Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Wednesday, 31 March 2004

# 3:20 AM (GMT+1)

Today we all went into Glasgow for the shopping. Went round a wide variety of gaming and goth stores. At the games shops, alas, I saw nothing that I couldn't have for cheaper in the states. (I had naively thought that prices here would be lower, since the currency is more valuable (at time of writing, roughly £1 = $2). Prices are indeed somewhat lower but not enough to make up for the exchange rate.) But at the goth stores I did find some nice T-shirts and tchotchkes whose like I've not seen elsewhere. No sign, alas, of the poster my mother wanted.

Jane got a pair of trousers that Steve Schultz would approve of. TJ bent my ear at length about the joys of the club scene in Glasgow; it is a pity I shan't be here over the weekend.

My difficulty with people's accents has mostly evaporated, although the difference between "trousers" and "pants" was cause for some humor earlier this evening. I wonder if I'm starting to speak with the accent too, or just understand it better.

Came home and I've been pondering a structural puzzle to do with GCC, to wit, what is the best way to keep track of identifiers? It is more difficult than I would like owing to the rather unfortunate way precompiled headers are implemented.

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

# 12:45 AM (GMT+1)

I arrived in Edinburgh at three PM where I met TJ and Jane. We spent a couple of hours walking round Edinburgh and then we went back to their house in Livingston (map). People are arriving for the weekly role-playing session — being here for so short a time, I will take on an established NPC rather than make up my own character.

I must confess myself a bit daunted at the divergence of the Scots dialect from my own. I correspond with enough British nationals that the vocabulary is not too unfamiliar, but I am by no means perfect, and the accent here is very thick indeed.

Monday, 29 March 2004

# 6:15 PM (GMT+1)

At ten-thirty today I boarded a train at King's Cross Station, London, bound for Edinburgh where I am visiting my friends TJ and Jane for the next few days. The train itself doesn't have a name, but the company running it is the Great North Eastern Railway Company, which is so wonderful and so very British a name. The train is not so fast, so modern, or so quiet as the German trains, but it is pleasant enough and I'm not in a hurry. They do provide electrical outlets at each seat, which is awfully nice.

I have never been to Scotland before; in fact, the last time I was in Great Britain I was eight years old and we never left London. The terrain has varied quite dramatically as the train moved north. Around London it was flat and rather dreary, but as the suburbs thinned out it got less dreary, while remaining quite flat. There were lots of bright green grassy fields, many with sheep; I believe I also saw cabbages and the like. Around Newcastle the hills got serious. North of Newcastle the train runs along the coast for awhile; there are steep red cliffs down to the ocean. There continue to be lots of grassy fields, some with sheep in them. Some are bounded by hedgerows, some fences, and even some by stone walls; all in various stages of disrepair. (I mind me a passage in James Herriot's veterinary stories where one of the farmers observes that the art of building and mending stone walls around pastures is dying out... that was 1938.)

You can tell that this is land that's been occupied by humans since the last ice age, and farmed at least since the Normans. You can also tell that the entire island used to be covered with forest, and would be again if the humans let it. The way the train goes, trees are few and mostly in straight lines along boundaries or small spinneys on the tops of hills; but there are wilder bits here and there, and those are all trees, except the ones that are all gorse-bushes. Curiously enough, as I was writing this paragraph the train moved from the farmland into a region that is heavily forested, although it's too uniform to be very old, and then right back to the farmland. And there's the ocean again on the right.

Oddly, the track has had an electrical catenary the whole way, but the train has a diesel engine. Maybe I missed a dark segment, or maybe there's one up ahead (the train continues all the way to Aberdeen).

Sunday, 28 March 2004

# 9 PM (GMT+1)

Visited the Science Museum. They have big collections on the history of different kinds of engine: steam engines, airplane engines, jet engines, and even Babbage's Difference Engine, which they built a full-scale working replica of. There is also a cute interactive exhibit on materials; you get to test steel samples for hardness, figure out what kind of failure some broken part suffered, that sort of thing.

I was going to go to the British Museum too, and at least walk past Sir John Soane's Museum (which is also closed on Sundays) but I was too tired.

# 6:20 PM (GMT+1)

Free day in London. I walked up Portobello Road, but unfortunately (it being Sunday) almost all the shops were closed. Looped round and walked through Kensington Gardens. This is distressingly manicured; all the trees are in straight rows, on a flat plain of grass. The fountains at the head of the Long Water are nice though. Now eating lunch in a little cafe across the street from the Science Museum of London.

Saturday, 27 March 2004

# 10:45 PM (GMT+1)

Second day of the meeting. We broke up into two groups each of which was to discuss one technical issue while walking around London doing the tourist thing. My group walked along the Thames to the Tate Modern museum. Unfortunately the big Turbine Hall was closed for exhibit changes, but we did get to see one of the permanent collections, a review of monumental modern art, including a whole room of Soviet propaganda posters. After that we rode the Tate-to-Tate ferry (which is polkadotted) back to the hotel, met with the others, and continued discussing the technical issues. I tried to demo valgrind for the group but was hindered by the data-collection module crashing on any input.

Friday, 26 March 2004

# 8 PM (GMT)

First day of the meeting now over. We sat in a room all day and listened to Mark present the usual sorts of things that are presented at an annual meeting. The highlight was meeting Sam Kendall, who we might be hiring. He seems a good sort, has a lot of experience without insisting on doing things his way.

Tonight, the hotel staff tell us, the UK switches to summer time (aka daylight savings time). Since the US doesn't switch until next Sunday, that means my return flight is going to cover one extra time zone. Ugh.

Thursday, 25 March 2004

# 10 PM (GMT)

And here I am in London. The plane flight was uneventful, which is (as always) exactly what one wants a plane flight to be. I haven't been on a single hop that long in years; it's not fun. We are staying at the City Inn, Westminster which is one block from the Tate Britain art gallery and about three blocks from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

The plane landed at about ten AM local time, and we spent the afternoon walking around the local district to stretch our legs and get a feel for the town.

Now very tired, but need to stay up longer in order to force myself onto UK time.

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

# 5 PM

Today I am off to London for the CodeSourcery annual meeting, plus a few days vacation in Scotland. Gotta run, catch a plane.

# 3:30 AM

Michael and Julia just noticed the Elvis candle.

Julia: Must we have an Elvis candle on the mantelpiece?
Michael:The hell?
Julia: I think we have an aesthetic clash here.
[editor's note: the mantelpiece is otherwise populated with very tasteful decorative pottery]
Me: I put that there to see how long it would take one of you to notice. Congratulations!
Michael:Now that I see it, it saps my will to live!
Julia: How long has it been there?
Me: Since Saturday.

In the interest of domestic tranquility, I removed it from the living room.

Saturday, 20 March 2004

# 8 PM

Sumana and Leonard and I went to the San Francisco Zoo today. This zoo was built in the 1930s and it shows, both in obvious ways (the elephant barn says PACHYDERMS on it in big red serif letters; here and there are plaques saying "constructed under the authority of the Works Progress Administration") and less obvious ways (they have one or two examples of all the charismatic megafauna, each in its own small area that isn't terribly representative of its native environment). However, they are actively working to renovate the place according to modern ideas of zookeeping - duplicating the native environment insofar as is feasible, and so on. They have finished doing this to the lemur area already, and the African savannah animals should follow later in the year. (If you go, absolutely do not miss the lemurs; they're really interesting. And right near the entrance.)

One sad thing: they used to have two Indian elephants, but one of them had been chronically ill, and last week she collapsed and had to be euthanized. The other Indian elephant clearly knew and cared that her friend had died. She was standing in one place up against the fence around her paddock, slowly swaying from side to side, with a dreadfully mournful look on her face. They are planning to get another companion for her, which is good.

After the zoo we went to a crepe restaurant at West Portal and Leonard sprang his birthday gift on me: an Elvis prayer candle. As I said to him, now that I have this I realize that I have always wanted one. I took it home and put it on the mantelpiece; let's see how long it takes for Michael and Julia to notice.

Saturday, 6 March 2004

# 5 PM

To celebrate my birthday I went to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum today, with my sister and my grandmother. We saw an exhibit of monumental landscape paintings by Li Huayi, who is probably one of the best such painters in the twentieth century. He was trained in the classical styles in the years immediately preceding the Cultural Revolution, then he survived that upheaval by doing propaganda art for the Chinese Communist Party, and then he went back to landscapes but branched out into different styles. It's great stuff. We also looked through the Montien Boonma exhibit, which I was less impressed with but which is still good, particularly when he's playing with negative space.

# 4 PM

Today I am twenty-six.