All posts by Yvan

Bath

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I went on a touristing trip to Bath last weekend with a German guy I met over here, Tobi.

Bath is attractive town with a very long history.

The Romans took control of the area something like 2000 years ago, and there is evidence of it being a popular place long before then (as far back as stone age flints – some 7000 years).

Bath is the site of three hot springs, seen as a gift from some god or another by several civilisations through the centuries, these days we rather boringly see it as a place where heated water is pushed up from the mantle along a fault line. Before the Romans came along it would have appeared as just a few hot billabongs near a river, unsettled because the valley is flooded every year. The Romans were not daunted by mere flooding, they built an encircling wall to keep the waters out and on the site of the largest spring built a public bath and a temple to the goddess Minerva (later Sulis Minerva, taking the name of the local god who was previously worshipped there – a PR stunt on the part of the Romans).

For centuries the Romans and the locals bathed and worshipped at the site. They oiled up in the saunas to get clean, they had several degrees of sauna and you started off in the cooler one and worked your way up to the ones that were too hot to stand in without shoes. After their oil treatment they had a good rinse in one of the smaller baths near the saunas before finally hitting the main bath. There were strictly adhered to guidelines on bath etiquette!

They prayed and sacrificed to their gods, using the altars at the temple provided for this purpose and also tossing valuable trinkets into the main spring. They wished ill upon those who had wronged them! Writing curses on sheets of tin which they then rolled up and threw into the spring hoping that Minerva would execute their curse upon the deserving wrongdoer (the cursers went as far as providing the names of those who they felt might be responsible, trying to make Minerva’s job easier I guess).

Eventually the Roman empire went into decline, Romans left their conquered lands including their beautiful Bath and through time the Roman structures were part demolished and buried by the eroding winds of civilisation. By the 1700s the entire Roman history of the area was forgotten until in 1775 the town engineer had to work out why someone’s basement was flooding with warm water, his men dug down and eventually reached the 6 inch thick sheet Romans and lined the main bath with. Not long after the town council had bought all the houses above the site and the excavation started.

There was much enthusiasm for the baths (the town had never stopped being a bath town) and the site was rebuilt and brought back into service. New structures were built around the bath complex, in what they considered to be a Roman style, so they could partake of some Roman decadence. It became popular with Royals and thus all the Royal hangers-on had to go there too and the town exploded in size. Many a distinguished person “took the waters” at bath in the hope of some healing for soul or body, or often just to partake in some extra-marital shenanigans.

Much of the current architecture of Bath was designed in the Georgian and Victorian periods, predominately by the famous John Wood and his son (John Wood the Younger) during the 1700s. Before the redevelopment in Georgian times the site was a row of houses, and prior to that the grounds of a monastery – the beautiful and imposing Abbey of the monastery still stands adjacent to the baths (it is actually on top of the site where the Minerva’s temple was located). There are plenty of other attractions in Bath that are worth a good look, just walking around and taking in the architecture is worthwhile, there is the historical costume museum and the Jane Austen museum is located in one of the houses in which she lived. The site of the bath its self is now a museum and will cost you 10GBP to visit, but it was worth it. Unfortunately bathing is strictly prohibited!

There is a spa house nearby that is nearing completion and is scheduled to open some time this year. Somehow I don’t think it will be quite the same thing.

I took a few photos of Bath of course.

Y Mynyddoedd Duon

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

As mentioned in the previous posting I made a trip out to Wales on Monday to go for a bike ride, my destination was The Black Mountains (Y Mynyddoedd Duon in Welsh). I had done a bit of reading about riding in Wales and chosen a few published routes that interested me, in the end I picked route from MTB-Wales.com for The Black Mountains as by this time this was the only OS Landranger map that had arrived from Amazon (it’s cheaper to get the maps from Amazon). The route is amusingly called Mynydd How You Go ! (ho ho!), in case you haven’t picked it the word mynydd is Welsh for mountain. The exact spot I parked the car at and the trail starts is marked on this map, note the nearby town of Bwlch it’s name basically just means pass in English (as in mountain pass).

The ride was good fun and after looking at the map closely and realising that the stretch around Mynydd Troed was fairly flat I regret cutting it short. After getting to the bottom the “Very Technical” descent and wading through mud I’d decided that it was time to loop back. Now I know what “Very Technical” means, I can’t believe people would ride down that (I can really, but it was quite a nasty path). I went down a little way but a combination of expecting I was going to fall off and roll down the hill and the horrible noise my brakes were making convinced me that walking down was a better option.

The disc brakes on my bike are great for stopping really quickly, but they’re painful for checking your speed on a descent. When I hold them on while going downhill they make a terrible moaning noise, I was ashamed to be upsetting the peace of the hillsides. I must find out if there is something I can do about the noise, it really is pretty awful.

I was hoping to also have another ride on a section of the Taff Trail that runs along the east side of the Talybont Reservior but didn’t have the heart for it after cleaning all the mud off myself and my bike so we could get back in the car. I’ll reserve that ride for next time. I’m looking forward to the arrival of my Brecon Beacons, Elan Valley & Builth Wells and Weston-super-Mare, Bridgwater & Wells (not in Wales) maps.

Things I’ve learnt about my bike:

    The moaning the disc brakes make on downhills is really, really terrible.
    I can’t use the second gear ratio, it just doesn’t position properly (I call the cogs at the front ratios and the cogs at the back gears, I have no idea if this is correct when referring to bikes). Whenever I try to go to the second (middle) one it click-clacks and tries to jump onto the smallest one, I think that something probably needs adjusting.
    Fine grit particles from mud get into the tube that holds the fork/handlebars assembly. This seems to be a bit of a worry as I imagine there could be some abrasion problems. I’ll have to see about cleaning it out somehow.
    I think that clipped boots/pedals would be better than hiking boots.

I think I should read up a bit on bike maintenance.

Photo-by-photo details of the ride starting here.

The Black Mountains

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

On Monday I finally got to go for a ride in Wales. It was good fun. I have a journal entry of sorts for the ride in the form of the photo descriptions, new album up here.

I’ll write more on this topic later.

Joel Agrees

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Anyone who has had the unfortunate displeasure of having a conversation with me about Computer Science education will have heard my views on how the education that the term “Computer Science” refers to has changed, for the worse. I tend to be a bit sensitive about it all, the reason being that I feel that the course I went into didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I learnt a lot at Uni and I hold nothing against the good academic staff from whom I learnt, and I hope that I helped those students whom I taught in turn (whom? who? I wish I really knew which to use when). I don’t think that CS at USyd is completely lost, it is certainly not as bad as what Joel describes.

When I read a recent posting from the seemingly highly regarded Mr Spolsky, who does write some things that I have a tendency to agree with, I felt vindicated of the pain I’ve inflicted on many people to read that Joel Agrees.

Sadly, I don’t hold my own views on CS education from a knowing position that Joel seems to be able to claim. I’m just a reasonably good CS graduate who felt that his CS education should have been better than it was. I can’t claim to know how it could be better or what it was once, I just know that I left with a feeling that it could have been something else.

Admittedly I wasn’t the best sort of student, and sadly I’ll always look back on my attempts at being a student as being mediocre. One day I plan to rectify this, return to university and do it properly – one needs some hope. Until such a time I’ll continue to feel academically inferior to most people I know, such is life.

Wendover Woods

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I took my bike up to Wendover Woods (map) today (well, yesterday now) and went for a trundle. Wendover Woods is a managed reserve with a lot of trails leading through it, trails marked for walking, cycling and horse riding. Most of the cycling tracks were pretty solid, but there were some quite soft and muddy sections. I soon regretted forgetting to put on my other bike tyres (the fat knobbly ones).

The parking area is located right at the top of one of the highest points in the Chilterns, a parking permit costs 2GBP on weekends (1.5 on other days) and the area is closed to cars after 17:00. Of course, being at the top of the hill means that every ride ends with an uphill trek! Some of them were a bit nasty, and I was sliding around all over the place on the muddy stretches.

Overall it was good fun, and my first off-road ride too. I would guess that the trails are a walk in the park of more serious mountain bike riders… I’ll have to see what else I find while I am over here and try to work my way up to something less for beginners!

I took some photos while riding.

Enlightenment Tracks Me Down

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Looks like the enlightenment I was going to seek sought me out courtesy of Sam.

So not a strange feature at all, an expected behaviour.

Oh, and the half a million character regex… it is not my fault! Really. I’m just working with what I’ve been given, same goes for XML – it just isn’t part of the picture. I have crazy huge regexes and textfiles with no trailing newline, this defines the bounds of my reality. However, I must say that it really is in the best interests of my employer (and thus myself) that people feel they need to do such things with regexes ;)


Regex, regex everywhere and
all the bytes did slow
Regex, regex everywhere but many more to grow

See what I have to say about my current mouse for a clue to my thoughts on the matter of switching to something more rodent based at this time.

Generation Gap

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Now I know the meaning of the phrase… previously I’ve internally used the term to describe the differences between me and my own generation. Most of my life I have felt out of place within the groups I’ve inhabited, I suspect this is a fairly common way to be – but not the norm. Anyway, add my usual feeling of separation to the real meaning of the term Generation Gap and you may understand how unusual yesterday evening seemed to me. Add some culture shock on top of that.

Oh, and the British have a huge breast fetish. I don’t hold this against them at all of course… I’ve just amazed by how fixated they on the subject of massive tits.

I’d talk about the meals at this point, but don’t really feel like it. They were apparently pretty decent, I found them a little dull but it was good food. Better than most meals I’ve had since getting to the UK actually, all bar a couple of very good Indian dinners I have had.

I’m working on some code at the moment that requires more than 600MB of memory to compile and my machine has only 512MB… painful.

I believe I have the worst mouse on the planet. It seems to be tuned to be perfectly annoying, a completely dead mouse would be better. I’ll be selecting something and almost always the cursor will stop moving just before the last character of my selection, I’ll still be sliding the mouse but the cursor just jiggles on the spot. I bang the mouse on the table a couple of times and the mouse slips down, thus selecting the whole line, and then it wont go up! I have to release the button and thump the thing a few times to make it work again. Then there is a 50/50 chance of a repeat performance. We grabbed me another mouse from downstairs, but this one goes down and right at half the speed that it goes up and left at and often refuses to go right at all. So, since the replacement mouse is unusable (thus not an annoying mouse) I am forced to use the usable but terribly annoying one.

Strange But Universal(?) Editor Feature

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I was wondering why some of my results were going wrong when doing some pattern matching in Perl. I have a file that gets generated by a script and has one big RE on a line that is read into another script and executed. For some reason the RE doesn’t match what it should… just then I accidentally discovered that it does match and then doesn’t match if I have had the file open in vim, so even though all I am doing is opening the file and then immediately doing a :wq (should just be a :q then I wouldn’t have had this problem, but I do also need to tweak the RE a bit at times) the file content is modified!

What is weird is I then tried the same thing in nvi and then in pico and they do the same thing! At this point I’m checking the difference using md5sum. Each editor spits out the same slightly modified file?!?!

What’s the difference? The file ends up one byte longer… all three editors add a ‘n’ to the end of the file without being asked to.

At first I thought it was something to do with line length (my RE is over 400,000 chars long) but the editors do this for files with a single line only three chars long too… so why do they do this? If three out of three editors tested do the same thing it indicates that it might not be a random decision. As far as I know the editors have completely different codebases, so it isn’t just a shared bit of buggy (unless something in a shared library is doing it). I have a suspicion that there is a reason for this and I wonder what it is!

For now I’ll just add the chomp to my Perl script (it should have been there in the first place) and seek enlightenment later.

Accellerated Perl

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Hardware accelleration from perl! Argh, don’t tell the sales guys. Played with SWIG today, which I have done before in darker days, it easier to get working than I recall. Though I haven’t found a good reference for hooking it into an automake system, most people seem to use it with Makefile.PL stuff and the two automake examples I found were both autotools shells around Makefile.PL build setups. It is a simple enough process, so I guess I’ll do this one from scratch.

Today at lunchtime I wandered into town to buy an umbrella, I decided I was probably going to need one and better get one soon. Halfway there I got well and truely rained on, no shelter in sight. Just one of those funny things… I do have an umbrella now though.

I also tried to get some photos of my little Aphrodite printed, out of three photo places only one could deal with USB… but there USB port was broken today. Broken? How do you break a USB port exactly? Anyway, no photos for me today. Next time I’ll go armed with a CD and also a SD card, damn hippies.