Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Take that, tree rat

While putting together the recycling last night, I spotted a past-due survey for Gardening Which?, asking about various garden nuisances, and what counter-measures were effective.

For example, were birds a problem - and if so, were netting, or a cat, or tying old AOL CDs on strings around the garden effective.

After birds, they asked about squirrels. And we do have a little problem - they will occasionally during the winter unzip wire bird-feeders to get at the nuts. But our remedy was not on their list. They somehow forgot to put "keep a cat" as an option.

Clearly, Jemima, having been born to a working farm cat, realises that squirrels are not significantly different from the rats her mother had taught her about; we've found two dead ones in the last couple of years. At least that means she's earning her keep, as she's definitely not a people cat.

[Now playing - Godspeed you! Black Emperor - World Police and Friendly Fire]

Winter draw[er]s on

Well, the evenings are drawing in quite noticeably. Sun-set now happens before 21:00 - we're well past the zenith of the year, and it's no longer possible to read by natural light to 22:00 and beyond. 21:40 is stretching it.

[Now playing - Godspeed you! Black Emperor - Gathering Storm]

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Nature Notes

Passing the same place as before I again spotted a hen pheasant with brood crossing the road. And being a fortnight later, the chicks were no longer sub-fist-size bundles of fluff, but fledged young birds, bigger than thrushes or blackbirds

[Now playing - Dirty Three - Sirena]

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Truth about Mission Statements

I just went on a management training course - even though I don't actually have anyone reporting to me any more (for which, much thanks). It closed with an exercise where we drew lots - one person was the CEO, the rest were managers or workers. The task was to move an object between two locations, without touching it. The workers were the only ones allowed to use the tools with which the object could be manipulated. And they were blindfolded.

I drew a manager slot; and at one point in the proceedings, we had the 'CEO' shouting "We have to move in that direction", and he pointed to indicate the direction. Not a lot of use to the workers.

And that was a good mission statement - saying exactly what the broad strategy was.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

TV Suicide

On the radio news earlier, about the baggage handlers' wildcat strike at Heathrow "We've all seen the TV pictures..."

Actually, no, we haven't.

I know that ~98% of the population has the idiot's lantern providing wallpaper in at least one room in the house, but having given up the box shortly after Maggie last won an election - because we had just about stopped watching it, to the extent of not even remembering to switch on for the few things we would have wanted to watch (Blackadder III being the example that springs to mind), averaging the license fee over the number of programs we did watch made it more expensive than the cinema. The only time since that I've actually made a point of visiting friends in order to watch their TV was when the BBC did Gormenghast.

And if TV was bad back when I just stopped using it, from all the self-devouring media stories about what's on the media, it has now gotten worse! Not that nowadays, I can imagine when I'd actually find the time to watch it.

[Now playing - Respighi - The pines of Rome]

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Summertime Blues

Despite the old weather lore about the weather on St. Swithun's day holding for the next 40, it's grey, a bit blustery and intermittently showery this week. Not enough to really help the garden, but enough to discourage a fair-weather cyclist like myself, when it's an hour's ride home to office, closer to two if I detour on the way back into Cambridge for supper, and when the rain is promised for the afternoon and evening. So I've not yet had chance to try out my new kevlar lined tyre, or get the exercise that's managing to keep the weight down.

At least this time of the year sees me turning highly frugivorous, which isn't so bad for the figure.

Later - the weather forecast that told of rain by the late afternoon lied - we had a sprinkle that was just enough to wash the dust of my windscreen, and that was it. And none again on Thursday, though Friday is promised to be wet. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Digital Impudicus

Remember when FM was new, and we were promised crisp, clear sound, without all the AM interference? And the reality - a different quality of hissing noise.

I live on the border between two sets of BBC transmitters - my car radio auto tuning will often flip-flop between Radio 4 transmitters while I'm backing out of the drive, and always does so on the drive to work. If I'm listening to Radio 2 on the same journey, I have to manually retune around the half-way mark.

So, having been bombarded with ads for BBC digital radio all year, I got myself a DAB receiver at the weekend. And found no BBC stations. Checking their website, I find I live at the ragged edge of their digital coverage, with the warning that if I don't get good FM reception, I'm not likely to get any digital reception from them.

Geez - get a clue folks. Lousy FM reception is why I got the DAB system in the first place. As it is, I find that I am exactly in the demographic being targetted by Planet Rock...

[Now playing - Steve Reich - Six Pianos]

Monday, July 21, 2003


There are a large number of books on "tactical" OO - almost implementation-detail level. In the C++ world one thinks of Meyers' Effective C++, or Sutter's Exceptional C++ and all their respective sequels - but big picture books are comparatively rare.

One such that is worth at least looking through is Lakos' Large Scale C++ Software Design.

Although it is aimed at a specific language, it shows some fairly key points, concentrating on the desirability of making designs that are internally modular on levels above that of the individual objects.

The way C++ is implemented via its use of header files actually makes it immediately obvious in terms of the of time taken to do an incremental build whether a design is overly-strongly coupled or not. If making a change to the internal details of one class causes most of the rest of the system to be rebuilt, it will show in a way that Java or C# style dynamic linkage does not. What is less obvious at this point, but which will reap benefits in the future, in terms of maintenance load, is that if distinct sections of the code only expose narrow and well documented interfaces to their customers, while sharing wider ones, then the maintainer is able to look at the implementing code one such chunk at a time. That helps keep the 5 plus/minus 2 item wetware stack from popping.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Cambridge Film Festival log (part V)

Motown, the Detroit sound, was just part of the background while I was a kid. Not exactly my favourite music, but not so easy to ignore. The film Standing in the Shadows of Motown (shown on Friday night) is the story - in a more show than tell sort of way - of the Funk Brothers - the backing group that powered all the hits. Part guided tour, part series of reminiscences, and a lot of the surviving members playing the old standards, with folk I'd never heard of doing the vocals - which only went to show who the real, unsung (quite literally), Motown stars were. Feelgood nostalgia for those who were there the first time around.

Saturday was a French kick - starting with Belleville Rendezvous, a rather surreal animation, following a fat boy and his puppy and grandmother, as he becomes an ultra-fit Tour de France cyclist, and then gets kidnapped by the French Mafia so that expat Frenchmen in Belleville (a thinly disguised New York), can have their own TdF to bet upon; Gran and the dog follow and rescue him. It will also to do no good to trans-Atlantic relations, in that, despite it's notional 1950's date, the Belleville inhabitants are almost universally depicted as more contemporary human spheroids.

It's full of the silly and surreal that one expects from French animation, from the starting WTF!? to see the title screen embellished with Einstein's Field Equation, though the use of dried tadpoles instead of popping corn, to the final mad car chase through the night-time streets.

More conventional was the re-issue of Le Cercle Rouge, a c1970 French caper movie, that goes through levels of unresolved double-crossing until the ending that comes when you don't expect it. Gallic cool - pity that the 1970s look was so naff (nothing dates so much as being futuristic).

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Cambridge Film Festival log (part IV)

Three - or two and a bit - films last night.

Arsenal: a 1929 silent by Soviet Ukraininan film maker, Dovzhenko is regarded as a classic, but most of the review material I've seen talks about incidents - the empty trench, the laughing gas - that happen in the first few minutes, or at most the train wreck half an hour in, leaving me wondering about the stamina of the reviewers. The idiom and technique of film have changed a great deal over the last 75 years, so a film with static cameras (or at best mounted on train or gun-carriage), with the camera rolled so that up is at 45 degrees from the top of the screen being about the limit of camera work, and with most scenes being of people - roles usually not obvious to modern Western eyes - standing still, striking poses, with only the movement of children, animals, or grass in the wind telling you that this is not a still (as I am sure a few scenes were), is somewhat hard on modern eyes. So too the lack of clear narrative continuity, and different sorts of stylisation of violence. What is clear is that, despite being a Ukrainian nationalist himself, Dovzhenko portrayed the nationalists as less than competent, and the iconic Bolshevik worker-soldier, who stands unscathed amongst a hail of bullets, is clearly meant as some new Messiah for the Revolution.

Quench: an ultra-short - maybe 100 seconds - parody of an award winning German animation of recent years, Quest, probably means more if you've seen the original, as the somewhat embarassed young maker - a Texan, now resident in Hamburg - explained to us. But filmed on the €1000 fee for an animated ad, and a grant of 12 cases of beer - and the refund on the bottles when empty - actually managed to finish in the black, financially.

Planet of the Cannibals: a recent German B-movie style skiffy film, shot in b&w and set in a 2020 that is a cross between modern angst extrapolated, and a c1960 vision of the future, but one that has gone bad. The economy has melted down, the police are cracking down on illicit smokers, and the last two TV companies are vying for the position of the official - and then only - station. The ratings war has one channel trying out a Millionaire variant, Gold or Grave, in which the winners get the gold, and the losers…; while the other channel has Cannibal Talk, a phone-in talk-TV show with a Lecter-esque cannibal responding to viewer calls. The young woman in charge of audience trend prediction at the former channel is framed for murder, as the ratings war turns hot.

And meanwhile documents from the security services indicate that there are some extraterrestrials on the loose…

Good schlocky fun.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Nature notes

Spotted something pale, moving, but oddly shaped on the road ahead (in the middle of my side of the road) on the way in to work this a.m. Getting closer, it resolves into a hen pheasant and her brood of about a dozen chicks milling about. As I approach, they get their acts together and start to make for the opposite verge. Just about to take foot off brake, when the last one hops out of the nearside verge, and stops in front of me to gawp, as I sit and wait, before it realises it should be joining its siblings.

There's always one, isn't there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Cambridge Film Festival log (part III)

Just caught Dracula - pages from a virgin's diary; a much abridged retelling, choreographed for ballet, then shot as a silent film - captions, grain, vignetting, (tinted) monochrome [except the blood - and money - over saturated].

Act 1 - Whitby - followed the book quite well, and moved the plot on like a Busby Berkeley musical on speed. Act 2 - Transylvania - went into long digressive balletic set-pieces, inventing pretty much out of whole cloth (like the coffers full of emerald currency notes - that I took to be velvet lining at first - and gold coins), and making the eroticism that should be a subtext of vampiric haemosexuality into in-yer-face fumblings between Mina and Jonathan, and forgetting the silent film captions that were part of the retro charm of Act 1. First part 4-stars, second 2 at most.

I'm reminded of the quote about the dog walking on its hind legs - the amazing thing is that it is done at all.

I'm dreaming of a what!?

Driving back from town this lunchtime, St. Swithun's day, with the sun hammering down from an almost cloudless sky, just a little cirrus fading into the blue-white haziness, the car thermometer bumping under 32 degrees - and I hear the first bit of Yuletide advertising, inciting people to booking the office bash now.

Can't it wait until after the "Back to school!" advertising finishes?


Geek toys

For over a year now I've been using the MessagEage stamp for text input on my Handspring Visor. Today has finally seen the arrival of the beta for the Pocket PC version, so I now have a sensible text input mechanism on the iPaq I use at work.

Pity it's currently only available in the leftys' version, with the letter pad on the left of the screen, but still better than the qwerty keyboard, or partial graffiti or thing that fails to recognise my scruffy handwriting.

Nature notes

Locally, the bulk of the roadkill is rabbits; hedgehogs are few and far between. Most of the foxes I've seen locally, and the only badger, have been amongst the carnage - but today, for the first time, I saw a snake, greyish-green with black markings, amongst the flattened corpses.

Cherry Ripe

The morello cherry in the garden is fruiting marvellously this year - and as it forms the best pool of shade on the back lawn, it's where the cats are tending to crash out during the heat of the day, so the fruit are ripening without needing netting to keep birds off. Having taken a couple of kilos so far, the tree is still well laden.

Cambridge Film Festival log (part II)

Monday night and I saw Twilight Samurai, set just before the Meiji Restoration, a period of uncertainty that shook up the long established order, which gives it echoes of the current day there. A poor, lowest-rank samurai, a widower with two daughters and aging mother is poor, and shabby, and has to go straight home each evening to keep the household running (hence his nickname, Twilight) but content in his lot, until an old friend returns from Edo, telling of the shameful state of affairs there, and that he has had his sister divorced from her drunken husband. The husband appears, and Twilight takes up the challenge he makes - but there is a clan proscription against duelling; so he faces his opponent's katana with just a wooden practice shortsword.

His victory gets whispered around the clan, and as the political situation deteriorates, he is ordered to kill another clan member, and renowned swordsman, who has refused an order to commit seppuku. But it isn't the simple "hit" one would expect, as issues of honour and obedience are tangled on both sides.

My vote for best film of the festival so far.

Monday, July 14, 2003


Cycling to work today, I was about the 2.5 mile mark, or 1/4 the total, when my auto-pilot pedalling was interrupted by a rustling sound, like one of the straps from the rucksack on the pannier was brushing against the tyre. So I stopped.

But the noise didn't.

A 1cm rip in the back tyre was whistling as it let all the air out; not the worst puncture I've ever had (that was when a tooth of the tread fell out, leaving a hole big enough to poke my little finger through), but certainly not amenable to running repair that I'd trust for the rest of the round trip. So I trudged back home, getting some of the time out in the lovely weather that I'd been wanting.

And now on getting into the office, I find that my laptop has packed up - not a sausage when powered up - and that no-one around the office knows what the new official procedure is for dealing with hardware failures.

So it's not shaping up to be such a good week.

I'm history

I got asked recently, by the same 10-year-old mentioned in an earlier post, whether I might be able to help her with some history project work.

So I was expecting the Vikings, maybe the Romans, or perhaps the Tudors and Stuarts, which were all that primary school history seemed to consist of when I did it.

But no - thay were doing the 1960s and wanted to hear from people who could remember them. Setting aside the joke about if you could remember the Sixties, you werent't there, I could tell her about plastic macs that melted if you tried to dry them with any form of heat, coal fires to be lit in the morning, though the ice would stay on the inside of the (single glazed) bedroom window throughout the winter, fruit and veg available only in season - mushrooms in autumn, strawberries in June, and food that was in general very plain.

And 405-line B&W VHF TV, that only started at 16:40, until about 22:00, with kids programs ending at 18:00, and with only 2 channels.

After all, only being her age in late '60s, I really wasn't there in the sense of the joke.


Thinking a bit more about Hulk - the CGI suffered from the usual jerkiness of movement during the first indoor lab-wrecking, but either I acclimatised, or they were doing something better with the outdoors scenes, especially the running (shades of bad memories of the Six Million Dollar Man).

One truly comic-book touch - the lack of casualties, even the crew of the tank flung several hundred feet.

The greedy grasping industrial half of the military-industrial complex, Atheon is of course meant to sound like Raytheon - but is there meant to be some more sub-text to it than that? I wonder.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Cambridge Film Festival log (part I)

Another thing from this time of year, a whole run of new films getting advance premieres before a proper UK release.

First out of the traps was Spirited Away, a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibili film (and that's really all you need to know about it to make a decision on), which is currently the audience favourite for the films shown so far.

My next viewing was Come drink with me, a recently restored print of an old Hong Kong martial-arts actioner, that is clearly part of the family tree from which Crouching Tiger sprang; only this one, being about 40 years old, does all the stunts without the benefit of CGI. The plot is fairly slight - bandits capture official, and his sister goes to rescue him; meanwhile a drunken beggar and an abbot who studied under the same sensei fight to determine which is the heir to the tradition. Only the sister is about a 10th level martial artist, the chief bandit, Jade-face Tiger, about 11th, while the drunken beggar seems to be an Akashic brother who's wandered in from Mage and has a fistful of coincidental magick tricks, while the Abbot's magick is completely Vulgar.

By the final battle scene, our heroine seems to have picked up the xps to match Jade-face - and a retinue of more women warriors who seem to outdo the general line of grunts on either side.

Last to date - Hulk

Now the jolly green giant hasn't been one of my favourite Marvel heroes, mainly because the villains - at least in the old days of the '60s and '70s - were so lame, as opposed to the recent run with the mysterious ?FBI? agents after a Banner who wasn't going to change if he could avoid it. Unlike last year's Spiderman - another character who was always a tedious tosser, as well as fighting lamers - I went to see the early screening of this (it's not out 'til August here) on the strength of the Ang Lee name.

It's the least faithful of the Hulk reboots/homages (cf. the Planetary teaser story, or the Ultimates), but manages to drag in both the gamma/bomb part and the modern magi-tech of genetic engineering and nanotech, by splitting the Banner role across the generations.

Cerebral, which one wouldn't have expected from the character's main role. Good cinema - definitely. Great cinema - probably not. The best thing out of Hollywood to date this year - maybe (by comparison X2 was rather formulaic, though still good, and Matrix:Reloaded is only half a movie).

Dr Schlock sighting

Followers of the Sluggy Freelance strip will know about the mad scientist from the future who specialises in inflatable technologies.

Spotted at the Cambridge "Summer in the city" fair yesterday, an inflatable drive-in screen for a free showing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - and an inflatable football pitch!

"We have a saying in my country"

Just after posting the last entry, I caught an item on the radio news where a South African journalist was commenting on Dubya's flying visit

"There is a Xhosa saying - 'he could just have made a telephone call'" - implying that he only came to talk, not to do anything.

But it's nice to see that the modern world isn't erasing all the old traditions of their culture.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

A kiss is just a kiss?

Visiting friends the other day, their daughter, who's just 10 had an announcement to make - she's "in lurve". And she and her classmate are apparently spending all the free time together that parents will permit.

I don't recall anything like that when I was that age. Sure, there was a girl in class who I thought was the prettiest, but socially, it was boys doing boy things (bikes, chemistry - or "stinks", walkie-talkies, make-believe games that prototyped RPGs), and girls were, well girly and soppy, and we had nothing to do with them. I don't think it's just me being middle-aged and cynical, but hasn't the world gotten too sexualised over the last 25 or so years. Can't the youngsters have time for being children any more, without going almost from nappies into the dating/mating game?

Now it seems that the young lass in question may soon have something more to worry about on that score - in its new Sexual Offences Bill, the Govt. is proposing to make completely clear what the age of consent means - under-age kissing (under-age being <16 in the UK) will be illegal. Not just intercourse, or even just "heavy petting" or serious snogging.

From the Gorblimey to the rediculous in one easy move!