Year: 2009

    Announcing: SuccessWhale!

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    For the last few days I’ve been working on a simple web-based Twitter client, to fill the void between the simplicity of Twitter’s own web interface and the broken-in-IE6 complexity of BeTwittered and Seesmic Desktop’s web interface.

    It’s still under heavy development, and there are probably a ton of bugs and missing useful features. Please give it a try and let me know what you think. Bug reports are more than welcome!

    The source code is licenced under the GNU GPL v3.

    Update: Due to a move to the proper OAuth API, the software could no longer continue to be called FailWhale, as someone’s already written a Twitter app with that name! Thus, until I or someone else comes up with a good idea, it’s called SuccessWhale.

    Coming of Age

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Yes, she's legal.

    The other day, while excavating the depths of our airing cupboard-turned-junk pile, I discovered possibly the oldest gadget I own: a Psion Series 3a… thingy. Time has obscured from my memory what we actually called these things when they were new. It certainly wasn’t ‘netbook’ – was it ‘palmtop’? After some new batteries and a non-trivial number of blunt impacts against the table to reseat the display connector, it spluttered into life. The back of the unit declares it to have been made in 1993, so this thing is sixteen years old.

    Now where I am, at sixteen, one can do the following:

    • Drive a scooter

    • Have heterosexual sex

    • Marry (heterosexually) with your parents’ consent

    • Enter full-time employment

    • Play the lottery.

    The Psion 3a, having the decency to look embarrassed next to my cellphone.

    There are a few issues with most of these. Driving a scooter is clearly beyond the poor thing’s capabilities. It appears to have expansion slots, so I’m going to go ahead and consider it female. Now that by default makes all other Psion 3as female, so marriage (within its own species at least) is presumably out. I have no expansion cards to put in it, and now I’ve mentally pidgeonholed that as “having sex” I’m not sure I even want to. Full-time employment is out as I’m not sure it does anything that peoples’ cellphones don’t these days. And that just leaves playing the lottery. Well, then.

    These things can be programmed in a language called OPL, which appears to be so antiquated that even the internet has largely forgotten it. I’m immensely grateful to Gareth and Jane Saunders, who seem to be the only people left with an OPL-related webpage that hosts the programmers’ manual.

    In the UK, one picks six numbers between 1 and 49 for each draw. Six numbers and a bonus are chosen by the lottery machine, and matching all of the main six is a jackpot (odds about 14 million to one). Matching three is the lowest prize, £10 at odds of about 56 to one. So, not really confident we’ll be winning anything here. Still, onwards!

    Making sure all six numbers it picks are different would take more than the three minutes I’m prepared to spend in contact with OPL – damn thing doesn’t even have FOR loops. I’ll just run the program again if it picks two the same. So here’s possibly the shortest program I’ve ever written:

    Eat your heart out, Visual Studio 2008.

    PROC lottery:
      LOCAL count%, n%
      PRINT "Lottery Numbers:  ";
        n% = (RND*48+1)
        PRINT n%;
        PRINT "  ";
        count% = count% + 1
      UNTIL (count% = 6)

    The Die is Cast.

    And when translated (translated? really?) and run, it does indeed produce lottery numbers. So – to the newsagents! And back, lottery ticket – and granulated sugar – in hand.

    Having foolishly switched the thing off in the meantime, it took a few seconds of mashing the On button and opening and closing the lid to coax it back into life. But back to life it came, long enough to pick its six numbers. And now, we wait to see what fate befalls this aged device.

    Will it quietly be replaced by gadgets a decade and a half its junior? Or become a palmtop millionaire, and, er… and I’ll have to work out what the heck a Psion 3a would do with a million quid. Tune in on Saturday night to find out!

    The lottery results are in! You can find out what happened in my next blog post, here. Spoilers: I am still not a millionaire.

    So Farewell, Psion 3a

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    No idea why the hell I bought a Psion 3a a lottery ticket? Check out my previous blog post, “Coming of Age”.

    Pictured: Progress.

    It wasn’t a good sign, I suppose, when I switched the old Psion on this evening and discovered naught but vertical black bands on the display. It took a good few power cycles, lid closes and a strenuous massage of its hinges before it finally spluttered back into 16-bit (Multi Tasking!) life. But it made it in the end, just in time to discover what fate had in store for it.

    Now, there are a few ways of finding out what the night’s lottery numbers were. First, one can tune into the live draw on television. However, the TV guide indicated that the show was presented by Scott Mills, so that option was immediately discounted. No blog stunt is worth 10 minutes’ exposure to Scott Mills. The next method is going to the lottery website, but this was discounted just as quickly – I didn’t want to shock the poor old girl by showing her what BBSes had become.

    Keepin' it Old Skool.

    Ah, but there is of course a third option more befitting of the Psion’s age. I speak, of course… of Teletext. Trust me, I am as shocked as you that this thing still exists. Hell, I was pretty surprised that my TV still had an analogue receiver. So, to page 555 on BBC CEEFAX we went, the Psion checked her numbers, and… Yeah, we didn’t win. A paltry single number, in fact, only a third of the way to the £10 lowest prize.

    And that, I suppose, is the end of the road for the old Psion 3a.

    ':(', yeah, that's the kind of emoticon we rolled with back in '93.

    I remember virtually idolising these things when I was a kid – I’d been though innumerable personal organisers and proto-PDAs, but to have a Psion 3, with their high-resolution screens and the little touch-sensitive app buttons, the voice recorder, the programming environment… This thing was an object of desire as far as I was concerned. And it was certainly an improvement over its predecessor, the Psion 2, which I somehow also had despite it being nearly as old as I was.

    Yet now the 3a headed for the great landfill in the sky, an anachronism in today’s world. It takes expansion cards that nobody sells, communicates with a PC through a cable that nobody has and software that no-one can run. My cellphone has a processor 70 times faster, with 200 times more RAM. In my pocket I carry 10,000 times more storage than this thing has. In a world soon to be rolling its way into the year 2010, it is less than useless.

    And yet, despite that, I will be sorry to see it go.