# Sunday, 25 June 2006

Idiot's guide to DIY - by an idiot!!

You know you sometimes read those "DIY projects that went wrong" articles in such august journals as Readers Digest, where they tell the sad tale of someone who decided to knock through his living room and dining room and ended up pulling down a supporting wall, resulting in a collapse of the house?

Well, I always wondered how people could be so stupid. Of course, someone like me would never do anything stupid, ahem.

Shayna Brocho wanted a shelf by her bed, so being a good Daddy, I bought one for her. Having done this sort of thing many times before, I wasn't unduly worried about it. Having said that, previous experience has shown that the bricks in our house are very soft, which coupled with the unusually thick plaster, means you need long screws to hold even light things to the walls. I decided to use 4" screws for the shelf, as it was bound to get some hammering.

The job went reasonably smoothly, until I was almost finished. Shayna Brocho and Eliyohu went into the boy' room for something. They came back in and asked "Daddy, why are there matches sticking out of the wall in the boy's room?" I dismissed this as a childish attempt to get me worried - until they repeated the question.

With a growing sense of tredipation, I went into the boys' room, only to discover that the wall between the two rooms is evidently made of thinner bricks that I had guessed. The holes I had drilled for the screws had gone right through to the other side of the walls, so when I had plugged the holes with long matches, they had poked out of the other side!!

Ho hum. It wasn't actually the best place to hang a picture, but I put one there to cover the mistake. Maybe I should write to Readers Digest :-)

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# Monday, 19 June 2006

On Chemistry, Mishnayos and an Uninteresting Result

When I was doing my PhD, one of my fellow students told me a story (apparently true) of someone doing a PhD in Chemistry. His assignment was to examine the reaction of some chemical, which for want of a better name, we will call Krinklium Trithorodine (KrTh3) with other chemicals.

He slaved away (as much as any PhD student does) for three years mixing, heating, defibulating and otherwise abusing his bottle of KrTh3, trying in vain to get it to react with something. At the end of three years he concluded that it simply didn't react with anything, and that his entire PhD had been a waste of time.

When I was told this story, I pointed out that the fact that KrTh3 didn't react with anything was itself a result. The reply was "Yes, but it's not a very interesting one."

Why am I telling you this? Well, this morning I was learning a tractate of mishnayos called Kinim, which is generally reckoned to be extremely hard to understand by anyone with a non-mathematical mind. I happen to like this tractace, partly because I'm weird, and partly because I like mathematics (which probably amounts to the same as being weird).

Anyway, the subject matter turned to the calculation of what happens when a mixture of sacrificial bird offerings from several people are brought by mistake. There is a discussion over certain specific cases as to how many of the birds were OK, and how many were no good. I started pondering if there was some mathematical formula that, given the number of people and the number of birds they each had, would tell you the proportions that were OK. I started working out some numbers to see if I could see a pattern, but decided that it was a bit complex to do by hand. I began to ponder the complexities of writing a computer program to do the calculation for me. I had grand pictures of a thesis being formed, with a new mathematical treatise on Kinim in the offing. I was going to be famous!!

The matter was put aside at lunchtime, and all but forgot during the afternoon. When I returned to the subject this evening, I decided to have another go at some calculations by hand. As I was doing these, I suddenly realised that the answer was quite simple. If the number of people were even, then half of the birds were OK, and if the number of people were odd, then two thirds of the birds were OK.

I felt a bit deflated. All my grand plans of a thesis shot out of the window. Sure it's a result, but to quote the person who told me the previous story "It's not a very interesting one."

Bit like this blog post!!
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Two basic rules of flying

Basic Flying Rule 1: Try to stay in the middle of the air

Basic Flying Rule 2: Go to the edge of the air only when ready to land.

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# Sunday, 18 June 2006

Up, up and away

Yesterday (Shabbos) was a lovely sunny day. I was sitting by the window in the early evening, and I happened to look outside, and saw a large hot air balloon rising behind the house opposite. This being rather an unusual sight, I called the family and we went outside to see.

As we watched it rise higher, one of the children noticed another, then another, and another. After ten minutes or so, we could see about six or seven balloons floating around over the houses. As we watched them, some more appeared.

In the end, we saw thirteen hot air balloons. Most were the traditional shape, but a couple we more interesting. The oddest one was shaped (and coloured) like a large yogourt pot, complete with open lid!!

The favourite of them all though was the last one. Despite being the normal shape, its colours were eaily the nicest. It started off red at the bottom, then faded to yellow in the middle and became green at the top.

We watched them until the last one disappeared behind the trees, and then tried to get the younger girls into bed. This proved rather difficult as they insisted on looking for more balloons. The boys went off to stand on their bedroom windowsill, where they had a better view. Having just managed to calm the girls down and get them into bed, one of the biys yelled "Hey, there's another balloon!!"

You just can't help some people!!

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# Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Face to face - at last

I discovered a few months ago that I have a second cousin living in Stamford Hill (london). We spoke to each other over the string-driven modern type electric telephone, and seemed to get on well. He is slightly younger than me, with one less child, but otherwise a similar background and history.

He rang me yesterday to say that he was coming to Manchester for a wedding and would I be around to meet him. I wandered over to the hall after learning this evening and (amazingly enough in a crowded hall), managed to find him fairly quickly.

It was weird meeting someone face to face for the first time. We got on well, although it was sometimes hard to know what to say. We managed :-)

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PSG blog moves to the main PSG site

Well, having been a bit fed up with MSN and their blog site, I decided to move the PSG blog. Being the brave (and foolhardy) type, I decided that instead of trying another blogging service, I would install my own. I contemplated writing one, but instead opted for downloading a free one. Seems to work OK so far :-)

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# Tuesday, 13 June 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith on immortality

"If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error"

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# Monday, 12 June 2006

Heatwave - bleah!

OK, so I admit it, I'm unusual.

I know that's not news to anyone who knows me, but I think I must be the only person not enjoying our current heatwave. I have no idea what is going on outside of my area of activity (usually a mile or so around my house), but right here it's India on a hot day. Perhaps not the "India on a hot day" that would melt a brass doorknob, but certainly enough to make it go mushy.

I have partially solved the problem with a portable air conditioning unit that is sitting beside me on the desk, belting cold air down the back of my neck. This is paradise compared to the rest of the house. The problem is that is is drowning out Saint Saens' quite wonderful Kettle Drum Symphony (OK, it's really called the Organ Symphony, but I reckon there are more kettle drums there than organs anyway).

Anyway, roll on winter!!

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# Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Cake (a subject close to my heart!!)

Why do people say "You can't have your cake and eat it" - of course you can!!
The trick is to eat your cake and have it...
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# Monday, 22 May 2006

Microsoft stupid, Apple stupid!!

Those avid readers of this blog (hello) will eagerly remember the New Mac entry, where I mentioned that I bought an Apple Mac. Well, after a few teething problems with the wrong operating system, I finally got hold of a copy of OSX, the latest and greatest version of the Mac OS. I looked forward to an installation and usage free from the stupid usability issues that bug Windows users. Boy was I wrong!!

Stage One - Installation time
A few years ago, when Windows NT was the buzz, I reckoned that it took about 20-25 minutes to do a full installation from scratch. XP takes a little longer, but not significantly. I was expected OSX to be about the same... I inserted the CDs and started the machine, to be greeted with the "Installing OSX" screen. I was a little, erm, surprised when it told me that the instalaltion was expected to take two and a half hours!!! Yup, about four times as long as it takes to install Windows!! Strike One.

Current score, Microsoft one, Apple nil.

Stage Two - Registering the OS
Practically as soon as the install had begun, it asked me for loads of personal information so that it could register my details with Apple. Wait a sec, I don't want Apple to have my personal details, they're personal. It seems that Apple don't care about this and insist that you supply them. You can't click the "Next" button to go onto the next stage on installation unless you fill out all of those boxes. The only consolation here was that it assured me that my country would be used later to localise the installation.

Being the awkward type, I decided not to give them any real information, and entered useful tings like "a" for my name. I gave my real country as I was looking forward to having it do all my regional setting for me. I clicked "Next" to continue, not impressed that I had basically been forced into supplying info that they don't really have any right to demand. By contrast, Microsoft make registering an option, and they don't ask you until the operating system is fully installed. Strike Two.

Current score, Microsoft two, Apple nil.

Stage Three - Localisation
Computers are very sophisticated nowadays, and they will recognise your locale and modify the interface accordingly. Thus, a French person, even when living in the UK, with the time zone set to Uk can still have the interface in French. Jolly clever eh?

Whilst watching the OSX installation out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that it was preparing the Traditonal Chinese localisation for me. How super!! Whilst wondering about this, I noticed that it then prepared a Spanish localistion as well. To my amazement, it spent over 30 minutes preparing loads of localisations for languages that I cannot speak. Apart fomr the gross waste of time, this was after it had assured me that my choice of country (see above) would be used to set localisation for me!! Needless to say, when the installation was finally complete, I still had to set some of the localisation stuff myself. Strike Three and out.

Current score, Microsoft three, Apple nil.

Windows may have its faults, but Mac OSX isn't so brilliant either!! Shame that neither of them seems to have bothered watching real people use their installation procedures. They might have picked up a few tips!! Maybe I'll send them this entry... or maybe not!!

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