Wednesday, June 29, 2005

iTunes podcasting takes off

Yesterday, Apple released iTunes 4.9 and with it the ability to download podcasts from a large directory of choices. This is going to be revolutionary. All of the podcast downloads so far are free and, naturally, none contain distributed copyright material. Podcasts can be submitted to Apple for inclusion in their directory but Apple will have the right not to publish a podcast if it so chooses.

This has the BBC (of all people) up in arms. Rather than embrace what Apple is doing, the Beeb stressed the negative to a point that is ludicrous - the Beeb is also very careful not to distribute copyrighted material! Possible envy?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Olivia enjoying Beer

Grandaughter Olivia had her first taste of Beer last week while we were in Devon. The historical fishing port of Beer is a most attractive small town nestled between chalk cliffs with a pebble beach and clear water. Here she is:

Friday, June 24, 2005

East Devon redux - a wonderful break in the sunshine

How did we manage it? Six nights under canvas in East Devon and it never rained but the sun shone just about all day every day. And on the 22nd we never saw a cloud at all! Who needs to drive all the way to the Mediterranean when its weather patterns occasionally move north?

Most days were spent on Weston Mouth beach. At first the water was quite cool but as the days continued to be warm and the pebbles heated up during low tides the ocean gradually warmed until we were swimming without any "immersion shock" at all. The rock pools at both ends of the bay were most interesting at low tide, while the clarity of the water was just as good as on any white sand beach in the tropics.

It is interesting to observe how such "heatwaves" are celebrated by the media. Pretty girls in bikinis are always good front page material, even in the "quality dailies". I thought Radio 2 had an interesting if slightly bizarre line on the weather during the afternoon of the first hot day of the year - how are you struggling to keep cool? - in my case I had to admit that the pleasant warmth of the sun on my aching lower back felt far too good to complain about! (FWIW the back pain has completely gone). For the first time since October 2004 I feel warm.

So how will this past week impact the politics of global warming? It will possibly stoke a few flames under Tony Blair's manic desire to control global warming while President of the G8. However, I would hazard a guess that the actual weather in Gleneagles will have a far more influential impact on the politicians' rhetoric. Scotland has not been enjoying a lot of good weather lately (according to the weather forecasts, at least) so if this pattern continues, expect African aid to jump to the forefront.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

OS X Tiger - First Impressions

I had heard that Tiger (10.4) is faster than Panther (10.3). I believe it is. It also seems to run hotter on my PowerBook 15" as the fan runs a lot more than it did with Panther. That shouldn't be a problem as I use a Podium Pad to raise the base of the machine off my desk.

Spotlight works as advertized but it doesn't seem to be able to access Quicken files, which is a pity. It is incredibly fast and can sort the results in a variety of ways.

Widgets are interesting but. . . so what! I will probably use a few of them. One, Rabbit Radio, looks interesting but it doesn't keep connected. Others (like Rabbit Radio) are USA oriented. Weather for London, as an example, turns out to be London West Virginia (which seems to have a better summer!). The flight tracker has its positioning option disabled (no doubt for security reasons).

Others have commented on Mail's new interface and I agree - it sucks. But there are some other new features that are useful.
RSS feeds are now available on Safari but I shall keep using NetNewsWire as it has a better interface.

Sync works very differently - a total rethink is needed by the user who is familiar with the old Sync application. I have not tried to sync my phone yet but again I have a third party tool that works fine.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Apple Update

Good news and bad news. Both hard drives in the G4 Tower have gone bad - at once. I had not used the G4 Tower for a couple of weeks as the mouse's cord was fraying. So, when I went to boot up, I got the folder with a question mark on it. I guessed that the boot drive might have go corrupted so I went out and bought a new mouse and OS X 1.4 Tiger.

Tiger is loaded on my PowerBook and it seems to be a good upgrade (I am even now upgrading to 10.4.1). The widgets will take some getting used to (many seem to be rather gimmicky) while Spotlight is incredibly fast.

My work around for the G4 was to load OS X Tiger on a firewire hard drive coupled to the PowerBook. This then allowed me to boot up the G4. A quick look at disk utility confiormed that one drive was failing the other has failed. Luckily no data is lost as the G4 is basically our backup computer.

So I guess I need to buy another hard drive. . . .

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Apple WWDC Keynote Address features the Bullring!



That's Steve Jobs at lower left, showing a representative of one of the 109 Apple Stores. Guess what! It's in Birmingham! To view this most interesting one hour presentation (lovefest) click here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The "Apple switches to Intel" thang

Well, yesterday surprised half the Apple audience and confirmed the rumors circulating among the other half. Steve Jobs announced that Apple will switch from IBM Power PC chips to Intel Pentium chips over the next two years. On the face of it, I would suggest that there will be short term problems of sales but in the long run Apple will win more market share and provide a better computing experience for it's users.

But there is a dark side. The new Intels chips will have the ability to control the copying of files. If computers are going to be digital hubs, then Hollywood is insisting that users will not be able to copy downloaded videos. The new chips will actually make computers a lot less personal, transfering controls away from the user. We can expect a lot more licensing, a lot less outright purchasing of data (which would include movies, music, programs, etc.)

Does this matter? Yes and no. Yes because the concept of the Personal Computer is to be eroded, giving control to people who have not traditionally been at the forefront of technological understanding (Hollywood). No because the rights of creative people need to be protected (yet creative people actually gain very little from copyrighted sales as the middle men actually steal much of the revenue stream).

Using music as an example, a recent interview on KCRW's Sounds Eclectic had Elvis Costello explaining that he no longer needs a record label ("They're history but they don't know it"). Of course, he has over 300 "songs" that will keep him in royalties for the rest of his life, so what does he care? Actually, he does care because he sees advantages for the Indies as well. And he may be right.

So we may have to put up with DRM (Digital Rights Management) and we may be pleased to see that the digital revolution could provide us with cheaper entertainment with the bulk of the revenue actually passing through to the creative artists. That would be good. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic but time will tell.
As for our household, we are not planning to replace our Macs for two years anyway. So we will probably be in the market for a new Intel processor Mac as they debut.

One other thought: If Apple has written an OS that works with Intel processors, could it be loaded on other PC brands, such as Dell or HP? And if so, would it start to erode Microsoft's huge Windows advantage? Some analysts are suggesting that Linux will be the big loser here. Personally I think Linux will always be marginal - in the hands of the geeks - so there is a good chance that users who want a stable platform might consider loading OS X (if it's practicable).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Vintage Trains

Vintage steam trains will once again be a weekend sight between Birmingham and Stratford-uon-Avon. This is due to the presence of the Birmingham Railway Museum Trust, based at the old Tyseley engine sheds. Unlike most preservation lines, the Shakespeare and Bullring Expresses run on the national railway network and therefore serve more than a large dose of nostalgia.

While visiting the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway (GWR) preservation line a few weeks ago, we were told that there is the possibility that one day steam trains could run from the center of Birmingham, through Stratford and onto the original GWR, all the way to Cheltenham Racecourse. This will take a lot of effort because half of the track between Stratford and Cheltenham has been lifted and some of the permanent way has been made over to a relief road bypass as well as a cycle track (the Greenway).

The GWR has rights to all the trackbed where rails have been lifted and is busily extending its single line track north from Toddington to Broadway. This will take a few years. Next it will have to extend to Long Marston, crossing the Cotswold Line at Honeybourne (once a junction station). There are tracks at Long Marston (a disused military warehouse). Then the trackbed becomes the Greenway and I am sure there will be those who will fight long and hard to give back their rural cycleway (understandably).

The Greenway ends on the outskirts of Stratford where the old trackbed has been incorporated into the southern relief road. Seven Meadows Road appears to have completely taken up the right of way between two roundabouts (it's the north-south piece of this road). Then the old track bed serves as a public footpath before entering Stratford Station and the present day "end of the line".

Stratford Council (local government) is supporting the expansion of the vintage train service. They have made land available for a turntable at Stratford Station (at the moment the steam locomotives have to travel backwards on the outward leg of the journey) as well as full steam engine facilities. For the longer term, if the GWR can continue to expand, Stratford may be prepared to open up the Greenway and allow a single track to run down the center of Seven Meadows Road! Now that would be interesting. In theory we would then be able to take a train from nearby Broadway all the way to Birmingham Moor Street Station, just like the old days!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Quicktime 7 and the H.264 codec

Quicktime 7 has been out for some time (for the Mac, Windows users must wait a while longer) and with it the new H.264 compression codec. The few demonstration videos available on Apple's site are quite simply amazing. This is the future of downloadable video. With a basic broadband connection it should be possible to buy or rent movies and download them (not in real time, perhaps, though this is possible) for viewing. Perhaps the iMovie Store is coming soon to a web site near you? Steve Jobs did say, earlier this year, that 2005 is the year of HD (High Definition Video).

Well, I can't wait for this to happen but I will probably need to splash out on one of those nice LCD digital monitors to take full advantage of the technology.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Dutch double it: Non and Nee

So nearly two thirds of the Dutch electorate who voted (and nearly two thirds did vote) have joined the majority of French voters in turning their backs on the European Constitution. As a result, the UK is now unlikely to hold a referendum, confirming that the constitution in its present form is dead in the water. This despite the fact that several country's parliaments have already ratified the constitution.

This adds support to the theory that there is a massive disconnect between electorate and politicians. I am sure that the governments of both France and the Netherlands believed that their referenda would be simple rubber stamps. That the electorate saw otherwise demonstrates the disparity. Politicians no longer serve the electorate in many (most, all) European countries.

If the powerful Euro-elites really believed in democracy, they would have proposed a Europe wide referendum on the same day when all would vote without reference to what might happen before or after in other countries. This would have brought about a feeling of uniformity without the option to blame other countries for their actions. Clearly the elites are either stupid in not thinking of this or they are so arrogant that they didn't expect the outcome they now have.

One British europhile (UK Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, paid a handsome salary plus expenses to live in Brussels) stated that the French and Dutch need to rethink their position with regard to Europe. A good example of both arrogance and stupidity (for saying aloud what was best kept silent). It is time the highly paid and in most cases unelected Eurocrats rethink their positions with regard to Europe.

So, what would I recommend? As an outsider I have to say that I liked the original EEC a lot more than the current EU. All about trade, much less about politics. And I think that is what the French and the Dutch people were thinking, as well. As founder nations they have been through the entire gamut and therefore have experienced the changes better than those who joined later.

The Euro has taken a bashing and Italy is now talking about reverting to the Lira. I like the concept of a common currency but it clearly doesn't work for everyone (Britain's economy would be in the toilet had it joined the Euro, as it is it is doing quite well). In retrospect the Euro was a grand design of the Germans and French to merge their future crises with the rest of Europe - it gave their politicians a breathing space. But now Chirac and Schroeder are gasping for air and a lack of oxygen will cause more bad decisions before it is all over.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Birmingham in 1553

Yesterday we spent another interesting day in Brum, ending up with a CBSO concert at Symphony Hall where we were joined by Pete. A long but stimulating day that was centered on a visit to the Jewellery Quarter. More details of this have already been uploaded to the Travelogue section. In two parts, this photo essay traces my roots in the area and then reveals some details of the various properties where the old family business has operated since 1922.

The concert was basically excellent though none of us enjoyed Tippett's piano concerto. But in reality we had bought tickets for the other two items on the program: Vaughan Williams Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. A combination of great playing, superb conducting and the superior acoustics of Symphony Hall etched these pieces permanently in my grey matter! If you haven't experienced the CBSO under Sakari Oramo in the Symphony Hall, and you live within reach of Birmingham, you really should go!