Friday, November 30, 2007


I don't punt PhD comics nearly enough. The characters and situations are instantly recognisable to anyone who's been in grad school.

And, frankly, anyone who doesn't find this funny, is going to understand half my conversations.

Then there's xkcd, which I also need to punt more often. The latest example of why is here.

PRASA 2007

So, I went to PRASA in Pietermartizburg, and successfully returned. Overall, good conference.

An unsorted list of thingies.
  • The N3 to Pietermartizburg sucks. It would suck less, but probably still suck if they weren't doing construction
  • Where do all the lorries on the N3 come from?
  • Durban drivers are impolite and insane. I'm not quite sure how I managed to avoid getting the rent-a-car dinged.
  • Natal thunderstorms are impressive.
  • This is true even when the second storm of the conference is delaying takeoff
  • Photographing birds in lush vegetation is really hard
  • I'm no longer anonymous enough to avoid being roped into chairing sessions. This is both kinda cool, and really annoying
  • I failed my 'avoid involvement' roll, so I'm not going to be able to avoid being involved in the organisation of PRASA 2008
  • Both my students spoke well. I'm more relieved about this than I expected.
  • Students have a bad influence on my drinking habits
  • I'm not really complaining about the above
  • 'Did an engine fall off' as become a over-used standard joke
  • Durban airport is pleasant, but doesn't have enough through the security checkpoint

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sutekh ramblings

(Sutekh is, of course, the python Vampire card management app Simon Cross and I have been working on)

Conceptually, the app is fairly simple, and I've been largely using it as a learning bed for pygtk. Consequently, it does things by hand, rather than the often recommended "use glade" approach. Personally, for something that now as a number of dynamic aspects to the gui (ability to rearrange panes, and so on), I think glade would have become quite painful, and straight pygtk coding is fairly easy once you wrap your head around the whole container paradigm. As an vehicle for learning pygtk, it has been pretty good.

But what has surprised me is it's ability to uncover database oddities. We have to date, discovered two issues with sqlobject (both fixed), had to work around sqlite's query optimiser by throwing in extra joins, triggered a segfault in sqlite (fixed in more recent sqlite's fortunately) and hit a bug in mysql query optimiser that makes certain queries run extremely slowly. WE ahven't triggered any postgresql bugs yet (although there have been a few weirdness's with certain versions of sqlobject talking to postgresql), but have had to fix several bugs in Sutekh's code because of postgres's much more stringent SQL implementation. For not a teribly complex database app, it's quite a impressive list.

So, do other people not trigger these bugs? Are we stretching corners of the databases that many other apps just don't hit (Sutekh has a number of tables, and can involve some quite complex joins)? Do other people just stick to one db, and work around it's quirks?

I dunno, but on the other hand, it's quite pleasing to see how some of this bugs have disappeared during Sutekh's lifetime, which is always one of the strengths of FOSS.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Enough already

An open letter to the management.

To whom it may concern,

While I appreciate that, given the near-crisis strain on the region's water supply, rain should always be considered a good thing, surely you must agree that several rainy days in succession in November is pushing it. Getting wet on a motorcycle is to be endured during the Cape winters, but getting wet during prime riding season is an affront to the natural order of things.

While I will concede that today's rainbow was pretty, it's short duration, and that it occurred while I was riding, and thus unable to photograph also shows a distinct lack of proper planning.

Hoping service will improve.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Children of Dune miniseries

(or "Yes, Virginia, we are completely insane")

So, Saturday evening, the special seminar series resumed. As is often the case, it resumed with a rather ludicrously long session, but it was enjoyable. Kevin, alas, could not make it.

We started with a couple more episodes of Blood+, which continues to wobble between cool bit and excessive teenage angst, without quite falling off the fence on what it intends to be, followed by Bubba-HoTep, which, although I've seen several times before, I had not watched on a projector, and the film is certainly not hurt by the experience (although, given my fondness for the film, that's not that surprising a reaction).

We followed this with the entire Children of Dune miniseries, which took us to 5:15 am. The copy we had suffered from weird glitches, chopping and changing between grey scale and colour on several occasions, and having a few other glitches, but not so many as to be unwatchable.

The actual adaption isn't bad. There are some surprising liberties taken with the books, though, for reasons I don't quite fathom. The conflating of the Guild plots into the House Corrino plots seems pointless, and the depiction of Leto's second skin as a small smattering of sand trout on his right arm seems a completely bizarre choice. Also lost, although this probably hard to avoid with a TV adaption, is the doubt about the Preacher's identity. While in the book, it is only confirmed quite late, in the adaptation it is clear from the Preacher's first appearance.

The bit I found most objectionable is the chance in the structure of Leto and Ghani's plan. In the book, they both agree to Leto's departure, and Chani's belief in Leto's death is a deception she practices on herself. Here, it's a deception Leto practices on Ghani, which seems contrary to the spirit of the relationship.

Otherwise, as expected, lots of the detail of the mental battles is stripped out of the adaption, but, overall, it is not a bad effort at all.

Overall, I'm glad I saw it, but won't be buying the DVD anytime soon.