Monday, April 30, 2018

The Americans

At the same time (the end of 2017) that our satellite TV supplier denied us the 'BBC Entertainment' channel, it also gave us access to a new channel, 'Yes Edge'. Most of the programmes broadcast on this channel do not interest me, but one ('The Americans') very much does. I think that I read about this programme several years ago, so when it began being broadcast here, I knew that it was something that I would want to watch.

For those too lazy to check the Wiki reference, 'The Americans' is about a seemingly normal American family, normal except for the facts that the parents are in fact Russian spies and apparently for some time their marriage was one of convenience, or should I say 'cover'. These spies are known as 'illegals' as they operate outside the safety net of the Russian embassy. The worst than can happen to a 'legal' spy is that he gets expelled from the country (PNGed, or persona non grata, as it is known in diplomatic circles). An illegal is literally illegal, and if caught would probably face life imprisonment - if not swapped for a similar person on the other side. Gordon Lonsdale is probably the most famous Russian illegal spy, who worked in Britain during the 1960s. George Blake and Kim Philby probably did more damage, but they were moles.

Being a Le Carré groupie (or a fan of 'stale beer' spy fiction), I can say quite conclusively that in real life, there are much fewer deaths than as portrayed in this series. I suspect that the number of blackmails and 'honey traps' is probably underestimated. Of course, the best agent is one who is unwittingly supplying information, or allows access to secrets.

But 'The Americans' is much more than a spy drama, complete with tradecraft and loose ends; it's a true drama about the protagonists (Philip and Elizabeth Jennings; is it mere coincidence that their names are the same as a more famous couple, Queen Elisabeth II and Prince Philip?), their unwitting family and their friends (not coincidentally, their neighbour is an FBI agent engaged in counter-espionage; I don't think much of his department). Originally fairly conscience free, the protagonists grow a conscience, especially during season five.

A much better take than mine on the series can be found here. I don't wholly agree with it, and anyway it was written before the fifth series, which as I note above, changed the protagonists' attitude somewhat. Literate episode synopses can be found here.

The TV channel began by showing episodes daily, five a week. By a neat coincidence, five series were broadcast in this manner, and so these terminated in the 13th week of the year, which was a few weeks ago. The sixth - and final - series began a few weeks ago, at the same time as its broadcast in America, on a weekly schedule. There is no way that we could find the time to watch an episode a day; we usually manage three episodes on a Saturday afternoon/evening. As a result, episodes were piling up, waiting to be watched (as I have mentioned before, we have a machine which records the programmes until we watch them; this is not the DVD recorder). At one stage we were over a season and a half behind the current programs. On Saturday, though, we watched the final episodes of season 5, so now we have only a few episodes of season 6 to watch. Possibly in two weeks we will have exhausted the backlog, only for the series to end....

On the other hand, "Madam Secretary" had a long break; originally a few episodes from episode 4 were screened, then the channel started broadcasting all the episodes again from the first series, again on a daily basis. Only lately have new episodes been broadcast, but these are on an irregular schedule.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

DBA update

I see that I last wrote on this topic four weeks ago. Since then, there have been quite a few changes. As I noted then, I spent a few days of the Passover holiday 'bulking up' the literature review. After a few days break, I started work on expanding the introduction and the methodology chapters, ending up with a document about 50 pages long; I sent this to my supervisor a week ago.

A few days ago, I received another letter from my supervisor; I characterised this as containing some sage advice, some points which I don't yet understand, and some things which left me baffled. The 'baffled' group includes formatting remarks (e.g. don't use 'Ibid'), remarks about topics which I have covered (e.g. I am forced to use opportunistic sampling) and a few other similar remarks.

The sage advice was about 'horizontal' software and SME flexibility. I had written on the first page of the introduction At first glance, it would seem that EEM is merely a special case of Engineering Change Management (ECM); whilst there are similarities, there are also significant differences which will be discussed in the critical review section of the literature survey. The management of feature development within 'horizontal' programs (those which are applicable to a wide variety of usages) such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel might seem similar, but again there are distinct differences.

My supervisor suggested expanding on the second sentence of that paragraph, so I embarked on another hunt for literature on the subject of 'horizontal' software. It took me some time to find suitable search terms, but when I did, I found several papers which I can write about. I wrote a page over the weekend, but I have plenty more to write about. The more important part of what I have to write will be in the literature synthesis, where I can write freely about the differences between how I develop code in Priority and how Excel was written. I started off the section by noting that Priority enhancements are akin to writing macros or code in Visual Basic for Excel, as opposed to programming features in Excel. Another difference  occurs to me now: enhancements (and Excel macros) exist only in the user's implementation; another company using Priority would not have those enhancements. Developments made by Microsoft to Excel, or by Priority Software to Priority, exist in all implementations.

I also have some new material on topics which I have previously covered, so the thesis is going to expand by several pages over the next few weeks. Strange as it may seem, the only time I get to work on the thesis is either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning; the latter time slot is often taken up by my grand-daughter.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Programming text screens in Priority

In Priority, there is a special type of form which contains 'HTML text' - this form is like a mini-text editor; the text can have different fonts, different sizes and different colours. As programming such a form is quite difficult, there is a procedure which automatically creates such forms. The new text form has a default name of the parent form + text; for example, the text form for PART (i.e. parts) is called PARTTEXT, and the text form for ORDERS is ORDERSTEXT. Unfortunately, if a main form already has a text form, the procedure will choke and announce that a new text form cannot be created. Thus one has to create the form (and first define the table which will store the text) manually.

The table can be created in about a minute, and creating the new text form should take between ten to fifteen minutes, where one has to copy several triggers from an existing text form. Of course, the triggers have to be edited to reflect the text form's name, but this is simple.

As I was asked to add two new text forms to the ECO screen, I defined two tables (TEST_ECOTEXT1 and TEST_ECOTEXT2) then proceeded to define the screen TEST_ECOTEXT1. This took about ten minutes to do, but when I 'built' (i.e. compiled) the form, I was presented with a series of error messages which didn't make much sense, as they referred to a non-existent screen, TEST_ECOTEXT. 

After wasting an hour trying to figure out what the problem was, it occurred to me that maybe the table name (and hence the screen name) should end with 'TEXT'. I changed the table's name and the form's name to TEST_ECO1TEXT, compiled ... with no errors!

Moral of the story: the name of all text tables/forms must end in TEXT!

Edit from a few months later: my friend Yitzchok came across a similar problem which led us to conclude that my conclusion above was wrong. The real conclusion seems to be 'The name of all tables/forms must not end in a DIGIT'.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New mp3 player

Despite what I wrote here two months ago, the Sansa mp3 player continually began playing from the first song. A new problem appeared: an error message about there not being enough free memory. I found a way to get around this problem, but it became extremely annoying every time I turned on the player to get past this message then click a few hundred times to get to new songs.

I discovered a similar player on Ebay which costs all of $1(!), so I ordered three. I also ordered a new memory card with a capacity of 32GB. The players arrived a few days ago and the memory card today. I copied all the songs from my current memory card to the computer, and from the computer to the new memory card. Fortunately, the computer recognises the mp3 player and memory card as an external disk, so I won't have to extract the card any more.

The player is extremely basic and made from thin plastic, but it does its work. It seems that it came fully charged, but I connected it to the computer to charge, just to be sure. I gave the player a short tryout - the sound is very good, although the headphone socket is a bit dodgy (sometimes I hear stereo, sometimes mono and sometimes phased stereo). After listening to a few songs, I turned the player off; I turned it on again, and it began playing from the same song (good). 

In common with the last pair of headphones (not the noise cancelling ones), playback begins from the beginning of the song. Normally this isn't much of a problem, but I have downloaded a few complete albums from YouTube which means that one has to listen for forty minutes or skip the track in order to hear something else. This won't be a problem with a three hour train journey, but it's annoying while walking the dog. I have received a 'presidential pardon' and so don't have to travel to Karmiel tomorrow; this would have been a good test of the new player.

[SO: 4742; 5, 24, 44
MPP: 1243; 1, 6, 7]

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sandy Denny: 40 years gone

Today we mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Sandy Denny.

I wrote at length on this topic five years ago.

I had some difficulty in finding a suitable photograph to display here. Whilst there are at least a hundred pictures of Sandy to be found on the Internet, a large proportion of these come from the session run by David Bailey for the 'Sandy' album (1972); here Sandy might have been beautiful, but she was also heavily made up. There are pictures from most of the stages of her career, but somehow none seem too suitable. Possibly the best ones are spoiled by her holding a cigarette. The pictures for 'The North Star Grassman' (1971) are good but she had a strange hairstyle which I don't like: the fringe above her eyes was cut too short and too straight. I don't know where the above picture comes from but it looks as if it was taken in 1970 or 1971: the fringe is evident but it looks more natural here. One should remember that Sandy was originally a folk singer and not a model! After no small amount of research, I have discovered that this photograph was taken by Charles Strijd (Holland) in 1972, and can be seen here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

70 years of independence

Although every independence day in Israel is a big issue, this year it's a very big issue as its the 70th anniversary of the declaration of independence. I don't think that there's any particular significance to 70, apart from the fact that it's a decade. As a result, last night we were treated to a richer independence ceremony than we normally have on the kibbutz, including the lighting of seven torches, each representing a different aspect of life.

After the ceremony finished, music was provided for the traditional folk dancing; I mean that providing the music is traditional, whereas some of the dances are most certainly not traditional. Thinking about it later on, the whole tradition of folk dancing is fairly strong in Israel whereas it doesn't seem to be in other countries; even so, I am reminded of the Sunday in Čilipi, Croatia and of our final night in Sorrento, Italy .

I very much enjoyed folk dancing when I was a youngster; I religiously attended the weekly dances during my gap year (1973-4) and after I emigrated (1978-9), but after an episode which began with a wisdom tooth extraction and ending with a period of low blood pressure (1984?), I had to stop. I don't know whether there are currently weekly dances in Bet Shemesh or somewhere else in the vicinity, but it doesn't matter to much as I don't have the time or energy. So my only opportunity to recall my glory years on the dance floor is Independence Day (or evening).

The past few years I've had to pace myself, saving my energy for the fast dances which I know perfectly and skipping those which I half remember or never learned properly in the first place. There are a few dances which are at a walking pace so these are amenable to me.

Last night didn't go exactly to plan: the first dance in which I participated was a very fast dance with a great deal of bouncing on the feet. I learned this dance in 1979 when it was new; I still don't know what it's called. Last night's execution started off fine but at some stage I missed a step or slipped on something, and so careened off to the side as my momentum carried me. Fortunately I didn't crash into anything. My wife, who was watching, asked to where I had disappeared; she didn't notice what happened to me. I should point out that the 'dance floor' is concrete and not level; one year I twisted my ankle when I landed on a rough spot.

Once my stability had returned, it was time for a slow one ("Erev Ba" - it looks like the accompanying picture was taken during this), a dance which I probably learned when I was 12, 50 years ago. Whilst this dance is at a walking pace, it involves several twists and turns; by the end of the dance, I was quite dizzy. After one more slow dance (again with twists and turns), I came to the conclusion that enough was enough. I suspect that the dizziness stems mainly from one of the medicines which I take to lower my blood pressure: I get dizzy if I move from sitting to standing up too fast (this is a known side effect of the medicine; my doctor warned me in advance).

Today we will host the traditional barbecue; last year we were at our son-in-law's family as it was our grand-daughter's first birthday and in past years we have been at my brother in law's, or even at the brother of my brother in law's wife. Naturally I prefer to be at home, even if it means that we bare the brunt of the costs. Normally the roads are choc-ablok on Independence Day, but this has rarely been a problem for us as we generally travel in the 'wrong' direction. City dwellers head for the countryside, where we live, whereas we have headed for the cities.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cookery lesson

Today my grand-daughter helped me cook lunch. In the first picture, we are making meat balls, and in the second, we are covering the tray which holds the meat balls. They came out very tasty.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Apology to Israel Railways

It seems that I was a bit premature in writing yesterday that return train tickets no longer exist. When I was at the Karmiel station prior to returning home, I was in the middle of buying a single ticket when I was approached by one of the staff. As Karmiel is a new station, they have assigned several staff members to help the public in purchasing tickets; one of these approached me.

I asked why it seemed that the automatic ticket machines don't present the possibility of purchasing a return ticket; she said that there does exist the possibility and proceeded to show me how to buy such a ticket, from Karmiel to Bet Shemesh and back. Not only did I get a return ticket, but also because Karmiel is a new station, there is a 50% discount on tickets bought there. As a result, my return ticket cost 53 NIS - exactly the same as my single ticket from Bet Shemesh in the morning! So, the next time that I travel to Karmiel, I don't need to buy a ticket for the journey there; I will buy a return ticket when it's time to return home.

I should point out that I personally don't benefit from this arrangement - my company reimburses me for travel expenses - but I am saving them money (albeit a drop in the ocean).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Troubles with trains

After a few weeks of not traveling, I resumed my regular activities this week: I traveled to Tel Aviv on Sunday and to Karmiel on Wednesday. A few unpleasant surprises awaited me.

Until now, trains from Bet Shemesh to Tel Aviv (and thence to Herzliya) left at one minute to the hour, i.e. 5:59, 6:59, etc. On Sunday, I arrived at the station at 8:50 in order to take the 8:59 train ... only to see the train pulling out as I arrived. It transpires that the trains now leave at ten minutes to the hour (5:50, 6:50, etc). Not only that, there is now an extra stop at Lod Ganei Aviv, which slows the journey by an extra 3 minutes. I also discovered that the train now continues from Herzliya to Netanya, which probably is of no use to people traveling from Bet Shemesh (or Jerusalem) but helps people traveling from Tel Aviv to Netanya. Coming back, the train has been delayed by six minutes, from 16:36 to 16:42; this is helpful as I can now leave our offices in Tel Aviv ten minutes later and still catch the train.

The other surprise is that there seem to be no more return tickets. I used to buy a return ticket to Bnei Barak for 36 NIS; now I need to buy two singles at 45 NIS. True, I could buy 12 tickets for the price of 10 which works out as 37.5 NIS per return journey, but it would take me quite some time to use all those tickets. More importantly, a return ticket to Karmiel used to cost 85 NIS, whereas now two singles will cost 106 NIS; I can buy 12 tickets for the price of ten, giving an effective price of 88.33 NIS, but this means having to pay 530 NIS in advance. Although my company reimburses me for all money which I spend on traveling, the changes means that I would be giving my company a loan of 530 NIS for at least two months. It seems that I will be traveling to Karmiel now only once every other week, so it will take me several months to use those 12 tickets.

So much for reducing ticket prices.

On Sunday, I didn't know in advance that I would be traveling to Tel Aviv (I only found out when I arrived at the office and read my email) which meant that I didn't have my headphones with me. Traveling to Tel Aviv wasn't too bad, but on the return journey, the train was full of football fans who talked non-stop; having no headphones meant that I had to listen to every empty and annoying word. It also occurs to me that there are going to be more passengers on train when it arrives at Tel Aviv University (on the way to Bet Shemesh) which means fewer empty seats. But I will still have an advantage on those who get on the train at the other Tel Aviv stations.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Season of the kumquat

As I've probably mentioned in the past, we have two kumquat trees in the front garden. The fruit is beginning to ripen, so today we decided to pick some fruit. It's very difficult to access the fruit, which is why my wife has this telescopic arm with what amounts to a large pair of scissors at the end. One blade of the scissors is fixed, whereas the second blade is connected to a lanyard. One positions the scissors at the top of a bunch of kumquats, then pulls the lanyard hard, which cuts the branch which allows the kumquats to fall.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The sense of an ending (2)

The television guide showed an interesting film a few days ago, so I decided to record it. When I got around to watching it, something told me just before it began that it was a dramatisation of a novel I once read and wrote about: The sense of an ending, by Julian Barnes.

I quite enjoyed the film, although I was sure that it didn't match my memory of the book. I looked for it on the Kindle in order to refresh my memory, but the book was no more, deleted in the great Kindle disaster of December 2016. It took a few days but eventually I found another copy of the book, and today I read it all the way through.

Although the film was somewhat faithful to its source material, it also added invented material - all the business about the daughter of the protagonist (Tony) being a pregnant lesbian is new. I imagine that this was added to make Tony seem more like a human being. I thought that something had been left out - when Tony spends a weekend at his girlfriend's parents' house - but it turns out that I must have mixed up this story with another, as the incident which I thought took place did not, neither in the book nor in the film.

The film had a nice shot of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, in Bristol, which is without doubt an iconic image from my childhood. The book also mentions going to see the Severn Bore, but that didn't make the film; I saw this a few times, once with my wife.

I want to end with the same words which I wrote six years ago: It's not as if anything specific which happened in the book happened to me in real life (in fact, I would be hard pressed to find anything which happened in the book that also happened to me); it's just that the opening half of the book is, (quoting the Guardian) [a]memoir of "book-hungry, sex-hungry" sixth form days, and the painful failure of his first relationship at university, with the spiky, enigmatic Veronica. It's a lightly sketched portrait of awkwardness and repression. This is something which makes a great deal of sense to me and seems very familiar. I too look back on my formative years from a 30-40 year distance.

Monday, April 02, 2018

DBA update

I received a letter from my supervisor about ten days ago which although encouraging about my work, pointed out that there is not enough of it. He suggested that the introduction be between 15-20 pages long, the literature review 60 pages, the literature synthesis about 10 pages and the methodology (including pilot study and findings) be between 25-30 pages long.

The introduction is currently sixteen pages long, so that's ok. The literature synthesis has to be reorganised, but I think that it eventually will be about 10 pages long. The methodology section doesn't bother me at the moment, although it will be hard to reach the suggested length. The real problem is with the literature review, which was about 15 pages long in the version which my supervisor had. I find it ironic that he is suggesting expanding this chapter, as the first version of the literature review for my first thesis was a staggering 91 pages - clearly too long! I was advised to slim it down to about 20 pages. There is no way that my current literature review will reach 60 pages - maybe this was a typo.

As it is the Passover holiday now, I have several days in which I can work on my thesis. In the days prior to the holiday, I spent some time looking for papers which I can include; yesterday and today I spent several hours writing up those papers. As a result, the literature review is now a shade over 20 pages long. Possibly I can make it longer, but I can't find anything more which was written about the subjects which the thesis is based upon, and I feel that including papers just for the sake of padding out the chapter is diluting of what I am trying to achieve.

Tomorrow I am going to work on the literature synthesis. At the moment, this is several pages long, but written without structure; I would add a paragraph whenever something occurred to me. Thinking about this today whilst walking the dog, I have decided to impose upon this chapter the same structure as the literature review (shown below): this will make it easier to understand and is also likely to make me think about new material.

Subjects in the literature review:
  1. Flexibility of SMEs
  2. Misfits
  3. Enhancements
  4. User resistance
  5. Engineering and Organisational Change Management
  6. Benefits
  7. Inter-departmental cooperation
I used to save copies of my thesis and papers on the FTP server at work, which made it easy to transfer them between my various computers, but this seems to have disappeared again, taking all the files with it. So for the past few weeks, I've been using Google Drive as a transfer mechanism and also as a backup. At first it seemed that I could only access it from home, but later I discovered that I can access it without problem if I am already logged into my Gmail account.

[SO: 4747; 5, 23, 44
MPP: 1175; 1, 6, 7]