Thursday, February 26, 2015

Assigning numerical values

Despite setting a person record in walking yesterday evening (5.24km, 6.84 km/h, 435 calories), I didn't sleep very well last night. One might think that the exercise tires me out which would enable me to sleep better, but I believe that the fact that I walked so fast and that I didn't sleep well are connected to a third factor - my mind was working overtime. This helps when I'm walking as I can ignore certain physical aspects and so walk faster, but it doesn't help when I'm trying to relax.

Over the past few days, I have begun to receive questionnaires back from the company where the pilot study is taking place. These questionnaires are very useful as I can see a few problems which still have to be addressed. Aside from that, I have also been working on the program to store each recipient's answers in a form suitable for future analysis. Once I completed that task, I started on another task which I have purposely ignored until now: assigning numerical values to the various sections.

For some sections (e.g. age, department, gender), this is trivial. Similarly, for the sections which are built on Likert scales (I strongly disagree/I disagree/I neither agree nor disagree/I agree/I strongly agree), calculating a value is simple. The section on Priority and spreadsheet usage is critical but I think that I can manage this, by assigning weights to questions (that is, one question may be important that another so I assign it a higher weight). I have already changed the order of one question's options in order to improve the calculation and I may have to change the option order in other questions as well. Otherwise I will have to assign weights to the various options which seems (at the moment) like overkill.

There may or may not be a problem with the section on spreadsheet competency. My original conception was that six questions would be presented; each question has five options, of which one is correct, three are incorrect and one is "I don't know". The competency score would simply be the number of correct answers. Whilst this still stands, I wondered whether I should differentiate between supplying a wrong answer and admitting that one doesn't know. I tried finding some information about this via Google Scholar last night but got nowhere. I have asked my advisor about this point.

At the moment, I need to spend a few concentrated hours going over the questionnaire. Hopefully I will find that time on Saturday.

[SO: 3846; 3,15,36]

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Musicology and harmony

I happened to tune the television yesterday onto a discussion between someone who is probably a professor of music or composition, and Aviv Geffen, Israeli musician (and son of). The programme was billed as "analysing modern Israeli music from a classical viewpoint". I suspect that the programme had begun some time before I started to watch, but quickly they moved to a discussion of the harmonies behind the song "Ata po haser li". This was a song that was introduced to the world at approximately the same time as my son, 22 and a half years ago.

The professor was in turn praising and patronising; the discussion reminded me of a hypothetical discussion between a music professor and John Lennon (incidentally, one of Geffen's idols) which might have taken place fifty years ago. Lennon and McCartney were famous for inventing new chord progressions, sounds which seemingly had never been heard before but probably resulted no small amount from their composing on guitar (as opposed to piano). Lennon's laziness no doubt contributed as well, by preferring to move his fingers as little as possible.

The trouble started with the second chord of the song. Whilst the professor said that the progression from the first to the second chord sounded good, it would also get Geffen an F in any composition class. There are parallel fifths here, the professor declared, then contradicted himself by saying that Geffen had introduced a tritone. I'll explain in a moment.

Assuming that the song is in the key A minor (the version above is in Bb minor), the first chord is A minor - the three notes A, C and E. This is easily played on the piano - three white keys. The second chord is somewhat more interesting: move the hand one key to the right, staying on the white keys. The resulting notes should be B, D and F. This chord has various names, but for the time being, I'll call it B diminished. When the professor said that there were parallel fifths and a tritone, he meant that E is the fifth of A and that F (or more accurately, F#) is the fifth of B. But F is a diminished fifth, so there aren't really parallel fifths. The interval between B and F is indeed a tritone (three whole tones), once known as the devil's interval and banned from music until about the 18th century due to the dissonance that it introduces.

The third chord might be Am but it might be C - obtained by moving the fingers one more key to the right. The fourth chord is definitely Dm, again obtained by moving the fingers yet another key to the right. Viewed on the piano, what we have here is what can be called a chord stream: the bass moves in steps A-B-C-D, the inner voice moves C-D-E-F and the the top note E-F-G-A: all notes in the key of A minor, or from what was once called the Aeolian mode. Lennon would have loved this progression although I don't think that he ever used it.

This is definitely a lazy pianist's progression: It's hard to play this well on the guitar. Three note diminished chords don't really exist on the guitar; the form in which the second chord would normally be played has the second fret on the  fifth string (B), the third fret on the fourth string (F - the tritone), the second fret on the third string (A) and the third fret on the second string (D). The resulting chord (in root inversion) is BDFA, which can be called Bm7b5 or Dm6; the first name makes the bass movement clearer in the sequence (A-B) whereas the second name shows that the chord is a type of subdominant, like the fourth chord in the sequence (Dm). This chord is technically known as the half diminished seventh.

The second chord change which caught the professor's ear was the movement in the second line of the song: Am - Am6 - Gm - Gm7. Again, Am6 (A-C-E-F#) can be viewed as a half diminished seventh (F#m7b5). The move to Gm is a stroke of brilliance and sounds really strange, probably because of the Bb which is introduced. The fourth chord (Gm7) is really only colouration.

But the chord movement which really took the professor's breath away and amazed him was the beginning of the chorus. The first chord can be spelled as F-Ab-B-D and would thus be called F diminished seventh; this is the true fully diminished chord and there are only three of them as each interval is three semitones (so the bass note can either be F, F# or G; one more step brings one to G# or Ab, which is the same as the first chord). As the professor noted, this is a wonderful chord for introducing a modulation as there are several ways of resolving it. He suggested that Bach would probably have resolved the chord by moving the bass note down a semitone, thus playing the notes E-Ab/G# - B - D, aka E7, which is the dominant seventh chord in the key of A minor and which would naturally resolve in turn to A minor.

But Geffen makes a softer - and more exciting - transition: he lowers the bottom two notes of the chord, thus playing E-G-B-D, aka E minor 7; again, this chord change sounds unusual. The resolution is still to A minor, but Em7-Am sounds weaker than E7-Am.

I doubt how many people watching the show would have known what the professor was talking about when he mentioned the diminished seventh (I only understood it properly when watching the show a second time). "Of course, the people at home know what I'm talking about", he declared pompously. But what really took my breath away for pretentiousness came a bit later when he started talking about the intervals E-F-G-A - again, I really only understood what he said when I watched the show again.

He mentioned that Geffen was using music from the 16th century then went on to mention (without real explanation) the Phrygian mode. I'm sure that Geffen - and the home audience - had no idea what he was talking about. Going back to my second paragraph, I am reminded of the famous (at least, to me) case of the Beatles' song "Not a second time" - as Ian Macdonald writes in "Revolution in the head" - Struck by the song's self-taught unorthodoxies, the classical critic of The Times drew attention to its author's use of Aeolian cadences. "To this day", Lennon admitted to Playboy in 1980, "I have no idea what they are. They sounded like exotic birds."

I don't know whether this Professor ever listens to modern music, but diminished chords are hardly news and no one cares about modes anymore. Never mind how unorthodox the harmony is (at least, in terms of classical music), the question is how it sounds to modern ears.  The Phrygian mode pops up all over the place, although strict adherence to the mode (for an entire song) is rare.

I know about this material but I don't understand its relevance (if there is any) to popular song. What matters is that the song sounds good; the minor 6th chords (or half diminished, if you prefer) in my ears is the saddest of all chords, and I'm always on the lookout for a good chord sequence: the transition from Fdim7 to Em7 is something from another plane of existence. I highly recommend this song.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Changes in fortune, continued

Re-reading what I wrote a week ago, I see that I mentioned two important emails but only wrote about one of them. I think that the second email was from Felienne, in which she asked me to help two of her students. Nothing has come of this yet.

I devoted some time on Monday to adding material to my research paper; I sent this to the designated editor who told me two days later that the paper was much improved. This morning, I woke up during the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep for some time (too many ideas running through my head and the dog was snoring). As one of the ideas was for adding a sentence to the paper, I decided to get up (this is at around 2am) and work for about twenty minutes on the paper. I added some more material but more importantly, changed the order of some of the paragraphs to make it flow better. The conference style sheet requires that references be in numbered order (as opposed to the style in my thesis, where I simply name the authors in the body of the text), so I had to renumber the references, both in the body of the text and in the references section. This version is so much better. I don't have any room left to add anything more.

I went to visit the 'pilot' company on Sunday; we talked about their problems for about an hour and a half (and my research for another half hour). They are using the 'assemble to order' production approach but with a twist which I am not totally convinced is necessary. I have seen variations of their immediate problems in my normal job so improving their use of Priority should not be too difficult. On Monday, I spent about an hour and a half writing a 'work order generator' suitable for their use. 

Late Tuesday afternoon, I spent three hours at this company. Some of this time was spent sitting around, waiting for their IT man to sort out a connection between my computer and theirs, but most of it was spent getting the generator to work (someone disturbed my concentration at a certain point so I missed a definition) then showing it in turn to three people. Then followed a discussion of what they have to do next in order to set up their system for the new way of working. 

According to our plans, I am to spend another two hours there this afternoon, after finishing work, checking that things do work as I intend and as they want. There is some amount of uncertainty as to whether I will in fact go there today, as there has been intermittent heavy rain all day. Hopefully, there will be a break at just after 4pm, allowing me to walk there when it's not raining.

Before hooking up with this company, I had been in desultory conversation with another Priority using company somewhere in this industrial section. For some reason, the conversation simply stopped. As I didn't recognise the name of the company, I didn't know where they were located. I think that they are opposite the 'pilot' company which means that sometime next week I may pay them a visit, if only to become acquainted.

On Sunday and Monday, I spent time adding functionality to my 'research' database program. The first module which I added was an interface to record a company's answers to the company questionnaire, and the second was an interface to record answers to the user's questionnaire. This is based on the computerised version of the questionnaire which I developed several months ago but simplified, as it's me entering the values and not someone else. To complicate matters, the computerised questionnaire kept all its data (questions, options, help messages and skips) in a resource file, whereas in the new module, I am directly accessing the database. It was surprisingly hard to write a query which displays the questions in the order in which they are displayed in the questionnaire. I have added the pilot company's answers and today I hope that I will receive some completed user questionnaires.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ordinary people

During the troubled summer of 1977, a good friend of mine sent me a copy of the book "Ordinary people", by Judith Guest. As the book's wiki states, the book "tells the story of a year in the life of the Jarretts, an affluent suburban family trying to cope with the aftermath of two traumatic events". Maybe it was a very suitable book for me then and maybe it was the least suitable; after all, the book starts with Conrad Jarrett, the eighteen year old son, returning home after spending some months in a mental hospital after he tried to commit suicide.

I loved the book and read it frequently. In 1980, it was made into a film by Robert Redford, starring Donald Sutherland (the father), oh so perfect Mary Tyler Moore as the mother and Timothy Hutton as the son. I would have seen the film then but films from the 80s (and earlier) had a habit of disappearing after a few years.

I often found myself wondering if I was ever going to see the film again. I was reminded of it again a few days ago when I was looking at 'Three days of the Condor', starring Robert Redford. I think I got there because of Faye Dunaway, who I had just seen in 'Bonnie and Clyde'. As in every year, from mid-February, the satellite tv company to which we are subscribed starts screening oscar winning films, hence B&C from 1967.

Yesterday evening, I idly looked at the films to be screened in the coming week, and to my surprise and delight, I saw that 'Ordinary people' was scheduled to be shown in another ten minutes! I swiftly set up our machine to record it.

Later, after supper, we discovered that the satellite decoder had frozen at some stage and that we had to perform a 'hard reset' (ie remove the power cable, wait a few seconds then reconnect). This morning I wanted to transfer 'Ordinary people' to dvd but discovered that the decoder's failure had ruined the recording of the film. Oops.

Fortunately, the film is shown again at 10am, and this time I started recording it both to the decoder and direct to dvd.

As I remember, it's a fairly accurate transcription of the book (whose author also wrote the screenplay), but naturally some aspects get lost whereas some are gained.

Changes in fortune

I have spent the past two weeks trying to find a local company which uses Priority and is prepared to participate in the pilot study for my doctoral research. I did find one company (not local) but it turns out that there are only three users in this company and the wife of the person with whom I have to talk is expecting give birth any minute (she finally gave birth on Tuesday). I remembered that someone who used to work with me years ago now works for a company which also uses Priority; I found their phone number and have been dialing it for several days, but receiving no answer. In short, I was getting exceedingly frustrated with the entire exercise.

Yesterday I received a phone call from another ex-colleague, someone with whom I developed several of the key concepts for my company during the mid-90s (obviously pre-Priority). He has wandered from company to company but has always remembered our time together as important. He tells me that he has recently started work with a company which is situated within walking distance from where I normally work; they use Priority but badly. He wishes that I come and consult for them.

I agreed but also mentioned my doctoral research; this person was only too pleased to volunteer his company. This might be seen as a quid pro quo, but anyway I would have gone and talked to them for a few hours, regardless of any payback. Of course, should this become a more permanent arrangement, then it would be with payment. If indeed this company is situated within walking distance, then all sorts of possibilities open up.

In the early evening, I checked my email; there were two very important letters awaiting me. The first was from the organisers of the conference to be held in May - my paper has been accepted! The paper was sent to three academics for peer review and their comments were attached to the acceptance notice. These very much upset me when I first read them although a second reading made things clearer. I was writing what was described to me as a position paper:  based more on my opinions and less academic. The reviewers thought that the paper should be academic, first and last, and criticised my inclusion of opinions. After a night's rumination, it seems that what they were expecting was a shortened version of my research proposal, which includes such formalities as hypotheses and methodology.

I have two weeks in which to create a new version of my paper which should address the comments from the reviewers. This could mean simply adding material at the end of the paper or it could mean almost completely rewriting it. Another option is creating a condensed version of the research proposal. Unfortunately, it is now the weekend, and although I wrote to the conference's co-organiser, Dr Felienne Hermans, for guidance this morning, she may not reply until Monday, which means that two valuable days might be lost.

I considered posing a question at the Academia Stack Exchange, but after writing the question, I discovered that it was a near duplicate of a previously asked question: What changes after peer review but prior to final submission are acceptable? Some of the answers were: 
  • Following the acceptance of a paper, I would not make any changes that go beyond "editorial"—that is, improving the grammar, or adding a recently published citation. These do not change the "technical" content of the paper.
  • If you receive reviews, no matter of what sort, but so that the editor allows you revisions, you should make the revisions necessary to sort out the problems.  
I think that the best response would be to add the research questions and some of the hypotheses, thus improving the academic strength of the paper. I can add a fair amount of material without exceeding the maximum length - I only have two pages, but the font is Times New Roman 10 pts, which is fairly small.

Thus this coming week is going to be very busy: revising the paper, consulting, working on the pilot study ... and let us not forget, the day job which this week includes another trip to Lod with regard to Imos and a trip to Haifa (more Imos and consulting). Maybe on Thursday I will get to the three man company.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I have been watching a television series on BBC Entertainment called 'Frankie', which is about the trials and tribulations of a district nurse somewhere in Britain (a close look reveals that the series is filmed in Bristol but the story does not refer to this). It seems that there are only six episodes and I've seen three of them, enough to have sufficient material about which to write.

Whilst one might assume that the series can be compared to 'Casualty' (also originally filmed in Bristol, but now in Cardiff), there is in fact very little in common. True, the series follows the lives of medical professionals and there are always new 'patients of the week', but 'Casualty' has a bigger cast (with some not appearing each episode) and of course takes place in a hospital casualty department, where unfortunately death is always a possibility. 'Frankie' has a smaller cast and less pressing medical issues (although there was a death in episode 2).

If anything, 'Frankie' reminds me of 'William and Mary', although without the William story line and the sentimentality. Frankie is a district nurse whereas Mary is a midwife; they always go the extra mile for their patients and sometimes get into trouble for doing so. There is even a physical resemblance: Eve Myles (Frankie) looks quite like Julie Graham (Mary) although the latter is Scottish and the former Welsh (sometimes I can hear traces of her accent peeking through). Mary was lucky in love whereas Frankie (at least, so far) is not.

It seems as if every episode has two story lines: the first, naturally, is concerned with Frankie and the second is with one of the four other nurses under Frankie's command. 

All in all, I think that this is a good television drama: well written and well acted; modest, in true British television drama style.

I have also been watching an American series, 'Madam Secretary', which is definitely not the real thing. This was touted as worth watching for those that enjoyed 'The West Wing', but I beg to differ. The difference between MS and TWW (and Frankie, for that matter) is in the scripts: MS has so-so scripts with plenty of holes and super-quick diplomacy and/or solutions. The eponymous secretary (played by Tia Leoni, who is the best thing about the series) is a university professor (ex-CIA analyst) who gets catapulted into the job of US Secretary of State. Her agenda and methodology are somewhat different to that of her predecessor (who died in an accident) which often causes tension both with her staff and with the President (or more accurately, with his chief of staff). The problem with the stories is that they are all superficial and sometimes come with non sequiturs (for example, the fifth episode starts with someone blowing up an oil pipeline between Canada and USA; this event is referenced during the first ten minutes then completely disappears). 

In my opinion, the best scenes are within the secretary's family: the secretary's husband is a university professor in ethics/religion and of course their three children are bright. These scenes are intelligent, interesting and developed; the scenes set in the secretary's office are ok and the world-wide scenes are too simplistic. There are occasionally hints of some great drama hiding behind the scenes (was the death of the CIA agent shown in the pilot a real accident or a hit? Did the previous SoS have some hidden agenda?) but these threads are not developed. It's ok to have some kind of conspiracy ideas floating around, but they should be expanded and not simply mentioned in the final minute of each show.

At least, the series is watchable, which is more than I can say for most American series. But it tries to accomplish too much and in doing so, spreads itself too thinly. Reviews on IMDB are roughly the same as mine.

[SO: 3801; 3,15,36]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Beatles, Apple and me

Years ago, my parents made the acquaintance of a British family living in Israel; I think that the connection was that the wife of this family was a niece of one of my aunts (by marriage), but I am probably wrong. This lady has kindly continued visiting my father once or twice a month for years. I have met the husband more than a few times, but frequently he was travelling on business. They were present at my father's 90th birthday celebration.

Several years ago, I realised that the "Stephen" who knows my parents is named Stephen Maltz; he is not just someone called Stephen Maltz but rather THE Stephen Maltz who in the mid-60s told the Beatles that unless something was done about their financial situation, they would soon be bankrupt. Although I have tried to draw him out on this topic, he always kept quiet.

Stephen has now written and published an E-book called "The Beatles, Apple and me", which is available from Amazon. As soon as I saw this, I found the book, downloaded it and commenced reading. A few hours later, I emerged, knowing much more about the Beatles' business set-up than I had done previously. 

Stephen worked with the Beatles during their heyday, from 1964-8 and was one of the directors of Apple, so of course his sources are impeccable. This book makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in the business side of the Beatles.

That said, I do have some criticisms of the book which hopefully can be addressed, allowing a new edition to be uploaded to Amazon. Rapid turn-around of editions is one of the advantages of e-books and should be utilised as fully as possible. Some of these criticisms are about the e-book itself (layout) and some are about the contents.  I have sent these criticisms to Stephen and hopefully he will implement at least some of my suggestions.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Summer in February

We've been having some strange weather recently: at lunchtime on Saturday, the barometer showed a temperature of 26.6° C with a prediction of rain. The weather forecast on the news says that the coming week will be cold and possibly rainy....

In recognition of the heat, I decided that lunch would be Mediterranean: lemon chicken breast, steamed vegetables and baked potatoes. In the morning, I cut  a chicken breast into strips then put them into a marinade of olive oil and lemon juice, the latter being freshly pressed from lemons grown on the lemon tree in the garden. I diced some potatoes, seasoned them with parsley then mixed them with some of the marinade. This went into the oven at 150° C for an hour. 

The vegetables were red and yellow bell peppers, a courgette, onion and the new 'hit': diced kale. This mixture was cooked in the microwave for 15 minutes, inside the 'spice oven'.  There was an item on the television a few days about 'super foods', one of which was kale. I have been reading about different ways of cooking it: cooking makes the flavenoids (the "goodness") more accessible but one has to prevent too much being leached away. The spice oven seems to be the best way of steaming as it requires no added water so it probably loses the least amount of nutrients.

The chicken breast slices were cooked for a few minutes each side in the heavy frying pan which I bought a few weeks ago. The meal was served with freshly pressed orange juice. The result: delicious!

The time machine

Looking for some old papers the other day, I came across this picture

I imagine that it dates from 1984/5, judging by the equipment. That's me in the accountancy office, typing data into the keyboard/printer combination that we had. In a few years' time, we will have progressed to screens with keyboards, then to having our own server.

Looking at it reminds me of a similar picture: Bill Gates from at least a decade earlier, typing into a similar machine whilst still at school. Compare where he is today and where I am.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Sending emails automatically, continued

I finished my previous blog entry by writing someone [has just] phoned me and asked how she could send a customer a [PDF] copy of all the delivery notes for that customer for the previous (or current) day. Despite considering several hi-tech solutions, some of which would have utilised the new capability of sending email automatically, we plumped for an exceedingly low tech solution. As the delivery notes have already been printed, probably the easiest way of sending a PDF would be to scan the delivery notes on our combo printer/scanner; the address of the recipient is already stored within the machine, so the scan can be sent directly to the customer.

This reminds me of a story from when I was young (aged somewhere around 6). My family had traveled from Bristol to Bournemouth in order to see my grandparents (this is one way of dating the story as they died when I was young) and we stopped at a roadside restaurant in order to eat (a 'Berni cafe', IIRC). At the time, I was problematic in my eating habits and requested a simple omelette, with nothing added. When the omelette was served, it came with some addition (I don't remember what); when my parents complained, the chef came out and explained that it was beneath his professional dignity to serve a plain omelette. This is how I feel about the PDF solution. On the other hand, it achieves the target with minimal overhead.

Other circumstances lead me to think of another use of automatic emails: the costing program takes about eight hours to run, which is why it is always executed from the task scheduler. But sometimes, for unknown reasons, it crashes, normally soon after it starts (just after midnight). If I remember to check whether this program is still running, I only do so at around 9am. It occurred to me that the task scheduler could run a check at 6am to see whether the costing program is running; if it isn't, then I should be sent an email.

I found a way of doing this (the problem is checking whether the program is active) and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I decided to send the email both to my home address and to my mobile phone: I normally check emails at home at 6am, so the timing will be right.

This reminds me of Cliff Stoll and "The Cuckoo's Nest", a fascinating book which I read twenty five years ago. He was able to program his server to send a message to his pager when a certain event happened. It's only taken me about 28 years to catch up.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Sending emails automatically via Priority

Previous to Priority, my company worked with an ERP program which had very strong support for spawning jobs and creating reports in the background. This was very useful as some reports used to require a long time - at least an hour - to be created. There was also a very simple but powerful method of creating macro files which would create these reports. As I recall, I would write something like

which would mean "run report 21.4, pass it the parameters 14, 03 and 32, then send the output to printer LP2:" (the 4 meant 'run the program immediately' as opposed to 'run the program in the background'). Aligned with the job scheduler of the server, I would define such jobs to run during the dead time of the evening and early morning. Each morning I would arrive at work to find a huge pile of paper with the various reports printed; I would divide up the reports and put them in people's pigeon holes.

Time progresses: we no longer have pigeon holes, line printers and the old, single tasking, ERP program; we now have multi-tasking Priority and email.  When we first started work with Priority, I adopted my habits to running reports manually in the morning then sending them by email. This takes about 15 minutes but sometimes can be a hassle as I prefer to create the reports before people have started working.

Priority does have a task scheduler although accessing and using it is harder than the old program. I use it a great deal for programs which take a long time to run (e.g. costing) and produce no output. Several times the systems manager and I have tried to define email on the server but without success ... until yesterday. Finally I can send emails automatically from the server.

At first, I thought that this was excellent, but when I started to examine the situation, I was less than thrilled. The main problem is that there is no simple way of passing parameters to the programs; even though I have found a way of overcoming this, it means that I frequently have to rewrite the programs (or more accurately, create a copy of the normal program then change the copy) to handle automatic parameters. Another, more conceptual, problem is that I like to see some of the reports and comment where necessary; sending them automatically means that I won't see them at all.

So far, I have adopted three reports for automatic distribution: two go to distribution lists and one goes to myself so that I can work on the data. Both this report and one of the distribution list reports take a comparatively long time (about 10 minutes) to run, although I used to interleave their creation with other tasks. In other words, I would start  a long report then work on something else until the report displayed, thus not wasting time waiting for reports to appear. All three reports are defined in the equivalent of a large macro file whose execution is defined in the task scheduler. Thus I can add new functionality without having to change the task scheduler.

It has to be said that few reports take an excessive amount of time to run, so automating them is not much of an advantage. Creating them automatically does take responsibility off my shoulders and also means that I don't have to log in first thing in the morning when I'm on holiday. 

Over the next week, I am going to see how using an automated task can improve the quality of my work. 

After having completed writing the above (but prior to publication), someone phoned me and asked how she could send a customer a copy of all the delivery notes for that customer for the previous (or current) day - there can be at least ten such notes. It occurs to me that I could write a program to do this and I could even automate it. Saving overhead time for users is always a good idea and is my prime directive.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Copper socks (3)

Four years ago, I wrote about the problems which I was having with my feet and how the solution seemed to be copper socks. As I recall, I bought three or four pairs of socks, but over time they shrunk and I had to throw them out. Since then, I haven't seen them in shops. About two years ago, I was told to throw out all the socks which I own as they were probably infested with fungi. I then started laser treatment on my toenails, which wasn't too successful, and I also bought new socks - 100% cotton.

Surprisingly, it is hard to find such socks in Israel; the best that I could find were 95% cotton and 5% polyester. So I ordered from the internet and was pleased with my purchase. A few months ago, I went to order a new batch of socks and discovered that the supplier (via Amazon) wouldn't ship to Israel. I found a new supplier in China and ordered from there, but when the socks arrived, it turned out that they too were only 95% cotton.

When I bought new walking shoes in December, I saw that there were copper socks for sale. Whilst I was pleased at renewing my acquaintance with this item, I was less pleased at the price - 85 NIS, which today is about $23. I bought one pair and have worn them about five times since (in rotation with the cotton socks which I still have). I have noticed that with continual wear, the cotton socks develop holes - mainly at the toes but sometimes at the heel - and eventually have to be discarded. Although I would like to renew my inventory with copper socks, I baulked at the price.

Eventually, a light went on in my head: order from America - as I did four years ago. The cupron site is offering a pack of six pairs of dress socks for $85, including postage. Thus each pair of socks will cost 51 NIS - a 40% saving over the shop in Bet Shemesh. Definitely worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

End of an era

After at least twenty years sitting on the same chair, I was persuaded to upgrade to a new one. There are several advantages of working in a factory which manufactures office chairs: 
  •  I don't have to look far to find a chair
  • There is a large selection
  • It doesn't cost anything
  • I can try a chair for a few days then swap it for another.
Whilst this 'bank manager' chair seems suitable, there are a few problems with it. I could do with some head support and the seat seems to be a bit large (I've noticed in the past half hour some mild pain from the underside of my thighs), although this may be simply part of getting used to the chair.

In some respects, finding a new chair (on which I sit for eight hours a day, four-five days a week, year in, year out) is similar to buying a new pair of shoes: one is so used to the old, flexible, pair that the new shoes will always feel stiff and uncomfortable. An office chair is more expensive than a pair of shoes (although surprisingly not that much more expensive; I think that this chair costs two to three times what my last pair of shoes cost) but of course lasts much longer.

I was told that in a few days a chair will be returning which has head support (the chair was at a customer for trial purposes), so I'll try that one out when it comes. I'm not yet convinced by this grey chair.

[SO: 3776; 3, 15, 36]