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The King William’s College quiz December 30, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in Uncategorized.
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Every year since 1904, the pupils of King William’s College, on the Isle of Man, have been set a “General Knowledge Paper”. The pupils take the test twice, once before the Christmas holidays, unseen, and once on their return after the break, with a couple of weeks of intensive research under their belts. I have to say, it’s hard to conceive of a more challenging test. There are eighteen themed sections, each with ten seemingly impossible questions. Even worse, most of the themes aren’t provided, so you have to work out what they are by answering a couple of the questions. If I can answer five questions out of the 180 on a first pass, I think I’m doing well.

Since 1951, the Guardian has published the quiz, maybe to make its readers realise that they aren’t as smart as they think they are. The 2007 quiz is in this week’s edition of the Guardian Weekly, and you can get it from the school’s website.

Oh, one more thing. Dr Pat Cullen, who has been setting the quiz since 1997, checks the questions against Google, and will reword them as necessary to ensure that this isn’t just a search engine exercise.

So, “17.6 Which establishment, in the interests of political rectitude, discarded its Bavarian name for that of a Gaelic province?”

Best of luck.

You never know what you’ll find December 20, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal, Uncategorized.
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The Irvine Heritage Park Library is having a sale of remaindered books – racks of stuff at a quarter a pop. I was idly poking through the selection last night after the Chorale concert, musing about how my wife would react to my bringing home a couple of dozen new books (the answer to that question would certainly have been “not well”). Still, I thought, there’s not much danger. It was clear that the books on display had been remaindered for a reason – most of the selection consisted of dog-eared self-help guides and trashy romance novels and mysteries. And then, what do I see but a well-thumbed copy of “ATL Internals”, by Brent Rector and Chris Sells. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty high on the esoteric scale. I used it all the time in 1999 and 2000 when I was learning how to write software components for Windows, and it’s a great resource, but it’s not exactly mainstream material for a local branch library. I looked inside in case one of my old colleagues had identified themselves, but the book was mute. Luckily I still have my own copy, so I didn’t feel the need to rustle up a quarter and take it home.

What’s going to happen to the houseful of books we do already have, now that it’s been supplemented with the detritus of a working life spent in a software developer’s office, is a matter for another post.

Christmas with the Saddleback Master Chorale December 20, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in chorale.
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For the last fourteen years, I’ve been singing with the Saddleback Master Chorale, a choir which traces its history back to a small group set up in 1963 to provide voal accompaniment to the Laguna Beach “Pageant of the Masters”. There’s a direct line from that choir to our own group – indeed, some of our members have been singing with the group for over thirty of those forty-some years.

I started in the group in early 1994 with a performance of the Bach Mass in B Minor. I hadn’t sung in a group since I left school in the early Seventies, and the emotional impact of that astounding work was overwhelming. Since then, we’ve sung a huge variety of music, from show tunes to opera choruses to the great works of the choral literature – Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi. I love the discipline of learning music at weekly rehearsals with a group of fine singers, and the spine-tingling joy you sometimes get from a combination of a great piece of music and a performance which, in some unaccountable fashion, just works.

In somewhat less exalted vein, we finished our holiday concert season last night with a “Words and Music” performance at Irvine Heritage Park Library. We enjoyed ourselves, and the audience had a good time too, I think. The group, now about 25 singers, has come together well in the last year, both musically and socially, and most of us continued the party at a local bar after the show.

Next up for the group is an April concert entitled “A Tribute to Our Poets”. If you’ve heard Randall Thompson’s arrangements of Robert Frost’s poems – “Choose Something Like A Star” or “The Road Less Travelled” – you’ll know the kind of thing to expect.

That’s all very well, but I’ve always said that the Mass in B Minor is the one piece I’d crawl over broken glass to sing again, and there’s an opportunity coming up. Another local choir, the Concordia Master Chorale, is planning an April performance, and allegedly will welcome new singers who can demonstrate a reasonable degree of musical competence. So I’m planning to audition for them and I’m dusting off my score. It’ll be a busy musical spring, but I think I have a little time to spare…

Reduced in Force December 16, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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I think we all knew it was coming. The Reduction in Force (RIF) happened on Thursday, and I was one of a substantial number of people laid off from the Unisys engineering facility in Mission Viejo, California. The other two plants, in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, were similarly affected.

How do I feel? Well, after 30 years, it’s a shock, even though I’d been more and more convinced that I was going to be affected. But, overall, I have a tremendous sense of relief.

I write those words “after 30 years”, read them back, and there’s a sense of astonishment. How did I end up working for a single company for thirty years? And how would I have ever left without this layoff? I suspect that the answers are related. It becomes comfortable after a while, even if the job changes, as it did for me on many occasions. You see the same people, people who are also lifers, you understand the way things are done, you feel a sense of satisfaction at seeing organisational structures repeat themselves. In other words, you get tired and cynical, and I think that’s where I’d arrived at. But, that said, I don’t see how I’d have left on my own. That security blanket is very warm and comforting, and the alternative seems challenging, not to say frightening.

But that’s where I am now, with a sudden open space in front of me, after decades of walking a path which had become darker and more overgrown. Is what I see a meadow or a desert? Time will tell, and I’m excited at the prospect of finding out.

But, in the short term, I’m going to take a little time off, and consider the next couple of months as a mini-sabbatical. Lorraine and I might take an extended east coast trip to see friends in New York and Philadelphia, or maybe we’ll visit her birth city, Montreal.

It all starts on Monday. For the first time since June 1977, I’ll wake up with no thought of Unisys, a part of my life which is now complete. Let’s see what happens.

Moving mail from Outlook to Gmail December 5, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in worklife.
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For reasons which may become apparent – or which may not – I thought it would be a good idea to move some of the squaggabytes of Outlook e-mail I’ve accumulated over to Gmail.  I found lots of suggestions on the web, but not much that was too useful until I ran across a blog entry from Zoli Erdos which told me exactly what I needed to know.  The key point is that Gmail, as of about a month or so ago, now supports IMAP.  And since Outlook 2003, which is what I’m using, allows you to create an IMAP account, you’re off to the races. 

The only wrinkle from my perspective was that either the receive (IMAP) connection, on port 993, or the send (SMTP) connection, on port 465, or both, are blocked by my corporate firewall, so I had to do this from home. It takes a while over a standard upstream cable connection, but I think I have all my personal mail moved to Gmail now, just over 110 MB worth.  The IMAP integration is really nice.  You can create, delete and edit mailbox folders in Outlook, and they’re turned magically into Gmail labels.  The header addresses and timestamps are maintained.  All in all, a good experience.

Now we’ll see whether I was being paranoid about the need to do this in the first place.