Signs of the end of Civilisation

Returning to my local grocery store, I discover that they have built a tiny instore Starbucks, and attached stupid drinks holders to all the trolleys. I mean really.

And they are selling Valentine Candy.

If that doesn't herald the end of the world in 2007, I don't know what does.

This new year, I shall be mostly falling asleep at 9pm due to accumulated jetlag. I suggest you try it too.


And... relax

So many things to do in the next hour before I set off for the unknown. So I will do the obvious: have a nice hot bath. It might be a while before I get the chance again.


A real Stonebreaker

A lot of spam uses randomly chosen text from elsewhere to try to defeat filters. The spam itself is mostly centered around an image, which my email client usually chooses to ignore. The below text came as part of a pump and dump scam, but it avoided gmails filters, and confused my mental filters as well:

"That is a valid, though not too common, situation.
It is addressed to Michael Stonebraker.
One type of question I commonly receive has to do with choosing a DBMS. Other organizations tend to be more liberal and often are willing to consider alternative architectures. As he is trying to stuff them into the overhead compartment the flight attendant tells him that the won't fit and he'll have to check his bags. There are a lot of SQL books on the market - some of them very good. Indeed, businesses today are gathering and storing more data than ever before. " CSM: The object folks always want to tightly-couple code and data. Or blogs like this one, for that matter!"

In a rush, as usual

Trying to get everything done before I depart tomorrow, as usual. Probably will, but no chance to relax till safely on the plane, it seems. Just so you can trace my movements, the schedule now seems to have settled into the following:

Dec 15 EWR
Dec 16 LHR
Dec 17 New Delhi
Dec 18--20 Kanpur
Dec 21 Agra
Dec 22 LHR
Dec 23--26 Maidstone
Dec 27 Cambridge
Dec 28--29 London
Dec 30 EWR
Dec 31-Jan 1 MD?
Jan 2 onwards NJ

Again, on the offchance that we coincide in time and space in any of these, leave a comment, or keep it to yourself.


Fun and Stuff

Today I have mostly been Christmas shopping. The thing is, when you are lucky enough to be on the very short list of people for whom I buy presents, you don't just get the gift, you get the gift of my thought and attention. This is particularly noticeable this year when my brother requested an MP3 player; I had to use all my skill and knowledge to seek out just the right combination of quality, options and battery life based on my deep insight into what my brother would want. I'm now trying to buy a digibox for my dad. It's a hard life.

My other brother was more helpful, inasmuch as he specified the exact catalogue number and colour options of the product he wanted from Ikea, so I jetted off to pick it up this afternoon. I had thought that no one in their right mind would have been in there on and it should be fairly quiet on a late sunday afternoon when you should be out Christmas shopping (I mean, what kind of crazy person would do their Christmas shopping at Ikea?); however, I was much mistaken, and the place was full of people standing in my way and generally cluttering the place up. Inspired by the example of the Offensive Mango, and act more like a twunt, albeit a polite one. That is, instead of stopping for people who were blocking the way and waiting for them to get out the way, I instead speeded up and walked towards them. This had surprising success in that people did start to get out of the way. I still had to stop short for a couple of small children sliding suddenly in front of me (I'm sure children didn't have wheels when I was that age).

I made use of the IKEA cages, where if you are shopping along you can lock up your purchases temporarily while you bring your car around to pick them up again. Which gave me the idea that this must be a good place to pick people up: just hang around there and offer to help, and you're sure to score. Or get picked up for acting suspiciously and accused of thieving flat pack bookcases.

I do enjoy Christmas shopping though, mostly because I seem to end up walking away with more stuff for myself than for other people. I went into a nearby branch of "We are toys", even though I don't have any friends under the age of 20. So I arrived at the checkout with some gifts solely for myself. I was again confronted with the request for my phone number. Emboldened this time (since when do you need a phoone to buy toys), I replied "Er... no?", which seemed an acceptable answer (the cashier typed in "999 999-9999" on her screen). So, I recommend this to everyone in future. Not only does it save your privacy, it's also a lot faster than dictating it and correcting them when they read it back to you wrongly three times.

Another purchase was the new Stefani album, based solely on the strength of the fantastic first single. How can you not like a bass-heavy song that samples extensively from The Lonely Goatherd by Scary Mary? It ends with the fantastic line "I know he thinks you're fun and stuff, but does he know how to wind you up?", suggesting that her ideal man is Jeremy Beadle. According to the liner notes, it's actually 'fine and stuff', but I much prefer my version. Following various people's advice, I bought the CD so I can rip it and listen to it at my pleasure, but much to my irritation, I discovered that it was the 'edited version' when I got it home. My mistake for not checking, I suppose, but still irksomely worrying, and I may have to recourse to the Internet to somehow recover a rendition of the product that I thought I had bought. Equally disappointing is that there don't seem to be any other tracks that are of equal quality to the first track; I'll listen again (possibly to the unedited version) to see if I can find any other stand out tracks, but they mostly seem to be on the more inisipid ballady end of things, rather than the electropoppy shouty stuff that I seem to prefer.


Stop hitting me!

Hmm, I notice a light flashing that shouldn't be flashing, and I detect that someone is trying to hit me on the SSH port emanating from, which resolves to webmail.goodv.com. This appears to be a private mail domain for "Good Vibrations", which (through google results only) appears to be some kind of "Adult Toy Store". Have they been hacked, I wonder, or are they woefully off course? They seem to have gone away now, I will have to configure SSH so it lets me know who has logged in and when, just in case...

Why not try...

Why not try creating a user-compiled encylopedia about every aspect of the new Nintendo gaming system, and call it Wiikipedia?


I don't come here to be insulted...

A quite staggering insult winged its way into my inbox from a most unexpected direction today -- from the editor of a journal to whom I'd sent a polite enquiry as to the status of a paper that I'd submitted there about six months ago. This was a paper that had been invited to a special edition of the journal of the best papers from conference X:

I have checked the status of your manuscript. The editor to whom the paper
has been assigned has been inviting reviewers but all the
invited reviewers have declined reviewing the paper. He has invited some
more, and hopefully some will accept. Usually we do not have problems in
finding reviewers for a paper, but sometimes it happens that nobody wants to
review a paper (fortunately, I had only another case like this since 2001).
To me, this is a sign that the paper is not very interesting; I wonder how it
got accepted to X Conference. So you will need to be patient.

Well, that told me.


Fetch the engine...

My plans of getting everything I need to get done in a day usually don't work out quite as I planned (hence why it's half past midnight when I write this). Today's plan went awry around 11.30AM when I had to evacuate my apartment due to, er, the house being on fire.

Four fire engines came (unfortunately, my neighbour called 911 before I got a chance. I've always wanted to call 911) and dealt with the matter in short shrift, but it took a while for the smoke to clear and the all clear to be sounded.

This was the culprit: a dodgy tumble dryer. Mmm, charry.


No ID, no service

I went to get a haircut yesterday, since my hair was getting in my eyes and blocking my vision. I was a little taken aback when the first question I was asked on arrival at the barbery was "What is your phone number?". I wasn't entirely sure what this might have to do with my coiffeurist needs, but was not in the mood to take a stand on personal privacy (I know, one should always be in such a mood, but I wasn't). The proceeded to to demand my name and home address. Whatever happened to the anonymous haircut? Someone, somewhere has a database of everyone who has a haircut, and I don't know about you, but I find that disturbing.

What I found the more disturbing, however, was the outcome of the haircut. As I said, the hair was getting in my eyes and blocking my ears, but otherwise wasn't too much of a problem; so I requested that they attend to the front and sides, but otherwise leave it much as it was. It was only subsequent to my return home and a more careful perusal in the bathroom mirror that I realized that I had inadvertantly specified the definition of a mullet.

Pick a counter, any counter

Seems that when I accidentally clicked on a button last week and moved this blog to the new "Beta.blogger" service (not to be confused with beta blockers), I also somehow broke the webcounter with which I've been surreptitiously monitoring everyone who comes here to waste their time reading my screeds. Since it was about time I upgraded it, I needed to choose a new counter from the many millions of free web counters available. But I was too lazy to do any research and find one that I liked. So I decided to use the wisdom of crowds instead. I grabbed a recent snapshot of about half a million blogger blogs, got the ids of all websites linked to, sorted these by frequency, categorised the top hundred most frequent URLs, and found the most commonly used counter amongst all of these, and went ahead and installed it. Turns out that this was easier than any of the alternatives.

Anyway, please welcome my new friend: statcounter (he's on my left, your right).

In search of online music

I've decided that I've finally come to the point in my life where I want to find the right online music service. I have drafted a list of requirements heretofore:

1. Open format. No DRM. MP3 or OGG for me, please. I want something that I can listen to on the computer, on my mp3 player, or whatever, and that I can convert to new formats as new innovations come along. I don't want PlaysForSureTM, I want just Plays.

1a. (corollary to 1.) Everything has a price. I don't want anything for "free". Things that come for free on the internet are usually lumped in with some pain in the posterior spyware, adware or crippled terms of use (see above DRM note). I want to pay a reasonable amount for music, not get it for free and pay in other ways.

2. Buy what I want, when I want. No stupid 'subscription models'. I want to buy nothing for six months and then splurge out on half a dozen albums, without fretting about whether I have exceeded my monthyl download limit, or whatnot.

3. Range. I want a service that has what I want, which is typically mainstream/obscure requests such as a cover of Observatory Crest by Mercury Rev, or that song by Regina Spektor which has got stuck in my head. I don't have the time or patience to scour mp3blogs or P2P services for this stuff, I want to pay for it so I can find it without messing about.

4. (optional) Reputable seller. I'd prefer not to entrust my credit card details to a borderline illegal service which may turn out to be affiliated to organized crime. As a minimum requirement, I'd like a service that does actually accept my credit card, rather than is rejected by the CC service for whatever spurious reasons the pair of them can come up with.

So my simple question is, does such a service exist? All of the ones I can think of seem to fail on one or more of these points. The point being, until the music industry can sort itself out to meet these fairly minor requirements, they will lose my custom, and I'll go back to obtaining my music the old fashioned way: by buying up cheap secondhand CDs on Amazon marketplace and then ripping them onto my harddisk, just like my grandparents used to do...


What don't we need?

Where to begin?

[embedded youchoob vidjo]