Purr Purr, Crunch Crunch

It might be premature to begin describing my weekend in the early hours of Saturday morning, but were time to end at this point, the description most apt would be “variable”. First the bad news, because then I can deliver the good news and have it act as a chaser to remove the grayscale and leave you with a pleasant hum of electric blue.

This evening I attempted to watch the second disc of Awkward Season One. In order to do this I first needed to eject disc one, which I had been watching in small doses over the last two days. Upon clicking eject, the Mac protested in a chorus of dejected mechanical whirs and taps, before sucking the disc back in and re-initialising the drive.

I’ve tried all the software based resolution steps I know in both Windows and OS X and none of these have had any positive effect. This leads me to believe that whatever is wrong is very likely a physical hardware problem best solved by a visit to an Apple representative and probably the outlay of considerable amounts of money should the drive require replacement.

On to things less crappy. Last night I bought Just Cause 2 after initially seeing it on the NerdCubed YouTube channel. I can say that the few hours I’ve payed thus far have been very enjoyable.

As a consequence of my recent decision to switch primary OS to OS X, prudence behoves that I upgrade from Lion to the current Mountain Lion release.  I’ve just completed this process so can’t yet offer a reasonable overview of the difference between the two, but I do like the more subdued style applied to the dock in Mountain Lion.

I wonder how long it will be until Apple has used all known big cat names, and when they do what will they move on to?

It’s All Big Cats And Turtlenecks: Why I’m Switching To OS X

Those who know me will know that I have been a Windows developer and user for the vast majority of my computing lifetime. I first encountered Windows 3.11 Professional as a child in the mid-90s, however my usage was limited to clicking Exit to DOS on the way to games such as Wolfinstien 3D and the original DOOM.

Eventually, we upgraded to Windows 95 A and very rapidly on to Windows 98 where I began my obsession with software development after receiving a copy of QBASIC for Dummies from my Granddad.

And there I stayed until roughly 2002 when my family purchased a new computer running the still relatively new and shiny Windows XP which remained with us until at least 2010. During that time I learned JavaScript (before anyone had heard the terms Web 2.0 or jQuery) dabbled in C++ with Borland’s VCL and most memorably was introduced to C# and Visual Studio with Visual Studio Codenamed “Orcas” (a.k.a. Visual Studio 2005, IIRC). 

I still remember the joy i felt when the Visual Studio 2005 Express Editions were announced as I wouldn’t have to stop using IntellSense which by now I’d become so accustomed to I was annoyed it wasn’t in Word.

 Around this time I also took part in several  pre-release programs including “Kahuna” which would go on to become Windows Live Mail. as well as several pre-release versions of Messenger that would form the basis of Windows Live Messenger. I also took part in the pre-release program for early versions of Office 2007, which may have have a cool name that I’ve long since forgotten.

So…if I’ve spent such a large amount of my life living and working with Windows. why am I now switching? Good question. The simple answer is frustration.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep and decided that watching a DVD (specifically Season 1 of MTV’s Awkward) would be a good idea, so I inserted the disc only to be told that due to some non-specified incompatibility between the DVDs copy protection and my system would mean that either I jumped the traditional troubleshooting hoops, or I watched something else.

I’m quite capable of troubleshooting most computer issues I encounter, and troubleshoot I did, but no media player would touch the disc despite the fact that I had the Media Centre feature of Windows 8 installed and the codecs required to play this DVD were present on my system and I’d used them to play this very media on this very system in the past.

Tired and annoyed I rebooted into OS X, inserted the disc, clicked DVD Player and it played.

Being both a person of sound and reasonable mind and one accustomed to computer use in general, one isolated incident is not in itself enough to justify a change of platform. The incident described above was just the final trigger.

I’ve always maintained that despite the widespread criticism it has (rightly) received for the Metro interface, there are positives to Windows 8, but I’ve found the level of inconsistency between 7 and 8 uncomfortable for reasons other than the user interface.

The fact DVD playback and TV support via Media Centre is not included out of the box is just one such frustrationThe cumulative effect of several small frustrations over a period of several months has me at the end of my rope as far as daily use of Windows 8 is concerned.

To remedy this, I’ll be booting into OS X on a daily basis starting today. I will still maintain a proper windows install for games, and my software development will be done in a VM from within OS X.

Initially, I am expecting to need to reboot a bit to use Office applications until I can afford to replace them with Apple’s iWork suite. I am aware of Office for Mac, but I’d at least like to try the Mac native solution first.

So that’s that. I’ll keep you posted with how the switch is going.

PS: Suggestions for apps that I might need on OS X are welcomed

A Random Data Web Service

Yesterday I was thinking about ways of generating random data . One method of doing this is to get the user to move the mouse or press keyboard keys at random. This got me thinking about the concept of a service which would allow an application developer to pull random values from a pool contributed to by a large number of users.

It would work something like this:

  1. The user installs the application
  2. The application captures key codes and mouse position co-ordinates over a period of time.
  3. All of the samples for that time period are aggregated in such a way that the resulting number could not be de-composed into the original values
  4. This aggregated value would be transmitted securely to a server where it would be further aggregated with values from different users and sample periods to form a “pool value” of which there would be several, each of which would expire after some amount of time.
  5. A developer could then query a service which would return a specified number of bytes taken from more than one pool value.

I don’t claim to know anything about cryptography, so it’s almost a certainty this is a terrible idea from a security standpoint for reasons I lack the requisite knowlege to have even considered, therefore I’ve no plans to build this but the idea of a web service where you can go get some pseudo-random data from a massive pool of contributors piqued my curiousity.

Discuss:

  • As a user, would you be OK with a program sending values derived from your input?
  • As a developer, would you ever use such a service?

Don’t Do As I Say

I had a strange dream in the shallows of what was a very good sleep. I was asked to fix a computer and when asked how it was misbehaving the woman who owned it would only say “It’s broken”. I sat down in front of the laptop to attempt to turn it on and determine the source of the mysterious broken state, but the second I touched the keyboard the woman screamed that I must never touch it before taking her laptop and telling me that I must leave and not come back.

I’m not sure what this dream meant. It might be a reflection of some uncertainty, or perhaps its my subconscious exploring the idea that I suck at fixing broken laptops, a concepts which ventures somewhat from reality.

If you have any other suggestions as to what this dream may mean, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Sounds Rediscovered

This evening I stumbled upon Eve 6, a band I knew I liked in the 90s and early 00’s to pleasent effect.  The bounties of my accident were two-fold:

  1. I finally learnt the real name of the track titled “Inside Out“, a track I’d only previously known by the self-assigned title “that heart in a blender song”
  2. Re-discovered “”Here’s to the night“. I’d forgotten this existed after having heard it in various places over the years, but never identified it.

That’s it for this one. If you can think of anymore awesome 90s or early ’00s bands I should check out, post a comment and I’ll include the ones I liked in a future post.

Hello Ruby

I have a web application that I’d quite like to turn from imaginary into reality. I’ve done a fair amount of design work and have just started to think about the nuts and bolts like where the application will be hosted and what tools I’ll use to create it. Historically I am a fan of the Microsoft ecosystem because I am comfortable with C# and the Visual Studio based development tools. Unfortunately because budget for this project is almost non-existent. I really can’t afford ASP.NET hosting and have thus chosen to host the application in a Linux environment.

As a consequence of this decision I’ve had to consider non-Microsoft technologies I could use to build my application. After some discussion I decided to use the Ruby language and the Ruby on Rails framework. I came to this decision because Rails and PHP hosting seem to be the most abundantly available technologies that suited my budget. Rails was the logical choice due to highly unpleasant experiences with PHP a number of years ago.

And so I have begun learning the Ruby language with a view to building my web application using Ruby on Rails. While searching for learning resources I found an excellent interactive tutorial at TryRuby.org.

What impresses me about this tutorial is that it covers both the language syntax as well as explaining some of the typical mannerisms of Ruby code at a reasonable pace, in an approachable manner which makes few assumptions about the person following the tutorial or how much previous experience that person might have.

I’d love to see similar resources like this for other interpreted languages such as JavaScript or python. I believe an interactive tutorial in a similar style to this and an appropriate level of detail would make an excellent companion to an introductory programming course

.Screenshot of the interactive tutorial environment with tutorial text in left pane and interactive interpreter on the right.

Most of the languages I have embraced have been statically typed and featured curly braces heavily. Ruby is a lot more fluid and open than these languages, which usually makes me uncomfortable, but Ruby syntax is just free enough to allow the language to flow, without making me fear that the weaker typing has done despicable things to my data.

All told, I am quite excited about learning the Ruby language :)

Bonus Chatter: I’d be remiss not to mention that the do…end syntax did remind me a little of JADE programming language.

A Neophytes Guide To Classical and Opera Music

This post is a way to document and share those classical pieces that I personally enjoy both for my own reference and to hopefully share my enjoyment with you dear reader. Classical music is largely uncharted insofar as my harmonic ventures extend. Expect not great depth, nor originality, for this list was assembled by someone who has never been to a performance, doesn’t have a clue who the conductor or soloists are, and can’t tell you what key a given piece is in.

Note that to make use of the links in this article one must have Spotify installed. I chose to use Spotify links here because I believe that people who produce a work should be paid for it, and I can’t presume that is the case for each and every YouTube video out there. As a final point of minutia, I’m not including movement numbers because the links are to the movements I know or like.

There is no more fitting place to begin than with my own introduction to the genre in the form of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. While the entire score is awesome, I’ve only linked to the bits I like the most.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons:

  • Summer (Probably better known to New Zealand reader as “The song on the National Bank ads”)
  • Autumn (My personal favorite – I have literally listened to this all night while programming)
  • Swedish Rhapsody (The song that plays in my head when I think of a Unicorn prancing through a meadow in an enchanted forest)
  • Ride of the Valkyries (or…kill the rabbit!, kill the rabbit!)
  • Prince of Denmark’s March (because it’s awesome. Also, who doesn’t want to be reminded  of Antiques Roadshow)
  • La Donna È Mobile (I don’t care what the words actually are, in my head he will forever be singing “I NEED PANTS YA!”)

I hope you found something you enjoyed. There are far more I could link to but sadly my time for writing rapidly comes to an end. If you can think of anything that should be on this list, comment and I’ll give it a listen.