I’ve just had my second laptop hard-drive die on me in about 6 months. After much hassle, I am finally back with access to MOST of my data (down to a nice little auto-incremental backup tool I use).

The only thing that went smoothly was restoring Firefox — those guys really are getting ahead of the industry in terms of install/reinstall usability now. I literally just downloaded the install, ran it, used MozBackup to restore my profile (which I had rushed to save as soon as the laptop starting making grinding noises…) and now I’m back. With all my (many thousands of) bookmarks, saved logins and even my plugins loaded for me. No effort whatsoever.

It got me thinking though — lots of people get very worried about their stuff being hosted. I’ve heard people who object to Flickr because “the servers might go down and I’d lose EVERYTHING!”. I suppose they have a point, especially when their data is being encrypted away from them (not the case with Flickr, but there are some offenders).

The other side of the argument is this though: do you really think that your hardware and backup regimen is BETTER than that of the company you are concerned about?

When my harddrive started making sounds like it was trying to grind sand into powder, I was suddenly very happy that so much of my life was online. The really important bookmarks? Largely on delicious and this blog. The photos? Flickr. OK, so my document management is a little haphazard — I imagine I can fix that.

I’m quite enjoying relying on other people to keep systems up and running, to make sure backups are happening of my stuff on the web. They seem to be a lot better at it than I want to have to be 😉

Over on SvN there’s been some discussion about the ideal mobile phone UI and how it hasn’t really been designed yet.

I imagine the market in the USA may be completely different, but from what I know about the South African and UK mobile phone markets, I think that the lack of progress in simplifying the user interface design of mobile phones may in fact be deliberate.

The reality is that pretty much all brands of mobile phones have their unique brand of user interface. The usability isn’t great in ANY of them — pick up a strange phone and half the time you can’t even work out how to make a call! Some people view this as a real limitation and only really learn how to use a very few functions of their phones. More often, especially amongst younger people, a LOT of time is invested in working out how to use the phone, finding all the hidden little features that are badly (or not at all!) documented. Learning how to use your new phone is almost like a game.

With each successive phone, however, it can get very tedious to learn how to do the bog-standard things (making a call, sending a text) all over again. Even those who like the challenge would prefer to be finding NEW functionality rather than rediscovering the wheel every time they buy a phone. This is what leads to self-imposed brand lockin.

In the UK, there are many people who won’t even consider moving away from the brand of mobile phone that they first bought (and invested the time to learn how to operate). There are Nokia people, Motorola people and Ericsson people, but very few people move brand, unless there is a really distinctive new feature to move across for. One such example was the introduction of the Motorola Razr — the thin shape was so desirable that many people crossed the brand line to try the new phone.

When you consider that the cellphone manufacturers have actually managed to get people to self-impose brand lockin, it’s hardly surprising that they continue to keep the UI divergent and non-intuitive! After all, this has previously been a great strategy in other markets — you can’t tell me that there’s any other reason that usability lock-in to explain the prevalence of Lotus Notes?

This story about Sony losing the battle to stop a supplier selling mod chips for Playstations is very interesting. Essentially, the Playstation had the first real form of DRM — you couldn’t play copies of games without patching the hardware.

This ruling says that mod chips are not an infringement of copyright. I wonder how long it will be before we see similar test cases with CD players, DVD players and so on. I think this decision, however insignificant it might seem now, will potentially bring about the downfall of DRM.

But hell, what do I know? 😉

Thanks to the increasingly successful campaign for people to design with web standards, many sites display well in all manner of browsers. I’ve been noticing recently, though, that people are really not testing on different hardware. This is most notable when the site has evidently been designed on a Mac, where the screens are bright and colour balanced.

Some examples that I’ve noticed recently include Simplebits, Stopdesign and Antenna. I was also reading an entry recently (which of course I now cannot find!) where someone had not realised until they used a Windows computer how terribly pink their image header for their blog looked.

I’m sure that many of you are reading this now on a Mac and have visited those sites and your response is “Huh? What’s the problem?” Well, you see all that text that is light against a dark background (like the whole of Antenna and the about bit of the Simplebits site) — it’s illegible. On my Linux laptop, my main desktop and my Windows laptop. Completely illegible. Even if I whack up the brightness completely, I still have to increase the font size for the text to be defined well enough to read.

I understand that one of the things that y’all love (and, if I’m being honest, I do too) about those machines is the crisp, anti-aliased prettiness that results from the screen and the rendering. But I’m sure that sometimes you are all pitching to people not on Macs, who perhaps won’t understand what the problem is. Who will think that you’re muppets, that you don’t understand colour, or that you couldn’t be bothered to test your site properly.

So please, everyone, go find a public library or an internet cafe or something and look at your site on a different machine. Try also to test with a CRT and a LCD. I’m sure you’ll be amazed and perhaps appalled at the difference it can make.

Equally, the opposite does apply and if I’m blinding anyone, please let me know 😉

PS I know you are all really excited about Tiger, but doesn’t EVERYONE need to write multiple blogs posts about their experience?? I mean really? You’re polluting my blogosphere here 😛

My watch broke last week. This was a major event for me, since I a) love the watch and b) check the damn thing every 2 minutes because I’m so busy I have to live by the clock. So I sent it in to get sorted (the lovely people at Animal have replaced the broken strap for free twice now, because they think that watch straps shouldn’t break) and they rang me yesterday to let me know what was up with it. I was in the middle of something and so not really in info-receiving mode when I spoke to them. I remember the key points (that my watch is being fixed, that they’re also going to whack a new battery in it and check the mechanism), but not the details (when I’ll get my watch back!!).

So, my personal organic memory has failed me. I wonder though, with Moore’s Storage Law resulting in affordable storage like 1 Terabyte harddrives, how long it will take before my cellphone has the capacity to record every conversation I have automatically, just IN CASE I want to go back and listen to something again.

So I decided to install Debian 3.0 Woody on my IBM Thinkpad 570, as I was having a few problems with Sarge. As an aide to my own memory, as well as help to anyone else trying to do the same, I thought I’d document the attempt

The Install

First of all I downloaded the mini disk set for the 2.4 kernel — although I have an Ultrabase I couldn’t get it to boot off the CD, so went the external floppy disk drive route. I used the fantastic RawWrite for Windows to write the images — it worked excellently under XP on my win laptop. Stepping through the install was fairly easy — I chose to keep all in one partition with a swap of 301Mb (the first time around when I installed Sarge it ran out of room in the system partition, so this seemed safer) I took the option of having extra kernel modules for USB Mass Storage, Infrared, Sound (cs46xx.o module) and a couple of other bits and pieces.

I had hoped to do the base system install over the ‘net and the install even managed to detect my PCMCIA ethernet card (a 3Com MegaHertz model 3CCFE574BT) and automatically loaded the appropriate kernel module (3c574_cs), but unfortunately although I could configure the network and the lights were on on the dongle showing it was connected, the system told me that my network was “configured but not activated” and no amount of fiddling would fix this. So I went the labour-intensive route and cut the install floppies (all 20!) to install the base system that way. On the up side, as soon as I’d rebooted the network worked perfectly.


There is more detailed discussion in some of the references below, but the summary of my config is:

  • Monitor: Defined it using the Advanced option, HorizRefresh 30-60; VertRefresh 50-75, which then allowed for 1024×768 resolution; selected 16 bit so it would run faster
  • Mouse: Selected as /psaux, type PS/2 and this worked fine for the built-in trackpoint
  • Keyboard: Selected p101 keyboard, uk layout and this seemed to work fine, even though the keyboard of course only has 85 keys
  • PCMCIA: Automagically worked
  • Ethernet: 3Com MegaHertz model 3CCFE574BT worked when defined as the Intel chipset type and “auto” for selection of speed as the RJ45 dongle shows both 10 and 100; working fine since the original reboot
  • Infrared: I selected the recommended modules for the kernel during the install, but haven’t had chance to play with this yet
  • Sound: As mentioned previously, I built the cs46xx.o module into the kernel during the initial Woody install; since the upgrade to Sarge it isn’t working, but that I think is something to do with ALSA having been installed (but I don’t really know!)
  • Power Management: Installed APM as a module in the kernel during the install process. This means I can hit Fn-F4 to suspend and so on — all seems to work fine. Update: It works more than fine. On Monday I took the laptop up to uni with me and used it a bit to take notes in lectures (and show off the new toy) — this left it at about 80% of battery. I then put it on suspend by pressing Fn-F4 and two days later it’s still got 35% battery. So get APM working properly — because you’re worth it!
  • Modem: Since I haven’t used a modem in at least 3 years, didn’t bother to try and get the modem set up. Apparently the drivers are evil binary only as well so you might need to soul search (bottom par)

Useful Sources of Info

Having sorted out all the hardware, decided to try and install Debian Sarge on my Thinkpad 570. First off, I was really impressed by the new Debian Installer. I only needed to cut 3 floppies (one boot, one root and one for the net drivers) and once it had started it manage to fix up the PCMCIA LAN card with no worries. It downloaded the rest of the base system and restarted.

This was when I started to hit problems. Whenever the laptop restarted itself (or I restarted it using Alt-Ctrl-Del) it failed to come back up again … couldn’t mount the hard drive. Power-cycling fixed the issue, so I assume it’s something like APM is missing from the kernel. I toyed with compiling a new kernel (and found a nice quick kernel tut), but tried to run Tasksel first to see if I could get the graphical environment up and running. Tasksel runs, but when you ask it to install a graphical environment it kicks up a fuss and claims it can’t install half of KDE.

That — and the fact that the Tasksel menu under Testing doesn’t appear to have the “Laptop” menu option anymore — made the decision. I’m going to try and install Woody for now instead. Hopefully that will have a bit more of the support needed than Testing, which is understandably still work in progress 😉