Thursday, July 26, 2007

Holiday Fun, Day 1: Mowing the Lawn

Yes, it's true: I have mowed the lawn. No longer shall the tiggers have long grasses in which to hide themselves.

Of course, it's worth noting that this is not the end of the job, but rather only the start. The grass has gone from being knee-high to an average of 7cm. I will have another go at it in a couple of days, on the next lowest setting, and gradually work it down to the shortest setting.

I really must at this point take a moment to hail my new lawnmower, which is a FlyMo Compact 3400, which turned the job from an epic of mowing proportions into, well not a pleasure, but at least not nearly the ordeal I feared it would be. Instead of being the several-days' work I expected, the whole took just over 40 minutes. Given that the first ten of those involved me swearing at the machine for constantly jamming, because I hadn't weighed up that '1' was the shortest rather than the longest setting, that represents particularly good time. (I could have found this out more easily had I read the instruction book, of course. But I am a Man, damnit, and Man-law clearly states that one has to figure these things out for oneself. I mean, how hard can it be?)

In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to put clean clothes on immediately before mowing the lawn. Oh well, never mind. I was doing a load of washing anyway...

The other problem with the relative swiftness of completing this task is that I no longer have big plans for the next few days. I guess I'd better make some...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Yes! Mega-ecstasy bliss!

As of fifty-three minutes ago, I am on holiday.

I may or may not be blogging much over the next two weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

To Mend and Defend

ReBoot is coming back, in the form of three feature-length (probably straight-to-DVD) movies.

I think this is good.

Monday, July 23, 2007

... except for the weasel

It turns out I'm not in France after all. I weaselled out of this fate by pointing out that I would be almost completely useless in the current situation. Which almost counts as a win, I think.

In other news: I may have hit upon the solution to the other problem I've been working on, completely by accident. Which is quite nice. I may even get a holiday at some future time.

Oh, and I didn't mow my lawn at the weekend, although I did think about it lots. Given that it's the thought that counts, I'm now going to try explaining to the grass why I feel it should just leave of its own accord. I'm sure that will work well.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Speaking of things being much better than expected...

and in the interests of giving credit where it is due, I should probably note that I have been finding Avril Lavigne's latest effort "When You're Gone" astonishingly excellent.

Now, I'm not a great fan of Avril's. I'm a little old for the whole teen-angst thing, and she's a bit young for fanciability. My favourite Avril Lavigne comment of all time was from waaay back, where someone noted that the key difference, at the lowest level, between matter and anti-matter is that the particles spin in opposite directions. As such, then, Avril Lavigne and Britney Spears would be the matter and anti-matter versions of one another - they are exactly the same except for the respective spin. (Of course, that was before Britney went entirely off the rails.)

But anyway, I really like that song.

Well, it's almost a rock'n'roll lifestyle

My cunning plan to arrange a stealth transfer to our Edinburgh office has failed. My company has rumbled my scheme, and are sending me back to France. I'm flying out on Monday, which means I should probably arrive on Wednesday.

I'm finding all these trips rather tough to take. I think my rock'n'roll lifestyle is taking its toll on me.

Do you not believe I have a rock'n'roll lifestyle? Well, I offer the following as evidence:

1) I spend considerable time staying in hotel rooms containing both windows and televisions, and although I have never felt the urge to defenestrate said television the means and the opportunity is obviously there. And, as Mister Loaf would say, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

2) Obviously, I have been cultivating a hairstyle that is suitable only for a rock star or a mad scientist. However, I obviously can't be a mad scientist, as I'm lacking the obligatory hawt but nerdy scientist chick/assistant who will be menaced by my experiments with forces with which man was not meant to meddle.

3) I even play in a band. How can that not be rock'n'roll?

Anyway, all that being said, I have to wonder just when I will be issued with my groupies. I mean, I must be at least as famous as K-Fed...

The nights are NOT "fair drawin' in"

It looks dark because the sky is overcast. Even if it was not, I refuse to accept that summer is over, when I'm still waiting on my Easter holiday.

In other news, my chocolate ice cream does indeed look nice. It is entirely possible that that was a factor in my decision to buy it. (Technically, it was frozen yoghurt, or shivered nog, or chilled bacteria, or some such thing. Oh, and it also turned out to be rather less impressive than it looked. It was low fat, and tasted like it.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Say what, now?

The lunchtime conversation had moved, quite naturally, to the discussion of facial recognition, branes, and chess. As it has been some twelve years since I last played chess (against Andrew; he won), my mind wandered...

"Are you playing this week?" one of my colleagues asked me, snapping my attention back to the moment.

Uh... what...

I quickly mentally reviewed the conversation, as filtered by the part of my brain that handles such things. There was no memory of the topic changing away from chess, but since I'd never given any indication of ever having played chess, surely it couldn't be that? So, back through the lunch conversation topics to something that might match...

"Not this week. The next competition is on the... 29th."

Cue lots of very confused looks. "What competition is that, then?"

"Uh, well, with my band... Did I just drift off and miss five minutes there, or something?"

It turned out that I hadn't not been paying sufficient attention; he was asking if I was playing badminton this week, but hadn't actually provided any context to indicate that he was changing the subject. Which strikes me as quite crule really.

(Incidentally, I know is misspelt 'cruel' above, but it struck me as such a great typo that I had to leave it alone. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Loyal Opposition

When used properly, the Scientific Method runs like this: one develops a hypothesis (I think gravity doesn't exist), then one develops an experiment to try to disprove this hypothesis (therefore, I shall drop this apple). If the experiment fails to disprove the hypothesis, then this adds a bit of weight to the stack of evidence supporting the hypothesis. Eventually, this weight of evidence becomes sufficiently great that the hypothesis is upgraded to become a theory, and is considered proven... until someone comes along and break it.

(Hence, Newton's laws of motion were proven, up until some bright spark pointed out that they didn't work when things were very small and/or very fast. Eventually, they were superceded by Einstein's Relativity.)

This is, incidentally, different from a mathematical proof, where one works from a known and proven starting point and follows a sequence of steps, all of which must be valid and proveable, and arrive at a conclusion that must, therefore, itself by known and proveable. So, when Mathematicians say that Fermat's Last Theorem has been proven that means that's it, whereas when scientists talk about Evolution being 'scientific fact' it doesn't mean quite the same thing. (Of course, it is possible that there is a flaw in the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, that hasn't been spotted by any of the mathematicians who have checked it... but this is highly unlikely. And, if there is no such flaw, then there's no other room for argument.)

However, that all stands as introduction for the topic that I actually want to address, which is my view of opposing opinions in philosophy (for want of a better term - I'm using it as the catch-all term for various things one might think about).

Imagine, if you will, the set of all the things one might believe. This includes every notion you can think of... plus all the ones that you can't come up with but that someone else might... plus all the ones that no-one would come up with. That's a whole mess of ideas.

Now, it stands to reason that there are a whole bunch of ideas that it is reasonable to believe. And, there is a much larger body of ideas that it is not reasonable to believe. And then there is the set of ideas that I believe, which I hope is a subset of all the reasonable ideas.

An example of a reasonable idea that I believe in is "there is life on other planets". An example of a reasonable idea that I don't believe in is "there is not life on other planets". And an example of an idea that is not reasonable to believe in is "the Earth is flat". (And, if you happen to believe this, then I'm afraid I have some bad news: a whole bunch of ancient cultures, including but not limited to the Egyptians, proved that the Earth was round around 4,000 BC. In fact, not only did they know it was round, but they had a reasonably close approximation for the diameter.)

Now, a lot of people, when exposed to an idea that they disagree with, become very agitated. They don't like it. Not me. I take the view that the things I believe I believe for reasons (that obviously depend on the item in question). So, when I encounter an idea that I disagree with, it raises the key question: why do I not believe it? Why do I believe what I have settled on instead?

And so, ideas contrary to my own are useful - they are a crucible through which I refine my own thinking. And, occasionally, they become a means by which the flaws in my own thinking become apparent, and I am forced to change my mind. Which is fine, or even good. (It's also very rare, which is also good.)

For example, the reason I believe there is almost certainly life on other planets is that this solar system is actually fairly unremarkable. All one needs is a planet the appropriate distance from an appropriate sun, coupled with the right melange of chemicals, coupled with whatever it was quickened those chemicals into life, and there it is. Given the size of the universe, it strikes me as highly likely that this has happened somewhere else. Indeed, I fully expect many of the life-forms out there to be strangely similar to many of the life-forms on Earth, since many of the problems faced will have been the same, and many of the solutions used here were used because they worked... and so would probably work again.

What I think is immensely less likely is that there is intelligent life out there, or that said intelligence will resemble us significantly. Assuming evolution at work, I will note that the end-point of the evolutionary process is not intelligence, but rather is local optimisation. As such, there may well be no need for an intelligence such as ours, much as there was not when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

I'm also quite close to declaring the belief that there are aliens up there watching us as being in the 'unreasonable' camp (quite close, but not quite there yet). See, unless said aliens emerged from Mars (or the moons of Jupiter, or somewhere else in the solar system), then in order to be 'up there' they would need to have developed interstellar travel, which almost certainly means faster-than-light travel of some form. Now, there does exist a body of very theoretical physics that suggests not only that this is possible, but also how it might be achieved. However, where it can go from being theroretically possible to being practically possible is a very different question. It also seems likely to me that a species would probably hit the Singularity before achieving this goal.

Oh, and what is the Singularity, you ask? Well, it's a notion I first encountered in "Across Realtime" by Vernor Vinge. The notion is as follows: the pace at which technology is advancing is speeding up. Sooner or later, someone will invent a machine that will interface with a human brain to make the user smarter. Of course, as soon as that is done, this machine will be used to invent a better version of the same, and then a better one, and so on. At that point, the rate of progress becomes effectively infinite, and every problem that can be solved (that is, every problem to which there is a solution) can be solved easily.

And what happens then? Well, I don't know. I imagine it would be fascinating to find out.

Anyway, that's my happy little ramble for today.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I knew I shouldn't have built that wooden horse before I left...

Hmm, I wonder who will get that reference...


I arrive in work to find an email stating a new problem with the system. The upshot is that I have to go to France again. I look at flights, and consider that there is one at 12:50 to Paris Charles de Gaulle, and wonder if perhaps I should go home, pack, and get on that flight. But, no, by the time the decision is finalised it makes more sense to get the 7:00 to Southampton, then the 11:20 to Rennes, and thus get to the office just before 2. So, that's the plan.


I get up at 4:15. Breakfast, clean teeth, shower, out the door (I may have dressed somewhere in there). I get to the airport at about 5:45, allowing plenty of time to deal with the enhanced security. But, check-in proceeds smoothly, and I drift through security without issue. I ponder why it is that some people have so much trouble with this where I never seem to.

About 6:40, we board the plane, and taxi out to the runway. The engines spin up, and the whole feels like it's about to throw itself into the sky. The anticipation is overwhelming.

And then the captain's voice is heard, "Sorry folks, but we're going to have to return to the terminal. We're having a technical fault."

So, back we go. The pit crew comes out, and have a look at the engine. After battering it a few times with a wrench (or whatever they do), the engineer comes on board, and speaks to the captain. The captain then announces that they think they've fixed it, so he's going to spin up the engine and see how it goes.

Shortly thereafter, he apologises again. The plane is goosed, so we need to disembark and wait for a replacement. The time is now 7:40.

Upon leaving the plane, and once the crowd has dispersed, I approach one of the terminal staff. I explain that I have a connection, and that it is the only such flight for two days. Will I make it?

Well, she doesn't know, but they're going to make an announcement soon enough, so if I just wait...

At 8:00, they make an announcement, to the effect that the flight is delayed. I was reassured by their being so on the ball as to have noticed this fact. They then say the next information will be at 9:00. Okay, now I'm getting worried. The flight is an hour and fifteen minutes long, so that's becoming awfully tight.

So, I approach the terminal staff again, this time speaking to another person. I again explain the situation, and ask if it is possible for me to be checked right through, so all I have to do is scamper through security in Southampton. But, alas, they are a point-to-point airline, and their computers "literally won't allow them to do that". However, if I speak to the flight attendants, they should be able to arrange for me to get off the plane as quickly as possible at the far end. At this point, I consider hitching a ride on one of those flying pigs I've been hearing about, but no joy.

About 8:50, they start boarding us on a new plane! Huzzah! I might just make it after all, I think.

But, no! Once we're on board and waiting, there's another delay. The (new) captain comes on, and explains that we're just waiting for them to load our luggage. We'll be on our way soon.

We take off at 9:22. We land at 10:35, having made good time. Hope is kindled again - I've only just missed the check-in, and I'm sure I can charm my way onto the plane, 'cos I'm just so damn charismatic.

And then there's another delay! We have to wait for a bus to take us from the plane to the terminal, and it's at the other side of the building. Rage threatens to consume me, but as that serves nothing I beat it back.

We get off the plane at last. The bus takes us to baggage reclaim, and our bags are waiting for us! Miracles, it seems, will never cease. So, I grab my bag, and scurry across the airport as fast as I dare, given the proliferation of trigger-happy policemen with automatic weapons. There is no queue at the desk, so I swiftly zig-zag through the lines like a madman, and dash to the first assistant.


"I'm sorry, sir, but that flight has closed." She was very emphatic. There was no charming her. Damn.


"You'll have to go across to the desk there, and they'll see what they can do for you."

So, I slink across the airport, to a desk where I met the one and only competent employee of this airline (or so it seemed). Cute, too.

"Hi, I'm just off the delayed 7:00 from Edinburgh, and I was supposed to be on the 11:20 to Rennes." It sounds much better with spaces in. Also, eye contact and a winning smile. It was almost a Jedi mind trick.

So, she picked up the phone, and called through to the gate. She has a gentleman here who should have been on the flight, but his earlier flight was delayed. No, he left plenty of time for his connection. Yes, he has a bag to check. Oh, okay.

Sorry, there's nothing she can do. That was the one flight they were running that was actually on time.

Okay, options. The next flight to Rennes wasn't until Friday. Completely useless. Their flights to Nantes and Brest had already left, and besides, how was I to get from there to Rennes?

"Could you fly me to Paris Charles de Gaulle? I can get the TGV from there."

She looks, and there is a flight. But it doesn't leave until 17:55, gets in at 20:10. Okay, I think, what about the TGV?

So, I call the office, and explain the situation. Can they look up TGV times? Why yes - the last TGV leaves Paris CDG at 19:55. I think it unlikely that I will make that. Ah, but wait! There's another one, from Gare Montparnasse! Oh, but it leaves at 20:55. It's a 40-odd minute journey, if you know exactly what you're doing.

Okay, options. They could get me a hotel in Southampton, and put me on the first flight in the morning? (On reflection, I wonder what would have happened if I'd taken that and asked the girl to dinner? I could even have promised to wear my very best jeans and t-shirt!)

I have a better idea. How about they fly me to Paris tonight, I get a hotel there, and get the first TGV to Rennes? Ding! We have a winner!

So, back on the phone to the office. What about the TGV in the morning? Well, there are two options: there's one at 10:10 from Paris CDG, or a 6:35 from Gare Montparnasse. Cool, sorted.

So, that's the flight sorted. And we're halfway through the odessy. I'll take a break while you get a cup off coffee.



Okay, the next thing to do was to get a hotel. But, without the internet my options were few. So, I walked across the airport to the hotel desk, and spoke to a nice chap there about hotels in Paris. I tried to explain that I was travelling on from Gare Montparnasse, but he was "English, and so don't know about French place names". Which airport was I using?

So, he checked the computer, and there were eight hotels near the airport. He rattled off a list of names and star ratings. Which did I prefer?

In hindsight, I should probably have gone for the Hilton, given that I was staying in Paris, but punnery aside I said, "which is the cheapest?" (I generally find it is a false economy going for the cheapest hotel since it's usually awful, but since I was there for all of six hours, I figured it didn't matter.)

The next bit was hilarious, but doesn't really work in the written format. My very-English hotel-booking-man called his French counterpart, and tried to book me into the Hotel Ibis in Roissy.

That done, I went and got some lunch. It was just after 12:00. Shortly before boarding the new flight, I then got a packet of crisps and a bottle of juice, and also a novel to replace the one I'd read in Southampton airport.

The flight to Paris boarded on time, took off on time, and landed on time, not that it mattered much. There was a delay in disembarkation, because they were waiting for a portable power generator so they could switch off the engines without turning off all the lights; in the end they just shut off the lights.

Off the plane, through passport control, reclaim the bag. Then, along to terminal 2, where the TGV station was to be found. There, I found the ticket office still open, which was good. So, I stood in the queue.

I very quickly noted that there were two assistants, one cute and competent, and the other neither. There were two people ahead of me, and then only one as the guy at the front of the queue was called to the assistant who was neither. Uh-oh. So, I reached out with the Force and put cute-and-competent on a go-slow until the queue was cleared. This worked like a charm, indicating that either I actually am a Jedi, or perhaps that it was a coincidence.

"Bonsoir. Demain matin, je veut aller a Rennes. A quel heure part the premier train?" Have I mentioned that my French has been refined to a fine point by all these trips to Rennes?

"Dix heures et dix. Il arrive a trieze heure et quinze."

"Il y'a un autre train qui part Gare Montparnasse?"

"Oui. Il part a six heure trente-cinq."

"Un billet, s'il vous plait."

And so it went. I had my ticket for the TGV. To get to Gare Montparnasse, I should get the RER from the airport, and trains left from 5. Sorted.

Now, to the hotel! Terminal 3 of Paris Charles de Gaulle is called Roissypole, so I figured that was a good place to start. And, when I got there, behold! there was a hotel Ibis right there. So, in I went, and I queued, and I queueued, and I queueueued, and then I was at the front of the queueueueue.

"Hi, you have a reservation for " I say, in French.

He checks, and then, "Non." Uh-oh. So, I show him my booking form, at which point comprehension dawns. It's a different Hotel Ibis. I have to cross the terminal, and get the shuttle there. Okay, off I go.

If you think this is a long post, just remember: I lived this!

So, across the terminal, and there was the shuttle - a little mini-bus effort packed with people. So I make my way on, put down the bag, and then realise that I'm standing in the middle of this thing unrestrained. If the driver slams on the brakes (not unlikely in Paris) then I'm Supermanning through the windshield.

But we make it, I am not forced to resort to heroics, and I'm in the hotel! I queue, and... you get the idea. This time, they really do have a reservation, and I have a room. I get to said room at 9:30 or so, French time, drop my bag, and then head down to the restaurant.

Dinner was disgusting. Truly, it was horrible. But, no matter, it served its purpose. (Also, as you know, it is a bad idea to drink on an empty stomach. Additionally, they reckon that sleep deprivation is equivalent to having had a few. I can now confirm that it is a really bad idea to put all three together. Still, it did help me sleep.)

So, I ate, and then went back to reception. What time did the shuttle start? 5:30? Okay, then can you book me a taxi for 4:45 to take me to the airport. Also, breakfast? Available from 7:00? Okay, no breakfast.

Back to the room, stripped the clothing, into bed.


I wake at 4:00 French Time (so, 3:00 in real time). I get up, shower, brish my teeth, remember to dress this time, pack, and leave the room. I check out, and wait for the taxi. 4:45 comes and goes. I ask at reception; he's definately on his way. No matter, I left plenty of time for a 5-minute journey. 4:50 and he arrives, and I'm heading to the airport...

Or not. Because the driver instead goes to another hotel to pick up a family of 3 Americans, and then to another hotel where he picks up a family of 4 Americans. Then, it's off to the airport, but to the wrong terminal, where he drops off the first family of Americans.

There then proceeds to be a blazing argument because the Americans didn't think they wanted to pay, and anyway don't have any money. It is now 5:10.

At length, they disappear in search of an autoback. At length, I think they ended up paying in dollars. Anyway, the driver returns, and takes me to the terminal I need. It is about 5:15, and I get out, and pay the €10 with a €20 note. And the driver doesn't have change. But, in the bundle of notes he shows me, there is a €50, so I give him 3 €20s, and we're done (the alternative was a 100% tip, which I did consider, but apparently one doesn't tip taxi drivers in France).

So, down to the RER, where a train awaits, and on I get. And we're on our way.

At this point, when telling the story thus far, I have omitted a key part, which I've inserted later, but I now restore it to its proper place. As we travel, the most mighty headache begins. Unlike the pressure headaches I sometimes get, this is at the back of my brane, and hurts a lot, especially when I look up to the right. I take this as a sign that no divine intervention is forthcoming. However, I do become rather worried that, perhaps, this is it! Cerebral Haemorrhage for the win. Idly, I wonder, if I die here, will anyone help me, or will they just steal my stuff?

Then I realise that I'm carrying a prototype system of great value to my master-plan, and that therefore I can't die, so I decide to ignore it and it'll go away. So it did.

The RER arrived at Chatelet Les Halles at 6:16. The next step was the Metro, six stops, 19 minutes. Could it be done?

Well, it didn't look promising when six stops suddenly became seven, since Chatelet Les Halles is actually two stops. But, surprisingly, we arrived at Gare Montparnasse at 6:31. Four minutes to go!

But, where was the train? Out the Metro, scan the surroundings, see the sign, run like a madman. This place is a warren! Another sign! Head to the light! Run, run, run! Stairs! Climb! Wish I didn't have this bag. Damn, I'm unfit! Run, run, run! The train!

Of course, the ticket was numbered for seat and for carriage. I was in car 10. There were 10 cars. Car 1 was closest. Run! Run faster! A whistle! Jump!

And I was on the train. I staggered along the last few cars, found my seat, collapsed. It was done!

(Then, of course, there was the trip back, where the first flight was delayed again, we missed our connection again, and then there was a security alert in Edinburgh airport... but that's another story.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Not really a moral dilemma

Don't you just hate it when you are faced with a situation where you know what the right thing to do is, but you really don't want to do it? Especially when you know fine well that about 90% of people wouldn't do the right thing, and where doing the right thing is going to hurt (to the tune of a couple of hundred pounds).


A letdown of "Phantom Menace" proportions

Starting with "Human Nature", Doctor Who had been on a roll. Each episode was better than the one before, and each was astonishingly good. Expectation was high for the season finale. The set-up had been perfect, the situation was dire...

and the resolution was awful. Truly, truly bad.

Here's a hint for the writer: deus ex machina sucks big time. Reset buttons suck big time. Don't use them both in the same episode!