Saturday, March 31, 2007

Seems I'm not due a good day after all :(

Today was all set up to be a good day. True, I had to come into work, but I'm getting paid for it (unexpectedly - I was under the impression that my contract said otherwise). Plus, at work I was just getting to the bottom of the last 'distraction task' before getting back to my 'real task', which was quite nice. But first, I had an errand to run - my new glasses should have arrived, so it was time to pick them up.

When I got to the optician, it was mentioned to me that a message had been left on my answering machine. Which is nice, except that I received no such message. And, since I have no roommate, and didn't delete the message myself, that means my answering machine isn't working. This isn't a huge surprise, but does add one more annoyance.

Anyway, I got my new glasses, which are much like my old glasses except with slightly darker frames. Also, being made of titanium, the frames are at once lighter and stronger, which is good to know. So, I put them on...

and immediately knew something was badly wrong. Every single thing was out of focus, and I found my vision swimming. But, of course, it could just be that my eyes needed to relax and work with the new lenses, not against them. I was advised to try them out for a couple of days, to let my eyes adapt.

Well, I wore my old glasses for the drive to work, of course, then switched to the new ones. Two hours later, I've had to switch back. Its true that my eyes adapted, and I was able to focus on things that were directly in front of me. And, it's true that those things were in slightly better focus than before.

But the peripherals, ah, the peripherals are useless. Basically, anything that's slightly off-centre is out of focus. Plus, I now have a splitting headache, and then there's the nausea. Badness.

I'll try them again tomorrow morning, to see if it makes any difference if I wear them as my only glasses for the day, but I'm not hopeful. It looks like something has gone wrong with my prescription and they'll need changed.

So, work.

I got to the office and found I have been assigned two more 'distraction tasks', both of which are adjudged to be even higher priority than the previous 'distraction task'. Looks like I'll not be doing any 'real task' work for a few more days, then.

Looking into the first of these, I was quickly able to replicate the problem, which is the first step towards solving it. Plus, I have a good idea what bit of code needs added, and even at what part of the code it needs added. But, can I find this latter location in the code? Not a chance.


Oh well, at least the test I ran overnight worked.

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Marvellous Monde Musicale

Some time ago, my friend Graham and I were talking about how wonderful it would be to live in a muscial world - a world where the common man would spontaneously burst into song about the mundane events of his life. For example, in the morning a person might be moved to sing:

I'm drive-ing, driving to work!
Other drivers conspire, in my blind spot to lurk.
It gravely concerns me, for I cannot see them,
when I'm drive-ing, driving to work!

(Catchy, isn't it? The air guitar solo is a bit worrisome, though.)

Anyway, we both agreed that this would be a fine thing. However, I did worry that there might be some resistance. After all, given the quality of so many of our professionals, how bad must the common man be by comparison?

However, there is a solution. Clearly, attempting to convert the whole world in one go, it makes far more sense instead to convert only a small part of the world, thus creating, for example, a Town of Music. Thereafter, we could gradually expand the borders, gradually annexing outlying regions. You know, one aria at a time.

Yeah, I'm not going to touch that one...

An obsessive reader of my blog would yesterday have seen three different versions of the previous post. In the first version, I wrote something that, read in the manner intended, seemed okay. However, it could be read another way, that was very definately not something I wanted to say. So, a couple of hours later, I revised the text to say something else. But, although the new version was better, it still left me rather uneasy, and so I took down the offending paragraph entirely.

I have decided not to revisit it at all. The topic that is touched on is rather grim and depressing, and although I have strong opinions on the matter, actually expressing those opinions runs a very great risk of saying the wrong thing. And, given the nature of the topic, I feel it is therefore best to say nothing at all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Five Fascinating Facts

The challenge: to post five facts about myself that you, gentle reader, don't know. Naturally, this is quite difficult, since some of my readers know me very well indeed, which limits the field greatly, and some of the things I haven't shared with anyone I haven't shared for rather good reason. So, tricky...

Still, I have five that I think you won't know (although some might suspect):

1) The one and only peice of careers advice I got at school said that I was underqualified for the job I am currently doing. For some reason, they omitted "go to university" as one of the options when answering the question "what do you intend to do after leaving school". This wasn't the first time I was sure some of the people at that school were muppets, but it might have been the first time my suspicion was confirmed.

2) At night, before going to bed, I have to neatly fold up the clothes I have been wearing, or I can't get to sleep. Even more ridiculous, when the time comes to drop the dirty clothes into the washing bin, I have to fold them up first before doing this!

3) Every time I have been in a strip club, I have made a profit. I should probably explain...

I was in Arkansas, visiting an old friend, and on the evening I arrived he (in concert with his brother-in-law and a random cousin) decided it would be a good idea to drag me off to a strip club. Actually, to be technical, it wasn't a strip club, but rather a titty bar. (The difference being: in Arkansas there are licensing laws for two types of clubs. Strip clubs have a strict "no touching" rule, but serve alcohol. Titty bars do not serve alcohol, although you can certainly carry in your own drinks, but you're allowed to touch anywhere the girl isn't clothed.) As we were going in, random cousin gave me a bunch of dollar bills, about $8 in all.

It was not a good night. The beers selected by random cousin for consumption that night were Miller Lite with reduced carbs, and were possibly the single worst beers in the entire world. Certainly, they were the worst I've had the misfortune to consume. For the rest of it... (I've deleted the rest of this paragraph. It bothers me a great deal. I may revisit at a later time.)

(The funny thing is, I'm not even particularly opposed to the notion of people taking their clothes off for money. It's just a business, and rather more honest than some. Though that sort of diversion is not for me - I'm an eye-man, and anyway prefer a woman I can actually have a conversation with. Shockingly, the strippers were disinclined to talk, and their eyes had all the excitement and passion of the bored professional.)

So, I forced down a couple of Miller Lite, studied the advertisement/place mat things (and hence my intimate knowledge of Arkansas licensing laws), complained of being far too tired to properly enjoy myself, and tried to ignore my senses. And, by the time we left, I found I still had one of the original dollar bills.

So, as I said, profit.

5) For many years, my CV listed a qualification in cake decoration. I still hold the qualification, since it doesn't expire, but no longer list it on my CV.

4) (You thought I was cheating, didn't you?) I have never been in a nightclub. Incidentally, this means I have been in more titty bars than nightclubs, which is slightly concerning on an academic level.

So, there we go. Anyone know any of those fascinating facts?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

That's a long way!

Just a micro-post today, to announce the completion of another of my long-held ambitions. This morning as I was just moving onto the motorway on my way to work, my car hit 100,000 miles.

I cheered.

I'm now moving onto my next long-held ambition. However, I'm rapidly running out. I think I'd best develop a few more ambitions, just in case. And ideas?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why is it...

that when I wear my BB top, people always ask me whether I was or still am in the BB, but when I wear my Kenco top nobody asks me if I was or still am a mug of coffee?

The Queen

HMV are clearly pure evil - I went in to try to find a suitable Mother's Day present (usually, Mum gives a guide as to what she would like; this year I've had to do my best without - I'll let you know how I got on tomorrow), and came out with £50 of DVDs for myself... and that was after I decided not to buy the other half dozen I wanted. When it comes to films, my tastes are many and varied. I particularly like a good action film... but I don't think anyone has made one since Con Air. But, never mind; the ones I bought were Seven Swords, which seems to be a Chinese of The Seven Samurai (also The Magnificent Seven), Borat, since it was on special offer, Pan's Labyrinth, which I wanted to see but missed in the cinema...

and The Queen. In case you don't know, this is a film starring Helen Mirren as the Queen, and deals with the events of the week following the death of Diana.

Now, normally, when a film wins lots of Oscars or Baftas, this means it's an incredibly depressing film in which really bad things happen to people who may or may not be particularly nice, and often with a hint of 'special interest group' influence. Generally, it is not an indication that the film is in any way worth watching.

But still, it was a film of interest. I distinctly remember the week in question. I was in church when I heard that Diana had died, and it was a bit of a shock, to say the least. On returning home, I found that every channel had a non-stop diet of coverage of these events, and very little real information. Then came the outpouring of public grief, which I considered largely over-the-top (I was actually with the Queen on this one), and the key statements from Earl Spencer and Tony Blair (before the dark times really began)... and then Candle in the Wind.

And I remember the attacks on the monarchy of that week. For a few days there, people really didn't like the Queen, and there seemed to be a mood that we might actually be about to get rid of them, the like of which I have never seen before or since. And then it just evaporated the moment the Queen made her live statement. Ironically, Diana may well have saved the monarchy.

(And, since I'd best address this, my politics as regard the monarchy are complex. In principle, I don't like the concept of monarchy, or inherited priviledge at all. However, I don't believe it's enough to simply clamour for the removal of the monarchy; one needs something to put in its place, and I've never seen a better idea put forward. Certainly, the last thing we need is another batch of useless and corrupt politicians to not vote for. Furthermore, for as long as we haven't gotten rid of the monarchy, I'll take the stance that she remains the Queen, she remains our head of state, and that as such she has claim on my loyalty. As I said, it's complex.)

So, anyway, how is the film?

Actually, it is excellent. The characterisations ring very true, and Mirren really sells the role of Queen. Of particular interest, however, is that none of the characters with the exceptions of the Queen and Tony Blair come off at all well. Cherie and the New Labour people are particularly unpleasant, while the Windsors seem wrapped up in this bizarre little world, oblivious to everyone and everything else.

Tony Blair is a character I've come to dislike over the last ten years. I voted for Labour in 1997, and not since, because back then I really did believe that things were going to be different. It was odd to be reminded that once upon a time he was incredibly popular, and he actually makes almost all the right calls in this film. It's also fun to watch his attitudes to the monarchy change as the film goes on, changing from enjoying his rise at their expense to finally taking direct action to prevent disaster. But the very best part of the film comes at the end, when the Queen points out to him that one day the public may turn on him as they had on her.

And then there's Helen Mirren as the Queen. This must have been a very difficult role, because she is a very private person, and she always does seem quite stoic in her manner. So, how do you portray that without seeming wooden? Well, she does.

The other odd reflection I came away with from the film centres around a scene where the Windsors have a picnic on the Balmoral estate, and the trappings of the meal, the food that was available, and some of the roles that were adopted were all hauntingly familiar. This was a scene that I could have seen playing out in exactly the same manner with my own grandparents a few years ago. Which is perhaps also telling - I have actually met the Queen on one occasion, and my overriding impression then was of how strongly she reminded me of my own grandmother. It's all a bit odd.

Anyway, I highly recommend this film.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sporting crisis

When it comes to sport, and England, I adopt a strict policy of 'I don't really care'. I take the view that the English team are on the field of play to represent England, and being as I am not English, therefore, they are very little to do with me. Win, lose or draw, it's all the same to me... mostly.

(Rant about the English media deleted. It would probably upset some people, and is entirely tangential to the subject at hand.)

Except cricket. Cricket is the one sport where I actually do support the English team, for two reasons. The first of these is personal, and has to do with my relationship with my father, and will not be elaborated on further in this post. The second reason is that, to all intents and purposes, there is no Scottish cricket team, largely because a test match takes five days, and the Scottish weather therefore makes just finishing a match cause for celebration. (Naturally, real cricket is test match cricket. But that's another rant for another day... and probably one I won't even bother with.)

Which brings us to the Cricket World Cup... in which Scotland are due to be roundly thrashed by Australia today. And let's make no mistake - we are going to be roundly thrashed. (Not that there's any shame in that. "Oh, no! We lost to the best team in the world!")

Which leaves me is something of a quandary. See, if Scotland actually are in the tournament, then I really have to support them. Dulce et decorum est, and all that. Yet, I can't really support two teams, because that just makes me a dirty two-timing cheat.

What to do, what to do?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bad Science

Last night's dinner conversation was about global warming, and in particular the Channel 4 documentary that attempted to disprove it. The theory goes that climate change is on a 75-year cycle, and so the current rise in temperatures is entirely natural, and not the massive problem we currently fear.

To which my answer is: possibly.

But what is pretty clear is that the science that underlies this programme (and, indeed, virtually everything you ever hear about global warming) is bad science. The people involved have taken a subset of the available evidence, moulded it to fit their chosen hypothesis, and presented it as 'proof'. It is, of course, nothing of the sort.

But I'm not surprised. You have to work really hard to get access to good science these days. Good science is built as follows: Develop a hypothesis. Then build an experiment to try to disprove it. If your experiment fails, then that acts as a supporting point in favour of your hypothesis. If your experiment succeeds, your hypothesis is wrong. (Oh, and if you're doing a comparitive study, change one thing. Don't have your kids take a dietary supplement, and fix their diets, and take more exercise, and then claim the dietary supplement improved their brane development.)

Incidentally, this is where the saying "the exception that proves the rules" comes in handy. Testing 'normal' cases against your hypothesis isn't going to get you anywhere - you wouldn't develop a hypothesis that was obviously wrong in the first place. Instead, you try the hard cases... or, if you will, the 'exceptional' ones. If the tests at the extremes work as expected, then that serves as a very strong indicator that your hypothesis is correct. So, the saying means the direct opposite of what most people think it means.

However, all of that is a fairly lengthy aside from where I was intending to go with this. Instead, my topic of choice: evolution.

This has become a major battleground between religion and science. See, the theory of evolution does not require the existence of God for life to have come into existence (it doesn't preclude it either, but some scientist then like to refer to Occam's Razor as 'proof' therefore that God doesn't exist. That Occam's Razor proves exactly nothing, and in fact makes no claim to do so, seems to elude them). So, significant numbers of people of faith are absolutely determined that evolution must be wrong, and will stop at nothing to have it discredited. And, they are absolutely insistent that it must not, under any circumstances, be taught to children.

On the other hand, we have the scientific community. Large portions of which take this as a personal attack on their profession as a whole. And, there is therefore a significant push to see evolution regarded as a matter of incontrovertible scientific fact, to which they will brook no opposition. (And, of course, it must be taught to children because, you know, knowledge is good.)

And here are two inconvenient truths that seem to have been missed by both sides: 1) Evolution is almost certainly correct. 2) Evolution is almost certainly wrong.

The first statement is based on the incompatibility between the mass of available evidence and the nature of the God believed by the men of faith who oppose evolution. In order for evolution to be false, they must pre-suppose a God who deliberately created the world, then went to great effort to not only hide his influence and existence, but even put in huge amounts of effort to indicate to the contrary. That seems a very strange world-view to be taking.

The second statement is based on the very nature of science. Newton's theories about gravity were superceded by Einstein's relativity, which itself looks to be replaced by string theory. So it is with evolution: what we think happened is probably reasonably correct in some aspects, but will almost certainly be shown to be incomplete in several areas, and simply wrong in others. (There are also some major holes in evolution, not least the jump from an ape-like ancestor to a human-like one. There are a number of ideas on how that could have happened, but no clear evidence as yet.)

In the meantime, we're stuck between bad science on all sides. 'Creationist Science' is a joke, and a bad one at that. But so too is any excessive assurance in the correctness of evolution - it's not a matter of scientific fact, but rather the 'best fit' theory we currently have.

(At some later time I may discuss last week's Sunday conversation, in which Richard again shows his weakness with probability. And, also, in which I dissect "Deal or No Deal".)

Getting my money's worth

When I moved into my apartment in Yeovil, it being the first time I'd lived alone, I purchased two exciting new non-stick saucepans. Such was the excitement surrounding this event that I felt it could pass entirely without comment, either here or elsewhere. But, time passed, and one of the saucepans lost its non-stick property. And, as it is written "if a pan shall lose its non-stickiness, how shall it be made non-stick(y) again?"

And so, I made my way to Tesco, as is my wont, and purchased a new non-stick saucepan. Whereupon the old should have been consigned to the outer darkness, where there is wailing and clattering of condiments.

However, it was at this point that genetics got in the way. See, my father always balks at the notion of throwing away a perfectly good saucepan (or, generally, other item) just because it has been replaced and will never be used again. After all, you never know when it might come in handy. What if I can't be bothered doing the washing up for three days?

So, anyway, I have added the dead saucepan to my stack of dead cooking implements, where it joins the first frying pan I purchased.

Still, the momentousness of this event should not be over-stated. It really wasn't worthy of comment until now.

Last week, I was sent to France from Wednesday to Friday. And the hotel where I was staying was almost fully booked, so I had to change rooms after the first night. And, on that first night, I was booked into a 'luxury' room, and on the second I enjoyed a 'standard' room. All very exciting, I'm sure you'll agree.

The difference was truly remarkable. The luxury room had two televisions! Sadly, one of these wasn't plugged in, and so just took up space. Also, there was nothing on, even accounting for the language problem, and when I did discover the Manchester United match (and determined that I could just about become a Man U fan for one night, deeply shameful as that is), the channel only went and lost reception exactly fifteen seconds after kick-off!

Additionally, the luxury room had a COMFY CHAIR, presumably just in case I needed to interrogate someone or make them confess. Alas, Pythonesque as it would have been, I lacked any tea of nice biscuits to offer a potential captive at Elevenses.

But the big difference was the most difficult to deal with, for the luxury room had two single beds instead of one double bed. This caused no end of difficulty, because clearly it was my duty to ensure I got my money's worth from the room (despite that my company were actually paying), and that meant utilising the facilities to their fullest extent.

It was not much fun having to wake up a 2:30 in the morning to swap to the other bed.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Squirrel Ballet joke

Note: Graeme has threatened that if I ever tell this joke again, he will kill me. So, if I suddenly go quiet after this, you'll know what has happened.

Anyway, for his 60th birthday celebrations, my family whisked our father off to Barend Holiday Village, a holiday park in Dunfries & Galloway where we had spent several summers in '89, '90 and, I think '91, as well as some Easter holidays a bit later on. There we spent the weekend engaged in all manner of fun and games, somehow avoiding the festive arguments that normal families seem to engage in at times like this. (Sadly, Paul wasn't able to make it, on account of working that weekend. But, other than that, the whole family was there.)

The site had a pool, complete with sauna, on it, and on the Saturday, while making my way from the pool back to the chalet, I chanced to see the local squirrel population, which was in rehearsals for their part in the site's weekly entertainment, a variety performance put on my the local fauna.

For their part, the squirrels had decided to entertain through the medium of ballet. Naturally, they were doing a selection from the Nutcracker Suite.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Making Cheese and Salad sandwiches, the Stephen way

1) Open the fridge, and take out the tomato and cucumber.
2) Realise that, being an idiot, you've forgotten something. Open the fridge, and take out the apple you're going to have with lunch, and that therefore you need to wash.
3) Then, open the fridge again, and take out the bread and cheese.
4) Make sandwiches, and hope no-one ever finds out.

Anthropomorphic Biscuits

On a whim, I bought a packet of Happy Faces biscuits in Tesco last week. Truly, they are the finest of biscuits. So sweet and tasty.

My favourite is the one with the sly mischievous grin. It looks at you as if to say "Go on! Eating a whole packet in one day won't kill you! And no-one need ever know! And we're so sweet. Mmm, biscuits!"

Mmm, biscuits!

A good night at band

Yes, it's true. Tonight, I actually had a really good night at band.

Of course, a large part of the reason for this is the Mr Instructor wasn't there. This meant I got to spend an entire evening without having faults picked in my play, such as my playing a tune I've known for fifteen years really badly (um, yeah, okay), or that my 'D doublings' were sloppy... in a tune that doesn't have any 'D doublings'. So, that was quite nice.

But the other reason was that the pipe major wasn't there, which somehow worked out to me being effectively in charge. This was quite nice, because it enabled me to use both my DEEP MIGHTY VOICE (complete with authentic Scottish accent, to make the ladies go all tingly), and also my PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS.

All in all, it was quite fun.

"Wonn! Two! Three! Three Leetle Vowels. Ah Ah Ah!"

I have been away, but behold! I have returned!

Sorry for not posting for a while. Work has been just mental lately, and since I can't even post details about it, I've been left without much time to post, or topics to post on.

Anyway, now it seems that work, thwarted in their attempt to get rid of me by my returning from France, are now considering sending me to a whole other continent! And not one of these friendly continents, either - one brought to you by the letter 'A'! Still, I may be able to avert this disaster, potentially by just not showing up in the office for a few days, and hoping they'll forget about me. It's so crazy, it just might work.