Monthly Archives: February 2006

Ich Muss Besser!

I finally posted a bit on my trip last year to Berlin. Sorry for the delay. It was sitting around in a text file on a memory stick. But that’s no excuse I know. Just click on, and enjoy the rich variety of links provided, and maybe you can forgive me.

Carlton Showcase LXXIX – It Works Better Short

Well that’s that over with for the moment. Thursday and Friday were the performances for the Carlton’s Showcase LXXIX. The LXXIX comes from the fact the the society started in 1927, and it ties in nicely with the 80th Anniversary celebrations next year (which will be LXXX).

It was the usual fun mix of short plays, sketches, and monologues, all enhanced for the audience by the addition of candleit tables and WINE.

I was in a couple of things, including a couple of short sketches with my buddy Mike Ahmad – the usual stuff, man goes into a bar, and a quite amusing anti-Tory rant. But most intense of all was KMcG’s Lord Of The Rings In 25 Minutes-ish. This was a masterpiece of quick changes, sock puppets, plastic swords, entire scenes reduced to one line, garden gnomes (or should that be dwarves?), rubber spiders, and invisible horses (“We ride north!”). I played Aragorn, a man given to scanning the horizon like something from a catalogue, or a U2 (spit) album cover from before they went “ironic”.

My Computer Is Dying

I am tempted to rename my PC ‘Zen‘, so I can reenact the Blake’s 7 episode ‘Terminal’.

The BIOS ‘forgot’ that I had a hard drive connected, then it freezes after a while. The drive makes some rather nasty clicking sounds. All baaaaad.

Luckily, I have a Knoppix boot disk which enabled me to play Frozen Bubble for a while to calm down, before popping online to order a new PC. In the reverse of my usual problems with courier firms, UPS is delivering it today, or rather they’re not, because I’m not there. They were supposed to deliver it next week, when Mairi’s at home. UPSs phone system requires you to read the (very long) tracking code to a computer. It failed to understand me three times, an I like to think my enunciation is darned good.

Mood: sad at death of ‘Star 1‘, annoyed at UPS, excited at thought of shiny new powerhouse, more excited about tonights performance

But what to call this new machine? Orac is a possibility, as is Slave. I should probably avoid tempting fate with names like Colossus, Proteus, or Mother.

PHP Gantt Chart From CSV Data

As you should know full well by now, I’m a member of an amateur theatre group in Wimbledon, London, and I run the website. As an aid to visualising the events calendar, I’ve written a script in PHP which takes a CSV file of dated events (example), and generates a nice Gantt chart using a HTML table with ‘colspan’ attributes (scroll down). It’s a bit clunky, but it works. It shows you what’s coming up, and allows you to see how things overlap.

The CSV file containing the event information contains the following fields:

  1. Start Year
  2. Start Month
  3. Start Day
  4. End Year
  5. End Month
  6. End Day
  7. Event Title
  8. Event Location
  9. Event URL (optional)

The script works in the following way:

  1. Import CSV into an array.
  2. Sort by start date, ascending. This involves combining the date fields.
  3. Loop through, outputting a dictionary term (DT) / dictionary definition (DD) tag pair for each event: example.
    • The DT contains the event start date, and the end date if different.
    • The DD contains the Event Title with a hyperlink to the URL (if present), and the Event Location.
  4. At the same time as you loop through, find the Earliest Date and Latest Date. That is, the start date of the earliest event, and the end date of the latest event.
  5. Start a table in HTML.
  6. Make the first row a left-justified marker stating the start date.
  7. Make the second row a right-justified marker stating the end date.
  8. Loop through the event array creating a table row for each event containing the following 4 table cells.
    • The first table cell just contains the event title.
    • The second table cell has a ‘colspan’ attribute equal to the number of days between the Earliest Date and the first day of the current event. N.B. for the earliest event, this will be 0. This cell should be empty.
    • The third table cell has a ‘colspan’ attribute equal to the number of days in the event. This would be Event Start Date minus Event End Date plus 1, so that single-day (or ‘zero-length’) events show up as one day long. This cell should contain a non-breaking space.
    • The fourth table cell has a ‘colspan’ attribute equal to the number of days between the Latest Date and the last day of the current event. N.B. for the latest event, this will be 0. This cell should be empty.
  9. Ensure that all your HTML tags are assigned useful CSS style classes, so you can style the whole table later.
  10. And that’s yer lot.

The advantages of the script are that it is simple (ha), and the HTML can then be copied and pasted elsewhere. For example, The calendar is generated on this page, and then I copy and paste to the newsletter I also write. Good eh? Also, the CSV can be easily edited online by using WEB2FTP or it’s German sister site WWW2FTP.DE, which isn’t blocked by WebSense! 😉

Possible improvements:

  • Dates attached to the events in the Gantt chart?
  • A date scale along the top?
  • Some tweaking required at the end and start dates.

Homemade Mobile Device Charging Station

Lifehacker pointed out this mobile device recharging station, available in the US. As it happens, I’ve been working on a homemade solution here in the UK since last June, but only now have I got the photos.

I have various devices that need recharging regularly, and I got a bit sick of the Kabelsalat that resulted from plugging them all in seperately. So here’s what I came up with…

IMG_0532
Station with PDA and phone in charging positions

Instructions after the jump…

Materials

  • A4 box file, with spring lock paper holder (see your local office supply store for examples, or grab one out of the trash as I did (spot the coffee stains!)). This is just useful as a cheap ready-made housing with a hinged lid.
  • 4-way power strip (try 6-way if it will fit in the box)
  • cable clips
  • cable ties
  • small bolts with nuts and washers

Tools

  • Drill
  • Stanley knife
  • erm…

Method

  1. Place box file with lid hinge facing you.
  2. Put 4-way power strip into box.
  3. Cut a notch in the side of the box for the power strip cable, to allow box to close.

    IMG_0511
    Cut a notch in the edge of the box for the power strip cable.

  4. Run cable out via slot, fix with tape.
  5. Close box lid.
  6. Put gadgets (phone, iPod, PDA, MD recorder etc) in a row on lid of box.
  7. Draw round gadgets in pencil.
  8. Remove gadgets.
  9. Open box, and plug gadget chargers into sockets in the same order as the gadgets were on the lid.
  10. It might be worth removing the power strip for the next step.
  11. Drill holes in the lid, for the charging cables to emerge from. Make the holes as small as possible, while still being able to get the charging connector through. NB the iPod will be a pain in the arse, with it’s great 30 pin monster. Figure something out – a slot? Drilling in cardboard gives a poor result.
  12. Replace power strip in box, with chargers attached.
  13. Run each charger cable through its hole in the lid.
  14. You now have a basic charging station, with all the wires hidden. Now here are the clever bits.
  15. Attach charging connectors to the lid using cable clips, held on with bolts and some ingenuity. This is so you can just place your device on the charger so it’s connected easily. Ideally you want to be able to simply remove a charger if you are travelling and don’t want to take the whole lot.

    IMG_0518
    Connector holder, and hole for cable

    IMG_0519
    Inner side of lid, with hole and bolt holding connector holder

    IMG_0520
    Connector held in place by cable clip and bolt. This one is for the PDA, and the connector plugged straight into the device.

    IMG_0528
    Phone on connector. This one needed a bit of folded card to bring it to the right level.

  16. Why did we draw round the gadgets in pencil? I’m working on that. I’m trying to make slots for the gadgets, so I can simply slide the gadget on, and it will connect. Or even just drop it in a slot? This is easier with connectors that don’t clip on, like Nokia phones, and my PDA. Click connectors like the iPod and Motorola phones need you to press something to detach the cable. Possible to use cardboard for this? Strips of wood? LEGO?
  17. Another idea – adapt the spring-loaded paper holder in the box file, so that it holds the lid of the box up at an angle, allowing you to slot your gadgets on and have them stay there.

    IMG_0522
    Right side of box with support strut held in slot

  18. Another idea – try to make it less pig-ugly, so it can sit out a shelf, rather than having to be hidden. Rather defeats the object. This is where a nice polished wood box with red velvet lining would be good.

IMG_0532
Station with PDA and phone in charging positions

That’s all I’ve got so far, and it’s a bit scrappy looking, but it works well, and it’s one stop to charge everything. Plus I keep my battery charger and batteries in the box, and any other chargers I have lying around.

A Burning Issue – Another Script From Another Era

This here is a script that emerged from the pupal shell of the sessions we had back in late 2001, and utterly failed to take off and fly. It’s actually OK, in a simplistic ‘cheap-Radio-4-sketch-show’ kind of way. The ending is bad, but what do you want? Comedy Gold? Blood?

A Burning Issue

4 Things – Because Ideas Are Thin On The Ground

Here’s another meme. At this point, I’m supposed to say that, “I don’t normally do these things”, but the fact is that I do. Call it a deep desire to expose myself to you, call it being bone bastard idle, call it what you will. I guess it’s not good blogging form, but feck it, I need templates. Let’s roll.

Four jobs I’ve had

  • Department Store Music Department Cashier and Smartarse
  • Aquascutum Logistics Technician
  • College Computer Lab Printout Cashier
  • PLC and SCADA programmer

Four Movies I can watch over and over

  • Star Wars“You came in that thing?”
  • Dead Ringers“Elly?… Elly?… Elly?… Elly?… Elly?… Elly?…”
  • Jaws“First light, Chief, sharks come cruisin'”
  • Brazil“No, nothing! Not even dreams!”

Four Places I’ve Lived

  • Bedford, UK, born and raised, in the playground is where I spent most of my days.
  • Uzwil, Switzerland, for a lengthy stint working at my employers parent company.
  • Flensburg, Germany, for a semester of study.
  • Manchester, UK, for the 1st act of the farce that was my Higher Education.

Four TV shows I love (but not necessarily those I love best):

  • Black Books
  • The Young Ones
  • Porridge
  • The Day Today

Four places I’ve vacationed been on holiday:

Four of my favourite dishes

Four sites I visit daily

Four places I would rather be right now:

  • Drinking tea at home with my dog and my partner
  • Rehearsing for the next play
  • Walking the dog on a beach or perhaps in the park on a fine February day
  • In a pub with friends old and new

Four bloggers I’m tagging/pointing accusingly at/plagiarising:

  • The Wannabe Scriptwriter who needs to write more and get it filmed
  • Tom Coates, how this kind of thing should be done
  • Sarah, who doesn’t have a clue who I am, but who has a very entertaining site, and my! What a great colourscheme! (whistles nonchalantly and creeps away)
  • Yeah, me ‘n’ Dave, we tight.

Goodbye!

It Is Time For The Slug Anecdote

Back in the days of Intel 80486’s and Compact Disc Players, when I was at college in High Wycombe (pron. ‘Hig-gy Wik-KOM-by’) in the second, slightly more successful act of the farce that was my Higher Education, I shared a house in Upper Green Street with a couple of fellow students. This house was of the classic unhappy student type, that is, cold, damp, spartan, unfriendly, and the front door opened directly into the downstairs bedroom (hence it was always locked and bolted).

Now, High Wycombe is quite low, or at least, it’s a valley, and Upper Green Street is in the lowest bit. So all the water would come rushing down the hillside, and gather there. Specifically, it would gather in the mouldy mattress that (literally) lived in the shed.

These damp conditions gave rise to what can only be described as swarms of slugs. This is the story of my battle with the invertebrate invaders.

They were everywhere. A flimsy ill-fitting back door allowed them to swan in whenever they liked, and crawl all over the kitchen and lounge. I found trails around the skirting boards in the kitchen and lounge. I found trails inside the kitchen cupboards. After some dishes were left to drain overnight in the draining rack, I found a trail over them in the morning. On one memorable occasion I was making a cup of tea in the morning when I moved the tin opener, left out on the counter, to reveal a monstrous glistening 4-inch slug overlord, hiding from the feeble watery sunlight.

It became a bit of a half-funny joke in the house. Where would they be next? We played half-funny practical jokes on each other, by planting a blu-tack slug around the house, where you wouldn’t expect it: under door handles, on light switches, in the cutlery drawer and so on.

But after a bit I had to get rid of them. So I tried a few Options.

Option 1. Beer in Saucer

Drown ’em! I bought 4 cans of beer, placed a couple of saucers in strategic places, and filled them with beer. I then drank the remaining 3 3/4 cans of beer, and waited. A couple of days passed, and no slugs came forward to sacrifice themselves to Dionysian abandon. I began to think that Tesco Strong Lager was the wrong choice of beer.

Option 2. Salt on the Floor

“Put some salt on the floor, it’ll kill the slugs!”

No it won’t. The slugs will crawl around the salt, and the salt will draw all the moisture out of the air, leading to a thin layer of damp salt everywhere. Next!

Option 3. Salt on the Slugs

Pretty obvious, really. Killing the shiny fucks was clearly going to be the only way. So, I cornered a slug (careful, they leap) and administered the salt. Gloating, I watched the slug twist and turn, spewing slime and juice in an attempt to defend itself. To no avail. When the smoke cleared, and the screams died away, all that was left was a pool of slime with a shriveled invertebrate corpse in the middle. And therein lay a problem. Clearing up the mess was more revolting than the slug itself. So that led me to option 4.

Option 4. The Chamber of Salting

I would creep downstairs late at night, put on rubber gloves, quietly take an old food tin or similar container from the bin, and then switch on the light.The sudden glare would reveal the kitchen heaving with slugs, all suddenly making a break for safety. But I was quicker! I gathered as many slugs as I could, and put them in the tin. After a quick lecture on what was about to happen to them and why, I poured on the salt.

I had to stir them. The top ones were bearing the brunt, but the ones underneath were surviving. Not for long. Huh. Huh.

After the slimy slaughter, the tin was easily dropped back in the bin, with its grisly contents. I thought, “That should stop them. That should prevent them coming back, if there are any to come back.” Days passed.

They came back.

I guess something inside me snapped. This was the slug that broke the Matthews back.

Option 5. The Final (dis)Solution

This was basically a rerun of Option 4, except that instead of a old tin, I used a glass jar. I wanted the Chamber of Salting to be transparent to me, and to others, human or otherwise.

2am. Gloves. Jar. Light. Grab. Put in jar. Pour on salt. Stir. Screw on lid. And leave. On the floor.

As a warning.


I must have told people this tale, because for Christmas 1994 I received a pet slug, carved from wood, with magnet for attaching to fridge. Its box turned into a little cage, or hutch. Also a slug apron, which I still have. The thing is, even Option 5 didn’t work. They were back within the week. I only escaped when I left the house to move to Gordon Road, because the old landlord was a criminal.

But that’s another story…