Monthly Archives: August 2012

Radio and ‘progress’

My 2005-era travel radio

Bad news. I woke up this morning to a nasty crackling sound instead of Jack FM. And from this we must conclude that my much-loved mini travel radio is dying.

For sure, the casing is held on with blu-tak (or to put it another way, the front fell off) – but it’s soldiered on quite well for at least six years now (I think it was one of the last things the late and much-lamented Gadget Shop sold). It doesn’t owe me much, but I fear I won’t be able to replace it with anything half as good. The only equivalents I can find on the market are, inevitably, DAB compatible. Which means they won’t last a month on a pair of AAA batteries (more like a few hours on four AAs), they’re bigger, and they really want mains power – which makes carrying them down to the kitchen to catch the end of a track problematic.

This one also has some really neat touches – when you put new batteries in, the alarm is off-by-default and set to 7am (not midnight!). You also have to press two buttons in sequence to make the noise stop when it comes on via the alarm – a great feature for avoiding turning it off and going back to sleep, and also excellent for annoying the heck out of your housemates when you forget to turn the alarm off before going on holiday.

I love new technology when it brings real benefits, but I’m not a fan of digital radio. My earliest experience of it was about four years ago, when they were running those “it doesn’t crackle or hiss” adverts. Ironically, our digital radio broke up quite badly during several of them.

Sigh. Anyone out there able to cheer me up by pointing me at a brave/principled manufacturer of radio kit which is still making AM/FM analogue radios?

Health, wealth and happiness

A couple of weeks ago, on Monday 13 August, most of the UK was either at work or on a deck chair out back, looking forward to the Olympic closing ceremony. And me? Well, since you ask, I was crawling up a slope on the M6 at 10mph, cooking slowly in my own sweat and hoping my leaky-radiatored car didn’t conk out on me (fortunately, proving that there are sometimes happy endings in real life, it survived all the way to a garage the next day to have some sealant put in it).

Aside from the painfully slow drive home, I had a very nice holiday. I was a bit dubious about spending four nights on a site for ‘real campers’ (cold running water and portaloos only) – but I must admit, with the good weather that we caught, and my phone switched off, it was a really nice way to get away from everything. We did a 16 mile walk on the first day, and I discovered I wasn’t totally out of shape.

I’d been feeling quite burnt-out prior to my holiday – no time off since Easter, plus all the joys of moving house – but I thought it worth recording the one change I’ve made which has made me feel much healthier and happier, and unlike my holiday, is permanent.

I’m off the current affairs.

For the last three years, I’ve been a serious news junkie, even writing my own RSS aggregator to pull together all the news and blogs I follow. I’d spend most of my lunch hour reading it, and probably check it from my phone morning and evening too. Doing something I last resorted to whilst sitting finals, and turning it off, forced me to get out from behind my screens at lunchtime, and this has combined with not knowing about all the bad things happening in the world to make me feel noticeably healthier and happier. I still catch the headlines on the radio when I wake up, so I’m not totally out of touch, but five minutes a day is long enough. Also, I think trying to absorb all the different tech blogs and other things I followed was definitely causing information overload – there’s only so much a man can take in during one day.

 

Backups

Back in January, we had a break-in at St Columba’s. Some ill-mannered individual smashed their way in and trashed quite a lot of cupboard doors. Ultimately, the only item they took was a four-year-old laptop which was getting a bit creaky anyway. The laptop itself was probably worth a couple of hundred pounds tops, but as is the way with small organizations, it contained a bunch of irreplaceable data about our hirings and general admin.

As I recounted this story to a few geeky friends in the pub, they all sucked air through their teeth and began to commiserate with me about what a pain it must have been to try and replace all that un-backed-up data.

“But no!”, I was able interrupt them (with just a trace of smugness). Despite this laptop being a standalone machine whose regular users are completely un-technical, there was a backup system in place. It involved a Python script which used rdiff-backup to shove the laptop’s hard drive the wrong way up the office ADSL line and onto one of my servers. It shuts down the laptop when it’s done (many hours after you start running it), so all I had to train my users to do was “click this icon before you go home on Friday”. So we lost a few days’ worth of data, but it could have been a lot worse. And the solution took about an hour for me to put together and cost nothing.