20051230

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

I had two christmases this year: an American style Christmas, and a British one. The first I achieved the simple way, by hijacking a passing American family and attending their festivities. The second required a little more effort: I had to simulate it in my apartment. I collected together a couple of presents for myself, from things I happened to have lying around. These included the new motherboard for hughanchor, so I spend most of the morning performing the transplant operation. It seemed to more or less succeed, modulo a rush to buy some thermal grease, and the realization that a P4 chip is a lot smaller than you would think given the size of the heatsink. It seems to be accepting the transplant so far, but it's hard to tell, given the sporadic nature of the recent crashes.

Then I put on "Carol's from King's" while I cooked the dinner --- nothing too fancy, just roast chicken and roast potatoes (not complex enough to attract the interest of Angel and her cronies). Then I enjoyed the adventures of Doug Who in the Christmas Invasion (which, thankfully, I'd managed to avoid constant hype for by the simple expedient of being in a different country), and the somewhat less impressive Chopratown. All in all, most satisfactory.

20051222

I'm not here

Right-o, that's enough for now. I'm going on a de-tox retreat to cut myself off from the Internet and work for a while. So, the subsequent radio silence on my part will be due to necessity, rather than through choice. Merry paganmas one and all.

20051219

Bad Spam Bot!

Some naughty spam bot posted 30 comments to old articles last night (I don't know which ones, it doesn't appear to be anything recent). This irritated me sufficiently, that I have enabled the "type in the word in the picture" checking feature for posting comments. I have no idea whether this is effective or not. If the bot comes back for more, then I'll have to enable the "moderate comments" feature in addition. Which would be a shame, since I don't care about moderate comments, I want to only see immoderate comments.

If you notice where these spam comments have been posted, I might be able to edit them out, although I don't know how easy it is to delete comments with blogger, while leaving the legitimate comments that directly insult me in place.

20051216

Christmas Lolly Extraveganza

I've been tidying the apartment, and in the course of it have turned up dozens of discarded lolly sticks in all manner of places: one inside hughanchor (see, the problematic memory stick was actually a lolly stick), down the back of the couch, stuck to the cat, piled up in front of the door, and so on. So here's a big catch up. Some may be repeats, in which case, too bad.

First, I've noticed a certain trend for tedious literality: consider

Q: What has two banks and no money? A: A river
Q: What is the most important thing you need when you go skateboarding? A: Your skateboard.

Not so much jokes, more plain statements of the obvious. Next, a couple that are just unlikely combinations:

Q: What has spots and rids on a fire truck? A: A fireman with measles.
Q: What has wheels and a trunk but no engine? An elephant on roller blades.

Note for non-US readers: a trunk is Americian for a boot. Hence, an appropriate anglicizes version of the above joke is as follows:

Q: What has wheels and a boot but no engine? An elephant wearing a boot on roller blades.

Which is about as funny as the original, ie not.

Rounding off the batch, more unfunny half-attempts at puns:

Q: How do you avoid ticks on your pets? A: Don't let them have a watch

Which is a common problem I understand.

Q: What did the hamburgers name their daughter? A: Patty

This relies on knowing that the uncooked meat formed into the shape of a hamburger in preparation for cooking is referred to as a patty. No reason why you should know this. Also, not entirely sure how hamburgers are meant to procreate, but I suppose that is left up to your imagination.

Q: Why were the refrigerator foods afraid? A: The milk went bad and turned rotten.

I don't think I've ever heard of rotten milk. For something to go rotten, there has to be something to rot, and I can't really visualize that.

Q: Why did the computer squeak? A: Somebody stepped on the mouse.

And presumably someone had configured the system to make sounds when the mouse was moved. Nothing surprising there.

20051211

Badly reported news story of the day.

According to the BBC, you only need to learn 100 words of english to understand a large fraction of what is being said! Wow! Isn't that amazing? Doesn't that just blow your mind? By learning just 100 key words "youngsters could understand books written for both children and adults" (which presumably means Harry Potter).

If we stop there (the report does go on to qualify this in more detail that is largely unrelated to this "100 words" claim, we might believe that we need just 100 words to understand things. Well, let's give it a try. Here's the BBC's list of the top 100 words:

a, about, after, all, am, an, and, are, as, at, away
back, be, because, big, but, by
call, came, can, come, could
did, do, down
for, from
get, go, got
had, has, have, he, her, here, him, his
I, in, into, is, it
last, like, little, live, look made, make, me, my
new, next, not, now
of, off, old, on, once, one, other, our, out, over
put
saw, said, see, she, so, some
take, that, the, their, them, then, there, they, this, three, time, to, today, too, two
up, us
very
was, we, were, went, what, when, will, with
you

And here is the opening paragraphs of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", where I've taken every word not on this list, and replaced it with the word "marklar". I've also been overly generous, in assuming that the reader can recognise that Alice is a person, and that they know the other forms of words on this list. So, do you understand this:

ALICE was marklar to get very marklar of marklar by her marklar on the marklar and of having marklar to do: once or marklar she had marklar into the marklar her marklar was marklar, but it had no marklar or marklar in it, "and what is the marklar of a marklar," marklar Alice, "marklar marklar or marklar?'

So she was marklar, in her own marklar (as marklar as she marklar, for the marklar marklar made her marklar very marklar and marklar), marklar the marklar of making a marklar would be marklar the marklar of getting up and marklar the marklar, when marklar a marklar marklar with marklar marklar marklar marklar by her.

There was marklar so very marklar in that; marklar did Alice marklar it so very marklar out of the marklar to marklar the marklar marklar to marklar "marklar marklar! marklar marklar! I marklar be too marklar!" (when she marklar it over marklar it marklar to her that she marklar to have marklar at this, but at the time it all marklar marklar marklar); but, when the marklar marklar marklar a marklar out of its marklar-marklar, and looked at it, and then marklar on, Alice marklar to her marklar, for it marklar marklar her marklar that she had marklar marklar seen a marklar with marklar a marklar-marklar, or a marklar to take out of it, and marklar with marklar, she marklar marklar the marklar after it, and was marklar in time to see it marklar down a marklar marklar-marklar marklar the marklar.

In marklar marklar down went Alice after it, marklar once marklar marklar in the marklar she was to get out marklar.


There's a basic problem with the BBC report: being able to understand half the words in a text does not mean that you have any reasonable approximation of understanding the text overall. Marklar. F'nord. Malkovitch.

20051209

Snow Day!

It's snowed: it's 6inches of snowed, in fact. I just spent an hour shoveling snow, which is my exercise for a week. Now too tired to do anything for the rest of the day, so will spend of the day curled up at home.

Also, 610,000 shares x 1 Yen = 1 share x 610,000 Yen, so why all the palaver?

20051205

Newsflash

Yes, good news for all fans of Ian McShane: there's a website that links to all the latest Ian McShane news (or Iannews, I suppose). Including a recent posting here. Gosh. Makes you wonder why they bother, really...

Other news: hughanchor had another blue screen moment this morning, after having been on all night. So could be a heat issue, but more reason to do the mobo transplant soon.

I got a card through my door apparently advertising the new Narnia film. But on the back, it says:
"See the movie... come explore the meaning with us... we want to invite you to join us on Sundays as we unravel the spiritual truths woven into the story and the parallels between Narnia and our own world. It could change your life. The presbyterian church at New Providence. Christ Centered, People Focused".

There are many, many, many things wrong with, but not least is the fact that they have a slogan. Since when did churches have slogans? And yes, feel free to quote apposite examples from the bible, I'm sure that there are loads.

Recent internet web searches that have caused people to visit this website:

1. nude drawer (which is where I keep my dirty pictures)
2. Clemence Posey address (learn to spell her name first)
3. wincy willis picture (try image search, fool)
4. sergey brin girlfriend (notable only because it does not also include the words "naked" or "nude", but then...)
5. Linda Bellingham sucked me off (best search term *ever*)

Lastly, I appear to be beset by incompetent phishermen. Many times I've received emails with an obviously spammy or phishery title, but no content. The latest one is even better: it's a multipart message from "Amazon" asking me to log into my account to stop it being deactivated. But they've only remembered to include the plain text alternative that has the correct amazon.com address in it, and forgotten to include the HTML version that would actually have the directions to the phishing website. Idiots.

20051202

Security made by Idiots

Imagine the scene at an airport.

"Hi, I'd like to check in my luggage."
"Sorry, is that a suitcase? I'm afraid I can't accept any suitcases"
"Why not?"
"It might have a bomb in it"
"But it doesn't have a bomb in it. I packed it myself"
"I can't take that risk. There have been too many cases of suitcases with bombs in for me to take that risk."
"Can you scan it and check that there isn't a bomb in it?"
"No, I don't have time for that"
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"You could take each item out of the suitcase and take them separately"
"What? That's ridiculous, I must have fifty things in the suitcase!"
"Or, you could airmail the suitcase to the destination. In fact, the airmail goes on the same flight that you are on, so it will get there at the same time"
"So if there was a bomb in the suitcase, it could still blow up the plane..."
"I suppose so, but that's not my problem. Tell you what, why don't you just wrap the suitcase in cellophane."
"WHAT?"
"Wrap the suitcase in cellophane. I've heard of lots of cases of bombs in suitcases, but I've never heard of a bomb in a suitcase that's wrapped in cellophane."
"Surely that's no protection if there was a bomb?"
"Oh, absolutely not, I expect. Shall I get you the cellophane?"
"This isn't security at all. This is just a pretence at security which just ends up wasting everyone's time and causing me irritation and frustration."
"Always happy to help."

What is this really about? Let me give you a clue: I recently tried to send a zip file to someone whose mail server refuses to accept zip attachments.

20051127

What Time is It?

I was just doing a backup, and noticed that it seemed to be copying a lot files that hadn't changed -- in fact, pretty much every file.

A short while later, I worked out the problem. Using rsync under Cygwin on windows means that you are stuck with Window's idea of time. And Windows handling of daylight saving time is, well, broken. So, according to the operating system, the two copies of the files were different, since one was modified an hour later than the other.

There's no clean fix for this idiocy, but a simple solution (other than copying everything over again) is to set the rsync modify window to something more than an hour. For this application, the backup only happens once every few months, and so it is unlikely to cause a problem. But I'm glad I figure this out, rather than have to wait all night for the system to carefully change the file time of every file by exactly an hour...

Interesting news from the Observer (bottom left of picture): apparently George Best's condition is improved. That's a matter of opinion, surely. given the main story? Posted by Picasa

House Mouse

 
No elephants, but we do get to see House play with a mouse. Well, a rat. Don't kill Stuart! I know you're all bitter and twisted since Geena Davis left you to become President of the USA, but that's no reason to tak it out on your adopted son!
 Posted by Picasa

House and Home

 

In the latest episode of House, we get to see where the medical detective lives. This looks like nowhere I know in New Jersey (not surprising, since most of the filming takes place on the West Coast), although the producers did at least manage to get the car (out of shot) Jersey plates.

The picture shows House and Wilson standing outside House's house. No, I'm not going to mention the elephant...
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20051126

Giving Thanks

It's Thanksgiving, the rather dull American holiday. As usual, I have work to do, and as usual, the rest of the country appears to be asleep. The annoying thing is that there's virtually no activity on the blogosphere, as the authors of the ones I usually read appear to be working off their excessive turkey consumption, so I'm working with almost no distractions. Very unusual.

A new mobo arrived for hughanchor today, but for whatever reason I can't be bothered to operate while he seems to be in reasonable health, and it will probably take a while to carry out the transplant. Still, that'll be something to do on a rainy day when I don't have anything important to be doing. Which might be a long time. It is better than my current motherboard (it has 800FSBs, which must be good) and cost virtually nothing, so it will be worth doing it eventually.

Still, staying in is safer than going out. Find some video of the incident, and see if you can see the strings!

20051122

The binbag murders are back on!

After using hughanchor for most of the weekend, I was powering down, when a blue screen popped up with a page_fault stop error. So, it looks like the problem is not yet cured. I've ordered a replacement motherboard, since this is now the only remaining culprit, and I'll swap it over when I get time. May not be for a while, the board is unlikely to show up before the quaint "Thanksgiving" holiday they seem to get so excited about round these parts, so it'll have to wait till later in december.

Separated at birth?

 

 Posted by Picasa

The person on the left is the Colin Hanks playing mathematician Marshall Penfield in a recent episode of Num3rs. The person on the right is mathematician Emmanual Candes who, according to Suresh is an occasional advisor to the show. I think they look similar. Am I right?

Taking the heat

Top news from my old uni: the union is trying to copyright the concept of heat. For their next trick, they'll patent the idea of a "disc jockey" playing records in a "night-club".

20051119

Overread on the train

I was reading someone's newspaper over their should on the train yesterday. Unfortunately, the newspaper was in a language I couldn't read (possibly Cantonese, but I couldn't really say). But at least I could work out what the story was about--- to me, it looked like this:

#######Sony#########XCP######

Another story read

####Microsoft#######Xbox360###

So I suppose it was the business or electronics pages...

Children's songs for the modern age...

"You're a pink toothbrush, I'm a bluetooth brush"

Feel free to add your own...

I Dream of Keira...

...(nightly)

I heard the following snippet on the radio yesterday, a piece on mental illness.

"Blacks and latinos get diagnosed with schizophrenia at a higher rate than whites, even though all groups are affected with equal probability."

I still don't understand this statement. Perhaps I'm missing something subtle.

20051116

Reproducible results

In this wacky world of academic research, it's quite normal for people to take a paper which has been rejected from a conference, fix it up a bit, and then resubmit it to a different conference. Nothing wrong with that. The reviews from referees often give useful pointers as to how to improve the results, or explain the problem better, and so on.

This being a small world, it's not impossible for a reviewer to receive a copy of a paper submitted to a conference that they have read before. Again, this is no bad thing: having already read and understood it once, the reviewer has a better insight into it a second time round, and can (provided they keep careful records) compare the two versions and see how it has been improved.

I've just finished reading a submitted paper that I reviewed much earlier this year. It seemed quite familiar, so I dug out the original copy I reviewed. Then I went through the two of them line by line. The two of them are identical. Almost. A few sentences have been cut from the current version, presumably for space reasons. And the introduction has been rewritten a bit. But that's all. Technically, there is no difference between the two. Which is not good, since the paper sucked the first time I read it, and I sent a careful, detailed review pointing out several things that were unclear, a few mistakes, and some general comments. None of these have been fixed. That's rather sad, to expend this effort in an attempt to help the authors to improve their work, and to be met, not with them weighing your advice carefully, maybe following some of it and turning down the rest, but with them ignoring it completely.

Still, I think I know what I will do: I'll retrieve the original review I wrote and send the whole thing back to the authors unchanged. Let's see how they like a taste of their own medicine.

20051115

EULA's rule?

I don't believe it... a conference that I'm submitting to has an EULA. I thought that for once I would read it. It contains such gems as:

I acknowledge I have read the above information and that I am 18 years or older.

I understand that my participation is voluntary and that I can withdraw at any time without explanation or penalty.

... which seems a bit harsh if I was a prodigy trying to submit a paper to the confernce. And if I choose to withdraw I will suffer a penalty: my paper won't get reviewed. It's all very, very silly.

Nanu, nanu

The interesting thing about music is that, to some extent, the audiophiles are right: good speakers do make a difference. I've been carrying my music around in one form or another for years now--- CDs, then MP3s--- but I've only recently started hearing things in songs I've listened to many times over. Maybe it's because I'm using slightly better speakers than the mid-nineties CD "boombox" I first used, or just that I normally listen to stuff on low volume. It was only recently when I was listening to Paranoid Android by Radiohead that I noticed the computerized voice saying "Marvin, the paranoid android" (or whatever) in the background, something that had somehow passed me by until this point. And then today I was listening to Vertigo by U2, and I noticed that halfway through Boneo shouts out "Shazbot!". I thought about carefully verifying this for myself, but then I found out that someone had done it already:

thank you google cache [link may not work, google cache being unreliable sometimes]

20051112

Trials and Tribble-ations

Now that my desktop (which, confusingly, lives under the desk) seems to be back to reasonable health, I can catch up with watching too many videos instead of doing any work. I finally managed to finish watching the epic "Trial of a Time Lord" Doctor Who Series.

This was important to me for many reasons. The first Dr Who episode I can remember seeeing was "Warriors From the Deep" in 1984, when I would have been about 6 (actually, checking the chronology, the first I saw was actually The Five Doctors, which is a hell of a confusing way to begin seeing the program). It had a profound influence on me, although I can't work out how. But ToaTL came serveral years later, in 1986, when I would have been a much more mature 9. There had been a long break between this series and the previous one, and in the meantime I had been reading up through the target novelisations (completely out of order, of course, so many of the key long term plot issues were hopelessly confused to me, and still are). One thing that I knew was that I was fascinated by the concept of the timelords, and their culture and technology (I was much more interested in the inside of the tardis than all that messing about that took place outside it). And now came a series long arc in which the Doctor was being tried by a jury of his peers! [*]

[*] This entry contains spoilers, although how a programme that was shown nearly twenty years ago can be "spoiled" is a matter for you to work out. Oh yeah, and it turns out that it's a sledge.

As with all overblown ideas, the thing doesn't really work. It's hard to work out what is the biggest problem: the large number of changes and rewrites that took place between the original idea and getting it onto screen; the lumbering plot that never really makes any sense; or the introduction of Bonnie Langford as a companion. Throughout the prosecution's case, made by the sinister "Valeyard", the doctor constantly objects that the evidence presented by the Timelord's mysterious memory capturing "matrix" (see, that is what "the matrix" really is) has been warped and altered, an accuasation sternly denied by the mum from the Oxo adverts (of course, she later went on to play the second regeneration of a timelord exiled to earth to keep an eye on the doctor while he was masquerading as a vet in the dales [**]).

[**] No one on earth is going to work out that reference, so I'll explain that Lynda Bellingham was the second actress to play James Herriot's wife in All Creatures Great and Small, which also featured Peter Davison.

The climax of the third adventure, which I remember finding very exciting as a young child, came as the Doctor wrapped his evidence for the defence with an adventure from his future (which doesn't make sense! even with time travel!), where he defeated a mutant race of triffids by throwing weedkiller at them. In the course of this, he managed to wipe out every last one, thus raising the stakes from meddling too much to "genocide"! I'm not sure if this was the first time I'd heard the word, but I definitely found out what it meant pretty soon.

How on earth could the doctor get himself out of his predicament? The answer was to come in a two part story, entitled "The Ultimate Foe" that would close the series and wrap up the story. The situations looks pretty grim, but then the doctor's long-time adversary, the Master, pops up and announces that the Valeyard is actually a rogue fragment of the doctor's personality from his final regeneration. Um, OK. Actually, in an earlier draft the Valeyard was actually the Doctor's final, 12th regeneration, which would have made for some interesting implications. There's also the small matter of how or whether they are going to deal with the imminent using up of all the Doctor's regenerations: he's currently on 10 (or more, since it's always possible that the first doctor that we saw was not his first regeneration. One also wonders how he came to be about 900 years old without using up any of his lives, and then managed to get through the next ten in a space of about 40 years. Seems like he is getting increasingly careless in his old age).

The Valeyard, having been rumbled, then pegs it into the Matrix. The doctor gives chase, and enters a strange, dreamlike world in which nothing is quite real. He goes through a door in search of the Valeyard who is posing as "J.J. Chambers", Victorian factory owner, and finds himself up to his neck in quicksand on a beach and going under fast. Close up on Colin Baker's giant clown face, and roll credits...

So here we are, about to start part two. And this is where things get quite silly. The two part episode was meant to be written by Robert Holmes, a seasoned Doctor Who writer. But, unfortunately he died before the show could be completed. He left the script for part one, and notes for the second part. Writing team Pip and Jane Barker were brought in to finish it off in his stead, but for some complex copyright reason, they were not allowed to see the intended outline, and had to come up with something themselves. The result is a fairly muddled mess, in which the Doctor finally defeats the Valeyard and avoids the master's sinister plan, has the charges against him dropped on the grounds that no one can work out what's going on anymore, and saves the Universe (again).

In short, it makes no sense. Not really the fault of any of the writers, it seems impossible to put a satisfying conclusion to any of this mess, but a let down all the same. I was wondering what all this reminded me of, and then I realized that it is very reminiscent of "Restless", BtVS S4E22 -- the coda episode at the end of season four of Buffy. At the time, the publicity for this indicated that it would be an episode to put into perspective the preceding season that some (not me) had found disappointing when moving from a High School to University setting. Set almost entirely in dreams, there was a strange disconnected feel to the whole episode, and a (to me) mightily unsatisfying resolution. The promise of resolving so many unanswered questions about the characters' relationships was unfulfilled, and instead, just gives a completion to the story that is somewhat unsatisfying, and sets things up for the next season to try again.

Ah well. Somehow I never expected ToaTL to be good (perhaps I remembered this from seeing it the first time around as a child), and so it was more or less in line with my expectations. It does stand up to a contemporary viewing, although you happily do a crossword while it's on and not miss too much. It also impressed on me that many of these "fan produced" films on the internet, creating new adventures in the Star Wars or Star Trek universes are actually made with higher production values than the great BBC scif fi shows of the seventies and eighties. Ah well, just shows what you can dow ith computers these days.

I'll keep watching old episodes of Dr Who. I want to go back to Warriors From the Deep, and rewatch all the episodes from my childhood up to the end of Sly McCoy's stint, to see what is going on. There's a subtext to this, I realize. When I was a child, I loved watching Dr Who, but when I got in trouble, I would not be allowed to watch it as a punishment. And, this was before we got a VCR, before there were repeats, before BBC3 showing the episodes again the next week, or UKGold repeating entire seasons in a day. If you missed an episode, that was it, gone, forever. Not even a TWoP recap to let you know what had happened. It seems almost impossible these days, but that was it. So, now thanks to the wonders of technology and archiving, I can watch these old shows over again, how I want to and when I want to. I feel awfully indulgent in doing so. But I do it anyway.
The response to the music quiz so far has been quite. Let's recap the current state of affairs:

I'll sneak the answers in here since no one seems to care any more

1. Sean Connery
Nick knows the answer, but no one has posted it yet.
Obviously, it's Kids by Robbie Williams. An easy one to begin with.

2. Christina Aguilera
Yes, she is mentioned in an Eminem song, but that's not what I was thinking of. Keep trying.
It's "I'm Afraid of Britney Spears" by Live On Release. Surely everyone knows that?

3. Wincy Willis
John Kettley is a Weatherman by Tribe of Toffs, which also mentions a whole host of others.

4. Juliette Binoche
Come on! The same song also mentions Marcus Garvey and Harvey Keitel in the same breath. No cheating on Google now!
Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh Juliette Binoche. It's First Transmission by Earthling, of course

5. Fred Fellini
A quite easy one, I thought (even easier if you cheat with search engines)
msw got this one, Diminished Clothes by Salad. As pointed out at the time, it should be "Fed Fellini" (short for Federico), not Fred.

6. Lisa from Steps
She's the one with the dark hair. Dreaming of injured Popstars by Chris TT. It's Michael Gambon, it's Michael Gambon, I saw his face!

7. Lucy Liu
I was going to put Louchie Lou (from Louchie Lou and Michie One), but namechecking yourself in your own songs shouldn't count. So yes, Density's Child Independent Women (Part one)

8. Terry Wogan
Franz Ferdinand's Saturday Matinee Refectory Nightime Song. Or whatever it's called.

9. Chris Evans
Chris Evans and Shed Seven will save the UK music scene! Thans, Helen Love

10. Ginger Spice
Can anyone get this one? The same song also mentions Tony Blair, Courtney Cox, Michael Jackson and Jerry Springer. And! It doesn't appear to be indexed by any of the big search engines, so in your face, internet cheaters! For a bonus pound, name the celebrity who starred in the video.
No one seems to remember "I've had enough" by Hillman Minx. From 1998, the video featured Angus Deayton (before he had had enough). The song lyrics are as follows (since I can't find them anywhere else on the net):

Motorcars and politicians
Ginger Spice and Eurostar
Football shirts and Damien Hirst
Empty lager cans and wonderbras
Tony Blair and endless skinny women

Chorus:
I've had enough of them all
I've had enough of them all
I've had enough of them all
I've had enough

Easy listening, Camden Market
Quentin Tarantino, Drum and Bass
Courteney Cox and Versace frocks
Veggie burgers and Jerry Springer's face
Football yobs, Nike trainers, Michael Jackson

Chorus

Conspiracies, Referees,
phony new-age therapies
Signing on, student loans,
Surf the net and mobile phones

Closing time, losing hope
Antipodean lunch times soaps
Laptops, pagers foreign beers
I've had enough, I'm out of here

Porno mags
Loads of fags
Mountain bikes
Postal strikes
Gay or straight
In love and hate
Well I guess it's tough
But I've had enough

Repeat previous verse and fade

And now you know! Much less later, I expect

20051106

Death and Resurrection

This news story has been bothering me for a while:

Woman's body mistaken for Halloween decoration

Not for the story itself, which probably says more about America's bizarre occult obsession with halloween, so much as the attribution of one of the quotes. "Fay Glanden" appears in most versions of the press association story (for some reason, the wire story seems to get very slightly rewritten in different newspapers. So she appears as:

Fay Glanden, wife of Mayor William Glanden -- Fort Worth Star Telegram, TX
Fay Glanden, wife of Frederica Mayor William C. "Chick" Glanden -- The News Journal, DE
Mayor William Glanden's wife, Fay, told a local paper -- theguardian, UK.

But one question: why does it matter who her husband is? I would have thought that theguardian especially would not define people by their spouse.

Meanwhile, hughanchor seems to have taken a turn for the better. I was just about to cart the box off to be looked at by a specialist, when I decided to try a few last tests, by booting a linux distro (mostly just to show that I could) and by re-running some memory tests. The memory tests showed up a huge number of errors in a memory area corresponding to the second of my sticks of DRAMM. So I pulled that one out, rebooted, and haven't had a blue screen since. This is odd, I thought I had checked the memory, but I may have messed up which bits of memory I had in when I ran the tests. Also, this is pretty new memory (from July), so it shouldn't really be dying so fast. My suspicion (given that some of the errors didn't seem very memory related) is that there was a motherboard or other system issue that caused the memory to go wrong. I'm not sure. I'll keep the system up as it is for a while, and if I start to encounter more errors, I might go down the route of replacing the motherboard and other pieces. Since I have duplicates for almost every piece of the computer lying around in one shape or other, I could end up in an interesting philosopher's bicyle situation. But for now, things are more or less back to normal. Until the next crash...

20051105

More computer tedium

Just an update for those that are yet to transmute their indifference into actively not reading this stuff. I have provisionally ruled out the power supply. That leaves the remaining possibilities as the motherboard and the processor -- could be a corrupt cache or something similar. Or, there's a chance that it could be the hard drive: it's been getting a lot of errors lately, but quite frankly that is most likely to be due to the constant rebooting in the middle of operations. So I'll try to rule out the hard drive tomorrow, and then take the damn thing to a professional to have it looked at, since I don't have any convenient way to test whether or not the chip or board is the culprit. Meantime, thank goodness for the laptop, which is gradually taking on more responsibilities while hughanchor is out of action.

20051101

Pop Quiz

Blogger swallowed version 1, let's try again. Most pop quizes are too easy now that you can just put the lyrics into a search engine and find the song. So here's a quiz designed to defeat that tactic. Listed below are some celebrities, name the song and artist that names them. Some easy, some hard, a lot of British pop from the last ten years or so. I'll start posting clues if some prove too hard, and bonus points (which are exchangeable for pounds sterling) will be available if you find songs other than the ones I was thinking of.

1. Sean Connery

2. Christina Aguilera

3. Wincy Willis

4. Juliette Binoche

5. Fred Fellini

6. Lisa from Steps

7. Lucy Liu

8. Terry Wogan

9. Chris Evans

10. Ginger Spice

Ship shape

I went to Bristol from the weekend. I'm currently exhausted from the return journey, but a few things to note about the travel itself:

* They showed Mr and Mrs Smith on the plane, which is not as good as it could be, and Charlies Angels. The films had been "edited for content". In the case of Charlies Angels, I noticed two obvious edits: the line "and that's kicking your ass" was changed to "and that's kicking you around". There's also a scene where a helicopter is hit by a rocket and blows up. This scene was removed: you see the missile on a surefire collision course for the helicopter, and then it cuts abruptly to the next scene. This is presumably in line with the rumoured rule that you can never show an aircraft disaster as part of an inflight movie. I'm amazed that this is actually true.

* I may in the past (I can't remember) have mistakenly said that the nasty looking room next to immigration where they take you if you don't have the right documents, or they think you look like a terrorist, was labeled as "Room 101". This is completely wrong. It's actually labeled F-U-070. I don't know what the 070 indicates, but the F-U is pretty clear.

* I'm so happy that I have found enough shortcuts and appropriate routes that I can get from the plane to my home in under an hour. If all goes well and I can sprint to immigration before the crowd gets there.

* Earplugs are great. Never travel without them, especially if you are likely to encounter obese Americans or gobby Brits.

20051025

Um...

...it's probably not the graphics card.

Oh dear.

20051024

I say, I say, I say... my computer won't boot

Then how do you use it?
I can't

Further updates on the health of hughanchor the computer, since you seem to be so desperately interested. After a very healthy day on Saturday, things took a turn for a worse overnight. I got up this morning to find a new windows XP stop error -- something about a bad IRQ level, or something (actually, it was "IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL"). I started trying to see whether the memory was the cause, so I started moving the memory around. This only seemed to make things worse, so I put in the old memory I had before I upgraded this summer. No joy, in fact the machine would consistently reboot after startup almost immediately: just after beginning to boot windows, just before the "Windows loading" screen would appear. So it now seems unlikely that the memory is to blame, since I've tried several different lumps of memory in it, and unless they are all broken, then it should be fine.

In fact, I managed to boot from the install CD to a prompt and explore the hard drives quite happily. I also downloaded and burned a copy of "memtest86" on my laptop (the mugwump2, god bless all who sail in her), and got hughanchor to boot that and run memory tests for several hours with no errors detected.

OK, so where does this leave us? Certainly, the computer is in reasonable shape, modulo the fact that it can't boot up its regular operating system. After my initial wrong accusations, the power supply seems fine (I checked it with a multimeter and through CMOS): although VCORE seems rather low at 1.44V, I think this is just a feature of my machine. CMOS also tells me that the operating temperature of those components that are measured is not too high (about 36 degrees C, it seems). Memory seems to be OK. Disks had a reasonably thorough checkdisk run on them this morning before XP started refusing to boot. Of course, any or all of these assertions could be hopelessly wrong, and may be the cause after all.

But there is one possible suspect who is beginning to look more likely. Can you guess who it is? It is my once trusted graphics card. Consider the evidence: the generic stop errors I've been encountering can be caused by bad memory anywhere in the system -- including the graphics card. The problem currently manifests itself as windows is about to start up -- which is when it switches graphics modes to put a pretty logo up while it loads. Text only applications, such as the memtest86 programs, seem to run happily with no problems. And there's one other symptom I haven't mentioned: now, during the bootup process, my monitor flashes up a brief error message (from the monitor itself): graphics mode not supported: Horizontal 31.2KHz, Vertical 59.5Hz. Which has never appeared before.

So, the chase is closing in. It is starting to look like the graphics card is at fault. Or is it? Some or all of these errors could also be explained by a faulty motherboard, (maybe the dilithium timing crystals are off, which is causing various synchronization errors). Perhaps it could be the L1 or L2 cache on the processor? Or maybe something I've tried to rule out, like the memory, is actually the problem?

The scientific method here is to replace each possible component in turn, and see if things improve. I was fortunate to have some extra memory lying around so I could do that test, but I don't have a large stock of spare graphics cards, motherboards or processors lying around. If I did, I'd probably build another computer with them. Oh well. Thank goodness I have a laptop (try searching the internet for debugging information when your machine won't even boot...) and a collection of DVDs to catch up on. I'm too busy to give this my full attention, with paper deadlines and some brief international travel coming up in the next few weeks, so I doubt I'll have the full answer any time soon. Maybe I'll have to admit defeat and get it taken to a specialist.

20051022

How Mysterious

I've been obsessively reading books of "Solve it Yourself" mysteries lately. These are short vignettes -- a page or two -- detailing a crime, which you (the reader) must solve. These puzzles are inevitably quite irritating, since they almost invariably follow the same pattern: in the description is some detail which, combined with some external knowledge shows a contradiction in the story of one of the characters, indicating them to be a liar and hence guilty. At the best of times these stretch credulity. My favourite of these is one in which the murder victim shot his precious diamond out of the window at the top of his narrow house attached to an arrow to avoid the murderer getting his hands on it. The investigating officer tells the chief suspect that the missing diamond is only "an arrow flight away", to which the suspect responds "Well, go outside and look for it then". This immediately proves his guilt. Because, apparently, any innocent person hearing the sentence would assume that the officer said "It's only a narrow flight [of stairs]" away, and respond "Well, go upstairs and look for it then." Clever, eh? And also possibly the most convoluted and forced set up you can possibly think of.

The principal author of this crimes against logic is Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encylopedia Brown, a children's version of the same thing. For four dollars, I bought a copy of a collection of his "two minute mysteries", a 400 page book where each mystery occupies two pages. That's 2c (approximately 0.01GBP) per mystery, and in several cases I feel that I have been cheated of my two cents worth. I'm going to quote one mystery in its entirety, because I can, and because it's fair use, and because this one above all others seems simply wrong in its execution. Take a read and see what you think:


The body of Monroe Sheld, an impoverished sixty-year-old painter, lay over a table in his sweltering one-room apartment. A bullet had entered his right temple. On his right side, by the leg of his chair, was an old fashioned single-action revolver. The table was bare, except for a cracked plate, a saucerless cup, knife, fork, and spoon, and an overturned salt shaker.
"Sheld has been peddling his sketches for a dollar or two in the local bars," said Inspector Winters. "His doctor says he was stricken with heart failure two months ago and nearly died. You migh say he ate a last meal and committed suicide."
"Correction," said Dr. Haledjian. "There was a bit about him in today's paper. A small but fashionable art gallery announced a one-man showing of his paintings next month. He had everything to live for."
Haledjian opened a small cupboard layered with dust. One plate and cup, and a setting of cheap silverware, however, was quite clean. Next he opened a paper garbage bag and sniffed.
"This food was put in the bag with the past three hours, or about the time of Sheld's death," asserted Haledjian. "Longer than that and it would have begun to spoil and smell in this heat."
Haledjian shut the bag. "I shouldn't close the case quite yet, Inspector. Sheld had a dinner guest, who tried to cover up his presence here."
What made Haledjian so certain?


After this question, at the bottom of the same page and upside down is the answer. In a vain attempt to create a false sense of tension, I shall try to write the answer using a white font, which will therefore be invisible until you highlight it with your cursor, unless your browser ignores these kind of instructions, or you are using a text or speech based browser. But anyway:

Sheld, having suffered a heart failure would have watched his diet carefully. He never would have brought the salt to the table unless it was for another's use

Now here's my challenge to you. Read the story and the author's explanation to the answer. Why is the explanation complete and utter bollocks?

Post your responses in the comments, and if no one can work it out in a reasonable amount of time, I'll post the reason myself.

More computer based hijinks

Following up on the last post, I've made some interesting progress on the constant rebooting problem. It's still intermittent: sometimes the machine stays up for ages, sometimes it reboots over and over. During one of these moody phases, I noticed a flicker of blue and white on the screen before the system reset. Could this be a blue screen? I hadn't seen one of them on the machine for ages.

Digging around deep in the XP system options, I found a setting for "Restart after system error" which is set to true by default. I switched it off, and went back to work. After an hour or so, the machine flicked up a BSOD, with the irritatingly cryptic error "Page_fault_on_nonpaged area". That is, the reboots have been generating error messages. But those redmond based idiots have the default setting to reboot the instant the error is generated, so unless you have a photographic memory, you'll miss the error entirely.

This means that my initial conjecture about a duff power supply is probably barking up the wrong tree. Some rooting about on the internet suggests that the most likely causes are (a) a newly installed device (b) some duff memory (c) some disk problems. Since I haven't put anything new in the system in the last few weeks, that suggests (b) or (c) are the most likely culprits. Since I installed some new memory earlier this summer, it's possible that that is the culprit. Or could be some bad sectors (do they still exist? My knowledge of computer architecture is rapidly becoming obsolete). So, after the next hang up, I'll swap over the memory chips and run some serious hard disk scanning on the offchance it's a fixable bug. If it still breaks, then I can try removing one or both of the memory chips to see if that helps to fix it. No solution yet, but at least the suspects are a little narrowed down.

20051016

Mmm, biscuits

I was browsing the aisles of a nearby supermarket, and hidden in the ethnic foods section under, bizarrely "Irish", I found that they stocked Bourbon creams. Naturally I snapped up a couple of packets. It's such a struggle finding real food in this country that you have to take the opportunity when you can. Still it's odd to think that people view 'Irish' as a food style to beplaced alongside Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Spanish. The shelf also contained other random items, such as Ambrosia Rice Pudding, HP Sauce and "Irish" Tea (distinct from the shelf upon shelf of "regular" tea elsewhere in the store). Well, I won't complain if it means I can enjoy a few more home comforts.

Meanwhile, hughanchor has not been well. That's hughanchor, my home computer, rather than Hugh Anchor, the ill-considered fictious weblog author. hughanchor (the computer) has been rebooting repetitively, often when I click on a new file. That's quite annoying. It almost certainly isn't caused by software, since it sometimes reboots a few times in the middle of booting up. It's quite annoying, and after checking all the leads and blowing the dust out of the innards, the problem seems to remain. It's most likely a power problem, although difficult to know what to do about this: probably get a new power supply, which means getting a new case and attempting a live transplant which would be quite time consuming and fiddly. It might just be that my electrical supply is dodgy, although there's relatively little one can do about that, and not much one can do to diagnose it short of packing the machine into a vehicle and taking it somewhere else to see if it works any better. Of course, after snapping in and out of life repeatedly over lunch, it seems to be behaving this afternoon when it doesn't have anything to do, but I don't really want to trust it with anything too important for a while. And naturally this problem is exactly the kind of "heisenbug" that you are never entirely sure whether it is gone or whether it has just gone away for a bit.

Ah well, I'll just nibble on a bourbon and see if it gets better over the next week.

20051015

Highly Amateur Electronics Repair

Fans of my life will recall the Great Aerolineas Argentinas Baggage Robbery of 2004. One of the victims of the thieving baggage handlers was a portable travel alarm clock. This was a small LCD display item, that served just the purpose I needed, so I had to hunt around for a bit to find a replacement, and eventually found this (honestly, must have taken about five minutes and $10 in WalMart).

This roughly worked, and spent most of the time living on my shelf in the living room, with brief trips to Canada, Japan nd parts of Europe. Last week it developed a fault. If you look at the picture in the link above you'll see that it has four settings: time set, alarm set, alarm on and alarm off. It should spend most of its time in the "Alarm off" mode, just displaying the time. But for some reason, although the switch was set to off, the alarm symbol on the display was on. No amount of fiddling with the switch, blowing on it, etc., would get the symobol off. I ignored it, but the next morning at the appointed time, the alarm started going off. I tried taking the battery our and other basic tricks, but to no avail: the clock was in permanent alartm mode.

So tonight I decided to have a go at fixing it. I am of course completely incompetent with electronics (that's hardware; I do software). I unscrewed the back 4 tiny screws, to find that the PCB was held on to the front with eight even tinier screws. Hopeing that this would not keep going in some infinite recursion, I took them off, and inspected the front of the PCB. I cleaned some dust off, wiggled the switch around and put the battery back in. The alarm indicator was still on, and the alarm still went off when the time came round. Should I just bin this and spend another $10 on a new alarm clock?

In what I can only describe as a stroke of genius, I saw a solution. Trailing from the back of the electronics was a pair of wire going into a mini speaker that made the alarm go off. I screwed the tinier screws back on, and checked that the thing still worked. Then, with the utmost of care, I pulled the wires out of the speaker. Now when the alarm "goes off", no sound can be heard. And that's what I wanted. Sure, it's now only a clock, instead of an alarm clock, and for some reason the "nighlight" feature that allows you to read the time in the dark no longer works, but I claim this as a concrete result. Besides, my cell phone and MP3 player and socks now all seem to have alarm clocks and lights built in as throwaway extra features.

So there you go. The message is in this era of disposable goods and it being cheaper to replace than repair, the well intentioned amateur can still take stuff apart and reassemble it with only slightly less functionality at the end than at the beginning. A triumph for the small consumer.

20051014

Irritation of the day

Conferences that require you to submit the paper in the proceedings format, and then announce that the camera ready version must be two pages shorter than the page limit for submissions. Given that no one reads printed proceedings any more, and electrons are relatively cheap, this seems like a particularly irritating decision just to annoy authors.

If you are not a researcher in computer science this will not make much sense to you. So instead, have a surreal lolly stick joke that I sucked off yesterday:

Q: The Ivy League
A: Where do plants play football?

Either this is a strange new direction into "Jeopardy"-style joke telling, or they had the stick put into the machine the wrong way round.

20051010

Wikipedants

I've had this link open in my browser for a few weeks: Clifton College.

I found the page when searching for the words to that trite "hush in the close tonight" poem, and on first glance I wondered if the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. The School Customs, and the Marshal who is banned from all local drinking establishments struck me as particularly suspect. But, on reflection, the whole thing makes perfect sense. I think it's fair to say that almost any British public school of sufficient age will look like a parody to an outsider. They're all barmy.
Meanwhile, it is moderately diverting to pore through the revision history and spot the various vandalism attempts, presumably by pupils of the school.

20051002

Non-existent word

"Paleozooogy" is not a real word.

Type it into a search engine, and you'll get about 700 hundred hits. It must be a real word, right? Look, it's defined here: "The science of extinct animals, a branch of paleontology.". Definitely a real word.

Check the other pages: they all have the exact same definition, attributed to Webster's 1913, an American dictionary that is conveniently out of print and out of copyright. Somewhere in the process of converting this dictionary to electronic form, a typo entered the process. Clearly, this should be 'paleozoology', but someone forgot to press the 'l', or it never got scanned properly. To check this, I got my more recent (1962) edition of Webster's and looked it up: no 'paleozooogy', but definitely 'paleozoology'. The electronic form of this type has now been copied round a few hundred times, but all from one flawed source.

So, paleozooogy. Not a real word.

Which is a shame, since I could really have done with a real non-onomatopoeic word that has three o's in a row next to each other. But alas, it seems destined not to be. Booooo!

20050926

Which Doctor?

According to the Guardian, Channel 4 is going to launch TV's first interactive drama, wherein viewers phone-in to decide "what happens next". How groundbreaking! Or at least, it would be, if the BBC hadn't done it first as a throwaway kids show in the 1980s, presented by top future Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy. According to TV Cream, and who am I to doubt them, it was called What's Your Story?. So there.

20050924

Off with their... obvious puns

More television related malarkey. I watched the pilot of "head cases", a drama about a pair of lawyers with mental disorders. Do you see what they've done there? Passable, I thought, but unfortunately everyone else disagreed, and it got cancelled after a mere two episodes.

Still, at least it gave headline writers the opportunity to bring out every possible cliche. Here are some of their worst:

Fox Cuts Off "Head Cases"
FOX's 'Head Cases' First on the Chopping Block
"Head Cases" Get Axed
Fox's 'Head Cases' is a little too nutty
'Head Cases' a no-brainer
Fox's Tedious 'Head Cases': Criminally Inane
'Head Cases' Fails to Convince Jury of Peerers
Head Cases may be crazy like a Fox
Despite likable stars, 'Head Cases' is a major trial

Perhaps it's a good thing it got cancelled, sparing us more of this awful headlinery.

20050922

Jack's Off

From the Guardian's Ask Jack column:

USB limits
Is there a restriction on the number of files that can be saved to a USB drive?
Jim McAllister


JS As far as I know, the only limitation is that imposed by the file system. A USB thumb drive, memory card or phone is likely to use FAT16, the "file allocation table" system from Microsoft's old DOS disk operating system. This can store a maximum of 512 files in the root directory — and this assumed 8-character file names! If the card is 512MB or larger, it probably uses Windows 95's FAT32 file system, which has no such limit. Since using 8.3 filenames (eg Track001.mp3) is probably impractical, you may need to store FAT16 files in separate folders.


What the hell is he on about? "Store FAT16 files in separate folders"? What on earth is a FAT16 *file*? FAT32 does have a limiting size -- 2^16 within a single folder, according to MS. I don't know whether Jack is the victim of bad editing, or just bad information.

Galveston, oh Galveston

One does begin to worry rather that these are the end times and the US is being punished for its actions. Or something like that. I suppose we'll see how things go over the weekend. Things are so bad that the world is apparently running out of hurrican names. Or, to quote out of context, "A little bit of Rita is all I need.."

20050920

I'm thinking about my doorbell...

...when are you going to fix it?

When someone rings my doorbell, it keeps ringing until you go downstairs and lever the pusher back out of a stuck position.

Fortunately, no one ever comes to visit, so I just have to deal with it when pizza arrives or someone comes to read the meter.

In other news: I noticed that my network was very busy last night, when there shouldn't have been any external traffic. But I was too lazy to get off the couch to investigate, so I used VNC from the laptop to get onto the desktop and figure out what was running. The only application that was using any significant chunk of processor was something called winvnc4.exe, which I didn't recognise. Could it be a virus or a worm? Then I realized: it was only the VNC server that was using the bandwidth, internally, so I could see what was on the desktop.

If this hasn't made you dislike me, then I really don't know what else I can do to make you hate me.

20050919

We love to hear him swear on the TV

What is it with the Americans? They can be really quite brutal in films, but somehow on TV they are unable to say a bad word to anyone. When they were making the US version of Pop Idol, they searched high and low for the American Simon Cowell, but eventually had to buy in Simon Cowell, because they couldn't find anyone else to be nasty to talentless singers. Ditto Ann Robinson on the Weakest Link. Now we find that they can't even be grumpy or swear on TV: they have to hire in Hugh Laurie, possibly the most English person on the planet behind Steven Fry, to scowl and take drugs on House, and Ian McShane (TV's lovable, joyous, Lovejoy) to swear and spit in Deadwood. Our sweetest, fluffiest actors play the worst, nastiest characters on US TV. Thank goodness Vinnie Jones is unable to fake an American accent, or we'd all be in trouble.

20050915

New technology put to good use

Unbelievable

Good to see that there's nothing better to talk about.

20050914

Is it just me...

...or does the new Gwen Stefani single cool remind me of "I never promised you a rose garden". In particular the "smile for a while and let's be jolly" bit.

Here an awful midi rendition here.

What's that? Just me then. Fine. Lovely lady lumps indeed.

20050913

Introducing...

...the Guardian nano.

I got polled yesterday. While I was writing my epic review of all new television, someone called up and asked my opinions of Dick Forrester, GWB, Hillary, John McCain and Corzine. I think the middle three were controls to determine my secret allegiance. They also asked if I had voted in the last US election and I replied honestly that I hadn't. In fact, I answered all their questions truthfully. With luck I will have completely skewed their results. One can but hope.

20050912

Shoot the Pilot

In what is sure to become a new tradition, each summer TV companies release screeners of the pilot episodes of their new TV shows, and each summer these get leaked onto the internet. Subversion of the usual rules of copyright, or wanton attempt at free viral marketing by the networks? Um, probably the former, but let's pretend it's the latter.

I've watched about half a dozen of what looked to me to be the most promising of these, and for want of something better to write about, here's what I think:

  • The Unit -- the prospect is intriguing: a top-secret black-ops army unit, out there fighting terrorists and other enemies of the united states. Intercut with scenes of their nervous wives back on the base. Created by David Mamet. Um, right. Bascially, President Palmer from 24 has retired from politics and is the leader of this dodgy unit; a new recruit joins The Unit, and his young wife (Fred from Angel who has retired from vampire hunting and is now a ditzy mom-to-be). Fine, but it didn't quite grab me. The opening action sequence in Afghanistan just rather unfortunately reminds me too much of Team America: World Police, when the ignorant westerners attempt to infiltrate a terrorist cell, and end up blowing stuff up. The closing action sequence involves the take down of a hijacked aeroplane. On the ground. What basically happens is they open the door, then President Palmer runs in and shoots the terrorists. Not particularly thrilling. Still, a slightly more hands on approach to emergency management than Clinton or Bush Snr.
  • Just Legal -- another interesting idea (actually, all of these ones are, I suppose). A Jerry Bruckheimer produced series about an impossibly young lawyer (18), with a title that implies you might have accidentally tuned in to a channel that you need to pay a very large monthly fee for to have listed on your bill as "additional programming". You can just hear the concept being pitched: "Doogie Howser but with a lawyer". There's only one problem: it doesn't work. The kid is too old to have the cuteness of Neil Patrick Harris playing a sixteen year old. And because he's qualified as a lawyer, he's a dork. Not only that, he's not any good. For this show to work, it needs to have moments of genius when the kid solves the crime, or at least comes up with the spectacular defence to get the client off. Instead he just stumbles through. Even Don Johnson as the grizzled alcoholic disillusioned trial lawyer who hasn't stood up in court for over a decade... can't save this. It's a Bruckheimer, so there's some action. The kid has to interview a hood for the crucial alibi for his client. The kid asks a harsh question. The hood takes offence, and swings a punch. Don Johnson hits him back, and they run off. Um, yeah.
  • Everybody hates Chris -- genius title, this is a Chris Rock vehicle that, in a moment of even greater genius, doesn't actually feature Chris Rock. It's rather like one of those kids cartoons made from a film that features none of the original actors from the film doing the voices. In this case, the solution is to have a kid playing the young chris rock going to school in brooklyn. So Chris appears in this pilot episode only in voice over. The plot is great: Chris has to go to school, has a fight with a bully, then runs home and looks after his siblings until his mom get home. No, really. It's moderately amusing in places, but it's hard to see that this can string it out for more than a series or two before running out of ideas. But then I thought that about Malcolm in the middle, and that seems to be doing all right for itself, about to go into its seventh season.
  • Reunion -- this was supposed to be the big one. High concept in the extreme. 24? Screw that. Instead of each episode being one hour in the same day, each episode covers one year in the life of six friends: three guys and three girls [hmm, sounds familiar]. It starts off in 1986, and follows forward to the present day (2006, I guess) where a terrible murder has been committed, the secret of which will only be revealed over the course of the series. Here's the problem: I switched it off after fifteen minutes, maybe I was in the wrong mood. But, I hated the characters. Even thought I couldn't tell them apart. They're all rich, preppy kids. One of them thinks she is pregnant, but by one of the guys who is not her boyfriend. One of them gives a speech to celebrate their graduation of high school. He then drives off drunk in his dad's porsche, gets hit by a trucker, gets his passenger to take the blame, discovers that the trucker died, and... I screamed out "I just don't care about your idiotic behavior. I don't care if you all get murdered by the reincarnated vicious spirit of the truck driver".
  • Threshold -- aliens arrive on earth, popping in and out of the fifth dimension, appearing as mysterious fractal hypergeometric shapes and bizarre piercing noises that drive people crazy. We must conclude that they are ravers from 1992. Perhaps they are justified and ancient. A "contingency planner" is called up to investigate, and puts together a rag-tag team of scientific misfits, including Brent Spiner (Data) doing his best impression of Christopher Lloyd in BTTF, and a four foot tall linguist. It's fairly cliched stuff, with all the jump cuts, bizarre dreams of alien landscapes, and people posessed by the spirit of the aliens who just won't die. Still, given the elusive promise that by the end of the first season, the world will be taken over by aeliens, and the next phase of the plan will have to kick into effect, might just be enough to keep me watching. I think I'd still have preferred the original 1986 "Misfits of Science" version of events, though. They really did drive an ice-cream van.
  • Global Frequency -- this one reads rather like an amalgam of the all the others put together. A secret cabal of 1000 people spread around the world protect us all from mysterious supernatural attacks, commanded by the mysterious Miranda Zero. In the first episode, a guy gets recruited into the group after stumbling on the corpse of one of the members of the 'frequency'. Demonstrating his perspicacity, he saves the world, thus earning him the right to become a member. It's a little bit stilly and overdone, but it doesn't really matter since the pilot was never picked up, and hence there will be no series. Worth checking out the pilot though, it's sufficiently diverting, just like the equally never to be seen "Heat Vision and Jack" pilot.


So, what have we learnt from all this? Or, to put it another, from these pilots, which will I go on to see? This time last year, I was sufficiently intrigued by Veronica Mars and Eyes to seek them out. Veronica Mars turned out to be the best TV show ever made by the Americans (it's no Press Gang, to be sure, but it's not bad); Eyes turned out to be moderately diverting, not quite living up to the densely packed promise of the pilot, and died an ignominious death after being yanked by its network mid-season. This year, I'm not really inspired by any of these. I might look out for Threshold and The Unit to see if they can improve on their so-so performance in the pilot. I will be avoiding Reunion like the plague, though doubtless it will become the breakthrough smash hit of the season. Fortunately, the sustaining concept rather precludes a second season with the same cast, and will lead to a lacklustre rehash of the same idea with new faces that is doomed to fall on its arse (see also: "That 80's Show". Shame, since I was quite looking forward to "That 60's Show" and "That 90's Show"). Just Legal I might look for the occasional episode of, it looks like it could easily be dipped into, but I can't really see it taking off. Everybody Hates Chris will probably go on forever.

So what will I watch this year? Well, there's the bound to be disappointing second season of Veronica Mars, as network enforced changes water down the show's pure genius. Alias looks like it will stagger from ridiculous extravegance to extravegance after last season's frankly apalling "Look at me, I'm an enitrely unnecessary cliffhanger"-cliffhanger ending. House ought to be able to live up to its greatness after the first series, but there's always the danger that they will try to take the edge of Hugh Laurie's stubble. The Daily Show continues to be great; Family Guy and American Dad are watchable, the former more so than the latter. And... well, I really should get out more. So I'll leave it at that.

20050909

Jamie Kaning it

Well, I finished playing the BBC's "interactive fiction" game Jamie Kane, due in part to the brouhaha surrounding some fan-based wikifiddling. And the verdict is... it's all right, I suppose.

The game is based around an internet messageboard, of which you are a member. Smart, eh? Very postmodern. It's all supposed to be interactive. Only, the technology isn't quite up to it yet, so you can't actually post, just read the characters talking too each other. You get to chat to them via a flash pretend instant messenger (pity they couldn't get it to work through a regular IM client, that would really make for a nice confusion between fantasy and reality). It's supposed to be really good AI, but it doesn't quite work... I was asked where I lived and said "New Jersey, USA", and the character replied something about the channel islands. Trying too hard. There's not much of that anyway, mostly they ignore what you say and just get on with their scripted plot moving on.

And that's the basic problem with the game, if you want to call it a problem: for an "interactive" experience it's pretty damn linear. Completely so, in fact: nothing you do seems to make the slightest difference to the progression of things. The game is broken down into tasks, and you have to complete one each day, but the tasks are particularly challenging: just play some silly little flash game, or click on a few links. It's diverting, but there's no great sense of achievement, and there's too much help offered too quickly to force you through.

There's a whole lot of detail to begin with -- the messageboard characters have blogs, there's lots of Jamie Kane information, songs, trivia and so on -- but while this makes the game seem very rich to begin with, it hardly gets used, and so after feasting on the detail to begin with (reading up all the past few entries in the blogs, for example), this kind of gets lost. The blogs get updated as the game goes on, a nice touch, but not very much, and not always convincingly (far too much supposedly private information is posted in what are supposed to be public blogs).

There's also some fossil evidence of the game's evolution. One of the characters has a web page on cheapserve. It's here. Well, fool around with the URL, and you get to this, which gives some useful information -- but never appears in the game itself. Looks like some kind of vestigal thing from an early game (where you have to find JK's mother's maiden name: the answer is in the lyrics of one of his songs), which eventually got dropped. But, just goes to show you shouldn't use mother's maiden name as a security question, since it can be quite easy to find the answer.

[Edit: commenter points out that you get directed to this website somehow if you complain that you are unable to listen to the song. Which is dumb (of the game creators), since all the lyrics are on the JK website along with the songs]

The game has a few risque moments, which seems a bit much given its intended audience. Chief amongst these is probably the chat that directs you to the following link: NSFW! (not safe for work!). Perhaps they are being clever and checking your age from your profile before choosing to send you to graphic depictions of female nudity. But I somehow doubt it. All this paid for with licence payers' money! Good thing I don't pay my licence fee (because I don't live in the UK, duh). Also, for some reason there's an awful lot of the fictional characters linking to images to illustrate their point. Which I've never seen anyone do in real life, but never mind. Anyway, most of these are to non-BBC sites, which is a bit dodgy, since the site owner could easily swap the image for something extremely NSFW. But that's life, I suppose.

Anyway, it passes the time, and the plot is reasonably if a little contrived in places (and one of the plot twists is just silly). Play it if you like, but don't expect it to change your life.

20050908

Things must be bad...

...petrol is only 200% more expensive than gasoline instead of 300%:
cultural differences

20050906

My favourite headlines

I know that desperate times call for desperate measures. But some of these stories seem verging on police brutality:

Police hold two over burning man

Police hold man over barbecue [shooting]

Police hold woman over deadly Paris Hotel fire

20050904

Feedback

Following the mysterious text message last week, I replied and got the following four messages in very quick succession:

Who r u and why did your house explode?

Do u live in nyc?

How old r u?

R u a chick or a guy?

within a 3 minute period. Still unable to tell from this whether I am dealing with some bizarre robot or a hormonal teenager. Possibly both.

Bad Wording

GWB: "Aid is surging toward those who have been affected by the hurricane. Millions of gallons of water and millions of tons of food have begun to arrive."

Millions of gallons of water surging towards the victims? Not the best image to use, really.

20050903

A little light relief

By way of a distraction... are these the worst lyrics ever committed to the annals of popular culture?

My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump.
My lovely lady lumps


(by the way, are there *any* lyrics sites out there which don't try to infect you with all manner of unpleasant spyware and detritus?)

20050828

Some useful links

For USians only, I'm afraid.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp
https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t
https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx
http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html

All are legit, and should be effective. (Do not call is very effective, annualcreditreport goes live next week for me; I've just tried the other two, hopefully they will work out OK).

Shock! Horror! In other news, actor wins Oscar, policeman arrests criminal, journalist writes ill-considered headline.  Posted by Picasa

20050827

I'm getting mixed messages, funny text messages

Half an hour ago, I got the following text message on my phone:

"Annetets house blew up yesterday" from 720-364-xxxx

I have no idea what this means. I don't know anyone in Aurora, Colorado (which is where this number lives).

Possibilities:
a) Wrong number
b) Phishing-style scam
c) Mis-delivery
d) I signed up to some bizarre alternate reality live game thingy, and forgot about it.

I suppose I could message back, but it is (b), then that's presumably what they want. I'll think about it for a bit.

See? You don't have to leave the house for interesting things to happen.

20050826

Digital Speech Players

This is a sort of request for comments, although I doubt I'll get much useful feedback because you are all idiots. Especially all the people from a certain software company who have come here after searching for "doing difficult things well" (I have access logs, and your host names are hardly cryptic).

Anyway, Digital Music Players are all the rage, but I want a digital speech player. That is, everyone goes on about all the great music based features in these players (like, er, they can play all your music. In a random order!), but I don't hear much about features that would suit people who want to listen to audiobooks or other spoken word content. For example, I'd like to see features like:

  • separation between music and speech content. If I have both on a player, I don't want to go into "shuffle/random" mode, and go from listening to a 3 minute pop song into a 30 minute recording of chapter 7 of some book. Yes, there's usually a skip button, but if you have a lot of spoken word stuff you don't want to be doing this all the time.
  • bookmarking or other easy to use feature that remembers where you got to in a particular file if you have to stop it or interrupt your listening. At least if you switch it off, it should be able to resume from where you were when you switch it on again.
  • easy access within a file. It'd be nice to fast-forward 20 minutes into a file without having to hold down a forward button for two minutes. Remember, this is all digital, so random access within files is trivially possible; I want something that doesn't pretend it's a tape player when you want to find something within a recording.
  • good management of heard/unheard material. When listening to several audiobooks, you'd like it to remember which chapters you've heard in each, and which you haven't. Either by noting which ones you have reached the end of, or allowing you to mark files as "heard". When you have a few hundred files, this will make listening to stuff somewhat easier.

So, my challenge is for recommendations of hard drive based audio players which have these features or comparable ones. Through careful questioning of my capped iPod controlled friends, it seems like the little white player falls very short on many of these criteria without significant amounts of messing around with playlist options. So, any better suggestions?

20050824

GoogleHelloWorld

For immediate release

MOUNTAINVIEW, CA ---

Google Corp (ticker symbol GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOG!) announced the release of their latest product, named GoogleHelloWorld, today. Building on the success of their popular products which allow people to find stuff on the internet and stuff, and like talk to people or something, the new product is a small download of 3.8Mb for Windows XP systems. When run, the program prints "Hello World! (c) Google 2005--2090" on the screen. Already, it has been attracting Rave reviews from users. Sergey Brin (or was it Larry Page, I can never remember which one's which) comments "This is really fantastic! Absolutely awesome! This will revolutionize the burgeoning HelloWorld application area". Noted software millionaire David Darling added "Fantastic! Brilliant! Stupendous!".

However, some computer journalists have been more muted in their praise. Andrew Orlowski off of the Register pointed out, "This is not a new idea. In fact, this technology has existed on many platforms for many years already. I remember running my first HelloWorld program on a SPARC VAX STATION PDP 11 back in, ooh, 2003 or 2004. It was much better back then, of course, when you didn't have all these other users about cluttering the place up. I remember the first spam email I got, back in the early days of spam, which was last January. There was quite a furore about it, I remember".

Such cricism has not prevented approximately 12.3 billion downloads of GoogleHelloWorld in the last five minutes alone. Said one satisfied user, "This is great. I can't wait to see what they will come up with next -- maybe a program that makes letters come on screen when I press them on a keyboard. That would be ace!".
Industy rumours suggest that the second release of GoogleHelloWorld will include patented WhatIsYourName?(TM) technology, due for public beta testing in Q1 2006.

My $1000 remote control

As I have mentioned many times before and much to everyone's evident boredom, I use my computer to watch television programs: it stores them compressed on the hard disk and then outputs them to my TV so I can watch them from the sofa. Only one problem: if I want to pause the show, or select something else to watch, I have to get up off the sofa and use the keyboard or mouse to do it.

My initial solution to this problem was to get a cable extender for the keyboard, so I can carry it over to the couch, and operate the machine from there. However, this requires a lot of moving things back and forth, since I also want to use the keyboard on the computer. Also, it gets fiddly to select the next programme, since the resolution of the TV is not high enough to read off the file names.

So instead, I worked out a way of using a remote control for the computer, so I don't have to get off the couch. It gives me complete control. And it only cost $1000.

Of course, the thing is, I already had it. What I did was to install VNC server on the computer, and the client on my laptop. Now I can control the desktop PC over the wireless network from my laptop. So I have a copy of my desktop's, er, desktop, on my laptop, and can pause, select new files etc. easily from the laptop without getting off my backside. It's a vastly overengineered solution to a non-problem, which is the best kind, really.

It's also great for freaking out friends who are using your PC: surreptitiously fire up the client on your laptop, and while they aren't paying attention, move the mouse, type messages to them, or start playing songs. If they are a bit dim, it will convince them that your PC is posessed. Result!

20050822

Knowing Me, Knowing... You?

Wha...?

Doing well difficult things

I'm glad to report that thanks to the sheer idiocy of google, this is now the top hit for "Doing difficult things well", significantly beating Data Connection and their wiley slogans. Incidentally, DC are currently on a hiring binge, so if you can stomach the prospect then now would be the time to submit yourself to their hilarious psychometric profiling and testing.

However, this seems to have dropped off the radar for "webartoffer", the dodgy outfit that apparently tried to nick money from me. On the plus side, their website does appear to be kaput, which I'd like to think is in someway due to my inactions.

So meantime, here's a new web-related hijink to relate. I operate a private internet domain which, let's say, is called www.anchor.org. This has the nice feature that any mail to x@anchor.org gets to me, where x can be any arbitrary string. Hence, I have got in the habit of giving out custom made addresses to different people. Amazon get to email me at amazon@anchor.org, other people get jerseyelectric@anchor.org, dirtydvds@anchor.org etc. I recently started getting spam sent to my address, but the headers revealed that the mailing address was actually mybank@anchor.org. Where, of course, mybank is my bank. This irritated me: how had my bank allowed my address to leak out?

The point being, that this address has been given out to noone else, appears on no webpage (including this one), and has no other purpose. And although I receive spam to non-existent addresses like "admin@anchor.org" or "info@anchor.org", mybank is sufficiently non-standard that it seems very highly unlikely that anyone would have guessed it, given that I've never received spam addressed to "someotherbank@anchor.org".

So I contacted mybank about this, and asked them what was going on. And they replied... that they didn't know. They claimed that they'd never passed on personal details, etc. etc., and so... well, what can you do? I didn't give out the email address. And the bank claim they didn't. So that leaves... some hacker snooping on the email sent from my bank to me. Which seems a bit extreme, you wouldn't have thought that they would need to go to that much effort.

So I throw it open to you: anyone got any better ideas how my clean address could have fallen into the hands of the evil spammers? The point being, I don't really care all that much about it: if it gets out of hand, then I'll procmail all email to that address to /dev/null, and configure a new one for mybank (and see how long before that starts receiving spam). I'm just curious how, for what should have been
a closed system, somehow this fell into the hands of the spammers while expedia@anchor.org, computerstore@anchor.org, or cheapthaibrides@anchor.org have all remained spam-free so far.

20050821

Four to the Floor

I recently read The Rule of Four. It's one of those hidden treasure / secret clues / coming-of-age / princeton university / romance / steam tunnels / conspiracy theory novels that we're seeing so many of recently. The plot revolves around a cryptic (and allegedly real though I am just too lazy to check) book from the 15th century. The narrator is engaged in decoding the clues in the book, finishing his finals, and realizing that maybe he should pay more attention to his girlfriend.

It's an entertaining, if quite often infuriating, novel. The decoding of the clues is mixed in with filling in of background details in the narrator's life, leaving a somewhat confused timeline. It doesn't help that much of the action takes place in an insanely frenetic 24 hour period the description of which spans most of the book.

I find the reader reviews on Amazon quite amusing. Many of the recent reviews attack the book for its flaws quite vituperatively. Critically, it was reasonably well received, but one of the mistakes the reviewers made was in their laziness, the plot meant that they described it as a cross between "The Da Vinci Code" and Umberto Eco. Well, Eco-fans are unlikely to find enough in here to catch their attention. It's certainly superior to the breathless hyperbole of the DVC, and a little more considered. But because of the quotes on the front cover, lots of DVC fans have piled in, expecting another trashy romp around well-trodden conspiracy theories and carefully planned misdirection. They then whinge that this book has been written by people who know how to string a sentence together, and has plot elements such as romance and thought. They complain that the book lectures them, conveniently forgetting that at several points in the Da Vinci Code, the lead character has flashbacks to times when he was explaining the relevant material *in a lecture*.

Not that I particularly want to defend the Rule of Four. It has plot holes aplenty, and the solution of the riddles are riddled with holes. While DVC resorted to getting William Tunstell-Pedoe to make up some silly anagrams, tRoF has arcance references to classical literature. Each riddle is solved (with immense effort, sleepless nights, thousands of hours of research etc.) by a single word, which is then used as a key to decipher a block of otherwise innocuous seeming text in the book being unravelled. How does this deciphering work? Well, one clue is answered by something like stadium, which is seven letters long, so you have to take every seventh letter of the text starting from a point where "stadium" actually appears in the text. Or another one is answered by a four letter word, so they take the first letter of every fourth word, and so on.

Can you see the flaw here? Once you know the general pattern of the clues, you don't actually have to solve them. You just have to try various trivial options (every third letter, every sixth letter etc.), which would take no time at all given the electronic version of the text a few perl scripts. Funnily enough, none of the Amazon reviewers seem to have noticed this. Unless I've made some glaring error, in which case, I don't care.

Furthermore, the titular "rule of four" is actually learned based on information from outside the book (contrary to the deciphered text's claim that an appropriately educated reader should be able to work it out for himself), and other vital blueprints are also picked up from outside the work itself.

One thing I did like about the book, although it may be unintentional, is the time compression: the bulk of the book, about 500 pages in all covers a couple of days in great detail, and refers back to events happening over the course of the narrator's time as an undergraduate. But, the five years after graduation get covered in a couple of paragraphs. This initially seems somewhat slipshod, especially since the narrator's crucial decision that a wild goose chase after some non-existent buried treasure wasn't worth the toll on his personal life and friendships seems then to be ignored since he goes to work in Texas for a software company as some kind of antisocial hermit. But, the more I think of it, the more clearly it becomes a metaphor: you graduate university, and after that years seem to slip by so quickly in comparison to the time you spend as a student, which seems so rich and full of detail. In other words, this book is like life: fun when you are young and without responsibilities, but after that it can get dull and tiresome.

Anyway, in order to recapture some fun and games, I'm about to embark on my own quest: to find out the truth behind the tragic death of Jamie Kane. Feel free to join me (for whatever the rights and wrongs, this piece of Wiki-fiddling did catch my attention and draw me in to the teen-oriented world). I'll let you know how I get on.

20050812

And In Local News...

Very odd local news story... President of the local school board is forced to resign after plagiarizing a graduation address.

Before
After

How peculiar.

20050811

Learning to count with the indie rockers

In the course of a lengthy discussion with msw, we somehow got onto the topic of counting with band names. Sadly, I seemed to be struggling a bit with this, so I'll put down what I have, and leave you to fill in some more in the comments.

KRS-1
U2
Oui3
The Fab Four (sorry, there should be something better for this) Four non-blondes (thanks commenter)
Jurassic5
Nikki Sixx
L7
OP8
MC 9 Hundred Foot Jesus (this is cheating, I can't remember a proper one for nine)
Ten Benson

Your challenge: get from Ten Benson to Matchbox 20. And improve the ones I have here. Is it possible to get up to 100 without going too obscure? Presumably 10,000 Maniacs is unreachable, but maybe Blink 182 is within reach?

20050802

Atrocious but obscure pun

One only for the mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists, I'm afraid.

What's this:



(Hint: it's not a dead bear chart)

Manservant

Today I have mostly been listening to Manservant's debut single, "No Means Yes". A three minute slice of power pop that gets more disturbing with every listen, it slams down a line of postmodern feminism in the guise of guilty complicity. Pulling Sleeper and Echobelly into the 21st century, the sound has echoes the wantonly obscure Switchblade Kittens' Ode To Harry Potter. Thematically, there are echos of Atilla The Stockbroker's Contributory Negligence.

Take me out, get me drunk, take me back to your house, it's not hard
And it shouldn't be too hard for you to fill in the rest
'Cos No means Yes


Manservant does not, as far as I know, have a record deal, or even a record: this recording came to me care of a friend of a friend of the band. So if you want to hear it, then you'll have to find your own way. But it is the best thing ever, today.

20050801

Champagne Anarchists

I went to paris and back last Thursday. In retrospect, I should have noticed that this was insane before I went, but I closed my eyes and tried to ignore it. I took the EuroTrain, which was quite good, hugely expensive since it was a last minute booking, and tolerably fast. The return journey however was marred by the presence of a group of irritating shouters who insisted on having a loud and sweary conversation for two hours until someone else in the carriage couldn't stand it any longer and tried to start a fight with them. My natural defenses had been put up long before, when I heard one of them say, "The champagne is only twenty five quid, let's get a couple of bottles". I immediately put in my headphones up to full volume and tried to drown out their blaring idiocies with the Kleptones, with some success.

Paris was nice though. Don't go for a day trip though, that's clearly insane.