Aiming for invisibility…

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, House on February 26th, 2013 by Coffee

Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference. In this particular instance I’m thinking of the sudden lack of any (visible) cables being emitted from the TV hanging on the wall. Magic!

When we installed all the network, satellite and aerial cabling oh so long ago we neglected to install an HDMI cable, frankly because we were rank amateurs (apart from Kelly, but the IT guys don’t really generally care about TV’s). But luckily the professionals that came after us to connect up all the wires to actual sockets thought that perhaps one day we might like to be able to do so, and very kindly drilled some nice wide holes and installed a pull wire or three. We only needed one (so far), but what a life saver it was!

  • So. First step: After convincing my able assistant it was a good time to attempt this task, the initial issue was to work out which of the three pull wires went from the receiver box to the box behind the TV instead of straight up to the roof. Which generally involved tugging randomly until a wire moved more often than the other two.
  • Second step: Work out which way it was most inclined to be pulled.
  • Third step: Use massive amounts of duct tape to tie the HDMI cable to the pull wire (trying to make a nice conical shape at the front to assist in travelling though holes in studs).
  • Fourth step: Pull wire with fingers crossed, and to helpful advice such as “I don’t know how this is meant to work”, “It’s not going to work”, “It’s stuck”, etc…
  • Fifth step: Try to mask surprise and look generally like I was confident all the time when the mass of duct tape appears on the end of the wire a lot sooner than we thought it should. I swear we were only a third of the way through, and hadn’t come close to clearing the difficult 90 degree turns, but apparently we had. Joy!
  • Sixth step: swap over all the wall boxes and install some blanks around the wire to avoid any mice thinking it’s a nice entry/exit hole for them!

I have to say we were both almost as surprised as when we managed to suck a fishing line from the pump shed. But it was a very, very nice surprise! Especially after putting it off for so long.

tidy cords

That’s obviously the receiver end. There’s really not much point of showing you just a TV on the wall!

So, another job ticked off. What next?!

The problem with surround sound…

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, House on November 6th, 2011 by Coffee that it needs so many bloody connections for the speakers!

We’d very carefully added all the wires in the walls when playing cable monkey earlier, but there’d always been a bit of messiness where all the wires exited the walls and tried to make it to the stereo. Even harder when there’s extra wires for some outdoor speakers as well.

So while in the UK I managed to pick up a nice little unit to tidy that up. I’m trying very hard to forget just how much it cost me to pick it up. But at least I know that a) it was still a lot cheaper than I could get anything even remotely similar here for, and b) I know where there’s at least something that looks like a bit of gold to sell if the gold price keeps on rising!

It’s taken a few weeks to get around to installing it though. The thought of making bigger holes in the freshly painted walls took a bit of getting over. And a bit of organisation. We had to go to the local hardware store and try to get across the technical details of the tool that we needed to extend the Gib holes. Luckily the guy there knew exactly what we were trying to describe and took us right to it. Apparently they’re technically called a “wall board saw”. They’re a lethal looking thing. Imagine the most lethal diving knife you’ve seen, then double how lethal it looks and you might get close!

But luckily the wall and I both survived the surgery required to insert the new backing box and the main connection unit. And all the speakers still seem to work too. Success! Tick that job off the list. Still a few more to go…

Meet the Most Important Ship in the World!

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, Rants And Rambles on February 2nd, 2011 by Coffee

Well, it is to us, anyway! The ADRIAN MAERSK.

Why so important? It’s got all our stuff on it, of course!

Looking at the picture, I really hope our stuff is buried somewhere in the middle, and not in one of the containers dangling on the top edge.

The current vessel track is where I check most, but with over 600 ships around Antwerp it’s a bit slow. I’m guessing it will speed up a bit when it finally starts heading somewhere that’s useful to us, like the Pacific. Enough pootling around the Channel, OK?!

The tracking link the shipping guys sent us was so crap that I had to find an alternative site, and I’m now kinda addicted to that one. Although I am slightly worried that when I did a search before it didn’t come up with Lyttelton as a port. But when I zoomed in on New Zealand I did locate ships heading there, so I guess it does exist. I really hope so!

Well, whaddaya know!

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, House on January 20th, 2011 by Coffee

Problem: 70-80 meters of 25mm irrigation pipe that may or may not need to have a bit of cable pulled though it at some stage. And not a lot of time left to sort something out before one end of the pipe gets covered by Gib.

Solution: Some fishing line, a borrowed vacuum cleaner, some insulation tape, the corner of a supermarket bag, and about 20 seconds!

I’d read about this method on the interwebs, but had my doubts. But in the end it worked amazingly well. Tape the vacuum cleaner hose over the end of the pipe, tie the chopped off corner of the bag on the end of the fishing line (tightly, of course!) and poke in the hole, take a deep breath and turn on the vacuum cleaner and stand well back!

I just had to hold the reel of line sideways and the line flew off amazingly quickly. Scarily quickly! I’m glad we borrowed the old crappy vacuum cleaner, and not the new more powerful model otherwise my fingers might have been at risk if anything went a bit awry.

After about 20 seconds of frantic activity the line stopped being dragged into the pipe, so we switched off the vacuum cleaner (through a predetermined series of arm waving manoeuvres), pulled off the vacuum hose and had a look. And there was the line. Magic!

I soooo wish I’d had a video camera handy! I’m almost tempted to do it again just to prove it works. I guess if the line breaks when we try to use it to pull some string or cable though it we’ll just have to!

This month’s new toy…

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff on November 16th, 2010 by Coffee

It seems an age since I’ve had any new tech toys. Possibly understandable as we’ve been living out of suitcases for so long, but I thought it was about time I got myself a pressie. This time it’s a Amazon Kindle 3G. An E-Book reader. With a few tricks up its sleeves.

The most clever trick is that the 3G version can have new books delivered to it wirelessly over the cellphone network worldwide. (For a given value of “worldwide” of course, but it seems to cover anywhere I’m likely to be for the next few years anyway!) And for free once you’ve bought the Kindle. So I can get my UK books in NZ through my account, I hope.

So far it’s been a fun little toy. Same sort of size as a medium paperback and light enough to read with easily, even with the leather cover I also got to protect the screen. I can see Bec heaving a sigh of relief that maybe soon we’ll be able to go on holiday without the suitcase full of books that always seems to be needed! The e-ink screen itself is a bit of a revelation too. Not backlit like a normal laptop or tablet screen, so it’s really easy on the eyes, even with the small font I like to use. It does mean you need to have some form of lighting to read by though, and can’t hide under the covers with it. But it’s really impressive, and means the battery life is too.

The only issue I have so far is that a couple of books have some very odd formatting in them that adds white space in between paragraphs that is a bit annoying, especially when reading dialogue. And there doesn’t appear to be any way to fix this. But other books are fine, so I guess it’s up to the way individual books are published.

I’m still not sure how I feel about it all though. I really love my paper books, and there’s no way I’ll be getting rid of them all and/or getting electronic copies of the all, but the price of books in NZ has scared me since we’ve been back, and this might take some of the pain away until print copies are either on special or reduce in price in NZ.

Oh, and a couple of mildly interesting facts I’ve found out about books in the UK over the last couple of weeks. 1) There is no VAT charged on books in the UK, which could be used to explains a very small amount of the difference in price between countries, and 2) VAT is charged on electronic copies of books. Go figure. One more reason why a flat sales tax makes more sense than arbitrary distinctions for taxing some products not others…


Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff, Travel on May 5th, 2010 by Coffee

Following on from the enigma of the last post, another enigma…

Enigma Machine

This one is a slightly different beast!

We took a trip up north a bit the other weekend to collect the last of the belongings that we’d had stored up in “Kiwi Corner”, and to take the chance to catch up with a few other friends in Milton Keynes. I managed to convince Bec that the only thing that almost passed for a tourist attraction there is Bletchley Park, home to the WWII code breaking effort. Well, unless you’re some sort of roundabout freak, or something….

The story of what went on there has somehow made it into my head over the years, and was brought to life especially in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, so it has been a place I’d long wanted to visit.

The park itself was an interesting mix of old mansion and coach houses etc., with barrack type sheds and all sorts of other temporary (at the time) building shoved all over the place. As they were obviously so temporary some have started to feel the ravages on time, but recently with the help of some extra funding a good amount of restoration has started, with the most historically important sheds naturally being done first. The grounds themselves look like there hasn’t ever been too long between visits from a gardener and would have been a great place for a picnic. If we’d had any food. Or it was close to a meal-time. Which we didn’t and it wasn’t. But we had a nice stroll around anyway.

As well as the buildings and grounds, there was the main event. Various displays of both old and newly rebuilt code breaking and decoding equipment, along with various displays relating to the war period. Some obvious highlights such as the Turing bombe rebuild project, and the Enigma machines themselves.

It’s still pretty mind-blowing to think of the thought and ingenuity involved in all of this. And, of course, this was pretty much where the beginnings of modern computing, erm, began!

Which means it was no surprise to find that The National Museum of Computing is situated in a few buildings on the edge of the park. There has obviously been a bit more cash (or at least a bit more cash per square metre) for this bit. Not surprising really given the subject matter. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been too hard to squeeze a wodge of cash out of Microsoft or IBM or similar to get a wall painted now and then…

It was really fun to see all the old computers I first started out using at home and at friends places. Here’s the second computer I really used, and the first one I/we owned.

I still say a huge silent thank you to Mum for buying it whenever I see one, as without the Spectrum at home I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t’ be doing what I’m doing now. So here’s a slightly less silent thank you: Thanks Mum!

All in all it was a really interesting place to wander around, and I’m really glad I got to see it. I just hope they manage to secure a bit more funding so they can perhaps find a way to tell the story of the place in a slightly more integrated way than it felt at the moment. But as you get a yearly pass with your ticket, if we’re ever passing though Milton Keynes again in the next year I’d consider another visit to see if I could spot things we no doubt missed. I might even consider taking a picnic too…

Moving blogs about…

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff on April 7th, 2010 by Coffee

Hopefully this has gone by pretty much unnoticed by you, but I’ve just shifted the server this blog is hosted on in preparation for some pretty big infrastructure changes here in the next few months.

A few things currently still look a bit different as I still need to track down some of the changes I made the the template that ran the previous version and redo them in the updated one, but all in all I’m pretty happy with how the move went. No major dramas, no databases getting lost… All pretty smooth!

Cross fingers it continues like that!

If it walks, talks, smells, and looks like a duck…..

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff on January 14th, 2010 by Coffee

My new ‘puter had been giving me bit of grief the last couple of days. It would lock up completely, or just shut itself down and refuse to restart for a while and all sorts of other crazy stuff. All the symptoms would normally have made me suspect that the CPU was overheating, but I ruled that out based on the fact that:

  • the motherboard is meant to have a temperature sensor on it that beeps if there is an overheat;
  • the desktop temperature gauges didn’t show any temps high;
  • the CPU heatsink wasn’t feeling hot at all;
  • there was no hot, burning smell coming from the inside of the box!

So I tried all sorts of other things to narrow down what else it could be. Taking bits out, changing all sorts of settings etc, etc, etc… No luck. Still freezing now and then.

Today I finally gave in and took the whole motherboard out and prepared to replace it with another lower spec spare. Just before I put the other one in, I noticed that one of the CPU fan corner clips wasn’t fully locked down. Clicked that properly into place, put everything back in the case and connected everything up, and voila! So far today it’s been a nice, stable machine again. Fingers crossed, but it looks like it’s all fixed now. So it’s entirely likely that it was a CPU overheat issue after all!


For a hint at the moral of the story, see the post title!

I have to say though that I am absolutely amazed that the box is still functioning at all! Only a couple of years ago if the heatsink was as loose as this one was today then there would be lots of smoke and burning smells coming from the case. It’s happened to me twice before. Indeed it’s how I managed to come by the need to get a new PC this time around. Modern CPUs and motherboards are obviously just incredible! I won’t be trying to push them too hard just to see what they can take though… Stable is good.

Barcode update

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff on January 6th, 2010 by Coffee

Because I know you’re dying to know, I can confirm that I now can indeed scan a CD, DVD or BD disc barcode and get any details I consider relevant.

You can breathe again now!

Now to work out what to do with the info!…

Just me and my barcode scanner….

Posted in Geeky Tech Stuff on January 4th, 2010 by Coffee

Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed that in the picture we posted earlier of on the stack of goodies that santa was a grey handle looking thing. My new friend a barcode scanner!

Normal question about now is “A barcode scanner?! What the hell do you want a barcode scanner for?!”

And it’s a pretty reasonable question! On its own it’s pretty useless, but with the little program I’ve managed to throw together tonight I can now scan the barcode on any of my books and, courtesy of a large online retailer, the title and author (plus a whole lot of other info if I want it) is magically returned to me to do what I want with! It should even work for DVDs and CDS too, with minimal extra work. And let me chuck them in a database. Or whatever. The final use has yet to be determined, but it’s been fun so far!

Although getting everything up and running with said retailer took a bit of jumping though hoops. You might have noticed that the books on the right sidebar haven’t been updated for a while. That’s because they made getting the info just a bit harder a while ago, and so the scripts I was using to get the details before stopped working. Hopefully now I can get around to fixing that too!

Yes, it’s winter here and little things keep us entertained!