Archive for December 2002
“Wrap-around” experiment a total success: I stayed awake from 2PM on Saturday to 7PM on Sunday, using reasonable amounts of coffee and small meals. This meant that I woke up at 6:30 this morning, ready to go.
I have a little time before work, so I’m browsing through a New Scientist magazine I bought earlier this month. It’s a good starting point for various interesting topics, though definitely a popular science rag, so it can be a bit shallow. I don’t buy it regularly, but the ones I did each had at least one subject that I would like to look into more deeply. An item of trivia from this issue: if you add up all the members of the three political parties in the UK, they are vastly outnumbered by the membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Good. Don’t vote: it only encourages the bastards.
Now off to work. I think I’m working every day this week, even New Year’s Day, but we shall see.
Watching – while typing this – a film I first saw not long after it came out in 1981: Escape From New York, directed by John Carpenter. It’s set in 1997, but the set designers suffered from a slight lack of imagination when it came to the hardware, shall we say? Even five years ago, a countdown timer on your wrist didn’t weight a pound and feature a bright red LED display, even in the movies. They certainly didn’t anticipate cell phone technology at all – must have seemed too much like science fiction. I haven’t seen the latest James Bond film, but it now features communication gadgets which were once beyond Q’s imagination, even in the 80′s.
Like just about everyone else, I have a theory about culture. Mine will probably sound overly simplistic to any serious culturist, but here goes anyway: for culture to grow and thrive, I think that the main requirement an excess of resources, used inefficiently. Most of the things we associate with culture are wasteful and inefficient.
How many trees are cut down to feed the printing presses for the books and papers I read? How much energy have I wasted in my life so far? I take several flights a year, travel on trains and buses, and little of it is really required. I don’t drive a car, but I enjoy motor sport such as Formula One, which is a complete waste of time, money, and resources. This laptop has more CPU power than all the computers in the world had in 1955, and although it uses almost no power in comparison, that is still coming from a power station powered by peat or coal. This web site, like 99.9% of all web sites, is totally unnecessary and without practical purpose.
And what about people paid money to do things that have no practical use whatsoever? A major reason why Britain has so many rock bands is “the dole”, so young people can be supported while getting their shit together. (I was on the dole for a while, but the taxes I paid when working in London reimbursed the government several times over.) Writers? Put them to work in the fields – people can’t eat books.
At the risk of stating the obvious: if we only did the things that were required, this would not be life, but merely survival.
I’m watching an interesting Discovery Channel documentary on the Pentagon. From the day that the War Department decided it was required, until construction started, took just over 2 months, an incredibly short approval process. Construction started on September 11, 1941, exactly 60 years before terrorists knocked a chunk out of one side, and there used to be a cafe in the central courtyard nicknamed “Ground Zero”.
Most of its systems are in need of major renovation after 60 years: to quote the chief renovation engineer: “whatever building ordinance you name, we’re not in compliance with it.” The section that was hit on September 11 2001 had been renovated, and some estimates suggest that the structural improvements saved over 4000 lives, both in the crash itself, and by the fact that the strengthened surrounding structure stayed in one piece long enough – 45 minutes – for people to get out.
My internal clock is still out of whack, resisting any attempts to wind it back, and I woke up at 2PM this afternoon. I’m going to try to “wrap around” this weekend, staying up tonight till as late tomorrow as possible, at least 2PM, preferably 6PM. More coffee, please…
Back to work again tomorrow, which is going to be a challenge, since staying up till 6am on Wednesday has thrown my internal clock out of alignment. I’ve done very little these past two days, not even going out. Christmas is not a formal celebration for me, but it’s a nice break from work routine, and there are even one or two good movies on TV among the usual “family” garbage.
I had no complaints or comments when I arrived back to work on Monday. I found that in the three working days I had been out of touch, one of my colleagues had resigned and left to go to work for a competitor, taking holidays in lieu of the 28-days notice time. Faced with that, I guess my attitude must seem entirely reasonable to management. This means that we have four fewer staff at the end of this year than we did at the start, and the work keeps on piling in.
I drank too much coffee earlier, so here I am wide awake at 3am on Christmas Day. Last time I did this was when I was about seven, I was too excited by the thought of presents downstairs. Now, though, what does Christmas mean to an atheist? Whatever the other people in your life want it to mean, I suppose, as long as it doesn’t involve any religious activities.
I have taken stereoroid.com offline temporarily, but have decided to bring it back up on 1 January 2003 after a clean-up. I’ve had an annoying “blast from the past” that has made me think about how much personal information I’ve been giving out on this site. Who needs the hassle?
That all happened on Monday; but I also received a more pleasant reminder of the old days, when one of my old school friends sent me his new contact details. He’s now a doctor of biochemistry, working for the UK government farming department on research into the Brucella virus. I must reply to him on Friday.
I also got the results of my Open University Engineering Mechanics course: a score in the low 70′s and a second grade pass. I was expecting something in the 60′s, so this is one little victory.
I’ll do a little site cleanup in the next week, maybe cut out a lot of the unnecessary photos which are making it too big. The right-justification is going, too – it looks OK to me, but throws some people off entirely.
Back to work tomorrow. No doubt I’ll be dumped on from a moderate height about my attitude, the idea that my holiday time is my own and I resent any intrusion. Well, the same attitude affords me more-than-adequate protection against such assaults. I’m at the point, in this job, that I expect my career to move forward. I’ve learned, from experience, that it does not make sense to bow to all corporate demands, since there is no reward for that. The way I see it, I am helping, by example, to shape a more professional attitude at work, by drawing a clear line between work life and personal life.
I’ve heard it said, in different ways over the years, that one should be able to finish one’s work within working hours, and I agree. If you find yourself using personal time for work purposes, that will go unnoticed and unrewarded. Producing high quality work should be a reward in itself, but I’ve found that the main effect of being more “productive” is to be given more work. I’ve said here before that I haven’t seen everything, but I have seen a lot, more than enough to shape my attitude and make me less tolerant towards the arbitrary demands of other people.
My boss has called me twice in the last two days to ask me stupid questions. The first time he says something like “there is some confusion over your holidays”. Really? I’m not confused in the slightest. I explained that I had been away on training in France for three days, which he knew about but forgot to enter into the HR computer system.
Today he called me to ask whether I had filled in an online form about the company benefit scheme, which had done before I left. Before I hung up I told him, in so many words, that I was on holiday and did not appreciate hearing his voice.
My attitude in cases like this is: I am on holiday, and you are calling me at home because you have a problem which you are trying to offload on to me. Well, I am under no obligation to take any of this off your shoulders, and I am not going to. I’m sure he will try to “discuss” this when I go back to work next week, but I’m ready for him.
Currently on the headphones: Lumpy Gravy, by The Mothers Of Invention. “A little nostalgia for the old folks.”
Ah, Monday morning with the house to myself, I’ve just been lazing around, watching bits of daytime TV and playing Solitaire on the PC. They’re showing All Creatures Great And Small on RTÉ, which I have never seen before, though I did read all the James Herriot books years ago. I also read a biography of Herriot, whose real name was James Wight, which described the effect that his literary fame had on him, his family and associates, and even on the whole of Yorkshire. Since he was originally from Glasgow and not from Yorkshire, he saw a humorous side to the county and its people that had hitherto gone unnoticed. He certainly didn’t anticipate the immense popularity of his books and the way it changed parts of Yorkshire into traps for American and Japanese tourists.
I didn’t go in to work on Sunday – seeing the office would have the effect of interrupting my holiday. One reason why I might go in is to pick up my mail, since I’m expecting my Engineering course results in the post. You would think they would inform me electronically, but we are talking about a UK educational institution, after all. The same ones who insist that students submit work in the form of handwritten papers sent through the post.
Watching the News, it’s amazing how often we hear politicians and others using phrases like the following:
- “The reality is…”
- “The question you need to ask is…”
- “The point is…”
Whenever I hear one of those, or one like it, I immediately switch off from whatever it is they are saying. Those are examples of “spin”, an attempt to control what people are thinking about or questioning, in addition to the usual control of information, which is bad enough.
Is it wise flying on Friday 13th? We shall see. We’re almost an hour into a 2½ hour flight from Nice to Dublin, and I’ve just finished struggling with one of Aer Lingus’ indifferent Chicken & Stuffing sandwiches. I won the battle, but we’ll see who wins the war. I don’t know whether Aer Lingus does “Business Class”, but they aren’t doing it on these flights to Nice. Either that or no-one’s taking then up on it, since the first few rows are curtained off but empty. If I had Internet access on board, I could update the site now, and that is coming in the next year, if the reports from Boeing are reliable. I can’t wait to see how they price the service.
I could post the pictures I took during take-off, in violation of international aviation regulations. I’ve done worse, though – when the South African Air Force gave the Pipe Band I was in a lift from Pretoria to Cape Town, in 1991, the C-160 transport plane had windows quite high up inside. I was standing on the seat, looking out, during the whole approach and landing, and escaped with just a dirty look from the loadmaster.
The captain’s just told us that we have half an hour to go before landing, and the weather in Dublin is, well, grotty. Ah, well, I can take it, with my hairy arms and all.
On my day off today I wandered around Nice for a bit, jumped on a SNCF train to Cannes and wandered around there for a bit longer. Then it was back to Nice for another wander. And that’s it. OK, I did stop in at a Monoprix supermarket for some local junk food, for that evening and also to take back to Dublin. The discovery of the day was some local kettle fries, freshly cooked with tomato and olive seasoning. Yum.
OK, I think I should seriously consider moving to France. If the people are obnoxious to me, that can be explained by my status as an obnoxious tourist, and learning the language would go a long way towards fixing that. Better toilet paper would improve local attitudes immeasurably, too. The thing is: of the three major meals I’ve had here so far, one has been very good, and the other two were wonderful.
I’m staying in an ordinary chain hotel, albeit a French chain, so I have no reason to expect anything spectacular. Dinner last night was the “express menu”, or dish of the day, which turned out to be flame-grilled entrecôte steak and real French Fries – a classic steak frites combination, done right. Dessert was a crème brûlée – simple to do and very easy to get wrong, which didn’t happen this time either. Tonight’s Ravoli Niçoise (not Ravioli, as I tried to call it) was merely very good. That’s what I get for choosing the cheap option, but I wasn’t that hungry. Which was because of the lunch I had at the HP building down the road. I mean, how many corporate canteens cook pizza to order, with an excellent cheese board? No wine, of course – we are working, kinda.
Earlier this evening I decided to take a walk, to see if I could buy some bottled water, perhaps some local junk food. (I never cease to be amazed by the different ways in which it is possible to package empty calories, and I’m determined to sample as many different ones as I can.) The Sophia Antipolis technology park is in a hilly, wooded area to the north-west of Nice. As I’ve discovered, it’s a lot as you might imagine a similar area in the USA might be; designed for cars, not pedestrians. What few sidewalks there are appear to be there to get people to from bus stops to offices. Those are everywhere, and all technology-related. IT (of course), public research facilities, telecoms, and even a few genetic science places. There’s an agri-science one across the road from the road from the hotel, so I may be shedding genetically-modified pollen on my keyboard as I type this.
Well, after about 6km (4 miles) of up hills and down twisty lanes, no sidewalks, blinded by hundreds of car headlights, I’ve discovered that this area has offices and a few hotels, a university campus, and literally no other facilities. No gas stations, with or without grocery stores attached. No homes, bars, supermarkets, no centre. Starting at the hotel on Rue Fyodor Dostoevsky, up Rue Albert Einstein to Route Des Lucioles (Firefly Road), back down towards Route Des Colles (The Glue Route?), finally ending up back on Rue Fernand Leger towards the hotel.
Einstein you’ve heard of, Dostoevsky too, probably, but Fernand Leger was only vaguely familiar to me. Encyclopaedia Britannica cleared up the mystery; he was a French artist, surrounded by Cubists while doing his own thing, and he helped to articulate the Futurist themes that came out of the Industrial Revolution and World War I. He served in the trenches and was badly affected by a gas attack, but recovered to stick his fingers in many more pies. He made the film Le Ballet Mécanique (“The Mechanical Ballet”), which is probably where I had heard his name, having read articles about George Antheil’s innovative soundtrack for the film.
I actually found something watchable on French TV – a Champion’s League football (soccer) game between Arsenal and Valencia. It’s just ended 0-0, as I type this, so I guess I wasn’t watching it after all. It’s back to my book – Red Dragon, which I’ve borrowed to read before I see the film later. It’s already spooked me out – where the hell does Thomas Harris get these characters from? I don’t want to know, but the book is certainly gripping. More impressions later.