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Blog : Posts from September 2006 : Page 2

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Painful

In which we recap on a few things


Not feeling very healthy at the moment; as I said on Monday, I have a nasty sore throat that just won’t go away. I know who I caught it off, too.

Small update: someone called martyn read this (from May), and possibly this, from April, and left a comment, about Christian SF writer Dilwyn Horvat. Which makes me think I should probably dig his books out some time, reread them, and review them properly. If I can find them, of course.

I still haven’t watched the Shimura Curves’ telly appearance from the other morning, incidentally. I had to leave for work before it came on, so taped it, but haven’t actually watched it yet.

One of the main sources of traffic to this site has always been people searching for the lyrics to the childrens’ hymn Autumn Days by Estelle White – you can find them here. The number of searches has jumped a lot in the past few weeks, though, to the point where new visitors were coming in looking for them every five or ten minutes the other day. It took me a while to realise that not only is it just coming into autumn, but all the schools have just started term again. If you’re a schoolteacher looking for the words, you really should go out and buy a hymnbook with it in, you know, such as Come And Praise or something similar. Copying the words off the internet just isn’t the Christian thing to do, honest.

More search requests, whilst we’re at it:
how to secure myself from harm in a forest – don’t go in it to start with! Haven’t you seen Blair Witch?
evan davies piercings
little box big box
covered in gunge
nostradamus prediction of gordon brown
gothic victorian desktop wallpaper
summary operation titan dilwyn horvat – see, I said I should review it
shimura curves pictures – there’s some fairly crap ones here
trafalgar square pervs

I think that’s enough of that for a while.

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On sucking

In which we discuss some design flaws in Lotus Notes


Spent quite a while last night reading Lotus Notes Sucks, a collection of reasons why, as you could probably guess, Lotus Notes sucks. I have to use the thing at work every day, and it is indeed truly awful; but I didn’t really like the site. It lists 80-something superficial bad things about Lotus Notes, without listing any of the truly awful things about it.

Aside from the slightly smug nature of the site – every entry on it ends with “Conclusion: Lotus Notes Sucks”, repeated over and over again with the subtlety of a 10-ton cartoon weight – it’s written solely from the point of view of someone who uses Lotus Notes purely as an email program. That is, to be fair, probably what most people use it for; but that’s not what it is. It’s really a generic data-filing and data-sharing program* that has been shoehorned into an email mould, and doesn’t properly fit. So, all the complaints are fairly trivial ones, and a lot boil down to: “it’s slightly different to Outlook”.

There are some true horrors inside Lotus Notes, if you ever have to do any programming or development work with it. The help files, for example, are all just specialised Notes data stores with a suitable interface on the front. This is completely fine, right up until you have a buggy bit of program code that you want to step through in the debugger.** If you’re running something in the debugger, you can’t access any other Notes data. Which, stupidly, includes the help files. Programmers have no access at all to the help files at the very time they’re most likely to need it.

There are other horrible things too. Things go wrong in unfixable ways. Files can mysteriously corrupt themselves and be unrepairable. If a file is deleted, shortcuts to it can become undeletable. If you accidentally delete half your email and ask your IT people to recover it from a backup,*** then unless IT knows the necessary cunning tricks,**** when you open the backup copy of your mail file Notes will happily go “aha! this is the same datastore, but it’s out of date!” and delete everything in the backup too. Oh, joy. Lotus Notes Sucks doesn’t even mention some non-programming problems that I thought were obvious: you can’t search for empty fields, for example. You can search for documents where Field X contains “wibble”, no problem, but you can’t search for documents where Field X is blank. Well, you can do it if you’re a programmer and you write some code to do it for you, but there’s no way to trick the normal search interface into doing it.

In short, Lotus Notes is a horrible can of worms which will trip you up whenever you try to do something the programmers didn’t think of. So it’s a shame that Lotus Notes Sucks finds so many trivial surface-level problems with the email part of the program, when if you try to do more than just email with it, there are so many deeper faults lurking under the surface.

* it doesn’t really count as a database, if you ask me – I don’t think it’s structured enough. IBM/Lotus like to use the word “database” to refer to Notes data files, though.

** Don’t worry if you don’t understand this. It means: run the program one line at a time so you can spot the point where it goes horribly wrong.

*** Of course, normally, I am the IT person in these scenes, and the deleter is someone in Senior Management

**** Which we do, the second time it happens, of course.

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Telly alert

In which we spot our friends on the telly


I know this is a bit last-minute; and I know most of you either will already know, or won’t have a clue who I’m talking about, but top band Shimura Curves are apparently going to be on the telly tomorrow morning, on BBC Breakfast, probably at about 7.40am,* discussing how the internet has changed the lives of obscure indie musicians and indie journalists. Set the video!

* and repeated an hour later if you’re still in bed.

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Sickness and health

In which FP is sore


My throat feels like someone has been rubbing it with sandpaper. I’m sure that hasn’t actually happened. I’d remember.

Nevertheless, I have dragged myself into the office. Given that it’s Monday, everyone would get somewhat suspicious if I stayed at home and croaked down the phone at the office secretary. I’ve come in, and I’m medicating myself by sucking on jelly babies.* They’re definitely soothing my throat more than cough sweets would.

* the secret sort that are actually made from real babies, of course

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Friday again

In which FP’s cynicism is exposed for the cynical, hollow sham it is


Well, good morning. It’s the end of the week, and I’m glad. One more day to get through, though.

Things I haven’t managed to write this week: more on Natascha Kampusch and her telly appearance; more Books I Haven’t Read; a Book I’ve Finally Finished Reading; any Photos Of The Week. I was even tempted, at one point, to do the first Symbolic Forest Restaurant Review,*but, er, didn’t.

Also-ran news stories of the week: another stupid driver, whose excuse for speeding was that there was little risk of hitting a goat at the time. Unluckily, his bleatings** were ignored by the police. Not quite as stupid, though, as the man from Thorne who decided to destroy a speed camera with Thermite, but drove his van right past the camera as he did so. Oops.

A few days ago, I was chatting to Taloollah on the phone, and she said she’d read my review of the little local gig we went to last week. Apparently, it read as if I didn’t enjoy myself, feeling much older than the rest of the crowd, and not really liking the music. Which is a bit unfair of me to put across, because I did have a good night out. I’m probably much grumpier in style, writing here, than I am in real life; it’s just that I find writing cynically to be easier, and often more fun too. In real life I can be annoyingly enthusiastic and bouncy about some things – puppyish, even – but I rarely express that here, because I find that sort of mood a lot harder to describe effectively. I take the easy option, and write like a curmudgeon instead.

Oh, well, I’m going to try to be cheerful today anyway. Time to get myself to the office and get some work done, and then time to switch off, forget about the office, and relax. See you next week.

* of a rather nice Indian on Haxby Road

** The Plain People Of The Internet: Groan!

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Owning up

In which, unlike Mario Reading, we own up to a wrong prediction


Owning up to your mistakes is almost always the best thing to do. In an hour or so, it looks like I’m going to be proved wrong about something.

Specifically, something I wrote almost a year ago,* when I said: “at the earliest, [Tony Blair is] going to resign in the first quarter of 2009″. It looks, now, that I’m going to be nearly two years out, and that he’s going to give up power before getting within a year of Thatcher’s longevity record. On the other hand, I’m not the only person who was wrong. According to the article that prompted the earlier post, this time last year most Labour MPs weren’t expecting him to go until 2008. I still don’t believe he would give up power willingly until 2009, if he thought he could get away with it. I think that saying “yes, I’m going to resign, but not yet” is a bloody stupid way to run any sort of organisation, to be frank. Moreover, I’m wondering just how many journalists who have previously said “Blair will resign in 2008″, or similar things, will admit that they were wrong about it.

There’ll be plenty more chances for my predictions to come true in the future, of course. In January this year I said that George W Bush will still be alive in 2009, despite the “Nostradamus-inspired” prediction of author Mario Reading. I’m betting that my own prediction there is rather more secure than Reading’s – or than my earlier prediction about Blair. We’ll just have to wait and see.

* fifty-one weeks ago yesterday, in fact.

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I’ve no eye, dear

In which we keep well out of the way


News story of the week: a chap has been arrested in the West Midlands for driving whilst blind.* It wasn’t just that his sight was a bit fuzzy – to quote the police officer who stopped him:

I asked him if he could see me. He removed the dark-coloured sunglasses he was wearing and I could clearly see he was blind as he had no eyes.

To be fair, he did have a passenger telling him where to go. As he was on the wrong side of the road when stopped, though, the passenger can’t have been doing a particularly good job. On the other hand, as the driver was also partially deaf, maybe he just couldn’t hear what was going on.

* link via The Register.

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Back at the office

In which it’s back to work


You know that feeling you get when you’ve been away for a few days? By the end of the holiday it feels as if you’ve been away from the office forever; but when you get back, hardly a thing has changed.

My desk still has piles of useless paperwork on it, and Big Dave is still stressing about the amount of work he has to do. It doesn’t help that he still keeps getting “help!” calls from random people when he’s in the middle of urgent work, of course. From his mother-in-law, for example, who this morning put Dave’s stepson’s new £250 mobile phone through the washing machine, and wanted to know how to fix it. A full cycle, apparently, although I’m not sure if it was a boil-wash. Big Dave’s advice: “put it in the airing cupboard for a bit, and whatever you do don’t tell him about it until you’re sure it’s knackered.”

In the meantime, I have a big pile of mundane and tedious things to do, which haven’t been done since before I went away. Updating all those files that need updating every few days but don’t work automatically. Generating nice reports for the management. Doing the inter-departmental billing run. All those jobs that really don’t need any brain, but which for one reason or another can’t be automated very well, because of all the exceptions and special cases that go against the rules. Why they fall on my shoulders to do, I’ve never been entirely sure – possibly in an attempt to persuade me to work out how they can be automated, in order to avoid boring myself into a coma. If only they were so boring that I could daydream at the same time; but they’re not, that’s why they need a human to do them.*

This isn’t the sort of task, to be honest, that makes me sit and think “my god, I need another job.” At least this sort of task doesn’t involve inter-divisional politics, or any of the related nastiness. This is just the sort of task that keeps me bumbling away in “Room 3B, IT office” (as the new sign on the door almost says)** wishing I could turn off my computer and go and do something more interesting instead.

* We’re talking about jobs like: reconciling our internal phone system’s billing reports with BT’s billing reports. Which is a hard job for a computer to do because their clocks aren’t synchronised, and they disagree on how long each call lasts. I could write a program that would match on the phone number first then look for fuzzy matches in the other fields, but for a job I only have to do once a quarter it’s not worth the effort.

** that’s one thing that’s changed whilst I was away, a new sign on the office door. I have thought about editing the IT building plans so it is actually called Room 3B, but haven’t got round to it yet. We already have our own room numbering system for some parts of the building, because when it was last rebuilt the Facilities Management office didn’t get around to telling us what the official room numbers were until long after we needed to number the rooms ourselves.

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Bounce

In which there’s been a flood


Well, that was a good holiday. I’m back again, and the only dark shadow on the horizon is the thought of being back at the office tomorrow. There’s already one bad omen: getting home and opening my email, to discover some evil person has been sending out junk mail with my return address on it. Six thousand bounce messages were in my inbox and my spam folder, which leaves me wondering just how many emails did get through. If you’ve emailed me and I’ve deleted your mail by accident, I’m very sorry.

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Follow-up

In which we care for hedgehogs


A couple more links about yesterday’s post. At least one BBC editor was surprised that not everyone has believed the government’s line on the issue. Meanwhile, a Guardian blogger points out that the proposals are based on people who believe they don’t need any evidence, and it could be the thin end of the wedge.

Enough of all that. Direct campaigning clearly works: McDonalds has finally given in to the Hedgehog Preservation Society’s hedgehog preservation campaign, and is going to redesign its McFlurry cups to make them less hedgehog-toxic.* Hurrah! Clearly there’s something in this campaigning thing; I just need to find something of my own to campaign for. Suggestions, please.

That’s enough for this week, I think. It’s gone by far, far too fast.

* link via BoingBoing

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