Friday, January 30, 2009

Head Down

Lynne is out at her book club today so me and the mobile trash can are out for walkies stag.

I decide that it has been a while since we tried to climb the oppidum (we have been driving up to the top and then walking because of the bad weather) so we give it a go today. Whilst it doesn't bother the 4-paw drive, maximum traction Labrador in the least, I find the paths covered in two inches of water and ankle-deep mud to be more than a little treacherous after this week's rains. Back to driving up tomorrow...

Having worked my way through the new Doctor Who series (and Torchwood) recently, I am now watching some of the classic Dr Who episodes featuring the Daleks and Cybermen. Many of these I have never seen because I lost the faith once Tom Baker took over, and it only went downhill from there, IMHO.

However, having got used to the more lighthearted portrayal of the Doctor by Tennant and Ecclestone, and having warmed to Baker in other roles in recent years, I find the early episodes much easier to watch. Incredibly, despite the low budget and limited special effects (you can actually see the feet under the Daleks as they try to cross rough terrain in one episode!) the quality of the writing and story-telling stands the test of time, and these 30-year old episodes are very watchable. I kick off with Genesis of the Daleks (one of the best Dr Who stories ever bar none) and Destiny of the Daleks (the follow-up) and am mightily impressed. The extras are well worth watching too.

The rest of the day it is head down over my C programming book (or rather, C Programming PDF file...) ... ahhhhh, it's all coming back to me.... the long hours... the stiff neck... the dodgy Pointy-Haired Bosses.... the irate users... the crappy salaries....

Who wouldn't enjoy being a programmer?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Harry Goes All Webby

Harry is going mad with this new technology stuff. Don't know how he got my credit card but he has registered himself some domains and got himself a blog.

He posts under his official French name, Arri, so you can find him at:

http://www.arrithelabrador.com

Right now his blog is a straight feed from his Twitter posts - lazy sod. He reckons it's because it's hard enough to type 140 character Tweets when you don't have opposable thumbs.

Any excuse...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cooking Stuff

Here is a quick and easy recipe for those of you too lazy to go out for takeaway:

Take some ingredients out of the fridge. Try to choose some ingredients from each of the four main food groups: animal, mineral, vegetable and chocolate. Try to include as many colours as possible

Anything round, you should dice finely. This is nothing to do with board games, but involves chopping up into very small pieces, each one looking like a very small die. This is an opportunity to show off all those cool knife skills you learned in Chef School.

Put blue plaster on thumb. Put blue plaster in index finger. Did you know I can reproduce? I will send you some baby pictures once you finish this

Anything which is green, shred using very fast knife action.

Put blue plaster on little finger. Consider wearing gloves.

Saute green stuff with some onions and spices until gently aromatic and fruity.

Mix water and animal bones and vegetables in a pan and boil slowly to make a delicious stock. This is the base of all your classic dishes so make sure you make it like chef told you. I find that adding a small pinch of salt at exactly five munute intervals will make the finished stock glossy and sleek.

In another pan (assuming you have more than one of those hot things on top of your stove - if not you will have to wait until the stock is finished) you make a burr-blank. This should be made with the finest of your ingredients. Make sure you melt the butter in the cream slowly like chef taught you and not like that idiot in chef school has been trying to tell you.

Rub some butter on the burn on your thumb. Consider buying an iPhone 2 years after everyone else had one. Spend a few hours deciding how you will split your Abba collection between your iPod and iPhone.

Add some of the animal ingredients to the stock - after several minutes this will turn into a nourishing stew.

Sieve the stew onto a plate.

Pour over the burr-blank. Make sure you wipe any splashes off the edge of the plate using some toilet roll

The shredded green things should be arranged in a pleasing pattern around the stew

Serve with a good wine - some red is best, from France probably. Burgundy, I think, to complement the colour of the greens.

With apologies to Chris, who probably cooks much better stuff than this really...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Techie Day

Futzing around (sorry for the technical term!) today refining backup strategy (Time Machine and Mac Backup are pretty darn good for "freebies", as long as you have plenty of spare Terabyte hard drives lying around to handle the huge amounts of data you can accumulate on a Drobo - CDs and DVDs are just not gonna cut it any more...) and trying to get to grips with various social network sites, figuring out how best to handle to sometimes overwhelming amount of information that can hit your PC/phone in the average day.

Finally knuckle down to some programming work around 6pm!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sucky Weather


Truncated dog walk this morning due to the crappy weather (again!). You would think Harry would be pissed off by this, wouldn't you? Benson would have been - Benson loved water in all its forms, and a bit (or a LOT) of rain would never have affected his desire to go out for a walk.

Harry, on the other hand, is a fair-weather Labrador. He has been known to sit in the doorway when it is particularly rainy with a look that says "OK, you go, and on your way back please fetch me a litter box so I can make with the pee-pee indoors. Thanks awoofully".

The rest of the day is spent investigating Twitter clients and RSS readers for the Mac, and forging ahead with the bone-up-on-C-fest.

As far as RSS readers are concerned, you could do a lot worse than try Google reader - it is a lot easier to track entries from the blogs you follow by using a single reader than by going from site to site via bookmarks. The other advantage of using Google Reader is that I can import all of those feeds directly into my preferred iPhone RSS reader - Pro RSS.

For Twitter, the obvious choice is Twitteriffic. This is a great client for both iPhone and Mac desktop, but although very easy to use, it is somewhat light on features. Tweetie is my current choice for the iPhone, a client which makes it much easier to follow/unfollow, reply, search, and so on. For the desktop, however, there is something of a dearth of good clients. Forget TweetDeck - anything that runs on Adobe Air is doomed to fail IMHO. Adobe Air is another one of those bloated lipstick-wearing-pigs - much like Java - which deserves to die at the earliest opportunity.

Enter EventBox (currently in Beta, from http://thecosmicmachine.com/), which not only provides a very nice Twitter client (very similar to Tweetie), but also RSS reader, Google Reader, Facebook and Flickr support. All my social networking stuff in one place - finally - even at $15 that can't be bad.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Intellectual Challenge

I've decided to try and prevent total atrophy of brain cells by (a) reducing the amount of wine consumed, and (b) brushing up on my programming skills.

OK, so (a) is a non-starter - we all know that. This means I will have to rely on (b). In my dim and distant past, I started my computer career as a programmer, writing very dull programs for large companies to do stock control, payroll, WIP tracking, order processing, and so on. Although this will date me terribly, I will admit that I just missed the PC revolution - although I have always used them (and purchased one of the very first IBM PC clones to hit the UK), I have never programmed for them.

Realising that I have just got myself a kick-ass software development environment (the new iMac) and that Apple actually makes all its developer software and documentation available for free (how cool is that?) I have decided to bone up on my C programming skills so that I can get to grips with Objective-C and Cocoa to write apps for the Mac. Once I have mastered that I will start messing with the iPhone SDK (also free!) so that I can write apps for the iPhone.

Knowing that it will bore some of you to death, but also aware that it will interest others, and exercising the inalienable right of all bloggers to fill the Internet with self-indulgent garbage that will ultimately interest only themselves (and even that is questionable at times) I will be keeping you updated on my progress :o)

Great walk today up to the oppidum for the first time in weeks. Not the first time that we have walked on the top - we have been driving up - but the first time we have attempted the long climb since the rains started. The path up has been treacherous, with fallen trees from the high winds and too much mud from all the rain, but it has just about started to dry out again. So we give it a go.

On the way up we meet Pooka, the boxer bitch who lives just down the road from us and seems to make her own entertainment by buggering off round the village whenever she feels like it. We have never once seen her being walked by her owners, but she does join us frequently on our walks (and we suspect she participates in many other walks with many other packs too!)

Anyway, she loves to run and play with Harry, but all Harry is interested in is sniffing her back end and trying to mount her. Looks like she may be coming into season shortly judging by the amount of drool Harry is producing, but Harry doesn't appear to know what he is doing in the sex stakes so not too much to worry about right now. Need to keep an eye on those two kids, though....

Don't forget to check out Harry's adventures in his own words in the sidebar on the right or at Twitter, and please consider clicking the "Follow Blog" link down there on the right too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sir PukeAlot

Bad night. VERY bad night.

Woken at 3am by the sound of a 40KG Labrador hurling his guts up outside the bedroom door. Try to get back off to sleep - maybe it's a bad dream, maybe it's real, but either way it can be dealt with in the morning. However, images of shattered pork chop bones floating in pools of yellow bile keep insinuating themselves into my consciousness and in the end I am so wide awake that I figure I might as well deal with it now rather than wait for it to congeal and dry into a horrid mess.

As I get dressed I ruminate on what a bad idea it was to give Harry the pork chop bones right before we all went to bed - but you try refusing a Labrador when he puts his chin on your lap and looks up at you from under his lids (remember that look Princess Di used to give to get everyone to fall in love with her?) with those huge brown eyes. OK, so we're weak, but we often forget that Harry has missed out on a lot of the treats that Benson used to get at his age just because he grew up in a time when Benson was having trouble holding his poo and so any treats liable to induce something of a jet-propelled nature were withheld from both dogs. The result now is that Harry is not used to these occasional rich treats, and I guess we all pay the price.

So I step out of the bedroom door to find the first pool of mess. Passing my study I see the next one just inside the doorway, and the smaller one right under my desk - has he been laying traps in revenge for the fact that I spent all say playing Spore instead of playing with him? Downstairs there are another four pools spread around the sitting room - I know that (thankfully) dog vomit does not smell anything like as bad as human vomit (why IS that?) but, regardless of that minor mercy, I do wish they would stay in one place until they finish chucking up.

I come down to find Harry lying on his bed, managing to cram both a "I'm SOOO sorry" look and a "Who me?" look on his face at the same time, and never quite making up his mind which one to go with. Dogs are always so upset when they throw up - to them it equates to crapping indoors, it would seem - and yet of course you cannot be remotely angry with them for being ill. Problem is, Harry seems to take the lack of admonishment to mean "OK, everything is cool, let's play" and starts to bound around through pools of vomit chucking his freshly laundered cuddly diplodocus in the air.

So NOW I get mad at him....

Long story short - I mop up the pools of sick and shattered pig bones with kitchen towels, Lynne follows behind with mop and bucket, and Harry goes back to sleep. It is 5am before I get off to sleep.... now I feel like crap.

Joke

Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know me?'

She responded, 'Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.'

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, 'Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?'

She again replied, 'Why yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.'

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, 'If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair.'

Friday, January 23, 2009

Geek Heaven

My new iMac arrived yesterday, so since then my butt has been glued firmly to my seat and I have been in geek heaven as I mess around with it.

It has a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, 750GB hard drive, a hardware-accelerated NVIDIA GeForce 8800GS graphics card with 512MB of VRAM (1920x1200 resolution with 32 bit colour) 5 USB ports (3 on the back of the screen and 2 on the keyboard), a FireWire 800 port and a FireWire 400 port. The screen is 24" of digital wonderfulness - I love it.

For those of you who are only used to Windows, I can make you green with envy by telling you that it takes a matter of 5 minutes of user interaction to set up a new Mac, followed by a few hours of disk activity depending on how much data needs copying from your old machine.

I connected my old MacBook to the iMac via FireWire and booted both. The iMac asked me a couple of simple questions and then I went for breakfast and to watch some classic Doctor Who episodes as the iMac copied over all my data, mail, account settings, preferences - literally everything which personalises your machine. Less than 3 hours later the new machine is ready to use and is indistinguishable in operation to the old one- seamless. Also - the OS itself is full updated in one hit so no need for the usual Windows Four-Days-Of-Downloads-And-Updates rubbish.

Spore - a Christmas present from Lynne - proves more difficult to install and requires that I unplug all external drives and close down all processes before it will update itself successfully. Why is games software still so flaky? I can see why dedicated consoles such as the PS3 are so popular!

However, Spore is not available on a console, so I persevere - and what a spectacular game it is. You control a single-celled organism from the moment it arrives in the tidal pool through all its stage of evolution from simple organism through to space travel, having a hand in designing the look and capabilities of your creature as it evolves. Very engrossing.

Pardon me while I get back to it - we just invented fire.....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harry Winston Speaks

I don't know how he managed it - no opposable thumbs and all - but Harry seems to have got himself a Twitter account.

Now we're gonna have to stop beating him and leaving him out in the snow....

Harry's latest Tweets will appear automatically in the sidebar on the right, or you can follow him in full at www.twitter.com/harry_winston or @harry_winston in your Twitter client.

You will also notice a new widget at the bottom of the sidebar, called "Followers". This looks like it could be interesting or embarrassing, so please consider clicking on the "Follow" link so I don't feel all Billy No-Mates.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You Need To Be So Careful

This is just one of the many reasons I don't have kids.....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Drizzly

Supposed to be playing golf today but what do we see when we look out of the window? Dreary, grey, leaden skies. Drizzle. DRIZZLE! In the south of France?

So I spend the day watching movies and sorting out my backup and data storage issues. I bought a Drobo recently (expensive, but well worth the cost given the level of data security and flexibility it offers) and just invested in a fourth Terabyte hard drive for it, so I have a total of 3TB of on-line storage attached to my Mac now (plus whatever the Mac's hard drive gives me).

With almost 600GB of MP3s, movies and TV shows in iTunes alone, plus video footage, eBooks, photos, etc. I need a different means of backing this up other than DVDs. Yes, I KNOW Drobo will protect me from drive failures, but "Just In Case" I need to make sure I am not going to lose this stuff if ever Drobo goes up in smoke (let's face it, those digital photos are irreplaceable, and there is a lot of money invested in the iTunes stuff).

My local computer store which has just opened in Calvisson is a great source of cheap accessories - WD 1TB hard drives, for example, for just 120 Euros! And he came to the rescue with a neat external hard drive docking station for just 32 Euros. This is a small plastic box which attaches to your Mac or PC via USB and allows you to insert any old SATA drive (2.5" or 3.5"), which then appears as an external USB hard drive on your PC. So I bought one of those, and now I can just buy a cheap SATA drive whenever I need to add some backup storage to my system - pop it in the dock, backup, pull it out the dock, and stick it in a drawer: voila!

I use the Mac Backup utility to do those big off-line backups, but anyone who uses a Mac should also take a look at Time Machine. By sticking a spare drive in that docking station, Time Machine will perform automatic incremental backups at hourly intervals, then daily, then weekly. TM also integrates tightly with certain applications such as Mail and iPhoto, so you don't have to go hunting around a backup disk to figure out directory structures looking for a particular e-mail message or photo. Instead, you fire up the application, and TM will let you step back in time WITHIN that app to restore a single mailbox, e-mail or picture. Pretty impressive. Microsoft users eat your heart out.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wedding Dance

Cheesy? Dunno - given how much we all hate going to weddings, I think I would rather see the happy couple doing something like this than a boring waltz or "English Shuffle" around the dance floor.

One thing is for sure: when they started working on this routine they probably hadn't even fallen in love yet....

Impressive Goal

This is an impressive goal, to be sure. But even more impressive are the almost superhuman, cat-like efforts of the goalkeeper.

Watch carefully, otherwise you might miss his save....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hard Golf

Yes golf is hard. But it's even harder when the ground is hard - or in this case, pretty much solid. It's amazing that where we are the snow lasted less than 24 hours and our garden is back to normal, yet just a few miles up the road there are parts to the golf course which are still covered in a layer of snow, and other parts which are frozen solid.

It's no fun trying to bash your tee into concrete, and it's even less fun watching your perfect pitch shot rebound off the solid green and carry on for another 50 yards rather than nestle next to the pin. Pitching back onto that same green is no fun either - if your ball doesn't get stuck in the snow then it ricochets off the solid surface to shoot off down the other side of the green - 2 or 3 shots like that and you might as well give up.

So under the circumstances, 49 out and 50 back is a pretty good score, I think! At least I hit 11 fairways and 2 greens, so my battle against the dreaded slice continues to move in a positive direction.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Experimentation

When we were looking for artwork for our walls after we finished the renovation, we decided to try and use some of our own in the form of photos we have taken. One idea was for a gallery of very personal - family, friends, dogs and us - pictures given a sepia tint and mounted in a very geometric way in 24 8x8 frames. It worked well on one of the big walls in our living room (you can see it in the photos I took on Christmas day).

To fill smaller places in other rooms we went for more colour. I didn't have time to mess around with Photoshop so I tried a shortcut. I have an application for my iPhone called Camerabag, which gives you a number of pre-defined settings with which to process your pictures. It is designed mainly to add some "oomph" to the rather feeble 2 megapixel pics taken by the iPhone itself, but I imported a bunch of my own pics (taken on a 10 megapixel Canon SLR) into the iPhone, processed them using the "Lolo" setting of Camerabag and them put them back on my Mac for printing.

With just a single click required for each photo, the result is a hugely over-processed look with loss of resolution, increased grain, increased sharpness, incredible colour saturation and high contrast - pretty much the result I was after. However, it does not give you any control over the border or cropping, which did make some of my photos unusable, unfortunately, due to the severe crop to square format.

Printed up to 5x5 and matted into an 8x8 frame and grouped together in similar colour schemes they work quite well on the walls. The computer screen does not do them justice, but see what you think....



BTW - see if you can spot the joke with the photo of the abandoned truck....

Friday, January 09, 2009

First Snow

We had our first snow fall of the year here - in fact the first serious snow fall I can remember since moving from the frozen north of the Cevennes!

It lasted all of 24 hours before the snow melted and disappeared, but this was long enough for the true Labrador to come out in Harry. It is the most animated we see him on his walk - he clearly loves the snow.

Hopefully we will get to take him on a ski holiday again this year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Watching What?

I have to say, I am with Alex on this one. I thought the idea was sound, but was ruined by Hollywood's insistence on casting big names - names who, unfortunately, cannot sing or dance. The only one worth listening to was the (unknown) daughter of the Meryl Streep character, who was the only one with a singing voice. Had they cast this with people who could actually sing and dance, I am sure they would have still drawn the viewers, and they could have always given cameo roles to the "big" names. Anyhow, ultimately unsatisfying and in many places deeply cringeworthy. Don't buy it - rent it at your peril.

In contrast, I hugely enjoyed "Wanted", starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman. Based on the cult comic book (aren't they all these days?) it borrowed heavily from The Matrix, but that's no bad thing. Amazing effects and a good story - anyone who liked The Matrix will love this.

Another derivative work which is no less entertaining for that is the new TV series from the creator of Lost, called "Fringe". This one is a huge X-Files rip-off, which also borrows from Lost, Alias, CSI, Bones - you name it..... Anyhow, the jury is still out on this one, but I am liking it right now 'cos I am a big X-files fan - if you are then you will too.

Finally, iTunes/AppleTV makes it so easy to dip in and out of series and sample before you commit to a full series that I am starting to go back and revisit older titles. It has taken me a long time - mainly because Tom Baker put me off for life - but I have got into the new Doctor Who in a big way. Jon Pertwee was to Doctor Who what Sean Connery was to James Bond, so when Tom Baker made a mockery of the whole thing (only to be followed by "actors" who made him look good, including the likes of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy) I gave up on it.

Despite taking most of the first series to warm to Christopher Ecclestone (which was unfortunately the length of his tenure as the Doctor!) I did start to enjoy his performance, and Billie Piper was a revelation. David Tennant has been excellent, and the writing is streets ahead of the earlier series - for the first time we have loose story arcs that last en entire series or more and the whole thing can be incredibly dark on occasion. Added to that the most incredible score I have ever heard on a TV series performed wonderfully by the Welsh BBC Orchestra and you have a series well worth watching.

It is unfortunate that Tennant has decided to leave, and I am not at all sure about the new guy they have cast - could be another Tom Baker moment coming. We shall see.