Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A stab in the dark

The other day at Christmas dinner Andrew was put on the spot by his father. I don't remember the exact circumstances but Dad was asking for a number between 1 and 1000. Andrew screwed up his face for a moment and came up with 1954.

We all burst out laughing and left Andrew wondering why we were laughing. After a few seconds it dawned and a sheepish grin appeared.

A little later I had the oportunity, being that it was Sunday, to do the underpants on the head thing again. But it's truly embarassing to admit that, having had the Friday off so that it didn't 'feel' like Sunday, I'd forgotten. To have forgotten such an ideal moment. I hang my head in shame! But Matt came to the rescue, reminding me, with a wicked grin on his face, what day it was.

I'm sure the kids Dad had no idea what to make of it all!

It's time

to say an almost reluctant goodbye to Visual Studio 6. Hard to believe I've been using it for nearly 8 years. Of course I'll be keeping the install CD's around; you never know when you might need it, but I doubt I'll be reinstalling it on any of my personal machines ever again. Unfortunately we still need to keep it around until we can find the time to port our company codebase to something a little less venerable. Until we can find the time? I doubt that's going to happen until it's time to create an entirely new product from scratch.

It's been a good friend, has VS6, though it held me off learning STL for quite a while. I prefer all my projects to build at warning level 4 with warnings converted to errors and the only way you could achieve that feat was by disabling zillions of warnings. I didn't want to do that because it would turn them off for my code too unless I peppered my source with literally thousands of

#pragma warning(push)
#pragma warning(disable xxxx)
. // STL call that triggered warning xxxx
#pragma warning(pop)

blocks. An alternative was to modify the STL headers to hide all those pragmas but it's an article of faith for me that one does not mess with the headers that come with the development environment. (Nor does one EVER recompile the MFC DLL's - that way madness lies).

I know I'll miss ClassWizard but, on the other hand, I've been switching back and forth between VS6 and VS.NET 2003 for at least two years so I know I'll cope :)

Rest in Peace, VS6.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lovely Lisa

Sometime in the second half of 1997 at Unisys Melbourne we got ourselves a new boss. You understand that it wasn't voluntary. We'd done well with Grumpy, which nickname wasn't deserved but he liked it. He knew how we worked and we knew how he worked and we played it for a win win. But things change and Grumpy moved on to other things and we inherited a new boss.

Bernie was, to be frank, an idiot. Almost the perfect example of someone who goes into management because they can't do anything else. You understand of course that I speak as one who plays the management role reluctantly. But I've been around long enough to have seen many examples of the species and to model my behaviour, when I must play the role, on those I can respect.

On the other hand, if Bernie was an idiot he was an amiable idiot and that made him ripe for the exploitation. All we had to do was make him look like he was halfway acceptable as management material and, as the quid pro quo, we could demand that he let us do our thing.

So one Monday morning in 1998 I walked in to the office, to find Bernie on his knees under a desk, running a network cable. Bernie just didn't do that kind of thing but the explanation was right at hand, in the person of the new secretary, Lisa by name. She had legs and that seemed to be the major reason for Bernie's new found interest in manual labour!

And so, over the next couple of months, Bernie carried a hopeless torch. He was in his forties; she in her twenties. He was married; she single.

Poor bastard!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cheese piggy

is my affectionate nickname for 'my' cat.

We have five cats as permanent fixtures plus a rotating array of neighbourhood strays who come and go. We leave a window open so that our cats have the same freedom we do; the strays avail themselves of that freedom and take the opportunity to have a good feed. I think if I was in their position I'd do the same!

'My' cat is Kitten. I told the story of how she came to be with us a year ago[^] and as I was without a job when she joined us she attached herself to me. She's had a hard time coping with my travel; it usually takes her a month to regain her confidence in me.

We don't know what happened to her when she was very young but she has no voice. If very scared she can shriek but otherwise she's always silent. I do my best to be sure she's not scared at all.

I take my responsibility as 'her' person very seriously indeed. When she wants to climb into my lap that's just the place she should be. If, when I go to bed, she decides that that is the exact moment she needs many caresses then that is what she gets. If she needs reassurance that she's the best cat in the universe well, what else can I do? :-)

Now you know I'm rather fond of red wine. There are those who might say too fond :-) Yuppie though it might sound I find the thing that goes best with red wine during a late night drinking session is cheese and crackers. Not just any cheese though. I like my cheese sharp and pungent. If I'm enjoying a Botrytis Riesling I'll go for blue vein, if I'm enjoying a ballsy merlot I prefer a very very sharp cheddar.

It so happens that Kitten is also fond of a very very sharp cheddar. She might be asleep on a chair somewhere or she might be outside, or she might be curled up on our bed, but if she happens to hear the sound of me slicing cheese she trots in, head high, eyes wide open, ready for cheese. Correction; demanding her share! And we all know that when a cat demands her share she gets it or else! :-)

Writing about it made me realise I feel like some cheese, so I went and sliced some. And naturally, as night follows day, there was my little cheese piggy making sure she didn't miss out.

So that was another Christmas

My 51st though I don't remember the first 4 or 5.

It seems my ultimatum to the family that I wasn't going to brook any attempts to jolly me into the holiday spirit worked. The buggers let me read 'The Old Curiousity Shop' during that most painful of rituals, the unwrapping of the presents. This is good. This means that we've reached a compromise.

I did get one or two pressies that I appreciate. Foremost is a collection of little balls on elastic that I use to keep my hair in check. I couldn't resist making the joke 'most men have hair on their balls, I'm one of the few who have balls on their hair'. They laughed about as hard as you did reading that! :-)

The other pressie I really appreciate won't even ship until the end of February, a new book by Mark Kurlansky. His Salt: A world history[^] is a fascinating read. Who'd have thought you could write 450 pages about so common a household object as table salt and make it so interesting I couldn't put the book down? The new book seems to be about New York City and Oysters - I'll resist the temptation to google for more detail.

For the rest, Shelby and Matt were, as always, a pleasure to be with. Morgan was a little less self centred than usual and Andrew was, as always, in work-avoidance mode. When, at the end of dinner, it was time to clear the table and do the dishes he pleaded that he couldn't be trusted with Mum's best dishes. Unfortunately, Mum agreed and the little bastard got off scot free. We had words, in private later, about that. I reckon he'll never begin if he's never allowed to take the risk of making a mistake. To her credit, my wife did see the force of my argument. We'll see if he's required to assist next year!

I spent the rest of the day working out how on earth one embeds a WebBrowser control inside an ATL ActiveX object in such a way as to be able to catch the events the WebBrowser fires from within that ATL ActiveX object. I worked it out (it was frightfully obvious once I'd solved the maze of mapping macros and template invocations) and maybe there'll be an article on CodeProject in the near future. Or maybe not; I'm still trying to decide if a lightweight non MFC COM object rework of this[^] would be worth the posting.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

If there's one place you don't want to be

it's in an American airport in the week leading up to Christmas. If the crowding and the delays don't get you the carollers will. Yesterday, at Dallas Love Field, they had not one group of carollers, not two, but three groups, all poisoning the atmosphere with note perfect renditions of such pap as 'Silent Night', 'Winter Wonderland' and 'The little drummer boy'.

I admitted last year[^] that I dislike Christmas intensely. Admitted? I practically shout it from the rooftops :-) My opinion hasn't changed. This year I've put the family on notice that any attempts on Sunday to 'jolly' me into the Christmas spirit will have exactly the opposite effect. Let well enough alone; I'll attend and keep quiet but don't expect me to join in with the saccharine.

Returning home from Dallas was a long winded affair. Given the date I made sure I was at the airport well before departure time; three hours to be exact. Checked my suitcase in and was handed a standby security pass. Standby??? My ticket was booked and paid for on December 12th! When I asked the check-in person I was told that most likely all the other passengers had printed out their boarding passes over the internet and I, as the poor bastard lacking a printer on the road, was one of the last to confirm an intention to travel.

To say that this annoyed me somewhat would be an understatement.

So I whiled away two hours until the gate should be staffed and I could petition for a seat. Not a bad two hours as it happened; I smoked outside, watched planes take off and land and enjoyed the never ending spectacle of people. I neither confirm nor deny the presence of a couple of cuties :-)

At the end of the two hours I was the first in line at the counter and I was fortunate enough to get a boarding pass. Group C of course. Another hour to wait. I wish. My flight out of Dallas started at about the time it had been scheduled to land in El Paso. In other words, an hour and a half late. Given that I'd booked a set of flights with a one hour wait in El Paso this made me somewhat apprehensive about the connection. I needn't have worried. The plane to take me from El Paso to Phoenix was still on the ground in Albuquerque!

Delay piled on delay. In total, it took me 10 hours to travel from Dallas to Phoenix; arriving just in time to catch the traffic gridlock at Sky HarboUr airport.

But I have to tell you; that smoke when I emerged onto the South kerb at the airport made the whole thing almost worthwhile!

After 32 years

I've finally caught up :-)

Yep, I finally like The Dark side of the Moon[^]. I wrote a while ago about my introduction to Pink Floyd[^].

It was love at first hearing back in 1968. I'd never heard a band like them and, to this day, no one comes close in the rock arena as far as this old fart is concerned. The first Pink Floyd album I owned was Ummagumma; that was the first album readily available in Melbourne in 1970. As they grew in popularity it became easier to aquire Pink Floyd albums. I got 'Obscured by clouds' in 1971, the soundtrack to More as a remainder in 1971, 'Echoes' in 1972 and so on.

And then came 1973. For whatever reason we were blitzed by ads for the new Pink Floyd album 'The Dark side of the Moon'. I was one of the first to buy and I hated the album. It didn't sound at all (to my ears) like Pink Floyd. You understand that I didn't, at the time, notice the paradox between my expectation that each new Pink Floyd album would sound like it's predecessor and my corresponding acceptance of the vast difference between Mahlers First Symphony and his last.

Toward the end of 1973 it was impossible to attend a party without being assailed by 'us and them'. Everywhere one went one heard that hated album. I retreated into classical music and pretty much missed the entire rock scene from 1973 until 1997 (my return is the subject of another story I might relate sometime soon).

Strangely enough, 'The Dark side of the Moon' is the first CD I ever owned. Not that I bought it; my first wife Sue gave me my first CD player for my 33rd birthday, 1987. To accompany it she gave me that album on CD. I fear I was so untactful as to remark 'I'd have chosen something else'.

Our marriage collapsed 2 weeks later. Nope, I don't imagine now that it collapsed because of that thoughtless comment; it had been on it's last legs for a while before then though I didn't know it. But for those first few months of feeling abandoned I clung to recent memories of the thoughtless things I'd said and done and wondered 'if I hadn't'. Memory is selective; I don't remember remembering back more than a couple of months at the time but now, 18 years down the track, I see that it was inevitable.

All of this was brought about by watching Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii[^]. Interesting film; I remember seeing it at Monash University as a student club activity in 1979. 37 years down the track hearing Pink Floyd can still raise goosebumps.

A gimme

Today whilst prowling around the kitchen I found an 'interesting' DVD on the bench. A porn movie no less. Thinking that this was perhaps a little blatant for Andrew I asked my wife why there was a porn film in the kitchen. 'Oh', she said, 'that's Morgan's. She said she'd never seen one and was curious'.

Okay. I can kinda go with that. So when she got home from school I asked her if the movie had lived up to her expectations.

'Oh,' she said, 'everyone looked so bored!'

So then I explained about camera crews around the bed, the sound man pointing his mike, the lighting crew and how it was likely there were multiple takes. 'All in all,' I said, 'it's bloody hard work being a porn star'.

She looked at me and asked 'how do you know?'.

With a gimme like that I had no choice :-) 'Oh,' I replied, 'back in the 1970's I used to act in porn movies under the name 'Buck Nekkid''

I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Two wineglasses, one hand

I had dinner tonight with Chris Austin[^]. Nice guy, interesting, well travelled. Shucks! :-)

We ate at a Bavarian restaurant somewhere in Plano. I don't remember the name but the food was good and the beer better. I may have surprised Chris by not drinking all that much but I was driving.

We started at the bar whilst waiting for a table. It's a busy restaurant with many tables and a small bar so it's only natural that the waiting staff are sometimes queued up waiting for their drinks order. One such order was for two glasses of wine. Down came two glasses and in a moment they were filled. The waitress, unaccountably, grabbed them both in the one hand. And what happens with the traditional shaped wine glass when you do that? The one on the left tilts to the right; the one on the right tilts to the left and wine pours out.

No panic; a bit of a mop up, a refill and the glasses were good to go. So what does she go and do? Uh huh, you guessed it; she grabs them both in the one hand and yada yada.

Hey, not every post is going to be Pulitzer prize winning material! :-)


As I've noted once or twice before I enjoy spare ribs. Quite the best contribution the US has ever made to world cuisine.

Andrew likes ribs too but they're a tad expensive so we only have them occasionally at home. On the other hand, when I'm travelling on the company dollar I treat myself.

Lately I've gotten into the habit of taking a photo of the before and after of my dinner and emailing them to Andrew so he can have the vicarious pleasure of seeing what I'm about to enjoy and he isn't! :-)

Last night I sent the photos, via my wife. She obviously showed him because her reply quoted him as saying:

'Are you serious? He's a bastard!'

I've been a bad bad influence on that boy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Footprints on the ceiling

In September of 1996 I had the good fortune to be sent from Melbourne to Boston on a business trip. I was sent to help in the evaluation of a software product. The good fortune was that the trip was paid for by Australia Post and we scored first class all the way. When you've only travelled economy before the step up to first class is quite the win!

I was one of a team of four; one of the others was Maxine. Strange girl! She had a fondness for the kind of hat that reminded one of the more garish lightshades from the early 70's. Indeed, we used to call her the walking lamp on the strength of those hats. Nonetheless, at the time I got on pretty well with her.

As befits a business trip on the customers dollar we were convivial in the extreme and the libations flowed freely. Too freely one night perhaps; I ended up in a loud argument with one of the team which ended with the pair of us standing on the footpath next to Kendall Station poking each other in the chest. I had a sore chest the next morning but I'm pretty sure he did too!

We patched that one up the next morning and a couple of nights later the four of us went out to enjoy the evening. It was our last evening in Boston and the flight was late afternoon so we knew we'd have ample opportunity to sleep off any slight excess.

Very very late that evening we returned to the hotel, a bottle or two in hand, and retired, the four of us, to Maxine's room for a nightcap. Being Australians we had, of course, a jar of vegemite. I always packed a jar of the vile stuff when I visited the US prior to moving here; I love the look of disgust that most people get when they sniff it!

One thing I didn't mention before is that Maxine is very petite. Barely five feet tall and light to go with it. So it was the work of a moment to coat her feet in vegemite, hoist her upside down and have her walk across the ceiling!

We've often wondered what the hotel staff thought the next morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Defeating the purpose

As I was whiling away the time at the airport this morning, having a smoke outside, I couldn't help but notice this bloke at the kerb. He had an SUV (I don't remember what it was) and he'd helped load some arrivals luggage into the back. Then he took his keychain, pressed a button and the tailgate closed!

Uh huh, I thought. Just what the world needs. An electric tailgate closer!

So he jumped in the drivers seat, started the engine and then he paused. Stopped the engine, got out and came to the back of the vehicle to grab the tailgate to be sure it was closed. Then he hit the open button on his keychain, watched it open, hit the close button, watched it close, and tested it again.

Then he got back in the drivers seat, started the engine, stopped it again and repeated the process.

Finally, satisfied that the tailgate really was closed, he drove off!

Sometimes simpler is better!

If I hadn't already suspected this

I'm sure Morgan and Andrew did!

You are The Devil

Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession

The Devil is often a great card for business success; hard work and ambition.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the major arcana, the Devil is not really "Satan" at all, but Pan the half-goat nature god and/or Dionysius. These are gods of pleasure and abandon, of wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a card about ambitions; it is also synonymous with temptation and addiction. On the flip side, however, the card can be a warning to someone who is too restrained, someone who never allows themselves to get passionate or messy or wild - or ambitious. This, too, is a form of enslavement. As a person, the Devil can stand for a man of money or erotic power, aggressive, controlling, or just persuasive. This is not to say a bad man, but certainly a powerful man who is hard to resist. The important thing is to remember that any chain is freely worn. In most cases, you are enslaved only because you allow it.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

You'd think I'd know better by now, wouldn't you

After all, it's not like this is the first or even the fifth time I've flown Phoenix to Dallas. As I've noted before[^] you have various options when flying that route. You can pay through the nose for a direct flight to Dallas/Fort Worth or you can save a lot of bucks by making it a two leg flight. It ain't my money but even so there's something galling about paying $700 or so to save 6 hours of time. Highly paid consultants need not respond! :)

So I fronted up at the airport this morning and checked my luggage. Technically I didn't have to do that; I travel very light indeed, but it really pisses me off the way people bring large suitcases onto a flight and slow the boarding process by blocking the aisle while they try and stow it. Half the time it ends up in checked baggage anyway. I can't help feeling that if it annoys me enough to comment on then it behooves me not to be a part of the problem. That's the virtuous reason. The real reason is I hate trundling a suitcase around :)

The first flight was late leaving Phoenix and I was starting to regret having left a mere hours waiting time at El Paso. But they managed to make up time and I arrived at El Paso just in time to duck to the end of the group A boarding line and get onto the next flight. Shortest stay I've ever had in that airport! Having a 'tween planes smoke was out of the question.

Arrived at Dallas and that long awaited smoke. Then back in to the terminal to pick up my luggage. Which was not to be seen. A few minutes passed and then the penny dropped; if I made it just in time to catch the next flight obviously my bag hadn't. So I went to the baggage claim office and explained the situation. Uh huh. Nope, that wasn't the problem!

The problem was that when I checked the bag back in Phoenix I hadn't asked for it to be checked through to Dallas. They're quite happy to do that of course, but the fact that we, the travelling public, are forced to buy two tickets each way from Phoenix to Dallas means we, the travelling public, have to remember to tell the checkin staff what our final destination is.

The bag is, as I write, somewhere between here and El Paso with a promise to deliver it tomorrow. Given that it's my fault for not remembering I really can't find it in myself to be too annoyed.

So here I am in a hotel in Dallas needing a shave and debating whether to braze it out on the customer site tomorrow or venture out into the cold to find a supermarket somewhere. I suspect the shave will win.

[stop press]
I found a razor, somewhat blunt but useable, in my laptop carry case. Blessed be that carry case! :)
[/stop press]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Improving the imperfect

Sometime in the late 1970's Robin bought himself an upmarket cassette recorder. Heino remembers it as a SuperScope; I remember it as a SilverScope but I suspect Heino's correct; it was packaged in late 70's silverised plastic. You know the kind of thing, the slightest touch and the coating rubbed off and made the whole thing look tacky, which is probably why I'm remembering the word 'silver'.

The recorder came with a mini headphone jack but Robins headphones had the large style. They've been manufacturing adaptors for just such problems for at least 40 years that I know of but Robin decided he could do better than that; he was going to replace the headphone jack entirely.

So he cracked the case to check how much space was available. It would be a tight squeeze but it was doable with care and I'd guess it should have taken 15 minutes from go to whoa. Ever watched a hasty man make a chair out of packing crates using a blunt axe? I haven't either but that's exactly how I'd describe Robins approach.

Six or so hours later the recorder was half patched back together. The hole he'd enlarged was too large and the new jack wobbled about. Every so often one of the contacts would short against a pin on the PC board. One of the rubber belts had come off badly in an encounter with the soldering iron, which imparted an interesting stuttering effect to both recording and playback.

But he was proud of the result and, in the end, that's all that really matters, isn't it.

In the category of trivial wins

I remembered to print out my boarding passes for both flights tomorrow and, wonder of wonders, I managed to get group A for both of em. In the larger scheme of things this is somewhat akin to spending two bucks on a scratch-it lottery card and winning back your two bucks, but that's in the larger scheme. During those few minutes tomorrow when I'm focussed on getting onto and off the plane having group A will make all the difference.

For those unfamiliar with Southwest Airlines here in the US, they don't do allocated seating. Instead they do seating by group. One is either in group A (one arrived at the airport very early or printed the boarding pass the night before), or group B or group C. They board in that order and, once you're on the plane, it's a free for all. Grab whatever seat is available and takes your fancy. If the flight is full, and they usually are, group C passengers cop the middle seats. Whenever that happens to me I always seem to be in the back row jammed between two quarterbacks!

Some people take group A too far. There's always some sad bastard camped at the very head of the group A line who's been there for more than an hour, jealously guarding his position as first passenger on the plane. The more sane amongst us take a seat whilst we wait.

Of course coming back I'll be in group C both flights. I won't have the option to print out my boarding pass the night before.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's the owning that's important

We were at the local Half Price bookshop this afternoon; I needed to buy something weighty to read on the plane to Dallas Monday. Uh huh, I'm travelling again. This time I'm looking forward to it; two and a bit months without travel now feels too long.

This trip has been threatening for a while now. I first expected to return to Dallas in mid October but one thing and another delayed it and delayed it. Naturally the trip happens during the week before Christmas! I'm returning to Phoenix on thursday. Anyone want to guess how crowded that Southwest Airlines plane will be? And anyone want to guess which boarding group I'll be in?

But I digress. There we were at the bookshop, standing in line to pay. I chose 'The Old Curiousity Shop' by Dickens - a good meaty read if I know my Dickens! Beside the register is the LP/CD/DVD VideoDisc section. I'm still trying to decide how anyone could think that a good album cover consists of a shot of a womans mid section from her navel to half way down her thighs, wearing red shorts!

I honestly don't remember when VideoDiscs were released. Sometime in the 1980s but I couldn't get any closer than that. But there they were, packaged in much the same way that LP's were. Curiousity got the better of me and I thumbed through the range - nothing so memorable that now, nine hours after the event, I can remember a single title.

But I was reminded of Robin and the amount of time, money and effort he expended getting hold of a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey[^] on VideoDisc. Great movie. I must have seen it a couple of hundred times. A pity then, that, having obtained a copy on VideoDisc, he didn't have any hardware to play it!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The end of an era

Seti@home classic has ended after a trifle over six and a half years. I've been participating for a trifle under six and a half years but today is the day they stopped sending out new work units. My count at the time of writing is 85269 though I still have a few dozen work units on hand and they are still accepting results.

Not bad for a project that was originally going to run for two years; they just kept extending it and extending it.

As I've written before[^] it became quite the obsession though I haven't been as bad in the last three or four months as I was. I stopped maintaining that spreadsheet for one thing and when they had an outage I just didn't care :) Nonetheless the experience of obsession is a warning I'm going to heed for now; I'm not planning to take up one of the other shared computing causes for the nonce.

An interesting detail; my total went up by more than 2500 on Monday evening; the count was rising at a rate of three or four per minute. Why? *shrug*

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

School year

Heino sent me an email overnight saying how he'd enjoyed reading the 'You bastards' series of posts. Robin being a mutual friend means he could visualise every situation and he could certainly hear those words that closed each episode.

Heino teaches a Video Production course these days and, since he's in Australia, that means that his teaching year has come to an end and he's on leave. He couldn't resist pointing that out to me. I read that simple sentence and thought...

'You bastard!'

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Birth of Bing

As some of you may remember from previous posts, my wife and I were involved in a trivia website. In fact, that's how we met, through online trivia playing games in live IRC chat rooms. Eventually we started our own website. The website[^] is still out there but we've had nothing to do with it for nearly four years and it seems, as far as I can tell, to be inactive.

But prior to that website I was already heavily involved in writing some of the software we used to run the games. I wasn't the only one of course but I fancy my version of the game software was better than its rivals. Of course, I would say that wouldn't I.

The way it all worked was that the game software would run the question and the players would answer, preceding their answer with a dot .

That dot was very important; without it the game software didn't see your answer at all! At the end of the round the game would score peoples answers and assign points accordingly. If you, the game host, were lucky, a player would have typed an answer that exactly matched what you had in which case marking was automatic. More usually players would type only part of the answer and rely on the host to divine their meaning and score it appropriately. We had a three letter rule; you had to type at least three letters of the answer and many a furious argument would flourish if the host felt that an answer was insufficient.

Usually one had two or three very good players and a bunch of somewhat less good players. As the weeks passed most players would work out who had a high scoring average and it became quite common to 'lem' a good player. Ie, to follow them over the precipice like a lemming. Some of the better players would play a wicked game; they'd fire out an answer at the start but precede it with a comma which didn't count. Other players would lem them and, right at the end of the round, they'd drop the right answer in with a dot. I fixed that one by allowing comma as well! :)

As the author of the software I felt it behooved me to actually run games with it. How else would I know if the software was usable under real world conditions? How else would I be able to guess which features might be valuable and which not? So I ran at least 3 games a week. They say that Television is a voracious consumer of material; to that I'd add that so are trivia games! Finding 105 new questions a week was quite the challenge.

So I (we) would take shortcuts sometimes. The software kept track of how often a given question had been used and how long ago. You could select a random set of questions or you could choose those that had the longest fallow period and so on. And so, one night, I used that feature but I didn't preview what questions comprised the game.

So off we go running the game. Three or four questions in and up comes one where the answer was Bing Crosby. Someone answered .bing and many others lemmed. So far so good.

A couple of questions later and up came another question to which the answer was, you guessed it, Bing Crosby. And again, a little later. This was becoming embarassing! By the time the fourth question to which the answer was Bing Crosby came up everyone was in the swing of things and .binging away like crazy. In fact, they became so enthusiastic that they started answering .bing even when that wasn't the correct answer. So I started scoring .bing with 5 points.

The game ended, I handed the chatroom over to the next host and went and added bing to the game. From that night on, if the host enabled it, answering .bing would earn you 5 points whether you were right or not!

And of course that little change annoyed some players. I even lost a couple of regulars over it. They felt that it diluted the competitive nature of the game. Maybe it did but it was all meant to be fun anyway *shrug*. Bing stayed!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tasteful rearrangement

Combining a couple of themes that I've been writing about this past week I recall the time that Sue and I went to Robins house. This was sometime in 1979 so I can't remember the why of the visit but when we arrived he was in the shower. His mother showed us in and left us to our own devices in his room. We had about 15 minutes alone. What to do???

I'm sure the answer is obvious. We opened his stash of porno magazines and spread them across the entire room, open to each centrefold. We'd barely finished covering the last few square centimetres of open space when he walked in, took one look and said...

'You bastards!'

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our little boy is growing up!

where 'our' isn't to be taken in the literal sense of course. I'm just the unsympathetic step-father :-)

In short, Andrew has discovered the female form. We know this because the wallpaper on 'his' computer is now a shot of a young lady who has obviously taken some kind of enhancement medication; that or the world supply of silicone took a sudden dive recently! The fact that she's probably twice his age hasn't occurred to him yet.

I'm reminded of the joke about how a mother found some pornographic magazines under her sons bed and took them straight to the counsellor. The counsellor tried to calm the mother by telling her that this was just a phase her son was going through. 'When will the phase end?' she asked. 'Oh', said the counsellor, 'when he's 78!'

boom boom!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dominus ad Nauseam

Back in 1980 Sue, Robin and myself were sharing a house. Quite the grandest house I've ever lived in; it had two (count em, two) bathrooms and three dunnies!

Sometime in March of that year cash was at a low ebb and we were really trying to eat cheap. We went to the local supermarket to do the shopping with about ten bucks in hand and almost a week to provide for. Not quite as bad as it sounds; ten bucks went a reasonable distance in those days if you were willing to eat rice and potatoes. So Sue and I were shopping frugally, selecting the aforementioned foodstuffs, when Robin came trotting up with a plastic cake knife (the triangular sort one uses to lift wedges of cake off the plate) saying 'Guys guys, we have to buy this.' 'Why??' we both chorused. 'What are we going to be eating that we'd need one of those?'. Crestfallen he stammered 'well, we might have a cake'.

We didn't buy it.

Almost 10 years later, Tuesday January 9th 1990, we held a 'Roast Robin' night. Heino was involved in that one. Sue and I and Peta and Robbo (about whom I haven't yet written) owned a coffee shop by then and we tricked the premises out for the evening. A fake coffin, a cardboard skeleton, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and about 600 photocopies of a photo of Robin. He was staring at you wherever you looked! We even taped his face up behind the toilet doors.

Robin, of course, didn't know it was a roast. We lied about the arrival time so we could have everyone in position; when he walked in through the door we were chanting 'Dominus ad Nauseam' around the coffin. He took one look around, then stared at us and said... 'you bastards!'

But it doesn't end quite there. After the consumption of food and drink we took turns at giving a little speech relating some anecdote involving Robin. Of course they followed the pattern laid down for roasts; Robin was always the butt of the joke. When it came our turn we distributed a brown paper bag to each guest. Inside was a copy of the photo aforesaid, some mini mars bars and various other junk that tied in with some story or other about Robin. Also included was a plastic cake knife.

He took one look at it and said...

'You bastards!'

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I want you

In 1979 Sue, Robin and myself were sitting in one of those hole in the wall coffee shops that used to dot Swanston Street Melbourne. They had such tempting names as 'The Krown Kafe' and so on. I honestly can't remember if any of them remain; it's been years since I was an habitue.

Robin doesn't smoke but Sue and I do; we were both enjoying a smoke when an attractive young lady approached and asked me for a light. So I lit her smoke and she wandered back to her own table. I leaned across the table, fixed Robin with my gaze and said.

'You know what happened there don't you mate?'

He had to admit he didn't.

'She wants me.' I lied.

He wanted to know how I knew so I spun him a story about how, if a woman asks a man to light her cigarette, she really means 'I want you!'. Poor bastard fell for it hook line and sinker. That very day he bought himself a cigarette lighter and presumably wandered around the city waiting for the moment when a girl would ask for a light.

A couple of months later he was complaining about how inefficacious the lighter was. Sue started laughing almost hysterically (you have to hear her laugh :-) ) as I explained that I'd been pulling his leg.

He took one look at us and said...

'You bastard!'

Monday, December 05, 2005

Box 1A

Back in 1983 or thereabouts I was asked to help a friend move house. Profuse reassurance that he'd be packed and ready on the day and all we'd have to do was load boxes and furniture into the truck, follow it to the new address and reverse the sequence.

Yeah right! That was the theory; the practice was that when I appeared bright and early that Saturday morning he was still in his dressing gown making coffee. And nothing was packed! Well, almost nothing. There were two medium sized cardboard boxes labelled Box 1A and Box 1B.

When asked what was in them he was remarkably taciturn, indeed, almost embarassed by the question. But a bit of nagging throughout the day and the truth eventually came out. It was his porn collection. Not hard to imagine his priorities.

I'm not going to identify him but if he were to read this post he'd take one look at me and say...

'You bastard!'

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Back in 1981 when Raiders of the Lost Ark[^] was released Robin was one of the first in our circle to see it. He raved about it and insisted that if we saw no other movie that year we had to see Raiders.

Now you have to understand that I'm not a big Spielberg fan. In fact, I'd rate E.T. as one of the three worst movies ever made. So I was rather reluctant to go see it. Indeed, I refused point blank and that was an end of it, for now.

A few weeks later Sue and I went to see a movie at the old Metro theatre in Glenferrie road. I can't remember what movie it was, probably something by Woody Allen. As we came out I noticed that the next movie on the bill was Raiders and an evil idea grew. So we went in to see Raiders.

The evil idea was to remember all the climaxes and, more particularly, the events leading up to them. Then we'd let Robin take us to see the movie next week and, whenever a climax approached, we could predict what was going to happen and convince Robin that the entire movie was a pot-boiler of predictability.

It worked a treat and by the end of the movie when we predicted that the Germans faces would melt he was totally convinced. Afterward we went to dinner somewhere or other and let him in on the secret.

He took a long look at us and said...

'You bastards!'

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The waltzing waters

You've noticed, no doubt, that we do frequent weekend outings. I was going to add 'when I'm in town' but amazingly enough, with the exception of that one night stay in Dallas a month and a half ago, I haven't had to do business travel for more than three months. Quite a contrast with the first 9 months of the year as you'll recall!

I really enjoy these outings. If my first wife Sue is reading she's probably reeling in shock because 20 years ago when we were married she had the devil of a time dragging me away from my computer. My second wife didn't have much better luck. But here I am in a still relatively new city to me in the midst of much natural beauty; the weather has cooled down to the point where it's possible to emerge from air-conditioning so I'm eager to go explore.

On one Sunday afternoon in 1985 or thereabouts Sue persuaded me to go for a drive in the Dandenongs, a small mountain range to the east of Melbourne. It marks what I think of as the eastern edge of the city though, to be sure, suburbia sprawls over and past them. We were driving down one of the main roads (I'm afraid I don't remember its name) when we saw the signs advertising the 'Waltzing Waters' at the Tatra Hut. We were both intrigued so there we stopped. An average buffet restaurant.

The floor show consisted of a bunch of coloured lights flashing in various sequences, lighting up a spray of water produced by water forced through a pipe with a bunch of holes drilled at intervals. Not just the one pipe and not all the holes were in a straight line. The DJ played Strauss's Blue Danube and worked a bunch of levers that rotated the pipes and adjusted the water pressure. Some of the time he managed to be on the beat.

Sue and I sat in surprised amazement, both at the tackiness of the show and the evident delight of most of the other diners. It wouldn't be much of a story if it stopped there but of course it didn't. Feeling 'had' we decided that it was only right we should share that feeling with our friends Robin and Rosemary. I've written about Robin before[^].

So we told Robin we'd seen the most amazing show on the weekend; he just *had* to see it. Robin was gullible in those days and he took the bait. So the following sunday the four of us repaired to the 'Tatra Hut'. Robin was full of anticipation. I don't say that I didn't hint that perhaps semi-naked women were involved.

The lights dimmed, the music played and on came the waters. Robin gave us one long look and said...

'You bastards!'

Friday, December 02, 2005

The day I didn't cry

I've mentioned the cuts[^] before. A strap brought sharply down on the palm of the hand as punishment for some infraction of school rules. Always done in public with an eye to frightening the more timid scholars into obedience.

As previously noted, it hurts like hell. Naturally the ability to take 'six of the best' without tears was highly admired; some of my friends could take it with nary a tear. I, alas, usually couldn't and would return to my seat a snivelling shamefaced mess. You understand that breaking into tears during the cuts didn't usually result in jeers afterward from ones friends; we all knew what it was like. It was more an affront to ones own pride that one had cried.

One afternoon toward the end of 1964 we'd been smoking in the dunnies and some dobbing bastard informed on us. The teacher, Mrs Hodgson, conducted an inquiry. My name had been mentioned and I was paraded at the front of the class. I knew that I was in for six of the best. Unfortunately for me, my name was the only one that had been mentioned, along with the additional information that I hadn't been alone.

Thus began the interrogation. Probably a fairly gentle interrogation as such things go but an interrogation nonetheless. Not made any easier by the fact that my current sweetheart Julie was watching. Mrs Hodgson wanted the names of my accomplices. I wouldn't give them. We lived by our own code of conduct, one I'm sure I need not expatiate on. Out came the strap and the standard intimidation technique, a hard slam of the strap on a desk. Everyone jumped. I realise now that it was intimidation; I didn't then. Then came the hint that if I named names I'd be doing my 'duty' and need not be punished further.

Uh huh. Did she think I was born yesterday? Actually she may well have; as I've written before[^] she retired at the end of that year. She must have been 60 so a 10 year old would be extremely young.

Whichever way I jumped I was going to be punished; either with the strap there and then or later in the court of public opinion if I was so lacking in moral fibre as to dob my mates in. So I refused to name names.

With a heavy sigh she gave in to the inevitable. Sounds a bit like 'this hurts me more than it hurts you' doesn't it? Yet, looking back on that day, I'm less inclined to be cynical about it. She probably would have preferred not to have to strap me but we'd both backed ourselves into corners and the game had to be played out. And so I was strapped.

Norman Lindsay described it well in his novel 'Saturdee'. I can't find a decent link alas. He describes the moment when you feel the pain and catch your breath and survive, dignity intact, or miss the breath and break down (I'm probably misremembering the phrase but that's the gist of it). Luck was with me; I caught my breath and got through the six without a tear.

As I sat down at my desk, palms red hot, I felt triumph. I'd faced danger and stared it down.

And later, after school, as we enjoyed another smoke, I basked, for a moment, in their admiration.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I'm not sure I should admit this

But I finally 'get' Southpark.

When it hit Australia, on SBS, back in 1998 some of my friends raved about it; others hated it. Indeed that's been my experience of how people react to Southpark; you either love it or hate it. And I hated it.

I don't remember just why it was that, a couple of weeks ago, I watched an episode. Probably boredom :-) Whatever, it clicked and I found myself laughing and laughing. One gag in particular (and this just may reveal something about my level of sophistication), revolved around Cartman and the gang stowing away in a USAF plane on the way to Iraq. Stan remarked about being stuck in the cargo hold for the next 20 hours and Kyle asked 'can it get any worse?'. At which point Cartman farted!

I was still laughing 10 minutes later. It's hard to go past a well executed fart gag!

I'm waiting for the Philip Glass episode. I've heard about it and I'm looking forward to seeing how they lampoon my favourite living composer!