2007 may have been another bad year for British sporting prowess (surely an oxymoron), but that’s not to say that we never win anything. We’re world leaders in lardiness and teenage pregnancy, for example. And now, here comes another shiny, CCTV-festooned trophy to add to our groaning national mantelpiece: the award for the lowest privacy ranking in the EU!
Two headlines caught my attention as I listened to the radio this morning. The first was a report in the Daily Telegraph, no doubt timed to coincide with yesterday’s announcement that warmongering hypocrite Tony Blair has been accepted into the Roman Catholic church, saying that ‘Britain has become a “Catholic country”’:
I fell off my bike while cycling to work yesterday, and spent the day in hospital. Bugger.
Seven o’clock is the absolute worst time to arrive home. I’ve just missed the half-hour comedy slot on Radio 4; to add insult to injury, the following programme is the everyday story of farming folk, patronising yokel accents, ham-fistedly obvious attempts at shoehorning in every conceivable demographic group, and godawful acting that is The Archers. It’s a soap opera that metastasised out of postwar farming propaganda, and now it’s unstoppable. Getting rid of it would probably raise a greater outcry than Disestablishment or republican revolution. It would probably even get people out to vote in numbers that parliamentary elections could never attain.
Ruby on Rails is all about ActiveRecord, and ActiveRecord is all about making your database look like Ruby objects. Sometimes, that’s great. The barrier to entry is low; it’s a lot easier to read than a convoluted SQL query; it’s easier to test. But it also makes it very easy to write horrifically inefficient code. I don’t just mean N+1: I’m talking about NM+1 or worse!
Another week, another government data loss. Only three million people are affected this time, though, which is practically nothing by the regular standards of incompetence that prevail wherever government agencies have access to people’s information.
There was a glossy full colour pull-out from the Financial Times sitting on the kitchen table at work today, and I was leafing through it as I ate my lunch. It was beyond parody.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—you know, those nice people who collect taxes and disburse stipends—have managed to ‘lose’ CDs containing the personal details of every family in the country with children under sixteen. That’s twenty-five million people in total. According to Chancellor Alistair Darling:
Two things I’d never done before Friday: eat a medlar, and visit a synagogue.
The nearest Metro station to Castle Hill is Moskva tér, which turned out to be the least salubrious part of the city I’d seen so far. A piece of rutted tarmac interwoven by tram tacks, some of them disused, its lack of charm is only enhanced by the ugly structures set up within it, and by the hawkers selling random stuff—umbrellas, lace, lottery tickets.
My first feeling on arriving in a place where I know none of the language is usually one of terror. I’m so used to knowing enough to get by that to be completely unable to understand anything is a strange and unsettling experience.
I haven’t written anything about this year’s Euruko (European Ruby Conference) yet, have I? I enjoyed it. It was nice to visit somewhere apart from Munich this time. Much as I like Munich, after three years in a row there, it was good to have a change.
In Bratislava’s main station, there’s a mural depicting the achievements of Socialism. You know, all the normal things like the oppressed breaking their chains, scientific endeavour symbolised by Sputnik, and pleasingly multi-ethnic groupings getting on together.
I spent most of yesterday wandering around Vienna, then took a train to Bratislava, so I had little idea about what was going on in the outside world. In the evening, I was eating dinner in a restaurant when I saw something that made my blood run cold.
I parked my bike in the cycle stands in the middle of High Holborn this morning at 08:45. I came back an hour later, and …
Shock! Horror! One of our MPs has been forced to endure the indignity of forty minutes of close scrutiny by airport security officials.
I was playing around with some XML parsing the other day, and allowed myself to become sidetracked. This is what resulted: a really easy way to extract data from an XML document. It’s called Xanimal for no better reason than that it contains X, M and L in that order.
My colleague James brought to my attention this morning an article saying that online retailers are growing concerned about the impact of Royal Mail’s absolute uselessness on their businesses.
I wanted to have some up-to-date channel icons for my MythTV interface, so I scraped the Freeview website last night. Each icon has had any surrounding white border removed, and they’ve all been composited onto a solid white background. They are also all square, to limit distortion. The sizes vary depending on the original, but most of them are 50 to 80 pixels on a side.
The BBC have rejigged their DVB-T configuration, with the result that, as of Wednesday, Radios 1 through 4 stopped working. They did broadcast warnings in advance, explaining how to rescan channels to continue to receive those stations. As is often the case, doing things with MythTV turned out to be a little more complicated than with bog-standard consumer receivers. I can’t be the only person to have been affected, and I hope that this solution will help.
I bought a 2 GB Zen Stone Plus (awful promo site) at the weekend. I’ve got a hulking great 3rd generation 40 GB iPod that I use to play music at home, but I wanted something a little smaller and easier to use for most of my use cases. I’d been thinking about getting a fancier mobile phone that could also play MP3s, but, in the end, this was a better, cheaper solution.
I just received an email from Amazon inviting me to provide feedback on their Web Services:
During the Northern Rock non-crisis last week, I was struck by the realisation that the banking system doesn’t really help the little man. This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone: the law has always favoured powerful interests.
I’m not a fan of comment moderation, nor of CAPTCHAs, registration requirements, or anything else that makes it hard to leave a comment. I don’t use them on this website, and I get a lot of comment spam as a direct result. I needed a solution.
That message recall function? It doesn’t work.
I’ve been trying to find a way to recycle my old batteries. Unlike in Germany or Belgium where you can just dump them in bins at electrical retailers, no one wants to take them here. My useless local council—Southwark, whose recycling offering is so limited that they won’t even take brown paper—has one place that takes them, but it’s inconveniently located at the other end of the borough, out of my way.
I spent a bit of time yesterday and today rationalising and cleaning up some of the HTML templates on the new reevoo.com site. It’s the kind of work that doesn’t have any immediately obvious value to the business, or even produce any apparent effect from a visitor’s point of view, but it’s absolutely necessary in ensuring the quality and maintainability of our code. Of course, I didn’t do it completely at random: it was a response to pain that I’d experienced whilst updating some of the pages.
I just watched the Simpson’s Movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I know what ‘spiderpig’ means!
I mentioned before in passing the fact that the Home Office (I’m not sure whether it’s now the responsibility of minijust or not) spends a lot of money on adverts telling us, in so many words, that crime is all the victim’s fault. I see the adverts everywhere: on lamposts; at bus stops; in tube stations and in the trains themselves.
After several months of work obtaining and assembling the parts, I finished putting together my fixed wheel (aka fixed gear) bicycle a couple of weeks ago, and it’s every bit as fun as I’d hoped. It’s drawn many comments from my colleagues, ranging from ‘you must be mad to ride that’ through to appreciation of its minimalism. I’m really proud of it.
I’ve been dragged into Facebook via work, and it’s quite a wrenching experience. I feel a bit like an illiterate neolithic hunter-gatherer confronted with writing for the first time. Everybody seems to be making good use of it, but I’m finding myself a bit stuck. It really is quite different from what I’m used to. The application itself seems a bit convoluted, but I’m struggling more with the question ‘what is it for?’
I haven’t had the best of luck with Apple hardware.
The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.—Joseph Stalin
Not content with seven, fourteen, or even twenty-eight days, the British government wants to extend imprisonment without charges to fifty-six days.
Remember the Orwellian Transport for London CCTV poster from 2002? There’s a new poster on the Underground, inviting us to report our suspicions of fellow citizens to the nearest authority. I actually think that it’s a great piece of artwork, but there’s something unsettling about the tone and the overall impression.
Many cities have taken to organising a car-free day once a year. They close the streets to private traffic, leaving the city free for public transport, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Here’s a nice non-alcoholic beverage I came up with the other day. I made it out of what I had to hand, and it turned out very well. I don’t know whether it’s really original or not, but it has a refreshing, delicate flavour.
I’ve spent the weekend at the Yahoo!/BBC-organised Hack Day at Alexandra Palace in London. It was interesting, fun, tiring, and occasionally frustrating, but generally good. I’ve no idea what other people actually did, because I fell asleep out of exhaustion during the presentations on Sunday afternoon!
I spent the week before last in County Galway in the west of Ireland. I rented a car and spent five days in Connemara and its surounding areas, staying in B&Bs and exploring a very beautiful and peaceful part of the world on my own.
When my grandmother died about two and a half years ago, I inherited a few small cacti that she had had around her flat. Yesterday, one of them flowered for the first time.
I spent some time on Friday trying to get to the bottom of a particularly strange effect in Ruby. Changing completely unrelated lines of code elsewhere in the project would change the behaviour of YAML and cause a test to fail.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails like this lately, sent on behalf of friends and acquaintances:
It turns out that it’s really easy to create tables and models dynamically within a Rails unit test. It’s a useful technique for reducing dependencies when testing.
I’ve been responsible for enough technocentric, user-hostile interfaces in my time to know one when I see one, and RubyGems’s
gemutility is a classic of the genre: it’s influenced by implementation details rather than end-user usage patterns, and it manages to frustrate me every time I have to deal with it. Here’s a real-life transcript that demonstrates some of the issues:
Six colours they want to ban.
We’ve just moved into our swank new office this week. Up until now, we were renting an office in a serviced office building, but with the funding and growth plans, we’d outgrown their biggest space. In fact, for the last few weeks, we were renting two offices there. Now, we’re rattling around a bit with about twenty people in a space that’s big enough for fifty.
Quite apart from the fact that he’s wasn’t English, never visited the country, and obviously didn’t kill any dragons, St George’s Day is still something that polite society has more or less nothing to do with.
Yesterday morning, my usual route to work around the docks was cordoned off with ‘POLICE DO NOT CROSS’ tape. A neighbour told me that she thought someone had been murdered, but I didn’t know any more.
The end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the British Empire is being commemorated this weekend, two hundred years after King George III granted royal assent to the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. That slavery was (and remains) morally repugnant, and that its abolition was a good thing, is generally considered to be an incontestable truth.
I was idly wandering around the guitar shops in and around Denmark Street last weekend, looking for a new guitar. (I’m on holiday this week, and since I wasn’t actually travelling anywhere, I felt justified in splashing out). I wanted something with two humbuckers and a fixed bridge, something that could handle some blues and jazz and that didn’t look totally metal. (Pointy guitars aren’t my style.) I tried a couple of archtops, a Yamaha and an Ibanez, in the £250-£300 price range, but they failed to inspire me.
(Warning: this post contains extensive discussion of SQL. Persons of a nervous disposition should exercise caution.)
I’ve finally tied up all the loose ends and released a significantly updated version of my HTMLEntities library that deals with named (X)HTML entities in Ruby.
Microsoft apparently want everyone to start using their HD Photo image format as a replacement for JPEG. They have pledged not to assert patents over it and are going to submit it to an as-yet unnamed standards body.
After arriving home from work, I like to tide myself over until dinner with a snack. As I was eating some excellent Camembert—appellation d’origine controllée, unpasteurised and a stranger to refrigeration since I bought it last week—with a glass of red wine this evening, I recalled a story I heard on the radio last weekend.
Having upgraded my guitar, my thoughts turned to upgrading my effects. I’ve had my faithful Zoom 505 for about a decade. It was an affordable multi-effect device at the time, and I was pleased with its versatility despite its shortcomings. The biggest flaw was probably the inconvenience of changing the settings with only six buttons: once I had set up some patches I liked, I mostly left them alone.
My favourite guitar is a Pignose travel guitar which I bought when I lived in Japan. Although the body is diminutive, the neck is full-sized and it plays very well—better than many normal electrics I’ve tried. Unfortunately, its single-coil pickup also picked up a loud electrical hum in my current flat. Hum by itself is annoying; overdriven, it becomes obnoxious.
One of the roads on my route to work was dug up recently for some cable- or pipe-laying. Whatever they were up to, they’ve finished now, patched up the holes, and moved on.
MacPorts, formerly known as DarwinPorts, is a mixed blessing. Sometimes, it performs: it compiles and builds the software requested, and it just works. At other times, one or more of the packages is broken. It literally changes day-to-day: stuff that used to work may not work any more when you want to install it.
Most of the coverage of Estonia’s election I’ve read has been positive, spinning their online electronic voting as a world first and example of the forward march of technology.
The BBC reports on work to replace hundreds of miles of leaky old water pipes in London.
Old Compaq corporate PCs can be picked up very cheaply (I got a Pentium III/1 GHz/512 MB RAM machine for a project for £59 the other day). They are well-constructed, slim, and it’s easy to access the innards. Unfortunately, their utility as headless devices is hobbled by one frustrating annoyance: they won’t boot without a PS/2 keyboard attached.
The lunar eclipse tonight was particularly good from where I was: despite rain earlier in the day, the sky was clear, and the moon is one of the handful of celestial objects bright enough to be visible over London’s absurd light pollution.
Question 1: In how many countries is Japanese an official language?
The Thames was particularly high this afternoon:
The level of discourse around foreign immigrants can be bad in the UK, but it’s worse in Japan. There’s a lot of casual racism: one example that always used to annoy me was the poster in one station on the Osaka subway warning passengers to beware of pickpockets—illustrated with a blond-haired, big-nosed caricature of a stereotypical gaijin (foreigner). To be fair, though, most of it is driven by ignorance.