Thursday, January 24, 2008

Domestic Thrift

This post has nothing to do with computers or software. It was triggered by an incident in my house last week, when a visitor dropped a drinking glass on the kitchen floor. Now my kitchen floor is concrete, sealed with paving paint. I've lived with this floor for over a decade, and I hate it: it's cold, hard on the feet and unforgiving to dropped objects. I believe that there was a fad a while back for polished concrete floors: trust me on this one, the only place where concrete floors are good is warehouses and car parks. In homes, they're horrible. My new vinyl floor should be installed in the next week or so, but right now I still have the horrid concrete. And someone dropped a glass on it. And the glass bounced. The visitor said "I thought for sure that would break", and I wound up explaining how to purchase durable plates and glasses cheaply. She seemed impressed, so I thought I would pass the idea to a wider audience. I don't mind spending money, but I'd prefer to spend it on books and gadgets rather than china. And if you're on a tight budget, this is a tip that will definitely help you.

Did you ever wonder where bars and restaurants buy their crockery and tableware? I don't mean the Michelin starred establishments, who can afford Villeroy & Boch and Wedgeweood. I mean your favourite bistro, the bar you go to on a Friday night after work. Places where plates and glasses have a hard life, with a lot of handling and trips through the dish washer. The answer is that they mostly buy from specialist catering suppliers, and if you can locate one of these places, they're generally quite happy to sell to anyone who walks in off the street.

Catering suppliers tend to be big warehouses, and they don't sell 24 piece dinner services that include a milk jug and sugar bowl that no one will ever use (like the sets you see in department stores). Catering suppliers sell everything loose. So you can buy 1 plate, if that is all you need. Or three glasses. There's almost no packaging, usually just a bit of wrapping paper. Most of the glasses they sell will be toughened glass (like the one my visitor dropped), and rugged enough to survive in a busy bar. But everything they sell is still "nice enough" to be put on the table in a restaurant. The china tends to be plain white, in simple designs, and if you come back next year and need another plate, they will still have the same design. So if you are a poor student, and you only need one plate and one cup, you can buy them now, and then in a year or two when you can afford more, you can add to your collection.

And catering suppliers keep things that you never see in department stores: proper tapas dishes; those little round dishes that restaurants use to serve a pat of butter (these are really handy if you are doing a big buffet); serving platters in several sizes. OK, not every home needs a salad washer with a 20 kilo capacity, but if you need a really big saucepan, or a bulk supply of serviettes or cocktail sticks, a catering supplier will be cheaper than a department store.

I patronize the Hospitality Store in Camperdown (which only helps you if you live in Sydney, but there will be something similar in most cities).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It works!

Yesterday I started to uncable my 9900F scanner, with the intention of hauling it upstairs, so I could connect it to the old PC that I keep on the gallery. The scanner sits on top of an Ikea PC desk that has a sort of string bag arrangement at the back, to keep cables tidy. I fished the scanner's power supply out of the bag, and noticed the original USB cable that shipped with the scanner. So I thought, "let's have one last go at getting this thing going under Fusion", extracted the cable, resumed the VM, and plugged in the scanner. Viola! The VM of XP recognized the scanner immediately. I went "What the...?", put a greeting card that was handy on the platen and did a test scan. It worked. I unplugged the USB cable: it is completely unremarkable. I tried one of the USB cables that I was working with over the weekend, and it worked, as well! I do not understand how or why, but the scanner now appears to work perfectly under a VMware Fusion VM of Windows XP on top of Leopard.

I hate transient faults: they were one of the nightmares of my life when I still worked in technical support. If something suddenly starts working, and you don't know why, when it stops working again, you still have no idea how to fix it. I should have my new iMac by the weekend, and I plan to conduct some tests to see if I can reproduce the original fault. However, right now, it works. So I don't have to replace my scanner any time soon - I would like one that works natively under Leopard, but I can now wait until the various manufacturers sort themselves out (which they seem to be very slow to do. It looks as though they all updated their printer drivers for 10.5, and sort of overlooked scanners). I should point out that I require a flat bed scanner: many of the documents that I need to scan are old and fragile, and not suitable for running through a page feed. So until someone brings out a decent, reliable, flat bed scanner that is supported under Leopard, I shall wait. As Robert Heinlein wrote, "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow if tomorrow might improve the odds".

And if you've got a scanner that won't work under Leopard, a license of Fusion may be a cheap way to keep it going until updated drivers are available.


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