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Archives for January, 2010

An end to the washing machine saga?

January 23rd, 2010

I have a new washing machine! Hopefully this one will be less problematic than the last few.

A brief inspection reveals it comes from the “fancy pants” school of washing machine design.

On top we see the rather complicated instruction manual which complements the confusing array of dials and buttons on the front panel. Luckily most of the buttons seem to serve no purpose other than to make the display flash a red “ERR” message angrily. As a professional software engineer I’m slightly alarmed by the sophistication of this device – surely the electronics are even more likely to be buggy than the mechanics?

I’m giving it a test run on my running stuff which was rather in need of a wash. Let’s hope it goes OK…

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January 23rd, 2010

The MECHANICAL PIG has been switched back on! Watch it do its piggy thing on Twitter! Interact with it on PIG CONSOLE!

What will the MECHANICAL PIG do? Only you can decide!

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Disaster narrowly averted

January 14th, 2010

Earlier this evening I was making mashed potato as I am sometimes known to do. After boiling the potato until ripe and tender I prepared the items for the next stage: milk, salt, pepper, and the all important masher. What else? Butter, of course! The most vital ingredient. No butter in the butter hopper. Hmm. More butter must be fetched from the fridge and placed in the hopper! THERE IS NO BUTTER IN THE FRIDGE!!! Woe! Misery! I am struck with a feeling of utter desolation.

After picking myself up off the floor and calming my trembling nerves with a cool glass of milk I consider carefully what must be done. Evidently the process cannot proceed in the established “butter cloud” fashion. I could spend the night in hunger repenting that I forgot to stock up on butter at Tesco. Instead I decide to make an alarming new addition to my mashed potato recipe – after all, it couldn’t get much worse. The new ingredient: MUSTARD! I added two teaspoons of English mustard and proceeded as normal.

Results were unexpectedly good! The mustard adds a nice mustardy flavour which goes well with sausages and helps to disguise the lack of butter flavour. I may have to consider adding a little mustard more regularly. The yellow mustard colour also gives the potato a rather appealing garish yellow hue which certainly brightened up my dinner.

So, all things considered, it could have ended much worse. Still, as renowned pizza oven once remarked, “a little bit of butter makes it good!”.

Why do washing machines hate me?

January 11th, 2010

I’ve just suffered my fourth washing machine malfunction in 12 months. Why does this keep happening to me!!! :(

Here is a brief recap:

  • The first washing machine had some sort of problem where it would chew up its insides and spit them out over the clothes. This was replaced but then…
  • The new washing machine refused to spin after a few months. The cause of this problem was the legendary Carbon Brushes.
  • Some time passed. I moved house. But then I was struck with a terrible internal leakage problem. This turned out to be a lime scale accumulation on the inlet valve.

I thought I was safe. The washing machine was working. My clothes were clean and fresh. But then when I least expected it the washing machine just stopped mid cycle. After some analysis I found that it had not only stopped but tripped the circuit breaker. Furthermore, the machine now trips the circuit breaker the instant it’s turned on. Hmm. The engineer is coming on Friday but even if he fixes it I doubt it will last long until the next disaster.

With what sort of frequency do other people experience washing machine malfunctions??

UPDATE: Apparently the washing machine was completely borked: carbon brushes, bearings, and some other component were completely worn out. New washing machine being delivered this morning… wonder how long it will last.

Frozen canal

January 8th, 2010

There are some who would claim that Slough is a frozen wasteland all year round. This is obviously rubbish, but it is very much frozen now as you can see from these photos I took when I went for a walk yesterday lunchtime:

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xcowsay 1.2

January 5th, 2010

After nearly 18 months I’m releasing a new version of xcowsay! Release 1.2 doesn’t contain any new major features but it does contain a number of bug fixes and small improvements requested by 1.1 users. These include:

  • Fixed bugs relating to multiple monitors: the cow will no longer be spliced across two screens and a new --monitor option forces the cow to appear on a particular monitor.
  • A new --image option allows you to use your own images instead of the cow, letting you do things like this.
  • New --at and --bubble-at options let you change the default position of cow and bubble. Useful if you’re using your own images.
  • The DBus daemon now supports `think’ and `dream’ modes.
  • Supports an XDG compliant config file location, and a new --config option lets you specify additional config files.
  • Lots of minor bug fixes.

Download the source code: xcowsay-1.2.tar.gz.

Did you know xcowsay is now available in Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, and several BSD variants? I won’t be providing any distribution-specific packages for this release as yours should hopefully update it soon. You can always build it from source though!

Someone asked if xcowsay could have a --theme option to bundle a custom image with a custom bubble location, etc. This is possible with the new --config option. E.g. create a file my_theme.cfg with your customisations:

alt_image = /path/to/image.png
bubble_x = 5

And run xcowsay with xcowsay --config=my_theme.cfg message.

A couple of bug fixes and improvements didn’t make it into 1.2. These include:

  • The cow and speech bubble have jagged edges which would be improved by
  • Very long strings will disappear off the right-hand side of the
    screen. This could be fixed e.g. by using Pango’s word wrapping.

UPDATE: Now with an updated Portuguese translation!

A scientific experiment

January 3rd, 2010

I was conversing with blodgett recently on the subject of the large rubber duck I received for Christmas. I found myself unable to give an accurate estimate on how many times larger this new duck was than the regular common rubber duck. I guessed it was perhaps four times as large.

Before reading the rest of the article, you might like to use this image to make your own estimation:

But ill-informed guesswork is not the way of science! A scientist uses the unerring power of logic and experimentation to peer into the darkest corners of human ignorance. To the science laboratory!


An experiment is proposed!

But wait! A good scientist doesn’t dive straight into experimentation without conducting a thorough literature review so that he might know where his contribution fits within the scientific edifice. In this obscure field of measuring how big things are, the most significant work is that of Archimedes who pioneered the “bathtub” technique. We hereby propose to extend this technique to the measuring of rubber ducks.

Background research now completed, we proceed to define our experimental method. The size of the duck shall be defined by the volume of water it displaces. An alternative method whereby the duck is filled with water via its valve, was discounted due to considerations for duck welfare and unequal rubber thickness. However, the duck-valve cannot be ignored as it may admit water during the experiment: to ameliorate this we cover the valve with sellotape.

The steps are as follow:

  1. A jug is filled with 300ml of water.
  2. The duck is placed in the water such that the water covers the duck’s head. Special care must be taken that fingers or other implements do not affect the result.
  3. The combined volume of duck and water is read off and 300ml is subtracted, yielding the volume of the duck.
  4. The jug is refilled to 300ml and the experiment repeated.

Here is a diagram of the experimental apparatus:


First, we perform the experiment on the large duck:

The measurement is 450ml, giving a duck volume of 150ml.

Next, we repeat the experiment with the small duck:

The measurement is 350ml, which means the small duck has a volume of 50ml.

The experiment completed, we tidy the laboratory and proceed to an in-depth analysis of the results.


A simple numerical analysis reveals that the large duck is 150.0 / 50.0 = 3.0 times larger than the small duck. This means my original prediction had an error of 25%.

The significance of this outcome can be better appreciated with a bar chart:

What predictions does this result allow us to make? Well, it can be easily seen that there is a linear relationship between duck size and volume. We see no reason why this cannot be extrapolated to hypothesise the existence of a new class of “huge” rubber duck which might have a volume of 250ml!

Alarmingly, this data also predicts that a hypothetical “tiny” class of rubber duck would have negative volume! Such a troubling thought is best not dwelled upon, especially as it’s time for lunch.


January 2nd, 2010

Just got back home to Maidenhead. Unfortunately, due to my zealous switching off of everything it is very cold and there is no hot water. Bother. I’m a treating this as a training exercise for my trip to Norway at the end of the month were temperatures will apparently be in the -15C region. Not quite that bad here.

Happy/sad plant is most definitely sad at the moment.

First post of the year!

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