Friday, August 31, 2007

Digital Dinosaurs?

News this week on two companies, both confusingly with "Universal" in their corporate names, having strong disagreements with Apple iTunes. This article sums up the situation extremely well.

And in case you were wondering about the effect of both Universals pulling out of iTunes, Apple's stock rose.

The best quote from the article linked above comes from Universal Music's CEO, Doug Morris, when asked for his opinion about iPods and mp3 players in general. He said:

“These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it, so it’s time to get paid for it.”

Time for a new iPod?

September 5th is a special Apple Event Day and the pundits who (don't) know think it's time for a new iPod or two. The screen capture above is from my 80GB iPod with Video model and as you can see it is nearly full! But will they introduce iPods with more capacity? Only time will tell.

Incidentally, if you are thinking of buying an iPod, it might be best to wait a few days!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Society Rules

I am here in Calgary for a spell and walk to and from work each day across the grid that is downtown .

View Larger Map

Each intersection is controlled by traffic lights, as you might expect. What is interesting is the lights control pedestrian traffic even more than they do vehicles. And Calgarians obey the rules like no other citizens on the planet. Consider this. The red "Don't Walk" light turns from flashing to continuous. No pedestrian runs out onto the street in the face of this red light. Even if there is absolutely no traffic within five city blocks of the intersection.

No. We patiently wait to cross, or, if it make sense, we cross at right angles and then continue to wait to cross the same street, still governed by the red light. As soon as the light changes to "Walk", we walk, but not a split second earlier. Rules are rules.

Or are they? There are signs that anarchy at the intersection is on the rise. Pedestrians, at their peril, are starting to ignore the lights. This is most disconcerting to the drivers, who have always assumed that no-one is going to step out in front of them. Drivers will probably start to retaliate by running the lights as they change from orange to red.

Is this the beginning of the end? Will Calgarians now start to jay walk? Is Albertan civilization about to crumble?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Surfing Calgary FM

Staying in a business oriented hotel over a weekend usually means sleepless nights - those Weekend Specials are perfect for wedding parties, reunions, etc. Tonight is no exception. But I am prepared. My iPod radio allows for some interesting musical exploration, earbuds installed, midnight coffee poured, so here we go:

Calgary's 96.9 FM "JACK" where "we play what we want".

Hard rock with some interesting mixes - David Bowie's "China Girl", Alannah Myle's "Still Got This Thing for You", Kim Mitchel "Patio Lanterns" (interesting!), Bachman-Turner Overdrive "You ain't seen nothing yet". Get the picture?

They have streaming if you want to check it out!

(Incidentally, the iPod FM tuner accessory is very, very good - if you happen to be in a good reception area)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The iPhone hack

Big news in North America, today covered by the BBC, is that a 17 year old has unlocked an Apple-AT&T iPhone. Good for him, seems like he could have a useful career if one of the large corporations could get it into their heads that he has real value on the inside!

But the story has gotten a little overblown. To quote the Beeb: "opening the way to Apple's iconic mobile telephone being used by non-US networks".

Consider this. The hack needs the use of a soldering iron, guitar pick and software manipulation. It takes about 2 hours and, in the case of the teen genius, a lot of caffeine. One slip with the soldering iron and it could easily go wrong, making a $500 to $600 investment worth nothing. Would you start out on this caper just to prove to yourself that you don't have to be tied in to AT&T? I thought not.

Personally I have yet to decide whether or not I even need an iPhone. The Motorola phone I do own is a piece of crapola. Colleagues have Blackberries with so many buttons my not so perfect eyesight could not possibly cope. The idea of having Safari on a cell phone does, however, intrigue me. But then there is the expected cost of owning one.

But this I do know - if I get one I certainly ain't gonna invalidate the warranty!

Flickr Crossword Clue

Today's Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword has, for 1 across:

There's nothing loud in torch giving sudden illuminated burst (5,2,5)

That's easy, I thought, and it refers to one of my Flickr contacts!

A summer evening

Friday - end of the week - sun shine - the park beckons. Camera at the ready:


D200 with 20mm f2.8 on the front. A lens that could be a lot more versatile once again now that Nikon is going toward 36x24mm sensors with their top of the line D3 model.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Greenland Flyover!

All the images can be seen here with the option to view as a slide show. Here is a sampler that is unusual for me in that I decided to frame the scene with the window surround - as panoramic as you can get in the passenger cabin!

East Greenland Panorama

So, you think you're busy? Try this

You'll feel exhausted just reading this blog entry!

I really like the blog's trade mark "create something new every day". Now there's a challenge.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Nikon Cameras and Lenses

I was wondering why a professional photographer friend was flying to Tokyo this week! Turns out he knew something was in the air! Two new cameras, the D3 replacing the D2 and the D300 replacing the D200. As an owner of a D200, the D300 does not appear to be much of an advance, so I will let that one ride. What is exciting, however, is that the D3 has a near 35mm sensor format, meaning a new life for all those wonderfully redundant chunks of Nikon glass, like my 20mm f2.8 ultrawide.

But again, not all is hopeless and I don't have to spend thousands on a new camera body! The best news may be that Nikon has introduced a new wide angle DX zoom, the f2.8 14-24mm. This translates to a 35mm equivalent of 21-36mm and fills a much needed gap in the range. What I don't know is just how expensive this lens will be! But maybe I could trade in the 20mm prime to a new D3 owner!!!

iLife '08 - a warning!

Having bought a new DV camcorder I decided to look into upgrading my iMovie HD program (c. 2005) to the latest version, recently released.

Thank goodness I read the first few reviews: iMovie '08 cannot be used on G4 PowerBooks, only the Intel models. That may be the beginning of the end of the PPC Macs.

So I won't be upgrading.

Canon ZR830 digital video camcorder

Yes, I just bought one of these. Here is the first movie, courtesy of iMovieHD:

A few comments. YouTube selected the still frame, not me. I am not happy with my technique, far from it. A tripod will be an essential piece of equipment even with image stabilisation (with which I am not entirely impressed) while I need to stop zooming and panning! iMovie is a useful and easy to use piece of software and the transitions are quite attractive. I probably won't use the ripple effect too often but it seemed appropriate this time.

The YouTube compression and conversion makes a reasonably sharp movie look like crap. But that's a feature of most YouTube uploads!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


East Greenland - Moraines

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tarr Steps

We spent a delightful day yesterday exploring Tarr Steps, an Exmooor "attraction" that somehow defines the area yet has little of the moorland character about it.

Tarr Steps

Tarr Steps is a classic clapper bridge, possibly the best example in Britain, crossing a wide span of the River Barle, a headwater of the River Exe. The river's source is Exmoor, an upland area of Carboniferous and Devonian rocks caught within the compressive forces of the Hercynian Orogeny.

Riverbank leaves

The bridge itself is quite spectacular but the surrounding area compliments it perfectly. The river winds within a deep tree covered valley among hills with pastures for sheep and cattle. The fast running stream is crossed mostly with fords rather than bridges and we found ourselves having to make one such crossing two miles from any bridge! Thankful for deciding to wear our Tevas, we simply rolled up our shorts and waded across.

Tarr Steps Farm

When we returned to Tarr Steps we could not help but order cream tea at the local hotel and enjoyed an al fresco late lunch in their garden overlooking the Steps. Somehow the hotel (actually called Tarr Farm) manages to cater to everyone's needs, from winter-time shooting parties to summer-time day trippers. Weather considerations apart, this day was as good as any we have experienced anywhere. In fact there were times when we thought we could easily have been in Texas, hiking along the banks of the Guadalupe River, or visiting Hamilton Pool. Except, as April noted, there were no mosquitos, snakes or alligators to worry about!

Postscript: Today Google Maps introduced embedded maps. Here is a satellite image of where we walked, though the actual route isn't shown. Tarr Steps is at Lower Right:

View Larger Map

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Podcast Recommendation - Thinking Allowed

Just started by the BBC, this podcast is from Laurie Taylor's 30 minute program.

Tip of the hat to Pete

Ground Source Heat Pump - Under the Floor

The Heat Pump uses a process that is basically the opposite of a regrigerator compressor to heat up a reservoir of water that is then pumped around the house to heat the rooms. The photo below shows the grey plastic coils laid in a special egg-crate sub-floor which is covered by a screed. There is also a thick layer of insulation below the red plastic sheets to direct the heat upwards. Once the screed is in place almost any form of standard flooring (tiles, carpet, etc.) can be laid on top.

Most underfloor heating designs are restricted to the ground floor. Ours is also built in to the upper floors as well.

This is part of an ongoing series, the earlier parts of which can be seen here and here.

Birmingham has a Master Plan!

This makes for interesting reading, not the least for the analysis of where Birmingham is with respect to other cities but also where it should strive to be in the future. One thought, as a "suburb of London" may not be well received by many Brummies but it actually makes a lot of sense now that the UK (London) is increasingly becoming a financial services powerhouse at the expense of everything else.

As usual, this report makes the case for improving transportation, particularly New Street Station, but also comments that a total integration of transport services would make the city a much better destination. That criticism seems to apply to just about every city in the World. An expansion of Metro into street car type services linking the various areas of an expanded city center would be a good start!

Found in Created in Birmingham

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ban Drinking Alcohol in the Street?

The terrible events that seem to occur all too regularly in town and city across the UK, with honest citizens thoughtlessly killed by teenage gangs high on cheap alcohol and drugs, have spawned the usual defensive reactions from police and government.

"Raise the cost of alcohol", "Ban street drinking" are the latest cries from Cheshire while the Home Office in London says it will introduce new powers "next week". Too late for Mr. Newlove and his grieving family.

As usual, these "remedies" are supposed to be the answer to the problem, but surely the availability of cheap alcohol to minors, not to mention illegal drugs, is the real problem to be tackled.

The end result will be a general toughening of the laws as they relate to honest citizens while the thugs continue unabated with their wanton destruction of society. I suppose that standing outside a London pub in the summer evenings after a hard day's work will be banned, as will the café tables hopefully set out to garner custom from stay at home holiday makers who would like a glass of wine while watching the world go by.

Or are these images mere fantasy these days?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Not all Oil Platforms are platforms!

News today of a fire on a North Sea "Oil Platform". Only the platform isn't a platform, it's an oil rig. There is a difference. The Ocean Guardian is a drilling rig used for exploration, possibly for development drilling, but not for production. It floats, therefore cannot be considered a platform s.s. (there are floating production platforms but this isn't one of them).

I don't know why the media always gets this wrong. But I start to wonder about media accuracy when they never get things right that I know about, casting grave doubts on everything I know little about that is reported as fact.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

iWork '08

Apple's half-hearted competitor to MS Office has finally come of age. You can download a 30 day trial here. I did and then I ordered the key to permanently own the product after about 20 minutes of usage. Why?

1. There is an Excel lookalike, called Numbers, which is actually better than Excel and that is saying something. Excel has always been the strongest link in the Office suite.

2. Pages, the word processor cum page layout software, has an improved look and feel to it. Enough reason alone to upgrade.

3. Keynote is enhanced. I don't use Keynote much but when I do it's because I can't see a PowerPoint slide or image (the infamous red cross that MS seems incapable of addressing). I simply import the file in Keynote and export it again to Powerpoint. It nearly always works. Again, as a Mac user in a Windows world this is a feature worth owning iWork for.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Your View" on the Countryside

I have been following various "Your View" internet columns concerning the ongoing problems facing the countryside, the latest hit of which is, of course, the re-emergence of Foot and Mouth Disease.

I am gob-smacked by the attitudes of some people who clearly have no idea what the countryside is all about!

"Let the farmers go bust, we need to stop bailing them out every time they have a problem" seems to be a recurring theme. So let's analyze that.

Imagine all the farmland in this fair country was to cease to be cared for. Hmm. Fields? None. Hedges? Not really. Country roads? Impossible to drive down. Wildlife? Yes, plenty of wild life but not in balance any more. Food? Not much, if any. Tourism? Foget about it!

Somewhere along the way the concept that farmers are all whingers, whiners, spongers and generally useless leaches on society has gotten hold with city folk and they really believe it!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Transporting Viruses

This report includes the news that, rather than burn infected cattle in Surrey where they contracted "Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)" and where the media could photograph the pyres, the government is transporting the carcasses to Somerset. Steps "will be taken" to insure the virus does not escape from the trucks.

How exactly do you do this?

A virus is small. So small that it can be compared to a flea in the same way as a human can be compared to Mount Everest!

I cannot believe that transporting virus laden carcasses over a hundred miles will not allow some viruses to escape.

For the sake of British farming, please prove me wrong.

Four Years Old this Month!

This blog reaches the grand age of FOUR this month. There was an earlier blog when Blogger was a fledgling company but it was wiped out during one of their "periods of uncertainty" before Google purchased the concept.

So, although I have been blogging for longer than four years, this is what I can actually demonstrate.

It's still not as interactive as I would like and I know I don't link enough to others which is how the blog could easily be more interactive. In truth, though, I am not of the main blogging generation and I don't have a single issue interest with which to focus my readership. This is, after all, a Jack of all Trades kind of blog. I'll probably keep it that way. And there are three other Focalplane blogs (accessible from the Hub) which are single issue in style.

Ground Source Heat Pump - The Source

In an earlier post I introduced the heat pump itself and pointed out the two black pipes which connect to the closed loop system under the adjacent field.

Storm over Wellington - HDR Panorama

I took this photo more for its artistic merit but it does show, in the foreground, the field where our heat source resides. Essentially this is solar heating in that the ground is warmed by the sun and retains that warmth for us to transfer into the system, using an anti-freeze carrier fluid in black plastic coiled pipes.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Country Conversations

Now we are living in the country (as against living in a small country market town) we seem to be that much closer to the big issues of the day - the countryside and all it stands for (or doesn't, as the case may be). So expect a few comments and observations in the months ahead.

We are living in the country courtesy of the last Foot and Mouth epidemic. Our barn conversion came about because the farm no longer has a dairy herd, having converted to stock rearing (or fattening, hence the term "fatstock"). Heifers desitined for the abbatoir don't need a barn.

Now there appears to be yet another Foot and Mouth outbreak, this time the virus possibly emanating from a government research laboratory. With two herds slaughtered and movement of cattle and sheep restricted, this is going to have serious financial repercussions across all of England.

For example, the heifers grazing in the fields around us will soon need to go to market. Once they pass 30 months of age the value of the meat goes down. So if they cannot be moved to market they will drop in value yet continue to use up resources on the farm. That's a double whammy for the farmers.

Raising stock is unprofitable. Which begs the question why farmers even bother. There is a huge deficit between the market price of cattle and the costs of raising cattle. According to a survey conducted by the NFU there is a huge profitability gap for both cattle and sheep. The downward pressures on the farmer are several, including: 1. Retailers (such as the big supermarkets), determined to drive prices down yet expecting better quality, delivery, etc., 2. Abattoirs, also determined to be opportunistic in their buying practices rather than work with the farmers, 3. Government and EU, for their often unnecessary codes of practice including TSE-related controls on sheep carcase splitting.

As a typical example, a lowland sheep will sell for approximately £47 a head at market. Yet the cost of raising that sheep ready for market will be in the order of £113 a head. This means there is a loss of £66 per head of sheep. I don't know how or where the difference is made up, but no end of cost saving measures could possibly eliminate that profit gap once farm subsidies are phased out and eliminated. Something else has to give.

Higher meat prices, anyone?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Flooding - the aftermath

Flooding is an emotive topic. It's hard to imagine anything good coming from a flood and in truth it takes a while to search out whatever goodness has resulted from the South Midland floodings of July 2007.

But now the clouds are not such a constant reminder and we have had several days of sunshine that will help the drying out process to succeed. Insurance companies are finding their task nigh impossible and some claimants have yet to be assigned a case number two weeks after the event. Conflicting suggestions as to what to do in the meantime only add to the stress. But the open doors and windows that provide the fresh air to remove mustiness and dampness have resulted in a strong sense of community ownership of the problem. As always, a problem shared is a problem halved. As I have observed before, there is always someone else who is worse off (we heard of houses in Evesham that had 17 feet of water in them) and while this doesn't make things any better, then one's own problems can at least be placed into a wider context.

Those of us with minimal (less than four inches) ingress are getting back to normal. The rugs are clean, the drapes are being cleaned. The floors are dry and relatively unspoilt (tile, stone and certain other floorings have all shown their resilience). Gardens and driveways are back to normal. Those with more water damage are still trying to come to terms with the major upheaval and, now, they are struggling to find people who can do the repair work.

Gouging is beginning to enter the flood vocabularly - £1,800 a month for a two room flat (normally a holiday let) seems way too much. Rents are usually much lower. We are helping out a neighbor - they will be "house-sitting" for an extended period while their own place is repaired. And, no, we are not gouging!!!