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.
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.
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
If you like Japanese pop culture you will get a big kick out of this one.
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
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.
21:35 Wed, 09 Mar 2011
In which the author admits to an embarrassing mistake with Python
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
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
13:47 Tue, 08 Mar 2011
Did Futurama get sunset right? Use the handy ephemeris to
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
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
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