Articles by CiaranG

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The Scissors Paradox

It’s no secret that I like to get simultaneously annoyed and amused by the ridiculous instructions and warnings that suddenly seem to be necessary on the packaging of even the most innocuous of products. It’s a hobby I normally try to keep to myself, except when things are getting particularly out of hand. But not today.

The Scissors Paradox

Exhibit A – it’s the packaging for a pair of scissors, or rather a pair of pairs. I have no idea when scissors started coming in packs of two. I suspect the factory misunderstood the order – number of items per packet: pair.

The warning not to cut up raw meat and vegetables with the same pair caught my attention. Who needs a warning like that? Maybe the kind of person that prepares up their meat and veg with scissors. Maybe this is just part of the War On Knives, which I understand are due to be phased out except for licensed professional chefs. All amateur food preparation will soon be done with scissors, and later (when scissors are also banned) with wooden spoons.

Somewhat horrifying is the complete lack of warning not to run with scissors, but I don’t doubt this will be added to the next batch.

My favourite bit though is the instructions on how to open the packet – yes, even that is apparently too complicated and dangerous for the average ‘consumer’ these days. So how do you get your scissors out of the packet? With scissors, of course.

P.S. As the photo reveals, I stabbed the packaging with a knife instead. It would have been easier with scissors (if they weren’t inside the packet) but nowhere near as satisfying.

Plum Roulette

Mia has a talent for inventing strange new games. My all time favourite was blindfold dog hurdling. Just to be clear, it was Mia that was blindfolded (by pulling her T-shirt over her head) and the dog was the unwilling hurdle. The game only ended, as you might have already guessed, when the dog decided enough was enough and went to find somewhere else to try and sleep.

Today’s invention is Plum Roulette. Place your bets…

Plum Roulette - Place your bets

The wheel is part of a washing machine I dismantled. It spins very well. No more bets now…

Plum Roulette

Jake supplied the plums, straight from the tree. They’re not quite ripe yet, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re not eating them.

Plum Roulette - No more bets


The Linksys SR224G is a 24-port network switch. A bit excessive for what I needed, but I couldn’t resist the price of £4.99 on ebay. One problem – very noisy indeed. This would be fine in it’s normal environment, a rack full of other noisy equipment but I wanted it in my office, because that’s where most of the Cat5 cabling in the house terminates.

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In which I present, for no apparent reason, a list of books I’ve read since the last list.

The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad: This is the fourth of his books that I’ve read (the previous three are here, and it’s now level pegging, with two of them (this included) being very enjoyable, and two not so much.

Dead Souls – Ian Rankin: First of a set of “three for five quid” picked up in a bargain bookshop that’s conveniently near where I was waiting for the old Merc to pass it’s MOT test. This one was picked because I’ve read quite a lot of Rankin’s stuff. A fairly standard “Rebus” novel, but with an unexpected twist – I spent quite a lot of the time having a strange sense of deja vu, like I’d read some passages of the book before, and some bits of the story were familiar too. It turned out that it was adapted from a short story I’d already read, which was published in Beggar’s Banquet.

The Front – Patricia Cornwell: The second of the bargain-bookshop-three. This was ok, but it deserved to be in the bargain bookshop.

Roman Blood – Steven Saylor: The wildcard entry from the bargain bookshop. I’d never heard of it (or him), or any of the other books on offer, so I picked it up almost at random to make up the set of three. It turned out to be the best of the lot by a long way. Very good indeed. Luckily it’s also the first of a long series, of which I’ve already purchased the next book.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James: This was ‘recommended’ by my wife. Recommended as in she read it, then passed it on to me, but failed to inform me beforehand that she didn’t really like it. There are two stories in the book. I got about halfway through the first page before I asked if she’d read them both, and she said no. I wondered why not, but with hindsight it was a valiant effort even reading the first in its entirety. I lasted about three chapters then gave up.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: An astounding vision of the future, for its time, although it doesn’t seem so far away now. Also, in my opinion, an astoundingly bad piece of writing.

Set In Darkness – Ian Rankin: More of the Rebus stuff. Readable enough, as always.

The Falcon Flies – Wilbur Smith: Without any reasonable grounds for doing so, I always had Wilbur Smith down as some kind of author of junk fiction. I only read this because I found it lying around. I thought it was great, and I’ll be reading more of his books.

Seeds and Veg

Vegetable Seeds

It’s planting season at last. Although we have enough runner beans saved from last year’s crop to plant out a whole field, there’s not much else, so that meant buying seeds. I put a bit more effort in that last year’s grabbing of packets from the racks in the garden centre, and the first batch arrived in the post recently.

These came from The Real Seed Catalogue, which has a great selection of proper seeds – none of your hybrid leeks bred for supermarket straightness here. Also, all this stuff should, in theory, produce usable seeds for future years. It all looks good on paper, but the proof will be in the eating and we have to wait for that.

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Underage II

I realise I’ve ranted about this before, but I make no excuses for it, and I’ll do it again if the opportunity arises. Just look at this:

Yes, the sticker says “25” with a line through it, and “Are you old enough?”. And yes, it’s a child’s cutlery set, with a knife you’d be hard pushed to slice off a piece of ripe brie with, let alone stab a rival gang member in a dark alley. Let’s have a look at the back:

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Map Control in C#

I found myself in need of a C# (.NET/Mono) control for displaying and interacting with maps. I’d already implemented the same functionality in my application using an embedded browser, but that’s a horrible hack, so I decided to implement something nicer. I ended up with this:

I can hear the whining sirens of the don’t-reinvent-the-wheel police approaching already, so a couple of points about that. Yes, there are a couple of projects around already that I could have used almost off the shelf. They’re too complicated for my liking. What I’ve implemented does the basics of what I needed straight away in two small classes, contained in one file. I find this much more pleasant that having to wrangle with someone else’s 25-class monster implementation. Sometimes you can spend more time figuring out how to integrate an external module than you would just writing it yourself, and having spent all that time you still don’t understand the underlying implementation. This becomes more important when you start to extend things further down the line, which I will need to do. I’ve even done all this before, about 7 years ago, using tile data sneakily grabbed from various online proprietary mapping services of the day – I could have used that code, but I even rejected my own wheel.

Furthermore, if all you ever do is piece together other people’s ‘wheels’, you miss out on a lot of understanding, and more importantly fun. I don’t advocate reinventing wheels when someone else is paying for your time or you just need to get something done, but aside from that it’s frequently a good idea. So hopefully the don’t-reinvent-the-wheel police have now gone away to annoy someone else, and I can get back on topic…

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I’ve decided I’m not getting enough exercise. This wasn’t a problem last summer, when was easy to finish work, eat, get the children off to bed and then take the dog for a long walk and still have daylight to spare. It got slightly harder in autumn, with one particularly memorable walk ending up with me stuck in the dark in the middle of some pitch black woods on account of having to go off-piste to avoid some cows that took exception to the dog.

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It’s been in the works a long time, but Facebook have finally switched on their XMPP functionality. Suddenly something like 400m users inside the Facebook walled garden are contactable from the outside world. I don’t know if this makes it the largest single deployment of XMPP – Google may be in a position to argue there, although I’ve sometimes been inclined to call their implementation almost-but-not-quite-XMPP.

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More Books

Some books

This is the third list of books I’ve been reading. (One and two). I’m not sure what made me start doing this. Even writing a couple of sometimes sarcastic comments about each book can be hard work. It’s worth doing though, I reckon. To be accurate, the first two of these should have really been included in the last batch, but I forgot about them so they’re here instead. Anyway, without any further ado, here is the list:

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