Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The Great War...in Colour

Check out these colour photographs of the Great War. Very strange to see it in anything other than black-and-white.

Families Make Men Uncreative

A study has found that marriage & children kill creativity in men. This is not too surprising: why would a man satisfied with life have any further drive?

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Floating the Keg

Tonight I finished the first beer I brewed after my advanced homebrewer’s course—a beer I brewed back in late July. It was the best beer I’ve ever made: light copper, sweet with a very slight thickness (just enough to give it some body), a bit of an acid bite and some bitterness to more than balance, with some hop nose and a lot of hop flavour. It was excellent for a few months, although to be honest the last few it’s not been that great, although it did clarify nicely. Well, on to the next beer: a Scotch ale made with peat-smoked malt!

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Thanksgiving at a Restaurant

For the first time ever, my parents had Thanksgiving not at their or a relative’s house—instead, we went to Le Central and had their Thanksgiving prix fixe menu. Their reasons were probably three-fold: first, last year broke our Thanksgiving habits (not a single Uhl boy was on this continent, or even in this hemisphere: two in Berlin, one in Greece & one chasing pirates in the Indian Ocean); second, there are only two boys here in town now; and third, they returned from a trip just a week ago.

Overall I have to say I liked it. No mess, no stress, no worry. I did miss my mom’s rolls—but it seems to me that overall the ease of eating out is quite addictive. And really, when one factors in the cost of special ingredients and so forth, is cooking a fancy dinner at home really that much cheaper?

Gentlemen Now-abed Shall Hold Their Manhoods Cheap

This morning my brother John and I set forth on a noble quest, determined to conquer or die in the attempt. Our goal: to set foot in every light rail station in Denver. We brought along our bicycles, in order to explore the environs around each station (find the entrances & the exits, discover which restaurants and merchants might be found nearby and so forth). Despite man trials and tribulations, we succeeded, and we two, we happy two, we pair of brothers have managed a feat few have done.

King of the Disposalls

Last night after I got home I discovered the my disposall (really, an In-Sink-Erator) had gone to the great golden appliance warehouse in the sky, and thus I set upon fixing it. Two trips to the hardware store and several hours later, I am the proud owner of a wonderful model, one aimed squarely at the yuppie market: two-stage grinding, noise baffles, vibration-damping mounts. It evens comes in a tasteful colour (amusing in something which is hidden away…)! Sure, my wallet’s a bit lighter, but that’s why I have a household budget after all. And I must admit that it is well and truly sweet.

Introducing Mom and Dad to the Light Rail

Yesterday I introduced the mater & pater to Denver’s new light rail line; we drove from their house to the Dry Creek Station, purchased our tickets the rode to the Colorado Station, boarded the 40 north and got off at Alameda & Colorado, walking the rest of the way to office; after a brief stop there we took the 3 west to Cherry Creek Mall, where we did some light shopping and ate lunch. Finally we took the 24 south to University Station, and headed home.

It was their first time to ride light rail in this town, and I think that they enjoyed it. Should public transit make sense for them, they’re likely to take advantage of it.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Hedy Lamarr

I just want to point out that this woman invented frequency-hopped spread-spectrum radio:

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr on a Couch

Now that’s a geek’s dream girl!

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Why Chinese is So Damn Hard

Found a great explanation of why Chinese is so difficult to learn. Some of the points aren’t quite fair—e.g. the fact that it’s not Indo-European doesn’t make any difference to, say, a Cherokee—but others are quite insightful.

Oddly enough, I kinda want to learn Chinese now…

Monday, 20 November 2006

Europeans Removing Traffic Signs

From Europe comes a strange new trend: the elimination of traffic signs. Small towns are repaving the roads with cobblestones and taking down all traffic signs, signals and painted markers, instead relying on good sense and mutual respect between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. If it works, it sounds very cool indeed—but I can’t help but be reminded of earlier utopian schemes. Still, it’s well-worth investigation.

70 Things to Say When Losing a Technical Argument

From Mr. Bad comes a list of things to say when one is losing a technical argument. I particularly like #17: yes, I believe that’s the approach Windows NT is taking.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Light Rail Opens

Yesterday Southeast Light Rail opened, and a new era dawned for the Denver area. It’s now possible to travel from the suburbs into downtown and never enter a car—for many of us, it’s possible to do so without even a bus ride: just walk to the station, buy a ticket, board and ride in comfort & safety.

All is not perfect: the County Line Station sits right next to Park Meadows Mall, but there’s no way to walk there. RTD employees revealed to me that this is due to the mall not wanting pedestrian access. Perhaps they’re concerned that people might go shopping or something. Oh well—I’ll do my shopping downtown instead.

But other than that I predict a bright & happy future for light rail. More cars off the streets, more energy-efficiency: rapid transit has finally come to town!

Friday, 17 November 2006

How to Treat Your IT Folks

I heartily endorse this product and/or service.

Milton Friedman on the Drug War

Way back in 1989 Milton Friedman wrote a letter to Bill Bennett about the War on Drugs.; it’s as relevant today as then. It’s also rather amusing, given William Bennett’s troubles with another illegal vice. My favourite passage is this:

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.

That’s it in a nutshell: the War on Drugs has caused far more casualties than simply letting drugs be would have.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

The Procession of the Sadar

A little-known fact is that when I am anointed Grand Emperor of Everything, the nations of the world will march in to offer their coronation gifts to The Procession of the Sadar. You read it here first…

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

31 Ways to Tie Two Laces

Whilst looking up the proper way to lace running shoes, I discovered a page with 31 different lace-tying methods. Who knew there were so many possibilities? There’s Criss-Cross, Over-Under, Straight, Sawtooth, and on & on. Now I need to relace all of my shoes…

Monday, 13 November 2006

Veterans' Pride Initiative

This comes too late for this year, but a heads-up to you veterans for next year: the Veterans’ Pride Initiative is encouraging you to wear your medals on your civilian shirt or coat on Veterans’, Independence & Memorial Days. They suggest three options: miniature medals, large medals or large medals with devices & unit awards. Hopefully such action will help instill a certain sense of national pride in and awareness of our armed forces.

Assault Weapon Watch

The guys at the Coalition to prevent Assault Weapon Violence are keeping a close eye on assault weapons—-they’ve set up a web cam to catch an assault rifle in the act of committing crimes. None so far, but they’re still watching.

Friday, 10 November 2006


Well, the American people spoke on Tuesday, and while I can’t agree with their decision, I can understand it. The Republicans had become corrupt and no longer even paid lip service to their principles (principles which first catapulted them to power back in ’94), and many voters felt they needed to be punished. That’s understandable; however, in place of big-state Republicans we now have giant-state Democrats. For every issue on which the Republicans are wrongs, the Democrats are wronger. I won’t rule out ever voting for a Democrat, but he’d have to be better than his Republican alternative and good enough to merit my vote. For that to happen, he’d have to:

  • Oppose infanticide
  • Support the right to bear arms
  • Support a strong & effective military
  • Favour limited government

In other words, he’d be a Republican. Sure, there are pro-life Democrats; there are pro-gun Democrats; there are even Democrat hawks. But the fundamental principle of the modern Democrat party is that the State knows best, and is best-suited to address most if not all problems.

Unfortunately, this attitude seems to be that of the American people in general. How often does one hear the phrase, There ought to be a law? Far too often. No, there probably shouldn’t be another law: once they’ve outlawed rape, murder, theft & fraud the legislature can probably go home.

To judge by the Republicans of the last half-dozen years, this attitude is that of their party as well. It’s a sad thing when the party of the Contract with America becomes a party to big government, when the party which once pledged to eliminate the unconstitutional Department of Education instead more than doubles its funding.

Tuesday’s election was, I think, a vote against the Republicans rather than for the Democrats. The unfortunate thing is that the latter party is now in power, and we are all set to repeat the 1970s. We’re in the middle of a clash of civilisations—really, a war between civilisation and brutality—and very few Democrats seem to realise that, just as the many of them failed to give sufficient credence to the Communist threat in the 60s, 70s & 80s. I fear for the future of our nation.

The Parable of the Two Programmers

Presenting a short parable:

The Parable of the two Programmers

Neil W. Rickert Dept. of Math, Stat., and Computer Science, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Once upon a time, unbeknownst to each other, the "Automated Accounting Applications Association" and the "Consolidated Computerized Capital Corporation" decided that they needed the identical program to perform a certain service.

Automated hired a programmer-analyst, Alan, to solve their problem.

Meanwhile, Consolidated decided to ask a newly hired entry-level programmer, Charles, to tackle the job, to see if he was as good as he pretended.

Alan, having had experience in difficult programming projects, decided to use the PQR structured design methodology. With this in mind he asked his department manager to assign another three programmers as a programming team. Then the team went to work, churning out preliminary reports and problem analyses.

Back at Consolidated, Charles spent some time thinking about the problem. His fellow employees noticed that Charles often sat with his feet on the desk, drinking coffee. He was occasionally seen at his computer terminal, but his office mate could tell from the rhythmic striking of keys that he was actually playing Space Invaders.

By now, the team at Automated was starting to write code. The programmers were spending about half their time writing and compiling code, and the rest of their time in conference, discussing the interfaces between the various modules.

His office mate noticed that Charles had finally given up on Space Invaders. Instead he now divided his time between drinking coffee with his feet on the table, and scribbling on little scraps of paper. His scribbling didn’t seem to be Tic Tac Toe, but it didn’t exactly make much sense, either.

Two months have gone by. The team at Automated finally releases an implementation timetable. In another two months they will have a test version of the program. Then a two month period of testing and enhancing should yield a com- pleted version.

The manager of Charles has by now tired of seeing him goof off. He decides to confront him. But as he walks into Charles’s office, he is surprised to see Charles busy entering code at his terminal. He decides to postpone the confrontation, so makes some small talk then leaves. However, he begins to keep a closer watch on Charles, so that when the opportunity presents itself he can confront him. Not looking forward to an unpleasant conversation, he is pleased to notice that Charles seems to be busy most of the time. He has even been see to delay his lunch, and to stay after work two or three days a week.

At the end of three months, Charles announces he has completed the project. He submits a 500 line program. The program appears to be clearly written, and when tested it does everything required in the specifications. In fact it even has a few additional convenience features which might significantly improve the usability of the program. The program is put into test, and, except for one quickly corrected oversight, performs well.

The team at Automated has by now completed two of the four major modules required for their program. These modules are now undergoing testing while the other modules are completed.

After another three weeks, Alan announces that the preliminary version is ready one week ahead of schedule. He supplies a list of the deficiencies that he expects to correct. The program is placed under test. The users find a number of bugs and deficiencies, other than those listed. As Alan explains, this is no surprise. After all this is a preliminary version in which bugs were expected.

After about two more months, the team has completed its production version of the program. It consists of about 2,500 lines of code. When tested it seems to satisfy most of the original specifications. It has omitted one or two features, and is very fussy about the format of its input data. However the company decides to install the program. They can always train their data-entry staff to enter data in the strict format required. The program is handed over to some maintenance programmers to eventually incorporate the missing features.


At first Charles’s supervisor was impressed. But as he read through the source code, he realized that the project was really much simpler than he had originally though. It now seemed apparent that this was not much of a challenge even for a beginning programmer.

Charles did produce about 5 lines of code per day. This is perhaps a little above average. However, considering the simplicity of the program, it was nothing exceptional. Also his supervisor remembered his two months of goofing off.

At his next salary review Charles was given a raise which was about half the inflation over the period. He was not given a promotion. After about a year he became discouraged and left Consolidated.

At Automated, Alan was complimented for completing his project on schedule. His supervisor looked over the program. With a few minutes of thumbing through he saw that the company standards about structured programming were being observed. He quickly gave up attempting to read the program however; it seemed quite incomprehensible. He realized by now that the project was really much more complex than he had originally assumed, and he congratulated Alan again on his achievement.

The team had produced over 3 lines of code per programmer per day. This was about average, but, considering the complexity of the problem, could be con- sidered to be exceptional. Alan was given a hefty pay raise, and promoted to Systems Analyst as a reward for his achievement.

The tale is as true today as when it was written in March 1985. It’s not productivity which is rewarded, but the appearance of productivity. And the computer world has made very few fundamental advances in the two intervening decades: we’re still using WIMP interfaces; the best text editor out there is older than I am; the best operating system in common dates back to 1969; the best free database is older than I am. We’re stuck in a 1970s world.

Tuesday, 07 November 2006

CPU Meltdown

Monday morning I awoke to a strange odour: the smell of Bakelite, familiar to geeks everywhere as the reek emitted when the Magic Smoke™ is freed from electronics. It appears that my CPU fan failed, leading to a CPU meltdown.

I replaced the power supply, motherboard and CPU; this in turn necessitated an upgraded operating system (since the old CPU was an Athlon and the current one is a Pentium D). So I’m now running a very much nicer setup than before. Life is pretty good.

Although I am a bit sad that I'm running atop a Pentium now. Oh well.

Saturday, 04 November 2006

Tank Paintball

This is the coolest game in the world: tank paintball. They’ve got some old British armoured cars with turrets fitted to fire tennis balls filled with paint. This is seriously sweet.


I recently made my first batch of kefir, a Caucasion fermented milk drink. It’s pretty cool: you add a packet of bacteria and fungi to a jug of milk, then let it sit at room temperature for a few days. The microbes multiply to sour & thicken the milk. It’s pretty tasty, and very healthy. And you just gotta love anything which involves letting milk sit on a counter for a few days…

When Did I Get Old?

So I had to be up in Boulder this afternoon on business, and afterwards killed some time on Pearl Street Mall. The college kids are back in town now, and for the first time they look like children. When did I get old?

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