Archive for May, 2006

Microsoft blocking Firefox?

I tried to download Firefox today but there was no download link available. I was using Internet Explorer.

To the right is a screenshot of the page.

Firefox download pageIs Microsoft deliberately obscuring the download link? I can see the link if I visit the page using an alternative browser. Surely Microsoft would not deliberately prevent people from downloading a competing web browser?

See if you can download Firefox from this page using Internet Explorer.

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Catproof keyboard

If you have cats, you probably need:

The sounds that annoy cats is a particularly innovative feature and some clever mathematics has gone into the pawsize detector.

Prevent the catastrophe of losing your work for just $19.99.

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Rules of Bebek

About Bebek

I first learned the card game Bebek while on the Orangutan Foundation Volunteer Program. Jon and Elke taught all the volunteers how to play the game which is a favourite of the Indonesian dayak staff.

Playing cardsI don't know how widely Bebek is played in Indonesia or if it originated there. It probably did originate there because bebek is the Indonesian word for duck. The shape of a duck resembles the number 2 and 2 is the most powerful card in the game (the trump card).

Number of players

Three to eight players (4-6 is perfect). If more players want to play, a second deck of cards can be added.

Rules

The rules of Bebek are quite simple. Take a full deck of 52 cards plus two jokers (so 54 cards in total). The highest card is 2, then the Ace, King, Queen and so on. The two jokers can be played as any number card (but not a picture card or an Ace or a 2).

The cards are evenly dealt out to every player. All of the cards in the deck are given out.

The person to the left of the dealer starts. (For future games, the person who won the last game always starts.)

The person starting the round can play a combination of cards:

  • One of a kind
  • Two of a kind
  • Three of a kind
  • Four of a kind
  • Three in a row straight (same suit)
  • Four in a row straight (same suit)

If the first person lays a single 3, the second player (in a clockwise direction) may lay higher than the 3, for example a single 4 or single 5. If the player cannot play or chooses not to play, they say 'laywat', which means 'pass' in Indonesian. Play moves ot the next person. It continues around the table until everyone laywats, or if someone plays a bebek. A player that laywats is still in the round when the play comes back round to them (they can choose to play or laywat again).

A typical round might be:

  1. Player 1 lays a pair of threes.
  2. Player 2 lays a pair of fours.
  3. Player 3 lays a pair of sevens.
  4. Player 4 lays a pair of tens.
  5. Player 1 laywats.
  6. Player 2 lays a pair of Queens.
  7. Player 3 laywats.
  8. Player 4 lays a pair of Aces.
  9. Player 1 laywats.
  10. Player 2 laywats.
  11. Player 3 laywats, so player 4 won the round and will start the next round.

When someone lays the trump card(s), they say 'bebek'.

The winner is the first person to discard all their cards. Play continues until someone has lost (everyone else has fully discarded). The loser can be made to pay a forfeit in the next game, for example, to hang a bottle of sambal from your ear.

When someone goes out and wins the hand, the next person after them gets to start a fresh hand.

Strategy

It is normally best to discard your low cards (3, 4, 5) early. If you have the opportunity to start a round, try throwing out a single three or pair of threes. The only time you will ever get to play your three(s) is when you start the round.

You don't have to play if you don't want to. Sometimes it can be beneficial to keep your best cards back.

If you are fortunate enough to have more than one 2, you may decide to use them as single cards rather than pairs or threes. This way, you can win more rounds and get to start the next round (and discard your low cards).

Towards the end of the game, there can be a lot of guessing as to what the other players are holding. However, there is not a lot of strategy in the game – if you have a poor hand with many low single cards, you are likely to lose!

Variations

Sam wrote to me and said that he used to play Bebek at school with some guys from Hong Kong. They called the game 'Two of Spades', as the suits were ranked and spades were the highest.

Thanks

Thanks to Jon for reminding me of the rules and to Rachel for forgetting them and prompting this page!

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Ten humourous puns

Who comes up with this stuff?

  1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
  2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!"
  3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't
    have your kayak and heat it too.
  4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says "I've lost my electron." The other says "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes, I'm positive."
  5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
  6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.
    After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse."But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, " I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."
  7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan."
    Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."
  8. Some friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, — thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.
  9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate
    very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he sufferedfrom bad breath. This made him….. A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
  10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Thanks to Kelly for sending me this one.

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List of recycled gifts

Looking for a gift? Do something positive. This is a list of products that might make suitable gifts. They are all made from recycled products. Clever, hey?

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Usability – happy user peak

Happy user peakEvery experienced web developer will have discovered that too many features leads to confusion for users. This happy user peak chart helps you visualise it.

However, there are ways to squeeze extra features in while maintaining usability and some sites manage to do this well. Flickr and Ebuyer are two examples. Amazon has gone past the peak – I have found myself stuck on amazon.co.uk more than once and then find it impossible to contact them.

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Little Red Riding Hood joke

A crude joke someone just sent me…

Little Red Riding Hood is about to go visit her Grandmother. Her mother tells her, "Little Red Riding Hood, don't walk through the forest, you know the Big Bad Wolf is going to try to pinch your titties."
Little Red Riding Hood says, "Oh no, he's not!" and she leaves.

Farmer Brown sees Little Red Riding Hood and says, "Little Red Riding Hood, don't walk through the forest, you know the Big Bad Wolf is going to try to pinch your titties."
Little Red Riding Hood says, "Oh no, he's not!" and walks on.

Finally, she gets to Grandmother's house and the Big Bad Wolf jumps out and says, "Little Red Riding Hood, why are you in the forest, you know I'm going to pinch your titties."
Little Red riding hood pulls a gun out of her basket and says, "Oh no you're not, you're going to eat me, just like the story says!"

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List of external USB portable hard drives

Western Digital portable hard drive
I am about to buy a portable hard drive so I can carry my work (and photos, music and movies) with me. Hard drives that are powered via USB (or Firewire) do not require mains electricity and a power adapter. All you have is a slim hard drive (in a case) and USB cable. Plug it in to any computer and it should recognise it. Fantastic.

If you are also looking for a portable hard drive, this list of external USB portable hard drives should save you some time. My personal requirement is for storage space of at least 120GB and preferably 320GB. Unfortunately, once you go beyond 160GB, the physical dimensions of the drives start to get a bit large and would not fit in a pocket easily. New technology will change this. To the list…

Be careful that the drive you are buying is truly powerless – there are many external drives available that require mains power. They are a lot cheaper but they are more cumbersome and not convenient. (I have just been travelling with one for 4 months!).

'Portable hard drives' seem also to be referred to as 'mobile drives' or 'pocket drives' and are often listed on electronics websites under 'external drives'.

I decided to buy the Seagate 160GB (I would have preferred a slimmer drive like the Iomega or Western Digital but 120GB was not quite large enough).

If you discover a portable hard drive not on the list above, please let me know and I will add it to the list.

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Spam filter needed

Two days ago my level of spam went through the roof (from about 5 messages per day to 80).

I thought it may be due to Blue Frog (an ethical spam solution) working against me rather than for me. This turned out to be the case. The Blue Frog website (operated by Blue Security) has been down for 48 hours. The homepage came back online today and states:

Blue Security's servers are currently under attack.
Our staff is working around the clock to restore normal operation as soon as possible.

We are extremely happy to see the overwhelming level of support and global presence the Blue Community is showing.

Thank you for your patience!

Will this stop me using Blue Frog? No. Dealing ethically with spam (opting out of spam email at the source) seems like a good idea and possibly part of the long-term solution to stopping spam.

I will continue to submit by spam emails to Blue Frog but now I need to search (again) for a good free spam filter to use in conjunction with Blue Frog. If I discover one, I will post about it here and add it to my recommended programs list.

Grrr.

Update 1

6 May 2006 – The Blue Frog came back online yesterday. My spam has returned to normal levels. I recommend joining the Blue Frog community in order to reduce your spam.

Update 2

5 January 2007 – Blue Frog did not actually last much longer after the attack in May 2006. It buckled under severe pressure from the spammers. It seems that the spammers have more firepower than previously believed.

For a while, I used Spamihilator which is an effective and free spam filter. However, these days I use Thunderbird for my email and it is superb. There are a few small things that I miss from Outlook, but most of these can be fixed with Thunderbird extensions.

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Travelling business class

Why do people travel business class? Or first class for that matter? I am finding out and I have a proposition for regular fliers…

At 32,000 feet above Calcutta, flight MH004 is currently cruising to London Heathrow Terminal 3. The 13-hour flight departed just after 12 noon from Kuala Lumpur.

But this is no ordinary flight for me. This is business class. I am sitting in a spacious seat 40 rows forward from the economy seat that I booked 2 months ago. Seeing as I can’t walk and I can’t bend my leg more than 30 degrees, my insurance company upgraded me to fly home in business class. (Thank you Norwich Union.)

This is my first opportunity to see why people regularly pay up to 8 times the price they need to fly from A to B. At £560 return including taxes, my economy fare seemed like good value. The business class price was £2,672 and the first class price £4,474.

Some of the folks upstairs in first class paid nearly £4,000 more than I. The chap reading the Wall Street Journal in the seat over to my right spent up to £2,112 more. Yet we embarked and will disembark at the same location at roughly the same time.

Are they mad? They have spent pocketfuls of money more than they needed to and have little to show for it afterwards!

No, they are not mad. They just place a high value on the perks of travelling in greater comfort and style. It’s understandable. The perks are all around and the experience is luxurious. Some of them that I have indulged in are:

  • Fast-track through security and immigration.
  • Spacious and calm business class lounge with complementary drinks, wireless internet and showers.
  • Last minute arrival at the plane if you wish.
  • Personal attention from cabin-crew members throughout the flight.
  • Wide, fully adjustable seats that can turn into an almost flat bed.
  • Details galore – electricity to power your laptop; large movie screens; flight bag including toiletries and socks; good food served on real plates; magazines; less noise (and no babies!).

This is a high-quality service. The high life. A charming stewardess brings me a fresh coffee as I type. Of course you would be happy to pay more for these perks. Especially if you are honeymooners; on an important business trip; handicapped (like me); weigh 20 stone; or you just want to experience the best service available. All these extra/extended services and pampering make you feel special.

But is it worth an extra £2,000 to £4,000? Is it good value? Not in my book.

For the last 30 years, I have flown economy class. I love it. I travel frequently and it has enabled me to explore the world easily and inexpensively. I have made good friends from people I have been sitting next to. And I have always arrived in the same place at approximately the same time as the passengers in business and first class.

Plus, what about this? … Compare air travel today to air travel 20 years ago. Today’s economy class is luxurious! If you had had the experience of a 2006 economy traveller but back in 1986, you would have thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Air travel has improved greatly in recent decades and today’s economy class is comfortable and civilised.

So if you are hooked on travelling business class or first class, here is my simple proposition …

Choose economy class for your next trip and then donate your ticket saving to a charity of your choice. If your saving was £1,000, this could:

In 12 hours, you’ve arrived at your destination and you’ve genuinely changed people’s lives. Now that is what I call good value!

If by any chance you should happen to do this, please email me and tell me your story.

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