Weblog entries for September 2002


I'm on the phone to Norris McWhirter as I type

Matthew has recently moved his site to a new server, and hasn't quite got around to copying his blog's archive over as well. So I had to go to Simon's site to find out that they were in Madrid on or around the 10th of August.

That's quite a long time ago. About fifty days, in fact.

Everyone knows postcards aren't the most reliable form of communication but I do feel the consumer is within his rights to expect delivery before, say, hell freezes over.

(Those of you who have guessed where this is going, get Googling to find out the answer and let me know. Otherwise, carry on reading.)

It's also true that Matthew is not the most organised person I've ever come across. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the most organised person in the world either, but at least if I went to Spain I could manage to send my postcards without having to wait for another friend to go there to post them for me.

All in all, the postcards didn't have the fairest start in life. Forgotten at the bottom of a bag for the journey home, sent all the way back to their place of origin, before finally being posted again on (according to the postmark) the 26th of August.

So guess what eventually wound its way to our house on the 28th of September? That's 33 days for the mathematically challenged readers among us. That's right. The postcard arrived. Was it worth the wait? No. Is that the real question? No.

The real question is: is that a new world record? The answer is: I doubt it, but it's a new personal best.


My mind has a mind of its own

At lunchtimes I often wander around Borders and HMV. The former is one of my favourite places to go, because it's very quiet and relaxed and it helps my brain unwind from the morning's exertions.

I'm still debugging, which (for the benefit of those of you who aren't programmers) entails looking for patterns in the application's behaviour and trying to match these up with the code, to find the root of the problem. Once that's done it's a case of figuring out what changes need to be made to get the application to behave as expected.

I'm not really sure how my brain works, but for some reason this is what it excels at. If I may blow my own trumpet for a moment, I'm very good at finding these patterns and making the connection to the underlying cause. The really great thing is that I enjoy this too, although it can be very frustrating.

The only problem is that I find it hard to switch off. So in Borders today I found myself counting the number of shelves taken up by fiction authors wihose surnames start with A — honestly, I'm not making this up — and comparing this with the number of authors whose surnames start with B. I also happened to note that these go from Babel to Byers.

Am I the only human alive who finds it interesting that there are nearly three times as many Bs as there are As? Here my brain tries to find the root cause of this pattern. Are there lots more people in the Bs? Or is the sample — that is, fiction authors — not representative of the general population?

When I get home tonight I'll have a look in the phone book and report back. Of course that sample might not be representative either: perhaps people whose surnames begin with A are more likely to request removal from the directory.

Anyway. Back to work before I go completely mad.


There's no football on

The title of this entry is untrue. It's Saturday afternoon, it's 3pm, and there's plenty of football on. Just none involving Fulham. If you're an ITV viewer you may have missed this, having become used to seeing almost no mention of them during On The Ball. Not that we're bitter.

Fulham are playing Chelsea on Monday night in what is probably the biggest game of the season for us. Last season the home derby was only beaten to that status by the FA Cup semi-final, which was against Chelsea anyway, so it felt pretty much the same.

So what will I do to occupy my time this afternoon? Working of course. We have a rather big deadline on Tuesday and I am doing some last-minute bug-hunting. I'm happy to report (hi Simon and Mark, if you're reading) that I haven't found anything wrong so far.

This doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing wrong, it's just that I haven't found it. Mark's really the expert at that: one day last week I'd go over to his desk about once an hour, believing I'd finally wrung the last bug out of the code I was writing, and he'd invariably have tied it in knots within two minutes. It's soul destroying, but it's making this a better product so I don't mind really.

Also, Matthew has gone away for the second weekend running, so I'm all alone in the flat. This is actually a good thing because it means I can concentrate better and there's nobody to complain about my music. I'm sure he probably told me where he was going but I can't remember. I'll let you know if I find out.

In other news, it's been almost a year since Deepgroup died. It's incredible to think that it's been that long — it really doesn't seem as though a whole year has passed — but I suppose time flies while you're having fun.


The war on terror continues

Today's newspapers are quoting a dissident Iraqi nuclear scientist as claiming that Iraq could produce nuclear weapons within months.

This will presumably serve to strengthen America's resolve to invade Iraq, and it seems that even previously staunch anti-war countries like Saudi Arabia may be joining the pro-war side on this debate.

The vast majority of people in the UK, as well as most of the MPs, are against invading Iraq. This hasn't prevented Tony Blair from going more and more blue in the face as he tries to convince us otherwise.

The logic goes as follows. If Iraq develops nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein will not hesitate to use them, and if he has links to al-Qaeda then we can assume they know what he knows. Imagine September 11th with nuclear bombs on the planes, the protagonists of war say. Preventing this kind of attack is far better than a retaliatory strike.

Saddam Hussein has been shown in the past to have little regard for the health and security of his people. Prior to the Gulf War we heard stories of him using chemical weapons on his own citizens, and I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the long lines of Kurdish refugees braving the mountains in winter to try to get out of the country.

But during the Gulf War, Hussein was wise enough not to allow a single drop of chemical weapons on the Allied forces, because he knew only too well what the repercussions would be. It goes without saying that the repercussions of a nuclear attack would be many orders of magnitude greater, and therefore the deterrent to using nuclear weapons against the US is that much higher.

What would invasion of Iraq achieve? It has been pointed out that removing Saddam Hussein would render Iraq 'ungovernable', and unless the US is willing to make a long-term commitment to restore the stability of the country, they could do more harm than good by removing him. If someone else assumed power in Iraq, they would also assume control of any weapons left there, and it seems dangerous to assume that any invading army would be successful in removing every last trace of their nuclear weapons programme.

So is there another approach? The British government have tended to deal with terrorists by acknowledging that they have a point to make, but insisting that they stop using weapons and start negotiating a resolution to their grievances. Could America try this approach?

At first glance it seems unlikely that the kind of people who are willing to fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers are the kind of people willing to negotiate. But what's their grievance? Basically, they don't like Americans. I suspect it has to do with their attitude to global politics. They throw their weight around like an arrogant teenager and seem inclined to think that they have the answer to all the world's problems, apart from those to which they turn a blind eye.

Now we find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation. America, quite rightly, doesn't want to be seen to cave in to terrorists' demands, but the terrorists' demands are precisely that. They want America to stop acting as though it owns the world. So what is America's response to the attacks? An invitation to negotiate? Quite the opposite. They strut around the world stage, threatening to attack whichever nation has offended them this week.

Wake up, Mr Bush. Don't you see that the actions you are taking are precisely those which are most likely to antagonise your enemies further? This war on terror can only escalate if you invade Iraq.


Gandalf is dead (honest)

The hype for The Two Towers has started. Articles are appearing in magazines, the trailer is out and there are even rumours that bootleg copies of the film are circulating on the net. (I'll let you know if I find any.)

You have to marvel at their folly, though. Of the coverage I've seen, the headline is almost always about the return of Gandalf. You what?!

When I saw The Fellowship of the Ring last Christmas, I was with some people who hadn't (and indeed still haven't) read the books. Naturally I didn't want to spoil anything for them, so I tried to make them believe that Gandalf had died in Moria.

And now we have the film studio being totally up-front about him coming back in the second film?! What were they thinking? Isn't that just a bit of a spoiler?

Mind you, since I've already read the book I know what happens in the third film too, so spoilers are a bit irrelevant to me. I'm just looking forward to Christmas so I can see it!

Speaking of looking forward to Christmas, if Father Christmas is reading, could you please get me one of these?


Saturday comes

Yesterday afternoon didn't go as planned, but it turned out to be quite fortuitous.

In the week, we noticed that the pub at the bottom of our road had a sign outside which said they'd be showing the West Brom v Fulham game on Saturday. I wasn't planning on going to watch the game live, so seeing it at a pub would be a decent enough second best.

Oddly, I couldn't see the game advertised in any TV listings. No matter, I thought. They must have it on pay-per-view or something.

With 15 minutes to go before kick-off, we wandered over and grabbed a sofa. It was then that we realised they had Canal Plus on and we'd have to contend with commentary in Dutch.

Then they started showing footage of the teams warming up at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland were playing Manchester United. It seems that Canal Plus had been advertising the wrong game. Oh well. So we watched that.

It turned out to be an unexpected bonus, because Fulham apparently had their Mr Hyde hats on and played like the Cannock Junior School Under 10s. To be honest I'm glad I didn't have to watch that.

What's wrong with them? How on earth can they play so brilliantly at home on Tuesday and then play so spectacularly badly away on Saturday?

I mean, if I wanted a team that were great at home and useless away, I'd be supporting West Ham.

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