Sunday, April 27, 2008


Israel was gripped by a tremendous sharav (hot wind) during the past week. Fortunately, I was at home all week and so didn't have to work in an office without air conditioning. One morning - I think it was Thursday - the temperature was 30 degrees centigrade at 6 am! Here is a picture which I took of our barometer, which shows the temperature both outside and inside:

This rather crude picture was taken with my mobile phone with bad lighting; the top line shows the outside temperature and the lower line the inside temperature (if you look closely, you can see my reflection at the top). My wife doesn't believe me when I say that apparently it was 46.3 degrees outside! The remote sensor is not supposed to be in direct sunlight, but even so.... I've never seen a temperature as hot as that before. For those of you in the Fahrenheit system, that's 115 degrees!

Fortunately, at about 5pm, the temperature starting dropping ... and dropping ... and dropping. Friday was fairly normal, reaching a high of 31 degrees at about 2pm, but again by late afternoon, the temperature dropped to a reasonable level. Yesterday (Saturday) was wonderfully cool - a high of maybe 25 degrees, and today is similar. It seems that the heat waves are over for a period of time.

We're off to Amsterdam for a few days starting Wednesday morning. Maybe I'll add an entry from there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Holiday week

It's Passover week, and my company has decided to close down, forcing everyone to take four days holiday. Some people are only too delighted to do so (one man was telling me how he is taking his entire family to Eilat for the holiday, which makes life much easier on his wife), whereas I tend to find little to do during such weeks.

I have been buying via e-bay dvds of the excellent British series "Cold Feet" for very low prices, and so this week has been an opportunity to watch them. I have the entire series on videotape, but I don't think that I've ever watched all of them in continuity (although I did see all the episodes twice on tv). There is a limit to how much emotion one can take in a day.

Regarding the computer, I haven't been doing much programming at home in the past few weeks as my psychologist friend has been on holiday. I thought that I would get back into the swing of things yesterday by programming a quick demo of something that we've been talking about but has been left aside as there have been more important things to do.

Then popped into my head the idea of writing a command line interface (CLI) for the databases. I use Borland's "Desktop database" program, but this is concerned primarily with describing a database (ie defining the tables in the database and defining the fields within each table) and
the possibilities of editing the data are very limited. I wrote a program which allows me to do three different kinds of operation:
  • meta-queries (list of tables in database, structure of table)
  • 'select' queries, which can be simple ones about one table, or complex joins
  • updates and deletions
Basically the program consists of a text parser and an sql engine; if the first word in the text stream is one of those connected with a meta-query, then the program executes this command. Otherwise all the text is passed to a 'query' component which is then executed and the results displayed.

The whole thing took about two hours to write and works well enough for what I need. The parser could do with improving, which is hardly surprising as it was written ad hoc without any prior thought, but it's ok. As it's only for my use, I'm not going to bamboozle it with improper commands.

Anyway, the reason for this program is that the demo which I wrote requires that values within a field in one of the tables be changed. Instead of doing this manually via Desktop Database, or writing a program which executes the 'update' queries, I thought that this CLI approach would be better as it is of course re-usable.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Visiting the vet

We took the dog to see the vet yesterday. My wife was worried about a little bump by the dog's right ear, which turned out to be nothing. While we were there, the dog also underwent treatment for worms (trying to force pills down her throat), vaccinations for rabies and other dog ailments, and a general checkup.

We discovered that Mocha (aka the hound of the Baskervilles) weighs a mere 40 kg; the poor vet had to lift her up whilst weighing himself so that we could determine this (in order to know how many anti-worm pills to give).

We also left behind a fair amount of the national debt.

Here is the dog herself in all her glory:

One gets an idea of her size when one considers the size of the couch behind her.

The photo was taken from my new (as from February) mobile phone, a Nokia 6288. At first, I really hated the phone, as I couldn't get it to do anything. The manual seemed worse than useless, as it told the user all kinds of information, everything but what I wanted to know. But after a while, things settled down, and I started to learn how to get the phone to do what I want it to do.

As I have reading glasses, I find it difficult to see who is phoning me when I'm not wearing the glasses. I discovered that I can take photos of people and then attach those photos to the person's contact record; now, when someone phones, I can see their picture and so know who is calling.

The phone also has a video call function which seems like more of a gimmick than anything else. I tried it with someone in the next cubicle, and it worked well enough, but of course it only works with other phones that have the same option. My son was always ragging me about my previous mobile phone, which admittedly was a very old model (but good enough for me). Even though he too has had his phone updated, he had to admit the other day that my phone is much better than his.

A mobile phone is one of the few items about which a man is prepared to brag that "mine is smaller than yours". With this new breed of phones, it seems that this trend is actually reversing.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The night of the long knives

After a period of expansion, my company has needed to rein in its expenses by a certain extent. In the IT department, we've been spending money left, right and centre, most of which went to a central storage facility which was greatly needed. For the time being, our budget is being cut; this isn't too bad as some of the work which I am doing used to be farmed out to consultants at a non-trivial price. In fact, for years I've been trying to measure my work as a function of how much money I save.

But that isn't really what I wanted to write about: another source of saving is making people redundant. One group of people is being replaced by a sub-contractor (what we would call 'outsourcing' in the computer industry), whereas others are simply being sent home. Of the names that I have heard, several have a very low return on investment index (in other words, they don't contribute very much but cost a lot) and so by letting these people go, the company won't lose much productivity whilst saving money.

The most painful cut is that of a close colleague of mine, a young lad of 64. In the pre-merger days, he was one of the most important figures in the company, but since then his job has been continually downsized until now he too is costing a fair amount of money whilst contributing less. I say that he is "geographically challenged": had he be living in a different city, where his group's activities are based, then possibly he wouldn't have been the one to go.

Such acts of making people redundant cause fear and worry throughout the company. Everyone starts wondering whether they are contributing enough compared to their salary. Will there be more redundancies? What would I do if I were made redundant?

Someone came to talk to me this morning, another spring chicken of 60+ years. He was worried that he too might fall under the axe. I tried to convince him that as far as I see things, he is an essential person, even more essential than I am. Anyone who fired him would be committing business suicide.

Making people redundant might save a certain amount of money in the short run, but it tends to be a counter-productive move. The amounts saved are normally not very much, especially when compared to the savings which could be made by getting an additional 1% discount on all raw material purchases, for example, or decreasing the discounts which are given to customers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I know that ERP means "enterprise resource planning", but in my case, it appears to mean "Enhanced Rate of Programming". I find that in terms of programming within our ERP system (writing 'straight' reports, writing complex reports, defining new tables and fields, screens and triggers), I find that my productivity is increasing by 25% a month (hard to quantify, but let's assume). I know that yesterday I programmed a trigger using a technique that I thought that I didn't know five minutes before I attempted it. Such an idea would never have occurred to me a week ago or a month ago. A year ago, I wouldn't have known what I was talking about.

Maybe ERP means "Exponential Rate of Programming" - 1.25 raised to the power of 14 gives the astonishing total of 22.7. This means that I am at least 20 times more effective than I was a year ago!

I wish that my pension fund would yield the same rate. The last eight months have been very disappointing, and it's heartbreaking to deposit good money into an investment fund only to see its value decrease. At the moment, it seems better not to invest.

Yesterday I devoted an hour to cataloging all these blog entries. It wasn't surprising to find that programming and MIDI are hot subjects here. What was interesting was to read posts from a few years ago, especially one written about this time. I was writing about Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and how they managed to get to the Euroleague final, despite not playing too well during the season. This year has been the same story; true, they haven't got to the final yet, but have a very good chance of doing so. Being one game up in the quarterfinals with homecourt advantage, they should get to the final four, and then everything is up for grabs.

Injury problems have caused many problems, and there seems to be big problems in filling certain positions. Yet Maccabi keep on winning (at least, winning the games that matter). It would be very interesting to hear commentary on one of their games from their opponents' point of view, but alas, such opportunities do not arise.