A long road but definitely worth it

Today marks the end of my undergraduate studies as I was formally presented with my First Class degree certificate at the graduation ceremony in Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall. With hundreds of other graduands, I collected my award shaking the hand of the Vice-Chancellor in a very well organised ceremony which was both a solemn celebration and direct and to the point. It’s a sign really of the kind of dynamic university that Nottingham Trent is compared to my previous ‘red-brick’ university experience I had in the 90s.

It has been a long four years of hard work, but it has all been worth it. Today’s been a brilliant celebration from start to finish and even better sharing it with my brilliant fiancée Linz, who’s been a great inspiration and support; and my parents who have been solid support in my life.

So now I continue developing my professional career at Esendex where I’m already learning a heck of a lot of good stuff from good people. Off for a curry to celebrate now. Maybe a tip of the hat to the ‘Curry Mile’ in Selly Oak maybe? I think I deserve it.

Graduation Day

[Edit] I’ve done a quick splice job on the online version of the graduation video from Nottingham Trent University’s website to capture the moment.

Hold on tight to your imagination

This post has been sparked off from watching the trailer for the upcoming movie by Satoshi Kon called Paprika set to open in the USA this week. During it, there’s a quote from the New York Times praising the film, saying:

“Evidence that Japanese animators are reaching for the moon, while most of their American counterparts remain stuck in the kiddie sandbox.” – Manohla Dargis

I think she has a strong point in that quote. American animation still caters predominantly for the kid market, even if there’s a nod to the parents who’ll be watching them. Recent outings like Flushed Away, Meet the Robinsons, Over The Hedge, and classics like Toy Story, The Incredibles etc all have their adult appeal, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a formula even to these. Want evidence? Watch a few anime titles and see real tangential fantasy ideas pour out of the page.

Since the early 90s when I stumbled over the Anime section at HMV in Birmingham and joined the UK Manga Club I’ve been a big fan of the animation style of the Japanese. From early classics like Akira (of which I’m a very proud owner of an original cel from the movie) to the fun Tank Police series, I’ve recently been captivated by two releases by Studio Ghibli – the Academy Award® winning ‘ Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) [Hayao Miyazaki] (2001) and the captivating ‘Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba) [Yoshifumi Kondo] (1995).

In an unofficial translation of an article Hayao Miyazaki describes his justification for producing ‘Whisper of the Heart’, which also demonstrates his approach favouring an adult audience despite being animation.

“The movie will neither cater to the tastes of the younger audience, nor deliberately raise questions or highlight the problems in their present situation.

To the middle-aged people who have unspeakable regrets and remorse towards their salad days, the movie should be able to deliver an inciting feeling to today’s youngsters. Deep in the minds of these young people, they are assuming in great faith that they can never play the main roles in the stage of life. Indeed, they are the reflections of the old selves of the middle-aged people like us. Therefore, we hope to revive the wishes in their hearts, and reveal to them the importance of embracing their dreams.”

He goes on to describe more about how shoujo manga usually doesn’t have inconsiderate parents and pretty much concentrates on the central character’s hopes and dreams. And the dream sequences are usually utterly fantastical and shows what I think Dargis was referring to by animations ‘reaching for the moon’.

Go on, treat yourself, find one of these films and let your imagination run riot. It deserves being unleashed and stretched further.
Spirited Away

Eurovision: A reason to celebrate

Where else in the world do you get a staged event full of so many different cultures? It’s a blast. Sure, the voting is beyond farcicle these days, where it feels more like ‘which country needs the injection of cash from tourism and media spotlight this time?’. Sure, neighbouring countries vote for each other as if Eurovision meant the making and breaking of trade agreements. But in a time where there’s no current series of EuroTrash to celebrate the odd corners of our strange neighbours, Eurovision does it in one swoop.

Personally, I think ‘Scootch’ (Real Player) did us proud given the shoddy entries we’ve put forward in the past few years. They were slick in their routine, used more props than anyone else, and provided the proper slab of camp pop that Eurovision is all about! (Obviously the rehearsals by performing at G.A.Y. payed off.. heh). Hadn’t spotted the ‘Bucks Fizz’ reference until he offers the passenger a drink, nice touch Scooch.
I think that all the European Broadcast Union countries that get in by default (from the amount of money and expertise we throw at staging the event) means that we’re never going to win again. Maybe when we’ve got through all the new countries to join the EU we might get a shot at holding it again.

It’s a shame the Swiss entry “Vampires Are Alive” (Real Player) didn’t make it past the Semi-final stage.

But I think the performance of the night, which captured the EuroTrash mood which makes me smile so much, had to be Verka Serduchka’s performance for the Ukraine. Fantastically funny from start to finish. Hope someone gets the Eurovision performance up on YouTube soon but I’ll leave you with a version of the video which still makes me chuckle.

We might be odd bedfellows but I think it makes us unique and not at all stuffy.

Enjoy and DANZ!

[Edit : I’ve found the proper Eurovision performance now on YouTube and have changed the video below to that one. The star of the night was definitely that Barco projection screen behind them. From a lighting point of view, the fact that it consists of relatively thin bars of LEDs means they can shine lights from behind. And this song of Verka’s was the best example of this. Watch closely for the beams of light co-inciding with the graphics of moving lights on the screen. Very, very clever stuff guys.]

A year in the grid

Just a quick post to celebrate a mini-milestone. I’ve just realised that my World Community Grid clients have clocked up over a year of run time towards helping research projects in areas such as muscular dystrophy and looking for potential AIDS cures.
I started running the software on my Windows Server box two years ago, but that sat dormant while I was on my placement. Now, thanks to the fact I’ve installed it on my more powerful main PC too, yesterday’s statistics say I’ve contributed 1 year, 8 days, 4 hours, 41 minutes and 30 seconds of computing power. For this large effort (or so I thought), I’m currently sat in 17,044th place on their leaderboard. This means that a minimum of 17,000 years of computing power has been freely given by those in the grid. A fantastic achievement in anyone’s book.
I know that the PS3 is trying to help a folding project now, so grid computing has become newsworthy again. But I urge you, if you have machines that sit on all day, get them to do something useful with their spare cycles. You can set the software to run only when the screensaver is on if you don’t want it in the background all the time. But any non-critical hardware you have just keeping the room warm, stick the client software on and give researchers the largest supercomputer ever assembled.
As a side note, I prefer this project to the SETI effort. All very well listening out for aliens, but if we can help suffering on Earth first, that gets my vote.

How tired is Vista, baby?

The reason for this post has been triggered by me reading an excellent article by Dave Jewell called Vista – End of the Dream?. I encourage you to go read the whole thing but I particularly felt a lot of sympathy with his comments about maintainability of code.

Ok puns aside, I don’t know how many of you have tangled with the ever-expanding beast that is Windows in its latest ‘shiny’ form. I was lucky enough to have access to a free copy of Vista through the Microsoft Academic Alliance program at my university.
I’d tried running the Upgrade Wizard thingy to see how poorly my machine held up against these vastly updated hardware requirements. It did ok, apart from the graphics card which didn’t have the support it seems to do Aero, the new shiny desktop environment. If the hype about Aero is to be believed, then if Vista is mainly about Aero then a lot of people won’t be bothered to upgrade just for the sake of scrolling through windows at a jaunty angle.
This is also in stark contrast to the latest versions of Ubuntu and RedHat 7 (due soon) which I’m sure would run on my PC hardware without so much of a squark, and without me needing to go to 3rd party manufacturers websites to see if my now-legacy hardware has Vista drivers.
Personally, I’ve gone off Windows now I’ve been utterly smitten by Apple’s OS X. You really do look at Windows fan-boys rantings as a desperate attempt to carry on the momentum that got Microsoft by reaching world saturation levels with previously great products and now seem themselves to be undermining with Vista.

My next PC purchase when my old XP machine falls over will no doubt be a Mac Pro (or whatever flavour we’re on then). I’ve got a properly registered copy of XP and Parallels virtualisation software if I feel the urge to dabble on the dark side.

Having worked on trying to pick apart other designers code for a couple of years now, even me, as a developer who would’ve grunted and complained when the topic of documentation came up, can see the total and utter need for sensible commenting, layout and supporting design documents.

Dave says of looking through Windows 2000 code:

“I found a vast sprawl of spaghetti in assembler, C, C++, all held together with blu-tack. The sources contained many now-famous comments including “We are morons” and “If you change tabs to spaces, you will be killed! Doing so f***s the build process”.”

And then he moves on to three killer points:

“As you may remember, Windows XP was already out by the time that source code got leaked. In fact, back in 2004, Microsoft had been talking about Longhorn/Vista for three years. Just a few months after the leak, it was announced that WinFS, the flagship relational file system, wouldn’t ship with Vista after all. And I knew why: unmaintainable.

Microsoft have managed to cobble together a new look and feel for Windows, but a lot of folks are scratching their heads wondering what other advantages there are in upgrading your graphics card and adding another GByte of RAM? What’s the reason? Unmaintainable.

In the long years since XP was launched, Apple have come out with five major upgrades to OS X, upgrades which (dare I say it?) install with about as much effort as it takes to brush your teeth in the morning. No nightmare calls to tech-support, no sudden hardware incompatibilities, no hassle. Why hasn’t Microsoft kept up? Unmaintainable.

Right now, Microsoft has nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. After all the hype surrounding Vista, the Emperor has finally been revealed in all his naked glory. Some folks have been predicting the demise of Microsoft. I wouldn’t go that far, but I am wondering how we’re ever going to take Microsoft seriously again?”

© The Register.

It’s a good point. From lecturers telling me how many ways there are to call the same functionality in Windows, how rubbish it is at multi-threading, and from reading The Old New Thing, a blog from a Microsoft coding expert about the frustration of how much legacy support they’ve kept in Windows over the years (how they amended Windows 98 code just to make SimCity work) just proves how unmaintainable Windows is these days.

There was talk about an internal project in Microsoft where a team was stripping the kernel bare and starting afresh. This surely needs to be given more priority, or are Microsoft going to take up Linux development and release their own flavour, binning their kernel as too complex?

Ok rant over, back to working on my lovely MacBook Pro. All is calm and serene again. 🙂

Ladybirds

Walking the clouds

In my quest to play with the macro feature on my digital camera, I became intregued with a large group of ladybirds who appeared in my garden a couple of years back. Ever since then, I’ve been interested in them.

Recently I was hanging out this white fleece blanket on the line to dry and spotted that a friendly garden visitor had paused  to take rest. The beauty of having a 3.2Mp Sony Ericsson K800i it enables you to grab quick shots like these when you’re not all ‘tooled up’ with the proper get up.

Spring is most definitely here now at last and by the sounds of it, we’re in store for a heatwave this weekend. Roll on the summer!

Hold!

Well it all went a bit ‘Pete Tong’ two weeks ago when my server decided to get a few critical bad sectors on its main drive forcing a reinstall from scratch.

In many ways its been a good process because for a while I’ve been wanting to upgrade the OS running on the box and to get it up to date. That’s looking on the bright side 🙂 One casualty has been my blog archives which I’m going to try and get back somehow, but in the meantime I thought I’d put something up more than the default text from WordPress.

7 weeks to go until my university career is over! (why I was about to type “for now” I’m not sure. Doubt I’ll be wanting to take four years out of my life again to do something this big, so this might be it finally). It’s time for the last push. Got a good boost today with a mark of 91% for a phase test which has really helped push up my average back over the mythical 70% barrier again. On track for a high mark and all to play for with still 70 credit points to attain. At least 30 of those are exams, just my final year project to get finished now before the start of May.

And then it’s off into the unknown with my fiancée, Linz, which I really can’t wait for. Better get working so I can get a job! Whatever one of those is. Being a freeloading student does tend to cloud the mind to ‘reality’ but I’m looking forward to money moving in the other direction for a brief change.