Week 23 of Gibraltar Diary

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Sunday 17th August June 2008

One of the problems of carrying out any kind of task is that of nomenclature. Dividing 448 by 4 is easy. Try dividing CDXLVIII by IV. That's why the Romans never had nuclear weapons.

Similarly, writing a computer program that writes computer programs is confusing when you try to describe what is happening. So, I wake up at 6.20am with a brilliant idea for a hierarchy. Line, page, chapter, book, shelf, bookcase, library, town, county, country, continent, world, solar, galaxy, universe. Actually, I stop at library but you get the idea. I spend the next 12 hours implementing this and miraculously it all comes together and works. Accordingly, I set two identical copies of billy running (because the laptop has twin processors) and notice that they run at different speeds. A virus maybe?

Norton 360 on my laptop (anti-virus software) has refused to update itself for some weeks and this too could indicate a subtle attack. Unfortunately, over the years Norton has turned from a Jeep with machine guns (in the good old days you could use Norton Utilities to totally destroy your computer) into a pink Cadillac with furry dice. Fine for weddings but not much use in the mountains when you are up against the Taleban.

Even worse, when you delve under the bonnet it is the opposite of user friendly. At one point it suggests that I may care to input regsvr32 %windir%\system\msxml3.dll into my laptop but it will not let me copy it (why the Hell not?) so I have to type it in letter by letter. In the original it is impossible to see that there is a space in the middle (OK, as a programmer I should know that to register a DLL you need a space but "%20" means space and they had me confused for a while) and it tells me I do not have authority. I try again with a space and grudgingly it responds "OK, I'll let you in but it won't work".

Even worse, is which again I have to type in. Would that be "luall" as in lunatics or "IuaII" as in Idiots? Or maybe "|ua||" (it's called "pipe" - just above the "\" key) or possibly "1ua11"? Stupid or what? Later I realise that it is an abbreviation for Live Updates Are Latterly Lachrymose. Yes, really - it will end in tears.

Finally, I give up on this nonesense and try their "live chat with a technician" but I cannot register because it refuses to believe that my phone number is really a phone number. I try every combination I can think of but to no avail. Finally, I look at their source code and tell them that my phone number is "-". Very easy to remember. That does it and finally I am in a queue of 12. How the other 11 (or would that be ll?) got in, God knows.

A nice person called Subrat takes control of my laptop and after an hour of ghostly intervention we're on the road again - the wheels are rolling and the furry dice are swinging. Well done Subrat - give him (her?) a pay increase but sack the Marketing Department and let the Techies back in.

Finally, I go for a bite to eat in a Polish restaurant. Nice waitress, shame about the food.

Oh, and that's another bridge.

Monday 18th August June 2008

I take this photo because of the golden statues and it is only later that I notice the Virgin in a Bottle - not to be confused with this exciting product.

I have been thinking some more about Symantec who own Norton 360. No doubt they make a stack of money because we are all paranoid about viruses but how would they fare in the real world? Imagine you are stuck by the side of the road because you have locked yourself out of your car. Who would you rather see:

1. A battered old truck with a guy in dirty overalls who opens the door with a coathanger in 30 seconds and disappears with a cheery wave?

2. A man with a dazzling smile in a beautiful brand new van with customised logos who shows you a 20 minute video and then explains how much your business means to them. Who then asks you to Reformat the Engine management system by inputting the following code: 8a11s2u2. Who then asks you to drive the car to a more convenient spot. And asks for the Engine Number and the Chassis Number and your grandmother's Social Security number. And then hopes you have a nice day and drives off leaving you by the side of the road?

Difficult isn't it.

Tuesday 19th August 2008


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Don't worry, there will be some real words here shortly ... recycled of course, and carbon free. Please bring your own spastic bag to take them home in.

Well, they do say a picture is worth a thousand words so maybe we leave it at that for today.

Wednesday 20th August June 2008

No pretty girls today, I'm afraid - just a picture of the Law Courts down by the River Liffey in the centre of Dublin which are known as the Four Courts for historical reasons.

Thursday 21st August 2008


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It is a bit grey here in Dublin but down by the river something stirs ...

And in O'Connell Street
Jim Larkin is waving his arms about as he has been for some years. Sure beats working down the pit. Not that they had any pits, mind you.

Friday 22nd August June 2008

No, this is not a football crowd - just a normal Friday afternoon in Dublin crossing the River Liffey.

My girlfriend's mother wants to know what sort of computer program I am writing. Let me try again. I am writing a computer program that "breeds" other computer programs like the NHS breeds bacteria. So, it can be left running all night and there in the morning are a collection of computer programs that it has "bred". These are simple and basic but the idea is to link them together so that they can do something meaningful. Most of the programs it breeds are discarded - it produces about 300,000 programs per second. Yes, about one billion per hour. The comparison with bacteria is a pretty good one.

As for what they do, well, they will do anything if you set the criteria. The trickier the task, the longer it takes to produce one that works. If you wanted to find the sum of all the numbers up to say one million ie 1 + 2 + 3 .... + 1,000,000 then it would "breed" you a program to do that in less than one second - at the rate of about 10,000 per hour, in fact. To breed a program to find cube roots you may wait ten minutes before it comes up with the goods.

Here is an example of a program it bred that finds the factorial of a number eg Factorial 5 is 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120. "X" is the number you want the factorial of. All the other variables ie ax, bx, cx and dx start at zero.

1: Let ax = X + ax
2: Let bx = 1 + bx
3: Let ax = ax * bx
4: If bx < X - 1 Then Goto 2

The answer emerges in ax. It tells me that Factorial 17 is 355,687,428,096,000 - very big.

Saturday 23rd August 2008


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This is what I see when I look out of my window in Dublin - rain. Then I notice the inverted image in the raindrop on the window. The picture above on the extreme right has been turned upside down so that you can see the image more clearly.


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