Monthly archive

Haven’t you got better things to do?

The rich, fulfilling sounds of keithlard

Well it is another internets single by me, that is bitfield, which you may be interested in. It is all right if not.


Now let us not praise GnomeBaker, the Gnome CD writing application.

It actually seems to have been carefully designed for anti-usability. It doesn’t remember the things you want to it to remember; it remembers those things which are inconvenient and wrong for next time. Every action that you do has the opposite effect to that you expect; if it can do the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong situation, it will. This is not mere bad design; someone has sat down and done careful user studies of exactly how people use CD writing software, and then deliberately implemented a piece of software to frustrate them.

I’ve recently been suffering agonies because K3B is broken in debian-testing; I finally cracked today when I had to make a large and complicated data DVD and GnomeBaker persisted in getting things wrong at every possible opportunity. If you create a new folder in a folder that GB’s already seen, it won’t recognise that a new folder has appeared. If you force it to refresh the display, it shows the folder, but it can’t open it. If you write the DVD, it doesn’t give you any errors, but then you find the folder is empty on the DVD. If you go to another folder and come back, it doesn’t refresh the cache. If you exit the program and restart to force a cache refresh, you lose all the DVD project information you’ve already built up. There’s no way to save your project.

There’s more. If you select a bunch of folders with shift-click, and then try to drag them into the project area, GnomeBaker unselects everything but the file you clicked on. This is exactly the wrong behaviour, especially as Nautilus and every other Gnome app gets this right. It’s even in Gnome’s own usability standards. It doesn’t remember what size of disc you burnt last time and always defaults to a 700Mb CD. So if you drag a bunch of folders into the project, it tells you the disc is too small and throws all the folders away except the first few that fit. If you choose the right size disc and then re-drag the folders, it duplicates the folders you successfully dragged last time. You have to manually select them and remove them.

It also doesn’t cope with files with Unicode names or funny characters generally, and aborts the whole DVD until you fix it. Basically what I am saying is that the US intelligence agencies have been on the wrong track at Camp X-Ray and what they should actually be doing is forcing internees to create complicated DVD projects under time pressure using GnomeBaker. No-one can stand up to that kind of torture without breaking down and begging to confess. I found myself wanting to ring the American Embassy and turn myself in as an illegal combatant, just to make it stop.

What joy when I just bit the bullet and installed K3B from unstable. It did what I wanted straight away and worked. I have rarely felt such a sense of vengeful satisfaction as I did typing

keith@newman:~$ apt-get remove gnomebaker
keith@newman:~$ apt-get hunt down and destroy all those involved

The Doomsday algorithm

Pointless skills, number 218: calculating the day of the week for any given date. There are a lot of different ways to do it but I like this method, due to John Conway.

The trick involves knowing what day of the week the last day of February was for the year in question. If you know this day (which Conway calls Doomsday), you can get close to the required date by knowing that Doomsday always recurs on the same dates:

  • January 3 (normal years) or January 4 (leap years)
  • February 28 (normal years) or February 29 (leap years)
  • March 0 (in other words, March the Nth will be N days after Doomsday)
  • For the remaining even months, the same day as the month (April 4, June 6, August 8, etc.)
  • For the remaining odd months, use the mnemonic ‘I work 9-5 at the 7-11’. So the 9th day of the 5th month and vice versa, and the 7th day of the 11th month and vice versa.

So if Doomsday for a particular year is Wednesday, and you want the date of the 9th of April, then since Doomsday always recurs on the 4th of April, the 9th is a Monday.

It is a lot easier to do than to read about, try it with a couple of dates from this year and check it against the calendar.

Part 2 of the trick is how to find Doomsday for a given year. Divide the last two digits of the year by 12 (this is taking you back to tens and units at primary school if you remember that. We had little plastic blocks, anyway that is not germaine to the issue.) So 1938 would be 38 / 12 = 3, remainder 2. Now divide that remainder by 4, so 2 / 4 = 0 (ignore the remainder).

Add up the digits you just worked out ( 3 + 2 + 0 = 5 ). This tells you how far away Doomsday is from the ‘anchor day’ for that century, which for the 20th century was Wednesday. So Wednesday + 5 days = Monday. So Doomsday for 1938 was Monday.

Again that is a lot easier to do, after a little practice, than to try and follow someone telling you about it. What’s that? A hand up at the back? How do you know the anchor day for the century? Well that is easy, for this century it is Tuesday (“Y-Tue-K”), and Wednesday for the last century, when most of us were born (“We-in-dis-day”). For the other centuries lookitup boy lookitup lookitup.

Most of the time the only years you will need to remember is this one and next (Doomsday for 2010 is Sunday, and for 2011, Monday).

This is a good skill and once you have done it a few times it is super easy. Obviously once you know the Doomsday for this year and the next you can just remember it. Who is going to ask you what day something was in 1938 anyway, but if they do and you get it wrong, just claim their memory was addled by the 60s.

So have a go. Amaze your friends, if only with how much spare time you seem to have for memorising pointless things.

The world according to keithlard

A jackdaw’s treasury of doodads, nuggets, trinkets and gewgaws. Or more prosaickally it is some things I saw and took pictures of with my electric camera.

I wonder if any rubber suited frogmen saw this sign and got mixed up about where they were supposed to go. I expect they did not. But it would have been comical if they did.

I am frightened of children as it is, but these mannequins were Doctor Who scary.

Book your places now!

Everyone’s a winner when you learn more about road safety.” This is like a joke board game from The Simpsons, that the Flandererses might play. But it is terrifyingly real. According to the box it is as exciting for children as for adults, which I have no trouble believing.

Just don’t even think about it.

A cheerful pie! It seems almost a shame to eat it.


Birthday card for k.s.

You and your goo better turn around, buddy. There’s nothing for you here.

"It's not you... it's me."

Excerpt of a letter from Npower:

We’ll break the news to your current supplier that you’re changing to npower. Please don’t stop your payments to them yet because they can stop your move if you owe them money. Of course they’ll be disappointed that you’re leaving, so please give us a call and check the facts if they try to persuade you to stay with them.”

It is almost like a romantic relationship with my energy supplier. I have to say I’ve never thought of them in those terms. I like Npower, but not in that way.

Dear Powergen,

This is the hardest letter I have ever had to write. I know I have been a little cold and distant lately, I am sorry. The fact is things are just not working out between us. I know I can be demanding, especially in bed, but you just haven’t been satisfying my need for warmth. You only seem interested in getting turned on between midnight and 7am, whereas I want you to be hot and ready all day long.

I have met someone else, on the internet. I know you will say she is cheap, but I’ve been seduced by her attractive tariffs and I feel an instant connection. Do not be upset as I am sure you will meet someone new and even better than me in the future. I think we have just both changed as people and there is not the same spark between us that there once was. I hope you can forgive me and I wish you all the best,


This night has opened my eyes

It is times like this that prove I am actually a time traveller from the past, like a sort of reverse Terminator, only a nice Terminator that chats to you over tea and buns instead of shooting you in the face. I do not know anything about pop musick and such, as I do not consume any media, or go to fashionable bars ekcetera. So it is possible for me to not know about quite major pop phenomena as long as they happened after about 1873.

I was wandering around Staples, the stationery pornographers, happily looking at little organising drawers and musing over which are the twelve best different types of pens, when there came on the radio a hideous cover version of “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”. I have heard it before, only by the Smiths, which are obviously the best band in human history, and I did want to stop it, except I could not saw through the little wires leading to the speakers.

I had to hurry home and listen to the Smiths version again just to make sure that it was still excellent. I do not think people should be allowed to do cover versions, which includes me in several of the poor quality bands that I have been in. I speak as someone who has genuinely recorded a cover of Katie Melua’s “Closest Thing To Crazy”, although thankfully I have not released it. It is safely under lock and key in a disused filing cabinet, with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.

So my point stands.

Another new single

I am feeling quite musickal at the moment, perhaps it is the rainy weather keeping me indoors. Anyway here is a track by the increasingly inaccurately-named Archway Guitar Quartet, which is me and Matt’s experimental jazz odyssey project. It is featuring Matt on guitars and rhythm programming, and me on classickal guitar.

Cheeky little gherkin

It is one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in Europe, but no-one knows its name.

(It is called 30 St Mary Axe.)

The Willis Building

It looks like I have a wide angle lens, but I cannot afford one, unless you send money to the address on your screens now. I do not though, it is the power of suggestion. Norman Foster’s beautiful curved fairground mirror, the Willis Building, reflects the Lloyd’s Building across Lime Street.

Ooh! A cheeky little gherkin is peeping out from there. That is where we are off to next in fact, courtesy of keithlard’s inquisitive lens.

New single

Well I once made a musickal record album called puresound, which was received with great critical acclaim by both people that listened to it, one of them was me though so it is not that convincing. It is just some loops and samples and things that I did in a sound editor, while drunk.

Here is some more if you liked that. It is made of some things I found while rooting through Ulrich Schnauss’s bins, but he saw me out of the window and told me to clear off. In German obviously.