Page 9 of 10: First Prev Next Last

Web Log

Name That Plant

By Andrew Price, 2005-09-07 02:30:32 in General. (Permalink)

A friend of mine rescued some plants from almost certain death but she has absolutely no idea what this one is:

Arty wide shot of mystery plant
(Monitor, keyboard and speaker added for geeky effect)

Saucy close up shot of mystery plant

We've been googling for attributes like "heart shaped leaves" and then trawling through pages of image search results for matches but no joy yet. So far we've ruled out plants like Madeira Vine and Cheese Plant but still haven't managed to identify it. It's really turning into an obsession now.

Any plant experts out there?

George Bush Wears Pink Underwear

By Andrew Price, 2005-09-03 23:42:55 in General. (Permalink)

It's been a busy few days and there's a lot to catch up on so I'll try not to waffle.

On Friday I finished my Summer job and left with lots of good wishes and people saying nice things about me like I'm an "intelligent person with social skills" and that I've noticeably grown in confidence since I last worked there, and telling me to keep in touch. I should leave jobs more often, it's very satisfying.

Also on Friday I overslept in the morning, waking just in time to answer the door for the delivery guy who gave me a couple of boxes. I had ordered two hard drives and a bunch of CD sleeves for SUCS from Ebuyer so I was expecting the delivery. I opened up the larger of the two boxes to find all the CD sleeves packed loosely in there with some air bags to bulk out the box. Then I opened up the smaller box and there was one hard drive in there. One! The air in my immediate vicinity quickly turned a deep shade of blue. Later, I went on Ebuyer's website and it told me to wait a couple of days before contacting them about missing items so I'll get in touch with them on Monday.

After that I hurried to work for my shorter-than-usual last day and, as with any last day at work, got very little done. At lunch time I went over the pub with Dave and Martin and had a bite to eat and a pint of XXXX. Very pleasant. At the end of the day I handed all my unfinished stuff to Stuart and fired a "Right, I'm Off! (Again)" email to my favourite colleagues, blatantly plugging my website and SUCS in it, as you do.

I installed the one new hard drive (120GB Seagate Barracuda) in my PC and tried out Linspire on it. They're giving away free copies of Five-O on the Linspire site for a few days. I was quite impressed by how sickeningly user friendly it was. It was very obviously an American commercial distro from the outset. I liked the fact that it was easy enough for, say, my Mum to admin but it just didn't feel comfortable to me. I prefer Gnome to KDE and less general perceptual bloat to a new installation - a clean canvas if you will. It defaulted to the American keyboard layout and didn't even ask me to configure most things during the install. Other than that, I was impressed at how well they've developed and added all the hand-holding features that new Linux users would need. I'm back on Ubuntu now. It feels like home :)

I've just finished taking out a bunch of style features from my website and changing the content type of the pages to text/html so that IE users (e.g. the people from work) can view it. It looks a bit silly now though. I don't like having to compromise because a broken browser commands the greatest market share. It's a step in the right direction though, I guess.

Oops, i waffled

The Future Is Well Rounded

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-27 22:28:25 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

Occasionally I go through a phase of feeling like there's so much that I want to know and learn that I frustrate myself. Today is one of those days.

On the one hand I want to learn everything there is to know about programming, computers and other geeky stuff but then there's all the other stuff that I'm missing out while my head is buried in the world of computers.

I've never really been big on reading books. In fact I'm "reading" two at the moment. I started reading The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (borrowed it from dave) while I was in Swansea and then a book that I asked the library to add to their collection became available so I started reading that - Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham. Before long my attention had turned to other things and now I'm half way through both of those books and can't seem to find the time to read either of them. Typical me.

So today, as has happened before, I've been craving some different kinds of knowledge. I want to read about ancient philosophers or the history of art or just some great piece of literature by a famous author long dead. It could be my brain's way of looking around for inspiration to add to all the computer knowledge that I'm building up. After all, you can't just know about computers - computers are a tool that you use to solve problems in all different aspects of life. For example. Paul Graham's reading list on his General FAQ looks very tempting. But the frustration comes from the length of the list. I'm not a slow reader, but I'm not quite Superman!

I'm sure I'll get around to it one day though. Maybe when I've finished university and just have a boring day job taking up most of my (precious) time.

There is a hell of a lot more information available these days than there was fifty years ago and the amount of years you have to stay in education hasn't really grown. It really makes you wonder what the limits of learning are.

Whats the optimum amount of time to spend acquiring knowledge in order to have the right amount of time left to use that knowledge to greatest effect?

Just About Time For A Quickie

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-27 01:22:59 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

Wow it's late. Isn't it funny how fast time passes when you're busy coding?

I've just finished getting the archivey bits on my blog working so when the amount of entries in my blog actually extends over months and years it'll be easier to search through

Just had a quick pre-bedtime web surf and found this quote by Linus Torvalds about the venerable Alan Cox:

Note that nobody reads every post in linux-kernel. In fact, nobody who expects to have time left over to actually do any real kernel work will read even half. Except Alan Cox, but he's actually not human, but about a thousand gnomes working in under-ground caves in Swansea. None of the individual gnomes read all the postings either, they just work together really well.

The quote is from

Hello From Work

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-26 11:53:24 in General. (Permalink)

I've finally got around to adding a blog admin page to my blog. This means that I can now blog while I'm getting bored at work (I can't ssh to sucs from work :( ).

There are only three of us in the office today so we have the radio on. Unfortunately my two colleagues both want to listen to the cricket commentary. Oh well, at least its more interesting than the data migration I'm currently working on.

Yesterday my boss nagged me into working here for two days more than I was planning to. The project was set back so much that my contract ends slap bang in the middle of the busiest data migration. I'm only doing it because I feel sorry for them. Well, that and it's two extra days getting paid.

You may notice that my blog has changed slightly. I've recently added a blog calender which shows the current month and hilights the days that I've blogged on as links and I've also truncated the amount of text shown for each entry on the main blog page so that they act as previews. I got this idea from Dez who thought it would be a good feature for the SUCS blogs. Thanks Dez. I'm planning to extend the calendar so that it lists previous months and years. It should be quite easy since the php code of my blog scripts have turned out to be easily extendable.

We've just had a couple of hours of heavy rain here but now I can see blue sky out of the window. I hope it stays dry from now because I might be going on a pub crawl after work. My new bike is parked outside and must be soaked by now. Bicycles are water proof though.. aren't they?

New Domain Name

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-20 01:24:33 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

I've acquired a new domain name -

From now on my Substance Without Direction site will be under this name and all my miscellaneous junk, half baked programming ideas etc. will be plonked under

I'm planning on making a few slight changes and updates to Substance Without Direction in the near future, most noteably adding to my blog scripts, redoing my About page and possibly giving the whole thing a new style so it looks a bit less dingey. Still no plans to stop serving it up as application/xhtml+xml to let IE users browse it properly I'm afraid but I may be persuaded once IE7 is out. From reading the IEblog it doesn't look like IE7 will be supporting application/xhtml+xml though. Let's hope I'm proved wrong.

Ashley Judd Swallowed My TV

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-20 00:27:19 in General. (Permalink)

Friday again at last.

It wasn't until I started working 9-to-5 again that I realised how much I appreciate weekends. Fridays at work are a slow, anxious crawl towards that sweet moment at the end of the day when I can finish pretending to work like I'm still as enthusiastic about it as I was at 11am on Tuesday and start enjoying the weekend.

The highlight of this Friday was at lunch time when I went to the pub for lunch with Craig and Grant. Grant and I ordered sausage melts and after some confusion between the word "sausage" and the word "bacon" we both got our meals delivered by a nice lady to our bench under a big tree.

I was half way through my sausage melt and things started falling out of the tree, landing on us and our food. After moving along the bench to avoid the projectiles and conducting a search of the tree we soon spotted a grey squirrel nibbling open what looked like conkers and letting the nibbled bits shower us much to the amusement of the other people in the beer garden.

So, uh, yeah, that was the highlight of my day.

Oh, and the Christopher Walken for president thing was all just a rumour after all.

Christopher Walken For President

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-14 16:46:57 in News. (Permalink)

Either Christopher Walken is running for US president in 2008 or someone is a bit too obsessed with the man.

If I was American (and this wasn't a joke), Christopher Walken would probably get my vote. He seems like a good bloke and can't be any worse than the current president.

Apparently the campaign is keeping a low profile until Walken finishes his next bunch of films and it will kick off properly in 2007. Sounds fishy to me, I don't think anyone running for president would leave it that late to start a campaign.

Although the campaign website has been up since Wednesday, only one news website seems to have cottoned on to/fallen for it.

I doubt it's true but it would be cool if it was, wouldn't it?

Quality And Quantity

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-12 23:14:04 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

Is it just me or is Linux getting into the press with increasing regularity recently?

Maybe it's just the technology orientated news sites that comprise the majority of my visits when I surf the web for news, but lately publicity for Linux seems to be increasing rapidly.

Just this week I've read about:

  1. Linspire being used in several schools in Indiana
  2. Linux mentioned heavily in Paul Graham's recent essay on open source (mentioned in my last blog entry)
  3. Various articles on the LinuxWorld and Linux 2005 conferences
  4. Some smart alec installing Linux and Doom on his iPod
  5. Microsoft "embracing" Linux
  6. A lot of Linux related articles that I've forgotten

More interesting than anything, a large amount of articles about Linux making its way - or struggling to get onto - the desktop. I think the first I read about this was on Asa Dotzler's blog, where he has been blogging a 7 part (at time of writing) series of entries stating his opinions on Linux and what needs to happen for it to become a genuine alternative for Regular People. These entries raised a lot of pulse rates as a lot of people left comments arguing with Asa's thoughts. I have to agree with a lot of what he said though.

From my current job helping to implement a new grants management system, I'm aware of just how much hand holding Regular People need to get to grips with something new. Just the other day I had to help a colleague find the right-hand edge of a table in a Word document because the left-hand margin was set too wide. This may seem quite simple to people who understand intuitively how the layout of objects works in a document window but to Regular People (to steal Asa's term) it can take a while to get the hang of these things. That's if they don't give up before finding the solution of course. From a Computer Science geek's point of view, It's easy to look down on people who don't know much about computers and how the applications running on them work.

This shouldn't happen. I've heard it many times - to write a good application you have to put yourself into the mind of the user. I think the Mozilla team did a great job where Firefox is concerned. It helps IE users migrate their settings and get to grips with it easily, incorporates a lot of the key bindings that IE uses and doesn't clutter the mind of the user with a barrage of different, colourful icons. It shows what the user needs to get started on the web and has enough intuitive features behind the tool menus to keep most people satisfied. Best of all, for the geeks there is still a lot to play with and tweak by pointing firefox at about:config.

On the other hand, Mozilla's Thunderbird isn't as easy to use and intuitive as I'd expect. I used to use Outlook Express as my email client, as a lot of Regular People probably do as it comes preinstalled on a large number of new PCs. From using this I became used to having all account settings separate and not dependent on each other, which is what I'd expect from an email client anyway. When I started using Thunderbird I noticed some differences in how it handles SMTP (outgoing mail server) settings. After you add one email account and specify an SMTP server, it sets the same SMTP server for all new accounts. This took a while for me to get my head around before I learnt more about how email servers work. But this brings us back to the point. Regular users shouldn't have to deal with the confusion brought on by not knowing the technical details.

Take this (untested) situation for example: a Regular User sets up two email accounts on Thunderbird and everything works fine for months. Then she decides to scrap her first email account and cancels it with the provider. This means that her SMTP service is no longer available. But now she can't send mail from the second address. She thinks something broke but doesn't know what. How would she know what happened? She gets impatient and decides to try Outlook Express since it's still installed on her PC. It works. She sticks with Outlook Express. Very small problems like this can make Regular Users lose patience with software and switch to something that may not be perfect, but is convenient and "works".

The moral of the tale? The best interface testers and the best people to learn application design from are Regular Users.

A final thought about the Linux on desktops topic: From what I've read, people have been making the old mistake of using the name Linux instead of Linux distributions. It really isn't up to Linux to make its way onto the desktop because Linux is essentially amorphous in this context. It's the challenge for distro groups such as Ubuntu, Mandriva, Linspire etc. to create a Linux distribution which is as Regular User friendly as Mac OS or Windows. With the right amount of effort, innovation and investment, I can see this happening in the next few years.

To What Do I Owe This Blog

By Andrew Price, 2005-08-08 01:43:13 in General. (Permalink)

I'm afraid my blogging enthusiasm has waned since I left Swansea for the Summer and came back to Cardiff where, much to my surprise, a great many distractions lay waiting. Working 8:30 - 17:00 - like I used to before Swansea University snapped me up - has brought a lot of memories and feelings back to me. Not just the Another Brick In The Wall feeling caused by the legally enforced servitude that accompanies the signing of a peice of paper stating that my term of employment ends on August 31st but also a surprising feeling of creative appreciation that I get at work that University didn't seem to offer me in my first year.

So now I'm back in the blogging seat, where do I start? Do I write about current events or personal thoughts or just post a link to another site or an interesting image and make a brief comment on it? It's quite a hard decision really. As it goes, I've just finished reading Paul Graham's latest essay, entitled What Businesses Can Learn From Open Source. It was a good read, as Paul Graham's essays often are. Unfortunately, reading inspirational and wisely crafted texts such as that makes me want to be able to write articles which are just as insightful and intellectually entertaining. I don't think I am anywhere near capable of writing like that but since I enjoy reading long and insightful essays I'm more inclined to write blog entries which try to fulfill my own expectations so that when I come to read back over them in future months, or years, I can objectively say that I enjoyed reading them. That is the plan anyway.

So back to my Summer job. Just like the first time around I'm getting used to interacting on equal and friendly terms with people I might call grown-ups or professionals and feeling that I'm one of them. Of course, it isn't all that wonderful to be back at work and the same old things that convinced me to dive back into academia are still very much apparent. The office environment in general is still the same old, oppressive, grey torture chamber and the illogically ordered heirarchy still smells of unquestioning complaisance and managerial make-do. I'm glad that the job I have for the Summer is more IT based and not the same daily deja vu administration job that I used to have there.

One upshot of my job is that I get to work quite closely, on a new grants management system implementation project, with some really inspirational people who have all been employed or seconded especially to make this project work (square peg, round hole, big hammer). The project manager is enthusiastic and is an all round good bloke, the trainer is friendly and really knows his stuff and the project consultant is professional and shrewd to the point of being impressive yet still a great laugh. Unfortunately the new management system leaves quite a lot to be desired. We're currently at the data migration stage and although the system isn't officially released to us (read: buggy), we have to manually grab the data from the old system and plonk it into the new system with some extra data from files. As you can imagine, it isn't the most wonderful part of my Summer job. Added to that, one of my colleagues spends more time moaning and whining about how bad the system is than actually learning how to use it properly and entering data like the rest of us (myself and the grants officers) have to.

My Summer hasn't been all about work though. Besides being unusually social compared to my pre-university Cardiff life, I've been using my spare time to replenish my interest in learning to play guitar, ride my new bike, acquaint myself with Python, catch up with all the news that passed me by while I was cooped up at uni and generally kick back and relax.

This week I'll be taking on the role of tutor for a couple of my fellow students who need some help with their Java programming before doing resits. I've done a bit of preparation for that, mostly by relearning all I've forgotten about Java since I last used it back at uni. Thankfully it appears that coding is just like riding a bike and I haven't lost the knack. I'm not sure how I'll approach the Java tutorials that I've agreed to give though. I think the best way to do it would be to ask them what they're getting stuck on and then fill in all the gaps. I'll play it by ear. I hope they pass their resits after that because I know I'll feel a bit disappointed in myself if they don't. I wonder if this is how lecturers feel.

I Wish I Was A Naked Penguin.

By Andrew Price, 2005-05-27 22:50:53 in General. (Permalink)

Summer is officially here.

Unfortunately I only spent half of the day, well, a few hours anyway, trying to revise in my room which has become like a Swedish sauna that has been swept up in a tornado and dumped gently (maybe upon a nearsighted, wicked witch with neat shoes and clashing socks) in the hot bit of Kenya, or a similarly hot equatorial nation. I'm on the top floor so naturally all the heat is rising from the rooms below mine to produce some kind of specialised human residence shaped oven.

Today's specials are: Andy a la flambe, deep fried Andy and boiled Andy with toast soldiers. No ice cream for dessert I'm afraid as the freezer is suboptimal due to no one in the flat wanting to defrost it. Here's the whine list.

So I found myself breaking free of Andy's Inferno and taking a trip down to the SUCS room, where things were a bit cooler, especially after I got a nice cold pint of milk and a Fab ice lolly down my neck. Once there, I was further distracted by the speedy progress of development of the new blog system which Chris, Dave, Steve and myself are all now working on. It has been less than a week since we first set up the blogs database in order to start this zany project and we've already got rather a lot done. I'm well impressed with us. It's really a pity that these kinds of projects can't be taken into account by the Comp Sci department. Working on things that you're interested in is so educational, and ten times more rewarding for your brain.

So after things died down in the SUCS room (it can be a busy and fun place sometimes. It can. No, really, it can.) I returned to my room, realised it was still a flaming cauldron of human torture and academic procrastination and then went for a walk.

The beach is a very nice place to be today, as is the park. Swansea can be such a nice place to be with this kind of weather but when you're stuck in halls doing (for a given value of doing) revision, it's not nice at all. I'm tempted to go to the library next time my brain decides it wants to prepare for my remaining exams so that I can exploit the air conditioning system in one of the computer rooms.

From my window I can see a line of temporary stables in the park which were put there to house equine beasties for the duration of The Swansea Show. Today people started arriving in big vehicles to fill the temporary stables with four legged horse-shaped contents. This is all well and good. I quite like horses (despite having never driven one). And I appreciate the need for The Swansea Show. But - and this is a small "but", and no malice towards either the horses or their owners should be perceived of it - But - I can smell the stables from my room. Sigh.

Getting back to my resting state of optimism, I really am glad Summer is here and I can't wait until these pesky exams are over so that I can put my brain to good use in enjoying the Summer, pickling it lightly in ethanol based substances now and then to keep it fresh.

It's Not A Blog, It's A Rabbit.

By Andrew Price, 2005-05-24 00:34:32 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

Despite almost being driven to insanity by the girl next door's constant playing of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, particularly the obsessive looped playing of the track, Hungry Eyes, I managed to get a very small bit of revision done over the weekend for my Algorithms exam this morning.

I rolled out of bed at 8:30am and realised that I hadn't shaved for days before because I was too busy being distracted from my revision by more interesting things like paint drying, the colour magnolia and the endless fun you can have from spinning around on a swivel chair while listening to loud music. Yes, i was procrastinating from revision [Cue lightning strike]. Luckily, however, I managed to cram enough into my head to emerge from the exam with quite a spring in my step. So I sprang over to The Green Room for a celebratory hot chocolate and took it to the SUCS room to shelter until the rain subsided.

The announcement of the beach party (Beach. 4th June. 7pm. Be there.) was sent out today. I'm hoping that a lot of the silent members - those who signed up to SUCS but never show their faces - will turn up, since there seems to be a worrying level of apathy towards SUCS from my first year comp sci colleagues this year (although I admit I have no previous experience to compare it to). Still, it would be great to have a good turn out to the party - validation indeed. I'm also looking forward to meeting some of the veteran SUCS members who are spread far and wide but return for the beach parties.

This evening was spent chilling out and chatting on milliways while putting together an embryo html template and default stylesheet for the new blog system. Speaking of which, Chris [rollercow] is now on board with the blog project and we're taking the 'professional' approach of using subversion to keep the project organised. We're quite enthusiastic about it and think the outcome has the potential to be very shiny and impressive. A blog system can be really simple and easy if you're prepared to settle for that but to make a good, malleable multiuser blog system with bells on will take a bit of time and effort. Another advantage of it is that it should give me some practice of doing a group-ish project before next year's Comp Sci group project arrives.

My middle-year resolution: Make sure comp sci is higher up on my priority list in future and revise earlier for exams.


By Andrew Price, 2005-05-14 23:14:06 in General. (Permalink)

I had my first exam today. It was CS_125: Logic Programming and I didn't come out of that little exam room with a cheery smile on my face, i can tell you. I have to admit that I made that exam hard for myself by not doing much revision and, although I think I passed it quite comfortably I'm still disappointed that I didnt do better. Oh well, at least thats one down and I can start worrying about the other 6 (or so) that are flying towards me like concrete pigeons with halitosis.

On to interesting and geeky things. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours revising for my exam sat on the steps in front of Fulton House, watching the cheerleaders practice their routines.


Before you start thinking (as I'm sure several of the cheerleaders did) that I'm a pervy geek person, I was invited by Jo, who not only is a cheerleader but a Prolog-wielding postgrad SUCS geek too. I now have a new found respect for cheerleaders since some of the stuff they do is not only physically difficult but quite dangerous too. I was well impressed. And cold. It was freezing outside.

At the moment I'm working on a few php scripts which could allow sucs members to easily create their own blogs, just like this one. I've just about finished the parts which display the blog entries and allow people to post comments to the entries. Obviously I may have to take a break from doing this to do some revision and maybe get some fresh air now and then so be patient. As the druids doubtlessly said just before they set off from Wales to Salisbury Plain, dragging their monoliths: this could take some time.

Pizza, Akira, xBlast and Sleep

By Andrew Price, 2005-05-11 09:45:32 in General. (Permalink)

Yesterday was our semi-regular, semi-official pizza and dvd night at the SUCS room and I brought my new Akira DVD along for us to enjoy. I think everyone (that is rollercow, pwb and wedge) was suitably freaked out and impressed by it.

Almost halfway through the film we had the honour of a surprise visit from the Jo, who, it seems, was not there for the pizza or the DVD at all, but to plunder my minstrels (Arr!) and to bomb the hell out of us in xblast. Which she did, much to our expectation.

Pizza 1: [Ham & Pineapple] 8/10
Pizza 2: ['Full house'] 7/10
DVD: [Akira] 9/10
Getting whipped at xblast: 3/10

So the night ended at around 11:00 and I came back to my flat, had an early-ish night and got plenty of sleep. I woke up early this morning to find it's a nice, sunny day and everything seems hunky dory in the world :)

[Cue lightning storm and all sorts of wrong happening]


By Andrew Price, 2005-05-10 02:25:59 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

I started the day in quite a grumpy and miserable mood today but I've just managed to cheer myself up (just before bed time) by getting comments working on my blog. I hadn't planned to finish that part of my script so fast but the guys in milliways mocked me into it:

21:26 welshbyte: err version 0.003 of my blog is working
21:26 welshbyte: comments dont work so dont bother flaming me ;)
21:28 FireFury: it's crap, the comments don't work :)
21:28 chckens: wb: looks good, but I just tried to add a comment... nothing happened!
21:31 pwb: For some reason, adding a comment is broken
21:31 rollercow: Hmm... adding comments didn't work
21:31 rohan: I can't make a comment
21:31 chckens: I think wb's blog would be good if it supported comments, because I like to comment on things
21:31 davea: wb: damn you! Your blog ate my comment!
21:32 FireFury: davea: you mean comments don't work?!?
21:33 FireFury: wow, I hadn't realised that comments were broken
21:35 stringfellow: heyyy... i think its trying to tell me summat... like 'we dont care about your comments, steve, if that IS ur real name'

Bunch of donkeys. I'm surprised the joke lasted 9 minutes :)

So, comment away...

Oh, before I forget, an update on my Gentoo trial: I ditched it. It took way too long to install new packages and was quite difficult to get things configured properly. I took great joy in cracking my box open and hooking my other hard drive (with Mandriva on it) back up.

Pity it didn't work out between us, but hey, at least we tried. I'll remember the experience always...sniff.

Page 9 of 10: First Prev Next Last