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:

(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".