Gasping for broadband

Am thoroughly enjoying some peaceful reflection away from the hustle and bustle of usual busy life. Survived US embassy interrogation (of three mediocre questions; for this I have to travel all the way to london and then sit around in the queuing system from hell for four hours?). Am a little irritated that I have to hike three and a half miles with dying laptop in tow in order to access broadband so that I can type out these messages and not have to wait an hour for anything to happen.

Anyway, am on the verge of getting bored, so does anyone who knows me feel like an exciting day trip to maidstone over the next few days? Board and lodging also available. Otherwise I might end up doing something silly, like some work.


dial up

everytime i come back, dial up gets worse and worse. why isn't there some kind of temporary broadband you can get? it doesn't help that every time I try to resuscitate the account I set up last time i was here, it is dead, the provider has changed, and I have to go through a tedious set up procedure all over again. my mobile phone is also dead, but since it's about ten years old, it's probably time to pay ten quid and get one from this century.

this time for the first time I do see loads of wireless access points around me from home -- but they are all secured. that's not fair. i'd consider cracking them, but this seems altogether more complicated than it needs to be. why isn't there a one click solution to feed my addiction?


I win at email

Just about to set off for the airport, and after sending the final paper (of, er, about five in the last four weeks), I made a final push, and got the total number of messages sitting unanswered in my inboxen down to 8. Yay. Of course, as soon as I go away, it will start shooting up again, and because of limited email access, will probably reach a hundred or so before I return at the end of the month and start hacking away again. It's like some kind of never ending tetris game, except that there's no limit to how high the stack can get. So, as I mentioned before, this is it. I am now closing 2007, and am not prepared to take on anything further till 2008. Please remember to check out my travel itinerary in a recent blog post and ping me if you will be around in any of my locales for the rest of the month, else I shall bid you adieu for now.


If you go down to the woods today...

In all this fuss, no one seems to have answered the question: so what happened to the bear?

Now ask yourself, in all of this, who is actually responsible for "insulting religion and inciting hatred"?


Brain Scrapings

My laptop almost died yesterday, and I did not mourn its passing. So that means that its time must nearly be up. It's easy not to care when all your data is mirrored across four systems, a couple of back up disks and a flash drive. Some of them are even offsite. Anyway, once the machine had dried out, it seemed to work about as well as it did before, providing I set the date back from 21162. Apparently, a lot of applications crash when it is nineteen thousand years into the future. So that's something to look out for.

Meanwhile, I am no longer accepting things to do for 2007. With one month to go, I no longer have any time available to do anything else in. In other words, if you send me any work to do, I won't get around to it till 2008. If then.

My electricity provider is called "Jersey Central Power and Light". This has been bothering me for ages, and it's only just dawned on me that the reason is that it has the exact same cadence as "Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie". Presumably this means that I now have to come up with the rest of the rhyme, but I can't think of anything amusing that rhymes with "Light".


Email Woes

Why is it that my email server always dies right at the start of a long weekend? Well, probably the answer is that that when it fails at other times, it gets more rapid attention, or I have other things to worry about and don't notice. Still, it is rather irritating, and makes me wonder if I should look for a slightly more reliable service rather than clinging on to an address from a few years ago.

So instead of finally emptying my inbox, which is currently AWOL, I partook in my annual habit of data mining my email. I must admit, my heart isn't fully in it this year, for some reason, so just a few brief comments.

* Spam is UP! Or else I can count it better. I switched over to using spamassasin about a year ago, and as a consequence, rather than my old heuristic for counting spam (look for senders who sent me only one message), I instead switched to a new system whereby I just count the number of messages trapped by spamassassin. So this is probably a slight underestimate, since I still get a few false negatives but hardly any false positives. My previous estimates were about 1500 per month, but I'm now happily clocking 3000-6000 spams per month.

* Legitimate mail is UP! During 05 and 06, I was processing about 1200-1500 messages a month (and many of them were spam, since I had a lot of false negatives with my old manual procmail spam filtering). This year, I've been clocking 1600-2000 messages a month. Some of these are from heavy mailing lists, but that doesn't explain everything. I must just be more popular all of a sudden.

* Certainly, I'm sending more. One month I sent 300 messages (and this undercounts by loads, because I'm only looking in sent mail, and not in folders which some sent mail is automatically placed in based on recipient). Generally, the trend seems to be up and up. Amusingly, I used to send about 150 messages a month during my undergraduate days; the only exception was Novermber 1995, when I sent 230 -- and that was my second month of having email. Clearly must have had a burst of excitement that month.

* Am still missing loads of data, since I only have procmail logs for my academic email account, not my work email. So goodness knows what the real story is.


$1 for your thoughts

Hmm, apparently, I have to pay an extra dollar to hear amy swearing.

(Back to Black

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (Audio CD - 2007) - Explicit Lyrics
Buy new: $13.98

Back to Black [Clean Version]

Back to Black [Clean Version] by Amy Winehouse (Audio CD - 2007) - Clean
Buy new: $12.99 )

Things I Don't Like #21491

Sketch shows that have the same sketches every week, and have a little titles sequence before each sketch.


Britain, prepare yourself

OK folks, here are the dates for my upcoming trip to Englandland:

Dec 6: Bleary eyed in LGW
Dec 7: Cambridge
Dec 8: Cambridge
Dec 9: Cambridge
Dec 10: Maidstone
Dec 11: Maidstone
Dec 12: Maidstone
Dec 13: London
Dec 14: Longborough
Dec 15: Longborough
Dec 16: Longborough
Dec 17: Longborough
Dec 18 - Dec 22 Open
Dec 23: Maidstone
Dec 24: Maidstone
Dec 25: Maidstone
Dec 26: Maidstone
Dec 27 - 29 Open
Dec 30: Back to the United States of USA.

If you want to plug any of my gaps, then let me know.


Embed this, mofo!

Oh, I've been really struggling with my fonts. I'm sure I've complained about this before, but I can't find the reference. A number of idiotic publishing companies (ahem, IEEE and ACM) have recently started getting really snotty about embedding fonts into files. In particular, they complain like crazy if you don't embed fonts like symbol and helvetica into your PDF files when you send them to get published. This is particularly idiotic, since these files are part of the "14 base fonts" which every PDF reader must be able to render without needed the fonts to be embedded. So it's a pretty ridiculous rule, and I've wasted some amount of my life whinging at them for having such a rule. In particular, because some perfectly nice PDFs generated by pdflatex have been rejected for this reason. These folks wouldn't give any useful suggestions about how to fix the problem, other than "send us the PS version, and we can generate the compliant PDF." But I'm using PDFLaTeX -- there is no PS version (not even a DVI version). Generating PS would be silly, I'd have to use pdf2ps or similar.
Finally today, I have worked out a clean solution which does not offend me.

Firstly, it turns out that most of the problem is actually coming from the embedded graphics. pdflatex itself does seem to satisfactorily embed most fonts, although you can force it to if necessary, and there are various sites around which say how to do this. But this doesn't help included PDF figures which don't have fonts embedded already. For xfig and so on (another tip: in xfig, the "view --> portrait/landscape" option will fix it so that your figure is output with the correct orientation if it's coming out twisted when you export it), just export direct to PDF and it should work. But some figures are generated in eps format, and then converted to PDF. Usually, I use epstopdf to do this, since it gets the bounding box right, but it doesn't seem to do the trick. So here is what you need to do: issue the command
export GS_OPTIONS=-dPDFSETTINGS=/prepress

and then all will be well. You can work it out for yourself why this will work.


Stating the Obvious

A letter falls into my hands from my gas supplier, with the following message emblazoned on the front: "Forecasts call for below-normal temperatures this winter".

I know what they mean (since they say the same thing every year), but that's not actually what they've said.


Paxman, you idiot

More shocking ignorance from Paxman on University challenge, again leading to him claiming that a valid answer was incorrect. This time, from the program on 22nd October 2007:

Paxman: In statistics, data that are binomially distributed, individual values may be placed in one of two mutually exclusive categories so that the sum of the probabilities of occurring in the categories is what value?
Liverpool Ling: Er... unity.
Paxman: No, it's 1, or 100%
LL: (rolls eyes)

Something should be done!


Near Miss

I was getting very confused, since I had mixed up "Show Me Love" by Robin S with "Show Me Love" by Robyn. Youchoob embeds below:



With all this fuss around "In Rainbows", and discussion of whether this is going to revolutionize the music industry, no one seems to have mentioned that there is an entire industry that has been running on essentially the same principal for decades.

Public Radio in the US (think Radio 4, only twee in an entirely different set of ways) basically operates in exactly the same way: it gives its wares away from free (broadcast radio), and requests the listener to make a donation. Since there's no necessity to comply, they perforce request 'whatever you think is appropriate', although they are keen to give suggestions as to what is appropriate ($10 per month, or 'just a dollar per day' are common examples). The model is a little different in places: since the good is a continuous stream, rather than an album, they periodically interrupt this stream to beg for money. Sometimes for days at a time. Moreover, the game theoretic aspect is slightly altered, since there is a greater incentive to contribute to NPR: fail to donate, and the service might go away, or at least become less usable (more begging, less content). Probably you can argue the same about Radiohead albums, although it's more discrete, and there are more competitors than there are for speech-based radio stations not broadcasting insane rants.



Motivated by the sudden spurt of interest, I watched "Points Of View" this week for the first time in ages. It's, um, not how it used to be. Gone is the catchy version of "When I'm 64" from the opening, either because Paul McCartney now is 64, or else because "Send me a postcard, drop me a line" didn't seem to be easily replaced by "Write on my messageboard, post a snarky blog entry". Instead we get (youchoob embed):

I'm not sure that I particularly like their insinuation, that all the comments are nothing more than "blah blah blah". And that faux jazz tune -- I hope the composer is rightly ashamed of what he has wrought.

The show retains its short (10-15mins) format, but the issues raised seem much more petty than I remember. Perhaps they ever were, but it seems particularly unnecessary to whinge about scheduling decisions in this age of PVRs and timeshifting.

One notably irritating point: just as before, the letters seem to be read by actors. However, in an apparent attempt to fool the viewer, some audio manipulation is added to make it sound as if these are telephone messages. Apart from the dissonance of hearing carefully read speech (with no 'um's or 'ah's), many of these come in over the internet and so are attributed to pseudonymous names like "Bax of delights".

The highlight, though, was probably a rather bizarre segment in the middle which seemed to involve a cut-and-paste piece of found poetry on the subject of BBC cooking shows. I'll leave it to you to work out what that's really about.


Yoof TV

After Charlie Brooker's devastating take down of the current state of Yoof TV, I decided to remind myself of how things were when I was a youth myself. In particular, thanks to the magic of the internet I found a rather grubby copy of "Teenage Health Freak" from Channel Four in the early nineties. I ended up watching the obligatory "Drugs are bad, mmkay?" episode, which was just as cringeworthy as you might imagine it. The basic plot was that the requisite unattainable girl turns out to be regularly getting high on ecstacy tablets, and ends up half-inching some replica guns belonging to the protagonist's cowboy-obsessed father. He confronts her about her misdemeanours, and she takes him to her supplier to retrieve the objects, which ends in about as cheesily a brutal confrontation as you can imagine. The problems with this are principally: (1) there's only so much violence you can show in an early-evening teen themed comedy-drama (2) the sinister pusher and bowling alley manager was played rather unconvincingly by cheery ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, which rather made the entire episode entirely pointless.

The upshot is that after this confusion, the unattainable girl remains unattainable but at least renounces her life of illegal highs with immediate and lasting effect, and the show moves on with startling rapidity to tackle the equally serious topic of teenage eating disorders equally decisively in the next episode.

Unhelpful tips

Lately, I have been waking up with a brilliant idea in my mind, only to discover on later reflection that it's completely useless. Here's one recent example:

Web programmers! Do you find it too tedious to insert comments into your hand-written HTML files! Is that open-bracket, exclamation mark, hyphen hyphen just too tiresome for you? Then why not try including comments simply by writing them following a # at the end of your embedded URLs, like:
It's easy, and fun!


Record Labels Sue Usenet

According to this story, it seems that a bunch of record labels are suing usenet.com. Although, reading the article, it gives the impression that the labels actually think they are suing usenet itself. Which is somewhat akin to trying to sue email. Wonder how this will play out in court.


Academic Spam

As an occasional bit-player in the world of Academia, I sometimes get special Academic Spam. Usually this is in the form of messages from arch-cretin Nagib Callaos inciting me to participate in his or her Serious Cybernetics Conference, or The Open Applied Mathematics Journal casually bombarding people with garbage. The irritating thing about these messages is that you at first think that you have been specially invited to contribute based on your reputation, and only later do you work out that it's a mass-distributed mail to all and sundry.

Well, I got another invitation yesterday, which had me puzzled for a while. It read as follows:

Dear Professor Dr. Anchor

The Scientific Committee of the Fifth International Conference of Applied Mathematics and Computing (Plovdiv, Bulgaria, August 12-18, 2008) kindly invites you to deliver an 30 minutes invited lecture during the Conference.

You will be accommodated in a room in a five stars hotel (with usual facilities: fully air-conditioned hotel, direct dial telephone, satellite/cable TV, internet access, etc.).

A member of Organizing Committee will meet you at Sofia airport. He will help you with the trip from Sofia airport to Plovdiv.

A little bit of rooting around for the website for this conference and for the conference for last year is enough to convince me that this is simply one of these rather dubious conferences where every submitted abstract is accepted (or "mathematics conferences" as they are sometimes known). The carefully worded CFP fails to mention that you will not be reimbursed for your travels. A check on the previous year's site fails to reveal any list of papers or program, which is a big warning sign.

Still, my paranoia runs deeper: what if this is actually a twist on the traditional con-trick of the 'internet pen-pal' scam, where the lovelorn sucker is fooled into flying off to some Eastern Bloc country to meet the woman of his dreams, only to be kidnapped, and extorted for his life savings in return for his freedom.

I can just imagine getting of the plane in Sofia to be met by "a member of the organizing committee", only to be bundled into the back of a transit van, and deposited unceremoniously in a darkened basement, to be greeted by the sight of a variety of other luminaries of the field chained up to radiators.

Well, no thank you, ICAMC. I think I'll sit this one out, if that's all the same to you.


Columbus Day

I pause briefly to note that it is Columbus Day today, which commemorates my arrival in 2002 in this land. I commemorated the day by organizing all the new music I've acquired in the last year, ripping CDs, putting them into directories, collecting the cover art, integrating them into playlists and so on. Somewhat theraputic, although it seemed to take much longer than it needed to.

Part of the influx of new music came from a trip at the weekend to prex, for an annual scrimmage through the cheap CDs. Came back with a large selection of discs from the mid-nineties that I liked one or two songs from when I head them on the radio a decade and a half ago.

The experience was slightly marred by the witless other shoppers who insisted on making pointless comments about their own selections. And at the checkout, I noticed before I walked away that I had been double charged for the most expensive of my purchases (a sampler CD from Flight of the Conchords). The shop assistant gave me some weak excuse about a problem with the scanner, but I'm not convinced. I wonder if this is a trick they try on all the newcomers.


I have a beef...

Or, strange meat processing companies are trying to kill me.

I happened to get the train into the city yesterday and happened to sit in a seat which happened to have a discarded local newspaper in it which happened to have a story about a recall of meat tainted with E. coli. The brandname looked familiar, so when I got home, I looked up the recall online and after some hunting found a website with a PDF containing UPCs and dates of affected batches. Comparing to the box of burgers in my freezer, I found a match.

So now what am I surprised to do? I threw out the meat (although, since 3 of the 8 burgers were already consumed, I imagine already dodged whatever bullets there may have been; nevertheless, recollections of the Corned Beef Incident reminded me not to take any chances). I suppose I could follow the instructions, and mail in a copy of the UPC to the manufacturers, and be rewarded with a $5 refund, but it hardly seems worth the effort. And I have to go to the effort of finding some replacements next time I'm in the supermarkets, and moreover, finding a new brand since it seems that this producer has now gone out of business over this mess up. There's just no compensation for this sort of petty irritations.


Netflix entertainment value

I've been greatly enjoying watching the shenanigans on the Netflix prize leader board. There's been a great flurry of activity in the last week, which I think is because the deadline for the first year's progress prize was coming up. (it was Oct 2 00:00 UTC, which I think was midnight last night but I'm never sure how to interpret midnight). Team BellKor (who have finally set up the BellKor webpage) was leading for a long time, then just a day ago, Team Gravity and Dinosaur Planet teamed up to form When Dinosaurs and Gravity Unite, and pipped them. For a short while, they were on top, with BellKor so close behind that you couldn't see a gap. Then, overnight, BellKor came back with a winning blow, and just for good measure, introduced a team called KorBell at 23:25 to go another two hundredths of a percent. Gravity/Dinosaurs tried to rally, but only managed 8.38 -- the winning number is 8.43. This is about the only sporting event I am interested enough to watch.


Meme raider?

This film poster has been bothering me:

Isn't it just a direct steal from Tomb Raider?


Saturday Night Fry

Latest Fry blog posting summarized for your convenience:

"Ahhh see
Right see the thing that's got it all fucked up now is camera-phones.
How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers
When I know they've all got cameras?"

Entrance Fee

Is it me, or is this MIT entrance exam from 1869 (allegedly) rather easy by today's standards? Several of these I can do in my head (like, 1/5 + 3/4 in decimals). Although, I suppose, it depends what axioms you are allowed to start with for some of the geometry ones.

More rallying cries for the oppressed of the tech: "Breadboards YES! Waterboards NO!".

Or something like that.



Quick thoughts on Amazon's new mp3 download service:
-- Great! *Finally* I can download songs without DRM, stupid player requirements, fear of getting ripped off by dodgy russians or told that my purchase was illegal
-- User interface needs work: why can't I sort by title, artist etc?
-- Selection is disappointingly poor: struggled for half an hour to find a song that I wanted to buy to test it out. Went from my initially obscure selections (Ooberman -- Shoorly Wall; Mercury Rev -- Observatory Crest; Tunng -- Bullets; Peter, Bjorn and John -- Young Folks) to the ubiquitously annoying (Rhianna - Umberella-ella-ella) and didn't find any of them. For shame, Amazon, for shame. iTunes (which I refuse to use) had at least half of these.
-- But they do have the digital only album of David Devant and His Spirit Wife, so I can finally get this. Yay!
-- Only I'm now too tired to worry about this, so I'll do it tomorrow. Instead, you can get some free mp3s from the bands old website.
-- I want there to be somewhere where I can buy a song that I want when I feel like it, and not be encumbered with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and DRM). So please fix this Amazon. Oh, and $1 seems like a lot to pay for a song, when I usually buy second hand albums for $1 from Amazon marketplace or PREX.



Finally watched the movie Firewall this weekend thanks to Netflix, and was rather disappointed that rather than a detailed history of the firewall in networking, it was a rather lame and by-the-books thriller starring Harrison Ford. The ending, to save you the bother of watching it, is a fight scene between Ford, playing a senior computer security specialist, and Paul Bettany, playing a ruthless kidnapper. And the geek wins. That's not very realistic.

However, what was worth watching was the DVD extras, in the form of an interview between the film's director and star. Someone has kindly put this up on youtube, with japanese subtitles.

Part one
Part two

It's fascinating viewing, not least because you get the impression that Ford holds Loncraine in complete disdain, and finds the whole experience incredibly irritating. Unless that's all part of their camaraderie. What do you think?


People of Boston!

Attention, people of Boston! Apparently, you are still having difficulty with this, so let me spell it out for you.

This is a Light Emitting Diode -- an L.E.D.

This is an Improvised Explosive Device -- an I.E.D.

Remember, LED not IED! It's easy, and fun for all the family!


Like buses...

You wait for ages for a computer generated animation of a nineteenth century classic mathematical allegory for tolerance and diversity... and then two come along at once.


BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four!

I'm growing to love BBC Four, with its documentaries and analysis. Why, only last week I watched a documentary on the men who clear blocked sewers. And then I watched a three-hour long history of the English Motorway System (which, it turns out, is beautiful and strange). And this has finally prompted me to write about a documentary from some time back, called "University Challenged".

It's a piece about a British University (in this case, Bristol) in the 21st Century. Such things are fairly easy to throw together. I think there's even a standard checklist: you need one each of: (a) Senior University Administrator (preferably Vice-Chancellor) (b) youngish or middled-aged academic with a lot going on (c) one member of the student union, preferably the President, ideally engaged in some kind of argument with (a); and (d) one 'ordinary' undergraduate student. Follow all four around with cameras for a year or so, and then edit it down to an hour that illustrates "life today in one of Britain's modern Universities". University Challenged follows this formula pretty much to the letter. The most interesting part for me was seeing Dominique, the ordinary student, in her first year at Bristol.

I was not overly taken with her at first, as you see her arriving to begin her studies in Theatre Studies, and working through various tedious "getting to know you" exercises on the dusty floor of the rehearsal space. But it quickly became clear that not all would involve lazing around on her arse. In order to get through, she needed extra money, and so we have many shots of her walking the streets of Bristol, trying to get a job. She ends up working in some horrific entertainment megaplex on the outskirts of the city as a waitress at "Chiquitos", and one gets a real sense of the work needed to balance study and long hours of employment. But to her, it is worth it.

The culmination of her first year is a show put on by the whole cohort, a collection of short five minute pieces by different groups sewn together into a whole. And in the documentary, we get to see the fruits of her labours, clips from Dominique's section which she has worked so hard on, and sacrificed so much for.

And it looks like complete and utter... well, I'll drop in the YouTube embed of the section of the program that shows it, and you can judge for yourself.


More unwanted mail

Some more mysteriously personal messages which have fallen into my inbox unsolicited.

Dear Carter and Becca –

Thanks for saying that you will help this Sunday with 6th and 7th grade youth group. I am excited about it, as usual. Bobby Rhodes is going to help me plan some games and, Becca, I would like for you to teach them the Ninja tag game and maybe that game we played with Dustin that was kind of like sword fights with your finger. Also, if either or both of you can remember those mind games like my moon is made of ----------------- that would be helpful, too. I want to build up my game arsenal for this year.

Please come to St. Mary’s at 1PM on Sunday and we’ll go over a plan for how things will go. And if either or both of you are willing to bring a “guy” friend to serve as a role model for the boys, I’d appreciate that, too. It seems Andrew and Shep are too busy. I might be able to talk Rardy into it but I’m waiting until all my other options are exhausted.

Thanks again. And I look forward very much to seeing y’all!!


These are particularly odd seeming, and if you can work out the mysterious relationships hinted at between the lines, do keep them to yourself.

How goes life for you guys up there in Washington? Haven't heard from you
in a while except for Graham's life changing alert in April. Heard from
Sharon last night from Lisa and Mark that Graham is going into "the cheese

How is work for you up there? Still busy with both jobs and the business?
I have been working many 10-14 hour days here so have been pretty busy

Have been spending time with Ashton as much as possible. He is growing and
changing every week. Laura is being an amazing "mommy". She has surprised
us all at how well she has taken to the new little person in their lives.
They are a very cute and loving new little family.

Margaret had brain surgery on August 23 to relieve the pain she has had for
7 years in her face and jaw. It has been a miracle at how fast she is
recovering and that the surgery actually was able to cut off a vein that was
lying on top of the nerve and they moved and blocked the artery that was
under the nerve. Every time the artery pulsed, knife sharp pain went to her
jaw and the vein on top on the nerve was constant dull pain. Margaret feels
she has a new lease on life. She is able to eat, talk, smile and laugh
without the pain in her face. She still has some residule headaches from
the surgery but that is getting better every day.

Have been wanting to say hello for some time, excuses, excuses, but
everytime I was at Jeanette & Brent's to use their online computer I had to
just pay bills as fast as I could. No time to just send a chat notice and
personal emails at work is forbidden. Well that has changed now, so
hopefully we can stay more in touch at least with a line or two every so
often. I know have the internet again.

What all of this is leading up to is that I have moved in with Brent,
Jeanette and the boys. They bought a new home a block north of their condo
with a lot more space and of course a much bigger mortgage and asked me to
join them. It certainly is a change that is taking some getting used to,
but in the long run can be a good thing for all of us. They thought that
their home would sell for more than it did, the market dropped like the week
after their offer on the new house, so things were going to be tight but
they could do it if they were frugle. Brent is already a very finance wise
person, but when things didn't turn out as well as they hoped with the sale
of their condo and they had already signed contracts on the new home, they
found that they really could use my help for a while with the payment.

Jeanette said to think of it as moving in "sooner rather than later" since I
am getting up there in age now. I moved in on Aug 25, they had moved on Aug
11, so we are still emptying boxes and combining stuff. So here I am living
with family again and adjusting to "married life" of combining two
households into one and all that that implies. The house has two master
suite's, so mine is downstairs and theirs is upstairs.

Drop me a line and catch me up on your lives and shat's happening with
everyone. Would love to hear from you.


More dumbing down?

Apparently I'm not the only person to notice some frankly painful errors in University Challenge so far this series.

First there was some quite patronising ignorance by Paxo of basic chemistry causing him to claim that correct answers were wrong.

Then he mixed up Arundel and Warwick Castles in a picture round (well, OK, maybe someone else did, but no one seemed to spot it).

Scamming gullible viewers in rigged phone in competitions I can quite tolerate, but this is serious! Something should be done to deal with Paxy's snide put downs when someone is ignorant of some lesser known eighteenth century poet, and then can't even pronounce "germanium" correctly.


I didn't know you could do that

I do enjoy my daily WTFs, at least when I can understand them, as was the case today.

Then I came across this discussion of Rainbow Tables (which, although you wouldn't be able to tell from the write up, are just a fancy time/space tradeoff for dictionary attacks), which has possibly the most painfully clueless set of comments that I have ever read. Is password salting really that difficult to understand?

Of course, the real WTF is why MS doesn't salt its passwords properly anyway...


Pilot Lights

As is becoming a summer tradition, various pilot episodes of new shows have started showing up on tinternet, and is also becoming a tradition, I have looked over a few of them. Well, actually, I did this a few weeks ago, and was just too lazy to write up the comments until now. So I've forgotten most of the details and will leave you with only a few vague impressions. Which is probably fine. Given that last year I poo-poohed Heroes, and pinned my colours to the ill-fated mast of Studio60, I wouldn't place too much faith in my ratings.

First up, Reaper: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his soul have been sold to the devil by his parents and that he has to track down evil souls who have escaped from hell and return them via a DMV office. So, another comedy/sci-fi/drama that ticks all the boxes (comedy poor-man's Jack Black sidekick; charming but unobtainable girl-next-door; etc.). It was all right, I suppose, although, I'm having a hard time in my mind distinguishing it from...

Chuck: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his roommate was a spy and has downloaded all of the top sekrit information in the world into his head, and he has to use this information to track down evil spies who have escaped from Guantanamo Bay. Or something like that. It's all a little camp and arch: the electronics store he works at is called something like Better Buy and employs a team to repair computers called the "Nerd Herd" (a swipe at Best Buy and their "Geek Squad"). There are some snide little background jokes: in a Wal-Mart parody store, he walks past a giant box labeled "Astro Diapers". Because of this I predict the show will fail: Americans don't like any comedy that they think is smarter than they are, and this is destined to show on one of the major TV channels, something like ABC, so I think it'll last three episodes, then start getting postponed, have another half dozen episodes dribbled out and then be ignominiously slaughtered.

Pushing Daisies is more of the same, only different: it's the story of a young man who discovers that if he touches dead things he can bring them back to life, but if he touches them again, who makes a living solving crimes by bringing victims of Murder back to life, asking them who did it, and then sending them to their eternal sleep. It gets weirder than this, involving the character of an undead Anna Friel, a rather intrusive narrative voice over, and a very stylised look. From this, it's impossible to see how things will develop into a series, which rather reminds of the show "Dead Like Me". In the case of "Dead Like Me", it really didn't develop into a series, but sort of meandered around the place for a while without ever troubling too much with plot or meaning. So expect the same here. Expect it to draw critical raves, a healthy audience for the first episode or two, but then a gradual trailing off up until Christmas, and no second season.

Similarly, I saw Californication, a "premium cable" show which features David Duchovny, for the ladies, and Ladies' Top Parts, for the gents. The first episode played out like a latter day Woody Allen movie, i.e. one of the movies that's ostensibly a comedy, but doesn't really have any jokes, just some slightly unexpected situations and the protagonist desperately trying not to break the forth wall and gurn at the audience. The show will continue, and will probably be more of the same, but I rather quite like just taking the single first episode as if it were a short film in its entirety. On those terms, I think it's moderately successful, but to watch any further episodes would only spoil it.

"Reimagining" is a fancy way of describing the practice of remaking cheesy sci-fi shows from the seventies and making them less camp. Adding to the trend of Battlestar Galactica, and Dr Who is The Bionic Woman, which stars a woman who I am reliably told is off of EastEnders who hangs out with a pressured academic who seems to be getting some extra funding from a rather dubious DARPA-style agency just long enough for their unlikely romance to seem almost plausible, when a nasty car accident turns her into -- the Bionic Woman (the clue is in the title), she has a fight with Starbuck off of BG in the rain for a bit, and she decides to help the sekrit government project by solving mysteries, tracking down evil spies and souls that have escape from Hell etc, etc. Thankfully, the show is entirely forgettable, and for all its expensive production values and top talent imported from EastEnders, well, Bionic Woman is no Kyle XY.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel is Slacker Cats, which I only watched because it was created by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, who also made some great little UK comedies like Hyperdrive, as well as the less laudable "Bunny Suicides". Regrettably, Slacker Cats is very much in the latter category: a 'modern' cartoon based around the lives of a pair of cats who get into all kinds of unamusing scrapes. It tries to veer into Family Guy/South Park territory by including a variety of weakly outrageous scenarios which are both crude and pathetically unshocking -- look! A cat has bitten off another cat's ear! A cat has urinated on a table! Oh noes! -- but entirely lacking in any sympathetic characters that would make such activities remotely meaningful. It also suffers from a casual lack of any attempt at internal logic, and Emo Philips playing, um, a cat who is Emo Philips. No paws out of ten.

So, none of these new shows have really stood out so far. Which ones will I try to watch? I'll probably catch Chuck and maybe also Reaper if I've got nothing better to do (clue: usually I don't), but only on the understanding I fully expect these shows to be cancelled before they hit their stride, and leaving their plots in the middle of the explanation of some irritating cliff-hanger.

What should you be watching: this summer has actually seen a lot of good shows that it would otherwise be easy to miss. Psych has returned to the USA network, and has replaced Monk as my favorite USA detective show (Monk is getting too old and tedious; I can still usually solve the impossible mystery in the first five minutes most of the time). Kyle XY is managing to do the impossible, and sustain a second series even after a first series which seemed to wrap things up sufficiently. It's silly sci-fi nonsense, but as usual in such things, the accidental inclusion of teen drama storylines keep it alive. And Burn Notice is another cable-only show which I almost missed; however, since it starred Gabrielle Anwar, and I have a rule to try watching any show that features a Press Gang alumnus or alumna, I gave it a try. It's a load of fun: an ex-spy is confined to Miami, and has to scrape together a living solving mysteries, capturing evil spies etc. But this show does it in a highly entertaining way, as each week he overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds aided only by Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame) and Anwar as his ex-IRA girlfriend. Yes, only in America could the IRA represent the "good" terrorists, but maybe thanks to President Blair we can just all forgive and forget. Anyway, forget that, and Anwar's rather spurious Oirish accent, and just enjoy this silly little action packed show.


I thought about it...

I first complained about my doorbell about two years ago, so I feel that it's about typical for me that it's only now that I have got around to fixing it. Admittedly, it took a couple of attempts, since first I replaced the switch, which had rotted away, but this did not fix it. After a lot of rooting around with a voltmeter (quite a handy thing to have around), I managed to figure out that the bell was also malfunctioning, and so I found a replacement bell for $8 in my local Home Despot, and switched it in. Now it does seem to ring OK, although it you hold the button it doesn't keep ringing, so you have to listen out for it. Could be the transformer is faulty, since it only seems to be producing about 10V when I think the standard is 16V. But I can worry about that another day. Now my bathroom fluroescent light has gone on the fritz, so I need to work out what needs to be replaced there.


Whatever happened to...

A long time ago... a loooong time ago... almost half a lifetime ago... I wrote a little humour piece about the lives of the "Famous Five" as they entered middle age, and there bitterness and misery at their subsequent lives and portrayal in the media. Now, fifteen years later, it seems that there are plans afoot for a television series with a similar idea. I imagine this version would not be quite so dark or cynical, but I look forward with some interest to seeing how this plays out.


Tired of...

Every time I head "I was tired of January, I was tired of June", I wonder what the world would be like if it was "I was tired of Terry, I was tired of June" instead.

Weak British sitcoms of the 1970's, doncha just love 'em?


Bobby DeNiro

Saw 'Stardust' yesterday -- probably the only film you'll see all year starring Julian Rhind-Tutt, Mark Heap, David Walliams and Adam Buxton playing ghosts. Which means -- awesomely -- that we now have Adam Buxton and Robert DeNiro together at last! (no sign of Bob Hoskins, though).


Good and bad

Americans! Here are two linguistic constructions that really irritate me when you use them in a formal context!

Bad is an adjective, not a noun. Stop saying 'bad' when you mean 'mistake'. This is fine in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but comes across as childish and insincere when used in an apology from a multi-billion-dollar company.

Good is an adjective, not an adverb. Correct: "The performance of the code was good". Incorrect: "The program did good". Unless, of course, you mean that the code performed some moral and improving acts for humanity.


Mark Ronson

Was listening to the inflight entertainment, and the recorded DJ commented that Mark Ronson had recently collaborated with Jimmy Fallon. Was this, I wondered, some bizarre mishearing of Lily Allen? No, it turns out that they really have worked together. Still, Jimmy Fallon and Lily Allen - together at last?


Do you know the way?

Finally recovering from my jaunt to San Jose, the main repuercussion of which is to have a certain Bacharach and David composition resounding through my head for a whole week (not good). The climate there is simply unbearable -- constant sunshine and pleasant temperatures year-round -- which makes one wonder how it was possible civilisation developed there at all, given the quite workable alternative of just sitting around all the time. An unexpected upgrade on the flight out, coupled with an unceremonial return to coach class for the return red-eye is pushing me to the conclusion that flight is only bearable under the standards of first class. Although domestic first class on a 737 -- with shared TVs, limit reclining and so on -- is nothing to write home about, despite the fact that I seem to be doing exactly that.

Communications between San Jose and San Francisco are surprisingly convenient given my prejudices about public transport in the Golden State, although a crowded train and the need to change were a slight disappointment. No significant sights to be seen either, unless you count the picturesque Berkeley campus which the designer erroneously decided to place on a severe incline, a basic mistake which even I could have pointed out to them. Here, apparently "jay-walking" is a serious crime and punished by a large fine. I'm not sure that I could tolerate to tarry long in a place where crossing the road is a criminal act, but this just goes to show that these Americans are crazy.

Signs of Aging

Just tuned into British radio to hear a song I had never heard before, and then to have the DJ back announce it as "the current UK number one". I don't remember that happening before (I'm rarely aware what is top of the pops, but when I am, it's usually a song I have heard before). Is this a sign of advancing years, or indicative of our increasingly fractured iPod generation?

On other matters UKadian, I sought out the New York Times "London Food Company" in Montclair yesterday, and was rather disappointed by the contents. Its shelves were stacked with foods such as custard, baked beans, and cadbury's chocolate, all of which are available in plentiful supply in most mainstream supermarkets here if you know where to look (usually in the quaintly named "Ethnic foods -- Irish" section). Likewise, all varieties of tea in abundance, which is no problem to find generally. They had Walkers crisps, but in the red, green and blue of ready salted, salt and vinegar, and cheese and onion -- all of which flavours are approximated tolerably well by Lays over here. They were distinctly lacking in the real rarities of UK snackdom: where were the frazzles, the nik naks and the like? I left disappointed and empty-handed.



A helpful advert in the newspaper that I am a participant in a class action lawsuit because, at some point in the last decade, I have bought, hired, consumed or otherwise engaged with bananas. More info here (although watch out for the nutty neo-con bias).


Pocket Watches

19th Century: the pocket watch. In order to tell the time, you have to take it from your pocket and press a button to reveal the time.
1970s: The digital LED wrist watch. Now the watch fits on your wrist, but you still need to press a button to reveal the time.
1980s: The digital LCD wrist watch. No more buttons!
1990s: People start using their mobile telephones instead of a watch to tell the time. So you need to pull it out your pocket in order to see the time on the LCD display.
2000s: I get a new mobile phone which has a color display. But because the display uses up the battery, it switches off the display. So in order to tell the time, I have to take it from my pocket, and press a button to reveal the time.

Is it me, or has all this technology advancement set us back to how things were a few hundred years ago? I'm now tempted to get an ornate gold chain to attach my phone to my jacket pocket. Except that I don't wear a jacket.


Semper Fi

Spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to work out which of the interchangeable Coldplay/Athlete/Keane/Muse/Starsailor/Snow Patrol melange that I heard on a mix CD recently. It had the very distinctive refrain "Oh Semper Fi", so I thought I would easily find it.

Of course, it turns out to be "Somewhere only we know" by Keane, and according to the Internet, the actual words are "Oh simple thing", which of course is not as good as my version.

It occurs to me that I don't actually seem to mind rejection as much as other people; but rather I do mind not knowing what the outcome is. I suppose I just strive for certainty above other ends.


Hang up your hats

Rather ignominiously, the saga of the Hat Bandit seems to be over (see postings past); a perp was nabbed a few weeks back, although he denies it. Check local and national press for details.

Also see this handy info graphic which shows where the bandit has struck in his months of terror.

More UC Fun

Was watching the new series of University Challenge, when this little repartee from SOAS seemed to catch Jezza off-guard. Does he really not know what they are referring to, or is he just a little slow of the mark on this one? Judge for yourself:

Direct Youchoob link

If it's still not clear, see this old post and in particular, this youchoob vid for context.


All we hear is email ga-ga

OK, this is too much: my free webmail account has just received unsolicited baby pictures from someone sending a mass cc'ed mail to a bunch of people I've never heard of. Presumably, the fact that the email address I have is quite short and generic, it's another mistake. Normally I'd post the content of the message so that whoever it was intended for has a hope of finding it, but in this case, it doesn't seem quite right. So, er, if one of your friends has recently spawned and you wish to see the photographic evidence of the reproduction, then let me know, and I'll see if I have the appropriate pictures.



Gosh, but that little chap does get himself into all kinds of scrapes, doesn't he? I refer of course to young Frodo Baggins, about whom the whole world has been going 'Rings' crazy waiting for the final book of his thrilling adventure. Will he die at the end? Will he and his band of chums be able to overcome the evil wizard Sauron? Well, I picked up a fresh new copy of the final book at the weekend, although the shop staff gave me some rather funny looks as I burst in to the store at midnight to purchase it, and slogged my way though it in record time. It is true that old J. R. R.'s prose is rather leaden and ungainly, but now that she's a billionairess, I'm sure she doesn't mind. Things pick up just where the last book left off, and race to a thrilling conclusion that tests our hero to his very limit! And, er, then it ends. Oh well. I'm sure there'll be another series of books about wizards and goblins and trolls that captures the world's imagination in another few decades or so.



I recently came to a realisation that I have become a fundamentally asynchronous being. Here are some examples of my asynchronicity:

1. I hardly ever set an alarm clock, I just get up when I've woken up enough.

2. My preferred method of communication is email.

3. I listen to BBC radio via listen again whenever it suits; I watch TV and movies via DVDs and downloads; I don't have "live" TV.

In fact, there's very little that I do that is strongly synchronous. The only examples that come to mind is that I occasionally go to scheduled talks and meetings (usually scheduled by me in the middle of the afternoon so as to give plenty of slack) and I usually go for lunch between 12 and 12.30 so as to catch up with people for lunch (but this varies from day to day, and is not a standing arrangement). In other words, either through accident or design I have a lifestyle which is very decoupled from anyone's schedule but my own. Since I usually have plenty of things to be getting on with, there's not usually any problem with wondering what to do next, or getting bored.

This tends to work fine, although it's possible that I annoy people by sometimes being very slow to respond to things. Since there's no particular urgency in anything, I just add it to the queue, and process it whenever I get around to it. Thus, it occasionally takes me up to 16 months to reply to an email, or a few weeks to do some small chore that wasn't interesting enough to be done earlier.

The only downside of this lifestyle, apart from perhaps not getting some things done as soon as they should be, can be summer up on one word: spoilers. Since I usually don't see a new TV show until a week or so after it has aired, or read a book till it comes out in paperback (much easier to read in the bath than a hardback), or watch a movie till it has been out on DVD for long enough to crawl up my Netflix queue, then when I see something 'new' is about a year after most other people have, and hence I am beset with spoilers. Usually it's easy to avoid them, but still, it can be annoying.

What makes this particularly pertinent is this dratted HP7. Having got myself into the embarrassing position of having read the first six books, I suppose I will have to read the seventh eventually. And (note this copyright freaks) the leaking of the book on the net is starting to convince me that I should buy this book and read it now, instead of waiting a year or two. And, living the asynchronous life that I do, there's actually something quite exciting about the prospect of rushing out to get something that is completely 'new'. So tomorrow, I will go out and secure a copy. Not at midnight, obviously, there's no particular rush. And maybe tomorrow is not so convenient, so maybe I'll leave it till sunday when I'm also getting the groceries. Actually, the cupboards are quite full at the moment, so I probably don't need to go to the shops till the middle of next week. Ah... it can wait.



Prompted by listening to some old mp3s:

Which of the following programme titles was deemed offensive by the BBC and changed for subsequent series of a radio show?

a) Prince Ponce
b) Queen Bitch
c) King Stupid
d) Princess Michael of Kent

I am rubber and you are glue

New rhetorical questions: "And if xkcd told you to glue captions to cats, would you do that too?"


Sounds like 'butter'

I was listening to the song "Torn up on the platform" by Jack Penate, and the vocal delivery reminded me of someone. I realized that it was Kate Nash. Is there a connection? Amazon certainly thinks so, since it's made the two songs "perfect partners", and their collaborative filtering algorithms surely can't be wrong.

Music Quiz Answers

No-one apart from RjY and the famous McGregor seemed in the slightest bit interested in the last lyrics quiz, so as punishment, here are the answers:

1. Glasgow

I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow -- Super Trouper, Abba

2. Hackensack, NJ

You oughta know by now who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that what you get with your money? -- Moving Out, Bruce Springsteen Billy Joel (posting while asleep)

3. Union, NJ

Union, Union, Union City Blue -- Union City Blue, Blondie
(how could you not get that one? It really is about Union, NJ and everything)

4. Timperley

Just about anything by Frank Sidebottom.

5. Milan

As pointed out by RjY, Right Said Fred. Well done on your knowledge of camp 90s novelty pop.

6. Munich

New York, London, Paris, Munich, Everybody's talkin' bout -- Pop Musik, by M
Another easy one.

7. Deptford (obscure)

"Maybe your lover is living in Deptford?" -- Pimlico, by David Devant and His Spirit Wife. No one recognises this lyric from the first single that never appeared on an album of a band that no one has heard of? I'm disappointed.

8. Cleveland

Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland Rocks! -- Cleveland Rocks, Ian Hunter

9. El Paso

Obviously, Asshole from El Paso, by Kinky Friedman. How easy can I make this?


Tired of Mika Brzezinski

I don't know about you, but I'm just about fed up with the media's constant coverage of Mika Brzezinski. Who is this person, and why is news about her actions so important to my life? Sure, her family is important for something or other, but I don't see why I need to be constantly bombarded with information about her.

If she was a person of genuine import, then maybe it would be worth reporting on. But, as far as I can tell, she's not even a proper newsreader, but rather a comedy prop on an irreverent morning show that was created to fill the void created by Don Imus' departure. If she was a real news reporter then perhaps her actions would have had impact, but instead she's just an actor in a zoo format morning show where the entourage is presumably encouraged to act up. Would this be worth mentioning if Jon Stewart or Colbert had done the same thing?


Youchoob embeds

With the flashy new flash for embedded youchoob videos, it's become quite hard to go to the original youchoob page for the video. You used to be able to click on the youchoob icon in the bottom right of the movie, but that no longer works. Instead, you need to click on 'menu', then click on the reduced image of the movie itself in the upper left. Took me ages to find that.


Quiz Time

Haven't had a pointless quiz in a very long time for everyone to ignore, so here we go.

Name the songs that I'm thinking of that features these locations:

1. Glasgow
2. Hackensack, NJ
3. Union, NJ
4. Timperley
5. Milan
6. Munich
7. Deptford (obscure)
8. Cleveland
9. El Paso

More if/when I can think of some.


Wikipedia announces new policy of "editing reality"

Stamford, CT. Wikipedia.org has announced a radical new policy of "editing reality" in order to ensure higher accuracy of the encyclopedia. Founder Jimmy Wales explained, "For too long Wikipedia has tried to maintain accuracy by continually editing pages on a website in order that it accurately reflects reality. However, this requires a large amount of effort, including long drawn-out edit wars, fighting vandalism, updating to reflect current events, and standardizing writing style. Nowadays, everyone just assumes that Wikipedia is accurate, and so it's a lot of hassle doing all this work. Eventually, we realized that it would be much easier just to leave the articles as they are, and instead change real-world events so that they accurately reflect their description on Wikipedia."

Apparently inspiration for this new policy came when a Wikipedia vandal claimed that a wrestler's wife was dead when in fact, she was. The idea that a vandal would change Wikipedia, and that reality would then change to accommodate the edit was seen as a great new policy for the encyclopedia. The outlaw Jimmy Whales then immediately froze all articles, declared that Wikipedia was complete, and in the event of any discrepancies between Wikipedia and reality, clearly reality was in error, and would be amended accordingly.

A number of other celebrities whose deaths were recorded as having happened at the time of the freeze are said to be in fear for their lives.


EULA's theorem

These days, to submit a paper to a database conference, you have to agree to an EULA -- an end user licence agreement. This is all a bit silly. Obviously, no one sane actually bothers to read these. I read them all the time. Here are some highlights from the current boilerplate text

There are no continuing obligations or expectations placed on you. There is no penalty for stopping use of CMT.

Obviously false -- if you don't use the CMT, then you can't submit a paper. If you stop using the CMT, then you are unable to read and respond to any 'author feedback' phase, or read reviewer comments.

By selecting "I agree to the Author's statement", I acknowledge I have read the above information and that I am 18 years or older.

Why are conferences discriminating against child prodigies?

you agree that you will not use CMT for any purpose that is unlawful, harms Microsoft or any end user or other third party

So I am not allowed to submit a paper which demonstrates a bug in Microsoft software, or shows that some alternate piece of software is much better than a Microsoft product? Both of these could be said to "harm" microsoft.


"Get that shit off the air!"

I'm a big fan of any TV show that is so bad that it manages to get itself Cancelled After One Episode. But I was more interested to learn about a program that was cancelled during its first episode. Under the unpromising title of Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos which was so bad that the owner of the network called up the station production crew in the middle of the show and screamed 'Get That Shit off the Air'. And so they did.


Flying Time

Contemplating my recent travel hijinks, I thought I would crunch some numbers on my travels. For the last decade, I've carefully recorded details on every flight I have taken, and I just now tallied up the numbers. The first flight I ever took was to Budapest in 1998 (1000 miles each way); the last was to Beijing (7000 miles each way). In total I have travelled 265,000 miles in 89 flights consisting of 106 flight segments. My furthest flight was Newark to Delhi (7600 miles one-way) in December last year, just pipping Newark to Seoul (7500 miles one-way), in September. The average trip length is 3000 miles. My most frequently travelled route is Newark to Gatwick, a trip I've made 13 times now: about twice a year on average, contributing about 90,000 miles to my total.

Now, what do I have to do to make this up to the planet?


You'll miss it

Operating again in a time-shifted fashion, but is it too much to suggest that 'Blink' is the best Doctor Who story... ever? Could it even be the best thing Steven
Moffat has ever done? Less clear.



Some comments on upgrades: upgrading myself to business class cost me 25K miles each way -- quite a substantial chunk of my balance. But, the travel earned me miles back: 7K miles each way. Further, due to my elite status (silver) I get a 50% bonus in miles, meaning that each way only cost 15K net. Since I've been doing about 1 long flight a year (i.e. 12+ hours), and also do a couple of "short" hops across the atlantic, it seems to be roughly "free" to do this; certainly, compared to the alternative use of miles (buying more flights for free), it seems like a more valuable use, at least when you compare the raw cost of the options. And I'm destroying the environment about as much either way.


Being in Beijing

I took a couple of hundred pictures in China, most of which are not particularly interesting. So instead here's a street sign from just around the corner from Tiananmen Square. There's probably some quite reasonable and sensible explanation, but as far as I am concerned, it is just a polite request for "No Car Bombs".

Computer News

The BBC radio news last week referred to "Sir" Tim B-L as "the inventor of the internet". Which is actually not as bad as the NPR interviewee commenting on Google's "street view" feature who outlined some of the arguments in favour of the system: it allows you to find shops or hotels (yes), and also to monitor your neighborhood "for fires". Um, right. (listen for yourself here).

Computing in beijing was actually quite tolerable, although many useful sites were blocked with just a "site not found" error: BBC news, blogspot (but not blogger, hence the confused post last week), flick photos but not flickr the site etc. And other sites were just intermittent, meaning that you were never entirely sure if something was censored, or just broken. Also, SSH connections seemed to take a very long time to connect, as if some human was deciding whether to allow it to go through.

On the flight back, I watched Eragon, which is point-for-point plot-isomorphic with Star Wars. I'd bore you by listing the matching, but it's sufficiently well-documented elsewhere so I won't bother. Calling the hero a "farmboy" though, that's surely taking it too far. Continental's in-flight movie guide helpfully commented that there are "50 differences between the book and the film" as if this were in any way a meaningful or sensible piece of information. I would have watched more movies, but after years of enduring coach class, I had paid some of my hard earned frequent carbon emitter miles to upgrade myself to business class for the 13 hour flight, so I reclined the seat and went to sleep. The main benefit is the extra space; there's also better food, although they make so much fuss over it, I'd almost rather they just dumped it in front of me on a tray. Oh, and free wine, which helps somewhat in the sleeping. Also, it meant that I could get out of the plane first and peg it over to immigration where there were absolutely no lines. I therefore rolled up in front of an immigration officer, who studiously ignored me and tapped his computer for a few minutes. Then turning to me, he went through the usual procedure while I glanced at a sheet on his desk listing names and offences of various other people on the flight. I thought I caught a glance of my DOB on the paper, but I didn't want to point this out.



I enjoyed the film "Music and Lyrics" on the flight over; it featured a fictional teen pop star called "Cora Corman". Although, I realised that I had been hearing the name as "Korva Coleman" the whole time: she's an esteemed NPR broadcaster. Easily confused. Must get to the airport, and see what delights offer themselves to me today.


Am I Here?

Can see blogger, but not blogspot... although maybe the feed will be picked up by bloglines and routed through that way.

Don't worry, this doesn't concern you. Or at least it shouldn't.


Half the world away

Rather belatedly I discover that the current time difference between Beijing and New York is exactly 12 hours. So this trip will be the first time (I think) that I've been exactly 12 hours out of kilter. Should be interesting. To be honest, I actually quite enjoy these mega jet-lag excursions. I seem to end up falling asleep at about 9pm, and waking up at 4am, and then spend the next 4 hours reading or listening to audiobooks before I feel obliuged to get up, after which I have a reasonable day of conference gubbins before starting to pass out again around 9.

Apropos of not that, I just watched the "season finale" of Numb3rs, the crime-fighting and mathematics show. It opened with a deranged bomber holding up a bridge with a sequence of cellphone bombs, for no apparent reason, as usual. But wait... who was the strangely British actor playing the lunatic? None other than Martin Jarvis, of Richmal Crompton's William stories. Which rather spoiled the illusion...



You know, with all the palaver about the sheer awfulnewss of the epilepsy inducing London 2012 logo (you know, the one that looks like an act of al fresco fellatio if you squint), that no one seems to have mentioned that the font in which "london" is writ seems to be some ugly scrappy thing not a million miles away from Comic Sans. It's a small thing, but it just adds to the fact that the whole thing looks like it was put together in MSPaint in 5 minutes. Do I really have to look at this thing any longer?


But how did you know...?

Just logged in from my hotel, and loaded some mapping software to check a route. And up comes my location. How does the mapping software know where I am when I don't have any GPS hardware plugged in? Suddenly remember that this is Microsoft software, which has some sneaky code that looks at IP address, locally visible wifi networks and can sometimes use this to work out where you are. Still, a bit scary when you aren't expecting it. What would someone make of this if there weren't tech aware? Probably convince you that the computer was posessed. Suddenly starts to explain why there are all these idiots on youchoob cutnpasting comments about "you must repost this five times in the next hour or you will dye!". etc.


Passing notes

As I left for work today, I obsessively checked my mailbox, and picked up a hand-scrawled note which read as follows:

a neighbor

Which puzzled me immensely.
Why leave an anonymous note like this? If you don't know my name and vice-versa, you could at least give some indication who you are, like "your neighbors at number 73". But, why wish someone a happy memorial day? Although it has been apropriated as the unofficial start of summer, it's technically there to remember the fallen, hardly a cause for celebration. And, why drop me a note for memorial day, and not for Christmas, New Year, Easter or MLK day? My paranoid mind began wondering if this was some subtle dig, or the start of some kind of campaign. Was the note poisoned with some invisible contact poison? Perhaps it is just a child. Maybe I shouldn't worry, or bother making a blog post about this. But it's just odd enough to be disturbing.

Lara Croft Copycats

I awoke early (this dratted sunlight in the summer mornings) to hear a report on the radio about the perils of tomb raiders. When will this madness end? Surely society needs to come to its sense and ban this sick computer games which are encouraging our children to obtain crampons and head over to Angkor Wat to steal this priceless artifacts. We must deal with this computer game menace immediately! Where's Jack Thompson when you need him?

Actually, there's a new TR game out, and I tried to obtain the demo last night (sometime next month or the one after, I hope to have time to try it out). It started downloading from the official site, and was crawling along at 40KB/s. That would take forever (it's a big old bunch of bits), so instead I grabbed a legitimate torrent of the demo and had arrive significantly faster. Why isn't this the default transfer method? With the host as a seed, it should be at least as good as the HTTP version, and usually better.


Mental Detritus

The following have been on my mind lately:

This picture sums up Digg for me (I seem to spend far too much time browsing digg, given that it is populated by idiots). Most popular: political news, dressed up as hyperbole and conspiracy theory, mixed up with -- OMG! KITTENS!

The Sunday puzzle last week was "hi-ho": to find two two-word phrases where each word has four letters, the middle two of which are "hi" and "ho". Regex fans may find this more convenient to think of as "?hi? ?ho?". I immediately thought of two answers: 'chip shop' and 'chip-chop'. Alas, I was being too British, and the desired answers were 'chip shot' (a golfing term) and 'ship ahoy). This week's puzzle is to take the name of an European race, drop the first letter, add a 'b' and get a group of people found mainly in Asia. Should take you no more than two minutes of listing European countries.

I'm still unsure whether this clip from the Goodies (a youchoob embed, RSS fans) is a work of genius, or something much more sinister. Certainly, the parody of the ultraviolence of Clockwork Orange is maybe a bit harsh for their audience, but no one seems to mind. And it was 30 years ago.


Ere mum, got any mandies?

Subsequent to my previous post, I got a message from MandS telling me that there was a delay in my order, since they don't seem to have any gift vouchers around. Exactly what sort of idiotic institution runs out of gift vouchers? Useless...

And since you were asking, by analogy with Courts Martial and Attorneys General, the plural of "Doctor Who" is Doctors Who, and not anything else you might have thought.


Doctor Hugh

I could think of nothing to get for my mother for her birthday, so I resorted to ordering her mands vouchers online. From St Michael headquarters, I received a confirmation message which read "Thanks for your order, Anchor". Well, that's very kind, but most people call me Hugh, or Mr Anchor. Well, technically Doctor, since you ask, but that's not necessary. Doctor Hugh? And the Daleks!

[I did quite like the little motif recently, "I'm travelling with the Doctor"
"Yes, but Doctor What?"
"Just the Doctor"]

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of a party

In response to misheard quotations, the best ever was the subject of a libel action, and the subject of a correction in the guardian's Corrections and Clarifications:
"In an article headed "Black and Blue" yesterday, we interviewed Patty Boulaye about her intention to stand for the Greater London assembly as a Conservative. The interview took place in Conservative Central Office. In the course of the article, we quote Ms Boulay, a prominent Black actress and singer as saying, "This is a time to support apartheid... I mean people say, "Why didn't you support it when it was in government?" Because it would have been the fashionable thing to do. This is a time to support apartheid because it is unfashionable. What Ms Boulaye actually said was "a party", meaning the Conservative Party. At no time during the interview was apartheid mentioned"


Every MP3 player I have ever owned, 2003-2007

An anonymous commenter recently asked "by the way, which mp3 player did you go for?", presumably a reference to a post from about two years ago.

This rather unprecendented level of interest had led me to document in excruciating detail the various bits of electronic gizmodery that I have owned in the name of progress.

Various personal radio/cassette recorders, 1987-2002.
Right, technically these weren't digital by any stretch, but they began my interest and set the standards. When I was a teenager with a weekly paper round, I needed something to listen to while I trudged round the streets of a Kent village, my only other enterainment being to try to target the papers through the letterbox to hit the yapping dogs. So a combination of tapes of shows recorded off Radio 4 the previous week and various erratic walkmen rip offs did the trick. Special commendation also has to go to a couple of Panasonic radio/cassette devices which served me through my entire graduate life, being used pretty much every day to give radio accompanyment to my research, for up to six hours a day. I still have the last one of these. They would eat two, or even one AA battery at a time, and they lasted for weeks at a time. This was a standard of battery life that I would not see again for a long time.

A cheap CD/MP3 player from Walmart, 2003-2004
My first MP3 digital music player was this device, for all of about $30. It seemed like a good idea at the time: you could put many many hours of stuff onto a single CD, burn CD-RWs with new things to listen to, and so on. It was pretty good, and saved my sanity multiple times while I was trekking around the US looking for jobs in 2004 (when you are stuck in ORD and just cannot summon up the will to even read a newspaper, it's good to have something to listen to). The downside was that it ate up batteries rather too quickly, and was a bit too bulky: you couldn't really listen to it while walking around because of the CD spinning around (it was probably fine, but it just didn't feel right), and it felt off to have something quite that large on a plane. Also, the user interface was a bit clunky, and it could only seem to read a few characters of a file name. So it made it rather hard to keep track of which files you had already listened to, when listening to audio books or recorded radio shows.

Lexar JumpDrive player 2004-2005
So I looked for something a bit smaller, and something which I could easily move things onto and off of as I had listened to them. I settled on the JumpDrive player, a neat arrangement which could play mp3s and wma's from off a USB key drive (but only those made by lexar). This was actually really good in many ways. It ran off 2 AAA batteries, and lasted quite a long time. I liked the navigation system, and it was easy to put things on and off it. The only disadvantages were that you couldn't fit too much onto the 512MB stick I used it with, and I had to reencode files down to lower bitrates to get a decent selection on it. Oh, and it had no FM radio. A radio isn't that important in the US, when most of the stations are rubbish, but it is absolutely vital when travelling to the UK, I find. Anyway, I wanted to move up to a big grown up hard disk based MP3 player that I could put all of my music on, so...

iaudio X5 player, 2005-
I bought an iaudio player. You are forgiven for not having heard of them. They're a not so well known Korean manufacturer who make actually really good players. This one had video before the iPod did. Of course, you find that the video is small and jerky, and so nothing more than a novelty, but it's still a nice idea. The reason I picked this rather than an iPod or even some of the other reasonable alternatives (Creative, iRiver), is that it has a good user interface and mounts as a hard drive. It's funny that although people list all the features of a gadget, they rarely pay attention to the user interface, which is vital if you actually want to use these features. This device has all the bookmarking, resume, and fast seeking options that I wanted in a digital media player (see previous posts on this subject). It has the obligatory FM radio, but it also has the best radio UI I have ever used: you can easily automatically search and store the local radio frequencies (handy when you travel a lot), and switching between preset stations is instantaneous, just by clicking back/forward. It's just a really nice, well done interface compared to the many dreadful interfaces I have suffered in my life. It mounts as a USB mass storage device, meaning that I can manipulate files on my hard disk, then run an rsync while it is plugged in. But, sadly, this is not enough for me. The one failing of this device is battery life. It has an inbuilt rechargable battery intially, it would last about 10 hours of use between charges, but with time this has dwindled to around 4 hours. That's not really enough, but even with the longer battery life, I found that I was still rationing its use while I was travelling, which seems to defeat the point. So...

iaudio G3 2007-
Most recently I have been using a 2GB iaudio G3. It's a thing of magic and beauty. I'd prefer 4GB to 2GB, but I can just about get by with 2. See, I noticed that although I could carry around (almost) my entire music collection in 30Gb, actually, I almost always would listen mostly to audiobooks and recorded radio shows (harking back to my paperround days), so I should just focus on those. Since I liked the X5 so much, I knew that I would like the G3: it has a similar interface, although in greyscale instead of the "color sound" of the X5. It also mounts as USB mass storage, and so I can still rsync to keep it up to date. The radio interface is also good, although changing stations takes an appreciable second or two. But -- this is great -- it stores the frequencies in a file called radio.ini which is a text file that you can just edit, which is smart. The reason that I go with this device is that it runs on AA batteries, unlike most of the modern fancy flash players, so you can carry around a supply of batteries and know that you'll never be stranded. Not that this is too much of a problem -- it can last for up to 40 or 50 hours on a single battery. That's a long time! When travelling in Europe recently, I was listening to it a lot as I travelled around -- probably 24 hours over the course of a week -- and the battery barely noticed. Unfortunately, this model seems to be about to be phased out; I just hope that the manufacturers make more removable battery powered players, with larger capacities.

And that's it... well, except for the fact that I recently bought a new car based GPS navigator device (a Garmin nuvi 350), which includes MP3 playing capabilities. This just underlines the importance of good user interface. All the players mentioned above use the file/folder approach to navigate, which works great for me. This new device navigates based on artist/album tags in the files -- which seem to be all over the place in the files I put on it to test. It's absolutely impossible to navigate around, which is a bit of a worry for an in-car device. Fortunately, the GPS part is great, and that's what I mostly use it for. I have no idea how people with digital players which use id3 tags and have 30GB of music manage to find what they are looking for.

Well, you did ask.


A rather strange edit in this week's NPR "Sunday Puzzle": there's a chunk missing -- it's round about the 4 minute 30 point in the podcast version, but it was also the same on the broadcast version. The answer to one clue is given in respondse to a different one, so one answer and one clue are missing. You'll probably have to listen to the whole thing to understand what is going on, though.

So, your puzzle of the week: what is the missing answer and missing clue?


Puns in search of a feedline

Two dreadful puns in search of a feedline:

"Deflay de mouse!"

"In an arrrrrrrrrrrrrr-tree!"

Fill in the rest yourself, or else I will.



I mentioned to Vince that being on myspace means that we all have a friend in tom (warning: it shouts).

He retaliated by creating an entire song on the subject.

Rush now to listen, before the digg effect uses up all the bandwidth.

Or see their myspace on er, myspace (warning: makes no noise at all).


Compare and Contrast

Nosey parker shop assistants ogling for smut are 'unsung heroes' according to FBI.

Moral of the story: never leave your sekrit plans to take over the world in the hands of bored shop workers who are barely making minimum wage. It's common sense really.

That's why the Illuminati have their own well-paid IT department.


Hatting Update

I thought it had been rather quiet on the bank robbery front of late, and then I noticed that there was another raid just this week, again not far from me. this one was in Cedar Knolls/Hanover, pretty close to a WalMart.

In related news, I am currently rereading "The Mad Hatter Mystery" by John Dickson-Carr.

Lastly, why is it that The Kaiser Chiefs are so concerned with having low standard deviation? In my trade, that's considered a good thing.


This week's youtube recommended diversion is 'Gemberling', which you vaguely heard of a few weeks ago but never got around to looking at. It's quite OK. An ideal diversion when in your office on a saturday afternoon waiting for a conference call program committee meeting to get started an hour later than you were expecting as you eat your cream cheese sandwiches and satsuma.


Probably bindun

Supergrass' "Alright" to the tune of "My Way".

Or was this done on ISIHAC a decade ago?


Spot The Similarity

Your challenge for the day: can you spot the similarity between these two songs?

Bjork - Earth Intruders

When You Wasn't Famous - The Streets (contains sweary words!)

Of course, there's always the possibility that the similarity, mild at best, is entirely in my head.

Party Like It's 1997

May 1st is a momentous date, the date of the 1997 UK General Election. The first time I could vote in a national election (although, I don't remember who it was I voted for). A time of exuberance and optimism. There's something great about an election like that: a time of uncertainty, a time to wipe the slate clean. It's inevitable that it will be followed by gradual disillusionment as the same old disloyalties and betrayals are committed by new politicians. So that's why on May 1st 2007 I'll be celebrating those old memories and ten eventful years by rewatching the BBC's satirical coverage from that night. It probably won't be very good.



As I may have mentioned once or twice, or possibly constantly, I am technically a published author, having contributed an edited volume of paper to posterity and ISBN records. It's on a subject that no one could possibly be interested in, so I have no expectation that anyone will ever read the thing. Still, it is maybe just a little galling to search on Amazon to discover that no only are there a handful of copies available second-hand, but also that these are annotated by the seller with such recommendations as "Absolutely no signs of use.". Well, quite.


Quick survey, which I expect no one to respond to: does everyone else find fast-forward to be a pain in the backside? Whenever I'm watching I video, I either want to jump a long way forward or back, or else skip back a few seconds to catch something I just missed. In both cases, fast-forward/rewind is just annoying: it's so fiddly to use a remote control or other device to catch just the right moment. This used to be usable on a tape recorder, but somehow on digital devices its no good. And, honestly, why do we still have fast-forward except as a digital simulation of an analogue concept. I'd much rather have 'skip' buttons. Indeed, on my mp3 played, which is gloriously configurable, the "back/forward" buttons do indeed skip varying amounts rather than fast forward. So let's start a campaign to get rid of fast-forward, an unnecessary relic from a bygone era. Just as soon as we've got rid of Comic Sans.

I was thinking similar things about "channel change" on IPTV. Apparently, the biggest technical challenge in deploying a large scale IPTV system is being able to simulate the 'next channel' capability of an analogue TV. Well, why even try? Channel-surfing is so 20th century. In the on-demand world of the 21st century, why should we have to surf through channels in the vain hope of finding something to watch? Get rid of channel change, and go all on-demand.



A strange error on my server, Sever2. I played around with the standby settings to make sure that it goes into standby whenever possible. But then I noticed that it seemed to fail rather dramatically when coming out of standby: it would reboot itself. That's suboptimal. I messed around for a long time, but realized tha the problem may have started when I swapped its main disk from an IDE to a SATA drive, and some furious googling later led me to this site, which suggested that the remedy might be to install a RAID driver, despite there only being one disk. I took the advice, and on the first glance it seems to have done the trick. I'll see if it turns out to be a permanent solution. (tech notes: it's an ASUS motherboard, in a pundit barebones system).


I now have accounts set up on MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, Friendster, YouTube, Flickr, and goodness knows how many others. All in the name of research -- of course, I don't actaully want to use these things, and indeed am rather unsure exactly what the point is. What was most surprising to me was how much spam there is on MySpace in particular -- I'm used to periodic spam messages on friendster, at the rate of one every few months. But MySpace seems to suffer from a couple of spam messages a day, quite impressive since I don't actually have any friends on myspace. This suggests that there are spammers with too much time on their hands. There's probably a way to disable this influx of trash, but this, apparently, is what made this network so valuable to Murdoch and his cronies.


Please be my friend

I'm in the process of nosing around a number of web2.0/social networking sites at the moment, and consequently people that know me may receive various "friend" requests to interrupt their otherwise pleasant day. Acknowledge these if you have time, but no worry if you don't fell like it.

I've even set up a mice pace account. It turns out that you really can set John Cage's 4'33 as your favourite song (no word on whether the Mike Batt effort is also available). Of course, I've set mine up not to autoplay when people come to the page -- don't want to irritate anyone with my choice of audio.