Monday Mar 31, 2008

9 Gold Medals!!

What a truly stunning performance by British cyclists at the World Track Cycling Championships which finished yesterday.

If you didn't catch this on the BBC, you missed a rare treat. This was cycling at its most exciting - not just because of the successes of the British athletes (although that helped), but because of the support from the enthusiastic crowd at the Manchester Velodrome, the excellent commentary from Hugh Porter and Gary Sutton, and the fast (and often furious) racing.

I think the highlight for me was the men's Madison, in which Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins not only showed what it takes to be true champions when the chips are down, but in their modesty about their achievment afterwards. This was a stunning race which had me on the edge of my seat all the way through.

Watching the events that the British team were not so successful in, you can see that there is talent developing there, and I'm sure that we will be in for a real treat at the Olympics later in the year. Whilst the press will surely focus on the Gold medal performances and the high profile riders, it is great to see that we also have younger cyclists such as Steven Burke (in the Omnium) coming up through the ranks and getting personal bests throughout the competition.

Congratulations to all of the athletes and team support staff taking part in this event for making it so memorable!

Finally, thanks to the BBC for their excellent coverage. As I've already mentioned, the racing commentary was excellent, but the background and interviews by Jill Douglas with help from Jamie Staff were also top quality. Great work Beeb!

Friday Oct 12, 2007

Second Life

Dave recently blogged about a fairly senior Sun engineer raving about Second Life, but says he doesn't get it.

After working out a couple of issues with the client on Solaris 10 Update 3 with the developer a couple of months ago, I cranked it up, created myself an avatar and spent 30 minutes wandering around there.

I can safely say that I don't really get it either. As Dave says, it sure looks nice, but that's really about it as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and Dave - I made my Avatar slightly overweight - maybe that's why nobody would talk to me in Second Life?

Monday Nov 07, 2005

New family member

My Puppy After months (or is it years?) of nagging, the kids got their wish and we picked up our new family member (Coco) on Saturday:

This image was taken 4 weeks ago when we first went to see her (at 6 weeks old), so she's obviously somewhat bigger and more of an armful now.

Needless to say, the house is in chaos, with toys everywhere, and I won't go into what a mess the kitchen floor is first thing in the morning!

Monday Jun 20, 2005

Strange weather patterns

Exactly one week ago, the temperature in Sheffield didn't rise above 10°C (50°F) all day.

Yesterday and on Saturday, it peaked at over 31°C (88°F)

I'm wondering if I should get my ski's or Speedo's out for next week ????

Friday Jun 10, 2005

Lightweight bikes

I was amused to read Chris' blog about plastic bikes.

As an ex-cyclist (I only go out on my bike a handful of times a year now), I can still spend hours admiring all of the exotic hardware in my local cyle shop. I wish I had a few thousand to blow on such exotica, and I even tell myself that I would ride more seriously if I bought one, but "white elephant" always springs to mind when I think this. Certainly if I did the lottery and came up trumps on it, I would blow some of it on a bike like Chris describes.

However, I'm always reminded of something my old cycling coach used to say to me: it doesn't really matter how much the bike weighs when your weight can vary by a few pounds between rides (well, it was something similar to that anyway!). I think what he was getting at was that you could have the lightest bike in the world, but if you eat too many pies, it won't make the slightest bit of difference to your performance.

Although, thinking about it now, the weight of the rear wheel might make the most difference because that is the mass that you are having to drive around. The amount of power you use in pushing the pedals translates to much less power at the point where the wheel meets the road because of the energy loss in the wheel being moved.

Oh well, it's all academic anyway as I'll be sticking with my 27lb mountain bike for the forseeable future, and I look at it from the perspective that the heavier my bike is, the fitter I'll get by having to pedal it (and me) up and down those whopping hills around my house.

Wednesday Jun 08, 2005

Bats

For the past 3 summers (at least), we have had a regular visitor to our garden in the late evenings - a Pipistrelle bat.

I have to confess that I find it fascinating just to stand and watch this wonderful little creature flit around the garden, a few feet off the ground, catching insects.

It's interesting that it chooses to fly around our comparatively small garden rather than the neighbours - although it does occasionally fly an extended loop over the neighbouring gardens.

Sometimes a second Pipistrelle joins "ours" for a few seconds of flight which takes an extended path over several gardens and the field behind our garden, but they appear to be solitary hunters most of the time.

Pipistrelle's are a protected species in the UK - largely because of the decline in numbers thought to be due to intensive use of insectisides in farming; which means that if you find one in your loft/attic, you have to leave it alone.

Monday May 16, 2005

Reality Bites

On Saturday evening, I was just leaving the house to pick up the kids, when my neighbour stopped me.

With great dignity and without breaking down he told me that his wife had died in hospital at 8:45 that morning.

Despite being neighbours for 7 years, I was only just getting to know her through my helping her husband with computer issues. She developed a back problem late last year, which was attributed to a collapsed disc, and was eventually admitted for surgery just after Christmas last year, where she was diagnosed as having some form of cancer. I chatted occasionally with her husband, and whilst the prognosis didn't seem great for a full recovery, there was never any indication (to me) that her condition was deteriorating badly, although she was transferred to a Nursing Home late April, so maybe that should have given me a clue.

My wife and I were both shocked and saddened by her death. RIP Julia.

Friday May 13, 2005

Store Wars (a parody of guess what?)

May the sauce be with you :)

Wednesday May 04, 2005

An interesting wrinkle in package delivery

My son ordered a Nintendo DS from Amazon last week, and yesterday I got notification that it had shipped, using Securicor Omega's courier service (who are actually part of DHL).

This morning, the door bell rang, and there was a guy standing on the doorstep with the Amazon package in his hand. However, this was not a guy decked out in the uniform of Securicor or DHL, but someone dressed in normal clothes. Not only that, but he'd turned up not in a Securicor van as has previously been the case, but in what looked like his own car, which had other packages in the back.

Now, I know that Next have used this model for some years now, as my sister worked as a part-time courier for them. The basic premise being that packages from the main depot are shipped out in larger vans to a series of local couriers who are payed a fee per package delivered. This saves the courier company from having to maintain local depots and a fleet of smaller vans for deliveries. It was a surprise to me to see a mainstream courier service using this model, but I guess if you look at it, it probably helps to keep costs down. The only downside I can see is that the people who actually deliver the package to your door do not have the courier company's name plastered all over them, so the company may not gain the brand awareness that it would by having their own employees do the deliveries.

Can't see UPS doing this though, can you ?

Friday Apr 29, 2005

Updated look to blog

If you're awake, you've probably noticed that I've changed the layout of my blog slightly today to give more room to the blog entries and less to the other parephernalia.

Friday Apr 22, 2005

My iPod's blown a gasket or has it?

I was a big Yes fan in the 70's and have not listened to any of their stuff for some years now - mainly because I sold all of my LPs when I dumped the record deck in favour of a CD player, and I never actually got around to buying the CD's. So, feeling a little flush on Ebay the other day, I invested in three class Yes albums: Close to the Edge, Relayer and Going For the One.

The CD's arrived this morning and I promptly ripped them onto the PC using iTunes, plugged in the trusty iPod and off it went and downloaded everything. I left the iPod plugged in for a few hours whilst I did some work, then went to retrieve it.

Now, when the LCD has a great big stop sign on it and a message saying "Do Not Disconnect", do you think they really mean it ? I clicked the button in iTunes to eject the iPod, but nothing happened, so I figured (as I've done before) that it was actually quite safe to disconnect it.

I think I may have been wrong :(

The music player displayed the normal menu, through which I was able to get to my new albums. However, when I clicked to start it playing Close To The Edge, the disk span up, then span down repeatedly, and the iPod was resistant to my charms to get it to do anything else.

So, here we are some time later, and the iPod will not power up properly. It displays the Apple logo, then spins the disk up and down for an inordinate amount of time, before resetting itself.

Now, having written all that, whilst it was sitting there with nothing on the display, I pressed the Menu button, and the thing sprang into life properly and I am able to once again rekindle my interest in Yes :) Those darned cosmic rays have a lot to answer for don't they ;)

Thursday Apr 21, 2005

The longest 2 1/2 days of my life

You don't realise how dependent you are on the Internet until it is no longer there!

All weekend, our connection to the Internet was running a little sluggishly. I just put it down to maintenance - either by my ISP (BT Openworld) or the websites I was visiting. Monday morning came, and I started to catch up with my work email, and it got slower and slower before finally stopping altogether.

In the past, when this has happened, I've been able to clear it by resetting (ie power-cycling) the broadband router, so this is what I attempted to do. In doing this, the router should pick up a new IP address at the POP and with a bit of luck we'd be on our way at full speed (1Mbps) again. Unfortunately, that's where my luck ran out!

I left the router powered off for around 5 minutes whilst I did some other work. Then, flicked the switch on the back to power it on again. Nothing happened :( When I switched it off again, the power LED flashed momentarily, along with the activity light on the port on my firewall/switch which is connected to the router.

Now, this has happened before - a few weeks ago in fact, and that time I simply flicked the switch again and it sprang back into life. Not so this time. Lots of rocking the switch back and forth elicited no response from the router. It was as dead as a Norwegian Blue :(.

I phoned BT immediately, and they managed to schedule me in for an engineer visit today (Wednesday) - between 10:30am and 1pm. When I asked if they could just get an engineer to drop off a new router for me, the answer was that they couldn't speak to the engineers, only schedule their time!!!

So here I am, writing this after 2 days without any form of Internet connectivity. Even my wife and kids are feeling lost without access to email, MSN, stock prices and the shopping sites.

One of the things which surprised my most about this little outage is that Sun do not have any kind of SLA (Service Level Agreement) with BT for those of us who work from home full time. I would have thought it would be in Sun's interest to have an agreement to expedite repairs and minimise downtime, but obviously they figure that I could always go to my nearest office to do some work. Well, I could, but for me that is a 1.5hr drive each way, so it would be quicker and easier to visit an Internet cafe just to catch up. In the end though, as I've mentioned, I've had enough work to keep me busy without having to resort to that. Fortunately, I'd just come to the end of an important phase of our project, so my work hasn't been unduly affected. I've managed to catch up on some documentation tasks for TOI's to our new sustaining group, which I'd probably have taken a week to do otherwise. I also have a team-mate in Leeds who calls regularly to keep me up-to-date with anything important.

Having had connectivity restored, I am disappointed to find that nobody desperately needed me, and the world hadn't, in fact, stopped turning just because I was "down" for over 2 days :(

Friday Apr 15, 2005

A little CSS trick

This week, I've been writing a document which contained some snippets of HTML. Now, normally when you whant to display HTML in an HTML file, you get into all sorts of bother using &lt; and &gt; for the < and > signs respectively. Not ot mention that because it is not rendered, it is more difficult to read.

So, I came up with some CSS styles which not only help with the < and >, but also coloured the HTML too. Thus:

<style>
.tag {
    color: green;
    font-weight: bold;
}
.tag:before {
    content: "<";
    color: black;
    font-weight: normal;
}
</style>

<span class="tag">img src="images/logo.gif"/></span>
This displays as:

<img src="images/logo.gif"/>

The use of the tag class is fairly obvious (assuming you know a little CSS). However, the next definition is more interesting. What this does is enable us to insert content before any content to which the style is applied. In this case, an opening <.

I then extended this concept to be a little more useful:

<style>
.endtag {
    color: green;
    font-weight: bold;
}
.endtag:before {
    content: "</";
    color: black;
    font-weight: normal;
}
.endtag:after {
    content: ">";
    color: black;
    font-weight: normal;
}
</style>

<span class="endtag">html</span>
This would display as:

</html>

So, as you can see, we've coloured just the tag name and displayed it in bold, but without having to put in the leading and trailing angle braces as this is done automagically by the CSS.

The astute readers amongst you will have noticed that I set the colour to black and the font weight to normal in the "before" and "after" pseudo-styles. That is because these styles are applied after their parent, so without that change the angle bracket would be bold and green.

I extended the use of this to wrap attribute values in double quotes and colour them and also handle empty tags - eg <table>. It made the document a whole lot more readable.

Note to readers: do not attempt to do this in StarOffice 1.x as StarOffice strips all of the embedded style directives out of your HTML and attempts to apply the style changes in line. It just ruins the whole thing, so I ended up using trusty vi for editing it :)

Tuesday Apr 12, 2005

Drawing diagrams with CSS. Yes, CSS!

Whilst searching for some enlightenment on UML state diagrams, I came across a rather clever use of CSS to draw a diagram.

I never would have thought that you could use CSS to draw a diagram, never mind a clear, professional looking one, but this guy managed it with aplomb.

The author claims that his only other option was to use MSPaint, but I think he probably had too much time on his hands really :)

Monday Apr 11, 2005

I went to a footbal match on Saturday

Before I say anything else, I have to mention that I am not a big fan of football (soccer), despite Sheffield having two professional teams which I could support. It's just one of those games that I never got into, and the only time I ever really have much interest is the World Cup. I also have an aversion to the professional game because I believe it to be too money oriented (underskilled prima-donna players paid too much and fans charged too much to watch them)!!!

Anyway, my son if a fan of Sheffield United(the Blades), so as a birthday treat, he gets to go to a home match of his choice, and I go along under sufferance.

This Saturday, it was against Queen's Park Rangers (QPR) who, although from London - 150+ miles away, managed to bring a rather vocal set of supporters - I'd guess a couple of thousand in total, who managed to out-sing the 15 thousand or so Sheffield United supporters. Quite bizarre really!

It took 30 minutes for the match to really get going, but I found myself getting caught up in the atmosphere, and was happily complaining about the ref, the linesmen and the quality of QPR with the best of them :) QPR scored first after a bit of sloppy defending on the part of the Blades. I don't really know how our goalkeeper missed the ball, but miss it he did and "we" were one down. Just before half time, though, United picked up their game and evened the score - much to the delight of (most of) the crowd.

In the second half, things got a bit more exciting. United scored again to go ahead, then some incredibly sloppy defending (dare I say "again") allowed QPR to even the scores. It all looked to be heading for a draw when, in the dying minutes of the game, a desperate QPR player pushed one of "our" players inside the penalty box when our boys were taking a free kick. The ensuing penalty was neatly converted into a goal, and a rather tired looking QPR were just not able to recover.

I still don't like football, but I must admit that the atmosphere of a stadium full of cheering fans does make you get involved, so all in all, I enjoyed the occasion. My son even more so :)

Roll on next spring ;)

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