dalliard.net

Comfortably numb

Some ramblings on my personal experience of jailbreaking my iPhone. You may fall asleep reading this, or you may get very angry. This article is like blog Marmite. Read More...
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The reluctant ninja

Shock news: a bit of silk doesn’t stop you from getting a kicking. Read More...
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Paradigm-shifts and revolutions.

In this article I try to write about a computing device in a complementary manner, whilst trying to avoid as many cliches as possible. Let the twisty-turny word-slalom thing begin. Read More...
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Baby Buckaroo

Yet again I seem to be grovelling for the lack of updates, but this is in part due to Dalliard Junior keeping me occupied. That’s not to say I haven’t been having fun though, because I have. He’s now at the grand age of eight months old and has allowed me devise my new game, called Baby Buckaroo.

Equipment Required

For this you will need:

  • One baby, asleep and in daytime clothing.
  • A darkened room.
  • Some pyjamas.

Method

Your object is to alternate with your partner in removing an item of clothing or putting on the pair of pyjamas. You must not wake Junior up. It’s Game Over if both eyes open.

Variations

  • If you get tired of playing in the conventional format you can always add in some optional extras such as a time limit per turn, or reverse play.
  • The Genius Edition involves a nappy change.

...and now, I’ll sink back into my black hole again.
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My favourite game

Rock monsters - poisonous little buggers!

The screenshot that you see above is a capture from what I believe to be the greatest game ever - Dungeon Master.

Back in 1989, I’d not long since had a motorbike accident. I’d been on crutches with my leg in plaster for about six months, nursing a broken fibia/tibia. My insurers, finding me not liable for the accident, paid me an interim damages claim. Having no fear at that age, thoughts turned to getting back on a new bike and riding again.My mother, however, had other ideas and was keen to discourage me from getting back on the seat and having a repeat incident (or worse). Looking over the shoulders of my peers, I bowed to pressure and spent some of the money on an Atari ST, a more serious computer than the rubber wonder I’d been using before.

I remember a couple of my friends having Dungeon Master. It was the game that sold me the entire computer. Historically, it seems I wasn’t alone. There are reports that over half of people who had an Atari ST bought it. It’s no surprise. It rocked - and it still does.

The game has a simple premise - pick four characters and travel through a dungeon, killing stuff, using magic, exploring, pushing buttons, developing your characters and solving puzzles. Despite it’s simplicity, I still remember how amazingly immersive the game was. I used to make a habit of playing at night with the lights off - it added to the atmosphere. Some levels were exceedingly tough. I remember that on sight of a purple worm, I would “run” like hell down corridors and cast fireball spells from a distance. I remember the comical shrieking of the screamers - and how tough it was to get your character resurrected should one die. Carrying their bones back to the altar on level one to resurrect them was not a fun task.

He eats a lot, strange chap.

At the time, I don’t think anyone realised how influential the game would be. There are so many elements that have appeared in similar games that followed - and the game is still fun to play now. I challenge you to find as much fun that fits on a single floppy disk.

Emulation is a wonderful thing. I’ve recently downloaded NoSTalgia for my Mac and have got back into playing the game again, and I suspect that once I’ve completed it (a fair task in itself), I’ll the continue on to play it’s sequel, Chaos Strikes Back.

I’m probably going to sound like an old man when I say it (and you would expect nothing less, I imagine), but a great deal of modern games seem to focus far too much upon graphical realism at the expense of good gameplay. I’ve actually got a couple of gaming devices, but I’ve pretty much stopped using them in favour of retro gems such as this. Maybe I’m getting old, but when I play a game I want it to look like a game, not some version of augmented reality. It’s probably why I enjoy playing Angry Birds so much on my iPhone. Simple works best.

This probably says an awful lot about me - I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, I’ve got to deal with four blue trolls that would like to club me over the head. And I still have my Atari ST now. Twenty years on, it still works.
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U.S. Gallery

I’ve been meaning to put these on here for ages. Two years after the event I finally got around to doing it.

You may remember that I did a road-trip across the U.S. back in 2008. Slacker that I’ve been, I never got around to putting the travelogue up (although that may follow in time). However, I did get a good selection of pictures - of which a selection are now on the site.

You’ll need flash to browse it.

If there’s one thing you can say about the U.S., is that it has diversity. It’s entirely understandable when you have a country of that size, with such a wide variety of climate, people and flora/fauna that many people don’t get a passport and go abroad. There’s plenty to see there - and I hope that I’ve managed to capture that in this gallery. Enjoy.

Go on - click here - you know you want to....
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The decade that didn't matter.

I’m 38 soon. For some reason, I never though I’d actually hear myself say that - although I’m not entirely sure why. Whether I thought I was going to be one day found face down in a puddle of my own vomit with a kilo of meow-meow by my side, or die jumping the Niagra Falls in a Trabant, I don’t know. I just never thought I’d be talking about myself as someone who’s approaching their forties. Of course, as the majority of the world already knows me as a grumpy old man from back in my twenties, nobody’s actually noticed the difference. I have been consistent, if nothing else.

Indeed, it probably goes to show my age (and to a lesser degree, my geek prowess) when I say that I’ve had an internet presence for at least fifteen years - and to think that in the early nineties, I used to talk about the internet to people would look at me as though I was a babbling idiot. They still do, it’s just that technology has got a bit more user-friendly. I think this is a great shame. Life would be simpler for us geeks if we made the CLI the mandatory interface on all devices.

And so, whilst the site has had different incarnations on different servers, good ‘ol MrDalliard has existed on the web for the lion’s share of time that Britain has had internet connectivity. Spooky. Even before the internet was known in the UK, I administered a BBS that sent e-mail via FidoNet back in 1990 - spookier still. That does make me feel quite old.

So I’m not a youngster any more. I’ve noticed in the last year or so that certain joints in my body are starting to grumble and creak, that I now have a few nice scars across my waist from surgery and that I’ve now got the alcohol tolerance of a three year-old. It won’t be long until I’m a forty-something, a phenomenon that most children would describe as “really old”. Ho hum.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me indulging in a bit of nostalgia every so often - I think the birth of my son has probably spurred that process on a bit. I like to think that it’s something in the genes, destined to ensure that you can suitably embarrass your offspring. As parents, it’s our calling. I’ve started to build up a good collection of eighties music, the music of my teenage years. There’s some good stuff out there - and there’s plenty of dross too. For the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to compile the ultimate eighties mix - I doubt it’ll ever achieve perfection.

I guess that the eighties is my decade of choice. I became eighteen, had a few life-changes, did my GCSEs, went on to further education and met my current partner. There’s a lot of good stuff to remember. That’s not to say that I don’t have memories of other times, it’s just unfortunate that I really don’t rate the nineties. It all just passed me by. The nineties, if you’ll pardon the pun, was a bit of a Blur1.

With the exception of my graduation, not a lot happened during that ten years. Give or take a year or two, a decade could pretty much be removed from my life history and the difference to me would have been negligible. In the grand scheme of things it all just didn’t matter - call it peripheral, if you like. During that ten-year period, I married the wrong person (twice), earned a fantastic amount of money but have nothing to show for it (apart from some broadened horizons) and performed a variety of largely unsatisfying jobs. My travels were enjoyable, but ultimately they served as pure escapism from what I’d say was an unhappy period in my life. In an effort to alleviate the situation, I thought that empty relationships and materialism through “shopping therapy” would cure it. How wrong I was. It’s a mistake that I shan’t fall in to again.

On a more positive note, I can reflect on the last decade (I’m not calling them “the noughties” *shudders*) and recognise it as a decade of achievement. I studied new things and did well, I trained and succeeded, I bought my house, I provided for my future, I found true love and I started a family. That’s a great deal to be chuffed about.

You’re probably thinking that there’s a moral to this story and that I’m about to convert you to a particular school of thought. Actually, more to the contrary. Do the stuff that makes you happy - just don’t be under any illusion that surrounding yourself with stuff brings you happiness, because once we turn into worm-food, our legacy won’t be gold fillings and games consoles. Aren’t I the optimist, eh?

All in all, I feel pretty good about the future. I’ve got a plan, something that’s always good to have - and so far, the plan is coming along nicely. For once, I feel optimistic about what’s to come. Sometimes we have to make choices. For me, the nineties represent the fact that I made a few wrong ones, but in the end it doesn’t matter because all has come good in the end. I’ve got my happy ending - and we all like one of those, don’t we? Happy

1 - You see what I did there? That’s a musical pun, that is. Gosh, aren’t I jolly smart. I could have used “oasis” too.....
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A Musical Void

Unless I’m very much mistaken, everyone loves music - it’s an intensely personal thing. Our music tastes are influenced in so many different ways, but the preferences we have in our adult life tend to be formed from what our parents liked, the music that was around in our teenage years and our idols. We all have our idols, oh yes - false or otherwise.

My parents were dedicated Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin and Fleetwood Mac fans, which deeply influenced my music taste. I still play Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon with fond affection, but ultimately as a teenager I craved something new, original and unheard of by the masses. I actively made a point of shying away from the mainstream.

As a teenager, you make a point of researching new things - it’s all an essential part of forming your identity. John Peel became one of my idols. The discovery of his evening weekend show meant that I could tap into a new resource of unheard music. Whilst my peers were generally getting their fill of bland Stock Aitken & Waterman pap, I was taping Ride, The Wedding Present, Prophecy of Doom and Diblo Dibala off the radio. Even now, a quick five-minute youtube shot of Mr Dibala1 strutting his stuff still manages to put a smile on my face irrespective of mood. Freaky.

Throughout his career, John Peel was an extremely influential DJ. Many bands that he initially championed ended up becoming legends in their own right - Pulp, The Orb, Nirvana, T-Rex, The Smiths to name but a few. As I got older and Radio 1’s schedule changed, I became comforted in the knowledge that at some point in the week, I could tune in to his irreverent broadcasting style and get a few new musical names to research. He played records at the wrong speed, got track names wrong and left big silences in his programmes - but it didn’t matter, because ultimately his passion for all forms of music was infectious.

It would be fair to say that when John Peel died back in 2004, I felt a void in my life and didn’t listen to the radio much for a while. Unfortunately, Radio 1 went on to fill the gap in their schedule with a few people who didn’t really quite fit the bill. Sure, Zane Lowe had some interesting stuff, but it wasn’t the same. I felt the need to start researching alternatives.

I discovered a “closest match” - in the form of BBC Radio 6. Whilst nothing will ever quite sound like Mr Peel, the one thing that immediately comes over is the DJs passion for music, as well as the diversity of their playlists. It’s about as close as one is likely to get.

Unfortunately, there are several reports in the papers that BBC Radio 6 is going to be axed - I’m not entirely sure why. Admittedly, the station only has about three quarters of a million listeners, but as it’s cheap for the BBC to run, I don’t understand how this is such a big deal. It looks positively frugal when you compare it to the costs of keeping the likes of Moyles and Mills running.

I’m really hoping this isn’t the case. I can’t have been alone in my teenage quest to hunt down new, non-mainstream offerings. BBC Radio 6 is the probably the best option for a whole wave of new people to investigate and listen to a diverse range of new music, that unfortunately Radio 1 now fails to offer, mainly because it’s playlists have become so narrow and are largely filled with expensive DJs, who to be honest, don’t inform, educate or entertain as much as they should. In their quest for ratings, they’ve sacrificed a diverse schedule.

I’m hoping that you’re in agreement with me. I’ve made it known to the BBC that I’m dissatisfied with their potential proposal to close the station down and I hope you will join me - before we lose a musical gem that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. As Phil Jupitus said, “The end of 6 Music at this moment in the BBC's history is not only an act of cultural vandalism, it's also an affront to the memory of John Peel and a slap in the face to thousands of licence-payers.”. He’s right.


1 - Yes, all Diblo Dibala’s stuff sounds similar - manically jolly guitar accompanied with an entourage of formation dancing girls. Love it or loathe it, you’ve got to admit he was one hell of a musician.
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MiFi - A real test.

You might have noticed a few posts ago that I made reference to my new little gadget - the MiFi. Whilst I gave something that resembled a review, the one thing I hadn’t done was an extensive real-world test. Is the coverage any good? What are the data-speeds like? What about battery-life? Would I recommend it as a purchase to anyone else?

I decided that a more thorough test was required and after a bit of deliberation, I thought of a simple one - streaming audio, set up using:

  • One car.
  • One car-stereo.
  • One MiFi.
  • One iPhone/iPod-Touch - with last.fm installed upon it.

I’d stream a channel through last-fm over WiFi using the MiFi unit. As I drive along, I get a good idea of how coverage is sustained, as well as whether transfer rates over the journey are useable.

My journey covered approximately 55 miles and was a mixture of city, town, dual-carriageway and rural driving. So how did it fare?

  • Of the 55 miles, the connection was held for approximately 65% of the journey. What was rather good was that the gap was pretty much in one chunk (more or less, about 15 miles or so). Over this stretch, there was no network coverage whatsoever.
  • The connection whilst in the city was maintained - but very slow. I suspect this was a capacity issue. Data transfer speeds were really low and the iPod continually had to buffer the connection - evidently the problem of shared bandwidth in a built-up area.
  • For the latter part of the journey speeds were good and audio continued all the way to home, resulting in a very short gap over the 35 minute stretch. This was particularly impressive given that this section of the drive was fairly rural.
  • I repeated the drive for a couple of days and didn’t recharge the battery. I’d guess that working hard, you’ll get about five hours from the lithium-polymer battery. It does get rather warm when it’s busy for a continued period of time, but not dangerously so.
  • As a guess, I’d say that streaming audio uses about 1MB/min. I’ve streamed about 10hrs of audio this week and reckon that it’s used about 550MB of my allowance.

The device is nice and simple to use, my only grizzle being that it doesn’t always automatically reconnect as quickly as it should if a disconnect happens.

Would I recommend it? That depends. If you live in a highly built-up area and want to use it in a static location, then possibly not. It would appear that 3 have either throttled the bandwidth significantly, or they have serious capacity issues. This would probably result in you tearing your hair out when using it for sustained periods. Of course, the same would be true if you live in an extremely remote area - you’ll probably find that your coverage just isn’t good enough. There’s always a significant degree of variance between coverage checkers and reality, so you may need to look at them in a more pessimistic light to get a true reflection of the MiFi’s capabilities.

However, if you’re looking for something that provides reasonable coverage for those ad-hoc situations where you require internet access, or you happen to live in a smaller town, you’ll probably find that it doesn’t do a bad job at all. Lightning fast broadband this ain’t, but it’s more than adequate for web-browsing, low-bandwidth streaming and the odd download - just don’t push your luck with anything as hungry as iPlayer.

Is this ready to replace your fixed-line broadband? The answer is “maybe”.
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Updated search

The site’s search facility has been updated to V4 of Rapidsearch by Josh Lockhart. Many thanks to him for his valuable assistance in getting things up and running.
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MiFi

A look at Three’s MiFi wireless broadband access point... Read More...
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