January 2006 Archives
January 31, 2006
"Better to be born lucky than good,' goes the old aphorism. Do you think there's an exchange rate? Because, if there is, I'd be interested in trading some 'good' for 'lucky.' I'm cocky enough to believe I've a surfeit of 'good,' but right now I don't feel like there's a whole lot of 'lucky' floating around and waiting for a moment to make me happy.
The regular reader (hello, regular reader, how are you? That's nice. The kids? Oh, excellent. Mind how you go) will have noticed that I don't often blog about personal stuff. OK, so I don't often blog about work stuff either -- I mostly blog about inconsequential shit, come to think of it -- but I certainly don't blog about personal stuff. This likely explains the modest audience size of this blog, but also why I'm not ashamed to admit its existence to work colleagues. It's a trade-off, see?
In a mild break from tradition, however, I'll make a brief note. Pretty much purely in the interests of soliciting sympathy, you understand. Here we go:
Today, after a bit of a palaver, I singularly failed to win either the job, or the girl.
Result: I've had better days.
That is all.
January 26, 2006
Rhubarb. Marvelous stuff, rhubarb. My family refers to the 'ancestral rhubarb,' which has been passed down through several generations, and when I'm in Leeds I often enjoy a visit to the National Rhubarb Collection at the Royal (coughNortherncough) Horticultural Society's base at Harlow Carr, near Harrogate. The finest rhubarb in the country, of course, hailing from the famed 'Rhubarb Triangle,' between Pontefract, Wakefield and Leeds (or is it Wakefield-Leeds-Morley?). At one time, ninety per cent of the world's rhurbarb production came from this area, and it was whisked to Covent Garden via the daily Rhubarb Express.
It was with delight and, indeed, pride, therefore, that I espied the attached advertisement in Monday's Guardian. A special reader offer for this finest of vegetables! Oh, happy day!
Be sure to check out the magnificent Rhubarb Compendium -- online since 1994, no less -- for a detailed history, recipe suggestions, and a guide to using rhubarb as a hair dye. Also be sure to explore the Wakefield Council Rhubarb pages, and consider attending the 2006 Rhubarb Festival, or ordering the DVD.
January 25, 2006
Hey, Martin! Remember that X-ray image you took of your Newton, that Lucy scanned, I futzed around with, and that used to be on the Pondlife website? It's the 'most interesting' Flikr hit for 'Newton'. Cool!
The notice of work was helpfully posted on our doors seven hours after work had commenced, but luckily I'd parked around the corner and therefore my car wasn't one of those towed away. Meanwhile, I'm even more baffled about the roadwork done late last week; two chaps turned up and dug a small patch out of every junction down the main drag, went away for two days, then came back and filled them in again. There were no cables involved -- I looked. They don't take core samples of roadbeds they're thinking of replacing, do they?
Still, I'm looking forward to having a nice shiny new road surface. Middle of next week, they reckon, though presumably that's only touch-dry and we'll have to leave it for a good few days to set properly. With heavy frost forecast for the weekend, too. Hmm.
Cabel Sasser of Panic blogs about Nintendo's DS game 東北大学未来科学技術共同研究センター川島隆太教授監修 脳を鍛える大人のＤＳトレーニング. Which, he assures us, translates loosely as 'Brain Training.' It's a cartridge of logic puzzles and the like that's sold over 400,000 copies. In a week. He has some interesting observations on the demographics (which isn't a phrase I type very often), and about the environment that's allowed the not-game to take off.
Aside from the fact that there isn't enough madshit Japanese lunacy in the West, I'm still fascinated by the continuing popularity of brain-teasing games. Crosswords and Countdown are well-established, of course, but my mum's been doing logic puzzles for decades, and judging by the range of books in the local newsagent, she's not alone. What's surprising about the recent Sudoku craze -- aside from my having missed it so totally I first noticed the game when literally everybody in my Victoria Line carriage was playing it, which slightly freaked me out -- is the range of ages to which it appeals.
And then, of course, we have all the older stuff, from tamagotchi to Rubik's cube, and de Bono's stuff (anyone else remember The L Game?).
Hmm. Perhaps it's time to find the next de Bono.
January 18, 2006
Kottke has a discussion here (a year ago, but roll with it) on the number of Starbucks within a five-mile radius of any given point. Bash your postcode into that store locator and see what you get -- in my case, a maybe-the-world-hasn't-gone-mad-after-all '8', but there are places in the world where the number rises to over 160. No, I didn't add an extra nought by accident.
Next up, some chap called Cory has calculated the centre of gravity of all Starbucks in Manhattan. That is, he's found the spot that's equidistant from all Starbucks franchises on Manhattan island (between 5th & 6th and 39th and 40th, since you're wondering). At least, I think that's what he's done -- the methodology isn't entirely clear.
See, I'm wondering if Starbucks averaging should be calculated by a straightforward distance measurement, or if what you should really be considering is coffee flux -- which presumably follows the usual inverse-square law? In which case, the centre is likely shifted. Indeed, there may even be several zero-points distributed over Manhattan island.
This, dear reader, is a breakthrough concept.
Coffee flux appears to be a vector quantity, with the initially-surprising property that Starbucks stores are -- by inspection -- sinks rather than sources. Further, coffee flux appears to interact with humans, drawing them along flux vectors towards the aforementioned franchises.
So if we can calculate the local minima for Starbucks coffee flux, based on a (presumed) inverse-square distance function from each sink point, we will have found positions of zero net Starbucks coffee flux. Effectively, Starbucks Lagrange points, where the pull of each nearby Starbucks store exactly balances that of all others.
I present the hypothesis that such coffee flux minima would be excellent locations to establish a chain of tea shops. Now: how do I present this as a business plan?
January 17, 2006
Amazing article at FastCompany about building jet engines. General Electric's Durham assembly plant is... well, unusual. It makes 400 engines a year, and there are 170 technicians, but only one manager.
The article's a lengthy, but fascinating, insight into the radical working practices and methodologies employed. It reminds me of two other circumstances: first, the 'flat pyramid' management structure employed in the ThrustSSC supersonic car programme. And second... well... oh, people are going to take this the wrong way however I dress it up: it appears casually similar to the ideal of soviet-era factory planning.
January 16, 2006
Jack gave me a dalek bottle-opener for Christmas, which has a delightful twist: every time it opens a bottle, it yells 'EXTERMINATE!', in a voice that, oddly, sounds less like a dalek than it does like Jack doing an impression of a dalek. Since I like my beer to be exterminated before I consume it, the opener (also known as the best thing ever) has a place in my utensils drawer.
Only, this particular dalek has a problem with its targeting system, in that it recognises any metallic object as a bottle cap. Thus, every time I open said drawer it bellows 'EXTERMINATE!', sufficiently loudly to scare the willies out of me.
Recently, I was accused of there being insufficient Mac geekery on this site. No, really, I was. Ingrates.
Shuffle on over to CoverFlow, then, download it, run it, and gawp at its gorgeousness. It's yet another iTunes front-end thingummy. I'm still using and loving Clutter (and still bereft at the demise of Sofa), but CoverFlow might just usurp all others simply by being outrageously beautiful. Plus I'm something of a traditionalist and, you know, I like listening to whole albums.
Right now I'm using CoverFlow to page through my iTunes albums, then Clutter to do Amazon searches for albums that are missing artwork and to copy the results back to iTunes, then reloading that artwork into CoverFlow. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's strangely satisfying and feels productive, though I've a sneaking suspicion I should be doing something else with my time...
January 10, 2006
I was so excited about this, I plain forgot to blog it -- The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2005 (AKA 'my most recent series') appeared on the bootleg file-sharing networks. I'm so proud.
I found them at the ever-handy UKNova; here are the first four lectures, and the fifth. They're torrents; if you've not done that before, you'll need a BitTorrent client like (Java, cross-platform) Azureus or (Mac users) BitsOnWheels. Feed it the .torrent file, and wait... it'll take a while.
To view the video, you'll need a player like VLC. I've not quite got my head around the whole DivX video thing -- I thought it was just an open-source MPEG4-compliant encoder, but quite often the files don't play in supposedly-MPEG4-compliant viewers like QuickTime Player or RealPlayer. VLC usually copes, thankfully.
Steve Jobs is on stage in San Francisco, reality-distorting the latest and greatest Apple stuff. I'm in (dark, rainy) Glasgow, watching live text feeds from the presentation (MacRumors wins over MacScoop, so far).
Jobs is introducing the annual update to the 'iLife' software suite, of iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand. The new version of the latter finally includes podcasting tools, including the distinctly-nifty ability to record remote interviews over iChatAV. According to MacRumors, Jobs started recording a demonstration podcast:
"Hi, I'm Steve, welcome to my podcast of super-secret Apple rumors." Oh, very droll. But then he rubs it in; "I've got some pretty good sources in Apple."
Smug. Funny, but smug.
Somewhat oddly, I still don't have a digital camera, having singularly failed to save enough pennies for a Nikon D50 (or, more specifically, for some decent lenses for the thing). In a remarkable feat of what would have been called 'convergence' two years ago, my mobile phone talks to iPhoto, so I do actually use that package. But I've really no call to futz around with the likes of Apple's Aperture.
Nevertheless, I have, just a little. And it's a gorgeous application. Very much in keeping with Apple's other 'Pro' apps, it's aimed squarely at the professional market, with only quite subtle spill-over into the 'enthusiastic amateur' bracket. Odd, then, that the interface employs some weird and wild swooshy animated effects. But they seem to make operations clearer rather than obscuring them -- there's distinctly good design taste involved. Aperture is, however, something of a system monster -- stories are legion of it bogging down on quad-processor G5s with 4+Gb of RAM, which is rather a far cry from my lowly PowerBook.
Apple, though, has something of a tradition with its high-end packages: make them vaguely work, get them out of the door, then make them really work. Somewhere during that process the hardware catches up, and you have a winning package. Well, it worked with Final Cut Pro -- anyone who claims to have used version 1 of that is either not meaning 'in a professional capacity,' or is flat-out fibbing. I didn't encounter the early versions of DVD Studio Pro, but from what I hear the main difference between versions 1 and 2 was that 'v2 actually worked.' Motion was another example; v1 was exciting but barely worked, v2 you can actually use in anger.
Aperture, then, is expensive, slow, and finicky... but beautiful, and maybe-just-maybe a groundbreaking piece of software.
Except the ground has clearly been there to be broken for years, and Adobe just extended the strained metaphor by establishing a beachhead. Lightroom is their equivalent to Aperture, and it's... actually, it's remarkably similar. It's nowhere near as slick and polished and whizzy and glossy, but on the other hand it actually works, and feels at home with less than four million pixels of screen space.
What's entirely unexpected is the way Adobe have released this. They've issued a public beta under the 'Macromedia Labs' moniker, and that's distinctly unlike the assumed behaviour of a giant software corporation. It's also a Mac-first beta release, which is equally unexpected. They're clearly heading towards a Windows release (there's no Core Image stuff going on, apparently), but so far as I can tell it's a Cocoa application, which is... er... well, I didn't think I'd be seeing that from Adobe in a hurry.
But perhaps most significant is that they're blogging about the thing. Here's a lovely story of the software's development: while it's clearly intended to put the lie to the idea that Lightroom is a knee-jerk reaction to Aperture, it's also a rather charming human tale. Meanwhile, here's a more formal blogged announcement of the package.
Weird. But welcome. As we sit locking away our credit cards, waiting for whatever Jobs is going to announce at MacWorld in four hours' time -- perhaps we've seen the beginning of the end of that sort of staged nonsense? It's one thing when small software houses like Panic (Steven, Cabel) or Ranchero blog about in-development software, but when Adobe start doing it too, I can almost believe the 'blogs change everything' meme.
There are more rumblings, too: another blogging Mac dev, Gus Mueller, notes that something like 40% of Lightroom is written in a little-known language called 'Lua.' I know very little about Lua -- mostly what I've read on Gus' blog, natch -- but I have heard it described as 'the next Ruby,' in a doubtless similarly-inaccurate manner to the 'Ruby is the next Python' and 'Python is the next Perl' blatherings.
January 8, 2006
One odd aspect of not having had a conventional Christmas is that only now am I catching up with all those 'review of the year' type stories. One I stumbled over was Typographica's 'Favourite fonts of 2005'. Mmmm. Fonts...
If anyone's feeling outrageously philanthropic in the belated-Christmas-present department (not that there's any reason you should, but still): FF Maiola Pro, the OpenType Package. Somehow it inhabits the cusp between 'quirkily bonkers' and 'everyday livable.' I love it.
January 7, 2006
I'm reminded of why I don't usually buy rigatoni -- as they sit bubbling in the pan, they remind me of those deep-sea tube worms that cluster near volcanic vents. Puts me right off my dinner, that does.
Anyway, I'm back in the land of the living. Or at least, the land of those with bandwidth and two working wrists. I'd be posting more, only most of the things I want to write would require longish articles (and I'm not sure my rapidly-recovering RSI is up to that yet), and my remaining recent musings have been even more bizarre than squeamish recoilings from pasta shapes.