Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bored driver-geek, Fuzzy Focus

Must be getting sensible in my dotage ...

Spotted one of those adverts that Toyota are doing about their optimal drive thing, which got my Inner Engineer Geek (think Inner Child but with more expensive toys) curious. Wasn't too bothered by the Optimal Drive thing, which doesn't actually seem too different to what we've seen before powering cars. Bit more efficient, bit cleaner but nothing actually new.

I then spent over an hour peeking through all the info on their new Prius. Which really did get that Inner Geek Engineer going ...

I seem to cycle with my cars, one that's sporty, one that's soft n fluffy :

1st one doesn't count, it was a Fiesta 950cc which was only really good for knowing the basics of cars. Especially cars that are reluctant to go but when they do fire up, they're good for a new driver cos they're not fast enough to really let get you into trouble.

Next car was the Buggy :-) A Mk1 Astra 1.6. Enough power to keep an 18 year old interested but still old n feeble enough to hit the Fluffy tag. Cars of that age (made 1982, had it from 93 to 97) tend to need to stay in the cotton wool cos things might drop off. Like front bodywork under the bumper that was so rusty you could call it an ill-kempt scabrous beard.

Oh - it was fun to find out that the Buggy had a fitting end - it died in a Pillar Of Flame :-) And nearly took someone's house with it too ... It was the bloke we'd sold it to, doing a bit of welding on it. He'd left the windows open and a welding spark flew in and onto the seats ... WHOOOMMFFF ! Byebye car. No one hurt in the incident but I get the feeling Mr Welder got a few slapsies :-)

Third car was a Belmont SRi, which I took over from my mum cos it was pulling her arms out of their sockets. My arms weren't much better either cos I'd dislocated my shoulder the year before but it was an excellent car to take me through my first year of work. 1.8 litre, 130bhp, 43mpg (just got made before catalytic convertors wrecked fuel economy) and sporty suspension worked very well for me doing over 20,000 miles a year.

Back to Fluffy ... And on to a Rover 420 GSi Executive Limited Edition. Niiiice. Especially when left out with the seats in the full glare of the sun. This car taught me that Leather Seats = Scorched Arse. Lol :-) Honestly, not a bad car but terrible reliability. The mechanical failures went on and on and it did a few showstoppers on me.

Zoomzoomzoom - Puma :-) Probably my most favourite car so far, although the Astra will always keep the sentimental Buggy crown. 130bhp again and in a very effective package. When sitting behind the wheel, you feel connected to what the car's doing in a rather special way. It drove like a Road Legal Go Kart, you could predict exactly what it would do and what mad stuff it would let you get away with. It also felt like it would be cheering you on to the next Crazy Stunt (usually with a white knuckled passenger too). And on top of the sportiness, it was highly effective as a day to day workhorse too. Did 60,000+ miles in that car :-)

But - I think it's given me a few unfortunate expectations from my latest car, which is another Sporty job in the form of a Focus ST170. You'd have thought that 170bhp, traction control, 6 gears, electronic stability gubbins and other assorted toys would hold the interest but honestly ... yawn. It's not as connected as the Puma, feeling as if the driver is a lot more insulated from what's going on. The electric squirbly widgets get in the way of the driver thinking they're the one keeping the car straight.

The Prius sounds rather interesting though. It would have nowhere near the potential performance levels of the Focus with a 0 to 60 of 10.4 secs compared to about 7 for the Focus but the motors give a handy bit of Surge power. There's a 100bhp engine in there that is supplemented by 82hp of electric motor, which is actually more power than the Focus ... Interesting ...

So - lots of toys under the bonnet to give the Inner Geek Engineer something to play with (my drive to work would fit right in with the Hybrid Stuff) and toys in the car to satisfy the Cushy aspect. They're a bit expensive at £18k, so I'd need to wait a couple of years before going for one. I'll be waiting a few years anyway cos the 3 year loan for my Focus has 2x years to run. And I'll probably change my mind again before then too :-)

Last thought - bit disappointing to see that Toyota aren't saying anything about the MR2 on their site any more :-( The world needs Bad Boy cars which emphasise Fun in driving and convertibles like the MR2 are only good for one thing - driving quick with the top down.
... looks outside - sees dark dismal and rain - thinks "DOH!" ...
Need bigga house, garage and Kit Car :-)

Hmm - thinking Prius, greenie stuff, thoughts of trying for 100mpg. I better do something stooopid before people think I'm getting sensible in my old age :-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thoughts of ... YARR Me Hearties !

Having a few dangerous thoughts at the moment ...

When it comes to buying a car, it's an unfamiliar piece of machinery, different from everything else you've driven. So you get a test drive and give it a good try out before you part with any cash. How come that doesn't seem to be possible with certain computers ?

There's 3 major domestic computer operating systems out there at the moment : Windows, Linux and Apple's MacOS. Windows and Linux are what almost all PCs will use, with Apple's MacOS being for proprietary (but now mostly Intel based) Mac hardware. Windows is a well known quantity, Linux can be tried out for free under the Gnu Public Licence (it's the package distributions that cost you money). Apple's MacOS is something you'll only be able to properly evaluate if you actually own a Mac.

The trouble is though, that the proprietary Mac hardware costs double (literally) what it would to acquire a well specced PC. Let's take a look at that :

Macbook - basic one would cost me £750. And that's for something with just a 13.3inch screen (size does matter). Everyone who knows Macs says they're wonderful, however one thing I do know is that they barely have any games available for them (which in a laptop for me might not be such a big issue)

Windows laptop - this one cost me £369, has a 17" screen and I can play games on it. Not that I do play many games on my laptop but it's nice to have the option :-). However, a 17" MacBook Pro would cost me £1,849 minimum. I could buy 5 of my laptop for the same price.

So you're paying a huge amount of money for something that involves a Leap Of Faith.

Hang on - where does that "YARR Me Hearties !" come in to all of this ? Well, there is a way you can test drive what it's like to run the Mac Operating System. It's called doing a Hackintosh and it begins a few years ago, when Apple made the Big Decision to move away from the Motorola 680x0 series and IBM's PowerPC and towards the Intel processors that everybody else uses. So what's inside a Mac is now very close to what's in a Windows PC.

Yuk - geektalk creepin' in there and this is the wrong one of my blogs for that. :-)

Right - this Hackintosh thing involves downloading a tweaked copy of the Macintosh system and then installing it on to standard PC hardware. The tweaks allow it to run with subtly different hardware to the expected Apple stuff. I've read a few things on how it works and I reckon I could do it. However, there are a few barriers :

It would mean downloading a piece of copyrighted software. Which is illegal ... And highly risky as well as all the muppets who believe you have a right to download stuff "Cos It's There" have meant that traffic monitoring is coming in much more.

It breaks the Apple licence agreement - "this software must only be installed on Apple hardware".

The IP address gets tagged as one using peer to peer filesharing software. This is the biggie ... There's a performance hit from other P2P pirates trying to get stuff from your machine, even after you stop the software. That's cos the other P2P people know you're out there, they go asking your machine for stuff and your machine has to deal with that. Performance hit.
(I do have a wayz n meanz to stop this happening but I'm not too interested in implementing it)

So the dangerous "let's have a test drive" thoughts come up against the legality behind the issue and the high likelihood that you'll leave tracks while effectively stealing your software.

On the one hand, you have the supposedly wonderful computer that costs 5x what the competition costs. On the other you have the Rational Mind saying "is it worth it ?" And one thing to answer the "is it worth it?" question would be a test drive. And I'm not talking about poking the machine in the shop and cooing at the pretty lights and the awfully nice screensaver (that I'd disable), I mean :

Sitting on the sofa in front of the telly with laptop on lap while :
Drafting up a blog post
Seeing the emails coming in
Keeping an eye on Facebook
Nattering over Windows Live Messenger
Listening to the music play over the network in iTunes
And maybe a few more things too

That's what I mean by a test drive. It's not something that's going to happen over 10 minutes in the shop, it needs the software running on a machine over a weekend. Bit like some of the deals car people were offering, where you could have a 24 or 48 hour test drive - see what it's like doing the shopping, going into car parks, fitting in the garage, behaviour in traffic. Things like that.

A Hackintosh conversion would allow you to do that test drive, albeit with a little less of the stability you'd expect from a bought machine. I'm keeping the dangerous thoughts at bay at the moment, I'll resist the temptation of downloading the Hackintosh conversion software. I like my internet connection and cable tv (same pipe), I don't want to lose it by getting caught downloading and installing illegal software ...

So how about it Apple ?

Possible customer here, wants a test drive. Won't buy your hardware until I know precisely how it may or may not meet my needs. Doesn't have to be a permanent thing, a 30 day trial would be fine.

I'm sure there's plenty more potential Mac owners out there who are wary about the Big MacOS Change who don't want to risk the extra money.

PS Linux isn't really being an option. I'd like to move away from Windows (too many quirky bugs) but I've seen Linux before. Even though it's effectively free, my Inner Geek is just going "Meh".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back to work - do I have to ?

Muahaha - there's always a bit of wistful thinking on the last day of a period of annual leave :-)

I enjoy what I work on and enjoy working with the people on the team but I definitely end up feeling the need for a bit of time away every once in a while. And while I am away, I'm normally telling myself off at least twice for thinking werk when I should be chilling out. I'm back tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it for a few good reasons :-)

I get to see Miss KT again and raid the canteen for Muffins and Teacakes
(I've been teacake-free for over a week now, plus I've not done any muffin-hunting)
I'll be catching up with the Snow Queen, Wild Thing, The Boss and Lady Sunshine
(I work with some great people but those 4 I enjoy talking to most)
Seeing how The Rose has been getting on
(I got a smile from the subterfuge with the nametag but apart from that, she hasn't been in much)
And I get to catch up with what's been happening over the last week
(part recreation, part serious as I compile in my head patterns of what's been happening with the kit)

So - back to work tomorrow, what have I been up to while being away ?

Shoulder and back seem less sore, these are stress related long term injuries anyway. As I get stressed, my muscles tense up which tends to kick off the back and shoulder issues. But I've had good movement in the shoulder, which is always a promising sign. I've also been keeping the RSI away through regular gaming :-) Seems a contradiction that doesn't it ? Gaming = less RSI. Seems to be working true though, if I stay away from the games, my right wrist starts to hurt. If I have a few evening sessions on a "twitch" game, my right wrist settles down.

It just goes to show - if you're troubled by a long term chronic injury or pain, then examine all possible causes to see what bearing they have on the effect. With me, my muscles like to get used or they start to complain, hence the unhappy back from not enough exercise in that area contrasting with the RSI getting better from me using the wrist to play those "twitch" computer games.

Hey - enough of pain. I try not to think too much about pain, as it gets in the way of my main "Feel Good Motivation". That one came to me a few years ago when I was desperately trying to catch up to a very pretty pair of ladies in the car park. I had a choice - I could either mope, let the pain control me, not catch up to the pretty ladies and feel "ARRG", or I could say "is it really that bad ?", block the pain and give them a big grin as I caught up. So I now try to show as little outward sign as possible of the inner pain issues.

It's all about knowing how best to motivate oneself and some days I find it easier than others. Like I'll be looking forward to getting in tomorrow morning because I'll rather quickly go hunting for a teacake ;-)

What else ? Kinda failed in one objective, which was to replace the flush lever on the loo. However, the old one is now kinda working as intended in that it returns to its start position after a flush. It's getting pretty old, so the bits that are supposed to rotate are kinda welded to each other, which is why I've not been able to replace it. The Lifter-Bit is welded to the Rotatey-Bit, so I can't switch it for the new Lever-Bit.

Tried Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) on the urgings of a mate ... and then promptly reactivated the WoW subscription. DDO isn't such a bad game, I particularly liked the progressive quests and instancing. It falls down though in the D&D part - D&D is an excellent table top game where the pace is much slower but it can be very tough to translate that system to a computer game. WoW is just a faster, simpler, better game all round.

Bit of a shame that me heading back into WoW means I'm much less active in Eve. They're both excellent Massive Multiplayer Online games and I play both of them because they're different. WoW is a "twitch" game, Eve has a much slower pace. My interest in games tends to switch between fast pace and slow pace and I think I'm needing the faster pace at the moment.

Cricket !

It's Ashes time again, hence me seeing this week as a good one to take off :-) We had an extremely tense and exciting finish to the first Test, with National Hero Monty Panesar holding off the Aussies at the close at the other end to James Anderson. England did well to draw that game but it's looking very promising that they'll take a 1-0 lead in the series at Lords.

I have been out of the house ... honest :-)

Tuesday had me heading into the centre of Bristol to see what I could see at Cabot Circus. Not sure what it is with me and shopping at the moment, the only money I spent was lunch plus car park. I must own all the dvds and cds that I'm interested in having at the moment, although with the demise of Zavvi, HMV have put their prices up to the point where I'm not interested in the impulse buying. Or maybe it was the atmospheric conditions in the competing shop - if a shop is hot and humid, that kind of atmosphere has me walking out quickly.

I did make one other rather rapid exit from a shop on Tuesday ... I spotted someone pretty bearing down on me with what appeared to be a rather determined expression and legged it. Ok, ok, it was the Apple store, she had the long, dark hair that I'm a sucker for and I felt in danger of spending a lot of money on something I really don't need :-) I think I'll be looking into trying to turn my desktop PC into a Hackintosh to allow me to check out Apple before committing to it on my next laptop.

"YEESSSSSS!!!!" goes the cry as England take another Aussie wicket. 5 down now as Swann sends one through the gate left by Marcus North. Looking forward to England winning this one today, so I'd better get back to watching the game :-)

PS It was also good to get out of the house on Thursday to watch Ice Age 3. Not the best film but enjoyable. And it was another Crazie Movie Outing and the company on those is always great :-) We're a good bunch of intelligent oddballs and I always get on well with intelligent people.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ch ch ch changes ...

Been tinkering with the blog layout a bit ...

The most significant change is that the olde HTML based layout has been retired and replaced with one of Blogger's newer XML based layout.

Huh ? What dat mean ?

Kicking the geekspeak capitals to one side, it'll hopefully mean the blog's compatible with RSS readers and other things that can interrogate a site's content without actually visiting it. There's a few kinks in there too that I'll try and iron out while falling asleep in front of the cricket :-)

We shall see how it ends up.

Watching the cricket at the moment, England are doing rather better than their "Get-Out-Of-Jail" performance last weekend :-) Long may it continue. I've been at a bit of a loose end with my gaming, where the old ones I have don't really seem to keep my interest going. Tried out Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) Stormreach yesterday and while it's not bad, it's a bit of a pale imitation of Warcraft. World of Warcraft does it better, prettier, easier, simpler. D&D is a great game for tabletop gaming with friends but it's a little too complicated for what I'm looking for in a twitch game.

Been a bit bored with Eve lately too - decent game, good people but interest wandering away again. Massive Multiplayer Online games tend to depend on a Play-Reward system, where a player will see a reward shortly after a period of play. With Eve, the Play-Reward happens on a much longer timescale and in a rather different pattern. Character improvement is tied to the ship you fly and the guns you can fit and when you get past a certain point it can literally take months for the character to learn different ships and guns. Plus, with my pattern of play I don't tend to change ships much so I've not had the "Hey - that looks cool" thing of a shiny new spaceship lately.

So I have that state of wanting to get deep into a game, without knowing which game to dive into.

Oh - back to the blog, I've enabled anonymous comments for all those people who I mention this blog to but don't have accounts somewhere that would let them leave comments. Will see how long that lasts :-) If there's spam I'll kick it back to what it was.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Which Dragon ?

One of my quirks is that I like cute things :-)

Hence the Pocket Dragon avatar. They're instantly recognisable, fairly unique (not spotted anyone else using one for an avatar :-), lots of variation and there's almost always a joke with them.

I'm likely to be changing my avatars quite a bit, just wondering which is the best choice :-) I have a few available to me at the moment :

Pizza Dwagon is the latest one. Not a great picture at the moment, my sister still has this one so I'll get a better pic when I can point my camera at it.

Feed Me and Zoom Zoom - on a telly that I thought I'd dusted before taking the picture. Flashes uncover all sorts of sins ;-)

System Crash - which points to one reason why I'm considering a Macbook ... think I've got a little tired of all the quirks that crop up with Windows PCs.

Ahh - the old favourite, Zombie Dwagon :-)

I also have an I Smell Chocolate (Pocket Dwagon with nose in the air having caught the Chocolate Scent) and my sister's MSN avatar is now a Stalking the Coffee Jar :

So I'm likely to be changing avatars a fair bit for a while :-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bit of away time :-)

Not going too far ... I have the next week off work and I intend to spend as much of it as possible asleep on the sofa in front of the cricket :-)

Or Torchwood. I'm watching the first of series 3 off iPlayer while I wait for dinner to burn.

Been getting more and more tired lately and I've really been needing this time away. I tend to drive myself on until I burn myself out and then I keep on going. The burnout's been manifesting itself this time by me having trouble thinking through things. Hoping to get a chance for my back to heal itself up a bit too :-)

Yesterday was a good day.

Well - kinda starting from Wednesday when the WYWS Girl asked what my name was. While I don't actively seek the limelight, I love getting attention. I like to know that I'm the kind of person that other people might be interested in or want to be around. So when it comes to about 3pm and I'm eager for a bit of Muffin Therapy (tis good for sore backs, honest :-), I get the big surprise of Little Miss Cantina wanting to know more about me.

So that's Wednesday - how about Thursday ?

Hmm. There would be a proper name to attach to the WYWS and Little Miss Cantina (she is a bit little) and that set me off towards a rather good evening :-) As per my tradition, I'm keeping the name quiet ... but KT is a good label :-) The K for the proper name, the T for "Trouble" (one of her friends said "you don't need her name, just use 'Trouble' - we all do :-)". And the KT fits with the "Love Is In The Air" incident from a couple of months ago :-)

Anyway - I now have the pleasure of knowing Miss K's name. I promise I won't abuse the privilege - much :-)

Also had the pleasure of an evening yesterday with Craziequeen, BionicDwarf and Cyberkitten, as we raided Bella Pasta for dinner followed by Public Enemies at the cinema. The combination of the company, the munchies (not had pasta for too long) and excellent film, plus me knowing a new secret, got me turning from a downer into a hyper again :-) Which always helps me fight off the bugs and the bruises.

So - halfway through Torchwood first episode, dinner bell is getting more insistent and my tummy is growling ... A full week without getting my lunch from the canteen girls ! I'll fade away :-) (not a bad thing ...)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Light reading

Currently watching Return of the Jedi again, which has got me thinking about books :-)

The book I'm reading at the moment is Striking the Balance by Harry Turtledove. It's the third in a series of 8 that has at its theme an alien invasion of Earth, commencing a couple of years into World War Two. I want to read these mainly cos I have all 8 :-) but also because I want to know what happens in them. Trouble is, the author's style makes it very hard work.

Curious ...

The books I've read most recently are the Orion series by Ben Bova (see blog post a few down from this one !) and David Weber's Ashes of Empire series. The Ashes of Empire series is a trilogy that I devoured within a couple of weeks, both the first time I read it and the last time. I picked up Larry Niven's Ringworld yesterday and almost read the whole thing. Yet I've been struggling for weeks with Striking The Balance.

All three series are science fiction and some of the personalities at work in Ashes of Empire can only be described as disturbed and disturbing. The violence level is very high, mainly due to the weapons technology at work. Yet that hyperviolence is diluted by the sense of "fun" running through the books, such that it nevers crosses the boundary into "sickening".

It's similar for Larry Niven's Ringworld series, which has a highly interesting character called Louis Wu as its central protagonist. There's a huge sense of adventure running through the 4 books in this series, as Louis Wu jumps out of one frying pan into another fire. After reading snippets out of Ringworld, it's quite possible I'll dive through these 4 books (Ringworld, ... Engineers, ... Throne, ... Children) when I'm done with Striking the Balance.

If you've not read anything by Larry Niven, he's well worth checking out. Recommended books are Footfall, Ringworld and Lucifer's Hammer. An unforgettable passage in Lucifer's Hammer has a group of surfers trying to outrun a Mega-Tsunami by attempting to ride the wave.

Hey ! Where's the Star Wars link ?

The Star Wars films have spawned a huge number of books, that mostly take on after the films. They're a mix between outstanding and very poor. The X-Wing books written by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allstom are amazing, for their intelligent writing and the no holds barred aspect of the story. However, the books I'll probably be reading next are the ones by Timothy Zahn. They take place about 5 years after Return of the Jedi and take the reader through a campaign masterminded by the brilliant Grand Admiral Thrawn. It's intelligent scifi written by a gifted author.

Which is a lot more than I can say for some of the Star Wars books, I groaned (and growled) when I heard that some of the Dune sequels would be co-authored by Kevin J Anderson. He was responsible for some of the more painful Star Wars books I won't be reading again. I mentioned something about intelligent scifi above, can't say that about anything I've read from Kevin J Anderson. A pity ...

There's also the New Jedi Order series - I devoured most Star Wars books as soon as they came out but this later series killed my enthusiasm for the genre. Our main heroes are up against some real nasty pieces of work in the Yuuzhan Vong, aliens from outside the galaxy. Some books good, some books bad.

But I'll be looking forward to reading the Timothy Zahn books again :-)

Back to the film ! The Ewoks are now kicking Stormtrooper butt and I have a sneaky feeling that my next books to read will be the Timothy Zahn Heirs to the Empire series :-)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Piccy for Wednesday - Good, Bad and Ugly

Couple of weather piccys today :-) Inspired by the temperatures we're having here and by seeing that a certain Spaghetti Western movie is on Five at the moment.

(I'm not watching it, I have NCIS on :-)

The Good :

Ice cubes good ! Although the heat means they're melting even before I get to drink the coke I have with them.

The Bad :

Hmm - 37 degrees C. And that's from a fridge magnet in a house that's been unoccupied all day at about half 9pm. With all the electronics (exc fridge) in the house turned off too. I usually keep my desktop PC turned on, running a couple of bits of research for the Rosetta@home and Climateprediction projects in BOINC, so it helps out with the heating in the winter. That will be coming to a close though as when the current Climate model it's running is complete, I'll be doing lots of Reinstally type things to my main PC :-).

PC off during the day at the moment cos the heat has been making it complain loudly (literally - with klaxons!)

Doh - sidetracked ...

The Ugly :

Erm - that'd be the person behind the ZombieDwagon, so I'll spare people that one so their monitors survive uncracked.