tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

I have finally written something for the 'PC Advice' section of my website: Shortcuts for system functions in Windows 2000 details how to make shortcuts for things like locking the computer, or bringing up Task Manager.
We use Outlook for e-mail and scheduling at work and I'm always a bit worried about losing data, having had a problem when I was first with the company before we got a good technical support guy who kicked Exchange in to shape.

To try and keep my e-mail organised, I have a variety of personal folders, which live on my PCs hard disk and get backed up to the network occasionally. Today I discovered Microsoft have a free add-in for Outlook that can back up personal folders to a specified place. This is very handy as I can copy them regularly to my general backup area, rather than forgetting about them and losing something important.
I've discovered I have the top two results for "dirty Volkswagen Beetle" on Google.

This amuses me for no good reason, though I think it's to do with the comedy series Black Books, one episode of which had a man obsessed with cleanliness, who found everything "diiirrrrtttttyyyy", including swiping his gloved hand through the air and finding his finger covered in dirt.

So for all your dirty VWs I'm your man!
Discover have an article called 'Anything into oil' which goes through a process the company Changing World Technologies has to turn practically anything in to its constituent parts of oils, carbon and a few chemicals.

Now, if what the article states is true, and it really does work, and creates more useful chemicals than it takes to power the machinery, then this is one of the biggest things to happen in engineering and applied chemistry for years, decades even. Here's a process that can take the by-products and waste from huge numbers of industries, and our personal waste, and convert it in to gas, oil and carbon, all re-useable in other industries. It can even take coal and refine it, taking out chemicals like sulphur, which means when it burns more efficiently, and the sulphur can be used elsewhere and not released in to our atmosphere.

This is fantastic, this is alchemy. It knocks a power station burning the waste from macadamia nuts in to a cocked hat, even though that's a great idea too. If Changing Worlds Tech can make this happen, they deserve all the masses of money I'm sure they'll make. They're about to take landfill and make it useful, let us get rid of the European old fridge mountain that's building up, take almost anything except toxic waste and recycle it back in to use. About the only people who're going to do badly out of this are future archaeologists who will wonder where society went when these things get rolled out and landfill starts disappearing.

It's film time...

On Saturday I saw Blackball, a British made comedy about, of all things, lawn-bowls - the stuff retired people play, especially in Worthing. It follows a guy from a local housing estate as he becomes the 'bad boy of bowls,' acts like a complete twonk, and... well, you can either guess the rest or go and see the film. I recommend going and seeing it, it's certainly the funniest film I've seen this year, and it doesn't hurt to support the British film industry either.

Tonight I met up with my mate Alex (one of my many mates called Alex) and saw the bizarre French film Belleville Rendezvous at the Duke of York cinema. It's a cartoon, and has hardly any dialogue, and most of what there is isn't really dialogue, it's more the muttering sounds people make to each other or themselves. But, it's full of great characters, a fantastic visual style where absolutely everything is a caricature, from the fat Statue of Liberty (holding a hamburger) to the stretch 2CVs. It has an extremely odd storyline involving bike racing, the mafia, a trio of singers and a very determined old lady. If you see the film - that woman is just like one of my grandmothers, except mine's even more of a battleaxe!

I've seen plenty of films this year, all the biggies... Tomb Raider II, Charles Angels II, Matrix Reloaded, Hulk, etc etc. Both of these small, non-Hollywood films are better than the multi-million Pound films I've been seeing over the rest of the year. When a film about an odd French family with five lines of dialogue has more style and a better story than your $100 million sequel, maybe it's time to start thinking seriously about changing how you're going about making films.
Weebl, the chap behind Weebl and Bob and purveyor of finest silliness for ladies and gentry worldwide, has come up with a new cartoon loop: badger, badger.

Completely fantastically stupid, just what I needed!

He's even done a little icon you can use on forums...

dancing badger
Some research in to the effects of Ecstasy have been shown to have used the wrong drug in their tests, something much more powerful than Ecstasy (MDMA.)

The original results, with 2/10 monkeys dying and another 2 being severely brain damaged, were a little suspicious. If it was that strong you'd expect clubbers to be dropping left, right and centre. Also the quote from Colin Blakemore: "Whatever we think about the toxicity of Ecstasy, 40% of people using it each weekend do not die." is presumably taken out of context a little, as I don't remember 60% of people taking ecstasy dying every week, I'm pretty sure that would be a major discouragement for the people buying it.

Now, I really dislike Ecstasy (MDMA) on a psychological/biological level. It's a neurotoxin, and rats won't eat it voluntarily (they have are better at sensing neurotoxins than humans are) which is always a worry. But I always think the standard warning that "one tablet can kill" is a pretty pointless way of warning people. If they're surrounded by happy, dancing people who have taken pills from the same batch, the likelihood is you're not going to be worrying about the next pill being the one that kills you, and lets face it, the chances are it isn't going to. The long-term effects of Ecstasy are much more dangerous than that.

Ecstasy works on your serotonin system, which controls mood, as well as potentially various other parts of your brain. Ecstasy makes your brain release more serotonin than it normally would, which makes you feel happy about everything, which is great. Except, if you take enough, especially on a regular basis, you damage your neurones that release the serotonin, which is going to screw up the bit of your brain that controls mood.

Upshot? Well, for humans no one knows yet. This is rather unfortunate. Not having enough serotonin is linked to depression, which is why Prozac, which also works on the serotonin system is an effective anti-depressant. So, if there's a problem stuff like Prozac will fix it? Well, maybe not. Prozac works by making the serotonin that's released hang around for a bit longer, letting more of it be absorbed by the neurones it's trying to get to. If there is very little or no serotonin released, there just isn't enough to stimulate a reaction from the neurones waiting to receive it. No amount of Prozac or other specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the type of drug Prozac is, will help that.

Currently, if you run out of serotonin or damage the neurones that send it out, there is no way of fixing that. There is an interesting article in the current Scientific American Special Issue about new treatments to repair the brain, so there is some hope for the future. But if they don't pan out, or are too expensive, the outlook is generally bleak. There's a likelihood of depression of varying levels of severity. Serotonin and dopamine, which is closely related to serotonin and may also be affected by Ecstasy, are related to mood, attention and the feelings of your own energy levels. Dopamine is linked to Alzheimer's and Huntington's Chorea. If heavy Ecstasy use damages users dopamine system we could also be seeing Alzheimer and/or Huntington's-like symptoms, i.e. uncontrollable shaking, or uncontrolled freezing.

How much Ecstasy is dangerous? That's not known yet either, and is likely to vary greatly between people. Is one pill going to have an effect? Probably not. A couple of pills every weekend for six months? Don't know, but if you think it might give you depression in your forties or fifties and want to spend the rest of your life having treatment for it as there's no cure, well, at least you know that might be coming.

When I did my psychology degree people used to ask my why I was doing it, because it was perceived that there is no jobs in the field. Admittedly, I now work in IT rather than psychology, but being blunt about the situation: I think the UK, or the whole of the West and any other areas where Ecstasy use is high, is going to need a large number of psychologists, and neurologists and doctors, when my generation gets older to help with the large increase in depression and other Ecstasy-related problems.

So... I think there could be more than enough jobs for psychologists going around, I'm just not happy for the reason and hope I'm wrong about my predictions.

For further reading, you might want to check this recent study on rats given Ecstasy early in pregnancy. If further studies support their results, it might point to the children of people who have taken Ecstasy when pregnant having problems like Attention Deficit Disorder or other mood problems. The dangerous thing is, the affects happen early enough that the woman may not even know they're pregnant when they're taking the Ecstasy that's damaging their child. Very scary, as is most of the research on Ecstasy that I've found.
Of photos and bald spots...

Dave borrowed my camera in the week to take some photos around the office, so I had it with me to take this earlier...

Cloud like spray over Brighton

(Click for bigger)

Disadvantage is I noticed how big the bald spot on my head is getting. Sigh. Think I'll have one more standard haircut before I go for a brush-cut, or by then I might have the whole Patrick Stewart-look down pat (or indeed pate (losing my hair has had an unfortunate affect on my punning, must be all the extra sun I've been absorbing.))
I've been using Mozilla Firebird at work to browse news sites as the advert blocking is simple to use and an excellent function. However, you can only block adverts from a whole server (e.g uk.ad.doubleclick.net gets rid of a lot of banners) and I've been annoyed by one advert on The Register recently which is hosted on their server, so blocking it would remove all the normal images on the site as well.

Today I found AdBlock, an extension to Firebird (or Mozilla) that lets me block particular adverts, as well as whole servers. Excellent, the annoying animation has gone, and I can read the site more easily again.
Volkswagen woes...

I had a look under my Beetle yesterday to see if I could sort out some creeping rust I found fixing my brakes earlier in the year. Turns out it's worse than I thought and I'm going to have to get the whole rear jacking point replaced on one side. Bugger. Time to start saving up and get some quotes.
I went up to London yesterday with a mate to get some culture. We went to the Design Museum and Tate Britain (that's the older Tate with the proper art in ;-))

The Design Museum is quite small and has currently has a display of chairs in it, among other things, oh and what I can only think of as the next big thing for bloggers:

Keyboard with bowl in the middle

The blogger keyboard - eat while you blog, eat what you blog, blog what you eat!

Tate Britain has some amazing art, including a lot of works by Turner, who visited Brighton a lot and did what he did there - paint. It was interesting to see how Brighton has grown in the last couple of hundred years (we've lots a Pier, gained two more and now lost one, or at least made it a more interesting sculpture.) It's surprising how much of the coastline is still recognisable, they were building some of the nicer hotels and houses on the coast while he was visiting.

Met up with a friend who works for the Conservative party after the culture bit and we went drinking. Obvious questions asked include: "What the heck's your party doing at the moment, what with Labour messing it up so much?" He wanted to know as well, so we moved on to other things.
I've done a new help file - oil change on a Volkswagen Beetle. With hopefully helpful piccies.
I've put a new idea in my archive: Neo-natal / Post-Natal Stimulation of Working Dogs, it's an idea on how to stimulate dogs that are bred for working roles early in their development in the hope that it increases their mental facilities. If not it may at least help make them able to cope with the different stimulation they get in their working lives.

Further printing hassles, but not computer related this time...

Installed the HP Deskjet 640C printer on to my Mac - no problems this time, just needed to plug the USB lead in, install driver from the HP site and add it to the list of printers. Only problem is my colour cartridge has run out. I'm trying to print a map and the cartridge in the laser is very low as well, looks like the inkjet'll get fed first as it's a lot cheaper. I'm only trying to print a bloomin' map out.
Printing hassles...

I bought an HP Laserjet 5 second hand earlier in the year before I'd decided to buy my iBook. Now, the iBook doesn't have a traditional parallel port, it has USB and Firewire ones, but has done away with parallel and the old-style serial as well. So, I went in to Maplin on London Road and noticed they had a USB to Parallel cable - perfect.

Got it home, plugged everything in and found the program that lets you add printers (in Applications -> Utilities -> Printer Center (damned American spelling!)) Couldn't find a way of adding my printer as it wasn't in any of the normal options - it was a parallel printer now on a USB interface, but not turning up on the USB list. So I went to Google and found a page on MacOSXHints about printing via USB-parallel adapters. Did everything it said, and it got me a printer set up, but I was justing getting a page of error messages and lots of blank ones when I tried to print.

Back to the ol' friend Google and I found HPIJS for Mac OS X on the Linux Printing site, which is what I needed. I know, it's not Linux, it's OS X, but the page is for OS X. It gives two extra packages that need to be installed to make some changes to the underlying printing system within X, which lets you install some other drivers that will let it work with extra printers, such as my laserjet on the end of an adapter lead.

After a bit of messing around, here's what seemed to get it working: I removed the version of the printer I'd managed to install the first time around from Printer Center, then restarted. Then I went through the install of the printers using Option- (AKA 'alt') Click on 'Add' in Print Centre, choosing advanced and choosing one of the 'foomatic' one that was right for my printer as the instructions said. Another restart (just to be sure) and I'm now printing fine. I'm hoping when I install the HP Deskjet inkjet it's rather less hassle as that's naturally USB.
I've been downloading the latest version of Red vs Blue via their Bit Torrent links. Red vs Blue is basically a cartoon made using the Xbox game Halo. The makers set up the in-game characters for the scenes they want, then edit a new voice-over on to what they've recorded. Sounds insanely complicated, but rather easier than animating it all yourself.

Bit Torrent is a way of sharing files, usually very large files, across the internet. If you have something popular, say a new episode of Red vs Blue, but you don't have a large, high bandwidth connection to the internet. Well, if you create a Bit Torrent stream, everyone who downloads the file can share it with other people who want to download it as well. You share the file as long as you keep it open in your Bit Torrent software.

The practical upshot of all this is, when I set the torrent going, it started downloading it from one host, then eventually from 49, giving me a much higher download speed without taking too much bandwidth from any one system. To really help the system out, you need to keep sharing the file with other people, giving back a bit for the benefit you've got.

The system does have a couple of down sides: you can only find the torrent files via the web, or links people send you, which isn't much of a problem; and it does rather swamp your connection, which makes it fine for home use, but I wouldn't want to use it at work and flood the connection for everyone else.

The software for OS X, Windows and other platforms on the Bit Torrent website.

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