Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

On the last day of 2013 we watched the first two episodes of Monkey. Only fifty more to go. I downloaded my first game for the Playstation 3, Ni No Kuni. The Playstation 4 is already out but I do not plan to buy one. Alex drew us four wonderful cards celebrating the day, did them entirely by himself. I tidied up a little, but in this heat it is difficult to do much. I overcooked dinner on the barbecue. I swam in the pool at night, enjoyed the lights and watched aircraft on descent into Sydney.

I am recording Spaceballs, having now introduced Alex to Star Wars.

The song of the night is One Word from Murray Gold's soundtrack to Doctor Who: The Snowmen. Happy 50th Doctor Who and goodbye Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi.

The fireworks at 10.30 pm were brief. I hope the couple in the convertible Audi will not be back for the midnight fireworks to block our view from the top of the driveway.

Alex fell asleep after 11 pm.

It is less than an hour until midnight.

I don't have much to say about 2013 other than I loved the time with my little family. My travel highlights from 2013 are more interesting.

Update: Happy New Year! Fireworks photos from the driveway.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time and Relative Dimensions in Cake: Baking a TARDIS (and a Dalek)

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff." The Doctor, Blink
There was an incident fifty years ago this month. Another that happened a tenth of that time ago at almost the same time of year. The two events are not connected by cause and effect, except they were today and by a big ball of squeezy wheezy blue stuff.

On November 23 this year we celebrate fifty years of Doctor Who. I'm not that old (though my Mum shares a name of one of his original companions), but I grew up watching the British series. I've been fortunate enough too my son Alex has similarly developed an enjoyment of the program and asked for a Doctor Who cake to celebrate his birthday this year.

What better way to celebrate five and fifty years with a cake of the Doctor's time machine, a blue policebox called the TARDIS? After all, it's rectangular, which hopefully meant it would be relatively easy to bake and decorate. We may have been "forced" to outsource the party to a play centre this year, but at least can put some effort into a decent cake.

Cake decorating seems to have expanded into more general society, judging by the number of cake decorating shops and shows on the topic on Pay TV. I have a couple of colleagues at work who are obsessed by the subject. Neither my wife B nor I are professional, semi-professional or even vaguely professional cake decorators. However, articles on the Internet and various YouTube videos make it seem a lot easier than it actually is.

Armed with a YouTube video and a few blog posts we set about making the TARDIS. Whilst the TV version may be bigger on the inside than the outside ours was just cake on the inside covered with icing.

Baking the actual cakes was the easy bit. B did the orange cake and I the chocolate mud cake (sans coffee). Both recipes are delicious. That night we also made the chocolate modelling paste to construct the outer shell of the TARDIS cake. We used melted white chocolate, corn derived glucose syrup and blue gel dye. This formed a thick blue dough which we rolled up and left overnight and into the next day.

I printed out a picture of the TARDIS as a template, but it was too large. How large should the template be? This is where relative dimensions come in, along with a bit of math. Yes, mathematics is useful!

Volume (V) = height (H) x width (W) x depth (D)

First find the maximum volume of cake available for use (Vc) by using the above equation (Vc = Hc x Wc x Dc) and the dimensions of the cake. Also we need to calculate the relative scale of the TARDIS (t) by using the dimensions of the template (m) where the dimensions can be written as a ratio with one side = 1. Despite the template being only two dimensional we know the depth = width as the base of the TARDIS is square. We need

Vt = Ht x Wt x Dt = (Hm x Wm x Dm)/Dm . Because of the square base this simplifies to Vt = Hm/Dm (neglecting units here).

For your information, Hm/Dm comes out to be about 1.6. So the TARDIS dimensions are of the ration 1:1:1.6.

If we let H, W, D be the dimensions that we'll use for our cake and taking advantage of the fact that the base is square then we get:

D = (Vc * Dm / Hm) ^ 1/3
W = D
H = Hm/Dm * D

And those are the dimensions that you need to make the cake. This meant carving the cake into blocks and pasting together with butter cream. The whole lot was covered with butter cream. We then cut out the four vertical sides of the TARDIS from the blue chocolate modelling paste with white icing for the windows and black writing icing for details. I printed the signs on ordinary paper and cut them out - they stuck easily enough to the chocolate.

And there you have it!

Alex gets a second birthday party at childcare, where he has a Doctor Who obsessed teacher. So we made a simpler Dalek cake using leftover red fondant from the previous year's birthday cake (briefly microwaved to soften), liquorice strips and chocolate coated marshmallows.

Now I've educated you about some mathematics, maybe you would like to read Andy Connelly's article in the Guardian about the Science of Cake.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The future of food

One day in the future cakes will be made by a form of 3D printing and everyone will be able to download plans for their dream cake of the Internet. Subsequently a bunch of really poncy chefs will proclaim that the old ways are the best and extol the virtues of cracked cakes with gooey centres and messy icing. Soon afterwards Masterchef 2050 contestants will be saying that it's the black flecks of burned stew scraped off the bottom of the pot that give it integrity.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Acrophylla titan - the titan stick insect

Look what I found on our garden fence tonight: Australia's longest insect Acrophylla titan. Earlier in the night we also spotted my first gekko in Sydney standing on our front doorstep.

The Australian Museum has some interesting information about looking after stick insects. Their life cycle is amazing, relying on ants to protect their young.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The crazy weather

Yesterday, in the middle of October, the area around Sydney experienced catastrophic bushfire conditions of heat and wind, leading to the destruction of hundreds of home. Last week there was apparently temperatures of 39 degrees in the city.

I didn't know at the time because we were on holiday in Asia. But even in Japan the weather was unseasonably hot (it's always hot in the other countries we visited) and we felt the turbulent effects of Typhoon Fitow on the way up, dodged Typhoon Danas on the way down. A few days after we left Da Nang and Hoi An at least five people in the region died due to Typhoon Nari and Typhoon Wipha was headed for Japan.

I asked my colleagues, some of who are climate and atmospheric scientists, if this was something we had to look forward. One replied that this was the hottest year on record, but they expected stronger typhoons in future, not more frequent.

He also pointed out the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), which currently points to greater typhoon activity in the Pacific.

Good luck to all the emergency workers across the world.

Edit: This article in the Japan Times says that the country is on track for a 30 typhoons this season.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Father's Day

Woke up before 8 already feeling a headache building and a sore back from where Alex's knee has been poking through the night. B has to get up to take her Mum up to visit her Dad's grave at North Ryde. Alex and I are staying home; we go past the cemetary each weekday.

As soon as the door bangs behind B Kita starts barking and I have to let him out. Then it's back up to the loo with stomach cramps. Then it's have a shave and dress myself and Alex. He eats half a banana, I make myself a hot chocolate for breakfast. Then while Alex watches some Octonauts I roast some capsicum and start on preparing our soba noodle lunch for next week.

B arrives home surprisingly early, just as I'm about to begin washing up. Alex pleads to go to the Sydney Aquatic Centre, the "Bucket Playground" now it's Spring, even though it's only the first day. It's almost warm enough to be Summer outside, and the rest of the month is busy enough that we accede to his request. It takes us an hour to get ready.

We stop off at the bakery to buy buns for lunch then drive up to Homebush. The traffic is terrible as others try to visit passed relatives at Rookwood Cemetary. It takes us more than twice as long as it took B to drive the same path earlier in the day.

We spend a couple of hours at the aquatic centre, much of those in shallow and cold pool while Alex plays on the slides. But he does a great job of swimming on his back, something he's been struggling with at lessons. Plus we all have fun racing round the "river".

As soon as we reach home it's time to wash our grubby car, then I get on to dinner, which is a fish stew with a tomato, leek and roasted capsicum sauce that I invent as I go along. It takes about an hour to cook and clean up, but, hey, it tastes good. Then I quickly take Kita for a walk before returning for dinner. 6pm is an early dinner for us, but B wants to watch X Factor on TV. I bathe Alex, then shower myself. At 7.45pm I finally have my first chance to relax all day. Now it's almost time to read Alex his stories and send him to bed. I need another weekend!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

This is why Microsoft are uncool

Robert Scoble argues that Microsoft has lost its cool on today's Sydney Morning Herald website. I actually found Joseph S' pro-Microsoft comments below the article to be a better illustration than Scoble's.
This discussion is ludicrous. Microsoft is not solely a one dimensional consumer app or gadget company. It remains the world leader in business applications and platform support. The Office suite is still used every day in most businesses around the world. SQL Server has made major inroads into industrial strength datbase markets. Azure is a major leap forward in cloud service delivery and in the developer space tools like MVC Entity Framework and Silverlight are far more comprehensive and feature rich than competitor products. Sharepoint has become the leading business content repository. The world still uses Microsoft as the core business delivery platform. It seems the readers of this article are unaware of that. 
Firstly let me say I am not a Microsoft employee or acolyte but I have to disagree with some of your comments. I am a developer and I recently evaluated Java FX and .NET MVC for a complex multi layered browser based UML diagram modelling system. .NET MVC was selected so I don't agree that Java is taking over. Corporate and Government Azure uptake is slow because of concerns about data sovereignty. Microsoft has introduced a network utility to incorporate inhouse database servers. They are also building an Australian data centre. I dont understand the comment about SQL Server being stagnant. SQL Azure has hundreds of new instances a day. Windows 8 will take a while for Corporates to appreciate the benefits. With BYOD growing exponentially Win 8 offers a uniform OS across the desktop and the device. When you get into the service delivery area in Microsoft's development suites there are countless quite brilliant innovations happening all the time. These are largely unobservable to the public, but to claim that Microsoft do not innovate is simply nonsense.
Joseph is right that Microsoft is still heavily used in business and indeed it does have some good products (but not necessarily all those listed above). But I've found that those developers who have grown up within the Microsoft ecosystem struggle to understand that users may want to do things outside the Microsoft way. Maybe they don't want to build an enterprise app or invest in a year of Microsoft Certified training to write a simple program or website. Or maybe they want their application to interact with non-Microsoft products and data. Take his mention of Sharepoint - we use it, but it's a usability nightmare and traditionally doesn't play nice with non-Microsoft browsers and files.

Microsoft is not cool because Microsoft doesn't support diversity and choice. It's not agile or interested in letting users drive it's developments. Instead Microsoft wants to make those decisions for you and it doesn't understand any other way.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Partial annular eclipse

While checking my Twitter feed on the train this morning I discovered that Sydney was to be treated to a partial solar eclipse... right now! Fortunately, you can safely view an eclipse with nothing more than a sheet of card and a pin - enough to make a pinhole camera. I had to share this with the kids at Alex's childcare.

As soon as we arrived we got out a sheet of card, punched a tiny hole in it with a pin, held it out towards the sun and projected the image on a sheet of white paper. You could certainly see where a chunk of the Sun had been taken out by the Moon.

Back at the office I made a more "sophisticated" version by cutting out one side of an old tissue box, punching a tiny hole in one end and sticking some white paper at the other. Then I went outside an photographed the results. Unfortunately , the lens protector on my camera didn't fully retract, but, hey, at least I got something for surprisingly little effort.

When I returned to my desk I discovered that the education group had been running an eclipse viewing session outside an adjacent building, but it's kind of nice to have done something yourself.

ABC Science has more information about the eclipse.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

More notes on setting up Sitecore locally

More joys getting Sitecore to run on my machine. For some reason the App Pool of the Sitecore instance was set to .Net 2 rather than .Net 4. This required going into IIS Manager and changing the App Pool setting.

Sitecore had also managed to set the database connection string to my local user rather than a builtin account. I had to edit the username and password in AppConfig/ConnectionStrings.config in Visual Studio and rebuild the solution in order to make it work.

I wish Sitecore would use HTML documentation rather than PDF - it makes jumping to the right spot in Google searches very difficult.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Notes on setting up Sitecore locally

I'm in the process of preparing for formal training in Sitecore development. Sitecore is a enterprise content management system written in .Net. I find Sitecore's development documentation quite poor in contrast to many open source projects. Too much is in PDF format.

In order to practise, I've had to setup a local version of Sitecore on my desktop machine. Sitecore provide an installation file, but I had issues attempting to connect to my instance of SQLExpress as it appears to need an SQL Server user rather than using the default Windows authentication. To resolve this I first had to download and install Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio Express. I then changed the server authentication mode to permit SQL Server and Windows Authentication.

After entering the credentials of the sa user I was then able to install Sitecore.

I then needed to create a Sitecore Web Application Project in Visual Studio 2010. Note that the Sitecore webroot can be found in the Website subdirectory of the directory setup by the Sitecore install. With replicated folder names in Sitecore directories the instructions can be a little confusing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean with the SSO

Long have I resisted the musical call of the Disney/Bruckheimer "Pirates of the Caribbean," but I lately have caved in to my inner pirate (though in a legitimate way).

First came the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Tokyo Disneyland. Then I bought the soundtrack while over in Japan. Today I attended the concert performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House, along with one of my brothers and his wife.

The principal composer Klaus Badelt was joined by his Media Ventures colleagues, including boss Hans Zimmer, in writing the music for the film. Media Ventures (now Remote Control Productions) soundtracks tend to have a similar sound about them and Pirates was no exception. The music is a guilty pleasure, like fast food. Easily digested with an immediate flavour hit. But it doesn't contain the subtleties of composers like Williams and Goldsmith that often only reveal themselves through repeated listening.

The orchestra, conducted by American Richard Kaufman, was performed to the film and dialogue projected on the a screen behind them, much like an actual film scoring.

I'm not a huge fan of these type of concerts as it is easy to focus more on the movie than the music.  But better this than no music and you get good at filtering when you are a film music buff.

The orchestra certainly has to be in its toes as there US no room for slipups. And I don't think there were any. We were seated in the middle of the very front row. These were cheap seats as the screen was obscured. What they gave in return were wonderful views of the strings and the conductor, so close you could smell his BO wafting down.

The bombastic music kept the string section busy, with some lovely individual cello passages and the menacing ostinato that surprised in its complexity and vigor. The percussion was well defined and drove the action. The Cantillation male choir added wordless vocals. This music, like the movie that it accompanied, was there to be enjoyed for its action and excitement, not for its originality and deep artistry, and it certainly achieved its aim, the music propelling itself to a pounding finale.

A very fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Arrrrr!

Update: After listening to the soundtrack again I realise that one of the great things about attending a live concert was that the music didn't sound like it was generated by a synthesizer. I suspect Media Ventures filter their sound way too much.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rock'n'roll and alcohol

A tremendous, almost deafening, crash reverberated against the brick walls of the neighbourhood, waking us from our slumber. It was 2am. My first thought was a lightning strike right next to the house without any warning rumbles. The next mental explanation: The neighbour's tree falling into our garage, smashing the car. I got up to investigate, B woke, but somehow Alex remained asleep.

Opening the door, still bleary eyed, I spotted a small boulder rolled against our porch. A landslide triggered by the rain, which was still falling? It was difficult to believe. Then I stepped outside.

A black Mazda 3 embedded in bushes towards the top of our driveway, interior lights still one. I hurried up to investigate, fearing that people were trapped inside requiring medical attention. Then I heard a "Sorry. I'm so sorry."

The lone driver, a young man, was standing at the top of our driveway, obviously shaken, apologising, admitting that he had too much to drink. He handed me his keys.

We gave him a phone to call his parents, only a couple of blocks away, then called the police ourselves.

Both soon turned up. Both were very courteous. The young man returned an over the limit reading on the breathalyzer and was taken away for a blood alcohol test.

The morning revealed the extent of the damage. The car was a write off, its front smashed in, one wheel wrenched off, all driver airbags deployed. It had been driving at speed up a steep hill, gone off at a tangent at the curve, mounted the kerb, smashed the top of the neighbour's retaining wall, become airborne and ripped up the murraya and callistemon shrubs between our houses, knocking a big stone down our driveway and destroying a pot that had been with us since the early days of our last house.

It was fortunate that a large dead eucalyptus tree had been removed months before as he may well have suffered serious injuries and the tree done major damage to either us or our neighbour's property had it collapsed.

The car was towed away and the guy and his father carried away the fallen shrubs and scrap in their trailer to the tip. Driving under the influence of alcohol meant that their insurance would not pay for the damage, or the smashed car, but fortunately it appears that the property damage is fairly minor anyway - for us, not them.

We frequently hear people hooning around these tight curves, certain of their superior driving skills. They don't realise how close they come to seriously injuring themselves or those that live along the street. Hopefully one now realises his stupidity in drink driving and how close he came to killing himself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reinventing the wheel - enterprise style

When management say they want to minimise support costs by settling on a single enterprise platform for websites what this can mean is that they are stifling an organisation's flexibility and capacity to innovate. Big enterprise systems often lack functionality that, while not traditionally popular in a corporate environment, can be highly popular across the general internet (social media being a case in point) or for specialist tasks. By their very nature, it can be relatively difficult to add functionality to such systems, especially when you do not want to impact upon their stability and usability of the main websites. The response, which may be valid, is usually that by using a single system you can take advantage of integration across your platform.

Allowing non-integrated third party platforms to be installed may increase support risks, but it can have allow organisations to rapidly respond to users' and customers' needs and enhancing satisfaction. As such, it should be considered as a valid strategy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inquire into enquire (Templatic)

WordPress madness yesterday. One of my colleagues purchased a Templatic WordPress theme and discovered that all the strings which should read enquiry were instead inquiry (similarly enquire was inquire). Templatic's support forums are available only to those who have purchased a theme - and Google's cache. To make the changes (and I recommend changing capitalisations as well) you need to edit the language.php file of the theme.

Do not do a simple blanket search and replace, because the constant names need to remain as INQUIRY. Only change the values.

define('SEND_INQUIRY',__('Send enquiry','templatic'));

I'm not sure if these changes will be overwritten if you update the theme.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What's happened to the WWW?

I can't help but feel a sense of irony that on the very day I was preparing a web page for an upcoming talk by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, so was I also dismantling one of our few websites designed to let our researchers communicate with their peers.

The WWW was developed at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and home of the Large Hadron Collider for the purpose of allowing CERN researchers to share information about their experiments, facilities and the organisation itself, partly as a way of mitigating the loss of institutional knowledge due to staff turnover. The original proposal is fascinating for its outline of the problems and proposed solution and as Berners-Lee wrote:
"Perhaps a linked information system will allow us to see the real structure of the organisation in which we work."
When the WWW expanded out of CERN it was into other research organisations and the universities and the content was primarily scholarly in nature.

Today the WWW is a very different beast. While there is a massive amount of well researched information available resources online about an almost inconceivable range of subjects (take Wikipedia for example), the real driver appears to be advertising. Not just advertising driven giants like Google, Facebook and media outlets, but all sorts of organisations and individuals attempting to sell a product, service or even an opinion to readers online.

My organisation is not alone in forcing researchers to pass information to "communicators" who rewrite it for general consumption before it is allowed to go on the main organisational websites, even internally. The intended audience is almost never fellow researchers, but stakeholders with money (even if only the public's taxes). The content ceases to become a real information resource and instead becomes advertising.

Thankfully, there are initiatives for sharing organisational scientific information online through publications and data repositories. But for many the WWW is no longer a tool for opening up information for discovery and instead it is for controlling what information is available out in the open.

The whole point of the WWW was the ability to turn text into hyperlinks to more information about a term or resource. If that link pointed to an entirely different website then great, you had expanded the network of accessibility of that information. It's amazing what random paths you could be lead upon and what you could learn from such links. Now authors are often discouraged (apart from Wikipedia) from creating inline links, with what links that exist in a page usually designed to guide the reader along a specified path within the site.

Perhaps some of the responsibility for this change lies with web standards themselves. When it started the formatting options for web pages were very limited - the main point of a page was the content and the hyperlinks elsewhere. Now web development is all about format over content. No longer can anyone simply write up a HTML document for the web, now HTML standards are mindbogglingly complex and websites require the input of graphic designers, accessibility and search engine optimisation experts.

I love great design and the amazing tools now available online from banking and booking to satellite photo maps with incredible overlay options and video editing online. But I do wonder if the need to be visually stunning often prevents us from really communicating. It's like "Keeping up with the Kardashians" replacing a Sir David Attenborough docummentary. I think we've lost something precious in the transition.
Updated on 2013-01-26 with comments about hyperlinks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Privacy and politeness

I got pretty annoyed with a fellow commuter on the train home today. This middle aged cyclist was sitting opposite us unnecessarily taking up three seats at the carriage end of a packed train. Alex had fallen asleep on my shoulder and I was rather drowsy.

This bloke lifts up his iPhone and prepares to take a photo of Alex and I.
I shook my head, but he went and snapped the photo anyway. I told him I said no, but he replied that he wasn't going to publish it and it was just a beautiful shot. I complained that he was pretty inconsiderate.

What annoyed me was the blatant impolitness of his photography. Had he asked permission I might well have said yes, but as a private individual with a small kid I feel like I should have some rights to my and his image.

Real summer

While Sydney complains about the first 40 degree day of summer I'm loving it. Sure, it's a guilty love, with the dreadful fires that accompany such days, but for someone born in Victoria these hot dry days are what summer is all about. It's like the air glowed with heat, but put me in some shade and cricket on the radio and I'm in summer heaven.

Popular Posts