Friday, April 30, 2004

Fancy that…

A few weeks back, I noticed that the charge indicator light on my Handspring Visor Prism that flashed while the battery was under charge, and the lightning-bolt icon on the main screen, had stopped working - the light was on continually when in the cradle. This evening, installing some maps for the GPS module, I was prompted to reset the unit after the synch. And as soon as it restarted, the charging indicators snapped back into life.

Illuminated bibliomancy - reprise

In the last few days I've come across a variant viral meme - page 18, line 4. I have no idea why those particular numbers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


At home, I use the Amaya browser/editor to do the bulk composition of web pages (fiction and some pre-composing of blog entries before I dial up). One of its handy features is that it comes with a spell-checker (which has to be taught en-GB, alas). Unfortunately, I seem to be able to hit on words that cause it to crash (well, vanish like a popped soap-bubble).

Some while back I found that the misspelt "superintendant" (should be "-ent") crashed it, and that was fixed. Then in recent days I found that I'd managed to compose a document that had 4 separate space-delimited strings that caused version 8.4 to silently become one with the snows of yesteryear.

  • superhurricanes
  • supersymmetric
  • virtualization
  • underambitious

I suspect that there must be something anomalous about the handling of the "super-" prefix that the first time around didn't fully address.

Now version 8.5 is out, only a couple of weeks after 8.4, and is reported to address this issue and other crashes. I wonder how long it will be before I manage to find another word it chokes on. I could try supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but that would be cheating - I'll just wait to find things that come up naturally as I write.

Later - I spellchecked this entry as a regression test. As expected, the regression strings passed OK, but Amaya 8.5 reports that it has no match for "supercalifragilisticexpialido" and separately for "cious". I spot a fixed length buffer (30 characters including a nul?) being used rather than the check being made on a range of references into the document.

Conversely I also spotted that if a word contains markup e.g. the source looks like


that it is taken as separate strings delimited by the markup as well as the surrounding whitespace, which is what I'd expect from a single reference range check rather than through any assembly of the word into a separate buffer.

Returning to our normal program…

The weather has gone grim again - rain, lightning, overnight, and forecast to stay so into the holiday weekend (natch). And next week I'm going on a cycling holiday near La Rochelle, and the weather there is currently following the same dismal trend. Cycling is fun, but cycling in the rain is just discomfort for discomfort's sake, a choice between getting cold and wet from the outside or hot and wet from the inside if you wear waterproofs.

Normally I pack silk shirts for such a holiday - pack down small, dry themselves almost instantly - but these days - i.e. since C&A stopped trading in the UK - they can't be had for love nor money. Even gentlemen's outfitters like Burtons have gone so downhill that they only seem to have naff streetwear aside from the suits.

I guess that I'll have to try and fit in a flying shopping spree around my overnight stay in Paris.

Meanwhile, the garden is just full of bloom - cherry just past its height, tulips there though past their best, but the three apple trees now almost fully out, lilac coming, choicea out, forsythia and bachelor's buttons almost gone. And the lawn needs mowing again but won't have the chance until after I get back.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Summer's lease

After a Sunday hot enough to get me digging the summer shorts and sandals out for pottering in the garden - and the lycra shorts for cycling to work yesterday - it's back to weather as usual. Cycling home yesterday in hazy sunshine, only the coolness of the air told me it was April rather than August, weather-wise, with the sun in the usual late summer bronzy haze.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The year turns

And spring no sooner arrives than it starts to promise summer. I woke to a brilliant cloudless morning, and warm; warm enough to be T-shirt weather cycling into town before 09:00, at one point startling a cloud of white doves from a garden, at another seeing a cock robin sitting on a street name post, surveying his territory.

And arriving in town to see so many people wearing heavy coats and jackets. Why?

[Later] - by the early evening, the delayed reaction had set in, and there were folk wandering around in just shorts and sandals.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Hark, Hark…

Cycling home last night, though the fields on the bridleway, I heard - and saw - the first skylark of the year. Later in the evening, Venus and the young cresent moon like a nail paring, not quite conjunct (that would have been in the small hours today). And today a brilliant sunny day, the sort of weather that makes out national day the very height of spring.

A pity I'm having to be in the office, playing fun and games with windows installers...

[Now playing - Biber Sonata III of 1681]

[Later] Indeed a wonderful day - warm and sunny throughout, enough that it was T-short weather for cycling home. And then time to mow the lawn again, including re-enacting the triumph of the grasses in the no-mans's-land at the bottom of the garden, proving that regular mowing is the best control for ground elder.

The cherry blossom is at its height - some buds still not opened, the first petal fallen. And this evening, watching the sight of the Moon and Venus conjuct - looking at the angles now, I'd judge the closest approach to have been about mid-day - spotted the first bat of the season, flitting against the greenish sky of the post-21:00 twilight.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

NTLM surprises

Having played around a little more with my NTLM implementation, which for the technically minded omits the LM or LMv2 packet, and just provides an NTLM v2 response, I find that against a standard IIS configuration requiring Integerated Windows Authentication, any user credentials - or none (domain\user and password both empty strings) - appear to work. So it was not surprising that my positive testing (my real credentials) received a 200 OK after I'd responded to the server challenge.

[Now playing - Noir - Snow]

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Oh to be in England, now that April's here

The plum blossom is just about gone now (and the leaves opening) - and while there was a hint of frost early this morning, none while the flowers were out, so hopefully a good crop this year. The tulips - most of them bulbs that were in the garden when we moved in, and so must be over 20 years old - are at their height, great red blooms in front and back gardens. And though the sakura viewing season is over in Japan, our morello cherry is just starting to burst its buds in a mix of pale green leaf and white blossom.

Later - getting home, I thought I saw the first glimpse of the housemartins returning for the summer. For certain, the evening air was full of birdsong.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Book — the Confusion by Neal Stephenson

It hardly seems five minutes ago that Quicksilver was out - and now the next instalment, the Confusion which interleaves two narratives of piracy, diplomacy, economics (if there is a difference between any of those fields of endeavour). As before, if you liked the previous one, you'll like this.

And this time it is made clear that it must be the same Enoch Root...

Illuminated bibliomancy…

An idea that was hinted at somwehere in Robert Anton Wilson's oeuvre, but hadn't really stayed in my mind until I saw it on a random blog (Taken from via :

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence along with these instructions.

My contribution to the viral meme is:

For years he'd been warning himself that four was just too small a number for a pilgrim.

Sad bunny

Yesterday was fine, so it was time to rake the lawn for the spring, and mow it - enough clippings and rakings to half fill the green wheelie-bin. But today it rained. So for amusement I wrote a minimal C# implementation of NTLM (or, to be precise, NTLMv2) authentication, using only the MD5 code from the CLR, with everything else HMAC and MD4, Base-64 encoding, and HTML parsing in explicit code. It's quite amazing how much cruft there is in NTLM which can simply be discarded with no apparent loss (like the client advertising its name, or sending the insecure LAN Manager password hash in response to the server challenge) when talking to a straight-up IIS.

It figures

Four weeks, and I've clocked up just over 2/3 of the first thousand miles on the new motor. That would have been 500 miles, but for the two sysadmin trips over to my parents. As it happened, the odometer went to 666 miles on the nastiest bit of road I have to drive, an unclassified country lane which is part of a bus route, and gets well pounded by heavy agricultural vehicles, so it's rutted, cracking, potholed - and in the winter prone to be icy, being in a little frost pocket, with streams draining out of the fields and running along the tramlines.

Blog stickers

Albert Einstein
What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by

Apocalypse Now
What Classic Movie Are You?
personality tests by

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Manga — Planetes

As a break from a form which in this part of the world seems to be composed of the kawaii shoujo stuff, weird romance and strange takes on western fantasy out of D&D (with or without gratuitous giant robots), the quiet little SF manga Planetes stands out in refreshing contrast. It's a connected set of hard-ish SF stories from a plausible tech 2070s. Nothing apocalyptic (at least in the first volume), dealing with incidents in the life of a team of orbital garbage collectors, whose job is vital in keeping earth orbit space clear enough to fly in - a very real problem, even now.

If I had to try and answer the question "but what is it like?", I think the nearest thing I could compare it with would be to say it is a bit like what a young Arthur C. Clarke would have written, if he were writing it now - think of A Fall of Moondust or Earthlight.

P.S. This very day, there's a story about this topic on the BBC news site - but it was starting to be a concern 20-odd years back when I was working in the satellite business, with papers putting us within an order of magnitude of the amount of junk that would cause a runaway cascade of junk-spawning colissions.

Nature Notes

Spring is now bringing the wildlife out. Had to chase the first bumblebee and wasp out of the conservatory at the weekend, then spotted a peacock butterfly when cycling home in Tuesday's glorious sun. And spotted another grass snake as roadkill. No sign yet of ducklings on Hobson's Conduit yet.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Book — Beyond Infinity by Greg Benford

Greg Benford's Beyond Infinity revisits his earlier sequel to Clarke's Against the Fall of Night. Now, of Clarke's oeuvre, the only one I think has staying power to merit inclusion in my own library is the reworked version The City and the Stars - something early that pointed towards some of the themes only recently brought into the mainstream of SF. Like Beyond the Fall of Night, this is a little bit of the guided tour of the far future epoch, showing a high degree of ingenuity in fitting the 50-plus-year-old cosmological assumptions of the earlier work into the contemporary view how things work - and into some of Benford's other motifs (he doesn't quite tie it all up with this Galactic Centre sequence). Unfortunately, both Beyond... books don't go much beyond that guided tour, and share with the Galactic Centre books a disintegration when attempting to confront the Transcendent that marks this as not a keeper. I would rather have seen Damien Broderick's competing sequel to The City and the Stars.

Chris Priest's The Separation is another of his investigations of historical quirks, on the themes of doubles, mixed identities and confusion between twins. Ostensibly a what-if WWII story (what if Rudolf Hess' peace mission had succeeded), it works on the question of who Prisoner 7 in Spandau actually was, and how many times doubles stood in for Churchill, to make an unresolved enigma. More thought provoking than the previous work, despite - maybe because - of its more restricted canvas.

Argh!2 (dub vs sub revisited)

Following up from earlier I encountered something that defeats the very purpose of subtitling - which is that it should at least pretend to correlate with the soundtrack dialogue. Having some years back watched and enjoyed the Miyazaki/Studio Ghilbli Laputa, Castle in the Sky, I picked up the US distributed DVD. Fair enough, the name on the cover was truncated - presumably in a PC nod to Hispanic sensibilities that didn't concern Jonathan Swift. But it had Japanese with English sub-titles, so was somewhat horrified to find that the sub-titling was just the simplified - coarsened (in the sense of losing all subtlety) - USAn script aimed at brain-dead kiddies, injecting extra supposed humourous banter. Even without being able to follow the spoken Japanese, just following up on simple things like names appearing in the dialogue shows that even where speech and sub-title are simultaneous, the translation is - and this is a very charitable description - loose.

I can also understand that they might have wanted to provide a non-default transcription for something like シイタ - but surely they could still have kept the obvious form "Lucita" for the girl's full name as in the earlier sub-titling.

Sub-titles are not supposed to be that way. I dread to think what they might have done to Spirited Away, which I have also only seen in the Japanese print.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I need a hat…

Well 500 miles on the new motor now in 2 1/2 weeks, just filled it up a 2nd time - taking as indication that the half-full blob on the dial is empty. So it's the same sort of range per tankful as the old Corsa, but about 2/3 the gas involved. And it's getting that much use because of the usual seasonal bane of April Showers - fine spring mornings giving way to afternoon downpours that I don't care to cycle 10 miles in - despite the better light in April, I always cycle more in March than the next two months.

I am getting used to the different gearing - push to change up, pull to change down, with auto-downshift when braking that means that you're usually +/-1 gear of where you need to be after a manoeuvre, so manual downshifting needs to be handled cautiously. Changing up, it seems to have a complex algorithm for when to suggest the change to you - some function of speed and accelerator setting and torque, not just speed alone. However as a rule of thumb, 3rd is for the 19-20mph limits, 4th for 30mph, 5th for 40mph, and 6th for the open road. However, that usually means about 50-55mph - you start to notice that it's a tallish car with a small wheelbase when at speed you feel the texture of the road (the suspension is quite stiff), and you're not fitting in the "tram-lines" everyone else is. Definitely a vehicle for short-range mainly urban commuting - I certainly won't be doing any more motorway driving in it than I have to - if I have to visit our High Wycombe site, I'll be using the scenic route (Woburn-Leyton Buzzard - Aylesbury) rather than the direct (A1-M25-M40) one.

And hence the title. The usual reason for a man of my age to wear a hat is to say "I don't want to display my bald patch." - thus advertising the problem. No, thankfully I don't have that issue. No, it's the other reason - the "little old man in a hat" - flat cap or pork-pie (Eddie Waring style) hat worn at the wheel by gentlemen of a certain age to advertise that they will not be making exceptionally fast progress.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Argh! (dub vs sub revisited)

It's a long running debate about whether anime is better viewed by gaijin as subtitled or dubbed. Usually, I watch the first time with sub-titled, and rewatch dubbed. Sometimes the dubbed version provides useful/necessary cultural/idiomatic - rather than literal - translation. The best example I've seen is in the Dirty Pair Flash Mission 2 second episode, Mysterious Highschool 17 in which the dubbed version provides an explanation of the various bits of paper hung around the lobby, and converts Japanese historical periods into Common Era dating, while the sub was clearly much more literal.

But today, I was re-watching the first Noir DVD, and decided to watch it dubbed.


While the Japanese may have some odd takes on the West, this is trumped by the USAn incomprehension of Europe. The Japanese can at least correctly pronounce Mireille (for those reading this west of the Atlantic - you can get a good first approximation by pronouncing it Mi-ray). It's even the same "rei" in the middle as they got right for Ayanami Rei, dammit! But the dub pronounces it Mirielle (sounding like Miri-el - either Superman's lesser known cousin).

But then I really should have expected this - by contrast with the useful extras in the previous episode, in the Dirty Pair Flash Mission 2 third episode, Hot Springs Streamy Romantic Tour, the dub badly mispronounces the name of the restaurant Trois Poires (pronounced roughly as "truh pwuh"). I forget how they mangled the "Trois" - it may have been as "tray" - but they definitely pronounced the "Poires" if it it were "Poirés" and rhymed with soirée (as pwuh-ray).

Silver Surfing

Despite their living in rural Suffolk, and our living in one of the outlying villages within walking distance of Cambridge (and its high-tech industries), my parents have managed to get broadband access before I have. So I spent a while yesterday getting them all set up - ZoneAlarm for the firewall, then the obligatory visits to Windows Update, and Symantec Live Update. Then to get e-mail setup.

That was a palaver - the only information on the letter from Tiscali was the e-mail address/userID for the account and its default password. And the helpful note that further info would be sent to that address. So, it was the good old bootstrap problem - needing to be able to read the e-mail in order to set up e-mail...

Much hunting around the Tiscali site for the support details eventually turned up a web-mail interface, and then being able to read the promised mail then did get a pointer to information about the exact names of the POP3 and SMTP servers, so I could set up Mozilla as the one-stop-shop, and Mailwasher to filter.

I expect to have to do a bit more hand-holding until all the day-to-day sysadmin tasks (keeping everything updated) become routine, and to help with any web site that my Dad eventually publishes. In the latter case, to do something about the particularly naff looking pages that he has prototyped in Serif Page Plus - another DTP program which misuses CSS positioning to make pixel-perfect layouts without regard to the underlying document structure, with screen order and file order of each separately placed paragraph entirely disconnected. And despite the misuse of CSS, the pages otherwise look like they were "My first home-page c.1993" - could, should, have just been HTML 2.0 with a lot of <img> and <p> tags.

I've pointed him at web page editor/browser, that I use - Amaya from the W3C, which is what I use after I've hand-crafted the CSS, in the vain hope that he might use it. We'll have to see.

And now he's on-line, if my Dad reads this, he's free like everyone else to add a comment.

Signs of spring

The last week has shown all the signs of the new season - the tulips are starting to colour and open (the early ones have been out for a while), the plum blossom is opening, some flowers complete, and the apples are bursting into leaf, while the elders are well advanced. For the last few mornings, there has been the dawn chorus. And there are April showers, complete with hail.

Black Cherry

I'm sure others will have spotted this before - the name of the magician in Cardcaptor Sakura. I had pronounced it to myself to rhyme with "glow", but then found that in the text it was rhymed with "now". And the different values of "-ow" reminded me of another magician who had a similar issue of pronunication for that phoneme - only in his case the words used were "foully" and "holy". And then it struck me - the lack of distinction in Japanese between the sounds of "l" and "r". Wouldn't it be all too possible - in the way that "out of sight, out of mind" could be round-tripped into "invisible idiot" - that the magician, Clow Reed, [in katakana, with the "glow" pronunciation, something like クロー    リイド  ] who synthesised Eastern and Western traditions, and who made his own deck of cards - to be found by an innocent Japanese school-girl? - might in fact be none other than the Great Beast, himself - Aleister Crowley, who did much the same.

Was it deliberate on the part of the ladies of the Clamp Collective? If so then all I can say is "Naughty, naughty! Bad girls!" - otherwise, (or even so) that would make a very nasty BESM scenario...

Later - Google only turned up one other reference making the above identification when fed the first full name and the latter surname, from a blog entry made some years ago. So, not original, as I'd expected, but by no means a widely spread meme...