Saturday, 16 December 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Egypt & Jordan, December 2006

Photo's from our holiday to Egypt and Jordan, November/December 2006. We stayed in Taba Heights at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba and from there spent 6 days in Jordan.
Wednesday, 22 November 2006

PostHeaderIcon Excelsior JET Case Study

Excelsior the makers of JET - a native code compiler for Java - recently asked me to do a case study on how I use Excelsior Jet and especially my thoughts on the JRE size reduction. I have reprinted it below or you can see the original by using this link:
Excelsior JET Case Study - The Nuaire Group Fan Selector

The Nuaire Group Fan Selector

Excelsior JET Case Study

The Nuaire Group is a ventilation manufacturer who designs and builds ventilation products for distribution around the world. The range and variation of fans manufactured runs into many thousands of different units so with conventional catalogues it's not possible to show every product clearly with full technical details. Nuaire developed their Fan Selector program to make it easy to select the best fan for a given project and to print out detailed fan specific technical data sheets. The program was developed as a Java/Swing application and is used internally throughout The Nuaire Group and is distributed freely to engineers and consultants.

The first release of the program used Sun's 1.3 JRE and there were a number of issues that needed addressing, these included:

  • problems deploying the application
  • the size of the download with the JRE included(this was before the widespread uptake of broadband)
  • the slow start up times associated with Java applications
  • general performance issues on lowly specified PCs

With this first release the user was requested to install a Java Runtime Environment before installing the Fan Selector application, which caused confusion for many users and problems for some as each micro revision of the JRE could behave slightly different to its predecessor. So the decision was taken to redistribute a known working JRE packaged within the Fan Selector. This of course added many megabytes to the download size.

With successive releases of the Sun JVM and the ever increasing power of modern PCs the performance issues have become less relevant but because the 1.4 and 1.5 JRE's have a larger disk space footprint we continued to distribute the application with the 1.3.1 JRE. This meant we couldn't make full use of the performance improvements or indeed any of the other new features added to the Java language.

We evaluated Excelsior JET 4.0 Standard and were instantly impressed by the performance gains it produced. Start up time was quicker and the overall feel was that of a more responsive, slicker program. We also had the added benefits of being able to use the latest Java 1.5 enhancements and the protection from decompilation of our jars.

The only disadvantage we had with our JET 4.0 Standard compiled distribution was the increase in package size due to the use of the larger 1.5 runtime instead of the older, smaller 1.3.1 JRE we were using. It was felt though that the increase in package size was a reasonable trade off against the other benefits that using JET offered - especially in these days of high speed broadband access. However, after releasing a new version of the application and having many more users than usual download it over the course of a few days we soon hit bandwidth limits imposed by our ISP.

With Excelsior JET 4.5 Professional when used with JetPackII to package the application the package size has reduced considerably, the application also appears to run quicker than the JET 4.0 Standard compiled version. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Excelsior JET 4.5 to anyone who distributes a Java application.

The following table shows the relative sizes of our application when built with a redistributed JRE or Excelsior JET.

  Package Size (MB) Hard Disk Footprint (MB)
Internationalized JRE 1.3.1_16.
Packaged with InstallShield
16 39
JRE 1.5.0_06.
Packaged with InstallShield
26 69
JET 4.0 Standard.
Packaged with InstallShield
27 67
JET 4.5 Professional.
Packaged with JetPackII
18 64

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

PostHeaderIcon It beggars belief

This is a bit of a grumpy old man rant, just bare with me...

It's that time of the year when all the semi-professional beggars come out of the woodwork and accost you on the streets and in your own homes when you're at your most vulnerable. They come in all sorts of guises from the innocent looking child on the street, to the respectable looking middle aged Christian at your front door and even disguised as your own work colleagues.

The other day I was entering my local Tesco Express when I was approached by a boy probably no more than 8 years old "have you any money for the Guy, mister" he said. This 'Guy' was the sorriest excuse for a Guy that I've ever seen; it didn't have a face (in fact I'm not even sure if it had a head) and it looked like it was made from rags that probably came from a dogs basket.

Anyway, as it happened I didn't have any change so I just shook my head and continued on into the store. Of course had I had any change I would more than likely have lied to the boy and then have felt guilty for doing so. On the way out of the shop he confronted me again but this time I was ready for him; I had unconsciously - but probably deliberately - taken more time than usual in returning my credit card to my wallet as if to prove that I hadn't been given any change in the shop. I find it incredible that this young boy was intimidating me enough that I would change my behaviour just so I didn't feel bad about not giving him any money when I really didn't have any to give. I've felt less bothered by some of the biggest, ugliest beggars on some of the hardest streets of the meanest cities in the world.

What I should have done is asked him what he wanted the money for and the conversation would go something like this:

Me: "What's the money for?"
Boy: "It's 'penny for the Guy'"
Me: "Yes but what are you going to do with the money?"
Boy: "Buy fireworks."
Me: "You're too young to buy fireworks, what's the money for?"
Boy: "My Dad will buy the fireworks for me."
Me: "So why can't your Dad pay for the fireworks himself?"
Boy: "Because he's unemployed and spends all his money on cigarettes and alcohol."
Me: "Fuck off!"

Today is Halloween and in recent years this has become an excuse for another type of begging or Trick-or-Treat as it's better known. You don't mind a few of the neighbours kids knocking on the door if you know who they are but when kids from other streets come knocking just to get a hand out of free chocolate it's not only a nuisance but can be quite intimidating, especially when they're teenagers who'd keanly key your car on the way past when you send them packing. It's gotten to the point were you have to go out for the night just to avoid the hassle. Of course you can hide away in the house and not answer the door but then the neighbours kids think your miserable sods for not joining in the fun. One year whilst we were sat in the dark pretending not to be home we had one neighbour shouting through the letterbox "Emma, Gary we know you're in there, open the door."

With Christmas coming we'll soon have the "carol singer" beggars knocking on the door. These are worse then the trick-or-treaters as they make know bones about the fact that they just want money. Come the first week of December you can almost guarantee the doorbell well ring a couple of times a night and when you answer the door there's a pair of sullen looking teenage girls who reluctantly launch themselves into a poor rendition of Jingle Bells (it's not even a carol for christ's sake) and then trail off after the second sentence and just stand there looking at you as if to say "ok, give us a quid and we'll piss off". It gets to the point where you have to hang signs on the door asking them to kindly go away.

Christmas also brings with it the "charity" beggars, you get these all year round but they come out in force during the Christmas period hoping to cash in on peoples Christian nature during this season of goodwill to all men etc. Christian, my arse, I don't care what the cause is there is nothing Christian about disturbing a person in their home to ask for money, most of which will get eaten up through management overheads and not reach the needy and deserving.

I can't see what the distinction is between this type of charitable begging and a homeless person on the streets asking for handouts. At least you can walk away from the man in the street and they won't trespass on your property disturbing you in your own home. In fact the beggar in the street is probably a more deserving charitable case, you know all your money's going straight to the cause without being wasted on overheads or distributed by a committee more interested in their own political games. OK, so he'll probably waste it on Carlsberg Special Brew but if that's all he's got in the world and it makes it more bearable to live then fine.

Of course they don't only get you at home they also coming looking for you in the workplace. This is far worse than them knocking on your door as you have the added peer pressure of not wanting to look like a tight arse in front of all your work colleagues.

With the "charity" beggars you have to ask the question why do these people do it. They probably say it's because it's a cause they believe in and want to help as much as they can. If that's the case then why can't they just give a substantial amount of their own income to the cause without wasting their own time and ours by begging for handouts? I suspect there's a deeper egotistical reason behind it and it has nothing at all to do with acts of altruism. By spending time collecting say £100 from a bunch of friends, neighbours, colleagues, strangers makes them feel like worthy people and good about themselves, whereas giving £100 of their own money doesn't have quite the same warm feeling when others don't know you're doing it and you'll have less money in your pocket to spend down the pub on the weekend.

In recent years the company I work for has put together a circular of season greetings which gets distributed around the company attached to our payslip in December. Anyone can put a personal message on this list providing they pay a sum to charity. The idea for this came about when certain people who weren't going to send Christmas cards to their colleagues didn't want to look like miserable Scrooges and so thought up this idea to donate the money to charity that would have been spent on cards. This is all well and good until you consider that there really is nothing wrong with not sending Christmas cards to all your work colleagues, it's often an empty gesture anyway. So in reality this is just an exercise in self congratulation allowing everyone to see how good you are for donating to charity. This has nothing to do with begging but reinforces the point about charity collecting being more to do with personal self congratulation than wanting to make a difference in the world. I think this year I might add my own message, something like this "I'm only putting my name to this so you'll all think I'm a wonderful charitable person and not just that miserable git who sits in the corner. Seasons Greetings - Gary"

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for giving money to charity, I just want to do it on my own terms and when I want and not be hassled, intermediated or cajoled into giving just because someone shakes a collection jar in my face.

OK, rant over.

Please feel free to leave comments.
Monday, 25 September 2006

PostHeaderIcon Pipex are bloody useless

Pipex are bloody useless, if you are looking for a broadband supplier you might want to consider this before choosing them.

I've been a Pipex broadband customer for over five and a half years during which time I've been, on the whole, very happy with their service. However it's only during the last couple of months that I've had much dealings with their customer service and all I can say is it sucks.

About a year ago, when ISPs tended to charge based on the line speed and the maximum speed you could get then was 2MB, I looked at upgrading my 1MB connection to 2MB. Oddly it was cheaper at the time to change to their HomeOffice 2000 product with a static IP then it was to upgrade from their Xtreme Solo 1MB to Xtreme Solo 2MB, so that is what I did and that has been the cause of all my recent problems.

Earlier in the year BT upgraded all their exchanges to support up to 8MB (I'm suppose to be able to get 7MB) and most ISP's upgraded their products accordingly. Pipex though have been very slow in this regard; whilst their residential Pipex Max product has been available for a while their business products are still limited to 2MB and they class the HomeOffice product as a business not a residential product.

At the beginning of July I contacted Pipex asking that my service be changed to the Pipex Max product so I could get the 8MB. The Pipex Max product is also cheaper though you don't get the static IP address which I found useful at times but not critical. I was told that I could not change to Pipex Max as it was not possible to regrade from a business account to a residential account, even though they had no problem in doing it the other way around last time. They said the only way to do it would be to cancel my existing broadband and then set it up again on the new product but that this would possibly leave me without service for 7-10 days. I asked them if I'd be better off migrating to another service provider as to do so I would get the 8MB without loss of service and they agreed that I probably would.

A few days later I contacted Pipex asking for a migration code as I'd been looking around and found I could get the same level of service, including the static IP, but at 8MB instead of 2MB from another ISP for over £50 a year less. Pipex weren't keen to lose me as a customer so as an incentive to stay they offered to reduce my monthly subscription by £10 and assured me that they would have an 8MB product I could regrade to within a month or so. I took them up on this offer.

Two months later there was still no sign of any new 8MB products and I hadn't been getting the £10 a month discount they promised me. I contacted Pipex to ask what was going on and was told that I could now regrade to any product and to get back to them after reviewing all their service offerings on their website. I asked what had happened to my £10 discount but didn't get a meaningful answer and haven't had one since and I've mentioned it every time I've spoken to them.

I checked their website and as I thought, no changes to their products but I was told I can now regrade to any product so I asked to be regraded to the Pipex Max product. This was done via email and I had a reply saying I couldn't regrade from HomeOffice to Pipex Max as that was a residential product and my HomeOffice was a business product! Arrrrgh.

Once again I rang them up asking for a migration code, they asked why and so I had to explain the whole saga. This time I was told that actually they can regrade you from a business product to a residential one but they don't like to publicise it as it requires more paper work to do or something like that. I couldn't believe what they were telling me but they did offer to do it for me to keep my custom and they offered me a month free for all the trouble. I took them up on this offer and they said the regrade would take 7-10 working days to complete.

The 10 working days came and went and I was about to get on to the phone to them again when lo and behold I had an email from them saying the regrade work was complete! I could hardly contain myself but my excitement was soon short lived when I realised everything wasn't quite as it should be. My line was still connecting at 2MB and I had the exact same static IP address that I had previously which I wouldn't have had with the dynamic IP addressing used by the Pipex Max product.

I went online to check my Pipex account details to see if there were any clues there as to what was happening and everything was as before saying I was still on the HomeOffice service. I thought maybe the systems hadn't updated but then I noticed a new invoice they had raised for my new service and it clearly stated that I was on the HomeOffice 2000 product. They had only somehow managed to regrade me onto the same service I was already using! Not only that but the invoice covered not only next month but also the remainder of the current month. My previous invoice had shown a zero balance to cover the months free service they'd bribed me with but they were invoicing me for the remainder of the month so I only actually got 10 or 11 days free not a whole month.

I got on to the phone to Pipex asking what the hell was going on but the girl I spoke to was unable to enlighten me. She promised that either her or one of her colleagues would definitely call me back the following day to let me know what was happening. Of course nobody rung me back.

Today, five days later, I again spoke to Pipex and they made some lame excuses and said that they'll re-request the regrade and it should be complete within a couple of weeks. Again they weren't able to comment on the accounting irregularities of my missing discounts and me not receiving my full months free service. So I asked for a migration code and this time I think they knew they'd failed me miserably as they didn't offer me a single incentive to stay.

I rang Demon, I'm changing to their service which I believe is better and cheaper. It only took a few minutes to arrange the migration and I expect it'll be done in a couple of days.

Pipex have now had the cheek to charge me a cancellation fee.

So to summarise first I was told I couldn't regrade, then I could, then I couldn't, then I could again. I was offered two different monetary incentives to stay with Pipex which I never received in full. When they finally did do the regrade they cocked it up big time and they didn't return my calls which they promised to.

I'm sure this saga isn't over, I still need to recover some money from them.

Update October 4th

I am now a Demon customer and no longer connecting to Pipex but today I had an email from them saying they had completed regrade work on my account - nothing Pipex does surprises me now.

Of course, as previously, with the regrade notification also came a new invoice and charge to my credit card! They have charged me again for the period up to 8 November, this is odd as I am no longer a Pipex customer.

What's more, had I still been a Pipex customer then you'd expect this to happen but you would also have expected a credit to be raised against the previous invoice for the overlapping period on the new invoice, but no, Pipex don't do refunds.

I have tried and tried to contact them regarding this but even when you don't get the busy tone and eventually make it through their automated answering system you just get cut off as there are already too many people in the queue. I resorted to emailing them and received an automated response saying their current response times for billing queries is 7-8 days!

Ironically it's National Customer Service week.

I'm getting well and truly pissed off now.

I must add that after migrating to Demon my service was still a 2MB one but after one email to Demon they promised to get it changed the next day and indeed it was. If Demon can do this in 24 hours why can't Pipex do it in three months?

Update October 10th

Today I had a reply to my email of six days ago. This email was just to inform me that my queries had been forwarded on to the finance department who are currently taking a further 7-10 working days to respond to emails!

Update November 17th

A few days after the last update they responded saying they will refund pretty much everything I'd asked them to but it would take 28 days to do. 28 days! well those 28 days have been and gone and still no sign of my refunds. I have sent a couple of emails to them regarding this and neither have been responded to.

Update November 21st

Today I had a response to my recent emails querying the lack of the refund and the wording of the email is exactly the same as the one I received way back on the 10th October saying they will refer it to the Finance Department who'll be in contact in 7-10 days. I'll expect another email from them shortly to say I will receive my refund in 28 days. It's a bit like Groundhog Day.

Update November 22nd

Well it only took one day for the finance department to respond this time but what they have to say is a complete load of bollocks. They say they applied a refund on 4th October but it will take 28 days to go through. Well it's been 49 days now and I still haven't recieved it. If they had applied this refund on the 4/10 then why didn't anyone mention it in the 3 emails I received from them on the 10/10, 12/10 and 22/11? The amount they say they've refunded is also around £24 less than the amount they said they were going to refund me on the 12/10!

Update November 22nd (2)

I've had another one of those emails saying my query has been forwarded to the finance department who'll be in contact in 7-10 days! At least their auto-responders are functioning a bit more promptly now. The funny thing is, this response was to an email I sent to the finance department. So I guess they must be forwarding it to themselves!?

Update November 23rd

Today I received another email saying a refund had been raised for an amount that's actually a few pound more than they originally quoted me on the 12th October and to allow 28 days for it to be processed. I'll keep my fingers crossed but I really think I'll be lucky if I get the refund this year.

Update January 17th

I notice from my bank statement that Pipex gave me a refund on the 15th December, however it's for only about two-thirds the amount they said they were going to refund. According to my reckoning I think that took 54 working days to complete (assuming they were truthful about applying the refund on the 4th October) almost twice the 'up to 28 days' they kept quoting. I've no longer got the energy to keep chasing them, the bastards can keep the rest of my money.
Saturday, 23 September 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Jan & Kerry's Wedding

Just a few photos from Jan and Kerry's wedding.
Saturday, 15 July 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Mike & Llinos get hitched...

...about f'ing time too.

Just a few photos from their wedding.
Saturday, 1 July 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Roger Waters, Hyde Park

On July 1st 2006 we went to see Roger Waters at Hyde Park Calling where he played the whole of the Dark Side of the Moon. With Nick Mason on drums for the Dark Side part of the set it was as good as you can get to seeing Pink Floyd live - who needs Gilmore anyway?

Llinos took these photos.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Mike & Llinos Stag/Hen Weekend

A few photos from Mike and Llinos' Stag and Hen weekend in Center Parc, Longleat. I don't appear to have taken that many, typically I was probably too drunk or too hung over to really think about taking pictures. They're mostly pictures of Saturday evenings meal which Paul went to a lot of trouble to organise and Chef Willem did a fantastic job of cooking.
Friday, 14 April 2006

PostHeaderIcon Parakarting Video

This is a video Jan shot of Mike and I parakarting on Rhosilli Beach, Llangennith last summer.
You'll need the free RealPlayer to view it.

Launch in external player
Wednesday, 29 March 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Portugal, March 2006

Monday, 23 January 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Parakarting & Power Kiting

A few photos from our parakarting and power kiting activities.
Tuesday, 3 January 2006

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Bratislava, December 2005

Here are some photos from our trip to Bratislava for New Years 2005/6.


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