Fantastic, Obviously

13:04 Sat, 26 Mar 2011

The media coaches need to brush up their students' techniques. We've got the Formula One in Australia and so the TV broadcaster is pushing out celebrity interviews as stocking stuffing in between the races. The interview is invariably "such and such is fantastic... obviously [ed: when it's not obvious at all]... fantastic blah etc."

The odd thing is that every interviewee does it. I suspect they are coached to always sound enthusiastic (no bummer notes), hence the "fantastic", and to use a filler word when they are trying to come up with the next thing to say, so the "obviously".

Give it a listen next time you see a footballer or a minor model being interviewed. Everything is "fantastic obviously". It gets really jarring when you watch out for it.

Categories: general

Super Full Moon

17:51 Thu, 17 Mar 2011

This Saturday is the full moon, and what a full moon it will be. It will appear extra large because it will also be at perigee1 , the first time since 1993. The next time will be in about 18 years.

Depending on where you live, it rises about 6:30 p.m., the same time as sunset, so look to the east and marvel at the view.

Depending on your timezone, you might not get the 14% larger view claimed by some people (because the exact time that the moon becomes full may be after it has risen), but it will still be special.

You can calculate the exact times and get other useful information from my ephemeris.

Categories: science, astronomy

Rolling Bomber Special

17:35 Thu, 17 Mar 2011

Check out this awesome YouTube video titled Rolling Bomber Special. It is a short film directed by Tetsuya Nakashima and is a Power Rangers spoof full of gag references to Japanese popular culture and manga. Here is more details and an analysis.

If you like Japanese pop culture you will get a big kick out of this one.

Categories: general

Brent Hura

15:13 Fri, 11 Mar 2011

I was very sad to find out that an old work colleague and friend Brent Hura passed away in October last year. He was only 46.

Brent was the Database Administrator at the company we worked for several years ago. He was a great guy and happy to help out, taking the time to do little jobs for me that no doubt were interrupting what he was doing.

Brent was one of those people that everyone liked. He was always cracking jokes and making people around him laugh.
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Categories: general

Python Exception Handling Can Hide Bugs

11:17 Fri, 11 Mar 2011

How high-level exception handling masked a bug

I was debugging a niggling long-standing bug in my ephemeris program and it was proving very elusive. The application is web-based and so it has to handle any exceptions in order to prevent the server throwing up an error.

I just couldn't track it down. In the end, I refactored the code to push some common functionality down into a function, and handled the error exception down in the function. Lo and behold, the bug disappeared.

It turns out that the high-level exception handling was masking a bug by trapping the error. The problem was that the exception was handling a ValueError, a very common exception, but it was handling the wrong ValueError.

I hadn't anticipated some ValueErrors that were being generated and so the handling code was not processing the errors correctly. That meant that certain variables were being assigned incorrect values.


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Categories: unix, programming

Wonders! EPG To Be Accurate

19:30 Thu, 10 Mar 2011

The Australian government has recently mandated parent controls on all new TVs. The controls will let parents set the TV so it will only display G or PG shows during certain times.

A very welcome side effect is that EPG times now have be accurate. The reasoning is that a parental lock is ineffective if the underlying R-rated program has been time-shifted and is running "late". The EPG will now have to show the actual broadcast times of the program.

Australians can look forward to accurate EPG times from roughly the middle of the year. Wonder of wonders.

(I have to admire the government's handling of this. Inaccurate EPG times have been a constant source of complaint for years, but how to handle it without stepping on very heavy media toes at the TV stations? By tying it into parental controls, something that the stations cannot complain about, the government neatly sidesteps those toes.)

Categories: general

Summer Heat Record

11:31 Thu, 10 Mar 2011

We broke the summer heat record.

We had 27 consecutive days with the temperature above 30°C (86°F) (previously 25 days in 1988). If you include days that are within a degree or two of 30°, then it was 38 days, basically the last week in January, all of February, and the first week of March.

It was worse than that because we never cooled down at night. We had 17 consecutive nights with the temperature above 20°C (68°F) (previously 13 nights in 1985 and 1990).

It was tiringly hot. After a couple of weeks, I was having cold showers — didn't need or want any heat in the water at all.

Categories: general

Python Import: Trap for Young Players

21:35 Wed, 09 Mar 2011

In which the author admits to an embarrassing mistake with Python import

I spent the day trying to debug a niggling problem with my ephemeris web program. It's written in python and uses an HTTP POST to get information from the user in order to generate an ephemeris for their location. It uses the ephem module from pyEphem to do the grunt work.

Debugging the POST was proving to be a pain, even with python's Pdb module (which provides a very similar facility as GNU's debugger, gdb). Tired of getting nowhere with the awkward debugging that comes from a POST, I decided to take a copy of the file, rip out all the HTTP stuff and concentrate on the code.

I thought I would be careful and change the name of the copy from the application's name of index.cgi to ephem.py so that I wouldn't accidentally overwrite the original file later. (Spot the problem?)

Suddenly, the entire web application stops working. Huh? Now what? I've got two
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Categories: unix, programming

Fun with the Ephemeris

13:47 Tue, 08 Mar 2011

Did Futurama get sunset right? Use the handy ephemeris to find out.

So I was watching a re-run of Futurama on TV yesterday evening, the one where the robot Santa Claus goes around trying to kill everyone who has been naughty.

Fry has bought a talking parrot as a Xmas present for Leela and the bird has escaped. Fry, trying to capture the bird, has fallen from a high ledge and is now dangling from an LCD clock. The time is about 16:25 and the sky is starting to darken with the sunset.

Where I live, we don't get sunsets anywhere near 4:30 p.m. Is this early sunset realistic? Let's use the handy ephemeris to find out.

First, change the date to 25/12 and the time to 16:30. Next, set the timezone to "US/Eastern" and the city to "New York". (You might want to unclick the "Save changes" box now.) Press the Submit button.

We see that sunset is at 16:34 so, yes, Futurama got it right. But, hang
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Categories: science

Grave of the Fireflies

14:18 Wed, 02 Mar 2011

Last night, I saw one of the most lyrical and poignantly beautiful movies I have seen in a long time, Grave of the Fireflies.

It is an anime directed by Isao Takahata, the famous co-founder with Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli.

The story is about the trials of a boy and his toddler sister who become orphaned during Allied bombing at the end of the Second World War. Although the war is the setting and the cause of most of the hardship, the movie is really about the wonderful relationship between the boy and the girl.

We know we are for a fall into tragedy when we learn in the opening scene that the boy dies. The plot then rewinds several months and we start with playful scenes of the family. The lyricism of the film then plays out with perfect pacing and tension. We already know the unhappy ending, yet here we have a happy family. I won't spoil the plot points any further.

Although it may sound like a depressing movie, it is actually quite heartening with the
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Categories: general