Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Joe Cool

We haven't had a grandfather - granddaughter picture for some time. This is primarily because most of her pictures are videos. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

INTQUANT and REALQUANT

Almost every programming language has at least two kinds of numbers: integers and reals. In the old 16 bit days, an unsigned integer could have a value between 0 and 65535 (that's 2 to the power of 16, less 1), whereas a signed integer could have a value between -32768 and 32767 (215 − 1). In these days of 32 bits, an integer can have a value between −2,147,483,648 (−231) and 2,147,483,647 (231 − 1). An integer does not have a fractional part; for this, one uses real numbers, which have a range of −238 to 238. Whilst real numbers have a much larger range than integers, they are also less accurate: there are certain fractions which are very difficult to store in binary. This lack of accuracy causes problems when real numbers are multiplied, and so some languages store real numbers as 'decimal shifted' integers (i.e. 3.333 is stored as 3333). This is very important for applications which deal with money as no accuracy is sacrificed.

As Priority deals with both monies and stock quantities, it provides integers, reals and decimal shifted integers. As usual, the documentation is not too clear how to use the different types, so this blog is intended to clarify matters, especially with regard to decimal shifted integers. The TRANSORDER (inventory movement) table - as well has other tables - contains a few fields whose name is like QUANT (quant, tquant, cquant); in the table directory screen, these fields are defined as integers with a width of 17.3. This means that they are stored as integers but their values should be shifted three columns to the left in order to obtain their real value; as written above, a quantity of 3.333 would be stored as 3333.

The screen manager knows automatically how to display such fields (3000 would be displayed as 3.00) so the beginning programmer doesn't have to convert anything. The problems begin when one wants to calculate something based on such a field: for example, the value of inventory is calculated by multiplying the amount in inventory by the part's cost. The unaware programmer will write this statement without change: if the amount is 3, then it will be stored as 3000, and multiplying by the cost (let's say 20 shekels/unit) would result in the value of the inventory being 60,000 shekels! Obviously the quantity has to be converted to a real number before multiplying, so one would actually write REALQUANT (TRANSORDER.QUANT) * PART.COST. This will give the desired result, 60 shekels.

The result of such a calculation should be stored in a variable which has been defined as a real. The easiest way to do this in a procedure is to initialise the variable in the following manner:
:VALUE = 0.0; /* this tells the parser that 'value' is a real */ SELECT REALQUANT (TRANSORDER.QUANT) * PART.COST INTO :VALUE FROM TRANSORDER, PART WHERE TRANSORDER.PART = PART.PART AND ...
Sometimes it is necessary to store the result of such a calculation back into a decimal shifted integer: for this one uses the INTQUANT function, which as its name suggests, turns a quant into an int. I've had to use this function recently as I was writing code which creates bills of materials; a quantity field in the interface requires a decimal shifted number which is calculated on the basis of a real number and another decimal shifted number. INTQUANT requires its operand to be a real number, so the easiest way of ensuring this is to include 0.0+ in the expression, as follows:
:NEWQUANT = INTQUANT (0.0 + :COEF * REALQUANT (:QUANT));
The variable :COEF has already been defined as a real (for example, this would hold the value of PARTARC.COEF, which defines the number of 'son parts' to its 'father part') whereas :QUANT would be a decimal shifted integer, such as ORDERITEMS.QUANT.

The parser in Priority procedures can be a bit stupid, so one should give it all the help one can by predefining variables. Otherwise one is liable to receive the error message that :VARIABLE has been defined having two different types.

I tend to use REALQUANT when I am writing cursors, so that I know that I am working with a real number; I find this makes life a bit easier. For example,
DECLARE CUR CURSOR FOR SELECT REALQUANT (TRANSORDER.QUANT), PART.COST FROM TRANSORDER, PART WHERE TRANSORDER.PART = PART.PART AND ...
Basic rule: never write an arithmetical expression using decimal shifted numbers without REALQUANT! That's about all there is to say about INTQUANT and REALQUANT.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

ERP enhancement management

I spent about three hours on Friday, brainstorming with regard to my research proposal. The results of that thinking appeared in my previous blog entry. On Saturday I spent about the same amount of time looking for introductory papers in three disciplines - organisational change management, engineering change management (ECM) and product management. On Sunday I printed the papers and glanced at them but didn't have much time to concentrate on them.

Yesterday evening, I sat down with the printed papers and my mobile computer, and started reading the papers, extracting the salient points and adding them to the research proposal. I was very pleased to note that one of the papers on ECM contained a five stage model which was very similar to mine. I was able to contrast ECM with my proposed change management discipline and in doing so, I was able to present my model naturally, without feeling that I was pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

After I completed writing up the papers and introducing my model, I looked again at my mentor's post from last week which started this flurry of activity. He suggested looking at stakeholder literature, which is a topic which I hadn't considered. After entering that term into Google Scholar, I was presented with a list of papers from which I chose one, entitled "A roadmap for IT project implementation". This was exactly what I needed, as it provided some choice quotes. There was also room for critical evaluation: this paper deals with project implementation, e.g. implementing Priority, whereas my research is concerned with implementing enhancements, which of course are on a much smaller scale in all respects. Fewer people are involved, the costs are very low and the time span is negligible.

Once I had added a paragraph or two, I realised that I had a complete document which I could send back to my mentor. I was quite surprised that I had managed to implement the changes in such a short time. Now I can focus my time on other activities.

Monday, November 06, 2017

40 years ago

DayMonthYearArtist
6Nov1970Heron
12Nov1971Al Stewart
16Nov1975Richard and Linda Thompson
17Nov1976National Health
6Nov1977Sandy Denny

Above are extracts from the concert log which I used to maintain in the old days, when I went to concerts. The first and last entries are the most interesting, coincidentally on the same date. 

I've written about Heron and this concert before: it was a promotional tour, selling tickets for one old penny! I very much enjoyed their set, which persuaded me to buy their eponymous album (I listen to it to this day and still enjoy it very much). It was this concert which weaned me off rock acts such as Ten Years After; I was much more content to listen to this 'wooden music'.

The last concert on the list is the last time I had the pleasure of seeing Sandy Denny in her brief life. I know that there are plenty of fans who never saw her appear at all, so I should be thankful that I saw her three times - once with Fotheringay, once with Fairport and once on her own (well, with a supporting band of five musicians). To be honest, I remember almost nothing of the music, but fortunately some of the concerts on this tour were recorded; many many years later, we were treated to a cd of one of them. My name appears in the credits of this disc, which was very kind of the producers. My contribution was to send them a copy of my ticket (which was not for the date which was recorded) and an advert for an earlier Sandy record - none of which found their way into the final booklet. I admit that this is not a disc that I listen to - Sandy's voice had almost completely gone.

This concert is also memorable for a more personal reason: I invited a girl to go out with me to this concert and she accepted. I don't remember whether this girl has ever crossed the pages of this blog so I had better introduce her; we had met about a month earlier at the inaugural meeting of the Jewish Society at my university. It turned out that she was in the new intake of my degree course whereas I was a final year student, so we had more than a few things in common. She also didn't live too far from me, in Swiss Cottage, which was a brisk 40 minute walk for me.

The memory which stands out about this girl (for whom I wrote the song 'M') was when I invited her about a month later to the communal house for our Chanuka party. The next morning I phoned her, asking whether she enjoyed herself; we proceeded to have a half-hour chat which left me slightly bemused. I remember saying to someone that her tone was far more friendly than it should have been. A minute later, M phoned and apologised: she thought she had been talking to someone else! Our relationship lasted only about another month, mainly because we had less in common that it might have seemed at first.

Friday, November 03, 2017

More thinking on the page (DBA)

This post is a continuation of a previous post from three weeks ago, so it's best first to read that post before continuing with this one. As the title alludes, I am going to be 'thinking on the page', so I can't guarantee that there will be an ending or any conclusions from what I write, although I certainly hope that there will be.

My mentor was not particularly impressed by my new version of my research proposal, which featured the seven stage model for developing enhancements. I too had certain doubts about this as I had asked him about where the model should be introduced; at the moment, it had a deus ex machina quality about it as it doesn't flow from the limited literature review. The mentor suggested that I not use the model in the proposal, which returns me to the stage I was in a few weeks ago: what is my research question? What are the aims and objectives?

After further cogitation, I am naming the concept which is to be researched as 'ERP enhancement management' (EEM), a term which I don't think exists in the literature. The definition is based on the seven stage model, but I'm going to ignore that for the moment; instead I will define it in terms of what it is not. EEM has similarities to organisational change management (OCM, a well researched topic) in that it affects the organisation and should achieve strategic or tactical objectives; it is also connected with several groups of stakeholders (which is defined as "members of the groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist"). But EEM is concerned with incremental and fairly minor changes, whereas OCM generally is concerned with major changes, often in critical situations. Also, the success rate of OCM is much lower than that of EEM.

There is also similarity to engineering change management (ECM) but differs in several aspects: ECM is generally concerned with the life cycle of a product, and not incremental changes to software. ECM also is much more technical that EEM - I am purposely leaving out all the technical aspects of EEM, leaving only the managerial aspects.

There is also similarity to software product management (SPM), but as its name hints, SPM is concerned with the life cycle of a complete software product and not with incremental change. That said, there may well be lessons to be learnt from a description of how (for example) Microsoft manages changes in Word or Excel (I doubt that I'll be able to find academic papers on this topic). But then again, these are changes to a product which completely ignore the effects of the software upon the organisation and stakeholders.

So it would seem that EEM is a distinct topic about which there appears to be no prior research. So this is a good example of a research gap.

I found a Doctor of Engineering thesis which examines the engineering change management process (William Rowell: 2013, University of Strathclyde); there is no research question, but the aim and objectives are illuminating. The aim: To characterise the variations in the engineering change management process within the product life cycle and explore the relationship between this process and artefact knowledge. Based on the findings from this study, recommendations for improving existing engineering change management practice shall be offered.

The objectives are (briefly):
  1. Synthesise and discuss relevant literature in the field of engineering change management
  2. Present empirical evidence of the activities that are enacted during the engineering change management process
  3. Present the impact of the research in terms of how the results should influence future engineering change management practice
  4. Discuss the benefits and limitations of the research findings and approach used to obtain these findings, offering conclusions and avenues for further research
These objectives can easily be reworded for my purposes. But what is the research question? At the moment, there are two:
  1. By what methods do organisations develop enhancements?
  2. How closely do those methods match the proposed process model?
Clearly, the second question has to be dropped as there is no proposed process model. The first question is in the right direction but needs to be developed a bit more. Going back to Rowell's thesis, his second research question is What types of artefact knowledge are used and created during the engineering change management process and what can be taken from this to improve the engineering change management process? So ...
  1. What are the steps taken by organisations in the ERP enhancement management process?
  2. How can these steps be generalised in order to create a model to improve the process?
That's not a bad beginning. This will require discarding (once again) a fair amount of material which is included in the current version of the proposal. Hopefully, the next version will tighter as well as being refocused; its title will now be Examining the ERP enhancement management process in Israeli SMEs.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton, the American folk-singer, celebrates his 80th birthday today.

Like many other things, I became aware of him at a summer camp - I think it was in 1969. Someone introduced us to the song 'Lyndon Johnson told the nation' (or as we knew it, 'LBJ') which was a protest song about the Vietnam war. Probably the war meant very little to me as a 13 year old, and anyway LBJ was no longer president in July 1969. Even so, I was very struck by the song.

By chance, the first concert which I went to at Bristol's Colston Hall, around September/October 1969 was by Tom Paxton. I saw him again at the same location about six months later. I enjoyed the concerts, but he didn't play 'LBJ' (not really surprising, as by then the song had passed its "sell by" date). I also bought a double lp of Paxton and his small group (pianist and bassist) live in concert somewhere; some of the songs I recognised from the concerts which I had attended and some were new.

At some stage in those days, I wrote a letter and sent it (how?) to Tom Paxton. To my surprise, I received a very warm reply. Of course, I have no idea where that letter is now. It was sent from Long Island, which means that it was before Paxton, his wife and their two daughters lived in Holland Park, London for about four years in the early 1970s as per Wikipedia. After the double lp, Paxton dropped off my radar, which is rather sad considering how much closer he was to me geographically.

I came across his name again in a book about record producer Tony Visconti, in which Visconti talks about his "live plus" recording technique - recording someone performing live, when they are more relaxed, then adding and/or replacing parts.

I admit that it's been a very long time since I've given TP a thought; no doubt he was quickly replaced by Richard Thompson as a song writer to emulate. But I'm pleased to see that he's still with us.

Even to this day, I still sing to myself the couplet "Rained again last night/The streets are slowly drying" after evening rain - this comes from the Paxton song "The things I notice now".

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A conditional choose-field trigger (for use in a procedure)

In special circumstances, in which the value of one feature is dependent upon another, one needs to create a conditional choose-field trigger. Here's a forced example: let's say that there is a database of computer parts; certain computer models can accept certain types of disk drive. So first the user chooses a computer model; the disk drives will be displayed according to the computer model.


In order to implement the statement 'certain computer models can accept certain types of disk drive', there has to be a join-table, one field of which will be the computer model and one will be the disk drive.

A normal choose-field trigger looks like this:
SELECT DES, CODE FROM TEST_DISKDRIVES WHERE CODE LIKE '%' ORDER BY 2;
This trigger would be placed under the parameter defined under the appropriate step in the procedure. Assuming that the key of the computer model chosen has been stored in the variable :$.CM, one might be tempted to write the following trigger:
SELECT TEST_DISKDRIVES.DES, TEST_DISKDRIVES.CODE FROM TEST_DISKDRIVES, TEST_MODEL2DRIVE WHERE TEST_DISKDRIVES.CODE LIKE '%' AND TEST_DISKDRIVES.ID = TEST_MODEL2DRIVE.DRIVE AND TEST_MODEL2DRIVE.MODEL = :$.CM ORDER BY 2;
Unfortunately this won't work. The trigger is unaware of the supposedly global variable, :$.CM. The solution which I found to this problem is to define a table with two fields, 'USER', which will hold the current user number (i.e. SQL.USER), and 'VALUE', which contains the value chosen (i.e. :$.CM). The trigger then becomes
SELECT TEST_DISKDRIVES.DES, TEST_DISKDRIVES.CODE FROM TEST_DISKDRIVES, TEST_MODEL2DRIVE, TEST_USERVALUES WHERE TEST_DISKDRIVES.CODE LIKE '%' AND TEST_DISKDRIVES.ID = TEST_MODEL2DRIVE.DRIVE AND TEST_MODEL2DRIVE.MODEL = TEST_USERVALUES.VALUE AND TEST_USERVALUES.USER = SQL.USER ORDER BY 2;
This does work! One won't find this documented anywhere. Obviously it isn't something which one needs every day but it's the solution to a specific problem.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sumptuous Saturday Seven - baked hake with potatoes and vegetables

We haven't had a blog entry on cooking for some time: not because I've stopped cooking, but because I have been rotating all the dishes which I know how to cook and have not tried something new. Well, today I tried a new dish - baked hake - which went down well.

The impetus for this dish came from a few days ago when we volunteered to cook a meal for another bereaved family on the kibbutz. I didn't realise at the time that I would be working late every day during the week (due to travelling commitments), so I had to choose a dish which would be easy for my wife to cook. In the end, she made a salad and my daughter made a vegetarian dish, so I didn't have to coach her. After finding a recipe, I decided to try it myself.

The first instruction had me slightly baffled: julienne the onions.  I sliced an onion into strips and fried them. The next instruction had me adding potato slices to the frying onions and continuing to cook; after a minute or so, I realised that this was not a good idea as the potatoes were either sticking to the pan or not getting cooked at all. So I added a few cups of boiling water and boiled the potatoes. When making mashed potatoes, I cook for fifteen minutes, so I decided to remove the potatoes after only ten minutes, thus partially cooking them but leaving them whole.

I also decided to cook vegetables with the fish and potatoes, so I chopped some courgettes and carrots, cooking them in the microwave for ten minutes. I then placed a sheet of baking paper on the oven pan, placed the potatoes on the paper, then layered the fish and covered them with the vegetables. I sprinkled parsley on top of the fish, sprinkled salt and doused the food with olive oil (with rather more than the one tablespoon mentioned in the recipe; at the moment we have a bottle of oil with a larger opening than usual so I am using more oil than I need). I cooked the dish in the oven for thirty minutes at 150 degrees C.

The result was surprisingly good, although I thought it a little bland. No one had any criticism. I think that next time I will add some tomatoes to the vegetable layer - a little bit of acid will help the taste.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The seven stage model for developing enhancements

My previous DBA post proposed the following framework for developing enhancements:

  1. Identify a misfit.
  2. Determine which stakeholders would gain from resolving this misfit: there will always be one group of stakeholders who benefit whilst entering data, but there should also be at least one group of stakeholders who benefit from retrieving improved data.
  3. Propose a solution which benefits the maximum number of stakeholders. The solution should consider dimensions such as improved data visibility, savings in user time and direct monetary savings.
  4. Enlist the support of all stakeholders connected to the enhancement.
  5. Implement the enhancement.
  6. Train the stakeholders in the use of the enhancement (in both the input and output stages).
  7. Evaluate the benefits obtained after the event with respect to those stated in stage 3.
I included this framework in my research proposal, writing This model will henceforth be known as the 'seven stage model for developing enhancements', aka SSMDE. After stage 7, evaluation, there are three options, depending on the evaluation: the enhancement may either be put into use, discarded or refined (returning to stage 5 in the model). I also developed new research questions and even changed the title of the research proposal, which is now Evaluating a framework for the creation of successful enhancements to an ERP system.

When walking the dog - always a good time for thinking - my mind turned to a training session which is going to be held in a few days, when I will be explaining to one group of stakeholders a new enhancement. A select group - primarily the CEO, the vice president for development, the purchasing manager and myself - have been discussing this enhancement for several months (the protracted time period is due to the CEO and VP having other commitments) and now is the time to show one group of users how to use the system, which replaces an ad hoc system of paper notes.

It occurs to me that we didn't carry out stage 4 of SSMDE. As hinted above, there are two major groups of stakeholders: those that enter the data (in this case, sales reps) and those that retrieve the data (purchasing). Training for the purchasing people has already taken place; the training session in a few days time will be with the sales reps. We haven't informed them of the coming change - in other words, we haven't enlisted them. It doesn't matter how technically good the enhancement is: it's a failure if no one uses it.

There was a similar situation a few months ago, when together with the CEO I developed a system for recording information about upcoming sales within the ERP system, as opposed to a manual system based on spreadsheets. The training session was so difficult - even acrimonious - that I informed several managers that I was not prepared to teach such sessions in the future. As  a result, the CEO said that he would be present in such sessions: he will take the heat, not me. As it happens, as that enhancement was activated automatically, it became adopted fairly quickly and so can be defined as successful.

Getting back to SSMDE, it would seem at the moment that stage 4 is essential to the success of an enhancement. There's no problem when there is only one group of stakeholders involved, but frequently - at least, in my experience - major enhancements are developed without the enlistment of one group of stakeholders. This lack of enlistment is liable to lead to the enhancement not being adopted and thus failing.

Whilst the research proposal contains a paragraph which refers to the practice of 'parachuting' enhancements into use without the prior knowledge and involvement of at least one group of stakeholders, it was written many months ago, before the development of SSMDE. I should make this clearer in the next version of the research proposal.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Madam Secretary

I have referred to this 'government procedural' tv series a few times over the years. I knew that a fourth series had been commissioned but I didn't know when it was to be screened. Imagine my delight when I discovered yesterday that the opening episode of the fourth series was to be broadcast that very same night (i.e. yesterday evening, 11 Oct 2017) in Israel.

Surfing the net this morning, I read that 'Madam Secretary is set to premiere its fourth season on 8 October 2017'. In other words, we in Israel are seeing a programme only three days after its screening in USA. Very up-to-date!

My opinion about the series hasn't changed: very good (but not excellent). The scriptwriters must have had a fine time, writing extremely moral and uplifting lines for the eponymous secretary. I am sure that this is not what happens in real life.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Research questions

I wrote a few weeks ago that there seems to be mutual incomprehension between my doctoral mentor and myself. I added material to my research proposal which was obliquely suggested by my mentor; he wrote back writing (amongst other things) that something "is reinforced by your having ten research questions when one is usually sufficient and best". Thinking about this, I realise that what I have noted as "the research questions" (i.e. what the research is supposed to answer) are actually the questions which I intend to ask the participants.

Here are those questions:
  1. What are examples of gaps between existing and desired functionality ("misfits")?
  2. How do organisations enhance their ERP systems in order to overcome those misfits?
  3. Is there any mechanism for examining the justifications for enhancements?
  4. Is an enhancement's success dependent on who proposed it?
  5. How are the enhancements authorised?
  6. Are enhancements added in a systematic (as opposed to ad hoc) fashion?
  7. How much time is required for developing those enhancements?
  8. How successful are the enhancements and how is this success measured?
  9. What are the economic benefits of those enhancements?
  10. How are users trained to use the enhancements?
I have read a recent doctoral thesis (Badewi, 2016) entitled "Investigating Benefits Realisation Process for ERP Systems" (sic) which tries to develop a benefit realization road map whereby organisations can realize the maximum potential of their ERP systems  (it's curious that the thesis uses British spelling for 'organisation' but American spelling for 'realize', but then the grammar of this thesis is all over the place). The research question is "How organisations can realise the maximum benefits from the ERP system?" Apart from the fact that the second and third words should be reversed, I am starting from the position that enhancements are the way that organisations realise the benefits, and so I have answered that question before I even begin.

I am less interested in developing a mechanism for evaluating enhancements (although my mentor seems very keen on this) and more concerned with the enhancements themselves. The interrogative word seems to be very important - the above question begins with "How", not "is" nor "can", which can be answered either yes or no. 

So one possible research question would be How can an organisation develop a framework for creating successful enhancements to their ERP system? This assumes that there are means of assessing enhancements; this is already listed as one of the research's objectives. This suggests that I would have to develop a framework, which is not particularly in line with my interests, but would be more academically sound.

Presumably the framework would be something like:
  1. Identify a misfit.
  2. Determine which stakeholders would gain from resolving this misfit: there will always be one group of stakeholders who benefit whilst entering data, but there should also be at least one group of stakeholders who benefit from retrieving improved data.
  3. Propose a solution which benefits the maximum number of stakeholders. The solution should consider dimensions such as improved data visibility, savings in user time and direct monetary savings.
  4. Enlist the support of all stakeholders connected to the enhancement.
  5. Implement the enhancement.
  6. Train the stakeholders in the use of the enhancement (in both the input and output stages).
  7. Evaluate the benefits obtained after the event with respect to those stated in stage 3. 
It would be great if the above methodology could be reduced to a catchy acronym; IDPEITE doesn't really roll off the tongue. 

Should I change the direction of the research proposal to use the above, the research methodology which I have proposed so far - grounded theory - goes out of the window. One of the important tenets of grounded theory is that there be no a priori theory; to my surprise, I have now delineated a methodology in advance! A qualitative approach is still possible, asking how organisations carry out each stage in the methodology. What worries me at the moment is that proposing such a methodology in advance means that the research would be looking for support; I'm not phrasing this well (most of this blog is me 'thinking on the page'), but it's almost a hypothesis based theory. Or ... the above theory could be developed on the basis of the user interviews.

I will leave this entry as it is, but it is clear (at least to me) that my next step is reviewing doctoral theses which propose a theory and seeing which methodology they use.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hersonissos

I confess: I was one of the 2-3 million Israelis who took advantage of the extended holiday period and nipped abroad for a long weekend. This was very much a last minute event; we had asked our son what he wanted for his 25th birthday: originally this was going to be a mobile computer but then he changed his mind and asked for a few days abroad. Our agent found a reasonably cheap package deal to Crete, staying in Hersonissos, but something went wrong with the hotels, so we ended up booking our own hotel.

Hersonissos is a town on the northern coast of Crete, about half an hour away from the airport of Heraklion. There isn't that much to do there, which makes it an ideal destination for a long weekend, but not a good one for a longer stay. With hindsight, there is no real reason why we had to stay there once the package deal broke down. We chose to stay in the Infinity Blue boutique hotel which was a very nice place to stay - very close to the beach, beautifully designed, good breakfasts and helpful staff.


We arrived at about 12 pm on Friday: after some unpacking, we went to look for a place to eat. Coming out of the hotel, we turned right, which turned out to be a mistake - the sea was on the left. We found our way to a dusty street which we took to be the main road of Hersonissos - obviously this was hunger talking. It seems that every third shop was hiring out vehicles, every third shop was a tourist agency and those left over were gift shops. After eating, we returned to the hotel to get organised better. I went out for a walk, turning left, and discovered not only the beach but also the promenade from the Port of Hersonissos. There were plenty of people about, but it wasn't particularly crowded. After having a mint chocolate ice cream at one stand (good, but not as good as Italy), I returned to the hotel to relay my news. In the evening, we ate in the hotel's dining room, where a buffet meal with many options is served. This costs 10 euro per head, which is quite reasonable, although all drinks (including water) are extra.


The next morning I woke early, so I went out and filmed the empty streets, getting a better idea of how everything was laid out. After a very full breakfast, we rode on the 'tourist train', which makes a big circuit around Hersonissos and out to outlying hotels and villages. The ride lasts nearly two hours, which is a bit too long, although this is in order to include as many stopping points as possible (some are quite some way out of town). We discovered what is the main 'strip' of Hersonissos, not too far from the promenade, but not particularly interesting. I had filmed a great deal of our trip, which included being passed by a lorry in a very narrow space, but when I came to look at the footage, it turned out that I had missed a press on the record button. This means that I stopped recording when I wanted to start, and started when I wanted to stop. As a result, I filmed the inside of my bag very thoroughly. No wonder the camera was very hot.


We had a fish lunch at one of the beach-side restaurants which took forever to be cooked. The meal was good but not astounding. After this, my son and wife wanted to go to the beach, although I demurred as I wasn't feeling too well (I think that the train ride might have dehydrated me). After a lay-down, I too went to the beach, when it wasn't too hot and even went into the sea. The water was cold, but more annoying was the sea floor, which was rocky and treacherous. I slipped on it a few times before immersing myself and swimming a little; I found it easier to swim into the sea than return to the beach. In the evening, we ate again in the hotel restaurant - quieter and more sympathetic than the beach restaurants. The dining room is on the top of the hotel and allowed a good view of the neighbourhood, which is how we discovered that the next door hotel was having a Greek folklore evening. We were able to watch the dancing from our table.


On the third morning, we set out to buy souvenirs; having completed this task, we were then set upon by a series of buggies roaring out from a garage. My son had wanted to hire a buggy but we had demurred as he wouldn't have known where to go and could possibly get lost (he thought differently). This sight inspired us to enter the rental shop and enquire about the possibility of a guide; in two seconds, they arranged a trip for us from 14:00-16:30 with a guide. The buggies have only two seats, which should mean that we would need two buggies, but I knew that all the bumping around would prevent me from enjoying the trip and so I opted out. While the other half of the family rode around the hills behind Hersonissos, I had a massage in the hotel spa. They enjoyed themselves much more than I did!

In the evening, we once again ate in the hotel: tonight we had fish and chips! Possibly in emulation of the other hotels, we also had live entertainment, with a trio (singer, guitarist and drums) playing a variety of songs. This was mildly enjoyable, the minor problem being that I could barely make out a word that the singer sang. The major problem was that the drummer had a very inappropriate crash cymbal which he played every four bars; the sustain on the crash was quite long and basically ruined the sound. My wife concurred. I'm surprised that the musicians seemed oblivious to this.

On the final morning, we took a taxi to the 'centre' of Hersonissos, which was a mistake. We were there too early and the shops had yet to open. We decided to return to the beach area, so we walked down a road - and I realised that I knew exactly where we were: at the end of the walk which I had taken the first day. With serendipity, there was a shop selling children's clothing on that small road, so we waited a few minutes for the shop to open then found some dresses for our grand-daughter. We then stopped at one of the shops which sells t-shirts "with your own design", so we had a white t-shirt made with a picture of our grand-daughter. I wonder how she will react to this.

Eventually we left the hotel just after 12 pm; a short taxi ride deposited us back in the Heraklion airport. After waiting a while, we were eventually processed; just after passport control, the checkers found the raki and olive oil which my wife had bought earlier in the morning in her hand luggage - forbidden! This was swiftly thrown away. In the duty free shop, we bought similar items, although more expensive. This is a lesson to be learned: do not store liquids in one's hand luggage!!!!

The flight to Ben Gurion lasted about an hour and a half, but it took us even longer to get home. First, half of the suitcases took a long time to emerge on the carousel; secondly, my son had problems in getting to the remote car-park where we had parked our car on Friday morning. Finally, there was a traffic jam on the way to Jerusalem. Eventually we got home.

Now we're unpacking and I am writing this belated blog entry.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A kibbutz day

I didn't work yesterday, as the evening was the first night of the Succot festival - office workers don't normally work on such days; the day is deducted from our holidays. Even so, I was up at 5:30 am, walked the dog and went to the kibbutz mini-market to buy some dairy products; two people said how much they enjoyed my song at the Yom Kippur evening.

After that, I went to the Occupational Psychologist, where I worked for a few hours programming bonuses into their 'ERP' program. I had programmed a module which allows a percentage bonus provided that certain criteria had been met; unfortunately the OP promised a psychologist a bonus which couldn't be expressed as a percentage (two different activities having different increases). So I figured out a way of allowing this and then programmed what was necessary. I had problems checking what I had written due to a rather stupid mistake; once that was corrected, I verified that my code was correct.

Then it was to the kibbutz graveyard for the funeral of a member aged 87. We had worked in the same office during the 90s and had remained in contact ever since, although in the past few months his illness had prevented him getting about. I had heard the news the day before and immediately wrote a small eulogy which I hoped I would be able to read at the funeral; I have never done this before, mainly because I've never been that close - or felt that much contact - with the deceased. When we got to the graveyard, I informed the organiser - the man who reads whatever prayers are said and tells the life story of the deceased - that I wanted to speak; he was only too pleased. I discovered why later on: after the immediate family spoke, another elderly kibbutz member rambled for a while, then I was 'on'. My short eulogy was very well received. And that was it, apart from one distant relative. Thinking about it later, I was quite surprised at the few people outside of the family who spoke. Several more people approached me before the funeral, saying how much they enjoyed my song (see first paragraph).

The sons and daughter were very touched by what I had to said and thanked me after the funeral. I have just returned from the traditional condolence visit and they thanked me once more, even though I protested that I had said virtually nothing.

As mentioned at the beginning, the evening was the first evening of Succot, with a short ceremony, a communal meal and light activities planned. We received a message in the morning that the bereaved family wanted the evening to take place as planned, although as a mark of respect, the jugglers have been postponed until Friday. So we sat on the lawn outside of the kibbutz dining room - once a frequent activity, now sadly rare - and waited for the ceremony to begin.

There was a small musical group - acoustic guitar, tenor recorder and three singers - who sang three or four songs throughout the ceremony. They were passable, but wearing my record producer's hat, I felt that there was so much that they could do to improve their performance with only a little effort. The guitarist was so-so; he should learn how to play with syncopation. The recordist is very good (she's a music therapist) but she played the tunes along with the singers which is a total waste! She could have played an introduction, then played fills when the singers weren't singing. And if she had to play when the singers sung, then at least she should have played a harmony line instead of doubling the tune. The singers weren't bad (they weren't wonderful either) and every now and then one even sang harmonies; this could have been timed better to make the harmonies stand out (for example, singing the first chorus in unison then singing harmonies on the second chorus, or singing one line in unison followed by one line in harmony). The problem is how to tell them. I don't come into contact with any of them so it's a bit difficult to even get to point of telling them how to improve. 

A few more people told me how much they enjoyed my song and told me how well I play and sing. Doesn't anyone realise that I didn't play a note? The computer made the music, although I wrote the notes. I don't remember many problems when singing, although I did correct the singing via software. I also added a harmony via software on one line. I wonder whether any of the people mentioned in the previous paragraph were at the Yom Kippur evening; they would have heard that I know how to arrange a song. I think that I will make a copy of my last cd for one of the singers - he's been abroad for several years but was here at the end of 2013 and said something complementary to me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Another end to headaches

I once wrote a blog entry entitled 'An end to headaches', which was somewhat presumptuous as this year I have suffered from a large number of headaches. It got to the stage that I would take half a pill of sumatriptan at 9 am every morning in order to treat the headache which was just starting (it's very strange but I could set my clock by this). So I went to my doctor and asked for prophylactic (i.e. preventative) treatment.

At first I was prescribed propranolol, which is the primary medication used to prevent migraine. The dosage was to be 80 mg slow release per day, but the doctor initially prescribed  a smaller dosage of 10 mg three times a day in order to acclimatise me to the medication, which is a beta-blocker and leads to reduced pulse and/or blood pressure. I lasted three days on this regime: on the third, I was so tired and apathetic that I realised that I couldn't continue with it.

It took a month and another spate of concentrated migraines for me to return to the doctor. This time he prescribed a medication which is not used so much these days: amitryptiline. The wiki entry begins "[this] is a medicine used to treat a number of mental illnesses", which sounds very daunting. It is prescribed in dosages of 250 mg/day when used for treating mental illness. My dosage is a mere 10 mg/day. The major side effect is that my mouth gets dry during the morning; apparently it can also lead to weight increase, and it is true that I seem to be hungry all the time (about half a kilo has been added to my weight). Somewhere I read that 'success in treating migraines' means that the incidence is decreased by 50%, which is not very encouraging, but it's better than nothing.

The first week with this medication didn't bring any improvement (this would have been the last week in August); the next week I was ill with a presumed viral infection - I never get migraines when this happens. And since then ... nothing. I had a slight headache last Thursday but it only started in the evening and didn't affect me very much.

So it really does seem that migraines are a thing of the past. I'm hoping that this is the way things will be in the future. Of course, whilst writing this, I felt a familiar tickle at the back of my head, so I think I'll take half a sumatripan just to be safe.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The 'Check-field' trigger

To quote the documentation, the 'check-field' trigger performs verification checks on a value specified for a form column, and so potentially can be very useful. In forms which are concerned with sales, the status of a given part is checked to see that the 'sellflag' is marked, i.e. the part can be sold to customers. In one specific form, no such check was performed and it was my job to define the required trigger.

There is one very important rule to remember for 'check-field' triggers: do not rely on any form variables! This is because the field has yet to be exited and so other fields have yet to receive any values. An example might help: as soon as a valid part number has been entered, other fields such as price and the internal part number itself get their values. But these fields are empty when 'check-field' is operating.

So how does one get the value of the current field? One uses the special variable :$.@. Thus the trigger which I finally wrote last night looks like this:
ERRMSG 9000 FROM PARTSTATS, PART WHERE PARTSTATS.PARTSTAT = PART.PARTSTAT AND PARTSTATS.SELLFLAG <> 'Y' AND PART.PARTNAME = :$.@;
I use the concise syntax ('errmsg X from ...') which I discussed here.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Relaxing foliage

I spent most of Yom Kippur morning on our balcony, surrounded by foliage. My mind had been empty for quite some time (I had done all the mea culpa stuff the evening before); hearing birds reminded me of a very long instrumental which I had once created called 'Soft'. A bit later, I drifted into thinking that I could create a video which would accompany this piece of music. I had been listening the day before to a very long piece of 'relaxing saxophone music' but had not seen the video; I imagine that it was very basic if there were any moving pictures at all. So I realised that shots of the various trees surrounding our balcony would make good accompaniment for the music. If I were lucky, I would film some birds as well.

Of course, as soon as I started filming, the birds all disappeared, but watching the footage later, I spotted a bird in the background. Later on, I saw a bird on one of the outer branches of one of the trees, so I filmed it until the bird flew away.

Putting the clips together to make a film was much easier than my previous attempt, as of course I had no singing to synchronise. Still, I had to go through every clip, checking that it was ok - I had to cut a couple of sections out of two clips as these showed sights which I didn't want to include. Then I had to trim everything so that the film ends with the bird flying away - as the music ends. I discovered that there is a 'slow motion' effect which I applied to the final seconds, but it isn't slow enough.

The film can be seen here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Train journey to Karmiel

I have mentioned in the past traveling to the northern town of Karmiel, where my company has a very big factory. It has always been very hard to get there, and the journey takes several hours, depending on where someone collects me from the railway. Over the past few years, Israel Railways has been building a new line to Karmiel (obviously for the benefit of the residents in the area, not for me), which was opened a few days ago. As it happens, I had to go to Karmiel yesterday, so I was able to travel on the new line.

Obviously it is more comfortable than before - people used to pick me up either in Haifa or Akko and then take me to Karmiel by car; I would suffer during this journey from the heat - but in a sense, all that has happened is that the problem stage has been moved from Haifa/Akko to Karmiel. The train station is about 6 km from where the factory is, so someone has to collect me from the new station and take me to the factory, which is on the other side of Karmiel. Yes, there are buses, but these are much slower than a car. The journey itself took 3 hours going and 2.5 hours coming back (I had to change trains twice when going but only one coming back, and the second train arrived two minutes after the first train dropped me in Tel Aviv) so there is definitely a saving of time here. But most of those savings were lost in waiting for someone to collect me in the morning or take me to the station in the afternoon. These are problems which will have to be resolved.

The station in Karmiel is luxurious and well-planned - they don't have a problem of space! I was pleasantly surprised to see many people traveling on this line: people have adopted it immediately.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Jewish New Year/A death in the family/My first video clip

The Jewish New Year fell on Wednesday evening, which is very good timing for most Israelis as it means that we have a very long weekend, Wednesday - Saturday; we will have the same in another two weeks time and again in three weeks time.

I have tried to make good use of this time: I worked several hours as a Priority consultant (from home, developing a complicated program) and I worked four hours for the Occupational Psychologist. I worked for one hour on my research proposal, adding a certain amount of material, but I was supposed to add a page or two about grounded theory. I'll try to do this during the coming week.

I also cooked every day - salmon, chicken portions, a whole chicken and meatballs. I managed to burn my mouth with roast potatoes on the first night, which made eating the next day problematic. Fortunately the mouth heals itself.

On Thursday we went to Netanya to visit one of my wife's uncles: he went swimming in the sea two weeks ago and suffered some form of heart attack as he was getting out of the sea. This caused him to collapse, and although the water was less than knee-high, he managed to swallow a fair amount of seawater. The lifeguard pulled him out immediately, and fortunately there was a doctor on the beach who also helped. The ingested seawater caused a lung infection which was treated in the hospital. When we saw him, he was much better, and was laughing and joking with us. The following day another uncle informed us that he had died that morning. The funeral will be tomorrow.

The kibbutz has a tradition of hosting a special evening on Yom Kippur where people read poems or stories, or sing songs which are very meaningful. I don't know exactly what happens as I fast on Yom Kippur and am never in the mood for such an evening. A few years ago, I prepared a disc with my version of an Israeli song which means a great deal to me. Apparently this was well received. I had been intending to prepare another song for this year, but when walking the dog a few nights ago, I thought that it would be even better if I could prepare a video of me 'performing' the song.

I've never done anything like this before and don't really have the necessary tools. I made a rough storyboard of how the video would run, each part corresponding to a different part in the song. Originally I thought that I would have to film the entire song four or five times, each time in a different setting, so that eventually I could take the parts which I wanted, but later I realised that I only needed to film each intended segment and then build the final video from each segment.

This morning I enlisted my wife as camera-person; she wasn't familiar with the song which became problematic as she didn't know when each segment was supposed to start. Nevertheless, after about an hour and twenty three segments (only eleven are required: certain segments had to be filmed several times whereas others were filmed only once), the hard part - or so I thought - was over.

After lunch, I started editing the segments. In the past, I have made movies of our holidays, but in those cases, the music was edited (if at all) to fit the action. This time around, I had to edit the film to fit the music and this was exceedingly difficult. I was able to synchronise the segments in which I am singing, but several of the instrumental parts are unsynchronised - at least to my eyes. There must be a better way of doing this for otherwise I doubt whether I will try again.

The video can be found here.

Tomorrow it's back to work for a full and normal week.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Literature review - I don't believe this!

One of the early problems which I faced in finding papers suitable for review in my doctoral thesis is that ERP has several meanings: Enterprise Resource Planning is the meaning that I use, but the acronym also stands for Event Related (brain) Potential. When searching for material with Google Scholar, it is best to use the full name rather than the acronym, otherwise one gets results which are connected to research about nerves.

Checking one recent paper, I came across this gem in its literature review (Orougi, S. : "Recent advances in enterprise resource planning", Accounting (1), 2015, 37-42): According to Armstrong et al. (2015), the human brain continually creates electrical potentials representing neural communication and they can be computed at the scalp, and constitute the electroencephalogram (EEG). They used different pattern classifiers to ERPs representing the response of individuals to a stream of text designed to be familiar to various individuals. They reported that there were robustly identifiable features of the ERP, which enable labeling of ERPs. Bueno and Salmeron (2008) concentrated on decisive factors affecting on the ERP users’ acceptance and implementation. They developed a technique based on the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) for examining the effect of the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) on ERP implementation.

From Bueno and Salmeron onwards, the ERP referred to is the type of ERP which interests me, but the first half of the paragraph is about a different meaning of ERP! How come the journal's editors never spotted this?

From the above, it can be inferred that I am working again on my research proposal; at the moment I am looking at definitions of 'success' with regard to ERP programs in general and enhancements in particular (no one seems to have researched this latter topic). This is in response to remarks made by my new mentor; I have to admit that I find it very difficult to understand what he is getting at. This isn't helped by remarks such as "while you again say you do not understand what I am saying to you, you do not specify what it is". It seems that there is mutual incomprehension; I am trying to read between the lines as much as possible but it is very difficult. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interface for importing XML files into Priority

Today, I learnt how to create an interface which imports XML files into Priority. Although there is some mention of XML files in the documentation, as usual this is so opaque as to be useless. But I found an existing interface and the file which it reads (conversion rates for foreign currencies), and it took about five minutes of study to figure out how the interface is designed.

Here's an XML file which I successfully imported:
(Order) (CustName)8100(/CustName) (Ref)PO170851(/Ref) (Reqdate)13/10/17(/Reqdate) (OrderItems) (OrderItem) (PartName)11335384BLKOF250S(/PartName) (Quant)2(/Quant) (UnitPrice)900(/UnitPrice) (Discount)50.0(/Discount) (DueDate)12/10/17(/DueDate) (/OrderItem) (OrderItem) (PartName)42103(/PartName) (Quant)1(/Quant) (UnitPrice)0.0(/UnitPrice) (Discount)50.0(/Discount) (DueDate)12/10/17(/DueDate) (/OrderItem) (/OrderItems) (/Order) ... round brackets should be replaced by angle brackets
The interface is designed, as usual, in the Form Load Designer (path: System Management > Database Interface > Form Load (EDI) > Form Load Designer). There is no load table, so the field 'file name' should contain the path to the xml file. Most importantly, the field 'File Type' must be X. Once the header has been defined, it is paramount to run the procedure 'Prepare XML tags by File Defs'; as far as I can see, this procedure loads the file and builds a small database of possible tags. This 'database' will be accessed in a later step.

Then, like a regular interface, one defines the screens and fields into which data is to be inserted. Using the above example, data will be added into the ORDERS screen (customer orders), fields custname, reference and tec_prdate (the field names don't have to match the tags), and into the ORDERITEMS screen, fields partname, quantity, unit price, discount and due date. The catch - for which we need the 'tags database' - is that the correct tag has to be entered into the sub-form 'Definition of XML tags': for example, the custname field is read via the tag Order/CustName, and the part number ordered is read via the tag Order/OrderItems/OrderItem/PartName.

All of this implies that the XML file has to exist before the interface can be created. It's not clear to me at the minute how an XML file could be created by the interface if none exists in advance; presumably the program uses the XML tags to create a file, but these tags don't exist until they are read by the 'Prepare XML tags'. Hmmmm. Fortunately, I only need to read XML files, not create them.

I have been sent an XML file, parts of which look like this:

(Preferences)
(document aliasset="" pdmweid="52034") (configuration name="Default") (attribute name="Part Number" value="CLM-054-080000"/) (attribute name="Reference Count" value="2.0"/) (/configuration) (/document)
I get the feeling that I won't be able to read this file.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Exchanging warning and error messages in Priority

A strange situation cropped up yesterday afternoon: someone was trying to do something in a certain screen and the action resulted in an error message, thus preventing the user from continuing. When I tried the same action, I received only a warning message and was able to proceed. The difference between the two is that a warning message has two buttons - 'cancel' and 'ok' - whereas an error message has only the 'ok' button.

I tried tracing the error this morning: eventually I found the error message, but I couldn't figure out why two users had differing responses. I couldn't find any flag in the 'users' table which might explain the difference.

After opening a service request, I discovered something new (or maybe something which I once knew and then forgot): it is possible to exchange warning and error messages. In order to do this, one had to open the 'Privilege Explorer' and navigate to the required screen. Once there, one presses the right hand button on the mouse and a context menu pops up; there is an option which I've never used called 'Form Warning Messages'. This option displays all the warning/error messages defined within the given screen. Double clicking on a message enables the administrator to change the status of the message.

It transpires that the specific message had been upgraded from a warning message to an error message for this user (and quite possibly, correctly so for the error was concerned with the creation of negative inventory). It was a simple matter to change this.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

A legacy of spies/2 : How old is George Smiley?

As far as I am concerned, the most egregious mistake in 'Legacy' is the appearance of the legendary George Smiley at the end of the book. How old is Smiley?

The first chapter in the very first book of Le Carré ('Call for the dead') is entitled 'A brief history of George Smiley'. Here we read Some time in the twenties when Smiley had emerged from his unimpressive school and lumbered blinking into the murky cloisters of his unimpressive Oxford College ... On a sweet July morning in 1928, a puzzled and rather pink Smiley had sat before an interviewing board of the Overseas Committee for Academic Research. So: Smiley completed his degree in 1928, meaning that he was born around 1907.

'The honourable schoolboy', which is the second part of the retro-styled 'Karla trilogy' states that ... the true genesis was Haydon’s unmasking by George Smiley and Smiley’s consequent appointment as caretaker chief of the betrayed service, which occurred in the late November of 1973. This gives the date for 'Tinker, tailor', making Smiley about 67 years old at the time. This is reasonable.

'The spy who came in from the cold' has to take place after the Berlin Wall was erected in late 1961; 'Legacy' contains an account of the 'trial' which takes place in November 1962. 'Legacy' itself starts as a verbal account by Smiley's sidekick, Peter Guillam, who says on the opening page "What matters to him [a professional intelligence officer] is the extent to which he is able to suppress them [human feelings], whether in real time, or in my case, fifty years on" [emphasis mine]. This dates 'Legacy' to about 2011 ... at which time George Smiley would be 104 years old!!! Even dropping ten years off his age in the reboot 'Tinker, tailor' would make him 94 years old ... very unlikely to be still researching in Swiss libraries.

Narrator Guillam's timeline is also problematic: 'Legacy' has him aged 8 at the end of World War 2, which means that he was born around 1937. 'Call for the dead' takes place in 1961, and Guillam is duty officer on the first night of the story - at the tender age of 24. This doesn't leave much time for his training and active service abroad. Also, it seems unlikely that he would have been advanced at such a tender age to the position of trust which he occupies in the historic parts of 'Legacy'. On the other hand, the present time of 'Legacy' would have him aged about 75, which would make him slightly too old for the physical feats which he considers. Some of these problems could have been alleviated by setting the present day parts of 'Legacy' in 1995 or even 2000.

There is something else in the book whose significance escaped me the first time I read it - the episode in which Guillam befriends Liz Gold before she starts working in the library where she will meet Alex Leamas. I'm not sure exactly what the point of this is: it might be that the Circus was setting up Gold to meet Leamas - but elsewhere it states that Gold had been working in the library for several months before Leamas turned up, which implies that the planning had been in motion for quite some time. This part simply does not ring true and seems an unnecessary embroidery. I will have to read it again - when I am not running a fever - to see whether there is something that I have missed.

Basically, what I am saying about this book is that apart from its enjoyment factor, casting light on the background of an operation (this part is truly fascinating), author Le Carré seems not to have done his homework, and in the attempt to add interest has added things which are demonstrably incorrect. Presumably not every one reads the books with such an analytical mind.

Correcting something which I wrote before, according to 'The spy who came in from the cold', Karl Riemeck worked in the secretariat of the Praesidium of the East German Communist Party, and was codenamed Mayfair. This jibes with what is written in 'Legacy'.

I am not the only person who has commented on George Smiley's age. Author Le Carré says in a recent interview "he’s [Smiley] said all he has to say. Also, he’s about 120".

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A legacy of spies

Taking advantage of a viral infection (headache, sneezing, sore throat and weakness), I had the time to read the new John le Carré book, "A legacy of spies", today. I will have to read it again in order to more fully appreciate it, but already there are several items which make reading it difficult. The book is presented as a prequel to 'The spy who came in from the cold', and also 'Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy'. This book is definitely a prequel to the earlier book, basically examining the decision process in launching Alex Leamas' attempt to discredit Mundt (you'll have to read the book to find out who these people are), but connections to the later book are tenuous. I reread 'The spy who came in from the cold' earlier today, as I don't know this too well.

As a dedicated Le Carré watcher, there are several points which differ between the original book and this one:
  • The time scale: 'The Spy' is set in 1962 whereas 'Tinker Tailor is set in 1973. I very much doubt that Control et al. had their doubts about a traitor in 1961, before the events of 'The Spy'.
  • Karl Riemack in 'The Spy' is secretary of the GDP Secretariat; here he is a medical doctor. This is a very important plot point.
  • The butcher which Alec Leamas attacks in 'The Spy' has now become a grocer.
  • Jim Prideaux (and Bill Haydon) went to Oxford University, not Cambridge.
I am sure that there are a few more things, but they don't stick out. The second point above is the most important, but it shows that no copy editor performed due diligence on the book. 

Now to bed to rest for a few hours.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Casualty - one (tv series)

I've been watching the BBC TV series 'Casualty' since 2008; this programme is characterised as a 'medical drama', even though it borders on being a soap opera. The definition of the latter is 'a serial drama on television or radio that examines the lives of many characters, usually focusing on emotional relationships to the point of melodrama'; 'Casualty' seems to escape this definition by focusing as much on the patients arriving at the emergency room as the ER's staff. It is also a weekly drama whereas most 'soaps' are daily.

Over the years, the quality of the scripts and stories has naturally varied, although normally a high standard is maintained. Lately, the story arc has been somewhat uninteresting, or maybe drawn out too long, which has been disappointing, but every now and then there is a very good episode.

Yesterday we watched the closing episode of series 31, "One". The title of this episode has nothing to do with the stories contained within, but rather refers to the fact that the entire episode consists of one shot, with no editing. It took me a few minutes to pick up on this fact. As the trivia for this episode says, The whole of this episode was filmed as one single, unedited take on a single camera, following events around the Casualty department in real time as they happened. It placed great demands on the professionalism and skills of the cast and crew, since it was filmed as-live. During rehearsals it was found that, even using the lightest camera that gave acceptable picture quality, the camera operator became tired during the 48-minute single take, causing his hands (and therefore the shot) to begin to shudder. To avoid this, they perfected a technique of one camera operator handing the camera to another one while filming without this being noticeable.

I have often wondered how the episodes are filmed: do they film complete story-lines within each episode then edit them together? Are several episodes filmed continuously then edited? Multi-camera? However the episodes are filmed, I have to doff my hat at the technical excellence of this episode (the story lines were so-so). I also wonder about how they managed to record the dialogue so well: sometimes people could be heard talking when they were almost off-screen, then walked into the shot. Presumably this was handled in post-production. Assuming that everyone had a personal microphone, they were very well hidden. Some people's costumes (mainly scrubs) didn't leave much room for a microphone, however small it may be.

There's more details in this interview: To ensure filming went as smoothly as possible, the cast and crew had three weeks to rehearse, practicing scenes in blocks before piecing the episode together until it could be shot seamlessly ... The camera even goes within a moving ambulance, and at one point the cameraman was hooked up to a harness and thrown over a balcony to get the right shot.

Another interview with actress Amanda Mealing casts a little more light on the production process: "... I sit down with my scripts and read through my scenes for the week ahead. Sometimes we film four or five different episodes of Casualty in a week, so I need to know my lines".

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The DVD recorder returns!

After an extremely long wait (it took me a week to take the DVD from my house to my son-in-law's, a 200 metre walk, it took him over a week to take the DVD to the repair shop, it took them nearly two weeks to make the repair and then another week for my son-in-law to collect the machine...), the DVD recorder has now been reinstalled at home. I made the wrong connections at first but afterwards sorted everything out, so now the television can display either directly from Yes Max (tivo) or from the DVD, which can record from Yes Max. I have yet to connect the old video recorder to the dvd as I am lacking a cable for this. There isn't much justification for this as there are very few videos which I want to transfer to dvd and haven't done so yet.

I have a large backlog of programmes to be recorded: the second season of 'Madam Secretary' (this will be 22-23 episodes!), the ninth series of 'New Tricks' (eight episodes), a four part series about children's literature, 'Sing Street', 'Bird on a wire' and probably a few other programmes. I can record a 40 minute programme early in the morning - between me getting up and leaving for work - but the films and longer programmes will have to wait for the weekend.

This machine is going to see some heavy work over the next few weeks.