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About the loss of two important characters, it has been suggested to me that the series could be coming to an untimely end - a possible culprit of various ITV cutbacks thanks to the economic situation. The interesting question to consider is... is the series able to recover from this loss, or is their bailing going to lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy?

For what it is worth, I think the series is extremely silly, but sublimely so - I watch it every week (of course, this is often helped by the repeat showings on ITV2). Why? It is escapist nonsense that doesn't require much thinking, and it doesn't try too hard to explain what/how the anomolies work (which is good, as there is probably no sensible explanation, just accept that they exist...).



Having written a television guide reminder for my computer, I realised that there was a slight problem if I was at work reading my RadioTimes and my computer was... well... a long way away. ☺

So I have put together a version for the Psion series 3a (3c/3mx/PocketBook II) organiser. There are some problems regarding the file formats - the Windows version creates a Psion DBF file, and the organiser creates an "edits list" file which will be read back into the Windows version to sync it. All of this fiddling around is necessary because while you can use the serial connection to access files on the organiser from the PC, these files are not directly linked into the PC's filesystem. Unlike a USB memory device, it does not have a drive letter. It would be so nice to be able to access Z:\OPD\Tgprog.dat, but this is not possible. If there are any 'hooks' to allow software access to the organiser's filesystem, they aren't available that I know of. Instead, the files need to be copied across by the user and the resync performed manually.
On the other hand, I have made TeleGuide (organiser version) capable of operating completely independently; so you can just have it on your organiser without requiring the Windows version.

This software will be released soon. The organiser version is ready; pending testing, a userguide, and the associated import support in the Windows version. For now, here's a screenshot:

If you are brave, or impatient...

teleguid.opa (12.0Kb)
Link deleted - go here for a download!
This is version 0.01 2009/05/09. It has not undergone much testing, but it 'works' on my machine. There may be bugs. There may be debug messages (but I think I've taken those out). E&OE, no warranty/liability, blah blah.
Fire up your organiser - an Acorn PocketBook II or a Psion 3a, 3c, or 3mx. Copy the file into the APP directory (any suitable device) and then use Acorn-I or Psion-I (as applicable) to install the software onto the system screen.
When it starts, you'll be asked if you wish to create new data files. Do so, and then you can use TeleGuide.
The time range is 7pm to 4am. Note that, as in listings (RadioTimes,, etc) that times after midnight count as the day before. Be careful if you enter a film on at 1am because the EPG will give the correct date, not the logical date.
The time entry is flexible. If you enter 11 as the start and 1 as the finish, it will assume you mean 11pm to 1am. You don't need to think in terms of the 24 hour clock, but that'll work too.
The data files are created in \OPD of the default drive. Initially there will be Tgprog.dat (programmes) and Tgchnl.dat (channels). After you do stuff, there will then be Tgedits.dat (edits log, for syncing Windows software).
If you only have a small internal memory and/or small SSD, you can periodically clear the edits log. Either delete the Tgedits.dat file, or in the software, press Acorn-Ctrl-Shift-R (or Psion....).
You can add channels with Acorn-C (Psion-C), however as amending data pushes it to the end (a limitation in how the Psion DBF works) and since the organiser maintains an index into this database, it is not possible to modify the channel data, you can only create new channels. For this reason, I strongly recommend you write down on a piece of paper what channels you plan to create and in what order. Don't forget the +1 versions! ☺
You will want to jot down the channel name, plus a four character identifier code. These codes are shown in the programme selection list to save space. For example "ITV2+1" -> "I2+1"...
To add programmes, use Acorn-A (or Psion-A) and just fill in the information requested.
the channel list can open up to reveal all of the channels, in the order they were added:
In order to edit or delete a programme, you must select it. This is done using Acorn-S (Psion-S). Only the programmes actually visible on-screen are shown in the selection list.

The keypresses are:

Acorn-A Add a new programme
Acorn-C >Add a new channel
Acorn-G Go to a specific date
Acorn-I Info/About
^-Sh-Acorn-R Reset the edits log file
Acorn-S Select a programme for edit/delete
Acorn-X Exit TeleGuide
Diamond Redraw the screen
Up Go back a day
Down Go forward a day
Page Up Go back three days (a screenful)
Page Down Go forward three days
Home Go to 'today'
End Go to latest dated entry



My glasses broke. The join between where the screw-up hinge is, and the top of the frame. I thought it would be a fairly simple thing to get either a replacement frame, or a repair.
But no. That would be too simple.

As I am on the French equivalent of the NHS, I will have to go to my doctor to have him write a prescription for me to visit the opthalmist (I could go direct, but would have to pay for it). The last time, it was a wait of a couple of months for an appointment.
When I have had my eyes tested, I will have another bit of paper that I can take to the shop to get the new glasses.
I will see if, once I have the prescription, I can get myself bumped up the queue a little as I kinda need my glasses for my work. Might work. Might not.
For the time being, me being me, I whipped out the soldering iron and made the join. It isn't strong, but it is holding, and if it should break (at home), I only need to warm up the iron to fix it...


Chéque Restaurant

One of the things that comes with my job is the "Chéque Restaurant". Each month, I pay around €40 for a booklet of these cheques. I am not certain how the amount is calculated - I have had a book of five, this month I got a book of nineteen.

You might feel it is a bit of an imposition to take some of my pay for meal vouchers I never asked for, however I quite like the idea. For a start, as a purely monetary value, work out if I pay forty euros and receive nineteen coupons with a face value of €6,50... and secondly, somewhat more importantly, with my hours (I get up around 11am(ish) and go to bed between three and four) and mom's hours (she goes to bed pretty much as soon as I come home, half ten is late for her...) having these vouchers means we take time to have lunch at a local bar. They do a lovely salmon with cream/chive sauce. We also have time to talk about stuff. It is bizarre but sometimes we are in the same house and we only talk in the car on the way to work. Well, why not take some time out to have a nice meal and enjoy a good discussion? That's what the chéques Restaurant mean to me.
We are only supposed to use one for each meal, but it says on the back that two is tolerated. €6,50 is the price of a fixed basic meal. Actually, if you ask nicely you can often use three tokens. While this is against some obscure bit of legislation (with a punishment of five years in prison and/or something close to €400000 fine), you have to ask yourself if it is that big a deal to use three given:
  • It is a meal for two people, not just myself.
  • We are using it for a meal, unlike people who use them to pay for 'shopping' at the supermarket.
  • Three is reasonable - a meal without fancies (wine, specials, etc) can easily come to €20-30; and besides I have several times seen people in the supermarkets 'pay' for shopping using half a book of coupons!
  • We are patronising a local establishment. Two tokens and a couple of euros can get a meal for two at McDonalds. It is more expensive to eat locally; however the food is better, the service better, and we are supporting a local business instead of a franchise of a global corporation.
The way I see it, we all win. Sodexho (the issuer) as I am using them for the indended purpose (I wonder how many non-food items they have been used for, not to mention swapsies for babysitting and stuff like that), us for the meal and the ability to take some time to enjoy life (the tokens say "Accordez-vous une vraie pause!"), and our local business (all of whom will be feeling the economic downturn so it this is when they'll need support).

So, it's a partial freebie with my payslip, but it is one I look forward to every month.


DVD writer

Well, I decided to fit that DVD writer I bought for a couple of euros into Ayleigh. I have a DVD writer already in Aiko but the FSB and processing speed mean that I can only burn at 6× (which is the slowest speed it supports) and there have been times when I've needed the underrun protection to kick in.
Additionally, copying 4.3Gb of files across a 30baseTX network can take some time. Both network cards are 100mbit, but Aiko can't manage that - remember it's a PCI card in an x86 machine running XP with a Windows shared folder. The phrase you are looking for is "interrupt latency". It 'feels' as if the network (hah, network, it's the two machines hooked back-to-back with an RJ45 crossover cable as I don't have a 10/100 hub) is managing around 30mbit. It is comfortable without ever running the risk of setting the world alight.

Anyway, the simplest solution would be to find another DVD writer and install it in the faster computer. Then I can do pretty much everything using VNC. I only need to touch the computer to insert and remove the media. So I installed this drive and fired up my analysis program. It reported a DVD/CD writer but said "?" for the vendor and version information. Oh, crap. I dropped in a DVD and fired up Media Player Classic. I have set MPC to use a DirectX9 windowed regular surface - slow and non-fancy. It uses DirectDraw and never uses overlay mode. You might ask why. Well, it is actually kinda clever. Ever tried to screengrab a frame from a DVD using the PrintScreen key or some sort of screen grabber? Ever discovered that you got a simple black or magenta area, or freakier, that the area you captured behaved like a 'hole' in the screen and the DVD video showed through, but this wasn't actually in the screen but sort-of behind it?
That's because it is. You see, older computers (sub 2GHz) are just not fast enough to take the video off a DVD and paste it into the screen like, say, a computer game. So the computer works in "overlay" mode where the video data is whacked straight into the graphics card memory (more of less bypassing Windows and the usual video handling) and the traditional display then behaves like it is overlaid on top. It may seem slower to do it like this, but in reality all the controller software needs to do is say "this area here is a cut-out" and "the overlay picture should fill this area here", rather then all the usual Windowsy methods.
[you can tell which your computer is using either by trying to take a screenshot, or if your computer is not cutting edge stuff, fire up a DVD and run it in a window that fills a quarter of the screen, then drag that window around rapidly and randomly - is it totally fluid or does the position of the video lag by a tiny degree? ...or not bother as you are probably using overlay mode!]

But, wait, this doesn't explain why I want to seemingly cripple my video handling. Well, I never watch video on my computer. I do a little on Aiko, but most of the time I will use my DVD player and watch on the TV. I tend to find computer displays emphasise compression artefacts. I can see flaws in MPEG4 video that is a lot harder to see on television. Given that it is CVBS from the DVD player into a VCR where it becomes RF into a 30 (?) year old telly, the setup is crustily ancient but it carries the benefit of making compression artefacts a lot less obvious. So I have explained why I don't need fast video, but not why I want slow video.

Simple. It works across VNC.
No, no, don't email me to ask how I get 25fps video across VNC. I don't. I don't think it is possible. The frame updates, through VNC, at about an inch at a time. However before I can rip a DVD I need to play it in MPC or else the ripping software complains that the DVD reader is 'locked' or somesuch. I only need to see enough to navigate the menus, appreciate the copyright notices in half a dozen languages, and start the film playing. Then I can close the window and begin ripping.
Why rip? Well, I am holding in my hands a DVD called "Tamara" and I just decided that this would be a film I'd load into my Zen. Got any problems with that? I own the DVD, for personal use, not to be sold, rented, broadcast, or shown an oil rig... Within the realms of "personal use", I see no problem with "ripping" the film into a format convenient to me.

Those of you used to my meandering thoughts will be patiently waiting for me to remember that the topic was the DVD writer. I tried it at maximum speed, which was 16× or 22160Kb/sec and it threw a bunch of errors reading sectors near the end (but in my DVD player with a few short tests the rest of the content seemed okay). The second test, it just froze at 97%. I tried again at 12× (16620Kb/sec) and it behaved okay until around 70% when the buffer level indication started freaking out, but the writing continued anyway.

Well, um, the disc verified okay (!). And something is playing on my DVD player as I write this.
I dunno... I'm not certain I can, as yet, trust the recorder. I junked two discs (which cost twice as much as the recorder! ☺) and that oddity with the internal buffer bouncing around worries me. That shouldn't happen. Additionally, it appears, given the failure at the faster speed, as if the buffer underrun system may not work very well?
If it works out at a slower speed (I'll try 10× next), it will still be useful. But I don't yet feel willing to put important data on my last DVD-R... at least I had a few to hand!


Work continues...

I have just signed a new CDD, my third, to take me through until 1st August. My boss asked if I was going to be around for the new season (Sept, Oct, Nov...) so provided I don't cock up and the hours fit, I expect I will be around for a little bit longer.
In actuality, I think they may have to offer me a CDI (instead of a fixed-duration). I recall reading somewhere that a company can only offer three in a row (with a load of conditions, which is why I had a two week break in January). It is supposed to be trying to stop companies keeping employees on CDDs, which I think affects various rights that the employees may (or may not) have. Certainly, I am entitled to 2,08 days of paid holiday for each month worked. This would add up to 24,96 days in the course of a year. However as I am on CDDs, the holiday entitlements are returned to me at the end of each contract and my 'balance' is reset to zero. I think I will be paid 10% of my total contract earnings in addition (another penalty levied on the company to make keeping people on CDDs less attractive), though in reality this will only work out to be around €280ish. I think as we are 'out of season', there are only three or four people there on CDDs. The rest are CDId staff.

As for the job? Well, my wrist hurts. No more masturbation for me! Haha, as if I bothered with that... we get to do a lot of squirting with high pressure water lines, blast off ground-in chocolate, blast sticky stuff out of the yogurt machine, and after using the face-melting foam stuff we need to make sure it's all washed away. That's a lot of holding the hose and some of the nozzles can be quite stiff. Heh, and I thought I'd get RSI from over-mousing, I never imagined it'd be from an industrial-sized water squirter! That's the only issue really. To be honest, what with being the habitual "menage" bloke, this job I'm doing now isn't so different from what I did before. At least the hours (3pm - around 10.30pm) are more in keeping with my life...

Is it repetitive? To a degree, yes. But then so is anything. If you drive a train, it's the same route and the same track. If you're a carer, it's the same old people and the same schedule. If you're a teacher, it's the same classroom and the same subject. However weather changes, people change, students change and to a measure all can be interacted with differently. Likewise with my job. It's the same machines and the same floor and the same basic idea, but day to day it is different. Different things may be produced at different times. The oven room might be unused, or the girls delayed and around until five. You have to be pretty flexible and willing to do little bits here and there until the girls have gone and you can then decide if it is better to do the production area in two halves, or one big whole...
This week, I am on condi - the pick'n'pack area. Myself and my cow-orker swap areas week to week. The guy in charge wants us to know each other's job in case one if off for any reason, the other can instruct a replacement, but to be honest I'm not sure how that would work in practice. I don't really have time to follow a replacement to tell him/her what to do next, and as I just mentioned, the routine is "get it done", exactly how can be vastly different from one day to the next...


MPs and their expenses

You are probably waiting for me to make some sort of commentary on the utter b******t that has passed for MPs expense claims, as recently revealed by The Daily Telegraph; what with police apparently spending more time trying to locate the source of the leak (as releasing the documents breaks some sort of law or other) than looking into the information presented; which MPs are either going to claim is "inaccurate" or is "within existing legislation" or "was an oversight and has been paid back" (show me the cancelled cheque and I might believe it).

Are you expecting me to make a comment? Is that really necessary? Okay - here's a comment: Why is this media fodder? Why are you letting them lie and spin and delude you? Why are they doing this and yet remain in the government system?

Why did Kitty Ussher (work/pensions minister) apparently claim around £22000 in a year for improvements to her home? [this apparently being all within the rules; source BBCi] Why are others (i.e. Margaret Moran claiming expenses of around £22000 to treat dry rot at her "second" home in Southampton, which is neither Westminster nor her Luton constituency [source BBCi]) using and abusing the system? In fact, why does this system exist at all?
If any of us want to perform renovations on our property, it either comes from a bank loan that will sit on our heads for ages, or money we have saved. We need a soakaway septic tank, better heating, about 200m² of stone wall repointed... who will give me £22000? Who will give it to you for renovations to your property?
This stuff about having second properties. It sort of makes sense because a person may be the MP for outer Estonia (or someplace else north of Yorkshire) and need to be at Westminster for all the MP stuff. Yes, and? Normal people commute. Or maybe move to a point between the two and take shorter commutes. In this time, when the old age pension is an insult, the "rate of inflation" is a pack of lies, and index link has more flaws than a linked list programmed by a blind monkey, and they're still bashing on those who are long term unemployed - anybody who claims anything for a second home should be dragged outside and bloody well shot. In public. On BBC1. During the six o'clock news. Live. With the approval of an applauding crowd and Simon Cowell rating how convincingly they died.

For those wondering about the thieves, cheaters, scoundrels, and sickie-pullers... they might want to look at the examples being set by those in power in the UK. The perception is what? Lie and cheat your way into grabbing what you can? Is that what we elected these people for? Isn't a government supposed to be for the people, instead of p***ing over them at weekly intervals?

I don't want to hear "it is within Commons rules". That counts for little when those in power make up the rules that they can then abuse. It's like voting for their own pay increases. I want to hear that the rules have been scrapped and something approximating reality has been installed. I want to hear that MPs maintain their properties out of their own pay, like any regular person. And if they don't like it, they can all bugger off and get real jobs (or find out the hard way what it is like to be unemployed, won't be able to maintain two properties on that sort of benefit), maybe just maybe we'll be left with the few sort-of honest MPs who are probably wondering right now why they even bother...


The pastureland saga (again)

The pasture land, reported in the 2009/03/16 entry, plus the land beside ours, was sown to maize last year. The crop failed. This spring, land drains were installed and the land... sown... to... maize...!
Excuse me, aren't you supposed to practice crop rotation? Aren't you supposed to let fields rest every fourth year? You can't just chuck down treated animal waste and half a dozen chemicals and think life is dandy - that's the sort of behaviour that led to midwestern America becoming a big dustbowl.


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