tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Well, I've had some work from my old company, and have some more next week, which is good. It was the South Downs Ecademy Club meeting this week and met a couple of people new to the SDEC and it turned out they both use Macs as well. I'm not quite sure how that came up, probably partly because one also uses satellite broadband and we were talking about that, and how his connection bombs out at certain points that seem to be due to the expansion/contraction of the atmosphere and the refraction of the signal his dish sends out.

One of the chaps was a Personal Coach who has recently moved to Brighton and is still in the initial burst of enthusiasm for the town, which is nice to see. I'm a bit dubious about the whole 'Coach' thing, but he seemed to have his head screwed on tight and if he's helping people I certainly aren't going to complain. Apparently the area of Coaches has a lot of cowboys in it spoiling the reputation of the professionals. Being in the web world, I can appreciate how that can happen.

As a break from job hunting, evening meetings, trying to write my own documents and various other work-related things I've been reading the latest Lois McMaster Bujold book, Diplomatic Immunity (Amazon UK give-Paul-money link) which is her usual very good quality work. The Vorkosigan series of books is 'space opera', but has better writing than most of the rest of science fiction, whereas space opera is usually a term for a lot of lousy stuff. Bujold has a fantastic touch with language, dark humour and characterisation. Shards of Honour is the first in the series and although you don't have to read them in order, it certainly helps. Highly recommended.

I've just started Fallen Dragon by Peter F Hamilton. He's an English SF writer who has a lot of talent, but I'm finding the more he writes the less I'm enjoying it. His first three novels (Mindstar Rising, A Quantum Murder and The Nano Flower) were cyberpunkish, relatively short by todays standards, and tightly written. He moved on to the Nights Dawn Trilogy, all around 1,000 pages, which had some great ideas but were hugely over-long and could have done with a good editing. And now Fallen Dragon, which I'm around 60 pages in to and is suffering a bit from very long descriptions of surroundings just when the story is getting going. It reminds me very much of reading Frankenstein when I was doing A-level English - 'Gothic horror' meant 'lots of descriptions of the surroundings' to me while I was reading that. I understand that it's a style that some people like, but it really doesn't fit with the action sequences he does well. Still, hopefully the style will settle down a bit, but at 800 pages, I'm worried that this is another book that could have done with a firmer editor. I got it from the excellent second hand book section of Wax Factor (Trafalgar Road, Brighton) which is better known for it's second hand music, or 'previously played' as I'm sure someone calls it.
A highly busy week, considering I wasn't at work for most of it.

On Monday I went for a meeting with one of my old directors about doing work for his website as a freelancer. He has about a months work to do, spread across several different sub-projects. I was also been organising a website for a potential client, trying to firm up some skills I've got. Tuesday was more of the same, with a meeting with a couple of friends about a business we're starting.

Wednesday was another meeting with my old employers and agreement on two days work - Friday and Monday. And in the evening was a Brighton Farm meeting, which David came to, discussing an Ecademy meet up in Brighton, to supplement the one in Lewes.

Thursday was a break - going with my dad to the Goldsmiths' Hall in London for the annual Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths reception for the Freemen of the Company, which dad belongs to curtsey of a five year apprenticeship, passing their quality of work tests, then many years in the jewellery trade. Before the reception we walked around the part of London he used to work in, and met two of the chaps he used to work with, one of which still owns his old Lotus Cortina.

The Goldsmiths' Hall is extraordinary. Hugely tall, intricately carved ceiling, gold leaf everywhere, portraits on the wall, extremely fine, beautiful cups and goblets at the end. I was glad I wore my suit! Seems the least I could do.

Ah yes, and I've set out a few of the things I've done as the start of a CV, or at least somewhere I can point people who might be interested in hiring me.
Well, I was made redundant on Friday. I have a meeting on Monday with my old company about freelance work. Fortunately one of my friends has said he's also interested in sorting out freelance work for me, and another couple want my help in starting a business. Which is nice.

I've never been made redundant before, but I must admit, it was a relief. I didn't want to be among the people left because while they are all my friends, I don't think I could have stuck it long-term in a place that has done what has happened - much of which I'm afraid I'm not going to go in to as it's really internal company business.

Anyway, hopefully it looks like I'll have some freelance work coming. If I don't I'll need to go and sign on so I can get housing benefit to pay my rent, which I very quickly won't be able to as we only got notice of one week, as that's the legal minimum. Unfortunately I've recently had a quote of £500 to fix my car. During the week I'm going to contact the owner of the garage and see if he'll agree to an updated website in exchange for the welding I need done.

My friend Alex met me in the pub after the news, and very kindly gave me a hand home with all the stuff I needed to clear out of my office. He needed to drop in to the Neujuice office, which was on my way home, and I saw Nick, who I haven't seen for a while, Emma, who I'm not sure I've met in real life before, and bumped in to Tom, who I haven't seen for ages. So some pleasant things came out of the day.

In my non-work related life: I found a write-able CD in the car park next to my car. I've got a portable CD player that can play MP3s off of CDs, or normal music CDs. I thought maybe I'd dropped it last time I'd got out, but it turns out it's Dick Miller 'Angel Band 1', and it's a music CD with one two minute track on. I wonder if this is what file sharing is being reduced to, now the RIAA and MPAA are attacking the file sharing networks in America - dropping random CDs of music you like around, hoping someone will find it and enjoy it. I was given a free 'preview disk' in HMV when I bought the new Alabama 3 acoustic album Last Train to Mashville yesterday, perhaps random CDs of random tracks would be regarded the same way as that, a way of encouraging people to try new music.

I've been registered with BookCrossing for quite a while, but still haven't released any books in to the wild under their scheme, I usually just take my old ones to charity shops. But the idea of dropping random sample CDs around town and the thought of people finding a new band or style of music they enjoy fills me with a warm tingly feeling that can only mean I need more sleep.
Going through my website logs, like the good little geek I am, I've discovered people turning up at my site looking for ColdFusion upload sandbox advice, but only finding my security basics article saying it's a good idea. So I've written an article on creating a file upload sandbox for security using ColdFusion which they'll hopefully get instead.

It's great to be able to find stuff people are looking for. I need to do some research and find out what else people need advice in where I can potentially help. For ColdFusion I'm going through my old posts and looking for any questions that come up quite often and seeing if I can work them in to their own pages. Google could show the people these if they searched under Google Groups as the Macromedia CF forums are also posted to the relevant newsgroups, which are archived in Google Groups.

It would be handy if I could search on both the web and newsgroups when I have technical queries, because the answer has a good chance of being on either, or indeed both.
Other news... the company I work for in Brighton is making some cutbacks, which wasn't expected and so comes as something of a shock. More news as things develop.
The BBC is running a news article saying that under fifties are 'blighted by pain', and that many people suffering from constant pain are also diagnosed with depression.

Although I've managed to get hurt in various ways, it wasn't until I had an abscess earlier this year that I realised how debilitating a constant, but small, nagging pain is. I think our brains are wired to forget what pain is like quickly, helping us get on with our lives after injuries have been recovered from, but this may affect the understanding of people who are treating those with pain. While you may remember that pain is a nasty thing, and not something you wish to suffer from, it is difficult to be truly empathic about it.

My sister had a very bad form of arthritis for twenty years, which spread across all of her joints and affected some of her internal organs. Now, lots of people have arthritis in their back, or knees, and while you can feel sympathy, there's always a part of you that says, "Well, sometimes my knees hurt, but it's not really that bad."

To bring the pain of severe arthritis in to a comparison, last year Sam, my sister, broke her hip. It didn't get diagnosed for eight days. This wasn't a fracture, it was a clean break, completely visible on the X-ray when she managed to get in to the hospital, several days after a physiotherapist was supposed to have come out to visit her. Sam knew she had a problem with her hip and thought she'd dislocated it, the arthritis having damaged the joint that held it in place. But no, it was broken.

Now, I'm guessing you've stubbed your toe at some point, or got cramp in your leg. Jumped around for a while maybe, rubbing it, the feeling of that pain being the entire focus of your being for a few minutes. Now, try to imagine that the amount of background pain that you feel all the time, every day, is enough to mask the fact that you've broken a bone in your leg. You know something's wrong with it, but it really doesn't feel like you've broken it, because if it was that bad, you'd go to casualty.

There's some decent research going in to blocking and bypassing pain, the actual mechanisms of which are still not largely understood. Things like MRI scanners, psychopharmacology, neuroscience, they're all helping to develop better treatments. But for now, there's something you can do, no matter what your profession:

When you're on the bus or train and someone gets on who's shuffling a bit, has a stick, or just seems to be finding it difficult to stand up, get off your seat, give it to them. That's it. Stand up for a journey. It's a piece of cake. Believe me, you could be making that person's day, a little bit of kindness to make an undoubtedly bumpy journey a little easier. They might not be at quite the point where they wouldn't feel a broken bone, but lets face it, do you really need someone to be in that much pain just so you'll do them a simple favour?
I went to see Bright Young Things last night. It's the first film by Stephen Fry, well known British comic and ex-smooth talking bar steward. The characters were like a who's-who of British acting, but fortunately they all fit in quite well and only hammed when they were meant to (my mate didn't even notice John Cleese's brief appearance.) It's an OK, film, a kind of romantic comedy showing the excesses of the pre-WWII upper classes. The last third of the film was a bit badly paced, and much of the start was given over to too much to do with the party scene of the time, but it made a nice change to see a film without bullet time and guns blazing.

After the film we went to get some food, which was a bit tricky as the England vs Turkey match had just finished and the town centre was flooded with footie fans, many of them completely plastered. The first couple of places had queues outside and we ended up looking at the menu for one of the tex-mex restaurants, which I hadn't been to for a few months. It was only after he said hello that I realised I knew the doorman, who shall remain nameless for moonlighting reasons, so I'll just call him 'R' (very James Bond.)

I was a bit embarrassed at not having recognised him, and I realise while I look at homeless people around Brighton, partly because I have a theory that at some point one of them will be someone I went to school with, but I don't look at the door guards around the pubs. Probably because they're generally rather scary. R is not inherently a scary chap, but I must admit in the dark suit and long black coat, he did look the part.

While I was chatting to him a small group of people tried to get in, but R said they couldn't as one had an England shirt on, and the restaurant has a 'No Football colours' policy. After a little negotiation, the guy asked if it would be all right if he turned it inside out and R agreed that as long as he didn't see it happen, then perhaps it wouldn't look like a football shirt. The guy then attempted to hide behind me to do the changing, which was quite funny (I'm big, but not that big.) R chased him away and we went in to eat.

On the way out I bumped in to R again and asked how the evening was going. Apparently while we'd been eating there had been two fights, I think in the street outside, and an ambulance had needed to visit. Now, normally I'm not a great fan of the heavy bouncer presence around Brighton's central pubs, but I must admit with the amount of baying drunk blokes around, I didn't mind getting a bit of evil eye when I was trying to get in to the pubs.

It was the last race in the 2003 Formula One Grand Prix season today, with Rubens Barrichello winning and Michael Schumacher sealing his sixth world championship victory, a record. The team my mate Mark and I selected could well have won the fantasy F1 league someone at work runs, which will be satisfying in the F1-geek stakes, especially as it means I will have beaten my managers teams (again) :-)
I've written an article about extracting the URLs for .swf files out of HTML pages so you can download them using right-click 'Save target as...' / 'Save Link As...': Parsing a web page for Flash files using ColdFusion

I think I might have to split it in to two pages to make it more readable, or at least fiddle with the layout a little more, but I think the core of it is fine.
I've updated my VW pages with some adverts, via the Amazon Associates program. I've tried to pick a range of books that I've either read or have been recommended to me.

I'd rather have left the pages without advertising, but I could do with the money at the moment and as my Beetle with with the garage so they can look at the rust, I could do with anything I can get to help out. Both the oil change and axle greasing articles are getting some good hits, so I'm trying to get around to writing some more.

On other related news, last Saturday it was the latest 'Brighton Breeze' London to Brighton VW run, organised by the Split Screen Van Club. I had a bit of a nightmare Saturday and was glad to get down among all the gleaming paintwork. The nice thing about the Breeze is you get a lot of ordinary, but individualistic VWs turn up, so you can see cars that may not be show standard, but are interesting nonetheless. Pictures up soon.
The 2003 winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize have been announced, including such greats as a statue that doesn't attract pigeons, and an 'Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.'

The Ig Nobel awards are an antidote for the serious Nobel awards, they celebrate the research you hear about and think "Huh, why the heck did anyone look in to that?" and "How can I get in to that funding?"
It's a busy week. Film last weekend (Once upon a time in Mexico - fun, could have been better, but much better than Desperado by having the plot spread through the film rather than in a lump at the end.) Pub quiz on Monday, missing half the team, came 10th of 14 after a peak of 7th. Ecademy in Lewes on Tuesday, Farm yesterday. Networking is good, but tiring! At least at the Farm we went to the Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Street, which is a lot closer to home than Hove, so I got back before midnight even though we got chucked out with the rest of the laggards at closing time.

Currently, I'm having MySQL problems. I didn't think I was doing very complex things in MS SQL, which I usually use, but it turns out the MAX(distinct ... ) stuff I've been using a lot isn't supported. Damn. Now I'm going to have to write lots more PHP and MySQL to do the selects I want to. MySQL's a fine little database for a lot of tasks, but limitations on simple things becomes really annoying when you're trying to do anything slightly difficult.

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