Su Tech Ennui: December 2007

Friday, December 7, 2007

Get on the train!

I'm beta-testing a new Google service at the moment which isn't all that well known yet: Grand Central. It's a web-based voicemail system and like many of the VOIP services on the net, it lets you select a phone number from almost anywhere in the US - you're not limited to your local calling area.

When I picked my number, I started with a few words that might make good phone numbers when spelled out, and worked out the area code that corresponds to the first 3 digits - there aren't that many area codes out there that make sense as words so I was lucky when I found that "TOA" mapped to a valid one. Then they gave me a choice of a couple of dozen numbers, so I narrowed that list down to ones which started with an exchange code beginning with '5' so that my number would then be dialable as "TOAL nnnnnn". From there it was trivial to feed the handful of proferred numbers into a "phone to word" lookup program, and find which of them made a sensible word! Bingo! - a personalised phone number for free! :-)

The GC service sports some pretty nice features; the only downside is that it looks like it'll be free only during the beta test - that wasn't obvious until *after* I'd signed up. So there's a serious risk I might get hooked on this stuff (or have too many people using my new number to be willing to cancel it after the beta) and so end up paying for yet another phone line.

Still, it is nice. Really nice. Sign up at their web site - I put my name on the waiting list around 11pm one evening and had an invitation to join in my mailbox by midnight. Once you're in, it's like the early days of GMail where you get 10 invitations to pass on to friends, and they in turn get 10 more, ad infinitum.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why Linux isn't ready for the desktop

My Linux at work (OpenSuSE 10.3) stopped working for no apparent reason the other day - well, not entirely, but it wouldn't start X-Windows and gave me the totally content-free error message "The display server has been shut down about 6 times in the last 90 seconds. It is likely that something bad is going on."

This was a major problem because I was running another server on that system under vmware, and when I tried to start up the virtual machine from the command-line instead of the usual GUI, that failed too. (I suspect it never had worked, I just hadn't tried it before now.)

Fortunately I have some experience of unix and after much net research I finally found the solution:

touch /var/cache/fontconfig/stamp
/usr/bin/fc-cache -f

but can you imagine what would happen if a typical home user hit a problem like that? It would be "Honey, where's the WinXP install disk?"...

As much as I love unix, it just isn't ready for prime time on the desktop. Which is why I do all my own work from the command-line still...