Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Lighting the Way to a Better Traffic Flow

It occurred to me as I travelled down the Monash Freeway. The traffic at the time was not too heavy, and I was doing my best to achieve exactly 100kph - the magic point between attracting the eternal fury of my fellow driver by moving too slowly and the eternal fury of the police by travelling too fast.

A brown Holden was moving beside me, at precisely the same speed. Now we were both doing something quite dangerous, since by driving side by side we robbed ourselves of a potential escape route in case of trouble. However, this did give me an idea.

I realised it was quite easy for me to monitor my speed with this guy beside me. I was precisely aware of the smallest discrepancy between my speed and his. Any change in speed soon meant that I edged ahead or fell behind.

Contrast this with the difficulty in meeting the speed limit. Too fast and the law's long arm grabs me in a half Nelson. Too slow and I am chased for 45 minutes through the back streets of Glen Iris by irate commuters seeking to dislocate my limbs sequentially. If only it were so easy to drive at the speed limit. However to do so requires taking one's eyes off the road frequently to check the speedometer. Going up and down hills only makes this more difficult.

If only there were something moving beside me at the speed limit! This would instantly give me the ability to monitor my speed precisely using a standard negative feedback loop. Too slow, and I start to drop behind; too fast and I move ahead. Simple! In addition, the excuse that my speedometer is poorly calibrated disappears, and one more avenue for the chronic speed abuser is removed.

This may sound far-fetched, but it is not necessary for pace car drivers to be hired to drive along the freeway every 10 metres. The same effect could be achieved using lights on the side of the road. These could flash on and off like dots on a TV screen, giving the impression of a moving light going at the speed limit. People driving along would know the moment they began to speed or drop off the speed.

Not only would this reduce the incidence of speeding on our Melbournian roads, but it would also lead to greater discipline in the traffic, as people who were travelling too slowly would be reminded of it constantly. In my opinion, people travelling too slowly are as much a cause of accidents as people travelling too fast.

So what do you think? I think this idea is gold. I don't know how much it would cost, but given the vast number of lights and electronics on the roads at the moment, I have to believe it would prove feasible.

Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Left Eye Receives Own Monitor

For most people, one monitor is enough, but for me every inch of my desk that is not covered by monitors is another inch through which I am forced to witness the tedium of the external world. Therefore my second monitor came not a moment too soon.

This second one, as with the first, is a Hyundai model, which seems to work quite well. However it is only a 17 inch one, rather than 19 which my first is. This is the only concession I made to the part of my brain that was screaming out how much of a waste of money this was.

I could have run two monitors on my current video card, however in the past when I have tried this it seems to slow down my gaming enormously. I couldn't do that to poor Al, who comes over every Friday night to play World of Warcraft on my PC. Therefore I purchased a second PCI video card to run it

This second video card is an ATI card, while my first is from nVidia. I had thought this might lead to problems, however it seems to work reasonably well. Even having two competing desktop control centres doesn't seem to be causing too many conflicts.

After receiving this monitor, I realised that there were two problems:
  • The monitor updated extremely slowly;
  • I had a sudden, desperate desire to run the second monitor in portrait mode (ie taller than it is wide), even though I had never previously thought of doing so, as soon as I realised that the monitor was able to rotate around.
The second problem should have been easily solved. There was an option in the ATI Control Centre to rotate a display in 90° intervals. However this failed silently, leaving me scratching my head. So I tried to solve the first issue.

I saw in the BIOS a setting called PCI Latency, which was set to 32, and which could take any value from 0-255. In my usual horrendously optimistic fashion, I set it to 0 and rebooted. Amazingly this not only caused the monitor to refresh much faster, but also somehow caused the rotate option to work perfectly!

Now I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but why the BIOS chose to add a latency of 32 unspecified time units to my PCI bus is beyond me. This option seems to be equivalent to asking, 'How fast would you like your monitor to go? Fast, or very slow?'

At any rate, the second monitor is quite useful for reading documentation while I am using the other monitor for editing documents or programs. It may be an extravagance, but it fits in well with my extravagant bluetooth mouse and keyboard, so it's a good purchase in my book!

Monday, 11 July 2005

Reinspection Passed

Our cosy living arrangements, which we had begun to take for granted, were recently threatened by a zealous, new house inspector from the estate agent. Our response was prompt and decisive: we paid people to clean up our house.

Despite the fact that our house was almost spotless, I must confess to having some anxiety about the result. However, the inspection was duly passed, and Cameron described the inspector's reaction as being 'non-plussed', a situation that provides no small amount of satisfaction.

In any case, our tenure is secure for another six months, which will no doubt be sufficient time for the house to revert to its customary state of disorder (I feel that disorder is the destiny of the universe, and am hesitant to do anything to obstruct the juggernaut of entropy).

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

Of Mice and Men

History gives us many tales of heroism, stories so rich with human courage that men's hearts are filled with admiration and purpose. The accounts of those who have fought for freedom down the ages have always ranked amongst mankind's greatest moments.

Few stories, however, have so touched the soul so powerfully as the tale of Daniel, the young mouse caught up in events beyond his understanding, swept by currents of history from his simple life in a simple home to despair and terror.

For our young hero was happy in his life; food was plentiful (the carpet being littered with crumbs, having not seen the underside of a vacuum for many months), pets of any kind were absent (due to draconian tenancy arrangements) and the disarray of the house left many convenient places for young Daniel to hide.

So it was that the little creature went to bed one night, safe in his bed of cast-off garments and forgotten brochures. His life of comfort was forever ripped away, however, as the cataclysmic event that would come to be known as the Great Cleaning saw everything he had known be taken away. No more the ready-made shelter; clothes were tidied, papers were recycled. No more the steady stream of food; the floors were vacuumed and mopped until the original surface could once more be seen.

Daniel panicked, as any man would. His heart threatened to give way to despair, as he surveyed the hell that his home had become. But Daniel would come to realise that the worst was yet to come.

Bereft of shelter, our furry friend fell prey to the worst predator of all: man. He was captured and cast into a terrible dungeon - the upstairs cupboard where we keep the toilet paper. In this dark place his soul was attacked by unseen foes. His every nightmare came to pass, as the ravages of time and hunger took their toll.

His gaollers took turns at playing with him. Dark, devious forms of torture were devised and inflicted on the hapless mouse. To them, he was little more than vermin. In that place it seemed that the joyful place in which he had once lived was a different world, inhabited by a different Daniel. A younger, innocent Daniel who had been lost forever in a sea of sorrow.

But before he could give in, before his limbs gave way to hunger and his mind to insanity, the young mouse discovered thought of the many generations of mice who had come before him; of the legions of rodents who had struggled to survive against all odds. He seemed to hear them whispering to him in the darkness, calling to him, urging him to fight. And so he determined to do.

Though his stomach growled, though his legs threatened to give way to fatigue and starvation, Daniel struggled for his liberty. He could not fit through the crack under the door, as his cruel tormentors had plugged it with a T-Shirt. But our indomitable hero refused to give in. Using only the teeth that God gave him, he nibbled himself a hole, a hole back to the light.

It took him many hours, but finally he was able to poke his little whiskers out, and breathe his first breath of fresh air in what seemed like years. However the gods had not finished with him; they had sport to make of him yet. One of the gaollers returned, just as Daniel was preparing to make a dash for freedom. He ducked back inside the shirt, hoping to avoid detection. However he was noticed, and the warden flew into a terrible rage. Determined to make the mouse pay for his temerity, he flung the mouse to the ground, using the shirt as a makeshift sling shot. Bruised, broken and half-dead, Daniel was locked in a new prison, where he felt the pull of death grow stronger.

Bored at last, his keepers decided the cruellest, and therefore most amusing, thing they could do would be to cast him out. Therefore they took out to the backyard, where they left his battered body to die in the cold, frosty night.

What happened to Daniel, none knows. It seems doubtful he could have survived the night. But the tale of Daniel has great allure, and his legions of admirers refuse to let him pass away into oblivion. Often the tale is told around the campfire of how a father saw the mouse return to inspire his brethren to feats of courage. It is said by many that he will return at the end of times, to hold the scales that weigh the deeds of mice and men.

Tuesday, 5 July 2005

Laziness Reaches New Heights in Pre-Spring Cleaning Madness

After receiving a scathing review of the level of hygiene in our house, it was clear that something had to be done. The house was not up to code, and obviously had to be cleaned, but equally obviously we weren't up to the job. After all, we were the ones who had let the situation get so bad in the first place.

The answer was clear - throw money at the problem until it went away. Therefore last Saturday became the great Day of Cleaning, in which a procession of hired labourers came to our house to clean it from top to bottom. Stoves were scoured, scum was expunged, and the carpets were given the steam-cleaning of a lifetime - all in the name of keeping us from the humiliation of being kicked out of home.

I must emphasise that our house before this was dirty, but not abysmally so. Certainly the stove was quite filthy, and the showers had several layers of grime on them, but I certainly wasn't disgusted when I looked at it. I guess you get used to these things after putting up with them for a while.

Cleaning the carpets required that the furniture be moved outside. I amused myself for some time using my laptop - I had a complete office setup with a desk, a comfy office chair and wireless internet access - what else could I need? I may even decide to go out there again, once the weather warms up.

We thought that it probably wouldn't rain that evening, but of course it did, and just as Cameron and I were tucking into our main course down at a local Thai restaurant. However we weren't prepared to leave our meal, since we had only just received it and it had been about an hour in coming (I won't be going back to that restaurant in the near future). Fortunately Jon, who was also having dinner but with some other of his friends, raced home to bring in the furniture.

However just when we thought that we were a shoe-in to pass the secondary inspection this friday, Jon spied a mouse running around the upstairs hall. This is troublesome enough, but of course my situation is made worse by the fact that Jon and Cameron insist on treating the mouse as an honoured guest, putting it up in a luxurious cupboard and providing it with all the food and water its little mousey heart could desire. Needless to say my suggestions that extermination may prove necessary have been coolly received, to say the least.

Saturday, 2 July 2005

House Inspection Failed

None who have been to our house recently have felt the overwhelming need to praise us for our clean and tidy living quarters. There has, after all, been a lot of mess lying around, and the dishes are often left in a dirty pile. From time to time a bad smell permeates the house from something left too long in the fridge.

Things have hit a new low, however, as our so-called Routine Inspection took place last week. This inspection, which is not, as one might expect, of our routines, but rather of a routine nature, is to examine our house and the standards in which it is being kept. You see, of course, that we do not own the house, but must rent it from the owners in Singapore.

Previously these inspections have not presented much of a hurdle. A peek here, a cursory examination there, a cross word advising us to mow the lawn, and we were all on our way. However this last time disaster struck. A new inspector, one raised in the strictest Calvinist traditions of spotlessness, was summoned to our house to perform the inspection. Routine this was not! Our house was derided in the harshest possible terms. Disgusting, it is apparently. If the landlords were to see it, we would be out on our ear.

This abrupt change in standards is frustrating. There was no warning that we suddenly had to aim for a higher standard. Also the house is far cleaner than it had been during the previous tenants' occupancy. However, we are taking no chances.

We have a further inspection next week, in front of a panel of inspectors. Hopefully our efforts at cleaning will satisfy the majority of them.

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