Saturday, June 25, 2005

Reminder: Don't Ever Open Your PC

This is so I don't forget and break it.

I got fed up with arsing around behind my computer so I got a PCI card/front-panel combo firewire and USB2 thing for the iPod, Beck's shuffle, cameras etc. I managed to get it in, but I almost had to stretch the internal wires than connect the panel to the PCI card: as I got it clicked into place and my arm was pulling out, I had exactly half an inch of clearance.

This means I can't now open the box without first shoving my arm in, disconnecting the clips that hold the panel in, and removing the panel. Then I can open the box.

I might wait until Daisy is a bit older and get her to help me. I've no more reason to go in the box now, as it won't take more than 512MB of RAM (thanks a million, Dell, I won't be buying from you again @ £813.99 or any other price) and is thus rapidly becoming useless for any serious work, especially now I am using Virtual PC a lot (it's instructive to use Windows 98 and VFP6 for a change, a reminder of how much things have improved)

Edit: Not only does the front panel no longer work, all the Apple hardware in the house refuses to connect to the PC now they've realised there's a Mac they can connect to. Ho hum..


I was thinking about when Microsoft suddenly decided to "get with" the internet, and Internet Explorer was born, and I found a couple of things about ActiveX that I bet you didn't know and I'd forgotten: it was briefly available for Macintosh and Unix..
Anyway, the best ActiveX documents from Microsoft are archived: What Is ActiveX and Activating The Internet - this was their vision (Edited 20060116 :: these documents have reappeared in the MSDN archive now: there's also a crossplatform activex MSDN faq frozen in time and the wonderful Developing Exciting Content and Applications for the Internet and Intranets.)

Before ActiveX, Web content was static, 2-dimensional text and graphics. With ActiveX, Web sites come alive using multimedia effects, interactive objects, and sophisticated applications that create a user experience comparable to that of high-quality CD-ROM titles
CD-ROM titles?? What the fuck are they? Anyway, the intent is clear. They used to say things like
Active Web Content with Impact will attract and retain users.
(What a lot of Capital Letters!)
ActiveX technology activates the Web by populating pages with interactive objects, all based on a common standard and therefore able to work together
Quite ironic, really. You can see where they were going, but it was a bad choice for a mechanism of internet domination, and it's Impact (sorry, it's catching) has hurt a lot more users than it's helped. They found HTML too boring, and anyway, you don't need expensive developer products to create HTML and Microsoft are of course in the developer product business (though Foxpro developers aren't the best people to ask about that) and you don't want to use Visual Studio to write HTML (you really don't..).
Organizations that publish Web sites can use ActiveX technologies to create a customized experience for each visitor to their site. By capturing preferences from each Web visitor, companies can create individual profiles and tailor their content so that each user receives only the information of interest to him or her.
Also known as web sites spying on users and stealing their data. People were more naive back then I suppose.
Looking at these documents, you can see the future of the internet unfolding - an actual source of the phrase "[with ActiveX] you can begin to fully leverage the power of the Internet" is Deploying ActiveX Controls on the Web with the Internet Component Download, which might as well have been called "how to ruin the internet".

Edit: to be fair, as a developer, I use activex controls in apps when appropriate. When the requirements dictate a Windows Explorer interface, you don't want to write your own treeview and listviews (those are the folder list and the item lists) you use the activex controls: they're just another COM control, one with a UI. Rangor is "Mr Treeview" BTW! But in a browser, under the control of a website somewhere? No thanks.. except for my annual virus scan of course. (I use trendmicro, they do a .exe version if you're totally averse to ActiveX). I used to use Windows Update, but it rejects me now because I have the Automatic Updates and Background Transfer services disabled. Yes, I can't manually update because I don't automatically update. For me, the point to note here is that I tust the trendmicro program - the virus scan - to look at everything running on my machine, looks at every file and registry key, and have the option of deleting things it thinks I won't like. I want to give those capabilities to a virus scanner, but I definitely don't want to give those capabilities to "some website".

I remember when as tyro developers me and Rangor (and BB) used to get invited to these Microsoft events, they were coming out of the other side of the Windows 95 launch (an easy sell - who would want to stick with Windows 3) and then went straight into selling Bill's take on the internet, so I guess they were short on attendees. I invariably fell asleep (in full twitch mode) during BG's keynote, as he was leveraging the rich potential of the English language to talk vaguely exhortative boring bollocks. People like us didn't necessarily have access to the internet then: PCs were expensive, internet access was by no means free then either. The first computer I bought cost £200: I got from a friend of RobH's, who was a landlady who had been renting a room to a junkie, who of course ripped her off. She got him back, and part of the settlement was the computer, a semi-jerry-built 66MHz that had been stolen from some company in the first place, as a poke about showed. Anyway, I wandered up the road and spent £87 on an OEM copy of Windows 95, got a Pace modulator/demodulator and an internet account with Demon for £10 a month. (I had to pay for my phone calls too, of course).

We didn't have internet access at work until much later, but we used to get a "pack" at the Microsoft events, and sometimes this included beta versions of upcoming software. One of these included a beta version of Internet Explorer 4, and on install it tuned out that the program included a replacement shell for Windows. Now this was quite a big deal, as the shell handles all user interaction with the PC: here was a whole desktop upgrade, which included the wonders of single-clicking an item to execute it instead of double-clicking. Take about doubling your productivity! Well, we liked it. A lot of people don't, and it has to be said the "lasso" paradigm has it's failings. Sometimes you just want to select an object, and a click executes it instead. I think they should have used a modifier key to allow click to select. So there we were, installing a browser to get an operating system upgrade when we didn't even have internet access (or any HTML documents) to use it on. Anyway! I am boring myself now.

Rangor will definitely want me to mention the time we went along to a Microsoft jolly and got a "Developer Preview" edition of IE4. It was a spiffy black colour, but it destroyed any PC it was installed on. As reinstalling was then still an incredibly tedious business of feeding floppy after floppy into the maw, we stopped after two or three attempts, rechristened it Internet Explorer Martian Edition, cut the CD in half and kept half each as a reminder of what bad code can do. Stuck to our monitors with glue.

I'll finish with one last choice snippet about ActiveX:
[It] can make browsing more enjoyable by providing toolbars, stock tickers, video, animated content, and more. These programs can, however, malfunction or give you content you don’t want. In some cases, these programs can be used to collect information from your computer in ways you might not approve of, possibly damage data on your computer, install software on your computer without your consent, or allow someone else to control your computer remotely.

Who is the mystery author determined to rubbish ActiveX? This is from the IE6 help file..

Friday, June 24, 2005

OK, I give up.

So, who can tell me these things about my iBook:

  1. Where is the delete key? Or, what modifier turns backspace into delete?

  2. Why don't the extras (pg up, home etc) on the arrow keys ever work? Or, what modifier makes them work, as it isn't the one that's the same shade of gray (fn)?

  3. Is "Apple" the same as "Command" or is this another Alt/Options type thing?

  4. I'm finding it hard to figure out what key combos I need for "select words" and "select lines". Is there an easy way of remembering?

  5. Why does F10 shrink my screen?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Uptown babies don't cry

Ten million children under the age of five die each year, the majority from preventable diseases and malnutrition.

Edit: I found it difficult to comprehend the number 'ten million': at first I though it must be wrong. It's 30,000 each day, more or less, or if you prefer roughly the population of London or two Scotlands. Now I imagine myself walking through a London populated entirely by dead children under five: every year, the city is totally refilled with dead children, who died because they are poor and we are rich.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

One generation ago # 2 - swearing

Back in the late sixties and early seventies when I was a kid, Bloody was the second worst swearword, and Fuck was the worst: Cunt was totally off the radar. God or Jesus Christ were blasphemous, along with the associated Hell and Damn. If you said "Bleedin' heck" - admittedly not likely in those more genteel pre-Minder days - you would get a clout, as bleeding means bloody, which is swearing and heck means hell, which is blasphemous and together it makes Bloody Hell which was about as strong as day-to-day swearing went. Everybody knew all the derivations of euphemisms in a way that seems meaningless now - Darn from damn, Gor Blimey from god blind me : perhaps these still hold more currency in the US, given The Simpsons as a measure: Bart's parents scold him for comparatively mild oathing. Not to mention the hysteria when Janet Jackson got her tit out. Imagine if it was her brother MJ!

Anyway, back then the only times I heard my parents swear was when they called other drivers or politicians "shits": it was quite a strong insult then, I suppose it is now if a little out of fashion. Obviously they did swear, everyone did (maybe some of the hyper-repressed of Surrey where I grew up didn't) but they kept it from their kids. A challenge I am facing now: I actually enjoy calling someone a "B" or saying "Oh Sugar". I find it very satisfying is when I am with Daisy and we alternate Oh, SUGAR (after I say it first :-). If you hear me after I lose at pool, though, I am an accomplished swearer: when I was child, my swearword teachers were Sven Hasselt, William S Burroughs, and Harold Robbins. My favourite kind of swearing involves using that most flexible of words, fuck, in as many different consecutive guises (you fucking fuck fucker type of thing)

When the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy (one of my personal favourite memories) they were part of a long honourable line of people prepared to challenge taboos by swearing in the media - Snoopy vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen [1966] celebrated "The Bloody Red Baron of Germany" ("Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more"), Supertramp with "Bloody Well Right" (from Crime Of The Century, Ken Tynan who was the first person to say "Fuck" on the television, Bob Geldof saying "give us yer fucking money" during Live Aid. Because it was a taboo, hearing (or even reading) swearing was huge fun for kids: when it left taboo-space and invaded civil society, that deep nervous taboo-breaking humour was eroded away until it disappeared.
I find the constant swearing on the television hugely annoying. Swearing is no longer serving it's purpose: the point of it was always emphasis. When it's got to the point where nothing else will do, you dig into your swear-bag and pull out the first fucker you find: what you are saying is "I don't care [if there's a taboo against swearing] or [YOU don't like it] because [I am PISSED OFF] [or shocked, or insert-emotion-here]". (Did you know Piss used to be swearing, as did Crap? Cock and Dick were, even Bum was borderline)

Now take taking-the-lords-name-in-vain - there's nothing like it to express extreme surprise. From Jesus Christ Almighty! (as they used to say) to Christ On A Rubber Crutch! (as I have been known to say) there's no equivalent for instant surprise in English. Fuck Me! tries but doesn't quite cut it, it always suggests a more reflective reaction ("Well, fuck me") rather than the instinctive CHRIST!

Being an atheist is a bit of a hindrance here. I'd like to have a way of expressing shocked surprise that doesn't involve invoking or offending a God I don't believe in. But now I'm not sure I am an atheist ever since I found out you can be a Buddhist and not believe in god. Unfortunately I make a very poor Buddhist as I am not even a vegetarian, although I do try to step over ants (I hate ants) and not kill bugs generally.

When you swear constantly, the effectiveness is lost: it's not funny any more, because there is no taboo being rattled, it's not shocking, and there's no element of emphasis as it's every-other-bloody-word. It's a load of B!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

mickle mackle

I had to switch the scrollbar arrows to appear at the top and bottom of the scrollbar rather than at the bottom

Edit: I have switched them back.

I like the way Finder smiles at me: I miss the smile when I use Windows.

Hey! There's an apple key on the right-hand side of the space bar! I just doubled my productivity.

What's the frying-pan key called?


Listening to The Birthday Party Live 1981/82 on the way home tonight reminded me that I finally saw Nick Cave - who currently resides in Hove, actually - sitting outside one of the beach huts on the seafront with friends or family a month or so ago. I pointed Daisy towards him so I had a pretext for looking that way for a minute, but he saw through my not-so-transparent subterfuge, I think.

Friday, June 03, 2005


A year ago, I listened to CDs using Windows Media Player: I bought a MP3 encoder from Cyberlink systems to rip them, in a bundle with a DVD player that mostly didn't work. Never buy software! Software should be free! (I reserve the right to change my mind later.)

Then Microsoft released Windows Media Player 10, with integrated online stores. Every time I started the program, it connected to Napster and Court TV: nothing I did stopped it from connecting on startup. WMP is actually a great tool for organising music - the way you can drag and drop genres onto other genres (when you disagree with an album's bizarre classification) and also drag and drop artists onto artists (when they can't agree on a spelling) - but it's rubbish for listening to music through. Rangor swears by musicsnatch pukebox, but it has to be free software for me.

So I downloaded iTunes. Rangor pointed me towards it, and when work blocked access to iTunes downloads he found I could get it from - Steve Jobs should buy him a pint of Guinness: for my birthday that year I got an iPod from Becky. For her birthday this year, she got an iPod shuffle from me. This is typed on my 'new' iBook G3 (500Mhz 12") which I just got from eBay.. 384MB of memory and an airport card installed, which means I don't have to buy anything extra and I am well chuffed. It's well worth waiting a week or month on eBay for a bargain to come your way: the secret on this one I think was that it ended at 10.45 on a Friday night.

I last had an Apple computer in the house in 1979 or so: would have been a II. It didn't really work out for me then - a lack of games, probably - but I am liking it now, liking it a lot. I always liked BSD, too. Sometimes the Apple-S in the menu throws me baqck to that summer like Proust's madeleines.

Survival tips for 4x4 owners

How not to kill yourself with a 4x4. The rest of us just jump out the way..