July 2009 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

2 Days of Work (31st July 2009)

After taking the plunge and accepting a position in London, I have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions:

About the last point: I needed change for a bus ticket. Several people stopped to help break a £10 note into a pair of £5 and eventually into coins.

Next week I’ll ask if I can name the company.

Cycling My Circuit (29th July 2009)

Did a 2:58 lap around the nearby woodland route I use. Was taking it quite steady. First time I’ve timed myself around it in ages.

I guess those are “racer excuses” for being 13 seconds off the pace? c{;¬)

London Job Offer! (20th July 2009)

Looks like my honesty at the previous interview paid off. They have officially offered me the job!

Not sure if I will take it. Commuting 1.5 hours every Monday to Friday during rushhour will be super lame. The money looks like being about double over a whole year what I make freelancing. But it’s at half the hourly rate.

Then again, being able to tell people “I’m a website developer who works in London” has gotta be worth something? c{;¬P

Offer Accepted! (23rd July 2009)

After checking my freelancing options and talking with friends and family, I’m gonna take the plunge. Fortune favours the brave, as they say.

The money looks like being woefully low when combined with the time and discomfort of commuting 3 hours a day. Especially when compared to the 10m commute I’ve grown used to while working from home.

However, I do miss getting out into the big wide world. This will, hopefully, be a valuable life experience as well as a professional one.

How exciting!

New Virgin Media Box (20th July 2009)

My parents had called them some days ago about several channels taking a long time to display. Apparently many people are experiencing this issue. The error codes were in the range 1201 to 1204.

We now have smaller, shiney, silver, Samsung boxes delivering our Virgin TV service. The UI seems incredibly fast. It’s like 1 second tasks are now 0.1 second tasks and 10 second tasks are 1 second tasks!

After a few days of use, the new Guide and Mini Guide are still blazing fast. Much more stable, too.

Better Picture?

The picture quality seems to have improved with this new box!

Before, widescreen shows would have missing lines from where the 16:9 aspect ratio was being squished into a 4:3 letter box. But now they are totally fine.

When watching regular shows, it looks noticably sharper with smoother movement and better colours. This isn’t a placebo effect, afaict. Every time I switched on the TV over these past few days, I’ve had this reaction. “Wow, that’s a good picture.”

No Software Updates

The dude who tested and replaced the boxes was quite informative. He told me:

“They’re only doing software updates to the V+ system.”

He told me that my box was a reconditioned unit. It is “even older than the one downstairs” even though mine was replaced more recently! Can’t help feeling like I’ve been short-changed instead of compensated.

Yellow Button for Reminders

The old NTL boxes had basically the same UI as the Virgin Media ones. This includes the Mini Guide with four, coloured shortcuts. These shortcuts correspond to the FastText buttons on the remote.

With NTL, the yellow shortcut went to Reminders. In Virgin Media, it does absolutely nothing. A really handy feature gone the way of the Dodo. There’s nothing to replace it; there’s simply a gap in the Mini Guide where this shortcut used to be listed.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

Multiple Reminders at Same Time

If there were several shows starting at the same time, NTL let you set a reminder on each of them. When that time came, it gave you a list of these. You could select which one you wanted to watch.

This was great for planning an evening’s telly in advance. You might not be sure what mood you’d be in.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

TV Guide over Several Days

The current system limits the guide to the current day. NTL’s system used shortcut keys to +24 Hours and -24 Hours. It was often slow but worked reliably.

You could look to see if any shows on today were repeated later in the week. Very handy when planning an evening’s telly, especially since you could set all the reminders first without limitations.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

Only 10 Reminders! (9th August 2009)

Today I found there is a maximum of 10 reminders. There was no maximum limit in the NTL system from several years ago, iirc.

Absence of Icons

Neither system made really great use of icons.

Putting the Reminders alarm-clock icon on the left of shows for which you’ve set a reminder would be an obvious aid. Both in the Mini Guide and the TV Guide.

TV Guide around 6am

Freelancing from home offsets my daily routine. A day often lasts more than 24 hours, so my waking hours gradually drift around the clock. This means I might have lunch near 6am, so the TV might be on from ~5:30am until ~6:30am.

With my previous Virgin Media box, program information would often fail to come in after 6am in these situations. Sometimes the clock in some parts of the system would get stuck at around 06:04 while other parts of the time stayed correct.

The result affects the whole TV Guide, Mini Guide and Reminders. Clicking any item produces the message you get when trying to set a reminder for a show which has already started or finished. The most useful trio of features become dysfunctional and useless. It takes a hard reboot to bring everything back…eventually.

This has gotten much better with the new box. Have only noticed 1 small bug still present. In the Mini Guide, an Intermission which runs across 6am stops correctly at the next show, say at 7:30am. But when the system checks for later shows in order to hide unnecessary arrow indicators on the right, the show at 7:30am disappears.

Scrolling to a nearby channel and then back refreshes the listing, so it’s there. But it disappears again in the exact same way.

Deaf Ears

I’ve seen all these things written about in detail on blogs and internet forums for years. The company refuses to fix them.

I’m paying my bill on every month for a system which is worse than I had several years ago. A system I never asked nor wanted Virgin Media to tamper with!

The very least they could do would be fix bugs and obvious UI mistakes. But they won’t even do that.

Rainbows and Lollipops

The increased speed is pleasing but does not obscure the fact: this system still doesn’t rival NTL’s system from several years ago. The system I used to have and which Virgin Media started out with when they bought NTL.

All Virgin Media have done to the system they inherited is:

Adding a Feed (14th July 2009)

Yesterday (or the day before that) I started adding a RSS 2 output to my blog build script.

It passes the Feed Validator. I decided to jump through all the hoops of it’s compatibility advice, too.

Decided not to hook up the autodiscovery for it right away. Doing some private beta testing amongst friends, first. This is my first time ever attempt to generate a feed!

Having to translate all the named entities I use into NCRs is pretty lame. Luckily I don’t use that many, so a list of string replacements is adequate.

Bugs Reported

A bit of weirdness reported by DrSlony on Linux (KDE 4.2.4) with Akregator 1.4.4. (Incidentally, it seems that website has not been maintained for some time, as it talks about Akregator 1.2.5 being the most recent version on KDE 3.5.5, which I’m informed “is (almost) dead.”

When initially subscribing to my feed, all my entries were older than the 3-day cutoff. They were all listed correctly. However, clicking them did nothing.

I added this new item to see if it helped. After I actually uploaded this page (lol!) he could click the most recent item and arrive at this page, correctly.

This makes me think there’s a subtle bug in the way Akregator works. Maybe items which have technically expired are displayed in the UI accidentally, hence they are unresponsive to clicking?

Autodiscovery Hooked Up (18th July 2009)

There have been no more bug reports so the feed is now live!

Blog Building Benchmarks (3rd August 2009)

The 1st run of my script takes a over 15 seconds. Subsequent runs take about 5 seconds. Maybe my HDD or the file system or both have some awesome caching and performance optimisations built-in? Neat!

Dad’s Birthday (12th July 2009)

Went to a Hungry Horse for a Sunday meal as a family. I had the Fish & Chips which also came with peas. Was rather tasty and the portioning was perfect.

We considered staying for a pudding but we had got a chocolate cake for my dad. So we all went home and some of that whilst watching the Formula One. (Mum had set the DVD recorder to capture it.)

My dad got some posh dark chocolates. They are a treat he never buys for himself so he’s an easy person to buy for. Zoe and I gave him a very wordy and sentimental card. It is his 55th birthday, after all.

Duplicate id Bug Fixed (9th July 2009)

My monthly index pages use <h2 id="dayDD"> where DD is the day in that month. When multiple entries were published on one day, there would be multiple <h2 id> attributes with the same value.

This is now fixed in my blog build scripts. All affected pages should now be updated.

London Interview 2 (8th July 2009)

It was with different people than were at the previous interview. Although it’s supposed to be an interview, it felt more like a meeting between peers.

Travel Times

All in all, about 1.5 hours in transit. The woman at the interview had added this up and summarised a split-second after I finished listing it.

Pincer Movement

They run the two interviews separately without comparing notes much. This avoids biassing the two halves of what they are looking for:

Technical ability:
Doing the job to the necessary standard.
Personal ability:
Thriving in the office environment.

It went well. Showed them some sites I’ve worked on and audited. Remembered to cover the wide variety of stuff I do, including cross-browser CSS layout troubleshooting.

I Like What You Like

They are keen on accessibility, both in a holistic way and in terms of checkpoints. I opened with the more social aspects of accessibility I think it was just what they were looking for. Talked about WCAG knowledge, results and footage of disabled usability studies I’ve come across and so forth.

Further Impressions of London

Walking back from the interview and several things strike me about this area of London:

The commute is really long and pretty hard going. Returning on the train really took its toll on my back. Those seats are so uncomfortable for me!

Final Thoughts

These personal aspects are the only thing holding me back. But these are half of the story when it comes to working in an office.

The opportunity to have a proper job doing something I love is as exciting to me as it is daunting.

Pronouncing Year Numbers Properly (3rd July 2009)

This is a subject I’ve wanted to get off my chest for about 9 years. It is only concerned with English. Proper pronounciations are, of course, often different in other languages.

Source of the Error

“The year two thousand” is, I suppose, an acceptable quirk for pronouncing 2000. “Twenty-hundred” is the proper way to say it, though. Consider the way 1900 is pronounced “nineteen-hundred”.

Proving it is an Error

Consider 1900 as another example:

“The year one thousand, nine hundred.”
8 syllables from 35 characters.
4 syllables from 16 characters.

The proper way is far more compact than the quirky way, in this case. The quirky form is unheard of for this date, too.

Let’s take my date of birth as another example. Namely, 1985:

“The year one thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five.”
12 syllables from 50 characters.
5 syllables from 19 characters.

Yowzer! It is small wonder why the quirky form is unheard of for common year numbers!

Absent Commas

Years are written 1066 and 2009 rather than 1,066 and 2,009. This indicates their pronounciation should not be grouped into thousands.

Engine capacities use the same convention, when measured in cubic centimetres (cc). For example, my car has a 1.6 litre engine so it has a capacity of 1600cc. That’s pronounced “sixteen-hundred C C”.

A motorbike with a 1.098 litre engine would have a capacity of 1098cc. This is usually pronounced “ten-nine-eight C C” which is slightly quirky. The less common but more correct pronounciation is “ten-ninety-eight”.

Renaissance is Near

Happily, it seems the proper form will regain prominence after this decade is out. The 2012 Olympics are widely pronounced as “the twenty-twelve Olympics”.

The sequel of 2001: A Space Odyssey was called 2010. This is almost universally pronounced “twenty-ten”.

Whilst watching Eurosport, one of the motorsports commentators was talking about the 2009 season and mentioned the 2010 season in the same breath. He pronounced them “two thousand and nine” and “twenty ten”, respectively.

As such, this decade is merely a blip in the way year numbers have been spoken in recent times.

Convinced Yet?

At first it can feel a bit weird saying “twenty-oh-nine” and so on. Just remember you are correct. Don’t worry about how people might react! With time, it flows naturally as you untrain your mouth from the quirky form.

The more naturally you say it, the more easily it will be understood. In the same way that saying “ten-sixty-six” is already natural and well understood.

9th Blood Donation (3rd July 2009)

Same place as always, in Farnborough. Bright, sunny and warm today, so only used my jumper to cover a bit of cold frame my right elbow was resting now.

The nurse who was assigned to me was the trainee who deftly extracted my needle at my 8th blood donation. Apparently she passed all her tests and has now attended to over 200 donors! She put it well with this comment: “Amazing what can happen in 4 months.”

Had the jolly man at the little interview thing where they go through the health questionairre, which I’d filled out before arriving. Mentioned my visit to France 2008. He picked up on my correct pronounciation of year numbers, saying “twenty-oh-eight” for last year.

Hard Work (3rd July 2009)

Today I finished a week working on a demolition site with my dad.


Working from home is super sweet. This has certainly renewed my appreciation for that!