tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Stress = tiredness, tiredness = stress

I still haven't managed to have a break. The bank still hasn't managed to clear payment from my late paying client in to my business account, which means I have something else to chase along with all the work I'm trying to get through at the moment. I'm feeling a lot of stress from one of the businesses I'm helping start, and my bloody car still isn't fixed.

All in, this means I'm now trapped in to a feedback loop of stress and tiredness, with each adding to the other.

What I should do is go away for a bit, but in the classic freelancers dilemma, I have about three sets of clients potentially about to want work started. In fact, some of it should have started all ready, but the designs are late. Also, I need to get another quote finished (one sent this week, two more in the works, but fortunately David is handling writing them with some input from me, as they're for our joint venture.)

Once I know about some of the bits of work I must book a trip for when they're over. I have a standing invite from one of my friends in Brussels (if his company holds out long enough for me to visit him) and indeed I could always nip over to Canada to see my friends there. I like being able to visit friends when I'm going away as I find it a lot easier to relax that way.

Mental note: don't book going away on the same weekend as the London to Brighton Volkswagen run, as you have two other years.

One bit of good news: Southern Water sent me an 'assessed' bill which means even though they're not going to put a water meter in, they're not going to charge me the huge amount they were going to and have knocked it down to what they expect a one bedroom flat to use. This has knocked almost a hundred quid off the bill, which is good.

Flash Games

In between all the rushing around I've been doing recently, I have found the time for a quick game or two. Nice games I've been playing recently are:

A Murder of Scarecrows - keep the scarecrows from being eaten. Rather nice to look at and while I thought it was a bit complicated when I read the instructions, when you start playing it everything makes sense.

Yeti Olympics - the yeti games bundled together, with an extra one I hadn't seen before as the fifth event.

Floats - a Ferry Halim game, showing his normal mix of good gameplay with friendly graphics. This would be a great game to play with a graphics tablet, I found it a bit annoying after a while with the mouse, especially as it has very tight time limits.

Hanover Day Pictures

Now Olly has fixed his servers, my Hanover Day pictures from a week or so ago are finally up.

Link to pictures of Hanover Day 2004

Installing Windows 98

My mum dropped off her laptop to me today for backing up and re-installing. It's an old no-name thing which is probably a re-badged, or rather no-badged, Toshiba or something under the shell. It's had the same installation of Windows 98 since she bought it, four or five years ago, and while it's lasted well, the install/uninstall of various applications has finally got too much for it and it needs backing up and re-installing.

I'd forgotten how frustrating a Windows 98 install is. As far as I can see this is mainly caused by it installing the CD drive after it's tried to install lots of other drivers, which is needs the CD drive working to be able to get from the Windows CD in the CD drive.

I got my first blue-screen major error warning within a minute of having Windows 98 running. I can see this is going to be a lovely task.

Payment arrives

Finally, after some more phoning and hassle, my late payment has arrived, along with pretty much on-time payment of the next invoice.

At the moment I'll still do more work for the client, but I think before I do any more large pieces of work for them, I'll be asking for either part-payment up front, or some sort of written confirmation that I'll be paid on time.

Apple computer case patent

A story over at El Reg points out Apple have filed for a patent on 'chameleon' computer cases which have an array of lights inside to change the colour of the case to anything the owner wants.

As an extension to the current case mod scene this is OK. However, it becomes more interesting because it could become basic equipment in every Mac - no doubt there will be lots of people expecting it in the new iMac to be unveiled soon. The first things that occur would be people setting the colour to match that of their office. The next things that I thought of is: is the array of lights inside able to set different areas to different colours? So could I have a gradient across my computer's case?

But now, I'm more interested in what it means to games. If you're playing a first person shooter like Unreal Tournament, can the case flash red when you get shot? Can it match the colours to context-dependent music in RPGs so when you're safe it's green, but as you move around it goes black or red for danger?

I'd like to see a widget that lets you change the colour depending on something like a weather forecast: yellow for sunny tomorrow, blue for rain, or maybe green for rain (as in good for making the grass green), blue for cold, red for hot. Hmm, going to need a bit of finessing, that one. Or traffic reports - if you check your mail before work, a red Mac means the route to work is busy, green means you're fine to leave a bit late.

It'll be interesting to see what else comes from this. I hope they do fit it in the new iMac, getting a fancy case mod like this in to the mainstream could turn up all sorts of uses.

What gets left behind

The Atlantic Monthly has a very interesting article about what one of their journalists found on a computer previously owned by an Al-Qaeda member, which he bought in Afghanistan after the US bombing in 2001.

Inside Al-Qaeda's Hard Drive by Alan Cullison

It looks like complaints and internal politics are just as prevalent in terrorist organisations as any large office. Internal factions, worries about poor accounting, things that could be on any office PC. Then there are draft justifications for the September 11th attack in America, and letters by Osama bin Laden himself. A bizarre mix of the mundane and horrific.

Hanover Day 2004

It was festival day in the Hanover area of Brighton today (here's what I said about it last year)

Today's festivities were a bit caught out by some showers, and it was a grey day generally. Still, it was a nice little mixture of street market and traditional English village fayre fair.

I have some pictures, and once some write permission problems are sorted with the host of my personal site I'll put them up.

I liked the difference between this week and last week. Last week was the Pride march celebrating 'diversity', which generally translates in this context to 'flamboyant gay people dressing up for hoots.' This week was an on-street jumble sale with extras straight from a village festival, e.g. morris dancing and sword fighting demonstrations. It felt just like a village fete, just in a couple of roads rather than the local park / church hall. Everyone was very relaxed, it was a touch soggy, and not as busy as last year. A nice day generally.

Whrrrrrrrr squeak

I'm printing pages of graphics for a usability study at the moment. My poor old inkjet is feeling pain. Every line is whrrrrrrr... squeak. Whhhhrrrrrrr squeak.

Luckily I've escaped to a client's office. Hopefully the printing will be done by the time I get back.

Life as a freelancer part 254

I'm currently running around doing work for various clients, and meeting more people who are potential clients or doing proposals for them. This is becoming relatively normal.

What tends to throw things out is when payment doesn't arrive on time. It's a great tradition in England that you give people 30 days to pay, then you have to start chasing payment on the 31st day. It's not mandatory, people, it's an option - you have a grace period of 30 days to make payments, it's not that you have to make payment right at the end of the period.

So, currently I've got a client who's now over a week late making payment for work I did over a month ago, I've also got another invoice due with them next week. If that gets missed I'm in major trouble, rent-wise, at the end of the month. I've been advised recently by some other freelancers going through the same trouble that applying for a winding-up order on the company is a lot more effective than a solicitors letter, which tends to cost more and is pretty ineffective these days. However, it seems a bit drastic and I hope things don't come to that.

As I'm running around trying to get people for a paper prototyping usability study at the moment, I could do without having to chase invoices from a company that should know better. Considering they went through a bad patch at the end of last year, the least they could do is extend a bit of politeness to an even smaller company that is working for them.

I, Robot and other summer films

I went to see I, Robot (the film) yesterday with Alex F, while Alex M when to see Spiderman 2.

Without spoiling anything, I, Robot is OK... it's a pretty good action SF film, and while Isaac Asimov wouldn't have written anything so aggressive, or unintellectually stimulating, I don't think it'll have him spinning in his grave as I suggested earlier. There's probably a media studies student essay or two in spotting which films it references, we spotted Blade Runner, The Matrix, Terminator, and something I can't remember right now (I ought to get comments sorted out so Alex can prompt me.) One other comment: the product placement for Converse bordered on the silly, especially as it's for a shoe out now, they could have at least done it for one a couple of years in the future, though I suppose the joke is it's a retro shoe now, and they've forgotten that in thirty years time.

So far the summer season isn't giving any definitively good action film. Spiderman 2 has an annoyingly slow part in the middle as Peter worries about his life, I, Robot just isn't quite there. It' has a nice open ending - here's hoping they don't immediately make a sequel though - but like Minority Report last year it just misses being a very good film somehow. This might be my own prejudice at having read the stories both films were based on, I just prefer the written stuff. However, so far I think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my best mainstream film of the year, and it's got it's own faults, by telling the same story as the book it feels like an edit of a much larger story, as if it was two films edited down to one. I don't think this was really avoidable if they wanted to fit in as much as they did, but it does mean the film is a bit flawed.

Still, as we reflected walking away from the cinema, they could all be worse. They could be either of The Matrix sequels.

Usability and relaxing

I've been doing preparation for usability tests for a client over the last couple of days. This involved coming up with new interfaces for their search systems, then mocking them up so they can be tested with paper prototypes.

To take a break after all the mock-ups, I've done a review of Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, a book best known because it was the basis for the film Soylent Green, which in turn is best known because, well, you'll have to watch it to find out, but I ain't going nibbling on little green blocks of 'protein' any more.

As an aside, I thought about calling SF Bookshelf 'Soylent Green', or 'Soylent-another-colour', but all the variants I could think of had either gone on the good top level addresses (i.e. .com or .net) or sounded a bit naff. Still, I'm happy with the name now, and I'll be even happier when I get enough time to put in the graphical look I've got in mind for the site.

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