Is there anything more pleasing that a lovely graph? Probably… but anyway it’s good to know that The Economist churns them out with some regularity. I’m currently a bit partial to this one (which I’m calling “The Ballerina”, but that distracts from it really):

Great Graph Example

Taken from “How the race was won“. You can see more of these over at The Economist Daily Chart page.

Personal Finance Software

For a long time I used Quicken for personal finance stuff, and eventually for freelancing too. It did the job quite nicely for a while, but I hit a few blocks with it: the upgrades promised more than they delivered; the data format was so stupid it was effectively impossible to move to different software; and then they dropped support for the UK. When I moved to the Mac I discovered the Mac version was just terrible, so for a while it was the only Windows app I was stuck with. This was all some years ago.

The solution we ended up with is Moneydance. I’ve been using it now for at least a couple of years, and it’s worked out really well as a personal finance replacement for Quicken. It runs on the Mac, Windows, and Linux so no problems moving between operating systems. It’s sane. It works.

It’s weakness was in invoicing, and for that reason, I’ve never used it for business. It does VAT, it does produce reports, so you can use it for business, but I wanted a more complete package for business, so I’ve settled (again, for some years) on using MYOB. I find it a bit of odd in places but I think that’s more to do with accountancy than software. Unfortunately, I’m uncertain what’s happening with MYOB right now: looks like they’ve been moved to someone called Mamut, and I don’t know what the plans are there.

So whilst I can’t really suggest you look at MYOB (in the future I’ll be looking to move to something more on-line, I suspect), Moneydance has been an absolute star.



As I write this, there’s a cup of tea to the right of my keyboard. I have a reasonable idea of how much energy it took to make the tea. When I turned the kettle on, the display on Wattson scrolled up from a resting rate for the house of around 98W to over 2000W. To see those numbers first-hand, and control the numbers with a flip of a switch, is a small awakening. I suspect it’s common practice when anyone buys an energy measuring device to run around the house turning things on to see what the effect is; and then turn off as much as possible to find the smallest reading possible.

Back to the tea. These days, having had Wattson for a few months, I put a little more care into getting something like the right amount of water in the kettle. But I wonder: now that the novelty of Wattson has worn off, will my behaviour change for the long term? I’d like to know and keep it in check, and Wattson should help.

There’s a USB slot on Wattson, and DIY Kyoto supply software, called Holmes, to read the data from the device to show you your usage. The software tries to be funky, but it actually feels like a throwback to me… but it works. OK, well, ours didn’t at first, but DIYKyoto were brilliant and fixed the box for us, and we can now pull data from it.

Data collected from Wattson


Smashing, eh?

Well…there’s a problem with all of this. The data—or “my data” as I like to think of it—is locked up in an encrypted proprietary database. I’d love to be able to tell you Wattson is a great device, but the trouble that’s been gone through to make the data (“my data”) hard to get at niggles me. Sure, if you work at it (about 60-90 minutes) you can decrypt the data, but that’s not really playing the game. And it’s probably against the license agreement, although I can’t find it at the moment to check. There’s talk at the DIY Kyoto web site of adding an export function before the end of the 2008 (or February 2008, depending on which message you read).

Anyway: I’ll keep an eye on the graphs, and see what happens, but the data needs to be open, even if it’s via an API. In fact, DIY Kyoto have hinted at online access, and that’d be a good step. Ideally, there needs to be a direct link from Wattson to the web for a little bit of competitive energy comparison fun. Maybe one day.


Walking in London


I was catching up with Ash the other day, and on the way back to the station I used the maps application on my phone to find my way. What I hadn’t realized up to that point was that the map automatically updated to show me my position (this is an old phone, mind you, not the one with GPS built in). So as I navigated, I took screen shots each time the map updated and the above is the merging of the screen shots. Blue circles are where the phone thinks I am; red dots show the route I actually took.

I’ve used this since to find my way around bits of London I don’t really know that well, and it’s worked nicely for me. The downside is that you need your phone out and on, which does mean a mugging can’t be far away.

Euro 2008

For Euro 2008 I tracked the odds of any of the teams winning over time. It makes a kind of fun graph:

Graph of odds over time for the teams in Euro 2008

The y-axis shows the odds (screen scraped from a betting web site… not doing that again), converted into a probability, and multiplied by 16. Why multiplied? To give a kind of “value” to each team: if you’d purchased a team for £1 in a sweepstake, then you can plot a kind of value for it over time by multiplying the odds of winning by the size of the pot (£16). Kind of.

Geek heritage needs saving

Bletchley park Bletchley park Bletchley park

In 2006 we visited Bletchly Park, and I really recommend you head out there sometime. In fact, go soon, because we found out at the Cafe Sci talk that they have three years left of funding. Then… it’s gone.

Yesterday I received a press release which contained some worrying images of building decay. But there’s something you can do…

Festival so far

It’s festival time, and although we’re not doing much in the Brighton Festival itself, we have a punishing schedule in the Brighton Festival Fringe—which, I’m told, is the “England’s largest arts event, and the 2008 Fringe is the second largest Fringe Festival in the world”. Citation needed, indeed.

So far we’ve been to…

  • X-Files Improv with Dean Haglund, who turns out to be the long haired blond geeky one in the X-Files. A small turn out (30 people?), but a huge amount of fun. Essentially, an X-Files episode is created using audience suggestions, and it worked really well. A top act.
  • We spent an hour or so of a boiling hot day in The Last South: Pursuit of the Pole. Yes, there were initial technical issues with the sound, and yes the venue suffered from being on a roundabout on bank holiday Monday with motorcycles roaring passed, but this didn’t distract from a great play. It was Scott and Amundsen on stage, writing their journals, in step with each other, but with very different experiences. Touching, funny, etc.
  • Up to the university we dropped in on a professorial lecture, namely “Alcohol: a simple molecule with complex consequences for emotion and behaviour“. We learned about the experiments on memory and behaviour under the effects of booze, and it was eye-opening. I didn’t know, for example, that drinking enhances your memory (but only for events before the drinking starts). Naturally, there was a wine reception after.
  • And tonight we went to see Mike Leigh in conversation with Amy Raphael, discussing his films and watching bits of some of them. We headed back home to sign up to LoveFilm to get his back catalog.

One negative: the £1 per ticket booking fees are evil, especially as the booking system isn’t finished and the web sites are frustrating to use. And on top of that “internet booking fees” should be made illegal. But, there’s no competition, so we pay. I’d rather have to pay than not have it at all, is what it comes down to.

Old Bailey

Transcripts from the Old Bailey (from 1674 to 1913) are now online, which has generated plenty of press.

As I suspect many others have, I went searching for references to my family name and I’ve found a few…

  • In 1796, a 19 year old George Dallaway wandered into a warehouse and told the clerk that he wanted “half a hundred weight of sheathing nails”, but didn’t have the paperwork. The clerk gave him the goods, and thus a fraud was committed. Geroge was “respited to go for a sailor or soldier” which we take to mean he was given the opportunity to fight, but a few months later he’s in the proceedings as having a year in jail and a public whipping.
  • Matthew Dallaway stole 12 spoons in 1769 and was transported. Nice touch in that he took them while the victim’s house was on fire. And he would have got away with it had it not been for the pesky pawnbroker grassing him up. His defense: “I was very much in liquor”, a phrase I plan to use whenever the situation merits it.

It’s worth having a dig around the site for some of the history to the publication. For example, the Proceedings were popular (“…in the opinion of many people one of the most diverting things a man can read in London”) until the rise of newspapers, and even carried advertising for a while.

Science ‘Open Notebook’

One to file under “wish I’d thought of that”, from Slashdot:

Under [the] radically transparent ‘open notebook’ approach, everything goes online: experimental protocols, successful outcomes, failed attempts, even discussions of papers being prepared for publication… The time stamps on every entry not only establish priority but allow anyone to track the contributions of every person, even in a large collaboration.