Tag Archives: Funny

Reception – Lego Cake Topper

During the early planning stages of our wedding, Cassie sent me a link to a Lego wedding cake topper that she thought looked cool. We were wondering what we should do about that – we thought it would be fun to have an interesting cake topper (these details are all very important) but we’d seen so many “quirky” ones that were just crap. The “bride dragging the groom along by his hair” trope is very common, and very very lame.

When I saw the Lego figures, I was inspired. I loved Lego as a kid, and I had a big box that started out as my sister’s, then my brother’s. My Mum said that she could tell I was “playing Lego” in my bedroom, because of the distinctive rattling rustling noise caused by my rummaging in the box for that elusive piece.

I did some research into the current state of Lego development. I had heard of LDraw, which allows you to create a model in 3D, export it to POVRay, and render it as a photorealistic image. But how could I obtain the bricks themselves? I knew Lego allowed you to buy individual bricks online, but it would be crazy to do it one-by-one for an LDraw model.

Luckily, Lego provide their own modeling software, Lego Digital Designer, which allows you to create a model, generate step-by-step building instructions, upload the model to the Lego website, create a custom box, and order kits to allow you to build your model for real!

I downloaded LDD to the Macbook, and got to work. The interface is very nice, very instinctive. You have nearly all the brick types available, and when you select one for placement on the building area, it makes the distinctive noise I mentioned above, which is a cute touch. When laying the bricks down, they automatically align to each other, so it’s easy to build quite complex models. You can also use the Hinge tool to move and rotate parts in relation to each other.

Screen shot 2011-10-04 at 10.28.26 PM

LEGO Digital Designer screenshot

For the design of the figures, I decided to make them blocky and simplified – stylized, in fact – rather than complex, because I think some examples had too many parts which made them look too knobbly. I tried to make them look like Cassie and me as far as possible, within the limits I had set myself. I decided on yellow skin, in honour of The Simpsons, Lego minifigs, and kidney failure.

I also tried to create a model of Gordon, our dog. I think he came out OK, although he is a little large compared to the human figures. He didn’t make the cut, but I kept the model.

Once the model was complete in the software, I clicked ‘Buy’, and it calculated the cost of creating the model. It came to a very reasonable <$30, so I went ahead. In addition to the model itself, the software allows you to generate step-by-step instructions. It does this intelligently, as long as you group certain parts of the model together. For example, in my model, I had made the heads into a “subassembly”, which then had their own instructions.

The software also allowed me to create my own box for my creation. It does this by displaying a 3d rendered image of your model, and then you can choose a background, and some graphics and text. I did a pretty crude one, to be honest.

Once I had finally hit the ‘order’ button, I waited about a couple of weeks, and then the box arrived in the mail. The label showed that it had been quite busy on its way – manufactured in Poland, imported by Denmark, tested in Hong Kong, and compliant with all relevant parts of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding toy safety. The box was just as I had designed it, the parts were all in a little bag just like with a real kit, and the instructions were printed nicely in a booklet. I wasted no time in assembling it – it looked great, although the tan-brown colour brick I used for part of Gordon looked more orange. That might be an issue with the display, or with my colourblindness.

When we visited the venue to arrange the meal and cake and so on, I brought the model parts and the instructions. On the day, when the cake was brought out, it was great to be able to see my little creation perched on the top.

LEGO Cake Toppers

I'm the one on the left

More_Grabs_3_Picture 252

I got the faces really accurate like

Verdict: They came out very well. It was really nice to able to include something I had designed myself – and something that had such a strong memory of my home and family for me. Here’s the instructions for your own use, in case you want to make your model:

Engineering An Agreement

I have worked in engineering now for well over 10 years. I don’t have any direct certification in a specific engineering discipline, like Civil Engineering (concrete and steel), Electrical Engineering (copper and insulation), Mechanical Engineering (pumps and valves), Software Engineering (code and networks). Because of this, don’t listen to anything I say. Also because of this, check out my incisive outsider commentary!

It’s been railways for me for the majority of that time. Not actual signaling, or rolling stock, but the peripheral stuff like configuration management, data harmonization. You know, all the stuff that gets left to the end when there’s no budget left because all the proper engineers used it up building tangible things.

I want to share with you a theory that has been simmering away for several years now, based on my experiences working on several large-scale projects. It combines mathematics, engineering, politics, psychology and a pinch of not having posted anything for a while.

If you ask a railway engineer how something is currently or historically done on the railway, they will give you two answers:

  • How they think it is done
  • How they think it should be done

This is equivalent to n*2, where n=number of Railway Engineers. There is no guarantee that either of these answers is how it actually is done.

If you get two railway engineers together, and ask them the same question, they will give you SIX answers:

  • How Engineer A thinks it is done
  • How Engineer A thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer B thinks it is done
  • How Engineer B thinks it should be done
  • How the two engineers uneasily compromise that it should be done
  • OPTION X

This is equivalent to (n*2)+2, where n=number of Railway Engineers. Again, there is no guarantee that either of these is how it actually is done, but the probability that one of the answers is correct is rising, along with your blood pressure.

OK, now it gets good. If you get three railway engineers together, and ask them the same question, they will give you TEN answers:

  • How Engineer A thinks it is done
  • How Engineer A thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer B thinks it is done
  • How Engineer B thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer C thinks it is done
  • How Engineer C thinks it should be done
  • How Engineers A and B uneasily compromise that it should be done
  • How Engineers A and C uneasily compromise that it should be done
  • How Engineers B and C uneasily compromise that it should be done
  • OPTION X

This is equivalent to (n*2)+(n!/2!(n-2)!)+1. In fact this also works for two engineers, because n!/2!(n-2)! = 1 where n=2.

Let’s try another, before exploring what is happening here. If you get four railway engineers together, and ask them the same question, they will give you FIFTEEN answers:

  • How Engineer A thinks it is done
  • How Engineer A thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer B thinks it is done
  • How Engineer B thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer C thinks it is done
  • How Engineer C thinks it should be done
  • How Engineer D thinks it is done
  • How Engineer D thinks it should be done
  • How Engineers A and B uneasily compromise that it should be done after lengthy mind-draining squabbling
  • How Engineers A and C uneasily compromise that it should be done, after hefty chunks of reminiscing about the Great Western Line
  • How Engineers A and D uneasily compromise that it should be done after using the phrase, “Agree to disagree”, and then starting again 10 minutes later
  • B and C really went at it. I had to leave the room.
  • B and D managed to agree despite long-standing bitterness over someone pulling rank during a design meeting 7 years ago.
  • C and D went for coffee and came back with something.
  • OPTION X

At this rate, if you got ten engineers in a room (at the same time, on time, which is a feat in itself), you could reasonably expect to get at least 66 answers out of them, as well as a lot of whining and bloodshed.

Hold on – at least? There could be more? I hear you. That’s where the mysterious and terrible OPTION X comes in. There is the danger that more than two railway engineers may agree on how something is done, but as this is not a theoretical mathematics blog, we can safely discount it. But there is the interaction between answers (in a form of semi-aware self-propagation), and the psychological issue of the engineers not actually answering the question you ask them, but rather the one you should have asked, or that they knew you actually wanted to ask, they just knew. But that is an issue for another time, i.e. not my lunchtime.

After all, whats the point? It’ll all be MAGLEV and PRT before you … ha ha ha sorry couldn’t resist.

Rescued Geocities ‘Fry and Laurie’ Scripts

Taking a cue from Phil Gyford, I decided to take a punt on mirroring this Geocities site of out-of-print scripts from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie here. The previous link may well be dead soon, because Yahoo!, the owners of Geocities, will soon be shutting the place down.

The script site was last updated in 2000, so I think it’s safe to say that it is dormant. Of course, the copyright holders may have something to say, but they haven’t up til now. If there is a problem, please contact me and I will honour any takedown requests

I grabbed the site using this Windows version of that amazing web-grabbing tool wget, and it’s all there, warts and all. Some image links are dead, some URLs lead nowhere. Should I fix them, or leave them as they were?

I chose this site to rescue because I’ve always been a huge fan of Messrs Fry and Laurie, from their early days popping up on Blackadder (II onwards), Saturday Live, Happy Families, and so forth, and their bibliographies are pretty darn cool too. Being a British man living in California, I find it amusing to watch the sickeningly multi-talented Mr Laurie on House, and of course Mr Fry continues to be a true modern geek renaissance man. Heroes both.

Anyway, here it is, if I can get it to work.

Snoopy Home Button

The Lyrics To Alexei Sayle’s Hit Single, ‘Ullo John! Got A New Motor?

Couldn’t find these anywhere, and you all know what a bloody minefield searching for lyrics is, so here you go, I transcribed them for you. They’re written in normal English, you can translate into Cockney on the fly in your heads. Cheers.

Incidentally, I tried to do this transcription once in 1982, from a cassette I’d made off the Top 40 on Radio 1 on Sunday evening (on my brother’s Rotel, if memory serves). The recording was fine, and it had the usual snippet of the DJ after the song ended, “straight in at-” *clunk*, but I was unfamiliar with many of concepts discussed, such as “light and bitter”, Bermondsey, and “special hospitals. This lack of knowledge on my part meant a combination of those three in 1992 caused questions to be asked in Parliament. How was I to know?

Alexei Sayle – Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?

Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Your goat's made a mess of the carpet (x2)
He lost his bottle in Barnsley (x2)
He's an Avon Representative (x2)

Ullo John! Gotta new motor? (x4)
Hahahahahahahaha motor, motor, motor, motor...

Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
They put me in a special hospital (x2)
Is there life on Mars? (x2)
Is there life in Peckham? (x2)
What's that switch over there for? (x2)
Ah ah ah ah ow...ah ah ah ah ow

Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
He can't half play the bongos (x2)
He's got a record by Billy Joel (x2)
Them locks are easy (x2)
Here's my calling card WALLOP (x2)
That's a piece of balsa (x2)
You can make a model out of that (x2)
He stuck his head in a dustbin (x2)
And then ran through the launderette (x2)

Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
'Ere John do you like the suit here, eh eh it's a lovely suit innit?
'Ere wanna brown ale? (x2)
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Mine's a light and bitter (x2)

Ullo John! Gotta new mot-AH ... AH ... AH
He works on the Thames Barrier (x2)
I keep tropical fish (x2)
In me underpants (x2)

Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
He walks around with a hat on (x2)

(Spoken) Oh yeah our Rodney yeah, he's the intelligent one
He's in the police force
Very bright he is
Been to Miami? Lovely...Miami
Package tour in Miami
You can't get a light and bitter
You can't get a light and bitter in Miami though
You can get one in Bermondsey though!
That's a nice sound as well, Bermondsey
You can get a light and bitter, and it sounds nice
Light and bitter, that sounds nice, I'd like a light and bitter
Oh cheers thanks a lot
Oh nice one yeah
Alright what you having? What you having eh?
Pina Colada?
Lovely, here you must be sophisticated

Ullo-Ullo-Ullo-Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Ullo John! Gotta new motor?
Your goat's made a mess of the carpet (x2)
Ullo John! Gotta new motor? (x5)

(Spoken) Here that's a nice three piece suite
I like your music centre
Here got any Demis Roussos?
Oo I like him, Barry Manilow,
I think he's triffic
Oh I love him, I love Barry Manilow,
I go all weak, when I hear Barry Manilow I go all weak

Board Games Automated

This post on Boing Boing got me thinking about the time I wrote a program that played with itself. I think it was written on the mutated basic supplied with the ICL/BT Merlin Tonto that my Dad brought home one day. Or it could have been on the ZX Spectrum, can’t remember.

Anyway, I taught the computer to play Snakes and Ladders (aka Chutes and Ladders). The board was held in a one-dimensional array – no need for two dimensions, for reasons that will become clear. Certain cells in the array held markers that would cause the program to send the player forward or backward to another cell if they landed there – this represented the Snakes (sending you backward) or Ladders (sending you forward).

I the first complete version of the game, a human could play against the computer. You pressed the space bar, and the program would roll a virtual die, that is, randomly generate a number from 1 to 6. Then it would tell you what space you landed on, whether there was a snake or ladder there, and where you ended up. Then the computer would roll the die for itself, and display it’s final position. Repeat until one or both of you were at position 100. The human always went first, and it was possible to have a draw. This prevented me from having to decide who got to play first. You had to land exactly on 100. I had implemented the rule whereby if you were at space 98 for example, and you rolled a six, you would move two forward, then back four to 96.

The next stage was to get the computer to play itself (“number of players: zero“). This was easy, just do the computer turn twice. I built in a delay to the turn and position display so you could watch them play. You ran the program, the display would flicker it’s digits for a few seconds until one of the computer players would reach 100, and it would be lauded as the winner.

The final step into insanity came when I removed the display portion altogether. You ran the program, and about a second later, a winner would be announced. Of course, it looked like I was just randomly selecting a winner and displaying it, but I knew that in the guts of the computer, the subroutines were running and pieces were being moved up and down the board. I even got it to play “best of 3”, “best of 5”, and later, “best of 99” which took a couple of minutes – but every game was played through properly.

I like to think of two Little Computer People, Red and Blue, shaking a tiny die (at least 7 pixels square on a side of course – you work it out) and moving their little pieces, hoping to land on that long ladder that went all the way from 5 to 95.

The Advent Calendar Follies

Actually “folly” – singular. With the beginning for real of the Xmas season, I thought I’d write down for posterity a little anecdote from my childhood. If you know me you’ve probably heard this many times before, if not, prepare to be non-plussed!

In our house we would have an Advent Calendar hung up, to allow us to count down the days before Xmas. It was usually one of the basic models, with a little card window which opened up to reveal a yuletide object or scene, culminating in a glorious depiction of the Nativity on December 24th, rendered in lifelike 4-colour halftone. The little windows were scattered around the calendar at random, so it was a little game to find the next one. A simple pleasure for a simple child. There was probably cheap glitter randomly glued to the card as well for that opulent touch. At the time of this story, my sister (the oldest sibling) had gone to college, and as my brother was 8 years older than me, I was the the youngest, and the lucky one who got to open the advent calendar window.

One year, my Mum splashed out and bought a Cadbury’s Neapolitan calendar (feel free to say, “Ooo!”). This had the added bonus of having a minature (about an inch long) bar of either Dairy Milk or Bourneville Plain chocolate behind each window. The bars were wrapped in the usual foil and a paper sleeve, just like their regular-sized counterparts. Just what made them Neapolitan is beyond me. You could also buy a dispensing machine for them, but that would have been an unthinkable extravagance.

For the first few days of December, I had the pleasure of having my breakfast, then finding the next window and being rewarded with a little slab of chocolate for the cold walk to school. Then one evening, my big brother said that it was unfair that I got all the chocolate, and announced that he would get the next one. I told him no, I would get it first! The game was on!

The next morning, I got up extra early (an achievement even then), crept downstairs, found the next little window in the calendar, took out the little chocolate bar (a Dairy Milk, if I recall correctly) and hid it carefully under the sofa. I went back to bed, then had a normal day of school, with all the misery that entailed.

When we were all at dinner later that evening, with Nationwide playing in the background, my brother looked smug and said he told me he would get the chocolate. I replied,

“But you didn’t.” (I was confused)

“Yes I did.” (So was he)

So with the family watching, I went to the sofa, looked underneath, and found the little chocolate bar right where I had hidden it. I slid off the paper sleeve, then peeled off the intact purple foil to reveal…

…a piece of Lego. A 2×4 red studded plate (element number 302021) topped with two 2×2 red flat plates (element number 306821), to be exact. Wrapped perfectly in the foil, slid back into the paper sleeve. The chocolate had obviously been scoffed long since.

How had my 8-years-older-than-me brother managed to trick me so simply? Simple. He stayed up later than my then-allowed 9:30pm. Sneaky bastard.

And that is how Simon Petty ruined Xmas forever in our family.

Lloyds TSB Are A Rotten Terrible Bank, And Stupid

This little item made me smile. A guy in the UK had his bank password set to ‘Lloyds is pants’, and they changed it behind his back and told him it wasn’t appropriate. He told the media, and now it’s all over the Web. Well done you!

I’m a Lloyds TSB victim customer, and I’ve been on the receiving end of some great service over the past few months as I moved to the US. For example, I filled in the change of address form, making it clear I was moving out of the country. When I arrived in San Diego, and I was buying large stuff like a bed* and other furniture, they were kind enough to block my debit card, causing Cassie to have to sub me hundreds of dollars. When I called them to find out why (and spent $30 on pay-as-you-go international cellphone charges in the process) they told me that someone was trying to buy stuff in a foreign country. I told them it was me, pointing out my new address matched the city where the purchases were made. They said, “Oh yeah sorry” and claimed it was “for my security”. Thanks, but “my security” means having a bed to sleep on and a bank that wasn’t run by a shower of incompetents. Why don’t I change banks? Hassle, time, energy, they’re all the same, etc. You find me a bank, and I’ll consider it.

Anyway, for a long time I had a bank password that insulted the bank. They never complained.

* I got my bed from a place called Sleep Train, and I was very disappointed that when I walked through the door I wasn’t greeted by a guy with an engineer’s hat pulling an invisible whistle chain and yelling, “All board the Sleep Train to Slumbertown!”.

(via Neatorama and Graham Linehan)

D’ye Ken John Plunk In His Plunk So Gay?

Many years ago, I inherited a few books from my brother. They were Spike Milligan’s war diaries (which included, within the first ten pages, my first sight of the ‘C’ word) and a couple of the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. I was hooked instantly, despite not really understanding the setting, a public (i.e. fee-paying and therefore effectively private) and pretty grotty boarding school. I come from an area of the UK, and from a generation, that don’t remember grammar schools or comprehensives, and private boarding schools were financially, academically, and (I can now claim) politically out of my reach.

Despite this, I immediately fell for the mispellings, bizarre imaginative inventions, dark humour, and descriptions of Nigel Molesworth’s fellow schoolboys (Peason, Fotherington-Thomas, and who could forget Grabber, the “head of the skool, captane of everything and winner of the mrs joyful prize for raffia work”) and the masters. Geoffrey Willans’ hilarious and subtle writing (in the first person from the perspective of our hero Nigel) coupled with Ronald Searle’s scratchily detailed drawings of sullen boys, crows, the school dog and the assemblage of crooks and thugs that run the school, made sure I tracked down the books I didn’t have.

The books (now available in a single volume) are understandably popular with many BBC, government and literary types, and they may be accused of being over-praised in some quarters. Thomas Jones in the London Review Of Books thinks so – but that is more a criticism of the foreword writers than the books themselves.

The BBC connection goes deeper. Radio 4 did a dramatisation, or some kind of radio adapation, of the books a few years ago, and I can’t really remember much about it, apart fom the fact they got the voice of Nigel Molesworth completely wrong. They gave him a breathlessly naïve voice, while everyone knows he would have had a wry cynical tone. I’m surprised they didn’t get Geoffrey McGivern to play him with a lisp.

There is another famous fictional boarding school with bizarre goings on, described in a series of popular books. It was only a matter of time before somebody wrote some Harry Potter/Nigel Moleworth Fan Fiction.

Minutes of meeting, Saturday 1 March 2008

I met James for a pint or x a few Saturdays ago, and we had the usual rambling, digressing, tangent-going-off-on, and thoroughly enjoyable and edifying discussion. Here are a few of the topics covered, in no order, but you may be able to see where threads link up.

  • Noise Music
  • Teleportation – Physical transferral or descriptive data transmission, in which case what do you do with the copy left behind? Socio-political impacts thereof.
  • Post-scarcity as described by Banks in his Culture novels, and Gene Roddenberry (or whoever) in Star Trek.
  • RepRap – an effort to build an open source 3D fabber.
  • ‘Jaunters’ as described in Bester’s The Stars My Destination (by the way, the unflattering mention of my namesake here is not me. I would have been trying to climb through the screen)
  • Jumper – a movie about teleportation.
  • Godwin’s Law – which says that as soon as you call the person you are arguing with
  • Cover versions
  • Faking It – a great book given to me for Christmas by Robin. It’s a series of essays about the myth of authenticity in music, something which I have always had problems with. It starts with Nirvana Unplugged, and goes on to talk about Elvis Presley (who wasn’t seen as “authentic” and loved it), punk, singer-songwriters, Billy Joel, Neil Young, Alan Lomax and his search for the “real” sound of the noble savage, Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club, World Music and much more. Refreshing and challenging.
  • Hawkwind
  • Live music
  • Effect of limited instrumentation on cover versions (and not just YouTube acoustic guitarists – “here’s my cover of blah blah” oh shut up)
  • Suicide – the fantastic band, with their sparse keyboard and drum machine sound.
  • Theatricality over talent, as demonsrated by KISS in this clip of God Of Thunder.
  • The ZX80 home computer.
  • The ZX81 home computer (my first computer). I got mine to make sound by changing the way it interfered with the TV. Related to noise music, above?
  • The Commodore VIC-20 (my second computer)
  • The Retro Computing Fair I attended in 2004.
  • ZX Spectrum (couldn’t find a link about this little-known early computer) .
  • The Early Matrix as seen by Lileks.
  • Halo – the computer game, with it’s great (if cliched) story concerning ancient megastructures in space built by an earlier race called The Forerunners.
  • Portal – another computer game with a wicked sense of humour.
  • Nexuiz – the computer game currently taking up my time. It’s a 3D deathmatch-style FPS, and it’s available for Linux.
  • Do Not Want – the web meme
  • The origin of the Do Not Want web meme.

As you can see, the discussion degenerated at this point, and last orders were called. Any other business? Only chips.

A Strong Showing

On a recent Sunday evening, I went off to see Count Arthur strong at the Arts Theatre by Leicester Square, with Robin. Rob called in the afternoon to ask if wanted to go. He asked if I had heard of Count Arthur Strong – and I had to laugh because I can’t believe we’ve gone this long without discussing him in the past.

I’ve not actually listened to the radio shows, for some reason – I think Radio 4’s comedy output was supremely patchy around then so I didn’t want to risk being appalled. Then after a boozy man-chat with James I was shown the DVD of Forgotten Egypt which had me howling.

Then a few of us went to see his live show Count Arthur Strong – The Musical last year, and it’s that we’re seeing again tonight.

I’m pleased to say that my brother likes The Count after being recommended by me to listen and watch. That pays him back for putting me onto Vic Reeves in 1989. I liked the earlier Vic Reeves stuff, but after a while it succumbed to catchphrases and students. It was hanging around with The Wonder Stuff that did it. Bastards.

(Disclaimer: On The Ropes is one of my favourite songs, but it came after all that plaid-suited nonsense. It all got a bit Levellers for a bit – dodgy.)

Anyway, I wondered if The Count was going to have changed the show. Last time it had a couple of very dated parts, such as the Eminem chainsaw and hip-hop tracksuit. (“I don’t know why they’ve given me a hedge trimmer!”). This show was originally performed a while back in Edinburgh, in fact the year that Robin plated there, which is where he found out about him.

As it turned out, he hadn’t changed it at all. I didn’t actually cry with laughter this time, but it was still great. Not sure about introducing extra characters though – they clutter the stage and distract from Arthur himself. He does well with a foil, but yelling at people offstage usually does the trick. I can see the use of more minor characters can help as a way of exploring the comic possibilities of a situation, but end up diluting the comedy in the end. The last straw will be when Arthur and pals get stuck in a caravan on a rainy holiday, or go to the South of France together.

I wonder if The Count will succumb to catchphrases too? I hope not, and to be honest I don’t see how he can. Most of his comedy is based around vocal mannerism as opposed to the actual words. The sudden shouts as he attempts to get phrases out, the distortions caused by an aged drink soused palette, and so on. I also like the cheapness of the character. He is a skinflint, and feels he is always being let down by the management of the venue, and by his entourage. But the fact he can just wander on stage in a battered tuxedo, means the show itself is cheap. And I like that, with my amdram background.

Very nice to spend  Sunday evening though. After the show Rob and I wandered around to find some food, and ended up being the only customers in that Thai place next door to Ronnie Scotts.