2013 — 27 March: Wednesday

As I listen to the parrots rabbiting away1 my thoughts tend inexorably to slime moulds, which turn out to be potentially of computational interest. Click the pic for a sample paragraph:

Who says maths isn't fun?

The full paper is here. (PDF file.)

Biggles ahoy, Take 2!

I was very pleased to receive (from Big Bro) a better-quality scan of one of the photos he took of me back in 1968...

DCM in 1968, Take 2

There's an explanation here of exactly why I may seem to be looking just a tad pensive :-)

Some while ago (31 December 1998, to be precise) I bought and read a book called "Close to the Machine". Its author, Ellen Ullman, is a guest on BBC Radio 4's 'Midweek' this morning.


Apparently it's only now coming out in the UK. Go figure...

"How old is the system?"
"Fifteen years."
"Fifteen years! Oh my God..."
I trailed off and reconsidered the vice president,2 in her plain but excellent suit, whose billions in electronic funds were riding around the planet atop fifteen-year-old assembler code...

Date: 1995

As she says: It has occurred to me that if people really knew how software got written, I'm not sure if they'd ever give their money to a bank or get on an airplane ever again.

Time to start stuffing my next crockpot. [Pause] Much as I enjoyed the fascinating programme about Mars, I could have done without the 20 seconds or so of Brian Eno's music An ending (ascent) very near the end as it evoked Christa's funeral 'service' back here on Earth. Still, my fault; I chose the music, after all :-)

Tea! I need tea. Now!

Speaking of...

... fifteen-year-old code reminded me of an email I had from Carol 14 years ago detailing a small part of one of her work projects — we regularly enjoyed swapping Corporate war stories during our time in IBM. Each found the view of IBM from the other side of the Atlantic equally fascinating, I think:

Sudden week-long trip to Lexington last week, to try to determine why some recoded/enhanced function took five times the CPU cycles the old code did. This is the NSS system, which dispatches CEs, responds to sick machines when they dial in, etc. etc., that I have worked with on and off for 15 years. An object lesson (no pun intended). For a complex of reasons (some good and some imposed by management), they switched from IMS to DB2, requiring a layer of code to let the parts of the system not being reworked think they were still talking to IMS. They wrote the interface code and the new function in C++, or as the manager of the project has dubbed it, CPU++.

After much tuning, we have got the pathlengths down to only 4-5 times the PL/X pathlengths. This is not bad C++ code; it's all the layers of run-time library and set-up-the-environment-and-tear-it-down-again exercises. This project was important enough for 100 folk to be laboring outrageous hours at Christmas, with cancellation of leave for all, and now it looks as if they'll discard the whole effort. They are up against a Y2K freeze, and management is disenchanted because the business case has evaporated, so the hope of resuming after the freeze is pretty slim. The vanishing business case was based on a fancy algorithm from Research to dispatch CEs more efficiently. A five-year-old should have known what they discovered in the pilot: Customers do not like random assignment of CEs. They like the ones they're used to who know the account. Any dispatcher knows this too, so after the algorithm has told them who to send, they send the fellow the customer wants.

Date: April 1999


Tee-hee. While I was digging out that little anecdote I found one that ties in with the predilection I've already noted of dear Mama happily chucking out my books whenever she got a chance:

I predict that this business of Mum's future housing is going to grow to a sizeable cloud on the horizon. She remarked to Christa, for example, that if only I didn't have that book-filled study she could happily move in there, couldn't she? Re-arrange the following words to form a well-known phrase or saying: body, over, dead, my...

Date: June 1999

Domestic godliness


  1. first ensured I have a spare pair3 to wear, and
  2. taken the precaution of seeking technical washing-machine-related advice from Mrs Brian, confirming my purely-theoretical knowledge

... my trusty indoors draw-string waist sports slob-around-the-house trousers are now 'in the wash' for the first time in, well, erm, five years actually. It will be interesting to see what (if anything) emerges. They're in there on their own... [Pause] And now? Gently dripping over my bathtub. Crockpot was delicious, by the way.



1  Do you mean the BBC's flagship national radio news programme, David?
2  The VP was in charge of reengineering the company's global transaction processing. She had three programmers maintaining the system.
3  I remembered buying a spare last time I was foolishly thinking of washing them.