Driving, Techie Stuff.
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Just a quick post for anybody who’s been trying to use www.autopoilot.co.uk recently, seems that somebody did a bit of over-zealous tidying up on the server and broke the site. It’s back up and running – and with an added experimental UK postcode search feature.