Monday, October 13, 2008

Design Design source code

As I mentioned before I've published all the remaining source code for the Design Design 8-bit games. They can be found here:

To make the sources useful I've written a reasonably competent Z80 cross-assembler and put that up there too - using it you can assemble the games sources to *.sxz files ready for loading into an emulator with a single click. Took months and months and... well, weeks. A week. Several days at least. OK, ok - a couple of sessions. I'm not that obsessive...

It also includes a fairly competent binary -> source code disassembler, for pulling other people's code to pieces and, ah, modifying it. Wet Set Jilly rides again...

Spectrum software development using it is almost as easy now as it used to be for us, so anyone with an interest in retro gaming should get up there and write some games... I may award a prize to anyone who can take the Forbidden Planet source and make something interesting out of it...

Have fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Yet more culls from conferences...

[Talking about why things are always exploding on the bridge in Star-Trek...]

> The bridge should be just a room full of control surfaces, with all
> the dangerous stuff in engineering. Why does *anything* on
> the bridge need to explode?

It's the inevitable consequence of software evolution. Consider - programmers are lazy and everything they do requires more computing power than it should. This trend shows no sign of ending, already with current techniques it already takes a couple of billion instructions and GHZ of CPU to do something that would have used a few instructions on a slow 8-bit CPU in the 80's. Extrapolate this trend and you'll see that in the future display consoles will routinely require multi-multi THz processor farms consuming gigawatts of power just to flash the cursor - cover the bridge in control surfaces and it'd probably have a higher energy density than engineering; any disruption to the display cooling and...

> Let's hope they don't use screensavers.

They /couldn't/ use screensavers - the ship's engines would stall.

"I need more power Scotty! Another fish just swam onto the screen..."


> You can't keep an old dog down

Depends how well it's cooked. . .


> I doubt there'll be any software by then as people may have
> finally realised what a bad idea software was...

Don't you mean software will have finally realised what a bad idea people were?


So, you expect us to believe that trees are made of wood, when any fule know that woods are made of trees ?

[misc (1995)]

Us veggies don't have this problem, everything we eat is so ashamed it stays down. . .

[a thread where someone said they liked Forbidden Planet (the game) (1995)]

Simon stared at Robs message. The possibility that anyone actually liked the damned game had not, until this moment, ever crossed his mind.

Simon felt lost, his world-picture shattered - not so much by the realisation that there was a mind warped enough to *like* FP, but rather by the crushing realisation that this mind was only a modem or two away, and furthermore it expected a reply - something that would be, *could only* be interpreted as complicity in the very existence of the damned game. . .

With a feeling of a vast, unknown, gulf opening up before him - a shadowy domain of unthinkable terrors - he poised himself ready to type, but alas, all was in vain - he couldn't think of anything suitable to write.

He swivelled, aimlessly, in his chair, drumming his fingers on the bottom of the keyboard, totally at a loss for a reply, until eventually, with an abrupt raising of his eyebrows, he turned back to the monitor and typed the first thing that came into his head. . . .


A truck jackknifed spilling its load of parenthesis onto the M6 this evening. A spokesperson said they were unavailable for comment. . .


I think that the Airbus and Windows are both cursed by arrogant and incompetent programmers, who seem unable to learn from experience :(

I'd prefer the airbus because it kills you quickly, it doesn't just grind you down and make your life into one long unproductive drudge ;)

[manned spaceflight (2004)]

What's interesting, at least to me, is that I don't know where I stand on the issue of manned spaceflight. As a kid I was all for it and very disappointed when Apollo was unceremoniously dumped, and even up to a decade or so ago I'd have agreed with Heinlein that "the earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in" and argued that it's only a matter of time before we follow the dinosaurs into oblivion if we don't get at least a breeding colony off-planet, but now, well, I'm not sure it's going to matter for much longer.

Basically, I think we're too limited a life-form to aspire to the universe. I think we'd just make a mess of the place. I think the only meaningful role 'we' have is to give birth to AI's, assuming we're capable of this. Once we've done that we'll have effectively created a race of immortals that will be able to adapt and scale themselves in ways we can't imagine, and it will be practical for them to explore and use the universe in ways that fragile bags of water cannot begin to do. So, while manned spaceflight may well be of value to us as a spiritual exercise in the short term it's probably of no long-term benefit to intelligence.

When I've rambled along these lines before I'm occasionally accused of having a very depressing outlook, but I don't regard it as such - I just think "my species, right or wrong" is as silly a notion as "my country, right or wrong". What matters, if anything matters, is that intelligence continues and prospers. . .

Mind you, having now been awake and working since some time on Saturday [2 days] it's just possible that I'm writing complete bollocks. Ho hum, back to the, no, sod it - I'm off to bed ;)

[nasa returning to the moon (2006)]

> The full Exploration Systems Architecture Study which sets out
> the current thinking for the way back to the moon

Visions of everyone resisting the urge to say "Up", except (perhaps) those resisting the urge to say "why"...

[eXtreme Programming (2004)]

> Anyone use XP here?

Well, yes, we've used many of the techniques since the early 80's, though without any of us ever feeling the urge to invent such a silly name and claim such practices were anything other than the bleedin' obvious. It never ceases to amuse me how fickle programming is, work long enough in the industry and you'll see nearly everything once regarded as good practice go out of fashion, be reviled, then be rediscovered, rebranded and ultimately subverted. Every generation of programmers seems incapable of taking anything seriously until they've renamed it. Pitiful, really.

[Countering advocacy, again, again (2002)]

> where is C now compared to the speed and richness of Delphi?

Hmm. Hah! You can't fool me, I can see it there peeking out of 'richness', third letter from the left. . .

Sorry. Seriously? I doubt I'm alone in observing that programmers who worry excessively about language issues are rarely capable of writing anything worthwhile in any language. I think designers should strive to be flexible, so I think it's usually futile to adopt the position that any particular language is better or worse than the rest other than on a case by case basis. ISTM that in reality external factors usually dominate over language preferences, ie, particular project constraints and objectives, company preferences, experience, what example code exists, what libraries are handy, which tools are available, phase of the moon, etc, etc.

I'm here because I like Delphi and find it very productive, but today I've been designing using Delphi, C++, C, assembler, schematic capture and solder. All of them suited their particular part of the application, but I could have chosen alternatives. Would I choose the same ones again for a similar application? Maybe, maybe not, I get bored so I play about. Would I recommend this to anyone else? Maybe, but I'd probably assess their application, competence and background before advising them to do exactly what they were going to do anyway.

[lasers (1995)]

Actually that was my laser, unfortunately the testicles it once fried were also mine ;)

Take my word for it folks, don't coil the wire to a gas-laser in your lap unless you're *damn* sure there are no breaks in the insulation. . .


But how can I tell the story behind the "Fried Testicles" of '83 without revealing my complicity in the "Red UFO Sightings in Clwyd" of '83, "UFO's - The Welsh Triangle" of '84 and '85 and even the sorry tale of the "Illuminated Police car in Garage Forecourt" of '86 ?

Is the world ready for the truth behind the young software house that drove around Northern England and N.Wales at night pointing lasers at road signs, pedestrians, into peoples bedrooms, across valleys at farmhouses and (occasionally) straight into occupied police cars ?

I think not.

And if, as the rumours have it, one night the insulation broke down on their laser PSU and it repeatedly stuffed 10KV spikes into the lap of the unfortunate bugger in the passenger seat while everyone else in the car had hysterics and were unable or unwilling to help, well, it could only be regarded as divine retribution. . .

(But how the memory lingers - pinhole burns, the smell of burnt pork, muscle spasms, frantic scrambling, pain, and over it all, the laughter, their damned, damned laughter)

Urgh, never again :)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Old games sources...

As requested here are some more of the olde games source files. And a few other bits and pieces that fell off the disks while I was rummaging in the archives...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More culls from conferences

From cix (18 Apr 2003)

> hardly stressing the I/O on a mega128...

Yes, usually lots of I/O to go round on those. Mind you, that's no excuse for leaving it idle - I'm reminded of the time I had a 'phone call from some engineer who was practically incoherent with laughter having found my telephone number and a fairly raunchy message being output in morse on an unused output pin buried inside some embedded gear. . .

From cix (27 Mar 2005)

This reminds me (painfully) of a guy (Wookie) I used to work with back in the early 80's. He made serial ports that derived their timing from RC oscillators and was forever tweaking pots to get the damned things to work...

Back then we (Design Design) all lived and worked in a large victorian house in Manchester, and since Wookie was a radio ham, and I had various home-brew computers running noisily in the room next to him, we occasionally came into conflict - he was of the new-fangled opinion that computers shouldn't generate RFI, and I was of the old-fangled opinion that it was a minor miracle that the damned things ran at all, let alone that they should be expected to do so when enclosed in metal boxes.

The upshot of this was an uneasy compromise with Wook's aerials living in the attic and the attic floor and various walls of my room covered with aluminium foil.

On one memorable occasion Wookie had put some effort into designing some hardware/software to sit on the end of his comms receiver and decode morse transmissions, so that instead of learning morse you could just read the stuff in plaintext on a terminal. Why you should wish to do this at all is something that I never understood, but that's radio hams for you... Anyway, it occurred to me that some response was called for in honour of this, so while he was developing his morse decoder I quietly spent a few hours knocking up a piece of Z80 code to run on a small prototyping board and generate morse from text, and which would also drive a TTL port line up and down as fast as possible to generate enough electrical noise to transmit this signal... Generate a squarewave at several hundred KHz and there are bound to be harmonics all over the amateur bands, he's sure to stumble over one of them... Not expecting much success I left it repeatedly transmitting a loop of text.

The next day, with a few of us watching over his shoulder, he proudly tuned around the amateur bands hunting for morse signals and showing us his decoder locking onto them and decoding the morse. It was actually quite impressive, hand-sent morse can be a bugger to decode as the baud-rate varies so much. Eventually he happened across a very weak signal that faded in and out as we listened...

"Very weak, might be coming from the other side of the world" said Wook, "That'll be a good test!"

"Might be coming from the other side of the wall" thought crem...

Now, the message that *should* have been sent was [rummage in archived code]:


... which were phrases Wook had used the day before, plus a joke callsign, so I thought it wouldn't take him long to suss out they were from one of us. But I'd fucked up the lookup table in my code, so one of the letters was sent incorrectly. Add to this some errors from the decoder and gradually a confused message built up on screen.

"This is weird - sounds like someone I used to know, he used to say that about shit. Wish the signal was stronger, fading in and out like that means it must be coming from a long way away"

Frantic re-tuning from Wook. Frantic stifled giggling from crem.

"...Hmmmm. You know, I'm _sure_ I know this guy... he must have moved abroad... Hang on a second..."

A fair while passed, with Wook becoming more and more confused by this 'foreign' transmission and coming up with ever more bizarre explanations for its origin/purpose... Eventually, however, there was a dramatic pause as Wook started to realise he'd been had, which gave me enough of a head start to get away... Though it was touch and go - he was only a few feet behind after we'd descended three flights of stairs, nearly got me at the front door and would have caught me on the street if he'd been wearing shoes ;)

What's that got to do with pots, I hear you ask? My enduring memory of Wook is him standing over his prototype morse decoder and fiddling with various pots as he tried to decode this obscure foreign transmission.

( The original source code can be found near the bottom of this page: Source code )

From cix (7 June 2005)

And introducing crem's N+1'th law: "if you let someone else get involved with something simple, it will become complicated"...

From cix (22 Aug 2005)

We were warned - the people who introduced us to this application were fairly skeptical about putting anything technological in front of nurses.
Their opening remark was along the lines of:

"If you put a nurse in a locked room with two ball bearings she'd break one and lose the other"

From cix (8 Sep 2005)

This thread reminds me of the time I dragged myself out of bed and down to the kitchen at Des-Des towers (an otherwise unremarkable three-floor victorian dwelling in Manchester, where Design-Design used to lurk) and found a strange woman** sitting on a vibrating washing machine with a grin on her face. Being naive I asked her what was so enjoyable about the experience and was told more about internal sex aids than I needed to know... I decided against having eggs for breakfast.

Shortly after that one of the other guys arrived and, being even more callow than I was, offered to help redistribute the unbalanced load. This was not appreciated.

** I knew her very well - she was just strange.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Language fascists

I've been watching programmers parading their miserable ignorance again. The sort of playground squabble "My language is better than your language, my compiler's smarter than your compiler and my dad's bigger than your dad!" type of nonsense that would terminally embarrass a normal five year old, in other words the sort of reasoning few programmers ever advance beyond. Useless fuckers.

Grump. Snarl.

Think they'd understand if I show them allegorically how close their bigoted nastiness is to racism/sexism? No, it'd go wheeee-splat over their empty little heads. Tiresome pillocks... Gah...

[How about... Ponder...]

Heard the one about the programmer who loved and was fluent in C, the programmer who loved and was fluent in Pascal and the programmer who loved and was fluent in assembler?

When she wasn't writing software she was a pretty damned good hardware designer as well...

[Hmmm. Should I stop there? Would the target audience understand how much that exposes their stupid, narrow-minded prejudice? Would they even notice? Hmmm... Needs more...]

One day a stranger, a programmer of the modern ilk, who had travelled long weary years across the desert seeking enlightenment, laden down with objects and paradigms of the most exquisite kind, so wise in the ways of templates they were utterly incapable of actually writing code, arrived at her tent and, pausing unknowingly before the solution to all the questions he could possibly dream of having answered, saw only the dusky maiden; "Is your master about? And get me a drink could you, chop chop..."

And so the closest they came to enlightenment was the sound of one hand slapping...

[Too verbose. Far too verbose... Why do I waste my time on these people?]

** with that thought, crem is enlightened **

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Spat in me kitchen

It's new kitchen time. Whoopie... I left the project entirely to She Who Can't Be Ignored, but today she pinned me down and waved a book full of central heating radiators at me. I never could have imagined there were so many ways to design something that is essentially a tube with fins.

"Do you like this one?"

"It's fine. It's a radiator, what about it?"

"But do you like it? It's cheaper than the other one"

[Alarm bells start ringing]

"Cheaper? How much was the other one?"

"About two, well, no, slightly over two - depending on the colour"

"Over two what?"

"Two thousand. But don't worry, I wouldn't pay that much for a radiator, it's absurd. This one's only about a thousand..."

[crem is speechless for quite a while]

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I've been working on a fairly complicated data capture system of late, and major parts of this system are the transceivers which are responsible for talking to sensors over a wireless link. Each transceiver can handle a couple of hundred sensors, so they're fairly busy and (trust me on this) fairly complicated...

All the parts of this system have unique serial numbers, which the various protocols use to identify them. These serial numbers are really just that - numbers - but in order to reduce the scope for confusion and detect errors I've encoded them as a set of characters. One example is JM99-K634.

"Why is he boring us with all this?" I hear you ask.

Because purely by chance, the system has just decided to use the identifier AE35 for a transceiver... Fans of 2001 will understand that this is not auspicious. I think I'll pretend that one doesn't exist...


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Several bible mysteries solved.

I had an epiphany today, a profound religious insight - God, being perfect, must work in binary - after all one could hardly imagine a supreme being going round using messy decimal.

From this insight several mysteries of the bible are at once explained. Remember Moses receiving the two tablets containing the ten commandments, and how he broke them before anyone else saw them? That always struck me as suspicious behaviour.

What I now suspect really happened is that god called him up the mountain to collect the "10" commandments, but when working in binary "10" means two, not ten. Two tablets for two commandments makes perfect sense.

However, Moses (who's expecting ten commandments because he's not accustomed to binary) is a bit overawed during the meeting and doesn't notice he's only come away with two commandments until it's too late to go back. Thinking he's misplaced the rest, and not wanting to look like a complete idiot in front of the entire tribe of Israel, he makes eight commandments up on the way back down and then breaks the two tablets to cover this up.

God was understandably put out by this and sulked his way through the rest of the old testament, cheering up only after his son moved out (most parents do). Speaking of the son, Jesus is reported to have said "all of the law hangs on these two commandments"... What more proof could be required there were only two?

So, all we have to do now is work out which of the ten commandments are the real ones; then, with a bit of luck, we can safely covet our neighbour's asses and maybe even join them in a spot of adultery. This should swell the congregations, after a few months anyway, and give the choirboys a well deserved rest...

It should be noted that under this theory the eleventh commandment "Thou shalt not get caught" would be the third. But as "11" in binary is three, that works out. This cannot just be coincidence! Praise de lord!!

["Lines are open now. Dial 010-10011010 to make a donation"]

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I'd say you couldn't make this up, but someone did...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Silicon lifeforms

Interspersed with the general grumbling today was: "The more legs a chip has, the more like the luggage it behaves..."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A month ago I was writing software for a bloody modem that didn't want to behave and I thought I was pissed off. Hah. A month ago I didn't know what pissed off really meant...

Somehow I've let myself get talked into writing the software for a complete piece of shite, yet again involving a cellular modem that doesn't want to behave, and I'm utterly sick of the whole fucking process. This project was sold to me as being a small change to an existing product, something that would only take a couple of days to do, whereas it actually turns out to be a major change with all sorts of dire consequences and awkward problems for the software to overcome. There's no way on earth I'd have agreed to do this if I hadn't been comprehensively mislead about what was going to be involved. The hardware is horrible, the modem is horrible and I'm really not in the fucking mood to wade through this sort of unreliable crap again.

What really pisses me off is that I'm now having to turn away other designs in order to make time for this joke, and I know it's not got a cat in hell's chance of ever working properly. I feel like I'm pouring my life down the fucking drain...

Sunday, April 27, 2008


A friend of mine was nearly sacked last week for having his wife phone him at work to say she was stuck in traffic.

"Huh?" I hear you ask - "how does that work?"

Well, you need a few particular circumstances. First you have to work for an American company. Second, said company needs to have a system where phone calls to your works phone are automatically run through speech recognition software which turns them into e-mails and sends them out to you, and thirdly your wife needs to have an accent which causes American speech recognition software to think "stuck in" is really "fucking"... i.e. no particular accent whatsoever.

Add to that mix a company policy where emails containing swearwords get flagged up and sent to all and sundry and you're, um, fu... in the deep, ah, well, you're completely, um. Whatever.

The part I find most amazing is not that the software fu-umbled the words, but that they think he's responsible for the language used (or not as it happens) by someone who called him... And that's from people who appear to have declared war on the wrong country because they can't tell the difference between Iran and Iraq.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Programmers (again, again...)

Quote of the day:

"In my darker moments I think I could print out some of my source code, eat the listing, digest it and then shit something which would have more programming competence than most of the programmers I've met... The rest of the time I think that any sort of roughage would do"

I wasn't in a good mood. After a week long battle with some anonymous programmer's bugs in a modem, or in the network, whatever, I find myself moving onto the next project and guess what that involves? Chasing problems with another fucking modem.

"Quick - blow your raspberry!"


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Orange GPRS

I'm going to start swearing in a minute, read no further if the phrase "[expletive deleted]" offends you... Oh, sorry, too late.

For the last week I've been running round in circles trying to sort out the problems we've been having with GPRS modems on a design that had to be working for an exhibition - the usual last minute panic sort of thing. I finished the software for this project last Thursday and it was working well. I tested it a few times on Thursday morning without problems, then, just before I was due to pass it over to the customer that afternoon it stopped making GPRS connections. Since then I've had embarrassing meeting with them, spent all day at their site trying to find out what the fucking problem was, had to write support for a completely different type of packet radio carrier so that they could demonstrate the product and generally been stressed to fuck and made to look like a complete amateur.

On Friday we asked Orange technical support if they knew of any reason why their GPRS enabled SIMs should stop working, and they said no. Nor did the modem supplier, who looked at our setup strings, etc, and couldn't see what we were doing wrong.

Today I find out that Orange rolled out a change to their network software on Thursday afternoon, and guess what? We were the first, but other people are now reporting that their GPRS modems no longer work with Orange sims...

So, thanks Orange, you stupid, useless [expletive deleted]. I feel like killing someone. It's bad enough that they break GPRS, but there is no fucking excuse whatsoever for denying that they knew what could have caused the problem.

The last week has been hell. I'm so pissed off with these arseholes I can't really express it.

On mature reflection I removed the term [expletive deleted] and replaced it with [expletive deleted]... Oh, poot.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Programmers Involved; Garbage Out

Says it all, really.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I was catching up on the messages on a conferencing system by flicking through the unread messages when I came across the following comment:

> Isn't C -> C#m a bit of a wrench?

Which had me wondering what the hell the computer language C#m was and why the hell anyone would think the world needs yet another flavour of C to contend with when I realised that it was a music conference and they were talking about chords...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I'm fucking fed up. Very fucking fed up, in fact. So utterly fucking fed up that I can't be bothered to write about it...


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jodrell Bank

Oh, wonderful - some bunch of idiots have decided that rather than stump up an extra few million quid, probably less the amount our politicians spend each year on prostitutes, they'll close Jodrell Bank... Brilliant.

When I heard this I naturally assumed that this piece of stupidity had to be down to the technophobic luddites in power, but no, it appears that the decision was made by a bunch of scientists forced to assign priorities to research... Hmmm.... I smell a rat - why would anyone with a brain pick on something so noticeable? Something we actually do that's still world class?

Ah - I see, I was being a bit dozy there; the public probably won't stand for Jodrell Bank being closed, when they might well have ignored the demise of a few less well known projects, so choosing it makes sense. Bet the money appears from somewhere fairly soon...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They're watching, Pt2

Another story idea I might as well throw away, having sat on it since 1990 (had it while reading T.Pratchett's Moving Pictures)...

(Bloody IE crashed and lost this, so this version is terse, sorry)

Postulate a benign galactic civilization. They watch but don't interfere with primitive civilizations. Prime directive, etc, etc.

They're ethical, for values of... never mind.

Postulate that the only basis of currency exchange for any large scale civilization is information.

Postulate that they've solved the digital rights issues for information, and because they're ethical they don't just steal cultural items from primitive cultures but let the credits gained from recordings, or whatever, be held in trust until such time as the civilization becomes sufficiently advanced to join the community.

So, what sort of information would they gather? Or value? The equivalent of popular entertainment? Cultural items? Great plays, works of fiction and the like may translate well and be popular in the rest of the universe. For all we know the whole multiverse is busy watching Neighbours... No, that's going too far. Back to reality...

Following on from that we have the story, a pair of Crysteel and Danstor types[1] arriving at Terry Pratchett's door one night to tell him that because of the popularity of The Diskworld books, translated into a few tens of thousand languages and distributed across the entire multiverse, he now owns roughly half the entire universe and if he doesn't come along quietly and spend some of it the galactic economy is going to crash... Sir.

[1] Characters from an amusing early Clark first contact from the aliens POV story.

They're Watching

Assume for a second there are alien technological civilizations and they're so bored that they watch us. Low probability but not quite zero.

How do you find them? Large radio telescope arrays? Nope - dustpan and brush... Find somewhere they'd be sure to be interested in, sweep the place and have a damned good look at the debris you find... If they're using nano-technology some of the dust will be, ah, 'interesting'... (Why assume nano? Because if it's larger we'd see it, and smaller probably wouldn't resolve wavelengths they'd be interested in. I suspect it'd be hard enough to pick up sounds with anything too small to see with the naked eye, let alone nanoscale, for example).

But there'd be a lot of dust to look at and a lot of false positives to eliminate, so ideally you'd want to know roughly where to look in order to concentrate the effort, so then I wondered if a world conspiracy of intelligent and enlightened governments[1] couldn't get together to create an international event of such magnitude that any thinking creature would be unable to resist monitoring it - and voila - as if by magic we arrive at the only plausible explanation for the Eurovision song contest.

Maybe not...

(I had the basic idea a while back as the first part of a spoof SF story where we start out looking for alien monitoring and wind up inventing very bad tempered and belligerent artificial intelligence as a result of the code that was written to perform the data analysis on the garbage collected getting smarter... Don't worry about it. It was going to be one of set of paradoxical solutions to the Fermi paradox, but I'll never get round to writing any of them... My favourite was health and safety (H&S) - and if you don't understand the connection between H&S organisations and the reason why there are no advanced civilizations out there count yourself lucky. While you're still allowed to do anything as dangerous as counting, that is...

I've been pondering some ideas for spoof stories about H&S bods coping with a multispecies future society, shades of James White's Sector General stuff... But they're something else the world will have to struggle to get along without, I suspect.)

[1] Spot where the surrealism takes over.

Cthulonic irrigation

My subconscious (which is often a lot less sub than I'd like it to be) just dumped the phrase "cthulonic irrigation" into the buffer and then retreated, giggling quietly sotto voce... If you don't who/what Cthulu was, or why you wouldn't invite it in the back door, count yourself lucky.

I have no context for this at all, and Google doesn't appear to recognise the phrase, though that could be the work of the old ones. Or my spelling.

I worry myself, sometimes...


Having just tried this 'ere winter vomiting disease out I can say without any doubt that it is not worth having - just say "NeuuurrrggGGggghh-h-h-h"

Busy as hell and two days down the drain feeling as bad as I ever have, urgh. Normal grumpyness will be resumed as soon as I can work up the energy...

Oh, speaking of energy we found out last week a certain Tokamak research reactor is currently off-line because some of our electronics failed[1], oops. And me a strong advocate of nuclear fusion. Bollocks... Not a good week, considering :(

[1] Not our fault, just a batch of shitty capacitors that fail when used well within spec. I suspect even Richard could manage to blow one of these useless bastards up.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ah, the sweet innocence of newly stuffed boards...

... I love it. That happy and carefree feeling the first PCB's of a new project have when they arrive on the desk, populated and ready but so far unsullied by the ravages of software. I like to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation with them, a brief interlude of peace and sanity before battle commences.

But it can't last, and - oh - how quickly they lose that innocence and acquire an air of malevolent cunning and sublime evilness when you start having to make the damned things work.

Cover me, I'm going in!

[Five processors to programme, the boards arrive after the deadline has already elapsed, estimated six weeks of software required, it's dark and I'm wearing sunglasses]

"Then take the fucking sunglasses off, crem"

"Oh. Sorry"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Neuron Free Zone

Came across a book today called "The case against nuclear power", or somesuch. "Hmmm" I thought, "I bet such a case could be reasonably made, but not as much as I'd bet this book doesn't and if I open this at random I'll find some fear-mongering total bollocks on the first page I read".

Tsk, Crem, very pessimistic - didn't need to read the whole page - the first line I read was "the noble gasses are dangerous gamma ray emitters"... Wrong.

I read the paragraph, and a few others, just to see if they understood about isotopes and were qualifying this absurd statement in some way, but no. Pig-fucking-ignorant...

Flicking through the book showed that the author was both functionally innumerate (no sign they had a clue what half-life even meant, or even that longer half-lives imply less intense radiation, not more) and ignorant of even very basic chemistry and physics, so why the hell they thought they were qualified to write on the subject escapes me... But isn't that always the way? I don't mind the fact that people can (if they so choose) remain ignorant of fundamental, trivial mathematics and physics. I do mind them casually turning their stupid prejudice into disinformation... The really annoying thing about all this is the way this sort of self-satisfied ignorance and stupidity is going to kill us all in the name of environmentalism. Gah...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dumb xians

Turn the news on - first mistake. Second mistake was watching; the god-botherers were out in force.

Started with a report on the 'miraculous' survival of an 11-month old baby caught in a tornado. "It was a miracle. God sure was looking after him" says some red-neck moron completely overlooking the fact that the very same god had just brutally murdered his mother and torn him from her arms... Ineffable? Very fucking effable if you ask me.

This was then followed by a report of the head of the Church of England advocating the adoption of sharia law in the UK. Well, not all of it, perhaps - we'll pick and choose and leave the stoning and beheading part out for now. Maybe keep the killing of princesses bits, I suppose, that seems to resonate with the national character.

Gah. I wondered dimly what the head of the C of E is doing advocating Islam, but I suppose it makes sense, after all they're really all on the same side - sky fairy worshipping nutters all.

Hmmm. So we should be allowed to choose which laws apply to us now, should we? Fine. I do that anyway, to be honest; it'd be nice to have it formalised... Programmers could choose a legal system that expresses everything in hexadecimal:

"Can't nick me for speeding, ossifer, I was only doing 5F and it's a 70 limit..."

Mind you, I think I'd rather be nicked than declare myself a programmer. No, it'll never work.

Turned the news off before I could get even more depressed...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sexy xians

I've just half-convinced someone that "the sermon on the mount" is so-called not because it took place on high ground, but because the original (unexpurgated) text makes reference to the delights of the female form.

And that "doggy position" is nothing to do with dogs, but a corruption of "dodgy position" (I won't go into why)...

Bad Crem. Naughty...

Hacker foxes

Recently I've become involved with the design of the control electronics for a device that speeds up the process of turning food waste into compost - let it not be said that my life is entirely dull and uninteresting - but before I arrived on the scene a previous incarnation of this hardware managed to fail (a fuse blew and stopped a heater from working) and instead of turning garbage into compost, it then did a very good job of turning garbage into flies. Lots of flies. Lots and lots of flies...

Since this particular machine was sited in the grounds of a hospital this wasn't seen by everyone as an entirely good thing, and eventually the fact that the hospital was overrun with flies came to the attention of the health and safety people who then lept into action to find some way to assign the blame. Eventually a report emerged, which amongst other things suggested the cause of the failure could possibly be hackers. Or foxes. Or (presumably) hacker foxes.

Now, foxes aren't usually noted for their hacking skills, so it rather surprises me that they could manage to hack their way into the software on this machine, which doesn't have any connection to the outside world at all. There's very little software, and it's not changeable. There's no network interface. There's no serial port. There's no keyboard. There are a couple of buttons, but press them as much as you like and you won't find a way to blow the heater fuse... So beware the hacker fox, 'ees a clever bugger...

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Mouse

This cheeky little bugger just ran across the living room floor while I was working on my laptop... Had an interesting few minutes catching it, the bloody things are fast.

After a text-book double take, when it realised I was there, it disappeared under a settee. When I lifted this up I was treated to a contemptuous "Is that in the rules? Are you allowed to do that?" look... Clearly this mouse was one up on the usual run of the mill rodent. After that we had a chase up and down the curtains, behind radiators and under various cupboards before I finally outsmarted it (a close run thing) by setting up my electronic mouse trap in one part of the room and then going and making a lot of noise in another... I swear there was a very pissed-off sounding "Squeak!" a second or so after the trap clicked shut.

Suppose I'd better evict it then. Another trip down to the village churchyard in the middle of the night, soon the locals are going to start talking...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Rat

Take one cuddly toy rat, as shown above, and tie it to the kitchen door with fine fishing wire arranged so that when She Who Must Be Obeyed opens the door it will 'run' across a work top in front of her.

Set this up before you go to sleep and you are practically guaranteed to wake up to the sound of screaming.

Of course, it could be your own if you wake up when the contents of the washing up bowl are thrown over you. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

China trade

So, on the day that the rags start shouting recession the idiot in charge of the country states that boosting trade with China will create tens of thousands of UK jobs. That means tens of thousands more people employed selling goods made in China, presumably.

Does it take much intelligence to understand how utterly fucking useless those jobs are and how fast they'll disappear when the oil finally runs out and the pound crashes?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Today Richard demonstrated he can't even blow up a capacitor properly.

"We're going to blow up a capacitor, want to watch?"

Now, anyone else would ask "why?" at this point, but experience suggests that I wouldn't like the answer, so after due consideration I downed tools and followed him. A very alert observer might have noticed the pause.

In his room he'd already attached wires to the capacitor, which was potted inside a box as part of some device or other. I suppose the idea was to see how safe the device was if this capacitor ever decided to explode in normal use, but as I say, I didn't ask.

A power supply was attached, connected backwards across the poor cap and switched on. Cue rapid exit from room... The power supply quickly ramped up to about 4 volts and about 3 amps.

"Twelve watts? It's not going to last long" I opined, from the doorway.

"About... now, I'd expect" I ventured, after several seconds had passed with no visible result.

"Any time now..."


After about a minute at 12W I wandered in and wound up the supply up to full power, which was about 20W. People started to cower...

A minute or so passes, with nothing visible happening.

"Twenty watts? I don't believe it..."

I wander over to the device and feel it - it's distinctly warm... No smoke, but I do start to smell a rat - "You did disconnect the cap from the rest of the circuit, didn't you?"


Gah... Bloody capacitor's probably laughing itself silly while the rest of the circuit dumps all the power.

Wrong end of the shtick?

The loonies otherwise known as Scientologists appear to have a strange idea of promotion, given that Tom Cruise's promotional video is not supposed to be seen by anyone outside the church... Hmmm.

You can understand why they'd want their ridiculous ideas suppressed though.

Absurdity here

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Health and safety

I've just been told some H&S flunkie thinks that my office is dangerous because I'm using extension leads and have too many plugs connected to a single socket.

Sighing, I point out that it's test gear and the whole lot only takes a couple of amps.

"Aha! But what if the cleaner comes along and plugs a vacuum cleaner in as well?"

I point out that it would need an extra two and a half vacuum cleaners to get up to 13 amps. Or a vacuum cleaner and an electric kettle, or... but no - it's pointless trying to use reason in these circumstances.

"Doesn't matter. You can plug lots of thirteen amp plugs into that extension, and overload it"

I point out that it doesn't actually fucking well matter (I've skipped a bit; I'd reached very pissed off by this point) what you plug in to the damned thing because it's only got a thirteen amp fuse in the plug at the end, so the worst you could do with an overload, however unlikely, would be to blow the fuse. That's what fuses are for, for fuck's sake. That's why we have them... But no, this doesn't work either:

"All those wires constitute a trip hazard"

"Huh? It's under a fucking desk, who's going to trip over it? Pinoccio? The seven dwarfs?"

"Anyone could fall over it after the cleaner has pulled it out to plug their vacuum cleaner in..."

From there on it degenerated. Because of this fucking moron and his H&S nazi friends it is no longer possible to use extension cables in an office - not because of any real danger, but because of some inane set of pseudo-scentific rules dreampt up by some innumerate and illogical pillocks somewhere, which cannot be disputed... What the hell is the world coming to?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Olde Highscore tables

While rummaging through old files I came across the highscore tables for the last mainstream game I designed (back in 1986?)... Could anyone not have read this and realised I'd had enough of writing games?

I see children with vacant stares
I thought I heard them say . . .
Don't think sorry's easily said
The price of infamy , the edge of insanity
Talking 'bout stupid things
She is dancing away from you now
Take me for a fool if you feel that's right
Or a whipping boy , someone to despise
Please don't look at me this way

It's coming for me thro' the trees
And you may ask yourself
Wonder why . . what makes me rise so high
Surely you know-the chance has gone by
And my spirit is crying for leaving

We're not scared to lose it all
Security gone to the wall
Future dreams we have to realise
A thousand critics hands
Won't keep us from the things we plan
While we cling to the Things we prize
And do you feel scared - I do
But I won't stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better
Treating this as though it was
The last , the final game
Get to christmas and feel no regret
It may take a little time
A lonely path , an uphill climb
Success or failure cannot alter us

[And this text was hidden from the user in memory but followed on]

Oh well , excuse me , I have some ageing & dying to be getting on with.

Global warming

Just about every time I've looked at the news for the last few years there have been scenes of excitable foreign types burning something. Flags, cars, buildings, effigies, churches, people... No wonder we suffer from global warming.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Smoking gun

One of my amplifiers has blown up... Sob.

Quite possibly the best audio power amplifier in the world one minute, a 50V DC power supply the next... Thank the gods I have electrostatic speakers with DC blocking capacitors inside 'em or Jan would have found herself in the front garden beating off one of the cones.

Gah. I blame Bielzibabe - if it wasn't for him poking his fingers into everything I would have to put the amplifiers into a cupboard, and they wouldn't overheat.

Teach me to wind the bias current up for winter, I suppose...

Van Manisong

I was moved by an incident a while back to pen an ode to the white van man:

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

You drove onto the motorway
Like it was a parking lot
You immediately made for the outside lane
As if you'd reserved a spot

You had one eye in the mirror
But god alone knows why
Nothing you see there alters your driving
Alters your driving and...

Driving a van
You probably think that lane's reserved for you
Driving a van
I'll bet you think that lane's reserved for you
Don't you? Don't you?

You'd have had me several years ago
When I was still quite naive
Well I've learned since then you haven't a clue
And that you will always weave

Perhaps you'd give way to the ones you love
only none of them are real
Ignoring our screams
You were drinking some coffee
Drinking some coffee and....

Driving a van
You probably think that lane's reserved for you
Driving a van
I'll bet you think that lane's reserved for you
Don't you? Don't you?

Well somehow you must have passed a driving test
Perhaps you took a gun?
And now you race your van on the public roads
Endangering us for fun

Well, you're in the wrong lane all of the time
And like as not you're right
Up the arse of
The poor sod in front
Poor sod in front, and...

Driving a van
You probably think the road's reserved for you
Driving a van
I'll bet you think the road's reserved for you
Don't you? Don't you?

However, someone called Felix Dennis, in a book titled 'When Jack Sued Jill: Nursery Rhymes or Modern Times' has done it rather better:

(To the tune of Old King Cole)

White Van Man has a very white van
And a very white van has he,
Except for the dents and the rust by the vents
And some very rude graf-ee-teeeee.

He drives in his van as fast as he can
And he neither hears nor sees,
He clings to his phone like a dog with a bone
While he steers with one of his kneeeees.
He picks his nose while the tailback grows
And yacks to his front seat crew,
But a fool so rash as to honk or flash
Will receive his fingers twooooo.

Oh, White Van Man has a very wide clan
Who profess no Highway Code,
They'll shunt your rear and yell in your ear
As they U-turn in the roooooad.
He stamps on his brakes when he overtakes
As he cuts up you and me,
For White Van Man has a very white van...
And a very white van has heeeee!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Software challenge?

While watching scrapheap challenge it occurred to me that we should do a software version so that programmers wouldn't feel left out.

Something along the lines of having them trawl the web for scraps of obsolete and buggy source code, then bodging these poorly-understood fragments together to make a flakey application that can be made to do something badly after only an hour of tinkering, and which is then thrown away as useless.

We could call it "programming"...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Who watches the watches?

Richard has just, in passing, mentioned that his watch claims to have 27 jewels.

"We're paying him too much"

"We're paying him?"


"Hang on, it can't have 27 jewels"

"Why ze 'ell not?"

"Well, they're bearings aren't they? One at each end of a shaft? How the hell does it manage to have an odd number of the damned things?"

Richard is currently attacking the poor thing with a screwdriver...

He'd be better off clicking here...

Artificial sarcasm

It used to be the custom for mathematicians, philosophers and the like to encode their ideas and discoveries as cryptic anagrams so they could later supply the original text to establish their priority.

Today I was idly reading part of Wikipedia and was amused, and very nearly annoyed to discover a couple of places where other people were being given credit for inventing things that I'd done years before... One example was syntax highlighting in text editors, the others were in a similar vein [1]. Well, my development tools still do one or two useful things that programmers haven't yet thought of and it struck me that I really ought to get the olde anagram generator out and encode the ideas so that I can use them in my dotage to support claims of "Idiots - I was doing that forty years ago!" and suchlike profoundly unhelpful but satisfying remarks.

Unfortunately the first anagram it came up with started "Oh dear me, holier-than-thou..." (that's not the complete wording, no point decoding it) which I took as a hint and abandoned the whole enterprise.

But what the hell - here's one for you all to be going on with. Decode this and untold millions of programmers will bang their heads on their desks with cries of "Why the fuck didn't anyone else think of that?"

"Oh dear me! Damnation, the stealthier acuteness"

Mind you, it's probably easier to just get me pissed and ask nicely.

[1] Of course, I could just edit the entries in Wikipedia, but somehow changing them to "Actually, Design Design invented this in..." seems a little bit too sad. Besides, who's to say we were the first? Good ideas that give a commercial advantage are not openly discussed. The whole idea's intrinsically flawed and offensive.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The big bang?

While explaining some cosmology to my daughter:

"You have to understand that most of the astronomers involved were men. It was probably quite a small bang really"...