>Mighty Mouse – The emperor has no clothes


I admit it. I am gullible, easily manipulated and just a plain old Apple fan boy. Since they came out, I’ve been a Mighty Mouse user, blinded by it’s ergonomics and usual Apple charm. But over all these years it has suffered from one unredeemable problem. It’s pants, crap, shit, bollox. Call it what you like. Any mouse that has a scroll wheel (OK, OK, scroll nipple) which won’t scroll for more than a couple of days without then starting to fail is broken. And yes, when it starts to fail after your two day period of bliss it will fail repeatedly every couple of jesus hair pulling hours.

Yes, I know every BLOODY one of the different ways to get scrolling again. There are whole bloody communities founded on trying to get the things to work for – well, you know – an afternoon would be nice. They’re like the alchemists of old, searching for how to get gold from this lump of god damn useless lead and pissing their lives against the wall in the process. Guess what? I don’t want to spend every couple of hours dousing it with tabasco, rolling it over Indonesian virgins’ thighs or planting it in an organic phase matter transmuter alligned to the lost civilisation of “Are we fucking there yet?”. I want the damn fucking thing to fucking scroll!! In both directions. For more than an hour. Is it so FUCKING HARD!??

So goodbye mighty mouse. I have three wireless mice on this desk. All Logitech. They all work. Repeatedly. My latest is a Logitech V470 which arrived today for my Mac to replace the previous insult on practicality. Go and look at the top reviews on the Amazon page. Who wrote them? Bloody mac users fed up with the bloody shitey mouse. And it’s a damn site cheaper than the Apple crap.

Fix the bloody thing already Apple. It’s shite.

>The importance of developers working with clients


Douglas Crockford says in Peter Seibel‘s excellent Coders At Work:

The place where I found that to be most effective was taking testing, sort of, to the ultimate: going to visit customers. I did some of that early in my career and that was a great experience, having to go live with a customer for a week, helping them to install a new system, and helping them to work out the problems with using it.

It gave me a huge amount of insight into what it’s like to actually use our stuff and what I want to be doing for the benefit of the people who are going to be using my stuff. Going back afterwards, developers who had not had that experience all seemed arrogant to me in a way which was completely inexcusable. The lack of respect they had for the people who used our stuff was appalling and it was basically a consequence of their having never met those people.

In my experience this has been very true. Working directly with customers ON SITE can be very painful initially (and management tend to be very wary of letting developers loose on client sites). But handled correctly it benefits everybody. From a personal point of view I love developing on site. It stops distractions, it speeds up feedback and it puts your mind into a different mode.

Oh, go and order the book now if you haven’t got it already. As a developer (on a good day) I really love the way that different people (brilliant people) have different views on good development. And if you’re not a developer, borrow a copy and leaf through. You’ll learn a little about how they tick.

>Windows 7 / Emacs / Ubuntu



The Dell is back in Windows land, with Windows 7 installed. I’m using it with the setup I detailed here and everything works as expected.

 A word about Emacs. I spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of months sorting out the mish mash of different emacs configs I had running. Now there is one config which handles everything I want it to. Whereas before I used to keep the configs in svn, this time I am using Dropbox to share the configs between Ubuntu, Windows and Mac and the .emacs (currently 211 lines long) works perfectly between all three. So when I add a keybinding or piece of emacs code into one they appear on all four machines. Losing version control doesn’t bother me so much, I rarely want to look back through versions – having everything applied immediately is much more useful.

The Ubuntu VM’s I am using on the Windows machine have Dropbox linked through the vmware shared folders. With my current setup I can create a fully working Ubuntu 8.04 environment with all my emacs customisations in less than five minutes.

If you expand that picture you’ll see it’s using ECB mode – something which I used for a few years but stopped using some time ago when I had some issues with it. Starting from the top left and going down and then across we have.

1. ECB Directories window

2. ECB Current directory window

3. ECB Methods and variables browser (showing items for the DateTime.py file)

4. ECB History Window (files recently visited)

5. DateTime.py (something I am actually editing!). Although it’s not switched on here I have flymode on which is linked to various utilities that can display PEP8 infringements or syntax errors inline.

6. DIRED view of a directory I am working in.

7. irc (#django channel on freenode)

8. Editing the hosts file. This is actually in sudo mode, using tramp. Means I can go sudo and edit a file without starting another terminal up.

The Dell’s 1920×1080 resolution makes this worthwhile. I can reboot this machine into Mandriva and have the same development environment straight away. Or switch to the Mac, Ubuntu desktop or even Ubuntu Netbook and have it all working exactly the same. Very nice.



Why is it so hard to print? I have a bog standard HP Photosmart C4180 here running on an XP machine. It is shared as a windows printer.

  • Jaunty works 95% of the time. Sometimes it just stops and wants a restart before coming back to life.
  • Windows 7. Works about 50% of the time. Sometimes just nothing happens. The Windows 7 machine will sometimes think everything is fine but nothing appears on the XP machine. Sometimes it will just hang. Sometimes it will print. Usually a reboot will help.
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard. Had to resort to the CUPS interface (http://localhost:631) just to get it to see the printer. Now seems to be working. Seems to be.
  • Son’s XP machine. Prints around 70% of the time. Same symptoms as the Windows 7 machine when it doesn’t print.

If you want to blame the XP machine, last week it was being driven off a Samba machine instead with the same issues. Everywhere I go I have the same experience. Just walking into our office and hitting the print button and having something print out feels like an extraordinary experience. I have no idea how it feels if you manage it two days in a row.

>Life with BT Broadband


It’s been four years since I moved back from Japan and I am still not used to the concept of ‘service’ this country has. We seem to revel in mediocrity with the odd beacon of hope shining in the darkness (thank you scan.co.uk, I appreciate you rising about the rest). In my job I like to think I will go the extra mile for a client. For example, over the last couple of weeks I have been sleeping with the mobile and switched on laptop by my head every night to help out a client whose aging hardware necessitated 24 hour care of their web site whilst a hasty migration was planned and carried out. I don’t get paid extra for this, I don’t get anything for it apart from a warm glow when people say thank you. This particular client phoned me at the end of the two weeks of hell to say thank you directly. To me, that is all we need to do. Communicate – take whatever action is necessary – and remember to say sorry and thank you at the right times.

It’s been nearly four months since I realised that my broadband speeds were more akin to last decade’s speeds. Ranting over the issues over the last three months would be pretty futile but here are some conclusions.

1. BT keeps no history of your fault. If you phone the (overseas outsourced) call centre for the fifth time you can still have the delight of being asked if you have changed your micro filters, rebooted the router, tried the BT speed tester etc etc, again and again.

2. In my case, the only cables in my village are BT, so there is no point in switching to a different provider as you’ll still get BT engineers if there’s a hardware issue. Now this will blow your mind. Any engineer that is sent comes with NO history of what previous engineers have done. NONE. I have been asked if *I* know what previous engineers have done. On top of that they must finish AND *close* the call within two hours. Yes, even if the fault isn’t rectified. Even if to rectify the call takes more than two hours.

3. They have a Twitter ID called BTCare. My latest update from them last night (as my broadband tops out at 60KB/s) and after I had stayed in again for my fourth engineer visit was

Testing your line, it confirms your line can only support max speed 500KB/s. initial test indicates your Broadband performing as it should

Er yes, I WOULD LOVE 500KB/s. That’s the whole reason I am complaining for the love of anything holy! So it appears that even @BTCare don’t have any access to history of a call. If I was them, I’d be sitting there, reading the history of calls, engineer visits, terrible download speeds etc and thinking – god, this is bad, we should do something about this. But no, looks like the new reaction is “We can’t see anything wrong sir”. Maybe they’d like me to replace my micro filters again. Or I could phone the BT help desk and they can ask me if I am plugged into the test socket.

4. BT have no concept that asking your customers repeatedly to be around for Engineer visits is actually not that easy. On at least one occasion I stayed in only to find out at the end of the day the engineer wasn’t going to visit and was working at the exchange instead. Once I stayed in to the last moment before I had to drive down south to pick my mother up. End result we ended back at Chester at 10pm instead of 5pm, and no, the broadband was still slow. On one noticeable occasion, Akemi had been in when the engineer visited, after we left we found broadband wasn’t working at all. This was traced back to the router not being plugged in again. The speed was fine for less than 24 hours after reconnection.

How on earth does anyone get anybody to pay any attention to an issue in this country? Do we have to take legal action? Report people to their official overseeing bodies? How much time does that take? Why on earth can’t I just say “There’s a problem” and somebody fixes it? Is it too much to ask for?

Update Sunday 26th July

Just been asked by BT:

I am looking into this further to see what the problem is.I hate to ask but have you tried usuall diagonstics,ie filters,router,test socket

Hahahahaha – bonk

>scan.co.uk good … laptopstuff.co.uk bad


If you ever decide to buy something from laptopstuff.co.uk, good luck. Having been asked to provide proof of my billing address as the card company claimed they didn’t know it (um, I’ve lived there three years), I scanned the documents, sent them in and was still ignored. After venting after three days (I had asked for next day delivery originally) I was informed cheerfully the goods were not in stock and would I like to change the order. It took them over a day to acknowledge that no, I was cancelling the order immediately.

In effect they lied, asking for proof of billing to delay, whilst waiting for goods to come into stock. Absolutely pathetic. And as one of those new modern companies who don’t take phone calls in order to cut costs and give you the “best price”, you’ll happily shout into a vacuum.

On the other side of the coin scan.co.uk. These people are just the business. Whenever I have ordered from them everything has gone like clockwork. Very heavily recommended. All it needs is honesty and good communication.

>Jaunty – Compiz – Emerald – Dell Studio 15"


IMG_0235 I hate Dell with a loathing that is hard to put into words. Nevertheless, I now have a Dell laptop. I love screen space and this 15” monitor has a 1920×1050 screen. Portable (it’s bigger but lighter than my MBP) and with a great screen resolution it’s great for developing.

Build wise it sucks. A lot of keyboard flex which doesn’t bother me but doesn’t say much about quality. The surround around the screen is also very flexible. It also has NO indicator lights for wifi / hard disk / pretty much anything. Very sparse. It came with Vista, which lasted for ten minutes (just long enough to check the laptop worked) before I wiped it and put Jaunty on. The lid design has been roundly mocked by my colleagues and my eldest daughter. Personally I like it although it does have the look of have being vomited on. The overall look of the laptop is slabish. If I hadn’t used the name ‘pig’ for the little NC10, I would have given the name to this laptop but for less affectionate reasons. Here are the basic specs:

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor P8600 (2.40Ghz, 3MB, 1066MHz)
4096MB 800MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2×2048]
Internal UK/Irish Qwerty Keyboard
Video Card
512MB ATI Mobility RADEON HD 4570
Hard Drive
500GB (5.400rpm) SATA Hard Drive

Screenshot-1 The nice thing I like about it is the Compiz environment which *is* just so much eye candy but I actually like how I interact with it. First of all, the screen resolution gives a lot of space. I can easily run emacs with two 80 column spaces side by side and have space for a couple of terminals. Yes, the machine is called ‘Picard’. Yes, it does have ST:TNG sound effects on it. Yes, I am a sad sad man.

Screenshot-2 The screen is set into six virtual desktops. As you can see, we go into eye candy heaven with this. I can rotate around easily just using the keys if I want, but also easy to do with a mouse or the track pad. Being able to see stuff like this works very well for quickly navigating around multiple windows and desktops.


And it’s great for showing off as well 😉

>I hate Dell


I have only had to shout down the phone twice in my life. Once was in 2005’ish I believe. The other time was this week. Both times were to Dell, although the first time was to technical support and this time was to sales support. It’s somewhat encouraging to know that their sales support is as bad as their technical support. I assume their presales support is better otherwise they wouldn’t sell anything.

So here’s the story.

One of the perks of my life is hardware. I have one old client from my pre Blue Fountain days and every now and again they fit me up with a new laptop. Due to some confusion, the first order, placed on the 24th was rejected. On the 26th (having mulled some more and upgraded some of the specs (including lighting on the keyboard and bluetooth), I tried to place the order again rejected again.

Approximately three hours later I suggested I use a different one of their company credit cards and I’d put in all the details myself. I also made the delivery address the same as the invoice address which I know can cause issues otherwise. I also added a digital camera to the order. To my joy, about thirty minutes late I got an order confirmation. Hoorah. Or so I thought. The confirmation page doesn’t mention the original order number but if I’d looked at the specs on the PDF it would have told me that they had issued an order for a laptop, the first spec laptop. I would have also noticed that it had no camera with it.

But at 18:39 on the 26th I got a Dell order check. They gave me two internet receipt numbers. One for the first order I’d placed on the 24th and one for the last order that I actually wanted, placed a few hours earlier. Those clever Dell people. They’d realised the issue and were asking me to confirm which one I wanted. at 19:03 I replied that it was ONLY the last order I wanted. And I felt happy with the world. Sad deluded fool I am.

At 21:31 on the 26th, I got another confirmation email. Odd – this was just for the camera. The order screen was still showing as the first order processing, the third order was for a camera only. The order screen for the laptop was showing the previous spec.

OK, I thought, I’ll ring Dell in the morning. Oh no you won’t matey. Once you’ve placed your orders Dell will not answer their phones apart from during working hours. Worrying. Still, I’d get it sorted Monday.

Sunday brought interesting news. My laptop was in production. Worrying. Even more worrying was another potential duplicate order message. This time the first order reference was for the second order I’d placed! The second order reference was a number I’ve never seen in my life and to this day I don’t know what it is. Entering it into the system gives me “We’re unable to give you an update at the moment”. I replied to this confirmation mail saying ‘DO NOT PROCESS ANYTHING, UNTIL i SPEAK TO YOU IN THE MORNING’.

The next day dawned and I prepared for the joy of customer support. Lady 1. Listened patiently and explained to me that the laptop was on the first order and the camera was on the second order. OK … but the first laptop is wrong – I replied to your confirmation mail which says I have three working days to reply. I replied in 30 minutes.

“Ah so sorry”, she says, but it is in production and can’t be stopped.

“Sorry? Can’t be stopped!? I replied in 30 minutes!”.

“So sorry sir.”

What should I be doing then.

“When it’s delivered you can return to us with an explanation and you can have your money refunded.”

Splutter. Er, you want to make a laptop – I don’t want. Send it to me. Let me send it back to you. Then you give me the money back. And then I order the right one again!? Did I get that right?

“Sorry sir, there’s nothing that can be done. “

Well yes – we can do something. We can refuse to take this ridiculous situation and tell them where to put their laptops. I am not sure how long I was on the phone but by the end of it I’d been promised her senior would be calling me to see what could be done. And I was exhausted. Having somebody just repeating to you something nonsensical regardless of what you said back was exhausting. I am told my voice was clear across the breadth and depth of the Liverpool office. 

Man 1 phoned me back. He helpfully explained that the order was too late to be cancelled and that there was nothing that could be done. Back to the order check email I went. No budging. Why did they then process PART of the third order? He didn’t know but there was nothing that could be done. I told him that a) I would reporting them to the credit card company b) I would not be accepting anything they tried to deliver to me  and c) I would then turn this over to the company solicitor.

This resulted in a 10% discount offer. Which threw me a bit off balance. But the fact remained. It wasn’t what I ordered, they’d asked me for a confirmation which they now claimed was pointless as it was too late AND they’d tampered with the third order. Somebody had seen that order, cut the laptop off it and just gone ahead with the digital camera. That was not automated. He even had the affront to tell me that I’d placed the third order for  camera only. I vented.

“I’m sorry sir, can you tell me what you actually want.”

“I want the items on the third order. That’s all I want. Nothing else. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“The third order was for a laptop as well sir!?”.


He said he’d talk to somebody and call me back.

After that call (Monday 29th, about 13:00), I realised that the prices had changed between the orders as well. I was being offered a discount but the revised order had only added a tenner to the total price, so the whole unit cost must have gone down. So it was a discount on the old price. No wonder they were so desperate to flog me the original laptop.

So I awaited the call back. And waited. Today, Tuesday 30th – I phoned Dell at 17:30. “The person you wish to speak to is not available at the moment, can I ask him to call you back?”. Yes, I replied calmly. That would be nice. He has not done so yet.

Watch this space.

Update 1. Tuesday 30th, 22:28 – They’ve changed the status screen for order 1 to ‘shipped’. Looks like I’ve been totally ignored so far. Will be making another call tomorrow morning unless they phone me first.

Update 2. Wednesday 1st July, 16:15 – The man I need to speak to is on another line. He will call back in 20 minutes. ‘Are you sure?’. Yes sir. No call back.

>It’s coming back!!


>My machines


Hello. I’m not dead yet, although the current quantity of phlegm etc must suggest otherwise. As I can’t sleep and as I have just reinstalled one of my laptops AGAIN I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer some comparisons of the different machines I’m running and how they compare.

There are currently five machines I use daily. Three of them are portable (yes, I’ve been carrying them all backwards and forwards to the office) and two of them are desktops – one at home and one at the office. Here’s what they do and what they’re running:

Quad Core Custom PC (nickname, the beast)

I built this in March for approximately 700 quid. Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 G0 Stepping (2.4GHz 1066MHz) Socket 775 L2 8MB Cache Processor, Asus P5Q PRO P45 Socket 775 8 Channel Audio ATX Motherboard, 1TB Drive, 4GB of fast RAM, Nvidea 9800 GTX 512MB Video card. It’s got dual monitors connected to it.

This dual boots Vista 64 Bit and Ubuntu 9.04. It’s an excellent gaming PC although I have little time to play on it and actually use it mostly for just multiple terminal sessions ssh’d to client machines when working from home! Having said that, when (WHEN) I have some serious time, it’s awesome for developing on.

The config is also great for overclocking although on this particular machine I haven’t spent any time doing so. I’m planning on sticking Windows 7 64 Bit on here at some point in the not too near future as I do have some problems with the Vista install. On the whole though – it’s a great (and currently underutilised) machine.

Oh, the cooling fans give off a lovely blue glow as well 😉

MacBook Pro (nickname, mbp – yawn)

 mbp As detailed here, this is my main machine. Awesome machine, dualboots between OS X and XP although 99% of the time is just spent in OS X. At work it’s dual monitor and handles all my web browsing, itunes, emacs, textmate, mail. Everything. Also has vmware on with Ubuntu and XP virtual machines when needed. A thing of beauty – if only the form factor was a little smaller.

Asus Aspire 2920 (nickname Bongo)

acer-aspire-2920 My second main machine in reality. This laptop is a little gem. Yes – it does look like a fisher price toy (especially when open) BUT it’s just a great machine for running VMWare workstation on (I had a 12 system Ubuntu VPN config simulated on it once). The keyboard is big enough to make typing easy (I’m typing on it now) but the whole form factor is great. 2GB of RAM and a Core Duo processor T5750.

Until yesterday it was dual booting XP and Ubuntu 9.04. Mostly used for XP and VMWare workstation, yesterday I wiped it and stuck Windows 7 on it. Yes, yes I know. But it runs like a DREAM. It’s far more responsive than either of the other two OS’s were on it (even installed from new), every driver worked from the beginning, hibernation/suspend JUST works, all the special function keys JUST WORK. I’m not a Microsoft fan by any means and Windows 7 is hardly a revolution but I’m impressed (it’s the main reason I’m typing this up).

Because of the size of this machine, it’s the main machine I just pick up when I need some portability (the MBP is just too big for that).

Samsung NC10 (nickname pig)samsung-nc10-netbook

A new addition to the family.  Came with XP, now has CrunchBang Linux (Ubuntu based) installed as dual boot. I’ve been coveting one of these for a while as I’ve always wanted a NetBook with good keyboard and good battery life that can run Linux. Specifically for just undisturbed coding within Emacs. This little baby does it all. I love it – and I’m about to remove XP from it completely and make it CrunchBang only. The battery life on these is superb (6 hours) and CrunchBang is a great distribution to run on it. I must resist the temptation to put Windows 7 on here as well. Although, mmmm – it’s a nice thought.

Apple iMac G4 (nickname bob)

 iMacG4 The oldest computer I still use, the classic ‘tablelamp’ look still has something about it. 512MB of memory, PPC processor running at 1Ghz, 17” screen. I confess – I really only use this for terminal sessions, iTunes and more recently Spotify – but it’s a great little machine and for a complete audio pleb like me – I like the sound the little speakers give out.



So in conclusion I think I can safely say, I use far too many computers in my day to day life. Which reminds me of one other thing. I always find there are certain files I want on all five machines and keeping them in sync has always been a nightmare – UNTIL. Dropbox. Works fine on everything. You won’t know it’s there. Perfect.

Now god help me if Apple ever release a 12” MBP.