Useful tip

If your computer seems to be running hot—indicated by all your case fans running so loudly they drown out the traffic—it could mean that the heatsink sitting on top of the CPU is clogged with dust. Of course, you'd feel kinda stupid if that was the case. Especially if you'd been putting up with it for weeks, and just assuming that your computer "ran hot". If this ever did happen, a careful application of a hand vacuum cleaner to the problematic heatsink can work wonders.

All entirely hypothetical, of course. :)

Why listen to podcasts?

A podcast is, by definition, one or more people talking about a subject that interests you. That's why you went to the trouble of finding out about and subscribing to their show.

It's essentially radio-on-demand, where you choose exactly what you want to listen to, rather than being subject to the programming choices made by others.

With MP3 players, you can literally listen to the shows anywhere, anytime.

Podcasts give you something interesting to listen to (and think about!) during those times when your mind is only superficially engaged: driving, travelling on public transport, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, walking the dog, or any kind of exercise.

If you miss something in the show—due to zoning out, something I seem to be prone to—you can "rewind" (something you can't do with radio).

If a particular episode bores you, you can just skip it.

While you can listen to music instead of podcasts, some people (c'est moi!) often prefer to have something that provides information, entertainment, knowledge, current affairs... all tailored by your choice of what shows you listen to.

If you haven't tried listening to podcasts—a phenomenon that's barely two years old—I highly recommend giving it a go!

(No, I'm not a podcaster, nor in all likelihood ever will be; my talents just don't lie in the direction of entertaining commentary/discussion. I'm enthusiastic about it simply because it's valuable to me, for the reasons I've given.)

A lesson in the obvious

Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean that either of you is wrong.

As best I have been able to determine, for any given situation or issue there is almost never going to be an answer that is necessarily right or wrong. It may seem right to you, from the point of view of your world view and based upon the current context of the discussion... but that same answer might not make sense to someone else coming at the question from a different angle. There does not appear to be any absolute scale against which one can measure "rightness", and so it all becomes relative.

Once I accepted this, almost any question I face now leads to shades of grey. That's actually good, I suppose, but it's not much help. Any given situation must be dealt with solely on its merits, without any appeal to a higher authority of any kind, almost like solving a problem from first principles every time. Mentally stimulating, but it can become tiresome. One can see the appeal of the more simple-minded organised religions, which provide such a white-bread, simplistic moral framework in which the world is cast in stark black and white. At the same time, such naivety appalls me... actually, it always has, which is perhaps why I've had an almost instinctive revulsion for such religious groups.

I'm not complaining (well, not much, anyway :-). It is far better to see the world for what it is (i.e., really, really complicated), than to be ensconced within a comfortable illusion. We need to experience the world as it really is, without the blinkers and rose-coloured glasses... in all its varying shades of grey.

Beware the Apostrolypse!

This is brilliant (from here):
Q: What is the 'Apostrolypse'?
A: The 'Apostrolypse'is a term for the cataclysmic and final collapse of our planet broughton by the misuse of apostrophe by illiterate people, viz., death by apostrophe. Think of it as worse than nuclear fallout: suffocation of all living organisim's by the relentles's rain of gratuitou's apostrophe's, swelling up as toxic aerial miasma...Variant theory: "Apostroluge," or global destruction by deluge; allair-breathing terrestrial creatures are inundated by apostrophes anddie, reminiscent of Noah's flood except that there's no boat.
I was actually confirming the plural of schema when I came across this (by the by, apparently "schemas" is generally accepted, versus "schemata"). If you are ever in any doubt about your usage of apostrophes, a visit to the Apostrophe Protection Society should clear things up.

With easy access to—I'm still paying my subscription, 'cause I find it so useful—I find myself checking the meaning of words I put into documents and e-mail, when there's any doubt in my mind about its usage in a particular context. I'll also occasionally check grammar or the more obscure cli·chés if they come up.

While this could be interpreted as ludicrously obsessive, I honestly believe that for communication to be effective, the language employed should conform to the currently-accepted usage. It's a shame that such usage changes over time, but there's only so much one can do. :-)

Here we go again...

As mentioned a couple of weeks back, a group of nutters had predicted the destruction of NYC... which did not (obviously) happen. They still haven't learned their lesson, as they're predicting it again—with a 98% probability of occurring—that NYC is in trouble this coming weekend.

Their faith in this "true bible code" they think they've discovered is remarkable. It allows them to continue to make predictions that never come true. Even the most gullible would begin to question their credibility after so many misses!

It appears that their sincerity cannot be questioned: they really believe this stuff. However, they're just wrong. They could probably find the same kind of patterns, and generate seemingly meaningful predictions, out of atmospheric noise.

I've never understood the idea of faith in something that is logically inconsistent or provably invalid. Believing in something that cannot be proved is one thing, but believing in something that is demonstrably garbage is just plain silly.

Region 4 DVD of Battlestar Galactica, season 2

After the most-glorious cliffhanger at the end of season 1, it's been a painful wait for season 2 of Battlestar Galactica to be released on region 4 here in Australia. However, it's not long now! Apparently the region 4 DVD will be released on Wednesday 16 August... just under two months to go.

I've watched the miniseries and season 1 on DVD, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My memories of the original series from when I was much younger are pretty vague, and from what I do remember it was enjoyable but wasn't that compelling; actually, it's kind of mixed up with Buck Rogers :-). The "re-imagined" series is a complex, rich story following a well-defined story arc—a strategy that worked wonderfully with Babylon 5—with a dark, gritty feel... it's truly entertaining. Best small-screen SF in a long while!

Talking of small-screen SF... I've got to say that the first season of the latest Doctor Who really didn't do much for me. My favourite doctor remains incarnation #4 (Tom Baker). The (much) earlier series had a more serious tone, and while there was humour, it was clever and toned down. There was also a surprising amount of violence; it's amazing the kind of bodycount that could be accumulated with so little blood'n'gore, thanks to the prevalent use of energy weapons. The modern versions—from around doctor #6 and onwards—have tended towards the "Benny Hill" side of British comedy (which I despise).

I've heard good things about season 2, with the incarnated-once-more doctor apparently doing a much better job, so I suppose I shouldn't give up hope!

That could have been... awkward.

I just had one of those "oh, sh*t" moments, when I got up to get myself another cup of tea, grabbed my cup from besides my monitor... and managed to spill the dregs onto my PCs case, which is sitting beside my desk. I'd forgotten that I hadn't quite finished it.

To makes matters a worse, the case was open (side access panel removed), as it had been running a little hot and I was going to check its fans, with the possibilitiy of repositioning them to see if that made any difference.

Anyway... I froze as soon as I realised what I'd done (my usual and somewhat unfortunate reaction to something "bad" happening). Luckily, there wasn't much tea to spill, and it landed on top of the case and just beside it, with none appearing to have splashed inside. A few paper towels later, and all is dry once more.

I've previously ruined a keyboard or two with spilled tea... only too easy when engrossed in thinking about something, and then absently reach for it without looking! Maybe I should pay more attention to the world around me. :-)

Speed demon

At least at typing, anyway. Doing the on-line test here, on my first (and only) attempt I achieved 91 words per minute, with no errors. Not bad at all!

Oh, but how nerdy is that?

I learned touch typing when I was in year 9 (14 years old), the only guy in a class full of girls. Back in those days (1985!) computers were still relatively uncommon, and so we were taught using manual typewriters. To this day, I still hit the keys a little too hard, which was necessary on a manual. I also still remember with painful clarity when my little finger slipped and got jammed when going for the 'A' key.

Thanks to computers, I get plenty of practise, and hence have maintained my proficiency. Actually, it's turned out to be one of the useful mechanical skills I've learned, as it allows me to write code without taking my eyes off the screen... and is certainly instrumental in helping to achieve that remarkable creative state of "flow", when time seems to fade away and you become totally immersed in the task at hand.

Keyboards don't seem to be going away; while speech recognition is good, it still seems like it will be years before it'll be actually useful. So, if you haven't yet got around to at least thinking about learning to touch type, I really can't recommend it enough!

Oh, those little differences and thank whatever for the Germans!

A while ago I wrote a wrapper class in C++ to retrieve and update configuration values, stored as elements in an XML column of an Oracle database table. The Oracle-specific XML syntax was byzantine (well, non-standard), and required a lot of messing around with sqlplus before the correct syntax could be determined. The documentation was almost, but not quite, useful enough. One's own specific needs are almost always never specifically addressed... inevitable, of course, given the near-endless variety of possible applications.

It turns out that my wrapper class has got to work with Microsoft's SQL Server as well... and SQL Server's syntax for XML operations is different to Oracle's. Hauntingly similar, but not quite the same!

Since what I needed to do was quite straightforward, it was reasonably easy to work out what the equivalents were... well, after several hours of wading through Microsoft's help pages and endless experimentation with sqlcmd (SQL Server's equivalent of sqlplus).

Finally, I was almost done; the last operation I needed to do was giving me a somewhat unhelpful error message. I Google'd for it, and got exactly ONE hit... a guy asking why he was getting this particular error... in German! So, crossing my fingers, I read the response—also in German—and as I hoped the SQL snippet supplied was in XPath/XQuery-standardised English notation. That gave me the answer I wanted, and now (after some screwing around) it's all done. Firefox's translation extension did a reasonable job of interpreting the posts, but it wasn't actually necessary to work out what was going on (luckily).

Ah, what fun! Oh, for AI-assisted programming... or at least an AI-enhanced help system! Anything would be better than the usual keyword-based search that is pretty much all you get at the moment.