pne: Close-up of an eye with the letter pi superimposed on the pupil (maths)

When I was a child, I memorised the powers of two up to 216 = 65536.

I don’t remember why I decided to do that, nor why in particular I decided to stop there, but it did come in handy occasionally later in my computing career.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember that when I first got onto the Internet, MIT’s official web site was at web.mit.edu, while www.mit.edu was the students’ association or something like that: certainly associated with MIT but the site wasn’t the main MIT web site.

Now, though, both URLs show the same web page. I suspect that nowadays, when people guess at URLs and type them in directly, rather than following links (as was envisioned in the early days of the Web), having a main site that is not at www. is simply not viable.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was just watching Top Gear: the Best-Of Collection and came across a bit where a BMW and a Mercedes (both estate cars) were being compared, and Jeremy Clarkson mentioned that one of them had seats that didn’t fold all the way down (clicky for slightly larger):

The interior of an estate car, with the back seats folded down; they do not fold down completely horizontally.

And that reminded me of how we drove to England once when I was a child.

My father made a kind of platform out of wood which stood on little legs (I think). The seats were folded down and this platform was placed on top of the surface they formed.

Then the luggage went underneath the wooden platform and we children went on top… horizontally, because my father was going to drive from Germany to England overnight and we would be sleeping. So we took along our pillows and duvets and made ourselves comfortable.

Since we were already four children then, the three oldest would sleep next to one another, and the youngest would go behind us, sideways.

That sort of thing would probably break all kinds of safety laws these days, but things were simpler then (for better or worse). (We regularly took turns riding just sitting in the boot of our estate car, no seatbelts or even a proper seat, since three rear seats and four children doesn’t really leave much choice. Great fun, mostly.)

Those were the days!

I don’t remember much else about that trip except that I know that we drove through Venlo, because that’s where I happened to wake up, while we were filling up at a filling station.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

When I was younger, I touched the moon once!

Well, a piece of rock that had been part of the moon, at least. It was mounted in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and people could file past it and touch it.

(It wouldn’t surprise me if nowadays it’s completely behind glass, if it’s even still on display at all, but back then, ca. 1992, anyone could touch it.)

It was, from memory, irregularly shaped, about 2 cm wide by 10 cm long (¾" by 4" or so).

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how I used to use a program called “'Net Pal” to connect to the Internet back in my dial-up days. It was really handy, especially because it supported re-dialling when the other end was busy (which happened occasionally) and because it supported dialling a range of numbers until one picked up.

The second function was especially useful because I had an option in my phone plan that made telephone calls free on weekends (this was before wide-spread availability of flat rates). And this caused quite a number of ISPs to spring up that didn’t require a contract; you just called them and entered a fixed username/password combination. They made their money out of the interconnect fees that the other carriers had to pay them to transfer calls to their network, so you just paid your normal phone fees. They were particularly heavily loaded at the week-ends due to the presence of the feature, so you sometimes had to try four or five dozen numbers before you could connect.

What I remember most was that I couldn’t get the program to work at first, so I contacted support about it. And even though I wasn’t a paying customer (I was trying out the shareware version), they did quite a lot to figure out what was happening so that they could fix it: for example, they sent me an instrumented version that logged lots of stuff and asked me to play around with it (try to use it as I usually would), then send them the log file. It ended up being something connected to the fact that I had a German version of Windows installed.

They fixed it and sent me the updated version; and as a thank-you for reporting the bug, they gave me a free licence key. So that was nifty.

I had a look at their web page and saw that it’s still up and that they’re still offering Cookie Pal and 'Net Pal! On the other hand, the web page is “Copyright © 1996-2005” and the software supports Windows 95/98/ME and “now also” Windows NT 4.0 (though a beta version is available that supports Windows 2000 and Windows XP). So I get the impression that it’s not really being developed any longer….

Fun times.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Over on the entry on the ‘xkcd-rss’ syndicated account for the comic 919 (entry will go ‘poof’ in two weeks), there are lots of comments on people’s various pet peeves.

One of them is a thread on “(I’m not racist/I’m not telling you how to live your life/…), but…”.

And while thinking about “No offence, but…” (almost invariably preceding something offensive), I thought about something a long time ago.

Someone said to me after I did something, “I mean this in the nicest possible way, but that was really inappropriate.”

And I appreciated being called on it (I hadn’t realised it was inappropriate) and I appreciated the way that person phrased it; I felt they were doing me a kindness by putting it like that.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how, as a child, we visited the ruins of an old monastery, somewhere in England—I think it was my father, my sister Jennifer, and I, though I’m not completely certain. This was probably around 1985–1990.

What I thought was nifty was the possibility of a self-guided tour: they rented portable cassette players (I was going to say “Walkman”, but they probably weren’t that brand), with a cassette containing a tour of the monastery.

That way, you could explore the place at your own speed, staying in each area as long as you liked, simply by pausing the tape after listening to the description of that area.

As I recall, the narrator played the part of a monk who lived there, and he described the places the way they must have looked when the monastery was still in use, though nowadays, most of the place is only stone walls less than a meter (3 ft.) high.

I thought that was pretty clever, though nowadays I’m sure there are variations on the theme that take advantage of the technology developed (or widely adopted) since then.

An interim thing was the MP3 files I found once for a tour of the city of Chur in Switzerland; this lets you choose not only the speed but also the order in which you visit the places (theoretically possible with the cassette tape, too, but not practical).

But I think I’ve heard about something even more sophisticated, where there’s a device that uses GPS to determine the position and automatically play an appropriate message, or one where there are fixed short-range senders that interact with a device you carry (your phone, via NFC?) to tell it what to play.

Anyway, I remember rather enjoying that tour—especially since I could do it at my own pace: my father stayed with my sister and toured at her pace and we all met up later at (I presume) a pre-agreed time and place.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember a Usenet newsgroup called alt.pub.dragons-inn that served as a place for collaborative fiction in a fantasy setting.

I googled a bit and apparently it was most active in the 90’s.

I posted a bit in it in, roughly, the 2001–2004 timeframe (as far as I can judge from a Google Groups search); however, the place was fairly inactive and the story lines usually didn’t exceed half a dozen posts.

The most frequent contributer in that time was “Emerald”, though a cat named “Pangur Ban” also showed up a bit.

pne: Pixels with random colours (random)

I was at the Arabella Sheraton hotel for a Java conference twice (well, the conference took place there; I didn’t stay at the hotel), and I remember that on the basement floor, where the main conference rooms where, there was also a door leading to a small enclosed space that was open to the air and which housed a Japanese Zen garden.

I found that an interesting thing to have at a hotel, but I imagine there were guests who appreciated it as a place to relax or meditate, or perhaps just to enjoy the beauty.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

While browsing Wikipedia this evening, I came across the article on the “house system” used especially in boarding schools, and it reminded me of the houses we had at my school.

As the article says, “In the case of a day school […], the word 'house' refers only to a grouping of pupils, rather than to a particular building.” The two houses at ISH were “Hansa” and “Galleon” (and I think they were usually enumerated in that order); as best I recall, pupils were randomly assigned to one or the other. I believe I was in Galleon.

I think Hansa had the colour red; I don’t remember which colour Galleon had (blue?), nor which symbols, if any, the houses had.

The names were presumably derived from the location of the school: the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Hansa referred to the Hanseatic League, or Hansa (German: Hanse) and Galleon presumably to the ship type (though I associated “Hansekogge” with the Hansa, i.e. cogs).

As best I remember, essentially the only significance was in sports; occasionally, we’d split up by house to play a game, and I think we could also gain points for our house by doing well in sports (surpassing a kind of “par” score for whatever the event was). I think a year-end game was also officially Hansa vs. Galleon.

On the whole, though, it was a rather negligible part of my school experience.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Many years ago, I took a beginners’ course in German Sign Language at the Volkshochschule. (I dropped out after, I think, two semesters, because I was a bit frustrated with the pace of the course.)

Our instructor was deaf, but he could speak well and he could lip-read well, so we communicated with him by speaking.

Except for one smart-aleck show-off who would simply mouthe her words at him; he could understand her because when you’re lip-reading, you don’t care whether the vocal cords are vibrating or not, but everyone else was rather annoyed. (Hearing an exchange along the lines of “…” - “Yes, you’re right” isn’t very helpful to anyone else!).

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how Stella was pregnant with Amy, and we were ready to announce it to the public (we kept it to ourselves for the first few weeks).

I came into work and my co-worker Meike was there. She asked how Stella was and I replied, "Gut; sie ist guter Hoffnung." Which literally means, "she is of good hope", but Meike twigged at once and replied, "Oh, that's nice! When's it due?" ("Oh, schön! Wann ist es soweit?"). Heh—fixed euphemisms.

Incidentally, when I looked up "guter Hoffnung" on Leo just now, it was marked "veraltend" (obsolescent). And translated as "to be expecting; to be in the family way". The latter phrase made me think of my father, who would often make fun of that phrase by saying, "she's in everyone's way", so I don't think I could ever say it with a straight face because I would instantly have the association in my mind!

What euphemisms do you use for being pregnant? Or do you always come straight out and say "I'm/my wife/my friend is pregnant"?

(One I find cute is "to have a bun in the oven".)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how my father and I took a plane home from London to Hamburg.

It didn't end in Hamburg but continued on to Berlin.

Unfortunately, I forgot a book in the seat pocket in front of me, so the book flew on to Berlin without me :(

Two slightly unusual things about the flight:

  1. It was a Pan Am flight, so a flight with an airline that doesn't exist any more (TTBOMK).
  2. It was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, during a time where (as I understand it) German airlines were not allowed to fly into Berlin. So I can imagine that this intra-European flight served not only passengers from London, but also Germans wishing to fly into Berlin from Hamburg.
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember when I went on my mission, I got a list of items they suggested I pack.

Said list included "thongs".

I had no idea what that meant, since for me, "thong" was a piece of leather, and I had no idea what I would need one of those for.

So I tried to ask around (this was in pre-Web days for me, I think) and gathered that a thong could also be a particularly skimpy piece of underwear. That didn't make much more sense, either, so I ignored the "thongs" entirely.

Only a couple of years later did I learn that "thongs" could *also* refer to flip-flips: so called, presumably, because of the thong that goes between your big toe and your second toe to stop your foot from slipping off the front. Which made more sense as an item to pack.

But seriously. That word might be common in Utah, but I had no idea what to make of it. Call them "flip-flops" or "shower shoes" or "bathing sandals" or something, or at least add a synonym or two.

(Or am I being provincial and "thongs" is indeed widely understood in Anglophonia as meaning the footwear?)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember when I was a child, I used to like telling jokes, just as I still do.

And I'd often try to tell them to my father. Which was usually fine, but totally did not work with knock-knock jokes since he nearly always refused to coöperate.

A typical start would be "Knock, knock." -- "Come in!".

Occasionally, he could be a little coöperative and he'd ask "Who's there?", but when I reply with the setup, he'd say, "I don't know anybody called [setup]. Go away!" or something similar.

It was frustrating sometimes.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember that I wrote something with weird symbols in a margin of a history essay at one point, and somehow that got me making a phonetic alphabet (before I had even heard of the IPA, I think), which I used to annotate the pronunciation of the French words I learned. (I think I entered new words in the booklet in normal spelling starting from the beginning of the booklet, and in phonetic respelling starting from the end.)

I don't remember much about the scheme I used, save that /ʒ/ as in "measure" was written "z͆" (even though, I think, /ʃ/ as in "ship" was "š").

I wonder where I got the idea of that weird bridge above the z from. (I also think it didn't last all that long because it was a bit awkward to write.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how we drove down a motorway from Harwich to Leicester, and at one point, there was a pedestrian crossing.

As I recall, there was a public footpath there whose route crossed the road at that point, and when the road was upgraded to a motorway, they kept the path of the public footpath intact.

There were steps up and down the banks(?) that had been constructed (presumably to reduce noise) on either side of the motorway, and lines painted across the surface of the road, and a small pedestrian island in the middle; there were also warning signs to motorists.

I presume that the expected low number of travellers along that footpath, along with the hallowed status of public footpaths, contributed to this rare(?) situation where a pedestrian may cross a motorway.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I've used all of: SCCS, RCS, CVS, SVN, and MS VSS for source control/revision control/whatever you call it.

And... I was going to say, all but CVS for work, until I remembered one project I was on which used CVS. So I've used all of those at work, at some point or another.

Oh wait, I should also include Rational wossname... *wikipedia* ah, no, Synergy (now apparently "Telelogic Synergy", though I don't remember that name; ISTR it was "CM/Synergy", or something like that, at the time?). Which was probably the most painful of the lot, and the only one where we had basically a full-time Synergy guru whose job was to un-snarl things when things got snarled, which was more often than I'd have liked, and otherwise provide support. I also had a hard time getting into the mind-frame of knowing beforehand which files you'd be working on so that you could check them out as a bundle and then check them back in again at the end—I preferred being able to pick which files to check in (e.g. some of them earlier since they seemed stable, others a bit later when I was still working on them).

FWIW, I used SCCS and RCS in the same project, on a HP-UX 10.20 machine. (The sources for an older module were managed with SCCS, those for later modules—which were originally from another company, but we took over maintenance for them—with RCS.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
I remember that back in my modem days (maybe fifteen years ago), I'd occasionally use a German service called "Downloadslave".

The premise was that Internet access was often slow -- but that you typically use an email address issued by your ISP and that your email server is very close to you netwise, so that the download speed between the email server and your computer is limited essentially only by your dial-up connection, but not by congestion, hop times, overloaded file servers, or other "issues" of the global Internet.

So the idea was that instead of downloading files yourself, you'd ask the Downloadslave to download them for you; when it finished, it would send the file to you as an attachment to an email message. Then, you could download the file at full speed by checking your email.

I don't remember how payment worked; I think you didn't have to pay up-front, so perhaps they added ads to your email messages or something.

Also, now that I think about it, downloading the files as email attachments would probably inflate their size by 33% due to the Base64 encoding... I wonder whether that made the download so much faster, then. (The connection to your ISP's mail server would have to be at least 33% faster than to the remote file server for there to be an improvement.)

Random memory

Thursday, 18 September 2008 23:01
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I remember how we took the ferry to England for the funeral of (I think) my grandfather.

My father had booked "Commodore Class" cabins for us; they were the highest class available, but a cabin with a window is better than something two decks down with no window and close to the churning of the screw; it would probably let us pass the journey better.

At any rate, the next morning, we wanted to go into the "7 Seas" restaurant for the breakfast buffet. At the entrance, we had to show our tickets, and when the person there saw that we had booked Commodore Class, he said we could use the "Blue Riband" restaurant instead: a smaller and classier restaurant reserved(?) for guests of the higher cabin classes.

My father said that we'd rather eat in the "7 Seas" restaurant, though, but the employee would have nothing of it. Apparently, "can eat in the better restaurant" meant "shall eat in the better restaurant". So we ended up being waited on, which is nice enough, I suppose, but we all would really have preferred the buffet style where we could just take whatever we pleased and what we thought looked nice rather than having to place an order with a waiter.

Noblesse oblige? *sigh*

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Philip Newton

June 2015

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