Saturday, September 29, 2012

Watching the dark

The phrase "watching the dark" means different things to different people. As far as I am concerned, until recently WTD meant a Richard Thompson box set of three cds, which contained some fairly rare material. I am not aware of any previous use of WTD; the phrase would seem to come from the sleeve notes written by Greil Marcus.

But these days, it also means the title of a new book by Peter Robinson (in the DCI Banks series) - which internally refers in passing to the Thompson compilation. Frequent readers of this blog will know that I enjoy the police procedurals of Robinson, and the Thompson links are simply icing on the cake.

This book starts off with a murder in a police rehabilitation centre which DCI Banks begins to investigate; long time sidekick DI Annie Cabot returns to the team after having been shot in the previous book, "Bad boy", which enables Banks to travel to Tallinn (the capital of Estonia) in order to investigate a thread raised by the initial murder. As I considering a short trip to Tallinn combined with my projected visit to Edinburgh next summer, this section was very interesting (and to be honest is one of the reasons why I read novels - one can always learn about different places and jobs).

The first time through the book, I thought that there was too little active investigation; a fair amount of information fell into the detectives' hands through no intervention of their own - a passive technique which used to be frowned upon (in terms of literature; I am sure that most policemen would be only too pleased if vital information would fall on its own into their hands). But a second run through revealed that the detectives were somewhat more active than I had originally thought - although again, one key witness falls into their hands by default.

I wrote two years ago about the previous Banks novel, "Bad boy", and about editing mistakes (Robinson published a novel last year as is his habit but it was outside the Banks canon). This time around, I could only find three mistakes, one of which being a mistake in English grammar, one a debatable point and one definite mistake.

The grammatical mistake is towards the beginning of the book (location 2453 in my Kindle edition): "... and the most unattractive of the two [detectives]". If there are only two detectives, then the text should read "and the more unattractive". The superlative "most" implies at least three items whereas the comparative "more" means that only two items are being compared.

Chapter 7 begins with the sentence "Banks and Joanna were barely talking when they got to the hotel". To me, this implies that they had a row (on their way from Eastvale to Tallinn), but no such row occurred. Banks spent the flight listening to music whereas Joanna "had sat beside him with her laptop ... working on a report".  Whilst it's true that there wasn't much conversation, the opening sentence implies that they were actively not talking to each other. To me, this sentence implies that the tension between the two is at a much higher level than events would seem to show. As I wrote above, this point is debatable; I think that this sentence could have been safely deleted, as I was expecting some terrific row on the journey.

The third mistake occurs in the third part of chapter 10 and was very subtle: Banks and Joanna are talking to someone in the spa town Haapsalu; at one stage, the person says "Here in Tallinn" - but they're not in Tallinn! This mistake, of course, is hardly important but it shows a lack of copy editing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Being a tourist in Israel: Tel Aviv

As both my wife and I had errands to run in Tel Aviv, we decided to run them together on Friday morning and then act as tourists by going to the Nachlat Binyamin street fair. The train to Tel Aviv was fairly empty (who travels at 9:30 on a Friday morning?), but the streets in the metropolis were bustling.

Once we had completed our errands, we traveled to the street fair. This is open twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) in a pedestrian only area. As much as I appreciate the fact that this fair makes one feel as if one is abroad, I have to point out that none of the stalls sold anything which could be described as 'useful'. Most of the items on sale were artistic artifacts - ashtrays, doorplates, ceramics with the occasional item of clothing. Colourful but not useful.

The only stall which remotely interested me was one selling musical instruments - wooden flutes, ocarinas and what might be termed a hammer dulcimer. This instrument was tuned something like D, C, A, G, F, D (I have very good relative pitch but not absolute pitch, and anyway it was difficult to hear with all the noise) which seems slightly limited. Playing each string in turn reminded me of a riff which took a few minutes to identify - it's towards the beginning of the long instrumental break in Richard and Linda Thompson's song "Civilisation".

It was pleasant being able to feel as if we were on holiday abroad without having to go to the effort of actually traveling abroad.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My father's 90th birthday

It's my father's 90th birthday today and in a few hours we'll be going to a restaurant in the renovated Tel Aviv harbour district in order to celebrate with family and friends. My wife has been imploring me to write something for his birthday card, and whereas normally the words just flow (I'm having no difficulty in writing this...), I can't find a suitable place from which to start.

This being the Internet Age, I initially scanned many sites looking for ideas. There seem to be three approaches, none of which seem too appropriate
  • The witty/pithy approach: "Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative", "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards"
  • The deprecating approach: "You have reached that certain age/Where it’s acceptable to be/Grumpy and complaining/About everything you see"
  • Seeing things from my point of view: "90 years!/What a treat and a privilege for me/To have you hold my hand as I walked by your side/down life's pathways/for most of them"
My wife says to write something from the heart, but then it sounds like a eulogy, which is what I definitely don't want to write. I have the following line in my head "It's been an honour and a privilege to have known you for all my life", but the past tense implies that he is no longer with us. How can I phrase that in the present tense? "It's an honour and a privilege to know you for all of my life"? "To know you" implies something which is happening now, whereas "all of my life" is something which has happened over many years (albeit still happening).

It's an honour and a privilege 
To have a father such as you
Always caring about his fellow man
With barely a thought for himself
The values you have instilled in me
Are the best a son could ever wish
The only way to repay you
Is to wish you all the best on this
Birthday of Birthdays

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Ministry of Health enquires about MY health

I wrote a few weeks ago that I received the results of the blood test for Pertussis (whooping cough) which I did on Sunday. Here are the results
Test value
Bord.Pertussis IgG 64 IU/ml
Bord.Pertussis IgA Positive
Bord.Pertussis IgM Negative

What does this mean? I haven't been able to find a suitable reference which explains the above in clear and simple English, but as far as I can gather, the IgA level means that I definitely had pertussis. My doctor may order a repeat test in another week or so; the Ministry of Health might also be interested in these results.

Today I got that phone call from the public health department of the Ministry of Health (well, they actually called my home phone number a few days ago and left a message; I returned their call today) who, as I imagined, contact everyone with a positive Pertussis result. The above results show that there are some remaining antibodies from my original vaccination (that's the IgG level which is on the low side) and that I have new antibodies (that's the IgA test - positive means that I did have pertussis). The lady on the other side of the phone didn't explain exactly what the IgM test is, but pointed out that some doctors refer to this as the deciding factor, whereas the MOH had issued an instruction three years ago that the IgA test was the most important.

This might explain why I received a note from the clinic saying that I didn't have pertussis - my doctor presumably was reporting the IgM test and not the IgA test.

The lady from the department of public health talked me through my symptoms, which of course match those of pertussis. She asked whether I had been abroad and I told her about Croatia. She also asked about other family members, but none of them were affected. Obviously the disease has run its course, but I still have the occasional severe coughing attack (the last one was exactly one week ago whilst sitting in my office and working on the computer); the lady advised me to keep my throat moist. I've been going to sleep with a Strepsil in my mouth for the past ten nights; the only night which I missed was the night I had an attack.

My voice is coming back to its former strength but it's still not there, and prolonged talking causes my mouth to dry which then causes the gag reflex to kick in which then causes me to cough. Fortunately, I don't generally talk that much at work (I communicate primarily by writing) but it's a problem when I attend meetings or give training sessions. I might even be able to resume singing soon.

Monday, September 10, 2012

PDF games

I've been looking for some time for programs which will convert PDF files into something else - either text or pictures (jpg). I need the latter for work with Priority - I was asked recently to alter a procedure which prints a work order for parts to be produced; the printout should also contain any files which have been linked to the parts. This is a very good idea and should save a great deal of time so I was enthusiastic about it, but I discovered that if the linked file is in PDF format, the PDF reader which we have installed on the servers stays in memory. A more elegant solution was to convert the PDF (generally a blueprint)  to JPG and then have the JPG printed. It transpires that the PDF reader which I prefer - the lightweight PDF X-change viewer from Tracker Software - has an option to do this ("export to image").

I have also been looking for a tool which will extract the text from PDF files - the recent posts here about the DBA degree could easily have been prepared using such a tool. The acceptance letter was created by creating a JPG file from the PDF letter which I received (see above), whereas the text about PhD vs DBA was extracted by marking the text (with Adobe Reader 9) and saving the marked text to a text file. Michael Covington has again opened my eyes by pointing out that Adobe Reader has a 'Save to Text' option on its main menu! D'oh!.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

What's the difference between a Ph.D. and a D.B.A.?

After having been accepted to the DBA programme, there was a little bureaucracy to be attended to; then I was able to download the text to the first required course, "Introduction to Business Research 1". Initially I downloaded in Kindle format (mobi) but later downloaded as PDF. I am considering whether to order the printed version as in the past I have had difficulty in reading course texts on the Kindle - one can only see a small amount of 'page' and I have found it easier to read the large, printed text (not because of the font size but because one can see more at the same time, including diagrams). I looked at the PDF version a few minutes ago and this is much easier to read than on the Kindle, but I baulk at printing some 350 pages.

One of the first things discussed in the text is the difference between the degrees PhD and DBA: I thought it worthwhile to quote that text here:

The aim of the DBA is to produce applied business research professionals who can use their doctoral-level skills at senior executive level in a business environment. The term ‘research professional’ should be clearly understood. It could be said that a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme produces a graduate who is a professional researcher. He or she has developed a detailed theory or hypothesis in order to evaluate a specific piece of theoretical research. The hypothesis, or theory, could be concerned with almost any area, from molecular structure to particle beam physics. In many cases, there may be no direct application of the hypothesis or theory. To gain a PhD degree it is necessary only to demonstrate an original contribution to the knowledge base. A large proportion of PhD graduates continue their research either in academia or in non-academic organisations such as private companies and the public sector. The EBS DBA programme, in contrast, aims to produce research professionals. EBS DBA graduates are typically professional managers who are also researchers. The majority of DBA graduates will go on to work in a non-academic environment, primarily as senior managers who will not only retain their doctoral research skills but will also use them in a real and applied capacity within their organisations.