December 28, 2008
Eight years of weirdness
So. I'm writing this at 4:04 while borrowing my (ex? current?) girlfriend's couch to sleep on, burrowed into a mix of sleeping bag and blanket, having recently dossed at a mutual friend's apartment over Christmas. Another relationship on the rocks, mostly my fault, and I'll be renting a room - a 4m x 2m room! - from Monday. Since 2002, my square meterage of living space has been declining, with worryingly increasing frequency, scale and quality. By this time next year I'll be living in a sardine tin in the middle of the high street - and sharing it at that. You try telling that to the young people of today; they won't believe you.
My family are also going through a rough time. I won't go into details, because they upset me, but it has not been a great year regarding my family's health.
And money. The situation is improving, but I owe money to family members, and I have promised to repay them soon, but what with the deposit and rent for the room, I'm not able to do so right now.
It's improving because I have a new pharma software contract. I'm hoping I can finagle at least one more in the new year, which would mean the difference between merely surviving and actually being able to indulge in some luxury items, like travel and food. Only joking.
I had no clear plan when I came to Denmark in January 2001. I certainly didn't expect that things would quite turn out like this. I am most happy about the work situation right now - the relationship stuff will get sorted out - or not - and the housing situation will improve with income. I'll be in that room for three months, tops. And it's a nice enough room anyway!
Tomorrow morning I will be heading for Charlie's Bar in Copenhagen to open up for the 12-6pm shift. The brass has to be cleaned, floor mopped, loos cleaned, fresh bottles brought up from the cellar, cask spiles switched from plastic to wood, cash float prepared, grills and doors unlocked, fire extinguisher put behind the bar and beermats put out. Voila! Instant pub. That probably takes 1 1/2 hours, so I have to be there for 10:30 ... more like 5 1/2 hours sleep, I guess.
You can't help but wonder what the next eight years will bring ... I promise, if I am able, to write an update on 28th December 2016 ... wow, that's a long way away ...
I'm going to keep this blog more up-to-date in the New Year, including entries on alternative music in Copenhagen, drinking spots, the biotech and pharma software business and many, many more. I am abrim with potential ...
Thank you for your attention.
December 17, 2008
Nicotine addiction and genetics
At various times of my life, I have smoked cigarettes. I wouldn't classify myself as a smoker, though. I started smoking in 2000, aged 32, then gave it up in early 2001, took it up again in early 2007 and now have given it up again. I don't find it especially difficult not to smoke - mostly, it's the fun of having something to fiddle with and the illicit pleasure of playing with fire, and watching the blue smoke curl lazily through sunlight that I find appealing, rather than any psychopharmacological aspect. However, some people I know - my mother and my ex-girlfriend - are serious smokers. Around two boxes per day. And apparently, as with all these things, there is a genetic basis for it. A liver enzymes known as CYP2A6 is responsible for metabolizing the bulk of nicotine to the inactive metabolite cotinine. However, people with defective copies of the gene which expresses CYP2A6 are significantly less likely to become nicotine addicted (see here and here for details). I would be very interested to find out whether I have the defective gene ...
December 15, 2008
The future will be with you shortly ...
I remember when I used to have trouble writing software. Slow compilers, not enough memory, crap debuggers, slow and small disks. That's pretty much gone away, and as Fred Brooks says, the only remaining obstacles in software development are the programmers themselves.
Sometimes, I take this convergent technology thing for granted. For various reasons, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Copenhagen right now using a Bluetooth connection to my 3G phone to upload this blog entry and do some general web surfing. On a good day, with the wind in the right direction, I can connect through the VPN at home to my Linux server, and talk to the Oracle database on that, and check code in and out of my Subversion repository. Of course, I can also print to my colour LaserJet 1600 via the Samba-share, using CUPS on the server, and remote connect using SSH or VNC (all over the VPN, of course).
Even 10 years ago, this was just a wet dream. We struggled, in the small company I was co-running, to manage with V34 modems, and the for the road warrior, the occasional GSM data card for your laptop, at 9.6kBps, connected to your crappy phone by a wire, and the whole thing was desparately unreliable. CVS ruled supreme, Linux was just rearing its ugly head and LaserJet printers were either black and white or cost £10,000 for dodgy colour.
And still I have trouble writing software.
December 09, 2008
Oliver Postgate has died
I'm very sad to read that Oliver Postgate, creator of, among others, the Clangers and Bagpuss, died yesterday, aged 83. I remember being entranced by Bagpuss, which we watched at school during breaks, trying to guess the identity of the odd, broken items in the shop where Bagpuss and his friends lived.
The Clangers, famously, inspired a moon landing hoax parody site ...
I would be remiss to close this entry with anything other than the end text from Bagpuss:
And when Bagpuss was asleep, All his friends were asleep. The mice were ornaments on the mouse organ. Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls. Professor Yaffle was just an old wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker. Even Bagpuss himself, once he was asleep, was just an old, saggy cloth cat, Baggy, and a bit loose at the seams, But Emily loved him
R.I.P. Oliver Postgate (1925-2008)
Posted by daen at 10:01 AM
Oxygen vs beer
This week's issue of MauiTime Weekly is about local booze. Jacob Shafer, the editor and author of some of the article (and not coincidentally my brother-in-law, hence the reason I'm reading the MauiTime Weekly at all ...) wrote an interesting sidebar on the bottle vs can debate in which the tide appears to be turning in favour of cans. But in my not-so-humble opinion, the bottle vs can debate still really comes down in favour of cans for cheap beer ...
Oxygen is beer's worst enemy—the more that seeps in, and the more CO2 that seeps out, the greater the likelihood of a skunky product.
Now, that may be true for the modern-brewed lager-type beers which tend to dominate the US market, where the the short brewing time and lack of secondary fermentation leads to a need to "push" carbon dioxide into the beer either during bottling/canning or, in a bar, through the keg to the pump in order to give it the fizz that US consumers enjoy. But for quality European-style ales and traditionally-brewed lagers, residual yeast with added sugar ensures secondary fermentation, and this can only occur in the presence of oxygen, yeast being an aerobic organism. Quality bottled ales and lagers will always have a "sediment" at the bottom, which is not some nasty accident but a small amount of that yeast and sugar I mentioned, added during bottling, to keep the beer carbonated and fresh during storage. This means that good bottled beer may last for years, like a bottled wine, as opposed to canned or bottled filtered beer, which has a shelf life of only a few weeks and, when opened (as long as you cover it, refrigerate it and keep the sediment in the bottle), the yeast will keep the beer drinkable for at least a day or two.
As a side note, English-style cask beer, while often derided for being flat and warm, should be neither if it is properly conditioned. At Charlie's Bar in Copenhagen, my favourite watering-hole and, yes (disclaimer), also my part-time employer, we provide beer served via pumps connected to six nine-(Imperial) gallon casks (firkins) stored in a special "cask fridge". Before they are served, the casks are first put into a cask-conditioning unit to lower the temperature from ambient down to around 12.5C. When this temperature is reached, they are "spiled", meaning a wooden peg is hammered into a wax- or plastic-filled hole in the top of the cask to allow oxygen in and wake the yeast up, allowing the secondary fermentation to continue. When a previous cask is emptied in the cask fridge, the spiled cask is brought across to replace it, a tap is hammered into the front of the cask, and the beer pump is connected to serve those thirsty customers. Note that there is no added carbon dioxide at any stage - it's all done with hand pumps and gravity! It's very labour intensive to look after beer in this way, but the end result is a satisfying, tasty, frothy pint at 12.5C - definitely NOT the flat, warm stuff of English legend!
There's details of the Charlie's Bar (patented) cask system here (in .pdf format) and the Charlie's facebook page is here. At the time of writing, there are two Christmas beers (Batemans "Rosey Nosey" at 4.9% and Cotleigh "Red Nose Reinbeer" at 4.5%) and one Porter (Archers "Black Jack" Porter at 5.5%), along with three "standard" ales (St Austell "Proper Job" at 4.5%, Batemans "XXXB" at 4.8% and Harveys "Armada Ale" at 4.5%).
Banking vs uranium mining
A long time ago, I used to work in financial IT - writing software for bankers, that kind of thing. Then, I had an idea that I could be a small businessman. I ended up with a small fortune. Unfortunately, I'd started off with a large one, so it was back to London for me. I liken working in IT for banks in London to working down a uranium mine:
1. you don't want to get too close to the stuff or think too much about what it'll be used for
2. it's smelly, dirty and you spend most of your life buried underground, away from the sun, and you really need a shower when you get home
3. you have to wear special clothes
4. the people you work for have some dodgy ideas
5. you only do it if you really, really have to
6. it will kill you, eventually
Of course, in reality, the pay and conditions are somewhat different ...
December 08, 2008
Danish Christmas Lunch(-es)
Thomas Kennedy has written about the peculiar occurrence that is the Danish Christmas lunch. I will be attending no such lunch this year, as I claim no affiliation to any of the institutions, organizations or companies which are the typical instigators of such an event.
But a Danish Xmas lunch is far from only an office party, though that too is one of the masks it dons. And a piquant mask it is – an opportunity for men and women who have been appreciatively and more or less obliquely eyeing one another all year to let loose for half a day and half a night and partake of the original Roman Bacchanal that was the pagan antecedent of the birth of Christ: eat to excess, drink to excess, hold speeches fraught with erotic double entendre, tell lewd jokes in mixed company, sing parodies of endeared sweet Xmas songs
December 03, 2008
A post over at xkcd.com on phrases that turn up no hits on Google reminded me of a little experiment I did nearly six years ago.
I noted that a Google search for "unclimbability" gave no hits (or one hit after I'd written the blog entry). Today, there are some 62 ... how the web has changed. I can tell my grandchildren 'yup, I was there when "unclimbability" returned no Google hits' and their eyes will go wide with wonder.
December 02, 2008
Wake up, Danish venture capitalists
The scandal surrounding the collapse of IT Factory, an IT company specialising in web portal solutions, has been all over the Danish news the last few days, in part because it leaves cycling team Team CSC-Saxo Bank without a sponsor when IT Factory were supposed to take over from 1st January (which I couldn't care less about, frankly ... if it inconveniences Saxo Bank then there is a silver lining to this).
The now-disappeared ex-CEO, the appropriately-named Stein Bagger, turns out to have been running a complete scam. 90% of the customer contracts were fake, and Bagger appears to have ... er ... bagged some 500 million Danish kroner before his impromptu vanishing act while on a business/pleasure trip in Dubai. The Danish newspaper, Politiken, has this article on Bagger, which includes the following (translated) quote from one of the major partners, Finn Nørbygaard, in the investment company, JMI Invest, who stands to personally lose around 240-something million Danish kroner:
"I don't know Stein Bagger particularly well", said Finn Nørbygaard to Politiken: "And the question is perhaps, who was the guy that really did this? I met him at a couple of arrangements and always believed him to be a high-performing director. In JMI we have ten portfolio companies, of which IT Factory is one, and now - seen with the benefit of hindsight - they maybe stuck out a lot due to their revenue generation", explains the comedian.
(Finn is a popular comedian/entertainer here in Denmark.)
"I didn't know Stein Bagger particularly well"? And yet, Finn, you ponied up 240-something million Danish kroner to invest in his company? Asger Jensby, the main partner of JMI Invest, has gone on record as saying that in order to pull off a stunt like this, you have to be especially charismatic. Well, duh. Apparently, a smiling face and patina of plausibility are all it takes to get 500 million DKK thrown in your direction from JMI Invest and their bankers. No background checks required - they didn't even check his education, which appears to be as forged as the customer list. I feel sorry for Bagger's family, who are going to be hounded by the press. I feel marginally sorry for Nørbygaard, who presumably was offered assurances regarding his investment, but who should have taken the time to get to know the people running the companies he was investing in better - 240 million DKK buys you that right, Finn. And I really don't feel sorry for Jensby, who ought to have known better, or Bagger, who is obviously some corporate psycho who doesn't care spit about his friends, family, investors, employees, colleagues or indeed anyone except himself.
What price trust, eh?