Sunday, October 03, 2010

Testing out MathJax

Just seeing if I can get this MathJax maths display thing to work

\[ \frac{-b\pm\sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a} \]

Cool, works for me. Now I just need to find a good place to install it, rather than spongeing off someone else's installation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Independent nonsense: It's not an anomaly, it's the law!

Summary: developers who rent an apartment won't get the 0% stamp duty when they go on to sell it. Well duh! It's not a newly built apartment if someone has been living in it.

A perfect case of wanting to eat their cake and still have it.

"The anomaly stems from the fact the stamp duty exemption for new homes is legally only triggered if they're sold immediately after erection, and not if they're sold for the first time."

It's not an anomaly, it's exactly what was intended.

At the end of the article we have

"Many homeowners who will have to move on from properties they can no longer afford have been comforted by the fact that there is a significant build-up of new homes on the market, meaning stamp duty can most likely be avoided.

"That comfort will vanish if the unsold stock is rented first and loses its stamp duty exemption."

What comfort? The price will be exactly the same, the only difference will be that instead of all of it going to the developer, some of it will go to the govt.

If there are 2 apts side by side, one that was rented and one that wasn't, the developer is going to set the prices so that with stamp duty included, both apts cost the same to the buyer (in fact he's probably going to charge a premium for the new one because it's new and shiny).

in reference to:

"The anomaly stems from the fact the stamp duty exemption for new homes is legally only triggered if they're sold immediately after erection, and not if they're sold for the first time."
- (view on Google Sidewiki)

Knock knock...

Who's there?

Santa... elbow.

Santa elbow who?

Santa elbow... face. HA HA HA HA HA

This is what happens, over and over, when your 4-year-old discovers knock-knock jokes. I'm not sure at what age they actually start to understand them but right now, they are the most hilarious thing in the world and 20 minutes of non-stop, similarly point-missing jokes is apparently a great way to pass the time. Funnily enough, he first one was "Justin", I was expecting "Justin Time" but no, it was "Justin... emm, emm... Leg. HA HA HA HA HA" and it went downhill from there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Willie O'Dea's bullshit.

Why does he get any space in the paper to make himself look good?

Fianna Fail have been running this country for over 10 years. So if bankers aren't banged to rights by now there is clearly only one group to blame. Whether it's because the laws are not there or because the willpower is not there, it all comes back to FF and Willie O'Dea was a minister in that government. Screw you Willie, it's entirely your fault!

At the same time, I'm sick of hearing how Bernie Madoff is already locked up in the USA and nothing has happened here. Bernie Madoff was a slam-dunk, he took other people's money and spent it on boats, holidays and solid gold crappers.

Seanie Fitz and friends encouraged other to engage in baroque financial schemes, apparently with the blessing of the financial regulator, working around laws that obviously aren't strict and clear enough. Again, the fault of the FF government who thought the regulator was a great fella and who did nothing to clear up these laws.

So while Sean Fitz should be banged up, the comparison with Bernie Madoff is just lazy, populist crap and continuing to make it just lowers the quality of argument on the topic.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Random Turkey Burgers

I'm minding the kids for a few days. So not only am I cooking, I have to cook things they will eat too. I bought some turkey mince with the intention to cook turkey burgers. Looking around the net for recipes, I found that about the most important thing about turkey burgers is all the other stuff you put in since turkey itself has very little flavour. So here's what I put in my turkey burgers today. They were tasty enough and the kids ate all of theirs which is fairly remarkable. I picked a few things that I figured would give them some flavour - salami, olives, garlic, white pudding and some random other stuff. I just squished it all up together in a bowl with my hands, shaped it into burgers and then grilled them. The amounts below are what I used today and in no way represent an ideal amount. It would almost certainly be better with more of some and less of another but I have no idea which.

  • 450g turkey mince.
  • Half a onion, chopped.
  • 1 slice of brown bread, turned into crumbs.
  • 1 egg white, beaten a little.
  • 2 slices (12g?) of Aldi Salami Di Milano, ripped into small bits.
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped.
  • Half an inch of white pudding (20g?).
  • 8 olives in brine, chopped.
  • Various herbs and stuff, I think it was celery salt, cumin, basil, thyme, salt, black pepper, Lidl Puszsta spice mix.
  • Cheddar cheese, grated - I didn't use it but I saw it suggested and I'm putting it here to remind me.

I used half of that to get burgers for 1 adult and 2 kids and I cooked these really easy potato wedges which the kids ate too, despite being a bit burned.

Oh, there's also this which looks pretty good and I might try it at some stage.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What are Amazon doing?

I just bought a book. It cost be £9.49 from Book Depository. Shipping is included in their price. Before buying it, I checked Amazon's site. They wanted £8.43 but they also wanted £4.98 to ship it to Ireland! The book was eligible for "super saver shipping", so if I was buying more than £25 worth of books, the shipping would be free but I wasn't so that's beside the point.

If Book Depository can do the whole thing for £9.49, there's no way on earth it is actually costing Amazon anything close to £4.98 to ship 1 book to Ireland. So I really wonder what's going on. Are they trying to discourage single-item purchases? Are they ripping off the Irish (why leave that to the Irish?) Does it really cost them that much to ship a book? Is Book Depository losing money on this?

I'd love to know what's really going on. I sent them a mail. I already bought the book from Book Depository but I figure there's no harm in encouraging some competition.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Letter to the editor: Why people protest against Israel and not Iran.

I'm a sucker for punishment, I'm sure they won't publish it but I wrote this because I haven't seen this point being made anywhere and I think it gives a pretty good answer to a commonly thrown accusation and even if they don't print it, I've been meaning to write about this for some time now.


Eddie Naughton asks where are all the do-gooders protesting the death
sentence for Sakine Mohammedie Ashtiani in Iran (letters,
Jul 12th). The Irish branch of Amnesty International has a section
of their website devoted to Iran and are covering this case amongst
others, so the do-gooders are on the case.

As for why Iran and other states like it do not draw the same kind of
protests that Israel does, I would guess that it's because Iran does
not attempt to present itself as a modern, moderate, Western-style
democracy. Iran is not in the process of joining the OECD, it does not
seek approval from the West nor does it claim to have similar values
and morals to Western countries. So protesting outside its embassy or
criticising it in public is mostly a waste of time. Nobody expects any
better from them.

Israel on the other hand does all of these things. It wants to be part
of our club and that makes it vulnerable to bad press and peer
pressure. The Israeli government knows this and puts huge resources
into media and internet campaigns to defend its image - far more than
other states abusing human rights. Unlike in Iran, Israeli government
policy can and has been changed by public opinion, within the country
and without. They are listening. The USA, their main sponsor, is also
sensitive to such publicity.

In summary, people protest loudly and publicly against Israel because
it might actually work. People don't do the same with Iran and others
because it seems completely futile. Nobody has time to fight them all,
they're just fighting the battles they think they can win,

Iran is run by the religious and even if the last elections weren't actually rigged, the choice of candidates is controlled by the religious too. Holding a placard outside their embassy is pointless. Iran's problem seems most likely to be solved by an uprising of its citizens, at which point it will hopefully be a much more just and democratic place (it had a real democratic government in the past which was overthrown in 1953 by that beacon of democracy, the US).

Israel is controllable by its citizens and only able to do what it does because the USA currently approves and pays for it. All it would take is a moderate stance by enough of its citizens or an awakening of the US electorate to their massive subsidising of Israel or just to the reality of its actions. This all seems much more achievable and public action is a viable method.

It does not require a hatred of Israel or a hypocritical bias to explain why people focus on it. If anything, Israel is sick and in need of help (as was/is Northern Ireland). A peaceful, just Israel would be a great thing for Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world. It would upset the plans of the radical Zionists and the fundamentalists who believe the land is theirs because it says so in their book. I'm not sure they can ever win that fight anyway so in reality, they'd probably be better off too. It would upset the plans of Muslim fundamentalists too.

So the reward could be huge and the goal appears achievable. I think that's why people choose to fight this fight and not the others.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why you can't have infinite data compression.

I was leaving a comment on this blog post and it got kind of long so I thought I'd make it a post (and got a whole lot longer!).

Even if you can squeeze a quart into a pint pot...

Compression methods make lots of files smaller. Zip can shrink text because they have lots of redundancy. In fact most things created by humans have lots of redundancy in them. Repeating something in a different way it helps us grasp understand more easily. Redundancy also defends against small errors. So if, in my first sentence, I wrote "compresion", with just one "s" you would still know that I probably meant "compression". Maybe I meant "comprehension" but from the title and the rest of the sentence you could rule that out.

It seems like maybe, if you were clever enough, you could somehow compress a file, then compress the compressed file and then do that again and again and end using lots less disk space (at the expense of doing lots of compression and decompression all the time).

... you can't squeeze 511 quarts into 255 pint pots.

To see why this cannot be done, no matter how clever you are, imagine you had a compressor that always made things smaller. Let's consider all possible strings with 8 or fewer bits. There are 511 (2^9 - 1) of them. If they all get smaller then they must all turn into strings of 7 or fewer bits. There are 255 (2^8 - 1) of those.

Now take all of these 7 bit strings and uncompress them. You have 255 inputs so you get 255 outputs, but that's not enough. You started off by compressing 511 things and you only got half of them back. Some of your input strings must have compressed down to the same output string. That's no good, you need to always get the original back. A compressor that doesn't give the original back is called "lossy" and while that can be great for pictures and movies where the human eye discards lots of the fine detail anyway, it's not the kind of compression that you need for legal documents or computer software.

What if I only compress the ones that get smaller?

It seems like you can still do better by only compressing the ones that get smaller and leaving the others uncompressed. The problem here is that while the strings get smaller on average, you now have to remember which ones you compressed and which you didn't. So now you have to add an extra bit to signify whether it was compressed. There are 256 exactly-8-bit strings and 255 7-or-fewer-bit strings which means at least one of the 8 bit is left as an 8-bit string. Now add the "was I compressed" bit and you get a 9-bit string. It got bigger! Actually it's a little bit more subtle than this because you might say that for an 8-bit, uncompressed string you don't need the extra bit, it obviously wasn't compressed but you must remember that some of the 7-bit strings weren't compressed either and so became 8-bit strings. You have to be able to tell them apart from an 8-bit string that wasn't compressed. Either way, you have 511 inputs and you don't want to mix any up so you need 511 outputs and in the best case, that requires strings up to 8 bits long.

Working at it from the ground up.

Another way to come at this is by thinking about what such a miracle compressor would do to short strings. First, consider the 1-bit strings. There are 2 of them, "0" and "1". Since this compressor must make everything shorter it's stuck already. So let's make an exception for 1-bit strings and say that they always compress to 1-bit strings. So what about 2-bit strings? Well, if it turned any of those into 1-bit strings we'd have a problem because the 1-bit outputs are already taken (for the 1-bit strings). So let's make an exception for the 2-bit strings as well and let them compress to 2-bit outputs. What about the 3-bit strings? Well, all the 2-bit outputs are already taken, so we'll have to make an exception for the 3-bit strings too... Eventually we'll make an exception for every input, no exceptions!

Back in the real world.

There appears to be a loop-hole in real-world computing. It seems you can always get a win-win solution by only compressing the files that compress well and applying the right method. So Zip your text files, PNG your images and don't compress anything that doesn't compress well. You always save space or break even. This seems to contradict what I wrote above. That's because it ignores the fact that filenames take up space. It only works because your computer has already allocated some number of bytes for the name you're going to give the file.. So even if you give it a really short name, the extra space is used anyway. Also, if you already had a really long name, adding .zip on the end may not be possible as it would exceed the size-limit on filenames. Some filesystems don't have a limit and only use as much space as the length of the name but then adding .zip takes up 4 more bytes.

Just being silly now.

If you use a filesystem that does not have a limit on the length of a file name then the following compression method "works". Convert the file you want to compress to a number (that's essentially what your computer does when you save a file anyway - the numbers are big, this blog post has about 6,000 letters in it so would be saved as a number with about 14,000 digits). Now compress this number by subtracting 1 from it and sticking a .z on the end of the file name. Now do that again and again and again. Eventually the number will be 0 and the file data will take no space on disk. When you want to read your file you just keep uncompressing it until all the .zs are gone from the file name. Great, now if only you could find a way to compress the filenames you'd be set...

Monday, July 05, 2010

I declare July 5th to be Dependence Day.

I spent July 4th in Mountain View, California (I'm visiting head office for two weeks). Apart from a very cool doodle on the Google homepage and hearing some fireworks as I sat in my apartment, it was just like any other weekend day I've spent in sleepy Mountain View. The official day off is tomorrow, so nothing was closed or out of the ordinary.

The name of the day got me thinking though. These days, the USA is no more independent than most countries, in fact it (and most other countries) are far more dependent now than ever before. So I am declaring July 5th to be Dependence day.

On this day we can celebrate (well maybe just acknowledge) our dependencies. First off, our dependence on brutal governments around the world to keep their people living in poverty and unimaginable pollution while selling us oil and raw materials at knock-down prices (hello Nigeria). And on countries that are exporting minerals stolen from their neighbour, mined by children and slaves, with all the care and humanity you would expect from such operations (Congolese coltan in your mobile phone).

We should also acknowledge the governments that make sure their workers cannot meaningfully organise for better pay and conditions. Like China, where any unions are run by the company and the state and not the workers. This article about a recent strike indicates that things may be changing but it includes this gem near the bottom

Many workers are asking for independent collective representation. Unions in China are usually funded by companies, staffed by management and answerable to the Communist party. During an earlier strike at the Honda plant in Zhongshan, union representatives fought workers, injuring two of them.
That sure is a militant union.

Without this setup we couldn't possibly have DVD players for €20 and other electronic devices that are cheaper to replace than to repair (e-waste is itself a massive problem, I'm not sure if is really the answer but fair play to them for trying). And of course all the cheap plasticky crap that we don't really need or want but end up with anyway. Stuff that may eventually make its way to the North Pacific Gyre and from there perhaps into the stomach of a soon-to-die albatross chick

As well as material dependence there is psychological dependence. Living in Ireland, I get to be relatively happy with my government's record on human rights and such-like. I'm not too happy with the US military planes landing at Shannon on their way to Iraq but we have a foreign minister that has attempted to visit Gaza and many TDs (in and out of government) who speak out against Israel's occupation and other issues. I get to rail against the US, UK, French etc. governments for their part in the exploitation of various people and places. If I don't think too hard about the origin of the things I buy, the power I use and the forces that keep the whole modern world ticking over, I can keep my conscience clean most of the time and I really couldn't do that without those foreign governments or for that matter the Irish government. Although it isn't directly involved, my government happily lies down with those who are, while only making a fuss about the more obvious bad-actors.

Happy Dependence day everyone.

Post Script

After writing all this I did a Google search for "dependence day", figuring someone had probably beaten me to all of this. I was half right. On the first page at least, all I could find was various right-wingers decrying the lack of independence within the US, the "over-reaching", "over-regulating" "nanny state", the dependence on health care and how the founders would be sick if they could see us now, blah blah. The usual libertarian guff. It makes me think of this video. So while I doubt this is really an original thought, it doesn't seem to be a common one.

Watcha doin?... Toilet. Daijoubu. Falling asleep in the bath.

Watcha doin?... Toilet

Sean likes to follow me to the toilet. He no longer tries to get a close up look into the bowl (putting his head right in the flight path) or grab onto the glittering stream. Now he runs in and looks up and shouts "Whatcha doin? [short pause] Toilet". I think it must be something he picked up in the creche because the phrase just suddenly appeared, shouted confidently on a regular basis. Now he uses it in other contexts. A fart results in a laugh followed by "whatcha doin? Chin chin". "chin chin" is Japanese for "penis" but clearly Sean has a slightly broader meaning for it or a horrible medical condition that we haven't yet noticed. I'm not sure he's even asking a question, it seems to just mean that something interesting is happening or he's just saying hello.


"Daijoubu" is kind of Japanese for "don't worry, I'm OK", usually it's a response to someone asking you if you're OK. A few times a day, Sean will just suddenly say it without prompting. I turn around to find him upside down hanging off the couch or worse, half-way up the stairs and I can only wonder what awful tragedy he narrowly avoided.

Where's Riona for all this?

Why am I posting all this stuff about Sean and nothing about Riona? Riona has morphed from a cute and amusing, small animal into something much more like a small human being (yes I am in danger of anthropomorphising children). She isn't doing anywhere near as much funny stuff, stuff that betrays an almost complete lack of knowledge about the real world. She is, in fact growing up... but not too much.

For the 3.5 weeks I was in Japan, I think we pushed the kids too hard with trips out to this and that and a week in Okinawa. The result was frequent breakdowns from Riona and one total meltdown from Sean, who is usually the voice of calm and contentment in our family. Riona fought over ridiculous little things that were in hindsight, I think, protests at being dragged out here or there to meet some friends of ours. Sean's meltdown was on the way back from Kamakura, when he was just completely sick of being on trains and started screaming and screaming and screaming. I tried taking him for a walk in his buggy while still on the train. All that did was introduce a furious, screaming child to carriage after carriage of disapproving Japanese commuters. We had to change trains and Midori bought some sweets and just a single toffee square was all it took to return (poor) Sean to his usual happy, playful self. He spent the short ride home playing peepo with 2 slightly drunk business men.

The funniest incident with Riona was a fairly common case where she had a bath before bed and then didn't want to come out of the water. This time she was so tired and grumpy that she ended up falling asleep mid-protest. She was slumped in the corner of the bath (don't worry I was in the room with her). I took some photos of her but I'm pretty sure that posting them on the Internet will get me done for kiddie-porn. I'll just save them for my power-point presentation at her wedding.

Don't like dat vs jibun de.

This post might not be of much interest to anyone but me (moreso than my others posts).

About 2 months ago, Sean learned the phrase "don't like dat", usually accompanied by pushing "dat" away and sticking out his bottom lip. It's very funny to watch. It often actually means I've had enough - something he does like and was happily eating a few minutes ago will be declared "don't like dat" when he's full.

Children's language skills are very practical. The words and phrases they use are actually chosen not for their "real" meaning but for the outcome they produce. For Sean, if "don't like dat" results in dat being removed and something better replacing it (where something better might just be leaving the table) then who cares whether he really does or doesn't like it. The long term goal of communicating his preferences to us suffers a little but he's not really into long-term planning yet :) and up until now we've had to figure out his preferences from non-verbal cues anyway. So as long as we don't take him literally, this phrase serves its purpose perfectly.

Even for Riona, the word "why" is still just a button she can press to make me speak more about something. I often forget this and get frustrated with questions like "why is that a toilet?".

More recently Sean learned "jibun de" - "by myself" or as Riona used to say (or shout) "my do! my do!" (that's English by the way).

The problem is that both phrases now come out sounding mostly the same, so when you move some food onto his plate and he starts shouting at you, it's 50-50 whether he doesn't want the food or whether he does want it but wants to get it himself. For some reason I seem to get it right considerable less than 50-50. Poor Sean (for a while I thought maybe we should change his name to Poor Sean, it's not easy being small, adventurous and Riona's little brother).

Narrowly avoiding shaming myself again in Japan.

The last of a lot of things I wrote last Sunday in a Cafe.

A history of friction.

My trips to Japan, staying with the in-laws have not always gone terribly smoothly. I am allergic to their house and it brings on my asthma like nothing else I have encountered. Usually I only suffer if I play soccer on a really cold day or something but their house is my kryponite. It's quite old and Japan is incredibly humid. A friend bought a bamboo bag this summer and that evening (the day she bought it), the bag had a one-inch layer of fuzzy, fluffy fungus growing on part of it. Add to this the cat, dog, birds and other animals (which have never given me a problem elsewhere) and I get wheezy within minutes of entering the house. On every trip, after a few days I have had to struggle to the English speaking doctor who gives me a bag-full of drugs and inhalers which get me back to normal in about 2 weeks.

These near-death experiences do not make me a good house-guest and last time I was there, my lack of energy (and hence enthusiasm and politeness) caused some friction.

After coming back last time, my Irish doctor gave me a preventative inhaler which I suck on every day whether I feel like it or not. It's a remarkable thing. Whenever I get a cold now, I have pretty much no symptoms until I get a fever and feel like crap. No snots, coughs or wheezes.

So, for this trip to Japan I was prepared. And it worked. For the first few days, I did feel a tiny bit wheezy in their house, so I cut back my time in there and soon after I was better. After that I seemed to get a bit of immunity and was able to hang around without any problem. It probably also helped that we were there in the summer this time. As uncomfortable as summer there is, I much prefer stripping off to wrapping up (hope you weren't eating when that image hit you). I think no more winter-time trips to Japan from now one.

Disaster looms.

I was in Japan for 3.5 weeks (1 of them spent in Okinawa) and so far had been getting on perfectly well with everyone. On my last night, with Midori and the kids asleep early, I took a trip to the big second-hand book shop near the train station. It's part of a big chain called Book Off (I have lots of ideas for a competing brand - Book You, Book Me, Book That, What the Book?, Go Book Yourself With a Chainsaw etc.). I wanted to buy some teenage-level manga, many of which have the pronunciation alongside the Kanji and in fact I got one that I'm having good success in reading (it does appear to be some kind of teenage girl time-travel romance adventure but it's enjoyable enough so far even if I have to hit the dictionary for nearly every sentence).

I borrowed Midori's dad's bike and even though he always says "don't lock it, it's not worth stealing", I did, because I knew the combination and having the bike stolen would just be so embarrassing. What I didn't know was that Midori's mother's bike looks almost the same in the dark and has a different combination!

So an hour later, I'm outside Book Off realising what has happened. I phoned the house to find that they don't know the combination number, confirming my worst fear. My last day in Japan is going to involve getting Midori's mother out of bed and down to the station in the now pouring rain to unlock her bike. I'm to ring back in 2 minutes. I think perhaps her mother doesn't know the number anymore but does know what buttons to press and is going outside to press them on another bike and make a note of the numbers.

Screw you Japanese bicycle locks!

Japanese bicycle locks are for the most part laughable. Some have a key, some have a 10-digit pad and you press down the right 4 of them and push in the tab to open the lock. In both types you are just pushing a piece of metal through the spokes in the back wheel. You're not actually locking it to anything and the whole thing could be hack-sawed off or pried open in about a minute. I guess it just stops kids from jumping on your bike to get home from school quickly. Most of the bikes are of the "mama-chari" style, a Japanese abbreviation of "mamma chariot". I saw hundreds of bikes every day and I'd say maybe once per day I would see something like bike in Dublin. That is a mountain bike, hybrid or racer (road-bike). On the rare occasion I saw one, it seemed to have a bit of a beefier lock too but still nothing special.

Anyway, I was determined not to shame myself entirely after such a smooth trip and spent some time examining the lock to see if there was something simple I could do to open it. I remembered cracking a luggage combination lock years ago by just pulling on the lock and twisting each dial until it kind of stuck a bit. Then you know the dial is at the point where it's interacting differently with the... the whatever you call the bit of metal that you're pulling on.

Wow these locks are crappy.

So I tried variations on that without success. Finally I just tried pushing and pulling the tab and seeing which button reacted. I pushed that button and wiggled some more. After 4 buttons the tab pushed in and the lock opened! I couldn't believe it. Earlier, I had assumed that such a simple approach would not work and had tried other stuff. OMG these are really, really crappy locks. It took me 8 minutes to figure this out and now that I know how, I guess it would take me about 30 seconds to open another one.

So I phoned the house again and told Mr Inagaki the code. They had already found it by then and I don't think Mr Inagaki was really listening to me - after I finished talking he proceeded to tell me the code. I rode home in the cool rain with a little buzz of victory!

In the morning when I told my story over breakfast, only Mr Inagaki thought it was cool.

No ni sai - how to ruin your child's second birthday.

The first of a few random snippets on what Sean says and does that I find amusing. For some reason, Sean's stock-phrases are much more likely to be in Japanese than Riona's were, maybe because Riona had full-time daycare in Ireland for a while and Sean never had.

Sean is almost 2 years old and still does a little bit of breast-feeding, mostly in the middle of the night. Midori is trying to end this and sometimes stops his attempts and tells him "mo sugu ni sai" which means "you're nearly 2" ("ni sai" means "2 years old"). Sean now gets grumpy and starts saying "no ni sai, no ni sai!". Sometimes just for divilment we'll say "mo sugu ni sai" to him to wind him up and it works. All good, innocent, infant-bullying fun.

What might be a problem is that Sean is 2 on Jul 15th and he'll be in Japan for that. I'm not sure what Midori is planning but he'll at least have a cake and the family around him, all repeating that dreaded phrase "ni sai, ni sai, ni sai" and he'll have a big grumpy head on him, shouting "no ni sai! no ni sai!".

I wish I could be there to see it! Obviously, I wish I could be at Sean's 2nd birthday anyway but he'll have lots more birthdays and it'll be a long time before he has another where he gets upset by anyone who mentions his age.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What a surprise, religious extremists being racist too.

While the ultra-Orthodox guys are pretty appalling, it's hard to have sympathy for the sub-group of the Jewish community that are being discriminated against here. They themselves are so much better off than the Arab-Israelis when it comes to provision and funding of education (of course the article doesn't mention that).

Once you decide you're going to live somewhere with a a religious/ethnic caste system, you can't really complain if you yourself end up excluded from something because you're not in the right group!

内容: サイドウィキで表示

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Angler fish sex-life

Wikipedia agrees with this comic strip! How did it take me 35 years to hear about this? I mean how can anyone ever say anything about angler fish on TV and not mention this first?

Sounds like one of these ladies could give George Washington a run for his money.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dyson marketing... not as great.

Poking around the Dyson website, I found this page about their fancy Dyson Digital Motor. It includes the sentence

And no carbon brushes means no carbon emissions.
Seriously? WTF? I don't think the climate talks in Copenhagen were held to reduce the amount of carbon falling off the carbon brushes in electric motors. These days "carbon emissions" means CO2 and unless you run your house on solar power, anything that draws power from the mains has carbon emissions.

Apparently these motors are very efficient, which will reduce CO2 emissions, but someone in the marketing department had to push it beyond the truth. Ah well, I still like them.

Holy shit, Dyson customer service is perfect!

I bought a Dyson vacuum a few years ago. I never got around to registering it for the 5 year warranty, not sure where the receipt is. During the week the bendy hose broke.

This morning I phoned the customer service number, they took my details, they took the serial number of the vacuum, when I said I didn't know the purchase date they said "the manufacture date is June 06 so it's still in warranty, the hose will be with you in 7 working days". I got a shiver.

From now on, if Dyson make the appliance I want, I'll buy the Dyson model.

Holy shit, again.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drinking game: porn or not porn

It's amazing how much porn there is on the internet and how often you accidentally stumble across it while looking for something else (honestly, that's why it was on my screen). You can even turn it into a game.

Find an internet image search engine that allows porn in its results (far be it from me to recommend any particular brand in this post!). Ensure that you have turned off any "I don't want porn" settings that the search engine may provide. Here's how the game works:

  1. The typer types in a search but doesn't click "search".
  2. The guesser now has to guess whether the first page of results will include porn.
  3. Click search.
  4. If the guesser was correct, the typer must drink. If guesser was wrong, he must drink.
Take turns being the typer.

The key of course is to come up with search that is very hard to predict, let me start you off with "long wang", "gobbler's knob" and "pants pirate" :-).

You can play with more than 2 players in which case you probably just want everyone including the search-typer to guess and anyone who gets it wrong has to drink.

All good innocent fun!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Good place for kids: Spraoi

I've been to Spraoi fun-world a few times now and so has Midori but yesterday I was so happy with the place that I need to tell to the world. It's behind Aldi on the Long Mile road.


We started off in the cafe where 2 main courses were more than enough for 2 adults and 2 kids. The baked potato with pesto chicken was very nice and there was loads of it for €6.95 including coleslaw and a salad. Seemed quite healthy and fresh if a little bit too salty. A good lasagne with chips was €7.95; and another €1 for a can of 7 up. Later on in the play area we got 2 ice-cream cones for €1! I was shocked. 50c each makes them probably the cheapest ice-cream cones in Ireland.

While we were waiting for the food the staff were very helpful and even got a ball for Seán to play with. In fact all the staff are helpful and friendly.


For toddlers there's a ball pit and for older kids there'ss a massive complex of ropes, padded bars, swings, balls, 3-storey high slides (one wavey, one spiral chute) and other cool stuff. You get 90m playing for €7 (adults are free and there's a weekday-morning discount) and it's supposed to be a few euro per hour after that but Midori says they have never charged her for any over-time. You can order food and drinks inside and there are chairs and tables (but it gets pretty busy at the weekend). If they had the energy for it, the kids would stay there forever. They love it.

Lost and found

The (rather stupid) highlight this time was me losing my shiny Nexus 1 phone after a bit of rough and tumble with the kids. It took me about 3 minutes to notice that it was gone and I got in quite a fluster. I retraced my steps but couldn't find it. I got Midori's phone and phoned it and lo and behold they had it behind the counter. That could so easily have disappeared, a big thanks again to the staff.

So if you have kids and you're looking for somewhere to go some day, I would definitely recommend Spraoi, for value, service and fun.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Restaurant: ???

Topping off Boojum for value (but maybe not for taste and definitely not for healthiness) is a Chinese restaurant with no English name, English menu or English-speaking staff! I spotted the sign a few weeks back and recognised some foody words and a big €6 and figured there must be a restaurant up there above the hair salon. Thursday night I had to figure out my own dinner so decided to check it out.

Up 4 flights of steps I went and on the last one was met by a woman who was clearly confused by my presence. I sat down in the small, bright and clean restaurant she hurried off to get someone. She came back with a younger woman from the kitchen who had a few words of English and between that and my Chinese (which is getting almost unusable these days) she set off to bring me lots of small things to eat.

A while later she came back with battered fish, you tiao ("oil sticks" - deep fried bread things). A few minutes later another plate with some battered squishy sugary thing with peanuts in it and some turnip pancakes (had them for the first time ever a few weeks ago and they are not as bad as they sound at all). I also ordered some soup dumplings which came with some kind of long straight sea-food that I have never had before. Finally I ordered some dou fu nao (a kind of gloopy soup with tofu, vegetables and maybe pork).

All very tasty and at the end of it I was nicely full and actually left a few bits behind (turnip pancake is not exactly awesome). Add a pot of Chinese tea which I think was free and the whole thing came to €5, yes five quid.

There are about 20 things on the menu, all €1-5, so my plan is to go back with more people and and just order 1 of everything and see what we get! Who's on for it? It's on Parnell St, just past Sichuan House (still awesome BTW, I had hotpot there recently and it was super-tasty)

Restaurant: Boojum

It's a new Mexican fast-food place in the "Italian quarter" just over the Millenium bridge. I had lunch there with Ríona today. Very tasty, Ríona ate all of hers. Also very helpful and friendly staff. When I asked about something suitable for Ríona, they suggested I order the 3-tacos meals and they'd make one of them for her. They then let her sample the 2 mild sauces to see if they were OK for her spice-wise by dipping a chip in. They do a lunch special, €7 for a main meal and water (the main fed myself a Ríona just nicely). Can't argue with that. Or can you...

Monday, April 19, 2010

As usual, complete nonsense from Indo letters

When it comes to global warming you can assert that white is and the Indo will publish your letter.

has the real figures, supplied by Nordic Volcanological Institute of the University of Iceland.

The volcano is putting out 15,000 tons and the airplane are not putting out 206,000 tons.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

random kid stuff

Some things are better for kids to learn through experience. The fact that you can't grab hold of a stream of piss is not one of them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tae Kim's guide to Japanese Grammar as a .epub

Here it is.

This guide to Japanese grammaris highly recommended by lots of people because it teaches "real" Japanese rather than a stilted textbook version and also because it doesn't try to over-translate the Japanese example sentences, rather it just leaves them making their sense in Japanese. This last bit is particularly interesting as the "true" meaning of a sentence in Japanese is often highly dependent on the context because in Japanese you're allowed leave out pretty much anything that is obvious from the context, subject, object etc. so picking a single meaning as the translation is often just not appropriate.

I've been meaning to read it for ages but I don't want to print it out and most of my reading now is on my Android phone, e.g. while putting Seán to sleep. The guide comes as a giant HTML file or a PDF, neither of which are convenient on Android. There is however a very nice ebook reader called Aldiko which can open .epub files. Despite the fact that .epub is just zipped up html files, Alidko cannot read plain HTML.

After much searching, I finally found a html to epub converter called Calibre - Google search didn't help, in the end I found it through Aldiko's help pages and it seems to have done a fine job of converting the book to .epub format with it's html2epub program (no setting options or anything, just point it at the html and it works). Calibre is open source and available to apt-get on recent Ubuntu releases. I'm pretty sure I'll be using it often. It would also make a very nice web-service - give it a URL and get back a .epub great for those too-long-to-read-right-now web pages, maybe I'll get around to something like that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Puzzle food

We discovered a great trick for eating out with small kids last night. We went to Lisa's Trattoria in Terenure for dinner. We'd been stuck in all weekend with coughs and colds and also me being on call which means I can't leave the house.

Sean was fairly cranky when we got there and we asked for soup for the kids ASAP, while we chose our food. When it arrived, Sean calmed down and ate the soup with hardly a word from him. He got a bit shirty again when it was all gone but then Midori's mussels starter arrived and this is the trick...

Midori gave Sean a few mussels and he set to work on them but mussels aren't the easiest thing to eat. For Sean anyway, there's a good minute of poking around to try and get the mussel out of its shell. Each one is a new puzzle and he quietly sat there solving each one for its little meaty reward. He was completely engrossed in it and when the mussels ran out, he went back and checked every empty shell to see if there was anything left. We ate our food in peace.

I can't think of any other puzzle foods that make kids work for each bite. I'd love to find a few more.

Sean also had a great time with my rigatoni. Each tube fitted nicely on a finger. He ate loads of everything. We also had a visit from a child of the family that run the restaurant. He played with Riona a little and at the end of the meal we got free coffee! I've been here three time and had free stuff twice! Lisa gave us free ice cream when we were there just after Sean was born. I think she likes kids and the little boy had a good time and told us we should come here every day.

Anyway, it was a nice food and plenty of it, although a bit pricey. The recession doesn't seem to have reached their menu yet. I think that explains why they were a bit empty while other restaurants on the same street were pretty busy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Some advice on the Nordic Eco showerhead

I bought a Nordic Eco showerhead from The Cultivate Centre in Dublin on a money-back basis. I got that promise beforehand because at 50 euro, I didn't really fancy trying it and being stuck with something that doesn't work. I'm glad I did. This gadget may well be great but it is completely pointless for my shower.

In the brochure that comes with it, it says it will cut your shower from 22 litres/min down to 9 litres/min but it will still feel like a great shower. Sounds great. What I didn't realise is that my shower does only 4.5 litres/min! With the new shower head attached, nothing much changed and in fact the old shower head was better for that rate of flow.

The moral of the story is, if you're thinking about one of these, get a bucket or a jug or whatever and figure out how many litres/min your shower does before buying anything.

In hindsight I could have worked this out in advance, even without a bucket. It's a 10.5KWh shower. It takes 4000J to heat 1 litre of water by 1 deg C. I need to heat my water to about 40C and let's pretend it's starting at 0C (it's close enough in the winter). So it takes 40C*4000J/C = 160000J to heat 1 litre of my cold water to 40C. A shower that does that once per minute is using 160000J/60s = 2666W. So a 10500W can do that about 4 times per minute, i.e. about 4L/min.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The truth.

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I do... hold on, do you want it depth first or breadth first?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Using kakasi

Kakasi is a converter from Japanese with kanji to phonetic Japanese. Its documentation is sparse and I couldn't find any examples on the net that worked. So here's a note to myself for how I got it to work. It's pretty lame that it won't just handle utf8 by itself...

echo イさんに本を貸しました。 | iconv -f utf8 -t euc-jp | kakasi -JHK -s -f | iconv -f euc-jp -t utf8 イ さんに 本[ほん] を 貸し[かし] ました 。
Dropping the -f causes the kanji to be replaced entirely by their pronunciation, instead of having their pronunciation noted alongside them.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Some thoughts on Ireland's financial woes.

This letter was a bit surprising. The guy complains that the govt didn't have a plan to prevent overbuilding of hotels. What he seems not to realise is that the hotels were built as a direct result of govt tax breaks. Not only was there no plan to prevent overbuild, they actively encouraged it. It's odd that someone who can put together a letter to the paper wouldn't know that.

One of the worst things about Ireland's problems is that it's not just public debt. Some countries have bad governments that run up massive public debts but not only do we now have the massive NAMA debt and massive yearly deficit, our government created a massive private debt through tax incentives and planning for developments of hotels, leisure centres and housing estates that are now lying empty and even those that are occupied (many privates houses) are depreciating rapidly. It didn't just bankrupt the state, it bankrupted the citizens too.

The EU puts borrowing limits on member states, the idea is to prevent governments borrowing massively and unwisely. It puts no such restrictions on private debt. By encouraging massive private borrowing and then taking a cut via VAT, stamp duty and other taxes, this government was able to get its hands on far more borrowed money than EU borrowing limits allowed. At the same this money cost far more as the govt only took a small cut of what was borrowed. We'd have been better off as a country if the govt had borrowed it up-front while the people stayed solvent.

I really doubt that anyone in govt thought of it as a way of circumventing EU rules. They found a button they could press that made money come in and they kept pressing it without any regard for the consequences. Just like the rats that pressed the "pleasure" button to the exclusion of everything else, eventually dieing of exhaustion. We should probably be thankful we didn't get an extinction burst!. That said, the car scrappage scheme is just another way to encourage Irish people to borrow so that the govt can take a cut. Again, it'd be a whole lot cheaper if the govt just borrowed the money itself without Irish consumers borrowing it at commercial rates and lining the pockets of foreign car manufacturers. Not quite an extinction burst, more like the rat finding a new button it can push.

So why did it happen? Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. Given that some of the architects of our current woes bought property at peak prices - Mr Cowen at Leeds University, Mr McCreevy at the K Club (now worth almost one million euro less than he paid) and presumably lots of others who got fast track loads from Fingers Fingleton it seems that while there was an element of malice - well avarice I suppose - stupidity was the overriding factor. Unless these property losses are just a smokescreen, these guys had no idea that this was a bubble that obviously had to burst, right up to the end.

Which brings me to the sad conclusion that we are still boned. The people leading us out are those who led us in. They had no clue what they were doing then, they don't even seem to get what the problems were - Pat Gallagher still thinks cheap credit from the ECB was a great thing. There is no evidence that they suddenly have a clue now.

If the whole disastrous boom had been a clever scheme to line their own pockets, then, at least, I'd have to have some respect for their ability, if not their character. I might believe they could cook up a scheme to help the country recover, although I might not trust them to implement it. Instead, whatever pocket lining they managed to do was purely due to being in the right place at the right time and of course some political cleverness. I'm not sure whether we'd be better off with an honest idiot or a clever gangster.