Friday, 30 November 2007

Fun with computers

My work PC got a new hard drive three weeks ago, because the original drive was making funny noises. After two weeks the replacement drive suddenly started reporting bad sectors and corrupted files, and wouldn't load my Windows user profile. That meant that all my desktop shortcuts, and other goodies that speed up my work, had to be located and run manually.

Back to the workshop it went, while I spent several days using my Intel iMac - it was fine, but again I did not have my shortcuts so everything was done from basic principles. There's the Mac, where my PC used to sit, with the PC twin screens pushed into the corner.

The PC reappeared at lunchtime yesterday, and I took Jess's advice about profiles (every so often, start with a clean one). I saved the old profile off the server so I had a copy of my bookmarks and other vital stuff, deleted the server copy, then logged in and started the long slow process of reinstalling all my utility applications and setting up shortcuts. I rely heavily on Keytext, a keyboard macro program (remember Sidekick?) to burp out chunks of text at a keystroke, I use two text editors (NoteTab and Notepad++) for different jobs, the wonderful 2xExplorer for file management, Faststone Image Viewer for managing pictures, plus applications like Dreamweaver, Photoshop, MindManager, and so on. I should have most of them set up today.

The first program I set up was Firefox, followed by my Palm calendar-sync software, as entering appointments into Outlook and the Palm separately was really annoying. At the first synchronisation, the Palm announced that it had been synced with another computer, and there might be duplication. The only choice was to carry on, and guess what? Double appointments, dozens of them! Aren't these wonderful labour-saving devices?

Then the final irony; I was informed on Friday afternoon that I'll be getting a new PC next week! I am due for a replacement next April, but as we have surplus capital funds this year, we are doing some of next year's purchasing. So I'll just nicely get this one set up, then start all over again with the new machine. I plan to purchase my present machine and one LCD screen, and replace the home PC in a "trickle down" process. I may keep the old home PC as a Linux server, or maybe donate it to Alice.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Progress report and a golden oldie

A combination of Voltaren and resting with a lumbar roll under the small of my back has started to work. I slept with a roll under my back too, so I've had 6-8 hours of gentle backward flexion, and the pain is diminished somewhat, though far from the low level it was at last week.

A group of us are going to go to see Joe Cocker perform at a winery in Waipara, in late January. It's $120 each for the ticket and the bus trip, but should be worth it. I saw Joe a few years ago, and he's better than ever now he's off the booze.

Which reminds me of a great clip I spotted on YouTube; it's an old Saturday Night Live episode, probably from the late 70s or early 80s. It has a considerably younger Cocker with John Belushi, who could do a horribly accurate Joe Cocker impersonation. Two Joe Cockers, what a treat!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Back again

After my "cycling is wonderful" outburst on Thursday, I woke on Saturday with pain in my leg again. Oh no! I think that the bent-forward posture of cycling has re-inflamed the disk, and the pain steadily built during Saturday. Now it's Sunday morning and I'm having quite strong leg pain, as I did three weeks ago. Exercises help a bit, so I hope this is temporary.

By coincidence, Heather mentioned that on Friday Kathryn Ryan of Radio NZ National interviewed Robin McKenzie, a New Zealand physiotherapist who developed the McKenzie Method of curing lower back pain in the 1960s. I found the interview on the list of podcasts (14MB MP3, opens in new window) and listened carefully. What he described is exactly what Lindsay Jago, the physiotherapist I've been seeing, has been working on with me. Now I'm going to get McKenzie's book, "Treat Your Own Back" and supplement Lindsay's efforts with the advice in that. And no biking for a while, sad to say.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Bikes again

At the risk of becoming a bore on the subject, it has been fantastic riding to work the last three days. The weather is sunny and warm, and I think I've worked out the best route through town to avoid heavy traffic.

Coming from home (1.5km from the upper right) I ride one block on Bealey Avenue, then drop down to meet the Avon River, and follow it past the Fire Station along Oxford Terrace. Across Colombo St to Victoria Square, along Armagh St to Hagley Park, then through Deans Bush to the University. Armagh St is quieter than other streets; it is broken by tram tracks and other complications, so motorists avoid it. I used to bike along Kilmore St (pun intended), but motorists were always racing in front then cutting me off, just to get to a corner 1 sec ahead of me. That was scary, but this route is quiet and pleasant - and only a block away from the Me-First bastards of Kilmore St!

The afternoon easterly is a bit of a nuisance on the trip home, but pumping into it must be good for fitness. Eventually...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

When is a name not a name?

Take a look at this for a stupid piece of search engine programming. I was looking for a new CD by country/jazz violinist Elana James (ex Hot Club of Cowtown), so I typed in her name in lower case, and up came the item. But I was wrong, apparenty - the search then asked me if I had really meant the version with capitals. Can anyone tell me when this distinction would be remotely useful? I blame sloppy programming for a piece of code that says "If they don't match, show the name in the database" - but the database had already happily served up the item, so obviously it didn't care about upper/lower case. All this does is tell the users that your site is a bit flaky - not good for an e-commerce site.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Work and bikes

I gave myself a rest day on Monday and took the car to work. I actually felt a bit dozy all day, exercise is a bit of a novelty at present. But today I biked - and it was great. The rest of the week looks perfect too, so I could be getting back to normal by next week or so.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Hello sailors

We had such a good time sailing yesterday that we went again today - so we are three tired but happy little sailor lads tonight. We set off about 12 and sailed up the harbour, a little past Parson's Rock, where we had some lunch and watched the keeler fleet coming back under spinnakers. There were 17 that I counted, it made a pretty impressive sight.

We flew our spinnaker most of the way back down to Quail Island, and even gybed it once, though we got in a bit of a mess bringing it back in from the starboard side after launching it to port. Then we went to Cass Bay and checked out a H28 keeler that is for sale.

On the way back upwind, we got a phone call from Chris Hutching, who was at Diamond Harbour in his small keeler, Henry Salad. (Don't ask...) We sailed up and met him there, then rafted up for a beer and a chat for half an hour or so. It was an awkward sail back to the club under jib and motor; the sea was on our starboard quarter and we rolled quite a lot as the swells passed under us.

There are a few little jobs to do before our next sail, to tidy up spinnaker sheet blocks and such, but we are very happy with our day. And we'll sleep really well tonight.

The other news of the weekend - my MP is a blushing bride. That's Tim Barnett on the right, and Ramon Maniapoto, celebrating their civil union yesterday.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Sailing - really!

We're definitely going sailing today, but Stu has to work so there will just me Mark and me. Here's the morning's weather; the wind is varying from 10 to 14 knots, and the direction seems to go a bit northerly in the puffs. We'll try to be on port tack for the stronger periods so we get lifted on the way to the windward mark.

LATER - It was terrific, we're going sailing again tomorrow just to re-create the experience. Stu is a happy chappy.

Friday, 16 November 2007

A Spencerville circuit

Nicky Sarson and Heather have been going for Friday bike rides. Today I joined them, to test out my body now that my leg nerve seems to be under control. It was a good ride, up through Mairehau and Marshlands then across to Spencerville on the scary Lower Styx Road. It seems that every second guy out there owns a big Holden or Falcon, and they buzzed us as close as they could, just to show us how macho they are.

Down by the Spencerville Beach starts a track which runs back down the sand dunes and in and out of the edge of Bottle Lake Forest, which is great fun on a mountain bike. Once we arrived at North Beach we carried on to New Brighton for a late lunch, then home with a tail wind, on the tracks beside the Avon. It was just on 30km, not a bad effort. (More photos at my Flickr site.)

I'm glad to report that apart from a few muscles that haven't been used much since July, the body is not complaining. (So far.) I think I'll start biking to work again this week.

Great stuff!

A spectacular performance from Phill Jones of the NZ Breakers, as they beat the Wollongong Hawks 121-100 last night. Quoting from the report on Stuff, Jones's "...32 point-plus haul included an outrageous three pointer from deep in his own half at the three-quarter time buzzer..." In fact, he shot the goal from inside his own team's 3-point line! That's like Dan Carter kicking a drop goal from inside his own 22 metre line.

Another goood thing - an article in the latest Spectator about the increasing closeness in style between London and New York. The writer suggests they are forming a new entity, NY-Lon. "Let’s call them Nylon City East and Nylon City West."

It's worth reading, just for the story of the all night campout vigil to get their little geniuses a place in the right nursery school. "Rubbing their eyes and checking their BlackBerrys, fathers were emerging from the tents. Within minutes the courtyard was buzzing with the sounds of bankers on conference calls to Tokyo. It sounded utterly surreal."

And back to Loony Zealand; Hone Kaa and the makutu-lifting have come to the notice of Richard Dawkins. International fame - for dippy "cultural sensitivity"! If we want international fame for something, I'd prefer Phill Jones's 3-pointer.

The US TV Writers' Strike is in its second week. They are doing a far more effective job with YouTube videos than the Viacom execs can manage without writers. Like this clip from some of the Daily Show writers. (Sorry about the clunky format, I saw the link on This Modern World and had to extract the embed URL from the source code.)

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Be afraid...

The guy on the right is protesting at Parliament, on the grounds that police scared his kids by carrying weapons and wearing masks. A sense of irony is not recommended under such circumstances, unless you want to get your head kicked in.

The Police, however, say they had evidence of serious nuttery in the hills behind Ruatoki. Now that charges are not going to be brought using this evidence, we'll probably never really know. Besides, jailing people for this kind of thing just makes martyrs out of them.

It's a short week, with Show Day on Friday. Nice.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

What's up?

A wonderfully silly season for news is upon as at present. Try these items, for example;
There, that's enough fun for one day. Funny old world, isn't it?

Monday, 12 November 2007

Dirty tricks in IT Land

I'm a regular reader of I, Cringely - the blog/website of IT industry commentator Robert X Cringely. In a recent post, "The Next Microsoft", he details what he thinks is wrong with Google's strategy of world domination, including an algorithm change that has made many AdSense customers' revenue dry up.

"So Google says it will do the right thing and maybe even intends to do the right thing, but failures in its IT systems effectively keep it from doing the right thing, which brings us back to Microsoft, which has long been the poster child for inability to follow through because of IT failings."

He even says "monopoly" - has the shine gone off the GoogleBubble? Their current bids for market domination include a mobile phone OS, IMAP support for Gmail, Google Apps almost good enough for serious work computing, and now a "standard" for data interchange between personal networking sites like MySpace and Friendster. (Facebook hasn't joined.) Standard? Google's standard, that is - and they reserve the right to change it when they like. Sounds like market domination to me...

Don't get me wrong, I love Google's stuff. I'm an early Gmail adopter, I spend hours (all my life, actually, in a non-virtual sense) on Google Earth, and so on. And I like the company motto, "Don't Be Evil". But I also like having options.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

On the go

No sailing today, but it wasn't because of the weather, which was perfect, as the day's chart shows. A steady easterly built from 10 knots to 15 during the afternoon, but I couldn't find a crew. However, I compensated by hiring a trailer and taking away a big pile of foliage Heather had hacked out in the last month, plus some domestic junk. The refuse tip has an IT system that photographs your car registration, does some swift OCR, and assigns your ID through the weight station. As you return from dumping the garbage, another camera recognises you, up comes your record, and you're weighed the second time, then charged by the type of rubbish you brought in. It cost $7.20 for 100kgs of mixed garden and domestic junk - rubbish is quite valuable, 72c/kg!

I returned the hire trailer and went to do the weekly grocery shopping, then home for an early lunch. After lunch I thought about taking my MTB out to the new McLeans Island circuit, but decided to take it conservatively and just took my road bike to the city library and back. That went fine, so I may be OK to bike to work soon. Now I'm cooking dinner while Heather does the ironing. It's a full life...

And now for something completely different. The excellent Lyttelton weather station is on-line courtesy of the Lyttelton Port Company, who put this message at the bottom of each web page:
"© Lyttelton Port Company Limited 2005. Your use of this website is governed by our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy"

The Terms of Use page has much arse-covering legalese, including this:
"Right to Use Site and Content
You may access, view, reproduce and print the content on this Website provided you only use that content for informational, non-commercial purposes and any reproduction includes a prominent acknowledgement of our rights in the relevant content. If you wish to link to any part of this Website, you must obtain our prior written consent."

Hmm... Nope, wrong. It's the web, get it? Things link to each other, and if you want to join the game, you agree to its rules, including linking without permission. For example, Web Pages That Suck could use my site as an example, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I agree about acknowledgements, of course, but you can't stop people linking to your site - or lawyers assuming rights they don't actually possess. I had a chat with a law lecturer who specialises in internet and communications law, and he agreed with my take on this, so I think I'm on confident ground.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The nearly-sailing day

We had all our ducks in a row - the three of us were healthy and on time, the boat is all sorted, the weather forecast said 10 knot easterlies - but it was actually calm and drizzling. We packed lunch, put the outboard in the back of the car, and drove to Lyttelton, where we walked around for an hour and decided that drifting in the drizzle wasn't our thing - so we came home at 1pm. And of course by 4pm it was fine...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

A (small) mystery

I was GoogleEarthing around tonight and took a look at Christchurch Airport. I don't know when the shot was taken, apart from "summer morning", but what's that jet at the US Antarctic base? It wasn't going to the ice, that's for sure.

On an oblique view, it's obviously a bit longer than the wingspan of a Hercules, twin engined, painted grey and white. Very discreet, and invisible against high cloud. Somebody important was visiting.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Happy drugs

Well, one drug - Voltaren, "Vitamin V". The swelling has decreased remarkably since yesterday, after 3 75mg Voltarens. It's a wonder drug! The problem hasn't gone away, but at least I can conduct a normal day without freaking out. I had an x-ray today and will check with the doctor tomorrow and see what is to happen with the MRI scan.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Basics of backs

I got some definite information after seeing the doctor today about my back/leg/nerve problem. I go for X-Rays and MRI in the next few days, but basically my S1 disk is swollen as a result of the bike crash, and it's pressing on the S1 nerve which comes out of the top right hole in this drawing on the left - showing the sacral area, drawn from the tummy side. The swelling and pressure causes the pain over the buttock and down the left leg.

The disk in question is #15, between the green and blue in the side-on spine diagram at right.

Once the scans etc are done I'll see the orthopaedic surgeon and if Voltaren and rest haven't settled the swelling down in a few weeks they might do keyhole surgery and nick off the swollen bit.

My sailing crew are getting mutinous about having had no fun yet, so I need to get mobile soon, for all our sakes.

We had a fascinating seminar this afternoon on digital copyright, from a technology-law lecturer and the University Librarian, who is also the University's Copyright Officer. The answer to all digital copyright questions, even after several years of the Digital Copyright Amendment going through Parliament's committees, is "it depends". Still, it was interesting, and has great implications for online learning.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Back to the small picture

Sadly, my big dual-monitor screen layout had to go. I mentioned the problem with dialogue boxes being centred and split between screens, but then Faststone, my favourite graphics file viewer, insisted on doing the same. Seeing photos and other graphics split over two screens was horrible; it was definitely something I couldn't live with, so I'm back to two screens with the same background, and the Windows taskbar on the left (primary) screen.

Still, I do like the way two screens let you work. Both Jess and I work with Outlook permanently open on the left, and Firefox to do our web stuff on the right. Other applications (web and text editors, graphics programs, spreadsheet, remote server connections) are popped up and shrunk as required. If I need to open another web browser, to do a student log-in to Blackboard, I use Safari on my iMac.

There is still a Big Picture of another sort available, though. Rod McKay has expanded his Dalmore blog to include a sister-blog with news links.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Weekend diary

With my leg still giving trouble, I reluctantly cancelled sailing on Saturday. It was a shame, because it was a perfect day, but it's best not to overdo things at this stage.

We went to an open home for a very nice two bedroom townhouse in Stapletons Rd, but it was too small for our needs. The situation was perfect, though, and it has been redecorated very well, with new carpets and paint.

Today we went to the new (and hideous) Mitre 10 megastore at Ferrymead, where we bought some tomato and vege plants, and a new 9kg gas cylinder for the barbecue - the old one ran out of gas while cooking last night, so the food was rushed into the kitchen. The cylinder was past its certification date, and with a new one only $42, compared to $30 or so to have the old one re-certified, it was a no-brainer to buy a new cylinder. Now what do I do with the old one?

Speaking of cooking, tonight's stir-fry veges looked so colourful that I just had to take a photo. With marinated beef strips and noodles, it was very yummy, too.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Seeing the big picture

I've been tinkering with my dual monitor setup at work, and found that a section of a panorama taken at Treble Cone works beautifully as a wide screen desktop background. I used to have two monitors showing the same single picture; a rather abstract sky & clouds. That was a bit bland though, so I tinkered with the display settings and chose the single-picture option. The disadvantage of spreading the single screen across both monitors is that a lot of program dialogue boxes pop up in the dead centre, with half on each screen, but that's a minor problem.

Yes, that's a rear-view mirror stuck to the lower left, so I can see people sneaking up behind me...
This is the full panorama.

This is the selection, sized to fit the two monitors.