Older blog entries for AlanHorkan (starting at number 351)

Could've, would've, should've.

Airplane tickets are cheap, cheap enough that going to another country might just be cheaper than visiting parts of Ireland. The cheapest airlines are run much like a bus service only with much more pointless harassment in dubious attempts at security. While I was student I pondered how when I paid off my loans and I had a bit of money I could find cheap flights and do a bit of city hopping. One too many times I've said two of the places I'd always wanted to visit are Anchorage and Edinburgh, and when I mentioned it most recently I was told why don't you just go? Always good to have someone in your life to push you to do the things you have always wanted to do anyway.

March 19th, 20th, 21st, Saturday through Monday, I will be in Edinburgh. I had flights nominally cost two cent, but the actual cost including various taxes comes to more like €60 (think that was actually for two return tickets). Less than the cost of one single Trinity Ball ticket and it is going to be great. I shopped around a bit for a good deal but indecision served me well and when I checked again the prices had dropped even lower, an understanding boss and a flexible timetable certainly helped.

Cannot recall if anyone I know is living in Edinburgh at the moment but if you are do give me a shout. Never been to Scotland before, let alone Edinburgh. Suggestions welcome.


Syndicated 2007-05-05 22:59:46 from alanhorkan

Not suitable for children under 36 months

This month I celebrated(?) my (twenty?)seventh birthday. My big sister bought me a toy called a "Test Tube Alien". I was very careful with the sharp scissors as I did not want to cut myself on the sharp edges of the plastic pack. :P
If you think paper cuts are annoying try cutting yourself on a plastic blister pack, the packaging is more dangerous than most toys.

The toy comes in a plastic "test tube" about the size of an ordinary slim-jim drinking glass, more like a sample jar you might see in a natural history museum than the what you might think of as a test tube. The container has a small opening at the top to allow liquids to be poured in our drained out. At first all you can see is the protective foam egg which you must rinse away to reveal the little plastic alien. Mine is apparently an evil alien by the name of Shako. Inside the alien head a little light emitting diodes flashed on and off inside his hard plastic head to show it is alive, and the colours change between orange, green, or red, depending on his state of health. The body appears to be some kind of compacted foam material and the water is supposed to gradually cause it to expand or "grow". There is a feeding solution which smelled of acetone, which I'm guessing forms a week acid to create a crude battery and help power the toy. I suppose the solution might also help dissolve the body of the creature and help it grow.

The average lifespan of this creature is supposed to be a fortnight but much shorter than that if neglected. Should I write again on the subject the title will most likely be be the obituary of Shako, or probably an "Alien Autopsy".

These seem like perfect toys for Buddhists parents reluctant to give real live pets to children.

The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.


Syndicated 2007-04-09 23:11:12 from alanhorkan

Best things in Life are free

"I'm not even supposed to be here today."

Dante Hicks, Clerks (1994).

Thrown in at the deep end on my first day but things went fairly well. Called up at short notice to fill in for a no-show I was kept plenty busy and things only quietened down as I was about to finish. Technically it wasn't my first day but after a week of training where I had a supervisor to help out if I got stuck or the shop got very busy, it was much more difficult ot work through on my own and muddle through through any problems, always thinking on your feet.
The job itself I should explain is managing a small video store, interent cafe, and tanning salon. Nice to be able to work only one job and be able to put three more jobs on my C.V. adding to my other eclectic jobs such as teaching arts and crafts to children, teaching computers to science students, snooker hall manager, working at an internet startup and working for a major distillery to name but a few.
People are generally in a good mood when they go to a video store, and it makes life so much better to be providing a service people do not need but choose to have. This is a far cry from call centre work, for a company that was not well liked, providing tech support that at worst was fire fighting poorly designed products the customers and at best was helping teach customers enough to make use of the product or service.
[Details left intentionally vague to protect me from the guilty, enough people already badmouthing the company and there are no shortage of unpleasant companies providing services customers think they need but do not particularly want at over inflated prices, so I think most people can relate.]

Syndicated 2007-03-05 02:15:25 from alanhorkan

Cinderella's going to the ball

Blagged myself an invite to the close of festival party. Hell Yeah!

Syndicated 2007-02-23 03:22:07 from alanhorkan

Sunshine on a frosty day

Climbing in Dalkey Quarry with Jack, Jenny, Luke, Colin, Ursula, and Alan.

Routes climbed: Paradise Lost, and F Route
(and an icy scramble down a corner of the quarry)

Jack was not attacked by a ravenous mountain goat but a gremlin did steal his crabs (aka carabiner).
Coly was hugged by all. Not because anyone likes him, just because his legendary blue jacket is so warm.
Luke went back and reclimbed Paradise Lost successfully completing his first outdoor lead climb.
Alan "milkbottle" got (more) sun burnt, in Ireland in February, with frost, snow, and ice, on the ground.

Luke, Colin, Ursula, went to 'casa de Alan' (as Coly put it) and enjoyed a meal of Chili con Carne.
Many laughs were had, good climbing, excellent day.

Syndicated 2007-02-07 23:51:08 from alanhorkan

Trinity Climbers in Glendalough

Trinity Climbers trip to Glendalough, County Wicklow, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, February, 2007.
Another excellent trip, made especially pleasant by the blessing of fine weather.
Saturday: Acorn Buttress. Three routes. From right to left, Fascilis Descendus (HS 4b), Provo (VS 4c), and one other route (most likely Inferno).
Sunday: Expectancy. Two routes. An abseil route to the right us was also put to use by our group and several others passing by.


Glendalough is a popular location, so much so that it was unavailable for the second trip of the year which ended up going to the Mournes. An elite few had spent New Years in Glendo, but it was just a taste of things to come.
Rather than pedantically translate Gleann Dá Locha (Glendalough) or repeat what so many tourist brouchers have said already or a picture could more easily communicate, I would suggest instead that depending on your level of English fluency you might be able to take an educated guess at the meaning of the name Glendalough, especially if I were to point out the words
glen and lough/loch should be found in any good English dictionary and note "dhá rud" is Irish for two things (counting things but not people). In any case, we invariably shorten Glendalough to Glendo, and I will refer to it as such here after.

The trip began on Friday, a mountain of gear accumulating outside the Luce hall and people running round at the last minute trying to pick up a few extra bits and pieces. Jack had shrewdly exaggerated and told people to meet at 5:30 which nearly everyone had actually arrived by 6 o'clock and we wandered over to the fag on the crag (Oscar Wilde statue, Merrion Square) only to discover the bus driver would be at least another hour. The upside of this delay meant there was time for a pint and some food in the Pav although most of the group decided to stay with the bags and equipment. Captain Ger, Louisa, Casia, Harry, Alan (me), and possibly one or two others, took full advantage of the opportunity to share a quick meal and line our stomachs for the trip ahead.
Once we were on board the bus journey was stunningly short in comparison to other expeditions to places further afield than Wicklow. Stricter controls on the numbers meant we could all fit in a smaller twenty seater coach, there was room enough to drive in, turn around, and drop us right at the door of the IMC Hut. (The alternative in past years had been a long troublesome night hike, with large amounts of heavy gear, awkward loose groceries, and other odds and ends, which felt much longer than it actually was.) Former climbing club captain Liam Murray (who has since become a captain in the Irish Defense Forces) was in the hut to welcome us with a a roaring fire and an already empty bottle of red wine.
Beds were quickly claimed and the table and fridge filled with an abundance of food and kettles set to boil for dinner to cook. After a minor setback and the realisation the kettles were plugged in but the power strip they were attached to wasn't yet connected to the wall, we were able to cook up many different pasta or noodle based meals. Meanwhile drinking began, and several cars full of people swelled our numbers to almost thirty.

There were many things which made this trip remarkable but the Hookah pipe is pretty high on the list. Ari (our man from Finland) had gone to the trouble of bringing this rather large and complicated looking device, carefully reassembling it, filling the glass bowel with water, and lighting the charcoal burner. The combination of large group of students having a party and an elaborate smoking device might lead you to certian incorrect assumptions but flavoured tobacco was what was the only substance being smoked in the Hookah this weekend. The tobacco smelled a lot like raisins to me, as for how it tasted you will need to ask others, as my attention was devoted to some fine Belgian beers. Starting with a small bottle of Duvel, moving on to a more generously sized bottle of Leffe Blonde, after which resorted to generic beers not worth mentioning. The evening was finished off with a taste of tonic wine from the monks of Buckfast Abbey &ndash purely for medicinal purposes of course &ndash and the rest of the bottle safely stored for the next evening.

Musical entertainment was provided not only by Ger the reluctant banjo player, but also Luke on guitar and Deirdre on bodhrán. Deirdre can hardly be described as shy but turned out to be almost as reluctant to play in front of crowd as Ger (somewhat less reluctant when playing in a group). She was however willing to teach and many were happy to try their hand at the bodhrán, although in most cases not literally using their hand but rather the wooden tipper and using only one end. Ari was particularly capable, thanks to previous drumming experience and provided precussion for Ger and Luke on several tunes.

(Maybe another half or two thirds more to go.)

Wicklow.com page for Glendalough
Wikipedia page for Glendalough
Wikipedia page explaining a bodhrán is a type of drum, and more.

Disposable Camera Photo Scans by Lena Doherty:
Photo gallery of Glendalough Trip February 2007
Photo gallery of
Glendalough New Year's Trip

Writers Note:
In the particular context of an online journal it may seem odd to explain Alan (me) is the author of the document but it would be poor writing style if a printed version of this article no longer made sense and this is a relatively easy way to achieve the required clarity.

Syndicated 2007-02-04 23:38:32 from alanhorkan

Rice - Suitable for vegetarians

Thank you captain obvious. Believe it, the packet of rice I cooked this evening really does explain rice is suitable for vegetarians. It begs the question is there rice that is unsuitable for vegetarians?

Cooked dinner for the parents this evening, Thai Green Chicken Curry. Nothing fancy, three chicken breasts, sauce from a jar, and a little bit of sweetcorn. Diluted the sauce a bit thin with the milk I used to rinse out the jar and the other cooking juices but after a long time simmering it thickened back up nicely, and the sweetcorn made a nice difference without changing the flavour too much.

Next on the list is cooking some biscuits (no not cookies, biscuits) from our childhood favourite the Mr. Men Cookbook. Haven't done much cooking in years and although I'm as capable as ever progress is much much slower.

Syndicated 2007-01-27 20:05:06 from alanhorkan

How could you not like Disney?

Some people might wonder why Disney gives me the creeps and why I am much slower to say favourable things about them or buy their products (including their takeover of Pixar, and aside even from the issue of the quality of their products). Sure dont they make cute cartoons and family films? Take a look at an example of them throwing their legal weight around in attempt to stifle freedom of expression and fair use so as to distract from hate speech. There are no shortage of examples of their litigiousness if you care to search, and their rabid protection of their copyrights is in stark contrast to their plundering of the Public Domain for inspiration.

Syndicated 2007-01-07 20:05:31 from alanhorkan

Software Development: Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Been taking some of free time to read through various mailing lists of projects which I am no longer involved (a project from which I was so rudely and unceremoniously and unilaterally banned). Not only are the same questions reoccurring but also the same condescending replies and complaints about the questions are reoccurring. Even if the people involved are not likely to read this I feel it is worth writing a little about the problems [and possibly make updates to this document in the future] so that others may learn from their all too obvious mistakes.

Question: Why do users keep asking the same questions?

Answer: Some users will always ask the same questions and never make any attempt to figure out the answer for themselves. It is easier and better to say nothing than respond rudely to these users, or failing that provide a short response that developers are aware of the issue. There are ways to reduce the number of questions asked but the sooner you accept the inevitable the better things will be for all involved.

Question: Why do developers keep asking why users keep asking the same questions?

Answer: Every question is an opportunity, questions often highlight various problems of some kind or another. Not all developers realise this. Many think they do but only understand it on a very superficial level.
If a project does not have good documentation and a clearly marked section for Frequently Asked Questions then developers should not be at all surprised when the same questions get asked over and over again. At the very least it is important to back link to previous discussions because it increases the chance of search engines leading users to the right answers.
If features of a program are difficult to find or understand then further testing and usability review may be needed. I know this sounds so obvious as to be patronising but all too often developers blame the user and fail to consider ways in which the software could be improved to make things even more obvious and questions avoided. If bug are known or features are missing long enough for the same questions to be asked frequently then once more it is worth expanding the list of Frequently Asked Questions or even creating a separate list of Known Bugs

Question: What to do? This isn't very encouraging!

Answer: Always try to create new contributors.

A collaborative system like a Wiki makes it easier to encourage users to help answer questions and write up the answers for future reference.
With more technical problems users should be encouraged to submit patches. Telling users to fork the project is not encouraging, not only that it is actively turning contributors away, and failing to instead of compromising and finding something mutually beneficial for them to work on.
Not all (not many in fact) users will be in a position to submit patches and even those who do may submit work that is more hassle than it is worth to maintain.
Expecting them to write patches with a very low chance of being accepted is not encouraging either. A project with clear goals where users get a sense of what is beyond the ordinary scope of the project can help reduce the number of unrealistic requests and proposals which would be too difficult to maintain.

I would hold up Inkscape and Abiword as projects which often do a good job of these tasks. Inkscape has been particularly successful in incrementally documenting problems, making it increasingly easier for the next brave soul to solve (case in point: better support for Macintosh users). Bullying unsuspecting users might amuse some but pointing people in the right direction is far more productive in the long run. There are far too many projects which fail to understand the need for maintainers to manage and guide as much as develop. Creating more contributors should create a self sustaining cycle and more active contributors should mean more time to work on the problems which really interest you.

Here's looking to the New Year and doing things a little differently, hopefully better.

Syndicated 2006-12-27 14:53:06 from alanhorkan

Dead Horse

American Pie was a crude but funny and fresh take on a tired genre, teen sex comedies. The franchise was stretched out to three whole films, although the third film was thankfully better than the second and we all thought it was finished off nicely. Then came along the unwanted direct-to-video fourth installment "American Pie Band Camp" which barely managed to get two of the original cast to put in an appearance, although it did feature the lovely Arielle Kebbel.

Little did I know the horse was in for another flogging, a fifth American Pie title "The Naked Mile". It seems American Pie is trying to become a franchise and be like National Lampoons and churn out endless barely related sequels. Speaking of which National Lampoons are releasing a sequel to Van Wilder, with the Indian guy set in England.

It could be worse, someone might decide to make a sequel to the awful film Tenacious D, The pick of Destiny. A terrible film which forces me to reevaluate how I ever found Jack Black amusing but still only the second worst film featuring Tenacious D. The prize of worst film featuring Tenacious D still goes to the Pauly Shore film Biodome, blink and you'll miss them but Tenacious D do make an appearance.

Syndicated 2006-12-06 15:22:26 from alanhorkan

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