March 2006 Archives

Well, a helpful gentleman from Dell dropped around this afternoon, and consequently my work laptop is up and running again. Just as well to be honest, my own laptop, an increasingly creaky old Dell Inspiron, has near given up the ghost. It was all I could do to keep it running for more than a few minutes at a time before the dreaded blue screen of death reared it's ugly head. It's almost a shame that I'm back at work really, the extra time off (which counted as neither holiday time, nor sick days after I politely declined my managers suggestion that it could be assigned as such), was quite soothing really. Admittedly I wasn't able to do much with it today, as I needed to stick around the flat waiting for the repair man to turn up, but it was a chance to unwind before my holiday, since holidays are rarely as relaxing as advertised (but in a good way as far as I'm concerned). I did celebrate the lengthening evening (post spring clock change), with a peramble around outside. It was a bright and warm evening with a freshly washed scent after the long rainfall earlier in the afternoon, and though I didn't see any rainbows, it was hard to believe that there wasn't one lurking around a corner somewhere.

I shan't return until next Monday evening, so you probably won't hear much from me until then. Rest assured I plan on enjoying myself rather a lot, and I'll try to have some photographic evidence of such upon my return.

See you later!

Well, with my hand on my heart, I can say most honestly that I saw that coming. A little over two months ago in fact. That's when I noticed the plug on my laptop's power adaptor beginning to fray near where it connects to the computer. It's never a good sign (I tend to get through laptop power adaptors on nearly a yearly basis so I know all too well the severity of the situation).

Of course, technically this wasn't my laptop, so the solution was simple. Call up work and request a new power adaptor. Which I did. On a regular basis. For almost two months. The fact that the state of the cable was deteriorating at a rapid clip didn't seem to make my difference to the general lethargy with which my problem was viewed. Nor did my complaint that it was now being held together by tape after a spot of emergency power cable surgery. I threatened on numerous occasions that I was on the verge of being unable to perform my functions as a consequence. A gentle breeze rustled the trees in response.

And today, at a little before 4pm my predictions came true and the power adaptor gave out once and for all. In a final act of spite, it also took out the laptop with it. With an audible crackle the laptop ceased to be - not a flicker of life remained. My best guess is that the motherboard's been fried. There's no problem that can't be made worse by holding to a course of inaction for long enough it seems.

I'm not completely netless fortunately, since I dug my old laptop out of the bottom of the wardrobe in which it's been languishing, but age has not been kind to it. One of the fans has given out, and the other seems to spin with arthritic irregularity. I've installed a temperature monitor and it's in severe danger of overheating if I stress the cpu any. Light browsing seems fine, but anything beyond that and the temperature soars to worrying levels.

I'm in a bit of bind workwise, naturally, since there's little I can do without a decent laptop to work from. Rather worringly the infrastructure department didn't seem to have much of an idea as to what the deal with Dell is support wise. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm off to Venice on Wednesday, and it doesn't seem likely I'll have a suitable replacement before then. I'll find out more tomorrow.

I'm quite adamant that I'm not going to be taking the next few days off as holiday if I can't work however. It's a situation I've been warning off for two months, after all. I think I'm going to claim it as time off ill instead. It's a bit of a stretch given that it's my laptop that's ill rather than myself, but the net effect is the same, and given my mostly exemplary record at work for sick days (8 days in 5 years, mostly due to a spell in hospital for surgery), I don't feel it's too far out of line.

It's almost galling just how preventable the situation was though. For want of a power adaptor...

Spot the difference

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Visited 5 countries (2%)


Visited 6 countries (2%)

It's only a small increase, and it hasn't actually happened yet, but next week I'm making my first foray into mainland Europe for over a decade. More specifically, I have a a few days booked in Venice. If you'll allow me an understatement, I'm rather looking forward to it.

You can make you own, and probably considerably more impressing looking visited countries map, but I'll only be envious of you do.

Youtube video. Despite the comments indicating otherwise, the footage appears to be genuine.

Superman is a d**k

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I know, it's one of those links that's done the rounds many times already, but it rarely fails to bring a smile to my face. It's a gallery of actual covers from old Superman comics providing incontrovertible evidence of why the Man of Steel is, quite clearly, a... not so very nice man

Decisions, decisions...

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Boxes. So many boxes, so many to choose from. I could feel a hint of panic beginning to claw at my gut, as it tends to do when I'm confronted by such an overwhelming choice. It's happened before, and recognising it's onset, I took a deep breath and fought the urge to grab the box nearest to me and run off with it.

The problem was that it was a minor purchase. Big things I have no problem with. When it comes to buying a big thing, a television, a fridge, a computer, for example, I do my homework well in advance, and I'll know exactly what I want before I even walk into a store. But small things, ah that's where problem lies. It's difficult to do your homework when making an impulse buy after all.

And this was most definitely an impulse buy. Perhaps it's consequence of swearing off chocolate (mmn... chocolate...), but this afternoon I was accosted by an inexplicable and irresistible urge for... toast! Delicious, crispy bread, lightly toasted to perfection. Of course I had no toaster, hence a few short minutes later, I found myself standing in a nearby department store gazing at a dazzling array of toasters. Who knew they came in such a variety? So many different shapes and sizes. And such price ranges! People really pay £120 for a toaster? Someone must really love their toast. Fortunately I had time to prepare a list of requirements that my toaster had to satisfy, thus enabling me to whittle down the choices:

  1. Must be able to toast bread
  2. See #1

Hmm, actually that didn't help at all. To my eternal shame I soon determined another criteria. I choose the toaster that matched the tiles in my kitchen.

Somehow colour coordinating kitchen appliances feels right, and yet so very wrong....

The End Times

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My Mum has bought a laptop. It was all her own idea, and she did it all by herself. I did vet it for her before she purchased it of course, but it was a very reasonable deal from Dell, and certainly more than adequate for the purposes for which she wants it. I feel almost proud (although slightly worried that I may have just witnessed one of the first signs of the impending apocalypse).

I really didn't see this coming when I persuaded the rest of my siblings to club together to buy her an iPod for her birthday last year. I thought she'd find it useful, since she teaches line dancing classes and was carting an ever increasingl load of cd's around with her on a regular basis, but at the same time I was concerned that she might find it off-putting, particularly when it came to using the pc and adding songs. For the most part I expected she'd rely on my brothers when it came to such things, but she was keen to learn for herself and seems to have coped admirably. She even replaced the iPod herself when it met an unfortunate fate on holiday (rumours abound that she might have booked the flights online too).

My Mum's bought her first computer. My, how quickly they grow...

V.good for Vendetta

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Well, I have to say, despite Alan Moore publicly disassociating himself from the film at every opportunity, the producers of V for Vendetta have made a surprisingly good job of translating the original graphic novel on to the screen. It's not a perfect adaptation mind you, but considering the travesties that have been made of others of Moore's works (I shudder ever now to think of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), it's nevertheless remarkably faithful. More comments in the extended bit, in case I spoil the plot.

Must... resist...

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The whole "giving up chocolate for lent" things is wearing thin. Wandering past the Caledonian Hotel earlier tonight I was accosted by the unmistakable scent of cocoa wafting through the air. My saliva glands responded in kind and it was all I could do avoid finding myself standing in a puddle of my own drool. It didn't get any better. Further along a bus shelter advertisement displayed a large image of a peanut butter Kit-Kat variant. Whilst I loath peanut butter in it's purest form, the chocolate peanut butter combination (which I discovered in America years ago, when Reeses Pieces were first foisted upon my unsuspecting person) is something I find nearly irresistible. I suspect those waiting for a bus were alarmed by the whimpering noises I made as I gazed longingly at the poster.

I want chocolate!!

Schaden Delight

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Of all the various brands the adorn the endless aisles of supermarkets throughout the country, there are few I loathe more than Sunny Delight. It's true there are probably others to which I should take a greater dislike (Nestle's multitude of sins spring immediately to mind), but Sunny D is the one that's usually foremost in my mind.

What did it do to deserve my ire? Was it's the relentlessly cheerful advertising campaign that accompanied it's launch (with a jingle that will haunt me to my grave)? Was it the fact that it targeted children with a zeal that bordered on ruthlessness? Was it that it was disguised itself as fruit juice, when it was little more than water, sugar, flavourings, colourings, assorted gunk, and the smallest drop of real fruit?

Actually, it was all of the above, but what I found most repugnant of all was that it was refrigerated. Cartons and cartons of the stuff stored in refrigerated cabinates alongside proper fruit juices, as though that was where it legitimately belonged. As though it was necessary for Sunny Delight to remain fresh, when in fact it had the sort of shelf life that ensured that when the end of world comes around, and the only life form left on the planet is giant mutant cockroaches, at least the giant mutant cockroaches will have something to drink.

To me Sunny Delight represents the sum total of human amorality, in one easy to handle carton. It represents so much that's wrong with society that I hardly even know where to begin. It's just plain wrong, wrong wrong.

So imagine my unfettered glee when I discovered this article from the Guardian. Sunny Delight is being removed from the shelves of one of the biggest supermarket chains in Britain following plummeting sales after Britons start turning to healthier alternatives. Ring a bell and shout Huzzah! I never cared about Jamie Oliver one way or another until last year when he began a campaign to raise awareness about the quality of food in schools. A celebrity chef, he was generally derided a a "mockney", but the difference he has made to the perception of the public has been truly remarkable. The man helped kill Sunny Delight - who do I go to to nominate the man for knighthood?

I'm a bit late to the party on this one. A wry demonstration of the differences between MS's and Apple's packaging techniques, which, in an amusing twist, turns out to have originated from Microsoft itself.

Revenge of the nerds

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Two Star Wars fans put together an extremely impressive lightsaber duel. Colour me impressed.

Sour japes

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Wow. A little while ago, I posted a link to the finale of Chris Bliss's juggling act. It was a fun routine, choreographed to music, something I hadn't seen before, and I thought the end result was moderately impressive. Technically it may not have broke any new ground, but there was a manic energy to his performance which I enjoyed, the audience enjoyed, and everyone seemed to have some fun watching. Where's the harm?

But, as I've remarked before, it's a big internet out there, and it seems some people objected to Bliss's performance. Or more strangely, the fact that the audience actually enjoyed his performance. Boing boing posted a link to Jason Garfield's site in which he writes a lengthy discourse on why you should feel bad for enjoying Bliss's act, and I think he's missing the point. Garfield is a fantastic juggler, as clearly evidenced by the video he posted of himself performing a five ball routine choreographed to the same piece of music. I'm sure if you watch it, you'll agree with me that there's little doubt he's technically vastly superior to Bliss. Yet what's telling is the difference of expression on their faces as each goes through their respective acts. Garfield's face is a mask of utter concentration, whilst Bliss's often devolves into a look of slightly goofy bewilderment. In short, Bliss's act is as much comedy as juggling (only fitting since he bills himself as a comedian/juggler), something Garfield seems to have overlooked. Bliss succeeded in holding the attention of his audience with a feel good performance. To hold that there's anything unworthy in that is a nonsensical viewpoint

If you'll allow me a uk-centric viewpoint, it's rather like trying to compare to Les Dawson's piano playing with that of a concert pianist. (Dawson was famed for an act which included playing the piano spectacularly badly, to the merriment of his audience).

Still, I hold a lot of respect for Garfield's skills - he operates at a level I don't even dream of achieving. But, as is clear from the faq on his site, he takes his juggling very seriously indeed. There's nothing wrong with that in principal, but it's a waste of energy to try and force the rest of the world to adhere to the same standards as yourself. The world's big enough for both a Garfield and Bliss, after all, and possibly better for having them both.

Munckin rocks. If you haven't heard of it, and I hadn't until last year when I first played the game, it's a gloriously silly card game with vague fantasy overtones which, thankfully, are little more than trappings on a delicously warped sense of humour. If it sounds rather nerdy, well, that's only because it is, but fortunately it doesn't make playing the game any less fun. The object of the game is to win by becoming a level 10 munchkin (you start at level one, naturally enough) and much of your time playing is spent trying to arrest the progress of your competitors. This can and usually does lead leads to some truly devious behaviour. I've long lamented my family's ability to devolve any sort of competitive game into a shouting match, but the beauty of munchkin is that this behaviour is positively encouraged, as you lie, cheat and steal your way to the top.

In many respects, the game most resembles the famous sword fight from the Princess Bride, as your ascent is suddenly thwarted by a opponent, only to thwart his thwarting, and then to have your double thwarting thwarted right back at you. There's an awful lot of thwarting in a game of Munchkin, and it's terribly good fun.

I've played several games with my brothers since I received it as a Christmas present (thanks again!), but tonight was the first time that we actually managed to complete a full game (time constraints cutting short earlier games), and I think I can say that I entered into the spirit of the game by rubbing my astounding win in the faces of everyone around me.

Victory is sweet.

Fascinating video of Honda's humanoid Asimo robot in action. Quite remarkable. The running is a little awkward, but, by golly, it's actually running!

That darn cat

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I found myself engaged in a bizarre argument last night. I answered the door after a staccato burst of unexpected knocking, to find myself face to face with a slightly irate woman, who proceeded to harangue me over the behaviour of my cat. This was odd, to my mind, for several reasons

  1. She turned up on my doorstep at half past midnight. I'm not familiar with the rules of etiquette when making such a complaint, but the words "at a reasonable hour" must surely apply
  2. Cats are not generally famed for their obedience, and their behaviour tends to be their own affair, rather than that of their owners.
  3. I don't own a cat
The last was a bit of a sticking point, as I'm not entirely sure she believed me when I disavowed ownership of any felines. Some gentle prodding on my part eventually teased out why she thought I was responsible for the troublesome moggie in question. Apparently a large black and white cat has taken to resting for prolonged periods on my doorstep. I'm already well aware of this, having worried that I might have injured the poor creature after inadvertently treading on it a couple of weeks ago. For what I was told, it seems that particular experience hasn't severed the cat's attraction to my doormat. Of course, I found the fact that she knew where the cat could be found slightly creepy, since my front door, down a short flight of stairs and around a corner, is generally out of the way of prying eyes.

Despite my protests of innocence, the woman proceeded to tell me the cause of her concerns, namely that a large black and white cat (such as has been seen resting on my doormat several times - I'm sure I was cast a suspicious glance when she mentioned that again), has taken to invading her flat through her cat flap, terrorising her own cat, and generally wreaking merry havok. Various cures have been attempted, such as installing a new cat flap, and a new front door, but to no avail. Fortunately, she provided me with a clear line of defence when she told me that this behaviour has been going on for some eight months, whilst I've only been living here since December. Recognition flickered in her eyes. Unfortunately this turned out to be because she was victim of a mishap last year that left her flat without running water for 4 days courtesy of yours truly (or more accurately a plumber hired by yours truly, but trust me when I say that that distinction cut little mustard with the waterless). Despite my best efforts, I could tell I was not rising in her estimation.

Eventually, when there was little more to be said, and I'd apologised for slights both real and imagined, she left. As I watched her go, a black shadow stole out of the darkness, approached me, and then nestled snugly on my doormat. I looked at the cat, which bore that smug self satisfied look on it's face that seems common to cats everywhere, but which seemed even more smug than normal in this instance. I bade the cat farewell - the cat said nothing in response - and returned to bed.

Off juggling again tonight. Rather distressingly the issue of age cropped up when it was revealed that it was the birthday of one young gentleman. He'd turned thirteen that day. Everyone sung "Happy Birthday" to him and he looked suitably embarrassed and blushed, as newly minted teenagers are wont to do. A short while later my worst fears were confirmed when I discovered that I was the oldest person in the room, and indeed the only person in their thirties. It wouldn't have mattered quite so much if I'd actually been any good, but, acutely aware of my limitations as ever, I knew that my meagre skills paled next to those around me. Still, it's by no means a bad thing - there's plenty I can learn from them, after all, and my skills are slowly, but visibly, improving.

At the end of the night, someone pulled out a large mat from the back of the room. It was the sort of thick padded mat that you might recall taking a long run up to and then somersaulting on to in school. People proceeded to take long runs up to it, and then somersaulted onto it. I couldn't resist joining in. I may not have made the most graceful of landings, but, by golly, it was every bit as much fun now as I remember it being at school. It's one of those things people sadly grow out of, and then dismiss as being "just for kids" in their later years. It's not true! It's not just for kids - it's for everyone. Everyone should have the chance to perform somersaults onto padded mats.

The world would be a much better place for it I should think...

And it seemed like such a good idea on paper...

A small follow up from yesterday: I wish I hadn't heard about this chocolate tasting session taking place at the end of the month. Who on earth organises such a thing during lent of all times? What sort of strange and unusual punishment is that? Grrr...

My will power is sorely tested.


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I've given up chocolate for Lent this year. It's been 7 days now and I haven't cracked yet (we'll ignore that incident a few days ago when I almost mugged a five year old for her Milky Way). Those of you who know me might appreciate strength of will that takes. Aren't you proud of my resolve?

My display of abstinence isn't for reasons of religion. It's rare that I give up things for Lent, but when I do it's usually as a show of support for someone else. It began a few years ago, when one of my co-workers decided to give up sweets and chocolate, and got mocked endlessly by others in the department. They even went so far as to buy him desserts when we went out to lunch together. This struck me as a rather cruel jest, so I decided to join him in his fast to even the odds some.

This year it's for Nicky and Kerry. Poor Kerry is only Catholic by proxy (by way of marriage), but she's nevertheless sworn off chocolate until Easter and seems rather distraught about it (who wouldn't?). I doubt my show of self-restraint will make her feel any better about her own situation, but it might help a little, and is therefore worthwhile.

Now, how many days left until Easter?

This Planet Earth

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I'm sure you'll be seeing all sorts of superlatives used in conjunction with the BBC's latest epic nature documentary, Planet Earth, but don't dismiss them out of hand - this is one of those rare times when such praise is entirely deserved. The photography on show is simply stunning and the narrative enthralling. No Hollywood blockbuster has ever produced a chase more riveting or more emotionally involving than the impala's escape from the pack of hyena's. Several times during the show (alas, I missed the first 30 minutes - thanks immensely to Jonathan for reminding me it was on), I found myself wondering exactly how they'd achieved a seemingly impossible shot, only to be rewarded at the end of the programme with a short dvd style documentary on the production which answered just that question. A wonderful addition to an incredible programme.

Keep an eye out for this. I don't think I'm making too bold a claim to say it's the BBC, and perhaps television in general, at it's best.

The summons

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Right, I'm back and I have some time to myself for what seems like the first time in an age. An explanation for my absence for the past few days: Various systems were scheduled for replacement last week at work, and though it was originally agreed that I wouldn't need to be down in London for the event, the powers that be decided at the last minute that they'd be more comfortable if I was on site for the transition. Cue the hasty booking of flights and my sudden absence from Edinburgh. I should be flattered really - it's nice to be wanted, although it's nicer to be wanted and to be warned that you're wanted. Everything went smoothly in the event, although remained in the office until 2am - remind me not to repeat that again anytime soon (although the free pizza on offer went some way to mitigating any hard feelings).

The next few days passed in a bit of a blur, as I was accosted by a considerable number of people anxious to take advantage of my unexpected appearance in the office. I think on my next trip I'll take my cane along in order that I'll have something with which to beat the hordes. It certainly gave me an opportunity to flex my multi-tasking skills as I flitted from one task to another and back again.

Fortunately, as is always the case with my trips down south, it wasn't all work, and there was some play to be had. Those of us who stayed late the previous night, or started early the following morning made an early escape from the office and decided to go off and do something more entertaining instead. Given the limited options on offer, we ended up 10 pin bowling again. Thanks to the early hour, we managed to book a lane for a couple of hours for as many games as we wanted. The lack of pressure made for a refreshing change, and we took the opportunity to forget the competition and experiment and just have fun. Remarkably I even managed to win a couple of frames (after a somewhat less than impressive start), equalling my highest ever score in the process (126, if you're curious), after discovering that I find it considerably easier to throw the bowling ball palm down. Much fun was had by all, particularly during the final frame, when we dropped any pretence of seriousness and started throwing the ball down the lane any which way and competing to see who could achieve the greatest ball velocity (I only managed a paltry 18.5mph). I'm almost proud to say that I wasn't the individual responsible for bouncing one bowling ball onto the adjacent lane.

There's plenty more I can and probably should write about, but I'm past the point of doing justice to anything I describe, so you'll have to hope that I remember to fill you in on those particular details another time.

I haven't been paying much attention to rendering technologies recently, but it seems things have advanced considerably since I checked last. The quality of these renders is genuinely photo-realistic, particularly the flash shots. Colour me impressed.