Joint venture

In 1999, while learning to ski, I dislocated my right knee in a fairly dramatic manner. Knees are infuriating things because – once weakened – they are never entirely trustworthy. Then, in late December of 2010, I slipped on a ludicrously friction-free piece of rubber flooring right at the end of a jetway in Heathrow T5, inches away from boarding a flight to Stockholm, and, as if in fear, my right kneecap ran and hid around the back of my leg again.

For the whole of 2011, I could feel that my abused right knee wasn’t meshing properly, so I did some reading into methods for strengthening the joint, allowing for the fact that the anterior cruciate ligament is stretched all to hell. Rule number one was: plenty of exercise. Rule number two was: no high impact exercise. So that rules out jogging and running entirely, and makes even walking a bit questionable.

Many sources recommended elliptical cross-trainers as a good way to build up the damaged joint without any significant impact, and at the same time provide a good whole-body cardio workout – just what a fat sedentary bastard like me needs! So I bought one, at considerable expense.

It took a long time for it to be delivered. I ordered just before Chinese New Year, and the shop forgot to send the order to the delivery people, and then I was travelling….. but some six weeks after I handed over the money, I was the proud possessor of my own computerised elliptical cross-trainer.

On Thursday morning, ready for work, I went to throw away the huge slab of cardboard that the cross-trainer was packed in. The floor in the corridor outside my front door was soaking with condensation (it was the first day of spring; the humidity had leapt to about 100% overnight). I was wearing Rockport shoes. I slipped, went down like a fat sedentary bastard, and sent my kneecap scurrying for safety again. If I hadn’t bought the cross-trainer, I’d still be walking.

The hospital authority did good work, and the A&E staff at Princess Margaret were more than a little amused that I’d turned up with my own crutches (I knew I’d be using those again). The A&E doctor listened to my tale of multiple medial dislocations, caused by the smallest forces, and demonstrated the depth and sophistication of his training by telling me, “It’s not supposed to do that”. Then he made me an appointment with a specialist, who may consider opening things up and seeing if there are any bolts that can be tightened.

So here’s what I was supposed to be doing right now: I should be about half way to San Francisco, snoozing in an extra-legroom economy seat with a bellyful of red wine, on my way to the SF Security B-Sides conference for two days of talks, social networking, and catching up with old chums.

Since I was declared “not fit for air travel”, here’s what I am actually doing: trying to find somewhere comfortable to put my leg. Which apart from the swollen soccer-ball knee joint, also has a $2 coin-sized crater in it because the largest knee-brace the hospital had was a little on the small side. And because I couldn’t get out to the shops, I ordered a pizza, which has given me food poisoning. The elliptical cross-trainer is looming behind me, and I can hear it laughing quietly to itself.

Can’t complain, though. Irene the physiotherapist at PMH is cute as a button, and I have a follow-up appointment next week.

Been a while…

Blogging has its own momentum. Sometimes it’s easy to write every day, perhaps more than once a day. But occasionally you hit a dry patch; I suppose I could blog every day: “Got up, caught MTR, worked until after dark, went home, teased cats with laser pointer” – but what’d be the point? Don’t get me wrong; life is far from boring – but I can’t write about what I do at work!

So combine this dry patch with excessive travel and a tendency to be too busy to write and suddenly – after just a month or so – you have an “ex-blog” on your hands. Sure you could resurrect it, but it might turn out to be a zombie and eat your brains.

The longer you leave it, the more you’re aware than when you do eventually make another posting you’ll either be inundated with people saying “I thought you’d given up blogging”, or – worse – hear nothing but silence broken only by the chirping of crickets, because all the subscribers will have given up long ago and deleted you from their RSS readers.  So even when you do feel the urge to blog once more, you shrink from breaking the silence.

Still, I have stuff to write about, so better late than never. Will I hear the crickets chirping?

A wibbling too far?

An interesting question from Dave over at Dave’s Wibblings:

Here’s my thought for tonight: if someone is blogging pseudonymously, but their true identity is trivially googleable, does anyone have a requirement to keep that identity quiet?

[…] why should I be required to preserve the anonymity of people who are only anonymous to preserve their lifestyle which depends on human trafficking for sex?

[…] why should I preserve the anonymity of some overpaid expat who is using his blog to boast about how much sex he pays to have? While he supports the triad gangs who traffick in women? Or some wanker banker bragging about his conquests. Especially now that these banker types are profiting at everyone else’s expense.

Here’s my take, Dave, as one non-pseudonymous blogger to another. Why don’t you mind your own business?

Has anybody actually asked you to unmask somebody in this manner? No, didn’t think so. Why should they? What you’re actually saying here is, “Ooh, I’ve just done some slick detective work on Google and found out who $blogger is… I really want to spread the word so people can see how clever I am! But I don’t want to look like a playground sneak. I know, I’ll get rhetorical and hope somebody asks me, then I’ll have an excuse to spill the beans!”

Good man. You disapprove of prostitution and fatcat bankers. Me too. But you’re behaving right now like one of those tedious fundamentalist Americans who photograph men coming out of porn shops and post the photos on the web. And I had you tagged as a decent, sensible atheist fellow too.

Dave, if you know the identity of someone who is doing something illegal then take it straight to the police. I’ll applaud you for that, in public if you want; but this snide “I know what you’ve been doing…” business is beneath you. Get a grip.

Edit: Dave deleted his blog posting. Good stuff.

Portrait of the blogger as a young man

I remember, many years ago, there was a sudden hysteria about CDs. Perhaps it was put about by marketing droids on behalf of the vinyl and tape-cassette manufacturers, for – it was said – CDs were going to rot away. You’d have crystal clarity now, but next year… glitches and frustration. Like all good scare-stories, nothing came of it. My first ever CD (a Mozart piano concerto) is approaching its 20th birthday and still works perfectly well (although it hasn’t seen much service since being ripped to FLAC files).

The same was said, with rather more cause for concern, about early CD-Rs. When I started experimenting with writing CDs it was 1997, I was using a Yamaha CDR-100 hanging off an Adaptec AHA2940 SCSI card on a Linux 2.0.4 box running… a MicroChannel-patched kernel for it was, indeed, old IBM PS2 hardware! It was necessary to manually make the ISO image before writing. The burn process took forever. The computer had to be disconnected from the network and left untouched while writing because there was no write buffer: any interference at all and the burn failed. Even in ideal conditions the burn failed half the time anyway. Back then, blank CD-Rs cost several pounds each, and I was churning out the most expensive coffee mats in the office.

My managers, poor troubled souls, wanted to know why (considering this expense) we were archiving to CD-Rs at all. Weren’t they all going to be blank and useless within months? That’s what the trade press said, anyway. (Perhaps, this time, marketing fluff from the DDS-3 manufacturers.)

Well, I can officially set their minds at rest today. Rummaging through old boxes of things, tucked inside a logbook full of scrawl, I found a CD-R that I burned back in 1999 (on a Yamaha CDR-400), and to my delight it still works! I was able to retrieve 10 year old e-mails and review conversations and ideas long since forgotten. I found my old appraisals from 1998 (“… has a problem with authority…”; “… must learn that technical skills are not an excuse for rudeness…”). There was the source code for my unfinished squid redirector, and for my port of apache to CX-SX. Best of all, there were pictures!

Me and my CB500 at a bike show somewhere

Me and my CB500 at a bike show somewhere

Here, for example, is one of the few pictures of my favourite motorbike – my CB500 – which must have been taken in 1999 at a bike show, back when I was on the committee of the Honda Owners Club (GB).  I loved that bike – comfortable for long journeys, fast, and with Dunlop ArrowMax tyres on it it’d handle as well as a CBR600 in most conditions. I can’t remember anything about the next two bikes, but the bike on the far left is the world’s only immaculate CX500 “maggot”, belonging to a chap called Lennie.

I’m still rummaging through the depths of the files I copied from the antique CD-R.  There’s a lot of .tar.gz and ZIP files on there that have to be explored. I’m feeling really quite nostalgic about the whole thing.

An ox tale

Kung hei fat choi! It is the year of the ox (or water-buffalo). Last year I celebrated Chinese New Year in Macau in a regrettable boozefest that saw me almost stabbed by a Russian gangster, and which gave such offence to two of our party that they snuck away in the early hours of the morning to avoid us (a gesture that would have been much more successful if their passports hadn’t been locked in my hotel room safe, the combination to which was known only to me).

No such shenanigans this year. I’m home, getting some of my backlog of work done and slowly getting over a bout of flu. It’s bloody cold too, and the cats spend their non-eating time snug under the duvet, or both trying to fit onto my lap at once. They’ve grown thick winter coats that are going to be all over the furniture in a couple of weeks when the weather warms up.

And that’s about it, for now. I shall sit out the holidays and the cold at my keyboard like the curmudgeonly hermit that I am. I have a lot of things on my to-do list.

I should take my own advice

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve declaimed (to clients, to journalists, to conferences, even on this blog) that the majority of security incidents occur because someone fails to take a simple, straightforward action that would have prevented the incident; it’s rarely anything complicated, and it’s often overlooked because “it’s never been a problem before, so it should be alright this time too”.

Today I have been hoist by my own petard. I have had a significant quantity of money taken from my wallet while it was unattended in my hotel room. Of course there was a safe, but I’d become complacent. I reported the theft to the hotel so they could investigate it, but I refused (to the bemusement of some friends) to request compensation or reimbursement. This attitude that we must be somehow protected from our errors and bad luck baffles me. You can buy protection, of course, from the insurance industry, but several friends were unable to understand why I didn’t storm the hotel manager’s office, demanding my money back. As I explained: whoever took it is a criminal, I’m a dumbass, so the responsibility is shared. The hotel’s an innocent third-party. Why should they pay anything?

This appears to be a minority view.

I’m in a very windy Miami now, exhausted from jetlag and travel. Time for some kip.

One thing certainly does lead to another

Just an self-indulgent little update today. Recently I asked Emily to arrange a company outing to the German Beer Festival over at the Marco Polo Gateway. The office is a sausagefest anyway, so why shouldn’t we enjoy one after work too? What’s the wurst that could happen?

Anyway, we chatted about the German Beer Festival, and it suddenly occurred to me that the 2006 Bierfest is the reason for Emily’s presence here in the office.

See, it went like this, as I explained to the mystified staff:

  • I went to the bierfest with an industry chum who’d booked a table for many of his friends.
  • One of those friends was Jami Gong, who told me all about the new comedy club he was about to open, and invited us to come along on opening night. (Takeout Comedy on Elgin Street, incidentally. I recommend it.)
  • So I went. One of the open-mic acts was a lady called Kay. She stuttered her way through her material, referring regularly to notes on a piece of paper, but hell – she was up there at the microphone and I was in the audience so she’s got at least one more ball than me, maybe two, regardless of the quality of the act. Kudos.
  • Kay told some jokes about these people called CouchSurfers who would come and stay in her apartment. She extolled the virtues of the CouchSurfing system and disclosed the URL.
  • So I signed up as a CouchSurfing host, because I have a spare room and HK hotels are expensive.
  • One of my early visitors was a girl from Wisconsin, called Tiffany.
  • She had a friend who lived just over the border in the Mainland, but who was coming to HK to visit Tiffany. We were introduced at the TST clock tower. Yep, that was Emily.
  • That was over a year ago, and she’s still hanging around.

“So there!”, I told the chaps in the office. “We must go to the Bierfest, because the Bierfest is the reason we have Emily.”

“Should have stayed in”, said David.

The Big Read

“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.”

And so here’s the list, complete with the following instructions:

  • Look at the list and embolden those you have read.
  • Italicise those you intend to read.
  • Underline the books you LOVE.
  • Reprint this list in your own blog.
  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
  34. Emma – Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession – AS Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

It’s obviously subjective (so much bloody Austen, no V.S.Naipaul at all), and strangely redundant in places (the Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet? The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe? Who compiled this list?!), but it’s an interesting metric nonetheless. If any of my readers reprint this in their own blogs, do post a link in the comments section here!

Black sabbath

I exaggerate. Not black as such, but particularly overcast. The weather forecast for the coming week promises rain, thunder, rain, more rain, showers, and – for some variety – rain. Today, it’s rained. Nonethelesss, it’s been a fairly full day.

I got up at 10:45, due to an attack of insomnia last night that had me up and fiddling with software at 2am. I have been experimenting with VirtualBox on my Linux system, for those occasions when I need to be able to edit Microsoft Word documents. It’s the best damn VM ever – I love it to bits. Last night I made “Seamless Desktop” work. What’s that? Well, instead of Windows XP running in a window on my Gnome desktop, seamless desktop integrates the two operating systems. The windows owned by XP co-exist with the Linux applications, as the name would suggest, seamlessly. If you want to try it yourself you’ll have to install Windows XP on the virtual machine first. Then boot it up, select “Install Guest Additions…” from VirtualBox’s Device menu, follow the instructions, reboot and the “Seamless Desktop” menu option will be available to you. It’s a wee bit buggy in the open source version, but still easily good enough to use, and impressive as all hell.

Prodded by a mild cabin fever around lunchtime, I went to see Hancock at the cinema down in the town square. Capsule review: piece of shit.

Then I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom in preparation for cooking up a big pot of something delicious for dinner, and then for bringing into the office in plastic boxes. I threw out all the packaging from when I built my new PC (and isn’t it a bloody nuisance having to tear all the boxes up to get the warranty certificates off of them?), ripped a few CDs, backed my home directory up onto a portable hard drive, wrote a time-triggered script to transfer spam from a folder in my mailbox onto my spam filter so it can learn to recognise the spam that it’s currently overlooking, had a can of Tsing Tao, and finished a book.

All that, and it’s only 5pm. I think it’s time to go to the supermarket.