Today is Pi Day

162 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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‘Pi day’ is when we celebrate the number pi. Streamers are hung from ceilings and we wear party hats to honour the most famous of irrational numbers. It’s on the 14th of March because of the odd way Americans write dates: 3.14.

As part of their celebrations, Google announced that one of its employees with rather too much time on her hands has set a record for calculating pi digits. She calculated it to 31,415,926,535,897 digits, which is a lot.

It would be easy to mock and ask why she bothered but I have a grudging respect for things that are done purely for the sake of interest or challenge, but are otherwise pointless. So well done to Emma Haruka Iwao.

If you’re interested — and really you should be — NASA has previously posted 18 ways in which it uses pi.

And if your geekdom knows no bounds you might want to read about how ancient geometers went about squaring the circle.

All hail pi.

Will GPS give us another Y2K situation on 6 April?

278 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

Y2K went off without too much trouble despite the predictions of many doom-mongers. Legacy GPS systems face a similar situation on 6 April 2019 when their internal week number will roll over back to zero. So are we all doomed?

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Zuckerberg suddenly embraces privacy

108 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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Mark Zuckerberg says:

I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever.

If we can help move the world in this direction, I will be proud of the difference we’ve made.

Hmm, forgive my disbelief from a man whose reputation in areas of privacy is, frankly, terrible and has recently even exploited two-factor authorisation security as means to invade users’ privacy via their phone number.

It’s a bit like hearing Hannibal Lector plead he’s strictly a salad man these days.

Facebook's fan subscription model for creators

138 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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As a content creator you’d have to be window-licking mad to sign up to Facebook’s planned fan subscription model.

Amongst the truck-load of things wrong with it, you give Facecbook:

Non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use [creators’ content]

and

This license survives even if you stop using Fan Subscriptions.

Which essentially says Facebook has control of your content now and forever more.

On top of which they can take up to 30% of creators’ royalties.

Facebook is trying to compete with Patreon (which, incidentally, only takes 5% of your royalties) and Patreon do indeed have similar terms to the ones Facebook propose. There are differences, though. Patreon is a dedicated platform for this sort of stuff. Facebook isn’t and it has a poor reputation when it comes to data, content and the treatment of creators, as recent scandals have demonstrated.

The scourge of flat-pack

445 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

I really hate flat-pack furniture. I'm terrible at putting it together because I'm a clumsy oaf. I would not, however, deprive anyone who likes this sort of junk but I'd certainly like a change to he way flat-pack items are advertised.

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Suunto Core All Black review

796 words. 3 minutes reading time.
Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4

Having failed in my first attempt to replace my Omega with a new watch, I went back to the drawing board and started researching watches again. This time I ended up with the Suunto Core All-Black, which I'm quite happy with. It has one or two minor faults, though, which I describe in this review.

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Ong’s Hat - a fascinating conspiracy game from the early internet

178 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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Jed Oelbaum at Gizmodo tells the (long) story of Ong’s Hat, which involves physics, mysticism, inter-dimensional travel and government raids. It was only ever a game but the early internet got hold of it and turned it into a conspiracy.

Any article with this sort of stuff in it is going to be fun to read for me:

According to the brochure, which included detailed, technical descriptions of the scientific activities and day-to-day life at the Ashram, “the spiritual rhythms permeating the place proved ideal.” The group thrived, living in “a scattering of weather-gray shacks, Airstream trailers, recycled chicken coops, and mail-order yurts,” as its experiments grew increasingly bizarre and esoteric, in an effort to train the powers of the mind to manipulate the quantum underpinnings of reality itself. Finally, after some years, they produced “the Egg,” a pod that could actually pierce the veil between parallel universes, enabling travel to other dimensions.

It’s complete tosh of course but what’s interesting is the way these things expand and grow, driven mainly by people who just love to believe a conspiracy.

Five musical howlers from the 60s and 70s

459 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.

I was reminded of a truly awful song from the 1970s whilst watching Eggheads yesterday evening. I thought I'd look around for another four dreadful songs from that sort of era to go with it and that resulted in this article. With YouTube clips for your delectation.

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Avoid big tech silos for your services

203 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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It’s a subject I keep coming back to. If you write content for the web, keep it all under your control. Text, images, code, domains …. the lot.

Colin Devroe writes about how even big, 100m-user sites can just suddenly disappear because they’re just “not worth the bother” to some big tech companies.

On a related note, companies can just change APIs at will too, screwing up some of the services you use. The Red Sweater blog writes about how MarsEdit can no longer support Blogger because Google is shutting down the Picasa Web Albums API.

I helped a friend of mine set up a Wordpress site a while ago and we were up and running with a blog on his own domain name, on a private server within about an hour. That’s all it takes.

I worry when people effectively journal on places like Facebook. They’re just not in control of their data. It seems incomprehensible that Facebook might one day disappear, but why take the risk? Why leave years of journals in a place where you have no real control? Use your own site and simply point to it via social media if you must.

Keep control of your data and back it up regularly.

Technical frippery

684 words. 3 minutes reading time.

By technical frippery I mean technology and gadgets that really aren't worth the bother. They don't really save a great deal of time or effort. There's a lot of them around these days and I thought I'd muse on the subject for a few hundred words.

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The biggest threats to humanity

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Simon Beard and Lauren Holt of the BBC have written an interesting article on what might pose the biggest threat to humanity.

Obviously climate change features, as do volcanoes, diseases, asteroid strikes, AI and similar.

However, I think they’ve forgotten a big one: overpopulation. We simply cannot support the population we have on the planet already and it it is increasing rapidly. When I say we cannot support the population, I mean we do not. Wealth spread evenly may well be able to do so but anyone who thinks that might ever happen is seriously overestimating human nature.

Even if that were to happen there would come a point, with current rates of population increase, where we’d just have too many people to feed and provide for.

We need a turnover of population of course. Put bluntly the old pay for the young until they leave home and then the young pay for the old when the young are working: pensions, medical care and such.

It’s not just the rising population but the rate at which it is rising has gone off the scale in the last few hundred years and, I believe, it’s unsustainable.

But I guess woe betide any government who tries to restrict breeding. The Chinese did it for a while but then again they’ve got a grip on their people that Western governments simply don’t have.

It is noticeable even between the 1970s and now. There are just far more people around and it just can’t go on unchecked.

Smarter iKettle 3 review

592 words. 2 minutes reading time.
Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4

I do like my tea. I probably drink too much of it. But with my old kettle playing up I had the perfect opportunity to upgrade to something interesting and I ended up with Smarter's iKettle 3, which I review here.

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Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-1000 review

1503 words. 6 minutes reading time.
Rating: 3 Rating: 3 Rating: 3 Rating: 3Rating: 3

My trusty Omega Seamaster went bang after 20 years and I wanted something completely different, so I went for a Casio Mudmaster which is about as different as you can get to an Omega. Anyway here's my review of the watch.

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Saving the UK high street - do we want to?

797 words. 3 minutes reading time.

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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People are nuts about Fortnite

172 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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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?

482 words. Less than 2 minutes reading 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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Helm Personal Email Server overview

106 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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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

881 words. 4 minutes reading time.
Rating: 4.5 Rating: 4.5 Rating: 4.5 Rating: 4.5 Rating: 4.5

I've always suffered from poor wi-fi here, just one room away from the router. That's due to the thick walls in the old building I live in. I've previously used 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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The hellish Netflix work environment

278 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.
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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.

Apple's Reminders app needs two features

482 words. Less than 2 minutes reading time.
Rating: 3 Rating: 3 Rating: 3 Rating: 3Rating: 3

I find Apple's Reminders app frustrating. It could so easily turn from something that's a bit 'meh' into an app that's central to everything I do. It feels unfinished at present and I hope it's something Apple will address in the future.

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Are Apple products worth the money?

510 words. 2 minutes reading time.
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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.

Companion phone released by Japanese firm NTT Docomo

128 words. Less than 1 minute reading time.
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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

1144 words. 5 minutes reading time.

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

871 words. 3 minutes reading time.
Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4 Rating: 4

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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