Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gendal's Law

When internet political discussions get out of hand, it is not uncommon for one party to label their opponent a "nazi". Of course, those who can only understand their opponents' positions by assigning them malign intent are clearly unworthy of participating further and it is sufficient to accuse such people of violating Godwin's Law before declining to debate with them any further.

I believe we need to institute a similar system for those who claim to have "had the flu" when it is clear they have had nothing more than a bit of a cold.  I will call it Gendal's Law.

Influenza will consign you to bed for weeks. It will make you question your desire to continue living. It will make walking from the bed to the bathroom harder than one could possibly imagine.

A bad cold, by contrast, may lay you low for a few days. You may feel wretched. You may shiver. You may lose your appetite. You may cough. You may have a blocked nose. You may have a runny nose. You may, like me, have felt that your body has somehow forgotten how to regulate its own temperature.

But here's a clue: if you're up and running again after a few days, it wasn't flu.

I suffered from such a cold last week and, at one point, did begin to wonder if I had influenza.  A cursory search of the web for flu symptoms convinced me that I didn't have it but it did cross my mind.

However, there was no excuse for my thinking it was flu. If one needs to ask: "is it flu?" then it probably isn't.

We need to get firm on those who say they've had flu when they haven't. We need to start enforcing Gendal's law!

In the future, when such people do violate my law, I urge you to call them on it.

And yes... Dennis... that means you are the first violator of Gendal's Law!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Is this space weekend or something?

Although I'm feeling somewhat better than I was, I thought I had better stay in last night. Flicking through the channels, I stumbled upon a re-run of "Apollo 13".

This afternoon, I somehow caught the end of "Capricorn One".

And now, checking my RSS feeds, I notice that Slashdot has a piece on a Slashdot has a piece on a space junkyard.

What is going on?

Whatever.... it made for an unexpectedly interesting few hours spent in front of the TV. I've had a vague feeling for some time that the Apollo programme must have been a rather large undertaking but it was only when I typed things into Wikipedia as I watched the movie last night that I realised quite what an achievement it was.

I was particularly interested in the character of Gene Kranz. He was the flight controller featured in the movie and, it turns out, was instrumental in a lot of other places, too.

Some new things I realised this weekend:

* As a potential contractor, if the Apollo requirements had been brought to me, I'd have probably said "no bid"!  The risk those guys were happy to work with was mind-blowing.

* IBM's IMS came out of a need to track the bill of materials for the various parts of the programme.  Who knew?  I certainly didn't until now.

Yes, yes....  Surely space exploration is the kind of stuff you're supposed to read about when you're a teenager, never to think about it again.  I did go through a phase where I was interested in space but I don't think I ever reflected on what, with 1960s technology, was achieved back then.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Letters to the editor

Part 2 of an occasional series.

I read an article in the Guardian's "Money" section last week that I thought was little more than a hatchet job on concert ticket resellers. So I told them.

My letter (reproduced below) was published today.

Why ticket touts offer a valuable service

Although I can understand the frustration of those who cannot buy concert tickets at "face value" thanks to touts (New move to put the touts out of business, March 17), their anger is misdirected. The touts are performing the valuable service of ensuring tickets are allocated to those who value them most. By underpricing the tickets, the promoters have failed in this duty.

Indeed, the only part I don't understand is, if touts really are profiteering egregiously, why do promoters leave so much money on the table by underpricing their tickets? Any vendor that deliberately underpriced a service and chose, instead, to ration it by demanding displays of devotion from its customers - such as becoming a member of the fan club - is a vendor I would rather not do business with. Therefore, I buy my concert tickets from touts through eBay - at times of my choosing, in comfort and with thanks.

Richard Brown

The article about tickets touts is here

The letters page is here

Part 1 of this series, where I write to the Independent to complain about Johann Hari, ocurred earlier this year.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It has always been thus

Bobby Woolf (courtesy of Keys Botzum) shared this excellent sketch.

Think today's technology is complicated? Try to imagine how hard it was for the first users of the "book", accustomed as they were to the "scroll".

As Bobby says, bear with it; it gets funnier and funnier...

[EDIT 2007-03-27 17:20 Typo in title]

Be careful out there!

I have been using some of my downtime as an opportunity to catch up on the wider world of BPM. It's easy to get very focussed on one's own products and one's own clients and lose track of what's happening in the wider world.

So, I spent some time this morning browsing Sandy Kemsley's recent posts in my feed reader.

One post caught my attention. It wasn't actually about BPM; it was about blogging. She accused somebody of stealing her blog posts.

What I think was going on was that the guy was aggregating the RSS feeds of lots of relevant bloggers and republishing them on his site. Because Sandy publishes a full feed (which means I don't have to go to ebiqz to read her posts - they're in my reader in their entirety), her full posts were appearing on his blog.

She was upset - and said so.

The guy apologised and took down the posts. Although his blog was done in his own time, his role as a Sales VP for a vendor clearly made him visible: he has resigned from his job.

A reminder to us all of the need to be careful.

And if that were not enough, Dennis brings news of dastardly deeds in the enterprise applications world. Oracle are claiming that a unit of SAP have been engaged in "corporate theft on a grand scale". The alleged behaviour includes the logging on to Oracle's support site and downloading large numbers of documents.  Without expressing an opinion on this matter, it's a timely reminder to the rest of us that even seemingly innocuous acts (like bulk-downloading all information you may conceivably need about a problem) may, in retrospect, look suspicious.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Monkey man is dead

Feeling sorry for myself on my sick bed today, I was flicking through the paper when the face of the guy from "Monkey Business" appeared. The weird thing was that the page was the obituary page.

What a shame :-(  I used to love watching that show and he seemed like a genuinely nice person.

More information here.

I am ill :-(

I have been struck down by a really nasty cold.  Yes... I know; it sounds wimpish (and, believe me, I have tried, in vain to fit my symptoms to Pneumonia or Bronchitis or something more respectable).

I started to suffer on Monday evening: I barely slept that night - waking up every thirty minutes or so and, by the time I got up on Tuesday morning, I was coughing prodigiously and my brain was doing that weird thing where it was occasionally pretending to turn off for a second. At one point I thought: "Wow... if this doesn't get better soon, I'm going to have to quit my job - my health clearly isn't up to it!"

I had a hectic schedule planned for the next three days and decided, perhaps foolishly, to make good on the commitments I made.

So, I made my way to King's Cross (taking a taxi rather than the DLR and the tube was my nod towards the illness) and sat on a train for two hours to get to York (after stocking up on drugs at Boots).  That evening I travelled on two other trains for about four hours to get from York to a hotel in Norwich. That was an utterly miserable journey. (Although, to be fair, I suspect its misery is probably little different even if you're feeling on top form)

I had a three hour presentation and demonstration to give to some senior architects at one of my clients on Wednesday. My plan was to finish my preparation that night.

Sadly, on the walk from Norwich Station to the car park (my colleague gave me a lift to the hotel), I thought I was going to break my back due to the frequency and severity of my shivering (assuming my chattering teeth hadn't sliced off my tongue first).

By the time I made it to my hotel room, I was so cold I spent thirty minutes standing next to the radiator (turned up to full) in my suit and outdoor coat.  I was *still* feeling cold by the end of this. My room-service dinner was left pretty much untouched :-(   I can't remember the last time I lost my appetite.

I decided there was no point in trying to do further preparation and went straight to bed.

And that's when things began to get really weird.

I managed to get to sleep very quickly (which was a welcome relief, considering the difficulty I had the night before).

But, three hours later, I woke up feeling like I was being boiled alive. With hindsight, I should, perhaps, have anticipated this: the radiator was still turned up to maximum, after all (yes... I am an idiot).

However, my brain was clearly somewhat muddled.

No matter how I tried to rearrange the cover I either found myself too warm or too cold.  Even after turning down the heating, I could not find a comfortable temperature. I swung from feeling too hot to shivering.

Eventually I figured out what was going wrong: the duvet was not a normal duvet. It was a cynical corrupt duvet. Yes: the explanation for my discomfort was that the duvet was not uniform in its construction: some parts of it provided more insulation than others. The answer was to rotate it by about forty five degrees to ensure an even insulation.

However, I had reckoned without one thing. It turned out that the duvet wasn't just non-uniform, it was under the control of the hotel reception staff. I deduced this active conspiracy because, even when I rotated the duvet to compensate for its non-uniform design, I still couldn't find an acceptable temperature: the hotel staff must be actively fighting me!

I spent several minutes trying to figure out why the hotel was doing this to me and what it would take to make them stop. Do they want my money?

Fortunately (for my ongoing freedom, at least), I chose not to call them and demand they stop interfering with my duvet and decided to take it up with reception when I checked out in the morning.

In the meantime, I went to the bathroom, had a glass of water, went back to bed and promptly fell asleep.

I thought it would probably be better not to mention my discoveries to reception when I checked out...

As for my illness.... well my cough got steadily worse throughout Wednesday and my presentation went reasonably well (but far from brilliantly).

I was most grateful to discover that a colleague had been found to stand in for me at another meeting today.

This was good because I felt even worse this morning. I have spent all the day sat on the sofa, barely moving.  My one piece of activity has been to shuffle to the local shop and back for some lunch. I was coughing so hard (and my nose running so freely) when I returned that I thought I was going to die.

However, I am beginning to feel a little better now and am hoping that, if I take it easy tomorrow too, I should be ready to return to form at work on Monday.

Not a moment too soon. I hate being ill. I hate reneging on commitments I have made. And, even more, I hate sneaky amorphous, conspiratorial duvets. People, beware: are you sure your duvet isn't trying to attack you?!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Utair and Surgut

It appears that a Utair Tupolev-134 has crash landed on a return flight from Surgut in Siberia, killing five.

The story caught my attention because Utair (flying Tu-134s) are the airline I used when I visited Surgut in 2004 and 2005.

I remember joking at the time about the wisdom of flying an internal Russian airline - but being pleasantly surprised by the experience

  • Domodedovo airport was surprisingly well run: they had the best security-check arrangements of any airport I have ever visited: before the scanners, there was a large open space with plenty of seats and baskets. Passengers could sit down, take off their shoes, empty their pockets and extract their laptops before approaching the machines. This meant that a single slow person didn't cause the queue to freeze-up: people were only processed when they were ready. Utter Genius!
  • Surgut airport was also relatively efficient. On the airside, the de-icing machines were amazing: shortly before the plane was due to depart, a machine would appear out of nowhere and spray a gunky liquid over both wings of the plane. The entire operation took less than thirty seconds.  I could imagine the same scenario at Heathrow (it would involve a lengthy delay and an apology from the pilot about unavailability of equipment, no doubt).
  • The in-flight catering on the flights was outstanding. The airline had rejected the idea of trying to do "fancy" meals or to replicate familiar meals from home. Instead, they had figured out what actually worked at 30,000 feet and served that instead. The pictures don't do it justice, but the rating (8/10) is about right: in-flight catering on Utair flight

However, for all that, I was a little disquieted when I saw that Utair had recently been banned from operating in the EU due to safety concerns.

Either way, it is sad to hear that people have died and have been injured - I hope those injured make a speedy recovery.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Public Service Broadcasting courtesy of XFM

Three quarters of the adverts are government propaganda ("drive slowly!".... "wear a seatbelt!".... "insurance companies are scum but you can trust the FSA".... "private landlords are also scum".... "use the job centre!"... and on it goes).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who knew...? you can't trust statistics!

Don Boudreaux has a nice piece showing how two of the most widely quoted economic "statistics" of late are actually highly misleading.  Good stuff.

The difference between an abstract and an introduction

I think I knew this but I've not seen it spelled out so explicitly before.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is JFK always that awful?

Having just had the privilege of leaving the US via the delightful Delta terminal at JFK (terminal three), I'm still unsure if I was the victim of a hidden camera stunt or if the operators of the airport truly do believe that their tin-pot, third-world sh*t-hole of an airport terminal is in some way acceptable.

Either way, a walking route from the "Air Train" that takes you past three separate piles of accumulated pigeon dirt, dead ends, across two car park entrance ramps, along a pavement narrower than the baggage trolley and along a traffic island should probably have been warning of what the inside would be like.

I did learn one useful piece of information, however: don't bother getting to JFK on time if you have an international flight: a charming man will conveniently call out destinations to those in the check-in queue and invite people (who claim to be) going to that destination to jump to the front, overtaking those who bothered to turn up early. Nice. 

To be fair to them, if I were running the airport, I'd do something similar when a flight was due to close. My technique would be to call the latecomers, request their tickets and say "next time, get here on time" before tearing up the tickets and suggesting they rebook themselves on a different airline (at their expense, naturally).

Still, the flight back wasn't too bad and the horror of the airport served to remind me how good the rest of the trip had been.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Local on the eights

The Weather Channel.

New York. (Which is absolutely Jaw-droppingly freezing, btw)

"Local On the Eights"

What on earth does that phrase mean?!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PowerQuest ImageCenter

I've had a run of bad luck with my laptop recently (failing motherboard, dodgy screen, etc ,etc) so I've been paying extra attention to backups.

My main backup solution is the Tivoli Storage Manager service provided at work.  This runs automatically each night and backs up my work files.

However, it doesn't pick up things like my iTunes library and it wouldn't really help get me back up and running if my disk were to fail.

Therefore, I also run an intermittent full-disk copy.   This means that, were my hard disk to fail, I could swap in the image and then only have a week or so of material to reapply from TSM.

I use ImageCenter for this task. I love it. It just works.

(Except for the small problem that the disk I copy to is not SATA, but my main disk is.... in other words, I have no hope of booting from the image....  I'll fix that problem next time :-)  )

Monday, March 05, 2007

Important Scientific News

We painted the bedroom yesterday.

By the time I fell asleep, I could no longer smell paint.

When I woke up, I could.

I'm pretty sure that nobody broke in and did some extra painting while I slept.

Therefore, the bit of the brain that grows bored of odours must reset itself when one sleeps.

Who knew?!

Why my flickering lights mean the Olymics might not be *entirely* malign

I was overjoyed when I heard that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. I remember that I was working from home that day and that I deliberately walked to the shops for lunch a little earlier than normal so that I could be home in time for the announcement. Given that I have absolutely no interest in sport and will probably not watch any of the coverage when it finally happens, this is probably somewhat inconsistent.  Nevertheless, I did watch the broadcast and I was mildly excited when I heard we had won.

Since the announcement, however, I have been watching the costs grow with mounting horror. The guys at "Burning Our Money" have been doing a sterling job of keeping track of the ballooning costs and idiocies that are going on.

However, they've missed a piece of goodness: currently, a large amount of East London's power is delivered via overhead lines that travel through Stratford. These will be buried as part of the Olympic development work.

It is currently very windy in East London and my lights are flickering. I do not like it when my lights flicker. If they bury the lines, perhaps my lights will flicker less.

Students of logic will observe that this does not imply that the Olympics are a good thing.  But they will make my lights flicker a little less....