Sunday, August 31, 2008


So I'm reading the Melbourne newspapers online and this ad appears. Finally, evidence that ads really are targetted via ones IP address.


I mentioned the other night that I was suffering from a violation of the golden rule[^].

I haven't entirely fallen though; we went out today and bought ourselves a pair of 22 inch widescreen LCD monitors. One for me and one for Sonya. It was always going to be an easier sell on buying a decent new monitor if Sonya also got one.

It feels like there's an acre of screen sitting in front of me now but I'm loving it. Sonya's having more difficulty getting used to it; she surfs the web more than I do and she notices just how much of the screen is wasted by most websites. I hadn't realised, until we got the new laptop, also widescreen, just how many websites don't take account of the target resolution. That's why I've changed the look of my blog, so it'll resize to account for your screen.

I swear that never again will I fail to test my own apps on odd screen resolutions. I used to limit the testing to 800 * 600 and assume it'd look ok on anything larger but I now know better.

I told Sonya that if she really didn't like the new screen she was welcome to choose another and I'd take the first one off her hands. I fear she's not falling for that one! But you have to try don't you.

Andrew's showing signs of envy; his CRT monitor looks distinctly old fashioned now. It probably didn't help when I said 'wow Andrew, look how small it is!'. But I'll end up paying for that sly dig; already Sonya's talking about giving him a new monitor for his birthday, which just happens to be 19 days away. Coincidentally, that's the same day that I fly to Australia. Not that I'm counting.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I can't see the computer

I mentioned the other night[^] that Sonya has a new computer and that her old one will eventually become our home server. She was convinced, at the time, that she'd copied or archived everything she could possible want from it; I was equally convinced that she hadn't. Hence my caution about reformatting it.

It should not surprise you that I was right in this instance; I'm sure we've all made that mistake before. Thus I set the machine up with remote desktop enabled and all the drives fileshared. We're behind a NAT router so that's probably pretty safe (but remember, I'm not a system administrator[^]).

A couple of days later I took the machine down and moved it to the other side of the room while we worked out a better location for it. It's getting difficult to fit all the computers in! If we ever manage to move from this damn apartment to a real house I have a use for some of the extra closet space.

When I got home from the office that evening Sonya mentioned that she 'couldn't see' the old machine. Apparently another set of forgotten files needing copying.

'Strange' I said, 'I can see it perfectly well'. She looked puzzled, because I wasn't sitting at my computer. I pointed. She looked.

'Do you see any cables?'

Sheepish look.


Now I know where Andrew inherited *his* sheepish looks from.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Golden Rule

I've had a fair amount of success at sticking to the software developers golden rule; *never* ever have a better computer at the office than at home. I've even been known to knock back the offer of a faster machine at work because I didn't want to have to deal with having a lesser home system.

Of course, and I knew this beforehand, the new job has upped the ante. The computer hardware itself is nothing special; just a bog standard dual core with a couple of gigs of memory. Three of my four computers here have 4 gigs each; the fourth, Fatbastard, has a mere gig because he doesn't need more than that, all he does is record and playback TV.

Nope, the ante is that at the new job we all have dual monitors. Even the receptionist has dual monitors. I've never had that before and I fear some expenditure lies ahead. How fortunate that the prices of high resolution flat panel monitors have dropped as much as they have.

Bastards, bastards, everywhere

If you thought we'd gone overboard with six[^] cats you don't know the excesses we can rise to when it comes to computers.

When I left the last job (was it a mere two days ago?) I had to surrender the laptop. Not much of a loss; it was about four years old and weighed a lot more than I want to lug around airports. But we've become accustomed to having internet access when in hotels and it wasn't a hard sell to buy ourselves one. Indeed, my wife had to expend almost no effort at all to get me to agree!

So we're now the proud owners of a low end 17 inch widescreen laptop with dual core Athlon mobile and a bunch of memory and hard disk. Plus the inevitable DVD burner we'll never use as a burner. It weighs half what the old one did and I no longer find myself swearing sotto voce as I switch from notepad to web browser, waiting for the damn thing to catch up. Who knows, I might even start liking Vista! Even with Vista it feels plenty fast. Gotta admit, DVDs look damn good on it too!

Well one thing led to another over at Frys Electronics and we decided that as Sonya had not had a single upgrade on her main computer in four and a half years that maybe it was time to bring her into the modern world. Another dual core Athlon plus motherboard for the princely sum of $89 (plus tax) total. For a low end upgrade it certainly moves fast and the sad thing is her computer is now faster than my primary computer. My audio workstation is considerably faster though.

Now of course we're not going to scrap the old machine (we had a spare case and power supply sitting around so Sonya effectively has an entire new machine) so it's going to become our WHS (Windows Home Server) machine in a few weeks, once she's sure she's copied everything off that she could conceivably want.

So lemme see, counting the laptop we now have eight computers. Given that there are only three of us living here that seems a trifle excessive even to me.

Oh, the title of this post? I admit I may have gotten carried away with a wholesale renaming of my computers. We now have Fatbastard, the HTPC, Bigbastard, my audio workstation, Littlebastard my VS2008 development box, Robbastard, this machine and Bastardtogo. I'll let you guess which one that is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I think we all know what it's like to be restless. You know it, you can't sit still, you just have to be up and doing something even if it's as simple as taking a walk to the mailbox or around the block.

My grandmother would have characterised it as 'ants in the pants', which description struck me as irresistibly funny the first time I heard it. I may be getting toward old but it still happens that I get restless and just have to go for a wander around the neighbourhood.

When I'm watching a movie Andrew has the misfortune to be in my field of view, which is one reason I know just how much time he spends on World of Warcraft. The other night I noticed that his avatar (is that what they call em in WoW?), mounted on a horse, was galloping round and around the same scene time after time. He was also mumbling in the fashion teenagers do. We've stopped worrying that he's talking to himself because he's usually wearing a headset and chatting away with various other WoW players. I refrain here and in real life from comment on the content of the mumbling; it seems harmless enough.

So there he is mumbling away and galloping around and around in circles. And ten minutes later he's still galloping around and around in circles and mumbling. And yet again, ten minutes later. You get the idea.

I had to ask. 'Andrew, what on earth are you doing? I've watched you racing around...' etc.

'Oh', he explained, 'I'm talking to (name forgotten) and I'm restless. I can't stay in one place'.

Uh huh. 'Andrew, they're just pixels.' Sheepish grin, the grin he always indulges in when he knows he's been caught out.

Now I've seen everything. Virtual restlessness!

I'm pretty sure some of the things I do would be equally incomprehensible to my long dead grandmother.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Final Day

So that's my first US job behind me. Today I had the mixed pleasure of leaving my job. I start the new job on Monday. Ordinarily I'd have wanted a few days or perhaps a weeks gap before donning the new harness but in this case I made an exception given that I'm taking time off 28 days hence (not that I'm counting) to go to Australia for a fortnight.

A mixed pleasure because whilst, on the one hand, it was good to leave a woefully underpaid job that had become unchallenging, I'll miss most of the people I worked with. Especially my smoking buddies.

I'll also miss the customer people I had to deal with; we were able to forge a good working relationship. I won't miss the weekly conference call Tuesday evening to the Philippines though.

I spent most of the final day doing one final software release. And burning CD's containing copies of the source code. And burning CD's containing installation instructions for a number of products I've written over the past 4 years. And burning CD's containing... well you get the idea.

Not that any of this stuff needed to be burned to CD; it's just that when ones former boss hasn't the dook of an idea about source code control it's difficult to convince him that everything is safely preserved in Subversion (along with a scheduled task run once a week that dumps the entire repository into a zip file and copies it to multiple locations on different servers).

Full points for knowing that it needs to be preserved; none for the plan. And of course, if he's not a developer and hasn't a developer currently on staff, what use are these CD's? I could have burned a couple of dozen novels from Project Gutenberg[^] and he wouldn't have known the difference! Believe me, I was tempted!

Then 'depersonalising' my laptop and desktop machines. Delete all IE favourites, kill history, cookies, forms data and passwords.

A final smoke with the guys; a final lesson in the finer points of Australian slang for Randy, a round of hand shakes and insincere promises to keep in touch (we all know we won't) and I left the premises for the last time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A job ad

that appeared, briefly, on craigslist today.

They were offering work to C/C++ developers on the following terms: $1600 - $2400 a month, for 200 hours work per month. Alternatively, if that didn't appeal, one could earn between $8 and $12 an hour.

Strangely enough, the ad disappeared a couple of hours later. What a surprise!

Now that I have a new job about to commence I'm not looking for another; I was checking to see if the job I'm about to leave had appeared; I'll be most interested in what they ask and what they offer!


It's early days yet and it's hard to know if a new found enthusiasm for heavy metal music will last. Nonetheless, I've found myself alternating between symphonies and metal the last few days.

It all began when Christian Graus, over on Codeproject[^], mentioned 'The Glorious Burden' by Iced Earth. I can't remember, even though it was only a few days ago, what it was about his post that piqued interest but I checked and found it available on Rhapsody. Gave it a listen and it's now on my music player. Ditto for another recommendation; 'Nostradamus', by Judas Priest.

It feels like that last band has been around for nearly as long as the Stones; I certainly remember hearing the name in the very early 70's though I have no memory whatsoever of what they did at that time.

As for why I like it? I think it's the layered complexity. Certainly much of the thematic material is pretty banal but one could say that of most music; the power is in the treatment. And whilst the words might seem silly (indeed I thought so at first hearing) it's not much of a leap from there to the commonplace silliness of such lines from Bergs 'Wozzeck'[^] as 'Langsam, Wozzeck, Langsam'. Sounds very profound in a foreign language but in english it means 'Slower, Wozzeck, Slower', sung by the captain as Wozzeck gives him a shave! Now there's profound soap opera for you!

In other words, I've learned not to go to music for profundity in poesy.

Enough armchair amateur analysis! I'm enjoying it as much as I enjoy Bruckner.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I wouldn't expect it to be!

I'm inordinately fond of bacon and eggs for brekky of a weekend; during the week there's never enough time between awakening and the trek to the office.

I've finally perfected the technique for poaching the eggs, and I mean proper poaching, in hot water with a dash of malt vinegar, not that cheating method in the microwave oven. In truth I have no use for a microwave oven; nothing cooked in the microwave tastes worth the savings in effort.

I've become used to the idea that one must salt ones bacon these days. Sigh.

We've been trying out various sources of bacon, mainly because I find they cut the bacon too thin here in the US. I suppose they do that because most people seem to prefer their bacon cooked to a crisp and, whilst there's nothing wrong with crispy bacon in moderation, I much prefer the bacon to bend. Yeah, I know I'm a picky bastard but after all, I'm the one eating it!

On top of that, the trend seems to be toward low fat bacon. Uh huh. Why not also offer low oxygen air or low moisture water? The whole point of bacon is the flavour and you get that from the fat! Indeed, one of my criteria for choosing which bacon to buy is the appearance of the fat. I prefer steak on the same principle; give me a nice marbling any day.

We did find one cut of bacon that I really liked but there was a downside to it. Ain't it always the way? Never in life is anything perfect. The imperfection in this case is that it's only available in a 2 pound pack and that's way more bacon than I can eat in a single weekend. Actually, it's more bacon than I can eat in two weekends and by the third weekend what's left over is looking pretty sorry for itself. The result of undersalting.

A few weeks ago the local supermarket finally branched out into selling bacon at the deli. It came as quite the surprise the first time I checked out the deli locally, almost six years ago, and discovered that they didn't sell bacon. From which you can surmise that it's a common commodity back in Melbourne supermarket delis.

An oversight they've since corrected. They have a few different cuts including one that's just perfect and on top of that one can walk up and order ten rashers if that's what one wants.

Of course, Friday night, there was no one in attendance at the deli and after pressing that damn buzzer until my ears were ringing I gave up and went to the prepackaged bacon. The two pound pack was tempting but below it was another pack with less bacon and quite a smaller price tag but the right thickness and marvellous looking fat. So I gave it a try.

Quite tasty!

Emblazoned on the pack are the words 'This is not a low calorie food'. I should bloody well hope not!

Friday, August 15, 2008

How annoying!

Morgan's not living here anymore. Oh sure, she comes for a single night, makes a lot of noise and disappears again. She's been playing games, promising at the start of the week that she'll go into drug rehab at the end of the week and, of course, not going into drug rehab at the end of the week. To my amazement Mom has finally got it; she's doing her daughter no favours by putting up with this level of bullshit.

Thus to Morgan only staying sporadically, when she can't persuade some other schmuck to put her up. Yes, it's a delicate balance here; how far can one rub her face in it without pushing her over the edge. This is where my social darwinism comes in; I can't help feeling that if she does go over the edge it can only improve the gene pool. Not that I actually want her to go over the edge but I'm damned if I'll go on providing a roof if all she can do is drug herself.

However, just because Morgan is persona non grata with the family right now is no reason why Ryan, her infant, should have to pursue a nomadic lifestyle along with her. He gets to stay here. Thus to this morning. As I sipped the wake up coffee Sonya plonked him down in front of the TV and tuned to some kids program.

I looked up and said 'what the?'. For there, rendered in what sounded for all the world like a Yamaha DX7 synthesiser, was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Not a bad rendition as it happened although totally electronic.

'It's an educational program' said my wife. Uh huh, so, in order to get the little bastards to listen, they feel they have to 'modernise' the sound? Perhaps the fees for an orchestral performance recording were too high? If so, given the number of low end recordings around, I pity the poor bastard they did hire to 'modernise' the sound. He must have been paid less than minimum wage.

Well, that's my snobbishness in regard to classical music exposed for all the world to see. Like I needed to say that! Methinks you already guessed it was there. But if you really and truly want to educate em perhaps the original orchestration might be a place to start from?

But what really annoyed me was how they'd let the music run for four seconds, approach an interesting chord transition and then just drop it. I really wanted to hear how the 'modernised' performance would treat it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Water Trick

I watched this[^] last night. Not a particularly good movie though it did have some fascinating moments, such as the automated garage parking system shown in Reno Nevada in 1955! But then I get fascinated by such things. My equivalent of Bright Shiny Things[^] methinks.

There was one scene that made me laugh. One of the minor characters is tricked into a bet; he sits on the floor and someone pours a glass of water onto the floor between his legs. The bet is that the character who pours the water can wipe it up before the person sitting on the floor can stab him with a knife. Bet accepted, the victim sits and the water is poured. Then, on the count of three they go, one to wipe the water up, the second to stab the wiper. And, on the count of three, the wiper grabs the stabbers legs and drags him through the puddle!

Like I say, it made me laugh and as I chuckled I bethought of a victim upon whom I could play the same trick. Andrew of course. Thus at dinner I offered him a bet of two hundred bucks. Scenting a trick he demurred and admitted that he hadn't the two hundred bucks on his side. No problem I told him, if he lost the bet no money need change hands but if I lost he'd get two hundred smackeroos.

Greed took over as I demonstrated how he'd be sitting and soon he was in place on the kitchen floor. Just in case, we substituted a wooden spoon for the knife. Heh, I'm not that silly. I even let him choose how much water would go into the glass and he, being a greedy bastard, filled it to the brim.

The anti-climax is that it worked a treat and he's no richer now than he was before dinner. But I honestly thought Sonya would choke to death, she was laughing so hard.

And he took it well; methinks he's planning to try it on his friends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We've been married how long???

My wife rang me at the office today and said 'I know you'll laugh, but is your birthday the 24th or the 23rd?'

I certainly did laugh. 'Neither my dear. It's the 21st'.

'Oh', sheepishly.

We've only been married 6 years!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A new job

I start a new job in two weeks. Had the interview on Friday morning and by noon they'd sent me an email offer. Then two hours waiting for the boss to return from lunch so I could give my notice.

Substantially more money, half the distance to drive each day and, icing on the cake, they do flextime; I can, if I want, arrange my hours to have every second Friday off. I want!

On top of that they didn't bat an eyelid when I told them, during the initial phone screening, that I needed time off (39 days hence) to go to Australia. They won't pay me during the two weeks I'm gone but I'd hardly expect them to given that I'll be disappearing a month into the new job. The upside of that is that I'll still have 3 weeks leave at the end of the first year.

I'm pretty chuffed at landing a new job on only the second interview. Which isn't the same as saying on only the second application. It's amazing how one can send ones resume off and hear nothing. I was pretty choosy about when I sent my resume; in the job I'm leaving I had often to go through resumes for software developers and it was amazing the mismatches. We'd be looking for a c++ developer with 2 years experience; we'd get applicants who knew unix scripting or SQL server admin but no c++. Don't get me wrong, those are both useful skills, if you're a unix shop or a heavy database user; we weren't.

Back in 1988 I was also looking for a job and listed C as my primary language skill. I recall being sent to an interview and doing well until it came time for the practical test; they sat me down in front of a Pascal compiler, a language I knew very little about. Failed of course. You'll have noticed above that I said 'sent to an interview'. Meaning it was a recruitment agency that had set the interview up. When I followed up the guy said 'well, Pascal has a C in it!'. I wish that were a joke but alas it's not.

Given that I was looking for a senior position there was no way I was going to apply for a job requiring skills I don't have. Not only does one run the risk of coming off at the interview as a clueless dill, it's a waste of my time and theirs.

So one sends off ones resume and... nothing. I talked about this with Guy[^] a few weeks ago and he was also surprised that US companies don't seem to respond with a polite 'thanks but you don't appear to be a good match at this time'. It's been a lot of years since I last applied for a job in Australia and things may have changed but I seem to recall at least the courtesy of a reply. Methinks perhaps they're afraid of lawsuits; perhaps it's easier to pretend they never saw the resumes they winnowed out. *shrug*

As for the resumes *I* winnowed out; well that's personnel's job isn't it!

So I'm looking forward to a new job, working on .Net apps in C# and VB. It's all good ain't it!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Van Goghurt

Yes, you read that title right. Van Goghurt.

That's my best stab at how it's spelled. There I was the other day innocently driving to work and enduring what passes for drive time radio here when on comes an advertisement for Van Goghurt, followed by mention of Sugar Plum cookies. These are, apparently, products targetted at thoughtful parents who want their children to grow up with an appreciation of the arts. There's even mention of Tchaikovsky! Want to guess the ratio of sugar to plums in those cookies?

Doubtless an ad campaign thought up by someone who still believes that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach! And if that's true then lets feed the next generation on yoghurt artfully disguised as Van Goghurt - who knows, they might make the mental connection!

I can't help feeling that if you really really really wanted your kids to grow up with an appreciation of 'the arts' perhaps a better way might be to actually live it yourself and show by example. But that's just me.

I can see it now; one of the little bastards actually develops an interest in Van Gogh and discovers the depths of his parents ignorance of the subject; what a shock!

No, what we have here is a prime example of snobbery. 'I don't want to listen to Beethoven but you should' is what it boils down to. That's exactly what the advertisers are trying to tap into. 'Everyone knows' that 'Art is good' and if I feed my kids Van Goghurt I can subscribe to the notion without actually having to put in the effort to learn how to understand something that runs longer than three minutes.

Having said all that, have I made any effort to 'educate' Andrew or Morgan in classical music? Heck no! Enough that they know I enjoy it. They can see me spending hours, headphones on, listening, following scores, writing my own. If they want to know more they can ask.

One thing I've always stuck to; when either of them plays their own music I *never* criticise even if I find rap tedious. Their music is their music[^] whatever I might think of it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A minor detail

Last night I watched Billion Dollar Brain[^]. Not a great movie but not a bad one either. I have to admit I'm a sucker for a Michael Caine movie, particularly his earlier work and, having noticed in 'the guide' that this movie was directed by Ken Russell that was it; decision made.

Ken Russell is well known for his musical films, starting in the 60's with biographies of composers of the Romantic and Post Romantic era, people such as Elgar, Bax and Delius. I haven't managed to catch most of those earlier works; they just don't seem to be shown any more and perhaps no longer exist. The BBC, for whom most of these earlier films were made, seemed to make a practice of destroying material in the early 70's.

Just as well, then, that Ken made his transition to 'real' film at the end of the 60's; thus his 'versions' of the life of Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Liszt; not forgetting Tommy! I'll be the first to admit that The Music Lovers[^] is probably far more fantasy than fact but I don't let that minor detail get in the way of enjoying a visual and musical feast. Such a pity it's not available on DVD and I haven't managed to see it in 20 years!

In Mahler[^] he really went all out; images of Nazis goosestepping on Gustavs coffin anyone? Brunhilde feeding Gustav pork after he slays the dragon and following it with a glass of milk! Bad taste from the decade of bad taste. I do have that one on DVD.

I may not recognise the music of some minor artist of the 1980s when it crops up but the moment they play three bars of a major composers symphony I know it! Thus to the scene in Billion Dollar Brain where Harry Palmer (Caine) is being cleaned up before being led into the concert. Masterful piece of misdirection there; the scene has all the indicators that he's about to be tortured. Come to think of it, many folk might consider being dragged into a Symphony Concert as torture!

Colonel Stok comes into view, a tear running down his cheek as the symphony crashes to a close. He imparts the information that Shostakovich wrote the symphony in Leningrad in 1941 during the siege. In other words, it's supposed to be the 7th Symphony.

Uh huh. The music we actually hear at this point is the end of the 11th Symphony, written in 1957.

Just a minor detail but one that surprised me given Ken Russell's pedigree.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Remember the Alamo

Many years ago my grandmother told me that there was some family connection to The Alamo[^]. I would have been about 6 or 7 at the time and I suspect the only reason I have even the vaguest memory of her mentioning it was through having probably heard the word Alamo in the context of cowboy films.

Thirty years later my aunt retold the story. I can't remember if I asked her about it or if she volunteered the information and, given that she's been dead thirteen years, I can't go back and ask. She, as it happened, had almost nothing to add beyond there being 'some family connection'.

I have to admit I thought it unlikely unless you also consider the possibility that I'm related to the last Tsar of All the Russias! Sure, I thought, there may have been a Manderson at the battle. ([^], at the time of writing, estimate there are a thousand Mandersons in the US) but a common ancestor had to have been some centuries ago.

I fear we sometimes forget in the age of the internet how much more difficult and expensive it was to keep in contact with people on other continents. According to the AT&T history page at[^] the first phone service between London and the US (they don't say where in the US but I'll lay money it was New York City) was established in 1927, capacity a single call at a time, at $75 for the first 3 minutes!

At prices like that I doubt many people were discussing family minutiae.

So this 'family connection' with the Alamo always puzzled me. I had heard of no US relatives. Of course, I'd heard of precious few English or Scottish relatives either so that didn't count for much but if you know much of Australian Colonial History and attitudes you'd realise that it was far more likely we'd know about (and have) British relatives than American ones.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst indulging in ego-surfing, I found what I suspect is the answer to the mystery.

There's a tiny town in Wyoming called Manderson. I know it's tiny because Wikipedia says it has a population of 104. I'd suspect it was small even without Wikipedia if it's in Wyoming, the US state with the smallest population of them all.

And guess what? Uh huh, you guessed it. Before it was renamed Manderson that little town was called Alamo!

Of course, I now have to figure out how my grandmother heard of Charles Manderson, former chief counsel for Burlington Railroad. We've still got the immense unlikelihood of an American Manderson (myself excluded since naturalisation) being related!