* Posts by AlanC

16 posts • joined 23 Nov 2012

England's COVID-tracking app finally goes live after 6 months of work – including backpedal on how to handle data


I've just looked on my iPhone 11. I installed the app at about 9am and it's now 4.30pm. During that time the battery has gone from 99% to 87% - i.e. 12% of the battery capacity used in 7.5 hours.. Of this, it appears that Exposure Notifications used 9% and the NHS Covid-19 app 3% - 12% of the total usage, taken together.

So, if I'm interpreting these stats correctly, that means that the app has used 12% of 12% in 7.5 hours. That's 1.44% of total charge in that time, suggesting about 4.6% in 24 hours.

Interestingly, I think someone in the app description it suggested it might use about 5% per day - which is remarkably close to my calculation.

It's 30 years ago: IBM's final battle with reality


Re: PS/2 and OS/2

Ah - "OS divided by 2" - I'd never thought of it that way before.

Interestingly, for the short time that MS were promoting it, they spelt it OS-2, which could I suppose be read as "OS minus 2".

I'm not sure what if anything we can deduce from that!

Uber: Please don't give our London drivers English tests. You can work out the reason why


Re: The Knowledge

"If you only know a hotel name you can google it "

Yes - but that doesn't mean you can navigate there.

My only experience of Uber so far was in London, trying to get to and later to be picked up from Carting Lane (it's a narrow little dead-end street next to the Savoy Theatre), from somewhere in Covent Garden. The driver who took us there was using Waze (which I normally find excellent myself) but managed to do two laps of the Aldwych and was about to start a third when I told him which lane he needed to be in to get into The Strand. Later in the evening, I called an Uber to pick us up from the same place; the ETA was two minutes but I watched on the map in the app as the driver took wrong turn after wrong turn and eventually found his way to us only after about 10 minutes of meandering around the area. He had about 4 different SatNavs on the go, but still couldn't find us.

We have done exactly the same thing with black cabs before and they had no difficulty at all finding their way. So, based on this evidence it's clear that a cabbie with the Knowledge is superior to a satnav or even four of them!

Paying a PoS*, USA? Your chip-and-PIN means your money's safer...


Re: The most frustrating thing to me

"Six months"...

A few places have had it much longer than that, although the retailers concerned didn't know they had it.

I remember about 7 years ago at a supermarket and also an ice-cream place in Hawaii paying with my UK chip-and-PIN credit card and in both cases, after swiping the card in the usual way, the sales assistant looked puzzled at the on screen instructions telling them to put the card in the slot (which they didn't know was there) and entering a PIN (what PIN??). In both cases, I had to guide them through the process; in the supermarket I even had to go round the check-out to her side of the till to reach the PIN pad.

How to solve a Rubik's Cube in five seconds


Re: I wonder how many people have actually solved the cube?

Until I read this I assumed everyone who'd solved it did so without help - how naive I was!

An IBM colleague in Nottingham, who'd discovered the Rubik's cube some time before they were on general sale in the UK, was selling them to interested colleagues including me. It also took me about three months to solve it the first time but I didn't dismantle it or move stickers. The second time took a few days, and after that I could do it in around 15 minutes. Then I got bored and haven't touched for the last 35 years or so, although I still have it somewhere.

For a time I was fascinated by the mathematics and realised there was a connection with group theory, although I wasn't clever enough to gain any interesting insights from this. I also wrote some code (on my 1kB Nascom 1 computer) to attempt to find useful sequences of moves - the tools described in the article.

Maybe it's time to get the cube out again and see if I can still do it.

El Reg keeps pushing Apple's buttons – its new Magic Keyboard


Best keyboard ever: the IBM 029 card punch

I've used many keyboards over the years, most of them IBM ones since I worked for the company for most of my career. However, I still think the best ever keyboard, in terms of feel and speed, was the 029 card punch. The keys had very little travel but made up for it with amazingly positive feedback as a huge electromagnet somewhere inside the machine punched one or more holes in the punched card. The feedback was very satisfying and allowed for extremely high speed, error-free typing - as was needed for the data entry tasks these machines were designed for.

As for Apple - I'm a fairly recent convert to Apple (after years of Linux, Windows and OS/2) and my 15" MBP Retina is by a very long way the best laptop I've ever used, taking into account the combination of hardware and software. But I still don't like the keyboard - especially the absence of a Delete key (I know fn-Backspace does it but it should be a dedicated key) and also the lack of PgUp and PgDn keys - not to mention the plethora of weird and wonderful shift/alt/ctrl/cmd keys that have to be used in unmemorable combinations at times.

Inside GOV.UK: 'Chaos' and 'nightmare' as trendy Cabinet Office wrecked govt websites


Sometime last year, Tesco online shopping replaced a site that worked well with a redesign that wastes huge amounts of space so that search results and similar now only display about 5 items at a time. This is on a retina Macbook, so screen resolution certainly isn't an issue, And it isn't helped by using the browser's zoom feature to make everything smaller - somehow it adapts and wastes even more space. And it's equally (though not identically) bad in all three browsers I have: Chrome, Safari and Firefox. I've complained more than once but had no response.

NatWest has now redesigned their online banking site - it's full of ridiculously large fonts and wasted space but to be fair otherwise it works much as before, so it's not nearly as bad as Tesco. Mainly I just don't like the childish look it now has.

No one wants iOS 8 because it's for NERDS - dev



Well I'm a nerd so I upgraded on my iPad Air almost as soon as I could. Fortunately I experienced no problems, although it did seem that very little had changed either. Maybe when I Yosemite comes out I'll enjoy some of the new iCloud features but until then it's a real non-event.

However, I was really shocked and disappointed the other day to discover that iPhoto no longer works. I was even more surprised to find this is isn't a temporary technical issue but a deliberate decision by Apple to discontinue it. In my opinion, the Photos app in iOS is one of the most clunky and incomprehensible features of the otherwise generally excellent iOS 7. iPhoto, which came as standard on the iPad Air, was much capable, as well as being less confusing, so to be forced back to using the Photos app, or third party alternatives, is a real shame.

Ubuntu 13.10 lands on desktops, servers and (er, some) phones


Like others, I really think Canonical are focusing on the wrong priorities here. I've been using Ubuntu as my sole desktop OS for most of the last 5 years and am really pretty happy with it - even Unity doesn't annoy me as much as many. But still there are rough edges - small things that don't work quite as you'd expect, or essential configuration settings that can only be made from a command line.

But what constantly makes me question whether I should continue is the desktop applications. I'm no fan of Microsoft Office but on the whole it does at least work, whereas I'm constantly hitting problems with LibreOffice with things that just don't work, random crashes, etc.. Actually the Writer is pretty good (and I prefer it to MS Word) and Calc isn't too bad, but the one that really worries me is Impress (the PowerPoint equivalent) - random font changes, completely arbitrary and inexplicable changes to styles, bullets, numbering, make it barely usable for anything serious. These applications are rich in function - they just aren't reliable enough yet.

So, if Canoncal want to gain more traction with Linux on the desktop, they should give a lot of support to LibreOffice (or to Apache for OpenOffice), to bring those apps up to a fully professional quality. The rest of the attention should be devoted to removing all the remaining rough edges in the OS, of which there are not too many these days.

And only when they've done that and have nothing useful left to do, should they even think about playing with tablets and phones.

Apple slams brakes on orders of (not so cheap) plasticky iPhone 5C


Re: Want an apple but not the 5c or the 5s

...and in photos the white one looks quite reminiscent of the 3GS, which no-one said looked cheap and nasty at the time.

Apple iOS 7 makes some users literally SICK. As in puking, not upset



I'm puzzled about this and I'm wondering if the behaviour on an iPhone is different from that on an iPad (or on my iPad 2 anyway).

The way the background moves relative to the icons on the home screen is described as Parallax yet to me it's the opposite. If I look straight at the screen and then angle it to the left, a parallax effect ought to mean that the background moves to the right relative to the icons (if, as I assume, the background is intended to appear to be behind the icons). In fact what happens is the opposite - if I turn the iPad to the left, the background moves left, if I tilt it down the background moves down, etc..

Have I misunderstood something here?

By the way, after initially hesitating because of some negative reports about iOS 7 on the iPad 2, I did so and I have to admit I really like it with only a few minor reservations.

Kobo strikes new match against Kindle: The Aura HD e-reader


Resolution is less important than screen size

I owned and enjoyed a Kindle 3 (aka Kindle Keyboard) for a few years, then replaced it with a Paperwhite after managing to break it on a recent holiday (I stood on it!). The PW claims higher resolution than the K3, but I can honestly say that for me the higher screen resolution has made no difference to legibility or reading comfort. Both my kindles display(ed) text that is easy on the eye and comfortable to read, especially in good lighting.

I have however always felt that the 6 inch display of the Kindle is just a bit too small. It's actually smaller than a page of a typical small paperback and my own opinion is that 7 inches would be perfect. The Kobo's 6.8 inches is therefore attractive.

I won't be switching reader now, but if I were starting from scratch I might consider it for this reason.

Mark Shuttleworth: Canonical leads Ubuntu, not 'your whims'


Leadership is needed but the product has to be right too

I've been running Ubuntu as my main desktop OS for 4 years now and there is a lot I like about it. In so many ways I feel it's stil the most viable alternative to Windows and OSX and this surely has a lot to do with the strong direction that Canonical have imposed on its development. If Linux is ever to be a serious alternative for the average user, this is the only way it will happen.

However, with this leadership come - in my opinion - some mistakes. Unlike a lot of people, I don't hate Unity - in fact potentially I like it. What I do hate is all the things that still don't really work properly. On my machine - admitedly three years old but a fairly upmarket and powerful Lenovo Thinkpad - Unity is terribly slow. This is possibly something to do with graphics acceleration or something; I don't know and the point is I really don't want to have to know - I just want it to work properly. Similarly, the fact that the machine often overheats (and shuts down without warning) when doing backups or running VMWare, because the power management doesn't properly control the fan on my machine, undermines the experience badly. I also really dislike the incomprehensible behaviour of Alt-Tab, which is something I think Windows got right about 20 years ago.

My wife has a MacBook. What impresses me about it is not an amazing UI - it's good but not stunningly better than Ubuntu or even Win 7. What does impress me is the astonishing feeling of solidity and quality it exudes; everything is beautifully crafted, everything works smoothly and reliably, it almost never fails in any way. These things make it a pleasure to use and inspire a feeling of great trust and confidence.

The best thing Canonical could do with Ubuntu now is to stop trying to functionally change or enhance it, definitely don't waste energy trying to port it to tablets and phones, but just focus all their attention on polishing every little detail and making it work perfectly all the time. Then they'll have a real winner that MS should worry about.

Like others, I've been starting to notice that Mint looks very attractive. I think I'll install it on a spare disk and try it out but I don't want to swap one set of problems for a different set, so I'm not rushing into switching distro yet.

4G in the UK? Why the smart money still says 'Meh'


Coverage is far more important than extreme speed

As others have said, for me coverage is far more important than speed. I find for most things I want to do - e-mail, casual on-the-move web browsing, apps that access data online, 3G performance is good enough. Even if I wanted to stream movies to my phone (unlikely) a reasonable 3G connection would be enough. Yes, faster is always nice but really not that important to me.

However, if you live, work or travel outside a major city, the coverage for 3G is still not good enough. And I'm not talking about remote parts of the country - I'm talking heavily populated areas of the southeast. I wish the networks would focus on this rather than increasing speed in a few priveleged places.

And while they're at it, perhaps they would fill in all the gaps in ordinary GSM phone coverage. By now, all the networks ought to be providing 100% coverage in every town, village, rail-line and main road (at least A-roads and motorways) in the entire country.

IBM insider: How I caught my wife while bug-hunting on OS/2


Yes, for networking you needed to buy OS/2 Extended Edition, which included local area networking and mainframe comms stuff (3270 emulataion, LU6.2, etc..) and also a relational DB. But after V1.0, which didn't have a GUI at all, PM became an integral part of Standard Edition so was never an extra cost option.


Happy days

Great article - brings back many memories from those days, when I was IBM's UK tech sales lead for OS/2 - playing with early drops of the code from about 1985, being part of the OS/2 and PS/2 launch event at Greenock on April 2nd 1987, working on the first Redbooks and meeting with the IBM and MS developers in the Hursley and Boca Raton labs - even contributing some feedback into the design at times.

These were exciting times - going around showing that multi-tasking worked using a little program I wrote that called DosBeep and DosSleep in a loop to show it still carried on beeping in the background; demonstrating PM to customers and colleagues to whom GUIs were completely new (everyone used plain old DOS then); teaching people the basics of the OS/2 APIs, which were (as you say) so much more complete, consistent and well-documented than anything we'd had before.

Then there was the excitement in 1992 when we launched the 32 bit version (OS/2 V2.0), which included the very sophisticated Workplace Shell, and resulted in another residency for me in Boca and some more redbooks, and lots more interesting and fun demos to develop and show (I claim that my "PM Musical Blackboard" program was the first PM app written by anyone outside Development). Of course, Windows 3.0 and then 3.1 were launched around this time - MS having decided IBM was a competitor - and were hugely successful but despite this OS/2 still achieved impressive market share in some markets in the mid-90's, until Windows 95 came out and OS/2's demise became inevitable.

One of my treasured souvenirs from this era is a Microsoft OS-2 mug - a reminder of the brief time that IBM and MS worked together.


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