Monday, March 6, 2000

06/03/00 Mr. Brain has long since departed ...

As Blackadder remarked to Percy on one occasion, and I know just how he felt.

Just spent the last two days in Switzerland getting things ready for the new supermarket game, which starts on Monday, ie getting the machines back in their housings, checking that printers and modems work, boring little details like that. The game itself is a tired warmover of last year's version which I'd personally have thought would be guaranteed to discourage everyone save complete lackwits (preferably terminally depressed ones) but noone seems to mind and as it's more or less money for jam I'm not going to start worrying about it either.

But I could have done without the trip, especially today as it was the opening of the Geneva car show, which meant traffic jams all around Geneva this morning, and the weather went rapidly downhill so that instead of yesterday's 20° or so I had rain/snow slurry persisting down on the way back home.

Now Sunday 5/3, and I'm trying to catch up a bit before watching Star Trek and then hibernating.

We gather that NZ is still the proud custodian of a rather ugly silver-plated spittoon. Congratulations. After the rugby - and the cricket - it's about time! But I am a bit surprised to find that the event was celebrated with what the Herald-Tribune called "typical Kiwi over-indulgence". I'd always thought we were rather an austere lot, on the whole - apparently not. I must admit that I didn't actually watch any of the races (couldn't avoid 30 seconds on the evening news one night, but that hardly counts) - as a spectator sport yachting comes in with down-hill skiing, marathon running and solo tooth extraction in the excitement department.

Those of you who care will notice that relations between Chirac and Jospin are a little strained at the moment. Small history lesson - unlike any civilised country, France has a President and a Prime Minister, both with executive power. This arrangement was dreamed up by the framers of the constitution to please Charles de Gaulle (don't know why they thought it would make him happy, but apparently they did) and as no-one seems to have noticed that he's been dead for some time it's gone on unquestioned.

Now one of the little unquestioned details was that foreign policy belonged to the President - his own private hunting-ground. As time goes on it's about all that's left to him, really. So it was particularly unappreciated when Jospin, on a visit to Lebanon, called Hesbollah a terrorist organisation. Not only is the remark Chirac's to make (as Pres) but also, historically, France has always claimed an "honest broker" position in the Middle East whilst also claiming to have a unique understanding of the Arab mentality (a claim which, were I Arab, I might well take as a personal insult). It's always come as a disappointment to them that the only outside country with any real influence is the US.

Basically Jospin has chucked that pretence out of the window, and also had the bad taste to remark that he wished that la France would stop dreaming that it was more important than, in fact, it is. Didn't go down very well. And then there was the humourous episode when, on Jospin's arriving back in France on Sunday night he was telephoned by Chirac requesting his presence at the Elysée IMMEDIATELY, to which Jospin cheerily replied that they'd see one another at the usual Wednesday Cabinet meeting.

Been another beautiful day today, so we went down and did some more work in the garden. Margo attacked trees and ivy withh the slasher, and I tried to get some of the rust off the garden gate before repainting it (in pond-scum green). Jeremy went off and played at finding cow-pats to sit in in the paddock behind, and Tess followed to keep him company in case he really did find a cow-pat, and needed help with it. As far as we know he didn't (or if he did the stains came out remarkably easily), but the search kept him busy for hours.

Jeremy, incidentally, has started to miss his sister. Not sure why, but it's the case. It'll probably last all of 30 minutes, when she does actually arrive back (in late June, according to the latest plans). What we do have to do is seriously attack his bedroom - or rather, turn what was Margo's sewing & junk room into his bedroom. This involves shifting out the wood-burning stove and the sink (preferably AFTER cutting off the water), removing tiles from the walls so that it's a bit less like the public baths, then rewiring and repapering.

Rewiring will be fun. The idea is to reuse, as far as possible, the existing wiring ducts so as not to have to use the equivalent of a router on the walls and ceilings. At least I now know how and where the three-phase arrives upstairs, and the monophase does the rounds downstairs before heading off upstairs itself. The trick now is to use this knowledge to rewire room by room without plunging the rest of the house into darkness (or, more pertinently, cutting off power to the PC). This is where I shall have to
  • do a little more electrical archaeology and
  • call in our friend Bruno Fontanel to tell me what to do.
The other plans for this summer are, more or less in order:
  • getting the staircase down from the balcony to the courtyard
  • replacing three exterior doors
  • finishing work on the living room
  • napalming the garden
  • bringing peace to the world, ending hunger and converting Saddam Hussein to Judaism.

An ambitious programme, at the end of the year we hope to be able to show some progress on at least the first four items.

Tuesday there's a big meeting at Margo's shop: the court-appointed assessor has ordered everyone to be present so that he can learn exactly what the hell is going on. As the different insurance companies involved are obliged to be present Margo hopes to get a better idea of exactly what they're willing to pay up. And, if the offer's acceptable, to take it straight away. However that works out, the shop should be closed up in the next three months or so.

Paragraphs below this line are intended strictly for a mature programming audience and are designed to induce terminal boredom in normal human beans.

I've found a new hate object for the month and surprisingly enough it's not a Microsoft product, nor is it in any way related to the fairies of Redmond. This month's Bimler Award for the Most Gratuitously Frustrating Useful Software Product (with Special Mention for misuse of Capital Letters) goes to Seagate Software for Crystal Reports V7.x. This is a marvellous product which is probably only appreciated as it deserves by those of us who, some 20 years ago, had to learn about RPG.

Integrated into your software it allows the users to design and run their own reports, thereby reducing your workload and blood pressure, the installation procedure is, once worked out, quite straightforward (provided you don't let Visual Basic's cyber-bloody Install Wizard do it for you and screw it up as usual) and it's royalty-free. It's also, unfortunately, full of bugs. Not major, life-threatening ones, but small, naggy, annoying ones that waste half an hour of your time here, then another half-hour the next day ... the online support is rapid (I sent off a query and got an answer back the next day) if not always the best (the answer was useless) but - another annoying point - the documentation is appalling. Along the lines of (and I am not joking very much)

prototype is function ButterYourToast(toast, butter)

This function causes the specified number of copies of your toast to be buttered. The optional jam parameter, if non-zero, specifies the marmelade to be used. System toast is used by default, unless or even if the Bread.MakeToast() constructor has previously been called to specify wholemeal. NOTE that MakeToast will replace the system toast for the life of your application. You may want to consider making the Bread object of global scope to avoid conflicts. Don't forget to restore system toast to the default value (currently hard-coded in NT 4.0 as white, thick-sliced, although this is subject to change) on exiting.

Next month is time for the Why do I Insist on Beating My Head Against the Wall award for recidivist users of any Microsoft product. The focus will be on ActiveX objects (or whatever they call it these days) and would-be nominees are invited to submit a white paper explaining why the developers of any given Microsoft "technology" should not be put up against a wall and forced to listen to Boy George for three months before being made to develop a useful, portable and useable application using their own tools.

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