Blogathon 14/19: VD

It’s that tine of the year when a young man’s thoughts turn to fancy and a young woman’s thoughts turn to a million things because that’s the way their brain processes information.

It is, of course, VD.

Valentine’s Day. Or, as I’m sure we used to call it, Saint Valentine’s Day.

About a hundred years ago, at school, we used to have an inter-class Saint Valentine’s Day postal service – so that you (or someone) could anonymously post a Saint Valentine’s Day card to the object(s) of your (or their) desires.

I think I can remember getting about three cards, over the course of my time at that school.

Of course, there’s always the possibility my memory has failed and the actual number of cards is lower.

Blogathon 13/19: Half-term

Next week, for my part of the country at least, it’s half-term week.

This means that school’s out; children will spend the week not doing homework and generally amusing themselves, whilst some parents spend time and energy trying to think of entertaining and amusing things to do with their children.

And other parents will go to work, noticing how much reduced their commuting time is. And how easy it will be to get a space in the company car park.

We are planning a mini adventure.

And then on Thursday it will be back to work for me (and into a likely bunch of network changes on Thursday night, into the bargain).

The forecast for next week is quite good, so I’m looking forward to four days of fun in the sun activity in the Wilds of Wiltshire.

We’ll see how everyone else in the family feels about it.

Blogathon 12/19: What’s in a name?

I have a cousin who lived for decades in a converted mill. Actually she may still do. I hope that’s the case.

As in ‘old mill by the stream’, not ‘Old Amsterdam’ kind of mill.

Inspired by that cousin I wanted to live in a mill.

I was going to call it ‘Rumour Mill’, and spend all my days making up founded (or unfounded) rumours about people and events.

However, the invention of the Internet means that particular market is well and truly cornered.

But you have to admit that was a great name (if not a great way to pass the time).

We don’t really call them ‘rumours’ any more. Conspiracy theories, that’s the label we use now.

My favourite is the conspiracy theory that we didn’t go to the moon. My second favourite is that we did go to the moon but the filming was done by Stanley Kubrick to isolate us from the potential horrors of another Apollo One-type disaster.

Look it up kids; terribly sad.

The thing is with my second favourite is this was very well covered (ish) by the rather good film Capricorn One. Look it up kids: very good.

And I do love a good rumour (an old school rumour, not a modern-day conspiracy theory) so, just to keep my rumour-skills honed, here are a few to peruse:

  1. I may be getting married this year
  2. We may be getting a puppy
  3. I may have got a new battery fitted to the ZX10-R today

Only you can decide which is true and which is a rumour.

Anyway, back to the starting point.

It would be a bit bonkers to call a house ‘Conspiracy Theory’. wouldn’t it?

I quite like ‘Rumour Mill’. Or perhaps ‘Rumour Control’, if it’s not an actual mill?

Blogathon 11/19: Going flat

A couple of years ago, when we got the dog first pair of cats, we put a cat-flap in.

Not long after that we put a different cat-flap in. A battery-operated cat-flap. For battery-operated cats.

We soon noticed, post battery-operated cat-flap implementation, that the house stopped smelling quite so ‘catty’.

And so it has continued. The battery-operated cat-flap has continued to let our cats in (and out!), and it has continued to keep invading cats (that ginger tosser from next door) out.

But the battery-operated cat-flap began to get through batteries quicker and quicker.

So we moved to rechargeable cats batteries.

Now we rotate the batteries every 3-4 days, which isn’t long, really. There must be something in the design of the cat-flap that makes it eat battery juice. Or something.

Anyway.

Today I ordered a new battery for the ZX10R. I was offered a choice. I could order a Kawasaki battery for £180. Or I could order a battery with a different name on it for £80.

Well gosh, that’s a tough choice.

Blogathon 10/19: It’s not good to talk

We need to talk. It’s good to talk. You should open up more. I have something to say. Do you have something to say? Have you got something on your mind? Do you want to talk about it?

Really?

When the last one of us gets home we turn the key in the lock and say ‘I’m locking the effers out!’ and the other one of us will say something like ‘Good!’

We aren’t sociopaths; there is ample evidence to contradict that. But we both get a little… reticent (someone who doesn’t like to talk).

We just reach a certain point in our day when we don’t want the social construct of talking to someone outside of our inner circle.

I’m the same when I go to the stables. I don’t want to get into big conversations about what kind of a week you may or may not have had.

I’m sure you’re a lovely person and that, but I’m at the stables to get my boy in, groom, tack up, ride his furry little bottom off, untack, groom him, and put him to bed.

And at home, at the end of a long and hectic day, we have the same sense of inner purpose. It’s all about switching off, moving away from the dictates of the working day, into a softer, more comfortable, closer-fitting, envelope of calm.

A bit like your favourite pair of pyjamas. Well no, not like *your* favourite pyjamas, obv. That would be wrong.

Anyway, you’re probably asking yourself where I’m going with this?

Simples. It’s about speech. Or dialogue, to be more precise.

I’m working on The Difficult Second Novel and I have fallen in to a pit of dialogue.

Personal statements. Writing dialogue, is difficult. Writing *good* dialogue is impossible.

But if your characters don’t interact, then you lose a vital leg in your storytelling. And your plot falls over.

I’ve just written 555 words of near-total dialogue and it was not a good experience. It will take much editing to get it down to the level of sharpness that will make it fit with the rest of the project.

It has taken about two hours to produce 555 words that I don’t like much. That’s why I don’t like dialogue. That’s why it isn’t good to talk.

Bob Hoskins had it wrong.

Blogathon 09/19: Mix tape

About three-hundred years ago I used to make mix tapes.

Ankle-deep in C30s and C60s, I’d record music off the radio (usually the Sunday night chart show off the BBC – or the Friday night chart show if Luxembourg reception was good enough – seldom was though), or try to blend selected tracks from my huge vinyl collection (T. Rex – Slider, Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman, Carole King – Tapestry).

I’d blend the mix tape music together to suit my future moods such as the inevitable break up that would inevitably follow when Belinda Thomas actually inevitably deigned to start talking to me which, inevitably, she never actually did. Strangest relationship ever. We communicated exclusively by passing notes to each other on the journey to/from school and only speaking on the phone on weekends.

Or a mood mix tape for the inevitable rebound relationship with Belinda Thomas when she inevitably realised the inevitable folly of her ways and we made it to full-on talking to each other in public (which, inevitably, never happened).

Or a mood mix tape for the inevitable time I picked up my self-esteem and inevitably left Belinda Thomas in tears, as she inevitably realised the foolishness of her ways – but, inevitably, too late – and I inevitably blew the dust of that small Welsh town off me, and strode manfully into the setting sun. Actually, most of that one happened.

My point is a lot of time and mental effort went in to producing each mood mix tape. I’d make lists, I’d make lists of lists. I’d make lists of lists of lists. Probably not that last one.

I’d try to match tempo, so that listening order wasn’t random. I’d try to put lyrical themes together, so that messages flowed. Nothing was left to chance.

Years later, when I was stationed on the Dutch/German border, I discovered the wonderful world of Dutch FM radio stations and the awesome selection of world music they played.

And I made more mood mix tapes. For my car this time. The Phillips stereo FM/cassette player didn’t have much of a receiving range, but I had tape-cases full of cassettes all over the back seat of that Mini.

Fast-forward a bunch of years and I was (largely) consuming music through my iPod Classic. Mix tapes are not called mix tapes any more. Now they are playlists. My playlists. On my iPod. They are made from my music, all 10,000 tracks of it, and these playlists are all exclusively mine. And they’re on a device the size of a cigarette packet.

All those cassettes, gone.

Fast-forward another bunch of years and I still have my vinyl collection (slightly bigger than it was all those years ago). And I still have my iPod Classic. And all those playlists. But now there’s a new game in the musical town,

Spotify.

Now I have access to millions of tracks in millions of playlists. But unlike the iPod playlist years, these tracks aren’t exclusively mine. Yes I can search and select for a global database of music, but there are two additions.

The first addition is that now I can access playlists of complete strangers, no matter which part of the planet they live on. I can add those playlists, or any number of components of those playlists, to mine.

The second addition is that I can share my playlists to anyone; people I know, people I don’t know. I can post a link to any of my playlists here. Or on any social media. I could even share a playlist with Belinda Thomas. Except I can’t. She’s probably still not speaking to me. Inevitably.

But music? That’s growing up really fast.

Blogathon 08/19: 500 Internal Server Error

Error messages that don’t actually tell you what the error is.

What’s the point of that?

I’ve been experiencing quite a lot of 500 Internal Server Error lately.

It crops up a lot in various WordPress and Drupal forums – it’s a particularly frequent little blighter against those two types of tech (but 500 Internal Server Error isn’t an exclusive error to WordPress and/or Drupal).

And because ‘500 Internal Server Error’ doesn’t give you any pointers as to what the problem is, or which part of the internet tech is at fault, the user is often left scratching their head (or backside) as to the cause.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is the fact that it usually only pops up on the Admin dashboards – seldom appears on the ‘public-facing’ webpages.

So here it is, kids, what ‘500 Internal Server Error’ actually means, where it originates, and how to fix the pesky little bleeder.

The root (ha ha ha ha ha – technical pun there) of ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is in the .php code that many websites are built on.

Let’s have a quick look at the Wikipedia entry for the 500-range of http status codes (the 500-range is specific to server conditions):

Response status codes beginning with the digit “5” indicate cases in which the server is aware that it has encountered an error or is otherwise incapable of performing the request. Except when responding to a HEAD request, the server should include an entity containing an explanation of the error situation, and indicate whether it is a temporary or permanent condition. Likewise, user agents should display any included entity to the user. These response codes are applicable to any request method.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HTTP_status_codes#5xx_Server_errors

So what ‘500 Internal Server Error’ *actually* means is: ‘I’ve hit a problem. It’s a very big problem. It’s serious. I have no idea precisely what that problem is. But it’s a big serious problem. Therefore I don’t know what to suggest you do to fix it. Have a nice day.’ In a nutshell.

This kind of error message is marvellous. It’s straight out of the Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book on helpfully vague error messages. If such a thing exists. Which it should do.

Anyway.

Because ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is an http status error message, and the 500-range are server-side notifications, it is safe to assume that this error message probably originates from the underlying .php code that most websites are written in in which most websites are written.

As ‘500 Internal Server Error’ is so effortlessly vague, the most common cause is the equally wonderfully vague .htaccess file.

Usually (again, but frequently in my experience) ‘500 Internal Server Error’ can often be made to varnish vanish through simple surgery on the .htaccess file in the root of the website.

How do you do this? Magic Simples.

You fire up your trusted ftp software (or use your website’s control panel and navigate to the root of your website in your File Mangler Manager. Find your .htaccess file and rename it to something cryptic such as .htaccess_old.

And then you log in to your website and Lo and Behold there are Three Wise Men Kneeling Around A Manger In Which A Virgin Has Just Placed Her Newborn Child you have vanquished and banished the ‘500 Internal Server Error’ for ever (perhaps).

Like I said, magic simples.

Blogathon 06/19: Alexa, stop listening!

Here’s an interesting little nobble that could trip up a person or several.

Alexa will allow people/persons within hearing range to order/buy things on the controlling Amazon account.

If you have Alexa, and if you don’t want someone to be able to say ‘Alexa, buy me a Maserati’, you have to go in to the settings to switch this off.

It’s simple to do:

Go to alexa.amazon.com or open the Alexa app on your mobile device:

Click Settings in the left menu
Scroll down and select Voice Purchasing
Click the toggle beside Purchase by voice to disable the feature

Now then, who wants to buy a Maserati?

Blogathon 05/19: Networking

It’s 21.05 and I’m sitting at home listening to a random playlist on Alexa whilst talking to a guy in India, another in Scandinavia, and another fairly local.

That reminds me, I must tell you about the bluetooth headset I bought recently.

Anyway.

Sam has just baked a lemon drizzle cake and I’m going to inhale a slice or two in a moment.

I’m working. The day job kind of working.

I started at 8am, left the office at 5pm, and started on this call at 7pm.

According to the change window tonight’s job will finish at 00.30, but I think we’ll be done on this aspect of the change by 10pm.

Some things you can do during the 9-5 (except who works 9-5 these days?), and some things are just too risky to do during normal business hours.

So We do them when the bulk of the organisation/country isn’t working.

There have been a bunch of these network changes lately, and there’s a little more to come.

I think I need to work out my Lieu Time, the last two changes have ended well into the early hours!