Tuesday, July 31, 2007

31 July 2007: Eggspensive

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Part of this AKTing Lark over the last three or four years has been the re-discovery of old haunts during my first time round as a Southampton student.

Back in those days I studied politics, drank Old Rosie, did a lot of cycling and ate large amounts of curry. Some of this was home made, but occasionally myself and some house-mates (normally Andy and Richard) would venture out to find a nice friendly Indian restaurant where we could eat hot food without the hassle of having to cook it first. On one such venture we found ourselves wandering further than normal, out past Safeway and The Hobbit, down into Bevois Valley and up the other side, where we found a small, grubby-looking curry house named the Manzil Tandoori.

In we went. Friendly Bangladeshi Gentleman came to take our order.

Me: Can I have the tandoori chicken starter please?
FBG: Samosa is good, sir, would you like samosa?
Me: No, I'd like the tandoori chicken please.
FBG: Samosa very good tonight sir. Made fresh.
Me: Please, I really would like tandoori chicken.
FBG: I'll get you samosa. On the house.


Me: And for the main, I'd like the lamb phall please?
FBG: No sir, that is too hot for you. I recommend madras please.
Me: No, really I would like the phall. Lamb phall, please.
FBG: No sir, it too hot. I will get you lamb madras and extra chillies on side if you want to make it hotter.
Me: So I can't get a lamb phall?
FBG: (writing) Madras with extra chillies.

It was like stepping into a parallel universe. Naturally, it quickly became our favourite restaurant. The next time we went it was even more bizarre. It was a Monday evening, fairly early, maybe 7pm. We walked in and the place was deserted, not a soul in the place.

Me: Table for three please?
FBG: Sorry sir we are full.
Me: Full?
FBG: Yes, all tables are taken.
Me: (pointing at table next to me) What about this one?
FBG: We are full sir, sorry.

And so we left. Went back there several times, and something weird or unusual always happened: one time they made us sit in the take-away waiting area while we ate despite several other tables being available. And though we are now some twelve years on from that first incident, Andrew, Gloria and I decided it was about time we gave the place another visit last night.

It was frightening normal. Apart from the fact we were the only customers, and apart from the fact that the restaurant didn't appear to have been cleaned in the intervening twelve years, it seemed like a normal restaurant. I ordered tandoori chicken starter just to see what would happen: I got it without question. No longer phall on the menu but they had a 'hot' Ceylon dish so I ordered that: it came without problem. (Wasn't actually as nice as a Karai or Jalfrezi, but this was all in the name of scientific experimentation, right?). I kept waiting for something to happen, something unusual, something from the parallel universe, but it didn't.

Until we looked at the takeaway menu.

As first glance, this appeared to be a normal Indian takeaway menu. Full of the usual Baltis and Tikka Masalas. On the back, as is sometimes the case, was a "European Food" section, presumably for kids who don't like Indian but like the idea of a takeaway. Omelettes, steaks etc, the usual stuff. Then I looked at the prices.

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Chips cost one pound. Egg and chips cost four pounds. Therefore egg costs three pounds.

Three pounds for an egg? Admittedly, I didn't ask how many eggs you got for your money, nor indeed what kind of eggs they are that cost three pounds. Not Kinder Eggs, I'll bet. And 'fired' scampi for a fiver? Wonder what job it was fired from?

In many ways it came as something of a relief. I had been concerned that somehow the hole in the fabric of space-time had been repaired and that the Manzil Tandoori was no longer a gateway to a parallel universe, but now I feel better. It's good to find these little anomalies every so often to remind us, just when we're about to forget, that there's truly no such thing as normal.

The Manzil Tandoori is open every day from 6pm. Who knows what you may discover.

Monday, July 23, 2007

23 July 2007: Graduation

Dressed up in silly clothes today. Kind of like Aston Villa except without the sponsorship or the mildly annoying accent.

Yes, that's right, time to graduate. Headed up to pick up the bizarrely-coloured gown nice and early to get the official (=expensive) photos done before the rush. Back home briefly to take a few more pics, brighten up the neighbourhood for a few minutes (I got some strange looks from the neighbours) and back up to the university for the ceremony.

The ceremony itself lasted a little less than an hour, which was pretty good considering it was all Bachelors, Masters and Doctors degrees in Computer Science. Interestingly the number of PhDs was larger than the number of MScs, but I suspect that's just down to the highly fashionable clothing you get to wear as a PhD. Eventually my turn came around: hand the hood to Eric Cooke, wait for Wendy to read out the name and off I go (to the loud 'whoop' cheers of a number of ITO students who'd already been presented with their BSc degrees by this point), kneel before the Chancellor (apparently because he's not quite tall enough to perform the ritual if we're standing), Eric hands him the hood, Chancellor loops it neatly over my head, says a few non-threatening words and off I go.

Quick champagne reception (featuring food, I am happy to report) where my "two guests" (wife and mother) were introduced to various friends and acquaintances, including the President of the British Computer Society (pictured above, mainly because he supervised my PhD and headed up AKT), and, best of all, my above-mentioned friends who are now ITO graduates. They're all off to highly-paid London jobs (or, in one case, the Royal Air Force) while I continue to mooch around the Comp Sci department as a Research Fellow. Still, it was good to see them one last time.

The rain continued all day - and indeed returns as I write this - but it didn't dampen the day at all. Thoroughly enjoyable and fun, despite the hopelessly useless clothing I was forced to wear.

If you're interested, there are some photos online from graduation day and from the party we had the day before, and Gloria even made a 40-second video (high bandwidth and lower bandwidth) of the Chancellor getting to meet me. Lucky fellow.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

19 July 2007: Oldest

The Altanta Braves, who are kind of up there in the NL East race this year (despite just losing three in a row), just made a move to turn their season around by signing a first baseman holding quite a large number of records.

Julio Franco holds a number of career distinctions: American League Batting Champion, All-Star 'Most Valuable Player', five-time 'Silver Slugger' award winner, three-time All-Star. But most of his category-topping appearances begin with the word 'oldest':

Oldest player to hit a home run, oldest player to hit a grand slam, oldest player to hit a pinch-hit home run, oldest player to steal two consecutive bases, oldest player to pinch run (ie they substituted him in to the game for his running speed), oldest player in Major League Baseball (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), oldest regular position player (ie he actually plays and fields) in Major League history. The few 'oldest' titles he doesn't hold (oldest to steal a base, oldest to have an at-bat) are due to token performances by elderly 'players' back in the early days of baseball, when people didn't take baseball so seriously. If he steals a base within the next year, however, he'll even manage to get that record - which has stood since 1909.

He's officially 48, 49 on August 23rd. Unofficially, based on comments made by several teammates in 2002/03, he's at least 53. His career began when he was signed as a free agent for the Phillies organisation in 1978.

1978. Sheesh.

He was signed by the Braves in 2001 while slowly finishing up his career in Mexico. Manager Bobby Cox thought perhaps Franco could do a job against left-handed pitchers while platooning at first base. He ended up staying four years, astounding people with his athletic ability (in 2005 he was still one of the quickest runners on the roster) and bizarre diet ("raw eggs, pro-tee-in") and eventually was released when, in 2006, his salary arbitration took his earning figure up to the $2 million mark, something the Braves hadn't figured on. The Mets picked him up, and he had a good 2006, but his appearances were limited somewhat in 2007, and they released him.

Immediately the Braves were on the phone. "Get down here and play for us," was the message - and one plane flight later, Julio will be in a Braves uniform and playing in tonight's game. Not just an invaluable bat off the bench, not to mention his base-stealing and pinch-running abilities, he's also extremely valuable to the team as a leader: it's kind of like having an extra coach down on the bench, something the Braves have lacked a little since the departures of Franco and former catcher Eddie Perez.

Whether this is the catalyst the Braves need to put some consistency into their streaky season remains to be seen. But at least it's a distraction from the ongoing Saints takeover soap-opera, which rumbles ever onward with little sign of a conclusion: at least not before the closure of the transfer window, which is what really matters in this case. Maybe Julio (career earnings of over $24 million, which isn't much by baseball standards) should come in with a bid? He's probably fitter than most of them anyway.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

17 July 2007: Fraud

Saints Takeover Exposed As Fraud

In new Saints developments this morning, it was finally exposed that the forthcoming "massively big" takeover of Saints by a mystery consortium was, in fact, a load of old bunkum.

It turned out the consorts were actually a combination of failed local businessmen: Barry Beardall, a convicted fraudster, Barry Brylcream, the slick-haired 'face man' of the operation and Barry Beegee, a local karaoke star. The three of them nicked a Dubai flag from a Dubai-registered container ship down at Dock Gate 20 and announced via The Saints Forum that they were a major international consortium going to take over. Sheik Hn'vac, an Arab rich guy who made his money in the carpet trade, was rumoured to be the 'Mr Big Money Bags' backer, a man who would allegedly "bring the freshness back" to the club.

Unfortunately, after a tip off from Saints' own undercover journalist superstar Richard Chorley, the police raided several football clubs yesterday, including some annoying little blue team down the road, and as a result of the investigations, the "Barry Buyout" was exposed as being a con.

As a result, the British government have expelled four Russian diplomats and Foreign Secretary David "Steve" Miller Band said that unless the Russian government extradited Barry Blabbingov (the unofficial spokesperson who initially contacted The Saints Forum) then the deal could not go ahead. The Echo picked up on the story too, and it soon became clear to everyone here that the whole thing was a hoax and there were no carpet barons and race horses about to mount a hostile takeover at St Mary's.

However, it still appears there are a few small bids on the table, seemingly from (1) Barry Souness (2) Barry Londonbusinessman and (3) Barry Lowe. Barry 'Cillit Bang' Scott was unavailable for loud, pointless comments.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

11 July 2007: Rumblings

Well, the rumours continue and seem to be gathering a little pace, so I'd better post about it now so that at least I have a chance of saying "I told you so" if it does actually materialise...

Yes, it's Southampton Football Club yet again, no longer to be bought out by Paul 'Microsoft Founder' Allen, but instead by another mysterious consortium. The Saints Forum has had a humorously long-running thread series dedicated to the 'imminent takeover' of the club since the PLC first officially went into 'Bid Situation' status back in April on the Stock Exchange (the previous incarnation of the thread was called 'Now That's What I Call A Takeover Thread Volume Nine') but now the thread title is 'Woo Hoo the last takover thread.........hopefully'.

This thread is largely a one-upmanship discussion between those who are 'In The Know' (ITK) and those of us who are mere mortals. Interestingly, though, in this case those who are ITK seem to be quite normal, regular posters on the boards and indeed have claimed that the papers (well, the Daily Echo, if that counts) have a bunch of information on the imminent takeover and will publish as soon as given the ok by the incoming masters. Who, incidentally, WILL be coming whatever the current board do. The Paul Allen deal reputedly fell through because the executive directors said they'd only walk if they were given a full 18-month payoff (including the guy who just became a director last week - how convenient, Mr Oldknow!) but this one is to be a hostile takeover from what I can gather.

Anyway, the normal rumours and rumblings abound, usually stating an announcement will be forthcoming in about two or three days from now (this is what could be termed a 'rolling announcement' - it's always two or three days in the future), but hey, maybe things will actually happen sometime soon and the announcement that will "rock the footballing world" will occur. I'm not excited particularly, more bemused, and certainly seeing Gareth Bale and (fairly certainly) Chris Baird head off in order to balance the books has got to make you wonder if it isn't just someone's imagination.

Still, who knows? If it doesn't happen, at least I'll be able to deflect attention by blogging about graduation and root beer.

Footnote: Outside the bubble of The Saints Forum, the rest of the world laughs loudly: alternative (=rougher) messageboard 'The Ugly Inside' features a goodly number of threads ridiculing the whole process and describing it as a group hallucination. ForeverSaints, originally set up to mock TSF's predecessor 'SaintsForever', features threads introducing pictures such as the one above, which looks quite a good idea to me: a large rollercoaster is probably a better right-back option than Ostlund, and the giant ugly 'Ted Bates' statue and his enormous left fist hanging over opposition left-midfielders is bound to scare them... I can just see it thumping down on the poor wingers, week after week.

Friday, July 06, 2007

6 July 2007: Dear Aunt

It seems the Norway post stirred the happy debate concerning PCs and Macs: not the debate as to which one you should use, but the debate over the best reason for choosing a Mac. The above video is one of the more compelling pieces of evidence.

Personally I'm still not a Maccer just yet, partly because as a developer it's something of a requirement to make sure stuff works on a PC since most of the world uses one, and partly because I actually find half my time working on Linux anyway and I'm very happy with that. My problem with Linux is that I can't - or at least couldn't some two years ago at last attempt - use it for mlb.tv because (1) the Linux version of RealPlayer looked like a very poor attempt at a hack that barely worked and (2) mlb.tv dropped RealPlayer in favour of Windows Media format anyway shortly after.

Best plan might be to get an AS/400 and do everything in RPG or COBOL, outputting the baseball results on punch cards. Just have to make sure the punching machine didn't get RSI from constantly having to output "Chipper Jones injured again". Honestly, it's nearly as bad as when Graeme Le Saux 'played' for Saints.