heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot uk

Ai!

Because I had a number of hours to make up, which wasn't pointed out until two weeks before the end of the cut-off period, it had been a hectic two weeks. Working an extra hour after a difficult longer day, plus then working the final Saturday (production had finished). Oooh, wow. Oh, and those last two days, one started at 5am and the other at 6.30am!

On the other hand, there is good news. When I return on the 17th of August, I will be taken on with a CDI contract. As a proper employee, not a set of fixed-duration contracts. And, additionally, I will be taken on as "nettoyage" rather than "production", which means that until the end of the year I will work the split shifts with my team as normal (currently 5am-1.30pm / 1.30pm-10pm alternating weekly) and then when they go back to one team for the quieter period (usually Jan-now), I will go back to the evening clean-up (3pm-10.30pm). I am really not a morning person and I much prefer the clean-up hours. In addition, it better suits my disposition to have a job to do and be left to get on with it. Working in production usually involves a lot of the girls calling me at the same time, and I have to work out if I should get sheets of baking paper or metal trays first - which line of production is the more important? This must be weighed against certain girls who would actually call me when I am pulling two different things at one time just so I could move a dustbin a few centimetres to the left because they are too damn lazy to turn around and kick it into their preferred position. So, yes, the clean-up was better for me! ☺

About the hours to make up, I now know why everybody was obsessing over a 35 hour week and the end-of-year balance of hours. It is because the company pays you, flat rate, for working 151.67 hours a month; which is 35 hours multiplied by 52 weeks then divided by 12 months. Given all the technology with the clocking in/out system, it seems incredible to me that we aren't paid for what we work. I guess this is to make our eventual pay balance out to be regular amounts? Said eventual pay is only around €1000/month which is pretty $#!+ really, but better than you'd get from the social system. Also having busted my ass to make that little handful of cash, I can feel no guilt whatsoever at buying myself an eeePC or zombie DVDs or whatever...
The deep irony to the hours cockup is that I frequently went in to the clean-up job early. If I had my lunch, read my emails, had a milky coffee... why sit around staring at the noticeboard? I could just as well go in 20-odd minutes early and get stuff organised before my cow-orker arrived. But I didn't clock in until 3pm because I didn't see why the company should be paying me for my decision to turn up early. God, if I was aware that it made no actual difference to my pay, I'd have just clocked in early...

You might say "surely you would have noticed as your pay would be all the same?". Well, no. Night hours get us 25% extra, and the time we cross in to night hours determines the extra that is added. There are also variations in the deductions, I'm not sure what - it is a long list of what is mostly acronyms. It would appear that while the British pay a single "National Insurance", the French instead itemise it all separately, though it amounts to more or less the same thing. I asked one of my bosses to explain it all, and he said "It goes to Sarkozy, because Carla doesn't eat with restaurant vouchers"!

Summer break - three weeks off!

 

eeePC/XP quirk, but...

While it is not strictly fair to call this an eeePC quirk - it is evidently a known issue in XP - it certainly manifests itself on the eeePC, but never did on Aiko. I think it is slightly annoying that this problem still exists within XP given its age, but on the other hand (oh my God, I am defending Microsoft!?!?) the PC architecture is very loose - Aiko and Azumi are only related in that when in brain-dead start-up mode they both appear to the host operating system as some sort of basic x86 processor with some I/O and a VGA graphics card. As soon as the OS prods the system to get beyond 'legacy mode', it's all different. The only real similarity is the two computers use Intel processors and the Intel chipset. Now let's consider Ayleigh... AMD processor, clone parts... It is supposed to be 'compatible', but how much is that? So in a way, that Windows (or indeed Linux, etc) is capable of running across a variety of different lookee-likee systems. But not so much that, we expect Windows to maximise the performance of the computer. Azumi's processor is hyperthreading, a sort of dual-core-like approach. The graphics interface has more memory onboard than is realistically viable for most uses of Windows - but all the same we don't want to be constrained with a 486-like 256 colour VGA. We want to stick in cool technology and the OS to make use of it. So in this respect, Windows has a hell of a lot more work to do than, say, RISC OS.

Anyway, the quirk...

When I first start the computer, my system tray looks like this:


We are missing a number of things - the green arrow saying it is safe to remove the SD card. The power icon showing how much time remains on battery. My Alarm software... I was missing WinAmp for a while, but after dropping a few things out of the boot sequence, it did show up. Sometimes.

It wasn't a problem of auto-hidden icons, I turn that off.
This was claimed to be a factor in using auto-logon, but in tests this made no difference.

There is a workaround - log off and log back in again. It's like Windows gets a second chance at loading up everything and this time does it correctly. Here is the way the system tray looks afterwards, and how it should look for the options that I have set up:

BTW, don't ask why some stuff has been loaded in a different order. I have no idea.

On the other hand, the battery life is pretty damn astonishing. I used the computer at work on my break and all the green-hats were asking me about it. It is tiny, capable, silent... They thought the storage capacity sucked now that 160Gb+ drives are common on laptops, but I said to consider how much of that is actually necessary for a business computer. I know my D: drive is mostly full, but that is due to a bunch of films. Again, if this was a strictly work machine I'd have PowerPoint on it, not Ginger Snaps 1 and 2...!
But what impressed them the most, the battery life. At the time it read over 7 hours. Which I feel now I can believe. I have been sitting out in the garden as I write this, for hours, and I have over 4 hours remaining. I said to install stuff off CD, they'd need to hook this computer to another and share the CD drive across LAN, but it is really simple and most setup programs will work that way - I got VisualBasic on this computer by that method. Because there is no CD/DVD-ROM and because there is no harddisc, battery life can be so much longer. Over seven hours of autonomy - whoa!

So yes, the log-off/log-on is annoying, but the long autonomy more than makes up for any number of silly little quirks.

 

Asus, why did you...

One question I would love to ask Asus: Why on earth is the power/charging LED green when running on battery power and red when on mains? The indicator is steady for full charge, slow flash for reasonable charge, and fast flash for "omiGod!" levels. Surely basic human ergonomics would have said a rapid flashing red indicator would carry more psychological weight than a green one? That it would make more sense for the indicator to be red when running on a finite resource as opposed to mains which, power failures aside, won't run out after X hours?


Don't panic, we're plugged in!

I think once this machine is out of its guarantee period, I might look to see if it is feasible to open it up and swap the leads over. I am assuming it is either a two-pin reversible current LED or a three-pin one-or-other. So long as it isn't SMC onto some sort of printed ribbon connection, a quick bit of soldering ought to recify this.

I would also love to know more about the interfacing potential inside the box. It is really cool that there is a little flap on the underside that gives instant access to the memory and SSD. Here's what's under the flap:

The plug-in card on the left is the 8Gb SSD. Are Asus planning to commercialise larger sizes? I know the Linux version of the computer contains a 12Gb flash for 16Gb in total, which might explain the missing chips on mine. There is a Japanese company who may or may not sell more respectable sizes (32Gb? 64Gb?), but there is no information on pricing as the modules don't appear to have been officially released. Asus, how about it?
It looks as if the thing uses an IDE interface and, oddly enough, that square cut-out looks like it might accomodate an itty-bitty harddisc. Having said this, unfortunately the more usefully-located motherboard connector is not included - you can just see it as a set of solder blobs on the upper left.
The plastic flap, lower right, hides the memory card. There is only potential for one memory card, though the chipset claims it is capable of addressing 4Gb. That said, I have not as yet run into problems with 1Gb on-board even considering there is no swapfile so all operation takes place in available memory.
Upper right, that is the WiFi card. Not sure why there are two antenna - the Livebox that I last saw inside only had one plug for the antenna. Anyway, it is a mini-PCI Express card and so could be upgraded if necessary, although Asus do the decent and supply a card capable of 802.11n which is a better specification than every WiFi access point I have used as yet.
I guess you would also, as an option, be able to remove WiFi and install something else if you needed that functionality instead?

There is a location inside (off beyond the missing IDE connector) for a 3G card. This probably isn't fitted to these models as Europe's implementation of 3G is nothing like that in the east Asian countries and parts of the US - recall what I said about GPRS costs to my mobile phone (15¢€ for 10KiB!) and you'll understand why uptake is not the big hoo-ha it should have been. Things are better in the UK than France as the prices are a lot better, in the order of 20p£/MB (though this varies wildly). One of the main reasons I never experimented much with my computer and mobile Internet is that fetching half of the BBC news index page into OperaMini set me back over €3 in a matter of seconds. I'm so not going there again...

Yet more playing with WiFi

One could argue that the law favours the stupid and that you should be entitled to jack into an open WiFi point if you feel so inclined, along the lines of "an open door is an invitation to enter", but morals and laws aside I took mom's paranoia of how much information was given by a WiFi scan to the next level with a little program called NetStumbler...

It seems the program is slightly 'off' as it is not reporting on open access points, only encrypted ones. I am not aware of having set any option to restrict it. In any case, what you see is part of a scan of the drive home. It might be more interesting to probe an open relay to see if it is possible to determine what computers are connected and if they have any open shares, etc. According to the legality of such a thing, this will have to wait until such time as I have a Livebox of my own - to turn off WiFi encryption and probe it; though it will be more interesting in my case as my 'desktop' computers are unlikely to be connected to the Livebox, but instead via the router which will be running a fairly strict firewall in addition to that running on the Livebox...

 

An Orange/Livebox security issue

I went to www.orange.fr to see about if there was any way of chasing up the state of my connection request. I can now tell you the full name of the owner of the bar, her telephone number, and that she had seven unread emails. I could not only have read those, but also checked her billing information, an on-line copy of her telephone itemisation... This is not so much an exploit of the Livebox as a failing of the telephone company in that assuming any computer connected to said Livebox should have access to this information. You could argue that she ought to log out. I could counterargue a cookie stashed on the computer should say "this computer has logged in", while any other computer will be asked for the password...

 

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