Archive for September 2002
This is getting ridiculous. From Friday evening to Monday morning, I will have spent the whole weekend in my pyjamas, just doing various things. Reading, playing Flight Simulator 2002, reinstalling Linux on my old Thinkpad 560. I have the apartment to myself now that the others have moved out, so it’s peaceful and conducive to aimless pottering around. If I go out I just spend money, and I need to do less of that.
I have the place to myself because the landlord isn’t going to move anyone else in, because he expects to finally get planning permission to redevelop the complex in the near future. When that happens I will be expected to move out, but I don’t expect that to be before next spring. He’s surely not going to start building work in winter, and I don’t think he will get the permission so soon in any case. This is a “listed” building of local historical interest, completed in 1778. It was the residence of some of the the British Lieutenant-Governors and Lord Chancellors of Ireland. The room I’m sitting in right now was the scene of many formal occasions, and was also a makeshift mortuary after major shipwrecks on the nearby coast in 1807. The local authority’s development plan includes the line “prevent inappropriate development of <this building>” as one of its top-line priorities, so you can bet that I’m not going to move until I’m formally given notice.
I downloaded Mandrake Linux 9 on Friday, the newest version of IMHO the most balanced Linux distribution out there. By “balanced” I mean that it is user-friendly on the surface, but still quite a hard-core server OS underneath. Unlike previous occasions I’ve tried to use Linux on my old ThunkPad 560, I had little trouble getting X-Windows to work correctly. The “TGUI9660″ driver (from any Linux distribution) for this laptop has never worked correctly, but this time the VESA driver could be selected and came up as expected.
I decided that I don’t need full Gnome or KDE functionality here, so I tried out the simpler “Window Managers” and settled on one called BlackBox. This is very minimalist – the toolbar is a tiny strip at the bottom (by default) of the screen. The same with text editors, and I settled on NEdit, which has the kind of word processing features I need, such as proper word wrapping facilities that don’t break when you edit a paragraph. MTools gives me access to DOS floppies for backup purposes. So, I have a decent Linux writing system on the ThunkPad, but with one small drawback: it takes five minutes to boot up. That’s not the fault of X-Windows either, it’s mostly the standard start-up sequence, which I’ll have to work on slimming down further than it already is.
Added a whole bunch of Terry Pratchett and Kinky Friedman quotations to the spreadsheet. After some cleaning up and duplicate removal, the current count is 8348.
If it’d been a wedding I’d probably have tried to stop it. But it wasn’t a wedding. It was a funeral. The only funeral you’ve got a right to try to stop is your own, and that’s a full-time job.
– Kinky Friedman, Frequent Flyer
For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to:
- mate with,
- run away from, and
– Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
Playing with electronics is really bad for your sense of humour.
– Geddy Lee
A few weeks ago I watched The Ladykillers, one of the best known Ealing Comedies, starring Alec Guinness as the “mastermind”. I thought it was quite ingenious, and had that same streak of nasty humour I saw in Kind Hearts and Coronets more recently.
Guess what? After plundering Asian cinema in recent years, Hollywood has fixed its baleful gaze on Ealing. The BBC reports that the Coen Brothers ( Fargo, Raising Arizona) plan an all-star remake, set in the Deep South of the USA, featuring Tom Hanks in the “mastermind” role. On the one hand, I can’t see Hanks doing well here, he’s just not evil enough. On the other hand, the Coen Brothers are well up to this kind of oddball material, and can coax great performances from the most unlikely people. Mixed feelings about this one.
See if you can figure out this bit of Frasier dialogue:
Frasier (deflated): Anne Boleyn?
Niles: Catherine of Aragon.
It’s all about context. If the great unwashed American Public can appreciate this – and they do – there may be cultural hope for them yet.
I’ve been re-reading my book of Frasier scripts again on the train to and from work, at the risk of snorting laughter at odd moments. Sample dialogue:
Frasier: What do you do when the romance goes out of a relationship?
Roz: I get dressed and go home.
Frasier: Let’s pretend you were actually capable of a long-term relationship. What would you do to keep things cooking?
Roz: Well, once I had a boyfriend take me out to a bar and we pretended we were strangers picking each other up. That was kind of hot.
Frasier: So you used fantasy and role-playing.
Roz: Yeah, it was so much fun we tried it again. Only that time he got so into it he went home with someone else.
Roz: Oh hell, she was gorgeous. One more drink and I would’ve gone home with her.
A really quiet weekend this time, I spent most of it working on my engineering course. This time it’s all about Vibrations. If this formula means something to you, then welcome to my world:
Let me see if I can decode this a little:
- T stands for Transmissibility – i.e. how much does a system respond to an externally applied vibration?
- Ω (Omega) is the frequency of the applied vibration;
- ω (omega) is the natural resonant frequency of the system, calculated from its mass and the stiffness of its mountings;
- ζ (zeta) is the damping ratio from shock absorbers etc.
The point of all this is: if T is high and ζ is low, the system will resonate, with consequences ranging from the annoying (e.g. a rattling car door) to potentially disastrous. Remember the Tacoma Narrows Bridge? Not the one there now, but “Galloping Gertie”, the one that shook itself to bits in 1940 when subjected to high winds, just four months after its completion. There are also limits on human exposure to vibration, with the 4-8 Hz range deemed the worst for us, because our internal organs start resonating, apparently. Urgle.
Well, I’ve finished the assignment, in time, and there’s a month to go before the exam. Then I’ll have the winter to myself. I’m considering a night class, maybe a language?
Notebook going happily now – everything I use is now on there, including Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2002. I had a gaggle of people crowding round my desk on Wednesday while I tried flying over Las Vegas at night with scenery set to “high quality”. I say “tried” because I didn’t have my joystick, so reaction time was a problem, shall we say… splat.
For a few years now I’ve been keeping a database of quotations, and I’ve decided to make it available on the web: here. It’s a spreadsheet in Excel format, 1.1MB in size. One page is the list of quotations itself, while the other has a simple random lookup formula to produce a Quote of the Day. The spreadsheet format lets me do things like sorting, searching for duplicates, and general tidying up. Searching is also simple. I have not organised them by category, only by author, so you’re on your own there. Take your pick from the 7712 quotations currently in there:
“Quotation is the highest compliment you can pay an author.” — Dr. Samuel Johnson
“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” — Dorothy Leigh Sayers
“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.” — Groucho Marx
“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
A book of quotations… can never be complete. — Robert M. Hamilton
Well, I never got to the bottom of the driver problem, but it hasn’t reoccurred after a reinstallation of Windows XP Professional. The USB side is great too – just what I paid for. I had a bit of a scare when the system stopped for about 5 minutes during boot, but that turned out to be linked to a particular 16MB CompactFlash card that I had inserted for testing. It was given to me by a colleague who was having problems with it. It works in my camera so I’ll keep it as a standby, but it’s otherwise no use, since I already have decent 128MB and 256MB cards. The next step may be a faster card, to improve the camera performance a little.
The laptop rebuild went well, but after adding some software I had an error I’ve never seen before, at shutdown: STOP 0x0000009F DRIVER_POWER_STATE_FAILURE. Recommended actions include removing any new drivers and even wiping the system. I’m installing Windows XP Service Pack 1 as well, for the first time, to see if it helps. If not, it means a wipe-and-load procedure. Put it this way: it looked great until some third-party software was installed, so it’s not a case of “blame Microsoft” this time.
My notebook came back from the repair shop today with a new hard drive and system board. I didn’t think the drive needed replacing, but they said it was noisy, and this one is indeed quieter. The system board replacement took care of the USB problems as far as I could tell from a short test with a borrowed USB mouse. I’m reinstalling Windows XP Professional properly now and will run more tests with the game pad too, which means Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002. If it works out I can start thinking about USB Audio devices.
A quiet weekend, though I did go out to see Minority Report last night. Pretty amazing stuff, really surprising for Spielberg. As I said before, it’s not the first time he’s reacted to his own “cute” films by digging in deeper and getting nasty – that was a factor in both Poltergeist and Schindler’s List. It did have a bit of a happy ending, but so did the original cinema version of Blade Runner, the other benchmark adaptation of a Philip K Dick story. (Total Recall is great, but a major departure from the original story.) I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a Director’s Cut in a few years, with a bleaker ending.
Woo-hoo, it’s Friday the 13th. Lucky for some…
Blog alert: The Mixerman Diaries. This is an insider’s look at the recording of a new band, in LA. Some of the scenes sound too hilarious to be true, such as the drummer falling over the camera lights and breaking his wrist, leading to the introduction of a session drummer. This guy always plays with earplugs in, so he gets the engineers to gaffa-tape headphones to his head (to reduce sound leakage) and plug them in to a 500W amplifier. He says it sounds great, until all the power overheats the headphone elements and he’s rolling around on the floor with burnt earlobes. It’s pretty much a live diary too – just 2 days ago, the drummer got into a huge fight and left the band. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!
This web site is back to normal, whatever that is.
On Tuesday night I caught a little of a documentary about Flight 93, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. It was apparently hijacked with the aim of crashing into either the White House or the Capitol Building, but the passengers fought back and the plane crashed. The producers made the mistake of trying to recreate events on board the plane. “Surely”, I thought, “they won’t have an Arabic-looking guy running down the corridor shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, will they?” Believe it or not, that’s exactly what the producers did. Still, perhaps the hijackers got that idea from movies, which were in turn influenced by the hijacking craze of the 70′s? Is it Life, or is it Art? Both? Neither?
Last night, though, they showed 9/11, which was much better. It was all based on real footage taken by two French filmmakers, brothers, as they documented the life of a rookie fireman. One of them caught the crash of the first plane on tape, and ended up documenting the rescue efforts from inside the building. The other brother filmed the scene outside on the streets, as firemen from all over the city converged on the towers.
By focusing on the staff of one particular fire station, the story remained at a human level and never became sensationalistic. As they enter the WTC foyer, one brother finds himself refusing to film some injured people, out of respect. That tone is maintained through the piece; however, there is plenty to inspire shock. While we are not shown people falling from the buildings, we do hear them landing, and that is quite sufficient. The footage is shaky, dusty, and all too real.
So, not much else happened yesterday besides work, and thoughts.