This is not a blog. So sue me!

Crikey, things are looking up!

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


St Lawrence Rowing

Test content from SLRC