2010: A personal retrospective

For me, 2010 has not been dominated by computers or technology, despite that being effectively both my work and main hobby. Instead 2010 has been dominated by our house. We have had an extension built on the side of the house that contains our new kitchen diner and study. However I found many parallels between this extension and software development, plus the year has been far from technology-free. Continue reading “2010: A personal retrospective”

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot: the man who put the cool into chaos

The twentieth century saw some massive changes in scientific consensus, such as the particle/ wave duality, plate tectonics and quantum mechanics. Another of these great changes was the consensus acceptance of chaos theory. In the first half of the century, a popularly belief was that first we would crack weather prediction, then would learn to control it. At the heart of this claim – which now days seems ridiculous – was the belief that predictable “linear” equations describing real-world systems were the norm and that strange unpredictable equations were an oddity; oddities that in time we’d learn to tame. Continue reading “RIP Benoît Mandelbrot: the man who put the cool into chaos”

Moo + FOTB = laptop sticker art fun

A couple of years ago I gained a set of the “periodic table” stickers that Adobe produced. Like many folk I stuck some of them on my laptop. They looked a bit lonely for I limited myself to the four relevant to me. This led to me writing to the likes of Software WTF?, Stack Overflow and the like to get more stickers.

Continue reading “Moo + FOTB = laptop sticker art fun”

Using PowerISO to overcome major missing feature in VirtualBox

Sun VirtualboxOne of the great things about modern computers is that they have multiple cores and gigabytes of memory. This means that it is practical to run multiple operating systems on one machine using virtual machines (VMs). There are a raft of VM products available for desktop PCs. The best by far in my view is VMware Workstation. It however has one big problem: it costs $189, whereas there are many good-enough products that are free. So my VM product of choice – after trying many of them – is Sun’s xVM VirtualBox.

Whilst it serves its purpose the vast majority of the time, I recently came across a fundamental problem with it: it doesn’t support shared folders, or copying files, when the “guest” (VM) is Solaris. It is possible to copy files from a Solaris box to a Windows or Linux guest; from a Windows box to a Linux guest etc, but Solaris guests cannot do this. A search for solutions yielded various complicated ways of mounting/ unmounting USB drives or setting up Samba and the like to share files over the network. There seemed to be no simple way around the problem though.  I have hit upon what I feel is a fairly simple work-around myself, so I’m sharing it with others here.

The solution I used for getting files from Windows onto the Solaris guest may surprise people: I used ISO images. However it doesn’t involve burning real CDs/ DVDs; just creating .iso files. To do this, I used a program called PowerISO. The free version will create images up to 300Mb, so it’s likely to be usable in many situations. There are other programs capable of creating ISO’s too if you prefer to use them, but I like PowerISO (I bought the full product), so I’m describing that here.

The steps to transferring files from Windows to Solaris are:

  1. Open PowerISO and a Windows Explorer window.
  2. Navigate to the required files in Explorer and drag them to PowerISO
  3. Go to File menu -> Image Properties in PowerISO and turn off “Enable file optimization” (this’ll save lots of time in the next step)
  4. Save to an ISO file. I found 200Mb took around 10 seconds to save on a 5400 RPM laptop disk.
  5. Now switch to Solaris guest and select Devices menu -> Mount CD/ DVD-ROM
  6. Add your ISO image to the list and mount it.
  7. A File Browser window will open up in Solaris. Copy the files from there to where you want them on the Solaris file system

And that’s it: job done. To then transfer more files:

  1. Eject the “CD” on Solaris
  2. Select Devices -> Unmount CD/ DVD-ROM from the menu
  3. Now delete the files from PowerISO, drag some new ones across and save again. Say yes when prompted whether to overwrite them.
  4. Repeat steps 5 and 7 above


No sooner did I write this post than the Sun VirtualBox team let me know via twitter that a new version of VirtualBox is due in a few weeks, that will fix this problem. This is great news, even though it renders my work-around unnecessary almost as soon as I find it 🙂

Why “clever” code is often really quite stupid

To my mind, clever developers write clever code and that clever code is always:

  1. Easy to understand
  2. Effective
  3. Efficient

in that order. If you write code that isn’t easy to understand, then you aren’t being clever and nor is your code. I suggested this idea on StackOverflow in response to the “What is the most clever code you’ve ever seen?” question. It generated a lot of negative feedback from some folk, though the positive score (at the time of writing at least 😉 ) suggests more folk agree with me than disagree.

The fact that “clever” code often is anything but was highlighted by a recent article on The Daily WTF. It gives an example of a classic piece of “clever” code that not only resulted in an incomprehensible mess, but also ran far slower than could be achieved with a simple, easy to understand solution. In this case, the developer used the obscure C feature of long jumps, rather than a simple for or while loop.

So next time you are tempted to write a “clever” programming solution to some problem, ask yourself whether you are really being clever, or whether you are being a Homer Simpson.

1000 Spam Comments Blocked by Akismet

Update, October 2015
I’ve recently been reviewing older posts and came across this one. In those seven years, the number of spam comments blocked has grown to nearly 300,000. This spam blocker remains an amazing tool!

I’ve been writing this blog now for six months. During that time there have been just over 60 legitimate comments to my posts from the small audience I’ve built up. During the same time, the absolutely wonderful tool Akismet has trapped 1,000 spam comments. I used to think that email spam was a complete pain, but it is nothing compared with blog spam. And the stuff is psychologically very clever and thus even more evil than email spam. Blog spammers put a lot of effort into encouraging the blog owner to override the advice of the likes of Akismet and to mark stuff as not spam. Thus most spam starts with things like:

“You are Great. And so is your site! Awesome content. Good job guys!”

“I am so thankful for finding your website! ”

“You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it.”

Those kind words are then followed by (often many tens of) links to sites selling fake Viagra, pirated software etc. Most overdo the links and so it’s easy to agree with Akismet’s assessment of them as spam. Others though are full of honeyed words and just a single link associated with the name (which legitimate commenters are allowed to have too). It is more difficult to resist marking these as not spam, though a quick visit to the website in question generally convinces me to resist!

So thanks to those that have posted genuine feedback, and a very big thanks to the Akismet team for saving me lots of hassle of manually removing spam comments. Also I’d like to wish all manner of uncomfortable and embarrassing diseases on the spammers. Finally I’ll make a plea to those readers that haven’t yet posted a comment to speak up more. Everyone’s feedback is always very welcome.

AMD target gap in market (honest)

phenomHere’s a question: what do you do if you have a batch of quad-core chips that have a dodgy core?

Answer: think up a silly name and sell them as triple-core chips!

AMD have recently announced that they are producing a new line of processors with a triple core to fill a gap in high-end desktop machines. This gives them the edge over Intel, who only offer 1,2 or 4 core. And apparently it really isn’t because they have a batch of dodgy quad-cores to sell off. I believe them… 😉

See AMD’s press release for more details