Saturday, June 30, 2007

White Rose Shopping Centre - hell on Earth?

Posted by Chris @ 9:01 PM

I've lived in and around Sheffield a good few years now, and so am quite accustomed to Meadowhall, and the locals fond nickname for it, Meadowhell. This is because it can be a hellish experience, from finding a parking space, making your way past the crowds in the malls, the struggle to buy food and find a seat to eat it in, and the general feeling of despair that consumes you until you're safely on your way home on the M1.

But, my fellow blog readers, I have found a new shopping hell, the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds. Quite simply, this was the most hellish shopping experience I've had. Busy doesn't describe it. I think our first mistake was to go there after visiting my grandparents, which meant it was Saturday afternoon. Secondly, it was raining, so everyone was heading indoors, and finally, and I think this might be the nail in the coffin, Meadowhall was closed due to the flooding, so those looking for indoor retail therapy had to travel here. Oh, and Debenhams had an extra 10% off sale price thing going on, which didn't help. Plus it was full of people from Leeds ;o)

Seriously though, who designed those car parks? It was full for a start, but cleverly the exit queue (yes, you had to queue to exit) clogged up the very roads used to drive around the car park, madness. I could go on but I think you get the picture, it was a relief to get out of there. The up-shot, I'll appreciate Meadowhall a bit more (just a bit mind!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More flooding!

Posted by Chris @ 11:52 AM

Well, last week we had some flooding, and this week we've had even worse flooding. I think I said in my last post “Luckily for us the flood plain extends away from our house” - hmm. Luckily it isn't as bad as the photos make out, whilst we did have 6 inches around the back, it didn't come into the house, but that didn't stop me having a pretty sleepless night. We didn't get home until 11, but enormous thanks goes to Ben and Beck for taking us in for the evening, feeding us, and finding us a route home in their car. The pictures show the flood waters at the back of our house, and also in Hillsbrough when we went for a little walk around. That was quite scary!

Thankfully all we have left is a load of sludge, which I've captured in this nice little video, and after an hour and half with a hosepipe and brush things are looking much better. Lets just hope it doesn't rain much more this June!

Monday, June 25, 2007

What a stupid waste of time

Posted by Chris @ 1:17 PM

<rant>
I'm sorry but this really is a stupid waste of time, and yet the BBC have picked it up and are making it into some story. Some Phd student has concluded that “those using Facebook come from wealthier homes and are more likely to attend college.” No shit Sherlock.

You see it works like this, Facebook was setup to get networks of people to sign up, initially this was for universities, colleges and schools. Holy crap, do you see where I'm going with this? You see people in university used Facebook because it was geared up for people in University. It has only recently opened up to the big wide world. MySpaz on the other hand has been open to all, and promotes no kind of “you must be in a school“ ethos, it is just “I'm here, who else is here, be my friend.”

So you see I could have answered the very same question without 6 months “research”, and if I can figure that out then why the hell does the BBC think more people need help figuring this out, it is a complete and utterly stupid waste of time. Argh!
</rant>

Ocean's Thirteen

Posted by Chris @ 1:04 PM

This weekend, whilst in Carlisle, we went to watch Ocean's Thirteen. I'd heard good things about this one after the disappointment of Ocean's Twelve, so I was looking forward to it. Film over, what do I think? Well, it was alright, but it could have been better. For starters it lacked women, no sign of Julia Roberts in this one, it was very much a male cast. You had the one women in the form of Bank's assistant, and she wasn't great. But that aside the plot had a few holes in it. As a confessed geek I'll focus on the obvious one, the unbeatable artificially intelligent computer security system monitoring the casino for cheats and threats that in the end was beatable. I'm sorry, any sophisticated system like this in an emergency wouldn't shut down and take 3 minutes and 20 seconds to reboot, it would run off UPS, have clustered redundancy and never go down, because of the very nature of what it was doing. No Casino owner would accept a 3:20 reboot time. Ever. Secondly, the way they were going to take this system down was to replicate an earthquake, by boaring a tunnel under Las Vegas, with the tunneling machines used to dig the Channel Tunnel. I'm sorry, that is just too far fetched. How the hell did they get it into position accurately with a team of 1 controlling it, doesn't it take a little while to boar a tunnel, and why did no one else notice this huge tunneling machine arrive into Las Vegas, home of some of the largest casinos in the world, all probably with vaults buried deep in the desert. Wouldn't that raise just a few suspicions.

But alas, yes, it is a movie so we can suspend reality for a second, and when we do that, it wasn't a bad film. It just wasn't a great film. Watch it if you have time.

On the plus side we saw a couple of great trailers. The obligatory Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix looked great, but The Simpsons Movie looked very funny, and the Transformers movie, well, I can't wait for that one!! It is gonna be pure guff, but guff with Transformers, and that makes all the difference!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Review of the Toshiba Tecra A8

Posted by Chris @ 10:04 PM

So, Hack Day 2007 - the plea went out on my blog for a laptop, and Talk Toshiba answered! They offered me a Toshiba Tecra A8 laptop for use for Hack Day, and I gladly accepted. It arrived within a couple of days of sending off the paperwork, a few weeks before I was due to attend so I could get it setup ready for Hack Day. So far so good!

DSC01805

On first impressions I liked the Tecra, it had a good wide screen display, and was fairly light and slim-line. It didn't come with a laptop case, which was a shame, but no great hardship. Booting it up was quick, and I was in, my first proper laptop experience awaited.

I'll be honest, I'm a desktop man, I've always had a desktop, and have got very used to a keyboard and mouse set-up. Laptops I've always found a bit tricky. Starting to use this I came up against my usual issues, like learning to type again, and getting used to a touch pad. One thing I've found a little odd with the Tecra is the slightly offset keyboard layout (see pic below). It means resting your hands on the edges of the laptop doesn't guarantee the correct typing position on the left-hand side.

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Setting up the wireless proved easy, the Tecra seems to have a good wireless connection, and I've suffered no problems with it. And hardware wise this laptop seems stacked! I can't say I follow laptop specs religiously, but a 2Ghz Intel Core Duo (whatever that is), 1GB Ram and 100GB HDD will do nicely for me, it is nearly the same spec as my desktop machine! It certainly hasn't under performed for me, but granted I've not really put it under much load other than some hard typing and serious web browsing.

DSC01807

Battery life seems good, I've not suffered it running out, although I have always had the power supply to hand. It has had all the connections I've needed as well. It is also very quiet, with hardly a peep out of the fan. The downside to that is it can get quite warm on your lap after a bit of use. The only other niggle with it was the volume control, which located on the front edge, I kept flicking with my jeans (see pic). But it really is a minor niggle.

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So software all loaded on, and having used it for a few evenings to get used to it, it was off to Hack Day for its ultimate test.

During Hack Day it performed as it had been doing, really well. I've really got used to typing on it, so much so this review is being typed up on it. However I've still not got used to the touch pad, I found I ended up with sore finger after a few hours use. It just felt a bit rough and wasn't always as sensitive as I'd have liked. I think if I owned a Tecra I'd be after a mouse to use with it. Also, after a few hours typing on it I found my hands were getting sweaty, but that is probably just me and the temperature in Alexandra Palace!

So, in conclusion I really like the Tecra. It is a very well spec'd machine, and it shows in it's performance. There are some niggles with the keyboard layout and volume control, but these really are minor. To be honest having this laptop has in no small way changed my life. I've really found it easy to leave my desktop machine turned off and simply use the Tecra, sat in the lounge, with Dawn, which has pleased her no end! After this short period I'm seriously considering buying a laptop to become my main computer, the space saving factor alone is a major plus point, not to mention the portability. Well done Toshiba, you've turned me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hack Day London round up

Posted by Chris @ 9:50 PM

Well, I'm back, I'm a bit more rested than I was, so I'll try and sum up Hack Day in London. Overall, it was a really good event, there were some great hacks to come out of it, and some really great moments. Highlights for me personally were the lightening strike and subsequent raining indoors, and watching Doctor Who on the big screen with a decent sound system, with 300 odd fellow geeks and BBC people who all loved Doctor Who. Low points were the dodgy wifi early on, and trying to get to sleep on a hard floor.

Rather than try and go through everything there is a wealth of stuff already on the web, so I'll try and pick out a few highlights I've found. Firstly photos - my photos of Hack Day, all with descriptions, can be found here, and the official tag for Hack Day photos in Flickr is HackDayLondon, so you'll find over 5000 photos there!

As for videos, this one captures the loud bang and strange squealing sounds of the lightening strike and fire vents opening, plus the general event, and this one captures the confusion of people staring up at the open fire vents. Finally, this one is of the presentation that won some three awards, and a jolly good hack it was too.

For a full rundown of the 73 hacks this guy did a good job of live blogging it, and gives you a good feel for each hack, and saves me going through them all! If I find more time, I might go through that list and pick out some of my favourites.

So there you have it, Hack Day London done and dusted. Would I do it again? Maybe, but probably only if I had someone else to go with next time, if there is a next time....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hack Day live update 2

Posted by Chris @ 10:11 AM

Hello again blog fans, update number two. I turned in around 1.30am into my sleeping bag laid out on the floor. It took me a good couple of hours to drop off, but at least I was resting, and have probably had about 3 hours sleep. Anyway, today is a new day, bacon sandwich started it off well, but now Yahoo! Pipes is playing up, so that is pretty much ruining my hack. Oh well, I'm going to enjoy seeing what all the other hacks are about before heading home. Truth be told I'm missing Dawn, so probably won't stay to watch The Rumble Strips, (some band) since I'll have to drive for 2 and a bit hours to get home tonight, then work tomorrow! Phew, the life of a hacker is so exhausting!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hack Day live update

Posted by Chris @ 9:08 PM

I'm blogging live blog fans from Hack Day! It has been eventful, the main event being, whilst watching one of the talks there was a very very very loud bang, then all of the fire vents on the ceiling of Alexandra Palace opened. Each vent is about 2 metres square, and the rain cam pouring in. You see it was the middle of a thunderstorm, and we took a direct lighting hit, frying the fire alarm control panel and thus making it open the vents unintentionally. Then because it was fried, it took a while for them to reset it and get them closed. Meanwhile it was still raining! Anyway, after about an hour or so we got back into the room, but then the Wifi was being flaky (damn BT) and they were blaming it on the lightening strike and all sorts. But it seems stable now, but that has stumped progress somewhat. Anyway, onto me, as this is my blog! My origianl idea for a hack isn't going too well, and I've pretty much abandoned it for something simpler I should be able to complete. Secondly, there was an interesting talk by a couple of guys from BBC Radio with a bunch of new fairly interesting data available (see bbc-hackday.dyndns.org) so even if you're not a major hacker, have a look at it. Thirdly I've forgotten my glasses, so at this hour of the day my eyes are starting to hurt. Fourthly, I feel very much like a normal person again, compared to uber geeks surrounding me. Fifthly, I'm about to go get my third pint on the house, which you can never complain about. Finally, a lot of hacks seem to involve hardware, which is all very interesting. Anyway, I'll upload the photos I've taken on Monday and give a full report then. This is Chris Riley, reporting live from Alexandra Palace, over and out.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Flooding

Posted by Chris @ 9:01 PM

If you haven't noticed, it has been raining a little bit. Rain, constantly falling for two days, doesn't bode well, and consequently the River Dove three doors down from us has burst it's banks. Luckily for us the flood plain extends away from our house into some other houses, but not so lucky for them. Anyway, this evening I've been out with our video camcorder to take a few videos of the the river, so if you like fast flowing rivers, take a look!

Hack Day is imminent

Posted by Chris @ 8:47 PM

Crap, Hack Day is tomorrow and I don't feel anywhere near prepared! I need to pull my finger out this evening, and get some sleep as well, tricky combination. Still, up at 5:30, set off at 6, London by 9am ish, hopefully! At least the house isn't flooded so I can enjoy my weekend in London knowing Dawn will be OK! Suppose I better stop blogging and get on, wish me luck blog fans!

Cocking rain

Posted by Chris @ 12:53 PM

Why is it that, when it rains for a couple of days straight around here everything floods and grinds to a halt. It has taken Dawn and I two and a half hours to get to work this morning. Firstly the trains weren't running because the tracks were flooded, so they were laying on buses. We decided to drive as we thought that would be quicker. Oh how wrong we were, because they decided to close Junction 34 of the M1 because the road down to Meadowhall was flooded. Great. So then we sat in a queue to get off the M1 onto the Sheffield Parkway at J33. The highlight of the journey, the parkway was actually quiet, given it was 10:30 in the morning, and work could give us a car park space. In the time it took us we could have gone to Carlisle! Cocking rain.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My first Facebook Application - Recipe Binder

Posted by Chris @ 4:36 PM

As I wrote about, Facebook released an API that meant you can hook into the Facebook website. Well, since I wrote that post Chris came up with the idea of a recipe thing where he could put his recipes, and share them with his friends on Facebook. Seeing as this was a jolly good idea, and the perfect little project for me to try my hand at working with the Facebook API before Hackday (which I am definitely going to use at Hackday, unless the talks seriously persuade me otherwise) I got on with it.

The result is Recipe Binder! You'll obviously need to be a user of Facebook to use this, but if you are then go on over and add it. As I type you won't find it in the application directory just yet (pending approval) but you can add it by clicking here right now! Oh, and for those that already have it installed why not review it on the application's about page!

So what does it do? Well quite simply you can add any recipes you have to it, and your friends will then be notified of this and can read them. You can also let everyone on Facebook see your recipe, and you can search/browse for recipes other people have submitted. And once you've cooked the recipe you can review it so others know what it is like to cook, what it tastes like, how easy it actually is etc.

In terms of coding with Facebook, the downsides are no JavaScript, which can be slightly limiting at first, but once you've got used to that it is actually quite easy. You have to host the app, even though it looks like Facebook host it, but the code can be just whatever you code in, with FBML replacing HTML for specialised things like profile pictures, tabs etc. The documentation could be better, but there is a Wiki and discussion board that is very useful. Overall I'm very happy with it, I mean look, I've coded a fully working application in little over a week in my spare time, and it is now available to potentially millions of users. Genius!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

London 2012 logo

Posted by Chris @ 9:58 PM

Seeing the title of this blog post you may be expecting a rant, but sadly you're not going to get one. I'm not sure what to make of the logo (or brand as they're calling it) for London 2012. I can certainly see what they're trying to do with it, but I'm just not sure. So with that sentiment I'm opening it up to you, my peers, to see what you think about it. On your marks, get set, go!

London 2012