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The Zen driver/software package IS faulty

It has been proven now. While my Explorer hung up less frequently with the driver taken out of the startup sequence, it still happened. On Aiko (450MHz P3, 128Mb, XP SP2) I removed the Zen drivers and all using system restore to ensure it was completely eradicated. Instantly all of the odd Explorer freezes went away. The other computer, currently called Ayleigh (or Ashley if I forget; 1.1GHz AMD, 1024Mb, XP SP2) still experiences these problems as it still has the Zen software installed. It is such a shame that the Zen's own internal memory is not able to appear as a removable drive like practically every other USB device I've met...

Please note that when I say Explorer, I am referring to the filesystem tool and not to the Internet navigator.


Why file moving could be unsafe...

Related to the above problem, if you are moving files that you consider to be important, then I strongly recommend that you copy them. When you know they are safe, then you can delete them from the source media.

Why? Simple. I wanted to move some MP4 files from the little USB device into the computer. Towards the end of the operation, Explorer hung up. I gave it twenty minutes then killed the task. I discovered one of the files, that was around 300Mb, was now 39Mb. Oh, and the original had been erased.

So I looked for a program to attempt to recover the files. I do have one, but sadly it only understands FAT16 and a 4Gb USB device is going to be formatted FAT32. It is actually bloody annoying that there is no 'undelete' hidden within Windows, since it seems the Recycle Bin does not apply to files on removable media. After all, the way files are deleted in FAT systems is the first character of the directory entry is set to a special value and the map is altered to say those sectors are free for use. If you get to the media before anything has been written to it, it will be possible to restore the directory and follow the file chunks to restore the map. That's what the DOS Undelete did, however it is too old to know of FAT32.
I found a number of programs. Some were hopeless, some worked but told me I needed to purchase a registration code before I could actually save anything at all. From the point of view as a user, this is very bad. Had it allowed a couple of saves, even one, I might have been pursuaded to part with some cash. Instead, I uninstalled, annoyed that as Pushing Daisies was coming on soon, I'd wasted time with the locked-out program.
Never mind. I discovered PC Inspector File Recovery which you should be able to find at (mine was on a magazine-mount DVD-ROM full of stuff). It is free, it has a pointy-clicky approach to help with recovery, and unlike other stuff I've seen, it looks like it can even search for partitions if something goes so badly wrong that the MBR is screwed up - though obviously as a Windows application you'll need to boot off a working disc and set the messed-up one to be the slave.

I used this program to recover, rather slowly (it isn't quick, doubly so for reading off USB 1.1), a 39Mb file. Whatever happened went badly wrong and corrupted the original file.

So I gave up, deleted the files. It was for the movie "Diary of a Hitman" when sounded interesting. Never mind, it is on again on Monday night. I'll set the timer.


The story doesn't end there. I passed the device over the less-than-observant eye of the GUI disc checker (in Explorer, call up the menu over F: or whatever, select Properties, click the Tools tab, then click Check now. It said everything was fine.
So I put the USB key into the recorder and set a timer for "Two Came Back". I remember Melissa Joan Hart from Sabrina (the witch, not the Julia Ormond film!) all those years ago. Let's just say I think half of the first file was written over the top of the second file (the PVR does it in one-hour chunks, remember). Sadly this film is unlikely to be repeated in the near future.

I passed the GUI check and it took a while to say:

Knowing that something wasn't quite right, I fired up the command line and typed in chkdsk /F f: and it took even longer, spewed loads of messages, finishing with:

The video files were not recoverable, so I simply gave up and formatted the device. Whatever is broken was affecting things in a way that I did not want, and with the last episode of Demons coming on, I couldn't afford to have corruption in my media.


So - some lessons to consider:

  1. Don't move important files. Copy them, and then delete the source versions when you are happy the files copied across okay.
  2. The GUI disc checker is not the ScanDisk you may remember from earlier versions of Windows. It's actually a witless piece of crap that wouldn't spot a disc problem if the disc was on fire. Call up the Help and Support (Start menu) and read up on the chkdsk command. Do the job right.


Snow? What snow?

Okay, so the UK was buried under a foot or two of snow. And? Why all the chaos? Why was forecasted snow not dealt with in a manner more befitting a country that thinks it is a superpower in the world? I bet the Candians are laughing their asses off, given that the TV news talked of how bad the blizzards were, however in the helicopter pictures showing how bad these blizzards really were, you could see some of the fields looked green!
This isn't to say there was no snow worth speaking of. Some places did get 10-25cm, the main problem was from ice and crazy drivers sliding around the place. Again, this was forecast so it is astonishing that it appeared to be so badly handled. Indeed, one person - can't remember if it was a reporter or a teacher, stood in front of a closed school wearing pumps (flats? court shoes? whatever those shoes are called - Collins electronic dictionary says "a low-cut low-heeled shoe without fastenings") as part of a demonstration that she could walk around wearing those shoes and not get any snow in them or slip over so why on earth were the local schools closed? Certainly, her world was white, but for a mere few millimetres.

Us? We got some snow on Thursday. It snowed heavily for about half an hour (about an inch, but it wasn't icy) and then it rained and the snow was all gone in minutes. Oh well... no bonhomme de neige this year!

Apparently it was the worst blizzard in a couple of billion years, give or take a few. ☺ I would dispute that, as we were rarely allowed to wear track suits for my school PE uniform and I remember one of my first times there (winter 1985/1986) I ran around the wooded area in shorts and plimsolls and the snow must have been nearly knee-deep. Okay, that's 22 years, but I bet I'm missing a few in between!

Anyway, in case it doesn't happen again for a while, here are some photos from the BBC news programming on February 2nd:

It's white, but it doesn't look too deep.
[BBC 6 o'clock news]

Louise Lear (BBC weathergirl) showing the snowfall. 28cm is about a foot.
[BBC 6 o'clock news]

At least somebody is making use of the situation, if not in a responsible way!
[BBC 6 o'clock news]

British letterboxes.
[BBC South Today]

This is a lovely photo.
[BBC South Today]

And some from ITV news programming on February 6th:

While the snow wasn't much, the ice was quite something else...
[ITV late news]

Not content with being a problem on the ground, here's chunks of ice falling off the Severn Bridge.
[ITV late news]

See what I mean? Some of those fields are green.
[ITV late news]


Oh, and just to bang the point home, we have plenty of wish-you-were-here's from Thomas Cook. Hardly Rovaniemi is it?

Thomas Cook advert - Portugal version, ITV1


Foreign workers

With all the hoo-ha about foreign labour, I think the national-front wannabes have been somewhat missing the message. Assuming the contract was awarded completely within legislation, instead of whinging that a bunch of Italians were brought in to do contractual work, it might be better to look at why local labour was not used. The Italians, while working in the UK (and, one might presume, living there during that period) will be subject to UK work laws - so it isn't a case of importing labour to pay peanuts. Even at minimum wage, it's the same for a Brit as for an Italian or a Greek or a Martian.
So, then, why was local labour not chosen? Too expensive? Too unreliable? Not educated enough? Too liable to hold wildcat strikes in protest of some action someplace else? Or maybe the company really did favour the idea of bringing its own natives and finding places for them to live during the work in question?
While it is galling to see your job go to foreigners - remember this is how I stopped being a Care Assistant in Hampshire/Surrey, the local care homes imported loads of Filipino workers - it is no real use whatsoever to rant and rage and moan until those in power back down and send a bunch packing. It is far wiser and far better to look to examine the reasons. I know mine, my wages plus our agency cut worked out to be about twice what a normal own-staff received. The Filipinos? Once you deduct for air fare, lodgings, food, uniform, etc you can actually pay them fairly little. There's an obvious outlay, but once they've signed a contract stating they will stay for the contracted time or refund in totality, they've been grabbed by the balls and overall it probably works out cheaper in the long run than hiring locals. As for us agency guys? Bye-bye!

The actions of the British in this case have not been lost on the Europeans. A French newspaper referred to it as an overly xenophobic behaviour. It is worth pointing out that while the failure of the global economy is a rich breeding ground for the likes of the NF and the BNP (and all their equivalents in other countries), eventually these policies and way of thinking will be doomed to failure. For example, how much of Britain's infrastructure is foreign-owned. Power generation, water supplies, trains/buses/planes, telecoms... if some NF-like got voted in, cut ties with Europe, and all these companies abandoned, how long do you really think it would be before the British economy rivals that of Zimbabwe? Could the Brits manage their own country and resources in past years when the going was good? Hell no, huge swathes were gleefully flogged off the the highest bidder - the insidiously corrupt "New Labour" government helpfully aided by the shocking apathy of the public. And now that the job market and economy has had a hell of a kicking, now people are starting to make a fuss. I make a prediction - those Labour peers that are under investigation? It'll go nowhere. Why the crossed line, the scrambled thought? Well, actually it is all part of the same problem.

Oh, and by the way, how many of you protesters drive British cars? Eat only British-sourced foods? How many of you run RISC OS? Or are you happier using the American Windows?
Just as no man is an island, no sane country can walk this path alone, and yes - that might mean some jobs are lost to foreigners, just as I (a non-Frenchie) am working here in France. Or are all Brits and British companies operating abroad going to return to the UK? Exactly. Ties that cross continents. We are out there and they are here too. It doesn't matter what the definition of "we" and "they" is, it holds up from any perspective.
If any ties are to be cut, if such a thing is even necessary, we might want to consider ways to make our (European) economy and stock markets less influenced by the Americans. It's their sodding sub-prime mess that kick-started the problem. I wonder how much of that obscene saviour bill (500 billion, 700 billion, whatever - with a number that big it's simply unimaginable) will be paid out to help foreign governments with the unemployment benefits of the hundreds of thousands who are no longer in employment? Yeah, and that pink thing in the sky is a pig...

And once we've done that, we might want to stomp on the equally obscene director pay bonuses. I, personally don't feel there are many people who are worth millions. I would conceed that perhaps a good actor/actress who is in a film that is a box office hit, s/he is entitled to justified profit participation which may run to a large sum; however in the general scheme of things the level of pay a person gets should be linked to the degree of responsibility that the person undertakes, hence yes indeed the directors of large banking institutions will be on a good pay (but not millions; the bank's profits should be shared with all of its customers and employees), and certainly we need to get rid of this "bonus" culture. Why the hell are we giving huge bonuses for people who do their job correctly? Perhaps for unusually perceptive people, or for people who bring something special to the table above and beyond the call of duty... but not as a matter of course for the upper levels. Certainly if such bonuses are supposed to be paid for the quality of work, the bank brass ought to be fined into the pauper house. But, well, I bet those investigations will go nowhere too.
You think you are being screwed by the foreigners? No, they're a convenient target to deflect from the rather obvious fact that those screwing you over are much closer to home.


The European City of Culture

Perhaps in response to the comments about the cultural cities being, on the whole, dismal places; the forthcoming ECC was to be shared by the Austrian capital Vienna and the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (two places? odd...).
According to an article mom heard on Radio4 (I don't think this made the 'real' news?), the Lithuanians had to announce that spending on tourism would be curtailed - after all, which is more important, jobs and industry or a touristic fête? I bet we will soon be hearing the same sort of things regarding London 2012.
Anyway, in response to that, the EU ECC people said, essentially (and very paraphrased), "well nerrr, we aren't going to let you be an ECC". And so that is it. Vilnius is no longer to be a European City of Culture.
Given that there is something of a global economic cock-up in the making, it would have been perhaps more useful of the EU-ECC people to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to realise that the Lithuanians were still planning to promote their city, only not as big and bolding as they might have hoped, and that the EU actions are the sort that will only breed ill-will. A case of "**** me? well **** you too!" followed by a NO vote at the next referendum. Who wants to be friends with an organisation that behaves like that?

People that know me will know that I am very pro-European in principle, it's just stupid little things like this and all the misdirected red tape and ill-concieved legislation coupled with member countries that treat it all as a giant Pick'n'Mix bag that ruin the whole concept of what Europe could be. In essence, Europe as a collective group could take on America and China and become the place where it all happens, like back in the 12th(ish) century. But not with the current leadership, or any on the horizon. We need a massive paradigm shift from both the leaders and the ordinary citizens to accept that we are Breton, we are Welsh, we are Liverpudlians, we are Euskadi, we are East Enders, and we are Europeans. Not to eradicate local identities in a stomping mess of uniformity and blandness, but to embrace all of our differences and make them a part of a greater collective; much as Texans are Texans, but they are also Americans.

So, with respect to Vilnius (Vilnyus), here are a few assorted facts about the place:

  • Set in the south east of the country on the river Neris, it is - in common with many capital cities - a large commercial and industrial centre.
  • Clothing, furniture, electronic dodahs, and processed foods are the principal manufactured items of the city. The other day I had a chicken ready meal from a country identifying itself as "LT", my ready meal may well have come from Vilnius. Small world. Oh, and it was quite nice. Better than the one from Thailand...
  • There is a university founded in 1579 as a Jesuit academy.
  • The city itself was founded in 1323, although it was most likely built upon an existing site.
  • It shares many connections with Poland, and indeed was - way back when - a centre of Polish culture.
  • In the last century it was occupied, twice, by the Germans (both world wars) and claimed by the Lithuanians, the Polish, and the Russians.
  • It was a large centre of Jewish learning and culture for many centuries... until 1941 when the Nazi occupation ended all of that.
  • The city became the capital of the new independent (non-USSR) Lithuania in 1991.
And, in order to provide more balance than the EU-ECC, here are some assorted facts about Vienna (German: Wien):
  • Vienna is located in the north east of Austria, straddling the River Danube; with the easternmost parts of the Alps to the west and the Danube basin to the east.
  • Vienna also suffered in WW2, along with many parts of Europe (and other cities in other continents).
  • Located on a major river between the Alps and the Carpathians, Vienna occupies an important port and trading position; as well as many varied industries.
  • Many important international conferences are held in the city, principally in The United Nations City, a complex built on the left bank of the Danube; and numerous organisations (including OPEC) are headquartered in the city.
  • The world's oldest still-existing zoo is in Vienna. Set up in 1752, it still continues to this day.
  • From the 18th to 20th centuries, Vienna was home to many influential musicians and composers - Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss... and probably a dozen I've forgotten.
  • The University of Vienna dates from 1365, and there are loads of other historically important (and sometimes Gothic and Baroque) buildings in the city.
  • Vienna was originally a Celtic settlement (date unknown) that was taken over by the Romans in the first century BC, until they packed up and went home in around the fifth century AD (which doesn't sound like much, but it is a potential span of 600 years!).
  • There's a long and tedious history involving Charlemagne, Badenburgs, Turks, Habsburgs, Catholics, and all sorts of other uprisings and conquerings. I've summed up around 1500 years in a single sentence.
  • Sigmund Freud came from Vienna, some might suggest that fact is better not remembered unless you are a fan of phallic suggestion.
  • The estimated population is three times that of Vilnius - around 1.5M as opposed to around 500K.
While Vienna obviously has a lot to recommend it, you can't help but feel sorry for Vilnius, doomed to be forgotten in the international scene. The credit crunch is not their doing, but rather, as far as EU-ECC is concerned, their undoing.

Therefore, I ask you, take a moment to look up Vilnius in Wiki, Google it, look for some tourist sites and see if a virtual visit exists. If the EU is happy to forget about the place, at least bump up their server logs a little and help show them that we ordinary people are not as shallow-minded.

And speaking of that credit crunch...


The personal credit crunch...

At my place of work we don't make products that are a necessity to life. In fact, I would describe our products as something of a luxury and now that the high-fliers and the executive bonuses are in question, how is this going to trickle down to us?

Our hours, as of the start of the year, were 7am-4.30pm. As before we would work 4 days a week so we average the 35 hours. There is to be a week off in February. This is not really any big surprise as it's a fairly quiet period after the big Christmas rush. Only, as of this coming Monday we will be working 7.30am-4.15pm for four days (that's 32 hours/week). Oh, and we are taking a week off in March as well, which is unusual. My personal mite-of-an-income stands to drop by 150-250 euros (I've not worked it out). Of course I am glad that I have an income, however it is nonsense to look at the chaos and madness in the world and get upset that things are changing and not necessarily for the better. Yes, that drop in income will be noticed, but everybody is going to have to make lifestyle changes. I am weighing up whether to get a Neuros OSD video recorder or a Toshiba Netbook mini-laptop; both of these are back-burner ideas now. Where d'you think I'm going to find ~300 euros? It will be likely no longer a put-aside-100-a-month as there will be other things. Today I received a 113 euro electricity bill (for two months but winter is always an expensive time of year for obvious reasons), the car will need new brakes soon, petrol, food... the list goes on and, frankly, a drop-dead-cool gadget doesn't figure in the top-ten. Even a geek has to eat!

What we are experiencing right now is a period of pessemism known as a business cycle, or in media soundbite terms as "boom and bust". Or, more nerdily, the cyclical process of prosperity -> liquidation -> depression > recovery (and so on). It is one of the side effects of global capitalism, and while social policies (pensions, unemployment benefit, government spending, interest rates) can do much mitigate the collapse of the system, it can't make the problem go away forever. Or, in simpler terms, what goes up must come down, and saying boom without bust is simply an inachievable fantasy (but nobody said Gordon Brown had a clue...). Everything is cyclical.


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