Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Data Protection Stupity

I normally desperately try to avoid any contact with any call centre unless I really have to and today's experiences remind me why.

Having just moved to new build house my wife used the TV Licensing automated system to change the address of our TV Licence. Today we get 4 letters in the same post consisting of 2 reminders (1 dated 2011), a warning of a site visit and threat of court action.

So I rang their call centre, ploughed through their incredibly irritating voice menus and eventually spoke to what passed for a real person. Despite having the name of the licence holder, the previous address etc they wouldn't help because I didn't know what payment method my wife had used. Now up to a point I can go along with this but all I was trying to do was to make sure the licence had actually been transferred but they wouldn't even say if there was a TV licence in place at the new address which seems unreasonable.

And then just for fun the Vodafone signal has disappeared, had been working fine. We have a business account so ring Vodafone and give number. Now despite owning the business I'm not down as the primary contact so I can understand that I wouldn't be able to change anything on the account but my question was purely can you tell me if there is a problem with the mast in the local area. Nope, data protection.

Turns out that the mast is broken and as we use the mobiles for primary customer contact this is more than annoying but I can't possibly see why they can't tell you that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A bit more thought might be appropriate

"Hello, I'm interested in your product, how much is it?"

"£250 or £350 depending on a single machine or site licence"

"Can you drive to Liverpool/Birmingham/somewhere round the M25 to demo it?"


If you haven't worked out what the point of the above is then I'd suggest you need to think a bit more about the costs involved.

From our office to Liverpool is 202 miles

The AA say this will take 3 hours 26 minutes each way.

So approximately 400 miles and 7 hours travelling time.

Let's say my car does 30 mpg (it doesn't) that's around 13 gallons of fuel (59 litres) @ 141.90 per litre (diesel) costing around £83.

(If I use the AA running costs of a minimum of 41p per mile it's £164)

And let's say my time is worth £30 an hour (which is a very low estimate) that's another £210.

So in order to maybe get a sale worth between £250 - £350 I need to spend at least £293.

Doesn't work for me. If I got the sale at £250 and assuming I don't factor in my time at all and just take into account the fuel cost I will have made around £160 on a very good day.

If I don't get the sale at the very least I've wasted 8 hours and spent £83. During this time I can't answer calls, develop code or do anything else productive.

So if you want an on site demo of a product that costs £250 I'm going to charge you £350 for the demo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Manifests in VB6

As usual after much beating of head against the wall this turns out be pretty straightforward.

Why would you need a manifest?

A manifest file will enable you to control how your program interacts with Windows User Access Control (UAC). It won't stop UAC being invoked but you can make sure your program gets the level of access you require rather than just hanging or having to get the user to set the program to "Run as Administrator".

There are plenty of examples of manifest files on the internet.

If your program is called "Fred.exe" the manifest file is named "fred.exe.manifest" and the name is set to "fred.exe" in the manifest.

You can either just place the manifest in the installation folder which seems easiest or embed it in the program.

The key things to know are -

Windows will only look for the manifest file once. If you add a manifest file to an existing installation folder it will be ignored unless you alter the time stamp of the exe file so including it in your set up package is best.

The Version number in the manifest file appears to be ignored so you can just use without worrying about keeping it in line with the actual exe version.

If you require Administrator access to be requested when the program runs set the requiredexecutionlevel to "requireAdministrator" uiaccess="false"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Inflation - time to do some sums

I wish people would pay a bit more attention to the figures.

As of 18th October 2011 inflation is 5.2%. This means that something that cost you £100 in October 2010 (a year ago) now costs £105.20.

The Bank of England tells us inflation will be only 3% next year as if that means prices will be coming down. They're not - it just means they will have gone up slightly less than this year.

So in October next year the thing that cost you £100 in 2010, £105.20 in 2011 will now cost £108.35. Unless inflation is less than Zero prices have gone up compared to the same period the previous year.

Or put another way if you were earning £25,000 in 2010 you'll need 27,000 in 2012 just to stand still. If you don't get a rise how do you think you will cope with a loss of a months wages?

Even 2% inflation means you are loosing a weeks wages every year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jobs - what jobs?

Not a reference to Apple, just a link to the real world.

The blunt news is that there are no jobs. Zip, rien, nothing. If you are in the white collar sector a computer has your job. If you are blue collar a foreigner has it.

It's not going to get any better any time soon.

You can only compete with the rest of the world if you have something to sell them that they can't do themselves.

Nope, I can't think of anything either.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

CLOUD = Complete Loss of Your Data

OK, bit of a stretch on your but you get the picture.

As lots of Blackberry users have just discovered reliance on an external supplier is not necessarily a good idea.

A RIM Server goes down and takes out the system. Chances of recovering the huge amounts of data whilst maintaining service are not high.

Once a big on-line system is broke it is very difficult if not impossible to fix as you are trying to add new transactions to possibly corrupt data.

Ask the Inland Revenue.

BTW, I will claim copyright on the Complete Loss of Your Data phrase as I I fear it will be in increasingly common usage.

Friday, October 07, 2011


Necessity may be the mother of invention but discontent makes the world go around.

Without a niggling feeling of general unhappiness with out lot most people would do nothing to change their lives.

If you are fed up with the weather in your current area you can choose to just accept it, constantly whinge about it or do something about it, which will most probably result in moving to another region where the climate is allegedly more in line with your desires.

The accepting types form the stoic background of our societies who can be depended upon to quietly accept whatever iniquities whoever is currently in power decide to burden them with, just don’t expect much from a group who are largely content with a nice comfy pair of slippers and a yellow cardigan with leather buttons.

The malcontents are frankly just a pain in the backside. Meet them in ten years time and they’ll still be going on about the same objects of their discontent but with some embellishment as to why they haven’t actually done anything.

Those who actively make changes in their lives for whatever reason are the drivers of the world. They make something happen. The “something” may not always be the desired result but without it we only suffer from stagnation.

In a perverse way it is probably the plodders who are most content in life. Those seeking change are quite likely to be always looking for the greener grass. The knowledge that you can change your world is a powerful and sometime destructive force.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Pension off the Pension

If you are employed by the state don't read any further. You still will not appreciate what a good deal you have and how much you annoy everybody else when you complain about your pension.

If you are a banker or one of the few who still have a final salary pension you should probably also look away now.

Still here?

OK I'll assume you are one of the poor unfortunates in the Private Sector who have been consistently shafted by the pension companies, banks and the government in no particular order.

Fact is most people in the private sector don't have a pension or at best have one that is worth around £20,000 which is pretty much the same as not having a pension.

But let's say you are fortunate enough to have £100,000 in your pension "pot". Sorted right? Wrong. You'll be very lucky to get a £100 a week when you retire.

That is of course assuming your pension fund hasn't just lost 20 to 30% of its value because the stock market has gone down (again).

What can you do?

Pretty much buggar all if you already have a pension fund.

Try to move it to a Sipp with the lowest charges you can find. Do not under any circumstances go anywhere near the rapacious individuals known as Independent Financial Advisors who for a mere 2 - 3% of your fund will advise you where to lose your money. even with inflation at 2% that would mean your £100,000 becomes around £95,000 in real terms over a year (charges + inflation) so if you put in a £100 a week (£5,200 a year) you are just standing still.

Look at it this way. The country is broke. Your pension fund is used by the markets to their advantage, not yours. Governments will find ever more inventive ways of taking your money. Even when if) you retire you can only get 25% of your own money. The rest you have to bet against an insurance company as to how long you are going to live.

Save by all means, but save it under your control. Then you can invest in what you like, spend it if and when you need to and it's not likely to do a disappearing act at periodic intervals.

Unless of course that you think endowment policies were a good idea along with every other financial product you have been stitched up with over the years.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sage 2012

Sage Line 50 2012

We have been using the Beta copy of the software and also attended the Sage dEvent that provided an overview of what’s new and changed in the 2012 version.

Although Sage haven’t changed the underlying file system they have made changes to how Sage caches data and tried to improve the locking mechanisms so that some operations will no longer lock out all the other users.

Our initial speed tests show no overall difference (possibly a bit slower) on straight speed but the record locking and caching may make day-to-day operations less prone to other users being locked out and support higher levels of concurrency.

The cosmetic screen appearance has been updated to make it more contemporary and various processes modified to give the user more feedback that Sage is actually doing something (rather than having them reboot the machine because nothing is apparently happening and thus corrupting data).

Data can now also be “locked” so that transactions can’t be posted to a previous period which should keep the accountants happy. This is set via User Rights although the default is to allow it which seems a bit perverse.

The Help -> About screen now provides far more diagnostic information and they also seem to have sneaked in a remote control option for Sage Support technicians.

Internally there are changes to the way the SDK works in some areas so developers will need to make code changes in various areas including Net Value Discounts (which was absurdly difficult to do previously), Customer Discounts and Invoice Auto Numbering.

The Transaction Post has also been updated to perform more checks on the data such as making sure the specified nominal code is correct for the type of transaction (not a Bank Account if posting an SI for example).

Installation has been streamlined and made more straightforward for network configuration.

There are various UI enhancements including new Quick Search Options and a Quick Print button.

Data checking has been speeded up and offers more selective repair options than the previous blanket “Fix” button.

The existing SData Service will be available to developers in Beta format. Essentially it is a web interface which sits on top of the SDO to enable low volume web based interrogation and update of Sage data. (You would for example only perform an action on a single account rather than a bulk process)

Overall it’s the same (very) old file system that they have tried to wring a bit more performance out of it by doing things that they should have done years ago but now seem to be taking a bit more seriously. I guess the cash cow needed a bit of feeding.

Let’s hope there isn’t the usual “oops” moment in the first live release. As usual wait and see before upgrading.

Developers Program Changes

Sage are also planning to introduce a Certification program for third party applications.

This will be an annual test priced at around £600 per product.

We certainly won’t be pursuing this option as it would push our Sage fees up to well over £5000 per year. We’re confident in our products and the level of support we provide without entering into essentially what is an expensive box ticking Certification exercise.

Incidentally Sage say they have around 600 Sage 50 registered developers which on current fees I would calculate is generating them around 1 million pounds a year in revenue and must be very profitable already.

Emailing Sage documents

This is something I have never really looked into but a client wanted to do this and so necessitated a bit of investigation.

Short story is that it is possible and very simple to use but a bit less than obvious to set up and of course different depending on the version of Sage you have.

Essentially you need to use the Report Designer to set up the Email Settings which will create a default Email configuration for all reports set to send via Email.

If you are using Outlook choose MAPI otherwise choose SMTP and enter your ISP Mail Server details. There is also an Outlook option that is apparently only relevant for Outlook 2010 on a 64 bit system.

Then for individual reports you set up the email options (such as setting the email address to be picked up from the Sales Account Email field and Subject text etc)

Once set up you can just select the Invoices in the Invoicing Module and click on the Email button (in Sage versions prior to 2011 it is a bit more long winded)

There is a Sage Knowledge Base article 12659 that provides some information. The independent Sage Forum also has a succinct How to on setting up Invoices to Email.

On Windows 7/Sage 2012 at least the SMTP mail configuration appears to be stored in ProgramData\Sage\SMTP\SMTPConfiguration.xml and includes the username and password in clear text, which might not be the most secure way to do things.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Autoglass - Don't

Against my better judgement I recently got Autoglass to fix a small chip on the passenger side of my windscreen.

Nothing wrong with the service or the repair - in fact it was beyond reproach. What I couldn't work out is how this could be "free".

Now I know.

The adverts tell you it won't affect your no claim discount. What they don't tell you is that it counts as a claim on your insurance.

Mine went up by £200 as a result.

And I don't expect it will go down again any time soon.

So it is a scam.

Autoglass get x pounds from the Insurance company who then up your premium with no risk to themselves.

Don't do it.

By the way I have complained to the ASA, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

SMB2 or how to corrupt your data without really trying

I don't think Microsoft have ever really got the hang of the idea that people might use computers for applications that just might require data integrity.

Deep down they are just a desktop company, bit of Office, nothing serious, mostly works if you are lucky. Good job Dave Cutler came along. Clearly real world issues aren't high on the list probably because they're too busy counting the money and coming up with the next ill concieved way to screw something up.

SMB2 - Microsoft have previous on this whole area but as far as I can see SMB2 will corrupt just about every application that uses file sharing due to caching and metadata issues. Perhaps there should be a new 4 letter word at Microsoft called "TEST". "Think" might also be good. Or just stop "fixing" things that mostly work (or at least we have got used to and know how to workaround).

We are moving into ill considered areas now. What happens when your Cloud evaporates?

There is so much data recovery is almost impossible.

The same applies to large scale systems - the HMRC system is broken and I can't see how it will ever be fixed. It's a live system that we know is wrong that we are adding data to every day. So at best it will be an approximation of our affairs and it will be up to the end user to spot the more obvious errors whilst being told "the computer says no".

Meanwhile all our data is being hacked because even large companies (never mind the small ones) we hand over all bank details to have apparently never heard of the idea of encrypting passwords.

There seems to be a blind assumption by everybody that all this stuff actually works.

It doesn't.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sage and Windows 7

Following on from our Sage 50 and Vista testing we have now had the time to carry out Windows 7 performance tests.

The good news is it doesn't seem to have the performance sapping cache effect of Vista and performance is much the same as XP (even though it's running on an iCore-5 as against XP on a Pentium P4 2.8ghz. Oh well).

Interestingly, swapping from 100mbit Ethernet to 1gb made almost no difference to our Sage performance test results although a straight 25mb file copy was around 4 times faster.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sage 50 and Vista - slower than a slow thing

Ok, I know Vista is now water under the bridge but there are still a lot of these misbegotton systems about.

Recently I have been investigating the use of NAS devices with Sage Line 50 and spending a lot ot time analysing the performance using our Sage testing tool, Transfix.

What was strange was that the first run of the test was quite fast, but each subsequent run became slower and slower until it botommed out at about 3 times slower than the initial test.


To cut a long story short the problem is with Vista caching the data to RAM.

On the first run, all the data (in this case a 30mb Sage file) is read across the network. Each subsequent run loads more of this data in the Cache until eventually there is no network traffic at all when the file is read ; it all comes from the cache. You can observe this by monitoring the NIC Status and using Task Manager to see the cache grow.

Sadly the Sage SDO is around 2.5 times (60 seconds vs 150 seconds) slower reading directly from RAM than from the network.

The file is only cleared from cache when a process causes the the file to be updated which then restores normal performance until the file becomes cached again. There does not appear to be any way of controlling this behaviour.

I have no idea if this affects other programs but certainly Sage doesn't like it.

XP doesn't have this problem and I haven't got around to testing Windows 7 yet.

Does nobody test this stuff?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let's go serfing now

I've developed an unfortunate habit over the last month or two.

It may not make hairs grow where they shouldn't but is sadly compulsive and ultimately very annonying.

It's reading the BBC blogs, in particular Mr. Peston and Ms. Flanders.

I should hasten to add it's not so much the aforementioned who cause my difficulty but the responses to their comments.

Some of the comments are quite enlightening, some are clearly written by political stooges and others by dogmatists. and a few by the plainly deluded.

What is more of a problem is that it is such a pointless exercise on several levels.

At the lowest level it's a waste of time when I could be doing something more useful like checking the fluff in my navel.

It's futile because you're extremely unlikely to change another persons point of view.

It's sad because it would appear that of all the people in the country only an extremely small minority are even interested to comment.

It's dangerous because you are self identifying yourself to the Authorities.

But most of all it's depressing because it brings home to you the realities of the world.

At the top we have the people who do the telling. These can change over time (Monarchs/Religion/Emperors/Bankers) but are essentially the same (money and power)

Then we have the Goverment / Establishment who largely do as they are told.

Then there are the rest of us, the serfs, who just get done.

Nothing changes.

Even if the serfs revolt all we achieve is shuffling around our masters. Strangely we stay serfs.

Which kind of makes the debate a complete and utter waste of time.

(See bankers/bonuses/Government/tax/etc)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Windows Messenger Service (or Not)

For reasons that are too boring to go into I recently needed to have a simple way of sending a message to all the users on a network.

Aha I thought, simples, just use the Windows Messenger Service that uses Mailslots. Dead easy to code, job done....


Microsoft in their infinite wisdom removed this from Vista (and presumably Win 7). Buggar. This is not just annoying, it's MS annoying...

Much googling later I've found a free (but you should donate) download for Vista that allows it to receive mailslot (net send) messages.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Restore in Virtual PC

To save you reading a whole lot of me ranting the short answer is that if you want to restore a bkf file to a Microsoft Virtual PC the file cannot be bigger than 4gb if you are accessing it via a share (you will get an error that the file is inconsistent)

If the file is bigger than 4 gb you need to access via the network e.g. a UNC path or a mapped drive. Note that you can map a drive to a share on the Host PC. My 37gb restore took less than 3 hours using this method and worked pretty much first time although I had to re-activate XP with Microsoft.

Also note that despite what is says on the tin Acronis cannot convert an image to a bootable virtual pc (vhd file) and that bloody microsoft have made xp bkf files incompatable with Vista and Windows 7. There's a workaround for Vista which may work for Windows 7 as well.

The sysinternals Disk2vhd v1.3 tool that in theory can create a bootable vhd file from a running system on the fly can't currently cope with any bad sectors at all (they say a future version will) and the Acronis Sector copy method had the same problem. This after I'd spent 5 hours running checkdisk which didn't find any bad sectors...

Update - version 1.4 of Disk2Vhd (1st Dec 2009) claims to be able to now skip bad sectors but I haven't tried it yet.

To sum up, if you wan't to create a Virtual PC of your current XP machine, run a Windows Backup, then restore it in the XP VM using a network connection. I told the Restore to replace existing files if the backup contained newer versions which seemed to work. Make sure you install the VM Additions (my mouse wouldn't work until I did)

If you're upgrading XP to Windows 7, you'll have to do a clean install. The XP bkf files are not compatable with Vista / Windows 7 so make sure you copied all your data somewhere else first...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Keyloggers and why you should be afraid

Ever reluctantly, I decided to have a little look to see just how difficult it is to capture everything someone types in on a computer.


Worringly simples and all but impossible to detect.

Even using a high level language like VB it's pretty simple to hook into the keyboard and see every keystroke typed in every application.

Getting the application being used is trivial as well. So all we have to do is either capture everything and send it somewhere via email or http (also easy) or just wait until we see a sequence of numbers that look like a credit card.

It took me about a day to research this and have something working in a half arsed sort of way.

Good job I'm so honest...


Monday, July 27, 2009

BBC iPlayer on Sony Xperia

Ever since updating the ROM on the "not very good as a phone" X1 it's been unable to play iPlayer live with sound.

There doesn't seem to be a fix available and the Vodafone web site is not particulary helpful.

What does seem to be a solution is to download the SkyFire browser. This has some annoying features like a reluctance to save bookmarks but will play iPlayer with sound.

The only caveat is that you have to make sure it connects via a Server in the UK. If it doesn't iPlayer will not let you connect as it will think you are outside the UK.

If you get this problem after installing Skyfire, check the Server it is connected to by Menu -> Help -> About -> More Info.

If the Server address starts with 10.110 it has connected to a UK server and iPlayer should work.

If it is anything else it has connected via the US and iPlayer won't work. To fix this you need to delete the Prefs file in Application Data \ Skyfire and reconnect and repeat this process until it connects via a UK Server.

Once this has happened it should always use the UK server unless it is unavailable.

I'd recommend taking a copy of the Prefs file just in case.

BTW, one you have started Skyfire, IE and Opera won't work until you exit Skyfire and force the data connection to Disconnect.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Windows 7 (Yawn)

A new version of Windows, gosh.

Now my only interest in this is whether my applications are still going to work.

I'd be very surprised if this isn't also the view of several million other users.

As threatened by Google Chrome OS all we want is something that "just works".

As far I'm concerned that was mostly Windows 2000 but I'll concede XP has a few useful features and of course enforces Microsofts licensing model.

So far we have downloaded the Release Candidate and installed it to a Windows XP VM running under Vista.

Much to my surprise this actually worked. Runs like a crippled slug though.

However, there is no upgrade path from XP to Windows 7. You have to do a clean install and then re-install all your applications.

Why would anybody want to do this?

On first impressions its just another annoyingly modified version of windows which means I've got to spend ages trying to find where Microsoft have hidden or disguised everything we are used to and work out what hoops we have to jump through in order to get our apps to function as expected.

For our next trick we will be installing Sage 50 and our applications to see if it all works...

Just as well there's a credit crunch...


Friday, June 26, 2009

Sage Performance and the Grocery Store

There’s nothing very mysterious about why some applications such as Sage Line 50 can run slowly, you just need to understand what the program is doing and it’ll soon be obvious where the problem lies.

Too many people babble on about Client / Server, databases, flat files, caching et al without really having the slightest idea what they are talking about.

What’s needed is to know what these terms actually mean and more importantly how they affect your systems.

To make an analogy we’re going to compare what happens in a program like Sage with checking to see if you have all the ingredients necessary to make a recipe.

(For the professionals amongst you this is not intended as a precise comparison, just to indicate the general way in which things work)

Lets say you are seated comfortably in the lounge with your cook book and all the potential ingredients are in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for a bag of sugar. You get up from your chair, go to the kitchen, look for a bag of sugar in the cupboard and return to the lounge. The next ingredient is an egg, so it’s back off to the kitchen, check the cupboard and return. You repeat this process for every ingredient. It’s not very efficient and takes a long time.

This is what happens when you run a computer program. It has to trot off to the kitchen (hard drive) to retrieve every piece of data it requires.

In a Client Server application by contrast, the client (you) shouts through to the kitchen to the wife (the server) and asks “hey, have we got eggs, sugar etc?” (cooking’s not my strong point). The Server checks in the cupboard and yells back the answer. In the meantime, if you can multitask (apparently impossible for males), you can get on with something really important like drinking beer and watching the TV.

Result is a single interaction without you having to go backwards and forwards to check every single item. Much faster if a little annoying to the wife who may have been doing something else.

There’s a little twist to this scenario called caching which is how computers seek to speed up this backwards and forwards process. Using a cache, the first time you go to the kitchen, you keep a list of everything you found and take it back to the lounge. Then instead of going back to the kitchen for every subsequent item you just look on the list.

This is obviously much quicker, but runs the risk that in the meantime someone has used one of your eggs (changed the data) in which case you have to go back to the kitchen and rewrite your list. This is what is generally called opportunistic locking and works as long as someone tells you they’ve nicked an egg which as in life isn’t always the case.

In a Client Server application, local caching doesn’t really matter as the Server is doing all the work, but caching still has a role to play on the Server itself as it only in turn has to look in the kitchen cupboard once rather than checking each item individually before shouting back the answer.

Now on a single computer the Client Server thing doesn’t really apply as there is only one of you doing all the work but it comes into its own on a network.

With a network you no longer have a kitchen cupboard. All your ingredients are in the grocery shop.

So instead of a short trot to the kitchen you have now got to get in your car, drive to the store, and see if they have the sugar in stock.

Then you drive home

Then you drive back again to see if they have the eggs.


Takes a lot of time.

In a client server program you drive to the store, hand over your shopping list and they (the server) delivers the items to your home (it’s an old fashioned store). Result is only one round trip to the store with them doing all the work instead of you so you can carry on with those important things (drinking more beer) again in the meantime.

Now if the store does caching as well, they will have kept a list of the things you need to buy and they’ll only have to search all the aisles once (unless of course someone else buys something on your list) so even without client server applications, caching on the server speeds up the time taken to find your groceries and deliver them to you.

Unfortunately it all goes horribly wrong when the Store Detective starts work.

They want to check everybody (including store employees) every time someone walks down an aisle and possibly when you park the car and walk in the door.

The more mature detectives can be told to use common sense and just check certain people and aisles but the new brigade (mini filters) are having nothing of this. They check everything on their list even if you’re a valued customer just to make sure your not on the list so every single item you look for will be examined by the detective. Have a nice day sir.

And if the new brigade are in a really bad mood they’ll tear up your list (so we can’t use the cache) each time you visit the aisle.

The bottom line is that Sage and many other non Client Server applications can be quite network intensive for operations that involve searching though large amounts of data.

If the Store Detective (Anti Virus) is too intrusive this can seriously degrade performance.

Keep in mind that if you have 100,000 transactions some processes may involve 100,000 trips to the store, 100,000 conversations with the detective, 100,000 tearing ups of shopping lists (not using the cache) and will quickly compound in performance terms.

You can’t avoid the trips to the store until Sage bring out their new version in 2010 based on MySQL but you can make sure you have a well behaved Store Detective.

In our experience, the number 1 cause of poor Sage 50 performance is Anti Virus software.

For more information see

Monday, June 22, 2009

Safe as Houses?

After months of staring at Rightmove and trekking backwards and forwards we've finally made an offer on a house...

We paid 15K less than the semi realistic asking price (it was being sold in part exchange for a new house) and I'm hoping we're not going to lose money but I'm not holding my breath.

An identical house around the corner (with an extra parking space and a slightly better view) but no conservatory has just gone on the market for 40K more than we paid, which I'd like to take comfort from, but I think they're being hopelessly optimistic.

There's some evidence in our chosen area (alright, my wife's chosen area) that houses are selling at sensible prices so maybe we're near the bottom of the market now (or that dead cat is bouncing again).

The only downside is the neighbours appear to have kids, but then I've got 3 classic Hondas and a pair of Tannoy Ardens...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back to the future

After another exciting day viewing property it's becoming apparent that asking prices have dropped around 15% in the last 6 weeks or so and, in the areas we are looking at, pretty much back to 2001 levels.

A few of the houses we've seen have actually sold now and I suspect the price achieved is probably less than the advertised reduced price. The agents tell me that sales are picking up which is probably true but only for houses that have very realistic prices.

It'll be interesting to see the Land Registry information for these sold houses to see the actual price they got.

In the face of a worsening economc situation I can't any reason for prices to increase any time soon. If you're buying now it's a 50/50 chance as to whether you'll have paid too much.

I'd say it's a cast iron certainty that interest rates will rise soon which will depress prices still further.

A useful web site I've just found is

Friday, March 27, 2009

Another Reason to hate Estate Agents (and Bankers)

There seems to be the emergence of a nice little scam by the Estate Agents and their mates...

(This is first hand experience and not an anecdotal tale by the way)

A modern 4 bedroom house appears on Rightmove at a good price at the weekend.

The next day we ring the agent who a) is very offhand b) fails to mention it's repossesed c) can't possibly arrange a viewing until Saturday despite having the keys.

Now, apart from anything else, I find it extremely improbable that an agent is so busy they can't arrange a viewing until the weekend.

On late Friday afternoon the agent rings and tells us that they have had an offer which has been accepted and solicitors instructed so we are wasting our time unless we can offer more and are in a position to proceed...

Now as it happens we have the required dosh sat in the bank and we had already made appointments to see other property in the area so we said we'd view anyway....

Which must have been a surprise as they then had to reschedule the appointment.

Smells a bit to me.

Just might be they have a mate who has been been tipped the wink?

Everybody is happy except the original owner who's going to be liable for any shortfall.

And me of course.

Xperia Update

An update on the Xperia (literally)

With the customary reluctance I decided I might as well experience the upgrade the phone process....

It's a bit more long winded than you might like. First off you go to the Sony Ericcson site and download the Update Service to your PC.

This describes what you need to do, the first step of which is to back up your phone as the update destroys all your settings, downloaded programs etc. i.e. it returns it back to the state when you took it out of the box (but with the new firmware).

What it doesn't tell you is how to back up your phone...

The Xperia doesn't include any back up software so a quick trawl around the net found a couple of solutions. But before you can use these you need to install the ActiveSync software from the CD that comes with the Xperia.

I decided to try out the Sprite Backup software (10 day free trial). This seemed to back up to the PC OK (but note it does shut down the phone while it does it so you won't be getting any calls).

Before running the Update Service you need to make sure the phone is fully charged, remove the sim from the phone and turn off the wireless connection.

Then run the Update Service. It decided that new software was available for the X1 with a name of X1i vfe uk cdf 1215 0285. It appears to detect which supplier you are using and select the appropriate download. You then follow the instructions to reboot the phone ready for the update. This involves holding down 2 buttons which I fund a bit of a faff.

The Update then downloads the file from the web which took around 15 minutes, then uploads it to the phone (during this part of the process a progess bar is displayed on the X1).

The phone then reboots and you have to align the screen and set the date and time. It then installs the software updates which takes a few minutes (couple of new games etc).

After this, you need to close down and re-insert the Sim. The Rom is now shown as R2AA 007.

The next step was to restore the backup which sadly didn't want to play. As there wasn't much set up on the phone I couldn't be bothered to pursue this but I think in future I'd buy a memory card and make sure everything is saved to that instead.

Incidentally the wireless still doesn't work...

By the way the Tweak for the Xperia solved the irritating "backlight going off during a call" problem . You can also download Remote Desktop for the X1 from . Thanks guys.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sony Xperia X1

Reluctantly (obviously) I decided to upgrade my venerable Nokia Communicator because 1. it's falling apart and 2. it's a free upgrade.

Having got used to having a keyboard I went for the Sony Xperia.

Apart from the dubious battery life it's not too bad. Internet access (which is a big must) is good, Wireless essentially doesn't work (it connects but won't use the connection), GPS and Google Maps is pretty neat and saves me having to buy a sat nav. Remote Desktop (which isn't there as standard but can be downloaded) is excellent.

But for a phone it's bloody annoying.

In normal use you're going to leave the phone locked.

So you get an incoming call, Screen lights up and you can answer the call. So far so good.

But let's say you want to put the caller on hold or use the touch tone key pad?

By now the screen back light has gone out (it only stays on a few seconds and there seems to be no obvious way of changing this for the phone) and the phone is still locked.

So you need to press the power button to illuminate the screen, then 2 buttons to unlock the phone, then you can finally use the key pad.

A masterpiece of design.

Footnote : I have since found a download that lets you modify this setting and others at . I'll let you know if it works..

Gordon Brown - A False Economy?

So what happens next?

In reality inflation is already streaking ahead despite the official figures.

Food prices continue upwards and not surprisingly business has said that prices for imported goods (i.e. just about everything) will increase substantially due to the 30% drop in the value of the pound.

Just in case you don't get it, if the importer has to pay 30% more for the product he MUST put up the price you pay by a similiar amount or loose money on everything they sell (why would you do that? You're better selling nothing than selling at a loss).

You will have noticed if you've been paying attention that there are very few adverts for consumer goods now (like big screen TV's).

So unless you work in the public sector this is what you have to look forward to

Reduced wages, if you are lucky enough to keep your job.

Increased prices (up to 30%) for all imported goods.

Increased Council Tax (obviously)

Increased fuel bills (again)

Substantial interest rate rises very soon. GB needs to borrow so much foreign investors will need a strong incentive to lend to us. Expect to see a reduction in UK Credit rating.

Update : The Treasury failed to flog off all the Gilts offered at Auction today...

Increased Taxation. Tax is the only way the Government can pay back the money it is borrowing, especially since they have pretty much run out of things they can sell (gas, electricity, railways, nuclear power, post office, railways, PFI etc). At the same time Tax revenues from business have dropped like a stone, Banks won't be paying any tax any time soon, and the cost of unemployment benefits is rising.

House Prices continuing to fall because of reduction in real income and fear factor.

Private Pension values continue to throw themselves off a cliff.

Gordon Brown borrowing even more money in a desparate attempt to cling to power.

If you do work in the public sector, please don't complain. It really annoys the rest of us.

Get out the flares, it's back to the 70s.

(Just so you know the average wage for a nurse will be £31,974, a police constable £29,144 and a teacher £35,929)

Monday, March 09, 2009

(No) jobs for the boys

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, 35,430 non EU IT workers were granted work permits last year.

I don't believe for one second that there aren't sufficient skilled IT staff in the UK ; they're just not at the price that employers want to pay.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Reluctant House Buyer

The Reluctant Developer now finds himself to be also a reluctant housebuyer...

Due to family circumstances (i.e. the wife said so) we are now trying to buy a house somewhere in the South of England, well at least south of the Watford Gap....

We are in the strange position of being a cash buyer which every single person you meet tells you is a good position to be in, but I have my doubts.

Firstly there is the fear that whatever you buy now may be a worth a lot less in the future. Or alternatively, the market has bottomed and if you don't buy soon all the promised lending by the the Northern Rock and HSBC (otherwise known as pre-election bribes by Gordon Brown) will soon start pushing prices back up or at least stop them going down.

Then there's what do you offer? In a normal market we know there is a unwritten protocol where the vendor asks for a bit more than they expect to get, you offer a bit less and agree on a price in the middle.

Honour is satisfied all round.

Now it is all more complex. Fear of falling prices means that I'm tempted to offer very low ; say £200K on a £250K price and I'm nervous that is still too much. Many properties we have seen have already been reduced by similiar amounts and still aren't selling.

Viewing modern houses in areas like Swindon is overwhelming. There are hundreds of them, not to mention the unsold new build, and they all look just the same. It gets down to trying to find the one that has slightly more parking space, or a garden just a little bigger than a postage stamp.

I'm also in danger of getting in trouble with the RSPCA since using a cat as a measuring device is causing them quite a lot of injuries (but at least you get 9 goes with each cat).

Out in the more rural areas prices are still in the "you've got to be kidding" territory. We've seen a concrete prefab bungalow on a reasonable plot but next to a main road in a not particulary attractive village that is on the market for £210K reduced from £250K and all you could do with it would be to knock it down and build something else.

This is apparently what happened to the neighbouring bungalow which now has a quite nice bungalow built at a cost of £150K, on the market at £420k reduced from £460K but isn't selling either.

My guess is the average house price will drop to around 120K providing Gordon doesn't totally bankrupt us by attempting to re-inflate house prices so I think at least another 20% needs to come off current prices.

The house now on at 200K needs to be more like 160K, 250K down to 200K etc.

I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Clouding your vision?

The loss of the gmail service for a few hours seems to have concentrated the minds of a few people at least as to the wisdom of depending on an external resource for essential business processes.

At best this is a poor idea.

You are dependant on the availability of an internet connection, probably to another country.

With a bit of luck the provider might be securing all your data against hardware failure, corruption and accidental errors and making sure that there are multiple data centres in physically different locations.

They will of course resist the temptation to have a quick peek at your data and may even not give it to the "authorities" on demand.

And they are doing all this for free out of the kindness of their hearts.

In this case every Cloud doesn't have a silver lining...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open Source is for Idiots

Just why is it a good idea to have free software?

Presumably all the people that are using it aren't turning up at the office every day and working for free.

If you are using the stuff to write your own applications do you give them away as well?

Apart from anything else free software just hands over the world to the Far East. They already make all the hardware and once they can bundle up a nice package based on the Wests freely published information they will.

You might not like Microsoft but that is a very narrow view. Sure Microsoft are incredibly successful and some of the products are less than perfect but what about the taxes they pay, people they employ etc etc etc. Would there be a good reason for Hollywood to spend millions of dollars making films and then let you watch them for free or Boeing to give away aeroplanes?

I can't think of any other industry that seems so hell bent on destroying itself. You might not want to get paid but I'm pretty keen on the idea.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Is Sage Slow and is it their fault?

Sage 50 has a reputation for not scaling very well and suffering from poor performance on networks.

Until Sage change the backend to MySQL (next year?) they are always going to be hampered by the old flat file structure that it uses. No database technology here. In some respects it's amazing it works as well as it does.

But after spending years working with Sage Line 50, developing our own Sage applications and installing and supporting networks I believe a lot of users would benefit from making sure their systems are correctly configured before pointing fingers.

I see huge differences in Sage performance on very similiar kit. Often Small Business Server 2003 is maligned in this respect but with a proper benchmark on identical correctly configued software there was effectively zero difference between XP and SBS as a Sage Server.

We have recently written a test program that tests some aspects of Sage performance by reading all the Header Transactions and calculating a Rate per second to read a thousand records. With initial tests on just a few systems the result varied from 0.65 of a second to over 7 seconds. Our benchmark was 1.2 seconds on a Pentium 4 notebook configured as an SBS Server.

The program also checks some common configuration issues.

You can check out our test program at

Sage Line 50 and Microsoft Office Accounts 2008

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water along comes a new Accounting Package in the form of Microsoft Office Accounts 2008.

Despite being annonyingly slow it would seem to offer some huge benefits to the average small business, namely that it's free. Zip, Rien, Nothing.

Yep, the "Express" version can be downloaded for free. The Professional Version is £149 which gets you Order Processing, Stock, Multi Currency etc. And then you can add further users at £149 each.

Initial impressions are that it's fairly easy to use and if you are new to accounts no more difficult to learn than Sage 50.

A huge advantage is that it can allegedly handle Pay Pal transactions and simply import data from Excel spreadsheets.

Sage developers will be interested to learn the SDK is free, and that you can "hook" into the application itself, customise Labels on forms and add your own menu items and corresponding forms that can access data in the application itself. And it's free (I think I might have mentioned that already). Bad news is that you will have to finally learn dot net.

Downsides are probably that you won't be able to find an accountant who has it or knows what to do with it. Similiarly your average book keeper will run screaming from the room. Then there's the queston of Support which is something that Sage are (albeit expensively) quite good at. With accounts you have the dual problem of supporting users who may have problems with the actual software but also have absolutely no idea what a debit or credit is never mind a nominal ledger.

I predict that Sage will suddenly acquire some new features and pricing structure...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Lesser Spotted Sage Line 50 Developer

I got to wondering about how many Sage Developers there really are as opposed to the 750 odd that Sage claim on their web site. The 750 figure presumably includes Developers for all the various Sage products.

For Sage Lne 50 my guess is that there are probably around 40 paid up members of the Developer program.

I've based this guesstimate on the number of Developers you can find on Google without looking too hard, working on the basis that if you have paid £1500 for a Sage Developers license (then £1200 every year) you are probably going to want people to know about it or have a product that uses the Sage Data Objects.

Enough to give the Sage user a reasonable choice but not as many as you might think.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vista, Sage 50 just call it Twap

I was bemused to find out a few years aago that Twain (a scanner technology acronym) stood for Technology Without An Interesting Name.

I think we can now coin a new term : TWAP or Technology Without A Point.

Prime candidates for TWAP are the Windows Vista and just about any new version of an existing program. To all intents and purposes software development for PCs is dead. I don't mean new innovations such as social networking etc but things like new versions of Windows or Office.

We only purchased new versions of Windows in the vague hope of getting something that actually worked. Once we got Windows 2000/ XP the job was done. As a business user you would have to be extremely stupid (or a Goverment department) to upgrade to Vista.

And for all you Linux fans you would have to be pretty stupid to migrate to that platform as well.

The single point that people in the computer industry fail to grasp is that most business users really really don't care about computers as long as they work. If I have Windows 2000 / XP and Office something I'm never going to upgrade because it works. Why on earth would I spend money when I don't need to. Windows isn't like a car or the photocopier - it doesn't wear out.

New versions of Windows and other applications such as Sage are now just concerned with generating a revenue stream for the vendors. That's it.

All technologies / industries reach a plateau where they just become part of the wallpaper. PC's are everywhere but they are now commodity items. Nobody is going to write a new OS because it isn't needed and it would just cost too much money.

If it works people won't fix it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sage 2008 : Nothing new there then

After the debacle of Sage 2007 you might have thought Sage would be a bit more attentive to getting things right in Sage 2008.

Sadly you would be mistaken.

Sage have already released 2 hot fixes to correct problems with the Sage Data Objects (SDO) that are used by Sage Developers and Sage products such as Job Costing that integrate with Sage 50.

There are also problems with Bank Reconcilation and Departments still appear to be a bit flaky.

I'm impressed with the speed that these hot fixes have been released but I'd be even more impressed if Sage had tested it in the first place.

As I've commented (ranted) previously, it's impossible to release a new version every year that actually works. This doesn't fill me with confidence that the forthcoming transistion to using MYSQL as the backend will work before hell freezes over (despite the effects of global warming).

The technical issues with just getting MySql to install on over 100,000 user machines without falling over are immense, never mind porting the whole of Line 50 to use the new technology. Support just doesn't bear thinking about.

Sage hasn't changed the underlying technology since it was first released a very long time ago. Sage users are by and large a fairly docile lot who are just trying to get the job done. 2007 will have tried their patience, 2008 is likely to try it a bit more and start them thinking about what they are paying for.

As usual the best advice is not too upgrade until you have to.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Microsoft :Malicious or just incompetent?

It's remarkable that my XP machine that has been working without problem for a couple of years suddenly started to lock up with monotous regularity at around the same time that Windows Vista is widely available.

After trying unsuccessfully to ignore the problem (when you're writing code your machine locking up is a tad annoying) I was forced to investigate.

The cause? Windows Update. Despite the fact that I don't allow it to automatically instal updates, Windows Update now causes the svchost.exe process to run at 100% cpu and effectively crashes the machine. Ending the svchost.exe process also causes several other essential Windows Services to stop working making the machine more or less unusable unless you restart all the Services you trashed by ending svchost.

Microsoft KB 927891 has a partial fix but apparently we have to wait until June before we get the final instalment. (the kb patches msi but apparently a new version of Windows Update is also required).

Anyway, the patch makes no difference. Just go to Control Panel and turn off Automatic Updates altogether and then wait until Microsoft finally fix it.

The big question is whether this was deliberate on Microsofts part?

After all the only reason most people upgraded from Windos for Workgroups to Win 98 to Win 2000 is because it didn't work properly. So if you've got W2K why would you want to upgrade? XP is just W2k with a different interface and license checking.

Why do I want Vista? I'd probably have to buy a new machine, have to reinstall everything, fight with applications and drivers that don't work under Vista and learn a whole new set of tricks for what benefit?

Unless of course my current operating system has started falling around my ears every day and I don't have the time, knowledge or patience to identify the cause.

I can only come to the conclusion that either Microsoft are incompetent and irresponsible in allowing the Windows Update process to introduce a major problem into millions of machines OR it was a cynical process to encourage desperate users to upgrade in the hope of fixing the problem.

Friday, April 06, 2007

More XMHell

After only 8 hours or so, I managed to get some sort of grip on this XML stuff. Then I went to the pub and fortunately the Fat Bloke wasn't there.

There appear to be the usual caveats with Microsofts cunning plan for world domination which invovle making any sane person loose the will to live after trying to wade through what version of what actually works with what.

The good news is that it appears to be reasonably straightforward to write a CSV file without knowing the xml element names.

The bad news is that information on this really basic requirement is quite hard to come by.

The Reluctant Developer never ceases to be amazed (depressed) that he always appears to be the first person in the world to ever want to do a particular, seemingly basic, task.

Just lucky I gueess


There we were happily using CSV files and now the world and his brother (and apparently his sister, cousins and even the fat bloke down the pub) want to use XML.

I'm sure XML has some uses but for the traditional Import and Export of ordinary data records it's just a pain in the proverbial. To be fair writing out XML is pretty easy (after you have wasted a few days learning something else you didn't want to know) but importing is just a pointless exercise in using the latest technology just because it's fashionable.

The customers application is going to send us an xml file, which we then have to parse to get it into CSV format so we can import it. Why? It's just as easy (probably easier) for the app to write out a csv file in the first place. So we have a whole layer of unnecessary code that serves no useful purpose and in fact can be a problem with very large import files due to memory usage.

Plus we have to go through all the pain of working out which version of Microsoft XML is available on all Windows platforms otherwise we have additional aggravation in getting the necessary msi installed on our users machines. (To save you the trouble, use MSXML 3.0 - this is allegedly available on all Windows OS as standard)

The way forward appears to be to use XSL files to convert the XML to CSV. I'll report back after I've fallen down all the gotchas. Or I may just go to the pub and have a pint of bitter version 1.0. Unless that Fat Bloke's there of course.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool

Can we just get over the April Fool thing?

The news in the real world is now nearly always more bizarre than anything you could make up.

The world hss moved on, April Fool stories are tired, sad and not in the remotest funny.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Manifesto

After another day of being annoyed by idiot politicians I thought I'd set out my own manifesto.....

Make voting compulsory
Ban Postal Votes
Set MP's wages at twice the national average wage. Ministers get 3 times. If they think they can do better elsewhere then so be it. Couldn't do much worse.
Similarly cap Civil Servants and senior council empoyees wages.
Prospective MP's must have held non political paid employment before being eligible to stand. i.e. no career politicians.
Remove all perks for MPs and require invoices for all expense claims.
Make all government employees pensions based on contributions effective immediately.
Make all government employees retirement age in line with the rest of the population.
Renationalisation of essential services i.e. Power and Water.
Renationalisation of the railways.
Make the Office of National Statistics independent.
Reintroduce the 11 Plus. Discard all other testing other than the equivalent of O and A Levels. Project work is not to be counted towards exam results.
Flat Car Tax.
Car Insurance must be displayed in vehicle.
Road and Fuel Tax to be spent on roads.
Parking charges capped at the cost of provision.
Remove all speed bumps and traffic calming other than outside schools. Presumption is to be based on the free flow of traffic.
Remove all speed cameras other than outside schools or proven blackspots.
Speed cameras must be visible and have speed limit displayed on the rear of the camera and painted on the road.
Scrap Road Pricing.
Restrict Mortgage lending to proven multiple of earnings.
Abolish inheritance tax.
All outsourcing of NHS services, particularly cleaning, to be abolished. NHS managers to be criminally responsible.
Bins to be emptied weekly.
All Political funding to be transparent. Obvious scams such as Loans to be a criminal offence.
Chief Constables to be elected.
Require return of local police stations and beat officers.
Council Cabinets to be abolished.
No re-evaluation of Council tax.
Council Tax frozen.
Loan Interest rates to be capped. Usurious rates to be legally unenforceable.
Scrap ID card Project.
Government IT projects to be scrutinised by independant review body (not appointed by the goverment)
Reinstate the Lords
Remove the hunting ban.
Automatic assumption of guilt for any intruder in your property. Onus on criminal to prove otherwise.
Postpone any decision on Trident for as long as possible
No increase in TV license for 5 years.
Scrap turn off of Analogue TV signal.
Restore Capital punishment for Treason.
Try Blair as a war criminal.
Withdraw all troops from the Middle East.
All taxation to be transparent and not for social engineering.
Start building nuclear reactors now. We already have the cost of disposing of the waste and a bit more isn't going to make any difference.
Single parenting to be discouraged as a life style option but supported for those that need it.
Make unemployment benefit actually worth something to the real workers.
Apply common sense to all policies.
And for those that say how are you going to pay for this the answer should be "honestly". No stealth taxes, no huge waste, just common sense and an explanation of what the taxes are being used for. If it can't be afforded if can't be done or the tax required and what it will be spent on should be clearly laid out, not just throwing money at a problem.

I'm sure I'll think of some more....

How to tell if Gordon Brown is putting up taxes?

His lips are moving.

There should be some new signs at ports of entry to the UK. These could simply be "Welcome to Tesco Land" and "Give us all your money"

Despite an apparently booming economy you're pretty much stuffed in England unless you work for the government, big co, are a builder or don't work at all. If you have an ordinary job, or are retired (and weren't a state employee)the bit of money you have got left after paying all the bills is on a drastic diet only supported by immense debt and the false illusion of security if you have owned your house for a few years.

And it's not going to get any better.

Dear old Gordy has stoked up the bonfire of state wages and pensions to the point that it would take the bubonic plague to extinguish it. Or I suppose we could conscript civil servants and send them to the Middle East....

If you dare, just jot down the amount of money you have to find every month to pay the bills you don't have any realistic choice about. Notice how the standing charges are so high that even if you never use the phone you still have to hand over a large wodge. Got a TV, give us some more money. Live somewhere? Pay your Council Tax. What, you expect us to actually empty your bin? Got a car? Boy are you in trouble.

NHS? Want a dentist? Not a chance. But we do have the highest paid doctors in Europe. Just don't expect to see them after dark and be prepared to camp out on the telephone line at 0830 to get an appointment.

Sadly Gordon's bill will need to be paid, but it won't be by him. As with every preceeding Labour goverment we will have years of penury paying off the debt and then just when things are looking Ok again the idiot voters will put labour back in power again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Adsense Revisited

I guess a lifetime in the computer industry possibly tends to make one a little too cynical and my previous post regarding Adsense was probably too broad a canvas. I have no problem with Adwords and Adsense. The technology works well and I just wish the UK Government would contract Google or Ebay to computerise the Health Service.

What I was alluding to were the myriad of "marketeers" who are essentially promoting pyramid selling deals that are extremely unlikely to make any money except for those at the top of the pile. (Pyramid selling is illegal in the UK)

They are all based on getting lots of traffic to a web site, signing up lots of punters and then selling them a system to do the same thing. My concern is that people should understand that this what is what is being sold by the marketeers and just how difficult it is to drive traffic to a web site.

I can see that if you have a "real" web site that Adsense is a genuinely useful way of generating revenue and obviously works to a large extent or the big web sites with huge readerships wouldn't carry adverts. In that respect it's the same as the conventional media such as newspapers and magazines or TV where advertising makes up a large part of the revenue.

The key here is having a useful product that carries advertising, not trying to do it the other way around which is what most of the get rich quick schemes are proposing.

It's also interesting that it is against Google Terms and Conditions to disclose how many clicks you get on Adsense but it's OK to say how much you get paid.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Adsense, Nonsense

After extensive and expensive research I can exclusively reveal the secrets of Adsense.

The secret is it makes Google a lot of money.

That's it.

It also seems to make some "internet marketeers" a fair wodge but after carefully reviewing their proposals it all comes down to getting people to click on adverts on your web page. Your chances of getting people to your web page in the first place are small to the point of non existence and the chances of a click on the ads once they get there even less so.

If you want to make some money go and get a job. Just don't build your hopes on the Internet and all those Get Rich Quick schemes. They don't work except of course for the authors.

Now I'm not saying that it doesn't work. Adwords, where you pay for keywords, are effective (ish). The secret is that you must appear at the top of the page or it's a complete waste of time. It's just another form of advertising and costs us around £40 per week. From this we might get a couple of sales per month.

As for Adsense, the number of clicks we get is pathetic. We have tried running ads for potentially useful information but it wouldn't pay for a pint.

I'm sure some people get lucky, but you probably won't be one of them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What's more difficult than getting Pandas to conceive?

Unsubscribing from their mailing list is the answer to the question in the title.

Like the male panda I have tried and tried to achieve a successful liasion with Panda although in my case it was probably the very opposite of what the male panda was trying to achieve.

Telling them to f*** off appears to be impossible. I've clicked a multitude of times on the unsubscribe link but this is obviously a complete waste of time.

The Panda needs to understand that no means no as the female panda seems to have successfully conveyed to the male of the species.

Even if it does mean extinction.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The end of the world is nigh

I've just been for a walk in the glorious spring sunshine with the slightly cantakerous dog.

About half way round I was struck by the thought that things seem to be coming horribly unstuck on so many levels. TV ultimately brought down the russian empire because the serfs (sorry citizens) could see that the rest of the world wasn't completely grey but I think attitude will bring down the western empire (and probably already has - the chicken keeps running for a while after you chop of its head).

I'm 49 now and the work ethic (fear) was built into my upbringing. It's not there anymore. The world is full of BFT's (Big Fat Tarts) with an attitude problem. Don't even think about complaining because they don't have to sit and listen to that.

Every public "service" that you can think of is primarly concerned with its own welfare and survival (i.e. wages and pensions) and the ordinary punter is just going to have to keep paying for it. You might be an OAP with no pension becuase Brown swiped it but rest assured the public sector employees (also known as labour voters) will live very comfortably for the rest of their largely stress free lives. I know they think they are stressed but it is fundamentally impossible to get fired from a public sector job and money, or lack of it, is the main cause of real stress.

Big private companies have largely the same attitude. They have milions of customers and really don't care. The only possible way of dealing with them is to get them bad press when suddenly the attitude will change (at least while anybody is watching)

The underclass don't care because there isn't a cat in hells chance of their benefits being cut. The latest wheeze is to make single mothers get a job once their child is 12. All that will happen is that they will have another one when their offspring reaches 11 years and 3 months of age. and anyway what jobs are available to these people anyway in our so called knowledge economy where every job needs a degree because everyone has got one.

The goverment don't give a stuff. Huge pay packets, stupendous pensions and full of career politicians who have never had a real job. Here's a tip - a checklist or target doesn't make things happen, at least not what you expected. The idiot beauracrats which just manipulate the system to hit the target.

Computer companies like Microsoft and Sage either don't care, are incompetent or cynically manipulating the system (or possibly a combination of all three). The net result for the end user is the same either way.

It's a remarkable coincidence that my XP box has just started to play up like the good old pre Win2k days. I'm sure that is nothing whatever to do with a new OS being available but the only reason anybody upgraded in the past was in the vague hope that you might get something that worked. Once it works why would I want a new one?

As for Sage, I supect that they come under the incompetent category, combined with extreme avarice. I'm not surprised all the original founders have long since run away. They could probably see the writing on the wall.

The west is morally bankrupt and pretty soon will be in a financial sense as well. Better learn Chinese real fast.

Monday, March 05, 2007

And another thing

I seem to have been doing a lot of complaining lately but that's probably because I've been trying to get some work done.

When I was slightly less wise I was stupid enough to develop a couple of applications using Access. But developing things is not so much of a career as a sentence and my once happily working Access database was presumably missing me and decided to throw random errors on just one customer machine.

Anyway, 3 weeks later and more diagnostic code than you can shake several sticks at I tracked it down (cornered it more like) to a Timer event than runs every two hours. Once the event has run, subsequent code fails on a random basis on a subform with Error 91. And just to make life interesting you could only trap the error with a form level error handler.

As we can't reproduce the error, I thought I would try and fool it and rewrote the timer event so it was doing more or less the same thing but in a different way. Unfortunately we now get the same error but also in a slightly different way.

Along the way I discovered some other interesting foilbles like trying to a access a control on a subform when the parent form is minimised doesn't work no matter what syntax you use. Error 2455 in case you are interested.

Searching the internet showed an interesting catalogue of Access woes but predictably I seemed to have scored another world first. (funny how often that happens).

So the upshot is we have turned off the timer for that machine, end of problem, except of course several weeks of time spent trying to fix the problem which we won't be getting paid for.

VB6 sir, that'll do nicely.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Don't ACT!

Why is ACT! Development now so difficult?

Up to version 6 of ACT! the product was based on a fairly simple file structure and the developer interface was well documented and easy to use. Most of the functions within ACT seemed to be reasonably straight forward to implement. I wrote the original Phonix to ACT interface in a weekend and it worked very well. We obviously then spent a lot of time enhancing the interface but it wasn't rocket science.

ACT Professional introduced 2 major changes. Firstly the simple file system was replaced with SQL in an effort to "improve" performance on large systems. Secondly, the whole thing was redone in .NET. As Sage have also discovered in Line 50 2007 this isn't necessarily a good idea. This change to NET means that ALL previous add ins will no longer work and need to be totally rewritten in .Net. This is a huge task. The programmers have to learn a completely new language (that seems to be obscure just for the sake of it), purchase the new development tools and then rewrite the addin. As if that wasn't enough a lot of the functionality that was there in version 6 can't be replicated in the new version. Just to make life more interesting the ACT Professional documentation appears to have been badly translated from the original Klingon version by someone who really wants to make your life as difficult as possible. And the product itself is full of bugs anyway.

Still we pressed on and redeveloped our interface. It only took 3 months. And we sold two.

We get the odd marketing survey from Sage asking what they can do to improve the developers life but strangely they never respond to any issues raised. Nor do any of the Sage / ACT management respond to any phone calls or emails. Presumably if your face fits you get a response as an ACT add-in for another version of Sage recently won a Sage prize. Makes me feel so much better about paying our Sage Developers fees every year.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stupid is as stupid does

For some time now I've had the largely uappreciated (because I didn't notice) convenience of just being able to get on with my job. Since Windows 2000 I'd generally just been able to load the machine and use it.

Then I stupidly installed Internet Explorer 7.

Deep joy.

Now accessing a web site has an element of Russian Roulette. Will it work? Will IE just hang for no obvious reason? Perhaps Microsoft were getting bored and wanted to get back to the good old days of crap software.

Well here's the news. I've been doing this for 34 years. I don't have the time, inclination or patience to sod about with stuff that doesn't work.

Just switch your licensing model. You need a revenue stream and I'll happily pay if you just make the things we have work. I don't want a new one, I just want one that works in a predictable and reliable way. I don't want to have redevelop all our products because you've got a new OS or a new language that delivers no tangible benefits other than to your bottom line. Making it add up numbers in a consistent way would be a bonus.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not very EasyJet

Well OK, the jet bit was pretty easy but the Europcar car hire part of the transaction was a less than wonderful experience. I've obviously never tried a career in the secret police with a specialist subject of interrogation but even if I had I doubt whether I could have found out what the ****** car insurance costs or covers.

The EasyJet web site offers optional Piece of Mind cover to top up the CDW which apparently doesn't. Nowhere on any of the web sites can you find a definition of what this actually covers but clearly it isn't piece of mind. Still, hey ho, you can ring a premium rate telephone number or send an email that will be completely ignored.

Unsurprisingly, on arrival at Luton Airport I was invited to pay still more money to get Europcar Piece of Mind cover which is apparently is a different type of zen like calm than that offered by EasyJet. I couldn't pursue this much further as the Europcar operatives English was only marginally better than the helpful French security officials at Bordeaux.

Still I'm glad that I had the zen option because it was pitch black and it would have been impossible to check what the state of the car actually was. Lack of a radio aeriel would have been on the list. Local radio is such a joy.

Unfortunately the zen option didn't cover the houses in the rest of the street who were introduced to the cars alarm system very early the next day when I foolishly used the key to unlock the door. For those of you hiring a Kia something or other the button to disarm the alarm system is on the side of the ignition key which you may not notice at 0630 in the morning.

The people on the Europcar help desk don't know where it is either....

And another thing

As one didn't appear to have much choice I've now updated to the new improved Blogger software.

I'm tempted to go and look up the word "progress" but I'm fairly sure it won't have "new blogger" in the definition. Maybe it'll say"waste another few minutes of your life for no obvious reason".

I have two Google accounts because of the cack handed way Adwords and Adsense were handled. Would the upgrade accept my preferred account? Nope. My password was apparently wrong, incorrect, rubbish. Sigh.

So once we'd entered our alternative account all is apparently well. Except I can't search all blogs anymore. I'm sure there's a way ; I just can't be bothered to waste any more of my life looking for it.

Message to all developers. If you must provide new featues don't hide the old ones. The clutch is next to the brake. It's not in the boot, glove compartment or in the centre console. Life is too short.

But then you're probably American.

And don't know what a clutch is....

Another Day, Another Patch

Just got an email from Sage that Line 50 version 13 Update 4 is available for download.

I'm 100% behind Sage on getting these fixes out asap but it would probably be helpful for the average Line 50 user if Sage made the update process a little easier.

The download page says in big red letters that you can only apply this patch if you have version and to be fair does tell you how to check which version you have.

What it doesn't do is to tell you what to do if you don't have this version......

Given most Sage Line 50 users are just trying to their job (which isn't technical support) I think Sage could devote some of their considerable revenues into coming up with an easy to use update deployment mechanism that checks what it needs to apply. End users shouldn't need to have this level of knowledge and frankly I don't see why I should need to either.

Monday, January 22, 2007

*ankers Rounding

I should have known so I'm trying to resist the temptation to throw all my toys out of the pram....

Well, they're all on the floor now so..

You would have thought that even Microsoft couldn't make something so simple as Rounding numbers an exercise in absurdity. At this point, there's a load of programmers looking smug saying "I thought everyone knew that" but as Microsoft choose to a) keep it secret by not documenting it in the help files for the product, and, b) Implement it differently by product I'm going to file them under the category of smug.

What am I stamping my feet about? Well, let's say we want to round .925 to 2 decimal places. What would you expect the answer to be. I'm betting 9.3. Nope, in the Microsoft VB world it's .92

Why? Because they use Bankers Rounding which means "Round to the nearest Even number".

So presumably (because I'm to annoyed to test it) .935 would be rounded up to .94

I'm going to stop now and take a deep breath.

OK, I don't care how they implement it as long as they tell us before we screw up and have to go looking on the Internet for the reason.

For those with anorak tendencies Microsoft KB article 196652 describes the mess.

And for those of you with a nervous disposition just think how many times you have innocently used the Round function...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I can't believe it's not bollocks (C) Copyright SBS 2006

Well, who could?

On the off chance, we are now going to be screwed for huge amounts of tax to save the planet.

Even if you believe in global warming, you'd have to be as stupid as, er, the average Guardian reader, to think that handing over countless extra bilions is going to make the slightest bit of difference to the problem, given we apparently only contribute 2% to the greenhouse gases.

So we get to lower our standard of living just to make a point to the rest of the world.

Brilliant idea, why don't do something really clever like invade a foriegn country as well. Oh, we already did.

Of course, the reality is it's just a cool way for the nice Mr. Brown to raise even more money to prop up his ill conceived squandering of billions of pounds to achieve a short term increase in the number of labour voters.

Want to save the planet - stop buying new cars and drive something old and interesting. Yes, it probably pollutes more but nowhere near as much as the environmental cost of building a new one or disposing of all these lead acid batteries in your bloody Prius.

Most of all, please, just start to use your brain to think for yourself instead of just believing everything you are told.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sage Line 50 2007 - the Quick and the Dead

I'd like to say I'm surprised that version 13 appears to be full of bugs, but I'd be lying.

You can develop software quickly OR you can have something that works ; you can't have both.

Sage have followed the strategy adopted by many other companies in the past of having a release a year in order to drive sales. Witness Windows 98 and Windows 2000 etc. However most of these companies have dropped this concept because it makes a rod for your own back having to come up with new features every year and a constant unrealistic development cycle. It also means having to support an increasingly large number of versions.

Best advice for users is to stick to a version that works until you actually need the features offered in a new version or Sage threaten to remove the upgrade path. Then make sure you wait for the bugs to be found in the new version before you commit to the upgrade.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sage Line 50 gets go faster stripes

Performance issues with Sage Line 50 may be about to become a thing of the past.

While converting our packages to Sage line 50 2007 it certainly seems that certain aspects are much improved in terms of accessing data across the network.

Initial testing suggests that reading through Sales Accounts across the network is at least 30% faster than version 12. There also seems to be more caching going on as consecutive read tests were again quicker than the same tests in version 12.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sage Developers Licence - Is it worth it?

I sometimes wonder how many developers actually make any money out of having a Line 50 Developers licence.

Had another call today from a user who has an SDO v10 application. They've just upgraded to v12 and it has not surprisinly stopped working. The developer flatly refuses to pay for a V12 licence, presumably because they can't make any money out of it and undoubtedly the user doesn't want to pay a realistic amount. Were not about to do the job for 3/6 either. We have had this experience a number of times so it can't be uncommon.

The problem is that Line 50 is relatively cheap so the users perception of everything else is that it should be similarly cheap. Strangely, I don't think the answer is to make the SDO licence cheaper as this would just mean there is absolutely no money in developing for Sage Line 50 at all. Perhaps developers should try charging a sensible rate for their work instead of following the rest of the computer industry down the plughole of ever decreasing prices.

Speaking as someone with other 30 years in the industry and experience of just about every role, development is a lot more time consuming than installing a server and requires a far more expensive set of tools ; Sage Licence, Sage Additions advertising, Programming languag, MSDN subscription etc but I can still make far more money slapping in a server than spending a lot more time developing a robust piece of code.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sage Line 50 Version 13 (sorry 2007)

We got our copies of the new Sage Line 50 and the developers toolkit today.

Initial impressions are that Line 50 looks pretty much the same as version 12 in terms of the interface.

We will be starting to test the new sdo with our products in the next few days so watch this space.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sage Line 50 : Quick, Quick, Slow?

Performance seems to be a common problem in Sage Line 50.

I think it's fair to say that some operations are slow, particularly when there are lots of transactions on the system, but equally I'm not convinced, unlike some commentators, that network configuration is not a significant factor. It's also kind of interesting to compare Sage running on an old Win98 box and an all singing and dancing XP box accessing data files on the same server.

It's quite possible that Sage haven't taken the time to test some of the issues in a controlled environment, but we have and significant performance gains are available for relatively little effort.

For example, using a unc path to the Sage data files rather than a mapped drive letter can reduce performance by 50%.

Similiarly Norton AV on the Sage dta files will grind Sage to a halt.

Turn off Opportunistic Locking on the client or server. There are lots of Microsoft Knowledge Base Articles on this subject.

There are another couple of Windows Server Policy settings that have dramatic effects on scrolling through lists of Invoices for example and the speed of reporting but I'm not going to list them here because a) We need to make a living and b) You run the risk of messing up your system if you don't know what you are doing.

You will still need to extract data for some operations because, yes, Sage uses an old architecture and some fields aren't indexed

Sage Line 50 Solution Selling

Having read a few Sage related blogs quite by accident I thought I might as well have a go myself.

A lot of the comment I have seen related to Line 50 seems to miss the basic point that all services / solutions related to a Sage sale (or anything else for that matter) are directly proportional to the price of the product being sold.

If someone buys a £5000 car they aren't going to expect (or pay) the sort of service bills you get for a £30,000 car. Exactly the same principle applies to the computer industry, so, if you want to make more money, start selling a more expensive solution.