Sunday, December 30, 2007

Apple TV Moves up a Notch?

Lost in the news that Apple Inc. finally reached $200/share last week was an important item concerning my favorite Apple product, the Apple TV. It looks as though there is going to be a big announcement in January covering movie download rentals. Here is the long lost content we have been craving. I hope the system will allow the conversion of a rental into a purchase should a particular movie warrant it. Bring it on!

Meanwhile media companies seem to be slowly but surely abandoning DRM. Apple has stated it wants to but has agreements in place with dinosaur record companies and film studios that force its hand. 2008 may be the year of the demise of DRM. But then again they said that about 2007!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Words in "quotes"

OK, so here I am laid up with a stinking cold two days before Christmas, determined to shake it off before the big event on the 25th. Right now I am missing Santa's Express on the West Somerset Railway. If you know me then you know I can't be feeling too good to miss a much anticipated steam train trip.

So I have been reading the newspaper on line and have noted some quirky styles involving quotation marks.

For example, the word terroir, which is a French word for the total environment of a grape vine, including soil, climate, drainage, etc., is placed in single 'quotes'. I would have thought, as a foreign word, it should be italicized. No matter, this is the twenty first century.

Then there is the word gutted. Is it actually a word, I ask myself? Again the writer placed the word in quotes but this time in "double quotes". This could imply that the word was said even though the reporter considers it too slangy to use him/herself.

Gutted seems to be a word much used by afficionados (should that be in single quotes?) of the "beautiful game", otherwise known as football or soccer. And here I fall into the modern trap and perhaps explain what is going on. If you feel "gutted" then presumably you haven't actually been gutted as that would suggest you no longer have an intestinal tract. In the same way the "beautiful game" is anything but beautiful except for perhaps one brilliant move every 90 minutes.

So, single quotes = foreign word; double quotes = saying something you don't really mean that says what you mean to mean.

Which leads on to a suggestion for a new year's resolution. No quotes!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Go to Jail, do not pass Go

The latest, apparently draconian rule to come from the UK Government is to send drivers using mobile (cell) phones to jail.

On the face of it this seems a little excessive but there are valid reasons for the law when one considers that being in total control of a moving vehicle is very important. Watching the actions of drivers who are using mobiles clearly suggests that they are not 100% focused on driving. But the law is to include other "fiddling" activities such as using an iPod.

The reasons I wonder if this is just a little draconian are two fold:

1. Do we have enough jail space if it is estimated that 500,000 people a day flout the already existing (2003) law against using mobile phones?

2. Is using a mobile phone all that different from smoking a cigarette? Perhaps smoking becomes a habitual action that doesn't distract. Should a driver even be allowed to adjust the volume of the radio? Should a driver's hand be allowed to stray away from the steering wheel to, say, change gear? Should conversation be allowed inside a vehicle or should drivers be cocooned in a separate "cab"? Just where should the line be drawn?

Threatening jail seems to be an over-reaction, unless, of course, it can be proved that using a mobile phone may have caused an accident.

And as an aside, since we own a left hand drive car, does this mean that we will be charged for the front passenger being photographed using a mobile?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Our "Green" Christmas Tree


Cynic that I am about the politics of global warming, I can't help boasting about finding a bargain. Just like people talk about "food miles" I can now demonstrate "tree miles". Our tree was cut down yesterday at Langford Christmas Tree Farm, about two miles as the crow flies or four miles by road from our home. But what really makes the difference from those trees shipped hundreds of miles, having been harvested three weeks ago, is the price. £4/foot - What a bargain!

Incidentally, the tree farm has a rather nice poem displayed on their wall that espouses the difference between a real tree and a plastic one!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Global Warming Test

All those 15,000 delegates to the recent Bali Conference should have taken the Global Warming Test before they boarded their flights from wherever in order to pontificate to the hapless media and politicians about humankind's carbon dioxide footprint.

This is sobering stuff that is based on real science. Al Gore is exposed as a charlatan and the value of the Nobel Peace Prize has been devalued yet again. Thanks to Bob Borger in Dallas for bringing this to my (and I hope your) attention.

Apple TV Leads the Pack

Those pundits looking for a weak link in the Apple media product line up have descended on the Apple TV, so it is heartening to read this report. As an Apple TV owner I have to say that the article is correct in noting the lack of available content, particularly outside the US. But the simple fact is that once you have used an Apple TV, the adjacent DVD player looks like "yesterday's technology".

Friday, December 14, 2007

The UK Carbon Footprint Project

Sponsored by Google, this project has one tremendous flaw as far as our home is concerned. In asking the question "What energy is used to heat your home" the multiple choice answers don't include solar (in our case ground source heat). Quite surprising given that this is one of the obvious solutions to the carbon footprint paradigm.

Pullman Dining

The 18:03 train from London to Penzance, also known as the "Golden Hind" to those who read the very small print in the timetable, offers on-train dining that is reminiscent of the "good old days". And it really is good once you understand the rules of engagement.

The main rule is to know which platform the train will leave from so that you can be first to grab a seat in the limited dining space. That's right, you apparently cannot reserve a seat in the dining car even though you can in any other part of the train. (Apparently is an important word here as it would appear some people can and do reserve dining car seats).

The First Great Western team who stand around the concourse can be really helpful, particularly if you are reasonable in your request. We happened to have a lot of luggage and this helped to get more than average assistance.

We found out five minutes ahead of the indicator board that the train would be leaving from Platform 8, so we joined two others who knew the MO.

The next piece of information that came our way was from the on board dining car manager, an interesting chap with a good sense of humor that is probably a very necessary qualification for the job. Although HST-125s all look the same, they are not. FGW are currently upgrading the 30 year old train sets and not all cars in any one set will have been upgraded - a strange fact but true. Our restaurant car (always Car F) was of the old style with a limited kitchen. As a result, there were fewer dining places available than if the kitchen was of the larger, upgraded design. Interestingly, there is a third kitchen design on some trains which the staff call the "wendy house" as it is so small.

The menu and wine list is extensive, certainly better than in the 1950s and better than on Amtrak. More important, the quality of the food is much better than you might expect and the dishes are cooked on board, not just reheated (though I would guess the dishes were already prepared and ready to cook). Service is excellent and you have to marvel that all the beans and carrots do actually end up on your plate when the train is negotiating a bumpy piece of track at high speed!

A starter and main, followed by coffee and a seasonal mince pie lasted the full two hour journey to Taunton, making the time pass quickly. And we had good company at our table of four, which undoubtedly helped.

All in all a good experience for us, but not for those who were turned away as there were more diners than seats.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Maya Maya

The wikipedia entry for Brazzaville's Maya Maya Airport is remarkably thin. But perhaps that's because no-one has much good to say about the place.

Unfortunately I find myself flying in and out of Brazzaville on a monthly basis. Avoiding the place is getting more and more difficult and the flights are always full. So the airport is continually at breaking point, stretched to the limits of bureaucratic incompetence.

It is hard to define exactly why Brazzaville's airport is so bad. It's dirty, it smells, it's incredibly inefficient and the entire place is run on the concept that if you want service then you have to pay for it. Think of that last statement as another way of saying "we have massive unemployment so we will make an entire industry by being totally inefficient and thus create jobs".

I don't have a problem with the idea that you pay for service, but here are a few pointers as to why the experience is always so bad:

- double doors are always half closed, restricting access to passengers toting luggage

- signs don't exist

- officials don't wear uniforms, so it's hard to tell who is official

- queues don't exist, survival of the fittest is the rule when waiting in what could loosely be defined as a line!

- Air France (the only European Airline) does nothing to help get through all this mess

- the airport security check is a joke; actually it is a way to fleece people leaving with local currency in their wallets

- the airline security is undertaken in a half light

- the transit bus (the airport has no jet ways) will load up and then sit for 15 minutes, baking its passengers like an oven

Now, don't get me wrong, I know how to get through all this mess as quick as the next frequent traveler. But I really feel for those who arrive in Brazzaville for the first time with no-one around to help. So I offer a piece of advice: use your elbows!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Off to a Good Start!

This is hardly next day reporting as I am referring to last Sunday's game between Birmingham City and Tottenham Hotspur. I managed to catch the highlights of the game on Match of the Day in my hotel room at Birmingham Airport, en route to Africa. Those who follow the Blues will know that this was Alex McLeish's first game as manager and there is no doubt that he started off extremely well, winning 3-2 away from home. The game had some great moments though City did have a bit of luck to come away with all three points. The winning goal was scored in injury time and it was a 30+ yard screamer into the top corner of the net. And the newspaper's photo of the ball entering the goal was a beauty!