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Archive March 2005
Monday 28 March 2005
It just struck me that when I finally get my arse into gear and finish my mostly-done current project, I should probably hire someone to work with on my next project. And then it struck me how much of an absolute pain it would be to hire anyone. I don't mean the financial drain of it, or the hunting appropriate candidates, or anything like that. I mean the horrible horrible bureaucracy involved.

I gather as an employer I'd have to do an extra lot of tax forms for some strange tax on outgoing wages (though that might be only an American thing - I might be safe from it here). I'd also have to do paystubs and tax forms for the employee. What if I wanted to hire someone in a different country (which I would, since I don't know anyone here with the desired skillset, and I don't want to hire anyone I wouldn't vouch for, when the pay is coming straight out of my savings)? How much more complicated would that be? I'm betting about twice as complicated. Maybe I'd need to hire an accountant too, but I'm already being leary and irked at the idea of even hiring someone who does work that I want doing. An accountant would be working for the government, basically, and I'd be paying them. That sucks. But the alternative is that I work for the government in the same way, for no pay. That sucks too. The only way to avoid this seems to be to not hire anyone, which has the compelling selling point that my savings could be used towards purchasing an abode, but the downside that I'd really quite like to get some projects finished more quickly, and expansion of my workforce (doubling by adding one!) would be a simple way to go about that.

Frankly, I'm surprised there is any small-business-employment at all that isn't under-the-table. You'd think, with governments apparently liking increased employment and tax revenues, they'd make it easier to do than to not do. Ah well, it's likely that the monkey-wage I could afford wouldn't be enough to tempt anyone I know with the required skillset anyway. Certainly not post-tax and with an additional accountant. Maybe I need to find a dual-class Orcish Programmer-Accountant. [23:29] [7 comments]

Sunday 27 March 2005
More actual things from my life. None of them particularly interesting, but more interesting than most actual things posts people make, so I won't feel too bad about it.

A week or two ago, I got a tooth pulled. It's a tooth that's had a huge gaping hole in it for about three years, because an old (crazy, oversized) filling fell out. The dentist offered me the options of saving the tooth (at least three appointments, nerve work, and stuff) or yoinking it. Or rather, I suggested refilling or pulling when I went in, whichever he thought more appropriate for the specific tooth, and he explained what the differences would be in work done. Obviously I chose pulling. I never really wanted that tooth anyway, and it's always been crowding the adjacent wisdom tooth a bit. Mr Dentist also told me I 'need' stupid amounts of crazy dentist-performed cleaning and minor fillings and stuff. He suggested this with exactly the same urgency as the last dentist I went to, over six years ago. So if my teeth can go six years without this surgery they 'need', and without getting any worse in the meantime (except for the one - which got worse because of previous dental work), I think I'll pass, thanks. Even the tooth with the gaping dentist-induced hole didn't get any worse in the three years its hole was gaping - I just decided to get rid of it now on a whim, and because Australian dentists are supposed to be less offensive than the dentists of elsewhere. Which he was, to be fair - the tooth-pulling was an order of magnitude less dramatic than any of the four teeth I had pulled for pointless orthodontic reasons about ten years ago (in the UK), despite being a wider tooth.

I also decided, based on that dentist visit, that when I'm extremely rich I shall have a dentist chair installed for me to work in. They are so very ridiculously comfortable, and they have those big swingy arms that would be ideal for mounting screens and keyboards and things onto, such that they could be positioned neatly in your field of vision even while looking up at a comfortable pillow-rested 60-degree angle.

Some time since then, my abdomen has been bitten multiple times by some sort of insect; I suspect ants, since they've been appearing around the house individually with no apparent trails of them. It itches much worse than flea-bites, swells much less, and lasts much longer.

Today, I performed another Makeshift Home Handyman operation, on the TV reception again. Last time it was a cable with a dodgy connector; this time the wall socket. About a year ago I removed the wall socket from the wall to see what was up with it, and found the answer "the central wire-pin is far too short". That seemed likely to be a pain to deal with, so I didn't. Since then the TV reception has been getting gradually worse, while being shored up with the standard techniques such as "jamming several DVD cases against the socket just so" and "twisting the socket around while pushing the cable in with your teeth". Today the TV guide had something in it that sounded maybe worth recording, which was the final impetus to bother to try to sort the blasted thing out. So I removed the socket entirely, pulled a random useless wire from my box'o'wires (note: another definition of "random useless wire" in this context is "the next wire I'll discover I need one of"), cut and stripped a short piece of said wire, soldered it onto the too-short wire in the wall, soldered it again because it didn't hold, soldered it again because it still didn't hold, and then put the contraption all back together again with the newly extended wire screwed into position. Result - even the channel that has never been watchable at all is now watchable, and the other channels are all so free of snow that shows about Alaska are full of really confused-looking desert moose.

And the TV-guided movie "Kopps" was excellent, so it wasn't even a waste of effort. [21:31] [3 comments]

Wednesday 23 March 2005
Hm, it turns out that when packs of rechargable batteries say "only charge in (battery brand) charger or leakage may occur" on them, it isn't always merely product nepotism. This lesson brought to us by white goo oozing out of batteries, and by, apparently, an excess of cynicism. [16:17] [3 comments]

Tuesday 15 March 2005
And now, a random television rundown, because a bunch of television things have amused or annoyed me today.

Advertisement for sunscreen: "The sun can get you when you least expect it." What, when I'm indoors and it's nighttime? What's it going to do, polish the moon, make it slightly concave, and then reflect from it its own rays focussed to a point through our windows? Too bad, sun, the curtains are closed! Take that!

The new phrase that is used far too much in advertising TV shows - "at the special time", eg. "Battlestar Galactica, at the special time of 8:30, Wednesday." What's special about 8:30 Wednesday? It can't be all that special, given how many different times are special according to the TV presenters. Unless they're each special in their own individual way, I suppose. Which they are, in that the world is in a different positional state at each one - wow.

On the subject of new Battlestar Galactica, why is it that an ad for the new Battlestar Galactica is indistinguishable from an ad for 'the OC'? I'll tell you why with an inadequate answer - because the shows are largely indistinguishable too. The real question, of course, is why the shows are so similar, and the answer to that one is that whoever's responsible for the new Battlestar Galactica is utterly lacking in redeeming qualities. What a crapfest that show is. Unless you like The OC, I suppose.

On a more positive note, our TV guide's description of the movie Robin Cook's Mortal Fear - "Joanna Kerns stars in this chilling medical thriller about a big-city hospital where patients mysteriously die. A determined doctor must race against time to find the cause." I didn't watch the movie, because it would certainly be dreadful and tedious, but in my imagination it ends with the doctor slapping his forehead and saying "ohhh! Diseases and blood loss!" The idea of it being mysterious that patients die in hospitals is great. Do the hospitals usually throw people out the window if they show signs of dying? Probably if they don't have health insurance. [12:50] [6 comments]

Monday 14 March 2005
I bought a cheap mp3 player for my public transport musical distraction. Good physical design, with the headphones being on short lines inside the around-neck cord, making for minimal tangling. Only 128MB, but that's fine for me - two hours of music covers me for most of my ventures beyond the house, and even if it didn't, I have no problem with two hours of music for six hours of distraction. Nice solid construction of the device, and a lock switch to prevent buttons getting pressed accidentally. All good stuff. Six preset graphic-equaliser settings, which is good in that 'normal' sounds horrible, while 'x-bass' and 'rock' sound decent, and the others are somewhere in between (so if the eq settings didn't exist I'd presumably be stuck with horrible 'normal'). I'm sure music addicts would hate it, but they can go and buy iPods or something.

I also watched Ong-Bak, which was alright. Nothing special for martial arts afficionadoes really, unless maybe they especially like Thai martial arts, but not boring. The martial arts were decent, but the director seemingly had a bit of a thing for filming scenes in the dark, and for doing that "replay from another angle" effect in a weirdly ineffective way. The things he replayed weren't bad things, but the replay effect didn't seem to work. I think maybe replays are usually done in slow motion and weren't here, or something. Or maybe it's that replays are usually of scenes involving big explosions or collapsing buildings that couldn't be filmed twice, rather than of "someone jumping over something".

In other news, Holly wanted me to go to an art gallery. I didn't. The absence of a review of an art gallery that results from this inaction - an absence which is of extreme boringness - makes up for the rest of this post being moderately boring. Phew. [17:06] [0 comments]

Sunday 13 March 2005
Time for a rare thing - a post about stuff I actually do rather than the usual "things I have seen that have made me angry / amused / bemused / happy / sad / stabby". And this should reveal to you why it is that I so rarely post about things I do, because it'll make me sound like a whiny jerk who you might suppose from the whininess to live near the west coast of America somewhere. I don't, and never have.

My complaint of the day (and every day) is that projects all have tedious drudgery in them. I like programming, but I like the interesting bits. At the moment (and for the last quite-a-lot-of-months), I have a project of which all the interesting bits are done. That means all the bits that might usually be considered difficult. So what's left? A lot of easy bits. But that's not easy at all. Getting up the focus to do so-called easy bits is really difficult. The fact that I'm going to have to do it for at least 30 full working days doesn't help at all. The fact that I have another project that I really really want to be doing, that has fewer easy boring bits and still has all its difficult interesting bits also doesn't help. And I can't allow myself to go near this more interesting project, because if I do that I'll never finish the current one, and when I eventually got to the few boring bits of that one I wouldn't finish it either.

So the only work I can allow myself to do is the boring easy bits of the nearly finished project, but that's so painfully unchallenging that even putting in two hours a day on it is gruelling. And unlike most boring drudge work, it does still need full focus. I never had this sort of difficulty doing data entry or secretarial work, because that sort of work is effortless. I could be programming interesting things in my head at the same time. There's none of that here, there's just hours and hours of writing small variants of much the same piece of code. It's essentially writing menus.

To make matters worse, where most 'writing menus' parts of development could easily be done by a hireling, the bit of the current project couldn't easily be done that way because it isn't just menus - each small element requires a similarly small amount of interaction with the complicated tangled database, so while each element is trivial work for me, knowing what's in the database and what everything does, it would be impossible for a hireling without me spending just as long documenting all the things they'd need to know first. Also the fact that the work requires a horrible intersection of HTML, PHP, mysql and javascript makes it relatively implausible that I could get an affordable hireling to do it. This isn't helped at all by the fact that I don't like people seeing the insides of my systems, so I wouldn't want a hireling that I don't know well, and I wouldn't want to inflict this drudgery upon anyone I do know that well.

For bonus points, Australian summer isn't conducive to getting even very interesting work done. Working up the focus for hours of tedious drudgery while being lightly broiled is what they should have challenged Hercules with instead of all those easy things like beating up minotaurs or whatever.

So, this is the problem I struggle with every day, and it's pretty much the only problem I ever struggle with, and the only thing that ever happens. This is why I mostly only talk about external things. On which note, the full series of Eerie Indiana is cheaply available on DVD, and well worth it. [09:27] [4 comments]

Wednesday 9 March 2005
Financial realisation of the day - banking fees really are as evil as I viscerally felt them to be. I have approximately never paid banking fees, because I so strongly object to them, but it just struck me that you shouldn't either, and here's why.

Let's say that your bank has a $5 monthly fee if your balance is below $750 (that being unusually reasonable for American banks). Now let's look at the 'best-case' scenario, where you have nothing at all in your account, so you're getting the best 'value' for your fee (as compared to if you had $749, where giving them $1 would save you $5 which would obviously mean you're getting a terrible deal if you pay the $5). Effectively, then, you're paying $5 for the 'benefit' of not giving them $750 to hold, ie. equivalent to paying 5/750 interest per month, or 0.666%. As an APR, this is 8.3%, comparable to the sort of rate you're likely to get from a new credit card.

But who actually has $0 in their account for the whole month? Nobody. So it's actually like you're paying $5 interest on half that much, say, which makes it more like a 17.2% APR. And this is still assuming your fee is only $5, where $10 a month seems more common. Take it up to that and you're paying a whopping 37.1% APR on this money that you're so rudely not giving the bank up front. If your banking fees are like that, as so many are, you're actually better off taking the amount off a credit card (even as a cash advance that they charge more for, though you can gimmick your way around that hiked rate if you have two cards, via the stupid power of balance-transfers) and giving it to the bank. Always treat the fee-boundary as zero. This goes double for overdrafts.

Similarly, and more obviously (but still insufficiently obvious for oh so many Americans), any money you get that's earmarked for something that can be paid by credit card, should be paid by credit card (and the original money should go to the credit card) - credit cards mostly don't charge interest on new transactions for a month-and-a-bit, so, assuming you're owing on your credit card, like an average American, if you pay your rent and utilities ($800, say), out of your paycheque, your credit card remains unchanged. If you send that $800 from your paycheque to the credit card, and pay the bills with the credit card, the numbers on the credit card still won't change, but that's $800 that you won't pay interest on for a month and a half, and it didn't cost you anything different. You save somewhere between $6 and $25 depending on your credit card interest rate, and for bonus points this 'larger payment' to the credit card will tend to improve your credit rating.

Today's episode of Open Sesame Street has been brought to you by the sound 'gah', and by the symbol '$'. [05:36] [0 comments]

Wednesday 2 March 2005
Are there PHP people amongst my readers? Just in case there are, a quick question: I want to be able to have a large number of small functions able to be imported dynamically. Only one such function-set will be imported per page-load. I currently have this being done in one case with
$functionfile='monster_fish.php'; #filename actually taken from a safe list of files
monster_function($a,$b); # monster_function($a,$b) is defined in every functionfile
But I'm not sure this will always be okay with mod_php - I know mod_perl would get angry doing the equivalent because of persistent namespace. Is PHP okay with this? If not, how could a similar thing be done? And the other question is, if I wanted small snippets of PHP to be executed from a database entry rather than from a file, is there a way to do that other than eval()? And if not, is eval() reasonably efficient? (I can work with a no to both of those, but I'd like to know whether I have to.)

For those of you who aren't programmers at all, pretend this post was a picture of something very funny. Use your imagination you lazy git. [11:10] [2 comments]