Sunday, 29 December 2013

Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn

Two of my favorite books, read by my favorite Librivox reader:


If you only have time for a short read, then you should read chapter II.  It's also a very good recipe for setting up Open Source projects... ;-D

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Riddle

A man and his wife lived happily in a small cottage in the midst of an enormous rose garden, eeking out a humble living, distilling rose oil perfume to fill the delicate glass flagons which they crafted in their glass blowing workshop. 

Those, they traded in the market during the winter, and, in the summer, they sold the most beautiful cut roses.

One Christmas morning, an apprentice wizard visited their stall and purchased a small flagon of pure rose oil in the shape of an exquisitely blown red Welsh dragon.

The wizard carefully carried the fragile vessel home, lit his fire, petted his frog familiar and then perused an ancient spell book to study an incantation that would enable him to travel into the past.

The King of the realm had died a short while ago and war was looming --- all because the wizard's kitten had startled the huge battle horse of the King into rearing up in fright.  The hapless cat was instantly trampled to death by the hooves, and alas, the King perished in the fall.

The wizard's plan was to travel back in time and lock his unlucky kitten up that day, and to make the disaster unhappen that way.

But alas, the one and only immutable rule of the universe is that the present is the present from the future to the past, and once it has been gifted, it can never be returned, by anyone, for whatever reason, not even with magic.

The spell thus went awry and reality asserted itself and redirected the magical energy onto the creator of the ingredient used to cast the incantation -- the rose oil.

In the time-space chaos that ensued in the wizard's attempt to create a void in history, the destiny of the wife of the rose garden became entangled with the dead king's current reality.

The wife was cast into Limbo and trapped between future and past:  each morning she turned into a ray of sunshine, which shone into the realm of the dead, to be transformed into a rose that the king held in his cold, dead hands; whilst he was praying for the burning viking boat to appear which would carry him across the river of time, once the rose had completed it's bloom and dropped it's last petal.

Every day (and many pitch-dark nights), she was thus in solemn attendance to the dead King, until every moonlit night at midnight, when she would return to the the cottage in the rose garden as a moonbeam, to coalesce into human shape for a few hours, to be with her beloved husband.

Many long years passed in this strange way, and she herself had lost the gift of speech ever since that fateful Christmas day. 

But one summer morning, just before her transformation, which always would occur as soon as the first rays of the sun lit the sky, she spoke to her husband:

"My lord the King, has left the purgatory of Silence last night and sailed away aflame for a new beginning.  My own path will be swifter than his for I have already completed my wait by the river side. 

Thus, when the sun rises, it's rays will carry me away to be transformed into one of the roses in our garden.

When this rose wilts, I will follow whence our tragic King has gone, unless you can find me and cut the stem, as the very first rose you pick from that moment onwards.  Be wise how you chose, my love, or this goodbye will be forever. "

Scarcely had she finished her words, when the sun rose and her shape faded into the first rays of the morning,  before her husband could embrace her to kiss her goodbye.

Without a moment of hesitation, her husband ran out into the rose garden, and, amongst the thousands of perfect, beautiful roses of every color and blooming stage, he picked the one and only true rose that was his wife, who with a flash became her former self in flesh and blood, and they lived happily ever after.

How did the husband know which rose to choose?


(The solution to this riddle will be posted on New Year's morning.  It is not a trick question.)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ye cannae change the laws o' physics!

Just a heads up to everyone, the EU decided that from September 2014 onwards, maximum wattage on vacuums shall be 1600W, and some times after that, 900W.

This is being sold as 'new technology' that retains the same 'airwatts' and saves energy.

The recipe for this free lunch?  Why, we made the intake smaller, and the 'airwatts rating'  stays the same.  Profit!

Result?  You have a dustier house or vacuum longer.  Not fun for people with allergies or bad backs.  So you might want to consider buying  a Miele 2200 watt vacuum (I did)

How do I know this?  Well, I designed myself a ventilation system for my glassblowing hobby so that I don't breathe the fumes and the dust is carried away.

I have the same torch (Arnold Herbert 50mm) as this guy:

The ship I dream of building but never will (I'm not strong enough, they weigh a ton):

I'm nowhere near as good as these guys, I just make humble glass fairy wands to decorate my houseplant collection, tiny sculptures and some pretty glass beads to wear.  I bought the Herbie because it's a one knob operation that gives me a pinpoint flame and a serious flamethrower in one easy turn.  I like clear borosilicate for it's ice-like appearance and soft glass for it's lovely colors.

Also, the herbie has a pilot flame, so I can use a foot pedal to save on air, oxygen and propane, since a lot of the time in glass blowing is spent letting the glass 'coast' and that doesn't need a flame, just patience to let the glass find it's own shape.  It's  a little bit like programming in that sense, you code some stuff and then it magically takes shape as you think about what you just created :-)

It's all about the process.

Word of warning: glassblowing is as, if not more addictive than coding!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Welcome... to the machine...

Today I had the pleasure of having an MRI scan in a GE450 scanner.  What does the MRI say?

BZZZT.  ClonK.  RRRRR. rrrrr.  Wummmmmmmar.  RwwwwwR.  OiOiOiOiOing.  DsZsZst! PssshT.  BrrRRrzt!

A bit like this, just much, much better:

Some tips for maximum fun in one of those:

1. Get the doc to prescribe you about 6mg of Valium to ensure you have a good time.  Even if you're not the claustrophobic type, your mind will say: Wooo! And your body will scream: Earthquake!  Run!  Instinct > logic.  And lying completly still for 25 minutes is also much easier with 'Mother's little helpers.'

2. Ask them to turn off the muzak in the ear defenders they'll give you.  The sound that thing makes is an experience not to be missed, no sound system comes close in quality.  

3. Wear just cotton clothes without any metal anywhere, leggings, tshirt with long arms.  Long arms because they pipe in some oxygen and it'll be a bit chilly otherwise.  Cotton clothes because that way you can avoid that naff open back gown they hand you, no idea who thought it was an acceptable garment, but it's just icky to wear.  Ladies, remove all the metal from your bra and sew it closed.

4. Ensure you have a comfy neck roll, a pillow can easily get annoying because it tilts your neck.

5. Ask how long it takes, so you know, that helps if you get a little cramped in there.

The technology is just something to be admired, it's one of the finest machines humanity has ever built!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Mmh, Lemonade!

Note that this recording is a 'direct cut' -- one band, one take, directly cut onto the LP die.  No tape, no cutting, no remedial sound engineering, just proper handmade stuff --- what you hear is exactly what there was!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The UNIX command line explained simply for UNIX experts

Seasoned UNIX users and developers of software often forget how mindbogglingly complex their creations are, because they use and work them every day, and --- it's just ever so obvious, right?

Why do newbies and even experienced users have such difficulty in grasping the timeless elegance and simplicity of a well-formed UNIX command line?

Well.  Allow me to put you, the expert, into the newbie's position for a moment :)

In the UK and Australia, there exists a particular fiendish form of crossword puzzle:  the cryptic crossword.

Here is a classic example of the type of mystifying clue such a puzzle offers:
15D Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke (8)
is a clue for TRAGICAL. This breaks down as follows:
  • 15D indicates the location and direction (down) of the solution in the grid
  • "Very sad" is the definition
  • "unfinished story" gives "tal" ("tale" with one letter missing; i.e., unfinished)
  • "rising smoke" gives "ragic" (a "cigar" is a smoke and this is a down clue so "rising" indicates that "cigar" should be written up the page; i.e., backwards)
  • "about" means that the letters of "tal" should be put either side of "ragic", giving "tragical"
  • "(8)" says that the answer is a single word of eight letters.
If the above maketh your mind go carroussel and gives your brain slight vertigo, you now know how most newbies and other mere mortals feel about the UNIX command line and the many cool options your software can be used with :-)

Example taken from The Guardian crossword of Aug 6 2002, set by "Shed", found in the Wikipedia explanation of Cryptic Crosswords.

Ps.: Brit and Aussie geeksters  who are crossword fiends will of course not be fazed at this attempt to demonstrate the users' head space, and I'll wager that at least one of them will now probably feel inspired to set a cryptic crossword with UNIX clues :-)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

SVN Book diff idea

It would be nice to have SVN book versions on the website that have a differing portions of the text in blue for changes, and green for new additions and red for now obsolete parts.

It would make re-reading the book for a new version much easier for old hands, you could immediately spot everything you need to reconsider.

So, if I upgrade from 1.6 to 1.7, I would like to have the normal 1.7 book, the 1.7/1.6 'blue/green' version and the 1.6/1.7 'red' version.

(blue & green might not be possible to automate, but even just the blue version would be very useful, or perhaps it's even possible to have this all in one version.)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Programming a bunny to test the sheep's programming

I like the way he goes to nip the sheep's legs the moment they get uppity --- that bunny learned well from the dog's example!

On another, unrelated note, this time about naff UIs:

Google now helpfully tries to force users to 'add' an unrelated account to their list of your accounts, which is something you find out if you have a guest who wants to use your computer to check their email.

The only way to prevent Google from linking both your accounts for eternity is to remove your all cookies and then your guest can log in unmolested.

Of course you then need to delete all your cookies once more afterwards if you want to log in with your account again,  what a waste of user's time!

Maybe Google should leave herding to the rabbits...