28 June 2007

jcbarret wisdom watch

  • Toyota Prius, so-so: I upgraded to a hybrid for the week in Seattle, and I have very mixed feelings about it. It's got a certain chic (especially out here in green-obsessed Seattle) and it certainly gets great gas mileage, but it's a bit of a pain in the arse to drive. The sight lines are bad, making it hard to change lanes, pull out of blind corners and park in tight spaces. The LCD showing how power is being generated, re-generated and dispensed among the wheels, motor, battery and engine is cool, but distracting while driving. It also just feels weird to have the engine randomly shutting off and restarting while in traffic; tough sensation to get used to. Most annoying though? When in reverse the car beeps a back-up chime INSIDE THE CAR. What's the point, other than to annoy the piss out of the driver?

  • Seattle, thumbs-up: I really do enjoy this city: nice neighborhoods, great scenery, wonderful fresh air, abundant delicious coffee and laid back folks. Qualitas.

  • Cincy wedding / MIT reunion, thumbs-up: I'm really psyched for this weekend, which should be an awesome reunion of all the people I love most from the 'tute. Shame it's only a couple of days!

  • SafeCo field, thumbs-up: Absolutely gorgeous stadium, great views from the cheap seats, easy parking. Too bad the Sox got swept whilst I was in town. Also too bad that beers cost eight bucks.

27 June 2007

They're no Don and Jerry

The Mariners' booth team last night (Dave Sims and Dave Niehaus) were pretty miserable. Sims has an irritating voice that he uses to spew out lots of grim baseball clichés. Niehaus, on the other hand, is just getting a little old to be on TV:

Niehaus: Well, Dave, I remember a classic game between Seattle and Boston that went 19 innings. John Olerud won that game with a home run. I forget which inning he hit it, must've been the 14th or 15th.

Sims: Um, wouldn't he have hit it in the 19th?

Niehaus: Why, yes, I guess you're right!

25 June 2007


Here I am in Seattle again, where the air is cool and fresh and I have nothing to do but work. Well that's not entirely true, since the BoSox are in town. I think I'm gonna go to SafeCo tomorrow night (I would've preferred seeing Dice-K on Wednesday, but it's an afternoon game and I've got a conflicting meeting).

The trip didn't start well, as I got up to get something from my bag in the overhead compartment shortly after takeoff. While pulling out my headphones I accidentally knocked out my heavy silver watch, which fell straight onto the unsuspecting skull of the old lady in the row in front of me. I remarked to the woman next to me, "That's a great start to a 9.5 hour flight" and she chuckled politely. At this point the husband of the woman I konked whipped around and growled, "You think it's funny that he hit her on the head?!" Yikes. Luckily I managed not to do anything else embarrassing on the flight.

21 June 2007

Jack Cox

The Jack Cox Cup is Oxford's interdepartmental cricket cup. A few of my friends play on the Medical Research team, and the games are held on the oval next to the University Club, which affords excellent game-watching opportunities from its outdoor balcony. A few of us headed down after work yesterday to drink a couple of beers and watch the game against the Geography department.

Robbo is pictured here after an excellent smash, and a few more photos are on Facebook. The good guys won, 104 for 3, after the Geographers went 102 all out.

20 June 2007


Today I successfully transferred status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil student. A bit anticlimactic, but it's another box ticked on the way to finishing my degree.


If you care at all about the process of representative democracy and/or enjoy nerdy games, you owe it to yourself to spend an hour tinkering at www.redistrictinggame.com.

17 June 2007

Culinary awesomeness

Yesterday was off-and-on raining all day (with occasional heavy downpours), so it was a good day to spend a lot of time hanging out inside and eating. Which a few of us did with gusto.

Carl, Morven, Blanca and I met up at Blanca's place around noon for a big fry-up. I whipped up some mushroom, onion and swiss omelettes which went quite well with bacon, bramley apple sausages and the other standard breakfast accoutrements (not least of which being strong, black coffee).

After a few hours of mildly productive work we decided to have dinner together as well. This time at my flat in Marston we cooked up a tasty jam of chicken fajitas. The fresh chilis were the hotness, both literally and figuratively. We finished the night with some good natured hanging-out over glasses of Sardinian grappa. That stuff'll put hair on your chest.

On the whole, the day pleasantly reminded me of the A-Side Lounge. Good times!

14 June 2007

<i>Ocean's 13</i>

I saw Ocean's 13 last night and I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up. The plot isn't flawless, nor even completely coherent at times, but this is a film that draws you in to a whirlwind of flashy Vegas fun from beginning to end. The ensemble acting is even better than the first two installments of the series, with Pitt, Clooney and Damon effortlessly inhabiting their roles. The high quality performances, combined with an energetic soundtrack and amazing editing keep the film cruising almost non-stop. For me the cherry on top was the way that Vegas itself plays the fourteenth member of the crew: the movie really captures the simultaneously horrifying and electrifying nature of the city in the desert.

Go see it!

Customer service

Why is there such an abject lack of design sense in the computing and electronics industry? I'm currently on hold with Thames Water (who have screwed up my bill for the third time). Their hold system plays muzak in the background, which is periodically interrupted by a voice apologising for keeping me on hold. They have layered on top of this a much louder periodic interruption to thank me for waiting and encourage me to do my business on their website. This results in one apology being gratingly interrupted by the other apology with a frequency that is making my jaw clench tighter and tighter.

When people set these things up, or design consumer electronics, do they even spend five minutes thinking about the user experience?

On my mobile phone, for instance, if I want to send a text message I type it in (that interface is a whole other story of horrendous design), then I have to go through four option selections to get to my address book. Greater than 99% of the texts I send are to someone in my address book. Shouldn't the interface go there straightaway? Did the person who wrote the software even try it?

This is one of the reasons I love Apple so much. As much as people (I'm looking at you, Jules) gripe about certain aspects of it, watching Jobber demo it just made me giddy at the thought of a handset that had been so clearly designed with ease-of-use in mind. As has been observed before, iPod wasn't the first portable MP3 player and iTunes wasn't the first music store, but both have tenaciously grabbed their respective markets in large part (in my opinion) through good design and appreciation of the user experience.

For what it's worth, I just got off the phone with TW and the woman who helped me was perfectly nice and efficient.

12 June 2007


Steve Jobs' keynote address at WWDC 2007 left a lot to be desired. After the iPhone's huge splash at Macworld in January I had high hopes for another demonstration of Jobs' renowned showmanship. Instead we got the following four announcements:

  1. EA and id will be concurrently releasing new titles for PC and Mac. Enh, I'm not much of a gamer.

  2. Some neat-looking, but not groundbreaking features of Leopard, the next version of OS X. A lot of these had already been previewed and none of them were knock-your-socks-off exciting. And while the switching animation is neat, various UNIX distros have had multiple desktops since the mid 90s.

  3. Safari on Windows. I don't use Windows or Safari, so this one was a dud. I am considering giving Safari 3 another shot to be more useful to me than Firefox, but I doubt it will win.

  4. 3rd party development on the iPhone via AJAX web apps. Boo. This one actually really sucked: the message to keen outside developers? Make a goofy Web 2.0 site and pretend that's a real app. Pretty weak, Apple.

In addition to the mediocre content of the address, you could tell that Jobs was off his game. In contrast to his rollicking iPhone announcement, where he had the audience eating out of his hand, he was adrift here. He kept awkwardly pausing for applause breaks where the audience half-heartedly obliged. He's demo some fairly lame feature and finish with an embarrassed, "Yeah, we think this will be really useful." I guess my expectations were too high — you can't hit a home run every time.

08 June 2007

Sopranos, posted without comment

Tony: Did you ever know anybody who, uh, committed suicide?

Janice: Mm. Plenty. I used to live in Seattle.

07 June 2007

For the americans

Coverage of the WTCCC in the paper of record, including quotations from everyone's favourite Icelandic blowhard, Kari Stefansson and everyone's favourite local geneticist, Mark Daly.


Today was not only the 63rd anniversary of Operation Overlord, but also the D-Day for the publication of the papers that I've been working on for the last two years.

03 June 2007


Robinson Cano evidently had a problem with Mike Lowell in last night's Sox-Yanks game:

"He [Lowell] played dirty because he threw his elbow at me, but that's the game
of baseball," Cano said. "I have to protect myself any time I have to
tag somebody. I have no complaints about it."

Umm, actually, aren't you complaining about it right now? Isn't what you're doing the very definition of the word "complaint"?

"I've never had a problem with him before. Today he threw his elbow at me, but I never say anything."

Oh, you never say anything! How gentlemanly of you!