Monthly Archives: January 2011

The P Word

Apologies if I’ve ranted here about this before, but this is such a significant issue that I think it deserves multiple rants.

Back in London I occasionally had to deal with engineers (invariably from Surrey) who needed to visit South East London. The question they asked with a depressing regularity was “what’s the parking like there”. As a non-driver (who could technically drive, but not legally) the answer I wanted to give was somewhere between “I don’t fucking know” and “who cares you sad twat”. The usual answer given was “it’s shit”, which was not only true but gave them something to think about.

In my newly adopted country, such answers are tantamount to treason. Christian fundamentalists are the usual suspects when people talk about flaws in American society, but they’re a big bunch of Jessies compared to the majority of car-drivers here. “Convenient parking” dictates the lives of so many Americans it’s not funny. People will avoid places solely based on the parking facilities! No matter how good the food in the restaurant, the quality of the play, the brilliance of the comic, the wonder of the brew, or the convenience of the public transport, if the parking is bad, people will stay away. Sad bastards.

When we opted to buy a house in Manayunk without a driveway or garage, people treated us like maniacs! There was a genuine belief that we would never be able to park and would spend eternity driving around like motorised zombies. Obviously, in real life we park in our street with no problems. The worst case scenario is we have to walk some minor distance from the car to home. To many ‘yunkers this is unacceptable, because they are twats.

If you want guaranteed parking then move to the suburbs where you can have infinite parking, and no pedestrians. If you’re profoundly addicted to Manayunk then deal with the fact that it was built before every arse owned a (or three) car(s) and move away. In a couple of generations you’ll be able to feel just as uptight about the bad changes to your gated community as you do about all the cars parking in your space in Manayunk. Enjoy your life.

“Parking” is now a word that gets me as uptight as “baptism”. Leave your dark-ages crap at home please, we’re in the 21st century now. We can build wireless networks, LHC’s, pocket computers and space ships.

Just walk a few feet home. It won’t kill you – in fact it may extend your life.

Objects of desire

my hookupThe first time I became aware of Bencher Morse keys was seeing a picture of a BY-1 on Wikipedia. I fell in love. After some time on the Googel, it became obvious that they were not only excellent keys, but also expensive. It also became evident that there existed an even more beautiful version of this device which was all chrome: The BY-2. At this point I had to have it. Oh yes. It will be mine. And now it is, thanks to a bargain on eBay. Even second-hand it’s thoroughly beautiful visually, as it is beautifully tactile. But what possible use could it be to someone without a Ham licence or a rig? Well, I want to get practice of 20 wpm morse and luckily all that needs is CWIRC which allows morse code over IRC, and also includes a beautiful and effective keyer. But how do you connect a morse key to a computer?
My eventual solution was to take an old USB mouse, connect a 1/4 inch jack socket to it, and solder it to the mouse button contacts. Bingo – instant morse key interface to every OS!

It’s been a productive weekend all round; not only did I get my lovely key hooked up, but I also spent a lot of time playing with IPMI, and we even managed to collect a second-hand FMT (Fucking Massive Telly) from M’s father and hook it up. We now have a 42 inch LCD projection TV! The biggest telly I’ve ever owned. Our old TV we managed to freecycle to a lovely couple of lesbians.

My little niece Lily, who will never know a world before video conferencing, was lovely on Skype today.

Facebook Failure

Well that didn’t take long; less than 48 hours after deactivating I reactivated my bastard Facebook account.
Yes, that’s pathetic, but please hear me out. There were several aspects of Facebook’s insidiousness that I hadn’t considered or had under-estimated. In fact yesterday was a day choc-full of misjudgment.
If you find yourself as fully ensconced in the Fecebook swamp as I, then you may want to consider the following observations before you quit:

  • There are people with whom I have a relationship of sorts, yet we’ve never met. Now this is a situation that has existed for centuries (assuming that pen-friends have been around that long), but Facebook makes it all too easy. I have Facebook friends who are friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, and even total strangers who share a single interest. Being able to see, acknowledge, approve, disapprove, or ignore what your contacts say is a surprisingly powerful and pleasurable thing. When you leave Facebook, you lose these people and the limited but significant contact you have with them.
  • Old friends. Facebook makes it easy to stay in touch with old friends, even if it is in the most shallow way. Whilst discussing this issue with a friend at work last week, we both agreed that staying friends with someone who you normally couldn’t be bothered to connect with is pointless. But now I completely retract that assertion because even if you simply click “like” on a person’s status updates (if you do truly like them) is better than losing touch. Humans are social creatures, and surely it’s better to stay in touch with the people you like than forget them?
  • Facebook only has a “like” button, and no “dislike” button, and I now believe this is a good thing. Criticism is all very well, but it usually dwarfs praise; we’re more likely to send a complaint than a letter of praise. Personally I try to send praise frequently too – but the sad truth is the complaints usually outnumber the praise. So Facebook’s decision to only have a “like” button is interesting and quite a significant move. It helps strengthen relationships – that can’t be bad can it?
  • If you want to hate people, the Facebook allows that too! Arguing on Facebook is all too easy, especially for the web amateurs.
  • If you really like someone, should you not make more of an effort to contact them properly? No! It’s difficult! And if you really like them then communicating “properly” with them is going to take a lot of time, which no-one has. Clicking “like” now and again when they say something you agree with or sending the occasional comment is surely better than drifting away? There are a lot of people I have “shallow” relationships with on Facebook whom I would willingly give a kidney if needed.
  • Most people don’t blog, but they often post things on Facebook. Ostensibly that’s the same thing, but usually anyone can read a blog; unless you’re friends on Facebook, your posts are private. That may suit the majority of Facebook users, but some people actually have interesting and thoughtful things to say! Leaving Facebook means you don’t get to hear them any more.

Quitting Teh Facebooks

It’s been an emotional couple of days at work, and it culminated today with my fake Facebook persona being “outed” by a friend I inadvertently managed to piss-off (we’re all friends again now btw). The upshot of this was that I have deactivated my Facebook account. Non-Facebook-users will surely not be in the slightest bit interested in this, but it maybe of interest to the rest of you; thus begins a diary of going cold Turkey on Facebook.

In the unlikely event that there should be anyone who reads this blog and isn’t a former Facebook friend, please accept apologies for the cack that will probably end up getting posted here in future; all of the stuff that I used to post on Facebook (because it wasn’t interesting enough to blog) will now end up here… sorry.

So, here goes with the first post of the new era:
[clears throat]

After being in America for three years, I’m finally getting round to watching one of the cultural touchstones which have eluded me thus far: A Christmas Story. This film has been quoted, cited, and produced such astonishment from peers and friends when they discover I’ve never seen it (including twice today) that it seems necessary.

Asterisk and Google Voice

We’ve been having significant issues with our VoIP provider (the people who supply us with telephone service) and for a while we’ve been without a working DID (phone number); we can call out, people can’t call in. I tried obtaining a new DID from other sources, but incoming DTMF tones were being blocked, which messes up our whole reason for having a phone number at all. In desperation I went back to our original provider and bought a new DID; it also blocked DTMF. Arrrrggghh. Even though it’s a service we’re paying for, the entire operation is run by a single dude who only answers questions when he feels like it. In this instance he probably assumed that the fault was at my end and simply ignored my requests for assistance. Customers are such a pain in the arse aren’t they?

But it’s not my configuration. I know, because I have wasted literally hours trying to test it. Also, it used to work fine with our previous DID.

One of the other options I’d been looking at was Google Voice – but there doesn’t seem to be a way to forward calls to a SIP address (unless you use a thing called “Gizmo5” which, since its acquisition by Google is not accepting new customers).

And then, only this morning, I discovered that Asterisk now supports Google Talk! All that was needed was to:

  1. recompile asterisk with the inclusion of the Gtalk channel driver
  2. set our google voice number to forward to Google Talk
  3. edit jabber.conf and gtalk.conf to connect to my Google Talk account

and it works! That’s a free, local DID, and another cheap outbound call provider.

It does worry me to give the Empire more support, but until they start producing crappy overpriced software and services that don’t work, I can’t help it.