The Time Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

My friend Clare has been telling me for quite a time about a fantastic book she has read. Last Monday she remembered to lend me the book. The book is addictive. I started it Wednesday and I finished all of the 500+ pages in the early hours of this morning (Sunday).

This is a book about a man named Henry and his wife Clare. Henry has a genetic difference to the rest of us which means that he will travel back and forward through time. He has no control over when and where he goes, he has no control over when and where he will return. Clare meets him when she is a little girl and he is a middle aged man. He meets Clare for the first time when he is in his twenties.

If that sounds confusing now, it gets more complicated. The book jumps from time and place, back and forward, loosely in the order that Clare would see it, but frequently in no apparent order whatsoever. That is, until later when the future or past happens and things start then start to make sense. In this book, time is not a linear concept.

For me, the book is definitely an adult book. It travels through a whole life which I think younger minds would struggle to relate too. I’m not just referring to the sexual experiences and detail that feature frequently. Henry and Clare’s life includes the death of their parents, marriage, trying for a baby, raising a child, arguments, accidents, all of life’s pains and pleasures. Time travelling for Henry is as much an advantage as it is his cross to bear. He knows the good things that will happen, yet he also knows the bad.

Clare (my friend, not the character in the book) said that many of her friends haven’t enjoyed it as much as she did. I think that’s because the concept of time in the book is so warped from what we naturally expect. If a book is too hard to read then it loses it’s enjoyment (at which point I remember being 13 and attempting “A Tale of Two Cities” and getting no further than the first few pages). I’d recommend this book to anyone, but I also know this book isn’t going to be an enjoyable read for everyone.

Gallows Thief (Bernard Cornwell)

The second Sharpe book I have read, this was set just before Sharpe’s Trafalgar. I love the character of Richard Sharpe. He may be the hero in the book, but he has his flaws and that causes him trouble. The battles fought are described well enough that you can feel the horror that the soldiers must have felt and picture in your mind the wide battlefield as it changes through the day.

I’ve also noticed that there aren’t that many Sharpe books in the second hand book shops which surprises me a little because the series is relatively new (began 1980’s). I think I’ll soon start buying second hand books from Amazon to fill the gaps.

Piranha (Dale Brown)

I’ve got four books to write about today. I finished the first and went straight into the next two. Then a friend lent me another book that I just couldn’t put down.

The first book was another of Dale Brown’s Dreamland series. It’s a typical military action thriller based around a research and covert operations group. Once again, trouble in some part of the world requires them to work with new and not properly tested technology to ensure everything turns out well in the end. “Turns out well” applies only to the key characters and the ‘good guys’ side of course. In fact several of the Dreamland team get killed but hey, it’s war! The key characters all survive to have another adventure of course.

While I generally enjoy this type of book I found this one a little tedious, perhaps almost predictable. Some of the technology ideas were interesting concepts and it certainly was good enough to read to the end.

Course Complete!

i-169b0a422e9f46fb60b306cafe8d75ee-zend_logo.gifHooray! Course over. I think I’ve found a new way of learning, instructor led over the Internet seems to be the way for me to go with many of the strange things I want to learn more about.

Ben Ramsey the tutor really knows his stuff. Between us (the class) we really threw some awkward questions at him and while we did our exercises he’d look up the answers and test things to find out. He’d give us the answers beyond the obvious, pointing out some real world issues and highlighting good practice methods over acceptable solutions.

I feel a lot more confident in coding using PHP now. The next pages I need to code from scratch will use PHP instead of Coldfusion though I don’t think I’ll be recoding all my Coldfusion stuff any time soon. “If it works, don’t fix it” as my old Physics teacher used to say. I’ve also got to look at upgrading the server PHP version from PHP4 to PHP5 as there are some neat little features worth using.

Just to remind you, the course was booked though ZEND and run by a company/magazine called PHP|ARCH

Who created $foo $bar?

During my recent programming course on PHP, we had to use variables to store data. The content or use of those variables wasn’t significant to the thing we had to learn, so as is common in coding circles we used variables $foo and $var. I wonder who first used the variables $foo $bar?

In terms of the word “fubar” or “foobar”, I first heard it mentioned in the film “Saving Private Ryan”, and a quick google search lead me to this page that has some interesting notes/theories/ideas? on the origin of the term.

You did do that backup…. didn't you?

It seems just a few weeks ago that I posted about making regular backups of your computer. That’s because it was just a few weeks ago! Which makes me wonder whether the server at my office read the post too, and decided to test me.

As well as regular backups the server has two hard disks. They mirror each other in what’s known as a RAID array (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). If one drive should ever fail, the other drive will keep going and users wont notice a thing. Just as well I took the time to set it up as I had an alert email from my server saying:

The following warning/error was logged by the smartd daemon:
Device: /dev/hda, 1 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors

Hmmm, not good. Checking the server over the network revealed the following horrible image:
i-3d21e2b0e0d49016603a96d7e6961a0e-drive-failed.jpg
OK, that may not look like a horror story to you, but believe me when I say that’s worse than any movie company could create on a multi-million pound budget. The key is the MD2… line, which has a (F) in it = Failed disk, and the next line to really push the dagger home [2/1] means only 1 of the two disks is working and the _U is there to make sure you see it. each U represents a disk (one for each disk in my server). the _ (underscore) means that disk isn’t working. It’s a little more complicated than that (the 2 disks are setup as 3 RAID arrays and each array uses two physical partitions, and only one of the partitions on one of the disks has got an error) but we’ll skip the detail here and do this instead:

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Don’t panic Mr Manwaring! All is not lost because Steve did his homework on this stuff.
Firstly, the server is quite happy to run on one disk. The users wouldn’t even know there was a problem
Secondly, this gives me time to order a new hard disk and plan an evening to install it without interrupting any ones work.

It would be nice for that swap over to be a small job, taking just 30 minutes. However, last time the server disk failed it took 6 hours. This time it has taken me 4 hours – although that includes a few breaks to drink more coffee and have a sandwich. I started at 9pm just after my PHP course finished and I’m sitting here,with my laptop in the server cupboard watching an image from heaven:
i-4c6f001113bd66a37b8e668643c2314b-raid-recovering.jpg
One part of the disk is back to normal, another part is rebuilding while I type, and in a few hours the rebuild process will be complete and once again the business will be protected from a hard disk failure. What a lovely way to start a morning. I think I’ll go to bed now.

PDF Creation, a cheap way for network users

i-5e28b31ac183580e0b3b6efbe8a0d78c-pdficon_large.gifI have to tell you all about a really cool PDF creation program I discovered called YAFPC. YAFPC stands for “Yet Another Free PDF Creator” and it can be free as the core parts are all available as open source software.

However, the author has also created an ‘Appliance’ version. Which means you can run the server from a CD, Memory Stick, or even a VMWare* appliance and turn an old server into a PDF creator – used simply by users connecting to it’s virtual printers and printing documents in the normal way.

On you own PC you can use a piece of software called Ghostscript to do that. What the YAFPC appliance does though is act as a print server on your network so you only need to set it up once for all of your users to use. When you print to it, you have options to make it Email the PDF to you and/or put it in a folder you can see on your Windows network. What’s really clever is that it needs no configuration to know who to email, it works out your email address from your Windows Log-in name. Even the folder visible on the windows network is visible as the users name! It took me all of 10 minutes to turn an old PC into a working PDF creation server on our network. The total cost of this software is just $50 (USD) – about 30. Note, you are not paying for the open source parts of the software, just the bit that joins them all together on an operation system that will run from a CD all configured and ready to run.

There’s more though. You can set up as many virtual PDF printers as you like, so as well as a plain white A4 PDF printer I set up a Letterhead Printer – you can create a quote and it uses a PDF version of our letterhead as the background. Therefore when we email quotes to customers it still has the professional looking formatting and brand image we spent so long working on.
This PDF Quote was created using the YAFPC Network appliance. (PDF File – 730Kb)
. This is an amazing piece of software – well worth investigating if you want to create PDF’s in an office.

One thing to say about PDF’s in general. The format of PDF was created by Adobe but they published it as an open format which is why you don’t need Adobe software to read or create PDF’s. The PDF format is now more than just a way of creating a fixed document. Current Adobe PDF software will let you allow people to make comments on your document and send them back to you so you can combine comments in one view (without them changing your document of course). However, most people create a single fixed document

i-a81f9f7eafd82cac5cac0f2562506597-vmwarelogo.gif*VMWare
is a program that lets you run other operation systems on top of your current operation system. Therefore you can have a server running Windows XP, and VMWare will let you host “Virtual Machines” that could be running Linux, Solaris, Windows XP, Windows 3.1, DOS – anything! You can also run as many Virtual Machines as you want, configuring them to use Virtual networks within the machine or have their own IP address on your network (all sharing the hosts network card). This is clever as it lets you use one piece of hardware to run multiple servers, saving buying more hardware and also letting you separate different server roles across virtual machines. EG you can have an Email Virtual Server and a Web Proxy Virtual server, so any problems with the web proxy server wont affect the Email Virtual server. Cool eh! Better still, VMWare are trialling a FREE version of their VMWare Server program which will let you use hundreds of ready built appliances for FREE! So YAFPC can run on the server you already have without you having to alter any configuration settings. You can also create your own Virtual Servers if you buy VMWare workstation (which I already have as it means I can test software without having to re-install windows every 3 months). One day, I’ll write more about how I use VMWare, it’s on that ever growing list of things to post about

The Lords of the North (Bernard Cornwell)

The third part of the Saxon series and it cost me a whopping 10 to buy a hardback version (the paperback hasn’t been released yet)! I’m still glad I bought it, equal to the previous 2 books (The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman) I was so engrossed I read it with the week. I’m not very good at getting to sleep and this book made it harder, I just had to keep turning the page to find out what was happening.

Uhtred, the main character, travels North to his home county on a mission for King Alfred, kills lots of people and is near death several times. The King he is serving sells him into slavery and I had to wonder just how he’d get out of that!

Once again I was spoilt by Bernard Cornwell’s detailed writing. In one chapter he writes of a “red ship”, and later it is explained that the red colouring is a result of the ship being made from pine rather than the normal ship building timbers. The research into the period must have been unbelievably detailed to pick up that observation. I guess today’s comparison would be speaking of hailing a black cab in London. Every now and then one’s a different colour but how often would you comment on it?

Uhtreds goal is still not complete though, so I can’t wait for the next book to be available.

First Lessons

i-169b0a422e9f46fb60b306cafe8d75ee-zend_logo.gifFirst lesson over! That was fun. Just like starting sixth form in so many ways. Meeting all the new people but with easier opening lines like “so, where are you from?”. Thinking of which, I should put this in the Root Memory category as I remember starting my Business Studies A levels and meeting my friend Wendy…

Nice group, good sense of humour. There were 8 of us tonight, should be 10 next week. This was just a familiarisation night to check the software worked for all of us. We came from all over the world, or to be precise USA, Canada, Holland, Romania and me from the UK. The instructor is a chap called Ben Ramsey. We can hear him but we can only speak when he ‘passes the mic’ – students that can’t answer back? It must be teacher heaven! He speaks clearly and I’m sure he knows his stuff.

I’m guessing, but I think he’s the Ben Ramsey at http://benramsey.com/, in which case, he really does know his stuff!

I think I’m going to enjoy this course.