Archive for February, 2007

Uptime project to close

It was with great sadness today that I read the uptime project is to close. This was a service that allowed PC and server operators to track their uptime, compare their uptime against other users and also broadcast the information to their sites and in forum signatures by way of a dynamic .png image. Money and time have been sited as the two main reasons for the closure which is sadly the way so many good and innovative websites go these days. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the uptime project team for their hard work and their innovative idea and wish them all the best for the future.

As for this site you will have noticed that Lara’s uptime is no longer displayed in the sidebar. I am currently working on a hand-rolled solution to displaying my uptime and the overall averages so hopefully you should be able to track my personal server’s uptime the way you’ve always been able to. I may even provide an RSS feed or similar for it this time around 😉

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Grindcore jazz

Chris Worfolk seems to have a little bit of an obsession with this fictitious genre of music so I thought I’d blog about it. The other week I was given my first taste of what it might sound like in the form of an impression from Gaz (have to give you credit for that one mate, nice one!), and today on the school of computing newsgroups I find that he’s trying to recruit people who have mentioned they play instruments to be a part of a grindcore jazz band.

I would like to point out to all jazz fans reading this that your most likely conclusion to the sound of such a band would be “Awful” so I can’t possibly recommend you listen to it for pleasure. Indeed the genre doesn’t exist at all and never will do because of the disparity between the two types of music. Still, with a few pints down your neck it could be rather amusing to hear Chris and others making an effort at the very least.

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York for a day

The last week or so has been stressful. I’ve been sleeping less, even by my standards, and cramming far too much into too short an amount of time than is good for me. Thats why it was great to get away from it all on Saturday by taking a trip to York with Heather.

We’re both very much fans of the city and always find any excuse to make a day of it. We started the day late and had lunch in Bettys tea rooms which was lovely; aside from the usual great food and service they had opened the dining area upstairs and there was a pianist playing a number of well known english tunes. If anyone reading this hasn’t been to Bettys yet, you really don’t know what you are missing – if you’re ever in York pop in for afternoon tea and you’ll be hooked.

When I was last in York with Heather I hid the presence of the Minster Bookshop (a small but well stocked antique bookseller situated just opposite the Minster Cathedral) because I had purchased her Christmas present from there and didn’t want her to realise where I’d got it from. This meant that this time around Heather really wanted to look around so we popped in and spent a good hour and a half browsing the various sections. I ended up buying a quirky little book with jokes aiming to be read by parents of young children and Heather bought a wonderful Peter Pan fairy tale book, complete with colour plates. Its a beautiful book and we both spent some time on the train home thumbing through its pages.

The weather wasn’t fantastic so we didn’t spend too much time outside, but we did take the opportunity of a tour around the Minster and looked at all the archetechture and marvelled at the size, scale and beauty of the place. Its amazing how I continue to be amazed by the building despite having been inside so many times before. I’m not normally one for gift shops but on our way out I decided to buy a CD of recordings from the choir and organist in the cathedral so as I might take a trip down memory lane to my church choir days – listening to it now I find it inredible how well I remember the words and the chants.

We didn’t do much else while in York save for looking round a few shops but it was a very pleasent day out all in all, certainly a significant improvement from being chained to a desk. I still have to find time to take my camera out and grab some shots but I’m sure that will happen when the weather improves.

Upon arrival home we decided to make an evening of it and cracked open a bottle of wine and ordered in some food. In the course of the evening we popped open some of Heathers CD boxes and listened to a few tracks from a number of artists. Although we’ve discussed music tastes before it wasn’t until this point that I realised how much our collections and likes and dislikes really do overlap. I’ve now ended up borrowing some CDs and no doubt some will be going next door from me soon as well. The crowing moment in the musical interlude though had to be when Heather played guitar for me. Despite what she says she can play really well, certainly better than I could ever hope for, and it was great to hear Heather play some of the very music we’d just been listening to on CD. I feel very privilaged.

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Its not usual for me to shout about projects I work on that I’m merely paid to complete and then play no further part in, but I’m making an exception this time. is a special new site that links into Facebook to allow you to recover your phone numbers if you ever lose your phone or SIM card and are left with no way of finding out your contacts numbers.

The way it works is quite simple; Login to the site with your facebook details, save your number, choose who’s number you want and who can have yours. Thats it. Then as the site takes off the number of numbers available to each of us will increase until hopefully everyone will be able to recover their whole phonebook. In just 2 days nearly 200 people have started to use the service and have preferences saved for over 20,000 friends.

Once you’re using the site all you have to do if you ever lose your numbers is just visit the site, login and hit download. You can choose any number of formats to get your numbers in, including vCard which means that for some phones you can upload the numbers straight to the phone in a matter of minutes. I’m not sure how well this site will take off, but one thing is for sure – if it takes off it will be very useful to us all. So, if you use facebook, hop over there now and get involved. Its secure and won’t take a second!

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Union sell out

So on Monday when I was in the Leeds University Union “Old Bar” for the fortnightly karaoke event they call Old Bar Idol I found something out that I really have to pass comment on. Aside from the the fact the night was in fact great fun this post focuses on my realisation that the union have recently sold out to a media company, sadly not for the benefit of its students.

Students who use the union can’t have failed to notice the large number of plasma TV screens that have been installed around the union. Now we were led to believe that these were for the union and its societies to advertise their events across the union to interested students as well as showing LS:TV and other television channels when appropriate.

This sounds great, but there is a catch. A big one. The union couldn’t afford the system its self and so entered into a contract with a company called subTV to provide the system in exchange for, yes you’ve guessed it, targeted advertising being displayed on the screens from outside the union walls.

Shameful though this is it gets worse. In the Old Bar we used to have a jukebox that allowed us to pay a small fee to select the music we got to hear. Now for those of us who favor 70s and 80s rock while drinking their pint this was a nice touch. In order to secure the contract for the TVs however the union had to consent to the TV screens being installed in the old bar, removing the jukebox and allowing the TV system to provide the music and not only visual ads but audio ones as well, meaning your peaceful pint and indeed the conversation that invariably goes with it is regularly interrupted by adverts for taxi firms and property agents. I’m sure you can see that this is obtrusive and quite frankly damn right annoying.

The union argue that they couldn’t have afforded the system without subTV but you have to ask if they couldn’t afford it or justify the expenditure to students, do we really need or want it? Essentially they are missing the point. They failed to consult with students and they’ve forced upon us something we don’t want. If I want audio and visual advertising while I sup my beer I can buy a crate of the stuff and sit on my sofa at home with the TV on. I go to the union bar to meet my friends in a relaxing atmosphere away from the rest of the world and that includes the advertising contained therein. Surely any idiot can see this? Not only that but we’ve lost the ability to choose the music and seeing as we all have different tastes surely its only fair that we all get a say in what we listen to by voting with a pound coin and a few buttons.

For a union thats supposed to act on behalf of students this is totally shameful. I’ve written to those in the union responsible for this disaster to ask that they reconsider polluting the old bar with loud advertising but I doubt I’ll get any joy out of them. After all, I only pay their wages and spend my money in the union every day, I don’t deserve a say do I.

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Good exam results

Yesterday I got my long awaited exam results back from my tutor. It was a nice moment. Basically I did very well, scoring a good first average (75%) overall and getting 80% in a 20 credit module which counts twice that of a normal module. While I had been nervous it was the kind of result I felt I’d worked towards and deserved and it was nice to finally see it on paper and get congratulated by my tutor for my hard work.

Sadly though I’m going to have to end this short results orientated post on a bit of a downer. In addition to my school of computing grades I also took an elective module in the Leeds University Business School after the law module in cyber-crime I wanted to take was canceled. The problem with this module was that the assessment was almost entirely exam based and the exam was of the essay based variety. This posed a problem because I quite simply don’t fare well in this kind of environment, and it showed in my result. I only got 48%. This was upsetting not only because of my pride, but also because it pulled down my overall year average to date. I have been assured that the end of degree weighting will sort out little issues like this but it doesn’t stop me being concerned for the first I am striving for, not to mention the general feeling of “meh”.

Never mind though, I’ll get over it and its given me even more of an incentive to do even better in my computing modules this semester. Set ’em up, let me knock ’em down.

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Exam nerves

Its not like me but I’ve come over all nervous. Nothing has changed in my mindset about how I felt I revised or how I actually did the exams but somehow the fact that I get my results in less than 48 hours time has put me on quite a severe edge. Perhaps its because they actually count this time, I don’t know.

I saw Heather last night and we went out for a nice meal which took away most of the stress of the week and indeed the results nerves but this morning they are back again with a vengance. At the moment I’m trying to keep a lid on things by working on a facebook project (more on this when its released) and listening to some smooth jazz, but staying focussed is not easy. I might also go out with my camera later today in the hope that will sort things out – the light is certainly right for some interesting pictures of the old buildings on campus, given how low the sun is in the sky.

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Dead phone number

I realised today that my phone number on the contact me page of this site had been dead for a week or so. This has now been rectified and was due to confusion over the billing period on the part of the phone company. I ask you, is anything easy and trouble free these days? Anyhow apologies to those who were getting the disconnected tone and needed to get in touch. I trust you found other ways of speaking to me.

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Facebook API tinkering

As part of a project I’m possibly going to be working on I started delving into the API for facebook and realised that there are lots of interesting things that can be done with it and all very easily too. Ideas immediately sprang into my head about little widgets that I could add to this site and indeed other sites I run. There is good documentation in the devlopers section of facebook and a handy API web query form to allow you to test API functions and see their output without even opening your text editor or IDE. Sadly though there are two main stumbling blocks with it all as I see it.

Firstly you have to give your consent to allow your details to be used by API developers. Now this might seem good on a privacy level but seeing as its only the people who could view your details if they were logged into facebook who can see them in the API application its a little pointless, and in fact is a little bit restrictive on those who want to take full advantage of viewing thier friends using a more functional interface – how do you easily let your friends know that the fact they haven’t enabled API access means you can’t use this cool new feature?

Secondly you have to be logged into facebook. Now I know why they’ve done this, in fact its almost essential for the security of users data, but it results in some rather annoying restrictions. For example you can’t use the API on a site without a user on that site knowing it links to facebook (simply because they have to login). Further it means that say I wanted to use my login details to broadcast my info from facebook on my own site using the API, I wouldn’t be able to do it (at least not in real time anyway) because the visiting user would need to be the one logged in and then only their details, not mine, would be the “self” as it were set of data. This seems a little flawed to me but there we go.

This doesn’t all mean however that a lot of useful stuff cannot come out of the use of facebooks API. The project I may well be starting soon has the potential to be very handy indeed and will require a minimum of coding work compared with something that was written from scratch. If you are a developer who uses or who has friends on facebook, I’d highly recommend checking out the facebook developers area and having a gander.

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