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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Computers 

I have worked with these things for just about 25 years. I have used a variety of systems, programming languages, hardware.

Today I have been trying to add some images to a program. They are simple images, buttons of a sort. I construct the images as a GIF and then import them into VB6 (yes, I know VB.NET is a lot better but this is an old program so get off my back!).

There's a white border where there shouldn't be one. Make background transparent. Now I have a blue border. Change settings. Border gone and so has grey centre. And so on.

In the words of the nuns in The Sound of Music:
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?


We'd be a lot better off with pen and paper!

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Stats 

9179 steps and 14s 12lb.

I'm sure no-one is at all interested in these figures. I might try tucking them away discretely at the end or beginning of other posts from now on.

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Calm Coffee 

Every day I pass a professional-looking sign that advertises "grounded coffee". It amuses me every time I see it.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stats 

Steps: 4508
Weight: 14s 13lb

I had a day off yesterday and some friends came round for a movie and pizza. You can tell.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Scales 

I hate bathroom scales. Not just because they lie like evil little lying things but because the technology behind them is intrinsically flawed. Most bathroom scales are based on springs or some sort of pizoelectric effect. They can be very precise but not very accurate.

I have, for a long time, wanted a set of scales like you used to get in chemists' shops (American = "Pharmacist"). You know the type, they were based on a balance, one of the simplest machines you could make.

Thanks to eBay, I found a set and collected them from Leicester at the weekend. According to them, I'm 14s 12lb (208 pounds). 3lbs heavier than my bathroom scales but significantly lighter than on Stephen and James's scales.


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Steps 

17480 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Weight still the same although S&J's scales said I was 15 stone! I didn't believe that.

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Weekend in the Midlands 

We spent a very nice weekend with Stephen, James and Choe in Birmingham. David and I had a minor side-trip to Leicester on Saturday to pick up something (more on that later, I hope) I'd bought on eBay.

We saw Rudigore on Saturday. Rudigore is a Gilbert and Sullivan production and this one was performed by an amateur G&S society in Birmingham. It was bloody good! Unlike other G&S societies (no names!) this lot could actually sing, be coherent and dance without looking embarassed. Also there were no little old women playing male roles.

I'm not sure about driving up on Friday night. We set off late and arrived late. I was falling asleep at the wheel on the M6 which scared me.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Robert Williams's Diary 

I have decided that this blog will contain, a la Bridget Jones, a record of my weight and how many steps I have made.

This morning when I zeroed my step counter (£5 at M&S), I'd apparently walked 13493 steps. That might not be just for yesterday. As of now, I've walked 9649 steps.

This morning I weighed 14s 9lb which is a lot more than I want to weigh. 14s 9lb is 205lb in American and looks an awful lot more.

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Tip#1: When it's not a good time to say hello to a new colleague 

I just tried to go to a spinning class at the gym. It was full so I couldn't do it. You can't really do a spinning class if there aren't any bikes and, as I couldn't do my normal circuit in padded cycling shorts, I went to the changing rooms to get changed.

When I change I always strip right down and then dress back again. Of course, I usually have a shower in the middle but today, as I hadn't exercised, it wasn't necessary.

Anyway, while I was doing that, I saw someone I recognised: a new man who's been with the company a few weeks and with whom I hadn't spoken yet. So, naturally, I said hello and we exchanged a few words before he continued his tour of the gym.

I was only while we were talking that I realised that I was completely naked.

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Other people's misfortune ... 

On my walk from Charing Cross to work this morning there was a guy by Centre Point who was arsing about on his skateboard and making a slalom run past imaginary posts.

He fell off rather spectacularly and stood up to smile rather sheepishly at a female passer-by.

It brightened up my day, at least.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Savage Chickens - Chicken Cartoons by Doug Savage 

I just discovered this blog. Some of the cartoons are hysterical. Have a look.

Savage Chickens - Chicken Cartoons by Doug Savage

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Really? 

I've just been reading about wild big cats on the loose in Britain's countryside. The following is a quote from the BBC Website:

Other evidence includes three reported attacks on horses, over 35 incidents regarding sheep kills, several confirmed paw prints of which plaster casts were taken and 17 reports of a big cat with cubs-an increasing trend, which suggests that the animals may be breeding.


There goes the virgin birth theory...

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Time travel 

This came up in conversation with David yesterday but I thought I'd bring it up here in case anyone felt like answering it.

Imagine a total stranger approached you and said they were from a few hundred years in the future. What, if anything, would convince you that the person was telling the truth?


To make the question a real challenge let's assume they could bring nothing with them except the clothes they were wearing.

David started this with a reference to a comic book we both read in the 70s called Look-in. There was a story based on the series Timeslip in which some children travelled back to the 17th century London. They "proved" to a man that they were from the future by showing him their clothes which were "far too fine to be produced by any loom". That's a bit weak to be honest, especially now. Could anyone wear anything that would be so obviously anachronistic?

There are the standard answers of giving people lottery numbers or the winners of horse races but from the point of view of even only a few years in the future, would details like that be remembered? Can you, without looking, tell me what the winning lottery numbers were six months ago?

As a related aside, there's an interesting site that I stumbled over a few years ago about a man called John Titor who made postings on the internet and claimed to be from the future. The debates are still raging. He attempted to prove that he was from the future by making predictions about upcoming historical and scientific events but most were a long way off and obviously of no practical value in providing immediate proof.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mr Static 

I seem to be building up quite a charge in recent weeks. I seem to be permanently sparking against metal things in the office.

I could power a small town.

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A thing I hate about smokers 

Some smokers when about to enter a place where smoking is not allowed, a train, for instance, or a sandwich shop, seem to think it's okay to take one final drag outside and yet exhale when they are inside. How does this not count?

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blogging 

I read a few things recently that made me question what I am doing right now: writing an entry in my blog.

Is this pure self-indulgence? Or perhaps vanity in its highest form? One could say that about most private websites or blogs or even for any public website that is open to contributions from the public. We all want our say but is anyone listening?

I once had an idea for a science fiction story that featured people having their own television channels and filling them with crap. I didn't write it, partly because there was no story to tell, nothing happened; the idea was merely a backdrop or a plot-device. However I mainly didn't write it because I could see that reality would quickyl catch up: people would have their own TV channels. It is possible now.

Although most people haven't hooked up a 24hr webcam to tell the world about their day, they do write blogs: diaries open to the world. Our innermost thoughts laid bare. We tell anyone interested what we think and what we've done no matter how prosaic or boring.

Some blogs are interesting or funny: Things I hate about my flatmate is one of them and the blogs of my friends are others but most are usually just daft: a dog barking at the moon to hear itself.

I haven't answered my original question and I have opened up another one: Is this blog an indulgence? Is it interesting or funny?

I can't answer the second one. It's not for me to answer or, for that matter, ask. I don't really want to know. I suppose that answers the first question. Yes, this is an indulgence but probably not in the way you might think. I don't do this for attention, in fact I am somewhat horrified that people actually do read this.

I'm not sure why I write this blog. It could be just that I need to brain-dump stuff occasionally. Rant before my head explodes. Ramble to my keyboard rather bore my friends or colleagues.

If along the way, someone else, gets something out of it then that's a bonus.

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Long and the short of it 

I had a haircut and beard trim today from the psychic barber. My beard had gotten, for me, very long and was nearly three-quarters of an inch long. I actually do like it like that. It has an interesting texture and is a lot thicker and darker. That said, I was in two minds every time I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself. One mind would say "that looks good" and the other "oh my God".

Today I listened to the "oh my God" mind and had a number two crop. I don't know how that barber does it but he made me look at least 5 years younger. I think he has a special trimmer that only cuts grey hair.

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Overcomplicated English 

Do you find it annoying when people make official announcements or post signs? It used to be a characteristic of estate agents but I've noticed it more often in other parts of life.

I've often complained about station announcements that say a train is late or cancelled because of "train operating difficulties". Why can't they just say the bloody thing is faulty? Do they think we're daft and we can't work out what that nonsense phrase means?

I saw another example this morning in Upper St Martins Lane where the local council are replacing the pavement. Their signs say they are creating a better environment for pedestrians. Isn't that a bit excessive?

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

British Museum? 

I work in Bedford Square in central London close to the British Museum. One of the hazards of working here is that we're often asked the way to the museum.

I don't mind and I'm happy to oblige with directions. The people that ask are usually polite and are extremely grateful for the help. I was once asked for directions to the museum by a British woman when we were both standing outside it.

I was asked just now by someone who clearly didn't understand English. I started saying "it's over there, the building with the columns" and painted columns in the air with my hands but I could see that wasn't helping. All I evenutally could do was point and say "it's over there".

I'm not annoyed by this or disheartened but the episode underscores my experience in Barcelona a few weeks ago when I got lost and had to take a cab for the last few yards of my journey because I just couldn't find the hotel. The moral of both stories is this: when you are travelling and need to get somewhere, at the very least make sure you have an adequate map or if you find you must ask for directions, ensure that you have enough of a grasp of the local language to understand the directions you get back.

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Can't you just pretend to be nice? 

The title for this post comes from a song in the film Josie and the Pussycats. It's a film I rather enjoy even though it's a bit silly and obviously not really aimed at men in their forties.

This post is not about the film. The sentiment for the song is, however, applicable. Essentially the song is about how the singer's partner treats her badly and her world would be a better place if he were nicer to her even if he didn't mean it. An extract from the lyrics sums this up:

If you could just pretend to be nice,
Then everything in my life would be alright


Why have I brought this up?

Well, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, I have been listening to the audio version of Lynne Truss's Talk to the Hand. I have subsequently followed this up with reading the full unabridged real print in-your-hands book. I finished it this morning.

Essentially, the book lists highlights (perhaps that should be lowlights) the ways in which Western society as a whole but British society in particular has become ruder over the last few decades. You know the thing: no-one says please or thank-you, everyone swears, no-one accepts responsibility for their actions and are rude to your face if you chastise them for it. We have all encountered this and, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all done it to a certain degree.

Miss Truss explores the reasons for this shift in our collective morality. I'm not going to repeat those here. Buy the book to find out for yourself! What I did want to highlight was her conclusion that despite, the apparently unstoppable downward slide, there is a ray of hope:

Let's try pretending to be nice and see what happens.


Well, I know what happens. Politeness can be contagious. It was for me.

Some years ago, I worked for a time with a man named Nick who was a very nice personable man and a pleasure to work with. As well as being incredibly intelligent, he also took great pains to be polite, to be nice. Whether this came naturally to him or was just a pretence, I will never know as I unfortunately lost contact with him when we both left the company.

The point is, however, whether real or pretence, his manners rubbed off on me. I became politer to people. I made an effort to say please or thank you, to acknowledge the efforts of people, even if they have, in their own eyes, done nothing that they would have done anyway.

I'm not perfect. Not even close and I'm not making a claim to be polite. I can be, and have been, exceedingly rude, as friends will point out to me. I know that and I wish I wasn't. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to be rude otherwise it is very easy to be walked on but it isn't necessary all the time. People can be nice without losing their dignity.

Pretending to be nice does work. As long as it isn't obviously a pretence and doesn't appear to mock, that is. I have a friend who sometimes talks like a character in a Noel Coward play and who also has a horrible false grin he employs when he thinks he ought to look friendly. Manners that are an obvious pretence really don't work and just get people's backs up.

After a time, however, with some effort at the correct sort of pretence, pretend manners actually become ingrained. What is pretend becomes for real. When I say please or if I thank someone, it's real: I do actually mean it.

I ended the book with a real sense of hope. Yes, the world does seem to be a chronically rude place but being nice to people in the right way and in the right place can make a difference. If enough of us do it often enough, who knows what could happen.

It's time to pretend to be nice.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New website 

I have finally, after 6 years, rewritten my home website. It still needs some work and it isn't that flashy. I'm not the world's most talented HTML programmer and I have deliberately kept it simple. There are still some broken links (my ISP's server appears to be case-sensitive) and it works better in IE than Firefox.

The emphasis is photos, blogs and links. I have made use of a Flash photo gallery widget which looks pretty nifty. I haven't transferred all my photos to that but as it's a fairly quick and painless process to load them up it should take long. The slowest part of the process is picking out the photos I want to include.

Later will be the long and tedious process of finding and scanning old paper photos. I have already delved into my parents old slide photos. They scan brilliantly in my slide scanner and there is always something a little magical about slides.

I have included links to my three blogs. Yes, three. And I have added an edited and tarted-up list of links to my favourite websites. Well, some of them are my favourites. Some I haven't visited since the dawn of time. If you see any that don't work, let me know.

In fact, if you see any errors, let me know from here. I haven't included a mailto link on the page as an anti-spam device. I will have to work on that one.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

This is a card shop, not a brothel! 

There's a saying that all the world loves a lover. Is that really true?

Last night I popped into Clinton's on the way home to get a birthday card for my brother. He's out of hospital by the way and will be spending his birthday at home.

There was a foreign tourist couple in there and I could hear them in the background, chattering away and giggling. Obviously, they were on a romantic break in London.

Why, for goodness sake? This is London. LONDON. How is this place romantic? But I digress...

Anyway, there I was, looking at cards, trying to work out whether I wanted to send him a funny card (they're getting a little too near-the-knuckle these days) or something a little more sentimental. The giggling and chattering faded into the background. I didn't hear it. It's part of the general background noise in London.

Then all of a sudden the lovers started a bout of very loud uninhibited snogging. This annoys me. It is bloody rude. Why do some straight couples think that everyone wants to see them licking each other's tonsils? I don't want to be part of another couple's love life, thank you very much.

I would have loved to have told them to get a room but I'm far too restrained for that. Besides they were foreign. I didn't want to have to explain the concept or, worse, mime. Can you imagine?

I can think of a hundred better places to get smoochy than Clinton's Cards. Perhaps it's the envelopes.

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Wotcha? 

 Wotcha interj. A basic greeting in and around London. Can be used as an alternative to hello, hi or good morning
.

I have used this word for most of my life. It's therefore quite a surprise to find someone who did not know what I meant. Phil is from New Zealand but has lived most of his life in the UK and has worked with us for the last three or four years but has never heard the word before.

Odd.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Eurovision 

We watched the selection of the British entry to Eurovision on Saturday. The winner was a rap song sung by a bloke who appeared to be 40 going on 16 who was called Daz. Not my choice but I could tell he was going to win as soon as I heard it. My assessment was confirmed both by the audience reaction and the summation by the panelists. Jonathan Ross hit the nail on the head when he said that everything about the song was wrong (old rap artist, women dancers dressed as schoolgirls, etc) but that it was all so wrong it actually worked.

We will see what happens when Eurovision happens in May.

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Noise blocking headphones 

Noise blocking headphones are a marvellous invention. I bought some Saturday and I've been using them all day. Wonderful.

These are different to noise cancelling headphones and are a fairly simple concept. Basically, they are like ordinary in-ear headphones but with an extra moulding (there are three sizes) that put them a little further in the ear, thereby blocking external sound (the way earplugs do) and putting the music a little closer to the eardrum. This means that I don't need to play the music quite so loudly to drown out the irritating people on the train or, for that matter, the noise of the train itself.

They're also great for irritating little noises in the office as well.


Noise cancelling headphones
are clever little things that work by sampling the external noise and play a cancelling noise in addition to the music you are listening to. They work really well for regular droning noise but not for intermittent noise or higher pitched sounds or speech. I have a pair I bought in the States but I find them a bit hissy. Generally they are quite expensive and require power.

Actually, I bought a crap pair of blockers on Friday from Virgin and then the pair I'm using on Saturday. The crap pair fit really well but were as muffled as hell.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Talk to the Hand 

Another book that David and I are "reading" is Lynne Truss's Talk to the Hand. I put quotes around "reading" as really we're listening to it in its audio book form.

It's a book about how and why people are so incredibly rude these days. I find myself agreeing with all the examples she cites and hanging my head in shame whenever I recognise something that I do that, in all honesty, is not polite.

I have bought the book now, so I will read that in its full form.

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Chocolat 

I have been reading Chocolat this week. It is a fantastic book. I loved the film but this is better.

Joanne Harris's command of the English language, her easy languid style, her descriptive, yet not florid, text make the novel so easy to read. I am captivated by it from the moment I take it out of my bag to when the train pulls in at Charing Cross or Orpington. She has a touch, a way of making characters come alive with only the briefest of descriptions.

I can't help making comparisons between this and my own writing. I shouldn't but I do and it is a little demoralising. How does she do it?

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