Why does diesel always splash when filling up?

A year ago I switched to a diesel car for the first time. And nearly every time I fill up with diesel, it ends up splashing as I take the nozzle out. Regardless of how careful I try to be. If I’m not paying attention I’ll end up with diesel on my hand.

This always never happened when filling up with petrol, so what gives with the diesel pumps? Am I just not quick enough on the draw?

Posted in Observations, Spleen | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Do you confuse the Messages and Phone icons?

On my iPhone I regularly get confused between the Phone and Messages apps, accidentally clicking on the wrong one. I thought it was just me, but today my business partner said that he often does the same.

Here’s the dock on my iPhone:

I don’t remember what the default setup was, but I’m pretty sure both Phone and Messages were there. They’re similar icons: green with a white silhouette and the same shiny 3D effect. And they’re next to each other. Maybe that’s on purpose, as they’re both traditional mobile/cell phone functions.

I never get confused between Safari and Mail, and they’re pretty similar and adjacent. I wonder if many people get confused this way, or is it just Rob and me?

Posted in iPhone, UX | Tagged | Leave a comment

What’s your four year-old’s religion

We’re filling in forms for my 4 year-old son, who’ll be starting school in September. One of the questions wanted to know his religion.

His religion?!

He’s four!

He hasn’t expressed a preference in that area, and though myself and his mum are staunch atheists, we’re trying to keep an open mind, so that if he does develop a preference, he’s free to pursue it.

Posted in Atheism, Religion | 1 Comment

Task generators for Checkvist

I’ve tried a lot of different todo list apps: web apps, desktop apps, and iphone apps. I’ve never found one that met all my needs, but recently I’ve been using checkvist, which I’m sticking with for the moment. It’s got a clean simple interface which lets you focus on the list rather than the app, but has more functionality under the hood than you might expect.

One of the things which has prompted me to stop using various todo list apps has been support for repeating tasks. Either an app doesn’t support it, or its support for repeating tasks isn’t what I want. For example, in many todo apps repeating tasks are just a special type of task, and as you as you mark it as complete, it just reappears on the list with a later due date.

I want to work towards clearing my todo list, so having all repeating tasks always present bugs me. When a repeating task is complete I don’t want it on my list until some point in the future.

Checkvist doesn’t support repeating tasks yet, so I’ve implemented my own repeating tasks for Checkvist, as a separate web app called TaskGen. It’s based around the concept of a task generator. Each generator has a number of fields:

  • The generation date which is the date when the task should next be generated.
  • The period is the number of days between consecutive generation dates.
  • The due date is set to the generation date plus the due date offset, which is a number of days.
  • The list specifies which Checkvist list the task should be added to.

There’s not much to the Taskgen app. The default view is a list of your generators:

Creating a generator is done with a simple form. Taskgen knows about your checkvist lists, so you just get a dropdown for selecting the list:

I’ve implemented this to make Checkvist closer to the app I’d like. But what I’d really like is for task generators to be built into Checkvist, so I can retire my app.

Posted in perl, Tools | Tagged , | 6 Comments

If you’re not helping, you’re not the boss

A wonderful bit of management philosophy from my 4 year-old son just now:

If you're the boss, you have to help people.
If you're not helping people, you're not the boss.

Right on the money.

Posted in Funny, Humor, Management, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Daddy or chips?

Daddy or chips? The adverts from sometime back suggested chips, but google trends says (search for this):

Posted in Humor, Observations | Leave a comment

Book review: Ulysses by James Joyce

I read Ulysses because it was in the Big Read Top 100 (BRT100), and is also on my list of 100 books you should read. I first tried reading Ulysses about a year ago: I got seriously bogged down in chapter 3, slogged on for a bit longer, than switched to another book. When I later bought some Ulysses self-help books, I was pleased to find chapter 3 described as the most intellectually complex episode.

I then got to the point where Ulysses was the only book I hadn’t read from the BRT100. I persuaded two friends that we should read it at the same time. I think that’s probably the main factor in my managing to finish the book. Every few chapters we would get together over coffee or lunch, and share our bewilderment, shock, surprise, amusement, and all the other reactions. And nearly daily we would comment in passing (we worked together at the time) on our progress. And encourage each other — that was probably the most important thing.

The plot of Ulysses can be described fairly succinctly. It follows a day in the life of various characters in Dublin, in 1904. The main character is Leopold Bloom, and there are two main threads: one concerns Bloom and his wife, who on this day will start being unfaithful, and Bloom is aware of this. The other thread concerns Stephen Dedalus, a young literature teacher. Bloom and Dedalus independently wander around Dublin, and eventually meet up, with Bloom taking a father-figure role for Dedalus. Bloom and Dedalus end up at Bloom’s house, and the book ends with Bloom and his wife in bed.

But the story seems secondary. Telling the story isn’t the point of Ulysses — it’s all about the journey: the experience of reading the book. My friend Bruce, who was part of the triumvirate, said he thought of it as more like a sudoku than reading a book. I don’t think it’s like a sudoku, but I agree that it’s more of a challenge. There are so many references to other literature, people, concepts; use of archaic terms; forward and back references; different writing styles; changes of perspective (and it’s not always clear when the change happens, just to keep you on your toes).

Reading this book was like a 5-month long obstacle course. Some sections were like a clear path on level ground, but not many. Some were like running through a forest in daylight: a bit trickier, but as long as you kept your wits about you, you get through fine. Other sections are more like rock climbing: you really need to pay attention, you may have to back-track and try again, and you’ll do better with a guide book. And then in some sections you’re blindfolded and bang around, trip over things, and have no real clue what’s going on. There are people lurking in there with sticks who beat you, and there are holes you can fall into. And when you come out you’ve got no clue what you just came through, and certainly can’t explain it to anyone else. But hey, you got through, and maybe the next section won’t be so painful.

The convoluted publication history means that there is no definitive text. The three of us were reading different editions, and the blue book was referring to a different one again. All books in the Penguin classics have copious notes, but strangely the Penguin modern classics edition of Ulysses doesn’t provide any notes to go with the text. If ever a book needed them it was Ulysses. Given the controversy surrounding various edits of Ulysses, I suspect that publishers figure it’s safer to present the text “as is”. Plus it helps the market for Ulysses guide books.

The blue book (the guide to Ulysses that we read the most) has a subtitle “so you don’t have to read it twice”, the clear implication being that Ulysses is one of those books where you only really understand some things when you have read the whole book, so it’s only on the second reading that you’ll appreciate everything. Hah! If I do read Ulysses again, I don’t have any illusions that I’ll catch everything I missed the first time, and I read several explanatory books as well.

When I finally finished Ulysses (it took the longest time to read of the BRT100), my email to my two co-readers included the line “wow, what a book!”. And it is.

Would I recommend this to anyone? I’d have to know them pretty well. My tips would be:

  • Read with a group of people, so you can support each other.
  • Get at least one of the guide books. We referred to the “blue book” the most; see summary at the end of this post.
  • Learn a bit about the schema: the Gilbert and Linati schema are attempts to explain the structure and imagery in the book. These were written by two people based on Joyce explaining Ulysses to them. You won’t understand all of them, but they’ll help.
  • Don’t worry about not “getting it” at times. Keep going, let the words roll past your eyes. Some of it will make sense later. But don’t worry if it doesn’t: keep reading; there are a finite number of pages, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times.
  • It’s not a book to dip into. If possible you should read a whole chapter per sitting. That’s probably not feasible for some of the longer chapters, but you get the idea.
  • Quite often Joyce is just playing round with (the sound of) language. If you don’t understand something, try reading it out loud, in an Irish accent. Many of the cheat books suggest this, and for good reason.

One of the questions we regularly asked each other was “will you read anything else by Joyce, particularly Finnegans Wake?”. Good God no! Maybe. I quite fancy reading Finnegans Wake straight after. I need a break.

While reading Ulysses, I also read a number of reviews and blog postings from people describing their experience. It was encouraging at times to read about how other people suffered. We enjoyed this review in particular one on amazon. Before starting Ulysses, we laughed at the list of things which (s)he suggests reading before reading Ulysses. I probably will read Ulysses again, but not until I’ve read more of the items on this list.

Since finishing Ulysses I’ve been galloping through much easier fare, enjoying the pleasure of simply reading, and not having to re-read, interpret, refer to various sources and guidebooks, and feel stupid for not understanding large chunks.

Ulysses guide books

The Blue Book: the main guide book we used was Joyce’s Ulysses for Everyone: Or How to Skip Reading it the First Time, by John Mood. Before reading each chapter of Ulysses, I would read the relevant section in this. And then I’d read it during the chapter, and afterwards too. It didn’t explain everything, but it definitely helped.

I also bought Introducing Joyce by David Norris and Carl Flint. This covers all of Joyce’s books, and has about 35 pages on Ulysses. It’s a less serious book than the blue book, but I picked up some things from this which I didn’t get from Mood. Before reading Ulysses again, I will seriously consider a heavyweight guide book.

Posted in Big Read, Books, Fiction, Literature, Reading, Reviews | 1 Comment