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Gordy's Discourse

External link icon. TerryCutting.com

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: archaeopteryx.
245 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Terry Cutting on His Site.

I just wanted to give a shoutout to a site a friend has started. We all need a leg-up, although Terry is, how shall we put it, rotund so don’t offer it in the real world unless you like traction.

His site title of Grumpy Old Cat Man says it all in four words really.

We can look deeper, though.

He may be a grumpy old cat man but if you pull back the curtain of his psyche, scrub vigorously at his facade of existential realism and wipe the window of his pre-frontal cortex what you’d actually find is a ... grumpy old cat man.

You get what’s written on the tin. But it will be well-written and fun.

I have many personal memories of Mr Cutting but one seems to abide by me. We were moving a settee and had it half in and half out a doorway. For reasons I still don’t understand it was vertical. We needed a breather, draped in sweat as we were. We glimpsed one another’s eyes and worlds of knowledge passed in that moment. Maybe most significantly that this was perhaps the evolutionary natural resting position for any settee.

Anyway, read his blog. It should be fun.

What many people don’t know is he was an advisor to Neil Armstrong.

PS. For my technical readers I will get back to that soon. My HomePod has only narrowly resisted being set fire to today.

Saving the UK High Street - Do We Want To?

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: society.
795 words, 3 minute read time.
Icon for the `Saving The UK High Street - Do We Want To?` article.

Bricks and mortar retailers have been moaning a lot recently. They decry the demise of the High Street, often justifiably if the assumption is that we want to save it. I'm just not so sure we do.


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External link icon. People Are Nuts About Fortnite

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech.
179 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article on the BBC.

The BBC takes a look at Fortnite hackers and the money they make from it.

I find it all a bit bizarre. Not that Fortnite gets hacked but that people actually pay money to the hackers. I appreciate the ‘victims’ the BBC interviewed were very young and such things seem disproportionately important to the young, but — and here’s the important bit — it’s a just a game.

When you get young hackers appearing in a documentary about a game with their faces covered like they'd just beheaded someone on the internet, you have to wonder if the world has gone completely mad.

Hacking is a scourge in today’s technological society and the nature of the world’s IT is such that I can’t see it being prevented any time soon, but I believe the authorities will catch more hackers and the punishments will become more severe.

In this particular instance, though, a clearer sense of perspective would help. I find it hard to be particularly sympathetic to the victims of the hacking of a misspelt game.

Siri or Skynet?

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, apple.
501 words, 2 minute read time.

Does your HomePod ever do things you haven't asked it to do? Mine does. In this short article I just talk about my initial experiences with the Apple HomePod.


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External link icon. Helm Personal Email Server Overview

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech.
117 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Lee Hutchinson on ArsTechnica.

Fancy hosting your own email but don’t want the sysadmin overhead? Maybe Helm is for you and Lee Hutchinson at ArsTechnica has written a fantastic overview of the service.

This definitely interests me as I’m always looking at ways to get away from corporate silos. I currently use Microsoft’s Office365 Exchange service for my email and it’s perfectly fine, but I like to extract myself from the global tech companies as much as possible.

Alas I can’t use Helm at the moment. It doesn’t yet support multiple domains (and I need two) and, crucially, it’s not yet available in the UK.

I’ll be keeping an eye on it though.

Tenda Nova Mesh WiFi Review

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, review.
990 words, 4 minute read time.
4.5 star rating 4.5 star rating 4.5 star rating 4.5 star rating 4.5 star rating
Icon for the `Tenda Nova Mesh WiFi Review` article.

I've always suffered from poor wi-fi here, even just one room away from the router. That's due to the thick walls in this old Victorian building I live in. I've previously used things like Powerline plugs but I wanted to see if a mesh wi-fi system could handle things. The one I went with was a Tenda Nova MW6, which I review here.


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External link icon. The Hellish Netflix Work Environment

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, companies.
285 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Rhett Jones on Gizmodo.

Rhett Jones at Gizmodo reports on the alleged hell that comes with a job at Netflix:

Kill or be killed seems to be accepted as a mode of operation. One employee expressed the feeling that they live in fear of being fired every day at an executive meeting. A vice president named Karen Barragan was said to have responded: “Good, because fear drives you.” Barragan disputed the account.

Apparently it even stretches to managers being fired for not firing enough people.

Of course an atmosphere of extreme corporate fear is doomed to failure eventually. There is no doubt that fear is a ‘motivator’ of sorts — it’s one of the primary emotions that drives the human psyche — but fear leads to defensive working practices, stifling invention and creativity.

Seriously underperforming staff should indeed be sacked and a little fear is no bad thing, but anyone who cares about their job has a little fear anyway and there’s no need for upper management to instil more.

The sort of environment described can succeed for a while, particularly if high salaries tempt people to put up with it, but it won’t last. In the long term there’ll be a lack of innovation and, as the corporate reputation spreads, people just won’t want to work there.

All of which says nothing about the people at the top who drive these sorts of working practices. I have no idea how they sleep at night knowing their modus operandi is to scare people shitless during the day. There are other qualities a ‘good’ person needs beyond making their company a corporate success. It sounds like someone's obsessed with trying to prove they're a hard-nosed corporate leader.

External link icon. Are Apple Products Worth the Money?

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, apple.
520 words, 2 minute read time. External link to an article by Bradley Chambers on 9To5Mac.

Bradley Chambers on 9To5Mac asks the question a lot of Apple users are probably asking. You can now spend just shy of £1500 on an iPhone if you spec up a top of the range XS Max and that, in my opinion, is silly money.

I do think Apple produce high-quality products that are indeed better than most of the competition, at least in terms of the raw hardware you get, but I’m not convinced the whole user experience of owning an Apple product is worth the premium.

Look at the HomePod, for example. I believe it’s a better bit of hardware than either Amazon or Google’s offerings but a HomePod is all about interoperability and Amazon wins that battle hands down, and for a lot less money.

If you use mainly macOS and iOS devices you probably want to match them up with a HomePod, but I’m not sure it makes sense at the moment. You’ll pay two or three times the money for a lesser experience. I’d certainly back Apple to improve the HomePod — and, perhaps more importantly, expand the hardware it can be used with and the intelligence of its interface — but Amazon will improve too and they seem to have a bit of a head start.

There are areas where Apple really take the piss too. MacBooks don’t come with an RJ45 port of course and if you want to buy a Thunderbolt to Gigabit ethernet adapter to hard-wire your internet connection, Apple will charge you an eye-watering £26 for the privilege. All for a few inches of wire that probably costs about £1 to manufacture, if that.

Apple’s last set of results indicated a drop in the rate of sales of their phones but that was offset by an increase in the average profit Apple are making from each unit they sell. Apple have to be careful here, though, because an evangelical following will only go so far. There is a price point that simply isn’t worth it even for superior hardware.

For me, Apple have already exceeded that point with their iPhone by quite some margin. When I buy hardware I like to spec it up quite high to future-proof it to some extent in terms of the oomph it has, but there is no way I’m spending £1500 on a phone. Or even £1000. As it stands I might spend £750 on a phone but only if it was top of the range, so Apple are 2x my own price limit for phones.

I might spend £2500 on the best MacBook Pro but Apple would want £1000 more. The iPad Pro fares a bit better: I might spend £1000 on that and a high-spec one goes for about £1100 these days.

So I’m being outpriced by Apple even as a believer that, in general, quality is worth paying for.

I shudder at the thought of going back to Windows for my laptop and tablet needs and I’m not too keen on switching to an Android phone either, but it’s looking likely if Apple don’t rein in their prices.

External link icon. Companion Phone Released by Japanese Firm NTT Docomo

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech.
133 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article on the BBC.

There are two ways you could look at this.

The first is that we already have ‘companion’ devices anyway. The iMac’s companion is the MacBook, whose companion is the iPad, whose companion is the iPhone. All we’re doing is continuing the succession with a ‘cardphone’, for want of a better phrase.

The second is that we’re getting into a ludicrous Russian doll-style situation here and we can expect a phone the size of postage stamp next, then one the size of a flea and then one the size of molecule. If we see things this way, the world has clearly gone bonkers and it needs to stop spinning for a moment so we can all get off.

I'd be surprised if this idea catches on, although stranger things have happened.

Schema.org for a Blog

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, blogging.
1524 words, 6 minute read time.
Icon for the `Schema.org for a Blog` article.

I've used schemas on my website almost since I started it. I haven't found the internet particularly helpful in guiding me with schema for a blog so maybe everyone else just makes it up as they go along like I do. In this article I show how I use schema, which seems to work reasonably well for me.


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Coda Review - Nearly the Perfect Code Editor

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, review, apple, ios.
1112 words, 4 minute read time.
4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating 4 star rating

Despite no longer coding professionally, I still code for my own purposes. It's mainly web-based coding and I need some sort of code editor to help me out. In this article I review Coda, which is one of the main code editors in my toolbox. Over all, it's a great app but it suffers from a couple of problems.


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External link icon. Tim Berners-Lee Aims to Give People More Control of Their Personal Data, Possibly

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech.
462 words, 2 minute read time. External link to an article on the BBC.

Tim Berners-Lee has developed something called Solid, which is meant to act as sort of a silo for all your personal data. The intention appears to be that you can then allow companies to access your data only as you choose.

Mr Berners-Lee said:

With Solid, you will have far more personal agency over data — you decide which apps can access it.

I read Solid’s own introduction to what it’s about and still wasn’t clear on how this will help me. I mean I can see that it’s a bit of online storage with permissions that I can control and allocate as necessary, but there are lots of online repositories where I could store my data and control who accesses it.

Solid’s documentation says:

Store anything you want in your own Solid POD. PODs are like secure USB sticks for the Web, that you can access from anywhere. When you give others access to parts of your POD, they can react to your photos and share their memories with you. You decide which things apps and people can see.

Think of your Solid POD as your own private website, except that your data interoperates with all your apps, which means you have your own personal API to go along with it. When you post comments or videos online, your friends can view them with whatever app they like, such as an album viewer or a social feed. It’s your data, that can be shaped in any way or form.

Presumably, then, this relies on companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and such ‘signing up’ to the idea of grabbing your personal data from solid instead of asking you to store it on their own servers.

If I’ve understood this correctly I can see how that might be useful. If I wanted to stop sharing an item of personal data, I’d go into Solid and tell it to stop sharing it and all the apps that used that item of personal data would lose access. I don’t have to go into each app individually.

But it will rely on other companies signing up to the idea and I don’t think they will. Why would they? I suppose they could be forced to if everyone moved to Solid en bloc, but I think that’s unlikely.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood something.

Either way, it doesn’t go far enough for my liking. I want to get paid to give over my personal data. Big Tech profits massively from our data and it’s time we got our cut of the profits. We have the power here, we just aren’t organised enough to wield it effectively.

External link icon. Apple's 12 September 2018 Event

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, apple.
98 words, less than 1 minute read time. External link to an article by Dan Frommer on Recode.

Personally, I couldn’t be less interested in what was announced. It’s all phones and watches, neither of which I use in any high-tech manner. I have an iPhone 6 I completely forget about unless it rings, which is once a fortnight on average, and I just want my watch to tell me the time.

I do however appreciate that phones and watches float the boats of a lot of people and if you want a decent summary of what went on at Apple’s 12 September event, Recode’s article is pretty good (because it’s mercifully brief).

How I Use Jekyll on Both macOS and iOS

Posted by Gordon Ansell on with tags: tech, jekyll, macos, ios, linux.
598 words, 2 minute read time.
Icon for the `How I use Jekyll on Both macOS and iOS` article.

This is the process I use to publish articles via Jekyll from either macOS or iOS. Jekyll won't run on iOS, so I had to install it on my Linux server. It's not a perfect process because I can't sync local files between macOS and iOS, but it serves me okay.


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