tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Long time, no write

First update in a very long time. It should come as no surprise that plenty of things have happened in the last three and a half years...

Katie and I have saved up and bought a house, and moved out to Lancing, which is 20 minutes train ride from Brighton.

Just after we moved, Katie gave birth to our lovely son Tom. Which makes this the moment for some photos. In a little under two years he's gone from this little bundle...

Ready to face the outside world

To this little boy...

Tom spinning in playground

Tom seems to have inherited my height (he's well above average at the moment) and my hairline (sorry son.) Luckily for him, he has Katie's eyes and cheeky grin.

Unfortunately for us, Tom didn't like sleeping. Whenever he slept on his back, wind would build up inside him and wake him up in pain, and even sleeping on his front wasn't much better. This meant lots of sleeping on mum and dad while we were sitting up, and also lots of lack of sleep for us. Just as things started settling down on the sleep front, he started getting lots of colds so that throws things out again.

So, between working very hard to get the money together for the house, to having Tom and working very hard trying to balance childcare with getting work done to keep said house, things like blogging have been put aside. As has fixing my Beetle, which is now sitting in our garage rather than on my parent's drive, so at least it's rusting at a much reduced rate.

Admittedly, I have been finding time for Twitter, and a bit of Google+. I'm hoping now to find some more time to use the computer for more than just doing client work. I have tried blogging a little about my work stuff on my freelance site but that hasn't been going much better than my writing here.

Oh yes, and Katie and I are getting married next year.

Other highlights from the last few years... being Best Man at Alex and Karin's wedding, meeting my friends Phil and Rachel's son Oliver - only a few months younger than Tom - and all the normal life stuff like birthdays, beer festivals, my friend Richard getting published again, my networking group the Farm growing and growing... and, well, stuff I'll hopefully get around to writing about soon.

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New lease of life for my Nokia N73

I've had my Nokia N73 mobile for a little over a year. It's OK, but not the best phone I've had. It's slow to switch between functions (i.e. going to text messaging) and my top right button had stopped working and I had a lot of dust inside the screen.

Why not just get a new phone? I have a contract with Orange and don't care enough about mobiles to want to buy one separately and I don't want to get a new free phone from Orange because that'll mean extending my contract and I want to get to the end of it in case I decide to get an iPhone now the new ones are out.

However, I knew I could upgrade the 'firmware' - the software that runs on the phone - and sometimes there are useful updates in those. I'd done this a few months after getting the phone and it hadn't made any difference that I could notice, but maybe there was another one out. I hoped that my button had stopped working because of a software problem, rather than it being physically broken.

I found out what firmware I was running by typing *#0000# in to my phone, then found out there was a newer version out from Nokia.

A little Googling led me to download the Nokia Software Updater for N73, which works by connecting the PC (doesn't work on Mac) and phone together with a cable that came with the phone, then letting them talk for a while. Or it should, it turned out I needed to install the Noka PC Suite first, then run the software updater which then worked.

Before updating, I backed up my photos, texts and other bits on to the separate memory card I had in the phone - I did this by going in to Tools -> Memory -> Options -> Backup phone mem.

So, connected everything up, let it run, got worried when it took ages to finish, it finished OK, calmed down, turned phone on. And... woo, it's quicker! Not blindingly quick, but noticeably quicker than it was. Broken button still broken, bugger.

One fix I didn't notice immediately: my N73 has always shown the icon saying there's a voicemail message for me, even when there wasn't. This firmware update fixed that, which is very nice. Although I've lived with it for so long I now think there's something missing when I look at the phone.

Having decided I had a hardware problem, I went looking for instructions on taking the phone apart. I found links to pictures and videos that Nokia has had removed, which was not helpful, then a post with useful pictures (may take a while to load.) It looked like the screen dust could be under the plastic screen which is between the world and the actual LCD screen. Cool, that means I could take the phone apart and clean it.

Getting the phone apart was quite awkward and involves lots of prising and not losing your temper and breaking it. I found the worst part is the bottom corners as they have tabs much closer together than the top, so expect those parts to take a bit longer to get free.

I could clean the screen as soon as the top case was off, but decided to go further to try to get the top right key working again. This required a size 6 Torx screwdriver, which my friend Jamie was kind enough to lend me - he makes presentation equipment for exhibitions and has all the fiddly tools under the sun.

To get at the keyboard you have to take the main case completely off as there are small tabs that need releasing on the side of the keyboard which you can't do without getting the case off. Once I had access to the membrane under the buttons I gently prised the edge up under the broken button and scraped the shiny metal of the contact that gets pressed down by the phone key. When I put everything back together this was enough to get the key working.

Warning - putting the phone back together is rather fiddly and takes some time and patience. I found I had to take the little plastic tab which covers the SD memory card slot off to make it easier to fiddle everything back in to position - it's easy to slot back in later. I got my case back on then realised I'd forgotten to screw the keyboard back down and had to take the case apart again - it's much easier the second time!

All back together and the phone has a new lease of life. It's faster because of the firmware update, the button works again and the dusty screen has gone, now I just have the array of little scratches I always get because I tend to put the phone in the same pocket as my keys. I can now see out my Orange contract with my N73 and decide whether or not I want an iPhone in a couple of months, which will let the furore over the new iPhone die down a bit so I should be able to get one without any silly queuing up. I may be British, but I don't see queuing as a form of entertainment.

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'To the power of' in PHP

If you're programming in PHP and want to do a 'to the power of', you might think you could just use the caret symbol (^) between two numbers, like this:

print 2^5;

But no, this will give you some gobbledegook like bWH�. You need to use the pow() function, like this:

print pow(2,5);

Which will give you 32, which is what you want.

I haven't got time to dig in to why PHP ignored this sort of mathematical notation, when it'll treat + * - and / properly, but it's rather annoying.

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Misadventures in watching Iain M Banks

I went to see science fiction author Iain M Banks talk last week.

This should have been a relaxing affair - Alex had sorted the tickets well ahead of time, and we'd discussed where the venue - The Old Market - was, near the City Books shop on the edge of Hove. I've walked past the Old Market lots of times and wondered what it was, which makes it more annoying that I couldn't find it on the night.

This was partly, well, totally because I have all the navigational ability of a dead haddock. I found City Books easily enough, having printed a map to it rather than a map to the venue of the talk, and dropped down from Seven Dials straight to it - this turned out to be my largest mistake because I thought "Ah, it's around here somewhere, but the poster says it's in Hove, so I'll walk that way."

Actually, I walked one road Brightonwards and could see that wasn't down to the place, so I went towards Hove. If I'd walked two roads Brightonwards, I'd have found the bloody place.

A good whack of tiredness and stupidity meant I walked further in to Hove than I should have. I then got stopped by a not-particularly-homeless-looking homeless bloke, who claimed to have broken down, be from Lancing, and need some money. On any other night I'd have spotted him a mile off (he even did the standard homeless-bloke weirdness of asking for a very odd amount of money - £47.17 or thereabouts.) This took up a bunch of time and in the end I was trying to give him money just to get rid of him.

By the end of the discussion I'd given the chap some money, he insisted on giving me his address and taking mine and saying he'd drop the money off later. I gave him my office address because I didn't want Katie being hassled by some random guy if he did turn up. Stupidly I didn't ask him any questions about Lancing, a village I know well, but I find myself more sympathetic to old codgers who appear lucid apart from a few facts since my dad had a memory problem a few years ago.

Anyway... I go further in to Hove, feeling daft for not pulling the bloke up about Lancing. Then I start looking for a map - the one I found was useless, then a taxi and can't find a free one - terrific. Having eventually turned around I find some roving Policemen who say it's a long way away on foot - great.

Eventually, looking for a taxi the whole time, I make it back to City Books, then after some swearing, two roads down I find the Old Market. Relieved, sweaty and kicking myself, I make it in for the last third-to-half of the talk.

When I got in to the hall I didn't realise it was in the Q&A session and all I could hear was a voice going and a chap on the stage who obviously wasn't talking. It went on so long I wondered if it was a taped excerpt and IB had lost his voice. It turned out to be an intermidably long question, which I would imagine is stock in trade for Q&As involving SF fans :-)

When he gets a chance, Iain Banks is a good speaker. Enthusiastic and funny, with strange asides and rants. I managed to catch a number of answers, and hear him read from The Steep Approach to Garbadale, which was well worth the £6 admission.

While listening, I could see the back of several friend's heads but managed to lose them all in the scrum to get out, which turned out to also be a queue for getting books signed. Happily, Ian scooped me up on the way to the pub, and we found Jay on the way. I finally got to meet Ben.

All in all, a mess of an evening, which ended well, apart from managing to completely miss Alex, who'd sorted out everything in the first place.

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Interviewed for Freelance Advisor

I've been interviewed by Andy White for Freelance Advisor, a new blog/podcast to help freelancers and contractors succeed in business helmed by Darren Fell.

We talked about the main points of marketing yourself as a freelancer. Andy is a good interviewer and put me very much at ease, which was great as in general I hate microphones.

Darren found me because of the Farm, and since the interview was recorded has asked me to write for the marketing section of Freelance Advisor. As soon as I have some time there should be some more freelancing advice coming from me there, in the meantime there are a lot of other contributions to catch up on.

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Brighton Digital Festival 2007

In November (2007) Wired Sussex and it's partners expanded their usual Digital Festival to take in a whole month of events, rather than the few days of previous years. Many (most) of the events were carried out by local groups who aren't affiliated with Wired Sussex, and the Festival offered an umbrella of advertising for all of them.

I had quite a busy festival...

As one of the organisers, my friend Matt asked if The Farm would run an event. After chatting about it a while I agreed that we'd organise a Hack Day, which would appeal to developers, as I felt a lot of the events that had been planned were good for designers, but not so good for the more technical crowd. So I organised a day-long event.

Ian and Jon ran a Start Up Day, and invited David Rosam and myself to do a talk on SEO, which we were delighted to give.

The Brighton Web Awards was back and they once again asked The Farm to judge an award, and as organiser I got to present it.

And finally I went to a usability evening put on by Use8

There was plenty of other stuff happening, including a week of Skillswaps, a special Geek dinner, and some Flash events, all of which I missed due to illness and event-fatigue.

I think it was a good idea to do a lot of events in one month to show how much is going on in the community in and around Brighton. However, with so much happening, pretty much an event every day or evening, I found I got very tired and had to really pick and choose what I went to. Talking to some of the people who ran the events, turn out was lower than I'd expected for some of them, which I think reflects that other people were picking and choosing as well.

Hopefully the festival will stay quite large next year, but I'm unsure how to balance how much stuff is put on with the amount of people who actually go to events. It might be better for there to be slightly less stuff, but give people a chance to go to everything they want. Hmm... I'm open to ideas about how to 'fix' this, it could be that it'll just be a case of "tough, you can't get to everything", which is certainly a fine and understandable attitude to take if you're organising a festival!

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