the hypothetical maximum data transmission rate of a telecommunications medium

Scoop, by Woody Allen (2006)

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-07-07

Looking for clues

Looking for clues

Finally managed to see Scoop a while back. A good film, in many ways a revisiting of Manhattan Murder Mystery.

The real let-down was the feeble third character in the film, the English aristocrat played by Hugh Jackman. I don’t know whether this is because he’s just a really bad actor who happens to have a clean jaw, or that Woody was too enamoured with Miss Johansson and just wanted to have fun, to pay sufficient attention to the directing of the third part of the trio that forms the basis of the film.

Given that Jackman has played in some pretty crappy films, not the least of which would be “Australia”, I suspect it’s more of the former than the latter. Still, Allen and Johansson create a strong enough dynamic between them to carry the film.


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William Gibson, Spook Country

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-06-10

spook_countryJust finished the latest from Gibson (or at least the latest as far as I am concerned). I started a couple of months ago and got stuck on the first chapter and put it down again. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago this time it caught, and I fairly raced through it.

It follows the standard Gibson convention of having N independent players doing their thing on separate paths, and then converging linearly to the story’s climax. In this case it’s a riff on the Repo Man suitcase-in-the-trunk-of-the-car, and no-one’s really quite sure what’s in it. There’s the inevitable omniscient puppet-master with unlimited deep pockets (and a mag lev bed). There’s no sex on the bed, but then again, I don’t read Gibson to read love stories.

Technology is still present, although in a much more muted form than his earlier works. The cyberpunk theme has been stripped out, and the result is a fairly sharp social commentary.

Two things really annoyed me. The first was the ease with which the various characters in the book managed to snag open wifi networks. These days they’re rarer than you think. I’ve even reconfigured my own router at home to lock down my network. And from what I’ve read, free municipal wifi isn’t very widespread in America. The second plot flaw was an accident where a car crashes at high speed into a lamp post outside a bar… and the two occupants more or less walk away unhindered.

That said, it’s an entertaining yarn with lots of wry observations of 21st century life done with Gibson’s razored turns of phrase. And when the mysterious secret is finally revealed, it’s not so much of an anticlimax as in All Tomorrow’s Parties or Idoru. In fact, it’s quite credible. I give him credit for taking a fairly simple plot and weaving a couple of hundred pages around it.

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Using Perl to scan a Lotus Notes database quickly

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-04-22

I had a couple of hundred messages lying around in the depths of my work e-mail account. They were old Majordomo subscribe/unsubscribe alerts for a mailing list I managed (until we switched over to Mailman). I had kept them around because one of these days I figured I’d load the information into a database to track the evolution of the subscriber base.

I haven’t managed to get around to doing that yet, but I did want to get rid of the messages. All I needed was the subject line of the mail (which contained all the necessary info) and the date the message was received. The idea of doing it manually would have been a nightmare. I searched around a bit for a way of automating the task, and discovered that it could be done through OLE.

So I wrote a quick Perl program to do it. It went like this:

use strict;
use warnings;

use Win32::OLE;

my $Notes = Win32::OLE->new('Notes.NotesSession')
    or die "Cannot start Lotus Notes Session object.\n";
my $db = $Notes->GetDatabase("MyServer/MyDomain", "mail/mymail.nsf")
    or die "Could not open database.\n";
my $all = $db->AllDocuments;

foreach my $n (1 .. $all->Count) {
    my $doc  = $all->GetNthDocument($n);
    my $item = $doc->GetFirstItem('Subject');
    if (!$item) {
        warn "doc $n has no subject\n";

    my $subject = $item->{Text};
    next unless $subject =~ /^(?:UN)?SUBSCRIBE my-mailing-list/;
    print $doc->GetFirstItem('DeliveredDate')->{Text}, " $subject\n";

and presto, the deed was done. This saved me I don’t know how many hours of mind-crushingly boring and RSI-inducing cutting and pasting. It’s so trivial it’s not even worth bundling up, so this is probably the best place for other people to stumble across it in a search (hi!).

I’m not sure if Strawberry Perl is bundled with Win32::OLE, but this works straight out of the box with ActivePerl.

Posted in perl, programming | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Breastfeeding: the good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-04-20

No, nothing to do with Mme Marceau today.

I just watched a 4-video interview from The Atlantic on the question of breastfeeding, where 4 women discuss their experiences in breastfeeding and what it all meant. I found it really bizarre. But then again I find modern America profoundly bizarre. I forget that the richest, most powerful country on earth can’t get its act together sufficiently to offer a woman a year off work to introduce her child to the world.

They discuss the pros and cons of breast versus bottle, which seem to boil down to what’s in it for the child, and the mother. (well duh!)

I have difficulty coming to terms with the mindset that makes people care to hypothesise over whether there is a tangible, measurable clinical health benefit that may accrue to a breastfed infant and then complain about the difficulty of drawing reliable inferences from the available statistics. Different social classes make different choices about breastfeeding (well duh! redux). And it messes up the stats! It’s hard! Not fair!

Nor should it be a problem that women could be engaging in some narcissistic feel-good behaviour at the same time. Those sneaky women! They’ve just gone through nine months of all sorts of ups and downs, and you would begrudge them that? If they draw some physical or psychological pleasure from the act, well, think of the savings in medication!

And people give you filthy looks when you say you don’t breastfeed. That’s okay, people give you filthy looks for all sorts of things. It’s in our nature. Whatever gets your child fed is fine by me.

But what really got on my wick was the futility of the exercise. Because the whole issue is moot! How long has the choice been available? By a rough calculation (based on consulting a couple of Wikipedia pages), formula in the present form only kicked off after the World War II, when complex industrial society really took off. Breastfeeding has been around for, hmmm, 300 000 000 years. So, here’s a question: which one will go away first? And even if I’m wrong in those numbers by an error of four orders of magnitude, evolution is still looking pretty good. (Sidelink: an article on how mammary glands may have evolved).

The question, if a bald, clinical question is to be posed, is:

On the one side we have an assembly line requiring formula foodstock, water, electricity and a bunch of specialist technicians to keep the thing tuned. And a largely petroleum-based delivery mechanism to bring it to you. On the other side, we have a woman, who is just hungry. And an infant.

When does it become more energetically interesting to just get some food to the mother, and let her produce the milk? When does the costs-benefits analysis go positive? I think that the fact that we can do without formula means that at some point in the foreseeable future, we probably will. So if in the meantime, formula does it for you and the water’s pure, go for it, end of story.

It’s another one of these things that we will just continue to do until we can’t, and then we won’t.

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Tulips in spring

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-28

We bought a bag of mixed tulips when we were up in Amsterdam at Christmas. The label said there was red, orange, yellow, blue, white and purple flowers in the packet.

There’s an alley along side a canal that has shop after shop selling all sorts of bulbs. Both they and Amsterdam residents must laugh at the silly tourists who come and allow themselves to be ripped off. We bought a packet of fritillaria that contained about 30 bulbs. Two have sprouted. And a couple of calla bulbs, which are I suspect are quietly composting themselves. Not to mention a gigantic cyclamen bulb that has about as much biological activity as an abalone shell.

So back to the multi-coloured tulips… the results were not what we expected; we were hoping for a few more colours, that’s what the label said. Oh well, uniform colours are okay too in their own way…

In looking very closely at the leaves, we discovered that one bulb was in fact slightly different: it’s leaves had a faint yellow striping along the edge. Bonus!

I remember looking for a long time at a packet of agapanthus. Now I don’t feel so bad. You didn’t get all my money, you scummy retailer!

Although we did have a bunch of hyacinths that came up, with an absolutely heavenly perfume.

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Peter Carey – His Illegal Self

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-25

His Illegal SelfI finished Peter Carey’s latest novel last night. In some ways it was quite a difficult read. For a long time I felt as if I was underwater, clawing my way through deep green water trying to reach the surface.

Dialogues are not always easy to follow; Carey has chosen to omit quote marks at times, so from time to time I wasn’t sure if something was being spoken, or thought. I may also have missed some obvious clues at the beginning, but it wasn’t for the longest time until I realised that the story was set at the cusp of the 60s and 70s.

Another difficulty seems to be a glaring flaw in the basic premise. Young Che (his illegal self), who is being brought up by his grandmother, is accompanied by Anna “Dial” Xenos to visit his mother who is currently in hiding. But something unexpected happens (what, we won’t find out until much later in the book) and yet rather than take Che home, which would be the most obvious course of action, she instead goes into hiding herself, dyes Che’s hair black and spirits him out of the country.

Of course, not doing that would mean there would be no story, but still, it’s rather difficult to swallow. There’s also some deceit involved in the narrative, since you don’t actually find out how tenuous this initial premise is, as the truth only comes out as a flashback much later on.

All the same, I found myself turning the pages impatiently towards the end of the book when all the pieces began to come together, and I liked the way the story ends happy but broken.

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