May 2003 Archives
May 31, 2003
As you may have guessed from the previous post, I have blog posting working from my Newton, over a wireless network.
I'm using Adam Tow's nBlog, which appears to work. Not bad for a handheld that's been dead for five years.
Hmm. Still hove some work to do on the title, it seems. where's it picking that up?
Test post from Newton. Please ignore. Or dance in the streets, it it makes you feel better.
Finally, Jules has some better news, and a bit of explanation of what's going on.
Big hugs, lass.
The new Italian Job movie starts with the right idea by being not so much a remake of as an homage to the original. But is it really possible that Hollywood could make a subtle action film?
May 30, 2003
I finally had time to call all the hire firms to sort out a car for Denver - San Francisco. I made a booking a week ago through Alamo's website, but I wasn't quite clear on the insurance situation.
The first thing to note is that it's much quicker and more pleasant to call than it is to poke around websites. It's funnier, too, depending on who's on the other end of the line.
So, the Alamo booking was fine, and their price was competitive with others' too. But that meant that Hertz's Ford Mustang deal really wasn't all that much more. I mean, something like 20% more, which is a chunk of change, but... a Mustang... through the desert in America... it's quite an image, no?
I could feel my resolve weakening. Much as I think American sports cars are, basically, crap, the mystique of driving a Mustang through Death Valley has tremendous appeal. I made one more call, to the last hire firm on my list, while I thought about it.
Damn, but National undercut everyone else by $300. So I've booked a crappy Pontiac with them.
May 29, 2003
It's the mother of all flight simulators, with a flight model accurate enough that it's used for general handling testing by... well, Boeing, NASA, etc etc. Oh, and you can order it with a set of Mars scenery discs, if you fancy flying on Mars. It's really rather good. While it's not visually up to MS Flight levels, the clouds are gorgeous, and overall it's more than 'good enough'; various tweaky geeky things help it piss all over MS Flight when one gets technical. I'm particularly fond of running the number-crunching simulation engine on my Mac, but with only the instrument panel displaying on that machine; out-of-the-cockpit visuals are left to my graphics-mashing WinXP box.
Anyway, X-Plane is also being used in ground training for Burt Rutan's outrageously futuristic X-Prize entry. Indeed, models of White Knight (the launch vehicle) and SpaceShipOne (the suborbital/re-entry craft) are included in v7 - flying White Knight is a blast. Rutan isn't saying when the first suborbital flight is planned, but the smart money is on December 17th this year. And if anyone's going to celebrate the Wrights' centenary in style, Burt's the man to pull it off.
Almost makes me wish I'd done that aero engineering degree and gone to work for Scaled Composites.
Johnny Ball may have been one of my childhood heroes, but that apparently hasn't stopped him rubbishing my work. Then again, he doesn't explicitly mention anything on ITV, pfah!
Thanks Johnny. Oh, and the complaint 'There are not the same factual shows anymore' is a curious assertion, since How2 has just been confirmed for its fourteenth series.
Quite how Eddie Mair gets away with it, I've no idea.
Last night's PM included a feature on bonds that had been sold, years ago, in the future proceeds of Rod Stewart's music. At least, I think it was Rod - I can't find the story anywhere this morning. Anyway, the story was that some analyst had recently down-graded the bonds, on the grounds that music profits were likely to fall with all the online music shenanigans.
PM proceeded to interview the fund manager who had issued the bonds - a lengthy, turgid, and entirely incomprehensible process. Signing off the report, Eddie said:
Remember, PM is not here to give financial advice. Your interest in the programme may go down as well as up.
All this by way of explanation: if, gentle reader, you happen to be the lady in the Vectra alongside me on the Leeds outer ring road yesterday; this is why I suddenly creased up. I really wasn't laughing at you. Sorry.
I'm still at my Mac, because it's backing up. To DVD-R. Now, this is a Good Thing, since it means I won't have to worry when I'm away, since I'll have a complete mirror. And I'm a big step nearer having a really sane backup system, which is always a Good Thing (as, curiously, only people who've lost vital data through not having backups will tell you).
Unfortunately, my Mac has something like a third of a million files, and it'll take about seven DVDs and perhaps ten hours to burn them all. And if I go to bed right now, the Mac will bleat for blank disc number three very shortly.
So I'm sitting watching a little counter tick down, waiting for the gaping maw of the drive to open and a dialogue box reading 'Feed Me' to appear.
Remind me again why I'm backing up? [sigh]
May 28, 2003
Far more interesting than the BBC's nauseatingly pompous 'Big Read' best 100 books (I'm not even going to link to it, so there!): The Independent's 100 Worst Books. Spectacularly funny, with some searing condemnation and not a few surprises. I'm particularly fond of Jah Wobble slamming Mein Kampf on the grounds that it's simply a rubbish read.
My vote, however, still goes to (Mitterand's love-child) Mazarine Pingeot's first novel, 'wittily' titled 'First Novel.' Utter, utter bilge, as I should have suspected from as early as the catalogue data page: 'This edition translated with the financial assistance of the French Ministry of Culture.'
Anything that requires government aid to reach translation will henceforth ring alarm bells.
May 27, 2003
So... the folks I'm going to see in Aspen have just come down with a particularly whacky and exciting form of pneumonia. Not actually threatening, just enough to (a.) make them feel really bloody awful, and (b.) render them horribly infectious, for about a fortnight. Plan A sees me arriving in... about a fortnight.
Plan B... hasn't had chance to form, as yet. But hey, I'm sure we'll think of something. Maybe we'll meet up in a bar, where we'll sit at opposite ends with a tin-can telephone, bellowing a decade's-worth of catching up to each other. D'you think that'd work?
May 26, 2003
Oh, come on Media Guardian. It's not as if, when you note:
The advert, part of a £2m campaign, is filmed in the style of a children's TV programme from the 70s.
...we don't know to which series you're referring. And it's still being made, thanks very much. Though it doesn't quite play out as cheesily as the Lil-lets pastiche, thankfully.
My take: rather amused by it all.
For some reason, it's nigh-on impossible to find home office chairs that aren't either rubbish or ugly. Even Ikea's current range is poor - uncomfortable, unsightly, or both.
Hurrah, then, for SeatingVFM.com. Sure, they sell ugly and doubtless uncomfortable stuff too, but they also have a sensible range of stuff that's just a little funkier-looking. Of course, it's rather hard to sit on your monitor to try them out...
May 24, 2003
If you followed this week's heavily-blog-linked (elsewhere), heavily-praised, heavily-considered essay by Edward Tufte about how crap Powerpoint techniques are, you'll love Aaron Swartz's send-up of the whole affair. Inspired.
Incidentally, I'm relieved to say that the one time I had occasion to use Powerpoint, my slides genuinely supported/reinforced what I was saying, and not the other way around. I most certainly didn't read every bullet point.
While I'm on the subject, every recent public-speaking engagement I've had has involved the previous speaker over-running dramatically, and the chair utterly failing to guillotine them. As a result, I've sat on stage trying to guess how much less time I'm going to have than I'd expected, and hacking my talk down to suit. Now, as luck would have it, I'm pretty darn good at doing this, since it's essentially what I do professionally. That is, I know the difference between 4:15 and 3:30, and I'm quite capable of hacking the former down to the latter, almost on-the-fly if I have to. Or, indeed, going from twenty minutes to more like five.
But it's not polite to make me. Particularly when I speak in public rather rarely, and get horribly nervous (until I start, at which point I remember that I used to do this rather a lot, and that I actually enjoy it). So please, people, let's talk for as long as we need - and no longer.
Inspired by the sunny weather (uh... what happened to the forecast thunderstorms, chaps? I could have gone walking in Cumbria with Olly & co...), I spent some quality time with my bicycle. That's with, and not - sadly - on.
I'd forgotten what it feels like to have all your skin oils removed and replaced with the cloyingly orange-esque scent of citrus degreaser. Unfortunately, beneath the grime, the bike is worse than I first thought. All the sealed/heavily guarded bearings are fine - the headset, bottom bracket, hubs - but everything else is pretty wrecked, frankly. It really needs stripping and cleaning from scratch.
The chainrings are even more eaten down than I remembered; BiopaceHP rings were never high-quality, and these have done something like 8,000 miles. But they'd do, for a short while. The tyres are perished, and I wouldn't vouch for the inner tubes either. More worrying, the stem appears to be essentially rotten. Well, it's always been rubbish, but no, it now looks pretty much rotten - there's significant corrosion around the handlebar clamp. Ouch. That's a big job to replace.
So... I don't have a bike that's trivially rideable - something like a day's work to fix it, and not inconsiderable component costs if I do it properly.
Dang. And now the forecast, which had yesterday been crock for next week, is suddenly promising. So I should have bought the Ridgeback after all.
My flight tickets arrived in this morning's post. Crumbs, I'm actually going.
I need to call the hotel in New York - booking system failure and they've lost my credit card details - and the whole car hire thing is a dreadful mess that I need to sort out. But otherwise, I'm as good as there.
Oh, I still need to track down my passport.
May 23, 2003
Philip Greenspun asks if high-school students should kick the whole science/maths thing, and scratch-build bicycles instead.
It's a surprisingly compelling argument, and ties in with the sort of stuff I was trying to do on The Big Bang this year. Rather than show how to make the rocket planes from scratch, for example, we focussed on the bit that isn't obvious (optimised bicarb/vinegar reaction - surprisingly hard to do well). Pretty much any kid is ingenious enough to make a cardboard tube run down a washing line, I reckoned - particularly if they have a strong enough motivation to do so.
And a bicycle is an interesting choice - John, care to comment?
May 22, 2003
I've seen rainbows below the horizon before - from aircraft they can be complete circles - but until last weekend I'd not seen one below the horizon while sitting in a car.
Driving up the M1, afternoon rain was easing but hanging in the air, being stirred up by the traffic. As the fine droplets swirled behind the cars sweeping past in the fast lane, brilliant rainbows swept across my field of view, apparently intersecting my car at opposite wheels.
The effect persisted every time a car passed, for about ten miles. Beautiful.
Stuff the bike thing. Accounts up-to-date, and feeling terribly virtuous, I've booked flights to America: New York, then Denver/Aspen. I'll drive from Aspen to San Francisco, and fly back after three weeks away.
Am so excited; I haven't had a long holiday for about six years.
So, now I've got two weeks to find my passport.
You'd think the easy bit would be working out how much I've been paid. But no. That would be overlooking the length of time it can take me to submit an invoice, the (even more variable) time it can take an invoice to get paid, the way multiple invoices can be combined together, holiday pay nonsense, the fact that not all my work is invoiced (some is monthly payroll), the way expenses sometimes get rolled into pay, and that some documentation is sent by my employers to completely random addresses.
Result: I have payslips, contracts, invoices and bank statements. The correlation between these is neither obvious nor complete. Normally, I have about four contracts a year, so it's really not too hard; last year, I had more like a dozen. Yowch.
Wish me luck. I'm going in.
May 20, 2003
Why, oh why, is the one credit card statement I cannot find the one that bears the entry for the only receipt I have that's in Euros?
Anyone happen to know what the Sterling/Euro rate was in late October last year? I need to convert an hotel bill...
[updated three minutes later] Oh, I love the web: here's a neat table back to August 2001.
Inspired by this, I checked; yes, I can still do the Cube. I am, however, somewhat rusty when it comes to slotting the bottom corners into place (I do it via the almost-forgotten 'layers' method, rather than the more usual 'corners' approach).
Shazam! is a really rather cunning system; dial 2580 on your mobile phone, hold it up to a loudspeaker, and a few seconds later it'll text you the name of the track being played. Remarkably, it works; here are brief notes on how.
Sadly, I've only used it about twice in the last year. Bloody clever, but I'm not sure how much use it is.
'Ah, Jonathan, how are you?'
'Oh, hello. Haven't spoken to you in ages. Yes, I'm fine, thanks.'
'Good. What animal has a gestation period of thirty-six hours?'
'What?' [pause] 'I've no idea.'
'Rats. I really need to know. 'Bye!' [click]
This is my life. It genuinely is.
May 18, 2003
May 17, 2003
There are few things more tragic than an empty Marmite jar.
Woe is me! Alack! A thousand pipers beat a lament! [etc etc]
Oh, but do check the website. Yeast extract was apparently invented by Liebig (of condenser fame), of all people. Bizarre. Oh, and the site is hysterically 'corporate,' always referring to 'Marmite yeast extract' in full. [snigger]
May 16, 2003
Now look, if people are actually going to read this site and leave comments, I shall have to go back to writing pithy witticisms and observations on things that ought to be mundane but somehow caught my eye regardless, rather than continuing my current trend of lengthy screeds that nobody in their right mind would plough through.
It's quite intolerable. Dammit, this might be a public site, but that's no excuse for anyone actually wasting their time here.
One recent series of events I will repeat here: this week I've done stupid amounts of bombing around West Yorkshire, looking at vehicles. Read the rest of this monstrous article if you really want to know about bicycles, the new matte black, and... Mini Coopers?
...pretty much a summary of the last couple of weeks.
Not much I'm going to note here, but I'm now gloriously unemployed again. Oh, I do love not having to go to work, it's just the best thing. But somehow, I always seem to be busier when I'm between jobs.
Oh, and I really am 'between jobs,' in the practical rather than euphemistic sense. I'm heading up to Glasgow again in July. Just so you don't worry, dear reader.
May 1, 2003
Another day, another vote. Once again, I failed to see any local election leaflets - apparently my street is too dingy for anybody to bother venturing up it, but that's OK, local party activists are in short supply these days - so once again I turned to the web for my guidance. At work, I could spare an hour.
First stop: the Liberal Democrats. Hmm, well, it doesn't look good on the front page. Sidebar mention of elections in Scotland and Wales, but nothing in England. Try a search for 'local elections 2003' and the first hit (after two unlikely biographies) is for a press release linking to the elections manifesto. Beyond that, every hit I can see is for last year's elections.
The manifesto is - commendably - presented as plain HTML rather than a download of a needlessly glossy PDF. It rattles on about how the LibDems would 'transform local government,' and makes a big deal of abolishing council tax in favour of local income tax. Now, this might be a good idea, actually, but it's a national and parliamentary issue, not something my local councillor would have any impact on. Help get a few potholes filled and press for a spongier playground surface - yes. Overturn swathes of tax legislation - not bloody likely. In fact, there's nothing here that's remotely local.
Right. Next - the Conservatives, hilariously (to me) still on a US commercial/corporate domain name, though at least the more correct 'conservatives.org.uk' does now redirect to the mothersite, which it didn't last time around. OK, this is better - there's a picture of a ballot box for a start, which is looking promising. 'Party Chairman gives local elections message,' it says. [click]
It's a puff piece. There's a manifesto link, however - a needlessly glossy PDF of 380Kb; 4 pages including glossy cover photo of cute kid on playground roundabout. Awww. Now, the manifesto is... actually, it's garish, but that's an entirely subjective design judgement. It's fine as far as it goes, but I note that each page has a banner footer 'Local issues, local action.' Commendable... so, what are the local issues, and what local action would my candidate take?
Oh, look - on the front page, there really is a link to an 'English Local Elections' page, hidden in text on the right. It contains a link to... the manifesto. And incidentally, when I searched for 'Local Elections 2003' earlier today, the top match was for 2002. But at least somebody's paying attention and has fixed that... even if the polls are now shut.
Labour. First story: 'Why you should vote Labour today, 1 May.' A trifle blunt, perhaps, but at least it's visible. The following pages are fairly stuffed in comparison to the other parties', but it's the same old same old. The obligatory 'Ballooning [insert name of target party] council tax' page could well have been written by the same person for each site. Actually, that would be a clever efficiency saving.
There is one killer feature of the Labour site, however, and it's been there for years, and astonishingly nobody's copied it: a search box for your postcode. 'What Labour's done for you' proclaims the resulting page proudly. Apparently 396 people in my ward have come off benefit. Since when, or why, I don't know, but I'm genuinely pleased for each and every one of them. Via the local contact information link, I can find out who my local MP is (Paul Truswell, take a bow), who my MEPs are, and what the 2001 General Election result was. But not a whole hill of beans about the local elections. In fact, not a single bean.
No other parties presented candidates in my ward.
So I walked to the polling station, presented my card, took a ballot paper, and finally, in the booth, read the names of my local candidates for the first time. Each, doubtless, would pledge to work diligently on my behalf, righting local wrongs with local action taken locally. I have no idea who any of these people are, what they're like personally, nor what priorities they would have if they were elected.
With the weight of democratic responsibility pressing on my shoulders, how can I possibly cast a vote in favour of any of these people?
I spoil my paper, post it in the box, and walk out.