Tuesday 30 December 2008

Well, I can confidently report that.....

..... the bugs reported on the apple macbook forum are consistent on this machine too.

I could previously connect an external monitor, now I cannot. Mail *might* have worked before, but now definitely doesn't.

While windows updates have previously altered setting and installed stuff without asking, I've never had an update that broke the machine, despite using distinctly non-standard hardware. Here I am with a 4 day old computer, exactly as the manufacturer made it, and various functions do not work.

I've never been a fanboy for Microsoft, but I have developed a certain admiration for them, even if they make software that is not as intuitive as Apple.

So at some stage soon I'm going to have to call Apple tech support to find out what the fixes are (I shall not be impressed if they consist of scratch re-installation). I went ahead and installed Office this morning, as I'd fiddled about, quite unsuccessfully to get Mail to work yesterday (and account creation is SO tedious for the first time). Entourage recognised my regular mail account settings in seconds.

Ho hum.

Conversely, I have just configured my 3 newly established email accounts in entourage, and it was just completely painless. I really would have been happy to use the apple software as Entourage is somewhat overkill, but it appears that is not to be.

I AM impressed by the >4 hour battery life of this thing! Hope that will last for a while.

Monday 29 December 2008

Christmas dinner at our place.

I've wanted to get a reasonable shot of my mother for the last few years, but somehow she never comes out favourably on camera. This combined both happy memories and a pleasing image. Note: Ben's plate!

Boxing day walk.

So this is a little delayed, mostly because we've been busy in a relaxed kind of way all Christmas. Chris and I did a couple of hours on Boxing day to stretch the legs and ease the colon. There are more pix in the gallery.

Sunday school?

Sunday 28 December 2008

OK, so I DID buy a Macbook.

But times are a little tougher here than for the good reverend Friesen, so I didn't get the posher 2.4GHz ali model.

Conclusions so far:

The body is light years ahead of anything else that is being sold in quantity, no matter how much stainless steel is used to skin Tosh's, HPs etc.

The screen quality is lower than the one used for the Macbook Pro. That *might* be a software issue, as the pro has a different graphics chip, and having connected my Macbook to the flat panel I've used with a Lenovo for the last 5 months, I have to say that Mac video output sucks bigtime. I'm trying tweaks to make it better than bearable, but I'm not overly confident as many of the other Macs (including 24" iMacs) at the appleshop displayed fonts poorly too - and the assistant agreed when I pointed this out, and fiddled to try to make them better. He did not succeed.

Following the above, the screen does not have enough intensity or contrast, and normal adjustment is insufficient. The disabled options allows more contrast to be applied, and a small increase improves things significantly.

I bought the USB keyboard, since I plan using a panel with the lid shut, just like I did the Lenovo. The keyboard is GREAT.

I have tweaked the trackpad to my tastes too, and I have to say that this is the first laptop ever where I've not constantly wished for a mouse. Apple's new trackpad is full of win.

Is the OS good to use? Yes, or at least, it will be when familiarity is established.

Did it work out of the box? Kinda, but in a way that leaves Microsoft with nothing to be ashamed of. The security and functionality update (10.5.5 to 10.5.6) was 670Mb, which is bigger than service pack 2 and 3 for XP combined. And on top of that, it asked for another 350Mb of updates to pre-loaded programs (trimmed back to about 130Mb - who needs iTunes?).

Did it work out of the box? Yes, in terms of functionality it did. I would put it on a par with the Lenovos I've used, in that everything was there and working first time.

Finding my way round has been less un-intuitive that the Linux distros I've used. And while it does has a 'Linux' feel to it, everything is designed to help instead of hinder.

I tried various office suits while in the Applestore - wish they'd had OO loaded on a machine. The docs and spreadsheets (from Office 2003) I'd brought on a USB stick were displayed fine in the Office:Mac applications, but were mangled in the iWork apps. Pages lost borders around documents and did odd formatting. Numbers couldn't scale graphs or handle trendlines. This was disappointing, as I'd rather have gone all Apple for the added integration, but TBH they were dismal in actual use. If OO had been available to try then I think I'd have not bought Office there and waited to see if a cheap version came up on the bay. See dilemma below (and comment please). I don't think OO is good *enough* for my needs long term.

I have been reading about the integration between the Apple address book, email and iCal apps. I'm still juggling whether it would be better to use these or entourage. My gut feeling is that the apple apps will be 'nicer' to use and will integrate well together, but entourage will be superior with other office products. And I still have to move my older email across.

Talking of apps. Anyone else out there use Himmelbar? So much better than rooting in a folder for applications, and a confirmation that Microsoft got the start menu very right.

So what have I got? A really well made laptop weighing about 2kg with decent keyboard, small screen that doesn't feel *too small* and decent wireless connectivity. It will sit on my lap comfortably for typing, although I still prefer to sit upright and type on a proper keyboard at a 20" panel. It IS growing on me (and it had better, as I'm sure there's no refunds at this point). Just hope the learning curve won't be too steep.

Now, where's that Mail login.

I have a mild dilemma

Yesterday I bought a copy of Microsoft office home, since in my line of work EVERYONE uses office documents as the standard format.

I doesn't have all the functionality of the full version, but it was about £90 instead of £350.

On the back of the box it says 'licensed for noncommercial use on up to 3 personal computers'.

I KNOW I shall use the computer to work (and hopefully to make money).

I've not previously bought office for home use.

My dilemma is: can I use the software in good conscience, knowing that I've paid M$ money for something with reduced functionality compared to the full version, or is that compromised by using it for any kind of work?

I've looked at Open Office, and found it to be usable, but not as good as the M$ product. I have looked at another suit for which there is a charge, and while it *looks* nicer and would integrate with the computer well, it appears to be functionally blown out of the water by Open Office in terms of handling Microsoft generated documents.

What to do?

There are times

There are times when I wish I had my old cocky strength back. When, if faced with a heavy object in my path I would charge at it to push it out of the way.

I have been changed, for the better, but in becoming gentle I find it difficult to be strong and challenging when I come up against those who are strong. I feel somewhat battered now, and rather than exult in the challenges I have had, instead feel drained and a little disheartened.

This is not, as far as I know, anyone's fault, other than my weakness.

I hope gentleness and love can win people over, because I don't have fight in me to do it the more traditional ways.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Just heard upstairs

Music in Ben's room.

Me "Is that Google Bordello?"

Ben "Gogol Bordello."

Me "I think I prefer my version".

Well, the music does have a searching quality to it.


Has a sense of humour.


Let's hope I haven't just been extremely foolish.

Thursday 25 December 2008

Never ask questions about something you might buy.

And ignore this advice too.

Thanks to the link Dan provided I've found the Apple forums, and have been digging through those pertaining to the unibody Macbook. It doesn't make pretty reading.

While I appreciate that a relatively small number of people are reporting issues with the new MB through the forums, I suspect it represents less than one tenth of 1% of those that have issues. What sort of issues? Overheating after the 10.5.6 update, audio issues, poor display (also reported for the Macbook pro) use of a bad graphics chip (see here for details) that is not apples fault, but IS a big flaw in the machines. The graphics chip IS a show stopper, in that I specifically wanted to use the machine with a 20" Samsung panel, and this is exactly the kind of use that causes problems.

I am quite aware that these kinds of things are normal for the likes of Dell, HP etc, but Dell and HP make cheap boxes. I can get a well spec'd 13" Dell XPS for less than £800 with 3 years professional warranty, and although the casing isn't made as well as the unibody, I have to ask if the opportunity to run OSX is worth a £400 premium on top for known flawed hardware.

Lack of firewire is also a big deal for some purchasers, with them returning new machines for older ones that did have the port. Why do I care about firewire? Well it is THE system of choice for video work, and a lot of audio stuff works through it too. Plus data transfer is MUCH faster than USB2.0. And a part of the reason for getting a Mac is Garageband. So suddenly a tool that might have been useful for audio work may now not be.

I haven't started digging into the Macbook pro yet, but that's another £200 on top, and I'd much rather have a small unit I can plug into a screen for normal use, yet is light for travel. I just really don't want to spend £1200 on a heap of trouble when I could have exactly the same problems for £500 less.

What is it.....

...... About roast dinners in general and roast potatoes in particular?

They have this.... effect.


Not cool.

Is this why people like to sleep with the bedroom window open?

We are postponing Christmas dinner until this evening to prevent anti-social effects from making the afternoons less... convivial.

This advice may be a little late.

Ladies - ever hoped your husband would get you something really special? Do you wish he'd surprise you on Christmas day (in a good way)?

Then set your husband free.

That is to say, give him time 'off' so that he can actually get to some shops. Without you around.

All I can say is 'thank you' to the Somerton village social club for arranging a 'Mama Mia' film night on Tuesday evening. Ben and I managed to escape to Oxford to actually do some secret Christmas shopping between 7.30pm and 9.30pm while Chris and Hayley were watching the film. Life has been that busy, I've not had a single opportunity to get near shops alone, and weekends have been filled for me - either with things that needed to be done or by church. Week nights likewise.

Let me tell you though, shopping for nice undies for your wife (we're talking upper end Marks and Sparks here - not stuff from 'speciality catalogues') in front of your twenty year old son is challenging, to say the least. Not to mention trying to wrap the stuff nicely after you get home. Hopefully that will have established some kind of role model for him so that when he gets married he can do the same thing for his other half.

I can type this now because it's Christmas day and the gift is given and there's no longer a secret.

Oh, it's funny how, when Steve asked people what presents they had brought to church that morning, at least one person wasn't eager to show their gift.


That's enough on that topic. And Ladies, next year, just remember my advice.

Monday 22 December 2008

It looks like Sweden is on!

And that's great.

I shall look forward to seeing my friend Gunvor again. Now I need to book a suitable hotel nearby the Karolinska and find a phone that I can use abroad without it costing body parts.

Thanks Dan, for the link.

And good new #2 is that we're finally confirmed and booked for our ski trip. This will be the first EVER for Chris and me, although Ben is a (relatively) old hand. Lets see if I can manage not to damage anything, as I have just 24 hours in the UK before flying out to Sweden straight afterward.

Heard tonight while carol-singing.

"Come on children, I need my knockers on doors".

Well, who'd have thought?

For those who have been following the saga.

I am probably going to buy the lowest spec Ali Macbook.

Chris came up with some kind of justification based on tax I have paid or won't have to pay. Or something. She made it sound like the money didn't matter (which in my new expenditure-conscious role I know it does) and basically gave me the green light.

Now I also need a phone to go with it. Probably NOT a Jesus phone (as the Register calls the iPhone). Which phones will work to share data with a Mac - anyone know?

Well here I am on the final leg.

It's the last 2 days.

I have nearly finished sorting ALL the paperwork, recycled stuff that's no longer important, boxed up the stuff that is.

I have pay slips going back to my time at British Biotech, several sets of documentation from the various pension plans, current and previous contracts of employment.

I have scientific papers that are of no interest to anyone but me (A guide to the storage and handling of peptides, anyone).

I am alone in the office.

Last Friday, having overheard the MD letting the IT guys know that he would not be around and to divert the phones to High Wycombe, I emailed them asking that I keep email access. So when I came in this morning, and found the phones working but email not it was mildly amusing.

By lunchtime everything will have been sorted into appropriate groups (home, archive, US) boxed and be ready. My final task is to complete the technical file for our clinical product and send it to the US.

Then, FINI!

Sunday 21 December 2008

The weather here is ridiculous

According to our outside thermometer it was 10.8'C outside at 7.30 am.

If it warms up much more I'll have to turn the central heating off.

Saturday 20 December 2008

I've just finished decorating the tree.

It looks lovely, but I've come to realise I just hate doing all this.

Maybe it's because every year it takes a bigger push from Chris to do it, and this year it hit all the wrong nerves. Maybe it's circumstances around the job, and that's finally got to me. Maybe it's just a bunch of stuff.

I don't have small children around to please, and this kind of thing doesn't make me feel happy, let alone festive (whatever that means). I've been reminded not to think of myself over this, and that's right. But it doesn't do anything for me right now and I need to keep going and not give in, when what I really want to do is stop and please myself being miserable.

Damn silly idea really.

There is just the

tiniest possibility of a Macbook at a hefty discount.

It will mean having a plastic mac (ha ha) but at least it's a black one.

Or not.

They wouldn't honour the web price.

Friday 19 December 2008

I'm sat here surrounded by debris

Most paperwork is in the recycling system - papers recording things done 10 years ago that is now irrelevent to the future of products that I've been making. All the batch records and lab books are boxed, ready for shipping to the US or to put into storage, and I'll shortly load the relevant contents of my hard drive onto a disc for the guys in the US to use (the email system within this company is so poor that it couldn't cope with a couple of dozen Mb of data)

I'm reminded of an animated .gif someone used on Harmony central. It looks like one of those windows 'progress' boxes that pop up when something is being done. It starts off with an empty progress bar and the words 'Attempting to give damn'. The progress bar moves across and then the words 'Operation failed' and then 'Damn not given' appear.

So I'm sat here surrounded by rubbish, in many senses. Thanks to a late night I'm feeling a bit groggy, but that's entirely reasonable. I just hope I can keep these balls in the air just a few more days.

End of witter.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Now this I love.

A great link from RoyD.

Mapple, The Simpsons.

And yes, it does parallel my thinking. Still funny in its own right though.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

When nature does not imitate art.

Now who would have thought that romantic comedies would cause unrealistic expectations?

Sunday 14 December 2008


This afternoon marks my first 'official' guitar playing at HPC. I have already played once before when requested to do so by a visiting speaker who knows me from outside this church, but that was different.

So I'm playing a bunch of carols on acoustic guitar.

The music was kindly copied for me, but despite being billed as 'for guitar' were clearly written by some left-field keyboard player. I've no doubt the chords will fit, but they just aren't nice without a strong melody to tie them together. It's also traditional stuff, with slow sections of chordwork, then a manic phase with 2 chords per word at the end.

So I'll just have to do my best, keep the volume down (there's a keyboard player) and pretend I know what I'm doing.

I feel really bad because Jane who often plays keyboards at BCC is really unwell (she's struggling a lot - 73 days sick leave this year - feeling down with it all too) also can't play. It's not great just leaving people to make do when it feels like I *could* help out in some way.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The debate continues.

I snuck out of work a little early this afternoon to visit PCworld in Oxford.

To my surprise they actually had Macs in the store - I didn't know they carried them - as well as a bunch of other laptops. It was far more useful than I expected, and I'm very glad I went.

First, the PC based systems.

Standout machines for me were the Sony Viao range. Some looked better than others, but all were well presented. The couple I tried seem quick and responsive, not too heavy and with acceptable feeling keyboards. I hadn't realised how spoilt I've been using IBM/Lenovo machines for the last 7 years, but they really are a cut above the rest in terms of build quality, even if they tend to be a little heavy in the non-extra light versions. Best aspect of all was the displays: these were crisp, bright, sharp and a real pleasure to view. Definitely best in store.

I had a look at Dells too - somewhat smartish, with decent screens, though feeling a little less refined than the Viaos, except with better keyboards (a non-issue, as I plan to use an external monitor and keyboard in the office). The HPs and Toshibas were also similar, but still more consumer-oriented again.

Finally, there was a tiny 12" Packard Bell that I'd seen reviewed in Computer shopper. It was looking battered, and it was SSLLLOOOOWWWWW (not surprising, 1Gb RAM with Vista) but the screen was great (better than the Toshs, HPs, Advents etc) and it WAS very cheap. Tempting to grab and upgrade the RAM, maybe even install XP as I'm sure it would run much better with lower overheads, while being VERY portable at 1.5Kg. Wonder if it could run a 22" monitor at 1680*1024? The worst thing was the control pad, which was circular! Marketing fail.

So after browsing the PCs I wandered over to the 'business' section, only to be disappointed that they didn't mean business computers, but instead selling networking services etc. Next to this area they had a whole isle dedicated to Macs, and at last I was able to fiddle, so I spent about 30min with the various Macbooks.

First up I tried the new aluminium-chassis Macbook. It looks really smart, although compared to some of the 13 and 14 inch PCs it felt like a brick - nice stiff chassis though. The keyboard was a little lifeless but usable, the screen OK but not great and the control pad easy to use, but missing an external button (I know you can just press it down, but there are times a separate button is just nice to have). Having read about guestures, I quickly adapted to using 2 fingers to scroll. I liked the behaviour of the dock, and it felt for all the world like a really well sorted version of Linux in the way applications opened and closed etc. However it did feel very disconcerting and unfamiliar, like a new Linux install, but without the reassurance that if I didn't like it salvation was just a format away. It didn't strike that it was particularly fast either, and seemed on a par with any well sorted PC.

Next I went to the polycarbonate-shelled Macbook (with 2GHz processor). I've been reading reviews, and many found that features they felt missing in the ali Macbook commented that they were still present in the 'older' version. First and most obvious issue was that the display was just poor. More of that later. The dock also behaved differently, and I couldn't find ways to change the behaviour to match the ali macbook from within software settings. Worse, the control pad didn't perform 'click' operations when tapped. Now it might be a setting that's changeable within software, but tapping the control pad to click is essential. In addition, this one felt sluggish, with some apps distinctly lagging before opening (to the point I had to go back and check that I really HAD clicked).


A little way down the isle was another white poly Macbook, but £50 cheaper (I confirmed with the staff it was the last of the previous model - same spec, but fluorescent lit screen, slightly older version 20GHz processor). The screen on this was decent - about the same as the Dells, though not in the same class as the Sony screens - but otherwise very similar. Performance seemed a little better too - I questioned the sales guy about why the price difference and he mentioned the older/newer model thing, also the LED fluorescent display and that the processor, despite being of the same clock rate, was actually a higher spec model in the older machine.

So it was interesting, and I reckon, very useful. Most likely contender is a Viao - reviews have been strong, although if that Macbook were available I'd be tempted. If only Office wasn't stupid-expensive for the Mac.

Monday 8 December 2008

"Microsoft never pretended to be anything else, Apple sells a lie."

Another bit of the ongoing saga, trying to decide between a conventional laptop and a Macbook.

From TheRegister.

I've long thought along these lines - as a consumer, Apples ruthless approach to legacy systems and monopoly on equipment supply have kept me away. Largely it was for financial reasons, but now I can afford to make these choices I'm questioning whether this is the best move I can make for a professional tool. The closedness of the apple system is mildly unethical, and it also makes me nervous.

This is not knocking Apple, but it is a valid alternative view.

Saturday 6 December 2008

I have a dilemma.

There are guys I knew from the Christian music forum that have asked to be recognised as friends on Facebook. I have no particular angst with any of them, but I just want nothing to do with that, and this makes me reluctant. Yet to refuse them also seems wrong.

Choices... choices.

It's not like it matters, really, but somehow I can't easily treat people online differently from in real life. But when you walk around it's often possible to avoid people you struggle with, yet online everyone is connected, in some way, with everyone else. And I know I should be at least a little unhappy to be 'rejected' by someone.

Or maybe I'm just being spineless.

Friday 5 December 2008

And the time has come to set up email properly too.

Welcome back outlook 2003.

How I have missed you. Even though you're far from perfect, you work quickly, smoothly and actually try to help instead of hindering. If the current company stopped spending huge sums of money on 'Lean Six Sigma' and instead invested it in a decent email and PIM then the whole organisation would operate much more efficiently. No more of those 2 minute waits while the software opens or deletes an email with a 1Mb attachment.

And some fell on stony ground

I've been looking for a short, snappy name or set of initials for the new 'company' (me!) that I can register and take forward. Everything is taken unless I want a .ltd.uk domain.

Then I hit a great idea..... www.kitmagic.com


Suggested this to the MD. I had apparently grown a third foot. Right in the middle of my forehead.

Well, it *seemed* a good idea at the time.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Facebook, a week in.

It's curious how this site/system works.

It *looks* for all the world like it just grew by addition, with various mini-apps being tacked on. This makes it really messy to use, but quite liveable once you learn where things are, rather like keyboard commands in DOS applications.

But there's something I struggle a little with.

At least in the circle of friends I have it's VERY female dominated.

I don't have a problem with this per se, but as someone who is trying to be 'careful' in the way they live and walk it bothers me to be seen to try to develop all these friendships with highly attractive younger women/girls. I have far fewer qualms about married women my age, although I do hesitate a *little* if their husbands aren't around too. I'm not trying to be odd, but I've thought once, twice and three times about hitting 'invite' for various people I know passingly in meatspace. Sure I know there are LOADS of males that use it, but in my circle of friends and acquaintances it's mostly female - without counting I'd say 3:1 at least.

Maybe this is THE female online app? Or maybe this is just further proof that women like to chat so much more than men?


Counted - 28 out of 66 are male.
Maybe my perspective is based on activity, rather than numbers.

Thanks Mark G, for helping redress the balance.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Be it according to your faith.

Linea likes labyrinths.

It is really important that we all find ways to press into God. The things we use, provided we don't become religious about them, don't really matter, although some things - like joss sticks - have strong pagan connections, and may bring other unwanted things with them. But generally, if a place, practice, surrounding, collection of words, physical stance, or indeed nothing external at all enable you to draw closer to Jesus then that's all good.

Just remember they're only tools to help you draw closer. They are not special in themselves, but it is Jesus who is important.

And remember you can meet Him outside that context too.

I have to remind myself of this as much as anyone. For me, worship that is not open and participatory worship is a poor shadow. But for some, it is the highest thing they can experience.

Learning takes time.

The times had an interesting article

in the education section this morning. Unfortunately I can't find it on the site to link.

Basically it was discussing how those who rote-learned were equipped to handle all kinds of changes. After leaving school the clever could creatively blossom while the dull still had a tool kit with which they could at least partially navigate the streams of life. This was contrasted to the current net-info-centric age, where those without a net connection and information streams were generally left gasping on the bank beside the river.

I've noticed this within myself. The more I come to rely on various search engines, websites and blogs to provide stimulation and information, the less able I have become to generate valuable and coherent thought *without them to help me* (and even with them, a bit). Now we all need stimuli and information from which to learn. But there's something, at least in my brain, that gives up the struggle to learn for myself when I can have the data from a few key strokes and then just draw a conclusion.

This probably all sounds a bit extreme, and it *may* be part of the aging process too. But I think that it's real at least for me. I need to read more, reason more, not necessarily use the search tools less, but definitely expand the brain with hard work.

This is one of the things I admire about Fern - that he apparently, for all his connectivity, has kept his mind going. I need to push a little more when I get tired of thinking.

I feel very sad this morning.

It might be Seasonally Affected Disorder a little.

I know it's a little because I am seeing a successful business being closed and peoples hopes and aspirations disappointed.

Some of it is to do with the church change: feelings of weakness and loneliness, having to move outside (way, way outside) the comfort zones. I wonder if others in this church feel similar separations to those I feel? I notice Randall is very quiet about many things.

Sad for someone here that didn't, finally, get the job they felt they'd almost been offered.

In truth, I'm probably just feeling a little sorry for myself, and I know where that comes from. I need to press on.