Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How to get your day improved a bit (no Tamsin I am not being sarcastic here)

  1. Come out of the gym in a rage at your own stupidity.
  2. (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!)
  3. Go and buy something nice at the little Tesco Metro round the corner - the toffee fudge yoghurt or whatever it's called, say.
  4. Get served by really nice, charming, friendly people. (No, I am not being sarcastic. They really are that.)
  5. Go out feeling cheered up. Day has got better. What just happened there??

What is this magical power that some people have? Most odd. I am not naming names but there are staff there who honestly do have the ability to brighten up your day by being, I don't know, calm, charming, friendly, nice. Something or other. It just works. It is an amazing gift.

How to get your day off to a really great start (yes Tamsin I am being sarcastic here)

  1. Go swimming, per normal routine.
  2. While changing, open briefcase and look for swimming bag.
  3. Discover swimming bag not there.
  4. Have perfectly clear vision of where swimming bag is. Where is it Colin? It is on my desk, between the printer and the radio.
  5. Try to remain calm while internally voicing major displeasure at own stupidity.
  6. (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!)
  7. Nude swimming is not on my personal agenda at this point. There is no evidence to suggest that the gym would greatly welcome it either. Check I am actually awake. Oh good, I am, that's a few pitfalls avoided.
  8. Decide to have shower anyway, otherwise whole day is messed up.
  9. Realize padlock is in swimming bag so locker cannot be locked. (Realize previous sentence contains "lock" too many times.) (Realize I don't care right now. Lock lock clock blocky flock. Ha! See?)
  10. Go and have shower lasting 4.3 seconds in case at this very moment dishonest gym users, feral children (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!), disillusioned and mentally unstable war veterans (don't push me!) etc, have discovered unlocked locky locker and are currently stealing Wretched Young Persons' Portable Phonogram, disrupting my collection of broken pencils, an ting.
  11. At 3.7 seconds realize they are probably also messing around with my little computer and hence depriving the world of a million blog-o-rants. Dash back after the least satisfying shower in the history of showering. (This also breaks 468 EU hygiene regulations and renders me liable to arrest, special rendition, questions In Da House, etc.)
  12. Strangely, no-one is actually going through my stuff right now. Indeed it's all pretty deserted, much as I left it. Lucky I got back in time then, eh?
  13. Get dried and dressed, look in briefcase for office keys.
  14. Discover swimming bag in there, now perfectly obvious.
  15. See 5. But more so.
  16. See 6.
  17. See 6.
  18. See 6.
  19. See 6.
  20. See 6.
  21. Go off in strop.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Rules of Computers and Technical Support and Stuff

(No. 73 in an Occasional Series of, er, 8,943)

  • The more stupid a thing your user has done, the more likely they are to need to get a little dig in about how the system shouldn't have let them do it. So it's your fault really.
  • If, on the other hand, at any other moment in their entire working life the system gives them insufficient freedom to do, er,  absolutely anything at all they would like to do with it, then it's a very very bad system.
  • Hmph. I suppose even the BOFH perhaps started off all well-intentioned and smiley and lovely ... er, or maybe not ...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Breakfast insight

pret I have had a revelation. If you get some lovely Yummy Granola-based Breakfast Thingy With Hot Milk, or whatever it is called, from the ever-wonderful Pret a Manger, please eat it while it is hot, delicious and wholly satisfying.

If you leave it cooling, cooling and cooling further while you discuss oppression and injustice with a colleague, what you will end up with is, essentially, cold porridge.

That's not so nice.

New rule: eat breakfast first, put world to rights later. You know it makes sense.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Oh joy oh bliss: the recovering of the lost data, the rekindling of faith

File154 Gillian, a colleague whose real name that isn't, came to see me. She is an entirely delightful person, whom I very much like, and is, I think it not unfair to say, about as au fait with the world of information technology as I am with, say, ballet dancing. (Clue: that would be not very much, you see.)

The sequence of events as I understand it is something like this:

  1. Gillian has a lovely holiday in the USA and takes lots of nice pics, including some of the Grand Canyon an ting, on her little digital camera. She has not yet downloaded the 200+ new photos so they are all still on the camera, and only there.
  2. Sometime later her son is experimenting with the camera and sets it to take B&W photos, not colour. Unfortunately he leaves it set like this.
  3. When Gillian next uses the camera she quite reasonably doesn't want it still on B&W so she decides to set it back to colour. She doesn't know how to do this but, never mind, she'll give it a whirl. (Now, what could possibly go wrong with this idea, do I hear you ask?)
  4. Hmmm ... now, let's think: what would that be called in the camera's menu system? Well, the way photos look is something to do with their "format", is it not? Ah yes, look, here's a command in the menu, "Format": that's probably it - click, press, click to confirm, click this, click that, and off we go. Woohoo. Easy.
  5. Er. A sense of foreboding starts to assail Gillian. It's all taking a little while, there's a progress bar thingy, and what exactly did some of those warning screens actually say during all that clicking just now? I mean, yeah, it probably said something like "are you sure you want to change from B&W to Colour?" ... er ... didn't it?
  6. Hmmm.
  7. Oh dear.
  8. Gillian twigs that something has gone a bit off the beaten track here, and starts to worry.
  9. She presses lots of buttons. It won't stop.
  10. She takes the battery out. Yup, that's stopped it.
  11. Finally, she puts it all back together and turns it on. The memory card is corrupt. What now?
  12. (Note to non-computer people - yep, she's really knackered all her photos. Her memory card, the digital equivalent of film, is not well at all right now. It's all going a bit pear-shaped ...)

A while back I would not have known what to do at this point, except smile sympathetically and offer to make her a nice cup of tea. We are British, dammit. More recently however I bought some brilliant software to help me try to retrieve lost data from a floppy (remember them?), and I noticed in passing that it would also do memory cards of various sorts, in fact pretty much everything except actual hard drives.

Now, I am not usually optimistic about ... well about anything IT-related, really. A lifetime of bitterness and disappointment can do that to you. Nevertheless, having thoroughly warned her that I probably can't help I invite Gillian to bring the camera up for me to look at. Here's what happens:

  1. Gillian produces the camera's SD card and I shove it in a card reader on my PC. It goes tweet a bit but nothing much happens - it's not like I've plugged in a new drive, which would have been nicer than this sulking. Hmph. The mess of drives and card readers and network drives on my machine is horrendous so I am not even 100% sure which drive letter this card might be on (if any) but in the end I go for R: and try to open it.
  2. Nothing. The drive in R: is not formatted - do I want to format it now? Can't use the drive otherwise ...
  3. Er, no thanks. And I am still not sure that R: is this SD card.
  4. Start up magic software. On a vague suspicion, point it at this R: drive which is unusable by Windows.
  5. Aha - it is going to do a "Mode 2 Lost Files Recovery", whatever one of those is. It doesn't seem to think it matters that the R: drive needs formatted. I tell it to scan and after a while it starts listing files that it can recover. Woo! Lots of files - the holiday plus some previously downloaded. It doesn't know filenames any more so it just allocates them in sequence - file001.jpg and so on.
  6. Gillian goes and makes me a nice cup of tea. This is more like it. This is Positive Britishism. I like it.
  7. After some time the scan's complete, it's found 354 files and wants to know what to do with them.
  8. I save them to a folder on the desktop.
  9. I open this folder and show Gillian her pictures of her Grand Canyon helicopter trip, the pictures that she had thought were lost forever. She is very, very, very pleased indeed. So am I. It is quite a touching moment and could do with a good soundtrack.

File174 This is what I signed up for. Everyone knows I sometimes moan about my job: we all do; but, my word, when something like this happens I just think isn't it great that I work in IT and I can do stuff like this. So fantastically satisfying.

Matters arising or, if you like, the bill (not The Bill, you understand. Do try to keep up):

  • Advanced skills, education, etc used here by me: none. All I had to know was not to panic and that this software might help. Rocket science it ain't. The software itself could be operated by a bright toddler.
  • Time taken: about a cup of tea's worth.
  • Cost: we already owned the software. It cost us about $40 so it didn't exactly break the bank even the first time round.
  • Taking me away from my vital work in order to help a colleague with their domestic problem: net benefit due to intradepartmental goodwill and feelgood factor. And anyway there is a training benefit, like Prince William and his helicopter, so ner.
  • Effect on my self-esteem, notwithstanding the "bright toddler" bit: good, good, good.

So - not a bad outcome really. She's pleased and I feel great. Something has actually worked like it's meant to.

One technical thing that's interesting. It recovered, as I said, 354 files, mostly .jpgs with seven .avi files. I know the .avis are all OK; of the .jpgs 286 are fine and 61 are not - these last 61 have no metadata, cannot build a thumbnail, and in Photoshop they fail to open with the error "Could not complete your request because a SOFn, DQT, or DHT JPEG marker is missing before a JPEG SOS marker." These might be photos that Gillian took recently and that have been trashed beyond repair in the disaster, but I think it's just as possible that they are older stuff which was still on the card and was at least partly unerased, yet still not recoverable. Gillian was so pleased with what we did uncover that I don't yet know if she thinks some photos are still missing. It would be interesting to find out. I've asked what she thinks.

Note for non-computer people: computers hardly ever really erase anything much, even if you tell them to, or format your drive, or whatever. Not immediately, anyway. To get real erasure, guaranteed, you have to try extra-hard. (This is good if you are MI5 or FBI or someone and want to see the bomb plans that Blofeld thought he'd erased.) Usually all that happens is that it throws away the indexing - the tables that list files, that say where and what they are, all that stuff. But the files themselves are often just left alone - they are now used space that hasn't been cleared out but has been marked for re-use: it'll get new data written over it when it's needed, Windows can't see it, but it is, kind of, still there. Sometimes. It's difficult to find a really good analogy but imagine you'd chucked a load of paper files and you're going to recycle the paper. You've pulled it out of the filing cabinet and dumped it on the floor and thrown away all the indexes and folders and subject dividers - but you haven't yet sent it off for shredding so it's just in a big pile on the floor till you clear it. You could, at a pinch, reconstruct the information as it's all still there albeit in an unstructured mess. OK, it's a weak analogy but hey, my blog, baby. Now this software is made so it doesn't worry about the missing indexing information - it bypasses that and looks at the memory from a lower level (digs through the big pile of paper), seeking out recognizable files that it can rename (they've usually lost their names) and save again. And Bob's yer uncle! Mind you, sometimes stuff is really trashed ...

Finally(ish), what is this miracle software that has so delightfully made my day?

Step forward and take a bow, Bad Copy Pro from Jufsoft. It says here:

Comprehensive data recovery software for floppy disk, CD, DVD, Zip disk, digital media, and flash drive. Features include floppy disk repair, CD, DVD data recovery, digital camera cards images rescue, and retrieval of damaged or lost data from flash drive and removable disks.

.. and I say, er, yeah. Nice one. Let me tell you, if this software was a strawberry yoghurt it would be an extra-thick and creamy one with a delicious tangy but not oversweet taste, and huge lumps of succulent fruit.

Marks out of 10: about 179.

Recommendation: if you ever find yourself in this kind of a bind, just go and buy it.

Thank you Jufsoft for a brilliant, brilliant product and for reminding me why I like my job.

Vogel out.


DSCF3559It's been both stressful and fun in this period of bad or good weather and I hope, sooner or later, to have time to write up why, but I do not at the moment. For now, here is a certain medical school quadrangle looking pretty in the snow. 

Note that our students are medical students. They are famed for certain aspects of their behaviour. Suffice it, then, to say that I had to Photoshop the picture to reduce certain all-too-anatomically-correct, er, attributes of the snowman in the picture. I am not especially prudish but it really was a bit, ah, prominent for what I wanted to use as a more general-purpose picture. He is, or perhaps was now that the thaw is setting in, most certainly a snowman and really quite unashamed of it. Students eh? Bless.

O-a-blog™ - bizarre tableness

My orienteering club runs an internal league table, just for fun really. It nominates a number of events, some its own and some at near(-ish-)by clubs - 18 last season, 14 this. Then your best n events (for the last two seasons it's been your best 8) in the season are used, alongside a handicap system, to decide your place in the league.

I am bemused to note that last season I came in the twenties, in close proximity to some people whom I respect very much as orienteers. Does this mean I am really that good? Sadly, no: it is an accident of the handicapping system which aims to reflect historical performance (and hence show improvement) and is I think friendly to bad orienteers and initially at least to those who manage fewer events. So I did not really "beat", say, Hedley C, who has actually tutored me in a training session - I've had beginner benefit from the handicap, is all; and he did not. The more events I get to and the more I appear in the league so the more accurate will my handicap become, so I could not expect an apparently good outcome like this another time round.

My orienteering got off to a bad start this season - I managed a few events in the early autumn then none for ages, then restarted around Christmas. So my league place will still, I suspect, be a bit floaty. On the other hand, since Christmas I have been much better about watching the calendar, getting my entries in punctually[1], and so I have a much clearer programme of league-featured (and other) events coming up. This should start to nail down my true league performance and I will not then be expecting to see myself in the twenties! At the moment I'm almost in the fifties, with only two qualifying events (should be three but I mispunched[1] at Eridge! Idiot!!) and I suspect that's maybe a truer picture.

Oh well. It really really doesn't matter. If I did orienteering because I had to win and see myself at the top of league tables it would be different. Fortunately, I do not: indeedy no.


  1. But that's another story.

Weight a minute

Yes I am trying to lose weight. Again.

Excuse me a moment.


Thank you.


I seem very short of time at the moment, one way or another, and this blog is getting neglected. This is annoying as there are quite a few things about which I'd like to write. I will have to try to reorganize myself and make time somehow. I apologize to readers for the shoddy service.

Maybe I need to have another little crisis about what gets written up in full, what gets truncated into sketchy notes, and what gets dropped altogether: this got me through the St Anne's Gig-A-Blog backlog quite well and might serve for other topics. Watch this space.

They're dreadful truisms but it doesn't mean they're not true:

  • Striving for perfection is sometimes (often/always) the enemy of getting it done at all (yes blatant and bad paraphrase I know but hey)[1].
  • if you are trying to write you really need to write something every day, whether or not you feel like it. Otherwise your writing muscles start to atrophy.

It does not help that I am currently surrounded by malfunctioning computer equipment, at work and home both, and every time I try to do something ... anything ... either something else breaks, or I break the internet, or the end falls off ... gah! This is known as the Reverse Midas Touch.


  1. Oh alright I knew I couldn't let myself get away with that. Bl**dy nitpicker. Here we go: Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien, Voltaire, from Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764) "The best is the enemy of the good", but often rendered as "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Which is kinda sorta nearly what I nearly said, n'est-ce pas?