Blog Archive — Page 29

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  • SuccessWhale is Terrifying

    On 29th August, I released my PHP/JavaScript Twitter client, SuccessWhale. I would like to take this opportunity to say HOLY FUCK.

    2009 Usage Summary for

    Monthly bandwidth limits are things I’ve always ignored, assuming they only become important when one’s website is popular - which mine, assuredly, is not. But having seen that graph, I’ve just checked what my current hosting service provides and I’m really bloody close to it. I think SuccessWhale is about to start costing me money.

  • 2009 in Thoughts, Words and Pictures

    It is a very strange feeling indeed to increasingly shuffle towards adulthood whilst also having a young child of your own. Time twists and stretches, unsure of which way it ought to bend. There is the adult mind for which time is speeding up, one year blurring into the next until each is indistinguishable from the last, and then there is the child’s development pulling the other way, slowing things down, big changes happening in weeks instead of years.

    Snow in Bournemouth Gardens, February

    2009’s beginning feels like an eternity ago now, even though events of 2008 seem like they happened only yesterday. As the year began, Joseph’s speech was just starting to change from baby-speak into proper language, and yet now I can barely imagine him in a state in which he couldn’t speak in multi-word sentences. A cake was baked for Eric’s birthday, we tried to go to a zoo and failed, so went to the aquarium on a damp January day instead. We celebrated Obama’s election as President of the USA, a presidency that started full of promise for the world like no other we’d known. And with that a mild January gave way to a frozen February, icing up the roads and making us trudge to work through inches of hard-packed snow. I worked on software I barely remember, and dreamed of fulfilling my ever-present wanderlust.

    Little did I know that that feeling would be squashed sooner and much more impressively than I could have imagined. In March, and again in May, I traveled farther across the world and across cultures than I ever had before. As I blogged from the plane on my first trip out:

    McDonalds in Fanateer, Saudi Arabia, March

    “I have watched the sun set over Iraq, seen the lights of cities glow beneath me, and further out the flourescing military bases, square and uncomfortable amidst the desert. I have watched the first stars come out over Kuwait, reflected in the orange plumes of oil platforms in the Gulf below.

    I am sitting in an aeroplane 33,000 feet from the sea below, eating salmon and cucumber sandwiches, and I’m on my seventh cup of tea.

    And, in thirty minutes time, I will land in a country that doesn’t speak my language or even use my alphabet, where I am alone, three thousand miles from home.

    My wanderlust is sated, and I am loving every minute of this.”

    As it turns out, for a traveler, that part of the world is not all that different to home - no massive culture shock awaited me, rather, it was the smell of Costa Coffee and Cinnabon that awaited me at Bahrain airport, and the sight of McDonalds’ golden arches that first greeted me when I traveled over the King Fahd Causeway into Saudi Arabia. And of course, naval bases are naval bases. Only the predominance of dust and sand over wet earth and of palm trees over low bushes hinted that I might be in Jubail rather than Portsmouth.

    In April I turned more political, blogging about police brutality and the right to bear arms, and writing my first of many letters to my MP. May brought with it a new mobile phone, and thus a new source of obsession for me. It’s probably the first time I’ve pre-ordered a gadget and not been burned by the high prices and poor reliability that normally plague the early adopter.

    May, June and July meant time to catch up with old friends, taking Tea on Southampton Common with the remaining Southampton Contingent, then Bournemouth Extravaganza 3 a few weeks’ later with yet more, then RABIES 5 at which a whole mob of Southamptonites past and present disappeared into the Hedge, and reappeared only slightly weirder. All of it was topped off by Pimms on the Common as June turned into a blazing hot July.

    Tea on the Common, May The Geeks Do Bournemouth, June

    Late July and early August were spent visiting Eric’s family in Spain, where the weather was typically Galician - i.e. not particularly better than what we’d have had back in Britain. Part of me longed for the heat of the Gulf again, though by that time of year Jubail would have been sweltering in 50-degree haze. Perhaps a bit too hot. My Spanish was embarrassing, as always, though I made it through without causing too much offense.

    The River Eume, July

    We cast our net further afield this time, having extracted all the fun that could be had from within 5 miles of Sada last year. Mostly this involved begging lifts off various family members, as driving licences have eluded both of us this year. We hiked to the monastery on the River Eume, toured the city and cathedral of Santiago, and atop the cliffs of Seixo Branco, I proposed to Eric. We are to marry in the year 2012 - shortly before, she says, the world ends.

    Back in the UK, August kicked off a splurge of commitment to personal projects, not all of which died off before the month was out. I wrote a team picker for the Premier League Fantasy Football game, and a Twitter client, both of which are still going strong. I also promised to regularly publish sections of Forgotten Children in the hope that it would encourage me to write, though that seems largely to have fallen by the wayside after only four chapters.

    The Adventuring Party, August

    The month ended with Joseph’s second birthday. Now a year since his first unaided steps, he now has no problem walking, running, jumping, sliding, and hiking for what probably totaled several miles, as his birthday visit to Honeybrook Farm proved well.

    Around that time we also started getting in touch more often with Pete, probably the most rarely-remembered of the Soton Kiddies. He turned up as our official photographer (and provider of transport) for Joseph’s birthday, and has probably been the Soton Kiddie we’ve seen most of this year.

    Joseph in Christchurch, September

    In September and on into October, the world around us grew cold once more. Days were spent on trips with Joseph, exploring and photographing more of the county now that he no longer requires an afternoon nap and all the associated infrastructure. Possibly that’s the best bit of toddlers’ development - as time goes by they need less special consideration and fewer bags of Baby Stuff. First goes the pram, then the bottles, the jars of baby food, the pushchair, and one day, at long last, the nappies.

    Also in October, I leaped aboard the Guardian vs. Carter-Ruck bandwagon as it stormed through Twitter and blogs, and moved my own website from Drupal to Wordpress, an achievement that did not come without a loss of both hair and post metadata. My branch of my company got sold - to the Germans, so I guess I now do U-Boats for a living. Apart from the traditional recycling of middle management, very little has changed.

    November, as all Novembers seem to be for me, was about an eerie feeling of not quite gelling with reality. To once again shamelessly blockquote myself:

    “Then, as now, it’s most marked by a feeling of disconnection – that there’s some distance between myself and the real world. Chores go undone, meals uneaten, important things forgotten, and my brain floats between creativity, blank ‘meh’, and frustrated boredom. Combined with the residual Unseelie feelings from the Hallowe’en just passed, and the leaves blowing past in the wind, it puts me in a strange place.”

    Through all that I churned out three short stories, which marks my only literary output this year excepting the four fragmentary chapters of Forgotten Children. NaNoWriMo was decisively avoided, thus preserving my sanity (and ability to retain my job). And lastly I sowed the seeds for my next online roleplaying game, which kicked off in December. It has been a year since the end of the Changeling game which had been a permanent part of my life for rather too many years, and I am missing that feeling almost as much as I miss the Southampton geeks that play in these games.

    And so the year rolled around to December once again. As the weather closed in and ice coated the streets, we hung our Christmas decorations and prepared for the Christmas Onslaught. This year came with even more celebration than normal - Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the in-laws in Guildford, followed by Boxing Day with my family back in Bournemouth. Today was a brief respite before the descent of Southampton and ex-Southampton geeks tomorrow for Christmas #4, and then at last Christmas #5 with my family again next Sunday.

    Then down will come the decorations, on will go our scarves and coats, and it will be January once again.

    Joseph vs Grandad's Face, December

    Christmas Dinner with the In-Laws, December

    So that was 2009, a year that blurred into days and yet also stretched out to decades, full of changes that remained the same and brief fleeting glimpses of a distant past that was not really all that long ago.

    A few more days to go, and we shall raise a glass to a 2010 even better than the 2009 that went before it.

    Also, jetpacks and hovercars please. 2010 is the goddamn future.

  • Endings and Midwinter

    Winter has well and truly closed in, with black ice laying in sheets across the roads, scarf and gloves on, and “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” stuck on a permanent loop in my head. I had Cliff Richard’s “Mistletoe and Wine” in there this morning, though, so John and Yoko are definitely a step up.

    For all that “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” has hopeful lyrics, it’s always seemed to me one of the saddest of all Christmas songs. It reminds me of the odd feeling that things are ending - saying goodbye to colleagues as you leave work for the holidays, wishing a Merry Christmas to the staff of shops and cafés you frequent… It feels like sort of like a permanent ending, even though we’ll all be back at work in two weeks’ time, and my café and takeaway habit will continue unabated over the Christmas season.

    Perhaps it’s a remaining echo of my time at University, where holidays meant we all scattered back to family homes, leaving each other behind. These days we’re scattered for good, as far apart as the four winds, but somehow holidays are still lonelier.

    It’s dark now, deep into the longest night of the year. Time to raise a glass to the Winter, to light a fire upon the hearth and look forward to lengthening days once again. To those friends of mine who celebrate such days, have a very merry Winter solstice night! To everyone else, you’ve still got four days left to go!

  • So Farewell, Psion 3a

    No idea why the hell I bought a Psion 3a a lottery ticket? Check out my previous blog post, “Coming of Age”.

    Pictured: Progress.

    It wasn’t a good sign, I suppose, when I switched the old Psion on this evening and discovered naught but vertical black bands on the display. It took a good few power cycles, lid closes and a strenuous massage of its hinges before it finally spluttered back into 16-bit (Multi Tasking!) life. But it made it in the end, just in time to discover what fate had in store for it.

    Now, there are a few ways of finding out what the night’s lottery numbers were. First, one can tune into the live draw on television. However, the TV guide indicated that the show was presented by Scott Mills, so that option was immediately discounted. No blog stunt is worth 10 minutes’ exposure to Scott Mills. The next method is going to the lottery website, but this was discounted just as quickly - I didn’t want to shock the poor old girl by showing her what BBSes had become.

    Keepin' it Old Skool.

    Ah, but there is of course a third option more befitting of the Psion’s age. I speak, of course… of Teletext. Trust me, I am as shocked as you that this thing still exists. Hell, I was pretty surprised that my TV still had an analogue receiver. So, to page 555 on BBC CEEFAX we went, the Psion checked her numbers, and… Yeah, we didn’t win. A paltry single number, in fact, only a third of the way to the £10 lowest prize.

    And that, I suppose, is the end of the road for the old Psion 3a.

    ':(', yeah, that's the kind of emoticon we rolled with back in '93.

    I remember virtually idolising these things when I was a kid - I’d been though innumerable personal organisers and proto-PDAs, but to have a Psion 3, with their high-resolution screens and the little touch-sensitive app buttons, the voice recorder, the programming environment… This thing was an object of desire as far as I was concerned. And it was certainly an improvement over its predecessor, the Psion 2, which I somehow also had despite it being nearly as old as I was.

    Yet now the 3a headed for the great landfill in the sky, an anachronism in today’s world. It takes expansion cards that nobody sells, communicates with a PC through a cable that nobody has and software that no-one can run. My cellphone has a processor 70 times faster, with 200 times more RAM. In my pocket I carry 10,000 times more storage than this thing has. In a world soon to be rolling its way into the year 2010, it is less than useless.

    And yet, despite that, I will be sorry to see it go.

  • Coming of Age

    Yes, she's legal.

    The other day, while excavating the depths of our airing cupboard-turned-junk pile, I discovered possibly the oldest gadget I own: a Psion Series 3a… thingy. Time has obscured from my memory what we actually called these things when they were new. It certainly wasn’t ‘netbook’ - was it ‘palmtop’? After some new batteries and a non-trivial number of blunt impacts against the table to reseat the display connector, it spluttered into life. The back of the unit declares it to have been made in 1993, so this thing is sixteen years old.

    Now where I am, at sixteen, one can do the following:

    • Drive a scooter

    • Have heterosexual sex

    • Marry (heterosexually) with your parents’ consent

    • Enter full-time employment

    • Play the lottery.

    The Psion 3a, having the decency to look embarrassed next to my cellphone.

    There are a few issues with most of these. Driving a scooter is clearly beyond the poor thing’s capabilities. It appears to have expansion slots, so I’m going to go ahead and consider it female. Now that by default makes all other Psion 3as female, so marriage (within its own species at least) is presumably out. I have no expansion cards to put in it, and now I’ve mentally pidgeonholed that as “having sex” I’m not sure I even want to. Full-time employment is out as I’m not sure it does anything that peoples’ cellphones don’t these days. And that just leaves playing the lottery. Well, then.

    These things can be programmed in a language called OPL, which appears to be so antiquated that even the internet has largely forgotten it. I’m immensely grateful to Gareth and Jane Saunders, who seem to be the only people left with an OPL-related webpage that hosts the programmers’ manual.

    In the UK, one picks six numbers between 1 and 49 for each draw. Six numbers and a bonus are chosen by the lottery machine, and matching all of the main six is a jackpot (odds about 14 million to one). Matching three is the lowest prize, £10 at odds of about 56 to one. So, not really confident we’ll be winning anything here. Still, onwards!

    Making sure all six numbers it picks are different would take more than the three minutes I’m prepared to spend in contact with OPL - damn thing doesn’t even have FOR loops. I’ll just run the program again if it picks two the same. So here’s possibly the shortest program I’ve ever written:

    Eat your heart out, Visual Studio 2008.

    PROC lottery:
      LOCAL count%, n%
      PRINT "Lottery Numbers:  ";
        n% = (RND*48+1)
        PRINT n%;
        PRINT "  ";
        count% = count% + 1
      UNTIL (count% = 6)

    The Die is Cast.

    And when translated (translated? really?) and run, it does indeed produce lottery numbers. So - to the newsagents! And back, lottery ticket - and granulated sugar - in hand.

    Having foolishly switched the thing off in the meantime, it took a few seconds of mashing the On button and opening and closing the lid to coax it back into life. But back to life it came, long enough to pick its six numbers. And now, we wait to see what fate befalls this aged device.

    Will it quietly be replaced by gadgets a decade and a half its junior? Or become a palmtop millionaire, and, er… and I’ll have to work out what the heck a Psion 3a would do with a million quid. Tune in on Saturday night to find out!

    The lottery results are in! You can find out what happened in my next blog post, here. Spoilers: I am still not a millionaire.

  • Overpackaged Much?

    The Envelope: Vast, Thin, and Oily. The phone company Orange appear to be giving out free headphone adapters as part of some promotion or other. So, naturally, on the bandwagon I jumped to see if I could grab some that would work with my phone. I filled in the form, clicked Submit, and thought nothing of it for the next two weeks.

    Then I get a failed delivery note through the door. I’m expecting a few of these for various people’s presents, most of which I’ve ordered off the internet. But it’s a letter, apparently, and Special Delivery - so it needs signing for. “Strange,” think I, “I’m not sure I ordered anything flat enough to be considered a letter.” So down to the sorting office I go, and pick up… this. A something-bigger-than-A3-sized plastic ‘envelope’, that feels like it contains a piece of paper. Weird.

    Package Contents

    So I attempt to unpack said piece of paper. First thing of note, the envelope-thing is oily. Not visibly so, but I had to stop in the ASDA bathrooms just to wash whatever gunk it was off my hands. And, once finally inside, I discover… two pieces of paper! Once of which is the delivery note. The other, a full A4 sheet of 6-point text. “Terms and Conditions”.

    What the heck?

    Just in case, I rummage some more, and at the very bottom of the bag, I find a small black object, maybe a centimetre long at most. And, once I’d found some light to see it properly by - my god, it’s a headphone adapter! I very nearly threw the bag away without finding the damn thing. The Adapter Itself, Just in Case you Missed It

    And, just to complete the aura of bizarrity surrounding the whole thing, it of course is not even the right plug to fit my phone.

    So, er, anyone want a 2.5mm to 3.5mm jack adapter? Be warned, I may send it to you in a full-length shipping container.

  • Dishing out Google Wave Invites

    I’ve tweeted this already, but just so it goes out to LiveJournal and other blog-followers too:

    The great Googly gods have blessed me with a bajillion Google Wave invites. I have 20 left right now. First 20 people to send me their e-mail address get ‘em.

    I’ll send out the invites as quickly as I can, but they won’t get to you immediately. When I got sent mine originally, it took nearly a week, so don’t sit there refreshing your inbox!

    Happy waving!

  • Dial M for Mandelson

    I can’t be the only one thinking along these lines right now, so… have blog, will rant.

    I think Peter Mandelson has too much power.

    First off, he’s unelected, not having been a Member of Parliament since 2004. So how come he manages to be such a prominent figure in the Government? How is he even still heavily favoured by the Labour Party, despite having resigned (twice) over involvement with various scandals? How come his anti-filesharing agenda, which headlined the Queen’s Speech, seems to be being calmly accepted as the law-to-be despite the fact that is was transparently influenced by lobbying from the entertainment industry? To say nothing of how much of an insane overreaction his anti-piracy plans actually are (but that’s for another post, one I’ve probably already made some months ago).

    And now this? If there’s any truth in that, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a brazen and dangerous power-grab. We didn’t vote Mandelson in, we can’t vote Mandelson out, and now he’s aiming for the power to make laws and impose them on ISPs and individuals in the name of protecting copyright.

    Am I the only one thinking this isn’t quite the Democracy we had in mind?

  • Today's Really Bad Plan (TM)

    Joseph has a bad effect on me. =S

    So, I sort of want to write a post-apocalyptic episode of Thomas the Tank Engine where a botched nuclear test leaves the humans dying of radiation poisoning, and the trains spend the humans’ last days convincing them to attach spikes and guns to all the engines so they can duke it out Mad Max style.

    Is this:

    1) The best idea since sliced bread, 2) The worst idea since the siege of Stalingrad, 3) Not the kind of thing I should ever discuss in public

    And also:

    1) Protected under Fair Use laws, 2) Going to get me a Cease and Desist letter faster than you can say “Holy shit Gordon, where did you get that SCUD launcher from?”

  • Cold November Rain

    The rain here is not falling or even pouring. It is constant, pervasive. As you look into the grey mist a hundred metres away in all directions, if you’re lucky, you can make out the merest hint of an angle to signify the way the squally wind is buffeting the maelstrom.

    I left work early in order to do some photography this afternoon. With hindsight, of course, this was a silly plan. Even sillier my lack of coat and umbrella today - the thrice-damned weather forecast, of course, promised only drizzle. I wore my heavy-weather trials gear on the half-hour walk to the station, but to my regret I only bothered to take the jacket.

    Net result: my upper body is baking hot - the gear is designed for much colder and wetter things than dry land can provide - while my trousers now stick uncomfortably to my legs and drip puddles into my boots.

    Next time the weather is bad enough for me to get the foulies out, I must remember to take the trousers, gloves and wellies too. Or a taxi. Maybe I should just remember to take a taxi.