Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Day 27

Time for another slacker's lunch, which seemed appropriate as my previously soon-to-be slacker friend is now an official, actual, genuine slacker.

Still, I managed to win a hippopotamus at the fair, playing darts. Actually, it was more of a bribe than a win; the fair was just on the cusp of closing down, and the woman running the stall promised us a hippo regardless of whether I actually hit the right numbers. She did at least heed our warnings (of inebriated inaccuracy) and stayed well clear of the dart-throwing—at least one of the darts missed the board altogether and skewered an unfortunate hippo (not one that I threw, I might point out).

Monday, May 30, 2005

Day 26

[reading: Robert Harris, "Pompeii"]

It appears we're sorting out the back garden. So far, it seems that the plan is to remove the top layer of the entire garden, heft it to the dump, and then go to B&Q to buy another. There may be a more sophisticated plan that I am unaware of; I just do the heavy lifting.

Actually, I'm slightly hesistant to describe the proposed plan for the back-outdoor-space as a garden, given its putative lack of greenery and frondage. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. All the less rampant lawn mowing for us real men.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Day 25

[reading: Barton Zwiebach, "A First Course in String Theory"]

A couple of months ago I'd been reading a good book on string theory, but I stalled about halfway through. The book is aimed at undergraduates, so I could pretty much just read it straight through and check all the equations without needing pen and paper.

However, because I was reading it a bit at a time (typically on the train to work) and not taking notes, eventually the sum of all the bits of information that I understood at the time but have since forgotten reached critical mass and my rate of progress dropped to molasses-slow.

So now I'm going back to the beginning and taking notes as I go; when bookmark B reaches bookmark A, hopefully I can then carry on through the rest of the book. And then, when it's done, I can return to the other physics book that I've been (nominally) reading for an even longer period (like 2 years, or even longer if you include the attempt I made to read the first edition).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Day 24

Hmm. I hope visiting the gym has a swift effect; it's quite embarassing to have to set all of the weight machines to their lowest possible setting.

The demographic for the gym on a weekend appears to be around 40% male gym bunnies doing serious weights, and the rest are slightly overweight women using the CV machines. My brother told me he used to like going to the gym in the city, on account of the, er, view, but sadly there don't seem to be similar attractions out here in the suburbs.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Day 23

Over a year ago I bought a macro lens for my camera, but I've never really had the time to experiment with it properly. So of course now that I've got Copious Free Time, it's time to start getting the hang of the thing. Seeing as it's very sunny today, there are some flowers coming up in the garden, so they seemed like suitable initial subjects:

Also something with a little bit more variety of colour:

It's also a chance to have another play with the copy of Photoshop Elements that I got to go with the Powerbook:

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Day 22

So the main part of today has been spent getting the contents of this blog written up. I scribbled some notes about what I've been up to as I went along, but it takes a surprising amount of time to convert it all into some kind of semi-coherent HTML form (all three thousand words of it). I'm presuming that keeping it up-to-date as I go along will take rather less effort, else the whole thing is doomed to failure.

The other activity for the day has been to get inducted at the gym. In a fit of efficiency (lunacy?) I signed up on Tuesday for a year's membership, under the assumption that I should have plenty of time to get a bit fitter in my Copious Free Time

Mike also pointed out that a better title for this might be "Superfluous Leisure":

Isabella: I have no superfluous leisure: my stay must be stolen out of other affairs; but I will attend you a while.
(Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene 1)
I'm annoyed that I didn't think of it myself (given that it was my (ersatz) .signature for a month or two last year); Mike also claims he's going to use it himself so I can't even steal it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Day 21

[reading: Robert Heinlein, "For Us, The Living"]

Running at even lower than normal efficiency today, under the influence of a surprisingly powerful hangover (relative to the amount of alcohol drunk last night). Eventually I got as far as having lunch, a pint of coke, a paracetamol and three episodes of Angel series 2, which seemed to sort things out.

Still, not much achieved. I sanded down and revarnished the study floor where the wood of the floorboards was peeling, then I set off early for fencing to get some new kit from Leon Paul. Unusually, they seemed to actually have a helpful member of staff on duty in the shop, who even fixed the strap attachment on my mask while I was there. So anyway, I'm now the owner of a new lamé, and of my first sabre, so I can now fence all weapons.

Of course, when I got to fencing there were plenty of épéeists, so none of the new kit got an outing. I figure I should probably get a lesson or two with the sabre before I start waggling it about—otherwise someone might get hurt, probably me. I've not had a fencing lesson for over ten years, so that's a slightly daunting prospect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Day 20

Finished off the sudoku solver this morning, by adding in the fuller version of a technique for reducing possibilities in the cells, and by adding the ultimate weapon: guess-and-check. The latter isn't very elegant, but I've gotten bored with the whole thing now. In grand total I've done 5 sudoku puzzles by hand, and spent about a day writing an automated solver.

Also tried my hand at cooking something more complicated that cheese on toast, by trying to make Eggs Benedict. I had it a couple of times when I was in New York last year and enjoyed it, so I wanted to be able to recreate it.

Of course, this doesn't allow for the fact that I've got the culinary skills of a mulberry bush. I've never poached an egg in my life before, so it was surprising that that part was vaguely OK, but the hollandaise sauce ended up as more of a hollandaise foam (I needed to heat the sauce up a bit, and I forgot a) that it contained raw egg yolk and b) that the microwave was still running a minute and half later). Still, I seem to have survived eating the end results.

I also seem to have survived my first attempt at playing with Photoshop Elements, messing with layers and selections to convert an old photograph to look more cartoon-like.

Anyway, tonight we're off to try our hand at a nearby pub quiz.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Day 19

[reading: Orson Scott Card, "Shadow Puppets"]

This afternoon I got around to sitting down and writing my own sudoku solver. I had been toying with the idea of doing it as a Java applet, with animations and so forth, but in the end I went for a command line C++ version that only I will ever use (as there are already several web-based solvers out there, and my Java is pretty rusty). Angel's original page was a useful start, and I got as far as implementing the simple stuff (effectively techniques 1, 2 and a simple version of 5 from this page).

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Day 18

The final machine setup is to get a new printer and attach it (the old printer seems to be irretrievably broken, as the print head is jamming at the side of the printer). Stunned to discover that printers these days don't come with the cables you need to attach them to the machine—you have to buy a separate USB cable. Still, at least I checked before we left PC World and got all the way back.

Out to join the throngs watching Revenge Of The Sith in the evening. Can't say I was particularly impressed; the acting was almost as ropey as the previous installment, and there's still no sign of the humour that leavened the original trilogy. Also, I still can't see light sabers without being reminded of the video where the kid gets one for Xmas.

(As an aside, I discovered recently where the UK/US difference between the spelling of words like sabre/saber came from—it seems that Noah Webster changed the spellings by fiat when he came up with his American English dictionary, in an attempt to make the spellings more phonemic).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Day 17

Went off to the wilds of Essex today to try to help someone buy and set up a new PC to replace an old one that's been playing up. However, when I took a look at the old machine, it looked to be easily capable of doing the things needed of it—word-processing, the odd spreadsheet, a bit of email—but was suffering hugely from being crufted up with lots of old bits of software, random hardware drivers etc.

So hopefully I managed to save money all round by saving off all of the documents from the disk, then wiping it and reinstalling Win98 and the useful apps. Mostly pretty straightforward, although even without any major hitches it still took around four or five hours to do.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Day 16

Got a fun link from Mike this morning, but it did mean that my morning pretty much evaporated in catching up with the varied adventures of The Order Of The Stick. I guess it kind of reminds me of the Knights of the Dinner Table (in that it's an RPG-based comic strip; doh), only it's actually funny.

Also had a go at a couple of sudoku puzzles. Angel's page on them was were I got started from, and also has useful tips on how to solve them, but it's quickly becoming clear that it's a fairly mechanical process. Hmm, perhaps I feel a program coming on (using my Copious Free Time).

(Aside: For the original version of this entry, I was carefully not revealing the Secret Identity of Offensive Mango, but then I noticed that there's an entry with her full name on anyway, so I no longer see the point of being coy.)

I did get as far as putting together a PDF file with a couple of templates for tracking possible values more easily, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Day 15

[reading: Aaron Hillegass, "Cocoa Programming for OS X (2nd edn)"]

For the last few days I've been working my way through a book on Cocoa programming. Overall I'm pretty impressed with Cocoa and the Xcode IDE, although I'm not quite so impressed with the book—there's not quite enough explanation of the underlying principles. A lot of the examples felt like I was just following them by rote, and that I'd be lost if I needed to do anything that varied even slightly from the base scenario.

Rumour has it that the Apple developer tutorials are pretty good, so maybe I should work my way through those too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Day 14

Had a distinctly unpleasant experience this evening. I trundled along to my fencing club, but for some reason there were only three épéeists who turned up, including me.

That wasn't the unpleasant experience.

So, lacking in a suitable opponent ("Nobody will fight me! They all run away!"), I decided to try a spot of foil—which I've not done in several years, but which I still carry the relevant kit around for nonetheless.

So I dug out my lamé and tried to put it on.

The unpleasant experience was that I couldn't zip the thing up. Worse: I couldn't even get the zip to within an inch of closing in the first place.

Urk.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Day 13

[reading: Barbara Hambly, "Dead Water"]

Spent a goodly amount of time today fighting gPhoto on the off-chance that it may have support for my digital camera. There don't seem to be any prebuilt versions of it in the usual places, and building from source didn't work too well either. I even tried reverting to my old Linux box to check whether it would recognize the camera, and that didn't work either.

(This probably belongs elsewhere, but that page is kind of reserved for success stories, not abject failures. Maybe some day.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Day 12

[reading: Florian Coulmas, "The Writing Systems of the World"]

So now that I'm home most of the time, I get to feed Reginald, the cat-who-doesn't-live-here.

We've carefully explained to Reginald that he doesn't actually live here. However, there are a few problems with this. The first is that Reginald used to live here, for several years, up until a year or two ago. He belongs to an osteopath who has an office at the end of the street, and this osteopath used to rent and live in what is now our house. Since then, he's moved a couple of miles away, which isn't far enough to prevent Reg making his way back here, and so Reg now officially lives at the osteopath's office. Not sure Reg got the offical memo about that one.

The next thing that I feel is interfering with the clarity of our explanation about his place of abode is that he now gets fed here. Somehow, in the spirit of Pavlov, I don't think this is going to help in convincing him.

Finally, I also sometimes get the feeling that Reg doesn't speak English.

Feeding Reginald, the cat-who-doesn't-live-here, involves opening the back door every day.

We did start by leaving food for Reg on the front doorstep (I say we, but it's not really like I got a choice in the matter). However, this had a major drawback; regardless of how effective we've been at convincing Reg that he doesn't live here, having food on the front step for him seems to do a splendid job of convincing any number of passers-by that he does live here.

As a result, when he's sitting on the doorstep howling piteously (which he does quite convincingly, even when you know for a fact he's been fed by three different neighbours already that day), I end up having to ignore the doorbell as well as the cat.

So the simple solution to that side of things is just to bring him through the house and put the food outside the back door for him.

(One of these days I'm going to lead him in the front door, through the dining room, into the kitchen and out of the back door . . and then just shut it behind him. That'll teach him.)

The back door jams every time you try to shut it.

When we first looked at the house, about nine months ago, it seemed to be in a reasonably decent state of repair. When we got as far as having a survey done, it turned out to be not quite so decent—it looks like the previous owner got some handyman to do the cheapest, most cosmetic makeover on the place. So we ended up having to rewire, re-damp-proof, fix the stairs, redecorate everywhere, insulate the loft, rip up a laminate floor, unblock the bathroom waste pipe, insulate the cellar.

Of course, being an oldish house, it's also the case that none of the woodwork quite fits properly anymore (plus every single window had been painted shut), and so none of the doors, windows or floorboards quite shuts fully and cleanly. (Oh, another thing for the list: draughtproofing).

So I fixed it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Day 10

Today was one of the more fun weddings I've been to. The main factor in making the whole day more enjoyable was that I knew a whole lot of the other guests—I've known the groom for ten years or so and we both worked at the same place (although of course I don't work there any more), so there was a large contingent of work friends.

Of course, it also helped that it was in fairly lavish surroundings, and that there appeared to be an inexhaustible fountain of champagne server by hot and cold running minions all afternoon . . .

Friday, May 13, 2005

Day 9

[reading: Neal Asher, "Cowl"]

So not much happening this week. I ploughed through Freelancer till I got bored, then found a cheat on the web so I could spin through the remained of the single player campaign. Sadly, the weird-ass sense of scale really let down the last chunks of the campaign—what was supposed to be a mega-impressive Dyson sphere felt more like an orange.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Day 6

A day of balance. In an attempt to keep the gods of Domestic Bliss appeased, I cleaned the oven. And then when the oven cleaner stuff that made it all sound so simple didn't work so well, I cleaned it again.

And then, having done my bit for the month, repaired upstairs to play Freelancer.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Day 5

[reading: Tanya Huff, "Smoke and Shadows"]

So the score with the Inland Revenue now stands at 1-1. I was right about one of the tax code errors, but the other one appears to be legimitate—there was some small print I'd missed. Still, they were actually rather helpful, and I think I understand it all a bit better now. I also prodded them again for a tax return—who would have thought it would be so difficult to persuade them to send out forms.

Next up, a shopping trip into central London, which is entirely more civilized on a weekday than at a weekend. As I'm now going to have Copious Free Time, I might actually get around to playing the guitar again, and so I got new strings to replace the ones that have been on for the last several years. Also, since Mike has promised to GM some Dogs In The Vineyard, I discovered just how expensive it is to build a large selection of dice.

I also had one of those nice moments of serendipity you get occasionally in London. I'd been vaguely looking out for somewhere to get some thread of a particular colour (not actually black, which may surprise those that know me) to repair a button, and I'd had little success until I tried to take a back route off of Oxford Street (it's more civilized on a weekday, but still not that civilized). Lo and behold, fifty yards down the back street I found a whole shop dedicated to Knitting and Sewing, over several floors.

Of course, all of this was the precursor to the main event, which was to meet up with a friend for lunch. He's also heading towards a sabbatical, but his employers are insisting that he actually work out his notice period (I guess that's another way of saying that he's more important than I was). However, in the pre-sabbatical period he's taking his remaining vacation so that he only has to work a three day week—so it was effectively a slacker's lunch. Followed by a residency at a nearby hostelry. Followed by a short walk to a second hand record shop or two, and then a much needed rest at another hostelry.

I wimped out after a mere five hours drinking, but I later discovered that he linked up with another of his friends and carried on into the night; impressive stamina, but then he's been working in the city for much longer than I have.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Day 4

[reading: Dan Simmons, "Song of Kali"]

More tuning of my tax information in a monster spreadsheet, in preparation for calling the tax office tomorrow. So far, I think I've spotted two errors in the tax code for the last few years, both in the Inland Revenue's favour (oddly enough). I suspect it's going to be a long phone call.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Day 3

Barbecue season has begun. Angelic.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Day 2

[reading: Michael Marshall, "The Lonely Dead"]

So in an effort to check all of the previous figures, I've started entering all of my tax return information into a spreadsheet. Yes, I am in fact more anal than anyone else you've ever met. And I like Excel (or in fact, OpenOffice in this case).

Of course, I can't actually use any of this information yet to fill in my tax return for this year, because I've not had any of the forms from anyone (two P60s, an P11D, and, oh yes, a tax return). Sigh.

Also met up with some of the folk from my recently departed job for a post-work (for them at least) drink. One of them helpfully pointed out how it had taken him six months to find another job after he'd taken a sabbatical to go travelling. Personally, I put it down to jealousy.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Day 1

[reading: Rita Carter, "Mapping the Mind"]

The dawn of a new era. Except of course at the polls, where the same set of liars and spinners are going to get in as last time (although hopefully with a small enough majority that they might actually listen for a change).

In a bid to make sure I shall be appropriately wasting my time for the next little while, went out and bought a couple of computer games (Painkiller and Freelancer).

Day 0

So here's the deal.

Yesterday I quit my job, with all the regret of a man wiping dogshit off his shoes. I have no immediate plans to find another, given that the nine month house sale fiasco has finally sorted itself out and I'm in a tolerably decent financial position. All of those projects that I wanted to fit into my Copious Free Time, well, now I'm going to do them. Or at least feel guilty about not doing them and watching daytime TV instead.