Male Interests

Imagine for a moment what a Martian student would think if he took a trip to earth to research an essay on ‘Men – what are they and what makes them tick?‘ What do we look like from the outside? What conclusions might be reach about us as a whole?

He might drop in to a local newsagent before doing some observational field research to look at some of the things men are interested in reading about. A quick trawl through the shelves for men reveals a complex variety of subjects. Men, it would seem, are interested in sex, cars, sex, computers, sex, body building, more sex and clothes… and did I mention sex?

But dig a little deeper, and the magazines would tell him that the only reason that men are interested in cars, body building and clothes is so that they can have more… you guessed it… sex!

I’m not quite sure where computers fit in.

– Tim Thornborough, in chapter 2 of Man to Man… about God.

Amazon Marketplace Margins

I recently bought an item from Amazon Marketplace. The seller sent me a hand-written confirmation dispatch email, which happened also to forward me the email Amazon sent them. From it, it was clear that Amazon’s cut for Marketplace sales, at least of books, is 15% of the total price, or 20% of the price before shipping. (With only one data point, I can’t tell which.)

Just thinking about the sort of volumes they must do, and the tiny amount of actual computing resources it takes to make such a sale once the system is set up, I suspect they are making what is technically known as a boatload of money.

What Is It With…

[Number 1 in an occasional series]

…people who create pledges on Pledgebank for things that they are clearly going to do anyway even if no-one else signs up?

“I will only buy food Produced in the uk to help our Economy and jobs but only if 100 other people will do the same.”

“I will buy a Dignity. Period! wristband to support the campaign for access to sanitary products for women in Zimbabwe but only if 50 other people will do the same.”

“I will donate $100 [to Dennis Kucinich's campaign for President] but only if 100 other people will do the same.”

Facebook Image-to-Email

Does it annoy anyone else that on Facebook profiles, the email address is an image? This can’t be an anti-spam measure; only your friends can see it. It has to be to put a barrier up to stop you from using real email rather than Facebook’s poor excuse for it.

However, I think it would be a Simple Matter of Programming to write a Firefox extension which fixed the problem. The font they use is standard, and the images are PNG. The extension would:

  • Find each email address image
  • Use canvas.drawImage() to draw it to a <canvas>
  • Use canvas.getImageData() to read vertical strips of pixels
  • Compare the pixel values to an internal table of the possible characters
  • Remove the image from the DOM and replace it with a clickable mailto: link

It’s a proportional font, so you’d need a loop to keep reading single pixel strips until it was clear what letter it was, and then advancing the correct remaining number of strips to move to the next letter. But that’s a trivial detail.

Anyone up for writing this?

Free Software Hacker Name Chains

OK, this is entirely random. At FOSDEM this year, I was sitting in front of Jeremy Allison and Allison Randal. I mentally placed Randal Schwartz on the end to make a 3-person free software hacker name chain. How many more are there, I wondered?

Here’s what I have so far, thanks to a little help from Wikipedia. The first one is a perfect 10, as all the names match exactly and they are all free software people. In order of decreasing quality, then:

  • Jeremy Allison (Samba) -> Allison Randal (Perl) -> Randal Schwartz (Perl)
  • Rusty Russell (ipchains/netfilter) -> Russ(ell) Nelson (OSI) -> Nelson Bolyard (NSS)
  • Kristoffer Ericson (jlime Linux) -> Eric Raymond (fetchmail) -> Raymond Chen (Er… Microsoft; never mind)
  • Brian Paul (Mesa) -> Paul Vixie (cron)
  • George Williams (FontForge) -> William Jolitz (386BSD)

Also, a guy called Rick Adams founded UUNet, and I’m sure there are plenty of free software programmers beginning with “Adam”.

Can anyone improve on my chains, or produce ones of their own?


Technology is now being developed to catch speeding motorists without emitting tell-tale radar signals by listening to the doppler shift of the engine sound as it passes.

I don’t know how it copes if the car is accelerating or decelerating at the time but if it works, that’ll put a stop to people avoiding being caught speeding by using radar detectors.

I have absolutely no sympathy for those who complain about speeding fines and cameras. If you don’t want to pay the fines, don’t break the law. It’s not as if the speed limit is a secret.

What’s Missing?

Following on from guess the scary extension

An object recently went missing from our flat. None of the three of us (I have two flatmates) took it anywhere or have any knowledge of its whereabouts. It normally never leaves the room in which it is used. We agree it is about the most unlikely object in the entire flat for anyone to steal. Can you guess what it is?

Light Of Other Days

Reading science fiction is one of those things I’ve always thought I’d enjoy, but have never really had time for or got into. However, as a result of a tip-off at EuroFoo, I did come across Light Of Other Days, an excellent short story by Bob Shaw. Well worth a read, if you have ten minutes.

Does anyone know of other good sci-fi shorts available on-line?

YouTube – Run Screaming

YouTube has all the marks of a bandwidth-guzzling addiction in the making. I haven’t used it much before but I went to watch one video and ended up after half an hour’s continuous video-surfing here. Funny… but I need to stop. Now. Or I’ll look up one day and find that, while I can recite the lyrics of any Weird Al song you care to name, it’s 2012 already.

Sleeping In Economy

I spend far more time than I’d like to on long-haul flights, and I’ve developed a number of techniques designed to help me get some shut-eye. As Google suggests that no-one else has written up their accumulated wisdom, here is mine. Comments, war stories and suggestions for improvement welcome.

Of course, they probably won’t let you take a blindfold and earplugs on board these days, in case you use the blindfold elastic to ping the earplugs viciously across the cabin and take out a sky marshal…

Stock Spam (2)

About nine months ago I remarked that it would be rather cool to track the performance of stocks recommended in spam. It seems that someone has beaten me to it – ran throughout May and June of this year. He bought 37 stocks, of which only three were up at the end of the period, by 4%, 8% and 124% (hey, there’s occasionally a good apple in the barrel. These are real companies, after all). His total loss was 45% – which isn’t bad, I’d have actually expected worse.

My Name’s Gerv, And I’m An Archivaholic

I’m sure you can all name someone with each one of the four maladies

My contributions:

  • Validavirus – gives a compulsive desire to have your own and everyone else’s websites pass the W3C validator
  • Mental Disusability – a condition where a programmer is unable to see what’s wrong with an interface sporting 23 randomly arranged widgets on a fuchsia background

Can anyone think of any more?

Television, The Great Life-Waster

More quotations from recent reading. This is from “Don’t Waste Your Life“, by John Piper. It’s the quotation he quotes which is the particularly interesting and telling point. It refers to America, but the same could also be said of the UK.

Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can
also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you’re watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels. Neil Postman shows why.

“What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk… Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational, and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world’s first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death.”

The entire book is available free online.