Insurance endurance

July 31st, 2008

I was reading a discussion about whether or not it was worth buying AppleCare – Apple’s extended warranty – on your new iPod/laptop/desktop. It reminded me of another discussion, several years ago, when a friend pointed out to me that all insurance policies of any sort will, statistically, lose you money. If they were worthwhile for the purchaser, they wouldn’t be worthwhile for the manufacturer/insurer, and they exist only because they make money. Money for other people. People who aren’t you.

Now, it’s not always easy to keep that fact in mind when you suddenly get a £700 bill for a new logic board on the laptop you bought 18 months ago. You forget that you saved £120 by not buying the extended warranty on the elderly fridge which is still working fine, and the TV, and more on the last laptop, and your last three mobiles… and so forth, all of which add up to much more than the immediate bill that looks so distressing.

So you should only buy insurance when the thing you’re guarding against is so expensive that you really couldn’t afford to be hit by it (which must also mean that it’s terribly unlikely, or you couldn’t afford the premium), when you’re legally obliged to, or when you have good reason to believe that it’s very much more likely to happen to you than to anybody else. For anything else, if you feel pangs of angst when the salesman starts putting pressure on you to buy his lucrative extended warranty, set up a special savings account and put the money there instead. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you’ll be better off in the end, my friend!

wget for Mac OS X Leopard

July 30th, 2008

Three years ago I compiled a version of the ‘wget’ utility so that it would run under Mac OS X and uploaded it to Status-Q. It’s had an amazing number of downloads, and I felt it was probably time to update it!

So here is a shiny new, which contains the following:

  • the wget binary
  • the wget.1 man page
  • the default wgetrc configuration file
  • A README file telling you a bit more.

The main changes from the original version are:

  • it’s a universal binary
  • it’s the latest version of wget (1.11.4)
  • it’s compiled on 10.5.4 and may possibly not work on older versions – please let me know in the comments if it does!

Hope it’s useful! Here’s some more of my Apple-related posts, or you could always just subscribe to the blog – here’s the RSS feed !

Google & CalDAV

July 29th, 2008

I think this is really quite important, though it sounds pretty technical and geeky at present. Google Calendars now support the CalDAV protocol. (So, incidentally, do Calgoo).

CalDAV is an open standard for synchronising and updating calendars, and I’ve been keeping an eye on it ever since Apple quietly announced, way, way back, that it would be supported in the Leopard version of iCal, their desktop calendar program. This meant that you could publish your calendar to a CalDAV server, and that other people could also subscribe to it and update it.

This is important because, for many people, calendar synchronisation (allowing things like meeting room booking as well) is the only reason they run the expensive abomination that is Microsoft Exchange. To have broader support for an open standard would be great! But my hopes of a brave new world were moderated somewhat when implementations of CalDAV servers, other than the one Apple shipped with its server OS, seemed to be few and far between.

Well, it’s still early days and there are limitations and some rough edges – like iCal not syncing such calendars to iPhone/iTouch – but it’s a good start: with people like Google and Calgoo now creating server implementations, and iCal, Calgoo and Mozilla Sunbird (at least) supporting CalDAV on the desktop, my hope is renewed…

Thanks to Garry for the link.

The Blackstone Key in America

July 28th, 2008

The US/Canada edition of Rose’s latest book officially hits the shelves next week. We’re heading over to Michigan for the launch, and stopping briefly in New York on the way back.

But apparently, people who ordered it on Amazon have started receiving their copies. So I thought I’d let my transatlantic readers know, just in case… there’s a link on Rose’s site if you get the urge… :-)

SAA day

July 25th, 2008

Today is annual System Administrator Appreciation Day. If you get frustrated with the occasional problems on your computer, spare a thought for the guy who has to spend his life fixing those problems for other people’s benefit, while absorbing their frustration! The problems are not normally of his making…

So hug a sysadmin today….
[well, ok, that may be too much... but at least buy him a pint]

Non-commercial options

July 23rd, 2008

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of iPhone software, here’s a handy hint. In the browser and in various other apps there’s a special ‘.com’ key which saves you a few keystrokes.

What’s not so obvious is that you can press and hold on that key to get some other options.

Now, if someone can work out how to add ‘’…


July 23rd, 2008

WordPress have, as is the mode du jour, released an iPhone/iTouch app which makes it easier to blog on the move. Or on the loo. If you can read this, it works. (The app, not the loo. No, don’t worry, I’m not really there!)

It’s a little flaky at the moment, but the concept is quite neat, except for the fact that you have to type on the little keyboard. Too bad it won’t rotate into landscape mode…

The price of failure

July 23rd, 2008

A great talk by Cory Doctorow last night – he spoke for an hour but packed in more words than most people would manage in two hours, and certainly more insights.

One phrase I liked:

“Innovation happens when people can afford to fail”

This is exactly right. I’ve said a related thing before in a talk about innovation: “Redundancy pay is a wonderful thing”. For many people, especially young people, it’s the first time they get a chance to raise their heads, look around and think about options beyond the next month’s pay cheque.

Most people will not, or cannot, risk the roof over their family’s heads, or their career prospects, or their employees’ livelihoods, if that’s the price of experimenting and failing. The thing Silicon Valley got right is the understanding that a high proportion of new ideas will fail, and that’s OK, because enough of them won’t. If investors looking at proposals, or employers looking at CVs, or governments thinking about policy, understand and allow failure (in moderation, of course), then great things can happen!

Many thanks to Neil Davidson of Red Gate Software for the invitation to the talk.

Pasting the past

July 19th, 2008

One of the most useful components of Quicksilver is the Clipboard History feature. If you have the Clipboard plugin enabled, you can bring it up with your normal Quicksilver keystroke followed by Cmd-L, and it will show all the recent entries in your clipboard. You can choose how many entries you’d like it to store.

There are various things you can do with this: double-clicking or hitting return on one of the items will insert that entry at the current point, for example. I’m filling in some US tax forms for several past years and being able to have things like our fullnames, tax references, and our full home address just a couple of keystrokes away makes the repitition a lot less painful!

For a different way of using the Clipboard History facilities, have a look at Nick Santilli’s handy screencast.

Technically below average

July 18th, 2008

Following on from my earlier post about average speed checks, Thomas Hunger pointed me at this story about in-car technology defeating an instantaneous speed check.

I do use a GPS logging device in my car; you never know, it might prove useful one day! A UK speeding ticket costs rather more than a GPS logger now.

Note that I’m not encouraging people to break the law here, just to be able to defend themselves if wrongfully accused :-)


July 17th, 2008

Dan Gillmor gives this nice piece of advice to students using Wikipedia for research:

It’s a great place to start; a terrible place to stop.

Below average

July 15th, 2008

In the UK we’re getting more and more stretches of road with ‘average speed checks’. Rather than simply measuring your speed as you pass a particular camera (or a particular policeman), your time over a distance between cameras – typically a few miles – is measured and you’re fined if your average speed exceeds the limit.

I’m not very keen on this, and I have some concerns about the amount of time I then spend looking at my speedometer, but I must admit the system does seem to do its job rather well; I imagine it will become the norm on most of our roads in due course.

Now, averages are funny things, of course. If you’re stuck in traffic for half the distance between two cameras, and moving at half the speed limit, you could then go infinitely fast for the other half and still be within the appropriate average. I imagine the authorities are banking on people not realising this.

Yesterday, as I drove a long stretch of monitored road, I was thinking about creating a system which would let you know what your personal real effective speed limit was at any time. It would need to know the positions of the cameras, but such a database could be built pretty quickly.

And then I realised that my car already has a partial solution built in: a ‘trip’ facility which can tell me the average speed over the length of the trip.

I just needed to press the trip-reset button as I went under a camera, and then I had a nice simple way to keep my average speed within limits until I reached the next one.

So until my next company, Below Average Inc., builds the full all-singing, all-dancing speed management product, this is very handy!