lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

I have recently started watching Humans. It's very good, and I'm looking for a copy of the Swedish original to compare it to, but there are some aspects that just jar me out of the suspension of disbelief.

Anita, the android that the family buy, says her processing power is about twenty petaFLOPS – twenty thousand million million floating point operations a second. That'd put her third on the current list of fastest supercomputers. But..

.. where's the evidence elsewhere that this sort of processing power is (relatively) really cheap? The cost of getting Anita's said to be about the same as a car and she has full language capabilities and excellent vision processing for example. But people are using current style computers and laptops via keyboard and mouse, and not talking to their toasters.

.. it turns out (micro spoiler) that she's quite an old model. Fourteen years old in fact. Why hasn't there been any significant advance in CPU processing power since then?

.. why's she built to do so many floating point operations in the first place? As the great Chuck Moore likes to say, robots use integers, not floating point. The real world may be analogue, but robots measure it with analogue to digital devices that have a limited resolution. Even if you're (pointlessly, in many cases) sampling audio with 24 bit resolution, you're still working with integers that easily fit in 32 bits. It's a lot easier and faster (and cheaper in terms of silicon space and power requirements) to do integer maths than floating point.

.. there have clearly been major advances not reflected elsewhere in the world – one of the biggest problems with real supercomputers is cooling them because they take a lot of electrical power, never mind Anita etc being charged for at least a day's use with a few hours plugged into a low voltage charger and not having a visible heatsink, they're not even human body temperature.

Ah yes, temperature. Read more... )

Lazy cinema

Nov. 3rd, 2016 10:57 pm
lovingboth: (Default)
My preferred film genres do not include 'uplifting' and/or 'feel good' romantic comedy dramas.

Looking at British and American films,* there are some exceptions: the glorious fantasies The Princess Bride and Stardust, for example, along with the more bitter sweet examples of A Life Less Ordinary, The Tall Guy, Tamara Drewe, Chasing Amy, Earth Girls Are Easy, His Girl Friday, Grosse Pointe Blank, Intolerable Cruelty, and the original 'Pete and Dud' Bedazzled. That's out of about a thousand titles listed on WP and I don't think I missed many I like.

What others should I consider?

* There are more French / Italian / Hong Kong etc ones, but we tend only to get to see the best of those.
lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

Following on from my previous post on this, Aldi have been continuing to change things. This lead to at least one frightening* period when all three stores in vaguely easy reach didn't have any of the not-so-good stuff, never mind the good stuff.

To my surprise, they're now back to selling 750g packets… but in cartons that are almost the same thickness as the 1kg ones. It's at times like this that I'm glad I kept one of the old 750g cartons! Sadly, I don't have any receipts from that period, so I can't check if the price per 100g has changed, but I don't think it has.

I am now wondering what's behind this: a couple of months wasn't very long to try a marketing the new size. Was the move to 1kg a complete disaster in terms of sales?

The related** change is that their clone of Muller Light yogurt six packs have changed from being half strawberry and half raspberry and cranberry to being half strawberry and half cherry. I'm not nearly so keen on the cherry one. It's fine to have with pies etc, but not for breakfast.

Fortunately, Morrisons currently have a 12 for £3 offer on the real things – cheaper than the typical offers of a pack of 6 for £2 or two packs of 6 for £5, depending on the date – and you can pick your own flavours…

* Well, fairly scary.

** To me, anyway, because I have my museli with fruit and yogurt.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

The current season of ENO opened with a new production of Don Giovanni, and I gave a little 'eek' when I realised that it was nearly at the end of the run before I'd got around to arranging to see it. I have seen 'quite a few' productions before,* but it is the greatest opera ever written and each of them has shone a new light on it even if, as in the case of ENO's last but one production, it was on how not to do it.** But if I am ever allowed to direct it, it's this one I shall shamelessly steal – erm, improve – the idea of the opening from.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, the opening features Don Giovanni being disturbed with his latest conquest, Donna Anna, by the arrival of her father, the Commendatore. The latter is killed and given how long it is since it was first performed, it shouldn't be a spoiler that this is not the last we see of him… Watching and commentating on all this is Don Giovanni's servant, Leporello.

So there are two questions that the director has to think about because they affect how we see the Don from the start. The first is how consensual is the relationship between Don Giovanni and Donna Anna. The libretto has Don Giovanni masked and one of the problems between them is that he won't tell her who he is, but is it attempted rape? The second is how accidental is the killing of the Commendatore: is it murder, manslaughter or misadventure?

During the overture, this one has a series of women walk past Don Giovanni and Leporello, stop, turn round and go through one of a series of doors with him before coming out again. I've seen others where this sort of thing has happened, including ones like this where there's also been one man in the queue of conquests. What doesn't convince me is that he doesn't do anything to pick them up: we're expected to believe that merely walking past is enough to get the stream of nine or so people into bed. It's fair to say that the role isn't performed here by Brad Pitt. The other improvement would be to have some of the people exiting the door be adjusting their clothing / having their skirt tucked into their knickers at the back or something.

I guessed that the last in the queue would be Donna Anna and indeed it was. The moment I sat up was where the set opened up and there were two rooms, one of which had the pair inside. There is some mimed negotiation and Donna Anna wants a masked man wielding a knife to 'assault' her. Even better, her father enters the other room with a woman very unlikely to be his wife who he begins to top! He hears Donna Anna's cries, enters the other room and is 'You want it? You have it' stabbed by the Don.

It fails to work with the plot – Donna Anna is supposed to only realise later that Don Giovanni is the one who's killed her father etc – but it's nearly brilliant.

What I'd do is project something like the screen of someone using Tindr etc during the overture. With a masked profile picture, the Don is going 'yes' to anything in a skirt, and ends up in text conversation with Donna Anna who says that her fantasy is… But I'd keep the Commendatore being up to some extra-marital sex in the next room.

Alas, that's the highlight. Some of the other ideas – like having Donna Anna's boyfriend, Don Ottavio, be her husband rather than just engaged to her – are pointless and contradict small bits of the plot. Some – like having the statue of the Commendatore be as unlike marble (what they're singing he is) as it's possible to be.. up until he enters the room, when he's a bit marble, but more like the resurrected body – are 'huh?' Another of the latter is the number of doors people go through for no very good reason. Some ideas – like having Don Giovanni attempt to seduce a servant over the phone rather than by standing underneath her window*** – are mostly harmless, but serve to raise a question or two. The call's made from a phone box with a rotary dial, so when is this set?

The final idea – having Don Giovanni escape Hell by sending Leporello in his place – is something I've never seen before, is sort of in character, but only works here in terms of explaining WTF someone looking like Leporello's clone has been pointedly wandering through the scenes throughout: he just replaces Leporello as the servant and it's back to the opening corridor and its stream of walking past, stopping, and… It could work, perhaps, but my favourite ending is still that of the Francesca Zambello production for the ROH, where we see a naked Don in Hell, carrying an equally naked woman.****

The set design – a series of greys and drab olive (taken from tank camouflage paint tins?) – is uninspiring and the rest of the design isn't up to much either, with the exception of having Leporello look like Michael Caine. The English translation is also ok rather than great.

But you could close your eyes and listen to this one, and I'm very glad to have seen it.

Two more performances: Monday and Wednesday. I'd bought a 'secret ticket' – you pay £20 and only find out where you're seated the day before. I'd guessed that it having been at the Tkts booth in Leicester Square for £30 meant that it was likely to be a good seat rather than up in the balcony, and ended up in the middle of the fourth row of the dress circle, normal price £125.

* A quick count says about twelve 'live in theatre' ones, some of which were seen more than once, plus a couple of 'live from..' satellite broadcasts and at least half a dozen on DVD.

** Normally, if the production is badly directed and designed, you can shut your eyes and listen, but even the singing was poor in this one.

*** Best line from any 'outside the window' production was one in the mid-90s: 'This worked quicker at Kensington Palace…' Now Princess Diana is long dead but we've another woman PM, you could have 'Downing Street'.

**** This was the production I paid HOW MUCH to see live and was definitely worth the money. Sky Arts were showing it at one point and it's also available on DVD.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

I can remember seeing my mother's School Certificate exam papers – this was the forerunner to O-Levels, except that you had to pass six papers including English and maths in order to get a certificate, rather than getting a separate English, Maths etc pass.*

The paper I particularly remember was the Arithmetic one (there was another one for other aspects of maths) where a typical question went something like 'The Atlantic Ocean is (so many miles, furlongs, chains, yards, feet, and inches) across, and the RMS Queen Mary crosses it in (so many days, hours, minutes, and seconds). Find her average speed.'

This is the intro to saying that another old exam paper has been found. In 1960, L's father took The Chartered Institute of Secretaries (Southern African division) Intermediate Accountancy exam. Question 2, the second of the three compulsory questions, was about the XYZ Lawn Tennis Club. Amongst the things people answering the question had to take into account was..

Two natives are employed by the Club, one to attend to the courts at a wage of £4 per week, the other to serve tea and minerals at a wage of £1 per week.

!!!

It's notable that the sale of those drinks is losing the club money: they're spending £106 annually to buy them in and only getting £149 from selling them… despite the way that the stocks on hand are worth £6. Whatever else the members are, they're rubbish at running a viable refreshments service.

Amongst the other striking aspects is that the women members pay a smaller annual subscription than the men (£4 vs £6, but that's still a month's wages for the person serving drinks…)

* If your six included a foreign language, you got a pass acceptable to universities. That would have been me stuffed then.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

The pause in posting here has been caused by Antiyoy. It's a simple turn-based strategy game where you use armies and forts to conquer (and hold) an island made up of hexagons against assorted other players.

A peasant unit can capture undefended land. Combine two of those and you get a spearman, who can conquer land defended by a peasant or a capital city. Add another peasant and you get a knight, who can conquer land defended by spearmen or towers. Add a final peasant and you get a baron, who can conquer knights. But – as with modern business – the latter require 27 times the pay of mere peasants, and if you run out of money all the people in your territory disappear. So you have to have plenty of money-generating land before you can dream of having knights.. and the towers that are proof against anything less are much cheaper.

It's been scratching the Empire: Wargame of the Century itch very happily for the past few days. It looks like I've been playing that for, erm, twenty eight years, and it runs very well on a desktop's DOSBox but doesn't work well on a tablet's one. (There is an Android port of the Empire Deluxe sequel, but it doesn't work very well on a tablet either – both really want a mouse.)

I thought Antiyoy was a polished game, and it turns out that this isn't surprising: it's an utter clone of Slay, which has been around in one form or another since 1989, the year after EWotC.

Fortunately, I've now got through the seventy level 'campaign' and the latest change to the program – starting the one-off games with lots of neutral territory – simply doesn't work well at all. So you might well see some more posts soon…

.. unless there's a sale on the Android port of Slay.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

Yesterday was spent shuffling furniture about. From a house that's being cleared came seven dining chairs, a dressing table, a small table and some garden furniture. Out went six not very comfortable dining chairs and a cheap chest of drawers. That was fairly simple, although the existing – borderline unsafe – gardening furniture is still here. Whether it'll end up as a pile of decaying wood in the garden for insects or at the recycling centre, I don't know, but having seen some stag beetles in London, it'd be nice to see some here.

A friend down the road got two disassembled wardrobes and a chest of drawers. That involved moving out a chest of drawers and a sort of coffee table sized chest of drawers from one room, then moving an existing wardrobe and chest of drawers from another room into the first room, and leaving assorted bits to assemble in the second room.

Someone's garage now has the 'out' furniture, plus a couple of other things from the cleared house, including a writing desk and a tall rusty metal storage thing that may end up going to London somehow.

Now 'all' that needed to happen was assembling the wardrobes. These are Stag flat pack designs from the 1960s. It was interesting to see that some basic ideas are still used in IKEA etc stuff today. The person who'd broken them down hadn't taken photos of the process of doing that, but helpfully labelled which bit was from which and suggested that I do the simple one first. That might have been sensible except that they'd broken, either in taking them apart or in transport, one critical bit of the base of the more complicated one. A metal combination screw and 'secure this end' part hadn't been removed from the base where it was supposed to hold the middle vertical 'wall' and had broken the base, fortunately at the underneath side.

Fortunately, again, the two bases were identical – presumably it saved money only having one design – so it was possible to use the simple one with its intact screw holes instead. Having started, it seemed a sensible idea to continue with the more complicated one.

Which went fine up until the back. As with many IKEA ones, this uses some thin hardboard with a wood-coloured veneer on one side as the back. With much flat pack furniture, this can't be one sheet of the correct size or the packing box would be too big. So you get it in two or three pieces and join them together. Tape or nails is the current way, depending on whether there's something to nail it to or not. The sides are typically in groves of the real walls.

But for some reason – part of which only became clear later, instead of doing the sensible thing and having two vertical pieces, each roughly the size of one of the doors, it has four horizontal pieces, one smaller than the other. Attempting to stack them on one another failed, even with some duct tape, but then it was then that the use for some odd bits became clear: four bits of woodish stuff, the length the width of the wardrobe but otherwise quite small. And with a grove in two sides. Ah ha, these go on top of one bit of hardboard and hold it in place while proving the base for the next bit. Ah ha2, they have some thing that can be screwed into the sides, behind the hardboard, to keep it all fairly rigid too.

Which would have been great, except that only one of the two screws on the first of the three bars was anywhere near the right place. The other end was too high. There's a limit to how much you can hammer the side of hardboard to get it to go down (it breaks the hardboard if you're not careful!) and no amount of pushing it would get it to the right position. So of course the next layer starts too high, neither screw fits, and you end up not being able to get the top / roof wall on.

It was at this point that I gave up until the new owner came home.

When she did, we decided to do without all but the first bit of hardboard, but just use their support bars instead. I for one have always said that wardrobes shouldn't have a back.* The metal bits that hold the roof on aren't screwed in, so you have to get them just right for them to drop into the holes in the sides. Which isn't easy, given that the roof is much thicker and is the second heaviest bit of the whole thing. Get it wrong, and they drop to either side and then you've got to lift the whole thing again, usually taking the connectors that did get in their holes out and have to do them again too.

Repeat, several times, possibly breaking the base – the middle wall did bend over more than it should have done at one point, until it works.

The doors were almost simple, but there's a lot of work in the almost. You can see where modern door hanging designs come from, but the subtle changes since the 60s mean they are notably better for rehanging doors. These almost properly fit – but do close! – and it's not clear how you would adjust things so they do fit properly. About the only thing I can think of is start again, making sure that everything that is supposed to be a right angle is exactly 90 degrees.

Having done that one, it was going to be much simpler to do the simple (no middle wall) one. And it was! It did have a fixed top shelf that the first one didn't and this was the reason for having horizontal hardboard bits for the back: instead of having the back 'behind' the shelf, the top shelf has the top and bottom grooves for the hardboard. This probably also explains the asymmetrical sizes of the pieces of the hardboard – because you could choose to have this shelf, the last bit had to be the vertical size of the space left underneath the top shelf because that makes the maker's life easier in terms of stock control. As with the base unit, you then only need to have one sort of back.

This time, the three larger bits of hardboard fit (with a little hammering…) and it's only missing a back on the top shelf – there was no way you want the top to slot into that and have the annoying connectors fit too. If it had been lighter, perhaps, but not this lump.

The result worked perfectly in terms of its doors and is a tribute to the quality of the original design. It looks horrid to my eyes, but its new owner is seriously into retro stuff and loves it.

Except that she wanted it on the other side of the room. Push, shove, push. No, it's too big there (it blocked part of the window). One reason for wanting it there is that she wasn't convinced they'd be enough space to open the doors fully because of the bed. But.. push, shove, push.. yes there was. I thought there would be, just, having had a play with an unattached door earlier.

After that, the chest of drawers was simple…

* How else are you going to get to Narnia if they do?

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

Yesterday, someone found out they'd been playing a favourite board game wrongly / 'not according to the printed rules'. In this case, the missed rule makes a better game and the judgement involved is half the skill in something that has a lot of luck already.

But lots of people ignore rules. Few people play Monopoly without adding some variant or other, usually making it a worse game* by increasing the money supply or reducing limits on houses or.. Even the current rights owners have been guilty of that, including by adding another die to make it easier to land on squares you want to land on / easier to avoid ones you don't.

I've been taught games wrongly – the classic example was the game where the owner had missed that each turn you could do only one of four things and thought you could do all four, every turn. The game didn't last long…

Some people make a fortune out of it: Othello is Reversi with a restriction saying you have to start with one of two opening positions. Somehow, the Japanese patent office granted a patent on it anyway and the 'inventor' cleaned up.

Some games are improved by tweaks. I think one favourite has one mechanism, a favourite of the designer, too many and so do without it.

What's your missed / ignored / improved rule story?

* Feel free to substitute 'an even worse'…

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (Default)
Teletype - when I was one of the small group doing a Computer Science O-level, we had to go to the local FE college who were just starting to teach it. They didn't actually have a computer for us to use, but they did have a Teletype with a connection to the Open University. You wrote your BASIC program on the Teletype, and a leased line to the OU enabled it to run. When, not if, the program didn't work. I can't remember how we edited it (some extremely simple line editor or just over writing lines by entering a new line 100 or whatever?) but you could also get the Teletype to save it onto paper tape for fast - something like ten characters a second! - upload next time.

I don't think I have any of the paper tape, but there's at least one printed program somewhere.

Some dot matrix - after a month or so, the college got the bill for the leased line, went 'HOW MUCH?!?' and decided that getting a Research Machines 380Z would save money, even at over £3k for the version with 8" floppy discs.* Plus at least another thousand for a dot matrix printer, because it wouldn't work with the Teletype properly.

I can't remember what it was, but it could do 132 characters on a line which rules out the next one. I do have a couple of printouts from it though, including a program that simulated radioactive decay by turning a rectangle of asterisks into dots over several passes - my first encounter with e, after I noticed that if my little asterisk's half life wasn't 'one' loop, doing the obvious calculation** didn't work properly - and two games. Doubtless someone somewhere could look at them and go, 'ah, a Centronics..'

Epson FX-80 - I'm quite surprised that WP doesn't have a page on this, even though it gets a mention on the dot matrix printer one, because to those of us of a certain age, it's iconic. I didn't own it - they were about £700 around 1981 - but my university department had several because they were so (relatively) cheap. They also ended up with some MX-80s that could do graphics (not very well, but even so..)

Some line printer - dot matrix printers print a vertical slice of a character at a time, a typewriter prints a character at a time, and a line printer does, gasp, a whole line of text at a time. As this is done by 80 or 132 or more little hammers hitting the paper and something solid at the same time, five or more times a second, they're quite noisy. I SAID THEY'RE QUITE NOISY! Consequently, it was kept in another room under a noise insulating cover, and we only got the results.***

ZX Printer - the first one I bought, £49.95. That was the end of the good news. Narrow and nasty and needing special paper (about a fiver a roll) it worked by having an electrical spark burn off a layer of aluminium from the paper to reveal the black paper underneath.

You tell the young people of today that, and they don't believe you.****

I do have a couple of printouts from it, but the printer and some paper got donated to the computing museum at Bletchley.

Tandy / Radio Shack plotter - in one sense, another bonkers design: a small cartridge held four tiny pen-like ink cartridges. By moving it and the paper in the right way, you drew lines on the 15cm or so wide paper. Draw the right lines and you've got text! I think it was in a sale to the point it was cheaper than an inkjet and did colour that meant I got one.

Some OKI 24-pin dot matrix - not mine, but the person I worked with for many years. They paid £1,500 for it, the same cost as their Zenith 8088 PC clone running at 8MHz, so almost twice as fast as a real IBM PC. The reason for the price tag was that unlike the FX-80 et al which created their characters with a maximum of nine dots per vertical line, this used up to twenty four. Some of the 9-pin printers could bodge this by printing each line three times, moving the paper very slightly each time, and calling the result 'near letter quality' (i.e. as good as a typewriter) but it never was.

Neither was this, but it was over three times faster. The design meant you could also reuse the ribbons quite easily too. I can't remember what eventually failed on it.

Citizen Swift 24 - another 24 pin dot matrix, got largely because of the price (£200ish??) and the way we didn't need the width of the OKI. Only used by me with DOS, Windows XP had printer drivers for it.

Canon BJ-10 - the first inkjet I used. These were neat - a bit shorter than a ream of A4 paper lying down, but otherwise more or less the same size, they were virtually silent and did produce high quality results. As a result, when it died it was replaced by a..

Canon BJ-10e - slightly better version. I think this was the one that had a lovely tall but narrow bold font that was perfect for printing speeches on. It also died after about 18 months.

HP Deskjet 500 - Going back to an older machine! Bought second-hand off cix, this wasn't as neat, but was much more reliable. The quality wasn't great and inkjets are expensive to run, so..

HP Laserjet 6P - the first laser printer for the office in question. Alas, this was after the marketing people took over HP. The print quality was very good - some very nice brochures for a potential Millennium Commission project were done on it - but who thought it was a good idea to have the paper intake be a dust and crap magnet at the top of the printer? Most of the rest was plastic rather than metal too.

Panasonic KX P4420 - I recognise it, and I wrote a printer driver for my word processor (Borland's Sprint) for it, but I can't remember if it was the replacement for the LJ6P or if it replaced the LJ IIs of the LibDem by-election team.

Minolta SP101 - back to my ones. Many laser printers of the early 90s had 512kiB of RAM. While that was plenty to print text and small images, it wasn't enough to do a whole page image at 300 dots per inch resolution This one did some compression of the image data, so it could. You could also 'easily' fit some more RAM but the Minolta sales person at the show I bought it at gave the wrong info so I ended up buying the wrong chips at first.*****

Even so, this is what the London Bisexual Group newsletters and other stuff were printed on for my years as its Hon Secretary.

HP LaserJet Series II and Series III - I've written about these before. As they went out of fashion, they became dead cheap while staying extraordinarily versatile thanks to an host of companies doing add-on stuff for it.

Dell laser printer - I can't remember which. I can remember getting it from a Freecycle event in Forest Hill c2010 and being pleasantly surprised it worked. When the LJ III stopped picking up paper reliably and the usual cures involving sand paper didn't work, it got replaced by this. The speed - about 16 pages a minute - was nice, but it failed to pick up paper after a couple of years and nothing I did could get it working properly. The first printer I had that used USB rather than a parallel port.

Brother HL-2250DN - the current one, bought for £85 in 2013. Does duplex and has a Ethernet port as well as USB so it's shared with everything here. Replaced in Brother's line by something slightly faster but more expensive, grr, but it's showing no sign of going worng.

* I'm sure I've told the story of breaking it by putting a floppy in the wrong way up. They were very nice about it...

** If the half-life is say three ticks rather than one, then 1/6 - a third of a half - must die each time, yes? No!

*** Several hundred compiler errors ending with 'Missing ; in line 3137' usually, indicating that you'd left one out somewhere in the preceding three thousand or so lines.

**** I've just tried.

***** Every cloud has a silver lining: the 256kiB chips ended up expanding a sound card, the lovely Gravis Ultrasound, the sound card to play DOOM with.

(Hmm, that's interesting - this didn't crosspost from lovingboth.com on the 20th.)
lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

.. in Into The Woods, anyway. I don't know how I missed seeing while booking that JA's and my tickets were on the second row from the front, rather than the back. They must have been returns, and huge thanks to the unknown people who didn't want them.

The show itself was excellent, with only a few problems. With eleven people on stage, including someone mostly there as a pianist, it was slightly undercast in terms of numbers: Cinderella's prince was doubling as one of her stepsisters, for example! There's also no real narrator – that was shared – which leads to a problem avoided by cutting a bit out. But all of them were good, especially the person being a cow, and it was the second best second act of any of the, erm, nine productions I've seen.

Speaking of which, another highlight was that the family to one side of us had only seen the abomination that's the film version, and so were a bit surprised at how many people are killed off in the second half of this one, even if it's lower than it should be.

Sunday was [title of show] which is on until next Sunday. Smaller still, it's the story of the creation of itself… As such, there's an element of wondering how real some bits are. Alas, I didn't have any doubts about the realism of the way the two gay men writing it were noticeably giving themselves much better bits than they give the two women.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

Earlier this week, Amazon finally had a cheap copy of a book I've been after for a while – the Haynes Owners' Workshop Manual for the Panzerkampfwagen VI, otherwise known as the Tiger Tank. It arrived just before I left for the weekend. If you're interested in the subject, it's a fascinating read: I started at about 9pm and went 'Oh..' at after midnight.

As far as the 'owners' bit of the title goes, the equivalent Haynes book on the Spitfire says something like 'forget owning one to fly unless you've a million quid to spare'. This one just says 'forget it': only six of the just over thirteen hundred made survive even vaguely intact.* But it is written by the owners of the only one restored to running order, The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.

Hmm, it's been at least five years since I visited.** Hmm, Tiger Day or Tankfest next year?

Typically, the Daily Fail's article on the book gets lots of things wrong in its historical picture 'German Tiger Tank on road in Normandy in Northern France during the Second World War'. As any fule kno that's the Panzerkampfwagen VII, aka the Tiger II. And there are two of them. And, to me at least, both of them are by the side of the road…

* Not that stops assorted people offering one for sale. One bunch sent photos of a model to prove they had one…

** I spent the first day of the second OpenCon there as it was nearby. I think that was 2011. The previous visit was just after I'd leant to drive, so early 2002. The one before that was as a child, when they still let you clamber all over everything!

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

I did badly at French when I was at school. Last in the class at the end of year one* exam, and it went downhill from there.

On the plus side, it did mean I was put into 'economics / government and politics' from year two rather than Latin (those who did well) or German (those in the middle), so I only ended up failing the one O-level..**

.. so badly, it didn't appear on the certificate as a fail. Result, even if I thought I was going to get at least an 'E'!

Yesterday, we were told that the girl JA stayed with on her German exchange trip earlier this year has failed.. something, possibly just English.. so that her school is keeping her back a year and she's not being allowed to go on the return visit here in a couple of weeks time.

Even I think that's unfair.

* What I'm supposed to call year seven now.

** Which I'm still a bit annoyed about: at the end of year three when it came time to pick options for O-level, the school said we could drop French. Then, when the results were in, said 'Oh, we were lying – we just wanted to see how many people would drop it if they could. Which they can't.'

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

I need to be in London on Saturday evening – someone booked the wrong train there, so I'm giving them a lift. Ok, what's happening in the London fringe theatre then? Slightly annoyingly, the previous best way to find out has had a makeover and it's not as nice to use as before but..

.. Oooh! Menier Chocolate Factory have the last night of a production of Into the Woods! It's probably not worth clicking to check if there are any seats left, but..

.. Oooh! Last one!

So this will be the third professional production of it in ten months: Manchester Exchange (intimate, very good) at the end of December, West Yorkshire Playhouse (bigger, some nice ideas and very well sung, but not quite as good) in June, and now this. Add in another three months, and there was the American school that did it at the Fringe last August, making three and a half productions of all sorts.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

1. Over the past couple of days, I've gotten around to testing the kit I bought from the bunch who were closing. It looks like they sent six 'lots of red LEDs' shields rather than the five red and one (more expensive) white LED version. I'm now pondering whether or not to get a partial refund from PayPal. On the one hand, it's not much money, but on the other, I'm still very annoyed at their taking the documentation for their kit off the web and stopping it being archived by Google / Archive.org.

2. Speaking of bad documentation, the other thing I've been testing is a small touchscreen LCD shield for Arduinos and compatibles. Checking, I bought it from a Chinese website almost exactly a year ago but never got around to playing with it. Problem one is that it came with zero documentation. Problem two is that, although the basic shield is fairly widely available, there are at least half a dozen different controller chips in use generating the displays and which any particular board uses looks to be almost completely random. Even this bunch have used several different ones, and of course, they all need talking to in more or less different ways.

So I attach it and the Arduino UNO clone it came with via USB. Well, the display lights up white. Let's try programming it. A quick look reveals that it should use a Spfd5408 controller, and someone's done a driver library for that, based on the one done by Adafruit.

The test example uploads to the Arduino, says it's working over the serial interface, but doesn't actually do anything on the display. Apart from flicker, once, when the Arduino is reset.

Hmm. A look at the reviews on the page show quite a few people moaning about this sort of thing, but the vendors point to a file somewhere..

.. that no longer exists.

Fortunately, someone mentions the file name and a search reveals a copy in someone's 'Live Drive'. There's quite a bit in it, including a user manual (in Chinese), a PNG image with various dimensions, a 239 page datasheet (in English!), the libraries, and various other stuff mostly in Chinese.

The test example uploads to the Arduino, says it's working over the serial interface, but doesn't actually do anything on the display. Apart from flicker, once, when the Arduino is reset.

Hmm, a look at the code reveals this:

  uint16_t identifier = tft.readID();
identifier=0x9341;
  if(identifier == 0x9325) {
    Serial.println(F("Found ILI9325 LCD driver"));
  } else if(identifier == 0x9328) {
    Serial.println(F("Found ILI9328 LCD driver"));
  } else if(identifier == 0x7575) {
    Serial.println(F("Found HX8347G LCD driver"));
  } else if(identifier == 0x9341) {
    Serial.println(F("Found ILI9341 LCD driver"));
  } else if(identifier == 0x8357) {
    Serial.println(F("Found HX8357D LCD driver"));
  } else {
    Serial.print(F("Unknown LCD driver chip: "));
    Serial.println(identifier, HEX);
 

Or, in English, 'read what chip it says it is, immediately overwrite the result with the value for one of the five chips the library will presumably work with, then work out and announce which chip it is'. Taking out the naughty line reveals that it's reporting as having an identifier of 0xC0C0.

Which it doesn't know about and clearly can't cope with.

Fortunately, another link leads to another bit of code that does work, and the display is now being wiped with red, green and blue in turn in an infinite loop.* Unfortunately, that's all the code does and adapting the considerably more powerful libraries – as you might have guessed from the length of the datasheet, these chips are quite powerful – into using the right registers etc has been left as an exercise for the buyer.

I'd complain, but I see that I paid the equivalent of $5.10 for the display, the Arduino clone, and a USB lead. The clone is worth rather more than that. I couldn't post it all back to China for that much!

3. Rather than typing all this stuff, I was supposed to be taking JA for a guitar lesson near Lincoln with a new-to-us group. Except that when I got in the car, I noticed that the driver's wing mirror was turned in. I'll just push it back out..

.. ow, that's broken glass!

Someone's hit it and smashed it completely.** The passenger side one was broken a couple of years ago, and partly because it wasn't me that broke it while driving along, I've never bothered to replace it. It's not legally necessary and it does still give an indication of what's on that side. Neither of those apply to the driver's side: you have to have one and it is completely shattered.

Fortunately, I can get replacements for the glass and have it in a fixed position. Having proper adjustable replacements would probably cost a large chunk of what the car's worth… ditto putting in a claim on the insurance.

* Reminding me of the beautiful lights of Balham, 'changing all the time: green… amber… red… red and amber… and back to green.'

** Although the impact must have been obvious to whoever did it, there's no note. Sadly, there's no sign that it smashed their wing mirror too.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

So what have I been reading recently?

The Run of His Life: The People vs OJ Simpson – the book that was adapted into the recent TV series. That's meant it's now available in the UK, albeit with the title changed to match the series. It largely assumes you know who OJ Simpson was – the very interesting five part series 'OJ Simpson – Made in America' that was apparently shown on BT Sport has much more of the background and the postscript – but if you saw the series, you'll know that almost no-one comes out of it looking good and this has more of the usually horrible why.

Boy Racer – Mark Cavendish on his remarkable 2008 Tour de France interspersed with stories about his career to that point. Obviously, quite a lot has happened since then, but this shows what it's like to be in the middle of a bunch sprint and why he's so good at winning single races: he's got a rare combination of talent, a drive to win and intelligence. (He reminds me of Stephen Hendry in that.) There's no 'with' writer credited, and I can believe that he needed an editor more than a writer, because his ability to remember – and learn from – what happened in any race is remarkable.

Neighbours – not the TV show, but the 'The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland'. This took place in July 1941 (the town had been conquered by the Germans in 1939, handed to the Soviets as part of the pact between them to split up Poland, and just been reconquered by Germans) and is summarised as half the town killed the other, Jewish, half. It looks like this is an overestimate of the deaths, but the investigation it lead to had to avoid overly disturbing the site of the massacre so their figure of the deaths could have been an underestimate. It did confirm that although the Germans were watching and could have stopped it, it was around forty Polish citizens that actually carried out the massacres. Obviously, this was hugely controversial in Poland, not least as an earlier Soviet investigation had used torture to get to the same conclusion.

Analyzing Politics – not so much 'what does an MP do' (not least as it's a US book) but 'why would someone who wants A vote for B?' Because it's better than C or D, usually, and one way or another they know they can't have A. The electoral system may not let them express preferences, or the order of votes may have been arranged by someone who knew what they were doing. (Unsurprisingly, the first edition of this was the basis of several of the games in the Playing Politics book I used for a session on how to win committee meetings at BiCon 2006.)

In the 'to read' pile: David Millar's autobiography, covering his cycling career before, during, and after cheating.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

My reading of fiction in book form fell off a cliff some time ago. I had the last but one Pratchett Discworld novel (Raising Steam) out from the library for months before reading it, and I still haven't looked for the last one. I'd borrowed the first two in the 'The Long Earths' series and returned them unread. I finished the last but two Christopher Brookmyre, Flesh Wounds, recently and will read the other one I've had out for months, Dead Girl Walking.

A few years ago, I'd have finished them on the first day.

In addition to those two, in the past year I have also read a couple of Len Deighton's – two of the first three 'Harry Palmer' books, The IPCRESS File and Billion Dollar Brain, doing them in a Monday morning shift in the bookshop. Annoyingly, someone bought Funeral in Berlin before I did that one.

But I have a horrible feeling that's it. And the Pratchett might have been earlier.

Other past likes have been Philip Reeve's work, particularly the 'Mortal Engines' series (although I don't think any of them have lived up to the first) and the silliness of the 'Larklight' series.

I liked the intelligence of all of them, and the relative shortness of the Deighton's. I can still do 'big books' in non-fiction, but it's been a long while since I've been tempted to put in the commitment needed for a story that takes more than a day to read. Probably the last one was the expanded version of American Gods, which means it was before moving here.

Any recommendations, preferably with what makes them good?

Update: I borrowed the last Pratchett today, along with his 'Poo' book.

The other author I've read almost all of is Christopher Priest, who would be a lot more famous if what he does so well wasn't labelled SF. The Prestige is my favourite and was obviously filmed in a way that lost much of the magic. What caused a pause in reading him is his last but two: The Islanders. It's an unreliable travel guide to a set of imaginary islands.

Apparently, if you can keep in your mind what was said about each where, and notice the inconsistencies, then you realise various things, but - argh - too much hard work without keeping notes. It's ok to use a computer to write a novel, but it's far less ok to have to use one to read it. Annoyingly, his latest is another set in the same islands. I'm going to give the one between those a read before attempting to read Islanders again.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

The worst Prime Minister since…? Chamberlain?

Go back a year, and it must have seemed so different, the first Tory leader to have an absolute majority for 18 years! Since then, his legacy has been defined by failure in the EU referendum and the image of him sticking his dick in a pig's head.

The first was totally unnecessary, a promise he never expected to have to keep. Having made it, and unexpectedly ended up in a position to have to follow through, there were so many things he could have done:

* Ensure that a majority of the countries of the United Kingdom would have to vote against continuing membership before any exit would be considered – two of them have European commitments built into their devolution deals! Having English voters annoyed at voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland is nothing new, and builds support for the 'English votes for English laws' idea*

* Explicitly give the electorate multiple 'leave' options rather than bundle them together in a single campaign: stay a member of the single market regardless of free movement or stop free movement at the cost of being a member of the single market or…

* Tie up his 'friends' into working for 'remain', rather than discovering after he'd called it that several of them were prepared to campaign for 'leave' in order to maximise their chances of replacing him

.. instead, he displayed a level of incompetence in political management so great, it almost makes Corbyn look good.

By resigning as an MP now, he's going to cost Oxfordshire council the money to run the by-election (although doubtless the constituency will get a boost from a small pile of journalists etc coming to cover it) and doubtless cost a bunch of schoolchildren a day of school. I don't know what will happen with the area's constituencies following the forthcoming boundary changes, but it's likely that it will create more problems for the Tories than it would if he were to step down at the next General Election – his replacement will be amongst those trying to ensure they're still an MP.

What a complete Cameron.

* Which is a bad one as proposed for a number of reasons, but it's his policy.

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

In the morning, L and I looked around a 'superhome' – one that's been retrofitted with things like external insulation to make it greener.

It was near an open Age Concern shop that had a 'two DVDs for £1' offer (and a lot to chose from) so eight are going to be reused rather than going into land fill.

Then there was a choice: the Nottingham Green Festival in the very green Arboretum Park or the Mela at the (free for the day) Nottingham Castle. We went for the latter, partly because the weather was lovely.

By the time we got there, we were quite hungry. Hmm, that's interesting, there are at least a dozen stalls or stands selling food and they're all 100% vegan. The nearest you could find non-vegan cheese was a note on the organic veg delivery scheme stall that they also did local cheese. Oh and, shhhh, meat. That can't be a coincidence…

… and looking, reveals that, no, it's not. The new bunch that's organising it decided that the event should be '100% Vegan' and so stall holders were told not 'bring items that contain meat, dairy, honey, eggs fish or animal bi-products'. That's actually a tighter definition than the Vegan Society use: as a vegan friend likes to point out, you can have a job experimenting on live rabbits and hunt foxes while wearing leather and still be a member provided you don't eat animal products.*

Hmmm, a group deciding that 'green = vegan' reminds me of the way that lots of city Prides think that 'LGBT = gay, gay, gay, with a small bit of lesbian and trans'.**

As you'd expect from an event that evolved from the Nottingham Peace Festival, there was also an ethical policy: no product from any company that is subject to a consumer boycott for violating human or animal rights was allowed, for example. So what on earth were the rape apologists of the Socialist Workers Party doing with a stall there?*** There's a boycott of them that goes way beyond the usual struggles between different Trot groups. And the pair of them on the stall were ignoring the rule that said they must not 'accost visitors with leaflets' in a stark contrast to all the others.

After this, we did some shopping and went home via a new(ish) ice cream place we'd noticed signs to but never actually been to. Expecting something like the excellent Newfields Dairy parlour, it turned out to be more like a shed on the edge of the farm. We've seen those before – there's one near Honiton that does really good ice cream – but this one turned out to be a self-service ice cream / milk / cake shed! The 'fill your own carton or bottle' milk machine is particularly neat.

I've also given the lawn probably its last mow of the year. All in all, a good day.

* Probably not a very popular one, but…

** Speaking of misleading, I'm currently watching an NFL game on US TV, and a mobile phone company has just promised '20Gb of unlimited data'. Erm…

Another game, another relevant coincidence: Green Day's American Idiot is recalled by having George W Bush help with the coin toss and give a video message.

*** Another thought was that with Labour and about six Trot groups having stalls vs just the Green Party, it was more a Red Festival than a Green one…

Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.

lovingboth: (mini me + poo)

Looking through some reviews of past Edinburgh Fringe shows, I was sad to see that not being at it in 2012 meant I'd missed Re-Animator: The Musical. I can see that not everyone liked it but I doubt they were its target audience.

A few clicks later, I'm watching a clip of two of the film's leads talking at a convention in 2010, and Jeffrey Combs wonders how many 1985 films still have 'legs', i.e. are still being talked about and worth seeing.

Well, the 'Best Picture' Academy Award for that year's films went to Out of Africa, a two hour forty snoozefest that's one of only five films to have won and have a 'rotten' rating on Rotten Tomatoes (all but one of the others are from the 1930s). So that's out.

Looking at the WP list of 1985 films and excluding for a minute those that did win something in the Oscars, I will happily see again and talk about:

Brazil – looking more like a documentary every year, it missed winning 'best original screenplay' and 'best art direction'. Had it had a different ending, it would have made much more money but wouldn't have been as great

Crimewave – with a script co-written by the Coen brothers and director Sam Raimi, this is a violent and sick comedy: if that's your thing, this is fab

Day of the Dead – the final film in George Romero's first zombie trilogy, this isn't as good as Dawn.. but it's still better than almost everyone else's zombie films and, as ever with Romero, says more about humanity than Out of Africa et al ever did. Here, the central theme is that one of the zombies is more human than the soldiers who are supposed to be protecting those researching the zombies. Pity it doesn't all live up to the opening 'hello.. hello..' sequence

Jagged Edge – tense courtroom drama about a murder that Jeff Bridges may or may not have committed

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – another third in a trilogy, this is the last Mel Gibson Mad Max film. Not as great as Fury Road, but better than the first and the best car stunt film for at least one decade if not two

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – Paul Schrader's visually stunning biopic of Japanese author Yokio Mishima, helped by Philip Glass's superb soundtrack and an intelligent script. It's a disgrace that this hasn't had a UK DVD release

Mr. Vampire – Hong Kong supernatural comedy action at its finest

Pee-wee's Big Adventure – probably because star Paul Reubens was later discovered masturbating in a porn cinema, younger readers may never have heard of Pee-wee Herman. Nominally for kids, this is queerer than most 'gay' cinema

Police Story – Jackie Chan showing why he's the greatest action star ever, putting his life on the line to thrill his audience. The outtakes at the end show it wasn't easy

Re-Animator – fabulously over the top splatter comedy horror, it contains one of the best ever exchanges: 'I had to kill him!' 'What? He's dead?' 'nnn-Not any more..'

Seduction: The Cruel Woman – the second queerest film of the year, this was Elfi Mikesch and Monika Treut's reaction to an earlier film about a brothel that had sex workers only as powerless victims. Here, a German dominatrix is neither, including topping the wonderful Udo Kier

Shoah – I've mentioned this before: a nine hour documentary on the Holocaust with no archive footage

Tampopo – Japanese sex and food comedy, with one of the most unforgettable – for a nice reason! – sex scenes ever

To Live and Die in L.A. – William Friedkin cop film that's overshadowed by his The French Connection, but is differently great

A Zed & Two Noughts – probably my favourite Peter Greenaway film, with one of Michael Nyman's best soundtracks, this is an art film about death and decay and obsession

.. and I'm probably missing at least one French film, but I don't recognise any of the names.

Looking at those that got one Academy award, both Prizzi's Honor (Anjelica Huston won best supporting actress) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (William Hurt won best actor) are miles better than the winner.

Ran would have walked 'best foreign film', but wasn't even nominated (apparently Akira Kurosawa didn't show up to his première and this annoyed the Japanese film industry too much!) It did win best art direction and best cinematography.

You might remember

  • Back to the Future
  • A Chorus Line
  • Cocoon
  • The Color Purple
  • Mask
  • Rambo: First Blood Part II
  • Witness

.. all of which got at least a nomination and typically won, but I wouldn't want to see any of them again. Back to the Future opened the Edinburgh Film Festival I saw Mishima at, and there's simply no contest in terms of which one is the best.

Update: eek, 1985 is now thirty one years ago. How did that happen?


Mirrored from my website's blog, The deranged mad of a brain man.