Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I'm back on the Microsoft certification treadmill again; my original qualification was an MCSE back in the days when Windows NT 4 was putting the moves on Novell Netware. In the interests of getting my career moving in a forwards direction, I've started doing the exams again.

This afternoon was the snappily-titled Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 - Application Development Foundation exam. I didn't do myself any favours by forgetting the date of the exam - I was just sitting down to some tasty sashimi with Mei when my phone hopefully chimed in to remind me that I had 30 minutes to go. One quick dash to the nearest internet cafe later, and the exam was rescheduled long enough for me to finish my beef teriyaki.

My practice exams had not been encouraging, as they indicated that I would be tested on a whole lot of esoterica that I don't use on a daily basis. Fortunately the revision exams pushed me in the right direction, so I was able to pass, although I had to sweat for it. Next up (some time in January) is the equally titularly-challenged Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 - Web-Based Client Development, after which I will apparently be considered to be a Technical Specialist. Just one small step on my way to world domination...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You know it's going to be one of those days...

... when your build server suddenly drops off the network. After a little investigation, you discover that it was unplugged by someone who had started working at the desk where the server was, who very kindly unplugged it and moved it halfway across the building to where they used to sit, and then left it unplugged and switched off on the floor.

There are two solutions to this:

  1. stick a big fat red label on the build server warning of the dire consequences associated with even touching the server;
  2. get a proper server installed in the datacenter, rather than an ageing PC that masquerades as a server, at what at the time was an empty desk.

Care to guess which solution we will be going for?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Integrating Flickr with Lightroom

I've long been a Flickr fan, and more recently, a firm Adobe Lightroom fan. With the recent release of version 1.3 of Lightroom, Adobe has started opening it up to third-party developers, and Jeffrey Friedl has put two and two together, creating what is sure to be a very popular plug-in, allowing you to export directly from Lightroom to Flickr.

I haven't upgraded from version 1.2 yet, but I will do very shortly. One of the big annoyances for me is tagging all my photos carefully in Lightroom, then having to tag them all over again in Flickr. Hopefully, this plug-in will automatically copy them over, as well as saving me the trouble of wading through Explorer looking for photos to upload.

UPDATE: the good news it that it does, as well as other metadata. The Title and Description fields can be populated from several different ITPC fields in Lightroom (selectable in the plug-in), and the tags are all copied over. Now, I wonder if you can have a tag-exclusion list (so, for example, I could add a tag in Lightroom to indicate that the photo had been uploaded to Flickr, then if I wanted to re-upload it, that tag wouldn't get uploaded too).

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blog readability

For those who like to maintain that they did actually receive some form of education in their lives, why not run The Blog Readability Test over your blog? It analyses your blogging style, and then gives you a rating based on the quality of your vocabulary and grammar - at least, that's what one would rather assume it does, the tool doesn't explicitly to do that. It could be plucking numbers out of thin air as far as I could tell.

Anyway, if you're wondering whether your blogging style is more suited to MySpace and LiveJournal than to Wordpress or Blogspot, give it a go. For those who really like a bit of self-validation, you can then add an image link on your blog, although beware that the site does use the image for a bit of advertising as well.

Apparently I write at undergraduate level. I'm not too sure if I should be happy with that or not though.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lightroom to the rescue!

The other weekend I was doing photography for a couple in the church, and what with one shooting photos inside and outside in rapid succession, I eventually ended up with a bunch of photos that were horribly overexposed.

A horribly overexposed photo of some very nice young ladies

Fortunately, I use Adobe Lightroom, which works really well with my Canon EOS30D's RAW file format. RAW files store the data directly off the camera's sensor, unlike JPEG, which throws away large chunks of it to keep file sizes down. Lightroom can access all that data, and rescue many an otherwise-ruined picture; here's what 60 seconds in Lightroom will do for you.

A little bit of tweaking in Lightroom later, and most of the colour is restored

Of course, it's not perfect - the bridesmaids' dresses were actually a pale green, but the picture was too overexposed to rescue that. The solution there would be to paint the colour back in using Photoshop, but since I can't afford the scandalous markup that products sold in Australia attract...

The moral of this story (other than checking settings before a shot and then checking the result afterwards) - if you use a DSLR, use RAW always.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Return to the IT Dark Ages

Last year I bought an LG S1 Express laptop, which at the time was about as top-of-the-line as you could buy in Australia. Of course, shortly after, Intel came out with the Core 2 Duo, which immediately put me a generation behind, but never mind.

For the last few months, I've been bumping against the limits of its 100Gb hard drive, and what with holidays overseas and the opening of the wedding photography season, I decided it was time to upgrade to a bigger hard drive.

I picked up a 250Gb model from MWave, did a full system backup, swapped in the new drive, and restored the backup onto the new drive. So far, so flawless. However, when I started up, I noticed that I was missing some 100Gb of disk space.

Incredible though it may seem to anyone who's into computers, but top-end laptops in 1996 still seem to have 32-bit addressing issues, so the laptop won't recognise more than 137Gb. Just to rub extra salt into the wound, LG have no plans to add 48-bit addressing to the BIOS (and in fact, from the forums, LG just don't do BIOS upgrades - way to provide service, guys).

These laptops are very nice to use and to look at. Just don't buy one if you think you'll ever need to upgrade the hard drive.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Days #15 and #16 - Homeward bound

Having been beaten by the weather in our quest to see Mount Fuji, we spent our last few hours in Hakone in the toy museum. Lauren whizzed through the museum very quickly, showing little interest until I pointed out the Playstation 2 set up with a port of Galaxians, after which she was, of course, hooked.

We got back to Tokyo without any dramas, and spent the remaining hours of daylight wandering out Shinjuku once more, firstly in search of a kimono for Emily (she rather baulked at the ¥750000 price tags though), secondly in search of an iPod Touch for me (they were all sold out, and I hadn't thought to jot down the address of the local Apple Store), and thirdly somewhere to have coffee (preferably one which offered soy milk). For once, there wasn't a Starbucks on every corner, so after walking around in circles for an hour or so, we settled for Cafe Espresso, whose sign outside looks suspiciously like Starbucks', at least from a distance.

After dinner with our hosts, it was time to pack for our flights back to Australia the next day. The only excitement at Narita was trying to get through security - Emily had the usual problems with liquids in bottles (gotta watch out for that highly dangerous exploding soy milk), and for once I had a problem with my camera tripod; then we just had enough time to spend our remaining yen, before getting on the plane.

This time our stopover in KL was a mere 90 minutes, barely enough time for to find the Starbucks there and to spend the last of our Malaysian currency. I, of course, had to keep away from the many TV sets which would have given the game away as to who won the Chinese Grand Prix.

Monday morning saw us touching down once more in Sydney - with Monica waiting at the airport to pick us up, I was at work in time for our usual 9:30 meeting. It took a while to get over the urge to bow to everyone in sight - I might have gotten looks...

Day #14 - In search of Mount Fuji

How hard can it be to spot a 3778m high volcanic cone? That was the question that plagued us on our journey down to Kyoto and back up from Tokushima. Each time, I would get a seat on the north-facing side of the train and sit with camera in hand; and each time, the clouds would descend, the mist would roll in, and Mount Fuji remained obstinately invisible.

So for our last few days, we thought that we could go to one of the more favoured spots for Fuij-watching, up in the mountains to the west of Tokyo. Hakone is a popular destination for Tokyo's population at the weekends, either because of the views of Fuji, or the large number of hot springs. Most of the hotels have their own private baths fed from these springs, so we thought that it was time for us to strike out on our own and stay in a traditional hotel and experience the pleasures of Japanese bathing.

View from the cab of the Hakone mountain railwayThe Hikari shinkansen, charmingly but inaccurately called the Romance Car, took us from Shinjuku as far as Hakone itself; after a quick stop for lunch (and at the only place that we'd been to which actually gave us miso soup - eating out in Japanese restaurants in Sydney, you get the impression that the Japanese have miso soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day), we hopped on to our next train, which switchbacked its way up the mountains, gaining some 1000m in elevation before dropping us off at Ohiradai, where our hotel was.

Hot springs at Owakudani, seen from the cable carWe dropped off our bags, then hopped back on the train to continue the ride up to Gora, where we changed rides again, getting on to the funicular that runs up to Sounzan, which signals yet another change, this time for a cable car. This then takes you up to Owakudani, where you see the first real indications that you are in hot spring country. You're also supposed to be able to smell the sulphur in the air, but I can't say that it was that noticeable. From here we were also supposed to be able to get our first real view of Mount Fuji, but who would have thought it, Fuji-sama was once more hiding behind the clouds. From Owakudani, the cable car descended a bit to Lake Ashi, and we crossed to the other end on a very kitsch mock pirate ship. If there's a reason for those ships, I'd be interested to know it. With the sun now setting, we continued our quest to use as many forms of transport as possible in one day, and got on the bus back to Hakone, then back on to the mountain train up to Ohiradai and the hotel.

By now we were quite used to sleeping on tatami and futons, but this was the first time that I experienced the low ceilings -when it came to dinner time, I had to stoop continually to avoid braining myself on the roof beams. Fortunately I was able to turn those stoops into polite bows to the other guests, so I didn't look too much like a chicken scratching for corn.

After dinner, it was bathtime. This meant same-sex communal baths, so if you feel embarrassed about being naked in front of strangers, then it's not for you, and you're greatly missing out. As it happened though, I had the male baths at the hotel to myself. The baths themselves are not for washing in - you're supposed to have cleaned up first; instead, you just sit there, enjoying/enduring the heat and whatever company is there. I was worried that I would come out looking like freshly cooked lobster, but actually the water was just about the perfect temperature for me, so I was able to soak in solitude.

After the baths, there was enough time to watch a few incomprehensible Japanese game shows, then off to bed.

Day #13 - House of Mouse

One of the secrets of our success on this holiday was bribery; knowing Lauren's predilection for complaining about the food in front of her, we'd promised her a trip to Disneyland Tokyo before we left, if she managed to avoid sulking through every meal because it wasn't chicken nuggets and chips. Well, Lauren managed to deliver (and we managed to get through the whole holiday without having to go near a McDonalds), so it was time for us to deliver.

IMG_8440We thought that going midweek might save us from the usual crowds; if midweek crowds mean queues of 90 minutes for the Haunted House and Space Mountain, I'd hate to think what they're like at the weekend. There's not too much else to say about Disneyland Tokyo - if you've been to one Disneyland, you've been to them all. So here's a picture of Lauren by the Magic Castle, although the magic was partly spoiled by the scaffolding at the front; and quite why the Japanese have to be subjected to Halloween, I don't know.

Day #12 - Culture vultures


After the hustle and bustle of Asakusa, we reckoned it was time to go somewhere a bit quieter. We had just about had our fill of shrines, palaces, and castles, so instead we headed to Ueno, and the Tokyo National Museum, the Japanese equivalent of the British Museum, for a day's wander around exhibits of artifacts such as ceramics, weaponry, clothes and art from throughout Japanese history.

With Rie and Yoshiko once again playing guide and interpreter, we took a stroll through Ueno park, where Lauren and Emily wasted no time in finding the local stray cat population.

Natural Disaster Evacuation AreaWe did try to get into the local shitamachi museum, for a look at what Tokyo used to look like before earthquake, fire and the US Air Force destroyed most of it. Unfortunately we got there about 5 minutes before they closed, so they waved us in for a whirlwind wander round, before they politely ushered us out again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day #11 - Shinjuku and Asasuka

Our first full day in Tokyo began with an initiation into the ways of the public transport system. Packing in with the last of the morning's commuters, we headed out to Shinjuku to meet up with our friend Noriko, who was in Sydney a few months ago. We caught up over coffee and a bit of shopping, then met up with Rie and Yoshiko for lunch, having our first real experience of okonomiykai, Japanese-style pancakes.

Honzonmon gate outside SensojiAfter lunch, it was back on the trains to Asasuka and the Buddhist shrine of Sensoji, one of the more touristy of Tokyo's sights. The between the outer gate, Kaminarimon, and the main gate, Hozonmon, is packed with stalls set up for tourists, selling fans and sweets and kimonos and ninja suits. Yes, apparently all girls want kimonos and all boys want ninja suits. I'm glad we have a girl...

Local ladies dolled up for a night on the townAs night fell, the crowds of tourists started to make way for the locals. This group of ladies came out of this shop just as we were passing - one quick introduction and request from Rie later, and they were happily lining up for me. My favourite has to be the lady in black, third from left - notice that while the others were all wearing traditional tabi and clogs, she was wearing bubblegum pink Converse boots...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day #10 - Tokyo once more

Monday saw us back on the shinkansen again, heading for Tokyo. Lauren managed to bring a few souvenirs with her, in the form of a dozen or more mosquito bites. Emily and I obviously don't taste as good to the ka palate, as we got away with one or two apiece; and they're vicious-looking so-and-sos.

We managed to get to Tokyo just in time for the rush hour, so we got a good opportunity to enjoy sitting in traffic, and a brief view of the bright lights of Shinjuku.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Day #9 - Getting on down

As with KL, we spent the Sunday morning with the church at the Lord's Table meeting. Lunch afterwards was a question mainly of eating things which we could not identify, fortunately with fairly pleasant results. We then broke out the guitar for a cross-cultural jam session - fortunately, the Japanese can read English a whole lot better than we can read Japanese.

After lunch and the obligatory photo-call, we wandered round the local zoo, which was rather small, with a number of rather morose inhabitants, of which the reindeer looked the least happy with his plight. A monkey. And a squirrel monkey.The most interesting section was the monkey house, where we were let right into the home of the squirrel monkeys. They obviously relished the attention, especially from the smaller kids.


Dinner was at the local sushi train, where Lauren let the side down by asking for sausages and chips (which were actually on the menu, although the sausages were served sushi style, fortunately cooked). We finished the day by going to a display of Awa Odori, the local traditional dance style. Awa Odori There's a big festival at the end of August, with dancing in the streets, but these sessions allow the various teams to practice in between. The girls in particular get the hard part, as they wear the traditional wooden clogs, complete with inch-high wooden blocks, while the guys get a form of tabi. After the main display, it was time for a little audience participation, with the best dancers being given small awards. Emily was one of the lucky recipients.

Day #8 - One big fish

IMG_8015 Our morning in Osaka was spent at the aquarium, which is mainly known for its biggest occupant, a rather young whale shark. Currently 4m long, when fully grown it will be 12m long. Do these things make good sushi? Its fellow inmates include a variety of marine creatures from around the Pacific Rim, including sea otters from the Aleutians and dolphins from the Cook Straight.

After lunch, we were picked up and driven through Kobe and down to Tokushima in Shikoku, just across the water from Honshu. We already knew the family we were staying with, as they stayed with us in Sydney when their daughter Ai got married earlier this year (the other two daughters, Nozomi and Rie, acted as guides/interpreters for us in Tokushima and Tokyo respectively - we would have been very lost without them!)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day #6 - Palaces and castles

IMG_7767After two days of traipsing round shrines, it was probably about time we visited something more down to earth. First up was the Kyoto Gosho, the imperial palace. It's been burnt to the ground a fair few times, and moved around, in its history; and of course, the emperor now resides in Tokyo, so it's only really used for ceremonial occasions. This was also a guided tour, but at least this time, the guide was able to interject the occasional English explanation, although I dare say I missed a fair amount as I was often lagging behind the group, waiting for all the other tourists to move out of my camera frame!

IMG_7885Nijo-jo, built by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu at the beginning of the 17th Century, was a different kettle of fish. Here, we were able to rent an audio guide, particularly for the interior of the palace. Sadly, no photos permitted in there, but the grounds were fair game. Once again, Japan's long history with fire meant that the main donjon of the castle, which had been relocated from nearby Fujimi castle, burned to the ground in the 18th Century, but at least the major fortifications were a little more longlasting. One of the highlights of the shogun's palace is the Nightingale Floor, which through ingenious springing and balancing, makes it impossible to sneak or walk down the passageways without being pursued by a cacophony of squeaks and whistles.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Day #5 - Lost in Translation

With our hosts having to go to work for the day, we were left to our own devices, which mainly consisted of a guided bus tour of Kyoto. Due to the toilets at the bus station being located almost half a block away, we missed our scheduled bus by about a minute (curse that Japanese punctuality!), so with a cry of, "Follow that bus!", we grabbed a taxi and attempted to get to the first stop on the itinerary ahead of the bus. We were rather mindful of horror stories of how much Tokyo cabs cost, but fortunately our man came through, and we pulled up at the first shrine just as our fellow tourists were disembarking.

One thing that became immediately obvious was that we were the only foreigners on the tour, and also that no-one else spoke Japanese, the guide included. In some cases, this even included the various guide pamphlets, so there are some places that we have been to that we have absolutely no idea what their significance is.

The rear of Heian-jingu shrine Heian-jingu was the first stop along the route, built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the Kyoto. The buildings are reduced-size replicas of the Heian-period Imperial palace; the garden is also very photogenic, so we had a slightly-hurried wander around, not wanting to miss the bus onwards.

Our next stop was Togetsukyo Bridge. Unfortunately, the language barrier meant that we had no idea what we were looking at, or why we were looking at it! This also meant that I didn't take any photos of it, since at this time of year it's just a bridge. Later on we Googled it to work out what we missed - apparently it's good for viewing the cherry blossom in spring and the autumn leaves in, um, autumn - shame we missed both! On the plus side, we did get to eat unagi, although again we had no idea what it was at the time.

The Golden Temple earns its nameAfter lunch, we headed for probably the most visually spectacular shrine, at Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple. This is a 20th century reconstruction of the the 14th century original (a rather obsessed monk burned it down in 1950), and the gold leaf now covers the first floor as well as the second. The gardens were equally impressive, with a few more signs of trees turning colour with the autumn.

Kimonoed ladies on their way to somewhereKiyomizu-dera required a bit more hard work to reach, climbing up the hillside along a street lined with touristy-type shops. It was obviously a favourite destination for school trips, as there were several busloads of uniformed children, many of them tying prayers to the prayer fences. There were also a good number of women wearing kimonos about. Feeling a bit worn out from all the hard slogging, we sat down for some mat-cha, the formal whisked green tea, along with some sticky sweet rice balls filled with red bean paste, then back down the hill and on to our bus to return home.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Day #4 - Narita to Kyoto

Shinkansen at Maibara station The run down from Narita to Kyoto, our first real port of call, was pretty fast and smooth, thanks to the combination of a Japan Rail pass and the shinkansen. A bus from the hotel back to the airport got us on to the express service to Tokyo, then a short walk got us on the shinkansen for Kyoto. Japan definitely seems to have got trains sorted out, something which both London and Sydney desperately need to do. The inter-city service in Australia looks like a train set in comparison.

View from the window of the shinkansen The view along the way was fascinating, albeit rather blurred. It seems like almost every almost flat piece is terraced and farmed, even small areas a couple of meters across will have rows of rice planted in them. Sadly, a view of Mount Fuji was not on the cards, staying hidden behind the low-lying clouds.

Ginkaku-ji templeOur hosts in Kyoto picked us up from the station; we went back to their home in the west of Kyoto, and dumped our bags, then headed in search of Ginkaku-ji, the closest of Kyoto's major temples.  Our timing was rather good, as we got there in the late afternoon, with the setting sun adding a golden hue to the scene. I'd rather been hoping that autumn had set in a little more, so that we could see the beautiful colours of autumn in the maples, but summer appears to have been quite warm, so only the first few leaves are starting to turn. Quite why New South Wales's schools can't have their spring holiday to coincide with Japan's autumn better, I don't know...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Day #3 - Babies

Many congratulations to Cheryl back in England who had a baby girl last night in what has to be one of the fastest unassisted deliveries that we've heard of.

Meanwhile, it's still dark in KL, and we're off to the airport. Hope I can find a few wireless access point or two...

Day #2 - KL once more

Lauren having lunch with some new-found friends We spent Sunday morning in KL doing what we do every Sunday morning in Sydney, at the Lord's Table meeting. In fact, since the meeting was spoken 50% Chinese and 50% English, it was very much like Sydney, although with a little less Korean. We felt very much at home, and the brothers and sisters were very warm and open. Lauren, of course, fitted right in, happy to meet new friends, even if she was the only one without black hair and brown oval eyes!

The Eye of Malaysia, with the Petronas Towers in the distance After a typical Malaysian lunch, one of the brothers took us for a quick drive round part of KL, starting with the Eye of Malaysia, a rather poor relation to the London Eye, built on the shores of Lake Titiwangsa as part of Malaysia's celebrations of their 50th year of indepedence. The weather was once again very hot and sticky, which made for rather poor photographic conditions, but it also meant there wasn't much wind, which makes for good reflections!

Lauren wonders why butterflies like to nibble her finger

Next stop was Lauren's choice - presented with the options of aviary, planetarium or butterfly park, she went with the butterflies. At first, the butterflies showed remarkable sense and kept their distance, but it didn't take long before they were landing on her hands, arms and clothes - I don't know, maybe she does wash in ambrosia... Even the chamber of horrors, which contained the sort of spiders that would send Australia's biggest and hairiest running for mummy, was a success, no mean feat when both Emily and Lauren loathe nearly all forms of the six- and eight-legged varieties of God's creation.

We wrapped up the day with a return to the Petronas Towers, this time in daylight, for a few more photos and dinner, then back to the hotel for an early night, as tomorrow's start is going to be an early one.

Malaysia/Japan Holiday 2007, Day #1

Here we are in Kuala Lumpur, on the first day of our two week holiday. We stopped off here for a number of reasons: firstly, to visit old friends from our university days; secondly, to visit the church in KL; thirdly, we've never been there before; and fourthly, because it breaks up the lengthy flight to Japan, our ultimate destination. We took the overnight flight from Sydney to KL, which got us in before dawn; then a taxi to our hotel, and then straight to bed (definitely the ultimate remedy for upset body clocks). Up again for lunch, we met up with Penny and Oliver, and headed out in search for food and somewhere to chat. The searing heat and wilting humidity outside meant that we'd be spending the rest of the day in air-conditioned shopping malls or by the pool at the hotel, so there's not too much by way of touristy photos of KL. However, we did go out for dinner at the rather trendy Traders Hotel, which is directly opposite the Petronas Towers. We were rather outnumbered by the local Muslim population breaking their Ramadan fasts, but the food was excellent; a small shame that the rather snooty staff at the club on the observation deck upstairs wouldn't let us in because some of us were wearing open-toed sandals... By this time, Lauren was about to collapse with exhaustion (and had passed into her grouchy phase), so back to the hotel and drinkies in the lounge downstairs, while being serenaded with some live music - a rather eclectic mix of local Chinese pop favourites, Boney M medleys and ABBA. We might as well have gone to the karaoke bar across the way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The naming of cats

The naming of cats is a difficult matter, It isn't just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I'm mad as a hatter When I tell you a cat must have three different names.
Damana recently asked me about how I named my cats. So here's the history of cats in the Keaveny household:
  • Dusty, our first cat. Actually, Emily chose Dusty, both the cat and the name, when she went to the Cat's Protection League and bought her for a tin of cat food. Emily and I moved in shortly afterwards into our first home together in Roehampton in south-west London, starting out with a few sticks of furniture and a mostly grey Domestic Short-Hair kitten. Dusty was not neutered when we got her, and she soon attracted the attention of every tomcat in the area. So it didn't take too long for her to produce kittens, four of them in our bed, one Sunday morning. Ew the mess...
  • Jack - kitten #1 and Emily's favourite, we identified this kitten as a boy. Later examination by the vet pointed that he was actually a she, so we just pretend that her full name is Jacqueline. At the age of about 6, Jack disappeared a few months after we moved from Roehampton to Worcester Park, a few miles down the road from Roehampton, and we never saw her again.
  • Claws - kitten #2 and my favourite, I originally wanted to call him Greebo, after Nanny Ogg's foul tomcat, not that I thought that he would grow up to be foul-natured (and Dusty was foul-natured enough for two Greebos). Unfortunately, like Jack, our ability to sex a kitten accurately was limited, so he also became a she, and I gave her the name Claudia, which reduced to Claws. Sadly, she died suddenly a few months before her 2nd birthday.
  • We named kittens #3 and #4 Charlie and Susie, but we gave them away before we had the opportunity to find out whether our luck in identifying gender identification had improved.
  • Jasmine - a few months after Claws died, we went to the RSPCA to find another cat in need of a home. Jasmine made it very clear that she was the one for us - she put her front legs around Emily's neck and just purred. Emily named her after a cat she'd had when she was younger, a dark tortoiseshell named Jasmine.
  • With the disappearance of Jack, we were once more down to two cats, which made the house feel a little empty. So off to the RSPCA again, this time in search of two more. We settled on a brother/sister pair of kittens, both DSHs again, one black/white boy and another ginger/white tortie girl. Unfortunately, the male kitten died before he could come home with us, but we were told that there was a similar male kitten left behind when the rest of his siblings were sold, so we took him. Lauren named the girl Amy, and in a display of dazzling literary knowledge, we named the boy Laurie.
  • Moving to Australia proved rather expensive when transporting cats, at about $2500 per animal, so we knew we were going to have to say some sad farewells. Dusty went to live with Cheryl, while Laurie and Amy went to live with Emily's parents for a while, and then on to Emily's sister Polly. About 9 months after settling in Sydney, we decided that it was time to get another cat, so we stopped by several local vets who were advertising kittens, but in the end settled for Coco, our first longhaired cat.
And that about completes the set. Of course, the story isn't over yet, as Emily as designs on being a cat breeder, so I'm sure there'll be a lot more cats passing through our doors. Jasmine is now 9 years old, so passing out of middle age into her senior years, while Coco is a fair bit younger.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Travel Photography

I spent pretty much all of this Saturday roaming around Sydney with Sydney Photographic Workshops, doing their Travel & Documentary Workshop. I thought that seeing as we'll be going to Japan on holiday this coming spring, somewhere that Emily and I have long wanted to visit, that I should make an effort to come back with some decent photographs, conveying something more than just, "Here's my in front of a temple. Here's me in front of another temple". Of course, those who know me would realise that it's more, "Here's Lauren in front of a temple. Here's Lauren in front of another temple"! The weather was great for the day, probably the first hint of spring on its way, with perfect clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20s. We did various kinds of photography at several locations around Sydney, starting with portrait work down at the fish markets (many thanks to Dallas, Troy and Neil for modelling for us aboard the Tribal Warrior). We then headed round the bay to Blackwattle Bay to work on various techniques on the old incinerator site, which is now a mix of public space and townhousing. After lunch we headed south to La Perouse, for some more compositional work, on both an old World War 2 listening post, and above the cliffs themselves. We also had a small treat in the form of the air rescue helicopter taking for a sortie of some description (training? medical emergency?), and then returning a while later; I got pretty close to it on takeoff, and the downdraft (and noise!) they create even more 20 yards out is pretty impressive. Finally, with the sun dipping down towards the horizon, we crossed over the peninsula to Yarra Bay, first to catch the sun going down over Port Botany, and then to be entertained by the lovely fire-twirling Annabelle. My thanks to Daniel, Ben and Wendy for all they showed us; I think it's a testimony to their teaching abilities that a) roughly half of all the photos I took were worth keeping (at least 50% up on my usual success rate), and b) post-processing took me less than half a day to do them all - usually the source material isn't that good so it needs a fair amount of work done on the computer to bring out the best in the photos. By getting the photos right first time, I save time later on! If you're into digital photography, and want to improve your game from being just a happy snapper, then give these guys a call.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How mice work

A big thank you to Damana for emailing me a demonstration of how a computer mouse actually works. Through the magic of modern technology, we can now zoom really close into the screen and see how that little cursor zips around. Monday may only a few days away, but now I have something to really smile about. In the meantime, the British banking system will give me plenty to frown about - trying to get reasonable chunks of money from account A in country B to account C in country D ought not be that hard in the 21st Century. At the current rate of progress, I might as well have sent my mail in a packet ship, and it would still get there sooner.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Outstanding quote of the month

I wonder how long Mini-Microsoft has been saving up this gem of a quote:
The only thing I've seen the Xbox business accomplish, besides making a lot of money disappear, is make Sony dash themselves against the rocks with the PS3. Monkey-see, monkey-do even better. In the meantime, the Nintendo little piggy gleefully exclaims, "Wii! Wii! Wii!" all the way to the bank.
I don't have any consoles, so I'm well out of that war (and I don't have any hi-def video players, so I'm even better out of that format war), but it certainly made me smile.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A trip to Newcastle

Pasha Bulker Originally uploaded by DavidKeaveny
I'd been planning a trip up to Newcastle for the past few weeks, ever since I heard about this ship running aground during the bad weather we had in early June (finally something to put Newcastle on the world map! The locals must have been coining it from tourists). Well, this weekend I got the opportunity, as we all went up to visit the church in Newcastle. Rather selfishly, I'd been hoping that salvage attempts would continue to fail until we got there, so I was relieved when an attempt during the week failed when several of the tow ropes snapped, then attempts to reattach them could not be completed in time. Fortunately, the team was in no hurry to get the ship afloat again, with several good high tides still to come. From what I've seen in the news, they've now started to make some progress, so we got there in the nick of time. It was freezing cold, mainly from the wind chill, so I didn't take many photos, and even with the tripod, some were rather blurry. This was the best of the bunch.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Après moi, la déluge

You'd think that with all that rain that has been falling on Sydney, some of it would hang around in reservoirs. Well, it seems that a new Warragamba has been established in our basement; it looks like there's a problem with the drainage at that end of the house, which is causing water to well up through the concrete floor.

Fortunately, not too much stuff was damaged - some duvets got wet in their storage cases (where the water got through the zips), and one or two containers which had had their bottoms smashed in during the move from England got flooded. Emily and I spent several hours bailing and mopping; within a few hours, it was filling up again, fortunately not at the rate where you have to worry about the TV room flooding as well.

The rain appears to have stopped now, and also stopped coming up through the floor; hopefully this'll give the room a chance to dry out. Then we can get someone in to make the floor more permanently dry. In the meantime, we've taken the opportunity to throw out a lot of suddenly-soggy boxes and bits of old carpet that we didn't want anyway.

Safari vs Firefox

Apple has now released a Windows version of the beta of version 3 of their Safari browser. In the first 24 hours of availability, it has been downloaded one million times, a feat roughly on par with Firefox. One question I've seen asked on such luminary sites as Slashdot is, "Will Safari steal market share from Firefox?". This is obviously a concern for the rabid anti-Microsoft crowd at Slashdot, but I really don't see it that way. One reason that I believe Firefox spread so quickly is because it was a browser that web developers could really use to enhance their productivity. Where I work, it seems most, if not all, developers use Firefox to develop the web pages, and then use IE to check that the site renders properly there too. These developers would then encourage friends and relatives to install Firefox on their PCs at home, not so much because that they could then be good developers too, but because Firefox blew IE6 out of the water on almost all counts. In the absence of a conventional marketing machine, Mozilla used word-of-mouth to "ignite the web". In my opinion, Safari is aimed at a different audience - people who have bought an iPod, and use it with their Windows PC. Apple already bundle in their atrocious QuickTime player in with iTunes, and adding a decent web browser to the bundle is a no-brainer for them. There's not too much denying that it performs better than IE when it comes to outright speed, and it appears to focus on simplicity (although many complain that it is missing too much (such as the use of the left thumb button on the mouse to navigate back a page, as IE and Firefox do. Of course, since Mac users barely get a right mouse button, it's no surprise there's no support for further buttons!)), but that is also a good thing if you don't do anything complex when browsing. What Apple are doing is playing Microsoft's monopoly game; if Microsoft can use a monopoly on the OS market to drive sales of the Office suite (or, more relevantly, to completely crush Netscape's dire Navigator 4 browser), then Apple can turn a monopoly on the MP3-player market into browser market share (by the way, see how I manage to avoid use of the most pointless and hideous word to be shoe-horned into the English language - "leveraged". Guys, the word is "used" - just because it has three times as many syllables, it doesn't make it three times as clever to use it). Even better, there is a good proportion of the market that only uses their Windows PC for music, email and web browsing. With iTunes and Safari, Apple now has a good chance of hooking those users, and converting them into Mac owners. And that's where the real money for Apple still is, selling expensive white boxes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I don't usually go in for posting cutesy videos off of YouTube, but I couldn't resist this: Surf-boardin' rodents. 'Nuff said.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Australia, Australia, Australia, we love you. Amen!

Canberra from Mount Ainslie Originally uploaded by DavidKeaveny.
Ah yes, captivating Canberra. The capital city so good that practically none of the nation's politicians who work there actually live there. Also home to the roundabouts left over from when England had had enough of ripping out traffic lights (see the Swindon's Magic Roundabout for the perfect example). Having spent almost nine hours travelling (there-and-back, of course) for three hours visiting time back in February, we thought that maybe the Easter weekend would offer us the opportunity to take a closer look at this triumph of urban planning. So having taken our chances with the traditional Easter road carnage, and notched up a whole bunch more of hours in Emily's learner driver's logbook, we settled in for two days. Actually, when it came to sightseeing, we didn't see that many sights. Being the weekend of a major religious event, most places were shut. Still, we got a good view of the environs from the top of Mount Ainslie, and we were able to feel sorry for the staff manning the parliament building, who were at least able to sell me a copy of How To Photograph Australia. I look forward to the sequel, How To Photograph Australia And Blog About It Later.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

CruiseControl.NET and Subversion Revision Labeller plug-in

Last year, I finally managed to get into automated builds at work. We write a lot of platform code for the other business units in our organisation, so any bugs/defects have quite a high visibility; what could be a better way of improving the transparency of our processes than having an easily accessible automated build system, which would not only compile and test our code, but create release/deployment packages, all before we had even arrived at the office? It didn't take too long to get CruiseControl.NET up and running, using a fairly typical open-source blend of Subversion, NAnt, NAntContrib, NUnit etc etc, whicb should all be familiar to anyone who has read Open Source .NET Development, which should really be required reading for all .NET programmers. Using NAntContrib's <version> task, it's easy enough to automatically set the version number in an assembly. What it didn't allow us to do was pass that information back up to CruiseControl for display in the web dashboard or the system tray application for more immediate feedback. So I decided to knock up a plug-in to do just that. I'd already played about with plug-ins for open-source applications, so it wasn't quite so much of a big step. So in October 2006, I posted to the ccnet-user group, announcing the creation of the plug-in, inspired by a blog entry by Jonathan Malek. I got a response from Richard Hensley, who was putting together a library of plug-ins, suggesting I might want to add my code to his library, but unfortunately I haven't had any response to my emails. So I thought I'd take matters into my own hands, and post directly to the CC.NET community site; you can imagine my surprise when I saw that someone else has, fairly recently, also uploaded a Subversion revision labeller! Fortunately, there are enough differences between the two to make it worth uploading; so I now have two contributions to the open-source community, both small and specific to my job, but hopefully useful enough for others to use. Now I just have to get the NAntContrib guys to actually include mine in the builds...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Truck vs. Parked Car

So Thursday was shaping up to be a day from Hell. At work, what should have been a simple web application deployment dragged itself out into an all-day affair, first with configuration issues at our end, then with web services that we communicate with and so on. I finally decided that I had enough around 6pm and headed for home, dreading a repeat of Wednesday's rail SNAFU.

Actually, the journey home turned out well enough; however, I wasn't expecting this when I got off the train. I guess one of the lorry drivers who visit the industrial park at the other end of the road was in a hurry and misjudged the size of the corner just behind me. Of course, they didn't leave a note or anything.

Oh well, just as well I wasn't planning on buying a plasma screen in the near future...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Path of the Jedi

Jeff Attwood has been discussing the geek ethic of building your own PC, particularly in relation to Google's use of commodity components.
We aren't typical users. We're programmers. The x86 commodity PC is the essential, ultimate tool of our craft. It's the end product of 30 years of computer evolution. And it's still evolving today, with profound impact on the way we code. If you treat your PC like an appliance you plug into a wall, you've robbed yourself of a crucial lesson on the symbiotic relationship between software and hardware. The best way to truly understand the commodity PC is to gleefully dig in and build one yourself. Get your hands dirty and experience the economics of computer hardware first hand-- the same economics that have shaped the software industry since the very first line of code was stored in memory.
I'm definitely singing from the same hymn sheet. Every PC I've owned has been built from the ground up, from a Texas Instruments 486-clone CPU to an Intel Core 2 Duo; the day that I buy a desktop PC is the day that some kindly men fit me out for a white canvas jacket that does up at the back. (Laptops, of course are a different matter). Naturally, rolling your own does lead to other problems, particularly in the tricky realm of hardware compatability. I've built some pretty unstable PCs in the past, where the motherboard doesn't like a particular sound card or graphics card, and the typical DIY-er doesn't really have the luxury of experimenting too much, at least if they're paying for everything themselves. My current interest is in media centres, and I'm reaping the benefits of Intel's VIIV campaign, at least in the interaction between MCE2005 and the hardware (the less said about the special 'content' the better, because as is sadly typical, countries outside the US don't actually exist) P.S. In case you're wondering about the heading, it comes from one of the comments on Jeff's posting:
It's the whole Jedi build their own light saber bit.
While I might not claim Jedi to be my religion when the census forms come round, the man has a good point.