tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

I've been recommending the Manta DB Web Page Indexer to David over IM. It plugs in to Internet Explorer and indexes everything you look at, you can then search on the pages you've looked at for information you forgot to bookmark. I've used it for about two, two-and-a-half years now and it's had very few problems. It optimises it's indexes so they don't get too big, and can automatically make a series of them so you can delete old ones if you feel you don't need them any more.

MantaDB also has some other useful utilities, like a colour-stripping button that reduces pages to black text on a white background, which can be great when you don't agree with a page author's idea of what represents a readable page. It's a shame it doesn't work on the Mac, and that there doesn't seem to be a Mozilla/Firebird version in the works, I find it very handy.
I've added two more ideas to my website.

One deals with kilo restaurants, a wonderful eating place in Brazil. The other is the suggestion to put internet access in launderettes.

Oh yes, and I finally saw The Italian Job today, the original not the American remake. Excellent film and I can't see how they're going to beat that with the new one!
Yesterday I nipped over to help my mum take things to the dump, this wouldn't really rate a mention except it was a lovely morning, a slight chill in the area that doesn't bode well for summer, but served as an excellent natural supercharger for the car, meaning I could get up to a whole 70 mph. In danger of breaking the speed limit on the A27? Whatever next!

In the afternoon I met up with a couple of friends to see Cowboy Bebop at the Duke of York's cinema in Brighton. It's an anime film, which means it's a big long cartoon made in Japan, and is aimed more at adults than children. It was great to see an anime film in a cinema, everything else I've seen has been on video. Bebop was pretty good, but I preferred Ghost in the Shell and Akira. There didn't seem much of Bebop that couldn't have been done in a live-action movie, especially in these days of Matrix-level special effects. Then again, given the cost of Matrix-level sfx, maybe it's cheaper to have lots of people drawing. They're showing Spirited Away, a Disney-made anime-style film soon

The evening continued with beer, and ended with a very drunk conversation where I suggested banning cigarettes was a good idea, and everyone else explained why it wasn't going to happen. When I'm tired my ideas tend to get more extreme, and I at least tried to get them to agree that we could stop cigarettes being shown in TV and films being made from now on. Although this would make shows like Eastenders unrealistic, I'd claim they are already very unrealistic, just look at the number of black people that aren't around in Albert Square. Anyway, everything ended very unresolved, which is about right for the type of conversation it was, and having to get trains cut in to make sure we stopped whittering on about it.
I've been working on some more stuff for the Ideas section of my website, mainly about multi-sensory rooms, which is a type of equipment used to help visually impaired children, and increasingly children with multi-disabilities or severe learning difficulties. I have some old notes on this from a few years ago, and some sketches which I could do with scanning. Unfortunately, my Umax scanner did what turns out to be the common thing for its model and self-destructed after it had been out of it's guarantee for a few months. Happily, one of the many Alexs (Alexii?) I know has leant me his Epson scanner.

Now, I'm not in to trying to convince anyone to buy anything computer-wise. Recently, I bought an Apple iBook to replace my home Windows/Linux PC (a box I'd built out of many upgraded bits over the years, the processor of which was a four year old AMD K6-2 400) and my old laptop - an AST 486sx-33 (33 MHz of throbbing power!) But at work we're very much PC based and have an old iMac for testing. But, and there was bound to be a but...

There's a CD with the scanner and a help sheet for the install on Windows, and some notes for installing in Mac classic (i.e. everything before OS X.) I plugged the USB cable in to my iBook, then tried loading some stuff from the CD, but I've never installed the Classic environment on the computer. Before going off and finding the Epson site for some OS X drivers, Alex suggested trying to see if it would scan. I had a look in my Applications directory, found 'Image Capture', started it, and it gets the scanner working. Just like that, I'd plugged the scanner in, and once I'd found the program to use it, it worked straight away. Windows 2000 and XP are great advances over previous versions, but even they can't match that level of plug and play. It was a lovely surprise, and now I can get on with scanning all the stuff I've got stacked up.
Someone who has me in their mailbox has caught the Sobig.f virus, so yesterday and today greet me with clusters of messages with virus-ridden attachments, which our system at work blocks. But then the system sends me a message telling me that the attachment has an unrepairable virus. So I get two messages for every one that the virus is sending me. Oh, and of course the virus is sending messages out with my address faked as the sender, so I'm getting the occasional bounced message or auto-reply that's nothing to do with me.

Other things... didn't go to the Brighton Bloggers meet up last night because I had a better appointment - staff curry night at eG2! The food at Nooris Indian Cuisine (Ship Street, Brighton) was OK, nothing more, but the company was excellent, and drinks at Browns afterwards very enjoyable.
Woo, Google has spidered my new website and I'm in the index. So a Google search for Paul Silver now has me entered in with all the other Paul Silvers around the world.

Currently, it's ranked 46th, while my old Virgin site is 6th, so it looks like I have some catching up to do on myself... or something.
I've joined the Brighton Bloggers, though adding me to their site seems to have broken it at the moment, which is an ominous sign.

I all ready know some of the people writing blogs through the Brighton New Media (BNM) mailing list and associated events, and I'll be interested to see who else is blogging locally. One of the nice things about living in Brighton is the large community of people working in new media, so even if you work in a small company it's possible to meet up with others who can understand what the heck you're babbling on about when you mention HTML, page rank, javascript or bloody awkward clients (OK, that last one is pretty universal.) I worked on websites locally for over a year and a half before being introduced to BNM and it's given me all sorts of contacts and friends I didn't have before. Very helpful, even with all the flamewars ;-)
Last week was a very busy week...

Monday evening: pub quiz at the Sussex Potter (Lancing) with some friends. Unfortunately one person down, which certainly didn't help.

Tuesday evening: Ecademy meet up in Lewes. Not a large turn out, but friendly conversation abound and David was kind enough to give me a lift home, which meant I had time to sort out the Bluetooth widget so I can now use my mobile for dial-up with my laptop. Handy, but I've been spoilt by high speed connections over the last few months and it does feel a bit slow.

Wednesday brings around a Farm meeting of local freelancers and small business people, i.e. a chance to drink and chat about techie things.

Thursday involved a trip to install Internet Explorer 6 on the computer I'm lending my mother while I fix her laptop. Thanks to the great folks at Evolt and their browser archive I easily got hold of the whole 70MB install and put it on CD. I wouldn't have wanted to download that one over dial-up. Even though she's using Windows 98 as is relatively unaffected by Blaster, I also took Kerio Personal Firewall to give a bit more protection from the varied viruses, worms and associated nasties out there. I've had good experiences with alternative software firewalls like ZoneAlarm before, but I found Kerio didn't make my PC crash like the last version of ZoneAlarm, and it's pretty easy to set up so it seemed the decent choice.

After much installing and messing around with internet settings to get the desktop working like her laptop usually does, it was a quick escape to a pub in Shoreham with a friend. While The Royal Coach isn't the best pub in the world, it's better than most of the ones in Shoreham, and I pumped many at 50p piece in to their pool table when I first came out of university.

Somewhere in there I also finished The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams, I'll be doing a full review of it soon, but the short version is: decent space opera with good characters, pacing could have been a bit better, looking forward to the next one but also hope he has time to finish the Metropolitan series.

Saturday involved going to a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of my cousin Kerry and her boyfriend Mike getting together. It was nice to see them, and lots of Mike's family and friends from Ireland, but having driven to North London I wasn't up for much, and I wasn't drinking as I was driving back the same night.

Now, being tired from a busy week and driving to London and back isn't the smartest idea, and nor is stopping off in Hove to take a photo of something at 1.30am, getting back in my car on the very well-lit seafront and forgetting to turn on my headlights. The Police were very polite about it, especially as I must have looked a right idiot trying to get out of their way on the Old Steine when they turned their lights on to stop me. They checked all my details while some local drunks on a park bench called out helpful advice. After a scary few minutes reflecting on the facts that I was: 1. Stupid. 2. Bang to rights, the Police were kind enough to let me off with a warning. Needless to say I made sure my lights were on about three times before driving off.

On Sunday I watched Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones on video. I was in the mood, but I think it's the weakest of the Star Wars films. This time I enjoyed it more than any other time. I think this was due to stopping a little while after the jarring romantic part and departing to the pub to meet a friend, then watching the last half hour when I got back. I think my main problems with the film are the slightly iffy dialogue and not-exactly-marvellous acting, but creating some distance between the end and some of the rougher parts of the film made it much more enjoyable.

And talking of roughness, Monday was Tomb Raider II time. Three of us went, I was the only one who enjoyed it. Perhaps my standards are being worn down by the number of frankly rather rubbish blockbusters out this year, but I thought it was better paced than the first film, and though not as funny it had plenty of enjoyable silly action.

Monday was also domesticity day: I finally got the right washer to stop my bathroom tap dripping, bought some more pot plants to replace the ones I killed over the winter by not giving them proper drainage and leaving them in the rain, and generally failed to clear up. I still didn't get a chance to update this blog, but it seems this lengthy post means I am keeping up with the habit, if not exactly in real-time.
I've written up how you can refresh the grease in the front axle of old Volkwagen cars, including pictures of me doing it to my '68 Beetle. It's a dead simple job, but one that I would imagine most people who are not in to mechanics either wouldn't think of or would avoid because it could be messy.

May I (sort-of proudly) present :
Greasing the front axle on a Volkswagen Beetle
Today is 'Hanover Day' in the part of Brighton (UK) that I live in, which, you guessed it, is called Hanover.

There was a distributed jumble sale across a couple of the roads as locals sold off things they didn't need. This was mainly clothing and books, but there was a surprising amount of cheap computer equipment around. An Acorn A3010 for £10? A bargain, even whole PC systems for less than £20. How long until the current crop of Pentium 4 superlaptops are going for the price of a pasta meal along with copies of Grisham and Collins novels? Hmm, a Gibsonesque future? Time to get collecting pebbles and glue.

The Greys pub had laid on various entertainment in its car park which started with morris dancers, which I find more quaint and humorous the older I get, Barulho a local, loud and fun samba band. Finally we had some marvellous fencing demonstrations from the Sussex Rapier School who were very entertaining, going through the various basic attacks and defensive moves with some flamboyant historical touches, and they gave a group of the local children some basic weapons, keeping them to wooden swords to keep a limit on the mayhem.

The weather was a little overcast, not as hot as it has been recently, but pleasantly warm and plenty of ice-creams were consumed. The day was very cheering, partly because it was nice to wander around looking at people's stuff and buying books, but mainly because it was friendly, relaxed, family atmosphere. I've been moaning to friends recently, and receiving back similar messages, that Brighton has gone down-hill over the last few years. Most local events seem to be a reason to get blotto, there are growing homelessness and heroin problems, the whole town is certainly dirtier than it was ten years ago.

Today I've been to the opposite of all that, a family-centred event where there was plenty of relaxed people, kids running around, there was drinking but not drunken behaviour, and a couple of hours after it was over the streets were clean again apart from some still-hanging bunting and a few bales of hay in a car park, and a little extra sense of community. It really reminds me of why I moved here in the first place: it wasn't just the weirdos, the nightlife or the constantly renewed North Laines shops, it was the sense of friendly community; which I'm pleased to say is still alive and well in Hanover, and I hope we can re-infect the rest of town with some of the same.
For no particular reason other than to show my neat Konfabulator apps to friends, I have made a screen shot of my desktop at home (which is significantly neater than my flat.)

Konfabulator is a javascript runtime engine for Mac OS X, the upshot of which means it's very easy to write little apps for, many of which access the web for you. On my desktop you can see on the left a little app showing pictures off my hard drive, currently showing the bloggers favourite - some cats (Olga & TC, my parents cats); below this is the weather report for where I live, and below that a little search widget that lets me run searches on various sources, currently set to Google. All very nifty, and all of it and more would be available for the PC or Mac as separate little programs. But the neat thing is these are all run through Konfabulator, they are all very small, and they look lovely - they don't all have to be in little rectangular boxes and they can fade in and out as much as you want. This is because Konfabulator takes advantage of the Quartz rendering in OS X, and they make it easy for everyone else to use. The only thing I have to watch out for is not going widget crazy.

Also on the desktop - the wallpaper is drawn by Fred Gallagher of the beautiful webcomic Metatokyo and coloured by Kristen Perry. Both Fred and Kristen have more talent than you can shake a stick at (even a very bendy one) so it's worth checking out their sites if you're in to cartoon art.

Oh yeah, and no more oil leaks so far from my Beetle. I'll have to give it a run this weekend to see if the fix has worked.
From the people who brought you the disturbing and lovely 'Stair Dismount,' comes a new version, with trucks!

Both sickening and sickeningly addictive, get points maximum damage to your little test dummy.
Found oil was leaking out of the rear brakes of my Beetle again last week and took one side apart on Saturday. Happily it seems to be because the seal wasn't tightened quite as tight as it could be, and after tightening it up I'm going to monitor it for a week. I really don't want to take it completely to bits and replace the seals again, as it's a complete hassle, even though I have most of the tools to do it to hand now. Mental note: I must write up how I did it for my site before I forget all the fiddly bits.

Oh yeah, decided to finally start a blog. Can't say I'm too sure about all this stuff, but I thought I'd give it a proper try before getting all sneery and awkward about it (that can come later ;-) )

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