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Archive for September 2005


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Once a long evening at work gets past a certain point, I have to start reminding myself to go home – but not before a quick blog update. This evening, up to half an hour ago, was spent on what I call a Blunderbuss case response, or some might call it a Filibuster. I find it necessary when someone involved in a case goes “non-linear” and stops responding to reason or logic, and reverts to passing on the customer’s colicky cries of petulance.

A Blunderbuss is a response so thorough and comprehensive that it should serve to silence any cries of “more!”, both in quantity (words) and quality (technical depth). A reasoned response to a Blunderbuss will not be quick; conversely, a too-quick response means it has not been read through to the end, at which point I stop talking to the person in question until they put in some work of their own.

I have a new work PC on the way to me, after years of struggling with an underpowered relic. I’ve even had to farm out strenuous processes to other systems, anything involving heavy file reads or writes in particular. The new PC is a HP Compaq tc4200 Tablet PC, which I requested because of a long-running interest in the kinds of uses to which I might put it. The guy in this story, Big Head Todd, was given one to play with, and seems to tick all the right boxes. My last notebook is well over three years old and still going strong, but looks like something the cat dragged through a hedge backwards, so “built like a tank” is just what I need to hear.

Though it won’t belong to me, I’ll have full use of it, including on my travels; those will probably take me back to Dubai at the end of this year. I won’t believe I have it until I see it, despite the way I’ve been able to track its progress from the factory near Shanghai, in my general direction. It’s currently sitting in a warehouse outside Dunstable (near Luton, England), because it missed some arbritrary forwarding cut-off time, and the estimated delivery date suddenly changed from Tomorrow to next Tuesday. Hedgehog.

PS: writing a blog entry like this after a 16-hour day is a bad idea: not only did I manage to post it twice, it was riddled with grammatical errors and clumsy sentence construction. D-


Written by brian t

September 20, 2005 at 11:37 pm

Posted in technology, work

amnesia as a virtue

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Harland & WolffAfter midnight in Belfast, with the hovering helicopters to the west ruling out sleep, for now. Yet another dispute over a marching route has led to yet more pointless rioting. East Belfast is also burning, according to reports, an area I walked through just this morning. I walked the Newtownards Road in disbelief, a mile of non-stop Loyalist grudgery, camera firmly tucked away. Huge murals hailing the “Red Hand Commando”. An open playground with a walled-off grave – real or symbolic, who knows – with exhortational reminders of claimed IRA murders.

Most offensive to my eyes: the Cross of St. Andrew flying, a flag I thought exclusively Scots. It doesn’t represent the Scots culture I remember. You know, the inventors and explorers with their eyes on the distant horizon, not the short-sighted bigots putting up walls, real or otherwise.

Never Forget, is the message. Really? Why not? Have you tried it? If I remembered every insult, every slight, every knock, I too would be stuck in the past, a past as frozen and intractable as Siberia in an everlasting December. Only the seriously memorable incidents reside in my long-term files. Isn’t life short enough?

That may sound like tautology, but it’s not. Every person has a fuzzy “memorability threshold”, above which incidents remain in the brain. There is a time dimension too; some life events are amenable for forgetfulness over time, some are not. I remember a painful ear infection I had when I was less than two years old, a car crash at five, and emigration at six. I can’t either of my old mobile phone numbers, and I’m having difficulty remembering my new one. In my Japanese language classes, I’m struggling to keep all the vocabulary in my head, and sensei is not helping when she throws new vocabulary and new grammar at us in one lump.

Most relevant, today, is the way I’ve tuned my absent-mindedness in the interests of sociability. I can sit here now and dredge up things a person has said or done to me, with some effort; but when that person is in front of me, it would not help to remember any of that, far less bring it back to the surface. Some people I know think I have a little of the “absent-minded professor” vibe, which is a small price to pay.

To put it another way: I don’t mind forgetting specific examples, as long as I remember the general principles behind them. Not so good for learning a language, but it works in dealing with people and all their foibles.

Written by brian t

September 11, 2005 at 1:12 am

carry on up the lagan

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Welcome to BelfastThe view that greeted me as I approached my hotel today. Welcome to Belfast.

This weekend revolves around my first real visit to Belfast, primarily for a party, but also just to see the place. My only previous visit was in 2003, when I spent exactly two hours at the bus station, changing coaches on the way back to Dublin from Glasgow, and that only because an Aer Lingus strike left me at sea level.

It was only two hours from Dublin by train today, but it’s a world away in certain other dimensions. A line of red-white-blue bunting, about 5m (15ft) from my hotel room window marks the boundary of the Loyalist “Sandy Row” area, with a huge mural a few houses down that road. I thought the “marching season” was over, but there’s a big one in West tomorrow. I plan to take my camera to the docks tomorrow, so I should be safe.

How can I put this politely..? I don’t think I can. Why the urge to mark your territory like a dog? Sectarian conflict hardly seems like sapient behaviour to me, more like a series of huge pissing contests. I can’t see much progress until those drawing the lines undergo a little human evolution. Do I have to start quoting Gandhi on the topic of Western Civilization?

Written by brian t

September 9, 2005 at 6:20 pm

Posted in philosophy, travel

I hardly knew ye

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Hurricane Katrina hit Dublin yesterday, a faint shadow of her former self, a mere series of rainshowers, preceded by 100% humidity that kept me up half of Saturday night. Hardly compares to the dire situation in Biloxi and New Orleans, does it?

We’ll be hearing about the criminally incompetent handling of the evacuation for the rest of Dubya’s final term, at least. I hesitate to get involved in any further discussion on this; partly because I’ve noticed Americans are a little sensitive about their country, understandably, partly because it might sound like Euro-peonic schadenfreude. We may wryly joke aboutKatrina and the Waves, but anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be a little concerned at the approach of Opheila next week.

Written by brian t

September 5, 2005 at 11:39 am

Posted in america, politics

Escape from N’Awlins

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Some of the images coming out of New Orleans in the last few days would not look out of place in a Hollywood disaster movie, and it would not surprise me terribly if one were to arrive in a year or so. All the people who were able to leave did so in time, leaving the poor, indolent, ill or disabled, and those with personal reasons to stay, such as watching over loved ones or pets.

There are textbooks to be written about the events that followed, psychological analyses of how the dregs of society cope when cooped up in an astroturf pressure cooker. The lack of basic common sense principles, such as the idea that you stop using a toilet once it has overflowed, and go outside instead. How about not firing guns at National Guard helicopters bringing you food and water?

What about the city itself? Most of it below sea level, in a hurricane zone, reliant on electric pumps to keep the drains and sewers flowing? Always at risk of a repeat attack by Big Momma Nature, possibly this year. So it was Home to thousands of people, but its position is untenable, and may be a mere memory within my lifetime.

Here’s a useful article on the geography of New Orleans, with some of the history of how it came to be that way. It ends on a mundanely chilling note I had not thought of before reading it: if the Mississippi wants to change its course as a result of the broken levees, taking it through the current city centre: the US Army Corps of Engineers may have something to say about that, but it will be incredibly difficult to push the Old Man away from an area located below sea level, if He has already taken it over. It might not be worth it.

Written by brian t

September 2, 2005 at 5:35 pm

Posted in philosophy, travel