Archive for October, 2002

Listening pleasure

Have just started listening to a bit of This American Life, a very listenable public radio show. This show in particular resonated very strongly with me, in its treatment of suckerdom. One of the stories featured is a scam which involves being approached by dudes in a van claiming to have "extra" high quality speakers for sale. I was amazed by this because of having been approached in this manner twice (and have seen it tried on others as well) and I dont even live in the US!

Untitled #400

Into the howling void

Just posted new versions of Reader (0.93 – restricted) and Jujutool (1.03 – public).

Internet ennui

A Google search on Internet Ennui returned a link to this article , which for the most part I agree with.

I really miss the old days, when there was bugger all to look at on the internet. You almost felt like you might see it all, and every new site was worth looking at simply because it was there. Now we’re all jaded, and there’s so much to "get through" that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s not that the quality has decreased; the web was mostly crud in its early days as now (except for the copious advertising). I find that I generally visit the same few sites over and over, rather than getting out there and seriously exploring.

A major problem with surfing the web these days is that it’s getting harder for it to be a shared experience; the chances of someone you know visiting the same sites as you are very small, and there are only so many times you can tell a friend to visit site X before they tell you to sod off.

Bloody Perl

Perl is a scripting language, used by people with larger reserves of patience than I currently have access to. It is commonly used for cgi programs which run on web servers and help you send forms and update web counters.

Arg, I hate it! Admittedly I dont speak it, and couldn’t possibly write a program from scratch in it, but look at any two scripts (and often any one script) and you’ll see horrendous inconsistency in the syntax. There seems to be a zillion ways to declare a string, a bunch of ways to call a function, both keyword and symbol based operators… ugh! It’s as though Perl writers go out of their way to obfuscate their code! (They do actually run competitions where the goal is exactly that, those sick bastards…)

I’m just trying to respond to my ISP’s request to update one of my scripts, but the script I was using was written by someone else as a replacement to the script they want me to update to. I selected the script based on problems with the first one, and then I had to modify it to suit my needs (which took me ages, being new to Perl). To comply with the request of my ISP I would have to do it from scratch, starting with the inferior script, and in a totally new way this time because of the differing styles of the 2 scripts. Both scripts come from the same place I might add. *sigh*

Like tetris?

Play Cute-tris!Click here to play a nice flash version of tetris, created by a friend of mine. Go on, it’s got a bunny in it! And it’s a great way to kill time when you’ve got bothersome work to do (or when you’re waiting for someone else to release a piece of software).

Daylight Bloody Savings!

Unsolicited Advice: Never be programming at the moment when daylight savings time begins! all your files suddenly start thinking they’re out of date when they’re not (or vice versa). You will get strange errors when compiling and generally it will freak you out. When this happens just as you are uncovering one of the most stupid design decisions you ever made, and trying to work out the best way to fix it, your grip on reality can become a bit shaky. I am embarrassed to say it, but at some point many years ago, in certain string handling library functions, I decided that 64K was an appropriate upper limit for string sizes. What this means is that any string containing more than 65,536 characters will cause errors. Now, 64K is not a huge amount. It is fairly large for a string, (about 25 pages of text) but certainly not unthinkable. Setting arbitrary limits like this is such a no-no, and yet it is still the cause of so many headaches (ever heard of buffer overrun vulnerabilities? They’re security holes in software caused by similar lack of foresight).

Paper

Adding printing back into Reader at the mo… better sooner than never. It used to print but then it started screwing up, but now it’s come good again. Every now and then you make a small change somewhere and it happens to fix a problem that’s been bugging you for months. Not very often though. Currently the user can choose a page range to print as well as how many pages per sheet. If printing turns out to be popular then I might add support for printing double sided things to help create a set of pages that could be glued together to make a real book… although that’s not really the point I guess… hmmm…

Want to publish your own book? This place makes it sound easy, and surprisingly affordable. Unfortunately the books themselves are a little more expensive, but given that the price applies even if only one person buys your book, it seems pretty reasonable. The big question is: Have you got anything worth writing about? I guess that’s also the big question for me too, as I write this log… Hmm… Aw heck, it’s theraputic and surely that’s reason enough!

Playing with HTML again

Ahhh… managing a web site is a great way to kill a few hours. This time I moved a bunch of formatting stuff into the style sheet, rather than having it all stored in an HTML template. The advantage of such a method is that the look and feel of the site can be more easily changed from the style sheet, and this is pretty much what style sheets were invented for.

You wait. Time passes…

I’ve been making some cosmetic fixes to Reader lately, improving redraw (reducing flicker) and page presentation. Have fixed some glitches [one involving a crash] found by SC the wonder tester! Will be putting a new version up in the next day or so. Also brought to my attention was a particularly annoying problem with installing under XP. The problem is that certain types of registry changes can’t be made without Administrator privileges under Win2000/XP. So installing under these systems without Admin privileges was leading to broken installations, which is one of my very least favourite things. It wouldn’t be so annoying in XP wasn’t perfectly happy to let you stomp around in the "Program Files" directory structure under the same privileges. I don’t understand this because it means that if 2 users log in separately on the same machine, for proper functionality they will both need to install the program, even though they will both be installing it to the same folder.

What happens when one user uninstalls? Will that kill the other user’s install?

Anyway, my current inelegant solution to the problem is to make the installers bail out immediately if you dont have admin priveleges. Pretty ingenious huh?

Darko

See Donnie Darko! It is very good! And don’t spend hours analysing it afterward, because you will probably just annoy the people sitting near you.

On violence in film

Where a film is attempting to spook you or tell a story convincingly, I believe that violence has a place. That said, there is a particular form of violence I am really put off by in movies, and that is: bystanders being needlessly killed. I have felt this way for ages and just put it down to a general squeamishness, until recently, watching Ronin, I realized what it was that pissed me off so much about it: Why should heros and villains have the benefit of movie logic while the non-speaking extras cop it?

Ronin has a car chase that goes for ages, through crowded busy streets, and the only people who crash and die are innocent motorists. If the car chase scene had lasted maybe 1 minute and resulted in the death of 1 innocent I could accept it, because it would imply a level of realism. If the filmmakers want to portray Jean Reno and Robert De Niro somehow managing to not crash for all that time, why cannot the suspension of disbelief be extended to the poor extras? What ever happened to the 3rd party motorists skidding off the road and bonking harmlessly into a guard rail?

Imagine how jarring it would be if a movie fist fight had hero and villain reigning blows upon each other, creating nothing but scuff marks on each others cheeks, while some poor extra gets in on the action and immediately sustains a broken jaw and loses an eye. It would be horrible!

DNA

If I were to compile a list of all the famous people I wish hadn’t died in the past few years, the name of Douglas Adams would occupy the #1 slot. To me he was the repository of a very special blend of optimism and funny niceness, and with things as ugly as they are on the world stage at the moment, I feel like he is needed more than ever.

Speaking of Wodehouse ("Wood-house"), if you’re not aware of his work then I strongly recommend that you go and find out more about him here.

Whilst his comic style was heavily influenced by the copious writings of PG Wodehouse (whose work I have come to only recently) I believe that his sincere interest in science, and his ability to examine technology in such very human terms, made him unique.

I cannot help but like an author who makes his protagonist a programmer, as in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency , and who genuinely tries to capture in writing some of the magic of the art. Whilst I might resepect and admire a programmer who becomes a writer, I am awed by a successful writer who would become (to at least some degree) a programmer. At a time when I had very little respect for my own [future] profession, his writing helped me to see computer programming in a fresh new light, as a unique creative outlet. It was as though suddenly what I could do had real value! We all need validation sometimes…

Extra material

You know how a lot of DVDs have extra material that is so lame that you wonder why they bothered at all? Well, I realized that sometimes I have something to write that doesn’t really fit in here, and has no obvious place elsewhere on the site, so I have started a new articles section, which will simply be a collection of stuff that occurrs to me. It kicks off with: