On Macs

mac-miniI had to use a Mac today at a client office. As far as I could tell, it was a 2009 Mac mini running Snow Leopard on a widescreen. It had a standard Apple mouse and keyboard. Disclosure: I’m not anti-Apple. I am pro-good-computing, so any sensible, usable system is fine by me. I frequently toy with the idea of buying a Mac mini, and I’m aware that a lot of devs use them.

My task was to log onto an FTP server, download some files, and modify and reupload an .htaccess file.

  • First, I downloaded Transmit using Safari. This is easy enough, except that Safari doesn’t maximize? You press the green button on the window, and it just centers itself and gets a little bit bigger. How do you maximize?
  • Additionally, when typing in addresses (or editing text anywhere) there are no Home or End keys. That’s fine, for simplicities sake, but anyone who writes prose or code on a PC uses those a lot. I try Ctrl+Arrows, Alt, Cmd… nothing does what I need. In fact, Cmd+Right inserts a capital ‘C’. Obviously. Now, if the Mac intelligentsia would like to argue that I’m just Doing It Wrong™, I’d like to point out that if it’s inconsistently applied, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter. This stuff is OS level in Windows, Linux… even QNX on my Playbook!

Anyway, I opened Transmit. I realize this is the application’s problem, but the visual cues for how to do stuff are not clear. There are random plusses and stars where you don’t want them, to favourite and save things. At some point, I think I pressed Cmd+T on the offchance it would open Terminal, and it re-based me and pretended that a subdirectory was my root directory, and cleared the navigation breadcrumb so I couldn’t get back to website root. Whatever, I just restarted it.

So I’ve downloaded the stuff. I open Finder and navigate to the file… Oop! I instantly recognise that the file is hidden because it has a leading dot (and that’s how hidden files work on UNIX) so I pop into the easily-found ‘folder view options’ dialogue. Weird, there’s no tickbox for displaying hidden files, and I can’t see any other relevant settings pages.

That’s ok, I’ll do it in Bash (this should be a clue that something is wrong with the GUI). I figure out from something I heard once, and the visual cue, that the magnifier in the top right is Spotlight. Why does the Mac mouse move so sluggishly at low velocities? It’s difficult to target small buttons compared to IBM equipment and Windows/Linux. At this point, I wish I knew the keyboard shortcut for Spotlight.

I type ‘Term’ and hit enter – this works as I intuit, and the Terminal opens

$cd Documents/ftp
$ls -a -l

Oh good, I can see the file now. To try and discover the default plaintext editor, I put a few combinations in spotlight: ‘note’, ‘text’, ‘edit’, ‘pad’. I find ‘textedit’, so, in the console:

$textedit .htaccess
"No such thing as 'textedit', or words to that effect"

Ok whatever, I guess it doesn’t execute from /usr/bin or something. Fingers crossed OSX ships with vi

$vi .htaccess

Yay! The file opens in the primitive editor. Well done Apple for sticking with the old stalwarts of software (it was released in 1976). Using my novice vi proficiency from a half-term spent writing C on Linux, I edit the file, save and exit (that’s ZZ with no colon)

I re-upload the IP whitelist and all is well. Great, good. That whole experience was a huge pain in the rear, to be honest.

Back at the office, I realised how blindingly fast I can use Windows. Most of that is familiarity, knowing shortcuts, and customization. I open Notepad++ by hitting [Win+R np Enter]. I open Explorer with [Win+E]. Still, I feel like using a Mac is so slow. It’s partly the mouse driver’s fault, and mine for not knowing the shortcuts for Spotlight, opening Finder… I remember now I could have Cmd+Tabbed between windows, as picking them off that dock thing takes forever.

Also, I really enjoy the multitouch hierarchy on Lion (and Mavericks, I guess). 4 fingers for OS level, 3 fingers for application level, 2 for meta-document, and 1 finger for document. That’s brilliant; it’s just a different way of thinking. But I’m pretty sure I’d have the same sucky gripes if there was no touchpad. This OS is made for multitouch and it doesn’t work without it.

I eagerly await your commentary.


Empire Earth is bad

In honour of my friend Leon starting his blog, Gripes On Games, I have decided to gripe about a game today. First, some setting:

Recently, some friends and I have started playing Age Of Kings very competitively, over LAN. This has led to intense training against computer enemies leading up to heated matches against each other. As part of a “balanced training program”, I thought I’d take another look at Empire Earth, a game which I used to play very regularly.

…I was bitterly disappointed.

Here is a game with no finesse, and all the balance of a two-legged rhinoceros. Allow me to expand on that:

  • Morale system. Makes it easier to defend a tiny piece of territory at the core of your homeland as long as you have some soldiers there.
  • No population dynamic. You can instantly house as many units as the population cap of 2000 allows. Houses are put, instead, towards the morale system.

Firstly, these two points are important in blowing to pieces one of the most critical RTS game aspects: Builds. In competitive Starcraft, there are more fixed opening strategies than in chess. You can predict what unit or building your foe will be producing at any time, and arrange your forces so as to cut their game short as quickly as possible.

If you don’t need to build houses, and you can’t build a dock or a mill in the opening age, what are you supposed to do?

  • The military use a primitive and annoying rock-paper-scissors dynamic. After considering their raging tempers, and unintuitive behavioural controls, this oft results in mass troop suicide, as ‘paper’ units surrender themselves willingly into deep-blood conflict with ‘scissor’ types.
  • To build a balanced military in the opening stages, you need to gather all four resource types. I think that that speaks for itself in balance failure.
  • Gathering takes too long, and gathering patches last too long. This leads to complacency and no drive to control resources in other parts of the map.

Cosmetically, the 3D is just dandy, but the textures are too dark, and the fog too imposing. I prefer the pixel-based diffusion and sunny tiling of Age of Kings. I don’t like getting Seasonal Affective Disorder while playing games.

In AOK, I can have an unfaltering economy in 10 minutes, and an army in the next 5. It takes half an hour of grinding until EE yields the slightest satisfaction.

This post is a little bit out of the spirit of Gripes On Games. Leon takes games he loves, and talks about the parts that let them down. I think you should go and read that.

As for myself, I will be sticking to Age Of Kings. It has its problems compared to competition-standard games like Blizzard’s masterpieces, but at least it works as a game.

It’s all fixed

So, for a while, I had two phones with the same outgoing number. I could send a message from the blackberry I’m using right now, and the reply would go to the other phone. I think Einstein had a thing or two to say about spooky things like that.
Anyway, ring ring hello Orange. 20 unproductive minutes later, it’s all ASDA’s fault. Ring ring hello ASDA. Impossible you say? I know you’re right, of course, the guy at orange had a distinct air of ‘haventaclue’. You’ll send them an email? Oh how kind and useful of you.
It was fixed about 5 minutes later, so cool. I’m not going to hold a grudge or anything, i’m just pleased to get to use my new phone.
So life’s good at the moment, which makes for boring blog. I will season it with physics and programming and minecraft and all manner of geeky things, as a chef would lasagne with salt and pepper and whatever you put in a lazaggknee nowaday.
As they say on interweb, kbye.

Quitting Facebook

I’m not addicted, I’m just sick of it.

Admittedly, the initial idea buzzed into my head straight from this xkcd strip. I think Randall is a bit skeptical about Diaspora from the tone of the alt text, but I’m not bothered. I think it sounds like a beautiful thing, and a great alternative.

Anyway, I’m confusing you unless you’re very aware of this kind of thing, or you’ve already read the page where I discussed why I’m leaving Facebook at length.

I tried to make that page look quite good… sniffed out a cunning and perfectly legal way of using the Facebook logo font (Klavika) for my heading. Still, my writing style is super corny when I’m being righteous; that is a matter to be corrected later.

I’ve fixed the hub page of stegriff.co.uk to work in all browsers and resolutions, something I believe in fairly staunchly. I just need to make it XHTML strict compliant and then finish the evening with some /infdev/ minecraft. Ahhh.


Stupid Suggestions

I think Pokémon is great, for the most part. I just finished the league in HeartGold, with a play time of 30:49 over 3 weeks, but already, there is talk of the next installments in Japan: Black and White.

At first I deluded myself with how fresh they looked, and listened to the insidious talk that they would revolutionise the game. That will not happen, on reflection: Game Freak will stubbornly hold onto their precious metagame like their firstborn son… their onlyborn son, in fact.

“Digimon is a Pokémon rip-off” is the popular opinion. I always thought it was OK, because it was like Pokémon, but wasn’t Pokémon. That’s important; why can’t that holy grail of kids’ RPGs — the first and best monster game — be a little bit more Digimon, or a bit more… *sigh*…. Telefang? Digimon changed its whole plot every season, and sure, it’s rubbish now, but it really peaked around Season 3!

I guess they’re content with just swimming in their yen-filled, diamond-lined pool while women dressed as Lopunny dance on pedestals made of remastered precious materials.

Linux: is it easy yet?

The short answer: Potentially, yes. If you use Ubuntu, and you’re fair in terms of what you want it to do.

Linux distribution choice flowchart

The long answer:

Wanting it to do less than it’s supposed to because doing so would be hard is BAD.

I have now installed 3 Linux distributions, and attempted a total of 4 installs. I’m young and inexperienced, but an advanced computer user in every respect (for background reference).

The good: I installed Ubuntu for a friend yesterday, and it was super-easy through every stage, and with my limited knowledge of using the terminal, we managed to get the Flash player plugin for Firefox working, got it to work nicely with his wireless network, had it print to, and scan from a HP Photosmart, sync to his iPod, and even play a Windows-designed Driving Test Theory program from DVD. (Admittedly, we had to use Virtual Box with Windows XP on it, because the disc thought himself counterfeit when we ran him through WINE).

The bad: That same ubuntu disc, 4 days prior, failed completely on my laptop. Ubiquity loaded, and then it hang; the installation window never loaded, and the cursor stuck. Puppy Linux was my previous preference, and turned out to be a huge disappointment. I managed to make it look quite pretty, but the limited console ’emulator’, lack of support for devices (like the mouse), and its sudden and complete failure of all of its internet connection abilities contributed to me kicking it out of the house as though it were a rabid wolf.

I then applied logic that looks like the flowchart to the right.

The mediocre: I ended up with SimplyMEPIS 7… 7, because that was the disc that Alisha, my sister had. (I have no facilities at the moment to download something so big or to write it to disc.) It worked, and I liked it, but it threw an “Exception emask” with my hardrive, which is a known issue with that model of laptop, it transpires. I wasn’t impressed, especially since that meant it took 5 minutes or more to boot, and yes: I tried everything. I tried upgrading to 8.0 a few minutes ago, and ended up blamming my installation. It’s now a bit confused over whether it is Mepis or Debian, is certainly not 8.0, runs slowly, and has a bit of an ordeal updating the graphics, leaving trails of malformed icons everywhere.

My conclusion: Use Ubuntu, and try to get a nerd to help you set it up. If it doesn’t work, stick with Windows. If that is not practical, then “meh”.

Honestly, I do not know, yet.

Sky Customer “Service”

The time has come to post this saga… it is one of the reasons I started this blog. What follows are the transcripts of some conversations we have had with Sky’s (rather, BSkyB’s) customer service.

The first is about using discountdial.co.uk to call my uncle in America:


If I use discount dial (that is, the service provided by http://www.discountdial.co.uk) to call USA, will Sky add a larger-than-normal connection charge? What can I expect to pay for this, atop the charge which the service requires?


Thank you for your email regarding discountdial.co.uk. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

As you have Sky Line rental and are on Freetime you will be charged for any calls yo make to the USA at normal rate charges, however if you were on Sky Talk unlimited you would not pay for calls to the USA. This would only cost you an extra 5.00(GBP) per month for the service.

I hope this helps with your enquiry.

Kind regards


…Nice try, “Sharon”. Firstly, when I’m making a customer enquiry, don’t try and sell me premium services. That is very impolite. Secondly, have you even read my message? With this outrage in mind, I emailed back:


My query seems to have been misinterpreted; discountdial is a service which connects you by proxy to a USA line, charging a fraction of the normal call cost for calling the USA directly. I am not asking what the Sky charge rate is to call the USA, I am asking if Sky apply a surcharge on using a service of that type.

While I appreciate that you must field hundreds of enquiries each day, I would be pleased if you would take the time to read my message and the resources I provide with it more carefully and put forward a solution rather than trying to sell me an extra service; this does not reflect well on a “Customer relations” department. I am sorry if my original question was phrased unclearly.


Thank you for contacting Sky Help Centre.

The information regarding calling USA directly the way to save you money in the long run is to change to unlimited service.

As your on our freetime phone offer the the cost to connect to the USA is

Daytime ppm Evening ppm Weekend ppm

17 ppm 11.2 ppm 11.2 ppm

There is also a 8p connection fee

For information on all our Sky Talk packages, please follow this link:


You can also upgrade your packages online by registering with MYSKY at the following link: https://mysky.sky.com/portal/site/skycom/mysky

Kind regards


…”Yvonne”, is it now? What qualifications, exactly, do you need to work for BSkyB’s customer services? An NVQ in copy pasta?! At this point, we gave up. It was clear we weren’t going to get any sense out of these people. However, soon the time came for our next communiqúe…

Our router sucks. It is a Sagem F@ST 2504 (funnily enough, it doesn’t say so anywhere on it) and it continually fails at transmitting wi-fi, so we’re generally wired in. We had Sky Base, which is their bottom-bracket, 2mbps, 2gb cap package; it was essentially free with our TV package. We hit the bandwidth cap and received the threat that if it happened again, they’d change us up to Everyday, which is 10mbps, 10gb. So, we tried to barter for a voluntary upgrade with a contract, in return for a better router:


Hi. I am interested in upgrading our broadband from Base to Everyday. At present, I have the Sagem F@ST 2504 router which came with Base, and it is not satisfactory for our current needs. My question is this: If we upgrade to Everyday and agree to be tied in to a contract of minimum subscription length (such as 1 or 2 years) could we be offered a new HIGHER model router? Thankyou.


Thank you for contacting Sky Help Centre.

To upgrade your Sky Broad Band subscription does not necessarily mean that a new router is needed. The router that you have just now will work just fine with an upgrade of your package. All that we would do here at Sky is upgrade your package allowing a change on you Broad Band line.

I hope this helps with your enquiry.

Kind regards



I would get more satisfaction from telling a brick wall. Anyhow, I reiterated the question with lots of italics:

I’m telling you that we want a new router, because the original is sub-standard in terms of build quality, reception range, and software.
If we are not offered a new router, we will not upgrade.
I am fully aware that our current router will work with whatever package we are subscribed to. What I am asking is if you will offer us a new one, if we agree to subscribe for a minimum term of 1-2 years.
If you do not have the authority to make such an offer, please forward this to a higher-ranked member of staff who can.
I basically got some copy pasta of the last message; a load of rubbish about “Yoo don’t need a new box for get better internets”, but tragically, I have lost that email. Anyway, if you ever have to contact Sky’s customer support, be prepared for a lot of frustration.