New theme

Filed under: Editorial — iain @ 22:20:05

I finally got round to creating a WordPress theme to match that of the rest of my site. Let me know if you find any pages which look messy.

One month done

Filed under: Work — iain @ 20:48:29

My first month as a contractor draws to an end. The client are happy with my work; I’m happy working there; things are looking good.

There was only one slight panic. On Tuesday I suddenly remembered that all the money I’d charged the client was sitting in my company bank account … and hence of precisely no use to me when it came to covering personal bills and expenses. Cue a lunchtime cycle ride into Cambridge to get the bank to transfer money between accounts. Apart from that there have been no major hiccups and I’ve completed my accounts for the month which will keep the accountants happy. On the advice of friends I appointed SJD to co^H^Hrun my books.

Even so I confess to being wholly unprepared for the amount of paperwork I’ve had to do. Sometimes even when someone tells you something and it sounds perfectly reasonable, you just can’t grasp the magnitude of what you’re hearing. I’d been told there would be a load of paperwork. It made sense that there would be a load of paperwork. I was expecting a load of paperwork.

Yet the load I got was about ten times bigger and more loady than the paperwork I had envisaged.

Consider that I had to fill in half a dozen pages to authorise the accountants to act on my behalf. That’s filling in a load of paperwork to get someone else to fill in your paperwork…

If I could give two pieces of advice, based on my experience so far, to people considering forming their own limited company, being prepared for the paperwork and making sure you stay on top of it would be one of them. The other would be to appoint a company secretary who lives near you. The standard way of doing things is to get your significant other or a family member to fill the role. I got my father to do it and, since he lives in Stourbridge, that means posting forms back and forth to get things done.

Which is bad enough when he actually fills in the forms correctly and doesn’t forget to sign in the right place!


The joy of CUPS

Filed under: Geekiness — iain @ 19:43:32

I bought a printer. All companies need a printer. Being able to print is an essential part of doing business. Now that I run a company, I needed one.

The printer, an HP Photosmart 4180, connects to a computer by USB cable. I connected it to my MacBook Pro since I expected that I would mostly need to print from Mac applications. Soon enough, however, I needed to be able to print an invoice for an online purchase I’d made using a web browser on my Linux machine. Which meant that I needed to be able to make the printer available across the network.

If you aren’t a technical person yourself, think for a second how often people at your office need to call the IT desk to sort out a problem with printers. Consider how often they go wrong. Think about the hassle involved in setting them up.

Now consider that the last time I set up a printer, you had to do it by opening – in a text editor – files like this:

lp|local printer|HP DeskJet 690C:\

ps|Ghostscript driver:\

That isn’t random gobbledegook; that’s a printcap file, and you were expected to write it by hand. Unless, that is, you used Red Hat Linux, which boasted a menu-driven text application which attempted to write it for you, and which was hailed as the best thing since sliced bread by Linux aficianados.

Now I happen to know that Mac OS X uses CUPS, the Common UNIX Printing System. It’s a software suite designed to make printing somewhat less of a black art.

I installed CUPS on my Linux machine. Then I followed these steps:

  1. I clicked "Share these printers" in the printer control panel on my Mac.
  2. I started cupsd on the Linux box.

Then I clicked the Print button in my web browser … and a full-colour rendition of the page whirred its way out of the printer.

The printer didn’t explode in a violent ball of flame. It didn’t print random characters, twenty to a page, until it ran out of paper. There were no error messages or complaints from the Linux machine or the Mac. It Just Worked.

I can’t imagine many readers will be overly impressed by this. But by my stars, I was.


Touch wood

Filed under: Geekiness — iain @ 22:00:37

The first draft of this post began: "Without wishing to tempt fate…"

Needless to say that wasn’t a great idea.

You see, I had an ASUS A8N-SLI motherboard for my gaming PC. It worked well. Very stable and very reliable. When I came to upgrade it I decided to buy its successor the M2N-SLI. This turned out to be a massive disappointment.

I had to poke around the BIOS and manually set the RAM timings before the thing would stay up long enough to install Windows. Indeed I managed to get the machine into a state where it wouldn’t boot at all until I reset the CMOS. When the OS finally did install it was very very flaky. The system would randomly crash or hang. and upgrading to the latest drivers for everything was no help.

I would continually get STOP errors whose error codes indicated a problem with the SATA disks. Forcing the disks to run in SATA1 mode didn’t help. Removing all but one disk didn’t help. Removing the CDROM drives didn’t help. After updating the BIOS yet again I got the system to the point where it would run reasonably well but would lock up in a big hurry once the disks were placed under load. I could play games all day long but if I initiated a big file transfer while playing the system would bluescreen.

One crash occurred while I was editing the local group policy and since then the group policy editor has never successfully started. My system was a complete mess and the only reason I continued to run it was because I was too lazy to rip everything out and start again. I decided I’d rather have a broken system that was forever at risk of falling over than spend more time rebuilding everything yet again.

I never thought that the problem was with the disks themselves. It seemed more reasonable to assume that the SATA controller was screwy. Three different, brand new disks broken? Unlikely.

Last week my semi-regular trawl through the various manufacturers’ sites revealed that ASUS had released a new BIOS. Of course I downloaded it straightaway.

After a week’s worth of uptime, during which I had games and BitTorrent running concurrently as well as some other disk-intensive stuff, I was beginning to think that maybe this BIOS had fixed whatever problems there might have been with the disk controller.

And then just as I was about to write this post Windows started complaining about delayed write failures and predicting that everything was about to die!

Things have been fine since the obligatory reboot, however. Not that I wish to tempt fate or anything…

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