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Showing posts from October, 2009

Software as an Enabler

Over my long, somewhat protracted software development career, I have come across many situations of what I like to call "software as a disabler". Situations in which the software seems to work against the end user using arbitrary constraints or limitations that, to the developer, make perfect technical sense. This phenomenon is perfectly summerised by Little Britain's famous catchphrase "Computer says no".

How many times have you used software that just wouldn't quite let you do what you want to do? A lot, I would wager. Problems such as these often occur due to over-ambitious implementation of requirements, usually at a very technical level. Consider a simple calendar application for scheduling meetings. It makes logical sense that users would not want to be double booked, so a naive developer may put in a constraint that prevents such a situation from occurring.

The hapless end user comes to the software. They have a meeting scheduled with a client on Th…

Hints for X11 on Mac OS X

One of the lovely features of Mac OS X, being based on Unix technology, is that it's possible to run X11 based applications with an almost native look and feel. Unfortunately this doesn't translate completely due to the way the X11 server is implemented. It is a single app, and all X11 windows are considered children of it, so the OS X window manager treats all X11 windows as a large group. This does mean, however, that those of us used to working with X11 apps in a different way to OS X native apps can do so, as long as you don't mind the slight mismatch of behaviour.

One of the first things folk notice about the OS X window manager for X11, quartzwm, is that the mouse focus model is completely unintuitive. Focussing a window requires clicking within it, but then activating controls requires another click. You can't just move the mouse over to a window and click, and expect anything to happen. This is usually resolved in one of two ways; turning on "focus follows…

NAS Replacement Tat

I have purchased a couple of bits to replace the now defunct Iomega NAS that once graced the shelf next to my battered Compaq laptop and somewhat eccentric router. This should hopefully allow me to rescue and reuse the 500GB SATA drive, while I cheerfully throw the NAS enclosure out of the nearest sixth floor window.

This is the caddy:

This is the interface card:

Hot from Hong Kong, don't you know. They should arrive sometime within the next 5 to 28 days. About right for Parcel Force. I've had my fill of £100+ drive enclosures. This little lot set me back a grand total of 16 quid, including international postage.

Of ActiveX, and service packs, and firewalls, and things ...

I have recently had cause to reinstall a Windows XP Pro machine after a serious virus infection. Not a big job, really. I'm sure I could go on about how installing $linux_distribution only takes 20 minutes, but all in I reckon a full XP Pro install, including drivers, should only take about an hour.

Or so I thought. What actually happened was a comedy of errors lasting almost 20 hours filled with grief, annoyance, frustration and a large amount of tea. The basic installation worked fine, the drivers all went on perfectly, and even the PCI wireless card was no problem. All was looking well, until I tried to update to the latest service pack.

Upon launching the Windows Update site, I was presented with the usual "checking version" message that precedes every scan for updates. So far so good, but a couple of minutes later it all went badly wrong. Rather than the nice list of service packs and hotfixes I was expecting, all I got was an error message: 0x8DDD0004. Nice and cry…

Sheffield CAMRA 35th Steel City Beer Festival!

The first weekend of October has rolled around, so once again it is time for the Sheffield CAMRA Steel City Beer Festival. Now in its 35th year, the festival has seen a lot of change in the recent past. After the terrifying ordeal that was the Darnall Liberal Club, standing out in a field with beer seems like a much nicer proposition. Unfortunately, reviews of the 34th festival were tainted with dissatisfaction, both with the venue and the organisation as a whole.

I didn't attend last year, but I attended this year with some trepidation. Thankfully, the whole event was better run than I had been led to believe, but not without its fair share of hiccups. Two marquees provided more indoor space, the place didn't smell like a donkey sanctuary, and the beer tasted great. There were around a hundred beers to try, and thirty ciders, so even more than some previous years.

After a couple of false starts, our little troop of merry drinkers (myself, Emma and Chris) finally arrived at th…