Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thursday Sermon: Religion and Morality

(jump to 17mins and 10 seconds please)

Colin McGinn: Morality and connection with Religion

Subtitle: A Public Apology

Tonight I was involved in a long conversation with a friend that pretty much turned into an argument. Apart from an apology about 'jumping down their throat' and cutting them off I did offer the following apologetic response.

So,  if you study religion and philosophy daily and get asked a 'well trodden' question it is easy to run off the rails with an all to strong overbearing response.

When you talk to a friend, you sometimes want to shortcut their response  (that you heard so many times before from others) and give them 'your discovered truth' and also not let them put forward what you believe is an embarrassingly wrong argument,

This never goes down well!

So apart from a sincere apology I restart here my argument between Religion and Morality.

It answers the question that many strongly religious people have:

Their question is:  If you are not religious, then where do you derive your morality from?

That less polite version is also expressed:

- If you are not religious you must worship Satan
- If you are not religious then you clearly have no morality

So ideally you would watch the entire 30 minute YouTube segment, and for the purposes of this discussion (about Morality) absorb only the philosophical content, and discard any religious opinion or sentiment.

But some of you are too busy so:

07:40 Colin (the Philosopher on the left) talks about keeping ethics and morality instructions from the Bible

17:15 Connection between morality and God.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Technical Speculation

Pocketnow: Rumours

Subtitle: Wait for IT

This is a grumpy post about always fanciful and often uninformed speculation that currently runs wild in the Computer and Electronics arenas

One of the worst segments is perhaps Smartphones where today of the many hundred articles I read daily I can normally guarantee at least 5 articles on Smartphone futures.


6 Month Cycling
The Smartphone industry from major manufacturer moves towards a 6 month update cycle.  So staying /on top/ in the Phone world is usually reserved to extreme fanboys or tech journalists (assuming they are receiving a long term loaner).

So given that the median time between your Smartphone obsolence is therefore 6/2 = 3 months, do you really care what fanciful mockup is dangled in front of your nose?  No, not really

License to Mock (up)
There are countless examples of Design Houses publishing 'design studies' or 'concept design' of future Smartphones.  How many of these are based on any fact?  Or just the whim of a spotty kid in front of a powerful design package?

Engineering Hell
I feel sorry for the Engineers.  The actual Hardware and Software guys who have put decades of experience into producing excellence.  Not trivial, because working within space and power constraints for mobiles is challenging.   Whilst you are working hard in secret to product a workable and reliable and manufacturable next gen design,  you get no-hopers with probably no connection even to any Smartphone company splatting the internet with 'concepts' that they can design in an afternoon.  Where is the Engineers glory and recognition?

The Big Shows
There are two big Consumer shows each year relevant to Smartphones

(Obviously I am not counting Apple who feel they are too important to observe any Industry convention)

CES  (Consumer Electronics Show)
January in Las Vegas

Mobile World Congress
February in Barcleona

So apart Google who announce in 4th Quarter to ship before Christmas, and update only yearly, most serious Smartphone vendors announce at or around the time of the above shows.

Smartphone Centric
Already the Smartphone and not the Desktop or Laptop computer is at the centre of most consumers Computing and Internet experience.

With Microsoft developments like Continuum  the Smartphone is ready and poised to takeover the desktop space in future times for most non power-users.

So yes the Smartphone is critically important, which accounts for the stream of uniformed drivel that is websites devoted to Smartphone futures and rumours,   endless renders of possible phones,   spec speculation ad nauseum,  and release date lottery.

But all of this web content is merely dis-information, a sort of Internet Static that distracts you, and forms an irritating background noise, preventing from focusing on the device you have, rather that the one that may never be built.

- Understand your tech industry segment
- Understand it's release cycle
- Understand the design, prototype,  test, manufacture, test, release cycle
- Don't speculate, don't read or forward speculation
- Live and enjoy life in the technical present, not in the technical future.

Queen: Don't Stop Me

(or in the case of the Speculators,  please do stop yourselves!)

Microsoft 640 XL review

Thanks to my good friend Richard in England I have a renewed interest in Windows 10 Mobile which is Microsoft's current Smartphone platform.

This is the first part of a two part review where I'm going to try and sell you on the 640 XL hardware.  I leave a detailed discussion of the Windows 10 Mobile (W10M) platform to part 2

So Why
My audience here is anybody who really cares about Smartphones, about the technology, the apps, the possibilities.  In so doing I exclude

- Mere end users, who have no tolerance for something that does not work immediately
- Anybody with a closed mind to the Windows 10 Mobile platform because they know a priori that it's going to fail, bound to be no good, faulty by definition  (choose your put down)

So then, if you are an IT guru, a technical specialist, who fancies a hands on with a detailed mobile platform I'll try and sell you on acquisition of a 640XL to really experience windows 10 mobile first hand, and not just from a YouTube video or web page

Model Confusion

There are several different models of the 640 range


640 XL

3G or LTE: 

There is a cheaper non LTE (4G) version that only has 3G networking.  This is the model that I purchased.  Though I passionately wanted the LTE version it was 230 CHF and I got the 640 XL for 'only' 160 CHF i.e. 30% cheaper and I could not justify the higher price - sorry.

I would definitely choose the 640XL over the 640  because the camera on this model is absolutely superb and on the 640 the best it will be is just average.

Reduced Cellular Speed

The Cellular download speed is limited to a rather pathetic 8Mbps, down from the 80Mbps we have available here in Lausanne Switzerland  (best speed I've had from my old Google Nexus 5 on Android 6). So yes, not having the LTE model really hurts.

Note: Either model has 2 SIM slots but only the first one will do 3G (or LTE on the other model).  The second SIM is limited to 2G, so beware.

Switching to UK

My Initial settings were US English on the phone, with UK English Region specified and Timezone of Switzerland.   With this set Cortana was disabled and going to the Mobile App store on the phone   (because the Web Store said I had to) meant that no BBC applications were listed.

Eventually I switched to

UK Keyboard

UK Region
Manual Timezone  (CET)

This was not a simple reboot but almost a 're-install'.  After the switch apps were seen to be re-downloaded and then magically Cortana worked and the BBC iPlayer Radio was both visible in the store and available to download and run.

What is in the Box

2 SIM slots, a Micro SD card slot and a back that simply clips off, without tools, in about 10 seconds.  How bloody excellent is that.

Oh, and of course a removable battery.  Superbly practical design. I really like!

Initial Setups
 This took a really long time because the first time it seemed to download most of the OS then updates.  Then when I really switched to UK everything this happened for a second time.  All in all it was about 4 hours of thumb twiddling and waiting!

Insider Program
To get Windows 10 Mobile and not the Windows 8 that the phone is shipped with you simply need to install the Windows Insider application and then signup

So you install the application and then select the fast insider track meaning you get the update builds first

So in this way I got the .36 build well before Christmas day 2015.

Of course you are on Beta software so sometimes things just don't work and you should feed this back to Microsoft for fixing.  Use the Windows Feedback application etc.

Yes it is thereSome things that are present, just in case you are skeptical

+ Headphone Jack
+ Bluetooth 4 Low Energy
- Wifi only has 2.4 GHz not 5Ghz networking
+ Huge 5.7" 1280x720 pixel screen is reasonable
+ Fast(ish) Charging at 1A using supplied Adapter
+ No hardware button bottom of screen (less to go wrong)
+ Plastic back includes buttons for volume and power on i.e. this improves phone integrity since it's sealed from water ingress at these points.  All buttons on right side
- No dedicated camera button
+ Obviously contains GPS and other sensors including electronics to detect steps (Microsoft Health app) without draining CPU, so no need for separate wrist step counter if you carry this phone
+ When plugged into a Windows PC the Internal memory and SD card (if installed) shows up as Disk Drives.
+ Usual features like DataSim hotspot and Torch

Oh and the Photos
As a keen photographer who subscribes to the line that the best camera that you own is the one that you have with you.  So, I don't always carry around my full frame camera and so the Smartphone carries the burden of daily photography.

The really excellent news is that the 13MP Zeiss optics coupled with the Lumia Camera  now called Microsoft Camera application really shines.  So even if the rest of the product is a dud  (wait for the forthcoming W10M appraisal) you'll have a phone and decent Camera.  All for only 160 CHF  (about 160 USD or 110 GBP) in my case.

Excellent photographs  (for a Smartphone) in all kinds of lighting conditions. Of course photos contain full EXIF information including GPS  (conveniently fast switchable off for privacy from quick settings).

Small word about the Software
Although Windows 10 Mobile is officially released, and the only software available for Microsoft smartphones like the 950 or 950XL it is still very much a work in progress

The longer I wait for the W10M review there will be a chance to comment on new applications like Garmin Connect  (to sync Garmin smartwatches and fitness trackers) and for established apps like Spotify to actually improve and actually work.

In Summary
For those who are actually spending their own money and don't have 600 USD / 600 CHF to shell out on a top of the line 950 phone from Microsoft  (that word is, will be obsolete by about May of 2016 by the way), then the 640 XL represents a really sensible choice

- Experience Windows 10 Mobile (the good and the bad)
- Excellent 13 MP camera and app with manual controls
- 2 SIM capability, SD slot, removable battery and snap on cover
- Cost as low as 160 CHF  (110 GBP)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Let there be New Light

IKEA PS Pendant Lamp

In part to honour the wonderful cinematic experience Marcus and Agata recently witnessed  there has been a moderate upgrade to some lights in our family

First, as Engineers, we would like to state that Energy Conservation, mindfulness and economy are always on our minds.  However we have just replaced lights that have been with our family for over 10 years.  

Bought from Habitat in London!

And, in the case of the Study lamp shown here

there is strong evidence that the creation of the lamp predates Agata (so at least 21 years old I am told :-)

With lamp replacement on our minds our next stop was IKEA and in the sales we picked up some specially priced /bargains/ that we think will suit family tastes.

Lamp Assembly

The main lamps bought were the PS Pendant, and we have a polite warning to couples attempting assembly.   It is all of long winded, detailed, and involves much above head height lamp holding.  

At some point during assembly raised voices to each other might suggest a partners incompetence or slowness.  At these times stop for a cup of tea and reflect upon the fact that the end result will be worthwhile

Two lamps and an emergency toolkit

A lot of parts!

 Getting There

Marcus is a little scared holding the death Star

Round two. 

And Finally

All is done.  Marcus and Agata now each have their very own Death Star light.  Equality and Smiles as always.

IKEA PS Pendant Light

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sunday Sermon: The Force at a certain age

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

These days it is rare that age is credited with an advantage. However, Marcus can maybe admit being "just" old enough to have watched Star Wars, the original 1977 George Lucas film known as

Star Wars

On the enthusiasm scale out of 10 I was about a 6 going into the sequel this late Saturday night.  And on the footballer scale coming out I was about an 11.


- The film keeps the plot simple
- At no time was I wondering who the characters were or that an action sequence be rewound
- The weapons were pretty similar to the original
- The Bad guys and Good guys were easily to find
- Conflicted characters add depth
- Terribly politically correct, which I of course like

> All in all so many echoes from the past

That Marcus had to blub just a little.  To me, a moving reminder of how keeping it quite simple can make for a deeper and more emotional film going experience.

I can honestly say that if a Religion was so convincing I would be signing up tomorrow.  Maybe Jediism  contains an inner truth after all?

If you are of an age to remember and like the original Star Wars, you are going to Love: Star Wars - The Force Awakens.

YouTube: Star Wars Channel

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas Number One

Thanks to the BBC and iPlayer I was pleased to listen to the UK official single music countdown with Greg James.  On Christmas Day no less. You may know that you can 'listen again' for upto 30 days, worldwide.  So why not listen to the chart show, right now:

BBC Radio 1 official Chart for Christmas 2015

(The chart showed moved to Friday recently from it seems an eternal prior stint on Sunday.  Keep up now).

But the Album chart is not so rosy ...

A Spotify Aside & Plug
Both Agata and Marcus are quite passionate about Music. Marcus would admit to listening to at least 3 hours of music per day, and lately this is thanks to Spotify

I raved about Spotify here recently

Thanks to Spotify and our existing (now Digital) personal music collections we can listen to practically every song from Artists that we know and love.

Back to the Album Chart
So it is with a heavy heart that I see the the Christmas Season 2015 has yet again sprouted a deluge of compilation albums of back catalog music, and, yes, even worse, rehashes of the deceased musicians.

I scanned my defacto BBC chart selection and found these Albums in the BBC charts over the last weeks:

For the deceased I point the finger of shame for music recycling firmly at the record companies and for living musicians trying to coin an extra penny for Christmas.... tut tut.   

It is possible to crank out a new album even at the advanced age of 70, and I would point you to the wonderful Rod Stewart as living testament to same

(Brit awards 2015)


Christmassy Sermon: In goodness we trust

In God We Trust

Subtitle: Or even better, In Goodness we trust

Post Secret

Starting this Christmas 2015,  be mindful, economical, philosophical and through your own actions make the world a better place.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The All Nighter

Subtitle: Getting the Job Done

This is not just a story about being awake and energised for over 30 hours ...

On the surface this is a tale about a Computer upgrade, but really it's a story about being tenacious enough to get a long outstanding job done.   As such, all of us, even non Computer specialists have been there.   Painting that FrontGate,  finally reorganising our Music Collection,  sorting out the rattle on our Motorbike.   All tasks that get put on the back burner as todos as we prioritise them behind other so-called important life events.

And so,  Marcus finally decided to tackle the annoying "Please install this important Apple OSX" upgrade message that I have been seeing for the last 9 months on our tiny Mac Mini.

Upgrading OSX - The Easy Bit

Yes I've been getting a nag message for over 9 months now on our baby, and now ancient Apple Mac Mini.   This is one of the old machines where the memory was upgradeable with ease and the hard disks could be replace with Marcus' swearing  and my wife Agata's patience and small hands!   The current Mac Mini  generation have soldered everything and no easier drive replacement.

The patching of OSX Yosemite 10.10 was painless and also the upgrade to ElCapitan 10.11 was also controlled and effortless.

Congratulations Apple, another job very well done. 10/10 for user experience.

Heady server

We run this ancient  (4 years+ old) Mac Mini as a shared household resource which we connect to from other computers via the Open Source VNC program.   So after upgrade it was necessary to re-enable this configuration setting.

VMware upgrade

Meanwhile after upgrading my  VMware Fusion icon was inoperative because my Fusion version 5 installation was totally incompatible with OSX 10.11

A paid upgrade to Fusion 8.x is necessary. Ah well.

Windows Torture
I could now restart a very important Virtual machine and it was time to investigate the mystery of the continually disappearing disk space on the boot drive ...

Windows 2008 WinSxS files
In retrospect I now have an answer as to why the space on my C: boot disk has been steadily disappearing over the years.

Windows service packs even after application get saved into a WinSxS directory that never gets pruned.

I read desperate forum articles via Google about users whose systems C: boot disk filled up and whose system came to a grinding halt. Further you cannot from WinSxS since they are owned by /TrustedInstaller/ and even an Administrator gets an error.

Late in the day it became possible to install the Disk Cleanup wizard.   Another amazing fact is that the wizard was accidentally left out of a standard installation. I attempted the above fix, installed, but no matter how many times I ran it, it never worked period!

Here is a run of the Cleanup

Even when disk cleanup appeared to show something large to clean  (most of the time it showed no Windows Update), nothing happened.

So the problem was not fixed, and the computer on this an 8 year old Operating System had completely filled up C:, a 32GB partition, now stuffed full of over 20GB of fixpacks.  Fixpacks were larger than the OS on my hard disk.

You just could not make this sort of thing up, could you!

The Big Rebuild

So with a heavy heart Marcus realised that the right thing to do would be a complete reinstall

- Move to a current Windows server generation
- Chance for a minimalist install  (well I'm keeping the GUI, I am not totally insane!)
- Don't re-install of some Network throttling tools, not required with our current almost Infinite Internet speeds.

Some considerable time later, my legitimate copy of Windows was installed and Activated. Next ...

How Many Updates?

Despite using a late DVD install source there were literally hours of updates to apply.   I went for a small nap and more hours of processing:  All applied.

Reconfiguring Everything Else
What was less of a pleasure, after the plan to reinstall the OS, was the realisation that other components needed tweaking:

- Change Router Port Mapping
- Change Hardware Firewall Rules
- Change Software OS specific Firewall rules
- Change other tools that use Python since moving to 2.7.11

Moving Other Resources

With Smug mode on I can say part of the ease of transition was the deliberate segmented design.  We use a C disk for OS, an X disk for all things web including PHP code and other server based stuff, and Z disk for backup targets.

Finishing Touches

Mainly this is checking the backup software is installed and on a schedule, and then checking the first  backups are completing okay.

(Additionally these backups are moved from a disk to a NAS, then to an offsite Cloud store.  That to be end to end checked in January 2106!)

Checking it a Day Later

The day later check means a double check that all is really well

- Webserver is up
- Check access and error logs
- Check Windows Error logs
- Check Windows software update
- Check Windows disk cleanup ! (works here)
- This writeup.

What may never work
Now that I have everything working, before time to properly relax, or collapse after the all nighter, I thought I would investigate NAS Virtualisation.

In short: Today's more powerful Intel based Network Attached Storage  (NAS) sometimes have a feature allowing them to run a whole Operating System on the NAS box.  So the NAS box is then performing the role of a home Compute server.   

The idea is that  you could run say Windows or Linux server on your NAS and then connect to it as a home PC desktop server locally or even remotely (e.g whilst on holiday) via an Internet browser.

So:  I tried it out via the install of a test Centos 7 Linux server.  It was awkward and runs slowly.  Seems like it's currently a last resort, clumsy, and solution that lends itself to those who can't afford, or who don't have physical space for an additional server. Maybe on a future more powerful NAS?

Learning Points
The learning points of the exercise were

- When you are enthusiastic to complete a task, sleep deprivation never seems to be an issue
- The good design of our Webserver made OS replacement oh so easy
- Microsoft let me down, the WinSxS situation is totally unacceptable, especially as their fix did not work
- Running an OS on a NAS, it's not a good idea on todays modest hardware.

And by a sleep to say we end 
A sleep to say we end

Cleaning up WinSxS