Wilkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome... Sziasztok!

Welcome to The Lotus Position, an intermittent collection of extempore navel gazings, ponderings, whinges, whines, pontifications and diatribes.

Everything is based on a Sample of One: these are my views, my experiences... caveat lector... read the Disclaimer

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter
Ponder, Scribble, Ponder (Photo Erdotahi Aron)

Guest Nutter/Kindred Soul: Bill Bailey

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Monday, 30 July 2007

Heroes, Germans, Wombats! A Veritable Cornucopia of Stuff

Today's hero is Jancsó Ferenc, English speaking engineer at the Panasonic Service Centre (Kalotaseg u) here in Budapest...

Helpful - no make that very helpful - courteous, and above all, well... helpful! Give that man a raise!

I did have two dead camcorders - one, a Panasonic GS-120 remains dead owning to an influx of water from the great storm of last year ("Beyond Economic Repair", Internally Fubar'd, of just PFU!) despite his very best intent, but the
other one, also a Panasonic now nearly 10 years old, has just been cured of its slight old age, slippy wheels and dodgy micro-switch and apparently now works just fine.

However, merely fulfilling one's job description isn't enough for real heroism: despite not-fixing the GS-120 I do
now I have pictures of the water damage (Isn't it just fascinating? Shall I include one here? Yeah - then you too can share the thrill... later) and some information that might allow me to fix it myself one day... once I get it apart. In which case that repair will also eventually also be due to Mr Jancsó.

But, while we are on the topic of self-repair (c.f. Python, Monty "How to take your appendix out on the Piccadilly Line" The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok) just one piece of advice: beware of Japanese hoovers - they are not designed to be repaired and take phenomenal e
ffort, great skill and tremendous courage (oh, let me see, what other heroic attributes does hoover repair require... honour, true grit, indefatigability, deep love of the Mother/Father land, etc. etc. etc.) even to open up - you do have to keep asking yourself

a) HTF did they put this *&^%$ together?
b) WTFTB if I pull any harder on this ^%"*&^ &%*(% !!!! cover? (WTFT break?)
c) WFI designed this (*$~# thing?

before you can even confront the problem itself. It took me two hours to get the last one open.

It is however an enlightening experience. Honestly. *

Hmmm.... hoovers.... reminds me of a rather unusual film I saw once... I think it was German (what a surprise!)

But, since we seem to have drifted from Japan to Germany, some handy hints...

BE CAREFUL! The German for hoover is "Staubsauger" - "dust sucker", definitely not to be confused with "Staus-säuger - which would be a "dust suckler". You will get very strange looks if you ask for the latter when you want the former (though if you do in fact want the latter I expect you're used to such things by now...)

Which brings me, and rather neatly I thought, to that handy piece of conversational German I acquired from Mr Bubley some years back, "Mein Beutelmaus hat verstopfung", or "My wombat is constipated".

Sadly, most Germans seem to have forgotten the word Beutelmaus, and know only "wombat", which is a shame; the etymology is quite nice...

If anyone knows of any equally pointless conversation gambits in other tongues, do let me know... (well, pointless for the audience - all the fun is in watching their faces as you announce in all seriousness the predicament of your marsupial companion animal...)

Ciao!

* If you would like to sign up for one of our occasional courses "Enlightenment Through The Repair of White & Brown Goods" please drop me a line. I also run workshops on

a) Capability Modelling with Alphabetti Spaghetti
b) Cosmology & Cheesecake: What THEY don't want you to know!
c) Impersonating a Giraffe (and other savannah animals)

and can whip up a course on almost anything given adequate incentive... money may mean nothing to me, but that doesn't mean I don't use it.

NB I think they must put something in my coffee today... this is unusually random stuff - even for me.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Not the last place you look

Ever got really annoyed by Murphy's Laws? Do they bring back that adolescent desire to thumb your nose at authority? Well, now's your chance.

It is so very annoying that a lost or misplaced object is always in the last place one looks: whether one looks in the most likely, least likely, most-least likely or least-most likely place first it's never there - it's always somewhere else. One begins to wonder how Quantum Mechanics ever find anything to observe... but the Heisenbergian implications are interesting: if you really don't know where something is, it must be moving rather slowly, so it will probably pretty much stay where it is. On the other hand, as you get closer and closer to finding it, it ought to speed up - ah... that would account for it the difficulty... the zitterbewegung of Stuff means you end up having to run it down like a cheetah chasing an antelope.

[Note added in proof: for the benefit of those with a pincipled aversion to persistent German terminological hegemony we may thus coin a new, and dare I say more intuitive (to the Anglo-Saxons among us) term: subatomic or quantum pronking. I thank you.]

Anyway, now help is at hand. In order to avoid That Which Is Sought (TWIS) turning up at the end of a long and hitherto fruitless search you need to do only one simple thing, i.e. keep looking after you have found it.

One of these days I'm going to find TWIS twice.

So there. Yah-boo-sucks to Murphy - with knobs on.

Wednesday

Expecting something exotic, erudite or eldritch?

Sorry, just wanted to say that it's effing hot here in Budapest at the moment... the little Vista weather gadget says it's currently 38C (well, at the weather station at Ferihegy airport as of 17:30 local time). Doesn't seem that hot to me, but I'm inside and the building is in the shade.

I was however woken up at 6am this morning (yes, I know what a.m. means, the emphasis was on this and I'm not going back just to edit out "am" now that I've made the point) by the heat of the sun shining on my right foot.

That's hot.

I'm hoping there will be a thunderstorm to clear the air soon, though thunderstorms here can be a little... excessive at times.

August 20th last year - a national day of some sort and the day of the Red Bull Air Race - it was also rather hot. Hot enough that only fools stood in the sun. We watched the air race and retreated from the furnace heat to the apartment to return to the banks of the Danube/Duna early in the evening to settle in for the fireworks show at 8pm.

We were as I recall (and the blurred picture attests... where's it gone?) wearing as little as possible - think T-shirt to keep off the sun, shorts and sandals, but in my case carrying rucksack with all the optical gear... 35mm camera, lenses, video camera. Who would have thought...

There were clouds and little flashes of lightning in the distance, Buda side.

Aha! Fireworks and lightning! That would be cool, I rashly opined. I love fireworks (school chemistry lab lost a bit of various nitrates to my home pyrotechnic experiments) and lightning (though I have learned I should be careful where I point my finger...) so it seemed a delightful, if improbable prospect.

The fireworks began on time. There was a gust of wind. Then there was a slightly stronger gust. Then it began precipitating. It might have been rain, but it seemed to sting rather too much.

Then it began to sting a lot - then it really began to hurt, and finally the doors to the chamber of winds blew open and voila - instant Force 9 gale. At the same precise moment the precipitation definitely became rain - and lots of it. We are not just talking Cats and Dogs, we are talking Lions, Tigers, Pumas, Great Danes, Rottweilers and Irish Wolfhounds, not cute kittens and happy spaniels.

Wind and rain demolished the catering stalls - the heavy vinyl not being quite up to a tempest; fortunately the demise of one gave us somewhere to shelter while the waters rose... as rise they did, even on the banks.

Eventually we had to get away (along with many tens of thousands of others), so we scrambled up the embankment, clambered through railings and trudged home. Happily we live not too far away, but it was a long wade home. We were lucky: sightseeing boats collided on the river, a couple were thrown overboard (don't know if they were ever found), falling trees killed two or three people; it was a dark and stormy night.

They didn't stop the fireworks: they didn't want to cause a panic - apparently overlooking the fact that there was already quite a lot of panicking going on... (which reminds me, must learn the Hungarian for "Help!")

But, that was the Great Storm (a vihar) of 2006. I think it was a Sunday.

But today's Wednesday, so that's OK.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Yippee!

The Steganos story so far: problems, issues, silence from "customer service" (sic), emailed then spoke to CEO...

After another couple of weeks of silence - surprising in that the CEO seemed to appreciate my position - I sent him another email (pointing out it had been a while since I heard from him and months since I had anything useful from "customer service") and a short while later the UK Sales Manager called me.

All hail Victoria Satterly! She listened, she had read the previous emails, she took notes (and she managed my telephonic windbagging very nicely) and she promised to get back to me within 2 working days.

And she did - she even had some answers directly from the Development Team! OK, so some of the problems aren't fixed - but some may be very soon (August?) - and some had no answers yet, but at least I know what the situation is - which, in the case of the failure to write >2GB Portable Safes to DVD means it's worth developing a work-around.

Information! Dontcha love it?

Steganos is slowly dragging itself out of the stone-age - which on the other hand fortunately means that they haven't even heard of such things as "Expectation Management". What does "Expecation Management" mean? For the benefit of the uninitiated /non-consultant /non-business breed it means simply "giving the customer bad news - late".

"Expectation Management" is worse than a euphemism: it is prima facie evidence of a breakdown in communication - if you have good relations and communication with your customer or client you simply don't need to "manage" their expectations (i.e. tell them the job is going to be late, go over-budget, fail to meet the specification, etc. or all of the foregoing).

"Expectation Management" is, in my opinion symptomatic of a dysfunctional organisational, of a culture of acceptable self-delusion. I think I could even make an argument that it is worse than lying as it smacks of incompetence and cowardice, whereas a liar has to be brave and competent - even if they are relaxed about ethics. I have always told people in business that I hate surprises: if you screw up or something goes wrong, tell me - and tell me immediately! - and I will support you for your honesty; if on the other hand I find out that you screwed up - and know it - and concealed it, then I will... be very unpleasant in a harsh but caringly businesslike way... I might read you some of my poetry for instance.

If - when? - I build a business empire I will make "Expectation Management" taboo...

along with a few other things about which more some other time.

Live Long and Grow Radishes!

How to Prove You Were Abducted

Simple - as long as the aliens don't just mess with you in orbit, i.e. they take you to their home-world to chew the fat with Elvis or something - just get some observing time on their sensors and note the coordinates of the first Gamma Ray Burst in the opposite direction to Earth. Then, when you get home, give the coordinates to the guys with the big eyes on the sky and when something in a galaxy Far Far Away goes "poof!", Bob's your parental male sibling.

On a more practical note, coming back with a proof of the Riemann Conjecture would be more helpful, and bringing a tissue sample from Elvis would even guarantee you the front page of the National Enquirer (in addition to Time, The Times, etc. etc.)

I know, I know... you've got the coordinates you just don't know how to transform them... doesn't anybody plan for their abduction?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Data... Lots and Lots of Lovely Data

Well, it's been bugging me for some time... I had a little Freecom Storage Gateway - only 250 MB - and that just filled up with... stuff. Nice little box but still awaiting a firmware update to make it properly compatible with Vista

It seems we have >50GB of photos (ah, the wonders of digital photography), backups of other hard drives and GB of media generally and it was all here.

I'd been meaning to get some serious storage for a long time and I finally bit the bullet yesterday (ah... that reminds me of a malapropic (?) former boss who, when faced with a particularly difficult decision, said, "we have to bite the bull between the horns")

Anyway, here on Revay u in Budapest we are well placed with local amenities... the opera is a 5min walk away, the wonderful open air and subterranean venue known as Godor (can't reproduce the accents, but its pronounced "girder" and means "hole" because for a long time it was just a big hole in the ground while the city argued about where to put the arts palace - it ended up a way down river), 24 hour shops, the basilika for those last minute imprecations to the almighty...

...and a little computer shop called Modding.hu full of Stuff.

Now despite my predilection for Stuff I had walked by it hundreds of times, but it is a little shop so I never paid it much attention. The one day I walked by and saw this thing called a Thecus N2050, and I was keen on some extra storage and thought "hmmmm...", but I'd never heard of Thecus so I walked on by. Then a short while later PC Pro reviewed the latest Thecus N5200 RAID array...

So, on a whim I Googled PC shops and Thecus etc. in Budapest and where was my closest outlet... no more than 20m from my window (that's 10m down and 10m across and ignoring Pythagoras), so I went in and asked whether, having curtailed my Walpoling activities, they might have be able to help. A quick call to the importer later "Yes sir, one N5200 Pro arrived today..." I asked them to hold it for me while I checked a few things (like what disks I was going to put in it)

The next day at 10:30 I went back with a large pile of cash and ordered one N5200 and 5 Samsung 400GB SpinPoint disks (because PC Pro said they were good - and quiet); picked it up at 17:00.

Last night I got it out of the box, fitted the drives and turned it on... absolute doddle to set up... but it took overnight to build my lovely 1.33TB RAID 5 array (wheeeeeee! I have TERABYTES of storage!)

Today I started copying stuff across, but the rest of the network is only 100Mb/s so it's going to take a while.

Then I thought I'd try and see if I could create a Steganos safe on the array. Answer: not by placing the SLE on a mapped network drive, and not via direct access to the network (they're quite clear that it doesn't do this, but I thought I'd try...!)

However, the N5200 has iSCSI, which makes network devices look like ordinary devices... A bit of fiddling around (Vista has the iSCSI initiator built in but then you need to go to computer management and initialise and format the disk) and voila! the I: drive is mounted AND Steganos Safe happily begins to build a safe... but it was hogging all the bandwidth so I cancelled it - I'll do it later.

My only complaint - about myself for a change - is that in my eagerness to build the RAID array I only left 75GB for iSCSI and as far as I can tell there's no way to shrink an array (expand yes - shrink - no), so I either go back to square one or I leave things as they are... 1.33TB is a lot of data space to rebuild, and I really can't be arsed to start over so I'll live with it.

Next stop, probably Acronis to get some drive imaging software to backup various machines properly.

My only slight concern is that I bought an HiDef camcorder for the wedding and I have a sneaking suspicion that HD files are going to eat a lot of space... still, I can always swap the 400GB drives for 1TB drives later I suppose... but that would only be 4TB and I'm concerned that it won't be long before Petabytes are de rigeur.

My opinion of the Thecus so far (<24hours) - nice, quiet, does what it says on the tin even if the web interface is a bit... primitive.

Masochist or Pragmatist? Only time will tell.