Oh, Eh?

I watched the first episode of Netflix’s The OA last night. Very interesting. I’m looking forward to watching the rest, and speculating about what “OA” might stand for. “Operational Assistant”? “Overcome with Angst?” I kind of want it to have something to do with UFOs, but that would mean it had to be “Object” something.”Object Activity,” for example.

But none of that would make much sense. And I’m betting that it won’t be anything easily guessable.

One could of course google it, but that would be to walk into a pit of spoilers, and I came into this knowing exactly nothing about it, which is great.

Also watched the first episode of Person of Interest, which my son has been singing the praises of for some time. No bad, looks quite promising.

And (a bit of a TV-fest last night) a few episodes of That 70s Show, which my daughter has been singing the praises of. Quite funny, quite (but not exactly) like the real 70s. The joke may wear thin, but it should be good until then.

Duck(Duck)ing the User Interface

It must be well over a year now since I switched my main search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo. I changed partly because of concerns over Google’s handling of privacy issues, and partly just to try out the new one.

DuckDuckGo’s results are usually fine, and if you ever can’t find something and you think Google might be better, it’s easy to redirect your search there by adding “!g” at the end. There are other special codes like this, such as “!w” to search Wikipedia.

So it’s all fine. But what I’ve only gradually realised is that I much prefer the Duck’s user interface. And this is for one simple reason: infinite scrolling.

Now, infinite scrolling isn’t always good, and in sure it has a negative effect on things like usability and caching, in at least some cases. But on DDG (as I’m sure no-one ever calls it), it makes the whole search experience better.

Because sometimes there are more than ten Interesting hits. Or the interesting ones are long after the tenth. But with Google, you get ten on a page. And then you’ve got to click or touch a link to go to the next ten. And it just feels so old fashioned.

After just a few months on DDG (as we should all start calling it from now on) you can’t go back to Google without feeling a weird interrupt at the end of a page, before you go, “Oh, yeah, gotta click that.”

It’s just an inferior experience.

Surely There’s a Better Answer Than That?

For one reason or another we wanted to remind ourselves1 of the Spanish word for “south.” I like to ask Siri for that kind of thing, because speaking to your phone is just easier than unlocking and typing sometimes. And Siri is not bad. It quite often gets the right answer for this kind of thing.

Fullsizeoutput 59f

Not so much there, though.

So it correctly understood my question; but instead of feeding it to Google Translate or another translation service, it sent it to Wolfram Alpha, seemingly. And that came back with intriguing answer that the Spanish for “south” is “about 99027 people.”

Seems like an unwieldy way to specify a compass direction.

  1. I say “remind” because I learned Spanish at school, my beloved is a linguist, and our daughter is learning it, so we knew really. []

Content Provder

I may not get to write a proper post today, as I haven’t yet and we’re about to go and see Stewart Lee: Content Provider, so I probably won’t manage to later.

So this is by way of meeting my challenge.

Recent Events

Just in case you think that I haven’t been paying attention to recent events… yeah, I know, how likely is that…?

Brexit? Trump? Celebrity deaths? 2016 is well behind us — though regarding Trump and Brexit, the worst is still ahead.

But anyway, I haven’t said anything about my work status since back in the summer. So I should bring things up to date.

I had a few interviews, but no serious interest. Then July was ending, and I was beginning to think that soon we’d be going on holiday, and once we got back it would be nearly September. That was longer than I fancied going without having something lined up.

And then I got a call from a recruiter telling me there was a bank in the City looking for someone with my exact skill set for a six-month contract. It was supporting — and to some extent building on — the products that I used to make at Misys. That wasn’t quite what I had seen myself doing. I was looking for something that was more of a change, more of a challenge.

But I went in to talk to them and it all sounded pretty good. A significant number of the people who work there are ex-Misys, and I know them, so it would make for a relatively smooth transition.

But a contract. I hadn’t really intended to go down that route. Still, the idea of being a freelancer appealed. I’d like to have a go at indie development one of these days, and the two can be complementary. We’ll see where that goes. But I decided to go for it. Set up the limited company (more on that in a later post), discussed the contract (including while I was on holiday) and started at the end of August.

And it’s… OK. The people are good, the location is great. But the work is not that interesting, and the internal politics are… interesting.

And there’s the pressure of knowing that you’re dealing (sometimes) with a live system. With real people’s actual money. Having only worked for a software company before, that feels unexpectedly high-pressure.

All things considered, when my contract is up for renewal at the end of February, I don’t think I’ll be renewing it (even assuming they offer it to me, which they probably will). So I’ll be looking for another position shortly. Maybe contract, maybe permanent again. It depends what comes up.

The Year Turns Again

New Year’s Day, by all the fates. Another trip round sun, another twelve months have passed. As usual I wonder, “Where did that year go?”

I’ve been fairly consistent in blogging over the last year, I think: consistently lightweight, that is. I only missed one entire month, by the looks of it (March). But it’s been infrequent at best.

So as a kind of New Year’s resolution (I don’t really go in for them normally) I’m planning — no, thats probably too strong; proposing, let’s say — to make 2017 the year of blogging every day.

Every day. It’s a big challenge, I know. But I think that it’s only if I put it out there publicly that there’s any chance I’ll carry through with it.

Or not. We’ll see. My thinking is that even a traditional link post will count, since I write at least a few words with those.

Anyway, Happy New Year, if you’re reading this and I haven’t wished you it already.

On the Pronunciation of “X”

Now that the new version of Apple’s PC operating system has launched, some thoughts on something that’s been bugging me for a while.

Apple’s OS was called “OS X” from about 2000 or so. At one time it was “Mac OS X,” then at some point they dropped the “Mac” part. Now, of course, they’re dropping the “X,” (and the capital “M”) and going over to calling it “macOS.”

In the old version, I knew that the “X” was the Roman numeral for 10. It was release 10 of their operating system, so that was fine. But I always pronounced it as the letter “X” in my mind. Not least because, as the version numbers incremented, they were presented like this: 10.2, 10.3, and so on. Or more fully, “Mac OS X 10.2.”

So how were we meant to say that? “Mac Oh Ess ten ten point two”? Surely not. You can see why my internal monologue pronounced it “Oh Ess Ex ten point two”.

And so it was and so I left it. I knew the “X” had originally meant “ten,” but I couldn’t imagine that anyone would still pronounce it that way. Until I started listening to podcasts.

Wherein erudite, knowledgable Apple users such as John Gruber, or the hosts of the Accidental Tech Podcast were clearly heard to talk about “Oh Ess ten.” Though they mostly avoided saying the full, convoluted, Roman and Arabic mix of numbers. I think I did once hear David Sparks on Mac Power Users saying “Oh Ess ten ten point eight” (or whatever minor release number it might have been).

Still, I didn’t let it bother me. It wasn’t doing any harm, after all.

But then people started talking about relative sizes. I think I first noticed it when retina screens were being discussed. If you’re going to provide graphical resources to support both retina and non-retina screens, you have to provide versions of the image files at different resolutions. These are referred to in writing as “1x” and “2x” versions.

Now, it is obvious to me that that isn’t a letter “x” there (even thought that’s what I typed), but a multiplication symbol. More properly rendered as “×”.1 The idea being that you have the original file, and one at twice the resolution. The multiplication symbol is said as “times.” So we have “one times” and “two times.” Right?

But those pesky podcasts.

Soon they were filled with “one ex” and “two ex.” It was the OS X problem all over again — but this time in reverse!

But I gradually realised I might be wrong in my assessment. Graphics files are complicated beasts, after all. A file suitable for a retina screen doesn’t have twice the pixels needed for an older screen, for example: it has four times as many. There are twice as many on the x-axis and twice as many on the y-axis.

And that’s when I realised that the “x” might refer to the x-axis. Saying a file was “2x” could be shorthand for saying that it had twice as many pixels on both its x- and y-axes.

In which case pronouncing it “two ex” would be right after all. Perhaps the terminology came from developers and designers referring to size of the files.

Except… I have subsequently heard people say other numbers followed by “ex,” when what they clearly meant was a multiplier. Specifically, I heard CGP Grey saying “ten ex” when talking about a tenfold increase in something like YouTube subscribers. And he used to be a maths teacher, so he should really know better.

Can we ever escape from this insidious invasion of “ex” into spaces where “times” belongs? Probably not. But it’s disturbing when otherwise-smart people make themselves sound so ignorant.

(And don’t get me started on the full-stop or period character that splits up those version numbers. Hint: it’s “point”, not “dot.”)

  1. That may or may not look any different from the letter, depending on the typeface you are seeing it in, but it’s a different unicode character. []

Recent Events

It’s been a strange few weeks.

There was the referendum, and its immediate aftermath. That’s still ongoing, of course, and won’t be over any time soon.

Then there was my leaving do from work, as I’d reached the end of the at-risk period, and am now redundant, obsolete, out of work, etc. The do was good. We had a decent turnout of current and former colleagues. My boss’s boss’s boss, the one who told us the news that we were being made redundant, turned up (he is the only one of the hierarchy who is based in Britain, the intervening layers being in Manila) and paid off the tab at the time he left, which must have been about 7pm. We still managed to spend just over £250 after that, which was optimal, as there were five of us.

I got an Uber home, and accidentally discovered what the difference between “Pool” and “UberX” is. I found myself in a car with four strangers (including the driver). To be honest I don’t think “Pool” was an option when I last used an Uber. I assume the “X” means “Exclusive.”

Anyway, they were all going to Islington, which left me to snooze on to Hackney, so it worked out fine.

And then I was unemployed. It didn’t quite hit me at first, because my beloved and I had a weekend trip to Avebury, which was fascinating. Here’s a picture of some stones. And a sheep.


But Monday dawned, and I set to with my new daily plan:

  • 8:00 – Get up, go for a swim.
  • 9:00-ish – Home, breakfast.
  • 9:30-12:30 – Job-hunt things.
  • 12:30-1:30 – Lunch.
  • 1:30-5:00-ish – Side projects (indie dev/writing).

As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly been sticking to that 100%. But the idea is that it’s going to be important to have some structure to my day now that I don’t have one imposed by full-time employment. And job-hunting can be very time-consuming, so treating that as my job for at least part of each day seems like the right thing to do.

The first day was strange, because I kept having this sense at the back of my mind, “I’m working from home today, so I’ll be in office tomorrow,” which would have been true on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons for the last few years. But then of course it would hit me: no office; no job.

I’m enjoying the experience, though, so far at least. I’ve managed to do pretty well with the schedule, and even extended the swimming to using the gym at the local leisure centre. This is the first time I’ve ever used a gym, except for a few years ago when I had physio after injuring my leg.1 The guy who did my induction managed to hide his disbelief of this fact quite well. And now that I’ve done a few sessions I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” Oh well.

So all in all, a time of change and newness — which would generally be good, and some of it is. But see the first point, above, and the debris from that. An unknown new Tory government who don’t seem to be quite willing to accept that parliament is sovereign, and so it needs to decide whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. And Labour too busy tearing itself apart to hold the government to account.

As to the Labour leadership business, I’ll have more to say about that when I’ve worked out what I think.

  1. I’m wryly amused to see that at that leg link from 2004 I’m expressing bafflement about people who would want to leave the EU. []