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Charles on… anything that comes along

Friday 29 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:29 pm

When OSX loses its mind: passwords don’t work, internet dead, but Appletalk OK

Sometimes, OSX loses its mind. Let me explain.

Earlier today, I left my home network (turned off Airport, put machine to sleep), did some work on the train (no network), came into work and joined the Ethernet. I could join all the Appleshares there (on Appletalk). But the internet was dead. No DNS. Couldn’t ping anyone.

I called IT, who hadn’t (as I wrongly thought) banned non-listed machines. So it had to be a restart. My daughter’s login was still active, so I thought I’d log her out before doing a graceful restart.

No dice. Can bring up the login window, but the password I know to be correct doesn’t work. Nor can I log her out from my (admin) account - it says I’ve entered the wrong password.

I see this occasionally: basically, OSX gets a sort of senile dementia when it’s been up for too long. It doesn’t know you, has never heard of your password, and whatever you put into it is wrong.

Sometimes, it will tell you that you’re that well-known user “?????” - see this Activity Monitor picture:

My question: what the hell is going on here? How does it happen? I’ve got unlockupd running - could that be a cause? I thought it just checked to see if lookupd is running. I’ve got updated 10.3 -> 10.4 on a Powerbook. Tons of RAM. I’ve got the Menu Extra Enabler and, now, thankfully, the Camino session Input Manager (which is marvellous: one day all browsers will have session retention as standard - probably Internet Explorer 9, in about 2015).

(Hmm, looks at Menu Extra Enabler. Now version 1.0.3. I have.. 1.0.1. Hmm, would that make the difference? Anyway, updated now. But if you’ve noticed something similar.. tell me. Or if you know of a filed bug, tell me. Put my mind at rest.)

Saturday 23 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 9:39 am

John Humphrys vs David Irving: no contest

Just listened to the Today programme, in which John Humphrys - the feared inquisitor, maker of politicians to tremble - tried to pin down David Irving, notorious Holocaust “revisionist”, about Irving’s recanting in an Austrian court of his crime of “denying” the Holocaust.

Note all the quotation marks, because this simply wasn’t a contest. Humphrys had been badly briefed, and handled the interview with all the aplomb of a man wearing boxing gloves trying to pull a fish covered in soap out of the bath.

It went badly right from the first question, to which Irving insisted that when he recanted his crime - or regretted it, as he said - in the Austrian court in order to be let out of jail, that was because that’s what Austrian law requires, and Austrian law requires. “You’re told what to do by your lawyer, so you do it.”

Clearly Humphrys didn’t know this, and hadn’t been briefed, and from there he was just flummoxed on and on. Irving’s style is to examine every word in every sentence in a forensic manner, and Humphrys just isn’t used to having his own interview-fu used back on him. “Are you denying that six million Jews died in the Holocaust?” he asked. Well, said Irving, that depends on the meaning of “six million”, “Jews”, “died” and “Holocaust” - though by the end of it he was using the latter word in the way it’s generally used.

Humphrys started from the wrong place. Irving admits he’ll agree that Hitler ordered the killings if someone will come up with some documentary evidence. Humphrys might have asked him where that could be found, now so long after the fact. But he didn’t, instead choosing the bang-your-head-against-the-wall technique of trying to get Irving to say something he won’t.

I’m not in agreement with Irving on anything - except maybe that one needs to be able to research and say anything. He’s prepared to accept that he could be wrong, which is a small start, and that the evidence to do it might be out there. Of course with his experience, he probably knows the evidence isn’t to be found, not because it didn’t exist, but because it’s been destroyed in the intervening years.

But the lesson of the interview was that interviewing Irving should be left to the lawyers, who know a thing or three about how to create a watertight set of questions leading from one place to a conclusion. And it’ll leave John Humphrys in a considerably better mood to have not been rope-a-doped on the big set-piece Today interview.

Thursday 21 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 12:33 pm

Conversations with PR people that are short

Bring!! I am at work. It is the phone. I am answering it.

PR person: Hello, I was calling to see if you’d like to meet someone, he’s the chief of a company that’s got an instant messaging product for the financial community, and–
Me: Sorry, why would that be relevant to our consumer-focused technology section?
PR: Well, I thought that because it’s IT, that–
Me: Have you read the section lately?
PR: Well, I know that you cover IT in the Online section, and–
Me: It hasn’t been called ‘Online’ for more than a year.
PR: Oh, um–
Me: Why don’t you give me a call back when you’ve read it?

It’s not even as if there are many “technology” or “IT” sections to have to keep up with in the nationals these days, either.

Sunday 17 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:15 pm

G4: two years later, it’s reckoning time! (Plus some X-Factor thoughts on Leona etc)

(Yes, I know hardcore Mac fans will have come by wondering what kind of reckoning there could be for a processor that has long since ceased to be used in Apple machines. The answer: none.)

So just over two years ago I saw G4 on X-Factor and declared myself disgusted by the fact that they had chosen - these four Guildhall-trained singers - to do Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. (It’s an anthem of alienation, longing and anger, in case you’d only been humming the tune or practising Jonny Greenwood’s guitar fills.)

What a reaction - still the most-commented on post on the blog due to the incursion of some G4 fans, for no very obvious reason.

In the comments, I said “As for you folk boosting G4, come back in two years’ time and let’s see if they’re selling big then.” Comment No.13, on Febuary 12 2005, so strictly speaking this post is two months early. But we’ll keep the clock ticking..

So how are G4 doing? First album: released Feb 28 2005, went to No.1, double platinum. Hey, how did I like eatin’ those words? But wait, that’s the X-Factor (and X-Factor Tour) jet fumes at work there.

Second album: November 28 2005, “G4 & Friends”, reached No.6, platinum. (That’s quite quick to generate a second album. Except of course they don’t have to write anything. Just get the arrangements sorted.)

That difficult third album: November 27 2006: Act Three. Which came in at No.21. But as I write, two weeks later, doesn’t seem to be in the BBC Official Album Chart Top 40. Although the Official Chart Company, at time of writing, has them at 38. (Which chart should one go with then?)

What’s clear then is that G4 aren’t increasing their (for want of a better word) hitness. Their fame, and particularly album sales, aren’t increasing in the manner of, oh, pick the name of a supergroup they might have heard of out of the air, Radiohead (Pablo Honey, then The Bends, then the hugeness of OK Computer). You need that rising trend, you see. Muse have done it too.

Why might this be? I suspect because Simon Cowell - damn his oily hide! - had already thought “People singing in operatic voices? That’s a neat idea!” in 2001 and got four operatic-y blokes singing to form a band, called “Il Divo” (I’m no good at Italian - does it stand for “The Divs”?) Presently their album is No.4 on the Official Chart Company er, chart. Wikipedia notes that they have “been honoured in the 2006 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Multinational UK No.1 Album Group”. That is, they’ve had loads of No.1s. They clearly take all the air out of the room when they share it with G4. The TV adverts with four blokes singing operatically? They’re for Il Divo, not G4.

Two years on, G4 are performing respectably. (Here’s them performing respectably at some outdoor festival.) But no better. Though I fear that since their contract is with Sony-BMG, which is completely heartless about dropping acts that it feels have gotten to the downward slope (it’s a sort of music farmer; bands and singers are its dairy cows), I wonder if, on the anniversary of my comment, we’ll see a little announcement that Sony has dropped G4.

So what does all this mean for Leona, newly-crowned winner of the X-Factor? The form isn’t good, even though her voice is stellar. The only person who’s made a lasting career from this is Will Young, and that’s because he’s a lot smarter than the average. (He showed it in one of the early shows, before he’d won, when he snapped back at a Cowell putdown.) Leona can sing unbelievably well (link for the RSS readers, embedded vid for for the web page visitors) -

- though that song you’re going to hear on the radio is a complete nothing. But she has been plunged into a tankful of sharks, and it won’t be about the singing. It’ll be whether she can keep up with the personal appearances, stupid signings, the loads of crap songs being offered for her to sing, the “it’ll only take five minutes”, which will get in the way of… well, being a fantastic singer, actually. Remember Michelle McManus? All the Google refs to her seem to involve “loses out on role to..” Steve Brookstein? Shayne Ward? The latter’s only a year back, so we’re still just about managing on the fumes of the jet trail of the X-Factor Tour, coming soon to an arena near you.

Tell you what, I’ll buy Leona’s second album. Hell, someone has to.

Friday 15 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:46 pm

Caroline Phillips, are you there?

I didn’t see the Evening Standard on Tuesday. So I don’t know whether the article at mytornadohell.livejournal.com is real - and whether it’s really written by Caroline Phillips. [Update: it is real, and she really did write it.]
But let’s be realistic first: not nice to have your house blown apart by a tornado (or, as one meteorologically-trained person at the Guardian was insisting, “a squall”. Some squall) only a few weeks before Christmas.

But then again, it seems like it is parody.

The glass roof of the side-return exploded, tinkling down from the ceiling like sharp raindrops. Somebody’s concrete windowsill crashed onto our worktop and now rests amid a quarry of shattered glass. A black roof tile speared the American walnut floating shelf, scattering our younger daughter Ella’s birthday cards. “Congratulations! Nine years old today!” The words have been lacerated by shards of glass. Three bricks. Rainwater. Broken glass. A wooden bowl of Christmas clementines. These are vomited across our limestone floor.

I was sure it was a spoof because I couldn’t find it on the Evening Standard site. Then again, the ES is hardly the place for your in-depth web stuff, is it?

Nor did a Google search for Caroline Phillips tornado turn up much.

So, a fake, I thought. But Rhodri says it isn’t. And she certainly has form. See the sorts of things she writes via a Findarticles search on her name:

Everywhere there are pleasant surprises. The kitchen with its white polyester and stainless steel cupboards. The downstairs cloakroom with its black walls and black granite sculptural sink. The study with its orange faux leather walls, floating desk and mirrored wall cupboards. Not to mention the master bathroom with its beautiful mosaic wall of tiles and mirror, wing-shaped Gabbiano Corian sink and granite floor.

Lordy, that’s some writing. She writes about houses, OK? I guess if a tornado (sorry, squall) hit our house, I’d be telling you how the router doesn’t work, having vomited its precious electronic guts all over the place.

Oh, all right, I wouldn’t. But it’s still hard on her. I’ll bet the Standard only paid lineage as well.

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:01 pm

BBC Money Programme gets on the “banks can’t impose penalty charges” bus: welcome aboard!

I’m really encouraged by the number of people who’ve added comments, over the years, to my post on how you don’t have to pay credit card charges. (They’re illegal under English contract law, if you haven’t heard.) It seems one way in which, perhaps, I’ve helped other people - not a huge difference, but a positive one.

Last night (Tues 12th) the BBC’s Money Programme joined in, pointing out all the same things. Well, that’s good. To reiterate: the penalty charge should only be what it costs to administer the “defaulting” payment. If they’ve just sent you a form letter, then how exactly has that cost them £35? Have they somehow lost that amount on the foreign derivatives market because they were waiting for your little bit of cash to make up that £500m “put” on Chilean biscuit futures?

Sure, the outcome might be that “free” banking ends. Well, I can live with that if the charges that are imposed are transparent - that is, explained, with a breakdown of how they’ve come up with the charges. Not imposed out of the air. Then we’ll be able to choose between banks, and do it in an informed way.

It’s interesting (watching the programme) how the banks have simply underestimated peoples’ realisation that this is wrong. And it’s testament to the power of the net. The fact of this has spread via the net (initially, I’m sure, from the article in the Guardian by a solicitor pretty much thinking out loud, really, about penalty charges). You can test it. You can prove it. And now it’s getting exposure on TV.

Time to look up those old bank statements? You can get back those “penalty” charges from up to six years back. See moneysavingexpert.com or just the BBC’s page on how to reclaim your penalty charges. Enjoy.

Update: (as I watch the program, which I’d Sky+’d): the Money Programme’s “commission” (two professors and a former chief exec) reckon that the costs are - for bouncing cheques: £4.50 (”can’t you get it higher?” pleaded the interviewer, in the interests of balance); for unauthorised overdrafts/refused direct debits, about £2.50.

Monday 11 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:28 pm

Blogs vs newspapers.. or not

John Naughton has put up the transcript of an email interview he gave to a journalist from New Zealand. It starts somewhat abruptly with the question from the NZ hack:

Q: Blogs are constantly being talked of as being “on the verge” on mainstream influence. Yet, outside a few cases in the United States (Dan Rather’s “memogate” etc), they don’t seem to have lived up to their promise. Is 2007 the year of the blog, or the year the blog boom finally busted?

A: Silly question — typical of old-media journalism.

Ow! Read the whole thing, though, because he’s on the money.

But does point to Alan Rusbridger’s point that for a paper to succeed online, it needs to be not “on the web” but of the web. (Wonder where the interview will appear once written up?)

Which you certainly need when you have gloomy stuff like this from Greenslade:

On the sales, audited by ABC, note first these telling results for the month of November compared to November last year: daily popular papers down 4.95%; daily mid-market papers down 2.18%; daily qualities down 2.74%. So the total daily market is down 3.72% (and I can tell you, without fussing about the exact details of discounted sales and foreigns and bulks, it’s far worse once you take account of those as well).

Ooh, is that a plate of polonium? I do feel peckish…

Filed under: — Charles @ 12:29 pm

How much free paper distributors earn for forcing thelondonpaper into your hands

OK, now I’ve done a little bit of - gasp - journalism for this, so of course this post has been written under the draft PCC regulations for bloggers.

So I thought that I would ask one of those folk who give out the papers how much they earn, and-

This is the PCC. Have you checked this with two other sources?
Pardon?

Have you checked it? Sourced it?
Well, I asked someone who…
Were you sure they were a distributor?
Well, he was on a street corner holding a huge pile…
All right, but we’ll have to point out that you might be endangering your Licence To Blog if you cannot demonstrate that your remarks are without malice or prejudice.

Anyway, OK, um. So he was standing there on the corner, and so I asked him how much he earns. Turns out that it’s £7 per hour, for four hours. So that’s £28 per day. Hardly a fortune.

I asked him how much London Lite people get but he didn’t want to say. Sure that he’d have asked them.

As I recall from Peter Preston’s little snippet in the Observer this week, there are about 500 outlets for each of the freesheets. Which means that (assuming that the papers pay all their distributors the same) you’re talking about £14,000 per day, £98,000 per week, £5.1m per year.

Don’t know about you but that to me doesn’t sound like a lot. The per-day cost, after all, is just the cost of a couple of ads in the paper (I’m assuming - don’t tell the PCC! - because I haven’t seen the ratecard).

Except that thelondonpaper has had to spend about £1m, again IIRC, to get its spots in train stations. But that only works out to about £2,700 per day, which is a couple more ads. And Preston was talking about ad ratios of - what, 20%?

In conclusion, it’s not making them a huge amount of money, but probably the biggest cost is just printing the damn papers. The distribution is cheap enough (doesn’t have to travel big distances) and the editorial, while tough to fund, is pulling in advertisers.

Though I still hate tlp’s design. But I only pick it up for the sudoku (don’t tell the advertisers!)

Coda to the above: I know, I’m very late to this discussion. But I just looked at the actual story that I linked to there, about the PCC speech. There, Tim Toulmin, a - the? - PCC director said “If you want to see how the newspaper industry would look like if it was unchecked, then look at the internet.”

If the newspaper industry was unchecked????? That’s laugh-aloud stuff. (See any of the Daily Star, Daily Express, News of the World, Daily Sport, Sunday Sport, or The People to tell me precisely where the PCC’s guiding hand has made such a difference.) I sincerely hope someone did have the grace at least to guffaw when he said those ridiculous words. I know I would have, had I been there, for I’m prone to calling emperors on the failings of their clothing.

Oh, but it got even better.

He said a voluntary code of practice would allow content to be checked without government involvement, stressing: “We’re not in favour of regulating the internet. The flow of information should not be regulated by any government.”

Former Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who chaired the session organised by the Commission for Racial Equality, said blogs were “perceived as a positive development” but added that “some of the most offensive stuff” comes from them.

Look, Mr Campbell, bloggers might have done a few things, but none has ever distorted facts in order to shore up the desire for war of a few people in the Pentagon with the forecastable result that thousands of people die and internecine feuds result.

Meanwhile, you now know how much those folk freezing on the streets get. You could give them a coffee in this weather. It’s probably just as hard a pitch as selling The Big Issue, except you’re not allowed a dog on a string.

Friday 8 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 1:53 pm

Want some trouble? Do a religious ad in the style of the “I’m a Mac” ad

I noticed the title on this Unofficial Apple Weblog post - Think Christian: Parodies of the Mac/PC commericals from Community Christian Church - and without bothering to read it began wondering what sort of ads one could do.

If you haven’t seen the “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” ads, get yourself educated over at Apple’s site. Sure, we’ll wait.

OK, and now imagine doing a few of those for different religions. Or subsections of same. White sheet, infinite horizon background, two people in medium close-up.

Such as:

  • I’m a Christian/ I’m a Muslim.
  • I’m a Catholic / I’m a Protestant
  • I’m a Christian / I’m a Buddhist
  • I’m a Christian / I’m Richard Dawkins

My toes are tingling already. You could properly offend people with this sort of thing. Why, even putting up this post will probably be some sort of thoughtcrime under the government’s proposed legislation outlawing religious hatred. I wonder if Rowan Atkinson will visit me in jail?

I suspect this is a meme that is going to end up.. being made.

(Sure, you’re all going to point me to examples where someone’s scripted these and put them on YouTube, eh?)

Thursday 7 December 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:44 pm

Being refused a bilateral implant is “breach of human rights” - er, how?

I’m full of amazement and respect for Jason, who (with family and friends) funded his child’s second implant when their local primary care trust (PCT) turned it down; Tom, who had meningitis, lost his hearing, but the first implant got it back, and the second is really getting it back. (Within the limits of implants, which I’ve mentioned before.) Implants are not cheap. You’re talking tens of thousands of pounds.

But I think we’re going into la-la land when we say that to refuse a second implant is a “denial of human rights”, as claimed by a different set of parents in this Wandsworth Guardian (no relation to the Gdn) story.

Two-year-old Oskar Berknov has been profoundly deaf in both ears since birth and had one surgical implant fitted a year ago, allowing him to access sound and to develop language skills. But Oskar’s parents are calling for the PCT to fund the second implant which might allow their son to be educated in a mainstream school environment.

Mr Berknov said: “His ability to learn to talk, to make friends, to be safe in traffic and manage independently in school is all dependent on the directional hearing this implant would allow.”

Sorry, but it’s not. His ability to talk and make friends isn’t dependent on the second implant; we’ve got proof living in our house. (And how would you prove that the second implant is going to do the trick and make the difference?) Being safe in traffic? Might do, but even hearing children aren’t too smart at that one. Children have problems understanding traffic, because they underestimate the speed of approaching cars. That’s not hearing-related.

The lack of a second implant doesn’t hold him back from mainstream school either, because if your child has been deaf from birth then you (the parents) will have a Statement of Special Education Needs (SSEN) which you get written by your health visitor, say, and present to your local authority, which means that your child has a personal helper, and the school installs special gear to help him hear what the teacher’s saying.

The parents have clearly had a hard time of it: they only got confirmation that their child was deaf through a private hearing test, because the PCT insisted he could hear. (That’s not uncommon. I spoke to one parent of an implanted child who wasn’t identified as deaf until the age of three, because she was so good at working out what the testers were doing that they didn’t realise she couldn’t actually hear them.)

But here’s what it boils down to: without a big infusion of money for implants, if you give one child a second implant, you’re denying it from another. And the difference between no implant and one implant is a lot bigger than that between one implant and two. The first is the difference between no hearing and hearing; the second, between hearing and more hearing.

The only way to justify a second implant is to make the case to the PCT that spending that money will save you more than that amount over the life of the child. And that’s really hard to do.

Meanwhile, blogsearch turns up a child in Illinois who has had an implant - no, two - at the age of 7 months. Wow, that is young. And it’s interesting that the insurance company (one assumes it must be) is paying for two, isn’t it?

I’m not saying, see, that bilaterals are a bad thing. If the parents can bear their child to go through it, they seem to bring clear benefits. But it’s a problem when you’re talking about limited public funds.

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