Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

Goodbye 2005…

A great year. A lot of hard work, good times and happy events, most notably the birth of our daughter, Jasmine…

With a few minutes of this year left to go, it's time to look forward to adventure, more hard work, happiness and excitement in 2006…

Rock on.

Spolsky: The Perils of JavaSchools

Just go and read this latest essay by Joel now. It is absolutely spot on.

All the kids who did great in high school writing pong games in BASIC for their Apple II would get to college, take CompSci 101, a data structures course, and when they hit the pointers business their brains would just totally explode, and the next thing you knew, they were majoring in Political Science because law school seemed like a better idea.

…I have never met anyone who can do Scheme, Haskell, and C pointers who can't pick up Java in two days, and create better Java code than people with five years of experience in Java, but try explaining that to the average HR drone.

The point that Joel is making is key: that CompSci degrees are supposed to be about teaching how to program, not how to program in one particular language.

Software development is an art form, a skill. It is not a rote-taught methodology.

I'll be at CES next week

Just a note that I'll be at CES next week in Las Vegas from Tuesday though Friday. I'm leaving Friday afternoon.

Let me know if you're going to be around - it sounds like there'll be some form of meet up on Thursday evening.

Also, this will, believe it or not, be my first trip to Vegas - I'm looking forward to a $44 buy-in NL Holdem Tourney at my hotel at least one evening of my time there…

An interesting band practice

[Normal, non-rockstar service will be resumed as soon as possible]

So for the first time in my time as a member of a band we had the traditional “incident”.

Call it musical differences, call it a difference of opinion. Call it absolutely out of line.

So there we are, playing the tunes and just finishing up “Changes” (one of my favourite tracks btw), when our bass player (henceforth BP), turns around to fiddle with the amp he's using.

“Having problems?”, I ask.

“Yup, but it's not me.”

Uh oh.

“So what's the problem?”

“The snare, the drums. They're too loud.”

And there's me, thinking that I'm the problem. I've been using one of the studio's amps this evening and having a few level issues with it, but no, BP has a problem with our drummer (henceforth DM).

“And the tempo, I have a problem with the tempo.”

“What in Changes? Sounded fine to me.”

“No, in general. DM, you need to practice more.”

I keep quiet. I'm about to leap into full bullshit calling mode, and believe me, ten years at Microsoft has taught me a thing or two. But no. BP and DM (who have been friends for a very long time) obviously have some issues to deal with. Plus, this is a friendly thing. It's not like we're going to become professional rock stars, fer crissakes!

Somebody's expectations are completely out of whack. Wakeup call. I'm not the best guitar player in the world, and your bass playing ain't the best either.

Then it happens, DM starts to pack up his gear.

CJ and I look at each other and follow suit.

Now, I don't know what is going to happen and to be quite honest I do care. DM is a great guy and a friend. BP likes to point out that he and I are very different people and that he needs extra special care when dealing with him.

This came to a head a few months ago when he accused me of screwing him out of some cash when putting the CD together (I purchased some software to do the CD mastering and, in effect, saved us some cash).

Now though, I am just done. Final nail in coffin. Camel, straw, back.

Band practice is the one night a week I get to go out and have fun making music with friends. I don't want to spend the time mollycoddling someones feelings. I dread ever getting to the point when I'm thinking: “Oh no, it's band practice this evening and I have to play nice and touchy-feely”.

It's supposed to be a loud guitar and drums night with some mates.

I dunno.

DM expressed the feeling that he doesn't want to play anymore because he's feeling exactly the thoughts that I dread.

Me? I wanna play great music with CJ and DM. BP seems to need something different.

But then again, maybe we're a real rock band after all.

Trip to the kids' fantasy land

After a wonderful lunch at the British Pantry (where some guys on the table next to us were discussing podcasting…), the family met up with the Ingrams (sans Karen) for a trip to the KidsQuest Children's Museum.

Not really a museum, but more of a kids funhouse with tons of educational toys.

I also got to field test the new camera…


If you're a friend/family contact of mine over on Flickr, then you get to see the rest, if not and you're a friend/family type then get an account on Flickr (it's free) and send me your name…

Some of the pictures came out a bit grainy as I had the noise reduction off and was testing some high-ISO settings. More experimentation needed…

Anyhow. Mucho fun.

My Nikon D200 finally arrived today

After incessantly hassling the staff at my local camera store over the past couple of weeks, they finally relented yesterday and gave me the UPS tracking number for the package containing my new camera and lens.

It's been a long wait.

Anyhow, I noticed this afternoon that it had arrived at 1pm, so I sped off to the store to pick it up, along with a new bag, CF card and a couple of filters.

This thing is astounding. Incredible quality pictures and up to 5 frames a second too! I spent most of the evening reading the manual and getting it all set up. Hopefully tomorrow I'll get to do more than test pictures - I think Nabila is getting very bored of me pointing the camera at her…

Flagged Articles #4

Here is my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending December 24, 2005:

As always, not in any way the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

Season's greetings…

As I settle into my 38th Christmas, I'd like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

I am really looking forward to spending a relaxed and fun day with family and friends. I'm excited like a kid, just to see Julian's excitement in the morning!

An obvious hacking attempt?

I recently setup a new server, and one hour after I downloaded the latest php distribution, I start to get attacks on the site. Those attacks were at php itself.

From the logs it looks like a classic stack overflow attack, especially the one that pulls a gif - Pull the gif, cd into /tmp, download a file and run it. Subtle…

It looks to me that someone is scanning the access logs from the php distribution sites. Unfortunately I can't remember which one I pulled it from…

Police State

Ok, this is just downright scary.

From 2006 Britain will be the first country where every journey by every car will be monitored. What on earth is going on back home? Any of my UK readers care to comment?

More than 50 local authorities have signed agreements to allow the police to convert thousands of existing traffic cameras so they can read number plates automatically. The data will then be transmitted to Hendon via a secure police communications network.

The UK seems more and more foreign to me every day…

And there's more

The new national surveillance network for tracking car journeys, which has taken more than 25 years to develop, is only the beginning of plans to monitor the movements of all British citizens. The Home Office Scientific Development Branch in Hertfordshire is already working on ways of automatically recognising human faces by computer, which many people would see as truly introducing the prospect of Orwellian street surveillance, where our every move is recorded and stored by machines.

Even though I rail on the US sometimes, at least there is well-formulated protections in the form of the Constitution and Amendments (which of course are currently under attack). Elsewhere, including in my beloved home country, the governing powers seem to be making it up as they go along. All in the name of the “war on terror”.

Lets just hope that the terrorists haven't basically won by transforming our society into one based on fear. A fear that lets us gladly give those in power the tools to herd and monitor us like sheep.

[Thanks to various, including Joe, for the links.]

Flickr - beta?

So Flickr is still carrying around the “beta” label.

Look guys, it works, you're charging for it, it's very popular and someone paid a lot of money for it nine months ago.

Just remove the “beta” label. Please. You released. V1.0 is done.

Why Buy An Airplane?

This was forwarded to an internal pilot's alias. I have tried to find the original post, but it is everywhere. I believe it's true as that tail number is actually registered to the author.

Anyhow, it gave me a warm glow inside.


I have read many posts on the web site from members and on MMAIL who are thinking about owning their own aircraft and looking for ways to offset the cost of ownership. I have heard many reasons for and against ownership. Why buy an aircraft? It's cheaper to rent and you do not have all the hassle with maintenance, fuel and insurance. Well, here is a little story that I think explains it all as to why I own my own airplane.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. No winds and the temperature was just right. So instead of mowing the lawn like my wife had planned for me, I decided to go to the airport and take the Sport out for a run. She yells back at me, “WELL IF YOU GO, TAKE YOUR SON WITH YOU.” So I ask my son. Want to go flying with dad? In which he says Yea, Can I take my light saber?

You see, my 9 year son thinks he is a Jedi Knight and that our Sport is his personal X-Wing fighter. He is only 4'5 and has to sit on a pillow in order to see over the glare shield and he always carries his light saber just in case we land on a strange planet in which there might be trouble or civil un-rest. Always prepared this one is. So away we go.


We were straight and level at around 6,000ft and I let him take the controls of the X-Wing to do some turns to the left and right. Joshua Approach called and said there was traffic at our 2 o'clock 2 miles opposite direction and my son said to me “Look over there dad, Tie fighter coming right at us”. I told him to steer clear of the Tie Fighter because our lasers were out for repair and we were un-armed. No reason to provoke a fight.

So even though he is having a blast, I am starting to get a little bored and thought, “Let's go do a practice approach on the ILS”. So I called Joshua Approach, requested the ILS 25 Approach to Palmdale Full Approach and off we went. I maneuvered the X-Wing to the VOR and started the turn outbound to the outer marker. Now my son is just really enjoying this. At the outer marker, the blue light started to flash and you could hear the BEEP in the headset. My Son jumps in and said “That Tie Fighter has locked on to us” I said “That's Right” and I started my evasive maneuver on the procedure turn.

My Son is listening to the exchange between me and the controller and wants to chime in on the conversion. I said to my son, “Just hang on; I will give you a chance”. I never should have said that because now he is all excited to talk on the radio. As I start to turn inbound on the turn, the Approach control said “Contact tower when established on the localizer”. So I told my young Padawan Learner “OK, when this needle gets here on the dial, push the radio button and tell the tower that 93 Romeo is inbound on the localizer”.

Now imagine this, I am giving basic instrument instruction to a 9 year old, I cannot get adults to say this during training. So before I can give him something simpler to say he keys the mike and says “REBEL BASE, THIS IS RED 5. WE ARE STARTING OUR ATTACK RUN ON THE DEATH STAR”.

Good God.

Now this post 9/11 and before I can key my mike and say anything, the tower jumps on and says “RED 5, YOUR CLEARED FOR THE APPROACH TO THE DEATH STAR. REPORT HITS AWAY”

Now I am waiting for the tower to add “And tell your dad to call this number” But I hear nothing else. So we continue the approach. Now my son is in heaven. This is real life stuff to him and he is doing everything I tell him to do as far as tracking the needle. As we approach the outer marker inbound, the light starts to flash and there is that tone again. “Dad, the Death Star has a lock on us”. Yes Son, you keep on the approach, I will worry about the guns.

Everything is going great and now we are approaching the middle marker. My son has noticed the GPS has a red line with an airplane on it and it ends at the Death Star. So he asks me “IS THAT A TARGETING COMPUTER DAD?” Well of course it is, and it shows us where we are to the target. So now he hears Obewan tell him to USE THE FORCE SCOTT and he turns the GPS OFF. Tells me he is OK and does not need the targeting computer because he is using the FORCE.

Now the middle marker light flashes and the tone comes on. I apply full power and the airplane,,,X-Wing,,, Starts a climb. I start the turn to the missed approach path when my son keys the mike and says “HITS AWAY”. The tower answers back with “GOOD JOB RED 5, CONTACT REBEL APPROACH ON 126.1”

We go back to Mojave SPACEPORT, and I decide that the X-Wing needs a bath. So out comes all the cleaning stuff and we spend the rest of the day washing and waxing the turbo jets and laser pods.

So you see. This is why I own my own aircraft. You cannot beat this kind of quality time with your kids. And there is no way you can put a price on that.

Jeff Bryant

Southwest Regional Director

Beech Aero Club

1975 X-Wing Fighter Model B-19


Time to dig out the AIM and go flying again…

Read this

Just read this. I've been trying to summarize my thoughts, but Kevin just gets to the point.

I preordered, it's released, why haven't I got one?

You might think I'm talking about the Xbox 360. Nope. I got one on the first day. Hehe.

I'm talking about the Nikon D200 which I preordered (along with the new 18/200 lens) back in November. The release date was December 15th, and on the photography forums people are starting to get theirs and they've been arriving all over the place since Thursday. But have I got mine? Nope.

I'm telling you, this thing is hotter than the 360! It's out of stock everywhere, and if you want to get one now, well, you'll be waiting well into next year. It's really interesting watching the parallels between the two products.

After multiple phone calls to the local Ritz camera, mine was due to be shipped (ground, sigh…) from the warehouse to the store today. I might get it before Christmas.


[Update] Great minds think alike! Scoble just posted on the very same topic!

Flagged Articles #3

A little late, but here is my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending December 17, 2005:

Have I mentioned how much I like lifehacker

As always, not in any way the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

FlightSim Real World Weather Service

As many of you know, Flight Simulator provides real world weather functionality. That is, FlightSim can connect to a service (kindly hosted by the Zone), download the current state of the weather around the world and import that into the sim.

This weekend that service has, to put it mildly, been up and down quite a bit - as evidenced by this thread over on AVSim.

The problem was caused by some network issues at the data center that hosts the service. A router was apparently doing something very odd. This has now been fixed (or rather, I'm told that it has been fixed…)

Anyhow, you can all stop calling our support guys about this problem now - hehe - they've been a bit overloaded (to put it mildly) by people calling to report it. The interesting part is that we have a system setup to monitor the service and nag us incessantly when there's an issue - the reason the team didn't get notified (I think) is that the monitoring is on our internal network, so it can't see an issue when it's related to external access. We need to fix that…

So, apologies. Normal service is now resumed…

CJ and Andy - Marathon Men

Well, 5K men at any rate…

This morning two of my pals, CJ and Andy, competed (and completed) a 5K run in downtown Kirkland. By all accounts they both ran pretty good times.

I had completely spaced on the fact that they were doing this, but as chance would have it the family and I were downtown at our favourite eatery, George's, having breakfast.

After breakfast we headed over to the marina and bumped into Andy. Unfortunately CJ had already left.

Anyhow, congratulations to both of them. You can read more about CJ's morning over on his wife Karen's blog.

Maybe I need to get in shape - everyone is getting far too healthy…

Sir Tim is Blogging

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web now has a blog. Only one post so far, but what an interesting post it is.

It turns out that the first browser was actually an editor also - he envisaged the web being read/write from day one, it just so happened that everyone got hooked on the read side of things.

So it took until mid-1999 for us to see the original vision when Dave Winer brought us back to our senses with his “Edit This Page” insight.

Geometry Wars video

Joystiq has a video of a guy from the Live development team scoring 2.1 million in Geometry Wars. Wow.

Geometry Wars is one of the 'casual' (read: life sucking) downloadable games for you Xbox 360.

[Thanks to Major Nelson for the link.]

HDMI failure on HD Tivo - good customer service

On Monday, the HDMI output from my HD DirecTivo unit failed in an unusal manner. Basically the picture turned completely oversaturated and “cartoony” in appearance.

Initially I thought that Julian had got ahold of the TV remote control and messed with the settings, but after searching the house and finding the remote (on my TV, there is no way of messing with the settings other than with the actual remote), I figured out that the output had actually failed.

When I first acquired the unit I was using the component outputs as I had no display with an HDMI input. I was a tad concerned as I had read numerous reports of the HDMI port being DOA. Fortunately, when I hooked it up to the plasma back in March, it worked flawlessly. This week it appears that I hit the second most common problem out there.

So I called DirecTV with the expectation of getting the complete run-around. I fully expected this to be the forcing function that would move me back to cable and onto Windows Media Center.

But no.

Flawless customer support and “We'll have a new unit sent out to you tomorrow”.

So I thought for a change that I'd post about good customer support.

They'd better not screw up now…

Memeflow gets it right…

A little bit of kudos for my bookmarking Ajax service, GoTo.

From the Ajaxian

Lazy Registration Most of these portals are missing a big opportunity to let people try it out before they register. Protopage and Memeflow are two portals that get it right. Use cookies to let the user play around with the site indefinitely, and keep making them aware they can register anytime. “Take your settings with you”, “Keep your data forever”, “Survive a browser crash”, etc. (I've seen a few of these phrases aronud the place, but not sure which sites.)


A Word A Day

One of the few mailing lists that I subscribe to is “A Word A Day” from wordsmith.org. Every day a new word with description, history, audio pronunciation and other interesting information appears in my inbox.

For example, today's word is degringolade

The great humorist Mark Twain once said, “In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.” Well, that's the pitfall of learning a foreign language away from its natural habitat. We might become proficient in the grammar but there is never a certainty about the nuances of the language.

No matter. Some of the terms we borrow from French have become an integral part of the English language. They often help us convey a whole idea succinctly, in just a word or two. This week let's see five such terms from French.

degringolade (day-grang-guh-LAYD) noun: A rapid decline, deterioration, or collapse (of a situation).

Most weeks, the words have a theme, making each days' gem an interesting learning exercise.

I look forward to them every day.

Flagged Articles #2

Following up from my last flagging post, here is my list of some “interesting” articles for the week ending December 10, 2005:

As always, not in any way the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…


Yesterday morning I got up, showered, walked back into the bedroom and slammed the little toe on my right foot into some very solid wood. I instantly knew that this was not the ordinary toe stub agony.

This was a new level of pain.

I collapsed onto the bed screaming like a newborn. And then the swelling started.

A quick trip to the doctor and an X-ray revealed that I had indeed broken my little toe. Of course, doctor's orders are that I put my feet up for the next three weeks… Well, she actually said to keep the foot elevated, ice it, and buddy tape it.

Broken Toe

This morning the whole area of the foot is going black and blue. Oh joy. At the moment I can't get a sock on the foot, so driving is going to be interesting…

Fender's new line of guitars

Fender has just released a new line of “Hello Kitty” guitars.

Reaching the high-end musician, the world renowned Fender Custom Shop will also produce a special, limited run of Hello Kitty custom guitars for discerning Hello Kitty collectors, as well as “big name” musicians who realize the collectability of these one-of-a-kind instruments.

I'm lost for words.

[Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.]

More on the “Uncanny Valley”

A great article over on Wired regarding photorealism in games.

The concept of the “[Uncanny Valley”]“ has been one that has interested me for a while. When I first started working in 3D graphics it was a common maxim that ”reality is just 80 million more polygons", but what everyone has been realizing over the past few years is that, as far as characters are concerned, it's the animation and shading…

From the Wikipedia entry on the issue:

The principle states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached at which the response suddenly becomes strongly repulsive; as the appearance and motion are made to be indistinguishable to that of human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-human empathy levels.

[Thanks to Rob for the link]

Low volume

Posts are currently at a low volume due to the super-secret offsite meeting that I'm attending (and have been at since Sunday) and the super-secret other thing, both of which are sucking all my cycles.

Also, my Dad arrives from the UK today. He hasn't visited us here in almost five years and I haven't seen him in two… Today I get to introduce him to Jasmine…

Flagged articles

A week ago I started using Dare's aggregator, RSS Bandit, which has the nifty feature of being able to flag articles. These articles then appear in, surprisingly enough, an “Items For Followup” folder.

So, I thought it would be interesting to expose you, my cherished readers, to those articles that I deem worthy of further perusal. I plan on doing this weekly.

Note that this is not indicative of the “worthiness” those articles I've read in the 188 feeds that I've subscribed to. There are many more interesting articles of note or importance than these. But rather that these articles are ones that piqued my “that's worthwhile keeping for future reference”.

And so, I give you my list of “interesting” articles for the week ending December 2, 2005:

So there you have it. Not in any way the most interesting stuff this week, but in my opinion, the most worthy of keeping around…

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.