June 2003


The last thing I did as I left home this morning was to grab a windcheater and drag it on over my head. Outside was grey and brisk. I didn't want to shiver.
Halfway to dropping off SonOfVirge at school I looked down. My black, brushed-cotton windcheater was not all black. Parts of it were a wispy grey. My top was a mess. I knew why. I had been furred by the fluff-master last night. Gandalf, His Fearsome Fluffiness, had sat on me while I pronounced the lesson from the Fifth Book of Potter.
My appearance at work has never been what you would have described as strictly professional. I don't wear business suits or ties (except when visiting other companies or customers). I try to keep neat and comfortable. I knew I would take my windcheater off later in the day, but for the first hour of work I wanted to wear it for a little extra warmth. The fur had to go.
As I walked from the carpark to the back door, I brushed at the fur to try to roll it into a removable clump - limited success. The cat fur stuck to the fabric far better than to my dry, smooth fingers. I licked my fingers and tried again - success! I keep brushing, but my fingers dried out quickly. Another lick, and the fur's occupation force was being beaten back, leaving clean blackness.
Then I stopped to think - to observe my behaviour. What a cheeky cat! I had worked out his ulterior motive. By leaving my garments covered in fur, he was turning me into a cat! I had fallen under his devious influence. My paw-licking method of cleaning myself was so cat-like that I could no longer think of Gandalf as "just a pet". He is clearly a manipulative megalomaniac, intent on converting all humanity to a cat-like existence where he can rule us as a pampered dictator.
Forewarned is forearmed. I shall resist his influence. Nobody's going to turn me into a cat (unless of course they feed me, cuddle me, groom me, and expect that I will do nothing but lie around all day).

Stop Press: I may have to soften my stance on the culpability of the feline. It seems that there may be less direct mechanisms by which I may have been influenced. e.g. the behaviour modifying effects of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.


Dogs come when you call. Cats have answering machines.

"The moving finger writes, and having writ, backspaces a bit, deletes the last word and replaces it with "unctuous", reformats the paragraph, adjusts the font size, and adds a gigantic sig of a sleeping pussy cat and a quote from a poem."
- Omar Khayyam, on his second day on USENET.

Sinking feelings

As I sit at my computer I just can't sit completely still. I fidget. I change posture. I don't like it, but I gradually sink lower and lower, little by little descending into an uncomfortable slump. The cause is clear. The gas-lift mechanism on this office chair is leaky. It's been that way for a while (many months, actually). If I pull the release trigger to raise it before I sit, then do my best imitation of a corpse at the keyboard, it holds its gas nicely... if only I could sit still.
Today was the day to remedy the droop. No more would I feel deflated as I typed. The shop where we bought the chairs three years ago stock replacements.
Step 1: Disassemble the chair. It sounded easy, but the lift mechanism was jammed into the chair base and extremely reluctant to come out. The encouragement it needed was provided by my hammer.
Step 2: Buy replacement mechanism. This was easy, but the electronic gadgets section of the shop did its level best to distract me from my quest.
Step 3: Reassemble the chair. Simplicity itself.
Step 4: Test the new, firm, good-as-new chair. What? It droops! Eeeeeek! I'm sinking!
The new one was considerably worse than its slightly flacid predecessor. Guess what I shall be doing tomorrow.


I logged onto my local library's site today to check when my borrowed books were due. I noted with some interest that they're conducting a short story competition. What could I write for something like this? I don't think I've written anything sufficiently long to be regarded as a short story.
Browsing further I was very surprised to note that they have placed a 2000 word limit on adult entries. Surely not. Only 2000 words? I read last year's winners. It seems it is a very-short story competition, and that opens up possibilities for slack dogs like me. I think I shall do a little polishing on "The Power" and submit it. This is a no-risk investment.

New Books

We bought two books today. J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (just released today) and Stephen Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. By popular demand the HP book is being read aloud as a family activity. We read all of Lord of the Rings aloud when the kids were young and the first four HP books in similar fashion. You are never too old to have books read to you.
It will probably be another week or two before I read Gardens of the Moon. I still have incomplete library books.

Oh Industry

May you live in interesting times. Whether or not this is an ancient Chinese curse or an invention by a 1950's science fiction writer doesn't really matter. What matters is that interesting times do occur. It does happen that a powerful union can be hell-bent on forcing a whole region's employers to put money into an inadequately-controlled employee security scheme which happens to be the brain-child of one of the union's leaders. It does happen that workers in one company are forced to take industrial action because of the dictates of a powerful union, even though they already have wages and conditions far in excess of their colleagues in other companies. It does happen that non-unionised employees have to try to achieve their company-set goals and keep the company profitable even during periods of industrial unrest.
I just wish these tensions (however interesting) wouldn't get in the way of the technical challenges of a science/engineering position.


My magical armour is on the way. The Povray Elves put on an extra shift to handle this commission. Here is a brief glimpse:

Magic Armour for Granthug the Solid


Read about the latest biotech breakthrough - the Christian gene.

"People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it's safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs."

For the office: "Chaos, panic and disorder . . . my work here is done."

Virge's Law

It was perfectly logical but nobody expected it.
The output was wrong. It disagreed with the taxation department's assessment. She ran the accountancy software again. It was right now. It agreed with the assessment, but she had changed nothing. There was no reason for the output to be any different. Memory may be deceptive at times, but the data submitted to the tax department was a permanent record of the error.

Does this scene sound familiar - software producing different results at different times when it is supposed to reliably calculate the same results? Many artificial intelligence researchers have toyed with the idea that self-awareness and the illusion of free will are generated purely through extreme complexity. The increments of complexity from simple logic to logic with memory, rules, pattern matching, learning algorithms and predictive capabilities can each be understood by themselves, but there comes point where a total system becomes too complex to have its macroscopic behaviour understood in terms of its component algorithms.
An accountancy program should just add up the numbers and spit out an answer. It should be simple, but its creators had to evolve its design and capabilities to keep up with one of the fastest growing bodies of chaotic complexity in the known universe - Australian tax law. This is a system of laws embracing the arc of history, the whole gamut of modern human life and a fair smattering of wild abstract fantasy. The program creators thought that they were dealing with something the IT industry describes as "a bugger of a thing to debug", but they had inadvertently come up against a fundamental barrier. They had met Virge's Law:
Any program of sufficient complexity to cope with Australian tax law is also sufficiently complex to exhibit emergent self-determination.

My new t-shirt

Virge's new t-shirt


A quote from my esteemed fanatic-fearing colleague (spoken in jest): "So many Christians, so few lions."

For the office: "Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven't gone to sleep yet"


Who is the fairytale me? There is a new thread in the photography section of EK for people to post "The fairytale you". So far it has some wonderful photomanipulations of EK members dressed up and distorted to be witches, elves, vampires etc. Who should I be when my fantasy imagination runs loose?
I thought of just posting the Virge=Lucifer picture, but most people on EK have seen that one. I want to do something different. Virge as a wizard could be good, but with a bald head I think I could do a warrior more convincingly. I shall be Granthug the Solid.
I'll take a head and shoulders shot of Granthug looking mean. He shall wear magical spiky armour manufactured by the Povray elves. Behind him, in the flickering gloom of candle light, the rack of swords will glint.