permalink.gif 2004-04-21

permalink.gif All's well in Iraq. Nothing to see here folks. Move along now.

Wed Apr 21 19:45:34 BST 2004  Permalink 

permalink.gif My Lord is a filthy pig!

Wed Apr 21 19:28:16 BST 2004  Permalink 

Why I Like Poland.

For those just tuning in, I recently came back from a three-week visit to the old country, my first in three years.


In Poland, the proper way for a man to greet a woman is by kissing her hand. The proper way to address a person with whom you are not on very close terms is as "My Lord" or "My Lady". When writing to someone, you capitalize the second-person pronouns and leave the first-person ones in lower case. You address the envelope to the "Respected Lord/Lady So-and-so".

These formalities are absolute - even when you're swearing at a cab driver, you are expected to observe decorum. This can make even the most minor fracas in a bus queue sound like a tetchy day at the House of Commons. "My Lord is a filthy pig! My Lady is a tramp and a harlot, and her Ladyship's face looks best suited for sitting on!"


In America, this king of fishes is practically impossible to find outside of a goldfish bowl. Maybe it's because carp can have a muddy river-bottom taste if not properly prepared. But a correctly purged carp (left to fast for a few days before slaughter, with time to contemplate its sins) is the most heavenly, delicate fish there can be, pan-fried and served up hot. And besides, Americans seem to enjoy the inveterately muddy catfish.

I suspect the real reason carp isn't eaten here is because Americans are too wussy to deal with all the cunning little bones embedded in its flesh. This is, after all, the land of the individually-wrapped cheese slice. We are a people grown fat on convenience. And to American restaurants, a carp must look like a liability lawsuit with fins. So its consumption is limited to people like the Poles, the Chinese, and the Jews, who are used to hardships and don't mind a little risk with their fish course.


In all of Eastern Europe, it's traditional for passengers on an airplane to applaud when it lands. The cynic in me is tempted to call this a legacy of the Tupolev days, when a safe landing was truly a special occasion, but I prefer to think of it as an acknowledgement that flying ten kilometers above the Earth at near-sonic speeds is something to appreciate. For unknown reasons this custom irritates the stuffing out of certain of my American friends, who will be glad to know it is slowly dying out, reserved now only for more spectacular landings in heavy rain or turbulence.

A second great innovation of the Slavic tribes is rhythmic clapping, which serves as a useful intermediate stage between loud applause and a standing ovation. I believe this is the same thing as the slow handclap in England, but in Eastern Europe it has a very positive connotation. Not only does it sound cool to hear an audience segue from general applause to a slow, rhythmic clapping, but it makes it much easier to lure a musician or performer back for an encore. After all, you can't hear a standing ovation.

The Giant Holiday Aid Orchestra (Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy)

The Orchestra is Poland's version of the Jerry Lewis telethon. It started in 1993 as a fundraising event to help buy equipment for the children's cardiology unit in the main Warsaw hospital. Over the next 11 years, it has grown by leaps and bounds, to the point where the one-day drive is practically a national holiday. In the process, the Orchestra has raised $44 million to fund equipment for pediatric surgery, transforming Poland from a backwater into one of the world leaders in treating serious congenital defects and diseases in children. Last year, Poland became the first country on earth to test the hearing of all newborn babies. The survival rate for pediatric surgery has doubled since 1993, due entirely to the Orchestra. Polish hospitals, which have traditionally had very well trained medical staff and microscopic budgets, now have the resources they need to operate at a First World level.

All of this is the effort of one single man, Jerzy Owsiak, who has turned the telethon into a public carnival that turns out massive crowds in every major Polish city. On January 11, it is almost impossible to find a Pole anyhwere who does not have a big red heart sticker on his lapel, indicating that he's donated some money to one of the hordes of children deputized to take up collection. Particularly inspiring is the fact that the Orchestra spends 100% of its funds on aid - what administrative costs there are are paid out of interest on the previous year's donations. Because the Orchestra pays in cash up front, it has been able to negotiate major discounts, so each dollar collected goes even further. It is the largest charity effort of its kind in Europe.


Poles eat three meals a day - breakfast, a small supper at around seven in the evening, and the main meal of the day sometime between one and three o'clock. This last always consists of a soup course and a second course, usually some variant on hunk of meat + starch. Because soup is served every day, Polish cooking has evolved a great variety recipes, all of them delicious and most practically unknown outside the country: chicken soup (rosół), sorrel soup (zupa szczawiowa), fermented rye soup (żurek), pickle soup (zupa ogórkowa), potato and vegetable soup (kartoflanka), sauerkraut soup (kapuśniak), beet soup (barszcz), mushroom soup (zupa grzybowa), split pea soup (grochwka), barley soup (krupnik), tripe (flaczki), tomato soup (zupa pomidorowa), chilled beet and sorrel soup (chłodnik, also know by me as Pepto-Bismol soup, for its color) and a thousand others, including many regional variants. Whole civil wars would have been fought about the proper way to prepare barszcz, if not for all the invasions.

Dairy Bars

The dairy bar (bar mleczny) is where frugal and impecunious Poles go for soul food, a cross between a school cafeteria and an old-style American diner. Dairy bars were once ubiquitous in the socialist era, operated by the dour tribe of professionally hostile white-coated women who effectively ran the country back then (they continue to thrive in the civil service, which functions as a kind of wildlife preserve for homo sovieticus). The name 'dairy bar' comes from the fact that most of these places did not serve meat, or at least not regularly (meat was a "deficit product"). Dairy bars specialized in soups, dumplings, crepes, noodles, omelettes, and other basic dishes, served with alumium cutlery on a worn porcelain plate, with the weight of each portion always scrupulously listed on the grooved notice board that serves as a menu.

Many of these bars have gone out of business since 1989 - they were subsidized to the gills - and many others have converted into Ye Olde Inns, Rustic Peasant Kitchens, and similar monstrosities, but those that remain are generally still in business for a reason. The only difficulty is figuring out which dish is the establishment's secret masterpiece. For example, the dairy bar on the way to Wawel Castle in Kraków will feed you a marvelous plate of scrambled eggs with sausage, served on a little individual frying pan. The bar across from the Old Town on the east bank of the Vistula in Warsaw makes delightful crepes.

Visiting a dairy bar can be a little tricky for a foreigner - anyone who can speak English can probably find a better job than serving derelicts in a dairy bar, after all. So I would suggest coming armed with a clear list of Polish dishes, and submitting your request in writing. After all, you don't want to accidentally wind up with a plate of blood sausage and beef tripe, unless of course it's the dairy bar in Zakopane, where the tripe is to die for... [Idle Words]

If (like me) you've never read Maciej before, do yourself a favour and go browse soon.  Other higlights for me were PC Forum and Warszawa.

More about:

permalink.gif C# new features

Wed Apr 21 17:06:40 BST 2004  Permalink 

New Language Features in C# 2.0. O'Reilly's has a two-part series of articles covering features to be added to the C# programming language for version 2.0 (which will be part of "Whidbey", the upcoming version of Visual Studio). Part One covers anonymous methods, iterators and partial classes, while Part Two covers generics.

[The Farm: The Tucows Developers' Hangout]

At first glance I thought partial classes (in a nutshell they allow the definition of a class to be split among a number of physical files) were a duff idea but having once I saw some examples I realised just how useful they could be. I've been doing code generation recently, using xDoclet, building classes which contain type factory methods and field maps for domain classes. It now occurs to me that partial classes would be a much neater solution keeping the generated code within the domain class (avoiding a proliferation of types, or possibly type access issues), but without polluting the hand written code or risking overwriting anything. Neat, I'd like to see this in a future version of Java.

permalink.gif Time to switch?

Wed Apr 21 17:00:51 BST 2004  Permalink 

I hate having to use a non-WYSIWYG editor to write blog posts and yet I really hate the WYSIWYG editor in Radio

For one thing in Mozilla I don't get an editing caret which is annoying enough.  But it also has no button for doing
(it's not the same as indenting which is done via a styled section) and forces me to use the HTML view which is bad enough but there the cursor often ends up out of sequence with the editing position so you have no idea what's going to happen next.  Finally it cannot handle Radio's <% %> macro delimeters (would that there was another choice of delimiter avaiable but alas that will never happen...)

Having been exposed to other blogging tools recently, most notably Blogware, I find myself more and more wanting to trade in Radio for something a bit more modern, more stable, better featured.  I've been using Radio for 2 years and it has basically stood still in that time.  Enough is enough.

Not wishing to throw out the baby with the bathwater I'd like an application that builds on what I see as Radio's strengths.  It's not essential but I'd prefer a desktop application. I like the built in newsreader (Radio's reader is still my choice).  I like the upstreaming (if not Radio's implementation of it)  I like the ability to hack scripts locally but I want a more regular, popular and powerful language than Usertalk to do it (I no longer willingly grok Perl though).  Also, and this is critical, I want a tool which is being developed and where bugs either are, or can be, fixed.

Is all this too much too ask?  Any recommendations?

permalink.gif Word make me crazy

Wed Apr 21 10:33:27 BST 2004  Permalink 

Goddamn Word is going to drive me mad.  It just will not stop displaying the damn PDF Maker toolbar all alone there

at the top of the frame.  If I hide the toolbar it does disappear but switch to another window and back again and hey presto! there it is back again.  It's going to drive me insane!!!!!
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permalink.gif Let a thousand filters bloom

Wed Apr 21 10:15:55 BST 2004  Permalink 

At O'Reilly's, Maciej Ceglowski has an excellent article titled Using Bloom Filters, which explains what they are (the quick version: a probabilistic algorithm for determining set membership), shows how to implement them in Perl, and provides an interesting and topical application for them: mapping connections between people in social software while preserving their privacy. A very interesting read. Maciej points to a number of articles on Bloom Filters, to which I'll add FlipCode's brief overview, which also illustrates how Bloom Filters can be used in game programming.

[The Farm]

This looks like a very interesting technique.