Friday, September 26, 2008

Mullum Mullum

I'll admit I've been slack about writing now that I'm here in Melbourne. It's not that nothing's been happening, more that I've become a temporarily lazy bastard.

I arrived at Tullamarine at the usual time after a flight twice delayed by missing passengers. The first delay was at San Francisco, where they boarded us and then discovered that there was a no-show. Thus to the inevitable delay while they fished the baggage out of the hold. Of course, considering how long it takes to board a 747 and settle everyone down, there was no way they were going to let us off the plane during the delay. Fortunately, there's ample opportunity to make up lost time on the flight and we arrived at Sydney only 20 minutes later than scheduled.

I sadly report that there is no longer a smoking lounge[^] at Sydney Airport. I had a sneaking suspicion the anti-smoking nazis would have made it so but nonetheless it was a bitter disappointment to be denied that pleasure with three hours to go until arrival at Melbourne.

The second delay was on the ground at Melbourne, waiting for the gate to be available. You guessed it, the flight occupying the gate which was supposed to have departed was delayed while they removed luggage belonging to a no show. It beats me how someone can check their bags in and so completely disappear. Why else did they check in if not to take the damn flight?

From Tullamarine at my request straight to the fish shop in Williamstown. After three years without fish and chips I didn't want to wait any longer than necessary. We did, however, stop off at the Coles supermarket to buy a bottle of Rosella Tomato Sauce to go with the chips. Pure unadulterated bloody heaven!

Then Heino and I dagged around Williamstown for a while, reliving scenes from the distant past (well, thirty years ago which is near enough). But eventually it was time to take the trek across Melbourne to Heino's house which is not terribly close to Williamstown. In fact, he lives right by the northern end of the newly opened Eastlink Tollway. Which meant that, having taken the Eastern Freeway through Doncaster, we ended up at the Mullum Mullum Tunnel.

They've been planning to build that tunnel for almost as long as I can remember; it opened this year. Heino assures me it's a Melbourne tradition to chant Mullum Mullum as one drives through it. So I obliged him, feeling a trifle silly as I did so. 'No mate' he assured me, 'just watch the other drivers. They're chanting it too'. I looked and, sure enough, it looked just like they were.

The following morning we headed back the other way through the tunnels to pick up my hire car. I learn fast so I was ready to chant Mullum Mullum as we went through the tunnel. I even pointed out that it was pretty obvious one had to chant it backwards as we were going in the opposite direction. I was warming up as we approached the tunnel when Heino broke the sad news to me; the northbound tunnel is called the Melba tunnel and one does not chant at all.

So much for inspired guesswork!

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Greek Philosophers

There's a story I'm rather fond of about Greek Philosophers. It goes thus:

Three Greek Philosophers are dining at a roadside inn and arguing about how many teeth a horse has. The first one opines that it's 32, the second 34 and the third 36. They argue and argue as the wine is consumed, each coming forth with mathematical proof of why his and only his answer is the correct one.

Eventually, tiring of the argument, they beckon to an Arab sitting at the next table and ask that he hear each argument in turn and judge who is correct. The Arab listens patiently to each argument then says 'wait a moment gentlemen' and disappears. He returns a few minutes later and points to the third greek. 'You, sir, are correct'.

Although satisfied that the argument is finally over they want to know what abstruse reasoning the Arab used to determine the correct argument.

'Simple, sirs' he replies. 'I went out to the stables and counted them'.

You probably don't remember that I wondered what MET CUST WOM[^] meant, in the context of UPS parcel deliveries. Today I finally remembered to apply the Arabs method as I found myself sharing the lift at the office with a UPS guy who had nothing better to do as we descended 8 floors. So I asked him.

It turns out that, just as 'Anonymous' responded on the earlier post linked above, it means it was delivered to a woman at the target address.

How disappointing that it's such a prosaic meaning!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Infectious snobbery

My new job involves VB.Net code and some ASP.Net. It's going to involve a lot more ASP.Net in the future so it behooves me to learn it.

Uh huh, that's right, I was hired for the position without having the exact skills required. It's an exercise in optimism from my new employer, who is working on the idea that if I already have the necessary breadth of software development experience in Windows and c++ it shouldn't be too difficult to learn a new environment.

I have to say that's a very refreshing change from the usual attitude and one that I certainly appreciate.

Indeed, at the interview I wasn't even asked all that many technical questions. I can understand that; I always hate having to try and gauge a candidates real knowledge and experience in a mere hour.

My resume had included a link to my articles over on Codeproject[^] and my new boss remembered reading an article I'd written about using lex and yacc[^] (actually he mainly remembered it because I mention being a Kentucky Colonel[^] in my bio at the bottom of the page) so they had some real code I'd written available to read. I always knew those articles would pay off someday and they have; so far this job is great.

But back to VB.Net and ASP.Net. As hinted above, I don't have a lot of experience with either. Indeed, I wrote my first ever ASP.Net/VB.Net app last week, in half a day. Not much of an app but it fills a need and it's deployed for the one person in the world who needs it (not me). As for the VB.Net stuff, well, it's pretty easy to pick up. Some wierdness in the way one connects events and event handlers but for the most part it's a programming language. *shrug*

Last weekend I brought home a thick volume from the office library, something about business objects in VB.Net. I can't remember the full title but if it's about business objects you already know it's pretty dry stuff.

Sonya took one look at the VB.Net part of the title and said, in a tone of incredulity, 'VB????'

All those years of being a c++ snob have come back to haunt me. And it's not even entirely true; when one wants a quick proof of concept or, even better example, a COM testing host, it's hard to go past VB.

As for the future? We're going to be making a start on rev 2 of the app once I get back from Australia. I'm going to have to try very hard not to let years of c++ get in the way. After all, the ad I answered when applying for the job did express a preference for people who knew that languages other than those with .Net in the name existed.

I think the bottom line is that performance matters but so too do development cycles and maintainability/extensibility. Now there's a motherhood and apple pie statement for you!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This is getting ridiculous

As an exercise in further trying your patience, long suffering readers, I draw your attention to the large change that United Airlines[^] made to my forthcoming itinerary a month or six weeks ago. After emailing me to advise of a two minute change they made rather larger changes and didn't notify me.

Today not one but two pieces of real honest-to-goodness paper mail arrived, in United Airlines envelopes and marked 'Urgent'.

Uh huh. Anxious moments as I tore the envelopes apart. Had the fuel increases caught up with me? Were these demands for more money? (The total cash outlay for the return ticket is a paltry $85 - frequent flyer points covered the rest). Not a bit of it. The first letter contained page 1 of my revised itinerary, the one I noticed back in July. The second letter contained page 2 of my...

Isn't this the same airline that's nickel and diming everyone with first bag charges?

Of course it's obvious how they can afford double postage. I can't remember the last time I saw a business communication printed on a dot-matrix printer with a worn ribbon and a bent pin or two...