Toner Tuesday

Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 1000W
Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 1000W.

You’ve heard of Ash Wednesday, well for me today has been Toner Tuesday.

Tomorrow morning, at 09:30, I have an Ash Wednesday service with the imposition of ashes at St Ninian’s, Comely Bank. Because the Wednesday morning service follows the same liturgy as the previous Sunday tomorrow we’re using the 1970 Scottish Liturgy. I already have a copy on hard disk of an Ash Wednesday service that is incorporated into the 1970 Scottish Liturgy that I put together a couple of years ago for the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield.

The problem

All I needed to do was print it out. But would it print out alright? Would it expletive!! It would print a few copies okay, and then the next few were smudged, the next few okay, the next few smudged, and so on.

I have a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 1000 personal printer, which has been thoroughly reliable since I bought it in 2002. This was the first time that I’ve really had any bother with it.

The problem began a few days ago — while I was preparing for my job interview — and at the time I suspected that it was something to do with the paper I was using. A dodgy batch, I put it down to. It was fine with better quality paper, and a change of toner cartridge and a software-initiated clean didn’t seem to fix it. I ripped open a new packet of A4 and that seemed to do the trick. Until today.

The solution

Reading around on the HP support site I discovered this page about HP LaserJet 1000 Product Family – Print Quality Issues, which suggested that I give the insides of the printer a thoroughly good clean.

So about an hour ago I began to purge the sins of four years’ worth of printing, using a combination of penitential tools: vacuum cleaner for the dust, a clean lint-free cloth and multi-purpose PC wipes for the toner.

May the Almighty and merciful lint-free cloth
grant unto you pardon and remission
of all your staining, smudges, and gray shading,
time for true repentance, amendment of print,
and the grace and comfort of the Hewlett-Packard. Amen.

And it appears to have done the trick. For now. The moral of the story then is always clean your printer every few months.

Removing adverts in the MSN Messenger 7.5 the easy way with Mess Patch

Screenshot of MSN Messenger
Screenshot of MSN Messenger 7.5 (Build 7.5.0324) patched to remove adverts. By default there would be a flashing advertisment above the search box at the bottom of this window.

The fine people at have done it again, and produced a customizable patch application for the latest version of MSN Messenger 7.5.(Build 7.5.0324).

One of the things that I — and countless others — find annoying is the built-in adverts at the foot of the MSN Messenger contacts window and also the conversation windows. In the past you had to remove these yourself using an application such as Resource Hacker, as documented on my previous blog post: Removing adverts from MSN Messenger 7 and 7.5.

The Mess Patch for MSN Messenger 7.5.0324 puts an end to all that DIY hacking by allowing you to specify which features you wish to disable or add, and the patch utility does it for you.

Screenshot of the Mess Patch for Messenger, showing tick box options
Screenshot of the Mess Patch for Messenger 7.5.0324, showing how easy it is to remove the annoying advertising banners.

As well as nuking the advertisement banners the Mess Patch also has a useful feature that users of Linux or Open Source instant messenger applications such as Gaim take for granted: the ability to distinguish between a contact being Away or Idle.

By default MSN Messenger blocks the transfer of a certain number of file extensions, such as .mp3 and .exe files. This is for security purposes, seemingly. But I always objected to Microsoft deciding on my behalf what files I could or could not share with my friends. I always used to hack this setting by hand (it’s stored in the Windows Registry — details on request) but now this is possible to do by simply selecting the “Remove File Transfer Blocked Extensions” option in Mess Patch.

It is worth noting at this point that I also have the excellent Messenger Plus! extension for MSN Messenger installed, which adds a host of features including the ability to decide which contacts you will automatically accept downloads from, and which you have to authorize. My closest and most trustworthy online contacts (of whom there are currently 12) can send me pretty much any file they wish, everyone else has to wait until I give the go-ahead.

On final thing about the latest update of MSN Messenger: the Help > About MSN Messenger window still shows last year’s date (highlighted in red below):

Screenshot of the MSN Messenger About screen, which shows last year\'s date

Copyright (C) 1997-2005 Microsoft Corportation. All rights reserved.

I’m no expert on how software is versioned or copyrighted, but if this is the most recent build then surely that should read “Copyright (C) 1997-2006”. You would think.

String ’em up!

Close-up of guitar frets and strings

Today was the first time, I’m ashamed to say, that I’d changed the strings on my Burns Brian May guitar. I’d got it into my head that the Grover Locking Machine Heads (tuning pegs, to you and me) would be difficult to operate.

Quite the opposite. They were a dream to use: slide the string through, begin to tighten and they automatically lock the string in place on the machine head. It couldn’t be simpler. They do exactly as it says on the label.

What was difficult, however, was stretching the strings in on a guitar with a knife-edge / floating tremolo. In the end I had to hold the trem down while I stretched the strings in, retuned, stretched a bit more, retuned, ad infinitum. It took me about a hour to get the tuning settled. Thankfully, the strings on the other two guitars — electro-acoustic and acoustic bass — were much easier to change and tune.

I’ve had an article from the US Guitar Shop magazine in my guitar resources folder since 1995. It’s kept me absolutely right on how to replace strings since then. So I’ve scanned it and offer it to you below. (I’ve reformated the layout to make it easier to follow.)

Finally … the Right Way To Put On Strings

by Mike Duffey

Guitar Shop, February 1995

Say you just strung up your guitar and every time you play it, it goes out of tune. I’m sorry to tell you that you probably strung it up improperly — surprisingly, it’s even a common error among advanced players. So get yourself a fresh set of strings and let’s try it again. Proper stringing is one of the most basic lessons for guitarists, but once you learn how to do it, the rest of your guitar-picking life will be ever so much smoother.

Diagrams on how to correctly string a guitar

Acoustic steel-string and standard electric guitars

First, we’ll deal with the easiest guitars to string: the acoustic steel-string and standard electric.

  1. Start by attaching the low E string to your bridge; there are so many different types of bridges out there, but I’m sure you can figure out where to put the ball-end.
  2. Next, take the string and thread it through the proper tuning machine stem. Leave enough slack in the string between the tuner and bridge so that the string pulls taught approximately 4″ from the fretboard (this equals about 1 – ½” length-wise).
  3. Here’s where it gets tricky. Once the string is through the stem, bring it around the stem in the direction away from the tuner knob (see Figure 1).
  4. Take the string end under the section of the string that originally entered the stem and then bend the string at a right-angle away from the face of the headstock (see Figure 2).
  5. As you tighten the string up, the friction of string-against-string should keep it from slipping.

Once you are used to this manner of stringing, you will find that it’s an easy on/easy off method that can’t be beat.

Classical and Nylon-string guitars

Unfortunately for you classical/nylon-string guitarists, your stringing method is a little tougher.

  1. Start at the bridge. Feed the string through the appropriate hole, then lead the string back under itself next to the saddle.
  2. From here you take the end of the string and wind it around the section of string directly adjacent to the bridge two or three times (see Figure 3).
  3. Take care to leave the string end pointing toward the center of the bridge.
  4. Now to the headstock. Leaving practically no slack in the string, fish the string through the appropriate tuning post.
  5. Bring the string around the post, wrapping around the section string that first entered the post and finish the loop by threading the string back under itself (see Figure 4).
  6. Again, as you tighten, the string will tighten against itself and therefore not slip.
  7. Lastly, take a graphite pencil (a good ol’ #2 will do), and twist the point in each nut string slot. This will allow the string to move freely through the slot.

And that’s all there is to it. I hope these stringing methods will help to keep your guitar in tune. The explanation was a little like telling a blind man how to tie his shoes, but if you stick with the pictures, you’ll do just fine.

Mike Duffey does guitar repairs and restorations at Future Music in Media, PA, in addition to finding time to play local jazz and pop gigs, and teach around 50 guitar students a week.

Delivering job applications

A stamp that says Urgent

This last week I’ve filled in two job application forms, both for very different jobs at The University of St Andrews — one in Education Liason, the other in IT. Both posts caught my imagination and I’ve been quite excited filling in the application forms imagining how I might carry out those roles using the skills and experience that I’ve accumulated so far. I just have to wait and see.

Because the deadline for application forms for one of the posts is tomorrow, I’m driving up to Cellardyke tonight to stay over so that I can hand-deliver the form to Human Resources tomorrow morning and get back to Edinburgh without having to lose half the day.

Something that I’ve found really helpful when filling in my forms are a couple of sheets that I’d prepared a few years ago. On them — and I need to update them once again — I have a kind of elongated and exploded CV, detailing fully my previous academic and job experiences (exact dates, addresses, contact details, responsibilities, training courses, etc.). I also have another sheet listing all my places of residence with full addresses and dates. Those two sheets have saved me so much time in the past, and are easy to update as and when I need to.

How to be a Programmer

Button with Enter Code written next to it.

I can’t remember how I stumbled on this essay “How to be a Programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary“, but it was probably via

I’ve not yet had the change to read it through fully, but I have printed it to PDF so that I can access it at a later date, and on my Psion if I want. It really is worth a read.

Debugging is the cornerstone of being a programmer. The first meaning of the verb to debug is to remove errors, but the meaning that really matters is to see into the execution of a program by examining it. A programmer that cannot debug effectively is blind.

In some ways it reminds me a little of a book that my friend Bernard recommended many years ago: Code Complete by Steve McConnell.

Code Complete is now in its second edition, and has its own website: where you can download sample chapters and example code.

The book is packed with examples of good practice, and tips galore. Back when I was spending more time programming my Psions in OPL I found little tips like prefixing all my global variables with a lower-case ‘g’ really useful, eg gHighScore. It meant that at a glance I could tell whether a particular variable in a procedure was local or global. Simple, obvious, and quite beautiful.

There have been plenty of examples of good behaviour that I’ve been able to incorporate into my web design practices, such as the importance of planning and designing before building, and techniques for self-documenting the code. I even managed to squeeze a sermon out of a one chapter a few years ago: comparing our faith to software development. Sometimes a piece of code says do x, y and then z regardless of what else is going on at the time; at other times the code depends on where it is, and what else has happened. Sometimes our faith is like that too, sometimes we’re in a different place when God comes a visitin’ again.

The day that I preached that sermon there was a visiting computer programmer from Texas in the congregation in Inverness. I was blessed by that, and if I remember correctly the comments that I got at the West Door as people were leaving he was about the only person who fully understood that particular metaphor that day. But then God is like that sometimes: sometimes part of the message is tailor-made for that one person.

I wonder if I can get a sermon out of “How to be a Programmer”?