Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Published a Book

The volunteer activity in the "Rivers' Movement" project has led to the publishing of this book. It contains photographs of people, events and places, documenting the Rivers' Movement Project and its outcomes from 2008 - 2010. The book is available online at Blurb - see below.

Nothing for Ungood

One of my German PhD students who is working abroad sent me something very interesting: There is an American guy, John Madison, who lived and worked for a while in Germany. And he wrote down his observations in his blog Nothing For Ungood. This term "Nothing For Ungood" is a German expression "Nichts fuer ungut", mostly used in Southern Germany when you want to indicate that you did not really mean an insult with what you just said...

Really brilliant reading! As a German who lived for a while abroad, I can fully appreciate John's observations of some of the quirks that he encountered in Germany. He even published this as a book.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Most people know about this "six degrees of separation" thesis which states that everyone on earth is connected to anyone else by a maximum of six degrees of separation. Microsoft Research has put up a very nice web site with which one can test this: the People EntityCube. One can put in any two names, and from scanning / searching the web, the system is able to show connections between people.

I did this for myself - turns out I am only 3 degrees apart from Osama Bin Laden.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

System Restore on Windows XP

In order to fix the problem with the Google Chrome Browser, I found in several of the Google Discussion Forums about this problem the recommendation to do a "System Restore". This is of course a quite brutal way of fixing a problem; better would be if there was a clear guidance on what settings specifically would need to be changed in order to remove that obnoxious behavior of Google Chrome not to find web sites at the first try.

But I now did a System Restore, beyond the date of when I noticed this behavior occurring more frequently. And - it seems to have cured the problem: Chrome now finds all the site immediately, waits properly until all various sites / images / iframes within a site have been loaded properly, and does not spit out that error message about not finding a site anymore.

The System Restore is supposed to let files and documents untouched, that is any new files since the restore point would still be there. However, when I looked at one of my folders, there were all those new files missing. I did then a search for one particular file which I knew had been in this folder, and in the search the file showed up - in exactly that folder! When I then looked again at this particular folder, it now had all the files in it that appeared to be missing at the first glance. So what must have happened: after the system restore the folder view appeared to have some kind of "image" or "status shot" in memory, a kind of cached version of the folder view as it was at the time of the system restore point to which I had reverted. However, only after again viewing it, the content view was actually updated. So everyone who is making a system restore needs to be aware of this: the views of the folders need to be refreshed, to see the latest true content and not the "imagined" content at the time of the system restore point.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Twitter Widget Update

More trouble on the IT front: since recently (I do not know since when, maybe since a few weeks) the Twitter Widget did not work anymore. I had used the widget in my blog(s) and website(s) to automatically show my latest tweets. Recently that block had been simply black. I had attributed this to internet connection problems, but today I realised that this was a systemic failure: Twitter has now a new way of embedding their widget.

So I changed now in a few places this widget and replaced it with the new one.

Trouble with Google Chrome Browser

This time of the year seems to be the time where everything appears to go wrong somehow. In recent weeks I have experienced significant trouble with the Google Chrome Browser: when I try to access a page, often the message comes:

This web page is not available.

The web page at null might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.

This indicates actually two bugs: the null should show instead the base URL, and overall the page should load because it is available. This message shows up very shortly after I try to access the page, so it seems that some timeout has been set incorrectly. Hitting reload a few times eventually loads the page, but this is very unsettling, especially when making a payment on the web: it happened several times that during the pay process I had to reload the pages - hope I will not get multiple payments. This problem happened since about 2 weeks; I first had attributed it to a slow and faulty connection, but when I dug a bit deeper and searched for this issue on the web, I came across a lot of posts who complained about the same thing in the Chrome browser. The null-issue is described at the Chromium project as a bug that they are aware of - it obviously only appears in the UK-English area. The other bug is harder to fix. I managed to set a new DNSQueryTimeout in the registry - now the problem only appears when accessing a page with https. The Chrome version I use is

When trying Firefox or Internet Explorer, these problems do not occur at all. So I attribute it to something inherent to Chrome.

Monday, March 08, 2010

BT (British Telecom) Is Seriously Losing it...

Warning: This post is a rant. It describes my recent experience in trying to get the new BT Infinity service, based on fiberoptic cable. As it turns out, there are a few issues with this ...

A few weeks ago I got a friendly phone call from British Telecom (BT), leaving a voice mail on my answering machine, saying that they now have fiber-optic cable in my neighborhood, and that they offer me an upgrade, as one of the first customers. Well, great idea! So I called them, and yes, this new BT Infinity was indeed available, and they referred me to the web site where I could find out more. I entered the phone number, and yes, the estimate of my speed would be about 20 Mb. So I followed the online instructions, everything quite easy and straight forward, and after a few minutes I got a confirmation email that the equipment would be sent soon and that an engineer appointment has been set up. Great - really good!
So in 1.March I stayed at home in the morning between 8:00-13:00, when the engineer would come and connect everything. I should have gotten suspicious when there was no package being delivered with the promised equipment, but then I thought the engineer might bring it. I checked online, and yes, the order was being tracked ok, and the appointment appeared to set up properly.

When nobody showed up that Monday morning, I called BT. And the nice lady with her strong Scottish accent tells me that there was a problem - the order never had "gotten through". What about the confirmation email? And the online tracking? Nope, somewhere in "the system" the order was not processed, and no actual work order had been issues. Well, since this is such a new service, I could understand some glitches. So we rescheduled for the next week.

This time everything appeared to be scheduled properly: Got a confirmation SMS, also received a very nice custom-printed announcement, on glossy paper, individualised for my address, looking very posh! And the new BT Homehub arrived in the mail too. Great, was looking forward to get upgraded. So on 8.March I again stayed home in the morning, waiting for the engineer who was supposed to come between 8:00 - 13:00 (pretty long time window, but I can understand that sometimes the planning and scheduling cannot be done in smaller windows, due to possible delays and unexpected problems). When at 13:15 still nobody had shown up, I called BT; they tried to ping the engineer, but while I was on hold he actually called on the other phone line - he would be there in 20 minutes. Ok, I am a patient person.

He comes, sets up the equipment. There needs to be a new splitter installed, to separate phone from data lines. The data line goes into a white box which is probably the DSL modem. Then there is still the new BT Homehub, which now simply acts as a hub interface for the ethernet network, the WiFi, and the BT Broadband Talk. Works all fine, but the engineer's measurement only indicate a data rate of about 4-5 Mb. It turns out that the fiber-optic connection is only going up to the last connection box, from where the data signal then is transmitted over the conventional phone cabling.

This speed is of course lower than advertised, but is about 8x more than the line supported before. So I am happy to leave it at this lower speed. The engineer drives away to check something at the exchange or the last connection box, maybe the speed could go up. He thinks that this low speed is due to the distance of my endpoint to the connection box, and he says that probably nothing can be done.

Ok, so far, so good - at least this is a much faster connection than before. And if the story ended here, I would have never posted it, despite the few little kinks in the process.

But wait, this is not the end of the story: after an hour, the engineer comes back, dismantles the whole setup, and puts back on the old previous connection which is at about 500 kB. What? "For legal reason, BT cannot give customers an access to fiberoptic cable at a speed lower than 15 MB". Despite the fact that the line would support 4MB and was working ok without errors on the "fiberoptic connection", I was not allowed to get this speed.

So all the grieving and tolerating of those BT delivery failures - for nothing. Hence the headline of this post - I hope many people read it!


What BT needs to fix in their rotten internal procedures and policies:
  1. They need to make sure that the BT Infinity service is only offered to people who actually will receive the promised speed. This requires both to revise their telephone marketing and their online phone test tool for checking available speeds.
  2. BT further needs to revise their online booking system for the BT Infinity offer, to ensure that customers' orders actually are being processed.
  3. BT finally needs to revise their current "legal position" which robs the customers of the possibility to increase their broadband speeds by at least a modest amount. The policy of "all or nothing" is not customer-friendly at all.

Having said this, I will concede that all the people I have spoken to at BT appeared friendly and competent - so I have not given them a hard time at all but remained friendly and patient in my interaction with them. I chose not to complain to them by a phone call to their customer service - this would only hit the wrong person, the poor chap whose ears probably fall off from all those customer complaints. Instead I want to bring this disaster to the public, and I hope that it helps to change something at BT - this company simply does not appear to be able to fulfil its vision of providing adequate IT services to Britain.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Dragon of Wantley

In Stocksbridge, at the Venue: just before the performance of yhe opera "the dragon of wantley"__________________________Sent from my mobile phone

- Posted using Mobypicture.com

Friday, March 05, 2010

Trouble with "Outlook"

In the category of "complaints about software" I can add a post about Microsoft Outlook. In principle it is quite a reliable system; many companies and institutions use it for their email system, together with the MS Exchange server. I also have this service linked to my Windows Mobile phone, so I get always push-email, and since several years I have my complete contacts address book (with more than 2000 entries) on there, with sync between mobile and server. Works quite well, and since ActiveSync 4.5 I also seem not to get any duplicate entries anymore.

But recently there have been some issues, and I am wondering what the reason for those problems is and how they can be solved:
- on my Windows mobile the mail arrives now only once per day, although I have set it to deliver as it arrives on the server. Either the server admins have changed the behavior, or I am doing something wrong.
- the Outlook calendar sometimes just pops up pointless meeting reminders: out of nowhere there suddenly comes an alert that I need to attend a meeting - which took place 4 weeks ago! Somehow this alerter seems to go through my appointments, and once in a while finds one for which I have not acknowledged the reminder. This appears to be completely random. I get reminders of events that took place yesterday, last week, a few weeks ago. No idea why this happens, and how to fix it...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

40 Part Chorus Work - on 40 Loudspeakers

Yesterday at the Open Coffee event in Leeds a colleague informed me about this very nice sound installation which had been run at the Grand Theatre in Leeds from 4. February. So I went yesterday evening after work. 40 speakers are placed in the Howard Assembly Room in the Grand Theatre, and each of those speakers plays the recording of one solo singer. The work is the 40 part "Spem in Alium" by Thomas Tallis, the installation is by Janet Cardiff. A wonderful experience - 11 minutes long, played the whole afternoon from 2pm to 8pm. Today, 3.March, is the last day that this is being performed there - I can recommend to anyone to go there and have a listen. Btw, the admission for this is free.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Problems with Google Chrome

Since Google Chrome came out, I have been using it as my main browser. I like its clean interface which to me is a bit more appealing than FireFox, and its fast loading which beats Microsoft's IE 8. Quite strange that in a recent survey it came out that in the UK the Google Chrome browser only has a share of 5%. But there may be reasons for this, as I too have some issues with this browser which have yet prevented me from making it my default browser: I still have MS IE 8 and Firefox on my computers, just in case something does not appear right. And one thing seems to be the handling of JavaScript.

One example: When I checked on Spiegel Online the Medal Statistics of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the table appeared to be faulty in Google Chrome: instead of country names there was only "undefined", and the flags were empty rectangles. When looking at the same page in MS IE8, everything was shown correctly. What could be the reason for this? I have no idea... Gears is installed properly, the browser version is, up-to-date. Unfortunately the user interface sleekness of Google Chrome has the disadvantage that there are no settings for me to control: I did not find anywhere to "enable Javascript" or something similar...

Another strange thing: I wrote some HTML code for a few web pages with images, and I used the "alt" attribute there, to give an alternative textual description of the image. In all browsers this "alt" attribute is shown when hovering with the mouse over the image, like a tooltip. Not so in Google Chrome: nothing appears. This may be actually closer to the intended web standard use, which recommends to employ the "title" attribute for tooltip-like information... I may have to change my web pages to properly take care of this.