Monthly Archives: July 2009

July 2009 Round-up

It’s been a slightly different month from recent ones, so this report should be a bit more interesting than we’ve seen in a while.

Weight

July 1: 221.8 pounds (15 stone 11.8 pounds, 100.6 kg)
July 31: 213.4 pounds (15 stone 3.4 pounds, 96.8 kg)
Difference: A quite impressive fall of 8.4 pounds (3.8 kg), which is the best I’ve done in quite a while[1]

Eating

I’ve been very good, actually. Lunch has generally been restricted to a single sandwich, I’ve stopped having toast or other snacks when I get in from work, and I’ve stopped having those very tasty, but very fattening fry-ups at the weekend.

Exercise

What with holidays, and a few days at home for other reasons, I had only 11 days when I could have walked to or from work. I actually walked to work 7 times and walked home 3 times, which is pretty good by recent standards. And during my two weeks off, I did a lot of walking in Wales! Oh, and it’s a moderate walk from the Metro station to the sea front where I saw the air show!

I’ll try to keep that up in August.

Posting

Not quite as busy as last month, but including this one, the July total will be 92, which is still quite a lot.

Stuff

I had a quite long holiday in Wales, took lots of pictures, went to the Sunderland air show and took even more pictures, and generally had a good play with my new camera. Quite a good month, overall…

[1] Ummm, years, quite likely

NetNewsWhat??

Last year, I mentioned how impressed I was with the free RSS reader NetNewsWire. And just last month I said happy things about the iPhone version. I’ve liked using both of these apps – theyre simple to use, and synchronise with an online account so that if I read an article on one device[1], it’ll be marked as ready on my other toys.

But something has changed, and I’m a little dubious about it. Apparently customers have been asking for NetNewsWire and the other Newsgator products to work with Google Reader. Now I’ve looked at Google Reader, and found it to be almost, but not quite as badly laid out and unusable as the frankly awful Gmail[2], and never even considered making serious use of it. When I have wanted to use a browser to read my RSS feeds, I’d always found Newsgator’s site to work well enough. But apparently, they’ve bowed to popular demand[3] and from the end of August, Newsgator’s own synchronisation service will go away. They’re also taking away the option to sync using MobileMe. Yes, from now on, you’ll have to sync with Google Reader or not at all.

All of this requires a new application version, of course, and the email they sent out yesterday invited customers to download and install it. So it’s all ready to go, then? Well, not really. When you get to the site, you find that what’s being offered is a beta, not a final release. This may of course be the Google influence, where everything was labelled a beta for years on end, but I don’t think it’s good practice to invite all customers to install a version that may not be stable. And this new version includes adverts. Now I’m not averse to software being supported by adverts, but I am very averse to people telling me how nice the adverts are. I’m also averse to them being added to software which didn’t have them previously. Apparently we’ll have the option of paying for an ad-free version of the software, which raises an interesting question. Before NetNewsWire joined up with Newsgator, people used to have to pay for it, and lots of them did. I do hope those people will be allowed the ad-free version either at no charge or for a token upgrade fee. Come to think of it, I paid for the Windows app FeedDemon before that became free…

Some users are unhappy that certain features have been lost from NetNewsWire, as they are not supported by Google Reader. I don’t use the “clippings” feature myself, so I have no comment on this other than noting that removing features and inserting adverts at the same time is the kind of thing that’s quite likely to annoy a lot of people.

I’m currently unimpressed with what’s been done so far. We’ll see how this develops over the next month or so…

[1] It’s on the iMac, the MacBook and the iPhone…
[2] Another example of a service trying to force users to work the way it wants them to. I’ll stick to webmail that lets me organise my messages the way I want to, thanks.
[3] Or something. More cynical interpretations are possible

iBank – Completing My Macification!

Since I  got my first Mac in December 2007, I’ve transferred almost all my personal computing to Mac OS X. Web browsing, email, photo editing, web site tweaking, spreadsheets, you name it. But there was one annoying hold-out. I’ve been keeping my financial records in Microsoft Money for a long time, and although what I have is an old version (it’s Money 2002, which I guess was released in 2001 or thereabouts, which is quite old for software), it’s always done the job for me. It’s easy to enter transactions, it automagically deals with recurring transactions (entering things like electricty and gas payments on the right dates), and perhaps most importantly for me, connects to my bank, downloads transactions and lets me check them against what I’ve entered. This is less critical than it used to be, as I’m in better control of my finances these days, but it still beats completely manual checking with statements.

But there are a few problems with Money. For a start, it’s Windows only, so I’ve had to keep a virtual machine running just so I can use it. Not too big a deal now the iMac is my main machine, as I can leave it running on the Mini and connect using the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client (hey, it’s just like being at work!), but it’s still a little awkward. Next, Microsoft have abandoned the product. First, they failed to produce a UK version of the last one to appear in the US, and then they gave up on it altogether. Then I made a Critical Error. After a slight problem with some transactions not synchronising correctly, I decided to reset the online banking in Money. I’ve done this before without any trouble at all, so I wasn’t at all worried about it. But I should have been. It seems that sometime ago, Microsoft turned off the servers that Money needs to download bank connection details, so Money 2002 can no longer set up online banking. Apparently Money 2005 will still work, but that’s only guaranteed up to the end of this year.

Now I could have sorted this out by importing all my transactions into a backup file that still worked, deleting any accidental duplicates, and generally spending a great deal of time. After a few experiments, I came to the conclusion that this would be far too much effort and would take far too long, so I reluctantly gave up on downloading transactions – after all, I can always check the bank web site to see what has and hasn’t cleared.

But this did make me look again for a Mac personal finance application that would do the job. It had to fullifil most, if not all of the following criteria:

  1. Be able to accurately import all my transaction data from Money. This shouldn’t be hard, as Money exports in the more or less standard QIF format. I did read of one application that sort of imported form Money but lost the payee data. Some people seemed to think this was fine, but for me it would be quite useless
  2. Be able to connect to my bank, download transactions and match them to manually entered ones
  3. Show a running balance next to transactions
  4. Not be annoying. That one’s harder to define, but I don’t want to have to think about how to use this kind of thing. I especially don’t want to have to change how I do things to suit a developer’s clever ideas…

I’d done a lot of reading of reviews, and even tried a few. One that looked promising was MoneyWell, but I found its proudly “different” approach to be, well, annoying. It tries to force you to use its concept of “buckets” rather than more familiar concepts like “categories”, doesn’t show a running balance next to transactions, and has an interface that I found too awkward. Adding in its current inability to automatically add recurring transactions on the proper date, made it quite useless for me.

I’d heard of iBank before, and I may have given it a quick look, but this was probably a version or two ago, and at the time it didn’t impress me. But it’s moved on, so I downloaded a trial of the latest version, and started to import some data. And it worked. Everything came across as it should, the entry form was nicely and logically laid out, setting up recurring transactions with the option to have them automatically inserted (for those fixed, automatic payments) or to give you reminders that you need to enter them worked as expected, and it generally looked like something I could live with.

I was so impressed that after a quick play, I bought it – it costs $60, and comes with a money-back guarantee, which is nice, as the trial limits you to 75 transactions in an account, and I needed to play with a lot more than that. Getting my data in accurately took a few attempts before I found the sequence that didn’t duplicate anything, matched transfers between accounts properly and left things as they were in Money:

  1. In Money, first re-open any “closed” accounts you want to have a record of
  2. Export each account in Money to a QIF file, saved where you can find them from iBank – I used VMWare Fusion’s ability to connect to the host machine’s hard drive, and connected to the Mini from the iMac.
  3. Start a new file in iBank
  4. Create all the accounts you want to use, keeping the names the same as in Money – this will ensure that transfers are correctly logged
  5. Import the QIF files into iBank – all you have to do is tell it which account the file’s records should be inserted into
  6. Err, that’s it

Once I’d done that, and set up my recurring transactions, I was ready. Setting up online access was much the same as in Money – select the bank, enter your customer number and logon password (for Nationwide, the number is the same one used for online banking, and the password is one of your “memorable data” items plus your six-digit PIN). It then connects and gives you a list of accounts. Pick the one that matches the account you’re setting up and it downloads transactions. You’ll need to do this for each account at the bank – it doesn’t let you match more than one at a time.

Transaction matching is based on date, amount and (if there happens to be one) cheque number, so a little care will be needed in making sure that you’ve matched the right things, but as “unchecking” is just a tick box away, mistakes are much easier to rectify than in Money.

So yes, it works. My initial impression is that I can, at last, abandon Microsoft Money. Woo, hoo, etc.

But there’s more! They have an iPhone app, too! This synchronises over your wireless network to iBank on the Mac, and lets you view and enter transactions when you’re away from home. You can set it up so it displays your main accounts first, and (quite intelligently, in my opinion) shows newest transactions at the top of the list in each account, which seems a Good Thing on a small screen. You can enter a new transaction when it happens, then when you get home it will be automagically synchronised into iBank. Nice. The app costs £2.99, which I was quite happy to pay.

Weight Report – 29 July 2009

Weight: Errr, dunno

See, that’s what happens when my routine is disturbed. I worked from home today[1] as I had the decorators in to fill in some plaster cracks and paint over them[2]. As they tend to start early in the day, I was up early, had breakfast early, and was sufficiently confused by all that to forget the weighing thing altogether. I’ll try to remember tomorrow.

[1] Quite productive, without the ringing phones and noisy people…
[2] Which completes the last bit of work on the refurbishment of Losing it[1] HQ. Now I just need some art for a big wall…

Twittering: 2009-07-29

Powered by Twitter Tools.

Doctor Who – The War Games


This has been one of the most wanted DVD releases for quite some time. Doctor Who releases of stories I’ve never seen are always welcome, but some are more welcome than others, and this is most definitely one of those. This is the story that ended the first phase of Doctor Who history and set things up for what was to come. It’s the last story made in black and white, and the last to star Patrick Troughton as the Doctor[1].

The story, first shown over April to June 1969, involves the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arriving in what at first appears to be a first world war battlefield, but before long, they realise that something Very Strange is going on, and they find themselves entering different time zones and getting involved with the American Civil War. It appears that an alien race have, with the aid of someone whom the Doctor recognises, have kidnapped soldiers from various points in Earth’s history, using space-time machines called SIDRATs[2]. Their Evil Plan is, of course, to conquer the galaxy using the most efficient soldiers from Earth, on the grounds that humans are a particularly aggressive species.

It’s spread over no less than ten episodes, making it amongst the longest stories in Who history, but it manages not to drag, helped by some excellent guest performances, particularly from Philip Madoc, making one of his numerous appearances in the series.

But it’s the last two episodes that make The War Games significant. Having sorted out the bad guys, the Doctor has the problem of returning all the soldiers home. The SIDRATs won’t do the job, as they were only good for a limited number of journeys. And getting them all in the TARDIS would be a little awkward. So, he has to resort to contacting his own people, who for the first time are named as the Time Lords. He’s a bit reluctant to do this, as he is technically on the run from them, having left with the TARDIS against their laws…..

He and his friends try to escape, but are trapped. His friends are returned to their own times, moments after leaving. All they will remember is meeting the Doctor in their own times. The Doctor is brought before a tribunal who accuse him of breaking the most important Time Lord law – non-interference. He argues his case, telling them that there is evil in the universe that must be opposed. And they sort of agree with him. They decide to exile him to Earth in the twentieth century, at a time when a lot of Bad Stuff is going to happen. They also force him to regenerate, diable his Tardis and remove his memory of how to make it work.

The last we see of the Second Doctor is him spinning off into darkness. When the series returned in the following year, it was in colour, Jon Pertwee was the new Doctor, and it was, for the most part, set on Earth rather than roaming through space and time at random.[3]

If you’re at all interested in the development of the show, this is an essential story to watch. It’s a good package, too. The story is split over two DVDs, with a third disc for the extras, and what a fine collection those are:

  • War Zone – The usual “making of” documentary, featuring surviving cast, crew and co-writer Terrance Dicks. Good stuff
  • Shades of Grey – This is good – it’s a documentary on the limitations, challenges and advantages of making TV in black and white. I found it to be a fascinating look at what amounts to a lost world…
  • Now and Then – One of the quite frequent looks at locations used in the show
  • The Doctor’s Composer – The first part of a documetary on Dudley Simpson’s music for Doctor Who. More will follow on a future release
  • Sylvia James – In Conversation – A brief discussion of make up on the Patrick Troughton stories
  • Talking about Regeneration – A nice look at the key to the show’s long life, with Peter (5th Doctor) Davison and Kate (Rani) O’Mara.
  • Time Zones – Historians talk about the wars involved in the story
  • Stripped for Action – the Second Doctor - another in the occasional series on Doctor Who comic strips. By this period, they were appearing in TV Comic, which I used to get as a very young person. Oddly enough, some of the pages shown did look familiar, even though I’d only have seen them once, and that something like 40 years ago. Good to watch.
  • On Target – Malcolm Hulke – (Feeling short of breath yet?) In the days when TV repeats of old shows were rare and home video (much less DVD) didn’t exist, the only access people had to old Doctor Who strories was through the Target novelisations. Most of these were written by Terrance Dicks and his friend, mentor and collaborator Malcolm (generally known as “Mac”) Hulke. This is the first in a series of documentaries on the books, and focuses on Mac’s work. The books generally expanded on the stories, adding details, clarifications, and more.
  • Devious – (Nearly there) Now this is the kind of thing I never expected to see on an official DVD release. It’s a fan-made short movie set between The War Games and Spearhead from Space, featuring a partly regenerated Doctor who is ultimately replaced by the actual, real, genuine Jon Pertwee (his scene recorded in 1995). Fun stuff.
  • Photo galleries, production subtitles and some stuff on PDF including plans of the SIDRAT machine.

Or, in short, loads of stuff!

[1] Excluding his reappearances in such items as The Three Doctors, of course.
[2] Bit of a clue there…
[3] A Cunning Plan devised to save money on the production