If the kids fly United, they will find nothing provided

April 26, 2008

Scheduled journey
12.45pm (Fri, MDT): Leave Bozeman, MT
4.45pm (CT): Arrive Chicago, IL
6:00pm (CT): Leave Chicago, IL
8.15am (Sat, BST): Arrive London Heathrow

Actual
12.45pm (Fri, MDT): Drumming fingers in Bozeman, MT.
1.30pm (MDT): Learn flight has landed in Helena, MT. Told it’ll be 20 minutes or so before it’s here.
3.15pm (MDT): Incoming plane arrives at Bozeman, MT.
3.45pm (Fri, MDT): Leave Bozeman, MT.
4.30pm (CT): Begin interminable hold pattern over cities progressively closer to Chicago, IL.
7.00pm (CT): Diverted to Madison, WI for refuelling.
9.45pm (CT): Allowed off of plane in Madison, WI
10.00pm (CT): Told there is neither a crew nor a bus available to get us to O’Hare. Told by agent this is now a crew problem rather than a weather problem, and United’s responsibility.
11.00pm (CT): Rent car in Madison. Drive to Chicago, IL
2.00am (Sat, CT): Arrive at Chicago, IL. No information is available, three United staff to deal with dozens of tired, frustrated passengers. There would be hundreds but for the ones that have booked up all the hotels.
2.45am (CT): Reach United representative on phone. Told my connection will now be at 4.11pm. Flights at 6am and 9am are booked solid, and standby is not available.
2.55am (CT): Seriously consider destroying exit card just so United are given a hefty fine.
3.00am (CT): Buy t-mobile internet pass for day, use for a while.
4.00am (CT): Begin queuing for check-in.
5.15am (CT): Reach check-in
5.45am (CT): Clear security
6.00am (CT): Pizza for breakfast, first proper meal in 21 hours.
9.00am (CT): Give up on trying to sleep. Discover internet has very limited connectivity and keeps dropping.
10.30am (CT): Compile schedule of first 24 hours of trip. Still around 15 hours from reaching London.
11.00am (CT): Seriously contemplate putting on adjustable bouffant to see if it elicits any comment from United staff.
4.11pm (CT): ETD, Chicago, IL.
5.55am (Sun, BST): ETA, London.

It’d just be really nice for someone at United to say ‘God, that’s awful.’ They think that driving 150 miles just to reach a layover longer than the original flight is not just acceptable but something I should be grateful for (one agent said, ‘what if we’d booked you on the 9pm flight out?’). There are a hundred things they could have done to make things a bit easier – ask for a volunteer on an earlier flight to fly later, say ‘we’re very sorry’, offer use of the customer lounge, offer a pillow, a blanket, earplugs … There are a dozen ways they could have avoided the problem – it’s not as if they suddenly realised the crew was out of time, it’s not as if the arrival of hundreds of late passengers after dozens of delayed and cancelled flights should have been a surprise (and i certainly shouldn’t have been left to a handful of frazzled baggage claim employees to deal with), and it’s not as if trying to find extra capacity for stranded passengers, on different airlines if necessary, should be completely out of the question – or even the passengers’ responsibility to deal with.

Dear United. You have brought me somebody else’s shredded slippers and expect a pat on the head. No love, Colin.

There are likely to be other United-related posts in the near future. Do feel free to share your airline horror-stories.


Set-list, April 8th

April 9, 2008

At the Hand and Flowers open mic in Queen St, Maidenhead:

– Song for the Shy
– You Should Never Skin Up On A Skinful
– Tangled Up in Bob
– No Underwear


Meet the New Bloke

February 22, 2008

No MP3. This is an old one that I occasionally line up when I don’t like the look of a friend’s new partner.

You introduce me to your latest lover
As if you have unearthed some kind of gem
You tell me he’s not like the others
But he looks pretty much identical to them

Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Six foot four, the air’s too heavy to reach his brain
Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Only the football shirt has changed.

You introduce me to your latest boyfriend
He’s tall and tanned and muscle-bound
You say you’ve known him since the weekend
Yet you still seem to think he’s fun to be around.

Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Six foot four, the air’s too heavy to reach his brain
Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Only the football shirt has changed.

You introduce me to your new fiancé
The man to whom you’ll give your independence
How he proposed to you, you won’t say
But I’m skeptical that he used a complete sentence.

Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Six foot four, the air’s too heavy to reach his brain
Meet the new bloke, he’s the same as the old bloke
Only the football shirt has changed.


My favourite software

February 21, 2008

I missed yesterday (bad Kensson, no banana). The last couple of days have been manic, which is no excuse.

One of the questions that came up in an interview yesterday was ‘what’s the coolest piece of software you use?’ My immediate answer was Aquamacs (Mac), a text editor based on emacs (a Unix editor) but with a more intuitive interface added. But I got thinking, is it really the coolest?

I would be very hard-pressed to function an ocean away from TCB without Adium (Mac), for instance, and a day of temp work systematically replacing links to one website with links to another has given me a whole new respect for bash (Unix). The temp assessments I’ve done recently have involved a flash-based version of Word and Excel which was clearly coded up by a team of poorly-trained monkeys-on-typewriters, perhaps trying to develop software for that play they’d always wanted to write about a Danish prince. All of which makes OpenOffice (cross-platform) and NeoOffice (Mac) that little bit more estimable.

Likewise, Internet Explorer has been developed to the point where it took more than three hours of intermittent use today before it crashed, which is a vast improvement over the last version I used. FireFox (cross-platform), on the other hand, is astonishingly good, and a clear front-runner in the ‘does practically everything’ category.

I’m going to give a shout-out to CyberDuck, QuickSilver and RapidSVN (all Mac), which I’ve only recently started to use but have suddenly become indispensable. With that bombshell, my list of cool apps has become the same top ten Mac apps list that everyone posts, for which I apologise. But I’m still going to leave it there without linking to Stellarium or Skim or Ventrilo or VoodooPad Light or even MailPlane, the only thing on this list that you have to pay for.


Enjoying the Ride

February 19, 2008

Just noticed that one of my live staples doesn’t have its lyrics on the site. Ought to change that. No MP3.

Buddy, where’s the fire? You’re pedalling fit to bust
With your lycra gear and clip-on shoes, you leave me in your dust
But I’m not trying to catch you, I’m way too dignified
I’m just out in the sunshine, enjoying the ride.

Enjoying the ride, all of those thunderclouds gathering in the sky
Are going to take a detour and pass me right on by
But if it rains, I’ll get wet – then I’ll cycle until I’m dry
I’m just out in the sunshine, enjoying the ride.

I’ve been coming out lately with the raw end of the deal
So I keep my feet in motion and follow my front wheel
The wind in my face is drying all those tears I cried
I’m just out in the sunshine, enjoying the ride.

Enjoying the ride, up on the shoulder, a white line as my guide
My mind is clear and peaceful, my eyes are open wide
Anything life throws at me, I’ll take it in my stride
I’m just out in the sunshine, enjoying the ride.


New song (WIP): I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways

February 19, 2008

Inspired by a New Yorker cartoon. It might get an MP3 when it’s finished.

I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I don’t care what anyone says
I’m going to head for happy days
And I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways.

I’m going to serve my very last subpoena
I’m going to serve my very last subpoena
Could be for a felony
Or for a misdemeanour
I’m going to serve my very last subpoena
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I don’t care what anyone says
I’m going to head for happy days
And I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways.

I’m going to hear that gavel bang one last time
I’m going to hear that gavel bang one last time
Then I’m turning on a dime
And heading for a life of crime
I’m going to hear that gavel bang one last time
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I don’t care what anyone says
I’m going to head for happy days
And I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways.

I’m going to raise my very last objection
I’m going to raise my very last objection
And instead of going back to work
I’ll take the opposite direction
I’m going to hear that gavel bang one last time

I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways
I don’t care what anyone says
I’m going to head for happy days
And I’m going to quit my low-down lawyering ways.


Running

February 17, 2008

I thought I was being so clever. My habitual running method is to pick an album I’ve not heard in a while, or at all – Harvest kept me company the other day, Live 1975 today – and basically alternate between running and walking, switching at the track break. It’s enough to keep me moving, but gives me enough time to rest and stretch in between the running songs.

Anyway, I ran a double stretch first – Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You and It Ain’t Me, Babe, followed by walking to A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (To The Tune Of Highway 61 Revisited). The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is an ok one to run to, and I was hugely relieved that I’d chosen to run the first two tracks. When I stopped, Bob said “This is Scarlett Rivera” – and I knew that that signalled Romance In Durango and that I’d be walking one of the longer songs. Followed, with any luck, by a short one.

Alas, the hoped-for short one was Isis, short only in its title.

Just out of interest, I went to wikipedia to ask how long the tracks actually were. Surprisingly, at 5:11, Isis is the second-shortest (Tonight… is a shade under four minutes) of the first six tracks, so the damage was purely psychological – doubly so since I came home feeling virtuous at having run for such an extended spell. Next time I’ll take something poppier, by which I mean, having shorter tracks.


A sort of request…

February 16, 2008

Every so often (well, ok, daily) I check my wordpress stats to see how many people have found a link pointing at my ramblings, or have unwittingly found it using a search engine. Indeed, much of the entertainment I get out of this site derives from the search terms used.

One used yesterday was “program to see if a triangle is equilateral”. Obviously I’ve never answered that question here, an omission I should put right immediately.

There are several ways to tell if a triangle is equilateral: the two most obvious ones are to check that all of the sides have the same length, or to check that all of the angles are 60º; you can also check that two sides are the same length and that the angle between them is 60º.

The easiest one to implement is the same-length check. Let’s say you have three points – we need to see if the distance between each pair of points is the same. That distance is sqrt(x^2 + y^2 + z^2). Because we’re only checking for equality, we don’t even need to take the square root. Our python code is something like:

class Point:
# Class to keep the points tidy
def __init__(self, x,y,z):
  self.x = x
  self.y = y
  self.z = z

def distanceSquared(P, Q):
  dx2 = (P.x - Q.x) ** 2
  dy2 = (P.y - Q.y) ** 2
  dz2 = (P.z - Q.z) ** 2
  return dx2 + dy2 + dz2

def isEquilateral(A, B, C):
  ab2 = distanceSquared(A, B)
  ac2 = distanceSquared(B, C)
  bc2 = distanceSquared(A, C)
  if ab2 != ac2 or ab2 != bc2:
    return 0
  else:
    return 1

A = Point(0.,0.,0.)
B = Point(1.,1.,0.)
C = Point(0.,1.,1.)
D = Point(1.,0.,0.)
print isEqulilateral( A, B, C)
# should return 1
print isEquilateral ( A, B, D)
# should return 0

Where the apostrophes go

February 15, 2008

I’ve always been good with apostrophes. I once annoyed an English teacher by interrupting his lesson to ask about fo’c’s’les. I was genuinely interested.

Anyway, apostrophes have their own logic, and I’m not going to say it’s a good one. They’re mainly used to represent something you’re leaving out (like the “a” in you are) or something that belongs to somebody.

It’s and its is the one that always gets people. It’s is a contraction of it is. Now, its does denote belonging to it and that’s where the confusion comes in. His (only a short step from its) doesn’t have an apostrophe, so  neither does its.

Neither does your (belonging to you) or their (belonging to them). You’re and they’re are contractions of you are and they are. Easy. Any time you have an apostrophe crisis, think about whether you could use some form of ‘to be’ – in which case, throw the apostrophe straight into the mix – or not, in which case you leave it out.

One that stumped me for a while was figuring out where it should go with plural possessives – “seven years’ experience”, say.  It might not even be clear that that needs an apostrophe, until you think of what happens when it’s only one year: “one year’s experience”. The experience (according to English) belongs to the year. And, when there are several years, the apostrophe goes after the s.

There’s debate, too, about whether you should add the s after possessives that end in s. “The bus’s driver” or “The bus’ driver”? My rule of thumb is, if you say the extra s, you should write it (so, “the bus’s driver” but “the busses’ drivers”).

I remember seeing a copy of Alice in Wonderland in which words like shan’t were, quite logically, written sha’n’t. While it’s logical (we’re missing a couple of ls from shall not, as well as the o), it no longer seems to be correct usage.

It’s rare that misusing an apostrophe will completely change the meaning of the sentence. However, it does make (some? many?) readers think of you as less intelligent or more lazy and – in some cases – throws them for a total loop or causes severe mental distress. So think about it. Please. People will hate you if you don’t watch out for where the apostrophe goes.


Evolutionary computing

February 14, 2008

Those of you who know me will know that I’m always following some odd scheme or other, often with potential gambling implications, only to end up getting bored or frustrated.

One of these interesting ideas is that of genetic algorithms – instead of writing your entire program, you write a ‘fitness function’ that serves as a survival rating (e.g. a gambling scheme that makes money would score highly, one that goes bankrupt would score lowly) and allow the computer to evolve a program that does what you want.

I’m not very good at that yet, but some people are: this is a very neat youtube video showing the evolution of a watch. My only quibble is that they don’t really define what the fitness function is.

I also stumbled on this discussion,  in which Linus Torvalds explains that he believes Linux will become better than other systems because it has all the properties of an evolutionary system. I think there are similarities, but I’m not quite sure the argument stands up (it’s not that easy to create a Linux application, and there’s a definite element of design to it), but it’s an interesting proposition that I hadn’t considered before.