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The Story of the Fleeble Widget
Being an Account of a Random Selection of Moments in my life
Recent Entries 
5th-Apr-2012 02:17 pm - A proper, grown-up person's blog
hell's coders
I got me one of those. http://fleeblewidget.co.uk/.

There will be no more updates here.
2nd-Dec-2010 03:06 pm - Guys! Guess What??!?!
hell's coders
I got married!

I have a husband!

He is awesome. And no, you can't have him.

Unless you happen to be a cute girl and definitely not crazy and you promise to give him back.

But the key thing here is, yay! Husband!
hell's coders
This has been a trying week. Aside from the fact that we're getting to the stage of wedding prep where everything we haven't done yet is really scary (oh God, why haven't we sorted stationery or a sound system yet?!), there's been The Great Shoe Quest.

Earlier in the summer, when I had my first wedding dress fitting, Harriet (JTA's sister) was kind enough to accompany me on a gruelling trawl through every shop on Oxford Street that sells shoes. We must have seen thousands of shoes, but we didn't find any that met my requirements (not helped by the fact that this summer's must-have trend was apparently 'bulbous, gem-encrusted growths'). After some work scouring online forums and such, I hit on what seemed like the perfect solution: I needed shoes that would look good, but be comfy enough to wear all day - what about tango dance shoes? I found an online retailer with a great selection of dance shoes, found a pair I liked and placed an order. Then I waited for them to be delivered, which was supposed to take two to three weeks (a bit of a gamble given than my dress fitting was less than three weeks away).

When the shoes didn't arrive in time for my fitting, I took a pair that were the same heel height and told myself it would be fine.

Fast forward to last week. It had been two months since I ordered the shoes, and not only had they not arrived yet, I hadn't heard a peep out of the company who were supposed to be supplying them. I sent them a reasonably friendly email to ask what was going on, and was told that the manufacturers had sent them in the wrong colour originally but that they would definitely be in the post by Friday and they'd email me to confirm once they were on their way.

On Tuesday, four days after they were definitely definitely going to be in touch, and with no further word, I wrote them back to explain that I must have them by Saturday (my final dress fitting), and warning that if the shoes were not already in the post I would have to cancel my order. They emailed back to say they'd refunded my money.

Now, whilst this did mean I wasn't out of pocket, it also left me with no shoes and only three days to find some. Accordingly, I've spent most of this week looking at shoes. On Tuesday, JTA and I spent well over an hour looking at every shoe in Bicester Outlet Village. I found a pair of reserve shoes (not ideal, but will do if I can't find anything better), and a very jazzy hat. Yesterday lunchtime, I was out of the office for two hours looking at pretty much every shoe in the whole of Oxford. Still nothing. All I want is a gold shoe with a one-inch heel, a strap and no open toe. Is that so much to ask for?

So anyway, after work I'm going back into Oxford and I'm planning on buying these shoes (which I previously viewed and rejected), assuming I can convince myself that I don't mind the weird flower things.

Which is a very long-winded way of explaining why I'm feeling tired, footsore and dispirited. The fact it's been raining all day isn't helping - I have to go out and look at shoes again, dammit!

However, I can't really feel sad for too long, because the world is full of things that make me smile:

* The little 'ping' noise the light in the hallway at work makes as it very slowly flickers on or off (I think the bulbs going). I don't know why, but it seems like a really happy noise, as if the light is saying "Bing! I'm back!"

* My awesome new hat. It's purple. 'Nuff said. I wanted to wear it to the wedding, but then I remembered that I already have a tiara and it is 4000 times more sparkly.

* Playing Rocky Horror songs on Guitar Hero 6. It's hard not to smile when strumming along to 'Sweet Transvestite'.

* JTA, especially the look he gives me when I've said something stupid. It's a look that says "you're a chump, and I love you just the way you are". I've never seen him look at anyone else that way. It's my special look.

* Dan, and the way he smiles when I catch him off-guard with an affectionate moment.

* Having Paul around.

And many, many more. Happytimes!
hell's coders
Many of our customers are engineers or mathematicians first, and programmers a distant second. They often make mistakes which strike a qualified software engineer like myself as laughable (they'd be less downright amusing if they fixed them themselves rather than writing in to ask for help). Recently, someone reported a bug in our memory checker because it was telling him he had a leak and he couldn't see one. Turns out he was re-allocating a pointer repeatedly in a loop, but not deallocating it until after the loop terminated. Yep, that's a bug, but not in our code.

Sometimes, though, I get floored by questions which are so basic that I almost can't answer them. Right now, I'm pouring through the Fortran standard trying to find anything at all which says that variable names appearing inside strings won't be substituted for the value of the variable (eg my_string="hi"; something_else="that was my_string" - wouldn't expect my_string inside the literal to become "hi") - so far, no success. I hope they actually put it in there...
1st-Nov-2010 03:50 pm - Not listening anymore
hell's coders
I've just sent off an email to Oxford Samaritans explaining that I won't be re-joining them, and outlining some of the things which made it difficult for me to get involved with the branch when I transferred there from Aberystwyth, in hopes that the next person will have an easier time of it.

I'm feeling... all kinds of things. Although I've already set things in motion to start volunteering with a different organisation (there's rather more choice round here!), Samaritans holds a special place in my heart and the fact that I'm not one of them anymore is kind of devastating. It feels like the path I started down in October 2003 with such hope and pride has come to an abrupt and ignominious end.

I'm also questioning my own motives in providing feedback. It's pretty easy to tell myself that I just wanted them to learn from my experiences, and to help make life easier for the next guy. But, with a gnawing feeling of self-loathing and shame, I'm rather afraid that somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted them to read my comments and suggestions and think "wow, this person really knows a lot about being a Samaritan and we completely failed her!". This was good-bye forever, and yet I still wanted them to think well of me. Which is odd, because usually when I tell people to push off out of my life I couldn't care less how they feel about it. I suppose this is because I really liked being a Samaritan and I didn't want it to end this way. *sigh*

In other news, we were visited by roughly one kerjillion trick-or-treaters yesterday, mostly in big scary gaggles. We had to do an emergency re-supply, despite having laid in four bags of little chocolate bars. Turns out there are loads of children living in our area. Either that, or one very enterprising group with lots of costume changes.

Also we watched Ghostwatch. It was scary. I slept very badly last night.
29th-Oct-2010 09:20 am - Time travel and mobile phones
hell's coders
Granted, I haven't watched the clip, but really? I doubt that the footage a guy from Belfast found of someone in the 1920s apparently talking on a mobile phone is evidence of time travel.

First off, surely there are other reasons someone might be touching their ear?

Secondly, what use is a mobile phone without the infrastructure to allow you to use it? You could argue that perhaps the woman is from the far future, and using some freaky future technology which doesn't require masts and cables and big computers, but if so, how likely is it that the futuristic device would be something you hold up against your ear? The trend is towards smaller and smaller devices, often ones you can just plug in to your ear and forget about, and I don't see that reversing in the distant future.

Sorry, I just don't buy it.
hell's coders
Getting married is a lot of work.

Ok, I generalise; if we weren't having a non-standard ceremony followed by a fairly lavish reception, all half-way across the country from where we actually live, and choosing to do a lot of the fiddly bits ourselves, then it would undoubtedly be less work. As it is, there are things to do. Plenty of them.

Everyone knows this, though. You can have simple weddings, and you can have cheap weddings, but our cultural sub-concious tells us that in general, weddings are expensive and require a lot of work.

The thing that's surprised me is just how much of that work consists of finding things for other people to do, and then holding their hands while they do them. I've just spent 40 minutes on the phone to my mother talking about cupcake decorations, and closer to the day we'll be spending hours and hours making them, just so that she can point to a part of the day and say "I did that bit". I'm blessed in the fact that my family want to help out, and I really am grateful that they're excited about my big day. But I'm also exhausted from finding tangible ways in which they can help out.

And don't get me started on the politics of making sure that they've all got equally important tasks...
13th-Oct-2010 03:14 pm - Owning your views
hell's coders
Here's another thing that's bugging me. As a Christian, it upsets me so much to be labelled 'the enemy' in so many debates over liberal values (gay marriage, abortion, etc ad infinitum). I can't tell you how crushing it is to read things like this week's Savage Love and find myself under attack from people I like and respect because other people of my religion hold views different to their own. This is not least because I am on their side. I am pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, generally pro-letting-people-make-up-their-own-minds-about-their-lives and anti-stopping-people-doing-stuff-just-because-they're-not-like-us.

Here's a thought that struck me today; I don't usually go in for chucking blame around in these cases, but I don't think it's really the fault of Dan Savage or anyone else who's ever accused all Christians of being illiberal jerks (NB Richard Dawkins aside - I can't stand that guy!). It's not their fault because my fellow Christians brought it down on all our heads. How? By saying that they are homophobic because they're Christians. If loud-mouthed, judgemental reactionaries decide to justify their opinions as being rooted in their religious beliefs, then it's not surprising that the people they are crusading against will come to think that only bigots follow that religion.

Once you look at it in this light, it's pretty clear that this is total balls. Sure, some religions are crazy proscriptive and will tell you what to think, what to wear, who to give all your money to and which suicide method to use, but Christianity is not one of them. It's a massive, ambiguous mess of tradition, custom, mythology, warring factions and hopelessly tangled scripture. That's one of the reasons I'm a Christian, actually - I'm pretty sure that my particular beliefs can be slotted in there somewhere. To point at this crazy-paving of a belief system and claim that it absolutely forbids gay people from getting married in clear and unmistakable language is like pretending you can read messages in silly string.

I'm not going to say that which religion you belong to is a choice. This was the case for me, but I don't think it always is. However, a religion ought to be a moral framework. Choosing one, therefore, ought to work around your personal ethics and what 'feels right'. If you genuinely feel that Christianity forbids gay marriage, but you yourself don't have a problem with gay marriage, then perhaps, just perhaps, Christianity isn't the religion for you?

This all amounts to a very long-winded way of saying something simple: I can't come up with a single compelling counter-argument to the position that people who say that they can't support gay marriage because they are Christian are really saying that they don't want to support gay marriage and being Christian is their excuse.

Sticking to your guns when you're sure you're right - even in the face of condemnation and derision - is admirable, and even if I'm sure you're wrong I will respect your views. Personal morals are complicated, and in the end, you can't help how you feel. But trying to hide behind my religion? Not ok.
hell's coders
Today, in between many, many other things, I had debate with a friend of a boyfriend about explicit versus general acceptance, viz, the relative merits of saying that you are tolerant of gays/bisexuals/catholics/etc against just saying that you are tolerant and leaving it at that. Or even not bothering to say it and expecting or hoping that people will realise that's the case.

Aside from the discovery that Katie has my all time favourite XKCD comic up on her profile, this set me thinking about something, and no matter how much I turn this over in my mind, I can't come up with an answer:

Why isn't it ok to say you're proud to be straight?

I, of course, am neither straight nor particularly proud. But what's with this double standard that says you can be proud to be part of a minority but you should be ashamed to be part of the majority? What's so shameful about being straight? Or, to put it another way, why can't you just be happy that you're gay, and think it's the best thing for you, without putting it in terms that suggest you think you'd be less happy if you were anything else?

Anyone know?
27th-Sep-2010 10:01 am - Java, I hate you
hell's coders
Auto-boxing and unboxing isn't a bad idea - since Java behaves in odd ways at the boundary between primitive types and proper objects, why not simply have it magically convert one into the other behind the scenes as needed? Great!

However, the implementation of this great idea is half-arsed and ragged around the edges. For example, today I spent some time trying to figure out why I couldn't call the toArray method on a vector of doubles. Turns out this is because the Vector can only be built out of objects, so java helpfully turned double[] into Double[] for me when constructing the vector. However, when it comes time to go the other way, java doesn't feel like helping so I have to call toArray with Double as my argument. Which is fine, but now I have an array of Double and what I actually need is double. Which would also be fine, except this just happened:

./uk/co/nag/E02/E02bez.java:202: inconvertible types
found   : java.lang.Double[]
required: double[]
                                 (double[])h.toArray(new Double[h.si


Inconvertible? Really? That's breathtakingly aggravating.

What's extra annoying is that I'm currently hand-coding a java translation of one of our routines for a client in the banking sector, and all this pissing about translating one thing to another, with all the extra method calls, is likely to mean it ends up being slower than simply writing a wrapper around the Fortran version of the same code. Stupid language. I blame universities for making it popular. What's so wrong with C, people?
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