pozorvlak: (Default)
Monday, January 2nd, 2017 12:57 pm
Happy New Year! You're all no doubt itching to learn how I got on with my 2016 New Year's Resolutions.

[Content note: weight loss/gain]
Read more... )
pozorvlak: (Default)
Saturday, February 11th, 2012 03:43 pm
It was often uncomfortable, often painful, particularly for the first month, but other days were pure joy, a revelling in the sensation of movement, of strength and wellbeing. My regular headaches stopped. For the first time ever, I got through winter without even a cold. I felt incredibly well, began to walk and hold myself differently. When friends asked "How are you?", instead of the normal Scottish "Oh, not too bad," I'd find myself saying "Extremely well!"

How obnoxious.

On other days training was pure slog, the body protesting and the will feeble. The mind could see little point in getting up before breakfast to run on a cold, dark morning, and none at all in continuing when it began to hurt. Take a break, why not have a breather, why not run for home now?

It is at times like that that the real work is done. It's easy to keep going when you feel strong and good. Anyone can do that. But at altitude it is going to feel horrible most of the time - and that's what you're really training for. So keep on running, through the pain and the reluctance. Do you really expect to get through this Expedition - this relationship, this book, this life for that matter - without some of the old blood, sweat and tears? No chance. That's part of the point of it all. So keep on running...

The real purpose of training is not so much hardening the body as toughening the will. Enthusiasm may get you started, bodily strength may keep you going for a long time, but only the will makes you persist when those have faded. And stubborn pride. Pride and the will, with its overtones of fascism and suppression, have long been suspect qualities - the latter so much so that I'd doubted its existence. But it does exist, I could feel it gathering and bunching inside me as the months passed. There were times when it alone got me up and running, or kept me from whinging and retreating off a Scottish route. The will is the secret motor that keeps driving when the heart and the mind have had enough.

[From Summit Fever.]
pozorvlak: (Default)
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 12:08 pm
Previously on posts tagged with 'angst' (mostly friendslocked): our hero became depressed, sought help, and is now (mostly) feeling better. Now read on...

John Walker, in his excellent book The Hacker's Diet, distinguishes two approaches to tackling problems, which he calls the Manager's approach and the Engineer's approach. Management is about monitoring and ameliorating chronic problems to keep their symptoms to within an acceptable level; engineering is about solving problems outright. Most difficult problems, he claims, must be tackled using a combination of both approaches.

My problem, which might be summarised as "I became depressed because I suck at my job", has so far responded well to a management approach: leaning on friends, attending CBT workshops, prioritizing exercise, talking to my supervisor about my problems. I'm very grateful to all of you for your support, and to the Glasgow NHS mental health team. Now that I'm feeling a bit more spoonful, it's time to apply the engineer's approach, and suck less at my job.

[A perhaps more honourable alternative would be to find another job at which I wouldn't suck, but that would be fraught with risk, and my current job has much to recommend it. Besides, I'm not sure that such a job exists.]

I have three basic problems:
  1. I'm not a good enough programmer;
  2. I don't know enough about the problem domain;
  3. I am now effectively an experimental scientist, but I don't know anything about experiment design.

On the first point, I'm reasonably happy with the readability of my code, but I'm unhappy with its testability and correctness, and I'm very unhappy with the time it takes me to produce it. I'm frequently struck by analysis paralysis. I've spent most of my programming career working with high-level languages, so I'm not very good at lower-level programming. I think the only solution to this problem is to write (hundreds of) thousands of lines of code, at as low a level as possible.

On the second point: before starting this job, I'd previously worked at a compiler vendor and at a web startup which did some machine-learning; back in high school, I'd done some assembly programming for an embedded system. I'd also done a bit of background reading on compiler theory. It turned out that this was insufficient preparation for a job using machine-learning to improve the state of the art in compilers targetting embedded systems. Astonishing, I know.

There used to be a cute slide in the Edinburgh University first compilers course:

In the front end, everything's polynomial. In the back end, everything's NP-complete. In the middle-end, everything's uncomputable.

Now, that's true for compiler theory, and it explains why compiler research is still a going concern after sixty years, but it doesn't explain why day-to-day hacking on compilers is hard. For me at least, that's because hacking on compilers is systems programming. You need to know, at least to the level of "understand the basic principles of and can look up the details if needed", about things like addressing modes, instruction set architecture design, executable layout, and calling conventions. Forget the fat guys who know C++ who apparently keep Silicon Valley running; I work with guys who know Verilog and the GNU ld control language.

[Betcha didn't know that the GNU linker embeds a Turing-equivalent programming language :-)]

Now, none of this stuff is especially difficult as far as I can see. But it's a lot of background knowledge to have, and if you lack it then you'll be constantly hitting problems that you lack the mental toolkit to address. So here's what I'm doing about it:
  • To address the patchiness of my knowledge about machine-learning, I went to the library and got out a couple of ML textbooks, one of which I've now read. I've also signed up to the free online machine-learning class from Stanford, and, while I was at it, the Introduction to AI class too.
  • To address my ignorance of architectural issues, I'm auditing the computer design undergrad course at Edinburgh; when I've finished that, I'll audit the follow-on course in computer architecture. So far it's mostly been the sort of boolean algebra and digital electronics that I learned at my mother's knee, but there's a lot of stuff I don't know later on in the course.
  • Linkers are a particular problem for me; I think linker errors are the Universe's way of telling me what it's like for a non-techie who thinks they need to press the "any" key. [livejournal.com profile] zeecat kindly lent me a copy of Levine's book Linkers and Loaders, which I am now reading; as an unexpected bonus, one of the early chapters is a 30,000ft tour of computer architecture. To my delight, the book walks you through the construction of a simple linker in Perl.
  • To address my lack of C and assembly language experience, to solidify my understanding of basic compiler theory, and to give me a testbed for implementing some optimisation algorithms later on, I started writing a simple compiler in C. Currently it accepts a simple term/factor/expression grammar and outputs x86 assembly; the plan is to extend it so it accepts a subset of C. "Compiler" is currently a bit of a joke; it is technically a compiler, but one that does really aggressive constant folding :-) I haven't hacked on this for a while, because work got in the way, but intend to pick it up again soon.
  • To address my ignorance of C minutiae, I started reading through the comp.lang.c FAQ, at Aaron Crane's suggestion. This is also stalled, as is a project to convert said FAQ to a collection of Mnemosyne flashcards.
  • The world seems to be standardising on Hadoop as a clustering solution; I should try that out at some point.

So, anything else I should be doing? Anything in that list I should not be doing?

I have no real idea how to start addressing my third problem, namely my ignorance of experimental design. Go to the library and get another book out, I guess. Anyone got any recommendations?
pozorvlak: (Default)
Monday, August 15th, 2011 05:35 pm
In a world where Smile, Chinese Democracy, Duke Nukem Forever and Perl 6 have all actually been released, what archetype are we meant to use for an over-ambitious, never-to-be-completed project? And what did people use before those projects started? What do people who don't know about computers or rock music use?

The obvious answer, at least in the West, is "the Tower of Babel", but that doesn't quite work: firstly, because an essential aspect of the ToB story (and a more common use of the simile) is that the project failed because of communication breakdown; and secondly, because the ToB project failed not through its inherent overambition, but because said ambition led to one of the stakeholders¹ actively working to sabotage the project. DNF had many, many things working against it, but AFAIK intentional sabotage wasn't one of them.

Which leads me to two related questions:

1) What did people call a Yoko Ono figure before the Beatles? The idea of two close collaborators being driven apart by a woman who captivates Collaborator A and distracts him from his work with Collaborator B seems like it should be as old as Humanity; but the closest I can think of is the Biblical story of David, Uriah and Bathsheba. And again, the parallel doesn't quite work: it's important to that story that the woman was also desired by (indeed, married to) Collaborator B.

2) The Bible, as indicated above, provides a rich store of widely-applicable shared metaphors and allusions. As Western society becomes less Judaeo-Christian (and in particular, more secular), increasingly many people will not understand Biblical allusions. How shall we replace them?

¹ God.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Thursday, March 24th, 2011 10:01 am
In Clackmannanshire, where [livejournal.com profile] wormwood_pearl grew up, the word "minky" means filthy, messy, disgusting; there's a heavy connotation of shame. "Ugh, this kitchen's minky!" An approximate synonym is "clatty".

My friend [livejournal.com profile] buffalo_gill, who is from... somewhere in England, uses "minky" to mean great, excellent, cool: "that party was minky".

In the teenage fiction of Joanna Nadin, "minky" is a noun meaning "vagina": "According to Sad Ed, it is the law to have been sick on Strongbow and have seen several willies (or minkies in his case) by the end of Year Ten."

So I was delighted to see this at the shops yesterday:

Half-price Minky ironing board
pozorvlak: (gasmask)
Thursday, February 17th, 2011 02:34 pm
According to the book Invisible on Everest: Innovation and the Gear Makers, the noted fell-walker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright had four suits: his best suit, which he wore to church; his second-best suit, which he wore to work; his third-best suit, which he wore for hillwalking; and his scruffiest suit, which he wore for gardening. When his gardening suit wore out, he'd buy a new suit, which would become his Sunday suit, and all his existing suits would be demoted to the next position in line. This was in the days when business attire was still constructed sturdily enough to stand outdoor use, and specialist mountain clothing (made of silk and gabardine) was outside almost everyone's budget. I suspect that Wainwright's approach to clothes-shopping was fairly common at the time, though Wainwright's suit-pipeline was probably longer than most.

Many years ago, probably some time in the mid-Nineties, I watched a ten-minute documentary on (I think) Channel 4, about two craftsmen who manufactured their own knives for use in their work. One was an up-and-coming sushi chef, and the knife he was making was his first; I think it may have marked the end of his apprenticeship, but I can't remember much about his segments of the programme. The other was a maker of ballet shoes, with many years' experience. In the course of his work, he used half-a-dozen different types of knife, each with its own specific use. But the thing was, they were all the same knife. He made his knives on the Wainwright principle, you see. His knives all had to be razor-sharp all the time, so he made them from very soft steel, and sharpened them constantly. Cut, cut, sharpen, cut, cut, sharpen, switch to new knife, cut, cut, sharpen, etc. The blades thus wore away very fast, so what had started out as a large convex blade soon turned into a smaller straight blade, which then turned into a thinner concave blade, and then the tip snapped off and it became a different type of blade again. Roughly once a month, his smallest knife became useless or his largest knife stopped being useful for the largest-knife jobs (I can't remember which), and he knew it was time to forge a new large convex knife.

It was a truly great piece of television, opening doors into little worlds I'd never imagined. But I can't find it now. Living as we do in the far-off future of the twenty-first century, I'd have expected someone to have uploaded it to the 'net, or at least written about it somewhere, but I can't find it at all. Worse yet, it was part of a series; I have no idea what the other episodes covered (I think the overall theme was something like "how people in unusual jobs do their work", or maybe "the tools people use"), but I'd love to see them.

Can anyone help?
pozorvlak: (pozorvlak)
Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 01:29 pm
[livejournal.com profile] wormwood_pearl's brother, who is a cycle instructor, very kindly gave us a copy of John Franklin's book Cyclecraft. There's an exercise on page 83 for which you have to look at a photo of a town road, identify all the hazards, and plan your response to them. We both had a go - parked cars, children waiting to cross, a driver clearly about to turn out into the road without looking, all the usual stuff - and then checked in the back of the book to see how we'd done.

We'd missed "poor road surface". None of the roads we cycle on are anything like that good...
pozorvlak: (Default)
Sunday, October 17th, 2010 01:21 pm
Here's the email I wanted to send last night:
From: [livejournal.com profile] pozorvlak
To: Dan Bailey
Subject: Coire Gaothach circuit

Dear Mr Bailey,

First off, thanks for writing Scotland's Mountain Ridges. It's been a great source of beta, and has taken me to some beautiful parts of the country and up some great routes which I otherwise wouldn't have thought to visit.

However. )

Climbing over the lip of the corrie, the North Ridge ahead of me
Climbing over the lip of the corrie, the North Ridge ahead of me.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 12:32 pm
[Error: unknown template qotd]

This actually happened to me shortly after I moved to London. At some point in my housewarming party, I found [livejournal.com profile] dynix (whom I had only recently met) examining my bookshelves with a perplexed expression.

"I'm trying to work out what kind of person you are," she said, "but I can't find any common threads to these books."

What she didn't know is that the test wasn't fair; the books I'd brought to London were all those (and only those) books I'd found interesting enough to buy but not yet to read.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Monday, August 16th, 2010 03:55 pm
I just finished reading a great book: It's All About the Bike by Rob Penn.

Some years ago, Penn threw in a career as a lawyer in order to spend three years cycling around the world. Now he works as a journalist for outdoor magazines and lives in the Black Mountains, cycling everywhere he possibly can (leading his neighbours to speculate that he must have done something really terrible to lose his driving licence for so long - surely a lost driving licence is the only reason to cycle anywhere, right?).

He's got his old mountain bike and his new mountain bike and his old racing bike and his new racing bike and the frame of his round-the-world bike (wrecked in an Indian pothole the size of a hot-tub, and held together by the disfiguring ministrations of an Iranian welder), but it's not enough: he wants a bike that's really his. A bike that's made to fit him and the kind of cycling he does; a bike that's not exactly like every other bike that came off the same Taiwanese production line; a bike that celebrates the history of one of humanity's greatest inventions.

And so he sets off to construct his Dream Bike. One on which every component - while not necessarily the most expensive - is of uncompromisingly high quality, and perfectly suited to its owner. A bike that he'll cycle every day; a bike that will last him the rest of his life.

His trip takes in artisan frame-builders in Stoke-on-Trent, leatherworkers in Birmingham, the original mountain bikers in Marin County, California, dreadlocked Portlanders and sharply-suited Italians, all united by two things - their love of the bicycle, and their passion for beautiful, precise, harmonious engineering. But the construction of the Dream Bike is somewhere between an excuse and a jumping-off point for the book's real strength: a delightful wander through the history and engineering of the bicycle, and its role within the greater history of the Industrial Revolution. Reading this book won't turn you into Sheldon Brown, but you'll learn a bit about frame geometry, how bikes contributed to the emancipation of women and the lower classes, the benefits of tensioned wheels, the non-stop six-day endurance races that used to run at Madison Square Garden, and some of the surprising array of technologies that go into the modern bicycle. And you'll have fun doing so.

There's a BBC 4 TV programme that accompanies the book, called Ride of My Life: The Story of the Bicycle. It's only an hour long, and so it's a lot lighter on detail than the book, but it has the compensating benefit that you get to see the people, and some of the construction processes described in the book. Penn's description of his wheels being built is lovely, but the real thing is even lovelier. Maybe a two-hour film would have been the perfect compromise; but I'll take what we've got.

If I have one criticism, it's that book and film are both weirdly centred on Europe and America. Doesn't Asia, the continent where almost all modern bikes are made, deserve more of a look-in? Japanese components giant Shimano get exactly one mention in the book, and aren't mentioned by name in the film at all, despite having pioneered many significant inventions. And surely the bicycle industry's role in Japan's post-War economic recovery deserves a mention? Then again, Penn racked up a pretty horrifying number of air miles on his existing trip; probably just as well he didn't go to the Far East as well.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 04:25 pm
I was chatting to [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet the other day, trying to come up with puns based on family saga novel-series and great feminist works (long story). Seeking inspiration, I looked up The F-Word's list of recommended reading, and was astonished to find Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones series there.

Bridget, for anyone who hasn't read the books or seen the films, is an astonishingly ditzy thirtysomething single woman living in London in the late Nineties. Her telegraphic diary entries all begin with a rundown of her weight and intake of calories, cigarettes, alcohol and Lottery scratchcards, with comments on same: "8st 13, alcohol units 5 (Jude's fault), cigarettes 2 (sort of thing that could happen to anyone — does not mean have started smoking again), calories 1765, Instants 2" being a typical entry. Or there's my favourite, from the second book: "Calories 22, unforgiving minutes filled with distance run 0".

Tracking these things is, of course, essential to controlling them. Unless you do it the way Bridget does - looking at only the raw data, and going into a panic at every pound gained. As everyone who's ever counted a calorie knows, your weight fluctuates from day to day and hour to hour based on all kinds of spurious and irrelevant facts like how full your stomach is and how much liquid you've been drinking in the last few hours. Which is why The Hacker's Diet (about which I have written before) recommends looking instead at a moving average of your daily weights, to extract the true picture from the noisy data. What, I wondered, would Bridget's trendline look like?

I couldn't find my copy of Bridget Jones' Diary anywhere, but fortunately it was trivial to find and download an ebook copy: think of it as format-shifting :-). A bit of mucking about with regexes and spreadsheets, and I had the following graph, for her weight and trendline throughout the first book:

It's a bit wide, unfortunately )

I have no idea what that sudden downward spike a third of the way along is: the entry gives her weight as 8st, but it passes without analysis or even comment in the text. OCR error, perhaps. Anyone with a treeware copy care to check out the entry for April 11? Anyway, note how the trendline is barely affected by such a sudden and swiftly-corrected change.

Overall, we see... not a lot. She pretty much maintains her weight in a five-pound band. A band, incidentally, which even the most fat-phobic doctor would be unlikely to criticise: assuming she's as tall as the average British woman at 5' 4", her BMI never goes over 23.5.

[I'm well aware of the problems with using BMI as a clinical tool; bear in mind that we're (a) only using it to get a rough idea, (b) talking about a fictional character here :-)]

The spreadsheet's here, if anyone wants to have a play with it.
pozorvlak: (sceince)
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 04:21 pm
Eliezer Yudkowsky just kicked it up a notch:
"Blood for the blood god!" screamed Neville. "Skulls for the skull throne! Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The enemy's gate is sideways!"


"I am Neville, the last scion of Longbottom!" screamed Neville to the sky above, holding his wand pointed straight up as though to challenge the blazing blue heaven itself, knowing that nothing after this day would ever be the same again. "Neville of Chaos! Face me if you da-"

Some random thoughts, including spoilers )
pozorvlak: (polar bear)
Thursday, June 10th, 2010 03:35 pm
I keep starting to write book reviews, then running out of steam and abandoning them half-way through. I don't know why I find book reviews so hard to write. Anyway, apologies if this one sucks: I'm deliberately lowering my prose standards so I can finish the damn thing.

I recently read a book called "The Non-Designer's Design Book" by Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams). It pretty much does what it says on the tin: gives the newbie just enough of a clue about visual design of documents to be getting on with. We're all (hopefully!) clued up enough to avoid obvious solecisms like putting everything in 20pt Comic Sans; this book attempts to take things to the next stage, where you can start to make your documents look actively good in simple though effective ways. She focuses on printed documents, but occasionally addresses the Web - but her example print documents generally work better than her example websites, IMHO.

Williams' message might be boiled down to "make similar things look identical, and different things look very different". More formally, she sets out four principles to adhere to when designing your documents:
  • Contrast: make different things look very different. Don't have 12-point headings and 10-point text: have 20-point headings and 7-point text, in contrasting fonts.
  • Repetition: make similar things (dishes on a menu, for instance) look the same, and introduce repeated visual elements (unusual bullets, images, rules, etc).
  • Alignment: pick one alignment and stick to it. The more things you can get to line up vertically or horizontally, the better. Things that are conceptually the same (such as menu items) should definitely line up. Left- and right-alignment creates clear visual edges, and so should be preferred to centred alignment, which (she claims) has a staid, formal look. Don't "trap" whitespace between a sharp edge and a ragged edge.
  • Proximity: group logically related things together on the page. Conversely, use whitespace to separate things that are not logically related. Important special case: a subheading should be closer to the paragraph it's heading than to the previous paragraph.
She tried to come up with a snappy mnemonic for these four points, but apparently did not succeed.

There's a meta-rule, though: don't be afraid to break any or all of these rules, provided that you know what you're doing and what effect you hope to achieve; and when you break a rule, do it boldly and don't be a wimp, or it will just look like you've made a mistake. Once you've set up a standard alignment, bringing something firmly out of that alignment emphasises it; bringing something slightly out of alignment just looks like your mouse hand slipped. She also repeatedly advises you to have a strong central focus around which your design is based.

The first (and best) part of the book introduces these rules, and goes through several example documents (menus, flyers, business cards, CVs, magazine pages), starting with bad designs and then iteratively applying the four principles to produce something that's much better - though occasionally I think she should have stopped a couple of iterations earlier than she did. Subsequent parts deal with colour selection using colour wheels, and choice of fonts. Here she expands on her earlier advice about choosing contrasting fonts, and tells you how to do this in more detail, introducing various axes along which typefaces can be classified (weight, direction, colour, sans versus serif, modern versus oldstyle versus slab serif, width, and so on - it looks like the blog I Love Typography covers all this stuff well). She advises against ever using Times New Roman or Arial/Helvetica, as they're simply overused.

The book's fun to read, and (as one would hope) fun to just look at, if only for the 300-odd fonts she uses in her examples. [livejournal.com profile] wormwood_pearl and I have also had fun dissecting and critiquing lots of documents since reading it. Hopefully I'll be less clueless next time I have to produce an appealing-looking document, though I don't think I'll be setting myself up as a web designer any time soon.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Monday, May 10th, 2010 12:41 pm
A while back I read a book called Gin: the Much-Lamented Death of Madam Geneva, from which I learned all kinds of interesting things about the Gin Craze (and parallel Gin Panic) in eighteenth-century London. I can't whole-heartedly recommend the book - it would have been better with fewer rhetorical flourishes and more serious analysis - but it should be required reading for anyone proposing measures aimed at cutting "binge drinking", or any other kind of drug abuse. Short version: whatever your idea is, they tried it in the eighteenth century, and it either didn't work or made the problem worse. Concentrate on fixing poverty instead.

One titbit that particularly surprised me was that it used to be common for workplaces to provide gin to their workers, with the cost of the gin being deducted from wages. No risk of being sacked for showing up drunk to work! However, I wonder if our descendants will feel the same about workplaces today which provide unfiltered Internet access to employees...
pozorvlak: (Default)
Sunday, August 16th, 2009 01:06 pm
Got home late and drunk on Friday night from the West Port book festival's Literary Twestival, where we'd been presenting the best of Project Twutenberg. Sat down rather heavily on the bed, only to hear an ominous cracking noise and find myself about six inches lower than anticipated. On closer inspection, it turned out that a large section of the inner bed frame had split and sheared away from the outer. I then had to spend a keenly-resented half-hour messing around with pliers and wood glue, and setting up a complicated arrangement of clamps and bungee cord to keep the wood in place while the glue dried.

Thank God for sofabeds.
pozorvlak: (babylon)
Friday, August 7th, 2009 01:30 pm
Should you be bored and have a Twitter account to play with, can I suggest Project Twutenberg*? To quote their page:
Project Twutenberg aims to make literature accessible. We take classics of world literature and translate them to "twiterature" - from stodgy, unappetising tomes into easily digested tweets.

Everyone is welcome to contribute to Project Twutenberg. To participate simply digest a well-known book into a tweet and add #twbg to the end, like the glacé cherry on a word bun.
So far I'm most proud of "Farewell, arms!"

* Disclaimer: my employers are behind this.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Thursday, April 16th, 2009 11:51 am
A while back, I promised [livejournal.com profile] mrkgnao and [livejournal.com profile] necaris that I'd contribute something to the cultural/gaming webzine FerretBrain. I've been reading a lot of books about climbing and mountaineering recently, and I thought it might be interesting to do a sort of comparative review, interspersed with my observations on the general conventions of the genre (provided I can think of something more interesting than "a lot of mountaineering books are about times when it All Went Badly Wrong").

Anyway, here's a list of said books, compiled as much to aid my own memory as anything else. Any of them sound particularly interesting? Anyone like to recommend any other good ones I should read?

The books )
pozorvlak: (Default)
Saturday, October 18th, 2008 01:34 pm
It was one of those lovely nights which occur from time to time in an English June, mitigating the rigours of the island summer and causing manufacturers of raincoats and umbrellas to wonder uneasily if they have been mistaken in supposing England to be an earthly Paradise for men of their profession.
P. G. Wodehouse, Ring for Jeeves.
pozorvlak: (Default)
Monday, July 28th, 2008 02:36 pm
I found a used syringe in the street today.

It presented me with an ethical dilemma: on the one hand, I didn't like the thought of some kid playing with it and getting hepatitis C or worse, but on the other, what was I supposed to do about it? I couldn't see any bins or anything nearby, and even if I could, what about the guys who empty the bins? Leaving it alone would have ensured that I was in no danger myself, but if we only ever did the right thing when it was easy or convenient then it would be a pretty poor world. In terms that occurred to me later, the First Law trumps the Third. No doubt this situation is covered in detail in Situations You're Expected to Know How to Deal With Now That You're a Grown-up ("Nothing under 'heroin' - try under 'needles'"), but my copy must have gone missing in the post on my eighteenth birthday because I never received it¹. In the end, I picked the syringe up carefully by the plunger end through a convenient newspaper (probably the first and only time I'll be grateful to litterers), wrapped it in a bit more newspaper, then carried it down to a nearby doctor's surgery and asked them to put it in their sharps bin for proper disposal. Then I washed my hands very thoroughly, even though I hadn't actually touched it at any point :-) The nurse suggested that in future I should leave it there or call the police, who'd have the correct protective gear. Seems like a waste of police time to me, I dunno.

What would you have done?

1 Wouldn't that be a fantastic book, though? Section headings like "My friend's just come out to me", "It sounds like my neighbour's beating his/her spouse", "Someone's having an epileptic fit in front of me", "Someone I know is feeling suicidal", "I've just been arrested", "I've just got a threatening letter from the council demanding money for x", "My kitchen's crawling with ants", things like that. Obviously it couldn't cover every situation or give step-by-step instructions in all cases - being able to deal with situations as they arise is, as far as I can tell, the point of being an adult - but you could provide helpful advice and facts. The trouble is, who'd be qualified to write it?