Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for January, 2009

A more pragmatic, but less common, question about Office Open XML

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Geek question.

Assume people collaborate using Microsoft Office documents around (probably by e-mail, but that's another discussion).  

The "97-2003" formats are closed, binary formats, but well readable by applications such as, and now documented by their author (albeit under a specification that the GPL people can't yet get behind).    The 2007 format is more interoperable in the sense it's XML and (mostly) documented and went through an infamous "standardization" process, but is still not widely accepted. I would rather see ODF succeed — potentially with patent-free extensions from Microsoft to allow it to support all the features of Microsoft Office — as the 'standard XML document format'.  

Now we've got all that aside, I prefer .doc to .docx, and it's nothing to do with any of that - it's purely pragmatic, with respect to users of previous versions of Office.

Office 2003 and 2007, side by side.

I believe that in the team I work in, maybe 2/3 are on Office 2003 and the other 1/3 are on Office 2007.  Our customers, being that we deal with very large companies, are overwhelmingly all still on Office 2003.  (Personally, I'd rather send a PDF to a customer than a DOC, but that's not a decision I can make company-wide.)

I have the converter pack installed, which makes my Office 2003 installation compatible with Office 2007 documents (though it does prompt me and say that some features may be lost in translation).  I can't assume that everyone does, however, so OOXML files inconvenience anyone who gets sent these documents that does not have the converter installed.  The argument could also be made that PDF files inconvenience people without a PDF reader: everyone just downloads one, so what?

By way of opinions placed in the comments, should I be encouraging colleagues who send me documents in Office 2007 format, to enable saving by default in Office 2003 format?

Two hits

Friday, January 16th, 2009

The question: "why do hash functions use prime numbers?"  I knew I'd seen someone suggest it wasn't necessary in researching this topic last week.  (They cited this, if you care.)

The Google search: "prime hash".

Result #1: Why do hash functions use prime numbers?

Result #2: Prime Hanger Steak with Crispy Hash Browns and Pierre Poivre Sauce

Mmmm, prime hanger steak with crispy hash browns and pierre poivre sauce!

Mmmm, prime hanger steak with crispy hash browns and pierre poivre sauce!

I think it was lunchtime at that point.

Also, did you know the reproductive cycle of cicadas is 17 years?

Can't eat chups, bro!

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

The recipe for the perfect dip is not so much handed down between Kiwis, it's a genetic memory - you're born with it.  And why not, it's so easy to remember.  One tin of reduced cream, one packet of dried onion soup mix, a squirt of lemon juice (or white vinegar).  And in case you can't remember it, you can buy a bowl with it on.

Reduced cream is so much associated with the "original Kiwi dip" that the dip designation is plastered all over Nestlé's cans and their product web site (incidentally, first hit for the term on The Google,  unless you're in Canada, in which case the first hit is Homesick Kiwi, who are willing to gouge you on the price of some).  It doesn't even have to be Nestlé - I used to buy Pam's reduced cream from the Pak, and mix it with bacon and onion soup.

We were in the supermarket the other day and Fern picked up some chips.  The subject of dip came up, and even though I'd not seen it before, a package of dried onion soup mix was easily found.  "Perfect for dips!", it claimed.  "Just add sour cream".

Now, I don't know about you, but avoiding pre-made sour cream dips is the general reason for making the reduced cream dip in the first place.  And I was born a guardian of The Recipe. So off to reduced-cream-ville it was.  I knew where I'd find the stuff, and wandered down the aisle.  Where do they keep the reduced cream?  Right by the condensed milk, of course.  I knew where to find that.  And sure enough, right next to it, a half dozen varieties of evaporated milk, but no reduced cream.

Dilemma.  Whipping out my iPhone G1 lame piece of corporate RIM crap, I soon found out that the only mentions of reduced cream on the Internet were from NZ.  I'd never thought about it that way, but it's kiwiana.  I am forced to believe it only exists in order to one day become dip.  It therefore goes in the pile of Things I Can't Have, right next to correct-recipe Creme Eggs and Twisties. Seems that reduced cream was in vogue for making white sauces "in the era of nouvelle cuisine", but now only really used in Nouvelle-Zélande.

Never one to shy away from improvising though!  I grabbed a can of evaporated milk - how different could it be? - and headed home.

Well, it wasn't thick and creamy, for starters.  It had about the consistency of regular milk. And it didn't look like dip when mixed with the soup packet. So I did what any good cook would do - I reduced it, in a pot on the stove, and I added cream.

I don't think it's actually the milk's fault.  I think the milk was OK.  I suspect it was the soup mix that really needs to evaluate its place on the shelf.  Eventually, I got something which tastes quite edible, but Fern wouldn't touch. See if you can figure out why.

Canadian dip

Welcome to 2009

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Hi, everybody.

New Year's Day in the park New Year's Day - Fern in the snow

2008 was a year full of adventures that felt like they required large amounts of writing to do them justice, and then further adventures that it seemed silly to document when I hadn't finished the first set, and so on and so forth.  Our 10 days in New York became 8 days of blog posts and then writer's block.  I wrote on Day 8 that the next band on my "must see before I they die" list was Pink Floyd, and what do you know, there goes that idea.  I tried not to feel responsible!

Behind finishing those two days, I've been on a number of trips (some with Fern, some for work), and seen a number of great bands (two nights of Crowded House, Liam Finn, R.E.M., James, Nine Inch Nails, Barenaked Ladies and Oasis).  Many of those links lead to Flickr galleries with much better photos than I could ever hope to take at a gig, so these days I don't even bother taking my camera.  Although you can't beat up-close-and-personal like this.

So, in the spirit of e-mail bankruptcy, I'm starting fresh.  This is 2009.  I'll write about it as I see fit.  Mum will be happy.  Anyone who enjoys my little technical tidbits will be happy, as they will probably resume again.  And I'll just write stuff down for the sake of it being written, rather than feeling beholden to the immense responsibility of summarizing every event.

Which leads to my first Crowdsourced Question of 2009: I currently use Gallery (1) for photos, and I'm starting to think someone like Picasa Web or Flickr would be a better choice.  To anyone who has or had their own Gallery - what do you recommend?  Facebook integration would be nice, as would being able to caption/edit everything locally and then push them out to the 'web.

And who authorized moving the Bit In The Middle party?