20081221

Talent Shows

Big music excitement in the UK this week, as the nation tries to decide which version of "Hallelujah" is best: Jeff Buckley's soaring version, or a cash in copy from a talent show contestant. The result will be known later today, though it's pretty much a done deal thanks to the popularity of the talent show in question. "Presenting" the Top 40, alleged personality Fearne Cotton rather spoiled the tension by announcing "We'll be talking to the number one artist, whoever that might be." Er, right.

Praying to the Wireless Gods

I have a photo of two frollaborators (pointless portmanteau of friend and collaborator) kneeling in front of a hotel window on the 14th floor, with their laptops on the windowsill. The reason being that in this way they could just about pick up a WiFi signal. I'm now in a somewhat similar position myself: laptop hoisted up on a couple of conference proceedings next to the window, in order to catch the signal of a neighbor whose password I've borrowed. Since they are the only people in the world still using B, the signal is weak and a bit flaky, so I can only pick it up from this one location, so it doesn't really feel like "true" wireless -- it has the same pauses and cut-outs more familiar from dial-up, which was my solution for my Maidstone trips in previous years. It's quite weird to go back to the model of actively having to connect to the internet to check email or look something up, and then disconnecting. I don't recommend it.

20081215

XBMC vs VLC vs MPC

AC asks "So XBMC is better than VLC?"

Well, maybe, but it's not quite a fair comparison. XBMC I use in its original incarnation, on a softmodded xbox to stream content off my main server. VLC I've used as a desktop video client, but I got increasingly frustrated with it: it would have problems rendering video occasionally: failing to show anything, but stopping and restarting the video would fix it. It also seemed very slow to seek. So I've gone back to my previous desktop solution: MediaPlayerClassic, plus ffdshow and possibly another codec pack or two ("Windows essential codec pack" seems to do the job, and is not obviously full of adware crap).

Well, you did ask.

20081211

Video on Deplane

Continental is proudly trumpeting the installation of VOD on its 757s, about a decade after it would have been cool. This means I will get slightly less work done when I am returning from trips abroad.

The last CO flight I was on had this system, and it's a bit rubbish, actually. It crashed about 3 times during the flight (maybe there has been a "firmware" upgrade to fix this: waiting for a firmware upgrade seems to be the modern equivalent of praying). The selection of content was pretty dire: the press release trumpets "25 movies and 25 TV shows", as if half its passengers aren't already carrying that much with them in their pockets. Any half decent system needs to have at least 50 movies and 150 episodes to have a decent chance of having something worth watching. Lastly, because it kept crashing, I'm now in the position of having seen about three movies most of the way through. Like many other systems, the only way to navigate through the movie is via fast-forward and rewind. Fast-forward on that system I pegged at roughly 8x, meaning that when the system crapped out after two hours of a long movie, it would take about 15 mins to get back to where you were; not really worth it for the last five minutes of, er, "Speed Racer". (don't tell me what happened). I did this for one movie, by going to the toilet while it was running forwards. Still, fast-forward and rewind are terrible ways to seek through video content. As I've probably opined before, but can't be bothered to look for, the main actions I want to take are "Wait, I missed that bit of dialogue -- go back about ten seconds" and "Hmm, I've seen the first half of this already, jump forward in large chunks till I get to something new, then let me go back and forth a bit till I find where I want to be." Modern video clients, such as the superlative XBMC, have lots of options for doing exactly this, but other things seem obsessed with the idea that I want to emulate an almost extinct analog linear tape based system. Ffwd and Rewind are artifacts of tape, and must be destroyed. That is all.

20081202

TV on the radio

Daily Mail gets itself into a frothing, incoherent rage... over nudity on the radio.

What should I do now?

As usual, I will be returning to the motherland in December. As a result, I'll be at a loose end (in Loose) from mid-December to the end of the month. Exercise usual means of communication to influence my movements to intersect with your locale, if you so desired.

20081128

No2ID3?

I've wittered on about the difficulty of finding the ideal digital music player before, though I'm too lazy to find the link. I recently picked up a cheap 8Gig refurbed player since it was on offer, and the headphone connector on my current model is going again. Unlike the various models that I've owned previously, this one is based on ID3 tags.

Who thinks that this is a good idea? Even assuming that you have got your entire music collection all tagged up nicely via CDDB or similar resource, how is that any way to navigate your files? The whole folders approach has worked reasonably well on computers for the last few decades. It gives a nice flexibility for people to arrange things how they like, according to whatever idiosyncratic hierarchy and arrangement happens to appeal to them. In particular, it's particularly terrible when it comes to audiobooks and radio recordings: I want to listen to one of these at a time. But under the tag system, it's just horrible to navigate through these. Not least because the tags on these things are inevitably buggered, and it doesn't seem worth the fuss to try to fix them.

So I'm not all that thrilled with ID3 tag browsing. Unless anyone can suggest a sensible way to get them to behave, I think I'll stick to file browsing in future.

20081113

The internet alphabet

If you have a copy of Firefox, it comes with a google search bar built in. Start typing in this search bar, and "suggestions" pop up -- presumably, the first of these is the most frequent. This changes over time. I didn't pay much attention to this, until I started typing something beginning with 's', and the first suggestion was "Sarah Palin". That's scary. So, here is the "Internet Alphabet" of top suggestions for each letter. Your results may vary based on country, time, history, and other randomness.

A is for Amazon
B is for Bebo
C is for Craigslist
D is for Dictionary
E is for Ebay
F is for Facebook
G is for Google
H is for Hotmail
I is for IMDB
J is for Jennifer Hudson
K is for Kelly Blue Book
L is for Limewire
M is for MySpace
N is for Next
O is for Obama
P is for Photobucket
Q is for Quotes
R is for Runescape
S is for Sarah Palin
T is for Target
U is for utube
V is for Verizon Wireless
W is for Wikipedia
X is for X Factor
Y is for YouTube
Z is for Zip Codes

20081106

Van Buren!

I noticed that since Monday evening, I've been getting lots of hits on "Van Buren" "Lowest place in hell". I think it's because at about that time Dorris Kearns-Goodwin sang a little snatch of that song. (Hulu embed probably doesn't work outside the US Empire).

So, yeah, here's where you can get the lyrics, and find out how to get hold of a copy.

More PDF font embedding hijinks

I've complained bitterly before about the stupid requirement of many publishers (IEEE, ACM) to embed all fonts in a PDF document -- including the "base fonts", which any compliant reader must be able to render. Because of this, it's actually quite hard to persuade many pieces of software to embed base fonts, because, why would you ever need to do this? This can lead to quite a stalemate, and a lot of frustration.

I had a nice system all working, but in my latest work I've been using Gnuplot with the PDF terminal. This outputs directly to PDF, and avoids a bug in Gnuplot when generating bar charts. All well and good, except that the resultant PDF does not embed the base fonts. And there's virtually no documentation on the Gnuplot PDF terminal, certainly nothing that talks about this.

So, after a lot of frustration and swearing, I came up with the following ugly hack: run the pdf through gnuplot ghostscript with the pre-press option, and output to pdf. Here's the command line I came up with, though it might be more complex than it needs to be:

gs -q -dSAFER -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=tmp.pdf -dCompatibilityLevel=1.3 -dPDFSETTINGS=/prepress -c .setpdfwrite -f $1

Where $1 is the name of the input file, and tmp.pdf is the name of the output.

The ironically named "PDF Express" system has yet to verify that the resulting compiled file does the necessary thing, but I'm reasonably confident that it will work now.

20081103

Things that continue to annoy me

People who use "epsfig". It's 2008, folks! Use \includegraphics, for goodness sake.

20081101

Abs' Hen Party

More from the "mail sent to my email account that was clearly intended for someone else" file. Today's missive seems to concern the planning for a party for some hens, or chickens, or something. Anyway, here it is in case the proper recipient happens to be reading:

Abs' hen party December 6 2008

Hi everyone

Just an update on the hen party front - at this stage we're thinking the day
(Saturday December 6) will go something like this:

Afternoon ice skating at Somerset House (with mulled wine first)

Drinks then dinner at a private room - venue to be decided. We'll make sure
there's somewhere for us to get changed out of our skating threads.

Dancing at the Pigalle Club near Piccadilly, there will be a show and then
live music all night long. It's meant to be loads of fun and we'll all need
to dress up 50s-style!

Remember, all of this is a big secret from the hen!

If you could all let me know asap whether you can make it, and if you would
like to come for the whole thing or only certain parts let me know too, as
we'll need to book and buy tickets etc quite soon.

I'll get back to you with costs etc before locking anything in.

Looking forward to it! Sophie and Hannah xx

20081030

Moral Victory

I recently called my credit card provider in the UK to query why I was being billed for a month when I had paid off the balance in full the previous month and not spent anything on the card in the interim (it was something to do with some scam the credit card companies pull by charging you interest on cash balances differently from anything else). The drone on the phone refused to admit fault, but reversed the interest charge of 76p in a show of goodwill anyway.

I just checked my phone bill, and that call cost me $2.79.

But the important thing is that I WON. OK?

20081003

When all is sed and done

s/maver/d/ on:

"I've joined this team that is a team of mavericks... I think that's why we need to send the maverick from the Senate and put him in the White House... He has been the maverick. He has ruffled feathers... A team of mavericks, of course we're not going to agree on 100 percent of everything... People aren't looking for more of the same. They are looking for change. And John McCain has been the consummate maverick in the Senate over all these years... Also, John McCain's maverick position that he's in, that's really prompt up to and indicated by the supporters that he has."

Certainly, suspending his campaign was a maverick move.

Not remotely related

Today's two songs that sound vaguely like each other for the first few seconds, if you squint, and then bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever, goes to:


Granddaddy -- Underneath the Weeping Willow


K9 & Company -- Theme Tune

20080928

Intro Outro

Today's Intro compare and contrast:





Again, start both at the same time -- instant Mash-up like it's 2001!

20080926

If xkcd told you to jump off a cliff?

Geohashing often invites its players to jump in a lake, but tomorrow's new jersey location seems to be in the middle of a railway line

20080923

Easily Confused

Compare and contrast the first five seconds of these two youchoob embeds:





Now start them both at the same time.
Oh well.

20080912

Dem Bones

I make a point of seeking out any cheesy US effort to depict the UK, so it was high hopes that I checked out the Season 4 double episode of "Bones". The show started off promisingly with that other Deschanel girl and Angel in "Oxford University" where apparently it's traditional to give lectures while wearing gowns (actually, that may well be the case) in drafty dining rooms (again, just teetering on the brink of plausibility. In fact, the only palpably implausible thing about the whole episode (not counting the plot) was the fact that it gave the impression that Oxford was a suburb of London. And since they're both on the Thames, it's not impossible to see why you might get that impression. The plot was ridiculous. Rather than bother to do a feature length episode, it consisted of two normal episodes strung together which will presumably make for easier syndication. The first was some dubious parody of the British class system, featuring an oxford Don and his Scotland yard sidekick, presumably in some hilarious mirroring of the main characters. This could have been the start of some tedious spinoff Bones:London. This was promptly dashed in the second half when the don was offed. Yes, spoiler alert, but the show itself opened with a massive spoiler for the end of season three which I hadn't yet seen, so I don't care. This could have been slightly more interesting, but instead I spent the entire time wondering where I had seen the Scotland Yardie before, until the magic of IMDB came to the rescue and pointed out that it was that one off of Torchwood who was featured in all the initial promotional material, and then killed off in the first episode, and then brought back for "Why do they keep killing Suzie?". Anyway, those are all the interesting things about it.

Get Fry!

I was trying to watching the latest Stephen Fry documentary on living with the printed word, but found it incredibly distracting that the choice of backing music seemed to be the theme from Get Carter. Youchoob embeds FTW:



Product Placement

What links
Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend and


Katy Perry?

Answer:

Chapstick.

Fantastic.

20080905

Compare and Contrast...

Who said the following:

"For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback"

"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's."

20080903

Free Will

A message plonks in from my bank, of all people offering a "Free Will Review". You what? Someone can verify whether or not I have free will? Exactly how am I supposed to trust what I hear from a third party on this subject? Oh, wait a moment, I've just got it.

Come again?

The spammers at WSEAS are stepping up their campaign to claim legitimacy (here's a tip: stop spamming people first). Skimming through the anonymous "WSEAS team" contains the rather surprising outpouring:

ARE YOU A WSEAS YOUNG STUDENT?
COME IN OUR FACEBOOK?
http://www.facebook.com/people/Wseas_Friends/1402856134


Say what? I believe that there are sites on the internet devoted to that sort of thing, but I'm not sure that it's really any way to gain academic standing.

20080828

Philosophy

Your philosophical question of the day:
Why is PowerPoint still unable to wrap text around objects in 2008?

20080825

Must Read

As you are by now no doubt well aware, I often receive misdirected emails since one of my email accounts has a fairly simple name. This latest one is quite intriguing, since it raises so many intriguing questions. As is my habit, I am posting it here in the hope that the true recipient will find it. I'll also do my best to recreate the full HTML styling of the original.

Must Read



Ok hon have it your way,I can see you want nothing to do with me right now,I wish you could have told me,not have stole from me,but it happen,Will I deleted you off my yahoo,took you off fubar,and I pack my blackberry away,seeing I have another cell phone now.I wont be paying the bill on the first.I'm leaving Oct.3rd to Sanfors,Tx,I have a freind there that owns a house that told me to come down with Keith,my mom and the babies,I dont want here in Vegas and I dont want around Dallas,and if and when you get tired please come back to me I will always love you,If you make it there please get a divorce,the way you left I have to wonder if you ever did that to someone else,maybe i'm not even marry to you,I'm going to try and find that out while i'm in Tx,I told onyx you where not coming back,that you used us for what you could and moved on.My address down there will be P.O.box XXX Sanford,TX 79078 So if you ever need me you have 2 e-mails now and my address to get a hold of me,Why did you take that wedding ring and tape it so it would'nt fell off?How long did you plan on doing this to me?No wonder you where sick it was guilt.How long did you stop loving me?Or did you ever love me?If you ever get the balls could you write me and tell what the hell happen.You not working and us living the way we did was all on me I guess.I have a feeling this is what you do everyone and you will do it to your cousin to.It wont be long you wont like New York.I hope you Do get to Canada maybe you will one day miss me,if you think about it I only did things to try and make you happy.Oh well I do hope to hear from you one day,G___ C____ remember your wife you abandoned.


Well. Should I reply to this message and find out more about this situation? Or just keep my nose out of other people's business?

20080815

Taking the train to Turkismuhle

Nearly finished in my preparations so that I can, to use a euphemism that almost no one in the world will understand "Take the train to Turkismuhle". During my travels, I will have intermittent Internet access.

I don't know if you are aware of the services provided by Intermittent Internet Access (IIA). They are so useful that I think I might switch to them permanently. Having IIA basically means that I don't get to see any messages that require me to do any work, respond in a timely fashion, or otherwise put myself to effort. But at the same time, any message that happens to be cc'ed to me regarding someone else's projects, I can see immediately and respond to within seconds complaining, suggesting more work that could be done, or otherwise making the recipient's day less enjoyable. I would recommend Intermittent Internet Access to anyone -- unless I need them to do something for me.

20080811

Doves and Planes

Every few years I get obsessed by an MIA track and listen to it over and over again. This year, it's been Paper Planes, a rather unsubtle tribute to the drugs industry. (YouChoob embed)



This was probably set off by hearing it in the middle distance while waiting for Santogold to come on in Central Park last month.

Anyway, I happened to be listening to the radio, which was playing "There Goes the Fear" by Doves, and I thought to myself, 'hmm, these two sound quite similar'. Judge for yourself (another YouChoob embed):



Of course, I'm entirely wrong. Well, the tempo's off for one thing. Maybe the bassline is a bit similar. Still, any budding DJs out there want to try one of those trendy "mash-ups" I've been starting to hear so much about?

20080810

Kafkaesque?

You can't do this. From the Times:

"Hawes, an Oxford graduate and university lecturer, emphasises his total admiration for the literary Kafkaesque genius who wrote brooding classics such as The Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial..."


You can't describe someone as "Kafkaesque" when they are, in fact, Kafka. I'm not having, if only because that was used as a joke sometime back in the 90's (quite possibly by Lee and Herring) as 'Kafkaesque author Franz Kafka"...

20080808

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

If students are learning to play western classical instruments, then they will learn to read staff notation. But if they're learning uilleann pipes, or tabla it's arguably less important.


Apparently, it will soon be possible to get an A in GCSE literature without being able to read or write a word of English. According some passing twonk, "If students are learning about western classical literature, then they will learn to read English. But if they're reading Brazilian or Iranian literature, it's arguably less important.

20080730

Greetings the stranger!

I know you shouldn't post too much spam for fear of encouraging them, but I did very much enjoy this tragic phishing attempt:

Subject I looking for a friend
Good day!
---
You are disturbed by administration of dating sites of Australia. You are a member of this group.
One of our members interested in you.
There is the message from this Member* - name "Miraslavna"
This WOMAN wishes to get acquainted with you.
---

Greetings the stranger! Hello from
big country Russia. I have read your profile, and i think
you a very interesting person. I see you as a pleasant interlocutor.
I want to know you better and to exchange photos
and not more informstion about each other. I will be very glad if our relations will
not stop on that and we will not communicate only using Internet.
I'll be glad to meet you one day.

Write me if you want to my e-mail: quattromira4@gmail.com

Also a use MSN and ICQ messadger to contact my friends, so if you have It, I'll tell you my contact details.

I will tell a little bit about myself:
I'm very nice, sociable girl.
I'm 25 years old, growth 169, my eyes are gray-blue, hair -blonde, weight is
54 kg, I have a sports constitution. I visit fitness centre regularly
to support the figure and to feel Vigorously.
If you are self-assured and think that you can deserve my attention then
write to me))

Mira.

20080729

Radio Radio

What I want: a portable radio, digital tuning, with an inbuilt battery (like mobile phones and most mp3 players these days) so that I can charge it / use it while plugged in, and then carry it around the house without having to find several dozen C batteries to power it.

Ideally, it could also access my wifi connection and stream internet radio stations, but that seems to be too much to ask. As it is, no one seems to make radios with inbuild rechargeable batteries. Why not?

Hasbro

Hasbro are a bunch of melon-farming cork-soakers, since their actions have cut off my games just when things were getting interesting. Damn their eyes!

Edit: Oh, it's even worse. There are alternate "official" scrabble versions: one for players in the US, one for international players. I like to play scrabble from the US against people in the UK. So that rather screws up any hope there. Damn all your eyes again!

20080727

Refund this

You may dimly be aware of a class action suit against Virgin Atlantic and British Airways regarding collusion over 'fuel duty' expenses. To claim a refund, you have to go to their website, and fill in details on all flights that you took with the airlines between August 2004 and summer 2006. But what kind of anal retentive has enough information stored to be able to remember that kind of detail nearly four years later?

Well, apparently I do. I went to my spreadsheet that lists which flights I took and when (I keep it partly to tally my carbon footprint, but not to make any attempt to remedy it), and looked up the dates in question. The only flights I would have taken would have been transatlantic, US to UK. This told me when I could have taken flights, but not the carrier. For that, I dug out my credit card receipts from the months in question, and looked up the details of who I travelled with, and when. This included one flight on Virgin in December '04. So I filled the details in to the website, and sent it off. In sixth months time, I confidently expect to receive a rebate cheque. Since the total cost of the flight was $300 at the time, the rebate amount could be at most a dollar or two. So, more good uses of my time, I guess.

20080724

The Plib

I'm constantly wanting to refer to The Plib, but no one seems to have transcribed it onto the Internet, so I've done it myself.


The Plib (Peter Cook as E L Whisty)

I was talking to you about my plans to think of something absolutely new and revolutionary which would change the whole face of the world. Well, I just thought of it. It's called the plib. It's an amazing thing, the plib, I thought of it in the bath. It's very simple and small and amazing. It's very peculiar that nobody thought of it before. It's about quarter of an inch long and quarter of an inch wide, and it's completely round and white. And what you do is drop it into a glass of water and it fizzes. Then, you drink down the plibby substance, and it cures you of anything. Isn't that wonderful? If you've got rheumatism in the knees, all you have to do is take one plib and within seconds and all your troubles are over. And the amazing thing is that it works for every kind of disease. It's a really wonderful invention, the plib. I went along to the patent office with it yesterday to register it in my name. I went in there and I said "Excuse me, I've just invented the plib and I want to get it patented before anybody steals the idea." And they said "Oh yes, what exactly is this plib of yours?" So I explained to them what it was and they were very interested and asked to see one. So I had to tell them I hadn't exactly made one yet. It was still in the 'ideas stage'. What I wanted to do was to patent the idea first and then do the research to get the plib into production. They said that wasn't possible unless I actually made a working plib. I'd never heard such rubbish in my life! It's the people who have the ideas who deserve all the credit. I mean, anyone can make a rotten old wooden wheel, but it takes brains to think of the idea of the wheel. I wonder what happened to poor old Einstein? He had that wonderful idea about splitting the atom and causing enormous explosions. I suppose if he came along to the patent office with his diagrams, they'd've said "Ah, I'm sorry Mr. Einstein, but I'm afraid you'll have to show us one of your explosions before we can grant you a patent." Serve them bloody well right if he'd blown them up. I shouldn't think he ever managed to get the idea patented. Very sad really, he ought to be getting sixpence ever time there's an atomic explosion. They cheat you out of everything these days. I tried arguing with them but it was no good. I said, "Look here, my good man, if you don't register my plib, I'll get on to my very good friend the Duke of Windsor, he'll come round and smash you round the face". And he said "Oh really? How very interesting. Perhaps you'd like to have a look at a very new invention that's just come in". I said I would. And he reached under his desk and got out a long spindly pole with a sponge on the end of it, covered in horrible sticky muck -- I think it was fig jam. He said "This is a very fascinating device that we in the patent office call a 'nit-poker'". Then he banged me in the face with it and kicked me down stairs. I don't think government officials should be allowed to behave like that. I shouldn't be surprised if he hadn't stolen my idea about the plib.

20080722

Care less

There's probably a complex grammatical way of describing a phrase like "I could care less", when what the speaker means is "I couldn't care less", but the meaning is clear in the event anyway. I recently encountered a new one of these: while in Bristol Airport, my flight was delayed (Why? The explanations given ranged from "for technical reasons" and "awaiting air traffic control", neither of which made any sense). The tannoy announcement was ended with "We apologize for any convenience this may cause." Now, you used to hear this occasionally and think to yourself "ho-ho, they've got it mixed up". But I've heard this repeated so often, that I think it's becoming part of the language, and unthinking drones are repeating it, ignorant of the literal meaning, and assuming that it is a genuine apology. Of course, any sentence that begins "We apologize" is clearly bogus: there's virtually no setting where it is meaningful to have an apology from a collective group of people. I'd rather not hear this; since any situation where there is a tannoy announcement of an apology, you can equally replace it with the statement "Everyone with any connection to this organization is entirely indifferent to your plight", I think I'd rather they just not bother. About a decade ago, rail stations in the UK took this a step further by having entirely automated announcements with apologies, which further highlighted this inanity -- a computer program was being made to fake an apology for the late running of the 9.25. I doubt that anything has been done about this obnoxiousness.

20080718

Evolve this

Momentous events in the world of UGC: the tedious and unfunny "Evolution of Dance" is about to be knocked off the top spot of youchoob's most viewed chart by commercial productised pop anagram Avril Lavigne. Possibly this part of an orchestrated attempt to take down the dancer with some dubious hit inflation techniques, but so what? Another benefit is that this screws up the fitting of skewed power law distributions to the most popular videos.

20080713

Cart Talk

Everyone loves Car Talk. I disappear off to Bristol for a week, and all anyone can talk about is how much they love Car Talk. So on my return, I decide to check out the TV version which has just launched in the US. Well, I say the TV version. Basically, there's now a cartoon that stars the protagonists of the show.

And it's... well, the thing is, I don't know what it is. I think the creators don't really know what it is. It's basically a kids' cartoon, voiced by the Magliozzi brothers. In the style of these things, a host of new characters have been added, such as a harassed NPR producer, and a load of other car mechanics. And it bears no other relation to the radio show whatsoever. In which case... what's the point?

You can just about make out the thought process that went into this. The radio show is great, but consists of people calling in to have their car problems diagnosed over the phone. So, the natural thing would be to do a live action version of this. But, showing phone calls on TV is not so interesting, and Top Gear has already carved out a large slice of the "dicking around with cars" market. So, take the other thing people love about the show -- the interplay of the two hosts -- take that entirely out of the context of cars, and give them silly little adventures to run around in, like Duck Tales or something.

And of course, it doesn't work. Or at least, there's no real point for an intelligent adult to sit and watch it. It reminds me a lot of "Clerks-The Animated Series", which did a similar thing. Except that almost worked, because it was vaguely related to what had gone before, and was tolerably amusing in places. This show ("As the Wrench Turns" -- why?) is more like "The Real Ghostbusters".

It probably didn't help that I was incredibly jetlagged when I watched and (and still am as I write this), and that I fell asleep ten minutes in as a result. But... when I heard that there was going to be a TV show, my initial thought was "but that can never work", and in this case at least it is surely justified.

20080706

BBC Who

On a roll, since I managed to watch the DW finale before getting on the plane, and thus totally avoided all spoilers. Although, in retrospect, having it crafted by RTD was sort of a spoiler in retrospect. The ep was good, but not as great as it could have been (or as great as the anticipation made it). Too many plot holes to mention, and some may still not have seen it, but probably the extra twenty minutes could have been trimmed without any great loss.

Anyway, now I have a UK IP address, I can enjoy watching the BBC's IP layer. I'm not sure why people are so excited about it, it's certainly not as much fun as watching the TCP layer or ever the UDP layer. Still, when in Brizzle, do as the Brizzolians do, I suppose.

20080704

Sledgehammer/Nut

Problem: You have some frozen chicken, but you don't need all of it to make a curry. However, it's all frozen together in one big lump.

Solution: Place frozen chicken in plastic bag. Hit repeatedly with hammer. Extract sufficient pieces of chicken. Curry.

20080624

Bobby Davros

The all-new who shoo continues to be slightly better than you'd think it would be (including, for example, Catherine Tate managing to be not annoying). Notably so in the most recent episode, Turn Left, which manages to sneakily fulfill the requirement for a "doctor-light" episode by having him dead for most of the episode. It rather bluntly underlined the case for his 'meddling'. But who would have expected that the most dramatic performance to have come from Bernard "Right Said Fred" Cribbins? Still, one thing haunts me about that. In response to the "New Labour" camps, the line "that's what they called them last time" resonates with my mind. I'm sure I've heard a similar "last time" comment used somewhere recently but, out of all the media that I consume, I can't think where. Still, you know my methods, Watson, so apply them. I have a strong suspicion that it was in Rumpole -- quite possibly Rumpole and the Reign of Terror. Either that, or someone describing the bush administration ("administration"? surely not the right word. Unless in reference to the administration of punishment).

20080616

YouWhat?

More evidence that YouToob commenters are the dumbest creatures to evolve on earth.

20080604

"Onion" Movie Not As Good as the Newspaper

As you'd expect, the "Onion Movie" is a dreadful mish-mash of lame, overlong sketches that would have worked better as just headlines. It looks like something you'd expect to be branded "National Lampoon". You could tell quite how long it has been gathering dust before being ejected onto the marketplace by the fact that Rodney Dangerfield has a line in the movie (from another movie) and he's been dead for four years now.

20080602

Terrible advice

This article entitled "How to entertain yourself at airports" is quite staggeringly useless. Top tips include "Watch tedious droning sports or news coverage" (I spend most of my time at airports trying to get away from being force fed lowest common denominator televisions blaring), and "go to the shop and buy a book of sudoku", along with "find some cheap food". I think from now on I shall just go and hang out in the executive lounge to get myself away from such tedium.

Recant

I wonder if the hidden message in the advertising poster for "Recount" is intentional. It shows Re in one colour, and Count in another. The 'o' is a hanging chad, which threatens to fall at any minute, leaving behind...

20080529

Pun-awful

Did you hear about the politicians who climbed up the famous Paris landmark? The Lib Dem and the Lab made it safely to the top, but the Tory fell.

20080528

Pac-a-mac

When I was a large child, I often fancied myself in the role of MacGyver, but had fairly few opportunities to put this into practice.

Tonight, as I was walking away from the mailbox, I thought to myself, as I often do, that it was particularly foolish to have placed a drain so close to the box--someone is bound to be walking away with their keys and drop them down there. At the same time I was juggling the large amount of spam mail and letters from my employer informing me that they had lost a laptop with all of my personal details (social security number, salary, inside leg measurement, that sort of thing), when my keys jumped from my hand, landed on the drain with a clank, and slid through the gap with a miserable clang.

"Oh, sugarhillgang", I muttered to myself, as I squinted through the grate to see the keys just visible in the near darkness. But not to be daunted, I went back to the house (which fortunately I had left unlocked), and proceeded to collect some tools. First, I tried to heave up the drain cover, but it was stuck down tight. Then I tried to use a broom handle to gather the keys, but it was too short. A flashlight cast more light on the situation. I thought about dangling a magnet down to pick them up, but some experiments in the kitchen demonstrated that this was unlikely to work. Instead, I gathered up a paperclip, fashioned it into a hook, tied it with string to the end of the broom stick. Dangling this down the drain and directing the flash light and with only a little more swearing, the hook snagged the keys. Slowly drawing it up, and anticipating disappointment at any moment, I was delighted to recover the ring.

In conclusion:
-- It's amazing what you can do with a paperclip and a piece of string
-- Put the keys away safely before tripping past the drain
-- I am a genius

That is all.

20080526

Delightful

Have you ever went over a friends house to eat and the food just ain't no good -- I mean the macaroni's soggy the peas are mushed and the chicken tastes like wood so you try to play it off like you think you can by saying that you're full and then your friend says "Momma, he's just being polite; he ain't finished" (uh uh that's bull). So your heart starts pumping and you think of a lie and you say that you already ate and your friend says, "Man, there's plenty of food", so you pile some more on your plate while the stinky foods steaming your mind starts to dreaming
of the moment that it's time to leave, and then you look at your plate and your chickens slowly rotting into something that looks like cheese. So you say "That's it, I got to leave this place. I don't care what these people think. I'm just sitting here making myself nauseous with this ugly food that stinks." So you bust out the door while it's still closed, still sick from the food you ate, and then you run to the store for quick relief from a bottle of kaopectate.

20080525

Call This Progress?

I took a break from my hectic schedule of misanthropy yesterday to see the summer blockbuster movie "I, Ronman" (I think it's supposed to be a sequel to "I, Robot"). The lead character is Tony Stark, not to be confused with Tony Shaloub as Ian Stark. When is the big screen adaptation of "Stark Raving Mad" going to arrive? When?

For all the movies big action and special effects, it's worth noting that the three main moments of tension are as follows:

  • Waiting for a progress bar to reach 100%
  • Waiting for some files to be copied onto a flash drive
  • Trying to complete a task before a battery runs out of power

It makes you wonder why millions of Americans flock to the cineplex for this kind of entertainment when they could be out there having similar exciting adventures simply by trying to operate a laptop computer running Windows. It makes you wonder if in a few decades all these movies will look very silly and archaic.

Rights Lapse for "Bizarre" Song

New Zealand songsters OMC had a worldwide smash in the mid-nineties with How Bizarre, which catalogued a sequence of mundane events followed by the exclamation "How Bizarre". The song ended with the enigmatic come-on "Wanna know the rest? Hey, buy the rights!". Following a frenetic bidding war, the rights were optioned for a record $5M NZD ($3.50 US). However, a decade later, the option has lapsed and the "How Bizarre" movie seems unlikely to ever be made.

The project was troubled from the start. Over a dozen different screenwriters were brought in to submit drafts. The movie was originally planned as a vanity project for Jim Carrey, but subsequently Adam Sandler, Brandon Fraser, Corey Feldman, and, following one particularly radical rewrite, Whoopi Goldberg. While the project is officially described as "still underdevelopment", it seems unlikely the full story promised in the song will ever be known. In response to this wholly predictable and unremarkable series of events, the song's singer and composer Pauly Fuemana commented "How Bizarre!". --- AP

20080518

Stupid Things I Have Read in Wired This Month

Wired Magazine (you remember magazines, they were like websites, only they only updated once a month) usually manages to make several ridiculous or idiotic statements each issue. This month, the first was in the very first article, on prediction markets. It reads "The big blow came in January, when the markets gave Barack Obama a 91% chance of beating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Clinton won..." and proceeds to use this as an opportunity to pour scorn on the very concept.

But wait-- the market predicted a 91% chance. How does the fact that the 9% chance came up refute the very existence of such markets? If the bookie's favourite always came in first, there wouldn't be much point in betting (well...). You expect a basic lack of understanding of probability theory in most mass market publications, but you'd hope for something a bit better in a tech mag. And you'd be disappointed.

Lies, Damned Lies...


In the attached over-exposed picture, you can see an advertisement for a local (real) estate agent [They're called Real Estate Agents over here; presumably, there was once a problem with fake estate agents]. It took me a very long time to work out what the main graph was showing. Perhaps you can figure it out more quickly than I did?

20080515

Achievement!

Yay! My web page is now the number one result for querying my surname on google. I call that a result.

And, just as I am writing this, I learn that I have been given 5 extra days of vacation a year.

Puerility

Is there enough pathetic juvenile innuendo-laden humour in your life? You know, I don't think there is. So have this embedded video of AC-DC's wonderfully tacky single-entendre "Big Balls"

Makes you wonder if this record could have been the inspiration for The Upper Crust, a band who play their entire set in perriwigs, and are responsible for such songs as Rock'n'Roll Butler, Finished with Finishing School, Ascot in My Dickie, and (below) Let them eat rock!

20080511

And now, with pictures

As I've mentioned before, my email address gets quite a lot of mail that seems to be intended for someone else. Today was a first though: a cameraphone picture sent directly to my account. The picture is below



Note that this is actual size (must be a pretty lowres camera then). The return address is a cell phone number in New York somewhere, I think -- the area code is 585.

Also sent to this address recently is a stray invitation to connect to someone I've never heard of on LinkedIn, and the following urgent missive:

My name is Dustin Heenan from Prairie Plumbing and Heating in oshawa, we are currently doing some work in your building on 250 Bayly st in Ajax. We are trying to tie some underground in on site right now, but my plumber is having a difficult time trying to make sure that he is tying into the sanitary on site and not the storm with the new plumbing work being installed. Is there any chance that you have a set of orginal drawings for the base building of that plaza so that we can be sure of what we are tying into. Any chance you could get back to asap that would be great as we are trying to do this work over the next couple days. Much appreciated. Take care

Hand Gestures

In society, we have a small number of hand gestures for certain key activities. There must be something special about these activities -- that they need some amount of emphasis, or to be communicated in noisy environments or across a crowded room. Here are all the gestures that I can think of (add more in comments if you think of any). Picture them in your mind as you read them:

Drink/drinking
The bill (in a restaurant)
Driving
Phone / call me

Yesterday, I realized that we have silently agreed on a new gesture in the last few decades: Mouse click

I find it interesting [and, as usual, I feel it unnecessary to provide the obvious caveat that you probably won't] that these gestures are weird exaggerations of the activity that they represent. Also, note how some are more common that others: I can think of a gesture for eat/eating, but it seems much less standard than drink/drinking. Similarly, there is one for typing (well, really, any keyboard activity such as piano playing), but it doesn't seem as useful as the mouse one.

Have I missed any? Do "the kids" have a hand gesture for texting, or hanging out on the Face Book web page? As I've said about many things in the past, I'm sure that there's a sociology thesis in there somewhere (probably titled something like "Evolution of Colloquial Sign Language in The Internet Age"), and probably no one will ever write it.

20080508

Word Up

When reviewing papers, I usually try to note which ones are written in Word, since this usually correlates well with a bad paper. It's usually pretty easy -- although body text in TNR looks quite similar, italics, mathematical notation and subscripts are usually clear indicators. Lately though I seem to have been finding it a little tricker to tell at a glance. So I've resorted to checking one clear indicator: ligatures. I'm sure it's possible to insert ligatures in Word, but no-one ever does it, so a quick search for ff or fl helps resolve the matter.

20080506

This is 1999 calling...

I was going to post about how much better things have got in the last week in terms of unsolicited phone calls, when I got a call from a [muffled] internet service provider. Given that my current ISP is a nice person with an open-WiFi router, I was slightly more prepared to listen than usual. The rather incomprehensible caller went on to explain that they had a special offer available on accelerated dial-up service that could be up to six times faster than...

Wait a moment. *dial-up* service? People still sell that? I mean, I'm sure that there's a market for it in rural areas and for people temporarily shafted by their phone company who takes over a month to get DSL service up and running, but surely that's a fairly small market, and not worth nuisance-calling over. So, after expressing my surprise, I told the caller to get lost, and when they insisted that their dial-up service was too good to miss, I started to vaguely threaten them with the federal DNC (it'll be nice when I've been on there long enough for it to be enforcable, of course).

Still, dial-up service in 2008? Wow.

20080502

I love u

New York Times shows that it is unable to spell the name of the Labour party.

Meanwhile, results in the Johnson / Livingstone (Seagull?) race are painfully slow to arrive. I'll just ignore it for another few hours, then.

Still, nice to see some kind of STV system in use. Maybe second preference votes will decide the race?

Misheard Lyrics

There's a song buzzing around my head that I've heard a few times on the radio over the past few months, but not caught the name of.

It features
-- A sort of childish singing (possibly a sample?)
-- The lyrics "the way you move is so (natural? good to me?)"
-- "Do your dance, do your dance" or similar

Can anyone tell me what it is really? Idle web searching on various permutations over the above fails to reveal the answer. Embedded youchoob link of the video for the first person who can tell me.

20080430

I'd Like To...

From a rather breathless article in the WaPo that teeters along the line between reporting and entrapment, comes the deathless description of a "crude acronym for attractive mothers".

CAFAM? Can't really see that taking off. Can you really not say that in a newspaper?

20080424

Wireless Internet

Phone line finally hooked up yesterday: part of the problem was that the phone wires weren't actually connected to anything before a nice man came and tied them together. Amazingly, Verizon don't seem to be able to promise any kind of internet connectivity before the end of the month. Maybe I will give them a call to see if anything can be done about this.

I was also suddenly reminded of something: within a couple of hours I had started receiving spam phone calls: for a newspaper, and for satellite TV. I suddenly remembered the National Do Not Call registry. Since it was a new phone number, it was listed, so I am doomed to receive junk telemarketing calls until my new registration kicks in.

20080417

Little Boxes

Having spent the weekend putting things into boxes, and then putting those boxes into bigger boxes, I then spent the last few days taking things out of boxes again. Somehow both directions feel like they involve increasing the amount of order in the system.

Is that increasing entropy or decreasing entropy? Thermodynamics would suggest that I am engaged in a futile struggle against the increase of entropy. My intuition was that information theoretically I am increasing information, but I guess that's wrong: since the highest entropy is a totally disordered (random) system, then by putting things in certain places, I'm reducing the amount of information stored in the system.

20080412

Sarky Bastard

I occasionally suffer from Netflix theft, especially when I am traveling: the website insists that the latest disc has been dispatched, but there is no sign of it a week or so later. Clearly, someone is intercepting the discs and keeping it for their own immoral purposes. I lost "Crank", a tongue-in-cheek action-fest to this fate a few months ago.

Now I have encountered a new twist. I got home from France last week, expecting to find "All The President's Men" in my mailbox, but finding it gone. I was too busy to do anything about it, so figured I'd give it a bit longer, and then go through the process with netflix to get a new disc sent out.

But getting home today, I found a familiar red envelope in my mailbox. Not the disc I had been promised, but the next one in my queue. Checking with netflix indicated that they had received the ATPM disc back on wednesday, two weeks after it had been sent out originally.

The most plausible explanation I can come up with for this is that some unknown miscreant intercepted the first disc, and after some time, put it in the return envelope and sent it back to netflix, who duly moved onto the next disc.

For some reason, this strikes me as incredibly cheeky.

20080331

Fact, Meet Fiction

The identity robber, meet the identity killer:



Also, why is the BBC so snotty about allowing me to embed their youchoob videos? If I try to go to the 'what do you reckon' video, I just get rebuffed for being in the wrong country. What does this achieve, exactly? Anyway, the sketch was better on the radio, even though it's pretty much word-for-word identical.

20080329

Doing The Do

To lighten the mood a little, I always like to come back from a foreign trip with a small example of popular culture there. So, from France, I give you "The Do" with "On My Shoulders", a cardigans-esque tune that seems to be very popular on french radio at the moment, possibly because it is not as clear to a non-native english speaker quite how clunky the rhyme-scheme is. Enjoy: [you choob embed]

28 Hours Later

By popular request of Simon, an update to my previous travel post.

Keeping up the tallies, plus a couple of points to Air France for Radiohead as background music and a dinky cup holder, but now minus several million for canceling my flight on Thursday morning from Nantes to Asterix DeGaul airport. No reason was given, so as far as I could work out, it was because it was a little rainy. Maybe it was some kind of extended knock on effect from Terminal 5, but it's hard to blame BA for everything, especially when I have Air France to blame.

The consequence was that I got to ADG about an hour after my transatlantic flight had departed, and since it was on a different carrier, I got no help whatsoever from Air France. They even had the gall (ha ha) to be completely indifferent to my plight. My only option was to wait 23 hours until the next days flight, and since I am allergic to camping out in airport terminals, I sought out an overpriced and nasty hotel which my employer will be surprised and not entirely delighted to foot the bill for (yay for corporate credit cards).

Also, while we are keeping score, a few thousand off for Air India, who the next day decided to delay their flight by four hours. Four hours doesn't seem too much in comparison to the 24 hours due to Air France, but it certainly seemed to drag. Also, note that if they had chosen to incur this delay on Thursday instead of Friday, I could have made it home a day earlier.

Half a point to the ground staff for giving me a voucher for lunch to make up for the delay, but minus several score for the fact that the only place that accepted these vouchers had no hot food, and I had to satisfy myself with a baguette. It was a very nice baguette, but after a week in France I was getting pretty fed up with baguettes, and had been looking forward to something hot and bad for me, like a beef burger or something. It also felt like something of a sneaky con trick, since this place was on the far side of security, making it seem almost impossible to get back to the main part of the airport where there might be a wider selection of meals. Isn't there some con where you pay a large amount for some supposed attraction, but when you go through the door you find that you are out on the street, and a fire door has just slammed shut behind you? If there is, then it felt like this.

At least the in-flight entertainment was working on the AI flight. I was hoping to be able to find Dhoom 2, which I still haven't seen, but it was not around, so instead I settled in for the gloriously mindless Transformers. This turned out to be somewhat irritating, in that the film attributed the Beagle 2 mission to NASA/JPL instead of ESA; and claimed that the invention of the laser and the transistor was due to the discovery of Megatron frozen in ice: presumably, they would also claim that this led to the invention of UNIX and C.

My progress back home was also hindered by a sequence of individuals irritants, including:

* Newark deciding to have on only 3 immigration officers to deal with the simultaneous arrival of three planeloads of visitors (so my usual technique of pegging it from the plan to the immigration hall, elbowing all and sundry out of the way, had only limited effect -- reducing my queuing time from about an hour to half an hour in my best estimation).

* My immigration officer being unusually nosey, asking not only who I worked for, but when I last entered the country, wanting to see my petition documentation (who is anal enough to carry that kind of thing with them every time they travel? Well, I am , apparently), and generally slowing the whole process down for everyone. It could have been worse, I suppose. I overheard him asking the person in front of me what his salary was, which seemed odd in the extreme.

* A customs officer, as I was trying to leave the customs hall with my backpack and small shoulder bag, querying whether this was all the luggage that I had. Yes, I like to travel light as possible. Isn't that a good thing?

* An overly chatty taxi driver, who chided me for a small tip. Maybe I'll just not give a tip at all in future.

All of which got me home at midnight on Friday, when I had been reasonably expecting to be home before 7 on Thursday. So thanks to everyone who made this possible. Air France probably bears the brunt of the responsibility, so I will add them to my list of officially unrecommended airlines based on them having screwed me over mightily without any appearance of apology or restitution, which currently reads:

Aerolineas Argentina
Air France
United

Avoid these dreadful companies at all cost.

To put a less negative angle on things, it wasn't a complete disaster. At least the reason I was originally scheduled to rush home has been rescheduled. And, thanks to the wonders of modern communications technology, I was able to spend Thursday night in the company of a university friend in central Paris celebrating his birthday in a faux British style pub (with continental prices), which made it almost seem worth it.

20080324

Local differences

The french for 118118 is 118218. But the french for 888 is 888 (and 889 is the original english version, when it works). Weird, huh?

Airline Reviews

Air India is actually more fun that I had been expected. Seating has nice legroom, but a little threadbare, and no pillow! I managed to enter a state of semiconsciousness for about six hours, despite an annoying man next to me continuously invading my airspace. Surprisingly modern (given the surrounding seventies style saffron decor) in flight entertainment system: movies on demand, and a touch screen. Didn't feel like using it much though, which is probably a good thing, since the touchscreen was misaligned by about half an inch, in particular making it impossible to use the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen. Still, continental, why can't you manage something like this? It also had a mysterious USB port just below the screen -- I wonder why? For power? To allow you to bring your own MP3s? No one seemed to be using it, so I didn't find out. Also: a little mesh bottle holder, which would be really handy, if people didn't keep confiscating my liquids all the time.

Air France for a short but sweet flight (the kind where you start to descend as soon as you reach cruising altitude) had less of interest. A neat cup holder on the back of the tray deserves to be used elsewhere. Check in was bizarrely disorganized: had to wander around CDG for ages, then when I finally found the right place, was told I couldn't check in until 90 minutes before departure. Rest of the world, it's at least 90 minutes, not at most. But one big point in their favour: the music playing over the tannoy while boarding was 'nude' by Radiohead. Makes a big change from the tedious light jazz fare in the US.

All of france seems to be currently closed for easter (barring, of course, the possibility that it's always like this), so I'm in my usual jetlagged semi-comatose state. I can't follow any of the french language channels (including a weird version of countdown where the contestants get to choose which letters they get. So instead I'm watching a dubbed version of the buffy musical episode, which must have been incredibly difficult to accomplish, given the pun-ishing rhyme scheme. It only works for me because I know the tunes so well.

20080320

Uninvited

I received an email titled "Invitation to Okinawa". 'Oh great', I thought. This is going to be a tempting workshop in Japan on a subject close to me heart which would be ideal for me to attend -- but do I really want to travel all the way to Japan (again)? I'm traveling so much this year, can I really fit any more in?

Then I opened the message, and discovered that it was a transparent 419 attempt. What a relief that turned out to be.

20080311

Wired

I was somewhat excited when I saw this guide to getting through Airport security with the minimum of fuss, but also a little disappointed: this is more or less exactly what I do already.

Seven Sins

I know that the "new seven deadly sins" is just a tedious trolling attempt to get a reaction, and responding to how stupid it is, is just what is wanted. But really, they could have made a little more effort. "Bioethical violations" and "Morally dubious experiments": firstly, lay off the scientists! And secondly, aren't these more or less the same thing? Ditto for "Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor", "Excessive wealth" and "Creating poverty": isn't this three ways of saying about the same thing? Seven isn't that hard to come up with, surely?

20080309

Green Green Grass

Bush surprised the white-tie audience of more than 600, including Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and lawmakers, by appearing as the final act of the club's annual revue. To the tune of ''Green Green Grass of Home,'' he sang about looking forward to his return to Texas.


versus

The song is about a man who has been away from home for a while. He tells that he is returning to his small home town in the country. When he steps down from the train, he touches the green grass. His parents and "sweet Mary" (who obviously is an old Sweetheart) are there to welcome him. He observes tokens of his childhood, including "the old oak tree that [I] used to play on".

However, then comes a spoken section when he awakens in prison: "Then I awake and look around me, at four grey walls that surround me. And I realize that I was only dreaming." The man is, in reality, awaiting his execution, and he will only return home when he is dead and buried: "Yes, they'll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree, as they lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home."

Brown Noise

What are the chances... my experiment, which had been running happily for about two hours, was nearing the end of its run, when... a crash of drums, a flash of light... the lights flickered for a second, indicating the power had gone out for a moment. That was enough to reboot the machine, and require a restart. No great loss, since I just started the script running again, but enough to consider whether I should invest in some kind of cheap UPS device to smooth over these little gaps.

20080308

Reunion Pictures

Hey, remember that reunion that we were invited to? Well, the pictures from the night are here now!

Be sure to check out the pictures on Flickr and Kodak.
See how everyone's changed yet is just the same as you remember them! Even Czarina. Wait, what? Czarina? Really?

Carded

About to pay for my groceries, I noticed that my credit card was missing from my wallet. All the other cards were there. Most likely I had left it behind last time I used it to pay for something, dinner in the restaurant, most likely. I suppose I could have called the restaurant and asked if they had found it, but I was too lazy, and so I just called the company to cancel it. Fairly straightforward, but the pain in the backside is that after all these "Pay your monthly bills with your credit card" things, I'll now have to get in touch with the dozen or so people who regularly put fees on my card and get them to update the billing information. Shouldn't there be an easy way to cancel the card without cancelling the account number? More pitfalls of modern life, I suppose. Well, that'll keep me busy for one evening this week, I expect.

20080301

'It's 3am and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Something's happening in the world.'


"Hello? What? Do you know what time it is? Yes, it is 3 in the morning. What the hell are you doing calling me in the middle of the night. Yes, this the White House, Cherry Lane, Chipping Sodbury. What do you want? What? Well of course something's happening in the world. It's the world. It's a big place. There's always bloody something happening in the world. What are you bothering me for? Can't it wait till the morning? Get a special advisor or a night watchman or something."

20080222

More misdirected mail

A reader writes,

Good evening. I would like to see a house that dropped to $203,000. It's off of Lake Lucerne Dr. The MLS # is 3654518.
Can you meet us tomorrow?
Thanks!
D-


No! I'm not going all the way to Georgia just for that!

20080217

Waiting for news

Even though I've been doing this for nearly a decade, I still seem to get nervous with anticipation around the time that a conference is due to make a decision on one of my papers. You'd think that I could be more blase about it by now, yet here I am, checking email fervently, waiting for the results to arrive. Given the scope of the outcomes: either it gets in, in which yay, or else it doesn't, in which case, sigh, and try to fix it up for another spin around, there's not all that much to look forward to (at most one bit of information). Still, here I am cursing every time the email beeps and it turns out to be someone answering a message I sent last week. Can't you just wait to send your silly messages until during the week like normal people?

This yielded the following idea: a more discriminative email message noise. The system could scan for words like "delighted" and "accepted", and emit a "woo hoo!". "regret" and "many high quality submissions" would instead elicit a "doh!". Other messages could trigger "spam spam spam" or "boring!" as appropriate. I haven't really worked out all the details, but isn't that what the internet is for -- I post the big, and it's up to you to sort out all the tedious details.

Update: It was a 'doh' after all, anyway. It always is whenever I get so fixated.

Staying Clean

The landlord is on his way over to show my apartment, and as a consequence I've spent an hour or two cleaning and tidying to a level that I don't normally achieve. And rather than my usual batch approach of cleaning things once every week or so (with the emphasis on the 'so'), I've been wiping down everything as soon as it gets messy. It's a very odd sensation, keeping things so clean. It's quite nice, actually, but I doubt that I could sustain it. And not quite sure why I'm bothering -- does it matter to me so much what the landlord and his visitors will think of the place?

20080214

Lightning fast TV reviews

While waiting for the writers' strike to end, I checked out a couple of new shows:

jPod: TV show of the Coupland novel. Haven't yet read the book, and I probably should, but I found the show very entertaining in its idiosyncratic canuck way.

Welcome to the Captain: nothing to write home about. Or even to blog about.

And that's it!

20080210

MSW

Gosh, but Microsoft Word is horrible, isn't it? You forget if you hardly ever have to use it.

I'm trying to put together a document which refers to a lot of scanned letters. So why is it that everytime I embed a 60KB pdf, the file size jumps by 1.5MB? And why does the action of embedding differ depending whether or not the file happens to be open in Acrobat at the same time. It's a right pain, is what it is.

Hark at this

Watching the 2004 blockbuster cheesefest 'Van Helsing' last night, I was suddenly reminded of an event from my youth. Aged about six, we watched a production of Dracula put on as a school play by the older children. This version, for reasons that I can only speculate on, was in the form of a musical. The only part of it that sticks in my mind is the sinister closing number sung by (presumably) Mina to Jonathan. The refrain was something like "Jonathan Harker, don't look at me so". The implication (to my six year old mind) was that although Harker had vanquished Dracula, it was possible that in the process he had been bitten and was now advancing on Mina with bloodlust in mind. I could be wrong. Maybe he was just randy.

But anyway, history (or at least the internet) offers no supporting evidence for any of this. And all of this was about two and a half decades ago, so some or all of it could be entirely wrong. But if anyone reading has any clue what I was actually witness too (perhaps it was actually a slapstick farce production of The Woman in White), then please make some effort to let me know.

20080207

Modern Dilemmas

Rather bizarrely, someone who's not me has the exact same problem that I do:

I have an easy-to-remember email address — my first name and last initial, followed by a common domain. But there's a major downside: I get a ton of messages intended for other people. Am I obligated to reply every time to say, "Sorry, wrong guy"?


However, none of the suggested solutions seem to included my response of choice: simply post the mislaid messages on a public blog, and wait for the intended recipients to collect them. On which note:

Reminder: Class of 1997's Who's Really Counting the Years? Reunion

Hello all,

This is just a friendly reminder to RSVP for the reunion by this Friday, February 8.

If you're on the fence about coming, keep in mind that we're not asking you to spend a week holed up with your fellow alums in a Malibu mansion (although FOX did ask...). It's just one evening, folks!

We're hoping to seeing you all there!

Sincerely,

Laura

20080206

This is not the 21st Century

CSPAN: Your political coverage sucks! I am not interested in your idiotic phone in

BBC: 39kbs for video? 39kbs for video? Are you insane? I have up to 10M to play with here, and you think that it's sensible to fill a meagre 0.39% of it.

Realplayer: I've been using your software for over a decade now, and it's still a cluttered, infested piece of garbage. Why, for example, does it choose to crash everytime I stop a clip? Why do I have to go through a convoluted sequence of actions to get anything to display on my secondary display instead of my primary. And stop trying to steal my file associations!

CNN: Your "live streaming" is a load of rubbish. Make it work.

Joost: Oh, I'm not even going to bother.


This more or less worked in 2005, so why does everything suck in 2008?

20080125

You're all invited!

As I have mentioned before, my freemail address gets a lot of messages seemingly intended for other people. For example, I have just received an invitation to a 10 year high school reunion that I did not attend. I can't make it, but if you are in the Long Beach area in February, then feel free to make use of my evite.

Cam

The internets is crawling with cammed copies of Cloverfield, which prompts the question -- "how can you tell?" (vide Parker on Coolidge).

Arbitrary Decisions

Back from San Fran, of which some later, to find another pile of random people in my inbox asking me to do things for them for free. Top of these was a review request for an uninspiring looking paper from some generic sounding journal that I've never heard of. I'm probably too committed with other stuff to bother with it, but it would be nice to have some other reasons to reject the request. The journal seems to be published by Elsevier, whom I vaguely recall being painted as evil. But some quasi research on Wikipedia shows that they seem to be cleaning up their act, at least as far as the arms fairs seem to be concerned.

Then I looked up some more details on the journal in question, and noticed that the subscription rate is close on $2000 a year. This should be compared to the rather meager in comparison TODS (with its excellent choice in papers) for as little as $30, and TKDE which is at most $80. So I think from now on, I'll prioritize such requests based on accessibility of the final results.

20080118

Eight Queens

Is it me, or is there something strangely fitting about a chess master dying at age 64?

20080111

Easily Confused

My recent trip to england was enough to confirm that I get hopelessly confused between Alex Zane, Zane Lowe and Alex Lowe. Fortunately, I am able to distinguish Alice Lowe, otherwise things would get really messy.

Passing thought

Should people in urgent need of CPR to prevent them dying be given "Kiss Me Quick" hats to wear?

20080106

Movies of the Year

Last time I bored you senseless with a tedious list of books that I read in 2007. Now I can do the same with the list of all the movies that I watched in 2007. Well, not all the movies; only the ones that came to me in little red envelopes from the NetFlix corporation. They have a handy feature which lets you see the list of films that you've viewed, so it's just a matter of cut and paste. Just think, with increasing automation, soon everything you do, read, or watch can be conveniently documented, annotated, datamined and exploited. Won't that be fun? I could even trawl through my last.fm history and see what I listened to in 2007, but that would bore even me. Anyway, here's the list (with the customary 7 word review):

  1. Fantastic Four: silly emotionless by-the-comic-book adaptation
  2. Hellboy: Animated: Blood & Iron: fun but simplistic animated comic book movie
  3. Topkapi: Peter Ustinov heist caper with Rififi riff
  4. Garden State: You'll believe New Jersey can be romantic!
  5. The Philadelphia Story: "screwball" Hepburn comedy with surprisingly few laughs
  6. Local Hero: quicky rom-com: landscape is the love interest
  7. Layer Cake: half Bond, half Lock-Stock, all half-baked
  8. March of the Penguins: Just a nature documentary, why the fuss?
  9. Firewall: Implausible Ford thriller, with too little technology
  10. Little Miss Sunshine: Vastly over-rated failed to raise a smile
  11. Accepted: Feel-good fake university comedy of the year
  12. The Graduate: Parodies are more amusing than the original
  13. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room: Scary story of corporate greed and fraud
  14. Tommy: Quirky comic opera - an overlooked rock classic
  15. Hacking Democracy: Troubling tale of tallies that don't tally
  16. Passport to Pimlico: Amusing high concept lacks any noticeable jokes
  17. Crank: Preposterous action video game in movie form
  18. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: Hymn to San Francisco's birds and hippies
  19. Catwoman: Surprisingly underrated comicbook caper ticks the boxes
  20. Moulin Rouge: Dark musical with some show-stopping numbers
  21. Wordplay: Gripping documentary on crosswords and their solvers
  22. Flushed Away: Aardman's first CGI makes rats almost lovable
  23. Man of the Year: Shows why Stewart-Colbert couldn't (shouldn't?) happen
  24. Ocean's Eleven: Likeable heist movie carried by cast's charisma
  25. A Prairie Home Companion: Weak adaptation but makes Lindsay Lohan likeable
  26. Network: "I'm not going to take this anymore!"

20080101

My Books of The Year

For reasons which are now somewhat lost on me, I kept a note of which books I read this year just gone (by the cunning method of putting them all in a pile in the corner). So that I have a more permanent record of this snapshot, I have written up a list and (since it was in '07), given a 7 word summary of each. The list makes for depressing reading, since it shows up my tastes as being staggeringly low brow. In my defence, I will say only that some of these were read under duress (i.e. while travelling on planes and being unable to read anything of any significant depth or quality), and a few were read partly in order to up my count (well, wouldn't you up yours?). Anywhere, here are my books of 2007 in strictly non-chronological order:
  1. The Liar (Stephen Fry) - Fry's autobiographical youthful fancy bears multiple re-readings
  2. Playpower (Richard Neville) - Incredibly archaic firsthand account of seventies hippiedom.
  3. The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon) - Frustrating erudite underground US postal conspiracy novella
  4. Digital Fortress (Dan Brown) - Readable but terrible tediously flawed techno thriller
  5. Burglar on the Prowl (Lawrence Block) - Chripy tale: purloining and hugely improbable coincidence
  6. The Golden Thread (John Mortimer) - Rumpole in fine form, defending the delinquent
  7. Double Whammy (Carl Hiaasen) - More lively Florida corruption and murder antics
  8. Journey Around My Room (Xavier De Maistre) - Peculiar florid 17th Century geographically challenged travelogue
  9. Dawn of The Dumb (Charlie Brooker) - Collected columns of charmingly curmudgeonly cynical critic
  10. Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them (Al Franken) - Haphazard and disorganized swing at right-wing liars
  11. Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries (Ed. Mike Ashley) - Delightful collection of ingenious locked room mysteries
  12. Cruel World (John Morgan) - Disturbing self-published tale of madness and religion
  13. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) - Boy wizard goes camping, dies, recovers, wins
  14. Kitty Takes a Holiday (Carries Vaughn) - More entertaining werewolf hijinks for poor Kitty
  15. Before Midnight (Rex Stout) - A Wolfe story like all the others
  16. The Medical Detectives (Berton Roueche) - Fascinating stories of disease inference and analysis
  17. Jingo (Terry Pratchett) - Entertaining fantasy fodder for a long flight
  18. Side Effects (Woody Allen) - Hit-and-miss humour, some great ideas
  19. In Our Humble Opinion (Tom and Ray Magliozzi) - Genial Car Talk hosts unpleasant on paper
  20. Adventures in the Screen Trade (William Goldman) - Compelling insider stories and anecdotes on Hollywood
  21. Out of the Ordinary (Jon Ronson) - Need to imagine author's voice while reading
  22. Be My Enemy (Christopher Brookmyre) - Excellent knockabout murder and mayhem caper novel
  23. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (Oliver Sacks) - Diverting case histories but no 'Medical Detectives'
  24. The 9/11 Report (Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon) - Devastating catalogue of failures - in comic form
  25. The Areas of My Expertise (John Hodgman) - Good, but not outstanding, hobo names included
  26. Barcelona Plates (Alexei Sayle) - Superb collection, especially first and last stories
  27. The Key (Malcolm McClintick) - Slight police procedural by former public defender
  28. Which Lie Did I Tell? (William Goldman) - More of the same from screenwriter and raconteur
  29. Lyra's Oxford (Philip Pullman) - Short and unfulfilling tale of Dark Materials
  30. Deception Point (Dan Brown) - Screaming baby on lap of next passenger
  31. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (M.C. Beaton) - Light silly mystery introducing largely unsympathetic detective
  32. Tanner on Ice (Lawrence Block) - Odd adventure tale of cryogenically preserved spy
  33. Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers (Martin Gardner) - Presented no significant challenge, mostly old puzzles
  34. Rumpole of the Bailey (John Mortimer) - First collection of Rumpole stories sets tone
  35. Rumpole for the Defence (John Mortimer) - Another collection with some sharply plotted tales
  36. The Men Who Stare at Goasts (Jon Ronson) - More investigation into peculiar beliefs, most ambiguous
  37. King's College Cambridge Annual Report 2006 - I read it for the member's obituaries
  38. Micronations (Lonely Planet) - Odd guide to places not on map
  39. In the Beginning... was the command line (Neal Stephenson) - Not hugely insightful potted history of computers
  40. The Collector Collector (Tibor Fischer) - Definitely worth a second reading (or third?)
  41. Rumpole on Trial (John Mortimer) - This year I couldn't get enough Rumpole...
  42. The Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett) - Addictive novella when ER finally starts reading
  43. Skinny Dip (Carl Hiaasen) - Buoyant Florida thriller hooked me on Hiaasen
  44. Unleashing Web 2.0 (Gottfried Vossen and Stephan Hagemann) - Soulless trawl through buzzwords without giving insight
  45. Time To Murder and Create (Lawrence Block) - Scudder swiftly investigates who killed a blackmailer
  46. Dummies Guide to Buying a Home - Visions of mortgages dance before my eyes
  47. Thud! (Terry Pratchett) - Another plane ride, another pratchett passes time
  48. Buffy Season 8 (Whedon et al) - Buffy's back, this time in comic form
  49. The Nudist on the Late Shift (Po Bryson) - Enthralling and scary tales from bubble 1.0
  50. Enclopedia Brown Collection (Donald Sobol) - Frankly stupid, irritating "solve-it-yourself" mysteries