The orange birthday present

The family were at a pub for my wife’s birthday. I mentioned this to the waitress when we ordered our puddings, and when they came out so did a candle with two waitresses singing ‘Happy Birthday’. And then we all started singing, and then also the diners in our section, much to my wife’s embarrassment! A few minutes later one of the diners came over to our table and gave my wife this orange thingy he’d made using a 3D printer. He was a very chatty guy, a Geordie. I got the impression he occasionally gave these away.

The video on the right shows you how complex an object can be manufactured using 3D printers.

My new laptop keyboard is horrid

So what don’t I like about my new laptop keyboard? It’s got a numeric keypad, that’s what. The Delete, Backspace and Enter keys should be on the extreme right of the keyboard not stuck in the middle. Unless you’re entering a lot of numeric data there’s no point in having the number keys on the right. I won’t make the same mistake with my next laptop! It doesn’t help that I’m still using the old laptop as well as the new one, so switching between the two leads to a lot of keystroke errors on the new laptop.


NEW laptop

OLD laptop

My ailing laptop (part 1)

The broken screen

My 3-year-old laptop is falling apart. One of the screen’s two hinges is broken and it’s no longer possible to close the laptop. Also the screen is coming away from the actual frame. It appears to be a common fault with this particular Dell laptop.

On YouTube I found a couple of videos that show the procedure for replacing hinges – it’s not easy and essentially requires completely dismantling the laptop. The removal of a dozen components and millions of screws (and putting it back together) is not for the faint-hearted. I’m a software guy, I don’t do hardware! With this in mind I decided to postpone attempting a repair and instead opted for a new laptop (a Dell!) and perhaps attempting a repair on the old one at some future time.

The failing battery

So now I have two functioning laptops, the old one with the screen hanging off, and the nice, new, shiny one. But suddenly the battery on the old laptop has started to generate warning messages about how it’s about to fail. I’m hoping that a failed battery means that a laptop will continue to work from mains power, but it’s a bit of a nuisance having a permanently trailing power cable.

With a dodgy hinge and a failing battery one might consider writing off the old laptop, but it’s still functioning and it’s a high-spec machine, so I decided to search for a replacement battery.

Replacing a laptop battery

Dell don’t stock replacement batteries so it’s necessary to take a chance on a compatible battery. Choose from,, and several others. There’s no way of knowing the quality of their products, who makes them, whether they’re safe, whether they hold their charge. It’s pot luck. I went for I thought it was based in the UK. The log from the delivery company, UPS, show it’s not a UK company, it’s Polish. I’m not happy and in two minds whether to cancel the order and even to write off the £40 cost of the item. I decided to wait for the item to be delivered and take it from there. I may just decide to live with a failing / failed battery and only fit the replacement battery if absolutely necessary. It worries me that I don’t know whether the new battery will be safe. I’m open to any suggestions / recommendations.

My first Python code

For a challenge I’ve tried to teach myself the Python programming language. It’s a big language with many features which I, as an ex-programmer from many decades ago, am unfamiliar with. But I’ve managed to write and test the code below, though I’m not sure I want to take this much further. I’ll see…..

import csv
from datetime import datetime
from operator import attrgetter
# A re-creation of my Reminder program from several decades ago!! My first Python program!
# Version 0.1 04-Mar-2021 In the beginning
# Version 0.2 07-Mar-2021 In the beginning 
# Version 0.3 07-Mar-2021 I'm finally happy!
class Reminder:
    def __init__(self, myRec):
        self.Date = myRec[0]
        self.DateTimeConversion = datetime.strptime(myRec[0],"%d-%b-%Y")
        self.Message = myRec[1]
# Function GetReminderData to get the reminder data
# Read each record in the file
# Ignore any blank lines 
# Add each record to the list myReminders
def GetReminderData(myFile,myReminders) :
    with open(myFile) as csv_file:
        csv_reader = csv.reader(csv_file, delimiter=',')
        line_count = 0
        for rec in csv_reader:
            if rec == []:
                line_count += 1
                p = Reminder(rec)
# Function HowManyDaysDifference to get the number of days between today's date and a text date
# This is my weird code - what a palaver!
def HowManyDaysDifference(TextDate):
    today_object =
    mydate_in_datetime = datetime.strptime(TextDate,"%d-%b-%Y")
    tdiff = mydate_in_datetime - today_object
    diff_in_days = tdiff.days
    if diff_in_days >= 0:
        diff_in_days += 1
        tdiff = today_object - mydate_in_datetime
        diff_in_days = -tdiff.days
    return diff_in_days
# Function PrintList to nicely print the data
def PrintList ():
    mySectionSeparator = "-" * 75
    tChange = True
    print ("\n" * 10 )
    print ("         Welcome to my Python Reminder program!")
    print (mySectionSeparator)
    for i in sorted(myReminders, key = attrgetter('DateTimeConversion')):
        nDays = HowManyDaysDifference(i.Date)
        if tChange and nDays > 0:
            tChange = False
            print (mySectionSeparator)
        if nDays == 0:
            t1 = "     Today    "
        elif nDays == -1:
            t1 = "   Yesterday  "
        elif nDays == 1:
            t1 = "    Tomorrow  "
        elif nDays < 0:
            t1 = '{:4d}'.format(-nDays) + " days since"
            t1 = '{:4d}'.format(nDays) + " days until"
        t2 = i.Date +t1
        print (t2,i.Message) 
    print (mySectionSeparator)
# This is the MAIN  program
myFile = 'C:/Users/Mike/Documents/Documents/MyPythonCode/Reminder.dat'

myReminders = []

GetReminderData(myFile, myReminders)


And the output is….

How to Remotely Troubleshoot Your Relative’s Computer

I have a friend who occasionally rings me up with his computer problems. Yesterday he called to say his annual anti-virus licence was going to expire that day. He confessed to having ignored the renewal reminders!

My experience with renewing McAfee anti-virus licences is that a) renewing from McAfee is ridiculously expensive, and b) not renewing from McAfee is never straightforward. My friend took my advice and went for the second option and purchased a McAfee licence from another company ( Inevitably the update wasn’t straightforward and wasn’t successful, hence his call for my assistance. In normal times I would probably have gone to my friend’s home, but these are not normal times.

I searched the web for how to remotely take control of someone’s computer and came across a very helpful page on the PCMag site “How to Remotely Troubleshoot Your Relative’s Computer“. Although I’ve had a career in IT support I’d never needed to do this before and this web page proved a godsend. The section on using a Windows 10 PC to take control of another Windows 10 PC was very straightforward and uses the Quick Assist tool (found under Windows Accessories). Having taken remote control of my friend’s PC I was able to install the new licence for his anti-virus software, though it wasn’t straightforward!!😎

Claude Shannon

I’m currently reading “The Idea Factory – Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” by Jon Gertner. It’s a Christmas present from my Berlin son and what a great choice it was! Bell Labs became an enormous laboratory for developing ideas and inventions at the start of the communication, information and technology industries we now take for granted. This book tells the history of Bell Labs and the leading engineers, scientists and managers.

Claude Shannon was one of those scientists and who has become known as ‘ the father of information technology’. I have a vague recollection of hearing about his work whilst I was studying for a computer science course. Now, some 50 years later, he appears in this very readable history of Bell Labs. Brilliant man that he was, it’s prompted me to look for a biography, and “A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age” by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman has been well reviewed.

The biography is now on order from Postscript Books, a new mail-order company to me and which had the best price. I’ve added them to my menu of Links / Amazon alternatives. Their About page says “Most of our books are publishers’ overstocks and backlist titles…..Postscript has developed over the last 30 years, starting in south-west London in 1987 and then moving to south Devon in 2011“. An interesting business to find.


I have been known to put in a false date of birth when creating a website account. Sometimes there’s no good reason why a particular organisation should have this piece of key information.

So when my DOB was rejected when trying to log into an old, redundant Apple account (so I could remove it), I wasn’t too surprised.

But after several abortive attempts at alternative solutions to the problem I discovered that my DOB was acceptable if I entered the day as the month and the month as the day. ie My DOB had been recorded as the 4th November rather than the 11th April.

I guess it’s an American v British date thingy.

The IBM card punch

The IBM card punch is my all-time favourite machine! Its purpose was to punch holes in cards that would subsequently be read by a computer and interpreted as either instructions or data. There was a lovely clunky feel to the keyboard and a sequence of clicking sounds as the current card was ejected and another one brought down ready to be punched.

Gadget failures

In the space of two weeks, the phone, the shredder, the kettle and the laptop, all needed replacing, whilst the iPad got a welcome speed-up.

Tinkering with line height

I’m very fond of tinkering with the format and layout of my blog! My previous post is somewhat rambling and I wasn’t too happy with the line spacing – it just seemed too spaced out. The solution was straightforward. Simply wrap the text of the post in the following:

<div style="line-height: 130%;">
blah blah blah........
blah blah blah........
blah blah blah........

For comparison, see below for how the line spacing of the main paragraph would look if it was given the same treatment.

I’m very fond of tinkering with my blog. My previous post is somewhat rambling and I wasn’t too happy with the line spacing – it just seemed too spaced out. The solution was straightforward. Simply wrap the text of the post in the following:

For blogs which use a different font and font size, the 130% may need to be revised. Interestingly, when I look behind the scenes, the original text has a line height of 1.75em whilst the formatted text has a line height of 130%. Now “em” is a typographic unit of measurement that is harder to understand than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, so I’m happy to stick with using a percentage to alter line height.

[As an aside, I had to tinker with the height of the robot image in order to make it a square image (don’t ask) so this post is about height in more than one way.]