27 February 2009

Stumbling Around in Cyberspace

I don't know about you, but I sometimes wonder what the Internet is for. I admit that I would find it difficult to survive at work without it, with its vast repository of knowledge that can be tapped into with a simple Google search (aren't those guys great?). I have found a wealth of solutions to the kind of programming problems I encounter in my day-to-day work as a Computer Scientist. Whatever problem I hit, I can guarantee that someone else out there has hit it before and has a solution or, at the very least, that there are ideas that help me on my way to finding the answer I need. What I have never really understood is why people surf the net in leisure time.

Stumble Upon

In the hope of gaining enlightenment, I've been using Stumble Upon for a while and have to say that I have had a mixed bag of results. For those of you not in the know, Stumble Upon feeds you with a variety of web pages that match your declared interests, assisting you with your random stumbling through the world wide web, providing you (hopefully) with information that may actually interest you.

On the downside, I have seen a lot of pages that do not really interest me at all. I have naturally identified a number of aspects of computing as being of interest, and Stumble Upon has dutifully served me with pages in the genre. I am quite grateful that Stumble Upon provides its users with a simple means of voting for the kind of pages they really like and against those they really don't, as I've seen quite a lot of trash. I am a bit sick of pages about Cascading Style Sheets, and those claiming to provide the world's best web-page content manager. How many 'bests' can there be?

On the upside, I have stumbled upon some interesting stuff. Yesterday, I actually stumbled upon a page that informed me about a particular aspect of my work that I had never really considered (I won't bore you with the details) and which I implemented today. Previously, I have stumbled upon pages such as Fail Blog (computing isn't my only interest) which have had me laughing out loud, and several other sites that have captured my attention for whole minutes at a time.

On balance, I think that Stumble Upon is actually quite useful and entertaining. If you've never tried it, give it a go.

Best Blogging Practice

Of particular note, I have been fed a whole host of blogs that give definitive lists on how to make your blog successful. Frankly, I wonder... Of course, like every blogger, I would like to be widely read and see soaring statistics on Google Analytics, or even get comments from my few regular visitors, but I have yet to come across a list that convinces me to change my approach.

Google Analytics have shown me that my blogs are ticking over with a few visitors (although I would always be pleased to see more) from different parts of the world, some of whom keep coming back (and, if you are one of those returnees, can I say a big thank you).

What Do You Think?

I would love to receive your comments on any of my posts. For this one in particular, I would be interested in feedback on why you return to this or any of my blogs specifically, or to any blog in general. What is it that attracts you to blogs in the first place? Why do you go back? What puts you off? What induces you to leave a comment? Or not? Perhaps together we can concoct a list that will appear on Stumble Upon that reflects real user experience rather than personal opinion... Perhaps we can experiment with your suggestions and see if this blog really flies...

16 February 2009

Six Nations Championship - Who Will Win?

After the second weekend of Six Nations rugby, I find myself less certain than I was of the final outcome. 

The first weekend left me certain that England would not win, their lack-lustre performance against an Italian side crippled by a poor coaching decision to play a flanker at scrum half completely failed to impress.  The score line was flattering, to say the least.  Wales beat Scotland but that was expected and, all credit to them, the Scots actually played some good rugby and presented themselves a much-improved side.  This game was OK but Wales hardly shone like the brightest star in the firmament.  The Ireland v France game was superb, with both sides putting in good performances.  I was greatly impressed by Ireland and fancied them for a probable grand slam.

This weekend's play has muddied the waters somewhat.  England played better in the Millennium Stadium but so did Wales.  The improvement in the English side is welcome but is not yet enough to take the championship.  The result left them unable to achieve a grand slam, and the Welsh did shine this time.  Scotland did well in the Stade Francais, giving the French a good run for their money in the first half, and making them look less good than they appeared against Ireland.  The French rugby machine eventually got going and overhauled the battling Scots.  Finally, the Irish struggled to put the Italians in their place, even playing catch-up for a lot of the game, and left me pondering my prediction of the previous week.

I think we can rule out Italy's winning the championship, although I hope we see further improvement from them as the competition goes on; they always seem to be almost there but never quite making it.  Can they beat Scotland this year?  Scotland could well beat England on current form and ought to beat Italy but, having lost twice now, are unlikely to finish top of the table.  France seem to be their normal variable selves, having done well against Ireland but less well against Scotland.  They could well beat the current English side, and should win against Italy.  Will Wales be their Nemesis, or can they take the championship?  Ireland may not be as good as I thought after their first game but I think they too can beat England, and their game against the Welsh will be perhaps their hardest challenge.  That leaves us with Wales who are, of course, the reigning champions.  On reflection, they have to be favourites at the moment but they have yet to face a real test, and have still to face France and Ireland, both of whom are probably feeling that they have something to prove.

Of course, all the teams now have two weeks in which to reflect on their performances and to attempt to remedy their short-comings.  Can England pull something out of the bag?  Can France and Ireland shore up their confidence and come out strong?  Will a bold and flowing Wales cruise past their rivals to victory? 

With three rounds still to go, four teams could, at least mathematically, win the championship, but only Wales or Ireland could secure a grand slam.  Will we see a grand slam this year?  In my opinion we will and, at the moment, I think the belief displayed by the Welsh side could well carry them to their ultimate goal for the second year running. 

Will it be a wooden cucchiaio or wooden spurtle?

06 February 2009

Bonuses for Bankers? It's Bonkers!

There is, understandably, a public outcry at the news that bankers may receive large bonuses - or any bonus at all, come to think of it.

I am amazed that bankers, whose mismanagement has at least contributed to the current financial crisis that we all face, could even contemplate the possibility of bonuses for their efforts. Taxpayers' money has been fed in to help revive the system on which we all appear to depend. This tax payer cannot agree that the money should be used to line the pockets of bankers.

Even if the bonus is in respect of performance in previous periods, I cannot countenance the payment: those previous periods, don't forget, paved the way to our current predicament and I see no reason why they should be rewarded for that. Goodness knows they don't actually need it, their salary before bonuses being more than the vast majority of us could even dream of.

Interestingly, if I do well at my job, I do not get a bonus. I just get paid for doing my job.

In my view, the payment of any bonus would be callous at least, if not actually immoral. It would give us all a boost if the boards of all the banks announced that all bonuses were suspended until the present crisis is over and their banks are free of public ownership.

So, that's what I think. What do you think?