Monday, January 30, 2006

Fun day out!

In case any of you are looking for a fun day out, here is a recipe that works:
  • Rent an RX-8 (has a lot more leg room than an RX-7, though less kick).
  • Drive to the seaside (good weather is definitely a bonus).
  • On the way to the seaside, stop at a mushroom picking place, and start picking.
  • Go to the seaside and eat some fish , then go for a walk along the beach.
  • Have a hot spring footbath (it looks like you have red socks on when you come out - can this really be healthy ?).
  • Go to a glass-works and make some glass art (by the way, that is my (unique) rendition of a Payara in case you were wondering - though you can't really see the front teeth so well in that picture).
  • Head to the beach again to watch the sunset .
  • Head home.
  • Eat a quick dinner.
  • Fall asleep.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Toilet humour, a funky fluid, and motivation for me

One of my friends recently told me a funny true story. Modern Japanese toilets have lots of buttons and functionality, most of which nowadays require you to sit on the toilet seat before they will work. It seems that the "is seated" sensor is a relatively recent addition. Anyway, jump back a few years to when these new high fangled toilets came out (pre-"is seated" sensing capability). One of my friends' fathers was examining his new purchase and like most people with new gadgets did not bother to read the instructions. Apparently, he pushed the button for the bidet function (not knowing what it was) and saw this telescopic arm extend down from the back of the seat. Wondering what this was he bent down to get a closer look at which point he was greeted by a jet of water straight to his face. :-)

On TV the other day was a dilatant fluid (shear-thickening) demonstration. This particular fluid (though technically it is a suspension) was made from cornstarch (=cornflour) and water. It has the funky property that when sheared its viscosity increases. This was demoed by a guy putting his foot into a big tub of the stuff and being unable to pull it out (you have to move slowly) and then managing to stand on top of the fluid by running on the spot. I don't have a video of that demo, but here is another one that shows persistent holes:

[Silly Putty has dilatant-like properties but is technically a viscoelastic material.]

Further to the saga of New Year resolutions and the particular goal to improve my typing. I have been wondering what the best way to motivate myself on this front should be. The goal itself is a means to an end but not something I will enjoy in itself (unlike pool playing, snow boarding, language study, indoor rowing, etc). As such, I am thinking that I need some achievement awards or something to ensure that I am suitably incentivised to stick with this activity and see it through to the completion of the goal. I think the incentive should provide positive motivation, but apart from that I am having trouble deciding on what form it should actually take. One idea is to keep a clear jar that gets regular (perhaps daily?) cash contributions (either from loose change or of a fixed amount) and if I meet my monthly improvement targets then I can use the contents of the jar on something I enjoy (should be pre-decided at the start of the month; a fancy dinner perhaps?). Failure to keep up would perhaps mean that the fund needs to go into the savings account or 50% or so should roll-over to the next month. What other ways are there of providing good positive motivation for goals like these ?

back again

Sorry for that interruption to the regular programming. I kind of got a bit busy there with a birthday, a snowboarding trip, reading a couple of books, and having too much work - not necessarily in that order.

The snowboarding trip (excellent thanks!) also served as an informal fitness check for my spine, and although I did hear my neck make some really loud "doing up a zipper" noises when I didn't quite land on my feet (though the snow was very soft) it seems that the area of my lower back where I had some problems is reasonably recovered. This is great news because for the last 4 months I have been unable to play pool or do ergs. I did a fairly gentle erg yesterday and (luckily, I can't report the distance as my batteries were very weak so I was getting some weird splits) my back still feels okay. So, I will start to get back into it (much needed) and see if I can make my fitness goals for this year (part of my "New Year Resolutions"). I will also start to play pool again which I'm really looking forward to - I want to make some kind of video montage about pool so I definitely need practice for that.

I just read "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" (actually, I should join Amazon's affiliate/associate program and do proper reviews and see if I can't generate a bit of cash from people clicking through or something - has anyone any experience with setups that work ?). It was a fairly nice and an easy read. The "story" way of illustrating the points was quite alright and actually let me identify quite clearly those people in my current organisation that have the same character types. That said though I think that tbe book missed out by not exploring more why teams tend are so easily put out of kilter - though perhaps the scope there is a bit too broad. [Incidently, a book I read a while back that was also written in story form, called "The Goal", was also a good read.]

Here's a neat idea: track paper money as it moves around to improve models about how disease might spread. Perhaps it is possible to do some historical analysis and see how ideas spread too before the internet and wide distribution newspapers appeared. Perhaps it can also be done with the internet but looking at demographically based spreading rather than geographically based.

Further to my comments about wanting to improve my typing, I used this typing test and tutor (note that for the tutor only the first couple of lessons are free). I'll take the test once a month and post my scores. What's a good goal over the course of a year ? I'm currently thinking that 100wpm is doable.

This Dilbert is very funny (though maybe you have to know me for this to be very funny :-D ).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Web footprint

I just googled myself (with various name formations) to find out what my web presence is like and it turns out my web footprint is a size zero!.....perhaps that is a good thing :-)

I just finished a book called "The Search" which several friends have read and since become google-haters (which seems to have been quite popular lately). I need to find out what it is that turned them off google as after finishing the book I didn't find too much that "rubbed me the wrong way". The only thing that struck me really was the trend to greater transparency that advertising seems to be following. Ultimately, this would mean that largely only completed purchases lead to a back payment of advertising dollars (like these affiliate programs). With increased ability to track people's web movements (and the amount of time they spend on pages - perhaps also in the future where their eyes spend time on pages) it should also be possible to split that advertising budget up amongst the relevant ads that people spent time on before they finally made the purchase.

I've also just finished another book about improving work practices and productivity and one of the points that resonated with me was to improved typing as a key to increasing throughput. If you think about it it is obvious that if you spend a lot of time typing then being a good typist would be an advantage to getting things done. Anyway, I found some online typing tests and clocked myself at a fairly consistent 54 WPM which is lower than I thought. As a result of this I think I will make becoming a competent touch typist one of my goals for the year. I did some more searching and found a typing tutor and did the "home keys + i & e" lesson (about 20 mins of typing) and took the test at the end of that: 24WPM and a very fatigued left forearm (obviously years of using the wrong digits is not going to be overcome overnight). I guess I should do a periodic posting from these typing tests to see how I am doing...

Google video links

The true Australian spirit:

Freaky flexibility video:

I don't recall my calculus lessons being anything like this:

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Link time!

This aerogel stuff is amazing.

This person's stomach, on the other hand, must be frighteningly robust (check out the prison wine).

The latest addition to the web2.0/ajax/social-tagging family of web sites. :-)

This quote so captures the reason why large corporations can be behemoths.

On a vocabulary front, did you know that phlegm can also refer to emotionlessness ?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fun stuff

I survived for over 25 seconds on this game. I think 26 seconds is doable with a bit more practice but feel that 30 seconds would take an inordinate amount of time (so I won't do it unless someone I know beats me :-) ).

At last someone has explained the logic of lego.

This is a most very cool picture (the best to date apparently).

Cats can be really stupid.

In the movie "A Bugs Life" there is a great quote that goes something like "The first rule of leadership: it's always your fault!" If only this could be taken more seriously in corporations then I think that they would a> run smoother and b> people would be more productive.....

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Just say "no" :-)

Hmmm, things get a little bit busy and all of a sudden I am ignoring my writing. Not good, not good...

So, what has been happening ? Well, the company I have been working for has been discussing relocation possibilities with me and that finally came to its expected conclusion, and so now there is a bit of a flurry of activity to come up with transition plans and the like (from their side). Aditionally, I've been preparing for a performance review on Monday, and packing up some stuff for a local office move. Aaaaa----, the fun never ends eh?

Random thought of the morning: if people are becoming progressively more plugged in to alerts about emails/instant messages/new posts etc, will we eventually see significant changes in our mammalian brains to handle this at a less conscious level ? At the moment it seems that we are all very inefficient about doing these constant context switches to scan all this new information that is coming in.

I'm glad to see that someone is taking a sceptical look at the environmental impact of schemes that extract energy from cold deep water in lakes/oceans.

Speaking of oceans I just watched a program about fishermen going to sea to catch 150kg tuna. They seem to basically use a hook, a line, and a sonar system. It looks like an incredibly tough life! Though for some reason I do feel a little drawn towards it...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When things start to turn down...

Google's stockprice is currently flying high, but it could all go pear-shaped. Presumably, Microsoft's entry into this space will have some impact, though I guess it depends on how they do it and where abouts on the Parteo/Power-law/Zipf distribution that they occur.

I've lost count of the number of times that this has happened to me, but once again, yesterday, I heard from a good friend that they are getting ready to go and live in a different country. I really am not keen on events like these, as:
  1. I get to look forward to the prospect of one less friend to hang out with, and
  2. I get forced into thinking where my life is going and when I may decide to move...
Both are pretty bad, the first not least because it has happened so many times that I don't actually have that many good friends to hang out with anymore. Of course, to some degree this is balanced by having good friends to subsequently go and stay with in exotic places, but it totally does in the 'not-to-be-underestimated' random short-notice hook up!

The second of course, is arguably worse though as most people are their own worst critic and questions about how one is doing with regard to the big picture of life almost invariably are doomed to be rated as "could have done better". Actually, on the whole I've not really had a problem with this one in the past, but this time I am dwelling on it somewhat. I think this perhaps has something to do with the stuff that is going on at work, but I am not sure. Perhaps I will expand further on this if I make some progress on understanding it :-)

On a lighter note, I quite like games. Especially ones that are challenging in a different way to the usual ones. There is one here (requires javascript) and several here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Crazy people

There are some seriously crazy people in the world! Though I have to admit I am jealous!

I like the way this illustrates some points about what is involved when Microsoft or Yahoo are forced to respond to a Google challenge. The fire & motion article it links to is also worth checking out.

Talking of crazy, how many people would think to immerse their PC in cooking oil for silent operation ? I bet it is a nightmare to add more memory/replace the video card :-)

I need to start writing about my New Year's resolutions so that I will be able to see how I did at the end of the year. As one person has already pointed out I should already be about 2% towards completing them - going to be a bit difficult since I am not even sure what they are yet :-) I will probably recycle some of last years but try and keep them as a manageable set this time to give them a chance of being realised.

Another person I know at work today announced that they are leaving (perhaps this is the start of a trend). It took them a while to make the decision but once they did they looked around and seem to have landed themselves a new job with a 50% pay increase!

Computer stuff

This is a fascinating article about Feynman and the connection machine!

Speaking of computers, here is an article explaining Google's filesystem that was kind of interesting. Not to be confused with GMailFS that I plan on trying out (or a variant thereof, as I have some other email accounts with even more storage).

Staying with filesystems I may upgrade my very full iPod should it show even the slightest hint of a disk issue (of course, I'll try and use a 1.8" disk rather than a 3.5" one :-) )

Getting back to humans, here are some more things of interest from the Guy who brought us the 10/20/30 rule. I'm very interested in understanding VC's and their thinking style at the moment :-)

By the way, I just discovered PubSub which creates an RSS feed out of your keywords by searching all the things that it subscribes to. This seems to me to be similar to having a google query execute continously! That, it seems to me, is pretty powerful...

Finally, a very random link: try entering "salad fingers" into google video and watching the resulting cartoons (by fat-pie). Not for the fainthearted, but somewhat entertaining even if it is the product of a warped mind.

Today's post was brought to you with a day off work, several glasses of red wine, and BBC radio 1's "Fabio and Grooverider".

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fun with snow

Yesterday four of us went snowboarding (technically, three of us went snowboarding and one went skiing). We got up very early and headed to the station. Unfortunately, due to an accident and excessive snow (perhaps snow also caused the accident) the line we wanted to travel on was not running.

Eventually, the service resumed, but since it was a Saturday and a lot of people wanted to go to the same area as us, there was an enormous number waiting for that first train. We were lucky enough to get on, though we did have to stand the whole way.

Anyway, the really annoying thing was that the train continued to stop at all the intermediate stations where there were also large groups of people keen to get on the train. In spite of several calls from the conductor that people make more room to "allow even one more passenger" no one could really get on without invoking some child's cries of pain from being squashed (at which point they would get off again). I think if I were running the line then I would have choosen the place that most of the people wanted to go and made the first train go there without stopping at any intermediate station then send a train to the next station and do the same thing there. Then start a regular service once the initial glut has been handled. I should build a proper model to see if this is really more efficient, but I don't have the time at the moment.

Anyway, once we arrived at the station we were greeted with a view of a place that has seen quite a lot of snowfall recently.

We then took a bus to the slope and being more mature snow-fun seekers we decided we should eat first rather than rush out onto the slopes :-)

After taking the ropeway up to the start of the slopes we were surprised to find that there were not many people there at all which was great given that lots of big fluffy snowflakes were falling quite graciously all around.

If I have time I may try and put together a little video montage from the footage that I took and put it on youtube or google video or something (need to find a suitable soundtrack though).

We had a pretty great day with lots of laughs and no injuries. My back seems to be able to handle these one day trips now which is a big relief. The next big test will be in a couple of weeks with a 3-day trip, where I plan on working on some tricks and jumps (hopelessly underdeveloped).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Weird lunch

Wow....perhaps this is the result of living in a state that spies on its own citizens. The citizens themselves start to spy on each other - who is this guy to decide which books are dangerous (arguably, having no knowledge of purportedly dangerous books' contents is more dangerous)? The ones with the most time on their hands are definitely the most dangerous :-)

Actually, this is similar to an observation made in relation to Chinese bloggers' lack of freedom of speech that the Chinese communist party will not be so readily replaced. This is because the businesses themselves start to play the system to their own short-term selfish advantage.

Today's lunch was very weird: carbonara style pizza with bacon, avocado, and a fried egg on top. The bread base was a bit thin, but apart from that it was actually quite alright. :-)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Just the facts....

I just watched the CES keynote speech with Bill Gates. Some of the stuff was pretty neat: on the h/w side the big desk display and the airport table; on the s/w side the ease with which content can be shared across all devices you manage. The boxing match at the end with Steve Balmer was also quite funny (SB's behaviour fit with some of the things I have read about him).

However, I'm definitely the world's biggest disapprover of the extreme overuse of hyperbole that all the presenters seemed to use when introducing themselves/something. It comes across as very false and detracts (at least for me) from the things they are trying to show off. I know I am not the target audience but I would prefer it if they let the technology/scenarios sell itself/themselves - that shouldn't be impossible should it ?

It seems that some people are also (myself included) getting annoyed with the way most powerpoints are done. The 10/20/30 rule seems a step in the right direction: 10 slides in 20 minutes with 30pt fonts. Coincidently, I saw a mail from a board member the other day saying that he hoped that 2006 would be a year in which we wouldn't have to sit through a powerpoint presentation of more than 9 slides. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend (though having said that this presentation definitely has more than 10 slides, but I have no problem having my attention held by it).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

First day at work in 2006...

As expected it has been a somewhat slow day, a few phone calls to different continents and catching up on mail. Nothing overly exciting, except for one mail that suggested one should schedule time to read mails and not waste the most productive time (mornings) with such a mundane activity. I'll have to read it a bit more closely and see how to apply it to my work'style'.

OK, so in order that you don't go away empty handed, here are some random facts/links that I came across today:

  1. "Al Jazeera" (as in the TV network) means "the island".
  2. "Bridge Blogging" is where blogs/essays in one language are made accessible in a different language. Here is one that was on MSN but that MSN shut-down without state (Chinese) pressure (possibly because of a competitor).
  3. According to some television news this morning the average American credit card user has 7 credit cards and is around $9,000 in debt. Making the current minimum payments this would take 40+ years to pay off and cost an additional $20,000+ in interest. I think the situation in the UK is worse though....
  4. The BBC is being very funky by opening up some of its archive material. I wonder if there is much snooker on there.... Unfortunately, as a non-UK internet user I cannot access it to find out :-(
  5. I am also annoyed by poorly thought out data presentations/comparisons (not that I necessarily do any better myself mind :-) )

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

First post...

Well, at AnDy's request, I have decided to start some random pontifications on things that are happening around/to me. Perhaps this will lead to the unlocking of some great literary talent hidden deep (very deep) within me....hmmm.....well....err...fingers crossed eh?

1. Draw master blog picture and upload.
2. Note something of interest reasonably often.
3. Write something about it in a timely fashion.

Q. So, Payara-confessor to give us something to read, let us know what are you doing at the moment ?
A. Well, I am listening to an album called "Level One" whilst contemplating what kind of blog this should become (perhaps I have done this already) and admiring my new dual 19" monitor setup (I bought a new monitor (and headphones) today and I can already feel the productivity improvement with my eyes!).

Q. Hmmm, in that case then now that you have all this new visual real estate, what are you looking at ?
A. Good question (as I now have other more serious questions about my own mental state and personalit-y/-ies). Well, let's see, I have:

  1. a blog editor window open
  2. a couple of chat windows (happy new year and all that)
  3. an aggregator window multiple tabs with drill downs on some of the feeds I am reading/related searches
  4. a stock list monitor (maybe I am trying to train my "blink"-like locked room)
  5. can't be that interested in what I have on my screens!?

I was wondering when you were going to notice.... :-)