Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Birmingham City - Bruce must go!

This evening, arguably the most talented team in the Champrionship League got beat 1-3, at home, by bottom of the table Southend. This is so pathetic I am again calling for Steve Bruce's head. Last time I did he managed to convince the board that he knew what to do and then did put a string of wins together, taking the Blues to the top of the table at year end. Now this. I can't wait to read his fatuous comments in tomorrow's papers and online pages. But then my blood will boil and that's not good! Retired football stars do not necessarily make good managers; this guy is an overpaid idiot.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Adobe Lightroom $299

But if you buy it before April 30, it will cost only $199. Based on the Beta trial I have conducted over the past few months, I will be going for the $199 version!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Lady of Shallot

Not one to force my musical tastes on others (!) I have to recommend Loreena McKennitt's The Visit album and in particular two tracks, Bonny Portmore and The Lady of Shallot.

Canadian Loreena McKennit is something of a free spirit, even forming her own record label, but fortunately she has several albums available on iTunes. I have owned The Book of Secrets for a couple of years (thanks, Lucy and Jeff) and frequently hear her unique voice on internet radio. So I recently bought and downloaded The Visit and find that I simply love it!

Strongly Irish in make up, her music also reflects other genres, in particular a mix of North African style music (which is not surprising given the close proximity of Ireland to Morocco) rather like the Afro Celt Sound System but a lot more lyrical.

The Lady of Shallot is worth some extra program notes here, as it is a 14 stanza rendering of Tennyson's poem based on the Arthurian legend of Camelot, Sir Lanceot, etc., etc. Wikipedia's entry can be found here while the full text of the epic poem can be found here. Lancelot's comments in the last stanza deserve special reflection

iPod Movie Playback on a UK TV

Our Sony TV is at least 25 years old - it still works fine so why replace it?

But it doesn't have any inputs other than the co-axial cable socket for an antenna. So yesterday we took the iPod and accessory analog video cable to a TV store (John Lewis) and asked if they would demonstrate it.

John Lewis are and have been for a long time a major retailer of Apple products so there was no problem from the salesperson. It took him a minute to plug in the iPod and then a further 30 seconds for me to adjust the video settings on the iPod - signal out, PAL, widescreen - and select a movie.

The results could not be called stunning but on the other hand we were not using H.264 high definition protocols which need a full digital connection (something the iPod doesn't have but is built in to modern Macs).

The experiment was more to test whether or not it is worth taking the iPod video cable on trips. I have noted that most modern hotel TVs do have the three RCA phono connections available.

For home use it looks as though the AppleTV (with HDMI protocols) will be the answer though how and when this will be introduced into the UK is another story.

We also asked about unlimited DVD Region players and John Lewis don't (won't?) sell them. As we have half our DVDs in Region 1 and the other half in Region 2 this is a key requirement. Regionalization of DVD compatibility is so stupid only a dinosaur industry could have thought it up in the first place. Globalization only works when "they" want it to, apparently.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

BA - the next pterodactyl?

A flying dinosaur? Maybe, if British Airways can't get its house in order. Personally, I work hard not to fly BA, and here are a few reasons why.

1999. BA Flight from Houston to London takes off. 747-400, full consist. Immediately after take off I am told only the four toilets at the back are functioning. This on a 10 hour flight. Imagine having paid a full first class fare on this flight and then having to line up for 30 minutes to use the toilet! Purser suggested I write to Robert Ayling, then Chairman. "He always answers letters". He didn't. And he didn't last very long as Chairman, either.

2004. Flight from Luanda to London, an overnight flight of 8 hours duration. Full fare business class has European style business seats (economy three across with center seat not used). Only Iberia compares this unfavorably and that on a much shorter flight (Madrid to Malabo, five hours).

2006. Flight from Luanda to London. BA accepts a medevac patient without any doctor or nurse to accompany the patient who deteriorates rapidly. Plane has to land at Algiers to unload patient who presumably wouldn't have made it for another 2-1/2 hours in the air - that's frightening.

Once upon a time I had a BA Gold Card and traveled from Houston to India on a regular basis. That was before Ayling started his cost cutting exercise to make bigger profits. I switched my business to Continental for the Transatlantic flights and never looked back. Continental spent money to make money. A smart approach in a world where customer satisfaction equals loyalty. These days I give Air France my loyalty and it generally works well. At Christmas, when BA shut down all its regional flights out of foggy Heathrow, we flew to Paris from foggy Birmingham on schedule. It was so efficient it was embarassing.

The irony of Big Brother

I've don't watch TV (well, occasionally CNN when in some far flung hotel room) so I am not qualified to make any judgements on the Channel 4 Big Brother racism allegations. I haven't the faintest idea who these "reality" celebrities are and, it would appear, I am better off being enveloped in ignorance of such programs.

My take is more on the fact that Channel 4 is apparently a partly government 'sponsored' TV channel, so to name a program Big Brother seems to be totally correct. Given the number of CCTVs in the UK, the government is Big Brother. It is they who watch citizens while the citizens think they are watching Big Brother!

George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, where are you now?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How to make a Presentation - 101

Simple. Download the Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote address which you can download here or from iTunes.

OK, so Steve has his reality distortion field and a very partisan audience on his side to laugh at his jokes, clap without a cue card, etc. etc.

But he also has what it takes to pull off a presentation that lasts about and hour and a half. And if to prove the point, I bet there is only only part you will want to fast forward through and that is when Cingular's CEO is invited on stage, complete with his pack of cue cards.

Of course, it could be that Steve purposely chooses such guests to set him in an even better light.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

No, we haven't been to New Mexico recently. These photos were uploaded to Flickr today but taken in December 1998! The caverns are quite spectacular and this is mainly based on their size. Surprisingly, better dripstone formations are to be found in the Sonora Caves in Central Texas which is "alive" and very humid. Unfortunately I lost my digital images from Sonora so these scanned images are the best I have.
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Available light scores over flash in caves as the limestone shows as a dull grey with flash whereas the colored lighting in Carlsbad produces wonderful effects. Carrying a tripod is well worth the extra effort.

More on Branscombe

The situation at Branscombe has become nauseatingly symptomatic of what is wrong with the UK. Plundering hoardes have descended on the country's one natural World Heritage site, an area they would never have visited before "free" salvage was there for the taking.

The story of one family who, watching TV, saw people sifting through their "worthless" personal possessions perhaps illustrates why I have little sympathy for those who are stealing salvage. Such activities have always been against the law but were seen as opportunism by coastal communities despite the penalties being far greater than they are today. In fact, one must ask, are there in fact any penalties today?

The police have finally blocked off the beach. This in itself speaks volumes as there is only one easy point of access between Sidmouth and Beer and that is at Branscombe Mouth itself. Travel along the beaches is difficult on foot and ATVs only work at low tide within an individual bay. So the fact that the police stood by and watched all the plunder for several days speaks volumes about the state of law enforcement in Britain.

Judging from the media photos, the mess on the beaches is horrendous and is no doubt a lot worse as a result of the plundering and sifting that has taken place for several days. When I think of friends like Robert, Maureen and Pat who regularly organize end of winter clean ups along the coast, I feel angry and helpless at the thought that the authorities have stood by for too long before intervening.

Just to recap, there is only one road access point to the site. One road block would have seen off most looters carrying away significant merchandise.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

3 Days in Paris

As noted in a previous entry, we managed to end a business trip with a few days in Paris and it was great! Sunday's weather was fantastic and our hike to Montmartre and back was the highlight of the trip. But good food and an ever improving knowledge of Paris and French were close runners up. Lots of photos in the Flickr France set.
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Paris

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Napoli

We are following the story of the storm-damaged freighter with interest as the Branscombe area is a part of our back yard, so to speak. It is hard to imagine exactly what is going on from newspaper reports, particularly as the ship is supposed to have been "beached" but appears to be some way from the shore in various photos that have been released.

It is also disturbing that various toxic chemicals are being ignored in favor of removing the fuel oil in the ship's bunkers. While the fuel oil is indeed a threat, it should be remembered that oil is basically a natural substance that will eventually break up and dissipate of its own accord. Toxic chemicals and other materials may have a far longer effect on this World Heritage site. I am reminded of the medical waste that used to wash up on New Jersey shores when offshore dumping was allowed. Used needles have a much longer life than fuel oil in such an environment.

We next expect to be in the area at Easter and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, has happened to the coastline we love. Expect more comments then.


I am writing this early in the morning in a Paris hotel, where we are spending a few days. This is the first time I can remember stopping off at the end of a business trip to take some relaxation and it is something I can heartily recommend! The trip took in Pointe Noire, Congo as well as Kinshasa, D R Congo, so Paris in January can be assumed to be something of a contrast!

Despite the rainy season in the Congos we had a sunny crossing of the big river:
Kinshasa, D R Congo
And Sunday in Paris was also unexpectedly sunny if a little breezy. We took the opportunity to walk to Montmartre and back. This was my first visit to the Butte and the beautiful Basilique du Sacre-Couer. I'll let the pictures do the talking as they upload to Flickr:
Silhouette Artist, Montmartre

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Momus "Why Apple makes me cry"

Momus joins the growing group of people who recognize that Steve Jobs is the ultimate presenter of new products.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The name doesn't sound exactly English, does it? But then the reference books can't even explain its origin. Tardebigge is a village in Worcestershire, just west of Redditch and northeast of Bromsgrove. It is also on the southern edge of the Birmingham Plateau and as such is part of the impressive ridge that caused so many problems to those who built the canals and railways in Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Last Christmas we visited Hatton on the Grand Union Canal and previously we had been to various sections of the Stratford Canal, so today we decided to complete the triumvirate and go to Tardebigge. The Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks forms an impressive piece of nineteenth century canal building on the Worcester Birmingham Canal.
Bridge and Lock - Tardebigge
We parked at the British Waterways Yard at Tardebigge, just south of the Tardebigge Tunnel, and walked down the flight to the Queens Head near Bromsgrove. There we found a pub that has undergone an impressive transformation and had a couple of drinks and lunch. Thus fortified with Hereford Pale Ale and Calves Liver and Onions, we headed back up the flight, taking lots of photos which will eventually appear on Flickr. We then walked over the Tardebigge Tunnel hill, and finally drove into the village and had a look around the parish churchyard. The area is definitely recommended and we will be going back when the weather is sunny and bright.

Southern Pacific System Maps

I have a rare copy of a classic book - A Century of Southern Pacific Steam Locomotives - that contains a complete set of eighteen plates showing the various Divisions of the Southern Pacific Rail Road. All the way from Portland to New Orleans via southern California! They represent the SP at its zenith (c. 1920 tho' each map may have a slightly different date on it).
Southern Pacific Division Maps
The maps were only published with the book and many of the copies have, I am sure, been lost for ever. So I have scanned them (they are too large for a single scan per map so will have an imperceptable "stitch" down the middle) and made them available on focalplane.com for download as quality jpegs.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A (sort of) MacWorld analysis

Now the dust has settled in San Francisco, some thoughts on this year's MacWorld and in particular the Apple presentation of new products. Understand that I did not attend MacWorld!

So the "Computer" is out of the corporate name. Apple Inc. it is from now on. That makes sense, given that profit margins on cool things like iPods are higher than on less cool things like iMacs.

But, just because little was said about computers, don't think the core business is old business! OS X 10.5 is on its way and there will be upgrades to all the computers in the months ahead - that is a given. There really was little need for Apple to promote 10.5 at this time, particularly as Microsoft Vista has yet to make a full blown apperance on the market. Frequent news releases of new products and upgrades can only hep to sustain the wait for the iPhone.

Although the iPhone includes an iPod, expect a video iPod to appear before long - with wide screen and touch screen capabilities - as well as a large (>80 Gig) hard drive, something lacking from the iPhone we saw in Steve Jobs hands.

Wireless connectivity was boosted with no fanfare. This quiet evolution means that streaming of high definition video should be effective as part of the home media experience. An important piece of the puzzle. You begin to understand how well positioned Apple is in the market place when significant upgrades barely get a mention.

Now for the possible downsides.

The Cisco law suit is probably not too important but it does suggest that Apple feels it can flex its muscles against big fry like Cisco and maybe get away with it. Expect lots of legal analysis about trademarks, etc. but I anticipate a solution will be quietly worked out before too long and before the courts get openly involved.

The iPhone will not come to market for about 5 months. This is largely due to the fact that it requires FCC approval (should not be a problem). But 5 months is a long time. Just as well Apple has taken out a bunch of patents, though, as the competition will be playing "catch up" as fast as it can.

AppleTV is a great idea but it is not likely to be an item that will suddenly appear in every iTunes subscribing home. So I doubt if it will make a big contribution to the bottom line. It will, however, help to demonstrate that Apple is better positioned to provide the home media digital hub than anyone else.

Bottom line - the stock market has responded well with the stock topping out at $97/share on Wednesday. A small amount of profit taking on Thursday but that could also be due to the Cisco law suit getting front page news. Even so, a solid performance on Wall Street at a time when the rest of the market doesn't know which way to go. This time last year saw Apple's stock plummet to $50 only to recover again by year end, so can we expect the same this year? Hard to say, but then again, I don't get paid to predict the future of the stock market!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

One iPhone or Many?

This morning we awake to the news that Cisco is suing Apple over user of the name "iPhone". I expect this to be a storm in a tea cup and the VOIP iPhone that Cisco markets will have its own niche largely ignored by the cell phone buying public. Most Wall Street analysts seem to agree with me (or am I agreeing with them?)

But this post is more about what sort of range Apple will eventually introduce. Remember that there was only one iPod when it was born. Now there are three families, the iPod with Video, the iPod Nano and the iPod Shuffle. Each has a definite market. So what markets should Apple be filling?

The prototype shown at MacWorld this week pretty much does everything but at a high-ish price (I say high-ish because actually I think it does offer value for money, but only if you value all those options included). So what might I do without for a less rich iPhone experience?

Clearly the touch screen cannot get too small or adult fingers won't be able to operate it, so I don't think we can expect the iPhone "Shuffle" equivalent. But we could do without the video part as this is memory intensive and I can see only one movie at a time being loaded onto a 4Gig iPhone, assuming that music and other stuff will also be synched. Video and hard drives seem to go together, so perhaps the 2nd Generation iPhones will have a video+hard drive model and a non-video+flash memory model? These would mimic the two current iPod configurations.

Next, there is the question of service providers. Here I get a bit woolly over cell phone technology but it is certainly possible to have models that will work with different cell phone systems. So we might expect other systems to be offered along with an unlocked phone that could be used away from the Cingular "embrace". As someone who has several SIM cards for different countries, this might appeal - though the hassle factor would remain.

The beauty of the iPhone is its simple software upgradability and we can expect the appearance of the touch screen to change with the times. This was pointed out by Steve Jobs but few reviewers seem to have caught the significance of being able to add a touch screen button in the future.

Now, what would be my dream iPhone? Simplicity is my hallmark for decent cell phone technology so I would want to ignore the iPod functions completely (I do have an iPod with a hard drive anyway!) and go with the rest of the technology mated to a flash memory device - 4 Gigs would suffice - and with all the connectivity that has been demonstrated so far. The screen could be a bit smaller and this would allow for a slighter smaller phone. Bring it on, Mr. Jobs!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Best Software Value - iTunes

It must be difficult for a lot of software companies - companies who basically make a living from designing and selling software - to be continually upstaged by software that is free to download and use.

And that is what iTunes does, upstage every other piece of software out there. In its latest version, iTunes assembles a complete digital music collection and synchs it with an iPod. It also takes the Mac address book and calendar and synchs them to an iPod. It also looks for selected downloadable podcasts and of course it is also the medium through which a lot of users buy their downloadable music, TV shows and videos.

And it's free to download to any Mac or PC running OS X or Windows.

Like Quicktime before it, iTunes has created wealth and market share for Apple.

The next step for iTunes will be the introduction of both AppleTV and the iPhone as iTunes will be an integral part of each device. To some extent, therefore, it is easy to see iTunes become as common a program as Word or Excel on the World's computers. Not only the center of the digital music hub but also the vital link between devices that share information.

If you don't already have iTunes, download it from here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple Keynote Day

As is the case every year I am glued to various internet sites to catch the latest from Steve Jobs. 2007 is going to go down in history as one of the better keynotes. AppleTV and the iPhone! Computers take the back seat, the iPod yields to iPhone. And Apple Computer Inc. becomes Apple Inc.

Wonderful stuff. The media center gets another crucial piece of the puzzle while iTunes adds Paramount to the catalog. But it's the iPhone that looks like it is going to steal the show for several days/years to come. Here is an entry where I demanded a simple to use cell phone. Well, it's here!!!!!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mid Winter Blues

My last few photos on Flickr have been of very wintry scenes, so here is a photo chosen to brighten things up a bit! It's not really all that surprising that this photo has received many views, comments and faves, is it?

22nd Century Wins!

PBS Science is holding a competition with three science pilot programs vying for viewer acceptance. I have watched all three as they are available as video podcasts (accessed from iTunes) and have made my comments on iTunes.

One program, Science Investigators, is bad. So bad I am surprised it got past the internal censors of good taste that so often do a brilliant job at PBS! Fortunately I am not alone in thinking this and I doubt if the program will go beyond the pilot stage.

The choice between Wired Science and 22nd Century was less easy and, like other reviewers, I am inclined to want both programs in the line up. But if only one can win, then my vote is for 22nd Century because it not only presents science in a welcome, innovative fashion but also poses some of the difficult questions about what is acceptable science in modern society. It is, in other words, a thinking person's program. Wired Science, on the other hand, is a bit like a watered down NOVA.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

65 Million Years Ago

This photo got me thinking about the "fact" that a large meteorite (or meteorites) could have caused the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. That was approximately 65 Million Years ago and there is certainly good evidence that something catastrophic did happen at that time.

What is not so clear and is rarely reported in the popular science press/media is that the 65 MY event actually only finished off the last of the dinosaurs. They had been dying out for a long, long time. You could call this catastrophic event "the day the dinosaurs finally died" but nothing more dramatic than that should be suggested by those people who really should know better.

Children love dinosaurs and can often name them more accurately than qualified geologists! But I wonder how many children understand the 65 MY event so well?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Didcot Railway Centre

GWR 51XX Class 2-6-2T #4144
In near record time, a travelogue describing the Didcot Railway Centre has been uploaded. It took all of two days (part time) to process the photos, upload them to Flickr and then compose the page for focalplane.com. Perhaps I should do this more often? There are more photos in the Flickr set.