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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chrome - update after 2 months of use

I downloaded Chrome in a silly fan-boy-like frenzy the first day the beta came out. I must say the product has actually exceeded my expectations. It's delightful to use.

1. It gets out of the way. Very unobtrusive. I really don't notice the browser, I just use it. Searching on the same bar as the URL has just become natural for me.

2. I like the "quick dial" thing they copied from Opera - when you open a new tab without a URL the 9 most commonly browsed pages come up in a 3x3 pattern as thumbnails. The visual cues really make this a fast way to select your fave pages.

3. It's refreshingly honest when something doesn't work. For example, when a plug-in dies, it says "The following plug-in has crashed..."

4. The Gmail integration is very nice indeed.

5. Some interesting stats tools are built in. Plus an easter egg.

I have basically given up on IE, except for testing. Firefox: I like the addons (Firebug, Wizz RSS viewer) so I still use it daily. However, Chrome is what I use most often for generic browsing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flash and Subversion backups: Batch file to copy files excluding certain files

One thing about Flash (or any non-text binary type files) and Subversion, if you check your flas and swfs into a subversion library that is regularly backed up, for example nightly, you will soon be using a huge amount of space.

So the inestimable James (who's price is above that of rubies) found that our main code SVN library was not being backed up ...eek!

When he turned on backups in a reasonable schedule, well, we were checking in flas and swf several times in a day and these copies were all being stored in SVN as binary blobs or something, leading to a huge volume of backup files.

Our solution: Create a new SVN library just for Flash code, and don't bother backing it up except once per month. When we have code completed for the daily build we just drop swfs into the code build folder SVN. When we have significant code changes (finish an app, get ready for the weekly QA build)  we drop everything from our new SVN into the traditional place.

To help this, we have this little batch file to copy from the new SVN to the old one:


rem put the ".svn" string and the filename excludefile.txt into the file of things to be ignored
echo ".svn" > excludefile.txt
echo excludefile.txt >> excludefile.txt

rem copy all files in all subdirectories, excluding those with .svn in the path

XCOPY /S /E /EXCLUDE:excludefile.txt "C:\projects\binaryDoc\studentui" 

"C:\projects\current\trunk\autoskill\academy\modules\ui\app\src\web\studentui" /Y

rem remove the excludefile
del excludefile.txt

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's next?

I swore I wouldn't put any political stuff here but there comes a point.
What happened to rational discourse? Reasoned debate? Issues?

All we have now is the hate-filled public arena with blood'n'sawdust on the floor and circling hyenas.

...and they complain that there is a campaign of hate against one candidate. Here's another:

It's a Sarah Palin blow up sex-doll. I mean, I think she's unsuitable as a VP, but it's not my call. Lots of folly of that kind in the past...Dan Quayle, for example. However, we don't create a sex doll of Dan Quayle do we? (God I hope not).

This is the kind of ad hominen-plus-extras that women in public life have to handle. Sure I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher and hated her policies, but the idea that people would make a rapeable image of someone like this is terrible and terrifying. And before any of you tell me it's just a joke: I say "Drop dead."

Some Americans have always been good at demonizing individuals, as if that somehow takes the hard work out of foreign relations or politics. I distinctly remember my first visit to a U.S. gun shop (not what you think, I bought a pen-knife). The owner had posters in the form of rifle targets of Colonel Ghadafi the Libyan dictator on the wall. I exclaimed about this and he thought I was complimenting him on his taste. He said: "If only I could get my hands on some of that (expletive) Noriega*, I'd make a fortune!"

Then it was Saddam Hussein, now it's Osama bin Laden.

And on the domestic political side it was Nixon. Carter. And getting nastier, Obama. And Palin. I haven't made a study of this, it's just the things I see as a frequent visitor who lives a half kilometre from the U.S.

It's so easy. Black hats, white hats. Us, them. They hate us because we're good. Why do they hate us? God loves us. We're the best country in the world. I am right. You are wrong and I'll do you an injury because I hate you. God hates you.

Sorry monkeys. At best God doesn't exist. Although perhaps on current evidence I'd say the chances are that she does and she's a Trickster or possibly a cat.

* - Manuel Noriega then the leader of Panama, shortly before the U.S. invasion. I seem to think he's out of prison now.

Sorry but he still sucks

My oppo sent me this: Neal Stephenson lecture on Sf as a literary genre

So my response is:
OK, well he isn't stupid. And most of what he says is sort-of truthy, at least worthy of an argument. Now you started it; since I spent 38:45 listening to his talk, you're gonna get the full 5 minutes.

He's very centred in his time and place, don't you think? I mean we were just talking about Fred Hoyle and John Wyndham (and there are loads of others*, not just Brits) who were very smart, wrote well and published compelling, yes, literature, 45+ years ago. (Not to mention Jules Verne or H.G. Wells).

Just because he didn't know about a bunch of stuff, it doesn't exist? It's like knowing the Rolling Stones and then realizing they were ripping off a bunch of poor black people.

My main beef with Quicksilver is that it is badly written, or badly edited (it's hard to tell the diff), predictable and was obviously written as a potboiler. It led me basically nowhere (except perhaps to set the scene attempting to force me to buy the next door-step of a book). It is appallingly Ameri-centric (the Crypto-thing is more so, according to Don). I would argue that even Heinlein was more honest in his idea porn. The protagonist as the super-hero is exactly what Quicksilver has. At the end of it I didn't care if the character lived or died, which is a good measure of how involved I was.

However, like I said before, he does have a few nice turns of phrase ("idea porn" being one of them, guilty, compelling pleasures of what might be, right?) I just wish he hadn't become so vastly popular before he became a better writer. If you say his earlier books are good, then I might give it a try.

If you haven't read the Da Vinci Code, you should before you slag it. It's crap but it is popular for a reason and it is quite well-written**.

And I have read one Hairy Potter book and seen one movie. No more, but I now know what I'm bleating about.

Now come back when you're ready for the full half-hour.


* All probably contemporary with Heinlein, far better writers and more typical of the best sf writing of the time:

Samuel R. Delaney,
Doris Lessing,
Harry Harrison (well perhaps not exactly contemporary, but I like it)
Philip K. Dick,
J.G. Ballard,
Ursula K. Le Guin,
Issac Asimov,
Brian Aldiss,
Ray Bradbury.

p.s. “This is not the age of reason, this is the age of flummery, and the day of the devious approach. Reason’s gone into the backrooms where it works to devise means by which people can be induced to emote in the desired direction."
John Wyndham

** Update: OK, I lied. But it WAS a dark and stormy night!

Penis enlargement is still drooping off

Time for my quarterly review of the world o' spam, from the worms eye-view anyway.

It is my sad duty to report that the comfortable world of P.E. spam has dropped into the single percentage digits in my in-box. Sad but true. Those mellifluous phrases lovingly crafted to set my heart a flutter ("love cannon", fer sure) are being drowned out by mechanistic appeals to buy chemicals on-line with names that have too many x's and z's in them.

There was one little prick of light in the darkness, dear readers: "Get a magic wand to satisfy your lady!" Isn't that nice? Will surely warm the cockles of your kidneys...

Anyhoo, back to the harsh realites of spam watching.

We have now got a profile like this:
56% - Pharma spam*
12% - Posh watch replicas
10% - Girls hot 4 u**
6% - Gambling
4% - P.E. (Oh, how the mighty are fallen! Don't worry dear, these things happen.)
4% - Diplomas granted without study (excluding M.A. Oxon)
2% - Puzzling discount offers, including "exclisive atches" Silly me.
1% - Lame attempts to mimic internet sales confirmations
1% - Peculiar courses: a very promising new category ***
1% - Diet drugs: also promising new category
1% - Twitter spam****

* - does include a lot of Viagra-type stuff, but not nearly so poetic as good old P.E.

** - this is just silly; "I am beautiful girl, I am charming blue-eyed blonde brunette..." WTF, which bit is blonde and which is brunette, m'dear? (Er...perhaps, on second thoughts I'd rather not know). And why are you so hot for an ol' trout like me? I'm not even bi, sweetie.

*** - Ah, for future reference, you saw it here first. A "Christian college network" (sic) offering courses under the banner "Christian careers are right around the corner, learn on-line..." Somehow it seems unethical to offer no-study courses to Christians, poor dears. However, the meek don't get much so perhaps it is nice after all, purely as an example of loser-chic-appeal. Unfortunately the profile, addresses etc. are identical to the offers of "Insurance for Less" and "Culinary Universities" not to mention "Plasma TV Testing Center". So presumably if I were a halfwit, I'd like to let them to give me a plasma TV for free as well.

**** - sigh, I should never have signed up, twit, but this was from a person called blondesHot4u so it's not entirely a waste.

On second thoughts another prediction...we should see increasing spam in the next while to do with the mortgage crisis, bankruptcy, stock market decline and property capital losses, apart for the normal sub-one-percent perennial "make money fast" category. After all spam is nothing if not topical.

One final tip to the P.E. fellas. Chin up chaps. Just buckle down, straighten up and fly right. Increase your visibility, improve your productivity and the world will be your oyster...or should that be clam?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ActionScript 2; replace string any number of times

The cheeseparing number of useful String class methods released by Adobe leaves something for the programmer to do. Here is a replace function that will replace a substring within another string any number of times. It starts at the first occurrence.

// replace findThis string from stringIn with replaceWith, repeat number of times
//repeat must be >=1, anything else it will do 1 repeat anyway
// if the string doesn't occur nothing will happen

public static function replaceString(stringIn:String, findThis:String, replaceWith:String, repeat:Number):String {

var stringOut:String = '';
var tempArr:Array;
tempArr = stringIn.split(findThis); //spilt the string into an array based on the occurrences of the target string
stringOut = tempArr[0]; //get the first split item
for (var i=1;i < tempArr.length;i++){
if (i < repeat+1){
stringOut = stringOut + replaceWith + tempArr[i];// replace the next occurrence and add the next split item
else {
stringOut = stringOut + findThis + tempArr[i];// restore the rest of the string as it was
trace("String in: " + stringIn + " String out: " + stringOut);
return stringOut;

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Book Review - A Liar's Autobiography by Graham Chapman

A review on the jacket blurb promises this to be "An intercoursingly good book...". While interesting and worth reading, it really isn't really all that good. I remembered it more affectionately than I think of it now. Perhaps I have better intercourse now than the Evening Standard had then.

I read this way back in 1980/1 and have just re-read it again. Unfortunately I find the lasting impression now is just one of sadness. Chapman's life up to that time was a total mess and he spent most of his time drinking hard and creating havoc for friends and family.

There is, thankfully, a lot of silliness to elevate the rather lame narrative but I found myself reacting from the point of view of friends, family and bystanders - is there anything positive about this behaviour?

The brilliant writers he worked with (apart from the Python team) included Marty Feldman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer. They evoke a memorable time when mainstream British humour was disrupted by a new generation raised on the Goons. However the constant interruptions by shrill excerpts from "Biggles Flies Undone**" by Capt. W.E. Johns do rather spoil the contemplative mood of the book. Quite a lot of the better bits appear to have been ghost-written by Douglas Adams - the style is unmistakable.

Not a must-read for Pythonistas, but a could-read-with-a-wistful-thought-for-what-this-man-might-have-been-if-he-hadn't-been-so-intercoursed-up. Although that may be the reason he was funny.

As always, it's the song not the singer. He left a brilliant body of work and great friends who loved him.

** - stolen joke alert!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Penis enlargement down to 5%

My spam is down yet again. Thanks gmail! Only 18 messages in 5 days.

Must be the spammer who died in a murder-suicide recently. Bastard...couldn't just kill himself had to do a number on his wife and child as well...

So PE is down to 5% - well I guess if you want it bigger you either know by now that you need to be in the hands of a professional (or at least an enthusiastic amateur) or forget it. The feedback on this kind of traffic must be zero.

The new and rising entrant (10%) is a warning about FaceBook being infiltrated by the FBI. Oh...I'm going to have an attack of the vapors...who would have thought it?

That old reliable source about replica watches...frankly if Chanel makes watches, I not only don't care, but wouldn't get a genuine one if it was free, much less a fake. I already own too much stuff I don't need...

The pharma spam is the other main contestant. if they were tempting me with drugs I actually use...

We also have another category that is coming up - alleged porn websites with depictions of celebrity tarts and 'hot' videos. Tired.

What I want is more interesting spam. After all, if you're going to enslave my machine and make all my correspondents hate me, the least you can do is not insult my intelligence.

FWIW, this guy is my hero:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ray Davies @ Bluesfest

Ray Davies appeared at Bluesfest July 11 2008. We went...for an old geezer* he can still rock.

Apart from the huge irony of him singing I'm not like anybody else and getting an entire crowd of thousands to sing along (with gusto, lol!) it was a really good performance.

Here he is doing a nice version of Sunny Afternoon, more or less unplugged:

Compare with this, from way back in the Dawn of Time (1966):

* Pot: "You're black!"
Kettle: You too!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Richard Thompson @ Bluesfest

Saturday July 5th - went to the Ottawa Bluesfest at Lebreton Flats outside the Canadian War Museum. Great site and an intercoursingly well-organized festival (in spite of the huge crowds).

The main reason we went was to see Richard Thompson. We also made a point of seeing Michael Burt (da bloos...reel niiice), Luke Doucet (kind of rock, very good), Angelique Kudjo (African dance music - amazing...I'm still jiggling!), Lucinda Williams (oh, she was crap...sorry but she should not have been there, couldn't stand it for more than the first couple of songs, not my cup of alt-c*ntry). We accidentally saw the Kruger Brothers (very nice bluegrass trio, strings only).

So after baling on Lucinda Williams (bleh!) we went to sit in front of the so-called Roots stage to wait for RT. A beautiful spot, with the river behind the stage and the sun going down over the water. The grassy hill formed by the roof of the War Museum rising up to form the auditorium..perfect weather. There were relatively few people to see him; about 500-600, compared to thousands at the folk festival four years ago or so. I guess the kind of people who go to a mainstream sort-of-blues festival will mostly want to see Steely Dan or the Zappa kid, who were headlining on other stages. All the more to our benefit, we were about 30 feet from the stage...purrfect!

Thompson's show was the best I have ever seen or heard him. Fortunately CBC radio will be putting the concert up on their website soon and broadcasting it on Aug 4th (I think). If you haven't heard his music, it may be an acquired taste for the bitter, sordid, LGW-side* of life. I know that after about 3-4 songs a number of people decided to leave and try their luck with the masses listening to Steely Dan. Too bad for them...

Richard Thompson is one of the best guitarists and singer-songwriters around**. Tonight he performed with just one guitar, dressed in his trademark black beret with gold star. He performed many new songs and many old songs with new interpretations - he wasn't just trying to make them sound like they used to in the studio many years ago. The crescent moon was going down in the sky behind the stage. Incidentally the last time we saw RT, at the Ottawa Folk Festival about 4-5 years ago, the crescent moon was sinking behind the stage then as well...)

The only downside was the immense noise coming from Zappa fils on another stage. It may have made RT play louder though - he said that a number of times.

Among the songs I remember that he performed:
From Mock Tudor (1999):
Bathsheba Smiles (ah now...that's sad) started with this one...spectacular
Cooksferry Queen (well not LGW, but strange love anyway)
Crawl Back (under my stone) (audience participation on this one)

From Rumour and Sigh (1991):
1952 Vincent Black Lightning (which is apparently the most-requested song ever on NPR, a folk song about dysfunctional youth, and a highwayman who happens to ride a motorcycle). This time he did some great new (to me) guitar work.
I feel so good (more dysfunctional youth, true crime and social commentary - "They put me in jail for my deviant ways...2 years, 7 months and 16 days...")
I misunderstood (more LGW)

From Across a Crowded Room (1985):
She twists the knife again (LGW to the max...aargh!)

From Daring Adventures (1986):
Valerie (LGW)

From I Want to see the Bright Lights Tonight (1974):
Down where the Drunkards Roll (life gone wrong...)

From Shoot Out the Lights (1982):
Shoot out the lights (Oh yes, more LGW)
Walking on a wire (goes without saying...)

Fom The Old Kit Bag (2003):
I'll Tag Along (more dysfunctional youth)

Not on any album I know about:
Got the hots for the smarts (comic ditty about preferring intelligence over beauty - "Are there any smart women in the audience?" "Yeah!!" "I mean really smart??" "YEAH!!" - "I want a girl who...thinks charm's a particle..." More audience participation.)

A couple of songs from his most recent album Sweet Warrior:
Dad's gonna kill me (about the Iraq war)
Sunset Song.

That's all I can remember until the recording is posted...

* - June Tabor used to joke that her music was pretty well always about LGW: "Love gone wrong".

**Apparently his guitar style is original and much-imitated. Something about the way he holds his er...pick...? Perhaps it's the tight jeans...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where there is no shower

Funny thing, I often almost feel like not giving away the secret that many North Americans haven't discovered about getting clean where there is no shower. I mostly resist it 'cos nobody likes a smartipants. However, I have been asked by some younger sailing women so here goes.

When water is restricted, whether you're sailing, camping, or just in the office after a lunchtime run and there is no shower available it's a simple matter to have a refreshing washdown of the body with the old-fashioned simple tools:
  • a towel,
  • washcloth (I like the gant de toilette mitt-type),
  • soap,
  • bottle or jug of cleanish* cold or hot water (about 1 litre - 2 pints - will do) or water tap,
  • small container, empty bucket, jug or bowl (or washbasin),
  • if the floor is dirty, a plastic sheet (or bin bag) about the same size as your bath towel
Most washrooms in North America have a disabled cubicle, which is ideal for this performance because it has most elbow room, but any private space will do. The average aircraft or train loo is perfect.

In addition, you can do this in a more public place, like a campsite or a beach without removing all your clothes at the same time, although people might look at you funny.

Lay down the towel on top of the plastic sheet. Take off your clothes and step on the towel. Put half the water in the bucket. Wetting the washcloth and wringing it out in the bucket, wipe yourself all over rubbing vigorously. This gets most of the dirt off (although not the grease nor all the smell). You might have to get fancy to reach the middle of your back by holding your washcloth at both ends, or asking for the assistance of a friend.

Wet the washcloth again from the "dirty water" and lather the cloth up with a little soap. Rub the cloth over the smelly parts first, then over the rest of your body. Wring it out and wet it again with fresh water. Wipe the soap off yourself.

You are done! You are clean, almost dry, feel refreshed and once you have practiced a bit, you can do this with very little water, so that the 2 litres daily allowance that the BFH** captain has allotted will be enough to have a wash every day or so.

And because your bath towel is not that wet it just needs airing out. The washcloth is a lot easier to hang up to dry.

When you're sailing in the tropics, this technique is infinitely preferable to being in the hot humid bowels of the boat trying to juggle the shower and slowly melting in the steamy heat and humidity of the head compartment. You can do your first washdown and soaping with salt water (or take a swim).

Hair washing is a different exercise. If you have really short hair the above technique will be enough. Long hair needs about 2 pints (a litre) more water and a larger bowl or bucket to lean over. It is best done seated (or kneeling on your towel) leaning forward over the bowl. Pour about a pint (500 ml) of water over the back of your head so that it runs into the bowl. Scoop the water up and do it several times so that your hair is moist. Then rub some shampoo into your hair. Use only a very little shampoo - about a teaspoon or 5 ml - less than half of the recommended amount of normal stuff. (Some people swear by using shampoo*** for both body and hair washing as it saves backpack space - there are concentrated types in tube form).

You do not need to get a lather in your hair - if you do, you are using too much shampoo - the lather represents "unused" detergent that is foaming up and you will need to use extra water to wash it out. Just rub shampoo all over the hair and leave it on for a minute or so. Then start by wringing out your hair and pouring water from the bowl over your head repeatedly until the shampoo feels gone. Wring out your hair the best you can, then run a dry washcloth over it to get it as dry as possible. Comb it through and let it air dry.

Some women (and increasingly men) have a routine of using hair conditioner after shampoo. This is fine, but once again use less than half of what you normally use and rinse repeatedly using only a half litre of water. Or try using a tiny amount on a comb and combing it through your hair without washing it off. Or try going without once in a while.

* you can use river or lake water if you are camping, or non-potable water like that from plane or train washroom taps.
**Bastard from Hell: you know who you are, Bligh-woman!
*** Stolen joke alert! Best to use shampoo, the real stuff stinks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Firefox 3: nice job guys!

A couple of days ago, at the insistence of the lovely Janice (her son Mike Shaver is a chief thingy at Mozilla) I downloaded Firefox 3. I don't normally do stuff like this on release day, but what the heck - if it broke something I have other machines to use. Actually nine of my add-ons stopped working, including the JavaScript debugger (aargh!) but today I see that the update for that was automagically installed, so I wasn't without it for long enough to matter.

In all, things went smoothly and it has a few nice features (although the upgrade went so well that I didn't notice them at first) including a silly Easter egg that I found amusing as a sci-fi fan: type "about:robots" in the address bar...Gort!

I've been using Firefox for a long time (the first on my block to use it). It has really set the standard for browsers, has lot of great features that I just expect to work now. And the addons! Well, you can get anything you want...

Because I do web development I still use a number of other browsers for testing; IE, Safari, Opera on as many platforms as I can find. I do have Netscape Navigator 9, but that's strictly a nostalgia trip now. (Remember Mozaic, folks?)

IE* - well aren't you the tedious one to program for? Talk about working with the undead. Die you b*astard! However we have to test on it...people like my 78-year old mother use it because it was pre-installed. But then again, she thinks Yahoo has a search engine.

Safari (for Windows) - very pretty (all those brightly coloured glassy bead-like buttons and bars), adherent to standards, occasionally slow and buggy (the latest release I downloaded 3.1.1 fixed a bunch of broken stuff, including crashing within 20 seconds of login to Facebook, lol). Frustrating when it takes over and ignores input when one is typing into the browser bar. Hey who's in charge here? Very different look and feel. And very pushy of Apple products and services. No, I don't want to download iTunes, cheeky! The Help looks likes it's using WinHelp or some such, it's ugly and doesn't appear to be integrated in the browser.

Opera - nice crisp feel, very easy to use, some pretty features...the speed dial thing is interesting. I like the thumbnail views of the pages opened in the tabs. It has a nice kiosk mode that we found useful to lock students into their training. They did have a browser for the Nokia hand-held N770, but for some reason (probably Nokia's fault) they had to completely reimplement when they went to the N800. So some stuff that had been working was a bit buggy.

There are some other nice browsers on Linux but in my world we only test on Windows and Mac right now.

* no, I'm not including a link to this d*g, rough!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Better protection makes happy workers

The task: grinding out the rotted balsa core under the cockpit of a glass fibre boat. This is the underside of the top of the flotation chamber and is a small cavity about 1x1 metre (3x3 feet) and about half a metre (20 inches) deep. A hole had been cut big enough to get head and shoulders in from the top. Flotation foam removed. Power tools and lights required...

One of the absolute joys of a boater's life is getting all togged up to do boat work. Painting, grinding, cutting, any kind of power tools require dressing up with ear defenders, goggles, breathing mask. These things are hell to wear for a day's work, especially when it hot ('s merely 31 Celsius today - about 88 F). The goggles steam up, everything gets slippery with sweat and it's really horrible. Vision is really very bad, meaning that the work is slower and quality is lower. The time that I can comfortably work in this before a break is about an hour, but it's an ordeal, and I'd feel persecuted if I had to wear this for more than 3 sessions in a day. Total cost of this gear is about $60-100 depending on the quality of the respirator. You always want a really good respirator...

Now we have bought a Triton one-piece system. It is wonderful. It combines eye, breathing, and hearing protection with a hardhat and a hood. Fresh filtered air is pumped in to the top of the head from a fan in the rechargeable battery pack strapped to the waist. It keeps the user fairly cool. Hearing protection is integral attached to the sides of the hat. Very effective and comfortable. They flip up if not needed. The face plate is polycarbonate and gives great visibility. It too flips up if required. It does not steam up even when you get sweaty.The breathing protection doesn't squeeze the face or touch it at all.
Another benefit is that particles of grinding dust or crap do not end up in the hair or stuck to the skin. And the hat will save your head from bumping, always a good thing. It is a little larger than the other outfit, but a lot easier to keep on (straps don't get tangled etc.)
The hood and air tube can be removed if working on something noisy but not dust generating (vacuuming?)
It does cost a lot more, about $220, but I could work in this for 3-4 hours at a time, for a couple of sessions per day. I feel safer and more comfortable and less reluctant to start work.

Buy your good woman good safety gear and you'll get more work out of her!

Monday, June 9, 2008

This sporting life

From the writing of Tim Davis comes this quote:
Sport is a pantomime of war, and even during peacetime, we beg its stresses back into our lives. Buying mortgages in the padded cell of Western consumer culture has turned us all into what I call horrorists. Terrorists enact violence on the lives of others; horrorists fill their own lives with ritualized violence: slasher films, roller coasters, video games, 24-hour news, sport.
I threw away my television 15 years ago...too much of everything except thinking: sport pretending to be significant; advertising copy purporting to be news; lies; mind control; insanity; compelling, crappy dramas; bad acting; worse acting; and horror.

One major horror is the feeling after watching a movie/show that your anchor has come adrift - you have taken in a different way of thinking about something, and it's wrong or corrupt. A siren call, a temptation. It's like getting a worm in the ear. It's too much for the immune system to take. I don't watch TV and I am selective about films because I don't trust myself.

I stopped taking part in competitive sports about the same time. I was sailing a dinghy across a lake when a slightly larger sailing boat was approaching on a collision course. Technically he was the give-way boat, however a woman's enraged voice shouted: "Fuck off we're racing!" Although they didn't recognize me, these were people I worked with. I thought about the times that I had been in a sporting event and played really hard to win. "Not pretty," was my conclusion.

There are plenty of other things to do with my time. Some of them give me hope I can be a better person.
Does it matter whether you hate your . . . self?
At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music...
Robinson Jeffers

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sufficiently advanced technology 2

I am impressed with the advances in relatively cheap cameras, the software to use and manipulate images and the ease with which a total noob like me can make pictures that are really quite pleasing.

I asked someone recently, "What is left for the professional photographer to do?"

The story goes like this: when I was young (about 100 years ago) most families owned cameras and would take "snaps". There was then the process of taking the sealed film container to the "chemist's" for processing and printing (for some reason, many pharmacists seemed to do photographic processing, probably to do with inhaling dangerous chemicals.) Then one waited, singing: "Someday my prints will come!"* The pictures were good quality although expensive. There were also camera shops where you could get more expensive processing and better film, if you were interested. When colour film and processing came along, the price increase was so large that many people resisted the change for a surprisingly long time.

There were many professional photographers. From the guys who would stand around at seaside resorts taking quick shots of passing holidaymakers, to the wedding album specialists, all the way to the professional photographic artists. There must have been many, many corner store-type processing labs and darkrooms. Mostly this was because the equipment was expensive and the training to use it properly was not that easy. If you were a serious enthusiast (like my forgettable first husband), you could buy the tanks, solutions, washing lines, enlargers etc. and do a reasonable job, but it took a long time to get good at it and it was tedious. Not for people like me who are into instant gratification.

When I was a teenager there came the mail-order photo "lab" - you sent your film away, and in 2-3 weeks colour prints came back and, they gave you a free replacement film! This impressed so many people so much that they didn't notice that the processing quality was low, the printing was poor and the results pretty awful. What mattered was that it was cheap, half the price of the alternative. 35 years later the pictures have turned a funny orangey colour, when 60 year-old black and white shots are unchanged. The processing and printing was largely automatic and centralized - the equipment was hugely expensive.

The corner store labs died. Some photographic stores went upscale, most closed down. When automatic processing machines became cheaper, some stores bought them and continued working, however the hyper-marchés (big box stores) now built photo labs in their premises. There was still residual send-away processing from small shops in small towns, but the war of technology had reached the clipper-ship of film: I take my film to a person who inserts it in a machine and a few minutes later out come the prints. My prints will come a lot faster these days...ahem.*

The professional photographers were now the wedding and portrait guys, news photographers, and the artists. Considerable training was still required to guarantee results - you had to capture the shot right there and know that it would work.

Then came digital cameras. Film has largely died. Most people have moved to using lightweight, forgiving and cheap cameras, putting the pictures on a computer and printing them only if really needed. The machines are doing the work now. It takes next to no knowledge or training to understand how to use one, especially in the context where many people have some computer access. And you see the results immediately. If it doesn't work, you do it again. A gifted amateur can do a very decent job of taking wedding photos or portraits. A professional will do better, but not so much that one is actually needed. The barrier to entry in this field is much lower. I suspect that most of this kind of photographer had better have a second source of income.

News photographers are probably the next to feel the pinch. When the camera-phone becomes ubiquitous, the price paid for that unique shot is going to be lower, especially when the shot can be cleaned up using software. Completely apart from the threat that comes from decline of print media.

Most artists have probably always struggled. The technology may lower the bar to the actual making of images and software manipulation does make it a lot easier to implement a vision, but the vision is still unique. We will get many more gifted photographic artists as a result. Competition will make it harder for anyone to become a full-time artist, but the ones that make it will probably be better.

Update - Some interesting photographic artists (no particular order):
* Stolen joke alert!

Friday, May 30, 2008

R.I.P. Jake Thackray

Sad to say he came to a sorry end. I used to go and see this guy when I was a kid. Wonderful dry black humour. I think he translated this song himself.

Also some of my friends think this one is misogynistic. Too bad; it is hilarious, and we should all be prepared to examine ourselves...

Putting your heart into it

It's been said that Life is like a sewer; you largely get out of it what you put into it. However you can be seriously messed up by other people.

There was a time, long ago, when I participated in a big way on Usenet newsgroups - only to be driven out by the volume of spam, trolls and flaming nasties. This happens. The teenage males (of all ages and several sexes) that do this kind of thing are getting their jollies by the net equivalent of graffitti and muggings.

Now there's the world of blogs. Nasty things happen to, basically, good people; Kathy Sierra is the one that springs to mind. Threatening such a fine human being is wrong, and deeply stupid.

Then we have stuff like this dumb-as-a-post attack on the credibility of Jeff Attwood.

I may disagree with some things Jeff writes but he's always worth reading. It's thought-provoking stuff. Only very occasionally MEGO. Judging by his writing, he's a smart, thoughtful person with opinions on a variety of subjects. I like the phrase strong opinions, weakly held. Generalists are to be encouraged in this world of narrow-minded specialists.

I do admire his courage in exposing himself to criticism. That's what happens to popular blogs. I don't care if he's right or wrong, I can judge that for myself. What matters is that he has something to say. I do care when carping and non-constructive criticism try to discourage genuine debate.

The basis of the attack seemed to be that "someone was wrong on the Internet", and that Jeff had said that he didn't think that learning the C language was necessary. In my opinion it actually doesn't matter if one "learns C" or not. Since I graduated in 1980 I have never "learned" a programming language systematically - it's all been learning by doing and learning by example then discovering the more esoteric stuff. Most of my collection of several hundred books about programming have only been partly read by me. Sometimes skimmed through, sometimes dropped after 100 pages.

(And, incidentally, when did the freaking programming books get to be 700-900 pages instead of a couple of hundred? About 5-10 years ago. My bookshelves are groaning with paper...switching to a tablet device and electronic books might's showing promise so far. Anyhoo, authors are too ready to write immense tomes which really should be a long technical article or blogpost. Where the heck are the editors? I have been buying used books for a while now and encourage others to do the same (ABE books can get almost anything) - in the hope that in some small way it discourages the longer format - silly, I know. A small book giving the essentials backed up with a website containing the long examples and downloadable stuff would be so much better.)

It is arguable that I am a better maintenance programmer because I do not study a language deeply before working in it. This is now called "refactoring" and has become respectable again. I can certainly grok code as fast or faster than anyone I know. I think that I can pick up at least a superficial grasp of new tools, languages and techniques quickly because I am not plugged deeply into the massive amount of library code that most languages develop over time. At least enough to know whether I want to go further. That is not to say that it isn't painful sometimes (I have had some struggles especially with the more organic mutations of, say, ActionScript. I mean why does it have to have four ways of doing the same thing? lol, it's almost as if it was a human language!)

There is a role for the generic "programmer" as a smart person with an idea, or who is open to the ideas of others, or even more importantly, finds an idea and popularizes it.

Programming is ultimately about communication and ideas, isn't it? We are communicating with the machine and to those that follow us. And most great programmers are not sheep who just follow one path. They are usually people who have multiple other interests - such as gaming, sailing, music, mathematics, physics, psychology, art, athletics - and as such, real people bring insight into the largely hermetic world of the coder.

I have lived in the world of software long enough to know lame when I see it. And the self-declared iconoclast who derides the credibility of someone who puts his heart into his writing... well, get over it fella. You can earn your own credibility with your own work. Life is not a zero-sum game.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Total Perspective Vortex

In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams uses the Total Perspective Vortex as a impossible plot device*. Well, here's one for free and here's one you can buy.
And here's another one which is apparently a free download:

* (Stolen joke alert!) Actually not impossible, just very, very improbable.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Get the picnic hamper out!Get the picnic hamper out!Ottawa has the most beautiful plantation of ornamental cherry blossoms in an almost neglected corner: adjacent to the Lincoln Fields bus transit station. It is a repeated surprise that, every year, we are the only people to have a hanami picnic in that location. Occasional Japanese stop by, smile and take a picture, but no other parties under the blossoms. We are surprised that the trees are not officially celebrated as they are in other places.

This year we took our picnic lunch there when the weather was perfect; warm and sunny but with a strong wind from an approaching cold front (a storm came later in the day). Petals were falling like a pink blizzard. Cardinals and red-wing blackbirds singing amongst the branches. Incredible.

This was taken at Bonnie's funeral home at the end of my street, not on the picnic!

Update: 2009-04-24 Bonnie has just had this tree pollarded. It will die. Damn her.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Memorable lines

On American Idol: "The Eurovision Song Contest comes to the Americas"

"Entertain me when I'm drunk, educate me when I'm sober."

"Panic is what happens when you fall off the cliff of procrastination."

"Code control is what distinguishes men from beasts."

Book title: "The Constant Shopper"

"Any sufficiently advanced programmer... will use the shell."

"Bash is your friend."

"If you don't believe in compromise, you'll always be naive."

"Ideologues are naive by definition: 'You're either for me or against me'. The algorithm is simple: if one disagrees then one is defined as unenlightened or evil. If one resists enlightenment then one must be evil."

"Cats don't have owners, they have staff."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cracker county welcomes careful boaters

There's merit in living in a small town, apart from the clean air, the quiet environment, the scenery, and the friendly's cheap, for one thing. My property taxes are a stunning $1200 per year. The property we live in cost us very little to buy* - the price of a down payment on a mortgage in the big city (as if anyone ever does such a radical thing these days as put money down on a house).

For a boater of limited means, one could close such a property and go sailing and it wouldn't cost too much to keep it going. Someone to cut the grass in summer and shovel snow off the driveway in winter does not cost much in a place where people will do casual labour for $8 an hour and a case of beer...

After our 6-month trips to Florida by boat (97-99) it would have been nice to return to a cottage like this instead of selling most of our furniture, putting our remaining stuff in storage and bunking up in my mother's place when we returned.

Another rather endearing thing about the town is that it is so white bread. This has disadvantages (minor for us: we will never fit in, our ancestors weren't born here**; major for visible minorities who are given a hard time, including the nice Sikh family who run the local gas station) but it also has advantages. As a foodie, I can pompously evangelize in the local supermarket. Mick's Value Mart is at the end of a long distribution chain, with (presumably) a computerized allotment of various foods that get shipped to them. This has hilarious results: the store gets all this funny fresh produce shipped from the big city and then it sits around until they throw it out.

No more; as soon as the avocados are thrown into the "99 cents a bag bin" we score big time. They have just reached that perfect state of ripeness to be eaten and 5 for a dollar is a good price compared to $1.49 each on the normal shelf.***

The store has a lot of minimum wage ($8 per hour) cashiers. The checkout is the place for interesting conversations: "What is this?" they ask, desperately searching for the item on the computerized pictorial list of produce.

"Celeriac", "Raddichio", "Anise", "Mango", "Avocado", we breezily answer, "Product code 4538."

The smarter ones then sometimes add: "How do you cook it?" Clearly it's vegetable matter and has to be boiled to buggery to make it edible. A couple of times, I have given a recipe and had feedback: "My friends were impressed with that mango I made!" one said recently. "It goes great with beer!" I agreed.

On the other hand, the Jamaican lady and I who buy the "unusual" produce probably should hope that the locals remain in ignorance; if the demand goes up, so will the cost to us.

Another minor disadvantage is that a depressed town is, well, depressing. More than half of the population are fairly genteel retired people. The smart folk have mostly moved away. When the factories keep closing, the already marginalized part of population gets poorer. When the cable TV is cut off or they can't afford to run their air conditioners, on a summer night obese people sit around on their front porch drinking beer and swearing at their many snot-faced kids. It's a cheery scene, punctuated by the occasional outbreak of even louder swearing as families come into conflict with one another.

To an outsider, this is all totally harmless - we are invisible. The only people that the local halfwits are interested in are other halfwits. We have come to affectionately term this place as "F#ckwit County" in their honour.

I may sound like I'm laughing at them in my elitist way, but I recognize the seriousness of the situation for them and the community at large. Fewer jobs, less money and everyone suffers. However someone is doing well: the lottery machines in the local convenience stores, the supermarket and (what are they thinking?) the pharmacy are rarely silent. The beer store and liquor store do a roaring trade. Smuggling across the border to/from the US increases: people, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, guns.

There are many houses for rent in this town for $500-$600 per month. They are not bad places to live either. That's all the market will bear.

If you want to feel a frisson of pure horror, imagine being a teenager in a town like this...

* House: 600 square feet(55 m²) on a 75x120 foot lot (23x37m) - for a boater this is huge! I used to lie in bed at night and reach up with my hand to touch...nothing - "What will we do with all this space?" $50,000 to $100,000.

** The United Empire Loyalists settled this place at the end of the 1700's when they were ethnically-cleansed or politically persecuted in the United States. Wagon trains of refugees marching North through Winter to their new promised land. Their descendants are still here. Technically half of North Carolina still belongs to some of these families, if you follow the current Cuban exiles' logic.

*** I refuse to pay $1.49 for a mango or avocado. The very idea! They grow on trees, you know!

Update: OK, as a concession to the kindly folks that undeniably exist in the majority round here, we'll re-title this item from "Halfwit county..." to "Cracker county..."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Penis enlargement rears its ugly head again

A little while ago, I was convinced that the amount of penis enlargement spam was dropping off. No more. It was me, after all. No appreciable diminution since then. Perhaps even a little swelling.

"You woman will surely appreciate a larger love cannon!" comes the claim. My "love cannon*" is already more than...ahem.

Today the level of spam is steady, and still about 50% P.E. offers, 10% misc. pharmaceuticals (most of which are for Viagra-type effects so that probably counts as a variety of P.E. offer), although deals on various fabulous timepieces is now up to about 40%...with a few odd handbags, bank loans and gambling opportunities thrown in.

However there are 2 new entrants: about once every 3 days an email that consisting of all ????s (presumably in a non-Roman alphabet; by all accounts it's probably "The Dalai Lama is insufferable, insanitary splittist person") and several offers to sell me a "Bacheelor/ MasteerMBA/ Doctoraate" (sic) diploma.

Their claim is probably true though: "No test, no class." Precisely. Couldn't have said it better meself.

And then there's the merely peculiar: "HIII, auntyy sueee and uncle aaarrrttt..." writes brandy lawrence. Hmm - Perhaps Art's the one who needs the bigger equipment. Art? Who ever you are, I got a great offer for you...

* or should I say, the "love cannon" that I use...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sufficiently advanced technology

Borrowed the Don's camera to take pictures in the back yard. Crocuses, crocuses and more crocuses (with bee). It not only took great shots but the darn thing puts the pictures' meta-data all rolled into the jpg format. More information than I can shake a stick at anyhow. Isn't technology wonderful? No more working out "Well that must have been the Thursday before Easter..." or burning a digital date on the "film". Next thing you know they're going to have GPS co-ordinates* as well.

Probably already quote Ian Dury "There 'en 'alf bin some clever bastards!"

Only a few years ago you would have needed huge amounts of money, time and an assistant to carry all the gear to get shots like that. Not to mention taking the "film" down to the pharmacy (chemist's) and singing that old, old song:

"Someday my prints will come!"**

Poor old thing, I think it's magic. We're standing on the toes of giants.**

* Don't tell me. I'm roughly 45N 75W...the boat's in the barn and the GPS is firmly turned off...
** Stolen joke alert!

Geotagging photos

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Incredible Vagueness of Being Microsoft

Once more we venture into another rant about MS products. This time, not Vista, which I have so far managed to avoid, but MS Office 2007*.

I received a new machine at work, fair dinkum, quad core 2.4 Ghz 3 GB machine. All is wonderful 'cept I had to re-install all me apps, but it gave me a chance to clean up my desktop and bookmarks and update a bunch of stuff so that was OK. However, the pre-installed Office "package" is really a lame chihuahua when I was used to a greyhound.

Vague Windows I call 'em. These kind of ghostly soft-edged pastelly boxes with Outlook, Office, Excel etc. inside. They do not inherit the desktop theme from the OS! Why not, you b*stards! Isn't that the rule of UI, do what the user wants and has come to expect? At my advanced age (100 at least), I do not want to be pleasantly surprised by your UI designers hoopy new ideas. They are really bad for the upgrading user, and I haven't a hope of explaining it to my non-computer literate folks.

I have at least dual 21" monitors and I often have 20+ windows open at the same time so your app is not the only focus of my attention, even when I'm typing in it. It is constantly annoying to be unable to distinguish the border of the window and to accidentally click on the wrong thing. Aack! I did try changing the office theme, and it went from vague grey to pastelly blue to a kind of washed out black. Sigh. I'm surprised the freaking things don't come with doilies and antimacassars. Design can be a lovely thing when done well, when done badly it's worse than no design (or the old design anyway).

And don't even get me started about the "ribbon" thing and moving familiar landmarks and tools of the expert Word user to new and unexpected places.

I truly think this UI is an abomination. Open Office for me, I think.

* Pay no attention, I'm taking antibiotics and feel horrid.

A fella writes...about dog by-products

In mild hysteria here in the frozen wastes, the white stuff is melting...Don received this on one of his boating forums in response to someone mentioning that the first bikini siting would be a sign of Spring:

...But,truth be told,the bikini is only the
first sign of Summer, not Spring. Around here, it is common
knowledge that the only real sign of Spring,which I define as the
moment no further snow will fall,is when the soft warm winds carry
with them the not altogether pleasent ordour shit.Yup,
that's right folks, the lowly dog poop finally being released from
decades(in doggy years) of its' snow and ice prison. Like the
Siberian wooly mammoth, these un-collected artifacts from mans' best
friend begin to rise from their frozen lairs like blackheads on a
teenagers face.Tickled by the ever warmer rays of the sun, the
microbes and bacteria various,which had once cuddled up close to the
turd for warmth, begin to eat their way through this impressive
buffet of un-used doggy nutrients.Although I doubt these microscopic
creatures have ever eaten a bowel of genuine Texan 911 chili sauce,
you would never know it judging by the thunderous flatulance
festival produced,en masse, by thses critters.Ah yes.....many has
been the warm Spring day when I have silenced my inner voices,pushed
the beer bottle away and listened to these rude expulsions
emminating from orifices most tiny.A veritable miny sphinctoral
orchestra(in D maj,for the music fans amongst us),apparently without
a conductor and whose symphony pollutes the very air we breath.
That is when I willingly open another beer,tilt my head back,stare
into the sun,momentarily go blind and raise a toast to Mother
Nature, the giver and taker of all things living and say," Thanks


Peter "Bat Ears" Lenihan, busy with interior finish details and
looking forward to the bright splash of eye focusing summer spandex
colours disguised as bikinis.........

Movie review: Compare Harold and Kumar go to White Castle with Bachelor Party

For inexplicable reasons, I recently watched these two movies almost one after the other.

"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is definitely aimed at immature teenage boys, so I fit right in to their market demographic. However I found it hilarious. Well worth watching for a bit of a laff. A couple of scenes I classify as IWM¹ funny. Kind of Cheech and Chong for the current crowd of wannabe drug-swilling hetero nerds. Mostly formulaic and predictable (except for the appearance of Neil Patrick Harris as a degenerate pervert called "Neil Patrick Harris", and the controversial use of the "goto" instruction²) but it struck me that this film illustrates the current state of censorship (perhaps self-censorship) of Hollywood. Lots of references to violence, soft drugs, and "strong language", but very little nudity (a few bosom flashes only) or serious sexual references. Acting was strong, scripting pretty good and the plot, FWIW held together. Production is actually pretty good.

I contrast H&K with "Bachelor Party", the 1984 film that was one of the first big-screen appearances by Tom Hanks. In this movie, pretty well aimed at the same age group of teens, there is a lot more nudity, sexual situations, orgies, S&M, bestiality, hard drug use (admittedly mostly by a donkey) and depictions of prostitutes³. The acting (apart from Hanks) varies from bad to seriously bad (his leading lady appears to be made from some kind of sap wood); the first half is more or less unwatchable. You won't lose anything by skipping to the middle. I would guess it was a very low budget film at the time.

Perhaps I should have watched "Cheech and Chong" alongside H&K, but I think we are can say from this experiment that teen movies have cleaned themselves up as far as sex is concerned. Disappointing, really. The last part of BP is kinda fun.

One constant between 1984 and today is the design and structure of North American school buses. How can it be that these are the only vehicles that remain unchanged in 25 years?

¹ IWM: I Wet Myself
² Sorry, but I do make programs for a living & don't get out much
³ This is therefore literally "pornographic", pedant.

The Post-Modern 7 Dwarfs*

I wrote this about 15 years ago to cheer up an acquaintance. When I asked him how he was he would always respond "Crappy!" When he was obviously worse I sent him this...

How are you Steve?

I'm not well right now. I feel like the post-modern* 7 dwarfs:
  • Crappy,
  • Lousy,
  • Smelly,
  • Dirty,
  • Nasty,
  • Horny and
  • Richard Branson
(Also rans: Filthy, Scummy, Itchy, Rummy, Scratchy, Huggy, and HRH Prince Charles.)

* or perhaps that should be pre- post-modern neo-colonial brutalist, I'm not much aware of architectural movements.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dealing with seasickness

I have done a lot of small boat sailing in my life. I love it, yet I get very seasick. I am often asked how I deal with it, so here is what works for me.

The knowledge that you will get seasick can be daunting. You may already know if you are susceptible to seasickness; if you got car-sick as a kid or if you find it nauseating to read a book on a bus or in a car, you will probably get seasick in a small boat. For everyone else, there will probably be times that you get seasick. There are a few robust individuals who appear immune, but even Don has been known to spew in the cockpit (admittedly immediately after chugging an entire can of soda pop).

Preparation: before the trip
Do not eat a hearty, rich, fatty meal before a voyage. Not even the night before. The stereotypical sailor's meal of pizza and beer is exactly the kind of thing that will ensure a "Roman incident". Have a light meal of some bread and fruit. Drink water or watered fruit juice.

Do not drink alcohol at all before or during a trip. After you have the hook down, fine. Same for any other recreational drugs. You want your head clear and your balance to be as normal as possible.

Get lots of sleep. It's a very busy time provisioning, loading, doing last minute repairs, weather routing, chart planning and so on. Try to build up a "sleep surplus" - even if you are not seasick it will help out on those first night watches as you get used to life at sea.

Prevention is way easier
There is a theory that explains seasickness thus: your brain detects signals from your ears (balance) and eyes that disagree and thinks that you have been poisoned, thereby triggering a vomiting reflex to remove the toxic substance that it thinks you have eaten. Whether this is so I don't know. However, it is certain that seasickness is the cause of a lot of anxiety and unhappy crew members. For some reason, in my experience, women are more susceptible than men.

Take your medication for seasickness well before you start sailing. Usually two hours before. Follow the directions. It is a lot easier to stop seasickness before it starts than to interrupt it once it has got hold, in my experience.

Types of medication:
Dramamine - available as pills, liquid and suppositories, branded as Gravol in North America, this is quite good, although it does make me a bit sleepy.
Scopalamine - this is available as Transderm Scop, the famous transdermal patch that has helped a lot of sufferers. It is also available as Scopace, which is in pill form. I have found it quite effective, although the side effects of extremely dry mouth and weird giddyness are disturbing. It is a very strong drug and smaller people (especially women) report many weird psychological effects. The 3-day patches do stick well but in a very warm climate (where you sweat even behind the ears) they may come off.
Meclizine - branded as Bonine/Antivert, in the form of pills. Didn't help me much but it may help you. It is said to have fewer side effects.
Cinnarizine - branded as Stugeron these pills are very effective for me. Unfortunately they are not sold in U.S. You can get them in Europe and Canada.

Other remedies:
Chewing very hard. Funnily enough, although I am not an alternative remedy kind of person, I do find chewing ginger helps. I am not sure if this is because of the strong flavour or the chewing action, or because it has some drug-like action. I find that chewing beef jerky or anything really salty also helps. I have not tried chewing gum. The very strongly flavoured bright red salted semi-dry ginger slices sold in Chinese food shops are very good. Or Tamarind. I've been addicted since childhood.

Bracelets - some people swear by the elasticated bracelets with so called "accupressure" plastic knobs on that press into the the tendons on the inside of the wrist. I think "Sea Bands" was the brand name. Hey, I wore them, and a scopolamine patch, and chewed ginger, and didn't get seasick so they obviously work...

Aromatherapy - on occasion a strong whiff of a pleasant perfume or essential oil has appeared to avert the start of seasickness. I keep a few vials of the stuff around. It worked one time for me and not another time. Although I'm sceptical, it can't hurt.

During the trip
If the weather is calm, many folk do not get seasick. However the long gentle swells that come from a distant storm are actually worse for me than more violent waves. For example, I was fine over the course of many hours with the 3 metre waves we encountered on Lake Ontario probably because they were close together. A long 2 metre swell in the Atlantic made me feel sick within an hour.

Avoid leaning down below, or being out of sight of the horizon unless you are lying down. Try to keep in a fresh flow of air. Get something to do, like navigating or steering the boat. Sit on deck in the wind and look at the horizon (fasten your safety harness to the boat. You are wearing your safety harness above deck, aren't you?) Avoid strong greasy smells (like lasagna cooking on the stove, or diesel fumes). Try to avoid listening to other people puking as this can set you off as well.

Once I start to get seasick, the first signs for me are a headache and mild nausea. Then immediately before the first vomiting attack, a rush of saliva in the mouth. You must get to the rail or over something impervious to fluid or you will be wiping up puke from the carpet. If you make someone else do it you will not be popular. (Fortunately no serious cruising boats have carpeting.)

If you are like me, you will vomit a number of times until you have emptied your stomach. Then you will vomit some more. And more. For me it's every 10-20 minutes. It is exhausting, but do not give up, try to serve your watches. The danger here is of dehydration. Once my stomach is empty, I carry around a bottle of water and a large cup. The cup is for vomiting into (nothing much left inside so it is big enough) the bottle is for taking a few swigs whenever I can bring myself to. With practice you can almost work normally for 19 minutes out of 20. Not pleasant (for others either), but it will pass.

The seasickness stops in one of two ways, for me. Either I get my "sea legs" and it just stops (after about 2-3 days), or I get tired and dehydrated and collapse into a whiny, incapable, self-pitying mound of misery and lie down in a corner to die. Warn the other crew members that this is to be expected, tell them to bring you a cup of water once in a while (every couple of hours) and perhaps a slice of fruit to suck on. You will probably reject their offerings with hideous moans and curses. If they are really good friends tell them to bring you anti-nausea medication in the form of suppositories and get them to make sure you use it.

Keep taking your medication even if you are constantly vomiting. Pills or suppositories.

After the trip
You will live. You will at some point want to die, and this will continue, but you will be OK if you are sensible and the crew help you. It is like magic; as soon as you sail into calmer waters or as soon as you get off the boat you will be cured! You will feel fragile but relieved to be alive. Drink plenty of fluid and get some sleep - unless you have just made Port of Spain and have an appointment with Carnival!

H. Pylori and why it's important

All my life, well, since I was a teenager, I had had mild acid reflux "indigestion" especially after eating cooked plum tomatoes, and food "allergies" to shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams, etc). I lived with it without much thought. If I accidentally ate a scallop in a restaurant I would have a horrible bout of vomiting a few hours later, silly me.

In 2003, after Don had been living with me for 10 years, he got a serious ulcer. He became very ill from blood loss. Our doctor put him on some kind of acid reduction pills and told him to stop eating spicy food and take iron supplements. "Oh the stress of our life is making him sick," we thought. Actually we, and she, were wrong.

When Don got ulcers again a few months later (he recognized the symptoms before he got very ill) we did some research. We found that ulcers are caused by a bacterium (Helicobacter pylori), which can also cause cancer of the stomach and esophagus. It is likely transmitted by water or oral-oral contact, however it is not very contagious. There is a simple breath test for the infection.

Our doctor took a lot of persuasion; she was a technophobe and considered anything we read "on the Internet" to be akin to reading a supermarket tabloid. Don went to see her, armed with a lot of serious references, and she was very surprised. When he went back for the next appointment she had read up on it and, knew everything there was to know :-)

Don was sent to a gastrenterologist who put him on a course of simple antibiotics to kill the H.Pylori, but his post test still showed positive. I went along to his next appointment and suggested that I might be reinfecting him. That doctor admitted the possibility, but also said the organism was hard to kill - it hides in the stomach lining. I was tested and found to be positive, so he put us both on the next level of treatment. This is the so-called triple-therapy: high doses of two different antibiotics and a drug to reduce stomach acid; in our case metronidazole, tetracyclin and pantoprazole, along with use of bismuth in the form of Pepto-Bismol.

I developed a lot of sympathy for people who are on serious long-term drug therapies. These pills had to be taken in a strict schedule, every two hours starting two hours before breakfast (!) and washed down with generous doses of Pepto-Bismol. I came to associate the wintergreen taste of "Pepto-Dismal" with the nausea caused by tetracycline. It was one of the hardest two weeks of my life, although it sounds trivial: "keep taking the tablets." Constant nausea, lowered mental function - I could barely work, even from home. Yuck.

However, a month later we were tested again. We were apprehensive; the GI guy had made the point that there was a third line of attack against H. Pylori - but he suggested that we should sincerely hope that we didn't have to have that. Fortunately we were both negative.

The result is good news; Don has had no more ulcers and I have had no indigestion since. I can eat shellfish again - although I don't see the point of eating tasteless bivalves that live in the sea filtering out any shit that happens to float by. Whether the reflux was caused by H.Pylori (probable) or by other organisms that were offed by the treatment (possible) I am not sure.

I was probably infected when living in Fiji as a child, over 40 years ago - this bacterium is very long-lived and much more common in the Third World. My mother was also positive, and also had reflux as long as she could remember. Fortunately she responded to the simple therapy.

So if anyone still has a doctor that thinks ulcers are a lifestyle disease, get yourself tested. Marshall and Warren are two Australian doctors who got the Nobel prize for medicine in 2005 for this discovery. It is also possible that if you experience constant reflux, chronic indigestion, or weird food "allergies" that change from one year to the next you have this potentially serious infection.

In Ontario the simple blood test for antibodies is free to residents, however the more definite urea breath test costs about $60. It's required after the therapy because the antibodies persist for a long time giving false positives.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

BS bingo

One way to occupy one's mind during sales/marketing bun-fights (apart from open criticism and ruthless mockery à la Heather Mallick) is to keep track of the surreal forms of language used. Many of these phrases have a proud provenance in management stories from airline magazines way back to the '90's:

Paradigm shift (1962)
Low-hanging fruit
Back to base
Crossing the chasm (1991)
Reorient internally
Commitment to be visible in the market
Outwardly focussed
Abandon the status quo
Rebrand the company
Market relevant products
Be proactive
High impact events
High profile
Resonate with the customer
Leverage the brand
High touch, high value
Fly below the radar
Barely tapped the opportunity
Learn how to play in those markets
Lifecycle of customer
Load up model
We moved the boat a lot last year
Smart investments
Helping your customers buy you
Cover off the bases
Create excitement
Touch the customer
Take it to the next level
Stay on the radar
Execute and trust the person next to you
Be counted
Top of mind
Care passionately about
The takeaway
Biting off more than we can chew
Focus on bigger market niches
Drive additional revenue

"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre: c'est de la folie." Pierre Bosquet

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Movie review: Lust caution

This Ang Lee epic (aren't they all?) drama is well worth watching. It's also disturbing - a serious work about love, death, war, fascism, youthful idealism, and of what, depending upon your POV, it takes to make either a freedom fighter or a terrorist. An espionage drama with a gritty Grahame Greene feel to it.

The protagonist is Wong Chia Chi, played by the absolutely gorgeous and talented Tang Wei. She is the unwanted daughter of a rich man who has fled China. At school in Hong Kong at the end of the '30's, when China is torn by warring factions and the Japanese are very much the enemy, she falls in with a group of politically-minded students who form a patriotic drama group. She becomes the star of their show to provide support for the Chinese cause. Afterwards, realizing that they haven't actually done anything useful, the group of five, now friends, resolve to take action. They decide to assassinate an important collaborator, Yee (played by Tony Leung) who has arrived from the mainland. Since their target is well-protected, they invent a honey trap baited with Chia Chi, disguised as the neglected wife of a businessman, although she has no sexual experience.

Their efforts nearly succeed. Yee, middle-aged and with a boring wife, is intrigued by her youth and charm. However he returns to China before the group can take action, and the messy murder of a minor thug drives Chia Chi away from them.

A few years later with the Japanese and Kuomintang now in full murderous control of South China, members of the cell, discover Chia Chi living in poverty in Shanghai. They recruit her back to finish the job, supported by mysterious Chinese resistance agents now that Yee has become head of the secret police. The last half of the movie details her successful attempt to become Yee's mistress and her struggle to bring him to be murdered by the group. Needless to say, it does not end happily.

The mind and behaviour of the character Yee, is very disturbing. A powerful and ruthless killer, he is apparently completely amoral. He even knows that the collaborationist regime he supports is doomed. We are seeing corruption taking place as his civilized exterior is eroded by his lust for his work. His internal conflicts appear only when he is shown in the home with his rich, spoiled wife. When alone with Chia Chi he can give rein to his brutal nature. This includes some of the most violent but compelling sex scenes that I have seen in a serious movie. Most of them have been cut from most distributions. The reaction of the woman who is raped and tortured, and cannot flee because of her commitments is breathtaking - she hates it and yet she is consumed by it. In a horrible irony, her compliance actually changes her abuser; he comes to some form of love for her, although he is still a monster.

Another interesting characterization was that of the students; young, well-educated, idealistic, and with a sense of justice and righteousness on their side. They take to the life of a terrorist cell as a desperate measure to do something in an attempt to help their cause. This seems to me to be the real explanation for ideologically driven espionage and terrorism, from the Cambridge group in the '30's to the people who brought down the World Trade Center towers. Once people are caught in a web of ideology in their formative years it is easy to see how they can be used to do almost anything.

The incidental scenes of life in China in the 1939-1943 are also very striking: rich collaborators having polite tea and mahjong parties while the poor are brutalized by soldiers; destitute multitudes passing through security checkpoints and in breadlines; lost White Russians washed up in Shanghai working as prostitutes and rickshaw runners.

All told, a brilliant, serious work.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pair programming: an experience

As with many of the Agile techniques, pair programming may be counter-intuitive when you first hear about it. Having worked like this for about 6 months now, I think I can say that it can be very successful.

This particular experience has been productive, fun and a very effective way to transfer knowledge. I was, prior to this, a Java/JSP developer for a couple of years. I consider myself a professional programmer. My oppo, Derek, was a very experienced Flash designer/web programmer. Two totally different domains with practically no intersection.

Our mission was to pick up the pieces of the ASK Flash client apps (the previous incumbents having departed 3 and 12 months previously) and to develop the first of the oral reading training activities for students using the red5 media server for recording/playback.

These previous apps had been under development for about 5 years and in that time server-client traffic had become a bottleneck. The apps needed to hold the server's hand when they did anything. The Flash apps are pretty and intelligent and could do a lot more of the heavy lifting. So we also had to implement a new way for the apps to function in the system.

Working together, often at the same computer, I found that I learned a huge amount about Flash apps, and, of course the programming language AS2. I am now quite proficient. I am still a beginner at the design side of Flash, although I can follow what Derek does - this is truly an alien way of thinking for a text-based worker like me.

Derek for his part was not an object-oriented programmer before this, but is now a pretty fair coder.

Together we have made 3 major apps, now working on the 4th, each of them is better than the last in both design and code. It has been very effective for us to actually work at one desk for a lot of the time, especially when coding and building the logic of the apps. It's also been a lot of fun. This has been perhaps the only drawback - I've heard a manager grumble about "splitting us up", as if we were just being social - lol.

Interestingly, almost but not quite the same degree of collaboration can also be achieved remotely from our homes about 80 km apart, VPN'ing in to the company network. We use IM and Skype to talk and run local dev environments as well as Remote Desktop to our office machines.

One major consideration is code quality; we catch a lot more errors earlier than I would alone. Also I think that talking through the logic really makes it more robust.

Another advantage is that the two of us really understand the apps and code in considerable depth. I trust that Derek can make code changes, and I think he'd let me make mods to the Flash apps.

All considered, I'd definitely recommend pair programming in the case where two experienced developers can complement one another's skills.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book review: The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

Definitely worth reading. I picked this book up last year to read on a long flight, and it kept me completely engaged. I re-read it again recently, and it still speaks to me, which is what I like in a book that I have spent money on buying new.

This book is a collection of 6 extended essays each called "Consolation for" a particular problem. The problems for which the author uses philosophy to give us consolation are: "Unpopularity", "Not having enough money", "Frustration", "Inadequacy", "A broken heart" and the rather generic "Difficulties". It's probably fair to say that every human over a certain age has encountered one or more of this group of obstacles (or the modern idea is to call them "issues", probably in an attempt to diminish their seriousness. Happy clappy crap, lol ).

As an attempt to make philosophy relevant to Everyman, this is a very readable, entertaining, informative and encouraging book. The approach is quite interesting; in each essay de Botton gives an account of a particular philosopher's life and work, and tries to encourage us to take comfort in our own lives.

There is a layered approach to the essays: presenting paintings and photos of the various subjects, landscapes, and people, together with lists of things to be considered on the various topics, lists of counterpoints, with biographical details, extensive quotations and commentaries. This is certainly makes the book interesting and gives a multi-media feel. Apparently it has been turned into a television series - "Philosophy: A guide to Happiness".

The first four essays are very effective. His accounts of Socrates (unpopularity, of course) and Epicurus (not having enough money) are fresh and thought provoking.
Frustration's consolation is illustrated by the life and thought (or mostly the death) of Seneca.
Inadequacy (including sexual, cultural and intellectual) is covered by a survey of the life and work of Michel de Montaigne.
Up to this point everything was going very well and I was fair entranced by the author's arguments.

Things started to fall apart somewhat when his consolation for a broken heart covered the life and work of Schopenhauer and the consolation for difficulties was the life of Nietzsche. The ideas of these two are perhaps more a reason for gloom than a consolation. Interesting though.

De Botton's explanation of Schopenhauer's ideas about the heart are a bit histrionic, in my opinion. I was not convinced at all about the reasons that people fall in love and may or may not be rejected, especially in the light of subsequent biological and psychological research or even my own life experiences. The idea that our subconscious is assessing everyone for fitness as a parent of potential children is surely not sufficient to explain the full range of human sexual response and the wide variety of misery that everyone may encounter when the course of true love runs over a cliff. Every person is different and we all have our hot spots, as it were, but it's not just about reproduction. The mind is the biggest sexual organ, after all; and for a wide range of non-reproducing potential shaggers (elders, same sex lovers, one-night stands and so on) there must be other reasons for attraction. Certainly there is some kind of imprinting that happens in childhood or youthful early sexual experience that appears to determine the kinds of people we find interesting.

The idea that the life of Nietzsche could console anyone for anything, is also bit of a stretch. The Nietzsche essay was, frankly, mealy mouthed. The fact that this fellow spent most of his life miserable and then made his own suffering into a kind of virtue is, well, sad, but it doesn't translate into making me (or anyone I would think) feel better about confronting difficulties. The idea that striving for something makes the achievement sweeter is worth pondering, and the journey can be the reward - especially if one never arrives. However, what about all the people who struggle without achievement, or those who give up in despair? Somewhat harsh to say that they are unworthy weaklings and that the struggle is worth it because it somehow makes one more of a human. At best it may be a totem to keep up the spirits, but is it a real consolation for an intelligent person? Where is the room for compassion, recovery or redemption? Or is it all "Arbeit macht frei"?

Conclusions and quotes:
Unpopularity: "The philosopher offered us a way out of two powerful delusions: that we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion" To follow his example, we will be best be rewarded if we strive instead to listen to the dictates of reason."

Not having enough money: "Happiness may be difficult to obtain. The obstacles are not primarily financial."

Frustration: "What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears."

A broken heart: "We must, between periods of digging in the dark, endeavour always to transform our tears into knowledge."

Difficulties: "Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad."

However, in spite of minor quibbles, this is a book worth reading, re-reading and, yes, buying new. Fancy that!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Looking at Tumblr, which is like a cross between a blog and Twitter. We can embed a link or the entire thing in a web page FWIW:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Steel Junk rig schooner Pilger

This file is hereby released into the public domain by its author, Don Taylor. This applies worldwide. Don Taylor grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Avast behind!


St Lawrence Rowing

Test content from SLRC