Monday, 29 March 2010

Name On The Door

I've been at the University for almost thirteen years now; four years as an undergraduate, three years doing a PhD and now almost six years as a member of staff. When I started my PhD I was given a desk. At some point they replaced the furniture but my desk still sat on the same piece of carpet. I've recently moved into a smaller office rather than an open-plan lab.

I now have a door that I can hide behind, unfortunately it has my name on it so I'm probably easier to find!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Contains: Nuts

As a nut allergy sufferer (see here and here for previous posts on the subject) one of the most difficult things to eat is chocolate. It seems that chocolate is easy to contaminate; I was once ill having eaten a Boost bar which according to the ingredients list doesn't contain nuts and I've eaten them many times before and since that instance.

Even more difficult than eating bars of chocolates is choosing from a box of chocolates. Fancy chocolates, such as those from Thorntons or Hotel Chocolate, are lovely but it can often be difficult to work out which is which and there have been a number of occasions where I've had to spit out a half-eaten chocolate -- not something I like doing in polite company!

With individually wrapped chocolates, such as Roses or Quality Street, the colour of the wrapper makes it easy to work out what you are eating if you have the box to read, but I can't just randomly grab a chocolate.

It would seem that Cadbury have finally got smart and started printing warnings on the wrappers of each individual Roses chocolate. Not only are they warning about nuts but also milk and soya which is great. Even better they are not being paranoid and printing the nut warning on every chocolate just on those that should contain nuts. So now I don't need the box to work out which ones I can safely eat.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Street View, Again

The day we moved house last year I saw a Google Street View car in Penistone. We actually followed it into Wentworth Road where we used to live. Given that the street is a cul-de-sac I knew it would have to turn around and drive past us so I stood by our car (the red Fiesta) at the road side and waved as it drove past -- sad I know!

It seems that the pictures they took that day have finally gone live. Unfortunately they have used the photos they took when driving into the street not out and so my second appearance on Street View is even more tenuous than my first.
If you need help spotting me then I'm sat in the passenger seat of the white van right back down the road -- told you it was tenuous. If you want to play with the live data then just click the image to open Street View at the same scene.

It looks as if they have now completed an almost complete survey of the UK; so far I've checked Penistone, Leeds, Formby, The Wirral, Exeter, Lewis and Skye and they all have comprehensive coverage.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Non-Story

I get most of my news from the BBC's News website and I mostly trust their reporting. There are occasionally, however, articles that I know are flawed. As a user of Windows XP I read with interest yesterday's news article entitled Hard drive evolution could hit Microsoft XP users. Go away and read it for yourself then come back and carry on reading here.

You finished reading already?

Now I don't know what the "journalists" intention was when writing that article but it is a complete non-story. Microsoft have made no secret of the fact that they would love every remaining XP user to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7 but a lot of us are quite happy as we are and don't want the expense (time and money) of upgrading our perfectly functional computers. Articles like this seem designed to try and trick unsuspecting users to upgrade in order to avoid a problem that doesn't even exist.

Okay so the change to 4K sectors on hard drives is a bit of an issue. Basically you need to ensure the logical clusters that the operating system writes to the disk align with the physical sectors the disk is constructed from. If they align the disk performs as expected, if they don't then you see a performance drop. I won't go into the details here but if you want to know the technical stuff try reading this informative article. Of course it isn't as if the manufacturers of hard drives haven't thought about this. They don't want to see their products bad-mouthed in the trade press if they under perform. So far the only company to release a disk using this advanced format is Western Digital and they provide two solutions that make the problem disappear. One is a bit of a hack and involves setting a jumper on the disk drive to force it to map a single partition to starting at the beginning of a 4K sector. It's a hack because the drive basically lies to the OS and stores data in a slightly different place. Also it only works if you have a single partition on the disk. The more satisfying solution is to ensure that all partitions start correctly on a 4K boundary and they provide a little utility to do this for you. If you use either of these solutions then you should see the full performance of the drive even under Windows XP. They also make it clear on the label on the drive that if you are using XP you need to apply one of these solutions.

If Western Digital can provide such an easy solution then I'm sure the other hard drive makers will as well. So as I said it is a complete non-story aimed, I believe, at trying to scare people into upgrading away from Windows XP. Maybe the BBC need to take a closer look at the stories their "journalists" write before allowing them to be published on their website.

Monday, 1 March 2010

When Is A Phone Call Not A Phone Call?

The Answer: When BT saves the message direct to your answer phone without actually calling you.

Apparently BT has been caught making unsolicited marketing calls to the users of their 1571 voicemail service. Rather than actually phoning their customers though they have been simply adding the message to the answer phone. Why is this interesting? Well it turns out that as they didn't actually make a call they don't have to respect the Telephone Preference Service do not call list. Now the call in question was on behalf of a charity but this is a slippery slope. If BT get away with it this time what is to stop them accepting money from any advertising company to do the same in the future?

Of course if BT can do this then it sets a very dangerous precedent. The next step will be e-mail providers taking money to insert spam messages directly into your inbox -- if the marketeer didn't actually e-mail you then they can't be targeted by any of the anti-spam legislation that exists in numerous countries.