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Bloody Nokia...

Email woes
After doing a "soft reset" of my phone (there is apparently no firmware available, nor does there appear to be any "as-new reset" option?) - a Nokia 6230i - I had NO emails. I sent two to Mick, one to Ewen, and received one back from Mick - all short ones, maybe 20K in total? - only to be greeted with "Record store full". Yes, the phone wimped out after four messages. The email software reported the folders were full. Upon quitting and reloading the software, I had about 1% used, 99% free. But trying to open the received email resulted in... "Record store full". I had to delete one of my sent messages in order to read the incoming.
There is no way you can assure me that this facility was properly tested. I mean, to fail with 40 emails I could possibly understand, after all it is a mobile phone, not a PDA nor a laptop. But FOUR????

Message woes
Somebody sends me texts quite prolifically. I tend to store them in a folder separate from my "Received messages", in order to be tidy.
Recently my phone started warning me that it was getting full. I have 15.4Mb free on the phone's internal memory, but it can only hold so many text messages. Bizarrely there does not appear to be a way to see how many messages are used/free. I can tell you this phone has sent 3183 messages and received 2756; but I cannot tell you how many messages I have on the phone. This is further complicated by the fact that messages may be multi-part, making adding them all up to be difficult. I think I may have space for about 100 messages, which is quite small (why not more, given the ~8Mb free memory!?!?).
So I used the PC software (and bluetooth link) to copy out the messages from that save folder, and then delete them from the phone. Well, it worked, but along the way it seriously cocked up the other messages on my phone. I have bits of one message run on from bits of another, in places. I wonder if this is down to the "record store" getting its pointers in a muddle? Still, it is somewhat unforgivable to make that sort of error in what isn't an unusual task.


Mobile data prices

You might ask why I am interested in sending emails from my phone, given that it is possibly one of the most unfriendly ways to write an email - and Nokia offers no software to access the email functions for off-line compositing of messages. Well, the reason is simple...
  • One minute of mobile communication internationally - about €0,60
  • One 160 character SMS sent internationally - €0,30
  • One MMS sent internationally - €1,10
  • 10K of data transferred via GPRS - €0,15
It's all over the place! While MMS may seem hideously expensive, it is actually the best value for raw data transfer as you can have up to 1000 characters of message and photo/video/sound of up to 300K.
I prefer to 'write', so for me, the best value would really be GPRS. If be assume 7K can be sent, allowing 3K for login and headers and such, that is around 7000 characters. For 15 centimes. The same in SMS would cost an astonishing €13! The mobile operators certainly know how to milk the money from us - by making texts simple and easy and frightfully expensive. Are you aware that for international SMS, it runs to nearly €2000 per megabyte? Or nationally to €750ish/Mb? That is about twice the monthly rental of a direct-to-satellite broadband link. It's no wonder the EU is upset with mobile operator tariffs!
Between you and me, I would be happier to pay slightly more for my GPRS in return for a larger slice - for example €0,45/Mb or somesuch.
And, importantly... my friends tell me to set my phone to be always-on GPRS connection for it works out a hell of a lot cheaper than connecting as required (and getting hit for €0,15 a time). So I did an experiment. I asked Mick to bounce back two short texts, while I enabled GPRS always-on. What happened was the GPRS was on. Then the SMS arrived so GPRS was disabled, then re-enabled. The second SMS arrived, so GPRS was disabled for reception, then re-enabled afterwards. Calling *144# for my remaining credit showed that the entire operation, less then a minute with no actual GPRS data transfer on my part, cost me 45 centimes (initial connect, after text one, after text two)... So it should be made mandatory that the operator charge according to their tariifs, however they must charge per unit of xKb transferred in total. This means if I transfer 4K on Sunday and 4K on Friday, this is included as part of my 10K unit and hence costs me €0,15. No more of this charge-per-connect even if no data transferred.

Please note that I am with the French version of Virgin Mobile (Omer Telecom in Vitré trading as...) which uses the Orange network. I am on a pay-as-you-go tariff which is traditionally the more expensive, but my telephone requirements and budget do not make a subscription tariff worthwhile.


Maltesers, you should be ashamed...

I like Maltesers. I buy a lot from my local Super U.

On the top left is a special 'charity' pack. Weighing 300g, every purchase of that pack will cause €0,50 to be donated to something - I think the French winter 'telethon'? It's quite a generous donation. The pack costs €3,91.
Bottom right is a normal 'extra large' pack. Weighing 300g, it costs €2,79.
Whoa - wait - hold on a minute! For the charity pack you might figure there is little generosity on behalf of Maltesers (which is a Mars company) if you were asked to pay the €0,50 donation. But do the maths - for your donation of fifty centimes, you will be paying €1.12!!! They are making, off the back of the charity, more than the donation will amount to. How is this justifiable?

I purchase the 175g bags, priced €1,58. Get your calculators out, notice how it actually works out slightly cheaper to buy two smaller bags instead of one bigger bag. The price per kilogramme (or any arbitrary unit so long as it is consistent) is better when you buy small. This is a great example of why bigger isn't necessarily better. But this all pales in comparison to the Christmas Con of the paragraph above. As for the lack of packs of the smaller size? Well, <cough>, that may well have been my doing. ☺


That darned cat(food)!

I don't want you to think I'm going on and on about the catfood, however here is a little bit of evidence to back up the things I mentioned on the 17th.
Firstly, here's our catfood - pieces in sauce, not terrines, for the 93 centimes:
You can also see the difference in tin sizes. Now recall one of the smaller tins in harder paste ("terrine") form costs more than all that pictured here.
Notice the two top tins, the one on the right has a price ticket (the little red rectangle) while the other one doesn't.
Now, regard the ticket:
Okay, a mere four centimes is not really worth arguing over - hence I didn't bother - but it demonstrates the disturbingly regular disparities between the prices on the shelf and/or the products and the prices that you are actually charged.


Christmas Cheer

It seems there is a lot less spirit in this year's Festive Spirit. Now we can't blame the usual "let's not offend the Muslims" excuse. I think, rather, with the world falling apart, there is less reason to feel happy. Bank systems around the globe are slashing interest rates in a desperate bid to get the economies back on track, however what worries me is 0.1%-0.25% does not seem to be doing a lot. If the rate drops to 0% and that doesn't work, where do you go from there?
A large furniture store has bitten the dust. In the UK, Woolies is offloading all of its stock and will be gone in a month (and what of the employees?). Here in France, a pottery that has been running for over 300 years shut up shop this week.
While towns such as Châteaubriant are putting free skating rinks in place for the teenagers, there is a noticable lack of Christmas lights (there are some, but nothing like previous years), and the whole atmosphere appears to be generally more pessimistic than it should be. Even at work there are some who aren't making an effort. Will they be retained in the New Year? If not, will they have any job opportunities? The unemployment figures are increasingly more shocking week by week, which is not good news for people who have a job but might not. That said, that description could apply to practically anybody these days...
  • If you are employed: Is your job safe?
  • If you are unemployed: How much hope have you of finding a job soon?
  • If you are retired: Is your pension safe?
Once upon a time we might have taken these things more or less for granted. Nowadays? Nowadays we have to face the inevitable.

One of the problems Britain faces is... well... what does the country export? It may seem to be a good time to invest in the UK with the pound dropping (so foreign money will buy more pounds) coupled with low interest rates, but rather than lots of investment, the Germans slag off the economic policy. Because the UK does not export a lot. Your trade is what defines you. Consider Iceland. As a country it exported little, a lot of the economy was virtual, and when it started to collapse, there was nothing to prop it up with. In a matter of days, wipeout. It looks and feels for all the world like the British economy is heading the same way, only in slow motion.

This falls back on people such as my mother. The pound is coming ever closer to parity with the euro, and as a result of this, at the moment, mom is down around €200 a month on what is already a paltry pathetic pension. While we have no intention of returning to the UK, I can see that a number of people will be looking to return as their pounds are worth less over here and their euros (from the sale of their properties) will buy more now. Couple this with the fact that so many ex-pats form little cliques and never really integrate. The most recent thing I heard, a while back, was that we should all go to Laval to make tax declarations as there is a person there who is fluent in English. And would they want to listen to the fact that you can only go to Laval if you live in the Mayenne? So many times I used to hear "oh, but we don't do it like this in England" that, to be honest, I'm glad they don't include us in their lives very often. It's a shame in a way, there are some lovely people, but the whole tone is lowered by some astonishingly stupid people, who would no doubt complain about the Frenchies being arrogant while displaying such incredible arrogance it is mind-numbing. Example? There's a woman locally who is for all intents a nice person until you get her onto politics. She complains, a lot, about the foreigners in England and claims to vote BNP plus would support the same movement in France should she have a vote. Um... is it not extremely obvious that she is a foreigner in France, and as such the national front movement over here would want her out? I could write paragraphs about this, but I'm sure you could probably tell me everything I'd say, it is so obvious the flaws in that line of thinking, but then arrogance is in itself a giant flaw...

Anyway, all of these things (and more) have rolled together to mean that this is not a festive season that anybody really wants to feel all la-dee-dah over. And, in a way it's a shame. For while us old jaded crusty adults are fed up of Christmas, DFS adverts, and sleigh bells on the musak from every shop going; it is a time of magic for children. To take this away from them because we're all depressed... that's not right. And as for that teacher who told her class that Santa doesn't exist? We all reach a stage when we are smart enough to realise, whether the mathematics of it don't add up, or we get wise to a Santa in every mall, or we simply sneak downstairs and find that it's really dad dressed up... the illusion will eventually be broken. Like The Tooth Fairy, or The Monster In The Closet. To be told by a teacher? That's not how it is supposed to happen. Shame.

D'you know the three things I remember the most from my teachers? Here they are, in no particular order:

  • My physics teacher, Mr. Holt, taught me to question everything. That just because something is written in a book doesn't mean it is true. As a result I ask far too many questions, but - as you can see from this website - I don't go baaaaaa when Gordon Brown assures us that everything is fine. I dig deeper, think for myself. For his lesson did not just apply to textbooks, but life in general. Don't believe in what you cannot prove to yourself. Trust in what you can see and feel.
  • My CS teacher, whose name I have sadly forgotten, taught me never to tweak code to work around a difficult bug, but instead to find the bug. And he also taught me that the most effective debugging tool ever is a simple routine to spit out something to the display, even if only a simple single character, and await a keypress. You may see from time to time obscure messages in my software - for I will always drop in messages in preference to using a debugger, especially given that a debugger is 'sanitised', so things that work in a debugger may still fail in the wild - especially if something somewhere assumes data is initialised to zero but which may not be the case in reality.
  • My final memorable lesson was one of my earliest. You know those little pacman-like things you can make by folding paper? Well, Richard shortens to Ricky, Nicholas to Nicky, so I figured Pacman to Packy. And, having decided to call my creation Packy, my junior school teacher who had better best remain unnamed took it to be Paki, and launched into a whole long line of explanations as to how some children are different to others. Some cultures are better than others. In my short time in America I was bused to a school in a 'black' area, some sort of integration scheme that I understand didn't really work in the long run...? Do I recall half the kids were Black? Nope! I remember that the paint, a gaudish sort of green and marroon combination, was peeling and falling off of the wall. Likewise I was dimly aware of Asian children at school, but apart from looking a little different, it was no big deal. Until this teacher introduced me to the concept of racism.
    It seems deeply ironic to me that in her attempts to educate me as to why using the name "Packy" (or "Paki" in her understanding) was such a bad thing, she inadvertantly educated me to the superiority of whites at the deprecation of other races.
    But, really, this is no surprise. Christian missionaries have destroyed many a peaceful civilisation for in their attempts to bring God to the people, they have to teach them what Evil is in order to show why Good is so much better, and hence brought the concept of evil. Still, they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions...


New-Aiko marching forwards

My 250Gb harddisc arrived in a box larger than a shoebox. There was some shredded cardboard, but essentially the drive was loose in the box. I would have said that was pretty careless, but recalling iPods with their little harddiscs, I think disc technology has advanced beyond the fragility where you pee in your pants if somebody slams a door on the other side of the house.
It's a 250Gb drive. IDE. Well, actually it is about 232Gb as "in line with industry standards" it is considered acceptable to provide the quotes of disc sizes using base 10 maths (i.e. 1Gb = 1000Mb etc). I'll talk about this later...
Installed in the new machine as a 'master', the other harddisc as a 'slave' didn't work, only 32Gb of the 80Gb was visible. So I took the older disc out of the loop and installed XP on the new drive. Thanks to the multi-card-reader being installed, the primary boot partition ended up being called H:! I needed to do a video conversion so I set the system up again as C: being the 80Gb drive and E: being the 250Gb drive (slave).
I made a mistake. In retrospect, I should have the drives on different IDE buses, for copying between drives can be a bit slow as they are bottlenecking reading and writing from the same IDE port. Nevermind.

The biggest problem, by far, is by default the computer is only capable of seeing 128Gb. My installation of XP is the original, and I have SP2 on a CD someplace, but I suspect I need SP3 to make a 250Gb drive accessible. So at the moment I have to use the existing installation - and tweak that to set up stuff as I like. Still, I have to ask myself, would I rather run my own setup with a 127Gb drive, or modify an existing one with the full space? Considering that this is the machine that I use to convert recorded video (in PIM "MPEG1-alike") to XviD, I'd go for space! The 80Gb partition (C:) will be programs. The not-250Gb partition will be data. Probably a lot of work-in-progress video files!


When is a byte not a byte?

There was some legal case in America taken out against the harddisc manufacturers, and it was decided that it was valid to quote disc sizes in base 10 because it is the way it is done with storage. Firstly this is bollocks - for a 1.44Mb floppy is 1.44Mb (in the binary sense), and a 700Mb CD-R is 702Mb (in the binary sense); yet as you can see in the picture below, my 80Gb drive is 74½Gb and the 250Gb drive is just under 233Gb (17Gb less than you might otherwise have expected!).

It may be widespread in the industry, but it is a rather obvious scam. Why? Well, when the drive is asked to read in 512 bytes (the block size of many FSs), does it read 640? Why not? 512 10-bit bytes are 640 binary bytes. Internally, for addressing, it necessarily understands kilobytes and such as it is communicating with a binary-based computer where the "kilo" is 1024 and units of. Yet, suddenly, we switch to base 10 maths for the device size? What is the justification of doing this except a simple wheeze? To make less seem like more...

  • 232.88 × 1024 = 238469.12 (megabytes)
  • 238469.12 × 1024 = 244192378.88 (kilobytes)
  • 244192378.88 × 1024 = 250052995973.12 (bytes)
  • 250052995973.12 ÷ 1000 = 250052995.97312 (decimal kilobytes)
  • 250052995.97312 ÷ 1000 = 250052.99597312 (decimal megabytes)
  • 250052.99597312 ÷ 1000 = 250.05299597312 (decimal gigabytes)

I would like to take a brief moment to thank Microsoft - for my Windows XP reports disc sizes using the binary interpretation. Thank you for sticking with what is logically valid, and not some lame attempt at marketing corruption.


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