Archives for April 2008

Time to re-install

I am beginning to think it may be time to reinstall MacOSX on my MacBookPro. That's kind of sad because it's an activity that I associate (esp only 7 months after it was first switched on) with owning a Windows computer.

However to add to my connectivity woes today I find I have a black rectangle appearing around whatever widget has input focus. Like, right now, it's around the text field I am typing this into. If I click in the safari search bar the black rectangle will appear around that field.

At first I thought this might be some kind of assistive technology I had accidentally activated but I can't see a trace of it. It's no program I have installed because, since I've had so many crashes, I am routinely logging in holding down the shift key to avoid running login items. I've also had two random crashes from Safari since it started happening.

It's entirely possible I've done something that has messed up this machine. I am, by nature, a tinkerer. But it's a bit sad. It's also damn inconvenient. I wonder how smoothly it might go reinstalling Leopard over the top..?

29/04/2008 12:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Mad

I am being driven completely mad by problems trying to stay connected to the internet through my N73 (via Bluetooth) and T-mobile web & walk.

I can live with the gateway errors, getting dropped by T-mobile, the RSCOM serial errors. I can live with all of those.

What I am struggling to live with is MacOSX crashing, over and over again. I've had MacOSX hang 10 times today. Quick or slow but the result is the same every time. I end up restarting. In one case it crashed 5 times straight. Restart, connect, hang, power down, restart, connect, hang, ...

This is my first experience of gross instability in a MacOSX machine and I have to say it is a bit off-putting. What part of connecting to the internet should crash a Unix machine?

My guess would be some kind of bluetooth driver issue.

Very annoying whatever it is.

28/04/2008 22:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Mibbit

I'm grateful to Simon Willison for his post last week about Mibbit. At that time I couldn't figure out why anyone would care about a web IRC client. Little did I know.

It's going to be almost two weeks before BT get around to doing whatever they have to do to allow my ISP, Nildram, to hook me up with ADSL and, in the meantime, I am stuck on my 3G phone and T-Mobile's network.

Now they don't appear to be blocking IRC in the way they seem to have blocked Skype (at least I can't do Skype voice) but something about how I am connecting is stopping my dircproxyd from letting me connect to it. Seems to be trying to look up my hostname or something. Anyway Mibbit has me back on IRC and that's cool.

I also discovered today that I can connect to AIM buddies through GMails built in chat. That's another useful find. I guess the web turned out to be useful after all :)

25/04/2008 10:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Stopping autotest ticking

Autotest is a great tool by Ryan Davis that sits in your project folder, scans for changes to your source files, deduces which tests those changes are likely to affect, re-runs those tests (or all tests if it can't guess) and presents a results summary.

It means that every time you save or switch windows your tests run pretty much immediately showing you if there is a problem. But there is a cost.

Autotest manages this feat by constantly polling your entire project folder. Now this doesn't have much of a performance impact.. the CPU & memory usage is largely negligible on my 2.4GHz MBP with 4GB of memory. But what it does do is make my disk tick every second with the ongoing activity. And that bugs me.

Leopard offers the fsevents framework to 3rd party developers which allows applications to be notified, asynchronously, of changes to the file-system. Should mean no more polling, right? I've googled but the only reference I can find to such a plugin for Autotest is linked from here and comes up as "Service unavailable".

Does anyone else have any leads?

24/04/2008 10:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

It won't be the same season

I've just pre-ordered Out of the Park Baseball version 9 for MacOSX. I sank many happy hours into OOTP5 and OOTP6. I bought the first Mac version of OOTP but, honestly, didn't enjoy it very much and didn't play it but I was happy to purchase it to support them because they did a Mac port. I also figured that, if they didn't abandon the Mac, a future version would recapture the feel I loved about version 5 or develop a new, even better, feel :)

From what I've read OOTP9 could well be that version and I'm happy to keep on supporting the OOTP developments crew to the tune of a might £16!

Two things really sold me. The first was sound in the play-by-play game. It seems silly but I found the p-b-p sterile without it. The second was that they've found some way of having the real-rosters in the game.

Whilst I applauded the Herculean efforts of the fans that assembled roster packs it wasn't an ideal situation and last time I checked there was a long delay. I tend to sim through quite a few years when I get into OOTP and, eventually, there are no "real" players left in the game. But I found starting with fake players unsatisfying. I liked handing the torch over to prospects and enjoyed the sense of continuity that brought.

I'm also swayed by the fact that OOTP9 is universal on Mac and apparently the interface is pretty snappy. It was certainly slow as molasses last time I tried it which was quite disappointing. Otherwise the UI was pretty good.

I don't know if I have the hours to waste simming baseball but, since I have a hard time watching it, it's the next best thing :)

23/04/2008 21:54 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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It's a problem alright

But more importantly, Microsoft lacks any need to exist. As a brand, the company has established itself as a huge meaningless nothing. At its core ideology and corporate identity, Microsoft symbolizes not a faltering greatness in technology as the old Apple did, but a tumbling monstrosity of conniving, greedy, short sighted megalomania. Microsoft never aspired to deliver great products; it only ever sought to destroy competitors and spread its brand name. -- Roughly Drafted

It's hard to see a rosy future for Microsoft sat atop a dwindling monopoly shored up by products that will enthuse only zealots. They should have stuck to selling C compilers.

23/04/2008 09:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Mobile session troubles

Dear Lazyweb.

Am I alone in having problems with mobile sessions expiring too quickly? It seems that reeplay.it sessions on PC & Mac browsers are okay but are not working properly on mobile phones, ipods, or wii's and you have to login every time you use it.

I'm using Rick Olsen's restful_authentication plugin and, as far as I know, the session cookie seems to be generated (to the best of my ability to debug, mobile browsers are somewhat limited in this regard) but it's not working properly.

Is there anyone out there who has seen this and figured it out?

Thanks.

Matt

21/04/2008 14:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A recipe for frustration

I don't know if it's purely down to my Mac, or a mixture of that, bluetooth, and my N73 but I am being driven mad by constant hangs, crashes, and the need to restart.

The N73 will work fine as a modem for my Mac for some time and then I will be unable to connect with "modem error" messages. Restarting the N73 occasionally cures this but usually it does not. Most often when I attempt to reconnect I will get the same error several times until I restart the Mac. Or else it will hang.

Usually the hang comes in the "Connecting" bit. At this point the frontmost app window will hang but MacOSX will still be responsive. If I switch windows that window will then hang, and so on. Undearneath MacOSX is still working away but the GUI dies by inches.

If I SSH in from a different machine I can kill processes and even kill the window manager. Unfortunately when it respawns it's still hung. In the end I am usually forced to cycle power.

I need to be connected so I have to put up with it but it's proving to be an unreliable and extremely frustrating solution.

21/04/2008 14:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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42

No not the ultimate question... 42KB/s is about as fast as my T-Mobile 3G seems to go. That's 344Kb/s which doesn't sound very fast really. Certainly not very 3rd generation.

Is this because I'm not in London? Or because I have an N73 which isn't HSDPA? Or maybe it's my modem scripts?

It's good enough for email and casual browsing but it's hardly high speed.

20/04/2008 20:23 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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GMail spam

It's a testament to how good GMail has been at filtering out spam that the sudden sprouting of messages over the last 2 days is so annoying. I can't tell if it's direct spam or some spammer using my email address and me receiving the resulting detritus. Either way it's a pain. Is anyone else seeing a GMail spam uptick?

18/04/2008 13:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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When it works

When it works 3G is great. It's just that T-Mobile 3G so rarely "works" for me. It's often slow, i get disconnected, and - when using the phone as a browser - I get a lot of "Gateway Unreachable" errors.

However today I am in an office where, for whatever reason, I can't connect to any of their wireless networks so I am connecting via my N73 and it's working. Thank you.

18/04/2008 11:21 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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I'm just a terrible person

Touching story of a woman discovering just how much depression has dominated her life. Not hard to empathize with:

"I'm not depressed; I'm just not a very nice person. I get angry with people I don't even know - like bus drivers and people in news-agents. When anyone ever asks me how I am, I am rude because I want to cry, because how I am is bad, always bad, and they should damn well know not to ask such a stupid question, and when people call, I don't answer my phone. You see? I'm just a terrible person."

From the BPS Research Digest

18/04/2008 10:10 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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How can a company allow such things?

I just read about this experience of a Dell customer who Dell cheated and then mistreated over $50 worth of sound card.

It lead him to waste hours chasing them and was only resolved after he threatened legal action. All that sound & fury over them not sending him the soundcard he bought and paid for. Even 12hr of tech support in India must run $50 surely?

I had my own run in with Dell many years ago over them shipping me the wrong hard-drive that was only resolved when I got so angry with Dell that I contacted both the UK MD's office and Michael Dell's office in the US and threatened to be a nuisance.

That experience soured me on Dell and I resolved not to buy or recommend them. That was years ago and I've since made the switch to Apple. But it doesn't sound like they'd win me back anyway.

What a bunch of losers.

15/04/2008 14:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Idle Bastards

37signals are enjoying their 4-day work week experiment. The comments on both posts were interesting.

In my own experience I know that, as a developer, my productivity is never tied to "days" or "hours" or, even, "projects" but is a complex, variable-laden, function. Because I am a human being, not an automaton, many of those variables relate to how I feel this morning, whether the Giants won or lost last night, worries about moving house, enui, challenge, and so on.

If you graphed my productivity I'm sure it would look something like an EEG trace full of spikes and troughs. What has always been important to me is the summary statistics, i.e. over time do the right results occur?

I take a mechanistic view of work practices (and how productivity/effectiveness happen) in my employer as a serious red-flag. So I think Jason's responses are in accord my own philosophy and his comments useful. Some of them go to the core of his choices about how to do business and are worth repeating:

Ah, the mythical, absolute "real world." The real world is the one you choose to live in. Your world is no more real than my world. I'm sorry you're trapped in yours.

It is up to you to set expectations. Clients don't set expectations, you do.

I can't image a worse working relationship than one devoid of reason, fairness, and understanding.

I'd rather the estimate breaks than the product breaks.

Read the comments to see these (and others) in context.

15/04/2008 09:31 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Commiserations

My heartfelt sympathies go to Paolo on his loss.

15/04/2008 08:52 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Down a rathole

So today I decided (and now I forget exactly why) to try out the relatively new (Rails 2.0 at least) way of doing fixtures in Rails. It comes from a plugin called Rathole (see here) and means that instead of:

companies.yml
  reeplay:
    id: 1
    name: reeplay

employees.yml
  matt:
    id: 1
    name: Matt
    company_id: 1

we can do:

companies.yml
  reeplay:
    name: $LABEL

employees.yml
  matt:
    name: Matt
    company: reeplay

by allowing the fixtures to automatically generate the id's a source of brittleness (which anyone who has needed to insert a fixture will be familiar with) is removed. Not to mention the fixtures become smaller and more intelligible. There's a bunch of other nice stuff to do with associations. All in all quite a win.

If it worked.

That's the thing, when I change my fixture:

playlist_x:
  user_id: 1 # user 'matt'

to:

playlist_x:
  user: matt

all I get is:

 ActiveRecord::StatementInvalid: Mysql::Error: Unknown column 'user' in 'field list'

which is less than helpful because, of course, there is no user column that's the whole point. The fixtures should be removing that an inserting an autogenerated user_id column in it's place.

I have no idea why this isn't working. I'm using Rails 2.0.2 and i've verified that changeset 8036 seems to be there. It's just not working.

Now I have spent some time converting all my fixtures and none of my tests run which is a bit crippling. Well, that is to say they run, but it takes about 10 minutes to finish printing the complete list of identical exceptions and stack traces.

If anyone can help me out here it would be much appreciated.

Update: I dropped John Barnette, the original author of the Rathole plugin, a line and he quickly replied:

Generally when I see the sort of behavior that you're describing it's because while the fixture has been change to remove the _id prefix, it hasn't been changed to match the association name instead of the column name.

which was exactly the problem in this case. There were a couple of instances where i'd made that mistake. Fixing that has raised a couple of problems of it's own but they'll be worth solving because the new fixtures are so much more convenient.

10/04/2008 23:45 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Responsibility

I think I called this one back in 2001:

Worst. President. Ever.

History News Network's poll of 109 historians found that 61 percent of them rank Bush as "worst ever" among U.S. presidents. 96 percent of the respondents place the Bush presidency in the bottom tier of American presidencies. 98 percent label it a "failure."

This marks a dramatic deterioration for Bush. Previously he wasn't viewed in the most positive terms, but there was a consensus that he wasn't the "worst of the worst" either. That was in the spring of 2004. In the meantime, Bush has established himself as the torture president, the basis for his invasion of Iraq has been exposed as a fraud, the Iraq War itself has gone disastrously, the nation's network of alliances has faded, and the economy has gone into a tailspin-not to mention the bungled handling of relief for victims of hurricane Katrina. In 2004, only 12 percent of historians were ready to place Bush dead last.

I wonder how much responsibility those who voted Bush into power not once, but twice, feel? I wonder also at those justices that handed Bush his first victory. How have they benefited?

10/04/2008 10:07 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The obvious missing app

I tend to find myself using my iPod Touch more and more these days. The ruthless filtering of my inbox by GMail means that Apple's Mobile Mail is pretty much good enough when I want to keep in touch and Mobile Safari is pretty nice for reference work and even light reading.

What I find myself missing, more and more, though is Dictionary (and Thesaurus). I'd happily trade a little room on my touch for the full Apple Dictionary and Thesaurus and the wikipedia links would be nice too when in Wi-Fi range.

Hopefully this one will be addressed in due course.

04/04/2008 11:44 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Recommend me a Recomendbox

Happy to note that my former colleague at Cominded Scott Rutherford has announced that his new venture Recommendbox has gone live.

01/04/2008 19:28 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

3G should be better than this

Anyone else find the T-Mobile 3G network a little less than impressive? Listening to people talking about their EDGE connections being slow I wonder if I am getting what I'm paying for.

I have two main complaints. The first is that it doesn't seem very fast. When using the N73 as a Bluetooth modem things aren't so bad, but when using either the built-in browser or the mobile GMail client it's sometimes unbearable. GMail is useful but often I hit refresh and wait minutes only to get a network or gateway timeout error. I think this is a T-Mobile issue since it often happens when I am getting a full 3G signal according to my phone. That's pretty unacceptable to me.

The whole thing is still a whole lot better than the nothing I had before, but I'd find it hard to recommend T-Mobile 3G based on my experience to this point.

If there is a 3G iPhone later this year I will definitely be among those buying one. It should be the faster 3G than I have (I was told because I wanted the N73 rather than the N95 that I would get a slower version of 3G... I hated the N95 so it seemed a reasonable trade-off at the time) but, even if it's no faster, at least I will not be suffering a device with the usability of the N73 (which was, I guess, okay until the iPod Touch ruined me for all other mobile devices).

01/04/2008 00:49 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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