Job Done

Steve Jobs by acaben: legend Steve Jobs died late last night. I heard about it through that most modern of news outlets: Facebook. I read the story on my company-supplied iPhone (which, by the way, I didn’t want; I’d rather use the Android that I keep in my drawer – long story).

The death of Steve Jobs follows the release of the much-anticipated iPhone 4S, the successor to the iPhone 4. Perhaps that ‘S’ should stand for ‘swan song’?

This morning, I mentioned Jobs’ death to a friend, who said, “Who’s Steve Jobs?”

Who’s Steve Jobs? I guess if you’re indifferent to technology and design, you could be forgiven for not knowing his name. But whether you’ve heard of him or not, his influence has almost certainly had an impact on you. The number of modern innovations associated to his name is impressive:

  • First successful personal computer with a graphical user interface (the Macintosh)
  • First WWW (World Wide Web) server
  • Pioneering in rich content email
  • Through Pixar, the first entirely CGI film, Toy Story
  • iTunes: simple access to large online catalogue of music, incorporating digital rights management
  • iPod: user-friendly range of media players
  • iPhone: user-friendly smart phone. When asked to recommend a phone to colleagues, I suggest Android for the technophiles and iPhones for the technophobes. The success of this approach tells me everything!
  • iPad: a device that “experts” claimed was superfluous but which has shipped in phenomenal numbers, battering all manufacturers’ competition in the process
  • Obsessively well-designed low voltage power supplies (built in cable management, magnetic quick-release plugs)
  • Multi-touch mouse

Given the number of patents that bear his name, I have inevitably missed some…

I am not an Apple fanboy. In fact one of my favourite sports is baiting Apple fanboys. But I simply can’t help admiring this charismatic man who for so long helmed one of the most successful companies of all time simultaneously bringing design genius and technical excellence to the masses. Steve Jobs, one time living legend, your legacy will live on.

Meanwhile, someone somewhere just patented the iHarp.

Steve Jobs image copyright © Ben Stanfield, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Kindle Fire: Pretender to the iPad’s Crown?

Kindle Fire showing InsensateWhen last week I read about the new $199 Kindle Fire released in the States, my first thought was, “This is a loss leader for a content delivery system.” Amazon has recognised it can make so much money out of selling ebooks, it doesn’t need to make a profit on the reading units.

In the Fire, Amazon has produced a unit that can in all important respects compete with most of the other tablets/pads out there, apparently (but not actually) for a fraction of the cost to the consumer. Obviously, Amazon wants to be positioned ready for when that 50:50 ebooks-to-print-books ratio tips to 75%+. And of course it’s not just ebooks, because Amazon can deliver audio, video and apps to the Fire, positioning it squarely in Apple/iTunes territory.

How is Apple going to challenge a $199 contender to the $499 iPad’s crown? I think we can be certain that Apple will respond forcefully – it can’t afford to take a drubbing in its most strategic consumer sector. Nevertheless, this looks to me like a very smart move on Amazon’s part and I’m not sure which (if any) large company is in a position to challenge this move.

It looks like PC Pro agrees with me. What do you think?

Cannot save photos on jailbroken iPhone 4 camera roll: FIXED

iPhone 4 A few applications recently started failing to save photos to the iPhone camera roll. A quick dig around via SSH confirmed this; it was not that they were saving but were somehow hidden – they were not there at all.

It seems that some kind of permissions error had crept in over time. Connecting via SSH and issuing the command “chmod -R a+rwx /var/mobile/Media/DCIM” fixed this.

NB: Be aware that this grants all users/applications read/write access to the photo directory.

iPhone 4 image copyright © ji young YOON, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Windows: keyboard layout has changed spontaneously

keyboard I’ve recently noticed that the keyboard layout on my Windows XP PCs is spontaneously changing from UK to US. I suspect that this is linked to a piece of software I use called Input Director (which allows you to control several PCs/monitors from one keyboard/mouse).

Whatever the cause, from time to time my UK keyboard starts operating in US mode (so, for example, the following symbols are all swapped around: ", ', #, £). This is inconvenient, to say the least.

The logical place to look would be in Regional Settings/Languages, within the Control Panel. Nothing had changed there however: UK was the only layout showing as installed. Advanced Text Services were switched off and all the relevant keyboard shortcuts were disabled.

In my search for a solution, I came across this page, which describes a similar situation. Within the comments on that page, one contributor has posted:

Try holding ‘alt’ and pressing ‘shift’ three times.

The mysterious Jim doesn’t explain why this works – and I have yet to find any documentation, but, sure enough, Alt-Shift-Shift-Shift does indeed reset the keyboard layout back to UK. Further repetitions of the keyboard combo have no other effect, so this is a reset rather than a toggle.

Office has a mind of its own

Microsoft Office products can exhibit a similar behaviour. If you’re finding that some MS Office product is using the wrong keyboard map (but other programs are fine), try this: First click on the Office program, somewhere you can enter text. Then press the left shift and alt keys together. You should be returned to your default keyboard mapping.

You can actually remove the unwanted keyboard layout from Office – note this is separately managed from the Windows keyboard layout, for some reason. In one of the Office programs (for 2010 onwards), click File -> Options -> Language. If you see more than one “Editing Language” in the list, select any you don’t want and click “Remove”.

Keyboard image copyright © yum9me, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Install Ubuntu from floppy + network; no CDROM

Ubuntu Logo This blog entry brings together instructions from various other source on the internet, for a particular scenario:

  • Compaq Evo N1015v laptop (“the Laptop”) – should work on many other machines though
  • CDROM drive is faulty – cannot boot or read from it
  • Network card/BIOS cannot natively boot from the network
  • Cannot boot from USB
  • The Laptop does however have a floppy drive
  • Windows is currently installed on the Laptop
  • Another Windows-based computer (“the PC”) is available and both machines are networked and connected to the internet

The objective was originally to have XBMC running on a now-defunct laptop. Unfortunately it transpired that the graphics card was too old and obsolete to be supported by XBMC. Nevertheless, we can still use the Laptop for many other purposes.

The steps

  1. Find out what network card is installed on the Laptop. In my case this was easy – within Windows, the device manager told me it was a Realtek RTL8139 something-or-other. Otherwise, Google can help.
  2. Still within Windows on the Laptop, use the gPXE ROM-o-matic to create a bootable floppy disk for this network card. Very easy. Select the most recent “production release” >here<. Choose the correct NIC type (in my case “rtl8139”) and click “Get Image”.
  3. Still within Windows on the Laptop, write that disk image to a floppy disk using RawWrite.
  4. Following the instructions on the Ubuntu documentation site, download the appropriate netboot files for your architechture and set up tftpd32 on the PC.
  5. With tftpd32 running on the PC, reboot the Laptop from the floppy (set BIOS to boot from floppy first). This should automatically boot into the Ubuntu installer – select “install” and proceed with Ubuntu installation over the internet. This will take a long time, even over a fast internet connection!
  6. If the installation is on an older machine, it would be worth selecting “Xubuntu desktop” (rather than “Ubuntu desktop”) at the software selection screen. This installs a leaner desktop system. After the installation is complete, run aptitude from the command line or Synaptic Package Manager from the desktop to choose any other software packages required.

Image copyright © Canonical Ltd. All rights acknowledged.

Fine-tuning divert to voicemail for iPhones (and Android, BlackBerry, etc.)

Hi! This is the one of the most viewed (and I hope, one of the most helpful) pages on my web site. Thanks for visiting! If you find the information here useful, please feel free to express your appreciation in the comments or, even better, by grabbing a copy of my novel. 😉 >more info<.

– Rob

Answerphone by jypsygen some reason, the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 (with the current or recent versions of iOS) have very few options for call diversion. Fortunately, it is possible to set up all the usual diverts using network codes from the keypad. To divert to voicemail, you need to know your <voicemail> number (see the section below).

The instructions below work regardless of phone operating system, so do work for Android
, BlackBerry and other devices. Those phones tend to provide these features in a more intuitive fashion, but if you can’t find the settings, the procedures here should work anyway.

Press the call button after entering the codes below:

Function Dial
Activate divert all **21*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert all ##21#
Query divert all *#21#
Activate divert when no answer* **61*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when no answer ##61#
Query divert when no answer *#61#
Activate divert when not reachable **62*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when not reachable ##62#
Query divert when not reachable *#62#
Activate divert when busy **67*<voicemail>#
Deactivate divert when busy ##67#
Query divert when busy *#67#

*You can vary the number of seconds to wait before diverting when there’s no answer. The delay can be between 5 and 30 seconds. Enter that as a two digit number (05 to 30) in place of “<xx>” in the following code: **61*<voicemail>**<xx>#

Voicemail numbers

On the UK T-Mobile network, your voicemail number is usually +44063, followed by your mobile phone number (without the leading 0), e.g. if your phone number is 07123456789, the appropriate voicemail number is +440637123456789. Long-press the 0 key to get the +. BUT! in the voicemail number prefix (+44063) , the ’63’ may be something different for your phone – e.g. for the Fresh sub-network, the prefix is +44060. You can check the correct prefix by entering *#67#.

Voicemail numbers for other networks are more straightforward:

  • O2 901
  • Orange +447973100123
  • Virgin 212, or try prefixing your mobile phone number with +44002 (dropping the leading 0)
  • Vodafone 121

Answer phone image copyright © jypsygen, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Ode to a Wintry Commute

wintry roadOh come on frosty mornings!
Your charms are wearing thin.
I’m weary of commuting in
a car as cold as sin.

It makes me nervous when the engine
doesn’t want to start.
Its coughs and splutters are like a
rhinocerous’s fart.

The wheel has induced frostbite;
the engine’s rattling.
Suspension’s frozen creaking
sounds like chickens have moved in.

The washer jets are iced up
and the roads are slick as grease.
It’ll be a downright miracle if
I get there in one piece.

Jack Frost no longer pleases me
with trees full of dandruff.
So come on frosty mornings,
you’ve held court for long enough!

Winter road image copyright © Thomas Quine, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Cleaning and speeding up slow Windows PCs

stupid computer PCs tend to slow down over time, usually as a result of the increased demands placed on them. The good news is that the situation can often be improved dramatically without having to shell out more money. For sure, one of the biggest wins is to install more memory (if possible), but after that, here are the steps that I personally follow when cleaning up machines for colleagues and friends.

  • Check the list of installed programs and ensure that you only have one internet security suite/virus scanner installed. Remove any extras.
  • Uninstall all software that you know you’re not using. If there’s software you’re not sure about or don’t recognise, feel free to add a comment to this post and I’ll try and offer an opinion. The best option for uninstalling software (this point and the previous point) is to use Revo Uninstaller (Freeware version) instead of the Control Panel. It does a more thorough job than most programs’ uninstallation routines:
  • Use CCleaner. Check the options carefully – you don’t necessarily want to select them all. If in doubt about any item, don’t remove it.
  • Use something like SpaceMonger to track down big files that you can afford to delete. If you look at the “Free Software” tab on the download page, you’ll find the old version 1.4.0, which is perfectly adequate.
  • Defrag with JkDefragGUI or its successor MyDefragPowerGUI (once it’s out of beta). The default options should be fine. If you can find the registry optimization options, use them too.
  • So-called “registry cleaners” usually do more harm than good and are best avoided.

On the subject of installing more memory, I invariably use Crucial for home and business. Crucial’s service is very reliable and there is an online scanner that in most cases does a good job of checking your system and advising you on the upgrade possibilities. I don’t get any referral fees from Crucial by the way!

Image ownership unknown. All rights acknowledged.

Tips for improving lithium-ion laptop battery life

Li-ion laptop battery Replacement batteries for laptops can be quite expensive, so here are a few ideas to get the most out of your battery in terms of charge and overall life.

Background information

Most modern laptop batteries are of the lithium-ion (“li-ion”) variety. You can expect them to last two to four years if properly cared for. They will degrade over time, whether or not they are in use. They last best at a temperature of 15°C/59°F, although it is unlikely to be practical to use them at this temperature.

This is a chemical technology, which is under continual development, so it is entirely conceivable that a new li-ion battery for an old laptop will last much better than the original battery did. This and other factors make it fairly hard to predict how long your laptop will last on one charge. All you can do is to try and get the best out of your particular battery.

Did you know? Early li-ion notebook batteries were known to explode! Modern batteries have protection circuits built in which prevent the lithium ion converting into unstable lithium metal.

Power consumption tips

  • Reduce the brightness of your screen when running on batteries.
  • Use a blank screensaver, and set it to operate after a relatively short period of inactivity. Better still, switch off or hibernate your laptop if you won’t be using it for more than 5 minutes or so.
  • Set your power options (e.g. in Windows control panel) to minimize power consumption. This includes having hard drives power down as much as possible.
  • Switch off wireless networking, if you’re not using it.
  • Unplug all PCMCIA cards (or similar) and USB devices that you’re not using. Ditto optical drives (CDROM etc).
  • Certain specialist notebook graphics cards can be set to run “underclocked” at less than their full potential. This saves energy. Do this with caution though, because it can cause conflicts with certain graphics software.
  • Close all the programs you’re not using. This includes all the programs that run in the background, unused services in Windows, etc. Which services to stop is beyond the scope of this blog entry.
  • Certain sound chips have a power saving mode that can be activated via the control panel.

Caution when hot! It is inadvisable to use a li-ion battery when particularly hot. Heat can generally be a problem with laptops, so make sure that all the vents are clear, that the laptop is not sitting on a highly insulating material (e.g. sat on a duvet when used in bed!) and that all fans are operating as they should.

Battery life tips

  • Do not keep the laptop plugged in whilst the battery is installed; this keeps the battery on a permanent charge/ discharge cycle which will cause it to age rapidly. Instead remove the battery if you’re running on AC power.
  • If you’re going to store the battery or leave it unused for any length of time, discharge it first to about 40% capacity – never fully discharge a li-ion battery. Aim to store it at around 15°C/59°F (see above).
  • You do not need to discharge or charge a li-ion battery fully – they do not suffer from the “memory effect” experienced with nickel cadmium or nickel metal hydride rechargeables. So only discharge partially – avoid going below 20% capacity if you can.
  • When the battery is full or at over 95% charge, stop charging it!
  • Don’t bother buying old stock of batteries no matter how cheap, since they will have degraded for the above reasons.

Remember to recycle. Li-ion batteries should be recycled wherever possible. Your council may have suitable local facilities.

For everything you could possibly want to know about batteries in general, visit the Battery University!

Photo based on battery image copyright © photomartimages, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

Hope Deferred

Hope Deferred by Rob PomeroyI wrote this short story some years ago. Caution: Some readers may find the subject matter traumatic.

The doctor had his back to her and was tapping on the formica top. A nurse hovered at the opposite side of the room, unsure whether her presence was still required. The patient understandably feared the worst.

When the doctor turned round his face was grim. She heard very little of what he said. Indeed she did not need to hear. She looked across to the nurse for support, but the nurse would not meet her gaze.

The hospital sheets felt rough under her fingers, as she grabbed great handfuls of the material, even as her lungs grabbed at the air – as if comfort could be found in either substance. And then, her hands threw off the sheet as her lungs threw out the air in one long, loud, wailing “No!”

Her husband walked silently out of the room, and effectively out of her life.

The nurse tactfully switched off the baby heart monitor.

Another microwave meal. A tolerably edible lasagne made by Mr Sainsbury’s own fair hands. The clock striking six, seven, eight, nine, ten. And so to bed, What could possibly be more rewarding than eating processed food and watching soap opera re-runs on UK Gold?

Two years of the same routine had a welcome numbing effect. At least Gail had stopped looking in the mirror and calling herself a murderess.

She wore her hair long and plaited, the way Ben had liked it. He never called, though.

The third birthday was hard. Gail’s sister-in-law was seven months pregnant. Her brother and sister-in-law kindly took Gail out for a meal that night. They knew her thoughts would dwell on her lost son.

But all Gail could see was Samantha’s distended belly. It was so unjust. Gail had been married for seven years and trying for five before she had conceived. Sam and Charles conceived within the first week of trying. What had Gail done to deserve such unfair treatment?

The meal was torture.

She never understood why she did it. When she got home that night, she found herself in the bathroom before her medicine cabinet, observing her face and loathing her freckles. She saw herself open the cabinet and reach for a razor blade. She watched, distantly, as she took the blade and applied it to her forearms, releasing pain even as she released her lifeblood.

Eighteen months later. October. Children playing outside, kicking up crisp russet leaves as children should. Her friend Clare called. They had tea.

Clare was a member of a squash club. She had been playing in a tournament immediately prior to visiting Gail. Naturally the conversation turned to Clare’s progress through the tournament. And naturally Clare explained how she had experienced a slight setback: her long-term squash partner and sporting motivator Kath had revealed that she was pregnant and would not be able to play for a while.

Another pregnancy. Gail could not escape them. She had learnt to cope as best she could, venting her blood and her pain as needed.

The conversation dwelt on this pregnancy for a moment. Clare was pleased for her friend Kath, who was delighted to be expecting. She and her partner had wanted to start a family. They had been together for three years and felt that the time was right. Ben was firmly established in his career, his salary was more than enough to support them both, and Kath could afford to take time off if she needed to.

What was Ben’s job? Gail asked. Oh, he was in motor finance, Clare thought. More urgently Gail asked, what was Ben’s surname?

With a gasp of horror, the penny dropped too late for Clare. His surname was Turner. Although Gail had reverted to her maiden name, Clare now dimly recalled Gail’s story that four years ago Gail had separated from a man called Turner. Clare cursed herself, but her friend assured her that it was all right, just a bit of a shock.

Of course it was not all right, and Gail’s world fell apart for the second time.

“Miss Huxtable is here,” the receptionist told him.

“Thank you Helen,” Adrian said in the general direction of his speakerphone, “I’ll be out shortly.” He quickly reviewed his notes. Miss Huxtable had been referred to him by one of his other divorce clients. It looked like a straightforward job. Over four years’ separation, no real issues of property or finance, and no children involved. The client did not qualify for government funded legal advice, which was perfect since it meant Adrian would actually get paid for this job. He straightened his tie, quickly tidied his desk and then went to meet his new client.

Although a consummate professional, Adrian allowed himself the luxury of an initial admiring glance at some of his female clients. Miss Huxtable was no exception. As he led her back to his room, he turned over the snapshot he had just taken in his mind, of a well dressed, nicely made-up twenty-something lady. Once through the door of his office however, it was all business.

“Good morning Miss Huxtable,” he shook her hand, “I’m Adrian Redbrook. Pleased to meet you. Do have a seat.” With a broad smile, he gestured to a comfortable chair by his small circular conference table. He took a seat 60° round from her – not opposite so as to be stand-offish, and not too close so as to be over-familiar. He had in fact measured this distance, and considered it, along with the fresh blank legal pad on the table, to be part of the science of being a divorce lawyer.

The box of tissues and the minimalist flowers in the vase in the centre of the table were part of the art of his practice.

Adrian noted immediately that Miss Huxtable sat on the edge of her seat, looking quite apprehensive. Rather than dive straight into some questions, he started some small talk – wasn’t it a lovely day? had she found the office with no trouble?

Her quick glance up at Adrian’s clock indicated that she was already concerned about how much this was going to cost her, so Adrian thought better of any further chat, and moved into the formal part of the interview. At that point he could not predict how rapidly the interview would become informal once again.

Gail sat at home, untouched meal before her, television turned down and disregarded. She had a lot to think about. The interview with her solicitor had not gone the way she expected at all. She had been disarmed by how approachable, how friendly he was. Her work colleague Martin when recommending Mr Redbrook had mentioned that he was very nice. Somehow Gail had expected Mr Redbrook to be nice in a purely professional, detached, clinical way.

Although thoughts of clients would never come between Adrian and his food, his mind was similarly preoccupied. Elgar’s cello concerto played in the background, but for once Adrian was unmoved by its haunting themes.

It was a fundamental principle of professional behaviour that the advice-giver should remain objective. An emotionally involved solicitor could only expect his judgment to become clouded when his client most needed his trained clarity of thought. But this was a simple case, no real points of conflict. Perhaps there was no harm in it after all…

Having coaxed out of Miss Huxtable the basic facts surrounding her “unfortunate matrimonial situation” (as lawyers would insist on calling it), the conversation had progressed towards the background. His client was very engaging, an animated storyteller, and before long both client and solicitor had ceased looking at the clock.

A full fifty minutes into the interview, Miss Huxtable had revealed the real reason, as she saw it, why her marriage had broken down irretrievably. Seven years into their marriage, Gail and Ben had conceived a child. For reasons that Gail inexplicably blamed on herself, that child had died while still in the womb, and Gail had undergone the horror of an induced stillbirth. Worse still, her husband, unable to cope with the loss, was not at her side during the ordeal.

As Gail continued to talk, recalling her reaction when she discovered that her husband’s new partner was now pregnant, Adrian found himself reaching for a tissue at the same time as his client. There had been an awkward pause as Miss Huxtable noticed her professional adviser’s emotional state, and the professional adviser struggled to regain his composure.

At that point Adrian had abruptly brought the interview back to practical issues related to the divorce: the location of the marriage certificate; the identity of Ben’s solicitors; whether there was likely to be any opposition to the proposed divorce.

Professionalism notwithstanding, Adrian pressed Miss Huxtable’s hand more firmly and for longer than normal. Their parting pleasantries were decidedly sincere.

With a great effort of will, Adrian donned the emotionless mantle of legal adviser, and maintained his warm, friendly, but strictly businesslike manner until the divorce proceedings were concluded. The entire process took but six months. Six months of profound confusion and disappointment for Gail. At first she had berated herself for being attracted to her solicitor, and then, in spite of herself she started to hope that he might feel similarly attracted. Each week that passed confirmed to her however that Adrian disliked her. How could he like a woman who had allowed her child to die, after all?

Great was her surprise, and how her heart fluttered like a teenager’s, when he nervously telephoned her to ask her to dinner. He could hardly get the invitation out through all the profuse apologies. Could she forgive him, contacting her for purely personal reasons? Flushed and slightly giddy, Gail freely forgave, and accepted the invitation. And so the relationship started.

It was an uneven path. Both carried their baggage; both had learnt the ingrained habits of the long-term single person. And for Adrian, he always felt that there was a part of Gail to which he was not allowed access. Certain doors were firmly shut. On the face of it, she was as open and engaging as ever – he cried freely with her as she told him more about the sad event that had changed her life so utterly. But still Adrian had the impression that at times he was being kept at arm’s length.

Eight months into the relationship, he found out why.

They had argued. Adrian had begged Gail to forgive herself, as he had many times before, unable to comprehend the feelings of this woman he loved so tenderly. Gail raised her barriers, and the conflict escalated. Eventually, Gail stormed out of the room.

She did not realise that he had followed her. She did not hear his noiseless step on the stair. She did not notice that she had failed to lock the bathroom door. And so he found her, blade already red with her blood. For a long moment neither spoke, but looked at the other in shock. Now Adrian knew why Gail always wore those elegant long sleeved tops.

Dimly Adrian was aware that this was one of those critical moments in life where it would be possible to choose one of two paths: that of hotheaded folly and destruction, or that of measured wisdom and healing. Clutching at straws, he simply reached into the medicine cabinet for bandages.

As Gail alternately screamed, raged and sobbed hysterically, Adrian did his best to apply ointment and bind up the fresh wound. He stroked her hair, spoke soothingly to her, and repeated over and over again, “I love you, and I’m not going to leave you.” Eventually Gail’s protestations that he must leave her, because she was evil and destroyed everything she touched, became less urgent.

When the storm had subsided completely, Adrian poured over her more love than he thought he had within him. With great care, he made her ready for bed, and gently smoothed the covers around her. He took up a watch in a chair by her bedside, always there when she reached out for his hand, always ready to speak a word of comfort, always ready to confirm that he would not leave.

At about 4am, Gail finally seemed to believe him, and slipped into a sleep more peaceful than she had known for years.

Touched by the purity of unconditional love and acceptance, Gail began to understand forgiveness. They visited her son’s grave together and Adrian took the risk of beseeching on behalf of the son that the mother harm herself no more, but rather live in peace.

It has been three years since Gail last took a razor to her arms. Thanks to love, she has now learnt a more excellent way.

Based on a true story and dedicated to the child concerned.

I am willing to consider publication of Hope Deferred. Please contact me for further details. All rights reserved.

Photo based on Cuatro Cienegas image copyright © Magnus von Koeller, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.