Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Living in the Future

When I was young, maybe eleven (nearly 30 years ago!), I thought it would be really great to turn my bedroom into the control room of the TARDIS. Perhaps like this 10-year old.

I'm not quite sure why I wanted to do this, except I was a fan of the Doctor Who series. The room is dominated by the central controls, and there's a distinct lack of comfy furniture. I suppose since I would have spent a lot of my time playing with LEGO on the floor of my bedroom this didn't seem to be such a big problem.

By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, living abroad and having only watched the small number of episodes that friends had obtained on video tapes from the UK, I remember realising how childish the programme was.

As you might expect, some people have turned their houses into spaceships. These people are generally male and probably single. One of them has a website and is offering this as a service. He might be a great 24th Century interior designer, but he clearly doesn't know much about creating a useable website. Since it has apparently not been updated for a few years, I wonder whether he made a viable business out of this.

If asked whether I'd turn my flat into the Star Trek Bridge or the TARDIS, I would of course give the same answer as most other sane people. However, I did start wondering about different space-age places, and what it would be like to really live in them.

The TARDIS (Doctor who)

They didn't generally show many other rooms of this machine, but it was supposed to be infinitely large, so there might have been some nice bits to live in. However, the controls never really worked and the Doctor got lost more often than Bugs Bunny. And everywhere he went there were Daleks, or Cybermen, evil geniuses bent on world destruction, and so on. I don't really want to end up saving the world every time I go out to get a pint of milk, so I'd give this one a miss.

The U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek)

This doesn't strike me as a pleasant place to live. The beds look uncomfortable, and the decor is somewhat drab. It's full of contradictions. How come you can just talk to the ship's computer, and yet there are so many control panels all over the place?

Like the TARDIS, the Enterprise goes from one life-threatening situation to another, and the red alert siren would get a bit annoying after a while. Nevertheless, there are supposed to be children on board. I wonder why...

Professor Xavier's Institute (X Men)

Bits of this seem quite nice - the old-fashioned house and garden, but having mutants walking through your walls might be unnerving. People complain about living on aircraft flight paths, never mind having the X-Men jet taking off in your back yard...

Earth (Blade Runner)

People practically have whole apartment blocks to themselves, and there are loads of Chinese fast food places within walking distance. The reason so many places are unoccupied is that the aftermath of WWIII has left the planet irradiated, and most people have gone to live on Mars. Nevertheless, you always see crowds of people in the streets.

Whilst the idea of having all that living space seems great, everything is very dark and dreary, and all the people there are a bit unhinged. Otherwise they'd have gone to Mars too.

Earth (Buck Rogers)

New Chicago looks like a rather miserable place to live. Like so many futuristic places, this is very stark and bright. The brightness probably has something to do with energy-saving lightbulbs, although they never seem to turn lights off, and the lack of comfortable furniture may be due to the depletion of natural resources. Or it may just be that these programmes were low budget..

Serenity (Firefly)

If you haven't seen the Firefly series, or the film Serenity, then stop reading now and go and get the DVDs. The cancellation of the programmes after a small number of episodes was criminal. Although this ship is also always in danger, I'd actually quite fancy being on it. This is nothing to do with the fact that it has it's own resident prostitute, but it's a community made up of people with different skills and a sense of loyalty to one another. I've no idea what I'd be able to contribute, admittedly, but out of this rather random selection of options, it's the one I'd choose.

Hello, this is Brian. I'm not at my computer right now (which is why I've not visited your blog this week), but if you'd like to leave a message after the tone, I'll get back to you in a few days. Beeeeeeep...

Saturday, 25 April 2009

At the Mercy of the Bugs

The other day we learned about Bee's chigger infestation. Unfortunately, they don't actually feed on blood. They'll just eat her skin. I say unfortunately, because if they were blood sucking insects then she could have got rid of them by getting very drunk on tequilla - after all, remember what it does to those worms.

I'm lucky that I've rarely been bothered by bites. Either I dont' taste good, or my skin just doesn't react so I don't notice. I just get annoyed by moths and terrorised by spiders. Though so far this year, I've not had many eight-legged invaders in my flat.

If Bee survives the chiggers, and West-Nile-Virus-carrying mosquitos, she may or may not be comforted by the thought that some man-made bugs can be more dangerous. I'm referring to bugs in computer programs.

Now, most of these bugs just make your word processor do funny things, and providing you aren't using Windows in your nuclear submarine, the BSOD is unlikely to be a matter of life-or-death. But there are some computer bugs which really have killed.

I was reading about an infamous case of a computer controlled radiation therapy machine which actually fried a few people, zapping them with around 100 times the prescribed dose of radiation. Some of them didn't survive. Of course, the machine also successfully treated a far larger number of patients, and once they found out what was wrong they were able to add some safeguards which solved the problem. The bug in question was a "race condition" - something that depends on the timing of unconnected events, and which is very difficult to find.

That happened in the 80's, and since then engineers have developed a better understanding of the risks of using software in critical systems, such as for flying airplanes or driving cars, and ways to mitigate them.

Debugging the HAL 9000 - with a screwdriver

I'll be away from my blog for a few days, and more importantly that means I won't be commenting on any of yours, but there should be an automatically posted Wordy Wednesday. Bugs notwithstanding. And provided that the software controlling the various transportation I'll be using doesn't crash, I'll be back in about a week...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Wordy Wednesday Hits the Gas Pedal

When I chose my home computer two and a half years ago, I ignored all the advertised features except for two things - the amount of memory and the price. I wasn't buying a gaming machine, so the graphics card, processor power, etc, didn't matter. After all, I wasn't going to do much more than surf the web, right?

A few weeks ago I installed SuperTuxKart on my machine. This is a 3D racing game starring Tux (everyone's favourite penguin) and friends. The last racing game I played was Pole Position in the 80s, and clearly things have moved on a little. Instead of just having a rather flat track in front of you, you can drive all over the place (although you usually fall off something and have to be rescued if you stray too far), and there are different road surfaces, hills, and so on.

In addition to driving faster and better than your opponents, you can do things like firing rockets at them, or ram them off the road. It's all great fun, and now when Helena comes for the weekend she is eager to play it. Especially since she's now better at it than I am.

I'm sure, though, that to really appreciate it, you have to drive for real. Being able to cut corners, drive dangerously fast, ram other vehicles, and even better to fire rockets off must be every driver's fantasy, especially if no-one ever gets hurt.

A small number of people get closer to making this fantasy a reality. A few years ago the army sold off some of their old tanks, and they were bought by enthusiasts, at least one of whom was the subject of newspaper articles, as he drove to and from work in his. Unfortunately the military had deactivated the gun, but he still found other drivers were strangely reluctant to argue about who had priority at roundabouts.

My car is over six years old now, so I'm wondering whether I should trade it in for something a bit more warlike.

The main problem with a tank, other than finding a place to park (though they wouldn't be able to clamp you), is that it doesn't exactly get up to SuperTuxKart speeds. And I dont' expect they run to air conditioning or comfy seats, though you wouldn't need to worry about where to put your CD changer - you could probably fit a juke box in the thing. Whether or not you'd be able to hear it above the engines is another matter.

And what do you do about refuelling? I don't imagine you'd manage to get it anywhere near a forecourt petrol pump. The car wash would also be out of bouds, but I don't believe in washing cars. That's what rain's for.

Another option is a Harrier. It's vertical take off and landing means that you don't have to worry about replacing your driveway with a 3-mile runway, they boast an impressive range of weapons and a top speed of 700mph. Sadly, though, the air doesn't get very congested during rush hour, so there are very few other drivers to ram. In addition, I've just checked my driving licence, and although I'm legally able to drive a small road roller, there doesn't appear to be any mention of a Jump-Jet.

So it looks like I'll have to keep the Skoda for now. I was a little concerned with the lack of firepower, but last night I installed a newer version of SuperTuxKart on my machine. And stayed up till 2 in the morning playing it. They've replaced the missiles with exploding cakes. This is excellent news, since I'll be able to chuck those out of my car window. I'm just off to the bakers across the road to place an order...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Weekend Educational Feature

The internet is not only a great place to keep up with your favourite bloggers, buy books and view porn. It can also be very educational. There is everyone's favourite reference source, Wikipedia:

There are also a lot of talks and course materials that are now being made available online. For example, the Google Tech Talks, which cover computers, sicences, social sciences and the arts, while Academic Earth has links to entire series of university lectures.

I've been spending quite a bit of time watching some of the Computer Science talks, which I've found very interesting. And of course, educational.

As you know, I like to keep up with the latest trends, and so I've decided to offer the following courses online. I am having some difficulties though:

Advanced Procrastination: Topics might include displacement activities, passing the buck, but I haven't decided yet.

How to Get Rich Quick: This module has had to be cancelled owing to the fact that none of the experts in this field were willing to leave the beach in Barbados to work for the fee they were being offered.

Anarchy 101: Nothing has been organised.

A Practical Course in Housekeeping: Despite the fact that there are no exams or lectures - all the marks are awarded for the coursework (which involves students proving that they can keep my flat clean, ensure a plentiful supply of ironed clothes and make me tasty and nutritious meals), no-one has signed up for it.

Even with the initial setbacks, I'm not giving up. After all, I bet the people who founded our great institutes all those centuries ago had the same problems.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Eight Things

I'm not really keen on these meme things, and I generally don't do them. But I decided that I ought to do one and Tracy nominated me for this, so here goes:

Eight Things

Eight Things I'm Looking Forward To

1. Getting this meme finished.

2. Spending time at the weekend with Helena.

3. The solitude after Helena's gone home.

4. A nice warm, sunny, summer.

5. Tomorrow.

6. Living long enough to turn 44 (only five more years!)

7. One day far in the future when my Greek is good enough and I get round to booking a holiday in Athens.

8. Being lucky enough to be able to be as happy in the future as I have been up to now.

Eight Things I Did Yesterday

1. Got Up

2. Went To Work

3. Read a chapter of the current murder mystery I'm on in my lunch break

4. Pretended to do more work

5. Went home and caught up on blogs

6. Decided I'd never be able to do the "Eight Things" meme, since I lead too uneventful a life.
I'd use a different word from "uneventful", but I promised Bee I wouldn't.

7. Didn't drink any alcohol -
I'm not exactly an alcoholic, but it's actually relatively rarely that I don't drink anything at all, even if it's only a can of beer or some Scotch before I go to bed.

8. Er, that's it.

Eight Things I Wish I Could Do

1. Think in Greek.

2. Play the piano.

3. Cook. I probably could if I wasn't so bad at waiting for things.

4. Be more organised.

5. Spend my time more productively.

6. Be more assertive with other people.

7. Be a millionaire.

8. Be a better, nicer and less selfish person.

Eight Shows I Watch on TV

Taking the word "TV" to include DVDs, since I don't watch much TV:

1. The Main News Bulletin on CyBC - How dull does that make me sound? It gives me an hour of spoken Greek and is my main source of news, and is an important part of my daily routine.

2. CSI -
I love this, although I've not watched it for a while. All three of the shows are good in their own way. Vegas because it's funny and varied, Miami because of the brightness and Emily Proctor, and NY because it's exciting.

3. Murder She Wrote -
This is getting a little predictable (we're on the seventh series now), but it's fun and there are a variety of interesting guest stars.

4. IXNH - This is basically CSI Athens, and I wish they'd (a) bring it out on DVD and (b) make another series. The stories and characters were brilliant, and it's all in Greek too!

5. Epomenos & To Sizitame - These weekly debating shows seem to be pretty commonplace on Greek/Cypriot TV, and although they can get heated, they're much better than anything I've seen on British TV for a long time.

6. Sherlock Holmes (ITV) -
Chris Wood recommended this, and I'm very glad he did. They're faithful televisations of Conan Doyle's original stories.

7. Poirot (also ITV) - David Suchet is Poirot. I hope that he gets his wish to film every single one of Agatha Christie's books and short stories. Like the Sherlock Holmes series they're a good example of bringing the written word to life.

8. Skai News -
I much prefer this to the other option for watching Greek TV news on demand (Mega), because they don't spend the whole bulletin with 8 journalists discussing the top political scandal of the day. They also have dubbed BBC News reports.

You're supposed to nominate eight people, but I don't want to, and I suspect that Tracy already nominated everyone. If anyone wasn't, and wants to do this then consider yourself nominated.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Wordy Wednesday - In a Hurry

No Time

The only downside of having such a great long weekend was losing track of time. Today feels like it should be Tuesday. I've also been rushing around this week. There seems to be a lot to do, but I was so tired yesterday (sleepless night) that I couldn't find the energy to write a blog post, so I went to the pub instead.

Today I'm writing this in a hurry because I can hear the rumble of thunder, and I want to get it finished before I get struck by lightening. The next time you look here if there's no post, but just a pair of smouldering shoes, you'll know what's happened.

Time Travel

During my sleepless night I had several dreams. Which means that it wasn't entirely sleepless, I know, but I kept waking up. I don't remember much about the dreams, but unusually they didn't involve riding on busses, and in at least one of them I travelled through time. This is probably why I'm getting my days mixed up this week. I only wish I'd travelled to Saturday morning...

Shopping Time

During the Easter weekend, I got round to buying some bits and pieces - a new pair of headphones (I broke the others with my big head), and finally some computer speakers. Until now I've been mainly listening to things through the tinny monitor speakers, and these really make a difference. I just hope I'm not annoying the neighbours too much.

The other thing I bought was a new ink cartridge for my printer, after having to send my solicitor a letter printed in bright green. As it was accompanied by a cheque, I don't think they'll mind so much.

Video Time
I don't know why, but mentos and diet coke videos are often surprisingly entertaining. You'd have thought that if you'd seen one, you'd have seen them all. Maybe I'm just losing it in my not-yet-that-old age...

If I manage not to get struck down, there'll be an educational feature in the next day or two...

Friday, 10 April 2009

Adver-Ties Here.

I was reading in today's Simerini about Romanian Tudor Ciora, who is selling advertising space on his tie in an attempt to make enough money to pay for his impending marriage.

The price varies depending on which part of the tie you wish your message or logo to be placed - He's charging €20 per square centimetre ($170 per square inch) for the top part of the tie, €15 for the middle, and €10 for the end, which won't be as visible, running the risk of getting dipped into Mr Ciora's soup or custard at lunchtime.

Other people have tried similar things. The student who earned money by spending her holidays on the beach with temporary tatoo adverts in strategic places was clearly onto a good thing, but for those of us who aren't nubile young women, selling space on ones clothes seems like a safer (and inoffensive) idea.

There's also sandwich boards, but they don't look incredibly practical for wearing around the office.

Perhaps I could make enough money to pay for my divorce. I can't decide whether or not to take up wearing a sponsored tie. After all, I could sell more space on my shirts if they were not likely to be covered up by a tie full of logos. And maybe Jean Knee will pay me to wear polka dot trousers. I'm afraid I'll have to draw the line at advertising cock-suckers or Mariah Carey, though.

Unless I get paid double rates, that is...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Holiday Special

The Calm Before the Storm

It's sunny here. I gather that some of you have had less than brilliant weather recently, and as I look out at the bright sunlit blue skies, I feel your pain.

Or rather, I will in a day or two. Good Friday and the following Monday are bank holidays in the UK, and the weather is bound to be limbering up to chuck it down for the whole four days, causing widespread misery to all those stupid or unfortunate enough to be sitting in Bank Holiday traffic jams.

For those who aren't so keen to spend 2 days getting to Morecambe and back, and (worse still) spending 2 days there in between, here are some other possibilities.

"Wish You Were Here...
... instead of me"

Build a New House

Actually, in 4 days you could build around twenty five houses, but I suppose if you want a garden, and time to go out and get furniture, one's probably okay.

Advantages: A Constructive use of your time

Disadvantages: Not exactly a relaxing holiday.

Visit The Moon

You'd spend the whole Bank Holiday getting there, so you'd need to take an extra 3 days leave. The Moon doesn't have any tacky shops selling "Kiss Me Quick" hats or sex aids. In fact, it's very similar to Morecambe in the winter.

Advantages: No traffic jams, Secluded location. Impressive holiday snaps to bore the neighbours with.

Disadvantages: Somewhat lacking in atmosphere.

Seek out New Worlds, New Civilisations

4 days is only 5 minutes less time than would be required to watch the entire original series of Star Trek, the six original films and the first year's "Next Generation". I've got a feeling that Dan's already done this.

Advantages: A trip through cult history, not to mention plenty of 60's miniskirt clad women. Earn the respect of the IT helpdesk staff. Though when you call with a problem they'll still ask if you've tried rebooting it.

Disadvantages: Having to lie when people ask you what you did for your holiday. "Well... nothing special. Just went to Morecambe for a couple of days."

Better than anything you'll see
on the beach at Morecambe

Having carefully considered all of the alternatives, I think I'll stay at home and gloat to Americans about having two days off work.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Lost Post

Playing one day on the Bugle,
I was weary and ill at ease,

And my tunes all wandered idly
Into some minor keys

- The Lost Post

Arriving home this evening, I looked eagerly in my mailbox to see if I had any bills, or junk mail, only to find that I had an official looking letter. Addressed to someone else. I decided not to open it, since as far as I could tell it didn't contain any money, but it got me thinking.

It's not unusual to get misdirected mail, because there are two or three roads, at least one of which is mis-signed, most of the blocks of flats don't actually have front doors onto any of these roads (ours opens onto a footpath between two of them), and very few of them have any numbers on the doors. All of which ensures that the postmen have to work for their money, and they do a pretty good job considering.

So that's where my fan mail went this week...

Nevertheless, I wonder what is in these misdirected items. And whether they ever get to where they're going. Occasionally you hear of things being delivered many years late, and I always thought it was because letters fell down behind furniture in the sorting office, only to be discovered during a move or a refurb, but perhaps some of them just keep getting directed to the wrong place. In a country of around 30 million households a letter could be delivered to a different address each working day and take about 100,000 years to get to its rightful destination.

When Helena was little she had a book by John Patience, one of the wonderfully illustrated "Fern Hollow" stories, called "Mrs Merryweather's letter". Mrs Merryweather is a duck, and her friend (whose name I forget) writes her a letter inviting herself round for tea the following day. The wind blows the letter out of the postman's hand, and it ends up going to all sorts of places, including a bird's nest before it gets blown into the duck's kitchen just before the arrival of her friend.

Of course, "snail mail" is considerably more reliable than email. Reduced reliability is desirable so that one can say things like "The cheque's in the post.", "Sorry, I didn't recieve any mail about that.", and so on.

They really should introduce misdirection into Blogger. That way I can assure you that I did do a post in the last 6 days, but, by some misfortune, it must have found its way onto a completely unrelated blog site. It's not that I was lethargic and uninspired...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Making an Easy Buck

Helena and I started watching the second series of Buck Rogers at the weekend. I saw the box set in HMV. We'd watched the first lot a long time ago, and both enjoyed it.

I have to say that the second series has not started well. They appear to have made it sillier than the first, with Wilfrid Hyde-White (The Colonel in My Fair Lady) playing a batty professor, replacing Doctor Huer, played by Tim O'Connor. Apparently O'Connor lives in Chicago these days, although that may be just a cover story to keep the paparazzi away, since Helena is convinced she's seen him doing his weekly shop in our local branch of Sainsbury's.

The other problem is that they cancelled the show after 13 episodes, but the people who package the DVDs have kept this box the same size as the other one (which had twice as many episodes), and I paid about the same for it. At least Helena enjoyed the first episode.

A Good Cause

I'm not one for getting too serious on this blog, or publicising campaigns, but you may have heard about one of the many ideas that our great world leaders are considering to shore up the ailing financial system. They're planning to make use of (currently unused) existing technology on the internet to tax web publishing. The original idea behind the functionality in the HTTP (web) protocol (see RFC 1866) was to allow charging of Mainframe resources - something that was build into a lot of computer systems in the 70s and 80s. The new plan is to charge web publishers by the character, a sort of "Pay as You Type", and for the money to go into a global IMF fund that would be used to help compensate unemployed executive insurers and bankers. Since their economic wellbeing is obviously connected to ours.

The news websites have kept fairly quiet about the idea. According to various technology blogs, this is because they're being "bribed" with the promise that news reports will be exempt, as long as no-one finds out beforehand and complains too loudly.

It's not clear whether they'll start charging bloggers, since it might be possible to claim that blogs are news. If they do, however, my plan will be to leave out all the vowels, since English is perfectly comprehensible without them, or to switch to using blog services in a tax haven (such things will almost certainly start appearing very quickly). Hopefully, though, if enough people petition they won't do this. Click Here to register your vote for a tax-free web.


I wonder what the inventor of this "remote control" originally envisaged? Something futuristic? The ultimate gadget to get couch potatoes to do some exercise?

Instead they ended up with a naff polythene thing that'll probably be trashed by the time this guy's finished his film: