Microsoft Office for iPad

Now here’s a funny thing. I have deleted my iWork apps from my iPad and replaced then with their Microsoft Office equivalents. More than that I am also considering an Office 365 subscription just so that I can edit Office docs on the go. Why on earth would I do that?

Quite simply because Office is the defacto standard for work documents and while there is a real convenience to Google Docs (the real-time collaboration is unbeatable) nothing renders an Office document better than Office and that includes iWork.

While I have dabbled with iWork on my Mac I regularly have issues with importing and exporting documents back and forth to Office formats so I can share with colleagues. So I have been using Office for Mac which just works.

Are you taken with Office for iPad, let us know in the comments below.

Ignorance of Security isn’t Acceptable in 2014

I noticed the other day that on one of my accounts for a company I have done business with in the past (lets call them “Marketing File” as that is what they are called) was using what I considered to be a weak password. When I went to change it I found that I couldn’t do it through the web interface but had to call their support department. At this point I could hear the sound of faint alarm bells in the back of my head.

When I called the number and explained that I wanted to change my password I was asked what I wanted it to be. I was a little taken aback but not unduly surprised so I asked “you want me to tell you my password?” to which the blunt reply was “yes”. I explained that I considered that to be a security risk that I wasn’t willing to take and was told that they could already see my existing password. I had already thought that the passwords were being held in plain text but this comment merely confirmed it.

I therefore decided that I would like to close my account and have my details removed. At which point, in order to try and persuade me to stay, I was firstly told that the account was secure as there weren’t any details held on the internet, which was plainly rubbish as you have to login to their website. Next I was told that their site is used by many big organisations spending thousands of pounds with them. This may well be true but is missing the point somewhat as I wasn’t questioning the service just their security or lack thereof.

So I reiterated that I wanted to have my account removed and was informed that they would make it “inactive”. I pointed out that this wasn’t the same thing and I wanted me account removed completely. This I was told wasn’t possible and the best that they could do was to change my details. Given that this was all that was being offered I had no choice but to accept but I have no way of validating that it has been done.

This is such an awful tale of poor security I simply don’t know where to begin. Troy Hunt would have a field day. It is bad enough that the security is as bad as it is on Marketing File but the ignorance shown was just as bad. Given that their primary job is selling business lists full of personal details it makes you wonder how vulnerable that is.

A Life in Computers

A trip to The National Museum of Computing at the weekend was a real trip down memory lane for me. You can read about our visit to Bletchley Park at a later date but I wanted to highlight some of the more significant computers that have featured in my life that were on show there. The dates are pretty loose as my memory is not what it once was!

Teletype (c. 1976)


A Data Dynamics Teletype

I have written previously about how I encountered my first “computer” at secondary school. In fact this wasn’t a computer at all but basically a printer with a phone line (modem) attached that allowed it to “talk” to the computer which was in Harwell up the road.

This used to fascinate me being able to type a command and get an answer back. That really was hi-tech back then and I was fortunate to attend a school that had such a thing as it was pretty unremarkable in almost every other way.

Research Machines 380Z (c. 1978)

Research Machines 380Z

Research Machines 380Z

A couple of years later the school got a computer of its own – a Research Machines 380Z. This was an industrial looking piece of kit designed to withstand the types of knocks that it would get in a typical school environment. It was on this machine that I did my O Level computer science project, which was a system to create chemistry tests.

Sinclair ZX80 (c. 1980)


Sinclair ZX80

Around 1980 computers were just beginning to make their way into the home from the office and classroom. I remember seeing my first ZX80 when a neighbour built his from a kit and I went round to have a play. This was then replaced by the ZX81 which was the first computer that I actually owned complete with wobbly 16k RAM pack.

I traded up to my first colour computer shortly afterwards, the Sinclair Spectrum. Here my burgeoning knowledge of computers was put to good use as I got a holiday job in Selfridges, Oxford where I was employed to sell Spectrums and advise potential purchasers on how they might use them. For this knowledge I got a wage and a 1% commission on everything I sold. I made a lot of money that summer as the Spectrum just sold itself – everyone wanted one.

DEC PDP/11 (c. 1985)



By now I was at University doing a degree in Computer Science and was exposed to a number of different machines including Research Machines Nimbus’ but the one that I remember most fondly is the Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP/11 on which we learnt to code in Macro-11.

As you can see this was a big machine with computing power to match, although the noddy bits of code we wrote for it were never going to trouble it that much.

My final year project was written in LISP and used the RM Nimbus. The idea was to replicate the local building regulations in that you would import a plan of a structure and it would tell you if it met the regs.

ICL 2900 (c. 1988)


ICL 2900 Series

My first job was working for a software house called CAP based in Reading. I worked as a developer writing and maintaing a sales order processing system called ORMA in what was called a 4th generation language Application Master running on an ICL 2900 series mainframe. This took up the ground floor of the building we worked in as it really was as big as this picture implies.

I had actually used its forerunner, the ICL 1900 series, when I did a weeks industrial placement at Amey Roadstone when I was at school and so already knew a little bit about VME the operating system. I used to love putting in the mag tapes to load up some code I had written!

Psion Organiser II (c. 1992)


Psion Organiser II

By the nineties I was now working for Yellow Pages as, initially, a COBOL developer who morphed into a PowerBuilder developer at a later date. It wasn’t just programming languages that were changing but the very nature of computing was too. The PC was in and everyone was getting one on the desktop – well under the desk as they were still pretty big. However, miniaturisation meant that “pocket” organisers were now possible and I was early in when I bought a second hand Psion Organiser II from a colleague.

I loved my Organiser with it’s tiny screen and sliding plastic protective cover. I also loved how it started to free me from the tyranny of paper diary and address book – now I could have these with me all the time. It also was the size of a brick and useful in hand-to-hand combat!

A visit to the The National Museum of Computing was a great way to relive some of my past computers and I throughly recommend the museum.

Happy 1st Birthday Pebble

So I’ve now had my Pebble smart watch just over a year so I thought that it would be a good time to reflect on the aims and whether they have been met.

For those that don’t know the Pebble is the darling of the crowd funding site Kickstarter, the first and to my knowledge still the only project to have raised over $10M. This was significant because it was only aiming to raise $10,000 and showed  what a huge demand there was for smart wearables.

I, along with thousands of others, pledged my support and settled down for a long wait. Nine months later shipping began and my watch arrived to much excitement in the Thompson household.

I was sold in the promise of being able to do so much more than simply being able to tell the time. The Kickstarter page promised multiple watch faces, integration with third party apps, such as Runkeeper, and an API to allow developers to create their own apps.

And more or less all that has been delivered. Initial glitches with CLI not working on iOS have been resolved, the music controls work fantastically well and there are a variety of good watch faces to choose from.

The release of version 2 of the api recently opens up the way for a much more seamless experience previously it felt very fragmented as you had to go off to other sites to find watchfaces and apps. Now this can all be done from within the pebble app itself.


And, for iOS at least, that’s where the good news ends.

There has always been a problem with a message popping up on iOS saying “Pebble needs to communicate with the Pebble Technology Corp” (see below) this happens infrequently now but when you do see it you know that there is no communications between the watch and your phone.

Version 2 of the API also formally introduced the ability for apps to access the internet and make requests. This should allow Pebble apps, such as Foursquare (shown left) to make a call to find the near-by checkin places. The problem is that in order to maximise the memory on the iPhone apps periodically get sent to the background and once they do this link gets severed.


Regrettably that renders the most interesting aspects of the watch useless. Pebble lay the blame squarely at the door of Apple but that doesn’t really help the user and you could say that Pebble should have know about this from day one. They could also be more transparent in acknowledging the issue publicly. I suppose that the one saving grace for Pebble is that it would equally apply to other smart watch developers too.

Since the original pebble backers watches have been released they have become more widely available (in the US at least) in mainstream outlets such as Best Buy and Amazon. Pebble have also released an up-market version of the watch called the Steel which looks great but suffers from the same problems as the original as the software is the same.

I really love me Pebble and really want to see it reach its full potential but while it is hampered by the software issue on iOS it’s always going to fall short.

(And no I am not going to transfer to Android!)

Sneaky LinkedIn

So what’s the difference between the two images above? Well at first glance they would seem to be the same. Both invite the individual to connect with you on LinkedIn, right? Well almost but there is a very subtle difference that if you miss it you could end up spamming people who are not already on LinkedIn.

At some point in the past I must have let my guard slip and allowed LinkedIn to suck up all my contacts from my address book and since then it has been keen that I connect with everyone. Of course, not everyone is on LinkedIn, my Mum for example is not going to have much use for it. And that is the crucial difference between the two links above.

Clicking “Connect” will invite the individual to link with you. Clicking “Add to Network” will do the same but the individual isn’t already a member of LinkedIn (or doesn’t use that email address) and will presumably be encouraged to sign up.

I have nothing against LinkedIn trying to help me extend my network but the manner in which it does that, by blurring the lines between those that are members and those that aren’t, is, well a bit sneaky.

What we did Before StackOverflow

So StackOverflow the question and answer site for programmers went down yesterday and if what you read is to be believed all coding stopped. Of course that wasn’t the case but it did make me stop and think about what it was like before the internet.

As I have stated before I have been coding a very long time. Professionally since 1988 but I have been programming in one form or another since I was 11, i.e. long before either StackOverflow or the Internet was around. Just how did we cope back then?

While they aren’t too popular now, for pretty obvious reasons, back then printed manuals were essential. I remember both the IDMS and Cobol manuals sitting in A4 binders in the cupboard at IBM where I first worked. When I moved onto PowerBuilder I carefully guarded my set of manuals that had now got small enough to be sat on my desk. Overtime these became help files (CHM files in Microsoft’s case) which were always a frustratingly incomplete experience.

I quickly worked out that while the syntax may be different between languages the functions were always maybe just under a different name. So if you wanted to find a string within a string it would be there somewhere. Or you could work out how to construct what you needed from the functions that were provided.

But here’s the thing, we DID have StackOverflow then. It was called turning round and asking a colleague and it was really successful. There was always someone who had more knowledge or more skilled in the language you were working with and was willing to help. This interaction had two positives: you increased your knowledge and you learnt to communicate.

So don’t wait for the next time that StackOverflow goes down. Go now and speak to someone face to face about an issue. It will make you a better programmer and a better person.