Sunday, January 29, 2006

Day 271

Went to the Savoy Grill for someone's birthday lunch today. The food was very good (although it did fail the Cheeseburger Test*), but the service was pretty glacial—leaving at 6pm from a 1.30pm lunch booking is distinctly leisurely. However, the most memorable image of the day was the pair of fully-frocked up priests slipping out of the Savoy Grill to light up their cigarettes outside (it's nice to see men of the cloth being considerate enough not to smoke around the diners). I was very tempted to take their picture, but that would have been rude. I wonder what denomination they were.

I wasn't entirely sure of the dress code for this place, so I thought I'd play it safe and wear my Extraordinarily Expensive Suit. During the course of the afternoon, I discovered a disturbing fact about said Extraordinarily Expensive Suit, which is that it doesn't fit me anymore.

I had actually expected this to happen at some point, so I'd carefully made sure that the trousers were a little too large to allow for the inevitability of an expanding girth over the years. However, this wasn't the problem; it turns out that even though it doesn't subjectively feel like the gym visits have had much effect, the more objective measure of my suit jacket tells a different story. I found it difficult to get my arms into the jacket, and I could tell that if I wanted to, I could split the seams just by flexing my manly shoulder muscles. Bugger.

Still, now that my Copious Free Time seems to have evaporated, I'm not really going to the gym any more and so it probably won't take long before it fits again.

* Common failing of expensive restaurants: could you happily eat a cheeseburger just after finishing dinner at said restaurant?

I bought the suit a couple of years ago, when I decided to change jobs and needed one for interviews. I foolishly went to an expensive shop, and then found that the three suits I liked most in the place were all the same price—the most expensive in the shop. As it turned out, I only interviewed for one job, and so I've only worn the thing a half-dozen times since I bought it—so each wear has cost mumble. Still, I got the job and it was well paid, so that's alright. (Except, of course, that I hated the job).

[A:22467 B:2827 C:346 D:9187 Total:34827]

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Day 270

Spent a bunch of time today ripping CDs and organizing MP3 files, and it's all the fault of the RIAA.

It's also something that illustrates just how counter-productive the RIAA's tactics have been. My father was keen on getting a boxed set of Scarlatti keyboard sonatas, but the one of the Amazon reviews of the set implied that the set has some copy-protection which prevents it from playing in PCs. Since that's where Dad mostly plays music these days, he was put off and so didn't buy it. So for this particular case, the chain of causality is clear: copy-protection => fewer CD sales.

Anyway, I've bought a copy for him and checked it out and it all seems to play fine in all of my machines. Just in case of problems, though, I ripped all of the discs so I could add in a DVD-ROM with the MP3 files—which takes a while for 34 CDs.

(If you're reading this, Dad, the CDs will be on their way to you at some point next week. The couple I listened to sounded good; let me know what the whole set is like—I may well get a set of my own).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Day 269

Spent most of today refactoring a bunch of Project X code. It's amazing how even recently-minted code can turn into a spaghetti mess quite so quickly. Hopefully, it should be easier to enhance and work with now.

[A:22467 B:2609 C:346 D:9187 Total:34609]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Day 266

[reading: Tom Holt, "Olympiad"]

Attended my first ever LAN party this evening. I've played (and lost) against one or two friends before, but this was the first time that I've played (and lost) against a dozen folk. One of the chaps at work had the idea; he's been borrowing and buying (mostly from eBay) copies of the original Unreal Tournament so that we were all legal, then it kicked off after work (the advantage of an older game like UT is that copies are fairly cheap, and it will run even on modern non-gaming PCs).

Much more fun than trying to play against the lags and cheats of the internet, even if some of the young whippersnappers did rather show me up.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Day 265

[reading: Bovet & Cesati, "Understanding the Linux Kernel"]

Note to self: don't play a computer game for several hours just before going to bed if you want to get any sleep.

[A:22467 B:2135 C:346 D:9187 Total:34135]

Friday, January 20, 2006

Day 262

<rant subject="dance teachers">

Why is it that almost all dance teachers are crap?

They're usually (but not always) pretty good dancers, but they all seem to think that being able to do a dance automatically qualifies them as being able to teach that dance. Not so; not even close, judging by some of the muppets I've encountered (and I've probably encountered a few dozen different dance teachers in my time).

Some lowlights, just from the last month or two:

  • The salsa teacher who responded to a ten-word question with a five minute monologue on an entirely different topic, followed by "Did that answer your question?". (He looked a bit stunned when I answered "No, not really" .... and then proceeded to repeat the same monologue for another five minutes, without even asking me to repeat the question.) *plonk*
  • The tango teacher whose sage advice was: "Don't do it wrong, do it right". Gee, thanks for the sophisticated analysis. *plonk*
  • The tango teacher who harangued a student for ignoring her dire warnings about doing unsupervised ganchos, culminating in "You might have kicked me in the head". Normally this would be an anatomical impossibility, but maybe she was just indicating that she had her head up her arse. *plonk*
More generally, many dance teachers are terrible at the logistics of classes: making sure everyone can see and hear, making sure that partners get rotated frequently so the inevitable extra women actually get a chance to do each section before they move onto the next section.

They also seem to have no awareness of the idea that different people might learn in different ways, and just teach in whatever style is comfortable for them. It's usually pretty obvious:

  • Teachers who are auditory learners themselves tend to talk at the class for a large fraction of the time.
  • Teachers who are visual learners themselves tend to demonstrate each move again and again, without much commentary.
  • Teachers who are kinaesthetic learners themselves get the class to perform each move many times, and often try to dance with each of the students.
By comparison, most riding teachers I've encountered or heard about tend to be pretty good at the mechanics of teaching. There's a reason for this: they actually have to do qualifications which include training on teaching as well as on equestrianism.

I think this topic is one of the reasons for the phenomenal success of Ceroc. As well as teaching a form of dance that's particularly easy for beginners to pick up, they make a big effort to ensure that the quality of the teaching is high. They rotate partners frequently, they use sound systems so everyone can hear the teacher, they hire big halls so people aren't cramped, and they make sure they cover all the bases on how to teach the moves themselves (show the move, describe the move, and make everyone do the move).

Sadly, the finest dance teacher I've encountered doesn't seem to teach in the UK any more


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Day 261

[reading: Benson, Chernaik & Herbert "Poems on the Underground (9th edn)"]

"Never knowingly under-engineered"

I'm pretty much done with Phase 1 of Project Y now, and so I've started moving onto Phase 2. The first phase seemed to turn out pretty well—I've done around 21 days on it, ending up with about 2,500 lines of code and a set of test scripts that hit around 91% coverage. Slightly ahead of schedule so far, but I think the later phases will probably make up for that.

I also played a game of badminton for the first time in a couple of years. I was pretty rusty at first, but it came back fairly quickly (although I think I'll probably have the odd ache from using different muscles for a change), although my serve never got above 'execrable'. I did eventually recall that I never used to be able to serve anyhow.

Also went out to see some hot gay cowboy lurve in the evening—very good, but also very intense and depressing. The thing I found most depressing is something I've observed before: just how scarily plausible it is that all of the significant events in someone's life can be compressed into a couple of hours (one of the other folk I went with pointed out that it might not even take that long, given that there were two people's lives covered in the flim). I first thought about it when I read Iain Banks' "The Bridge" about ten years ago, and it's recurred a number of times since. Chirpy stuff.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Day 257

One of the plus points about Project Y is that it involves getting paid, and one of the plus points about getting paid is buying toys.

So the latest toy is a new lens. 102° field of view, apparently.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Day 253

The fencing club was very quiet this evening. I suspect this is because they've just announced that they're going to enforce new standards for the kit that folk wear when they fence, and people haven't had a chance to buy it yet.

Apparently these aren't actually new BFA rules; they were put in place with five year lead time—which of course everyone ignored until they came into force. It's always hard to argue against things that are done for safety reasons*, but I think there's a good chance that this will dramatically reduce the number of people coming into the sport. Lots of clubs have a stash of smelly old kit that they can dole out for the beginner's classes; most of this kit will be against the new rules (read: not covered under club insurance) and there's no way most clubs will be able to afford to replace it.

It's hard to tell whether they're being over-protective with these new standards. Certainly, the level of accidents seems very low—in nearly twenty years of fencing, I've only ever seen one incident that resulted in someone going to hospital.

At this point I have to admit that it was me. My opponent and I both lunged at the same time; the end of his blade broke off when I parried; the remaining chunk of his blade (now much stiffer and with a jagged end) went through both my jacket and my plastron. And into me, but only just.

So I got carted off to hospital just in case, where I was in for several hours of hanging around, a half-dozen stitches, and the most painful part of the whole thing: removing the dressing.

Oddly enough, after that my father seemed more than willing to spring for an early Xmas present of some new top-end Kevlar gear, which I've stuck to ever since (in ever-increasing sizes, sadly).

Anyway, all my gear is already of the requisite standard so I don't have to make another pilgrimage to Leon Paul.

*Which is presumably why the RMT claims that most of its threatened strikes are about 'safety'.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Day 252

In what little Copious Free Time I have left, I've been slowly reading yet another book about quantum field theory. I may be being overly optimistic, but it feels like it's almost starting to make sense (or at least to make as much sense as quantum theories ever do*). I'm not sure whether this particular book is more comprehensible, or whether it's just that I've now looked at enough different books to begin to get a coherent understanding.

I think part of the problem is that almost all of the books are written from the perspective of a physicist rather than a mathematician. They tend to assume you're intimately familiar with Maxwell electromagnetism and spin, rather than concentrating on the mathematical structures. (This is actually in contrast to most of the presentations of relativity, both special and general, which tend to be more axiomatic and mathematically satisfying). I've often been tempted by the 'Quantum Field Theory for Mathematicians' book on these grounds, but given that I've got more QFT books than I'm ever likely to read (er, 5) and given that it's £85, I'll stick with the ones I've got and hope to make sense of them eventually.

Anyway, I hope this isn't a false dawn and that I may soon come to understand what's going on down below the turtles.

*One of my favourite chunks from this book is ' is fair to say that the conceptual basis of the theory is still somewhat obscure. I myself do not properly understand what it is that quantum theory tells us about the nature of the physical world, and by saying this I mean to imply that I do not think anyone else understands it either'. Penrose's most recent magnum opus also has a whole chapter on the unresolved conceptual problems of quantum theory.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Day 251

Back to Project X, and I got down to the harder chunk that I needed to do. In the end, it wasn't too bad—twelve hours coding and I've pretty much broken the back of it. All down to the magic of lex and yacc, which are a bugger to get exactly right but still a hell of a lot better than trying to write a parser by hand. Lex is looking pretty old-fashioned though; the autogenerated code is still littered with macros to get around non-K&R compliant compilers (never mind ANSI compliance, which happened in 1990), and all of the communication with the rest of the code happens through global variables.

The current (v2.1) manual for Bison looks like it's a bit more modern and flexible, but the version that's pre-installed on my laptop is rather older (1.28, which I think is from around 1999). I don't think we're actually going to need reentrancy, so I just stuck with vanilla yacc in the end.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Day 249

Went down to Harrods today, for the first time in a very long while. (I want to get a new coat, so I was doing the old trick of trying it on in a real shop to see what it looks like and to figure out the size, before I order it online. I don't do this very often because it seems rather unfair to the real shop, but with Harrods I have no such scruples (particularly as they're 65% more expensive than the online version)).

Anyway, it turned out to be a bit of a mistake because their sale is on at the moment, and the place was hugely busy. This did have one unexpected good point though: they'd hired an opera singer to serenade the customers going up and down the central elevators.


She was extremely good, and I was struck again by the idiocy of TV talent shows (X Factor, Pop Idol etc). They go on about how good the singers that get through to the finals are, yet none of them are anywhere near as good as this woman—this woman who's basically doing high-class busking. I'm surprised that middle-ranking opera singers (who've realized they'll never sing the lead at Covent Garden) don't just decide to join a pop group and blow everyone away.

I bought a new mobile phone a month or so ago, which has a camera in it. I've not used the camera part of it much, so this is actually the first time I've emptied out all of the pictures . . . and so it's the first time I've noticed this:


That's some impressive pincushion distortion.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Day 248

[reading: Garth Ennis & Willliam Simpson, "Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits"]

Some Project X work today; mostly sorting out a bunch of existing code and making it more flexible and generic. I've got a harder chunk to do soon, so I guess I'm prevaricating about the bush before getting down to it. My co-conspirator has been very productive over the last couple of weeks, so I'm feeling slightly left behind and guilty—but that should fade as I get things done.

Project X is a software project. Software has bugs. Bugs need tracking. Tracking needs a tracking system. And lo, a chunk of the afternoon was spent setting up Bugzilla.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Day 247

Bugger. I was having a technical discussion with someone at work today, and he managed to irritate me into arguing with him about something I wasn't completely sure about. I've just looked it up, and it turns out he was right and I was wrong. Drat. (I don't mind being wrong, just being wrong after I've vigorously asserted that I'm definitely right).

Monday, January 02, 2006

Day 244


Continuing my occasional attempts to move into the Century of the Fruitbat, I bought a freeview digital TV box a week or so ago. On plugging it in, it turns out to be almost unusable—the remote control clashes with main TV remote, so changing channel on one does arbitrary things to the other (Note in case the magick of Google ever finds this: the Logik LDR1 set-top box has a remote control that is incompatible with a Philips 32PW9509). Getting to the combination of TV and tuner settings that you want is like some sort of logic puzzle.

Irritatingly, the Currys shop where I bought it refuses to do a refund or exchange, so I'm basically left with an extremely expensive SCART lead and pair of AAA batteries. All I can do to assuage my annoyance is to further lower Currys' ranking on a review site or two.

As an aside, I was actually also annoyed by the process of buying the thing in the first place. I hadn't realized, but somewhere along the way it's become impossible to buy anything TV-like in the UK without providing a name and address. This is presumably so the TV license folk can track down who doesn't have a license, but is a) irritatingly Orwellian and b) a surefire way to get junk mail from Currys, thus adding insult to injury.

[A:22376 B:408 C:346 D:9187 Total:32317]