Sunday, 28 April 2013

still eleven

Eleven ducklings came home to roost tonight.  They are getting bigger, and don't clump together so closely, which makes them a lot easier to count, if not to photograph.

(click to embiggen)

keeping it in the family

I've just had a letter from NS&I, encouraging me to buy more Premium Bonds.  I was intrigued to see who had sent it:

Nominative determinism in action!

I wonder if the sinister "Agent Million" is in fact Basildon Bond?
Russ Abbot as Basildon Bond
Russ Abbot as secret agent Basildon Bond

why proofreading is hard

Proofreading is hard, because there's a lot of processing going on between seeing and reading.
After reading the
the sentence, you are
now aware that the
the human brain
often does not
inform you that the
the word 'the' has
been repeated twice
every time.
We are pretty insensitive to letter shape (fortunately, given the plethora of fonts), so can quite readily overlook O-0 and I-l-1 problems, although these are worse in some fonts than in others.  An extreme example doing the rounds at the moment (although it's not new), based on maximal substitution of digits for letters, is:
‎7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5 1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD BU7 N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17
By it's not just doubled words and simple substitution that we can overlook.  The most extreme example I've seen is:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Spell checkers, though, are a boon for many of these problems.  So today's proofreaders can concentrate on higher-level issues

  1. After reading the...
  2. an early reference to 7H15 M3554G3
  3. the research behind Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch

Saturday, 27 April 2013

sequestering carbon, several books at a time

This week's catch, fresh from Amazon and its second hand colleagues:

All I have to do now is database them, ready to be added to the catalogue on my website.

Read them?  Well, some day.  Maybe.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

visualising songs

The Shape of Song
Chopin, Mazurka in F# Minor

For all my social networking posts, see my Google+ page

Saturday, 20 April 2013


It seems that this year's ducks are not maintaining the 100% survival record of last year's.

antisocial networking

I have had my website since the mid 1990s.  I have had this blog since early 2011.  But I have resisted social networking.  No Facebook, no Twitter, no nothing.  Until yesterday.

I have finally succumbed, to Google+.  A colleague had just set up a "community" for a small group of us to collaborate on our research project.  So I clicked for an account, joined his community, added people to circles, and stuff.

Then, in another meeting yesterday, we decided to set up another community, for a different research collaboration.  Zero involvement to two communities, in about six hours!

So I am now networking -- but only in gated communities. Antisocial networking, I suppose.


Our apple tree, full of pent-up energy, is heaving a sigh of relief that spring has finally sprung.

not sure I recognise what the blue background is, though...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Evernote and the Con

Every year we attend the British National Science Fiction Convention, or “Eastercon”. My first Eastercon was in 1984, and we haven’t missed one since 1996. It’s a great four days, of guest of honor talks, of serious scientific talks, of panels discussing authors and sub-genres, of silly SF-themed quizzes, and of meeting up with friends.

I take notes at cons, partly as a conditioned reflex, and partly because there are interesting ideas, and suggestions of new authors of books, that I want to follow up later. I have put some of my notes up on my website. But the last couple of years, I haven’t had the time (or the inclination) to transcribe the resulting 30–50 pages of notes, so they are languishing on paper only.

Recently at work, I’ve moved from paper to a computer-based daybook, based on Evernote. It started as an experiment, to see if it would work, but within a month I had abandoned paper note taking completely, and am exclusively Evernote-based. So I decided to trial Evernote at this year’s Eastercon, too. Here’s how it went.

Before the con

Gone are the days of waiting to get the Con programme guide on arrival at the con hotel. Nowadays it is up online in advance. So the day before we were due to drive to Bradford (these cons are in such exotic locations) I sat down with the online programme guide, and decided which items I would attend, from the four parallel sessions. First I created a new Evernote notebook for SF cons. Then I made a new note for each chosen item, adjusted its “creation time” to that of the item itself, and copied in the item title, location, and abstract. This had the helpful side-effect of giving me a schedule I could easily consult on my phone when I wanted to know where I was supposed to be next, and a reminder of what it was about.

At the con

I used the same Samsung N145 Plus Netbook for note-taking that I use at work. This has a 10" screen, and a nice keyboard that accommodates my just-about-4-fingered, semi-touch typing skills (although the Caps Lock is a bit too easy to hit accidentally).

It weights in at 1.2 kg, which is fine for toting around between talks, but after a couple of days of it resting on my lap as I took notes, I became uncomfortably aware of its two sharp little feet at the back. It also runs quite hot. However, the battery is nicely long lasting: the Friday and Monday were less than full days, and I got by with a single charge; the Saturday and Sunday, being longer, required a recharge. One day that involved leaving it charging in the hotel room over dinner; the other day I found an unoccupied power socket in the programme room, and sat by it for that item.

It was all very straightforward to use: arrive at the item, sit down, open netbook, type in my password, click on the item’s note, and start typing. The keyboard is quiet, and so (hopefully!) the sound didn’t disturb anyone around me. And this set-up has one great advantage over manual note-taking. In the main programme hall, tech switches the lights off during items (I assume this is to aid with recording said items). This makes it rather difficult to take hand-written notes. But with the netbook, I just closed it up slightly (to around a 90 degree angle), which directed enough light from the screen to illuminate the keyboard sufficiently. Another advantage: no writer’s cramp. A further advantage: the notes synchronise to the cloud, so I didn’t have to make backups during the con.

After the con

Back home, I synched Evernote on my desktop machine, and started tidying up the notes, correcting spelling mistakes, removing irrelevant and incomprehensible bits, and tracking down interesting references and linking to them. This took about half a day (partly because I was spending time reading up about some of the interesting stuff I’d found). Once I was happy with the notes, I made a new note to act as an contents list for the entire event, comprising a bullet list of links to each of the item notes. That was very easy to do using Evernote’s “Copy Note Link” function. I sorted the list into earliest first order (rather than the latest first order I usually use), selected all the notes, then exported them as a single HTML file. I edited that file with Notepad++ (my current HTML editor of choice) to add in some preliminary material, and modify some of the formatting provided by Evernote. Hey presto, my con report web page! Everything from “Programme highlights” onward is output from Evernote. All in well less than a day.

What I’ll do differently next time

This was definitely a great success. However, next time I will add a little more markup to my note templates, to tag the title, panellists, and summary parts. This will let me use Notepad++’s regular expression-based search and replace more easily to modify Evernote’s formatting to my specific requirements. And that’s it, essentially.

What I’d like Evernote to do differently

Evernote is great, and the more I use it, the more I like it. But it’s not perfect, and the more I use it, the more the imperfections bug me. The main niggles from the con use:

  1. Undo. It doesn’t always work properly. Most of the time, it’s absolutely fine, doing what you’d expect. But every so often, it doesn’t restore to the exact previous state. A typical problem: paste in something with a format, realise you meant “Paste as plain text”, undo – but it doesn’t (always) reset to the previous format.
  2. Bullet list indent,outdent commands. These don’t always work properly. Again. most of the time, everything is fine: use tab or the icon to indent, use Shift-tab or the icon to outdent. But if you copy a bullet list, this can get messed up, and on indenting/outdenting, the bullets disappear. This is a big deal for me, as I am an inveterate user of nested bullet lists.
  3. Spelling mistakes. As you type, spelling mistakes are highlighted with the usual red wiggly line. However, when you move away from a note and come back, notes no longer highlight the spelling mistakes. This made the “tidying up” process harder. SF notes have a lot of weird words in them, and it’s easier to scan and ignore the red wiggles than step through the list using the manual spell-checker.
  4. Daylight savings time. This one is bizarre, and very annoying. As is often the case, Daylight Savings Time (here the move from Greenwich Mean Time to British “Summer” Time) kicks in over the Easter weekend (hey, let’s steal an hour from your holiday weekend!) On Sunday morning, I noticed that all the “created” times on my Sun/Mon notes were out by an hour: Evernote had changed them! It had decided that, when I created a note during GMT, even though I created the note for a time when BST would be in force, it needed to update it. Mutter, mutter. Later, when looking back at my previous notes (all my previous notes), I discovered that their creation times had also changed by an hour! That is, Evernote is currently displaying the creation times of all my notes, no matter when created, in BST. I can think of no circumstance when this would be the desired behaviour. This is definitely a bug. I suspect Evernote is treating daylight savings time as a different time zone, and “correcting” for the change (which is often not what is wanted in that case, either).
However, despite these grumps, I’ll be continuing to use Evernote. The more I use it, the ever more useful it becomes, because the more material I have in it, have linked from it, and can access really easily.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

oh no, not again

So much for chasing off the ducks to stop them breeding in our pond...

Saturday, 6 April 2013

two ducks a-perching

It's spring (in time of year, if not in temperature), and the local ducks are starting their attempts to make more ducks.  We try to discourage them doing so in our garden, as we don't want to watch the effects of nature red in tooth and claw on the resultant ducklings. (Although last year's autumn crop did all survive to adulthood, amazingly enough.)

So, when ducks land on the pond, we chase them off.  The last pair I chased did their usual amazing almost vertical take-off, quacking loudly and indignantly.  Then, instead of disappearing into the distance, they landed again, on the neighbour's rooftop.

I didn't realise ducks were perching birds.