Sunday, July 31, 2005


God said to Abraham "Kill me a son!"
Abe said "Man, you must be putting me on?"
God said "No!"
Abe said "What??"
God said "You can do what you want Abe but, uh, the next time you see me coming: you'd better run.."
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

What a terrible month July was - the bombs killing so many innocent people. Then the second wave of bombers: that day, it seemed for a second like news from a stale cache, when the lack of explosive impact became clear, though, I started thinking about other desired outcomes for the attackers - specifically misdirection with criminal motivation. I imagine a few people in places like Hatton Gardens thought the same and, like me, felt bad when it turned out to be incompetent explosives instead. (1)

Then Jean Charles de Menezes was executed for running away from the police. (2) Now there is the news of the Niger famine, the pictures of starving and dying children that the news organisations know wll prompt us (parents anyway) to donate from well-fed guilt. (3)

The only positive was the IRA ending their armed campaign. They could hardly bomb London again now, though, could they?

You wonder what it takes for people to bomb their own - or, alternatively, what it takes to see your own as the enemy. But then there's the murder of Anthony Walker - I just don't know what to think. I might say "brew a million human beings and one of them will be truly evil" but it's one thing saying it and another seeing it. It looks like I'm grossly understating the figures, as well.

In local news, seven people were arrested in Brighton last night in terrorism related yada.

(1) If you were a criminal mastermind planning something like a diamond robbery, you might consider the option of bribing a moody imam to recruit some idiots to fake some explosions to distract the Met from your heist. Or - much more likely - your screenplay..

(2) It used to be Met policy that any firearms police who actually discharged a round - let alone unloaded eight rounds into a helpless prone person's head - was immediately removed from armed duty. Not as a punishment, not even as a precaution, but as a protocol: the armed officers were trained not to use their guns if there was any alternative. They probably don't do that anymore though.

(3) Imagine being the news producer who has to tell an appeal that No, their famine isn't newsworthy enough to be on the news. No media exposure, no donations, more dead children.

Regret nothing

I am usually proud of my mobile's antiquity and uselessness but I wish I could get this Crazy Frog tamagotchi: I'm surprised no-one connected tamagotchis and mobiles before, the identical screen size should have been a clue. [Edit - I am wrong, of course - Becky has bought an old Samsung 800 which has a "pet" game]

I still sometimes play the Viz "Queen Mum Tamagotchi" for laughs - you feeds her swans and gin, and give her the heimlich when she chokes. Hilarious, but no longer available from Viz - let me know if you want a copy. I have never made her survive more than half a lunchbreak anyway (eventually too many swans get stuck in her throat)

Friday, July 22, 2005

ID me

I once did a match between a database of ~25,000 people to one of ~250,000 - the smaller being more-or-less a subset of the larger. It was a few years ago, but I remember being stuck with nearly a thousand cases where my matching rules had failed, and I wasn't being very strict: I expect a match on surname, first initial, date of birth and title/gender would have been enough for that match (you need title or gender because of "John and Jane Smith - twins, resident at same address, known by initial only").

When you do these kind of matches, you end up with two distinct but closely related problems:

  • Two records which appear to be two different people in fact relate to one person
  • Two records which appear to be the same person in fact relate to two different people
There can be more than two of course, and these ambiguous or even fictitious (clerks get bored, people lie) records may be in the same database or different - nobody's data is perfect.

I registered my disapproval of the concept of ID cards the other day, I aimed on a whim to be the 10,000th person but missed because I hadn't sussed I had to register to confirm the pledge via an email address and gmail was being very slow. If you secretly wanted to sign up but were too pussy, you can still contribute.

Anyway, after I had done the automated match I had to sit and go through the list of partial matches, deciding who was who and who wasn't. It's a decision only a human being can make (as a programmer I say that advisedly) and they need as much information as they have or can get to make the best possible match. For an ID card that might mean knowing who you call or email, or where you've been, or who you know - to make the distinction the analyst is using all the information she has to decide who you are. As long as you're happy with that.

Windows tip # 1

Alt-tab toggles between applications. I never realised this, I used to use alt-tab back when you'd only have a couple of programs open at a time, but more or less gave up when Windows 95 implemented the taskbar and computers were capable of running a dozen apps or more. I thought that you just used it to tick along the list of applications until you come to the one you need: and, more or less, that's what it does, except it does a very clever thing after that.

I don't know what criteria Windows uses to order the list it offers, but it doesn't really matter: after you have navigated to the new app, it puts where you came from next in the list. That means that no matter how many alt-tab-tab-tab-tabs it took you to get you where you are, it only takes one alt-tab to get back where you were, and so suddenly you're toggling between applications as it does the clever thing again, so now you can alt-tab between the two apps. The same applies to command-tab on Mac OS, unsurprisingly.

From a usability point of view this is a neat feature - at least, once you know it's there it's very useful. But there's no discoverability except accident, so that makes it effectively a useless feature. There's no guarantee I will remember it next week, though obviously writing it down helps :-). Try it: when it's what you need, it's exactly what you want, or is it the other way round..

I found it out from trawling through the Joel on software archives. Always something for a developer there, even if it's just something to disagree with. But he used to work for Microsoft, so finding out about a feature from someone who used to work at the company who produces the product doesn't count as real discoverability in my ibook.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Broadcast news

This blog is now being broadcasted into space, so a big human hello to all my new alien readers. I hope my old alien readers don't get jealous..

Friday, July 15, 2005


I submitted a 'sight' (mmm) to Google Sightseeing - a bizarre landscape in the north of Alaska - just beautiful and very weird, which I think looks more like a painting than a map. As you zoom in it just gets weirder: like a mandelbrot set detail is revealed at each level. The whole area is bizarre, the ground looks to have been stretched so thin holes have been torn through. Oh, and on the left hand side is a Lizard Lake. I found the spot totally by accident using this implementation of Google maps, it was where I clicked before I understood the interface. Perhaps it's the middle of the world?

Then I found this and I poked about on Wikipedia and Google: the lump on the left of Alaska - containing the crimson mountains - is called "Seward's Peninsula". The area ref1 map the red mountains are called the Kigluaik Mountains tourist info (maybe can use vitty lie go (vitiligo) card to secure travel to cold holiday destination??)

the weather there - hmm.

this explained by photos - Parts of the Arctic tundra take on a golden brown color in the summer..?

Biggest town is on the south coast of the lump and called Nome. There's no place like Nome, ha ha..

Seward was the man who bought Alaska from Russia (it is an exclave - not physically contiguous with the other North American states) for seven million dollars many years ago. Alaska was regarded as "Seward's Folly" for some time. Must remember to go and check facts vs memory..

Friday, July 01, 2005

Cookbooks #1 - Delia

I have a copy of Delia Smith's Cookery Course Part One (1978, accompanied the BBC televisions series of the same name) and one of the recipes I use from it is for pizza dough. It's striking that even then Delia felt the need to explain what a pizza was:

One of the nicest ways of eating bread is as a 'pizza' - freshly-baked bread dough with delicious fillings melting and bubbling on top
Let's not dwell on how a filling could be on top of anything, and instead remember the times: olive oil was for clearing out your ears, peppers were for foreigners, avocadowhato, rocket was for going to the moon. We used to make nutritious food out of what we had: now we have everything and make nothing, and all the processed food we buy is made of poisons and held together by glue. If you can buy local and fresh, that's the best food you can get.

How to fold a tshirt

By my Hara! I have finally seen the video of how to fold a tshirt. Itchy hoko! Genius.. can't wait to try it.

[Edit] You should see my pathetic attempts! ~Comical.