Tuesday 31 March 2015


In "Stranger in a Strange Land" Heinlein talks about a Rodin sculpture called "The Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone". One of the female characters says that when she first saw it she thought it was horrid, but over time she came to the conclusion that it was the most beautiful thing she had set eyes on.

I'm not suggesting that my work is of the same quality as one of Rodin's best sculptures, but something I’ve been working on recently has the same combination of horror and beauty.

you can safely skip the rest of this article if you’re not a computer programmer

If you are writing a programming language, you tend to have three distinct pieces: A lexer, which splits the source code into tokens, a parser which takes the stream of tokens and forms an abstract syntax tree, and something that walks the tree and produces object code.

I'm working on a JSONRPC web service and one of its parameters is an arbitrary Boolean predicate. I couldn't be bothered with the lexer and parser and just typed an AST in JSON to get me started. As the project has progressed, instead of defining a syntax and writing the lexer and parser, my boss and I have realised that the AST is as good a syntax as any, and the caller can pass one to us. Eg.


Richard "Reverse Martian Notation" B

Tuesday 24 March 2015


I don't remember doing it, but I have signed up to the most fantastic service with the electricity company. A week or two before they send me a new bill, they warn me that it is coming by breaking the door off the meter box.

It's an excellent idea because as well as being forewarned that an electricity bill is on its way I get to spend an entire afternoon devising ever more elaborate ways to fix the door onto the increasingly fragile and broken cabinet.

This time I drilled my way in from the top and bottom and put solid brass rods through the middle of what's left of the hinge. Next time I will rivet parliament hinges onto the outside of the door and the cabinet. The time after that I intend to reinforce the jamb with oak and use coach bolts to fix on gate tee hinges. After that I imagine I'll have to move house because the man from the electricity board will probably be using explosives to make sure that I can't close the meter box.

Richard "the next door neighbour just uses gaffa tape" B

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Chain Letter

I have got involved in the weirdest and slowest chain letter that I've ever heard of.

Domestic cats are either very generous or very stupid. A nursing mother will feed and clean any kittens that she finds in her nest, it doesn't matter if they are her's or not. Honey bees are just as compliant, if you can pick up a whole swarm, including the queen, and stuff it into a skep or hive, then as long as the front door is about the right size, then the colony happily decides that that is its new address.

Red mason bees are even easier to transplant. They emerge from cocoons in spring, and they decide, understandably, that wherever they emerged is where they should live. As such you can buy them by mail order and set up a colony wherever you like. Better yet, they look for holes to lay eggs in, and they are easily convinced that rolled up paper tubes are exactly the right place.

A friend of mine multiplied her initial stock of bees about tenfold in two years, and has sent me some of this year's cocoons. If they do well, then in a year or two I will be looking for friends to take a load of bee-seeds off my hands.

Richard "exponential growth" B

Friday 13 March 2015

Clarkson Gate

It appears that the UK press have "wet their pants" about Jeremy Clarkson telling an employee of the BBC to fuck off. Not only is this not news it totally misses the real issue of hotel service quality. Apparently Jeremy Clarkson had a hissy fit when he found out the hotel kitchen was closed and he would not be served a steak as promised. To me this is completely acceptable; If members of the entertainment industry were fired every time they had a temper tantrum because one of their trivial whims was not fulfilled, there would be no prima-donnas or rock stars and Hollywood would have been out of business 100 years ago. "Sorry Mr. Richards your 10 grams of cocaine, bath tub full of champagne and hookers isn't available because all the roadies have gone home".

What needs to be addressed is why a simple dinner request could not be delivered, seriously do British hotels not have room service? Even the crappiest hotel chains in most parts of the world can rustle up something to eat 24 hours a day. It almost sounds like a reenactment of the classic Fawlty Towers episode where an American tourist is shocked to find that nothing he expect to find in any normal hotel is available. He can't get orange juice, a Waldorf salad or as sounds to be pretty common in rural hotels in the UK, a cooked meal after 9pm. But the difference between real life and 1970's TV is that in Fawlty Towers the guest gets his dinner after having a melt down and threatening the hotel manager. Jeremy Clarkson is obviously a relic of a different era where people drove jags and got what they wanted if they shouted loud enough. The only thing that hasn't changed is how shit hotels are in England.
Doug "What do you expect to see from a Torquay window? Sydney Opera House? Hanging gardens of Babylon? Herds of wilderbeast?" B.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Band of Brothers

You'd have thought that the Scott brothers would have done more to help their little brother with his acting work. Ridley directed loads of really important films including Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Tony made Top Gun (which everybody loves and I can't stand), True Romance (Which I love and most people can't stand), Crimson Tide and several others. Terry was in most of the Carry On films, Terry and June, and was the voice of Penfold in Dangermouse.

You'd think they'd have been able to get their youngest brother Barry a better on screen debut than advertising kitchen cleaner and that they'd have coached him on his acting so that he didn't just bellow his own name into the camera.

Richard "what do you mean they're not all brothers?" B

Tuesday 3 March 2015

And I’ve been drinking Italian coffee since before it was cool

Last week the internet pissed its knickers about the colours in a terrible photograph of a blue and black bodycon[1] dress. The photo is so washed out that only about one third of people can tell what colour it's supposed to be. Randall Munroe has illustrated the white balance illusion beautifully.

At risk of sounding all hipster, I have been worrying about white balance illusions for well over thirty years. When I was six or seven we had a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. The bathroom where we were staying had very shiny black tiles. When you looked at one you could see the colours of your reflection perfectly, but you could also see that the tile was black. Nobody on the holiday could adequately explain how.

If you're not worried enough about the shaky nature of colour perception, let me ask you this: How do you know that mirrors are silver? Go and look at one, it's the colour of your face and whatever you're standing in front of.

[1] I assumed that "Bodycon" was a maker's name, but it's actually a type of dress. I would make sense if it stood for "Body Contour" but it's apparently "Body Confidence". Given that it means tight and clingy "Body Conscious" is probably more accurate.

Richard "I burned my mouth" B