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Friday Philosophy – Flippin’ Technology June 5, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Perceptions, rant.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

Sometimes I think I would have been a Luddite or a member of other groups who have trashed new technology in frustration. Some days, I can just scream at it. You would think having worked in Information Technology for so long would make me more of a fan, but it actually makes me worse – as I know there is no need for there to be so much wrong with the electronic dross we all have to deal with day-to-day. And if I, someone who has used (heck, even programmed) computers for 3 decades, have trouble with these damned things, how frustrating must “normal” people find it?

Tesco Challenge - original on RevK Rant's blog

Tesco Challenge – original on RevK Rant’s blog

Take this morning’s source-for-a-rant. Self checkouts in supermarkets. I had popped into Tesco to get the weekend’s rations of baked beans, wine and cat food and there were large queues for all manned (though, I should more correctly say, mostly womanned) tills. And almost no queue for the self-service ones. We all know why almost no queue for the self-service ones, most of us hate them. But I had to get back home for a UKOUG conference call and there was very little chance the three-people-deep queues would be negotiated in time, so I manned up and went to one of the vacant screens.

Have I mentioned I’ve been using computers since before Wayne Rooney, Keira Knightley or Michael Phelps were born? So I have some affinity and experience to navigating screens of information. But, like all of theses devices, using them is painful. Given they are designed to be used by everyone including idiots, why is the “UX” so low? Why does the important information appear at different spots in the screen at different times? Why does there seem to be no button to press for a simple, key-word triggered guide (“How to weigh Veg?” Oh, look up there, press the correct icon, look down there and press another and then finally click over here to say “yes I really did ask you to weigh some bananas” – that would be nice). Why does the Waitrose one make me swipe my card to pull up my scanned items but insist I shove the card up the slot to pay? Plus all the times you have to get some human to come over and confirm you are over 18 (I need to be 18 to buy expanding foam?!?) or don’t look suicidal. I’m not being funny but the age check is just not needed, if I am using a credit card it can know I am 18 or over (you cannot you have a UK credit card under 18, partly as you are not allowed to sign up for a credit agreement below that age and if I am using someone else’s credit card, me buying a bottle of wine is the least of the potential issues). To give them their due, at least our local Tesco (unlike many other stores I have used around here) have someone on hand to constantly swipe, press, tap and harass the machines into playing correctly.

I can’t believe how badly these self service checkouts work. I can’t believe the companies have not tested them extensively with real people (I know, they claim to, but then I’ve seen “user system testing” in big banks and it is shockingly poor). How can they think such terrible systems are good for business? That people still insist on queuing for checkouts with real people rather than use them must tell the companies something! Why can’t these systems be better designed. Why are they so painful to use? It can’t be me. Maybe it is me….

Next rant. My internet & email supplier. Hi BT. BT, you are crap at running your internet & email service. I’ll only mention in passing the regular episodes of slow internet, the times mail seems to struggle to keep moving, the harassing emails to buy more allowance as I am reaching my limit…for the prior month (“HI BT, I think I might pop back in time and download 15 films last March, can I have more allowance for than as I’d used over half my limit”) – but I am going to complain over the fact that for the last 5 weeks now, each weekend you stop accepting valid connection requests from my Laptop – but allow them from my iPhone. So my account/pwd is working fine. But no, from the PC you tell me I have to validate my account. So I log on to the web site and as soon as I put in my details you tell me I have to change my password as there has been too many failed attempts at access my account? Well, if they failed, I chose a decent password maybe? Trying to force me to change it is likely to make me change it to something simpler maybe? Especially as this is the fourth time this month… but then, usually the system fails to actually process my password change and just hangs. My iPhone still keeps working with the old details and, usually by the next day, the errors have gone and I can access my mail with my old details with a real machine again too. My conclusion has been that it’s their software screwing up. Each. And. Every. Weekend.

It’s got worse, it now fouls up some workdays too. And I made an interesting discovery. When I log in to the web site to validate myself, if I put in a password of “scr3wy0uBT” – it accepts it and puts me into the Change Your Password screen exactly the same as before. No, my password is not “scr3wy0uBT” {it rejected it when I tried…}. So top security there. Whatever is happening, it’s just…..pants {UK phrase, it means “utterly rubbish”. Pants are not trousers, they are undergarments, you strange Americans.}

What is BT doing wrong to have this problem keep happening? Is this a good “UX” experience for me and all the other people who seem to have similar issues? Is it so hard to sort this out?

What was the third rant? Oh yes. Windows 8. Too many people before me have vented spleen and given pieces of their mind on Windows 8 for me to be able to add any more to the pile, but what I cannot fathom is, as soon as they got the almighty ass-kicking that they did for ballsing up the Start Button/Menu, why did they not in the next version just put it straight back as it was?. Or put out and advertise a simple “patch” to put back what millions of people were screaming they wanted back? All I can think is someone’s ego was too large to wave their hands in the air and say “Oh boy, did we make a dog’s dinner of that – let us help improve your “UX” and our reputation by fixing that straight away”.

Final rant. Games. Computer Games. I like running around shooting things. It gets rids of some of the IT-In-Daily-Life anger. But I am not very good at it and my broadband connection is slow and a bit laggy, so I am not interested in running around shooting things with friends. The same broadband issues mean I also don’t want to spend 4 hours downloading a game, I want to buy it in a floppy disc…..I mean CD…. Errr, DVD… and play it. So I went to this place called a “shop” and I bought a game on media in a box and checked the packaging. No where did it state I have to have an internet connection. I get the DVD out (hmm, there are actually three), put it in the machine and 30 mins later the software is loaded. And now it FORCES me to register with some crapola online gaming site to register my copy (like, if I had a bootleg version that would not be the first bit they strip out) and that takes an hour to download it’s own shitty software. That done, it will let me fire up the game – that immediately bombs out to download the latest patch (which I think it the crapola online site’s version) and that takes two hours as it is obviously much, much more than a patch. I suspect it is the whole damned game again. This is not a “UX” I wanted and, you can bet, next time I buy a game, crapola online gaming company is one thing I will be looking to avoid. It does not help that said game won’t fire up without logging into said game site or making me watch a minute of adverts about who wrote the game on who’s graphics card using what game engine. Thankfully a few minutes on the net explained how I could avoid all of that. But why do I have to take steps to stop these companies annoying me and, this is the bit that confuses me, what makes these companies think I’ll be impressed by being repeatedly exposed to their adds that I don’t want to see? I’ll just despise them a little bit more each time.

I just don’t get it. The number one thing any IT system needs to achieve is User Acceptance (as I have said before, if you check the link). Why do so many large companies miss this and inflict on the world a seriously sub-standard experience of IT and technology? If someone like me who has driven a screen, a keyboard and a mouse for 3 decades, understands some of the limits to IT and must have at least some brains in his skull, if I get endlessly caught out, befuddled and simply screaming-out-loud-frustrated by crap IT, how is my poor old mum (and everyone’s poor old parents) supposed to cope?

I’m going to become a Lumberjack. Chainsaws do not have screens and keyboards.

No I.T. Hassles Here

No I.T. Hassles Here

Fixing my iPhone with my Backside May 18, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Hardware, off-topic, Perceptions, Private Life.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

{Things got worse with this phone >>}

iPhone 5 battery getting weak? Damn thing is saying “out of charge” and won’t charge? Read on…

NB a link to the battery recall page is at the end of this post and the eventual “death” of my phone and my subsequent experience of the recall with my local apple store can be found by following the above link…

Working with Oracle often involves fixing things – not because of the Oracle software (well, occasionally it is) but because of how it is used or the tech around it. Sometimes the answer is obvious, sometime you can find help on the web and sometimes you just have to sit on the issue for a while. Very, very occasionally, quite literally.

Dreaded “out of battery” icon

Last week I was in the English Lake District, a wonderful place to walk the hills & valleys and relax your mind, even as you exhaust your body. I may have been on holiday but I did need to try and keep in touch though – and it was proving difficult. No phone reception at the cottage, the internet was a bit slow and pretty random, my brother’s laptop died – and then my iPhone gave up the ghost. Up on the hills, midday, it powers off and any attempt to use it just shows the “feed me” screen. Oh well, annoying but not fatal.

However, I get back to base, plug it in…and it won’t start. I still get the “battery out of charge” image. I leave it an hour, still the same image. Reset does not help, it is an ex-iPhone, it has ceased to be.

My iPhone is version 5 model, black as opposed to the white one shown (picture stolen from “digitaltrends.com” and trimmed), not that the colour matters! I’ve started having issues with the phone’s battery not lasting so well (as, I think, has everyone with the damned thing) and especially with it’s opinion of how much charge is left being inaccurate. As soon as it gets down to 50% it very rapidly drops to under 20%, starts giving me the warnings about low battery and then hits 1%. And sometimes stays at 1% for a good hour or two, even with me taking the odd picture. And then it will shut off. If it is already down at below 20% and I do something demanding like take a picture with flash or use the torch feature, it just switches off and will only give me the “out of charge” image. But before now, it has charge up fine and, oddly enough, when I put it on to charge it immediately shows say 40-50% charge and may run for a few hours again.

So it seemed the battery was dying and had finally expired. I’m annoyed, with the unreliable internet that phone was the only verbal way to keep in touch with my wife, and for that contact I had to leave the cottage and go up the road 200 meters (thankfully, in the direction of a nice pub).

But then I got thinking about my iPhone and it’s symptoms. It’s opinion of it’s charge would drop off quickly, sudden drain had a tendency to kill it and I had noticed it lasting less well if it was cold (one night a couple of months ago it went from 75% to dead in 10, 15 mins when I was in a freezing cold car with, ironically, a dead battery). I strongly suspect the phone detects it’s level of charge by monitoring the amperage drop, or possibly the voltage drop, as the charge is used. And older rechargeable batteries tend to drop in amperage. And so do cold batteries {oddly, fully charged batteries can have a slightly higher voltage as the internal resistance is less, I understand}.

Perhaps my battery is just not kicking out enough amperage for the phone to be able to either run on it or “believe” it can run on it. The damn thing has been charging for 2 or 3 hours now and still is dead. So, let’s warm it up. Nothing too extreme, no putting it in the oven or on top of a radiator. Body temperature should do – We used to do this on scout camps with torches that were almost exhausted. So I took it out of it’s case (I have a stupid, bulky case) so that it’s metal case is uncovered and I, yep, sat on it. And drank some wine and talked balls with my brother.

15 minutes later, it fires up and recons it is 70% charged. Huzzah, it is not dead!

Since then I have kept it out it’s case, well charged and, frankly, warm. If I am out it is in my trouser pocket against my thigh. I know I need to do something more long-term but right now it’s working.

I tend to solve a lot of my IT/Oracle issues like this. I think about the system before the critical issue, was there anything already going awry, what other symptoms were there and can I think of a logical or scientific cause for such a pattern. I can’t remember any other case where chemisty has been the answer to a technology issue I’m having (though a few where physics did, like the limits on IO speed or network latency that simply cannot be exceeded), but maybe others have?

Update: if you have a similar problem with your iPhone5, there is a recall on some iPhone5’s sold between December 2012 and January 2013 – https://www.apple.com/uk/support/iphone5-battery
{thanks for letting me know that, Neil}.

Friday Philosophy – My Introduction To Programming Way Back When March 13, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in history, off-topic, Private Life.
Tags: ,
8 comments

One fortunate thing about me is my age. Or rather, how old I was in the 1980’s. I was at school in the 80’s, I did my ‘O’ Levels (taken at age 16) in 1984. One of my ‘O’ levels was in Computer Studies. This was before Windows and Excel and Word and all that office software, before the internet was in existence (TCP/IP was only standardized in 1982!) and phones were all tethered to the wall with a cable. What were we taught in Computer Studies? Programming. That and a bit about hardware, but mostly it was programming.

This beast had  about 48k of memory and hi-res 320*192 pixels

This beast had about 48k of memory and hi-res 320*192 pixels

In the first year of my two-year course we had just two computers to use between us, both RM 380Z’s I think, so we wrote out our programs by hand and worked through them logically to try and get them as good as we could before our turn came to put them into the computer and run them. This was of course painful, but our programs initially really were of the terrible simple “take in the temperature in Centigrade and convert it to Fahrenheit” scale of things, before we went all crazy with power and wrote a program that would ask you which way you wanted to do the conversion. We all had a 5-1/4 inch floppy to store our programs on but were told to take great care of it as they would not be handing out more! Needless to say, it was not long before most of us were turning up at the “computer room” (the schoolroom with the two machines and the broken lock) at lunch times and after school in order to get more time on the machines. The only problem was that in our first year of ‘O’ level we had to contend with the older kids from the year above us and they did not like us oiks turning up to use “their” computers. At least we were introduced early to a key concept of a career in IT – working outside and beyond the standard office hours.

For some of my class mates, they had other options. The early 80’s were also when home computers burst onto the scene and some friends had ZX81s, Vic 20s, Acorn Atoms, Dragons or, gasp, commodore 64s. My older brother had a ZX Spectrum, with the 48K ram pack.

My brother's spectrum, access denied to little me

My brother’s spectrum, access denied to little me

However, the Spectrum was not available to me as my miserable bastard of a brother would not let me near it. You might think this was reasonable as he was the older brother and it was his computer. But it was plugged into my portable TV and my cassette tape recorder. This was what you had to do with these early home computers as almost none came with a “monitor” and most with no storage device. Certainly no internal hard disc! When you turned off the computer, whatever program you were running immediately evaporated out of memory and you had to load it up from tape next time you turned the computer on – given that you had saved it to tape first. Games came on cassette tapes so before you could play, you had to load it. For. 10. minutes. I think one person had access to a machine that could use our precious single 5-1/4″ floppy but he was not happy as that computer was rubbish for games.

{For anyone reading this who is less than 35 years old, before downloads we had CD’s, which you know about. Before CDs we had vinyl records, which you may or may not know about as they became cool for a while again. Before CDs we also had cassette tapes, which you may not know about, which were about the same size as a credit card but about 1.5* as thick as an iPhone. You could record between 30 (C30) minutes and 2 hours (C120) of music onto them, over and over again, and they would fit in your pocket. But then the tape would either eventually stretch (especially if it was a C120) leading to very waily, odd playback, or your cassette player would “eat” the tape and you would spend 30 minutes with scissors and tweezers pulling it out of the machine. Ahhhh, the memories.}

The joy of pre-recorded and blank cassette tapes

The joy of pre-recorded and blank cassette tapes

Where was I? Oh yes. My brother used my TV and my cassette player which, together, had cost more than his computer. He felt he could just use my stuff as he wanted but I could not use his computer. If I was watching my TV when he wanted to use his spectrum, he would get really obnoxious and aggressive until I “agreed” he could use it. But I was never allowed to use his spectrum (well, not when he was around to know, anyway). You might pick up that this could have led to a little bit of sibling angst and an ongoing feud that continued into adulthood? Too damned right!

RS 480z - we had SIXTEEN of them, and a shared disc

RS 480z – we had SIXTEEN of them, and a shared disc

Getting back to the main thread, unlike most of my class mates I was limited to using the two computers at school. However, when I came back to school after the summer break between my fist and second year of doing my ‘O’ levels I came back to find they had finished building the dedicated computer room. It had air conditioning, a working lock on the door, about 16 RS-480Z computers and a smell something like melted plastic, new carpet and nail varnish – which never went. There was also some sort of shared storage, I think it was another 480z with a hard disc in it that all the other machines could see. So we all had a machine to use during lessons, the ability to save and load the programs all the time and programming really did become the thing we did. Due to the afore mentioned brother issues I still ended up doing some programming at lunch times and after school, fighting off the oiks from the year below…

My first real program that I remember doing, which I felt was more than a glorified calculator or pathetic painting of a house in lines and boxes, was a program that played Naughts and Crosses, or Tic-Tac-Toe as our US friends would (in my opinion, crazily) say. I don’t recall how long it took but I do remember my teacher telling me I was maybe being a bit “optimistic” when I said I wanted the computer to play rather than just letting two humans play against each other. I got it to work. Go Me!

As I said, I can’t really remember much more about what programs I wrote, it is a long time ago and my memory is poor. But I do remember that most of the course was about understanding programming and hardware, such as it was back then. As the years went by into the 90’s and 2000’2 I’m told the programming side first reduced and then almost {if not totally} disappeared to be replaced with being taught how to use computers and packages. ie Windows, Excel, Word and the like. So I grew up and was at the “right” age when home computers came along and schools in the UK taught at least some of us to program.

I still have one of these somewhere...

I still have one of these somewhere…

I got a ‘B’ in the final exam, which was OK. So that set me on the road to programming and my career? Well, no. After my ‘O’ level, I did buy my own computer, an Amstrad CPC 464 (maybe not a great decision!) and I did do a bit of assembler and programming, but mostly to try and hack into the games I was playing. By now I was doing my science ‘A’ levels, there was no option of an ‘A’ level in computing and no computing element to my ‘A’ levels. Then I went on to college to study biology, where computers were not really used much outside of the computer science department. There was a terrible programming course I went on as part of the Zoology half of my degree but it taught us less than my ‘O’ level and computers were just not a part of the Genetics half of the degree I did – which looking back at it, stuns me. We used to work out the general size and layout of plasmid genomes (bits of bacteria) by hand on paper. I got sick of doing it and wrote a program on my CPC 464 to do it and, for a few weeks, academic life was easy. My tutor got really mad when he found out I had written a program to do it. I don’t know why and I don’t think he could tell me why, he just felt I was cheating. Oh well.

Of course, once I left college life took another turn and I landed back in the world of computers {back then they would take people with no programming skills but good logic/maths and train you from zero}. But I already knew how to program and that gave me a bit of help in my first job. I could spend more time than my colleagues could worrying about how to be an adult rather than how to start programming. I might be able to program, I’m still struggling with being an adult.

Update – as Niall points out in his comment, things are now improving at schools AND colleges. What originally prompted this was a discussion I had with a friend who had just finished his computing course at college. The course was about computer games. And had involved no programming elements at all, it was all about design, marketing, testing, running a business… I was stunned. I then made some comment about at least he would have learnt about programming at school, but no, he had not. I was stunned again. But he knew that it was coming back – as covered so well by Niall.

I suspect the Raspberry Pi has helped too, though most people I know who have bought one are, well, mid-40’s people who did programming at school…

Friday Philosophy – Want to Get On in Business? Don’t Start from Down Here February 13, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic, Private Life.
Tags: , ,
28 comments

I had a manager a few years ago, a lady. She was good at her job, knew the tech and we got on well. And she would take the piss out of me constantly about my height. One day, another member of the team suddenly said “Hey! Leave him alone! He might actually be sensitive about it and it’s wrong you should be bullying him like this”. My boss replied “Oh come on, he’s not sensitive about it! He takes the Mickey out of himself all the time!”

“Besides… He’s too short to do anything about it.”

It was bloody funny and I think all of us laughed at that – but my defender had a point. I might joke about my height and most of the time I’m fine about it, but day after day of comments and jokes? And other stuff? Crouch down here beside me for 5 minutes and I’ll show you the view…

I am small. If you have not met me, I stand five foot and two and a half inches (158.5cm) tall in my socks. Don’t forget the half inch, it’s important. I have no medical condition, no dwarfism, no biochemical challenges, nothing is wrong to make me small. My parents were small, my grandparents were small, my brothers are similar to me. I’m just small. All of me is in proportion, with one notable exception.

My Ego – That’s huge.

The Three Martins at UKOUG Tech14

The Three Martins at UKOUG Tech14

I should not complain too much. I have all my limbs and senses, everything physical works well, my brain does a pretty good job {despite a few quirks}, I have friends and a wife and I’ve done OK in my career. Actually, no. Let the positive be positive and the negative be negative – My wife is smart, attractive and extremely capable and I’ve done well in my career. I present internationally, I’m recognised by my peers and I’ve been asked to be involved in some great projects.

But it is a Bit Shit Being a Short Man.

As my friends and colleagues are aware, I sometimes make a joke of being small. I can be the first to mention it and I can sure as hell make fun of myself about it if I so decide. However, it is a defense mechanism. Don’t even think of taking the piss out of me for being small as, hey, I’m already doing it and I can do it a lot better than you – I have almost 4 decades of practice {anybody remember the nose-jokes scene by Steve Martin in Roxanne? Go check the link, it’s one of his funniest scenes}. If I am willing to joke about being small I rather effectively remove the ability for someone else to do so to abuse me about it and also give them permission to mention it. My boss above was not being attacking in her jokes as I’d shown I was not sensitive. I’ve taken away most of the potential for someone to be directly negative about my height unless they are willing to be very, very pointed and very obviously unpleasant. Since leaving my early 20’s, very few people have been willing or inclined to do that, so it is an effective strategy.

But for those who know me well, it sometimes becomes annoying. I’m constantly taking steps to establish this defense and as a result I occasionally harp on about my height. Some suggest I stop doing it as it is boring and unnecessary. I should not put myself down. {Down!}. They may be right, but it is a defense mechanism that has served me well and I guess I err on the side of over-emphasising it. So I’m sorry if it bugs some of you, but allow me my oddities please.

{*sigh* – update. Nearly everyone who has commented to me about this blog post (in person, on twitter, or on this blog) have been positive, nice, said they had never considered the accepted & pervasive impact of heightism. Some even apologised for it. Apart from a few short-centered groups who got angry, mostly as they assumed I used humour in a “I’m wearing a big red nose and doing funny mimes” way. No. My humour is not sycophantic. I use irony (like sarcasm but more passive-aggressive, unlike sarcasm which is just aggressive), perspective, even science. If you are short and don’t like that I ever find things funny, like not being able to reach the car mags as they tend to be up the top with the other “bloke” magazines, then sorry – I’m not trying to offend you. I don’t demand you handle things the same as I do. But in return I have no time for anyone who tells me I am wrong to laugh at things.}

But there is one area where humour does not help and it is an area where I probably get the most discrimination since leaving school (where the old standards of being hit, pinned down, thrown or similarly physically messed with were more popular – oh, for the sweet innocence of childhood).

As a Small Male, in some business situations, I am sometimes not listened to or taken seriously by people – especially management. Management is full of Alpha Males {actually, in IT mostly it’s beta males, all the Real Men are in finance, sales or other crime}. This is true even when I am a fellow manager. I can’t number the times I have been in a meeting, said something and the conversation has continued as if everyone had just taken a moment to look out the window, rather than listening to someone contributing. Many times I’ve had that galling experience of an idea I put forward being ignored until someone else, someone… more tall… says the same thing and then it is a great idea. Or of being talked over by an Alpha Male. Repeatedly. Early on I made the mistake of challenging this head-on a few times and the response was either simple denial or, worse, condescension. “Oh don’t be so sensitive Martin” or “Of course we value your input, don’t be so silly and just grow up”. Yes, I’ve had that.

I suspect most women reading this will be recognising these issues and saying “Yep, welcome to my world”. For a long time I’ve felt there is a parallel between being a small male in a working environment, especially in management, and being a women. Don’t get me wrong, small men don’t get the constant other hassles women get. I don’t get looked up {err… looked down in my case?} , I never feel like I am being hit on {or maybe I am just missing it, I’m terribly naïve}, no one has come up to me in a conference and said “my friend likes you, will you come and talk to him” {my wife has had this – she said it was like being back to school parties but with an extra element of Creepie}. But I often get ignored by management and my input to discussions gets downgraded. I’ve watched this happen to female colleagues year after year, it is a real issue. Some men will listen politely to women but it is simply listening politely – before they mentally rewind the meeting to before the “delightful lady said something” and continue with the proper matter in hand. They do exactly the same to my input. I’m not an alpha male, I’m a child, it’s nice that they let me be there and join in.

But unlike sexual or most other forms of discrimination I also have no real recourse to… Anything. There is of course no legal position on heightism. There is also no social pressure on or condemnation of heightism. In fact , if anything it’s the opposite. “You silly little man”, “Grow up” and a whole catalogue of insults with the word “little” or “small” or “tiny” thrown in for emphasis. There are plenty of sitcoms where the small guy is the dweeb or the butt of the jokes. Not many films where the action hero is played by someone like Danny DeVito. And if the actor is small, efforts are taken to hide that (how many of you are thinking Tom Cruise? – who is all of 4 inches below average! He’s not small!!! He’s in the normal 60-70%!). If I challenge the attitude directly it rarely goes well, especially if I am angry. Apparently, there are few things funnier than a small bloke jumping up and down with a red face squeeking “Take me Seriously!!!”. It’s also very tiring. I have to jump quite high to be seen past the desk. And suggesting I am acting like a child is just more damned height discrimination you… dickhead.

Even when people are trying to be nice to short men they often just continue the discrimination without noticing, thinking it’s some sort of complement. Think about it, how often when someone small is being praised do they say something like “He may only be small but inside there is a giant” or “Dave may not be the tallest guy but, in respect of {blah}, he towers above us”. They are still saying short is bad and tall is good! You would not say of someone who’s fat “Derek may be obese but inside he has the physique of a Greek God”. And you would certainly not ever, ever say “Mike may be black but inside there is a white guy trying to get out”!!!

Do you think I’m making too much about this? I am being overly sensitive to a problem that does not really exist? Well, stay crouched with me and do a quick web search on the correlation between height and pay, height and political success, height and business success {NB three different links, just to “google.uk” really}. Again, women will recognise all this.

And of course, I don’t have issues with my height all the time. Many people listen to me, especially if I am talking as a technical expert as opposed to a manager. I have managed to function well as a manager and sometimes when I make a side reference to it, people will stop and go “oh. Yes, I see what you mean”. But it is a constant background bloody maddening annoyance.

Interestingly, I mentioned this all to a friend a while back when we were discussing the hard time women and ethnic minorities can have and at first I think he just listened politely. A couple of months later we were chatting again and he said something like “you know, I’ve been thinking about what you said. I’ve never had a short manager, most senior people I come across are at least average or tall. The small men I come across are technicians”.

So thanks for crouching down here with me for a few minutes to take in the view, you better stand up again before your knees give you hell.

There is nothing I can really do about the above, it’s just a fact of life that heightism is there and at least it is not a type of discrimination that is aggressive or hateful, unlike the serious ones that society does or is starting to tackle. But I just wanted to mention it, to get it off my chest. It’s been weighing me down.

Remember that half inch of height I said was important? Well, it is but not maybe in the way you might think. When I was personally hung up about my height, especially when I was in my teens {and actually just into my 20’s} and still growing, then every half inch of height was significant as it was me “improving”. When I stuck at 5’2.5” the .5 was important as it pushed me into the normal 5th-95th percentile for height – or it did if you were looking at a graph from a pretty old encyclopaedia, like I was. Average height has risen by a couple of inches in the last 50 years and varies from country to country and I’m not even close to the normal range now. Can I just say that it’s really mean of you guys to have moved the goal posts by growing even more. But the 0.5 inch took on a new significance in my late-20’s – as I stopped worrying about it or mentioning it if anyone asked my height. I’m small, that’s not going to change and it’s fine. I mention the half more now than I did then, as it makes me smile when I say “5 foot 2… and a half”.

iTunes 12.1 skips after recent update February 9, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in off-topic.
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(Fixing my iPhone5 battery with my Bum …>)

iTunes started skipping on my PC after a recent update (end of Jan 2015). It is version 12.1 of iTunes.

iTunes skips when using Chrome, mostly.

That’s enough search-friendly lines to help the web crawlers get here. Apologies to my normal visitors, this is obviously nothing to do with Oracle databases, development or my usual ramblings. Go read something else unless you landed here looking for help with skipping iTunes playback.

iTunes on my laptop wanted to update a few days ago so I let it. Next time I fired iTunes up, I was annoyed to discover that a track I had recently uploaded, from a compilation CD I have of 60’s classics, was poor quality and skipping. Except that the next few tracks also skipped a little, old favorites I knew were fine. I did a quick web search but most of the references were 4 or 5 years old. The skipping was getting worse so I shut down iTunes and used a…. CD player.

A few days later I was working on the machine and wanted some music to ease the task in hand, fired up iTunes and it was soon skipping again. I then fired up a few extra Chrome windows (for unrelated reasons) and the skipping got a lot worse. I shut down Chrome and the skipping stopped. A bit of testing revealed that iTunes did not skip for me on an, admittedly, lightly loaded machine – but did when Chrome was up and running. Anything constantly updating in Chrome (Twitter feed or live sports update) made it worse.

My machine is quite powerful, it’s an MSi gaming machine with an Intel i7-4700 processor, 8GB of memory and a dual SSD/HDD with the OS and applications sitting on the SSD. It’s not lack of grunt that was causing the issue but something crap in what iTunes is doing.

I found a solution – This apple.com discussion – which itself links to this download for a 64-bit version of iTunes 12.1 supporting “older video cards”. My video card is not that old in the scheme of things, being a GeForce GTX 765M which was a pretty reasonable card 12 months ago.

After I downloaded the alternative version of iTunes and let it install, the skipping seems to have stopped. I’ve tested having a dozen Chrome tabs open with a couple of them being interactive and my chosen 80’s music selection was skip-free.

I hope that helps people. If you came here for the iTunes hint, don’t look at the rest of the blog, you will be sadly disappointed :-)

(Fixing my iPhone5 battery with my Bum …>)

The BBC has “Stolen” my Interesting Shortest Day Facts December 21, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in off-topic.
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Today, the 21st December 2014, is the “shortest day” in the Western Hemisphere this year, the day in which the period of daylight is shortest (it’s the 22nd if the last Leap Year is more than 2 years ago).

I’ve blogged before about how the evenings start drawing out BEFORE the shortest day and, despite it not being an Oracle technical post and was also one of my first posts {when almost no one came by}, it gets a modest but interesting number of hits. If you look at the below graphs (sorry, it’s not as clear as it could be unless you click on the image), you will see there is a burst of hits at the end of the year and a smaller rise in interest at the middle of the year.

Evenings_post_stats

These hits are all via search engines, mostly on the phrase “Evenings drawing out”. Obviously there is a correlation with people both in the Northern (for the December hits) and Southern (for the June hits) hemispheres getting sick of the longer periods of dark and googling about when it will start to change. And finding this strangely relevant post on what is otherwise a nerdy IT site.

{Isn’t this an example of what all the IT blather about Big Data and the cloud is about? Finding patterns in search engine data etc? My blog is not exactly Big Data though :-) }

Well, The BBC is probably going to steal my thunder, this year at least, as they have done an article on the phenomena, though concentrating more on the mornings continuing to get darker after the “shortest day”. It’s not a very good article in one respect, though, as it has the phrase “perceived a curious development” as though this mismatch between the shortest day and mornings/evenings getting later is a recent change. I’m pretty sure that the tilt of our planet and it’s orbit around the sun has not changed enough in my lifetime to alter this situation! In fact, I checked – evenings started drawing out on around the 13th December 50 years ago, exactly the same as this year and exactly the same as is expected in 50 years too. It does describe well, however, how it is our shifting clock (due to the longer day length around now) that causes the shift.

Another little oddity about shortest day and our planet is in respect of when you think the earth is furthest from the sun. Most of us in the Northern hemisphere assume it is on the shortest day, because it is colder and darker. But it is not. we are actually nearest to the sun, at “perihelion”, on the 3rd Jan. So not even “shortest day” but just after :-).

Why is “Dave Unknown” Trying to Social Media With Me? November 21, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic.
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I know some people share my opinion on this and others totally disagree – but I fail to appreciate why people I have never met, spoken with or care about want to Social Media with me. If we have not met but there is a high probability we share unusual interests then OK, perhaps – but the fact that we both can spell Oracle or know what a gene is does not count as unusual shared interests. Maybe I am just too old to “get it” or just too grumpy to appreciate their efforts.

I’m not the biggest fan of Social Media but I don’t actively dislike it either. I mean, I’m blogging so that means I have some appreciation for it. I have a Twitter account and sometimes I Twit. But not a lot. I don’t have time or inclination to log on every day and see what people have seen that they think is funny/odd/outrageous/titillating on the web, which airport they are currently being bored in or what publication/talk/blog post of theirs they want to big up. Or what cereal they have just eaten {really? Some of you think this would interest anyone?} But occasionally I hang out there and swap twit twaddle and follow links and maybe even put up my own links to my fabulous blog utterings. But I don’t follow people I don’t in some way know or have a reason to be interested in {and I don’t include seeing them on TV as my being interested in them – I followed a couple of people on twitter early on that I thought would be interesting, based on their Popular Culture output. And very quickly decided I’d stand a better chance of continuing to like them if I was not being informed of all the dross that crossed their minds when they had not rehearsed their material}.

For me, the main Social Media thing that baffles and slightly annoys me is LinkedIn Wannabes. Why are you contacting me if I don’t know you and you don’t know me? I don’t know 7.039 billion people. OK, you know some Oracle – so do probably 0.7039 million people (wow, what a worrying thought) that I also don’t know. It’s not personal that I have no interest in being LinkedIn with you, it’s the opposite. I impersonally don’t feel a need to link with you.

Do I want to link in with Dave in Denver CO, USA who is a Java developer? I’ve nothing against you, Dave, but I’m highly unlikely to meet you and we probably have little to talk about, especially as I almost never communicate with people via LinkedIn {and I don’t know anyone who does really communicate via LinkedIn}. I struggle to keep up with people I have met in the flesh or I absolutely know I have shared interests with, so random LinkedIn Wannabes, no chance. If I met you in person I’d probably like to have a chat and I might even buy you a beer, and perhaps we would become friends and I’d welcome your LinkedIn invite with open keyboard. But frankly, until you’re drinking that Carlsberg I just got from the bar for you, you are one in 7.039 billion unknown people to me.

So am I being unfriendly? Well, when I get a LinkedIn request I almost always check out the person. Is it someone I have worked with or met at a conference and it might be nice to maintain some sort of vague contact with? Occasionally it is. Once it a blue moon it turns out to be someone I actually know (or know of) quite well and I feel daft that I did not recognise them. Sometimes it is someone I don’t know but they know 15 people I do (hopefully mostly the ones I like  :-) ) and I can see they share strong work interests with me.  I link in. But most of the time I don’t know them and *they have over 500 contacts*. 

Over 500 contacts? Really? Really? And you know all these people? No, you don’t Dave. You are just collecting stamps. I’m as important to you as that. So now, though I know nothing much about you, I know I am unimportant to you, I’m just a stamp. I definitely do NOT want to be LinkedIn with you.

Occasionally it is worse. I’m not a stamp, I’m a little bit of potential collateral, a maybe-bit-of-income for them. The person is a recruitment consultant or a salesperson or a company representative who has figured out that for every 200 hundred people they bother they get a lead. So they contact thousands of us. Well, you can really stuff your invite up where the sun does not shine.

But most of the time it is stamp collecting. This seems very common with our South Asian friends. I don’t know why, maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe the universities there tell their students that this is a good way to progress (I can’t see that it is but I’m happy to be corrected if I am wrong), I don’t know – but 75% of LinkedIn invites I get from people with 500+ contacts are from that part of the world.

I’ve noticed one key thing about LinkedIn stamp collecting (or potential-collateral) invites – none of them have bothered to change the standard invite text.

Hi M

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinedIn

– Dave Unknown

Hint – if you really want to link with me, change the text to something, anything and I mean *anything* else. Try

Oi, Martin

I’ve met you and you smell of fish and your jokes are pathetic. Link in to me else I will throw things at you next time you present

– Dave Unknown

That’ll get my attention.

What kicked of this diatribe by me? It was when we got the below at work:linkedin_who

 

It really tickled me. This person is so desperately stamp collecting that they are trying to link to Admin in Technical Services. Of course I removed names to protect the guilty but, really, Ramzan “the import/export professional” – I think you should take a bit more care in your stamp collecting efforts.

SBC June 26, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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When I was about 14 or 15 years old I had this idea that I could create a company selling stuff and make a fair amount of money at it, very easily. What prompted these thoughts were advertisements that attempted to persuade you to buy things that were not at all special or unusual or even good, but the ads claimed that they were in fact fantastic and desirable and having them would significantly improve your life. Often the ads were for really quite rubbish things. It was blatantly obvious that, whilst no factual lies were uttered, the promise of the sun always shining, the big smile on your face, the family joy (with mandatory cute dog) and the inner glow that comes from the product were ludicrous. The product was not going to do that, the whole underlying premise of these adverts were ludicrous lies.

In particular, I was struck by breakfast cereal advertisements.

When I was a kid I had most of the main brands and I can tell you, a bland product based on flattened corn, puffed wheat, mashed wheat, wheat in long strands woven into a small hard cushion, abused oats or any other tortured grain was fine to stop you feeling hungry before being booted out the house to walk to school – but it was not actually adding to the joy in my life. They were OK. Actually, without the sugar and the milk they were a bit shitty. And I knew they were cheap.

This summed up many products – not at all exciting, nothing special, in fact a bit crap. But they did the job and they were cheap.

So why not sell them as such? would people not prefer the honesty of a product and advertisement that fundamentally said “buy this because it is shitty but cheap”? I would have, I would have loved the base honesty of the proposition and not having to wonder why grey-brown food that tasted only slightly better than cat litter was not making me smile and the sun shine. (I was fine about not having the dog though.)

So I was going to create a company called SBC Limited that made basic, cheap stuff that you had to have and that it was ludicrous that anyone was telling you it would improve your life. Shitty But Cheap Limited. Breakfast Cereal would be one of the products for sure.

Role forward about 10 years and I created my first company, as most computer contractors in the UK do, back in 1995. Guess what I was going to call it? Yep, SBC Limited. But my wife took a firm stance (and by this I mean she set her feet a good foot and a half apart, the better to give her purchase as she slapped sense into me) and said I could not do this, as I would be incapable of not telling potential clients what SBC limited stood for.

Of course, I now realise that my outlook on things and sense of humor is not universally shared and, sadly, there are a lot of dull people who are swayed by those facile advertisements. My company to sell fundamentally bland but cheap morning foods would probably have failed. That and the Swiss Banking Corporation or SBC Telecomm or, more likely as I reside in the UK, the Scottish Borders Council might have got in touch to object.

But imagine my joy today when I was sent a potential job by SBC Recruitment!

And the icing on the cake was the job was for an APEX developer with HTML 5 proficiency. No mention of those skills on my CV, my CV makes it pretty clear that I am a DBA-type, so a fairly shitty attempt by the agency to fill the needs of the client. So presumably the recruitment company pretty much matches my intention for a company called SBC…

:-)

(* Note to lawyers, SBC Recruitment could be the best agency in the country, this post is humorous. But I really was not at all suitable for the job, very poor targeting).

Friday Philosophy – The Passing of Nelson Mandela December 6, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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As this is a blog on the technical aspects of the Oracle RDBMS and management in IT, it is not really the correct place to pass comment on the passing of a political figure, let alone touch on the politics of race and discrimination.

But I don’t care, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

I’m partly saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela even though I never met him as I think he was one of those rare things – a politician who was actually a good person who was trying to right wrongs. Thus I think humanity has lost a very good human. But he had been suffering from very poor health for a long time and maybe he would have been happy for it to come to an end. I do not know of course.

I do know that tonight’s next glass of wine will be lifted to him, even though I never met him and know less about him than really I probably should. Personally I think I agree with his politics but only in that fairly nebulous “we should all get on and act as a community” left wing type of stuff.

What I am finding interesting is watching the media output on the death of Nelson Mandela, the rounds of significant people queuing up to praise him and the footage I am seeing of people in South Africa who seem to be more celebrating his life than suffering in mourning. I’m a bit cynical about the world leaders and politicians but rather affirmed by the SA nationals saying “Let us celebrate this person”. That agrees with my philosophy on life.

Any time I check the web to see if I am being mentioned (something I do every few months, mostly just due to narcissism but also to see if anyone has mentioned me and I should say thanks) I will come across Brian Widlake, who is a journalist who got to be about the last person to interview Nelson Mandela {and one of if not the first to do so for television} before his incarceration and when Mandela made a comment that maybe peaceful methods of protest were not going to be enough. So I am constantly reminded of Nelson Mandela.

I’m actually named after a similar person, Martin Luther King. It must have been my Father’s doing as my mother, as she creeps up on senility, is showing a level of casual racism that bugs the hell out of me.

Anyway, I started by saying this is not the place to pass comment on politics and I am not really going to as I have no position of authority or knowledge to do so. But I do have a fair knowledge of genetics and biology, what with it being the subject I was trained in at University.

Racism is rather knocked into a cocked hat (from a biological perspective) when you understand genetics. We are all one species with really very, very minor differences between us all and, if you go back just a few thousand grandparents, well we all had the same “grand” mother – and at a similar point maybe one grandfather too but that is harder to track. However, as humans are all so very, very similar genetically/biologically, how come some people are so fundamentally good and some people are fundamentally not and most of us bob around in the middle somewhere? It’s a complex question and though I think I understand some of the factors, I *really* am not going there. I’ll just have another glass of wine and ponder them.

Maybe in my “retirement” I will stop being a moderately successful geek and become a really very poor philosopher.

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, off-topic, Presenting, Private Life.
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Seeing as I did a blog post about looking forward to my second Norwegian Oracle User Group spring meeting, I suppose I should say how it went.

Given the circumstances, it went well and I enjoyed the conference far more than I would have enjoyed being home for those days. Part of the enjoyment was the reformation of the Martin Cluster as mentioned in my last blog. A small part of that was the slightly childish humour I found in those situations when people introduce themselves when they meet at such meetings. I’d be chatting to Mr Nash, Mr Bach and usually one or two others and when a new person came along and asked names, the three of us would take it in turns to say “hi, I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin too”. It was like a poor take on the “I’m Brian” pastiche of the Spartacus movie. Most people smiled.

At the Speakers Meal on the first night Bryn Llewelyn suddenly said something like “Well, let’s take a picture of the Three Martins – it’s almost like the Three Tennors!” It had to be done, I dug out three ten pound notes so we could have a picture of the Three Tenners. If only the idiot on the right had held his the same way around as the other two…

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

So, why did I say the event went well despite the circumstances? Because I was ill thoughout the event :-(.

I met up with some friends in London on Tuesday night before the conference, as I could not get into London and across to Heathrow in time for my flight in the morning. So I had to stay over. I know, you are all thinking I drank waaaay too many beers and was hung over the next day! I could not argue that I did not have several beers that night but it was more the 4 hours sleep and long walk that I blamed for how I felt. At the end of the evening I went out to Heathrow and I got directed to the wrong Premier Inn there {I was very specific about it being T5, I knew there were two hotels} and it took a while to get to this wrong hotel. Or rather half a mile past it. I new what side of the road the hotel was on (online maps with street view are so helpful) but it did not appear {as I am in the wrong place} and the bus driver who was going to give me the nod did so a stop or two too late. So I walked waaay back – and get told “Other Premier Inn sir”. OK, can you get me there “No, get a bus”. It’s midnight, the last bus was not so helpful. Shuttle bus? “No sir” Taxi? “Get the bus sir”. Sigh, not helpful. Well, that is what you should expect when you use budget hotels I guess. How far is it? “About 2 miles Sir”. I walked. It turned out to be over 3.

So when I met Martin Bach at the airport next day, I blamed the beer, long walks and lack of sleep. But as the day progressed I felt worse and worse and worse. Tuesday night might not have helped but this was more. We got to the venue and after lunch I did my talk on Row Level Security and masking data (which was packed, to my amazement) then checked into the hotel and went to bed. Thus I missed all other sessions. I managed the Speakers Meal (and it was jolly good, thank you OUGN) and then had a good night’s sleep. It did not help. The next day was a blur, half of it I was asleep but I did manage my second presentation, on Disasters oddly enough. Afterwards I went back to my cabin and only got up briefly to see about trying to eat some food, but the rough sea quickly made me decide not to bother. I managed two other sessions other than my own. One was a Martin talking (a very good one on making practical use of virtualisation) and the other was the Keynote by Cary Millsap, who did a talk that was more about life than Oracle. I had missed this talk at the UKOUG conference but had heard about it, so I was keen to see it. It was the highlight of the conference for me. I’ll probably do a Friday Philosophy on it “soon” but the main message was that Cary feels life always changes and it seems best when you are doing something to progress from a bad place to a better one, rather than ‘enjoying’ the better place. It’s a philosophy I have a lot of time for.

The last day was similar except that I seemed to perk up a bit in the afternoon and I finally got to see one or two more sessions. I did my final one, on “an introduction to tuning” and it was awful. I had a lot of material to cover and I knew I could pile though it on a good day, but this was a bad day and I simply could not keep my thread or progress through the material rapidly. *sigh*. At least there were not too many people there to witness the car crash. I’ll be interested to see how poor the ratings on my talks are.

So all in all I should count the event as a bit of a disaster. But I managed to honour my presenting duties and, despite spending half the time laying down in the dark, I had some fantastic conversations with people in the two evenings I managed to be awake. Oh, and thank you to the people who organised for them to play Happy Birthday to me in the Piano Bar at midnight on Friday (45 now), I might have been a bit quiet about it but I did appreciate that. It sums up half of what I like about the OUGN spring conference. I missed the first half, the excellent talks you get from what both years has been a very good speaker line-up, but the other is that everyone is around in the lunchtimes and evenings and you get to chat, find out other stuff, make new friends and just spend time with lots of people who are interested in some of the things you are, ie Oracle.

After the conference I did stay on in Oslo for a few day, my wife had come out to join me for my birthday weekend. We enjoyed the weekend but she kept on saying “you look dreadful” or “are you sure you are up to going out?” and “stop coughing you annoying bloody bas….” :-) I’m still coughing now and feel pretty rough, a week on.

I’ll be sure to try and be there next year. I hope I feel better by then!

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