Monday, 10 October 2011

Sunshine farm goes live

Monday morning greetings from the solar powered computer lady! My Sunny Boy 1700 has just ramped up for another day's work generating free electricity from the rather gloomy and dull Caversham skies. It's an effort to tear myself away from its digital display for long enough to tell you about it.

I've thought really really hard about Solar Energy and I still can't see the catch. You get some panels put on your roof, and a cable comes down from them and into a smart red box (the aforementioned Sunny Boy). Some cables snake neatly from that into your fuse box so you can use the power you generate to write blogs without troubling the national grid. On top of that, a meter shows how much you have generated and you get 43p for every unit from an electricity company. Even though you've used it. I know, it's mad.

The whole project was managed for me by Roland Lee and Allan Tyrrell of FIT Solar Panels. Two things you need to know about Roland and Allan:
  1. They love the concept of solar energy more than the concept of making a fast buck. Good Lord, they remind me of myself!
  2. Everybody who works with them is a genius at doing an unobtrusive and damn near perfect job.
So all you have to do is call them and say you want some of those solar panel thingies. They send you a contract to sign. This includes some unintelligible info like Va+Vc = x but have faith, it will come right.

Presently a letter comes from the council saying planning permission has been granted. Next some cheerful men turn up and erect some scaffolding while singing popular songs. Then some roofers come and refurbish your roof, closely followed by Roland who has been awake all night trying to figure out what is the most efficient configuration for your particular roof. Then an electrician arrives and does the wiring, all the while apologising for getting in the way.

And it's done! Watching the Sunny Boy cough out its first unit is one of the most exciting things you are likely to encounter this Autumn.

The chances are that your roof is bigger than mine and your home uses less electricity. Your excitement and income will also be bigger than mine.

Finally - an intimate close-up of one of my panels.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Monday, 3 October 2011

Bejeweled Blitz wrecks lives

Bejeweled Blitz is an innocent puzzle game available from Facebook. You need to make rows of 3 gems and each game lasts only 1 minute. 60 seconds. Plenty of time for a game between sips of tea.

You need to understand, though, that this game is made by PopCap who have been making simple and addicting games for over 10 years. I still shudder to think of the lost year of 2003 when I did nothing but play "Big Money" all night and all day. At the time I was a development programmer and spent many hours on conference calls. I managed to keep it together by learning to say "Uhuh" while clicking like a demon on areas of matching colour.

But that was nothing compared to my current Bejeweled problem. They have integrated it with Facebook so well that it has added an element of cut-throat competition. In 2003, we could play at a leisurely pace, competing only with ourselves. Now, my friends appear on my screen with ridiculously high scores that one feels can only be achieved by cheating. In a stroke of brilliance, the scores are reset every week, so every week you must prove yourself all over again.

Just one more game... it only takes a minute.

Don't touch Bejeweled. Before long it becomes your career. A career with no pay and lousy prospects.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Clean your laptop screen

This picture shows a classically filthy laptop screen, carefully prepared for this demonstration by my 13 year old twins. Their techniques include sneezing, pointing at things with jammy fingers and attempting to clean it using a hoodie sleeve.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that cleaning things is not generally my forte. I make an exception for laptop screens though, because they have the grace to look tons better with very little effort. That is why I smile with delight if someone brings an especially manky laptop into the workshop.

I have tried all manner of screen wipes and been disappointed time and time again. Some of them go completely dry the minute they are exposed to air. Many just merge all the marks on the screen into a murky cloud-shaped smudge.

Over the years I have developed my own way which I will now share with you, you lucky readers.

Here's how:
  1. Take 2 sheets of kitchen roll and lay one on top of the other.
  2. Fold this in half then half again.
  3. Put the tiniest imaginable drop of washing-up liquid in the centre of this wad.
  4. Run the whole thing under the tap. (The wad!! Not the laptop!!! Phew..)
  5. Now you don't want to drip water into your laptop. If this happens, don't come crying to me. So what you've got to do is squeeze your homemade wipe. Put it flat between your palms and squeeeeze. Feel the burn in your biceps. Squeeze it again. Look at your wipe and ask yourself if it's going to drip. If the answer is "Maybe" squeeze it again. Repeat until convinced.
  6. Clean your screen with the wipe.
  7. Polish it off with a soft cloth. Something like an old T-shirt will do nicely.
  8. There you go! While you're at it you might as well run the wipe over the keyboard and anywhere else that might need it.
Enjoy the marvellous satisfaction that comes from having cleaned something really easily.

Here's the twinnies computer after the magic wipe.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Panic causes internet outage

I thought you might enjoy this photo of my networking cabinet, as it rather puts you in mind of those puzzles you used to get in comics - where you have to find which balloon goes with which string.

If you're good at these puzzles, you will see that the blue thing (the router) is not in fact plugged into the black thing (the cable modem) but is instead plugged into itself. As a rule of thumb, things being plugged into themselves is NOT GOOD in a networking context.

I spent the weekend making angry calls to Virgin Media Business complaining that their cable modem was no longer working. Boy was my face red when I had to phone and confess that the problem may have resolved itself.

After 5 years helping people sort out their networks, it is interesting to note that I too am subject to such stupidity. In my defence, all I can say is: the internet blipped out on Friday at the about the same time that 4 people came through the door of the workshop, while another 10 phoned us. Furthermore, all my ethernet cables are the same colour.

So here's my tip of the day. Computer problems can often be resolved by going upstairs and watching Coronation Street catchup with a nice cup of tea.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Should We Friend Our Children?

When I was a girl, as soon as I got home from school I would phone the friend I just left at the bus stop 5 minutes ago. What news could I have possibly have generated in 5 minutes? I can't imagine, but I know it took a good half an hour to get off my chest, with the constant burble of my mum saying "Hang up now dear" in the background. Young teenagers just need this opportunity to communicate at length, to us Golden Oldies it may seem like senseless drivel but hey!

Parents of older children will know that the BT landline has largely been replaced today by Facebook, with endless opportunities for exchanging nonsense, jokes, gossip and sometimes nastiness - night and day.

This has led me and my friends to debate the interesting moral question - should we friend our children? By being Facebook friends, you get to see exactly what they're saying. Most of my friends believe that, in the argot of youth, this would just be weird (when did weirdness get such a bad reputation?) and would make you a "stalker".

I used to think that too, though I did continue to be weird and stalkery on the quiet. But now I've changed my mind. I no longer think that we can use Facebook as a private place. Not just your parents, but the whole of the world will be able to peep at you and make conclusions that could affect your career, your friends, your safety and your happiness. Sure, only people who you've added can see your private stuff. Let's remember though, if you have less than 300 "friends" then you are a billy-no-mates. When my kids swear, are being bullied, share photos that are much too grown-up and are mean to others, I want to know. There are other more private channels for that sort of thing.

My own Facebook contacts include my parents and my children and I too have had to learn to tone it down. The challenge is to be funny and interesting without being rude. It's hard, especially when you're young and 300 friends are ready to tear you down and suggest that you are uncool. But it's a great skill for life, and there are many many fine examples of people that have mastered it posting on the walls on me and my family.

So.. Facebook.. let's keep it sweet.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fragment of a Country and Western Song

An experiment in merging two fields: the annoying updates situation that we all endure every day with the raw and simple emotions of American C&W.

Honey - You Have Updates

I'd be at your door
But you ain't compatible no more
You fail to install
So don't want you to call
We ought to be kissing
But your drivers are missing

Honey, you have updates
You need to restart
You have 99 updates
Start downloading to your heart

(Any amendments or additions gratefully received by the author)

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Well it made me laugh

This is Andy's sarcastic application for a job as a game designer. It made me laugh like a drain. I'm not sure whether it will only appeal to computer geeks... you decide.

I'd like to hand forward my application, which I will be doing through this post.

I'm 18 from the UK, and I have always loved designing and creating things. I've hoped this would lead me into the game development industry and I believe that being in this project would be extremely beneficial to me, and also to the team who will use my art. All my skills are self-taught, but I have spent years practicing and developing them.

Here are a few examples of my work:

This is a piece I worked on for the past few weeks, it took me a while but I'm finally happy with the result. Originally I intended to portray an intelligent creature with an unexpected appearance. I decided to go with something that, at first looked completely harmless, however it is an incredibly dangerous monster. The slime it leaves behind is an extremely toxic cyanide mixture that is naturally exuded from the skin. Coming into contact with it will result in almost immediate death. The mustache is a comic sign of it's intelligence which I wanted to include.

With this I wanted to create a common but fearsome enemy. It has a vivid and colourful appearance which I thought could indicate how dangerous it is, much like how poisonous toads appear. However this mammal isn't poisonous, its main attack method is to jump and land on its foe upside-down in a backflip style movement. The three spikes are razor-sharp and can penetrate any material, which makes it a perilous foe. The facial expression never changes, and gives the monster an eery shocked look which will unsettle any creature.

Here is the last piece I will show. It is a basic human sprite, with a few differences. Firstly the hair isn't hair at all, instead the character features a flaming mane that burns at approx. 500C. This could be something it could take advantage of by headbutting any enemy it faces. Because he has this unique ability I felt that the only way to include this would be to make him impervious to heat or fire. He is missing a hand, yet in the other he carries a Kukri which he weilds with an expert skill level. To nerf this I decided to give him two stubs instead of feet, so he has to hobble when he walks and running is painful for him.

I hope you'll consider my application when deciding who to bring into your team, thank you for reading.

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