Saturday, 31 January 2009

Motoring Section

A car is never just a means of transport. It's a way of making a statement. Now, I drive around in a Skoda. What does that say about me? It says that I'm careful, not flashy, and that I didn't buy a car as a way of making a statement.

What would a car like this say about its owner?

Friday, 30 January 2009

Zombies, Daemons, and nobody

Anyone vaguely geeky would probably be able to predict from this title, exactly what I'm going to talk about. However, none of you are so here is a picture:

Yes, I know, it's a little bit dusty,
but I don't really do dusting, I'm afraid.

The above mentioned entities are all to be found in the box pictured above, and in similar boxes everywhere. At least as long as they're running Unix, Linux, or Mac's OS X. I'm not sure about Windows.

All the work in your computer is done by processes, which in turn are made up of threads. And you thought that it was little goblins, or hamsters. These processes are created ("spawned"), using an asexual form of reproduction known as "forking". Be careful how you say that.

A process therefore has a single parent, though it can be made into an orphan, which doesn't necessarily involve the parent dying - it's more like being disinherited. Often this happens when processes are "daemonised" (see below).

Child processes usually die, kill themselves or are killed, before their parents. If their parents are on the computer's "Next of Kin" list, they will be informed of such events. The dead process becomes a zombie. Zombies don't actually do anything - they don't get any computer time, and they don't take up an awful lot of memory. They just hang around until the parent does something.

Users can type "kill" to kill a process on the system. This sends a message to the process telling it to die. If it refuses, you need to "kill -9", which tells the system to kill it anyway. It has been suggested that a game like Doom could be used as a fun way to do this...


Daemons are programs which are constantly running (as processes) in your computer, waiting for something to happen. They usually provide a service, such as the "CUPS" daemon on this linux system. This sadly does not serve out alcoholic beverages or hold up breasts - it provides printing services to the web browser, word processor, etc. The "HAL" daemon has little in common with the rogue computer in 2001, and it notices when you plug and unplug devices, such as cameras, disks, etc.

daemon is also the name of a non-human user in many computers, since all processes have to be run by a user, even ones that people aren't involved with.


nobody is a user, too. In some ways it is almost the opposite of root, the all-powerful superuser, who can do anything. nobody is used when someone logs into a publicly accessible system such as a fileserver without having any access rights.

As I write this there are 119 processes in my computer. 2 are running, 117 are sleeping (they've got nothing better to do), and none are zombies. What a crowded place that little box is...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Shades of Art

Filmmaker and artist Giovanni Conarto, who died a week last Tuesday, was a truly remarkable individual. His all-too-infrequent exhibitions and film screenings were controversial and provocative, and his passing leaves an indescribable void in Italy's cultural scene.

Little is known of his childhood. He was born Guiseppe Buenito Marcello in 1934, and later changed his name in order, he said, to disinherit his father, who had been tragically decapitated in a freak backgammon accident only days before his birth. "The bastard sooner died than be there to see me come into the world", explained Conarto.

A Rare Photo of Conarto, c. 1976

From an early age his teachers recognised his brilliant intellect, along with a talent for really annoying people. "I got on with him better than most", remembered his Latin teacher, decades later, "And I used to spend most of our lessons imagining all the different ways I could kill him."

He was awarded a philosophy scholarship to the prestigious Collegio del Cicero in Rome, and the excellent grounding he recieved in the questions of existence greatly influenced his later works.

After graduating, Conarto went into the cinema business, as a best boy. He was fortunate to work with many of the great names of Italian Cinema in the 60s, such as De Sica, Rosellini and Fellini. In 1968 he was offered the chance to direct his own film.

Sans Lux was a romance. Conarto chose to film the whole picture with the lens cap on the camera and no sound. Sophia Loren was originally cast in the starring role, but left after artistic differences with Conarto. He was a perfectionist, who insisted on what seemed like an endless number of takes until he was satisfied. Conarto defended this, explaining that because the audience would never see or hear the actors, it was vital that they be as good as possible. "People who pay to see this film have to understand that the performances were perfect. Otherwise we might as well not bother turning the projector on, and they can have their money back", he said.
The controversially explicit
love scene from "Sans Lux"

Sans Lux was recieved with huge critical acclaim, though none of the major TV networks bought the rights to show it, making the film a financial failure, and Conarto's triumph bittersweet. Although he was never again offered a directing job in Italy, he did not let this discourage him, and his dream of making an even better film would be realised in Hollywood many years later.

In the meantime, Conarto spent the next decade of his life painting. His output was immense - in all he produced more than 100 large-scale works in just over nine years. At first, he spent 15 hours of each day painting, 8 hours sleeping, and 1 hour doing everything else. This frenetic pace was to lead to a nervous breakdown, and on medical advice he cut his painting down to only 12 hours.

During this time he did not exhibit at all. Finally in 1977, he announced that he was ready, that all of the paintings were perfect, and set a date for the opening of his first (and only) exhibition. The night before he held a party at a farm outside Rome, inviting many notable critics and famous people. Conarto himself was not present, and a large bonfire could be seen in the distance. At the end of the evening Conarto appeared and announced that he had burned every one of his paintings. "I look forward to seeing you all at the gallery tomorrow!".

Thus the exhibition consisted of blank walls, with small signs indicating what each work had been. Some critics denounced the whole thing as a stunt, others doubted whether the paintings ever existed. However, all of them were sold to collectors, and Conarto made enough money from this one showing to retire from art altogether.

Conarto was now an internationally reknowned figure, and was able to raise funding for his cinematic masterpeice "Lux", which was completed in 1979. It starred Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep as light bulbs, with the offscreen role of God given to Marlon Brando. De Niro famously spent 18 months preparing for this role by living inside a lighthouse, and Streep spent almost as long perfecting her accent.

Robert De Niro in a publicity still from "Lux"

As with the previous film, there was no sound, and the only picture was a blinding white light for the whole 3 hours. Unfortunately, the premiere was ill-fated when the projectionist suffered a heart attack and could not therefore change the reels. This was only noticed after the audience had sat looking at a white screen for 4 and a half hours. The first proper screening did not take place until the following day, and the picture was never put on general release.

The aborted premiere also proved unlucky for one New York paper's film critic whose rave review entitled "Three Breathless Hours of Pure Cinema" appeared the morning after. The writer in question returned from his unofficial leave in Acapulco to find himself out of a job.

Conarto left the US on the next available plane, and spent the rest of his life as a wealthy recluse evading the film's backers, who never got any of their money back.

When asked how he'd like to be remembered, Conarto is reported to have said "As a shady character. Who saw the light." He never married.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Deja Vu

I'm very tired for some reason. I've had one of those zombie days today, having slept badly last night. Anyway, I wrote my WW post, then had big second thoughts. All of this seems eerily familiar, as if I've already done a post about tins. I did have a look through my past offerings, but didn't find it. So apologies if you've heard all this before...


Tracy asked me what tinned chicken curry was the other day, and I would have had some tonight so that I could take a picture of it in its full appetising glory, only there was a ham tagliatelle ready meal in the fridge with an expiry date of today, so I'm having that instead.

But it got me thinking about the humble tin, and what a wonderful invention it was. Food keeps for years, making them great for saving up for emergencies, or stocking up your nuclear bunker. If Wiki is to be believed, they didn't think up the tin opener for at least 30 years, instead relying on stones.

Although I'm not a great fan of marketing and stuff, they wouldn't make this sort of mistake nowadays. They would have tried out the new fangled tins on a focus group of consumers, who would have pointed out the obvious problem with having food you can't open.

Apparently the French army used their bayonets, which presumably hadn't been disinfected the last time they'd speared their opponents on them. I dread to think where else they stuck them, but they were clearly not suitable kitchen utensils. If they'd had Health and Saftey regulations back then this never would have happened, either.

Now the Powers That Be seem to have decided that tin openers are a bad thing, and that we need ring pulls instead. I hate them. I once cut myself, so now I wear oven gloves. It's obvious why they're doing this, though. Our great leaders would feel pretty stupid cooped up in their WWIII bunkers and starving because they couldn't find a tin opener.

They must have to recycle the tins in the bunkers as well, otherwise they'd go out of date. With no working infrastructure, they'd have chemical toilets, so they really wouldn't want to get dodgy tummies.

Bad Taste

I didn't participate in Bee's photofest. One reason is that I didn't find the time or energy at the weekend to take some stupid photos, and the other is because I don't tend to withhold pictures from publication on the grounds of quality. However, I couldn't ignore the challenge raised (lowered?) by Dan's crapping dog, so here is a photo of mine that I did use ages ago on my blog, before many of you were reading it. The post in question was referring to an artist who made a fortune by canning his own shit:

Have a good evening, and enjoy your dinner!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Bee's Mum Ate My Post

I was going to spend my Saturday doing a great post. Every word would have been spot on, every nuance just the right shade, and every similie would fit like a sock.

But it didn't happen. Not because the dog ate my post. As you know I don't have a dog, and if I did I'd feed it plenty of Dan's patent dog ice cream so that it didn't have any room left for blog posts.

So if it wasn't a ravenous dog, what was it? Well, it's me that's ravenous. It's a shopping day, which means that I don't have a great deal of food in the house - just the usual emergency rations of green beans, pasta, pesto sauce and noodles. I think I've even eaten my backup auxiliary spare only-open-in-the-event-of-a-world-war tin of Chicken curry.

Nevertheless, I might have been able to manage to survive long enough to perfect my post and then get to a supermarket before my weakened body gave in and I wasted away down to a skeleton.

Except that I decided to check out everyone's blogs before starting it. NCS had not one but TWO pictures of cakes/pies. This a serious setback, as it made me even more hungry, and so gave me less time to colour-correct every last nuance. Nevertheless I might have managed, say, a slightly less than perfect post after that.

If I hadn't visited Bee's blog. Bee has a post about her mother. It's not at all silly or humorous, and she wrote it for herself, but Bee writes her best stuff when she's being more serious. Anyway, in the post she mentioned that her mum was planning to have a cheeseburger. Bee's mum sounds great. I can't imaging my mother eating a cheeseburger.

Anyway, as someone who believes that the famous saying should be "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse-sized cheeseburger", the thought drove me over the edge, and destroyed any chance of the perfect post.

I'd love to hang around, but I'm off to get something to eat. See you later.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wordy Wednesday Goes Shopping

Oxford Street, 1875

Internet shopping may be nothing new, but a group is aiming to take it further by recreating the genuine shopping experience in a virtual world. They have made a 3D replica of London's famous Oxford Street. The idea is that you will be able to wander into HMV, McDonalds, and so on. If you want you can go shopping along with a group of your online friends.

Of course it wouldn't be the same without the good old British weather, so the system will use reports from the Met Office to determine whether or not the virtual world is wet, windy, or whatever.

From what I could tell from the report on SKAI News last night, they seem to be missing a few important details, which I hope will appear in the finished version:

Crime - Although to be fair, the internet is probably dangerous enough, Oxford Street would not be the same without people trying to steal handbags, and police trying to catch them. Perhaps those of us who aren't so keen on the shops could play at vritual Cops and Robbers?

Buskers - If you've always believed that you can sing and/or play an instrument worse than the buskers, here's the opportunity to prove it. It's not so cruel as in real life - at least virtual shoppers have a mute button.

Sales and Survey "Muggers" - A lot of web sites already have pop up boxes that ask you to take surveys, or click to see their crap product, and the Virtual Oxford Street may well be no exception, but I hope that their version of this jumps out at you and then makes a snide remark when you walk straight past.

Couriers - I didn't notice a lot of traffic in the screen shots - just the odd London Bus. However, it wouldn't be London without insane nutters on various two wheeled vehicles doing their best to wipe out pedestrians and themselves.

Crowds - I hope that all of the other virtual shoppers are visible and get in the way, let their riotous children trip you up, etc. Most people who go to places like Oxford Street must be masochists, so it's important to keep their stress levels high.

In fact, I really don't think they're going far enough by just replicating Oxford Street. The main problem with London is that far too many people are crowded into the South East of England with not enough space or water, with hellish daily commutes and stupid property prices. If they virtualise the whole thing, then the population could be spread around the country. And they wouldn't need to build more airports, since tourists could visit Trafalgar Square from their armchairs.

Not to mention a Virtual Olympics. However, there are some things which the virtualisers would be better advised to leave out:
Oxford Street, 2008 [Source]

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Number Six, Your Time is Up

Patrick McGoohan

When I was a waiter, I used to start just before lunchtime, and get home at around midnight. To unwind, I would watch some TV or listen to music. Using headphones, so as not to disturb my mother, who had a more normal routine.

During this period, in 1993, they repeated a strange science fiction/spy thriller series for it's 25th anniversary. This was the first time that this series had been shown again on National British TV since 1968, when most people would have seen it in black and white.

The series was "The Prisoner", and I was hooked. It starred Patrick McGoohan, of course, who died this week aged 80.

You're probably familiar with this programme - our hero was Number Six in a strange kind of prison (a sort of upmarket Butlins) where spies were taken to when they tried to resign. No names are used. Number Two is in charge (but who is number one?).

There's supposed to be some doubt about which side runs The Village (and where it's located), but the traditional British holiday camp features - the annoyingly cheerful voice of the tannoy announcing "another beautiful day!", and the compulsory events and competitions are a bit of a giveaway. Siberia was never like this.

Number Six is not a happy camper. Every week he tries to escape or otherwise cause problems for his captors, but every week (until the final episode) he ends up still a prisoner.

They only made seventeen episodes - it was so wierd that the TV bosses decided it wasn't worth the money and cancelled it early. This was probably a good thing, since McGoohan seems to have struggled to come up with enough ideas as it was, and the final two episodes are really bizarre.

The Welsh hotel of Portmeiron was used for the "Village" where the programme is set. Though they didn't often get out there due to cost, so there are a lot of duplicated outdoor shots and ropy studio mock-ups, particularly of the beach.

One of the episodes ("Do Not Forsake Me, My Darling") was even made without McGoohan, who was away filming Ice Station Zebra, and one is set in the Wild West, which saved more money since the studio had an appropriate set anyway.

I've never actually been to Portmeiron, though an amateur pilot did once take me out there, and I got to see it from a few thousand feet up. One day I'll go, but it's in the part of Wales where they actually speak Welsh and where the roads are so windy that it takes you several days to get anywhere. And as you probably realise, I'm not very adventurous.

McGoohan was also in several episodes of Columbo, another series I love, and always made a fantastic murderer.

Definitely a unique actor.

"Be Seeing You"

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wordy Wednesday

With all the cold and miserable weather we're having, it's perhaps not surprising that there are over 300,000 people interested in one job on a tropical island. It involves looking after the place for six months - feeding the pets (turtles), collecting the mail, that sort of thing. They get paid £6000 a month, get the use of a three bedroom villa and have to write a blog post every week.

I have been thinking about applying, and since they will be selecting ten people to fly out to the island for an interview, I'm practising for the big day.

Q: So, what attracted you to this job?
A: I was struck by the immense challenges that it will provide, and which I intend to rise to, should I be given the chance, and which I think make it worth the hardships involved.

Q: What are your relevant qualifications?
A: I'm not one to boast, and with a blogging average of around 3 posts a week over the last 15 months, I'll let the figures talk for themselves.

Q: Hmm, yes, that's one of the reasons we turned down that People's Blogger fellow. Anyway, as you probably know, the island gets a lot of tourists visiting for the day. How do you think you'll cope?
A: I'm definitely a people person, especially when the people in question are wearing bikinis. I'll certainly do my best to be hospitable.

Q: How can you convince us that this island will be safe in your hands?
A: I'll keep my eye on it constantly. You really have nothing to worry about. I guarantee it'll still be here when you get back.

Q: How are you with turtles?
A: I can honestly say that I've never had a problem with them.

Q: You're just the exciting, dynamic and wonderful person we're looking for. When can you start?

At least, that's the theory. However, to be completely honest, I'm not really exciting or dynamic, and I'm also not much of an outdoors type. And I bet that the internet connection is lousy, and I'm not sure I want to do an extra blog post every week. So perhaps I'll be generous and leave this opportunity to someone who'll appreciate the seaweed and the whales. After all, life's not that bad here.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Seeing Double

Apparently someone once said that everybody has a double somewhere. I'm not sure how they're sure about this, or whether this is the same person that said that somewhere is one's ideal partner. As a schoolfriend once complained "Knowing my luck, my ideal woman's probably in Burkino Faso."

Anyway, Helena reckons that she has located my identical twin, in a film called "Mamma Mia". She says that her mother and half-sister agree with her about my uncanny resemblence to Colin Firth:

As you can see, it's not a fair comparison as he's obviously put on a bit of weight. And I'm not so sure myself. If he really does look like me, then why aren't I swamped by adoring women asking for an autograph? I mean, I am swamped by adoring women, obviously, it's just that my signature isn't high on their list of priorities.

I was about to hand in my resignation and offer my services to one of those lookalike agencies when I remembered that it was Helena who claimed I look like Dimitris Christofias, President of Cyprus:

When I gatecrashed an EU party claiming to be President of Cyprus.

And it was Helena that allegedly saw Doctor Huer from Buck Rogers at the checkout in Sainsburies. I explained that he lives in Chicago, and that if he was on holiday here as she suspected, being a famous actor, he was likely to be having the odd meal out during his visit, and so would probably not require a trolley full of groceries. But she wasn't convinced.

At least she didn't say I looked like him.

Sunday, 11 January 2009


Cicero once wrote to a friend of his, complaining that he hadn't had a letter from him in a long time. "You'll tell me you have nothing to say. Well, write to me and tell me that you have nothing to say". Actually he wrote something incomprehensible in Latin, which perhaps explains why people didn't write back to him, but you get the idea.

This is my third attempt to write something this weekend. Having nothing to say is not a problem for me - I never have anything. I'm just suffering from not being able to think up a way of saying nothing. Apparently Oscar Wilde said "I love talking about nothing. It's the only thing I know anything about." And of course Shakespeare wrote a whole play about nothing.

Anyway, I was sort of sitting here doing nothing, since Helena was wrapping presents. I started wondering about this nothing thing. Wondering how advertisers ever manage to sell products with claims like "Nothing tastes better", or "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux".

What were they thinking???

Then we have that elusive "No-one" "No-one does it better", "No-one gives you as much". So I should go and find this no-one person, who does things better. Maybe he will sell me nothing, which will taste better, even if it does suck. I wonder how much nothing is worth. No-one knows, and I suspect it will be a lot, since such a lot of things are worth nothing.

So now I can go back to spending quality time with my daughter, happy in the knowledge that if I achieve nothing more this weekend, I'll have finally managed to finish a post.

And that's better than nothing.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Wordy Wednesday Goes Sub Zero

Snow Fun

It's rather cold here at the moment. On Monday morning there was snow on the ground, and this evening it has started to snow again. Actually, it's more like sleet. I suppose this means that the temperature has risen above zero for the first time in a few days, and probably also means that I ought to go to work wearing ice skates tomorrow.

When it's cold and miserable in other parts of the country, such as the North of England, or Scotland, I don't mind. After all, people who want to live that close to the North Pole deserve everything they get. However, once it gets far enough South to affect me, it's no longer amusing. Usually snow isn't a problem here because the rain soon washes it away, but it's simply too cold for that at the moment.

I've not ventured very far in these Arctic conditions, and I'm now living off tins. It's not that I couldn't drive to the shops, or even walk to the ones across the road, but I'm putting off the shopping until it's necessary for once.

Some people seem to believe that snow is a good thing. However, there are only two basic reasons that they like it, and they're wrong:

It looks nice. Well, it does, but that's what pictures are for. It stops looking nice once enough shoes and tyres have been through it. It looks even worse with the various dog products that are secreted into and onto it. and if you slip over you might get a much closer look at it than you wanted. Particularly at the dog stuff.

You can make snowmen and throw snowballs. Only if you get enough and the conditions are exactly right. Otherwise you end up with the wrong type of snow, just like on the railways, and the snowman doesn't stick together.

Climate Change

I've said this before, but since scientists are increasingly convinced that humanity is causing major climate change we should stop worrying about trying to prevent it, and instead look at how we can harness it. It'd be wonderful if we could totally control the temperature, like you can with air conditioning and central heating. Of course, people would argue about what to set the thermostats to, but that's what democracy is for. "Vote Green for a cooler Britain", or whatever.

I've worked out how to do it. They could make some kind of under-pavement heating system by drilling deep down into the earth and piping hot volcanic stuff around. Then to cool down hot areas, they could pump sea water instead - after all, they're worried about the rising water levels, aren't they?

The BOV Patent World Climate Control System should make weather extremes a thing of the past, and hopefully make me a few quid as well. The only problem I can see is that if this prevents sea levels from rising as much as predicted, then London might not end up underwater. Still, you can't have everything...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Looking Forwards

It's almost obligatory for the first post of the year to be about the coming twelve months. Bee has already christened this year the year of the Hot Dog. I'm sure that when the Chinese started naming their years after animals, they were considering the culinary possibilities, so it seems only right for us in the West to do something similar. I hope that 2010 will be the year of the Cheese Burger.

I'm no good at resolutions, or even at unresolutions, so instead here is my proposed list of the highlights of 2009:

Americans will of course be focussing on the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Immediately after the ceremony he announces that Homer Simpson will be Secretary of Culture. After due consideration, the best legal brains in the country determine that this is okay, since the Constitution only states that appointees have to be American - it does not require that they actually exist. Simpson's first action is to officially declare 2009 The Year of the Hot Dog.

On Friday 13th at 23:21:30 GMT (at least according to Wiki), The time on Unix/Linux computers will be 1234567890 seconds (since the beginning of the "Epoch").

Non-Geeks will instead be watching this month's Oscars, where most of the traditional categories will be replaced by new ones including "Best Money Maker", "Most Politically Correct Picture", "Most Overrated Star" and "Most Embarrassing Acceptance Speech".


Although clocks are scheduled to go forwards this month, the international community has a rare moment of common sense and abolishes this silly practice.


Easter is almost cancelled due to the ongoing economic crisis and dangerous speculation in the global chocolate futures market. However, world governments decide that it would be wrong to allow the de-commercialisation of this festival, especially with the churches threatening to turn it into some kind of religious event, which would obviously be unthinkable, and bail out the greeting card companies to the tune of $100 billion.


The Eurovision Song Contest is held in Moscow. In a departure from 50-odd years of tradition, the voting is to be based on the quality of the songs, rather than geopolitical considerations.


UK Meteorologists predict that the much awaited Global Warming might actually kick in this year in time for a great summer - The rain stops in Manchester for a record 48-hour period.


Meteorologists admit they were only kidding as we have another wet and miserable summer.


In an attempt to be more enviromentally friendly, all the motorways are shut for the August Bank Holiday. The British refuse to let this spoil their fun, and spend Saturday sitting in their cars on the driveway, Sunday walking in the rain, and Monday back in their cars.


This month is abolished, as it's rather dull and boring, and no-one can get to work because of leaves on the railway lines.


Scientists succeed in creating genetically modified "living" skeletons which are deployed on Halloween to scare the crap out of trick or treaters.


A massive Bonfire Night display is held on the Moon. This way it can be seen in more parts of the world, and it can't be rained off. Unfortunately it is not really visible in Britain due to clouds.


The Coca-Cola Company announce that Santa Claus has been given a major revamp to match 21st Century reality. In an era where no-one has chimneys and everyone can see on Google Earth that there's bugger all in Lapland (and certainly not a thriving games console industry), the new Santa will be located in the magical land of eBay, and his messengers will take the form of postmen. Children will send him their lists online, and parents simply have to log on with their PayPal details.

Of course as usual things may not go entirely to plan...