not(Not in my back yard!)

"This is a very, very dangerous bit of road," said Roger Pollard, who lives near the site.

"Although I don't usually agree with them, I feel here a speed camera would help."


How dare you issue me with a speed ticket - don't you know that I'm okay with driving at excessive speed near other people's homes, but not near mine!

Words. They fail me.


I'm playing with a basic Kubuntu 10.04 install.
I was such a KDE 3.5 fan, and I love Linux. I use Linux by command line every day.
But I do so from the vantage point of Mac OS X. I've lost my love of KDE.

I could maybe go back to using KDE 3.5, but never 4. It has improved, and playing with the KDE4 version of my familiar home Mandriva desktop was acceptable with Mandriva 2010. But a fresh install is confusing, overwhelming and downright irritating.

The popup menu in the bottom left. In Windows, that's the start menu. What is it here? What would make me click that, if I was familiar with Windows?

I was looking for Konsole. I clicked the K menu and found a Windows Vista style start menu. Not impressed with how KDE seems to continually and blindly copy the worst of Windows.

I clicked through to Applications and found that the Utilities item used a console as its icon. So I pointed at it. Nothing happened. I have to click.

I search the new menu for Konsole. It's not there. Later, I find Konsole until the System menu.

It just popped up a notification that there were updates. That firstly was distracting but then as I moved my mouse to it, it disappeared. Where did it go? I don't know. It was important enough to stop me writing this but not enough to wait around for me to click on it.

Dolphin: don't get me started. What happened to the idea of the integrated Konqueror interface? What has it all been broken up again for? And to something that is so much more difficult to use! This is a primary reason I prefer KDE3.5. It just has file browsing right.

Active windows - I can barely notice the difference between active and inactive windows. Very very poor UI.

Konsole itself even has become noticeably uglier and more difficult to use in KDE4. Why was that even changed?


Eclipse Copy not working

I always had a problem with Eclipse under Linux whereby Copy (Ctrl-C) rarely worked first go. I learned to copy twice to ensure the text was placed in the clipboard.

I've happily run Eclipse on the Mac for more than a year now without such problems. But last week I let 3.5 do a self update - just a few minor updates bringing it to 3.5.2.

Afterwards Cmd-C became unreliable much like under Linux.

Anyway, I found a fix. Open Eclipse's main preferences. Go to General->Keys. Search the key bindings for 'Copy'. Erase the key binding (which will show "Cmd C").

Cmd C now works. Perhaps Eclipse and MacOS were both trying to capture the keypress and neither got it correctly.


Down with fundamental forces!

A lovely little gem of a comment on the BBC website today:

"Dylan Morgan, from campaign group People Against Wylfa B, said nuclear power was a "failed 20th Century technology"."

Said a man whose very existence is thanks to nuclear power. A man who might in his next breath suggest using solar energy instead.

It's this sort of person that means Britain lost its supersonic aircraft, it's spacecraft, it's rocket program. Putting us back into the stone age one idiotic comment at a time.

Slow mouse pointer acceleration in Linux under VMWare

Until becoming a Mac user, I used Mandriva. It was Mandriva 2009 and KDE4 that pushed me away.

Mandriva 2010 is actually much better. KDE4 is a little better now, while in 2009 it was unusable. KDE3 is still much better.

I installed Mandriva 2010.0 in VMWare Fusion 3 on my iMac. Everything is working really well; the speed is as good as native really. The only problem has been that in the default installation the mouse speed changes between the Mac desktop and Linux one. Under Linux, the pointer would slow down; as the pointer leaves the VMWare window is snaps back to normal Mac speed.

The solution is to install the xorg mouse driver; yes, you need VMWare-Tools but this does not include direct support in xorg.

On Mandriva you need to:

sudo urpmi x11-driver-input-vmmouse

After installing, mouse speed remains the same across Mac and Linux.

BBC Weather

Okay, I've given them a year or so. I've put up with it in the hope that it's merely me being stupid and that they, as the experts, are right. But no - I am now certain they are in the wrong.

The BBC weather presentation sucks.

Not the forecasts; these remain the same. I mean the way it is presented.

The BBC have used the same symbols for decades up until a few years ago. There was a big switchover to a new system which seems to mainly consist of colouring the British Isles in various shades of brown.

A little later the BBC Weather website was replaced.

Neither change I have yet accepted though the website is gradually becoming usable again after a long period of abject failure.

Today I am trying to find out whether or not snow is forecast for north Wales. I've gone to BBC and looked at the weather maps. There is only one weather map available now, called "General".

Here's an example page for you to examine:

For the days in question, the land is shown spoldged with blue or white clouds. I am unable to tell what these are; does it indicate rain and snow? Is it temperature? Or is it related to wind speed? There is no indication.

Well, there is an indication of sorts - there is a key. It helpfully shows that Fog, "Frost", Rain, Snow and Temperature all use the same basic colours. It doesn't indicate how to tell them apart.

Using this key as a guide, I should prepare for heavy fog with a light frost and heavy rain and snow with temperatures of around 0 with outbreaks of 'lakes, rivers and sea'.

What happened to the symbols? Snow for snow, rain for rain?
Where are the iso bars? Is there a high pressure overhead; should I expect it to get colder?
What is the wind strength and where is it coming from? Is this Siberian or Mediterranean air?

I just have no idea what it all means in the New Weather Order. And I'm not just saying that for today while I'm trying to discover if it will snow. I've been looking at these maps every morning for years to prepare for long daily drives: I am no longer able to plan for rain or wind or anything else I used to be quite prepared for. As I think over the last couple of years, I realise that I have been unprepared for the weather and to an extent largely ignorant of it. Yet I look at the BBC weather pages pretty much every day.

This is no longer acceptable.
One of the BBCs great strengths has been destroyed.

iMac 27" i7 Pre-Review

I am typing this on a working Core i7 iMac. It took in excess of a month to get the machine: was it worth the wait?

First, some background. I order the i7 after four days of planned dithering following the announcement of the new iMac range on the 20th. A review of my blog will find that until recently I have had, as my primary Macs, a MacBook and iMac 20" (among countless other computers; I am rather hardware obsessive).

As part of house move I decided to consolidate and upgrade my Macs. The first thing I did was to sell my MacBook as the opportunity arose to do so. The iMac has primarily been my mother's for many months now so instead of buying a her a new machine when I move out, she can keep that.

This planning started back in September; I sold the MacBook around the start of October.

So what was I going to buy? My initial thoughts were to get a new MacBook Pro. For nearly a year that had been my plan; the unibody Macs are magnificent machines. My other thoughts were to get the best possible. Apple's pricing certainly does encourage upselling - I found the top-end 15" to be ideal, but once you look at that then the basic (and only) model of 17" starts look affordable. And what a screen the 17" has... true HD resolution.

So that became the plan for few weeks. I was going to get myself a top-end, ultra expensive MacBook.

Then I started looking at MacPros. Do I really need a laptop? No. I am rarely in a situation where one makes sense. The best use I made of the MacBook was to watch TV in bed. Once you start to look at MacBook 17" prices, you start to realise that you can get a hell of a lot of power for that money. Now, I'm not in the market for a PC so granted that a built PC is cheaper again. But the low-end Pro has a quad core Xeon which is something like twice as fast as the high-end MacBook.

So that became the plan for a week or two. A MacPro running with my existing 20" HP monitor followed by a 30" monitor upgrade sometime in the future. But I held off; the rumours were circulating about an iMac refresh and while I try not to consciously make purchasing decisions based on rumour, my subconscious was all too aware of the two grand expense at stake.

And so that brings us to the 20th of October 2009 and the relatively quiet announcement of the new iMac range. It was perfect; everything I wanted from fast CPUs to big screens and at a price point lower that the Mac or MacBook Pro with the extra of the huge 27" display. So that was that; I waited for 4 days just to check whether I would change my mind, but I didn't and got out the card for the financial pain.

The quad iMacs shipped quite a while after the Core2Duo models. I received mine on the 14th of November. Unfortunately, after the excitement of the unboxing and setup the machine was dead. No matter how I pressed the power button, nothing happened. So we entered the RMA process for a new machine.

Forward to the 3rd of December when the replacement gets here and is thankfully working. I did see the screen flicker issue on the night of the 4th (this has also was widely reported on forums along with DOA and smashed screens), but that disappeared and has not come back so far (the machine has been on for 8 hours a day on the 5th and 6th); I don't really want to go through the pain of the RMA wait again.

So that is the background and experience of the buying process. What is the machine like to use?

First impressions: the screen. Wow. Moving up from a 20" to this is really something. The colour is even as you'd expect of an IPS screen; the TN screen of the 2007 20" and MacBook has terrible colour distortion if you move your head. The 16:9 ratio fits broadcast TV and screen is big enough for a good film experience in the living room.

Next: speed. Hmm, well. Somethings are indeed lightning fast. I'm loving Eclipse on this. However, the reality is that much of what I do, such as browsing the web, is perfectly happy on the old 2.0GHz C2D of the iMac and MacBook. That is to say, I generally can't tell the difference. That's not to say anything about multi-core or i7 speed but simply that current software is really well designed and suited to current hardware.
As for the graphics speed with the ATI 4850, I've only tried 2D so far and that is perfectly smooth. This was my main problem with the MacBook and the main driver of wanting to upgrade it - the 20" iMac's ATI 2400 was smooth in 2D in nearly all situations but could drop frames with Exposé with many open windows. The MacBook bogs down with any intense use (at least the improved Intel GMA X3100 does, which both my personal and work MacBooks have; the Nvidia 9400M should be much better).

Keyboard and mouse: the wireless keyboard is a MacBook laptop keyboard in a hard aluminium casing. I like it a lot. I have a full (with numeric keypad) aluminium keyboard on the 20" iMac and at work and would prefer that for work purposes. But for home use, the lack of keypad is not an issue.

The Magic Mouse is quite good. Like any new mouse, it'll take getting use to. The lack of a middle mouse button is actually the biggest issue so far (but I am aware of the patches to add to functionality). Accidental swipes are another issue. I'll let you know in a month or two. But so far, I'm not turned off it.

That sums up my first impressions. The main thing to say is that the quad core 27" iMac is genuinely good machine, but there are teething problems in Apple getting a working one shipped out to you! Once you have it and it works, it's everything they advertised.



This only demonstrates that the subject is extremely complex. I was watching Question Time and found Melanie Phillips' analysis of the emails as absolutely ludicrous. I listened on Radio 4's PM to an analysis of what one particular email meant in context by a knowable scientist and was perfectly happy with the explanation.

I often find in my own line of work, which is the relatively simple area of computer science and software development, that a phrase taken out of context on a complex system can be interpreted in many and varied ways by non-experts. When writing support emails to clients about my software products I have learned to take great pains to explain in overly-detailed ways what something is doing and why; if I do not, it is unlikely that the information will be effectively communicated.

However, when emailing colleagues I instead use short and terse emails. These would be baffling to non-experts and I write like this in the knowledge that I am talking privately to experts who will understand the nuances of what I am saying.

This has always been the case. If it were not, technical discourse would become impossibly tedious.

We can learn this from the past. Often the private correspondence of great people is published after their death; a good demonstration of how it is possible to misunderstand professional correspondence is to use Isaac Newton's private letters to show that he falsified his gravitation theories.

While gravitation remains a theory to this day, it has such a body of evidence that it is a fact in all but rigorously-scientific-nomenclenture, much as with natural selection and evolution.

The example of Newton's private correspondence is used by to great effect. This unknown blog came to my attention by the myriad of articles linking to this very posting.

iMac 27" Quad i7

I ordered an i7 iMac a month ago today. It's 10 days since I plugged it in and got nothing.

Looks like the planeload of i7 iMacs that went west from Shanghai suffered a heavy landing at some point going by the number of DOA and cracked screens people are finding.

I'm quite patient, but it's been a month. I was using my hackintosh but as you can read here, that's no longer possible.

I've created a personal account on my work MacBook and am using that; all my other computers have been sold or packed up for a move.

abit AN-M2 write protected BIOS

This is something of an affirmation of why I am moving everything over to Macs.

I have an abit AN-M2 in my main non-Mac desktop PC. I needed to upgrade the BIOS to fix certain bugs which prevented me using the machine properly.

It took three days to sort out getting to the point where I have a DOS prompt and the BIOS files to flash it.
I made several pathetic attempts to use floppy disks, being thwarted by a) machines with no floppy drives, b) machines with dead floppy drives and c) stacks of dead floppy disks.
Then I tried USB drives. How do make a USB drive bootable without MS-DOS or Windows? Another dead end.
Finally I wrote the files to a CD and booted to DOS from a Win98 installer CD.

Anyway. I ran awdflash, saved a backup of the BIOS to a floppy, then started to flash the BIOS.

"BIOS is Write Protected". Can't continue, press F10 to exit.

Okay, so I need to reboot, go into the BIOS and switch off the protection.

Only I can't. The machine is dead. It's as if the BIOS has been overwritten. But lo, it is write protected.

No, it really has killed the BIOS. That's it. The motherboard is dead. I am without a PC. I need to order, from somewhere across the sea, a replacement BIOS chip at a cost of approximately 25% of a replacement motherboard.

I've encountered some shocking bugs over the years and this is certainly up there among the best.

I will get this machine running again, it is mostly new components and I've only recently invested in an extra 4GB of RAM for it (the root reason for the BIOS upgrade). But whether I retain it or sell it is another matter. Perhaps I will manage fine with just my iMac. Perhaps I'll get a Mac Mini.

UPDATE 1st Jan 2010:

I have a solution for this issue, and yes it is a bug with the motherboard.

You can successfully flash the BIOS by calling "AWBFLASH /F" to force flashing - it simple ignores the phantom write protect. Of course, this is only useful if you can boot your machine or haven't rebooted after getting the original error.

What I did:
1. I got a new BIOS.
2. I booted the machine with the new BIOS to MS-DOS.
3. I hotswapped the BIOS chip back to the old broken one. Yes this is possible, no I don't recommend it. You break it, and it's YOUR fault.
4. I flashed the old BIOS with the latest ROM image.
5. It works. I now have two BIOS chips.

I actually now have two AN-M2 BIOSes - one at v18 and one at v19. The 18 one has a bug which misreports the available memory to the OS. The 19 one has a bug which breaks the onboard Ethernet. <sigh>
As I said previously, I'm switching gradually to Mac hardware. Everything just works.
Perhaps the Linux servers should be from Sun.


Subscribe to Technological Wanderings RSS