Sunday, November 30, 2008


My back is rejoicing that I've finally finished Neal Stephenson's "Anathem", because I no longer have to lug it to and from work to read on the train. Typical Stephenson: 900 pages of infodump/textbook masquerading as a story. The subject of this work was the quantum theory of consciousness. Previous works have covered the history of economics, cryptography and nanotechnology. But you don't care, because they are awesome to read.

The first part of the novel reminded me of "A Canticle for Leibowitz". Scientist-monks, preserving knowledge while the rest of the world collapses. Anathem is much more than that, though. There's an action story where scientists save the world, embedded in dense discussions of heavyweight science. Which is great for a geek like me, but I think it'd probably scare off casual (=normal people) readers.

Narrated by Erasmus, one of the scientist-monks, he begins the story acting as an amanuensis (a bit like a note-keeper) to Fraa Orolo, his mentor. He also ends the story as an amanuensis, but in a different way, after making a thrilling journey through Stephenson's well-crafted world.

Awesome stuff. Wait for it to come out in paperback, even better as e-book, or make sure you have private health care that covers the extensive spine damage from carrying it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Running: GPS doesn't work when misty?

I learnt two things in my run this morning. One: iPhone GPS doesn't seem to work when it is misty/drizzly/cloudy. This sort of makes sense to me; our satellite TV reception in the UK used to go to shit when it rained. Of course, I could be wrong. More experiments are needed. Anyway, this meant I couldn't upload my run data to trailguru and get some nice graphs.

Two: running faster makes me slower. I was trying to speed up a little on this run, doing the same distance as I ran on Monday, but just a little bit faster. I must have gone a bit too fast, because I had to stop and walk after about 9 minutes, something I haven't had to do for a few weeks. To improve my speed I think I need to monitor my pace via the trailguru thing as I'm running, and make sure that I'm only increasing it slightly. Altogether this run took me about a minute longer than Monday, although without the GPS data I can't really tell how much faster I was running in the first half or how much slower it made me in the second half.

UPDATE: I don't think it was the mist. The 2.2 firmware update borked the GPS temporarily, I think. A reboot (hold down home and sleep) sorted it out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Important educational material

Important educational material
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

The children must learn the secrets of wax on, wax off and wobbling
about on one leg with arms outstretched.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Running: Trailguru

I downloaded a great little app for my iPhone: Trailguru. It uses the GPS thingy to map your run, and you can post it to their site, where it will make a map for you:

It also generates a load of statistics: how long you ran for, average speed, pace, etc.

Very cool. The site is also a lot easier to use than MapMyRun, which I found really confusing. I tried to delete my mapmyrun account this morning, and it took ages to find the tiny little link. Clicking that link just popped up a javscript alert that said "Click on contact us page to request a removal of your account". Request a removal? Twats.

Anyway. This morning I ran for 16 minutes, a distance of 2.61km at a pace of 6mins/km. I need to work on going a bit faster, I think.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fluff trees

Fluff trees
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Australian fluff trees produce over 70% of the world's fluff, lint,
and choss. This batch is destined for the belly buttons of Italy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the Garden of Iden

Another Tor freebook read, this time on my iPhone using the BookshelfLT app. It is free, reads mobipocket format ebooks, and works quite well. Can't complain.

"In The Garden Of Iden", by Kage Baker, is the first volume in what looks to be an infinite series of novels about The Company - a standard, sf-style, shadowy entity whose own operatives know little about. Except these operatives are immortals, made so by time-travelling scientists, living through the past collecting rarities for sale in the future. Did I mention this is a historical romance set in Elizabethan England?

It's a good read, funny, exciting. Not bad for free.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Santa's little helpers

Santa's little helpers
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

A little bit more running

This morning I added am extra couple of hundred metres to my run. I
still managed to keep running the whole distance, which is good.

I'll have to map the run later to see how little I actually added. I
might give's iPhone app a try next time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flying a kite

Flying a kite
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

An enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

iPhone WPA Wi-Fi Problem

My iPhone refused to connect to my home wireless network. It is set up to use WPA, and my Mac OS X iBook, a Windows XP laptop and even my old Windows Mobile phone could all join the network happily. Not so my shiny new iPhone. It complained. I eventually tracked this down to my WPA password either being too long (18 characters), or that it had a non-alphanumeric character in it (single quote). I changed it to a 9-letter password (all alphabetic characters), and all is well.


Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

There is no such word as mentee. Mentor was an advisor of Telemachus,
Odysseus' son, in homer's epic.

Another iphone attempt

Another iphone attempt
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Does this have location info?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Building scalable websites

Cal Henderson, chief geek at Flickr, wrote an O'Reilly book about making big websites. Big as in, serving millions of page views a day. That big. The website I work on is not that big, but we get millions a month, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to know how the big boys do it.

The first couple of chapters are aimed at the small, one-man-band, startup dev team. They cover source control, development environments, that sort of thing. The last four or five chapters are the meaty parts, covering caching, identifying bottlenecks, layering your application to improve flexibility, monitoring and defining apis. The focus is definitely on open-source tools, which is good, but he does cover some of the more common paid-for alternatives when needed. He also gives you some useful rules for working out what to choose, in terms of hardware and software.

There's some good stuff in here, that outweighs the less-relevant (to me) chapters.

New York Trilogy and Orphans Of Chaos

Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy" is three literary detective stories. This means that he takes the interesting parts of the detective genre (twisty turny plot, action, crime) and replaces them with navel-gazing, wordplay, and characters that spend the whole wondering about their own motives for doing absolutely fuck all for a few hundred pages. Yawn.

"Orphans Of Chaos", another Tor freebook, written by A. Pervert, starts off pretty well as a Famous Five find out they are Ancient Gods trapped in a boarding school. Things start getting a bit weird when the heroine (whose exact age is unknown but varies between 14 and 20, depending on how pervy the author was feeling at the time) decides she loves being dominated by men, tied up, spanked, etc. But it's all ok, because the plot reveals that she was made this way by one of the naughty mythical supporting characters.

Promising plot ruined by dodgy perviness.

Of course I read it all.

Proper running

After a break of a week or two, initially due to knee precautions, later mostly laziness, I'm back to running. Today: a full circuit of the school, roughly 2.5kms, without walking. That's roughly 8.5mins running, with 1min walking at the end. Yay! Go team me! Next stage: increase the distance a little bit, with a little walk break after 8mins.

Knee integrity: 100 per cent, sir. Mid-leg articulatory zone is at full combat readiness status. We are green for go, do you copy? Shutting up now, sir.