Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Martian - The Swiss Cheese of Films

Just a few of my issues with The Martian. Spoilers, obviously.
  1. The version of the human race in the film has had the foresight, ingenuity and money to start a colony on Mars, but they couldn't tie a guide rope between the spaceship and the base, or between each other. You know, like climbers have been doing for centuries. It didn't have to be a low tech hemp rope, it could have been wound kevlar, but no, nothing. And so Matt Damon gets blown away...
  2. But not that far, and yet the rocket takes off and he doesn't get burnt to a crisp. In fact there is no evidence of the rocket taking off at all...
  3. But taken off it has, and then shoots off back to earth. No "Let's hang around for a bit in case he's not dead?" Or "Why don't we just press pause on the return to earth procedure in case we need to go back to Mars?"
  4. The version of the human race in the film has had the curiosity to start a colony on Mars, and yet they are not curious enough to have a look at what might be left behind on Mars, what damage might have been done during the storm, or if Matt Damon was really dead, you know, useful stuff.
  5. Eventually they do have a look, 51 days later. And what do you know? Matt Damon's not dead. It will take over a year to prepare a ship and get it to Mars, so they turn the spaceship around and get back to Mars in just 51 days... no wait, they don't, and so the film continues.
  6. So Matt Damon wants to communicate with Earth using Path Finder, great, lets use our modern radio systems and modern computers to... no wait, we have to *physically* go and find and boot up the old Path Finder machines.
  7. Using hex to communicate through Path Finder. This is *so* inefficient, you're using 16^2 possible combinations for a possible 26 characters.
  8. So eventually they do decide to send the ship back, but wait, it doesn't have enough fuel, everyone is scratching their heads until the stereotypical loner genius has an idea! The slingshot! This is the worst moment of the film. I honestly nearly stood up and screamed "Of course! The slingshot!" The slingshot has been done to cliched death in science fiction and was first used in real life by the Marina 10 probe in 1974. This is probably why no one mentioned it, they all thought it was a bit passée.
  9. There are some women characters, but they still get a lot of patronising mansplaining.
  10. The film ends and Sean Bean is still living.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Camera Repair Quote from Sendean Cameras

Since Yelp appear to hide bad reviews I thought I'd also post my review of Sendean here.

I dropped off a camera at Sendean for a repair quote. The camera would switch on but the lens wouldn't extend fully. The quote I got back was as much as the camera would have been worth in mint condition. When I declined they reduced the quote by a third, but I still didn't think it was worth it so I went to pick the camera up. The first time I arrived at the shop I was told that the camera was still in bits and that I'd have to come back the next day, which I did. However once I had got the camera home it wouldn't turn on any more at all (a strap lug was also missing). I called Sendean to discuss this and the guy's attitude was terrible. He first claimed that they hadn't even disassembled the camera. When I pointed out that I'd been told the camera was in bits the first time I'd come to collect it his attitude got even worse and he said "you started with a broken camera, and you've still got a broken camera." Unbelievable.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Flickr Auto-Uploader for Windows Phone

Flickr Auto-Uploader for Windows Phone will automatically upload pictures and videos from your Windows Phone device to Flickr. You can choose the privacy setting and tags of the uploaded files, any of your phone albums to upload from and one of your Flickr albums to upload to. If you have a Lumia 1020 it can upload the high resolution images for you.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flickr authorisation URL doesn't work on certain browser components

Writing a Flickr app for Windows Phone I was confused as to why the authorisation URL was forwarding the user to instead of the authorisation page after they logged in and I had to detect that and forward them to the authentication URL again. After a while even this stopped working, despite the fact that copying the URL into IE worked as expected, ie, after the user logged in they were forwarded to the authorisation page. For a while I was convinced Flickr must be discriminating by user agent string. The answer was staring me in the face, which was pointed to by an SO answer. Scripts weren't running on the browser in the app, they are disabled by default, you have to enable scripts in the Windows Phone WebBrowser component with IsScriptEnabld.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Manually Fixing Multiple Screens with Different DPIs in Linux

Step 1:

Set the system wide DPI to a comfortable level for your highest resolution screen, using X Resources. There is a DPI calculator here.

Step 2:

With the DPI set in step 1, work out what scaling is comfortable on your secondary screen. You can do this by adjusting the layout.css.devPixelsPerPx Firefox setting or with xrandr, eg:

xrandr --output HDMI1 --scale 1.3x1.3

Step 3:

Calculate the total screen size for the xrandr --fb parameter. To do this multiply the x and y resolution values of your secondary screen by the scaling factor, and then add the primary value, depending on whether you have your screens left/right or above/below. In my case both my monitors are 1920x1080, my secondary monitor is scaled at 1.3 and I have my primary monitor below my secondary monitor, so my total screen size is 1920 * 1.3 x 1080 * 1.3 + 1080, or 2496x2484.

Step 4:

Calculate the position of your two monitors. My primary monitor is centred below my secondary monitor. So my secondary monitor is at 0x0 and my primary monitor is at (1920 * 1.3 - 1920) / 2 x 1080 * 1.3 or 285x1404.

Step 5:

Put the above values into xrandr:

xrandr --output HDMI1 --scale 1.3x1.3 --mode 1920x1080 --fb 2496x2484 --pos 0x0
xrandr --output eDP1 --scale 1x1 --pos 285x1404

With thanks to this SE post.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How not to Transfer Your Domains Between Registrars

TL;DR: i) Before transferring your domains to a new registrar make sure every single piece of contact information on them is EXACTLY the same. ii) I can't recommend

I own several domains, one of which I use for my primary email address. A while ago I read Naoki Hiroshima's account of being held to ransom due to someone taking over the domain he used for his primary email address. At the time I contacted my registrars to ask what security measures they had in place to make sure this wouldn't happen to me (not that I think I have much of value to steal). Their replies didn't fill me with confidence. More recently I read of a registrar that can enforce two step authentication on accounts, I decided to take the plunge and initiated the transfer of my two domains (free), three .com domains (£8.63 each) and one .it domain (£9.20) to

The domains transferred very quickly, apparently without issue, however I noticed that the "owners" of the two domains were two different accounts to the one I was currently logged in as. Upon contacting Gandi they told me that because my details were slightly different for each of the two domains and for the administrative/technical contacts three accounts had been created. I could have used the two owner accounts and ditched the admin/tech account, but that was the account that I had also requested the .it and .com domains be transferred to. Gandi told me that to transfer the domains between accounts I would effectively be changing the owner of the domain. So I initiated the process to transfer the two domains to my main account, which would apparently cost me £4.60 per domain, not too expensive, and hopefully they'd be renewed in the process. But after following their instructions I was further notified that I would need to initiate the transfer with Nominet and pay them a further fee of £12 per domain. Considering I wasn't even transferring the domains between people I felt this was getting a bit ridiculous and gave up.

After three days I was notified that there had been an error transferring the .it domain. Gandi's wiki said that the error message meant that my previous registrar had blocked the transfer, so I contacted Livetodot. Livetodot said that the domain had been successfully transferred away from them and pointed out that the whois record even specifically said so. So I went back to Gandi. Another day later I got an email confirmation from Gandi saying that the domain transfer was complete, but gave no explanation as to what had gone wrong. During this period DNS had been failing on my domain for at least three days. It was at this point that I realised how stupid it was to use my primary email address on the domain that my primary email address uses, and I started to get nervous. While the .it transfer had now been successful, the domain owner apparently didn't exactly match any of my three Gandi accounts and so a fourth account had been created and marked as owner.

Luckily my three .com domains, including my primary email domain, eventually transferred without incident, and with the original Gandi account as the owner. I can now use this account as a central account to administer all of my domains as it is at least the technical contact for all my accounts. However I now have another issue besides the four accounts. As I said above I think it's stupid to have the contact email address of a domain using that same domain, so I would like to change the email address on just that domain. However Gandi's system doesn't seem to allow for that, only allowing one account to have one email address, so to change the email address for one of my .com domains I have to change it for all the domains owned by that account.

All in all I don't think I can recommend Their system seems to be based on the incorrect assumption that each account is a different entity and each entity will only have one email address. I also wonder if other registrars (and why Gandi doesn't) just recognise an email address as a unique identifier and not worry if other details are slightly different.

Having done a bit more research there are other registrars that can do two step authentication, including Hover and EuroDNS. Reading Naoki Hiroshima's post again I notice that the hacker actually recommended NameCheap and eNom as secure registrars, although that information is a bit dated now and besides, I'm not sure if we should trust a hacker.

UPDATE: When I was initially thinking of going through with transferring the domains to a single account I created an account with Nominet and I seem to remember being able to see both of my domains, but now I can only see one. Nominet and Gandi both say that this is because the two domains have different email addresses on the owner contact, but in the Gandi control panel they both look the same to me.

UPDATE II: After getting pretty much nowhere with their support I emailed their batline, nobullshit(at) Coincidentally or not the very same day their support agreed to transfer my domains to my central account if I were to change my email address at Nominet. Nominet let you change your email address without any sort of confirmation with the old email address or the new email address, something that I pointed out to them was likely to get domains lost or stolen. A week later my domains still haven't been transferred. I also got a direct reply from Gandi's COO and "Chief Evangelist". Unfortunately this email confirms that their "no bullshit" tag line is just that, bullshit.

UPDATE III - Sept 2015 - A year on my renewals have come up again and I decided to put my money where my mouth is and join Hover. So far the move has been a joy by comparison and the transfer has worked the way that I would expect, you create one account and transfer your domains to that account. The one gotcha being that they don't automatically update your domains to use their DNS servers.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Recommended Apps for Windows Phone 8

True Calendar 8

The native WP8 calendar sucks, it defaults to viewing one day, but doesn't fit it onto one screen, it doesn't have a week view at all, the month view is pretty much useless because you can't read the appointments and if you try to click on them or click on a day it switches to the crappy day view.

I can't recommend True Calendar 8 highly enough, it possibly has too many configuration options, and you can only have a maximum of one account each of Google, MS and Facebook, but apart from that it's pretty much perfect and is what the native calendar should have been.

Ocell (Twitter)

Ocell is buggy, crashing and refusing to load tweets relatively often, however in my experience, and given my demands, it is still by far the best WP8 Twitter app that I've seen. My demands mainly being configurable, swipeable columns, mainly consisting of my lists, just like Tweetdeck and then Hootsuite let me do.

Flickr Central / Flickr Booth

Flickr Central and Flickr Booth are both very good apps. They both allow you to automatically upload images, periodically update the lock screen image from particular pools of Flickr photos and view activity on your photos and your contacts' latest uploads. They also both improve on the manual uploading of images.

Flickr Central has a better photo page and a better page for showing you activity on your own photos, however it doesn't show replies to your comments on other people's photos.

UPDATE Aug 2014: I don't know if it's WP8.1 or what but recently I've been finding FC's auto-upload buggy and I can no longer share photo URLs and the developer is no longer responding to emails.

Flickr Booth has a nice tile for the start screen that can show you recent uploads from your contacts or activity on your photos. It also allows you to specify what album to auto upload from and what date to start uploading them from. However the lock screen image rotates too often IMHO and only uses your 10 most recent favourites.

The official Flickr app sucks, mostly because the logo and title always cover half the screen. Yes, really. It's also missing auto uploading and uploading multiple images from the share context menu.

Flickr Auto-Uploader

Flickr Central's auto-uploader stopped working for me, and then so did Flickr Booths. I uninstalled Flickr Booth in order to reinstall it only to find that it was no longer available in the store. I have now written my own Flickr Auto Uploader for Windows Phone which has the added bonus of being able to upload videos and high resolution images from Lumia 1020s, as well as the option of choosing any albums to upload from.

Phone Tracker

I don't expect this will be on everyone's essentials list, but I really like having a record of my location, mostly so that I can geo-tag my photos. Phone Tracker is just the ticket, very simple and straightforward, it can upload kml files nightly to SkyOneDrive. My only two complaints are that a) it puts the files in the root, cluttering them up, it would be much better if it used its own subdirectory and b) time stamps are saved without a time zone, which is a real pain in the arse.

SMS to Speech

Not an app, but the other day I found a setting which covered an app that I used to find very useful on Android, Settings -> Speech -> Read incoming text messages aloud. Unfortunately it's crippled somewhat by the fact that it asks you whether you want it to read the text message or not. Somehow I don't think that's going to be very practical when I'm riding through London :-/


Authenticator for accounts that use such two step authentication like Google and MS. Has a handy copy feature. TV Guide for UK TV schedules.


Facebook, Instagram, eBay and Whatsapp. Although I wish Whatsapp would use different colours for different people in group chats.


Firefox. I'd also really like a decent IMAP client. The native mail client is fine for basic stuff, but I'd really like something that handled folders with more finesse. Note that Mail Plus is not an email client, it's for sending emails with attachments.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Script to set Firefox zoom/dpi/devPixelsPerPx on the command line




grep -v $SETTING $BAK > $PREF
echo "user_pref(\"$SETTING\", \"$1\");" >> $PREF


grep -v $SETTING $BAK > $PREF
echo $CURR >> $PREF

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sexism at

I think it's fair to say that The Register has always been the red top of tech publishing, I haven't minded in the past, I'm partial to a bit of puerile humour myself, but their sexist and sexualised headlines seem to have been particularly bad over the last few months. It also seems to have been a very bad year for women in tech, as they say, although maybe every year is a bad year for women in tech.
There sometimes comes a point where you have to vote with your feet, I've tried to give up Google, and now I'm giving up The Register. It's a shame, I mostly like the content, it's only the headlines and the odd Andrew Orlowski polemic that I object to.
The examples below are a few stories I've noticed, ranging from genuine IT stories with arguably offensive innuendo crowbarred into their headlines (the first one is a good example), through vaguely IT-y stories with a sexual element (see the Oracle story for example) to non-IT non-stories that allow a titillating headline and/or picture (take Pamela Anderson, please). There's a bit of everyday sexism too.
Incidentally Bridget Christie Minds the Gap has been excellent.
UPDATE: Ok, they're just trying to rile me now.
UPDATE 22-Jan-2014 : I've been keeping an eye on it and they really seem to have cleaned up their act, both in respects of the images and the headlines.

Monday, September 30, 2013

(Almost) Passive Cooling an Acer Aspire Revo R3600 Intel Atom 330

(Almost) Passive Cooling an Acer Aspire Revo R3600 Intel Atom 330 After I removed the fan of my Revo R3600 in order to change the hard drive it became incredibly noisy, sounding a bit like a motorbike. Given that it was in the lounge I needed to do something about it. At work one evening I realised there might be a nice big heat sink in a recently deceased Dell Optiplex 380 (I think) desktop. There was, and it was an amazingly good fit, though it's not properly attached (yet). I use fancontrol to switch the fan on at 60C, and it doesn't come on often. The piece of paper is blocking a hole in the fan, forcing all the air to pass through the heat sink.

Ideally I'd get rid of the fan and stand the case up to let the air flow naturally through the heat sink.