< April 2009 >

Wednesday, 15th April

Weird. I woke up half an hour before my alarm, convinced that it had already gone off and I'd fallen asleep again.

Finally dragged myself over to Boots for an eye test, for the first time since just before leaving for Greece. I'm not having any problems with my eyes but my specs are in appalling condition and it's about time I got some new ones. Turns out that my eyes have hardly changed since then.

In other news, somebody has dropped a large jar of mayonnaise on Centenary Footbridge, which looks really gross. Indeed, I only worked out that it was mayonnaise because, walking past it again on my way home, I saw part of the jar's label that had been swept to the edge of the footpath.

Thursday, 16th April

Some time over the last two weeks, a catalogue from the Cambridge University Press arrived in my pigeon hole at work. Addressed to “Dr M Richerby”, whoever he or she is, at “University of Leeds / Computing”, which certainly isn't the form in which the School quotes its address. And it's a catalogue of physics books, which have nothing to do with me. Where on earth did they go to look up something that isn't quite my name and something that isn't quite my address and something that is totally irrelevant to my field of study?

Friday, 17th April

Gah. For the last five years, Leeds has been laughing at Bradford for having an enormous hole in the ground instead of a city centre. They signed a contract for the redevelopment of a huge area, with plans to build a massive shopping centre that didn't look economically viable in Bradford even then. Foolishly, they didn't put any penalty clauses in the contract and, after the developer razed the existing buildings, they decided that they wouldn't actually build the new ones “just yet”.

Well, guess what? Over last summer, a biggish chunk of Leeds, bounded by Boar Lane, Briggate, Commercial Street and Albion Street, was levelled and the developers have decided that they're not going to build anything right now because the economy's too bad. Apparently, there's less scope for this to turn into a Black Hole of Bradford: they're only talking about a one-year postponement at the moment and, apparently, there are penalty clauses in the contract. And this scheme does look a bit more plausible than Bradford's, though there are vast numbers of shops in Leeds already.

The remnants of the mayonnaise are still visible on the bridge. It's mostly a big, black greasy stain, now.

Sunday, 19th April

[Today to the 23rd posted 2009-05-03.]

Somebody on ePhotozine mentioned Philippe Marchand's photographs. They're very good, though the website's Flash is a bit annoying.

In other web news, my Sporcle quiz of the commonest hundred words in English has now been played 300,000 times. Yikes.

A nice, warm, sunny afternoon so I went for a wander with my camera. Not really helping the quest to decrease my back-log of unprocessed photos but there you go. This first one was taken on a little back street that I only went down because it saved me about ten yards on the way to the post box. Not entirely sure what's going on here, to be honest — it's an Italian flag, if that helps — but yay! for pointless micro-optimization and consequent serendipity.

Americo Motors, Leeds

This particular monstrosity, West Riding House, was the tallest building in Leeds from from 1973 until Bridgewater Place overtook it in 2005. Gah. Anyway, it doesn't look too bad reflected in the adjacent shopping centre. Version three is a demonstration of what can go wrong when you resize images that contain lots of parallel lines. All together, now: “Whennnnnnn your parallel lines / Get resized, it all dies: / That's a moiré!” I suspect, actually, that moiré suppression in the camera might have damaged all of these. In further notes, the first one took forever to process as I faked the reflected sky above the second line from the top, including all the glazing struts. The shopping centre isn't actually that tall but the real sky looked bad. (Looking at it now, I can see some blobs in the sky so this needs a bit more work.)

West Riding House, reflected West Riding House, reflected Image broken by resizing

This is the (Catholic) cathedral, which was recently restored. I'm not sure about the work they've done on Jesus, though — is it just me or is he wearing a sagging strapless bra? Not so obvious in the wide-angle shot but much more visible in the centre crop. I guess I should look inside, some day...

Leeds Cathedral, West End Jesus in a bra?

I also wandered into Millennium Square to take some photos of the golden owls. The golden owls rock, in all possible ways. They're four feet tall, they're owls and they're made of (or, at least, plated with) gold. What more could you ask? Well, you could ask that I process the photos of them and post them here. [Done! 2011-05-03.]

Golden owl Golden owl Golden owl Cherub and swan The Electric Press

Having seen an interesting photo of it on the web, I thought I'd have a go at shooting the international swimming pool, which is now closed. Didn't get any shots of that, though, as there were a couple of guys wandering around, peering into and generally investigating the various cracks and cubby holes around the building. Deciding they wouldn't appreciate having my camera pointed at them, I beat a hasty retreat, checking over my shoulder that they weren't following me. Maybe I'll give it another go some other time. The alternative plan involved wandering around the canal and what they now call “Holbeck Urban Village” in a desperate attempt to gentrify by name-change.

The vintage sign is a little worrying, since the bridge serves as the main road entrance to a large building site. It seems somehow unlikely that they're bringing everything in on five-ton trucks. The pretty tower is actually a well-disguised chimney, which was based on Giotto's Campanile in Florence. The site is a former pin factory but it closed in the early 1980s. According to the Holbeck Urban Village website, the factory owner's classification for pin sizes, the Harding Gauge, became the international standard. Wikipedia hasn't heard of it.

Old sign Tower Mill, Leeds Bridgewater Place, Leeds Closed tile shop

And one last one on the way home. An unlikely sentiment, methinks. *cough*

Godloves Solicitors

Monday, 20th April

Wow. It seems to be summer already. Indeed, if the internet is to be believed, the weather in Leeds was better than Athens: only a degree or two cooler but no rain.

Tuesday, 21st April

I have plane tickets to go to the US in June. It's a bit more awkward now that BMI have been taken over by Lufthansa and have stopped flying from Manchester to Chicago — that means there's no longer a reasonably-priced route to Lincoln so I have to fly to Omaha, which is an hour's drive away.

Rant time. Why is it that the UK versions of Expedia and Travelocity are so mind-blowingly shit? You'd imagine that a single-purpose site would understand its domain, right? But no. The American versions of the sites understand that it's rarely possible to get a direct flight unless you're flying to or from a major airport. As a result, they let you ask for direct flights, for at most one change, or for anything at all. The British versions do not understand this basic fact about the airline industry. So you can ask for a direct flight or anything goes. There are no direct flights from the UK to anywhere in Nebraska. Therefore, Expelocity thinks I might be interested in flying from Manchester to Atlanta (good start), then to Minneapolis, then sitting on my sorry ass for eighteen hours before boarding a flight to Omaha. Dear Morons, there are direct flights from Atlanta to Omaha! I want to take one of those! I do not want to spend eighteen hours in Minne-goddamn-sota! (Note to any Minne-goddamn-sotans reading: repeated tmesis aside, I have nothing against your fine state and would be delighted to visit in circumstances that don't involve flying 300 miles too far north and sitting on my ass for eighteen hours.)

What's with the prices? I understand that there might be slight variation and that a cheaper ticket that was available when I asked for prices might have been sold before I try to buy it. That's fine. But explain this to me. When I asked Expelocity for prices around certain dates, it told me that it would cost £445-£460 or so, depending on when I wanted to fly, unless I wanted to come back on one particular day, in which case it would cost £9,400. Being interested to see what fantastical service I'd get for my nine-and-a-half grand, should I feel so inclined, I clicked on one of those flights. Maybe some kind of round-the-world trip caused by severly limited ticket availability? That'd be pretty cool: Omaha to Manchester via Denver, Los Angeles, Sydney, Singapore, Qatar and Heathrow, perhaps? But no. “Oh,” said Expelocity. “When I said £9,400, I actually meant £440.” Only out by a factor of twenty. Everybody makes mistakes. Never mind. No worry that £440 is cheaper than what you just said was the cheapest possible flight. Are all the other prices you quoted to be read as plus-or-minus £9,000?

Why don't they understand New York? What is the point of offering a flight to La Guardia and then giving you only two hours to pick up your bags, cross New York, check in your bags and get on a plane at JFK? How do they imagine you can do that?

Why doesn't Expelocity.co.uk let you pick your seats when Expelocity.com does?

So, anyway, I gave up. Expelocity told me that Delta fly Manchester—Atlanta—Omaha so I went to their website and bought tickets there. Everything went perfectly, except for a minor hiccup that they let me choose my seats by giving me a graphic of a Boeing 767 on which they hadn't bothered to mark the already-occupied seats. I fly out on the 13th and back on the 30th of June.

Thursday, 23rd April

St George's Day!

Happy St George's Day to everyone in England! And Georgia, of course. Oh, and Lithuania and Russia. And Greece and Portugal and Palestine. And Slovenia. And Aragon and Catalonia and Bavaria and Bulgaria. And anyone on a horse or who makes saddles. Or owns a farm or works in a field. And, um, well, anyone with herpes. Or syphilis. Or plague or, actually, any other skin disease. Patron saint of bloody everyone, St George is.

A slightly unusual day. Alessandro gave a seminar on the work he's doing for his PhD on scheduling for outpatient oncology departments: assuming that the oncologist sets the treatment regimen but trying to work out how many nurses are needed given the current set of patients and treatments, and updating this as new patients arrive. Like most scheduling problems, most things are NP-complete. But, discussing it with him afterwards, it seemed like there were some simplifying assumptions that might reduce the complexity. Specifically, a nurse only has a fixed number of 15-minute time-slots in her day. This makes various sub-problems easier, though maybe doesn't help to answer the question of how many nurses are needed for a given day's work. So I ended up spending most of the afternoon working things out for that.

And then I felt terribly sleepy so I came home rather earlier than usual and popped into Borders, who sold me two Times killer su doku books for the price of one, and a Yellowstone guidebook. And I managed to do a pair of 50-minute puzzles in eleven and nine minutes, which is very unusual for me. Usually, if they think the puzzle will take half an hour or less, I do it in a third to half that time but, if they think it'll take more than half an hour or so, I go wrong somewhere.

Friday, 24th April

Eep. Power cut at work. Big one. About half an hour. To which, of course, we all reacted by congregating in the common room chatting, even though we could have been working with pencils and paper or reading things. We initially blamed the building work upstairs but that soon shifted to the building work for the new swimming pool, after it became apparent that the whole university was without power. No idea if that really was the cause. Strangely, the magnetic lock on the main door on our office continued to work, while the one on the equivalent door to the other big open-plan office unlocked. Our building supervisor can't work out where it was getting power from.

Even more strangely and very alarmingly, both the main door of the other office and its fire escape decided to lock and stay locked when the power came back on. With four people in the room. We quickly got them out with the override key, while being thankful that it was half past three on a Friday afternoon, rather than, say, half past five. The override key was in a different room, you see, and had to be passed under the door.

And, just as people were being sent home, the power went off again, and stayed off for at least an hour. After a while, we heard that the hospital was without power, too, and that the electricity company were, understandably putting all their effort into getting that back. So, we stood around getting paranoid and propping open any mag-locked doors, checking we had mechanically-locked routes out of the building and so on, to make sure we couldn't get locked in when the power came back. Chris went and got more copies of the override key cut, which we taped to the walls where they were needed. Notices were put on doors, telling people not to come in over the weekend under any circumstances; people, inevitably, complained about their deadlines. Much worry that the notices — hand-written because there was no electricity for printers — didn't look official enough, despite being on headed paper. We really don't need people getting trapped in the building over the weekend...

Back to my usual standard at killer su doku: two attempts at 50-minute puzzles; two failures.

Saturday, 25th April

[Photos posted 2009-05-03. Except the last one, posted exactly two years later. Heh.]

A very cool optical illusion.

The light was good as I was heading over to Tesco so I brought my camera along and took some pics along the river bank. The woman steering the boat was very friendly and asked if I'd taken any good photos; turns out I'd only taken one reasonable one by then. I'm particularly taken by the reflections one, though. Of course, I took half a dozen of them. Somehow, it always seems to be the first or the last one that turns out best: maybe I shouldn't bother taking the ones in the middle...

Roberts Wharf, Leeds The Black Prince Blossom at Roberts Wharf, Leeds Dali's windows

Clarence Dock has a pair of sculptured like this one, which I think are rather good. I took photographs of both of them but I'm still editing the bird shit out of the other one. I'm not at all sure why you can't seem my reflection; perhaps I am the vampire.

Sculpture, Clarence Dock, Leeds Sculpture in Clarence Dock

Sunday, 26th April

Took the train up to Guiseley to see mum and dad and Ruby, who was staying with them for the weekend. Just before the train left Leeds, I thought it might be interesting to point my camera out of the window at a fixed shutter speed and take pictures through the journey. I didn't have much time to think about it so I went with 1/50s, which was what the camera chose for the first one. These are taken with the 50mm lens and not cropped or rotated, which made processing very fast. I think some of the results are quite interesting.

Just before departure Leaving Leeds Armley gas holder A big yard full of caravans
Countryside through the trees Pylon Fields and trees Fields and trees
Trees People walking on the canal bank at Apperley Bridge The canal at Apperley Bridge Apperley Bridge
Somewhere near Rawdon Woods near Guiseley

Ruby's making great progress, speaking in short sentences and linking them together. And she can reliably say “David”, now. And, you know, she's still terribly cute.

Little angel at the bottom of the stairs Still too cute Too cute Cleaning the glass door Awwwww Small children move quickly
Eye spy... Small plastic bowls are exciting... ... well, maybe not so exciting Just landed Not a toff, honest

And the associated wildlife...

cheeky monkey Wildlife

So, for the first time in, like, ever, I've taken more than a couple of photos and had them all processed the same day. Well, the same day, if you count days until you go to bed.

In a rather unfortunate piece of timing, Kita and Adam are off for a week in Mexico with his parents. They're not going within 800 miles of Mexico City and nobody's advising that people stay out of the country just yet. Still, a bit of a worry. I got to track their flight to Arizona on the web, though, which is definitely more fun than flying.

Monday, 27th April

*snork* The mouse-over text for today's xkcd is a work of genius.

I worked from home, partly because it rained for most of the day and partly because it looked likely that I'd have to leave the office at 5pm in case of further power cuts. I actually did a negative amount of work, but in a good way. Our paper now has more stuff in it but is a page shorter: I found a neat, short proof of a result we'd already included in the paper but forgotten about and then used it to cut a lot of guff elsewhere.

Ho-hum. Interesting article on peer-review. Interesting in its own right but also because it includes the sentence, “If I ask people to rank painters like Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, Carpaccio, and Veronese, I would never expect them to come up with the same order.” Carpaccio is not a painter but a rather tasty starter consisting of thinly-sliced raw meat. I can't work out if this was a deliberate mistake to test the effectiveness of the peer-review process, a brain-fart or an over-eager spell-checker. In any case, I assume he meant, “Caravaggio”.

Tuesday, 28th April

Last month, I ordered a book from an Amazon seller in British Columbia. Today, forty-three days later, it arrived, postmarked 16th March. I'm not quite sure what the Canadian postal service is doing that causes a smallish parcel travels at only 4.5mph: that's not much faster than a relay of men with cleft sticks.

Not fair. Yesterday, it rained until mid-afternoon and then cleared up. Today, it was sunny until mid-afternoon and then rained solidly until late at night, so I got wet walking home.

To punish the sneezing pigs, I made Nigel Slater's Thai pork stir fry. An interesting dish, calling for four chillis and the juice of three limes, for two servings. Leslie told me a while ago that acidity neutralizes the heat of chillis and she's right: it wasn't hot at all. It was awfully acidic, though: I might have dissolved my teeth away.

Wednesday, 29th April

New specs! For the first time in, er, *mumble* seven years. Optically, they're nearly identical to the old ones, except that they're not scratched to hell and back. Similar enough that my eyes hardly noticed the difference and I soon got bored of trying to read car number plates on the way into work. The frames are pretty similar to the old ones, too. And I have new sunglasses that fit perfectly without needing any adjustment.

Ilaria and I went with some of her friends to see the student opera society's show after work. Note to student opera society: don't call your show “Opera Bites” 'cos, you see, that has an alternative meaning beyond “opera snippets” and you need to make sure that one doesn't apply. OK, so that's not entirely fair. They had two or three decent soloists, including one who could act while singing. On the other hand, their orchestra was pretty mediocre, which made the Handel aria particularly painful (mediocre soloist also not helping). Their G&S was good, though not a patch on the Cambridge Gilbert and Sullivan Society's.

I had a slightly upset stomach all day so I won't be making that stir fry again. On the other hand, the pork, cold, with whatever sauce was stuck to it was a good snack when I got home.

Thursday, 30th April

We had a talk from a Google bod who used to be at the University of Glasgow. It was interesting, though I didn't really learn very much. You know, Google runs huuuuuge computer systems; only they can't say just how huuuuuuge because that's commercially-sensitive. Still, there were quite a lot of undergrads in the audience and I suspect they got rather more out of it than I did. Their generation (he said, sounding old) don't often have to consider the idea that making their code even 10% more efficient might win you something — say, cutting the number of machines you need by 10%. Actually, I did learn one thing or, at least, find one new perspective. You tend to assume that computers just work but, if you're running tens of thousands of them, the assumption that they fail all the time is much more appropriate. Because you expect to have three or four hard drives fail every day, for example. Better be able to work around that.

< April 2009 >

Copyright © David Richerby, 2009.