• jsNG

    Like many programmers, I have a couple of “Hello, World” projects that I’ve carried with me over the years. One is 5x5 (which has been used to get to grips with things as diverse as the Palm Pilot and GNU emacs). Another is Norton Guides database readers.

    I’ve made Norton Guides tools that have allowed web servers to serve guides (w3ng), that have allowed you to convert guides to HTML (ng2html), that have let you read guides on OS/2 and GNU/Linux (eg) and also have let you read guides in Microsoft Windows (weg). It’s a problem I know fairly well and one where I know the solution well enough so I can concentrate on learning the new language or environment.

    Recently I wanted to get to grips with some “pure” ES6 coding while also getting to know node.js. A new version of the Norton Guide code, written for this environment, seemed like a good thing to do.

    And so jsNG was born.

    At its core is a library of code for opening and reading data from Norton Guides databases. While I doubt it’s good ES6 code, or even good node.js code, it’s been very useful in giving me a fun problem to solve and it’ll carry on being something I’ll tweak and tinker with by way of trying new things out.

    On top of this I’ve built a handful of tools for working with Norton Guides databases. The most useful one at the moment (the others are more in the “test the library” than the “make something handy with the library” category) is ngserve. This is designed as a simple Norton Guides database HTTP server.

    ngserve in action

    When run, you give it a list of guides to serve:

    Starting ngserve

    and it does the right thing. It has a small number of command line options that help configure what it does:

    ngserve command line options

    Possibly the most useful are the ones that let you change how it handles “higher” DOS characters and, if you don’t like the default colours and stuff, the option that lets you point to your own style sheet (note for now you’ll need to host the stylesheet somewhere else – ngserve won’t serve it for you; I’m aiming to change that in some way in the near future).

    jsNG does have a fairly basic design compromise at its heart. In the very early version I started out using the async functions for opening and reading the guides. This got very tedious very quickly and I could see that it was going to make for a very messy library with a very messy interface. While it might not be in the spirit of node.js programming I decided to go with the sync version of the file IO functions and code up the core library based around this.

    This approach also means that I took another leap that I never have done with Norton Guides before: rather than doing the traditional thing of keeping an open handle into them and reading direct from the file as you navigate the guide, I simply read it all into a buffer in one go and keep it in memory. This is a “guides are small, memory is cheap, things will go faster” approach.

    It does mean that when you load up a load of guides into ngserve they’re all sat in memory. The upside of this is that things should be a lot faster and the code is a lot easier to follow (I think). To put this in some perspective: I have a directory here that contains 110 Norton Guides files. They total 36M in size. If that seems like a lot of stuff to hold in memory… remind me how much is being used by your web browser so you can look at some hilarious kittens. ;)

    Anyway, that’s where I’m at with it right now. The code is mostly settled and mostly tidy. I need to write up some documentation for it (and so I need to take a look at good JavaScript documentation tools) and perhaps tinker with ngserve a little more. I’d also like to do a new version of ng2html with this – a version that makes it far easier to control the style of the output. I’m also tempted to do a CLI-based reader in pure ES6; something similar to EG or WEG.

    All in good time.

  • Hello Google Pixel

    For the past two years I’ve, mostly, being happily using a Google Nexus 6 as my phone. In the past six months or so I’ve started to notice that it hasn’t been quite as good as it was. The main problem, for me, was that the camera was starting to play out. The issues were the ones that I’ve seen reported elsewhere: use of the camera would quickly make the phone laggy, very slow response times on pressing the shutter, occasional failure to save an image, etc. This was generally frustrating and, even more so, because I’d got back into photoblogging.

    Meanwhile… I’ve been lusting over the Google Pixel ever since it was originally shown off. I was some way off my phone contract renewal and the price of a new Pixel was something I just couldn’t justify. Last week though an offer cropped up that meant I could renew early and get a Pixel (including a free Daydream headset thrown in).

    Fast forward to Monday just gone and…

    My new Pixel

    So far I’m liking it rather a lot. It is odd that it’s smaller in my hand than the Nexus 6 was (the XL wasn’t an available option and I was also starting to think it was time to drop down in size a little again) but I’m also finding it a little easier to work with; it’s also nice that it fits in trouser pockets as well as jacket pockets.

    It feels very fast (although every Android phone and tablet I’ve ever had have felt fast to start with) and smooth to use. I especially like the default feedback vibration – it’s a lot smoother yet also more reassuring than any I’ve felt before.

    The Google Assistant is proving to be very handy. I’m sort of used to it anyway thanks to having owned an Android Wear watch for a couple of years but having it on the phone like this seems like a natural next step.

    Another thing I’m getting very used to very quickly, and really liking a lot, is fingerprint recognition. I didn’t think I needed it but now I’m wondering how I ever managed without it. Combined with the notification pull-down gesture that the recognition area supports it seems like a perfect way to open the get going with a phone.

    There’s a couple of niggles with it, of course. The main one for me is the lack of wireless charging. That was something I really liked about the Nexus 6: I could be sat at my desk and have the phone sat on top of a charging pad, staying topped up. No such handy setup with the Pixel. The other thing is the lack of water resistance. To be fair: it’s not something I’ve ever really felt I needed with other phones and I’m not in the habit of sticking them under water; but knowing that it doesn’t matter too much if it gets exposed to rain would be nice.

    Other than that… there’s not much else to say right now. It works and works well, the move from the N6 to it was pretty smooth and the Pixel has fallen perfectly into my normal routine.

  • Seen by davep (the return)

    A few years back, not long after I got my first smartphone (a HTC Magic), I started maintaining a photoblog that was based around photos I took on that phone. The blog itself was very important to me as it covered a pretty difficult time in my life – many of the images on it contained and conveyed feelings and emotions that seem a world away now, but which I never want to totally forget.

    It served as a visual diary, a note to future me.

    And, hopefully, it provided some entertainment for those who viewed it.

    Sadly the company who hosted it closed down and the whole thing was lost, except for a hasty (and only partially successful) backup to a Wordpress blog.

    After the blog died I sort of lost interest in trying to maintain one and, to some degree, lost interest in active photography in general. Between the blog disappearing and another disappointing event relating to photography I sort of lost confidence in myself and my ability to dare to publish photos online.

    This year, despite how shitty it’s been for the world in general, has been a really good one for me. Lots of positive changes have happened and continue to happen and I noticed that I was starting to do the phone-based photoblog thing again, albeit only via twitter.

    From up the hill

    Finally, this week, I’ve cracked and decided to make it “official”. My old “Seen by davep” blog is reborn, with new content and the same old purpose. You can find it here: seenbydavep.blogspot.com

    The blog itself is still driven by twitter and the posts will still appear on twitter. In the background I have an IFTTT process running, watching for any tweet of mine with the #photoblog tag and creating a post on the blog from it.

    As for how often and what the content will be… simple: it’ll be when I see something that I need to capture.

  • A bit of a backlog at the Apple store

    Over the past couple or so weeks my Macbook air has started to develop a minor, but irritating, hardware problem. Simply put, the left shift key fails now and again. I can press it and it does nothing. It’s irritating because it messes with the flow of typing (especially when writing code) and the key also feels like it’s sticking or clicking in a way that’s different from all the other keys.

    Macbook Keyboard

    Given that I pass through Edinburgh on a pretty regular basis I thought I’d drop in and have a quick chat with someone about it. While I didn’t expect a fix there and then (although finding out it was a trivial issue would have been nice) I was hoping someone could take a quick look and let me know what might be going on.

    So, this morning, on the way to Waverley Station, I dropped in to the Apple store on Princes Street.

    I walked in and looked for a member of staff, all seemed to be busy to start with but one soon noticed that I looked a little lost and asked me if they could help. I explained the issue and she said I needed to pop upstairs to chat with the staff up there.

    So far so good.

    So, I headed up to the first floor and caught the attention of another member of staff. Having explained the exact same thing to them I was told I needed to speak with yet another staff member. The chap I needed to speak to had a queue (yes, a physical queue of people) waiting to speak to him.

    I joined the queue.

    About five minutes later I got to speak with him. I, again, explained the problem and was told that looking at it would be no problem and they could do so at around 4pm. This was at about 10am. Having gone through 3 people and spent 10 minutes doing so I found out that there was a six hour queue to have someone actually take a quick look at the issue.

    By that time I wouldn’t even be in the same country, let alone the same city. So I had to say thanks but no thanks.

    So now it looks like I have to make an appointment for some point in the future and make a special trip into Edinburgh just so someone can check out a sticky key on my Macbook.

    Remind me again how the nice thing with Apple gear is that it “just works”…

  • Virgin East Coast 21

    Yesterday I got the call about the Virgin East Coast Ticket Wallet app that I was promised last week (well, actually, promised a couple of months back). It didn’t go well.

    Well, I say “didn’t go well”, the conversation itself went very well, the chap I spoke to was polite and apologetic and helpful, but the outcome wasn’t really very brilliant.

    It didn’t get off to a brilliant start when I was first told that the solution to my problem was that I needed to uninstall and then reinstall the app (something I’ve done more than once while trying to get to the bottom of the problem). I asked if that was really necessary and I was informed that it was the only way to fix the problem of the tickets not showing. Problem is… that wasn’t my problem. So I then had to explain the exact nature of the fault I was experiencing (and also explained my guess as to what the cause of the problem was).

    After that, much of the content of the conversation involved vaguely confidential information (nothing too terrible or that big a secret – just stuff that isn’t generally known yet) which I’m not going to repeat here. The upshot of the chat though is this: they can’t do anything for me.

    Simply put: they acknowledge there’s a problem with the app, the problem is at their end, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed and there’s nothing they can do to fix it any time soon.

    The causes of this will sound familiar to anyone with experience of large companies who outsource much of their development and get involved in areas that they might not have much experience with.

    I also found out the cause of some of the delay in actually getting back to me: the person who was supposed to originally call me went on maternity leave just after they’d first tried to call and, it seems, nobody thought to pick up their workload. This left me in the bizarre position of trying to call someone who was off work for an extended period of time, and whose phone wasn’t being answered in any way.

    Of course, it doesn’t explain why that person’s boss, who I was promised a call from a short while after, never bothered to call.

    So, I think, to some degree, that’s the end of this silly saga. Their software is buggy, they can’t fix it any time soon, and I’m out of luck.

    As for the extra free tickets I was promised a couple of weeks back now… they’ve still not appeared. Time for me to chase that up again.

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