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Monday, 4 January 2010

How does the world cope with snow?

A question often asked by most people stuck on buses and in traffic jams because there is a skim of snow on a hilltop which can be seen from the road.

Why does this seem to happen with such monotonous regularity in Britain?

The simple answer is preparation by individuals.

I've just returned from the Alps where we took a day trip to Italy and came out of rainy France into snowy Italy. 3 inches of snow was lying on the car within the hour it took to get to a car park. This was snow like it meant it.

The traffic was still moving on most roads, but it did come to a bit of a halt for a couple of reasons;
  • The roads with the least traffic had the most snow
  • Unprepared vehicles were causing traffic jams

The first thing is quite obvious... if there's no traffic there's nothing to move the snow, and the rate at which it was falling meant that the snow on back streets was getting quite thick.

The second thing was perhaps less obvious.

In the UK we generally have tyres on our cars which ensure a nice quiet ride on the roads. This usually means that there is part of the tyre in constant contact with the ground. Sometimes this takes the form of solid bands around the circumference of the tyre, meaning that you can't stop in the snow.

Snow tyres have a cross cut pattern (which makes more noise on dry roads) with lateral lines to cut into loose and hard packed snow. This means you can both accelerate and brake.

Cars in the Alps generally carry snow chains. Some of these looked quite cheap, and others came in the form of a cover you put round your wheel, like a seat cover for a bar stool, with the chains part of this. this is to protect alloy wheels from chains. Even buses use snow chains.

More cars in this area have 4 wheel drive. I don't mean there are more Land Rovers, I mean that manufacturers have a larger range of vehicles equipped with 4 wheel drive - I've seen 4x4 Citroen Saxos, lots of Fiat Pandas and even Mercedes E-Class equipped with 4Matic. This coupled with suitable tyres means that there is almost no need for snow chains, and definitely no need for large 4x4s.

Unprepared vehicles (like some delivery vans with the wrong tyres, and large HGVs towing full trailers up steep hills) still stopped and ended up by the side of the road, but there weren't too many, and there was space to get past. They still have propblems sometimes, and some of the smaller roads were closed.

What do we do in the UK?

We complain that there's not enough grit on the road, then ask the question 'How do they cope in the rest of the world?'

Here's the lesson - please read it and stop complaining about there not being enough grit!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Use the tools Bill gave us!

I've been looking at ASP.Net authorisation techniques over the last few days, and am now absolutely kicking myself that I didn't look at them when I first started ASP.Net development 3 years ago.

It turns out that .Net framework V2 gives you lots of tools to do this for you, and that they are ridiculously easy to use.

The System.Web.Security namespace contains a few extremely useful tools, and (combined with some Googling) it is very easy to set password complexity, access to folders and all manner of other things that you would expect an Authentication method to provide.

This namespace has two extremely useful classes in it;
  • Membership
  • Roles
Membership allows you to perform user operations, like adding, deleting updating and validating.

Roles allows you to create/delete roles, and add/remove users to/from them. This is mostly using shared methods and a built in and automatically configured database. I.e. you don't have to think about it!

The main problem I now face is how best to resturcture the application so that style sheets work properly, as well as links to images, screens etc. This would have been laid out a lot differently had I known about ASP.Net Forms authentication when I started building the application!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Deep Thought

"You can't paint over a shadow."

Which is something I never thought I'd realise.

It is deeper than meer stupidity, though. Consider the Shadow.

It doesn't disappear at night. It takes over the world, except for pathetic
little pools thrown by streetlights. It doesn't hide in darkened roomw, it takes
them over.

Also, more profoundly, if there is a shadow of something, you will never be able to cover it up. It'll always be there, right in front of you.

The shadow isn't underneath things. It's always on top.

Of course, this came about due to sheer stupidity, and me trying to paint over a shadow, and then not having a radio to distract me while finishing the job.

Solitude is a dangerouse thing.

Friday, 14 August 2009

QR Barcoding

Recently discovered QR barcoding. It's very cool, and I can even see practical uses for it, but more about that later.

QR codes are 2D bar codes that can store tons of information for their size, and can be read by software readily available for mobile phones as free downloads.

I've added my business card to this blog as an image which can be read directly from the screen.

It contains all sorts of details, and was created using the free generator from Zebra Crossing (zxing.com), which offers a few different configurations.

As far as practical uses are concerned, if (like me) you send a text to let your wife know you're heading home, you can create the SMS QR code with the appropriate message and stick it to the dashboard. You can then simply scan and send it... job done! It may pay to have 2 or 3 of these printed ("heading home", "traffic busy", or "stopped for chips" spring to mind...) and sending these will then take around a second each.

Just don't get them mixed up.

I may push to get this printed on the back of my next bacth of business cards. I do work in the technology industry, so it makes sense to use what I can.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Twitter, Facebook and being connected to the world

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all that social networking thing ahas largely passed me by for the last few months. I'm aware of them, as a System Administrator I'm aware of the risks they pose as information leak points, and in a supervisory role I'm aware of how time sapping they can be.

I've also realised jsut how good they can be for building your network of friends.

So last week I opened a Facebook account (after growing up from Bebo, which is missing a number of features which Facebook has) and now hae almost 50 connections.

I started a Twitter account, and am following a number of streams as diverse as Stephen Fry and Microsoft. I also have followers. That doesn't make me the Messiah, but I'm working on it. (The beard is coming along nicely, and I could do with a haircut.)

With these new found links I've discovered guys I was at school with doing the same job as me, and doing complimentary things like marketing, sales and people management, as well as accountants. Even roses have thorns... ;-)

I wish I'd done this a few months ago, however... it may have meant I got more help for my imminent house move!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

I thought I taw a pooty cat... tweet!

It would seem that someone has decided to break Twitter. All this on the day I start using it.

Nice one guys.

This is the kind of thing that kind of puts me off using these services.

Never mind.

Monday, 3 August 2009

File sharer fined for sharing music

An American student has been fined $675,000 for sharing just 30 songs. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8177285.stm)

It seems to me that the recording Industry has been too slow to react to these things. The internet has been in a growing number of homes for the last 20 years, and file sharing available since the mid 90's. How come it's taken the recording industry this long to do anything about file sharing?

The porn industry has driven secure payment processing (and digital rights management to a lesser extent) for a vast chunk of this time, and has done it all to protect their customers. Those on the moral high ground of music have done pretty much nothing, other than chase people for money where they have simply copied music form one format and made it available to others.

There was no copyright system to get round for this guy, other than a piece of paper which he didn't necessarily even have.

I accept that Sony tried to protect their rights, but were knocked rejected by the consumer. Installing software that affects your whole system is basically malicious code, and that's why it was rejected.

This also looks like an excessive fine for someone sharing just 30 songs - others have shared far higher numbers of tracks but have not been caught - and this was not done for profit.

Joel Tenenbaum, I hope you win your appeal.

Especially since the price of on-line music has been excessive until the arrival of itunes. I remember being given the option to buy music to listen to on my PC for £2 per track, despite this being the price of CDs in Woolworths at the time. This with basically nothing to show - and minimal distribution costs for the product. And most of the secure payment development had been done by the porn industry!

In my opinion the fine should be costs plus restitution to the affected parties. I.e. Mr Tenenbaum has to pay $0.79 per download from his shared files to the record companies. Maybe a fine on top of that.

If someone copies music and then sells it on, then this is totally different. Yes, throw the book at them. Cease their ill gotten gains and fine them, but not for simply sharing music with like minded fans.

Sometimes I go crazy.

Hayseed Dixie have the right idea. They actively encourage bootlegging of their gigs and actually giving hints on recording their gigs on their website. Check it out. They just want to be famous!