Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year, this is our favorite "group" photo from 2008, taken in the sun at the end of a week on the beach in Languedoc. Let's hope 2009 is as sunny, as warm and as inviting!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Hiking Trail site and format

I am not the only one thinking design changes are good at this time of year. While I like the Google Blogger template I actually prefer the templates provided with iWeb. The only problem with iWeb is the lack of interaction except on photos (and I use Flickr for that). So I think Blogger will stay for the blog but the subsets of hiking trails, travelogs, galleries, etc. would seem to work better in iWeb. I have already done one site with iWeb, that of the genealogical findings about my own father, available here.

Now I have completed a revision of the Cader Idris trail and this is available for review and comment here. The photos used to link to Flickr and I think I will add the links here as well. Also, it would be useful to have a reference to a blog entry which would provide for comments, etc. Any other thoughts? BTW, the old entry is still available here.

Oh yes, I have also reduced the number of exclamation marks (!) to nearly zero. Looks and reads much better as a result.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


A geological term. It defines a break in the sequence of sedimentary rocks, usually with a significant time break between the older and newer sediments, often with a significant structural modification of the older rocks prior to deposition of the younger rocks. Such is the case in the Brian Gorge near Minerve in southern France:
Brian Gorge, the Unconformity
When one bed of rock is deposited directly on top of the preceding bed, we geologists say this is conformable. So when the beds have an angular discrepancy, as is the case here, we start looking for the unconformity between the two sequences. This photo shows the obvious rather well, with the gently dipping package of Cretaceous limestones resting across a series of steeply dipping Paleozoic rocks. Another view, below, shows that the surface of the unconformity is uniform, suggesting that the older sequence of rocks was eroded to a flat surface (peneplaned in geological vernacular) prior to the later deposition of limestones. The younger series of limestones has itself been tilted during the formation of the Alps.
Brian Gorge, the unconformity
Vegetation is also a key guide to defining the unconformity. The older rocks are generally impervious to water so plants and trees exist quite easily despite the long hot dry summers. The limestones are not so hospitable. The rivers in the area typically have water all year round where they flow over the Paleozoic rocks but are dry in the summer months over limestone. At one location we found a small spring of water issuing out along the unconformity - almost certainly a regular source of water for wildlife:
Spring at base Cretaceous unconformity, Cesse Gorge, Minerve

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hypeless Christmas!

How many people agree with me? Christmas in the UK is now all hype and no fun at all. All that pressure leading up to Christmas Day often leads to a depressingly short celebration followed by the opening of bills that demonstrate that much of it cost too much and wasn't worth the effort.

So this year we opted out (an ongoing plan for every other year that seems to be working well), and spent the day on the beach between Cabanes de Fleury (northeast) and St. Pierre (southwest).

Having a Hypeless Christmas!

I switched on data roaming while at the groin near the mouth of the Rive l'Aude and took this screen capture of Google Maps satellite image. The blue circle is the GPS location. Data roaming can cost a lot when away from your host provider's country, so this has to be done sparingly! The hike was only about 3 kilometers each way but much of it was on energy sapping soft sand, giving our calf muscles, in particular, a good work out.

Early in the day, as we walked toward the southwest we could see not only Le Canigou (a large mountain west of Perpignan) but also most of the Pyrennees stretching off to the west. Later in the day the clouds rolled in over the mountains but the sun came out, warm enough for us to catch some rays in the lees of the sand dunes. Not warm enough to strip off, though!

More photos to follow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


We passed through Lyon the other night, staying at a Novotel that looked remarkably similar to its counterpart at Birmingham International Airport.

Lyon is a fascinating city. The second city of France, it also lays claim to be the gastronomic capital of France as well as having roots in the French silk industry, the best French soccer team (OL) and a wonderful location at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone.

As a Brummie it pleases me that the two second cities of France and Britain decided to twin back in 1951. For some reason I feel very comfortable in Lyon, in fact much more so than when in Paris (a city I love, by the way).

Before we left the city we visited the open market (operating six days a week) on the bank of the Saone and stocked up on cheeses and vegetables before driving south down the Rhone valley.
April in Lyon

Saturday, December 20, 2008

French Tourist Translation

"You will appreciate inventive and original cooking while seeping nice regional wines, in a friendly atmosphere, attended by Sylvie."

I wish I could seep wine (while being attended by Sylvie!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global Warming - oil, coal or something else?

Two articles today demonstrate the closed thinking about global warming. One states that coal is ten times worse than oil in terms of global warming. The other suggests that the amount of commercially extractable coal is a lot less than previously thought.

What neither article brings up is the fact that carbon dioxide is a relatively unimportant driver for climate change. Water vapor is, along with methane and other gases that emanate from volcanoes and cows, etc. By continually focussing on only the fossil fuel component we are being hammered into thinking there are no other factors involved.

Although I have a great deal of time for, both these articles are from its RSS subscription service. Read with caution!

Longbridge - Simply bad timing?

News that Jaguar Land Rover, now owned by Tata of India, is reportedly close to obtaining £1 billion in state aid to avoid probable layoffs in the current economic downturn.

What does this say for poor old Rover and the complete close down of the old "Austin" plant at Longbridge three years ago ?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No more Keynotes from Steve :(

The big news in Apple-land today is the announcement that Steve Jobs will not be giving the MacWorld keynote in January and that Apple will absent from Macworld 2010. Needless to say, there has been a flurry of negative thoughts in the blogosphere, as summed up in this Telegraph article.

By and large I agree with the article but here is my own twist on the subject. From the perspective of a user I agree that to announce new products in January seems to be bad timing, particularly as it will only piss off people who just bought the "latest" model a few weeks earlier for Christmas. When Apple only made computers this was less significant. Now the company is primarily a consumer product manufacturer.

The timing of announcements is more easily controlled if Apple organizes its own shows, as and when the product is properly ready. This is significant in that many Apple fans have got accustomed to the idea that version 2.0 or at least 1.1 is worth waiting for! (Think of Aperture as a good example).

It is clear that, no matter what Apple announces in January, the stock usually slumps because investors assume that the Christmas sales period is over and new products will take a while to be accepted (see above). I bet Apple's management have noticed this; after all, they own a lot of stock!

Macworld is simply a trade show, that's all. Trade shows are a dying breed in this day and age.

But I will miss Steve's Keynotes. He is one of the best presenters in the business and his eye for detail and excellence are paragons for the rest of us to only wish to follow. He does, after all, have his own very special reality distortion field! Hopefully we will continue to have some online coverage of new product announcements?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A 303 "Trunk Route"

News today that a small section of the A 303 will be closed for 3 months with a 50 mile diversion through surrounding villages and the small town of Gillingham.

What is interesting to me about this report is that no mention is made of the fact that precious little has been done to upgrade the A303 for perhaps 25 years. Originally designed as an alternative trunk road from London to the South West, the A303 passes through very few large towns, unlike its older, parallel route, the A30. So it was relatively easy to start to widen the A303 and construct some bypasses around potential bottlenecks. But amazingly, the job was never finished, even after the M3 was completed from Sunbury to Basingstoke. There are several well known but unavoidable two lane bottlenecks, including the entire Blackdown Hills in East Devon.

The last piece of completed road was the Honiton Bypass, infamous for the environmentalists who did everything they could to stall construction. Ironically this section is not named the A303 but the A30, as the two roads merge east of Honiton. The Blackdown Hills section of the A303 may never be upgraded as a link road has been improved from Ilminster to Taunton. This road, the A358 is still single lane so there is little actual improvement. Worse, the A358 feeds into the already congested M5 for all travelers heading to Devon and Cornwall.

According to Google Maps, a journey from Taunton to Kent takes the same time whether one uses the A303 or the M5/M4. The latter route is significantly longer but offers a better drive over three lane motorway standard roads. In the summertime both roads are likely to be congested with long tailbacks at accidents and roadworks, so you need to plan ahead!

But this spring it looks as though the M4/M5 route is a no-brainer.

Now that we are in a recession, it is reasonable to ask why nothing was done to improve the A303 when the coffers were full and the economy running at full steam. ironically the one major foreign currency earner we have when the Pound is weak is foreign tourism. A good road system (as in France) would make all the difference for the many small businesses in the Southwest that rely upon tourism.

My guess is that, using the recession as a feeble excuse, any improvements to the A303 will be postponed indefinitely.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nigel Lawson - a good article

Today's Sunday Telegraph carries an interesting, well thought out and presented essay by Nigel lawson on the global warming/carbon economy fiasco we have endured during the past weeks.

It's worth reading and the comments are also useful as a barometer (not thermometer) of public opinion. One small quote to get you going:

"Professor Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics, a distinguished political scientist who, as it happens, accepts the majority view of the climate science, has pointed out why, for this and other reasons, the Kyoto approach is doomed.

"But the vested interest of the great climate change circus, and the gratifying opportunities it presents for global grandstanding, have ensured that his analysis is ignored."

Note that Lawson isn't afraid of mixing and matching his sources, unlike the religious greens who cannot accept anything that isn't written in the good green book. They need to start emulating Lawson's approach for two reasons. First it will make their case more acceptable to the undecided. Second, the undecided will be able to make up their minds with a greater clarity of information.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice at Gatwick

The other morning London's second airport at Gatwick was closed due to ice on the runway, an aerial equivalent of the "leaves on the line" that close down British railway traffic.

As a relatively frequent user of Canadian airports in the winter I have to seriously wonder about this. Usually it is the airplanes that need to be de-iced, not the runways. But in this case the weather in London has barely gone below freezing this past week, so any excuse that Gatwick experienced "exceptional weather conditions" seems far-fetched.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Would you reply to this?

I received an e-mail this morning. Another phishing trip, most probably:

I am Mr Ming Yang,i have an obscured busines suggestion for you.please Contact me for further details on my Email

"Obsured busines suggestion"? Say what!

A recent discussion on one of the Mac-oriented sites discussed the problem of whether or not to have anti-virus software installed. The first line of defense that many recommend is quite simple: Don't reply to e-mails like these!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wind Powered Electricity - Some Clear Thinking!

Today there is some hope for sanity in the debate over how much wind powered electricity the UK can depend on.

The key to 34% reliance on wind power is, apparently, to be found in as yet unproven technology to store power for when the wind doesn't blow. That should make us all feel comfortable.

There are ways, of course, but they simply add on to the already prohibitive cost of wind generation. Remember that wind generated electricity is only viable with huge public subsidies. So the various ideas for storing energy that we might be able to come up with are simply going to add the cost.

Simple storage examples already exist but they require excess capacity at the generation stage and the potential for huge energy transmission losses. One possibility would be to link a wind farm to a hydro-electric plant. On windy days pump water from a lower reservoir back up to a higher reservoir and re-cycle the water through the hydro-electric turbines. But this would require extra capacity at the wind farm! One wonders if the politicians ever think things through!

The Wire - an update

A few months ago I bought Year 1 of The Wire. I am now half way through Year 3. This is fantastic TV if a little bloody and full of bad language. But both these attributes are real life scenarios, unfortunately, so to try to produce a police drama in downtown Baltimore without them would be like traditional James Bond without the blood - meaningless entertainment.

The Wire was produced for HBO, a premium cable channel in the US which can do this sort of thing as cable boxes come with parental controls, etc., etc. The realism is chilling but so often it is the clever script, filming and editing that makes the program so compelling. Couple these with excellent characterizations of the many lead players and the experience is complete.

Why do I like The Wire? Well, when we lived in Houston we lived in or perhaps I should say next to areas that are similar to those depicted in the series. At one residence we were separated from a series of run-down apartments by a power line easement but the apartment residents found a way to cut across and we would wake up to empty bottles of malt liquor thrown onto the front lawn. On one occasion a stolen car was chased straight into our fire hydrant with not so spectacular results (i.e. the Hollywood fountain effect was not there!) Two weeks later, after the city repaired the hydrant, it happened again!

Weekend nights were often punctuated by gunfire as drive by shootings down Sherwood Lane were the norm. So often the gunfire would go blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam. Six chambers in a revolver. There is a scene in Series 3 where an ex-con is handed a semi-automatic with 15 rounds in the magazine. He complains that revolvers are better because they don't jam - I suspect he's right!

When we finally moved to Montrose I went to a resident's meeting and heard naive neighbors complain about firecrackers being let off at night. I asked them how many bangs there were and explained that they may not have been firecrackers!

Stef Lewandowski has just posted an interesting take on The Wire, suggesting that there is a lot more to be gained from the series than simple entertainment. I would agree but of course we can all probably come up with a different set of experiences. Just as we probably all have a favorite character. Mine, for the record, is Bunk Morland.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dunster by Candlelight

Photos will follow. Last evening we took the train (West Somerset Railway) from Bishops Lydiard to Dunster and walked up to the village where the main street was closed to traffic and open to people. Wonderful! Unfortunately the evening was spoiled by dinner at the Castle Hotel, booked five weeks ago but no table available when we arrived. Excuses included a new management who clearly didn't know what they were doing. We won't be eating or staying there again, which is a pity as the chef is good and an large investment has been made in upgrading the facilities.

The return journey was an amalgamation of two trains and consisted of 10 coaches double headed by 2-8-0 3850 and 2-6-0 9351.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I don't want Flash

on my iPhone! I really couldn't care if I didn't have it on my Mac either. Flash based websites are a pain with those 0-100% "loading" bars and pointless, download-heavy graphics.

Then I remembered that I have a couple of Flash-based slide shows generated by Lightroom (also an Adobe product) so I'm going to have to do something about that!

Detractors of the iPhone love to bring up the lack of Flash. I am quite happy not to have it and I am not alone. Meantime, web developers should seriously consider providing a Flash-less alternative to their Flash-heavy sites.

680,000 Homes (some of the time)

The BBC reports that the "world's second largest offshore windfarm" has gained approval. It will be located 10 miles off the North Wales coast in the Irish Sea.

The key is, of course, in the numbers. When all 150 turbines are rotating and generating, the farm will provide electricity for 680,000 homes. When they are not generating electricity, those homes will rely on conventional electricity generation which has to be maintained on standby.

Although the Irish Sea is a windy place, it is not always windy and sometimes it may be too windy for safe operation of the turbines. Proof that this is so was seen when flying over the Furness area one sunny morning when not one of the existing wind turbines was rotating (you'll have to believe me on this as a "still" photo is hardly conclusive evidence!)

Offshore Wind Farm

On Light Bulbs

So, we understand that good old tungsten (incandescent) light bulbs are to be phased out. To be replaced by "energy efficient" bulbs that produce less light, take time to warm up and reach operating levels and contain toxic levels of mercury that will require special disposal (read, drive them to your local re-cycling center).

Those halogen downlighter lamps aren't much better - it seems they have a tendency to blow circuit breakers when they fail and are also a pain to replace. Our local electrician, a nice guy, replaces old ladies' downlighter bulbs for free because they simply cannot do it themselves.

The answer, we are told, is to stock pile a load of tungsten bulbs. But due to modern product diversity we now have bayonet cap and screw cap bulbs in various wattages and physical shapes and sizes.

As someone said recently: "And this is called progress?"

Progress is a strange word these days - look at this quote from the link:

On September 27, 2007, the government in the United Kingdom announced plans to phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs by 2011.[18] Under the plan, retailers will voluntarily decline to stock 150 watt bulbs from January 2008, 100 watt bulbs from January 2009, 40 watt bulbs in 2010, and all remaining bulbs by 2011. These plans are voluntary, however they have had wide support from retailers and consumers. The initiative has, however, been criticised by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, and other political parties, who believe mandatory measures should be introduced.

I am not sure what the difference is between a "voluntary decline" and "mandatory measures" in that ultimately there will be no choice, regardless.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Stressing the Intangible

The present times are difficult for most people. The so-called "credit crunch" (I prefer "credit crisis" but I'm not the media) is hurting just about anyone who has bills to pay, taxes to pay, jobs to keep and families to feed. So it is only natural that our great and wonderful leaders should now stress the intangible.

Top of their list, of course, is the fight against climate change. Climates change but we must stop them at all costs.

But look out for other devious reasons to accept the crunch. Like asteroids. Yes, we must be especially fearful of an asteroid collision now that the global financial situation is so precarious. It's as though the banks had erected a special asteroid shield but now it has been dissolved along with easily available credit.

In the weeks ahead we can expect drinking water, genetically modified food and wind turbines to get their day in the world court of righteousness.

Water Well

Don't get me wrong. Poverty, lack of potable water and decent sanitation are all high on my list of undesirables. Happy to say I am doing my bit to try to help, but I really do get tired of the bandwagon hitchhikers.

Oxfam joins the bandwagon


Expect lots more of the same in the next ten days.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I've been listening to seasonal music from New York, courtesy of 106.7 Lite fm. This is one of several radio stations available for streaming on the iPhone, using the app iheartradio.

The quality is excellent. Why is it that, when in the UK we can't receive BBC radio with decent reception inside our home yet can stream quality internet radio from just about everywhere else?

A great big plug for Stef Lewandowski's latest creation - Stef is one of the most creative entrepreneurs I have met and I love what he does. His latest idea is a web-site for dads, a social, interactive site for sharing problems, solutions, ideas, whatever. Do check it out, even if you are not a dad. In fact I would suggest it may have a good deal of relevance to mums as well.

Your images are being uploaded. . .

to Blogger. No, they're not! This is a hit and miss thing at best. Funny how this one worked, though!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Seasonal Music Recommendation

Seasonal Music has this short shelf life but if good enough has the chance to return year after year. We think we have found one that fits the bill: Come Darkness, Come Light by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Available on iTunes but I am not sure how you link to the iTunes Store. So, use the information above (title, artist) and go search!

The Clamour of the Times

Professor Philip Stott is moving blogs. Global Warming Politics (previously Envirospin) is being superseded by a more general blog covering, to quote the good professor:

"Asked by his friend, James Boswell (1740-1795), why ‘predestination’ figured in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Dr. Johnson (1709-1784) replied that it was but “the clamour of the times”. The aim of this blog is to interrogate “the clamour” of our own noisy times."

The older blogs remain as archives but you may want to subscribe to his RSS link.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don't listen to the politicians - read the graffiti!

The Answer. . . .

Global Sea Level Changes

As regular readers will know, there is a mantra "Change is Normal" when it comes to our planet and its many systems. One such concern among the global warming community is that sea levels will rise as a result of a warming trend.

As just about all geologists will attest, global sea levels change through time. This statement was best put into the scientific mainstream by Peter Vail. He produced a global sea level change chart which is reproduced here (source):

Why these changes? Have ice sheets been growing and receding through time? Yes, but temperature change is far from being the main reason behind global sea level changes. And we also know that any description of a global sea level change will have its exceptions at any one time. As good examples, the Strait of Hormuz is sinking rapidly today while the Baltic is rising rapidly. I use the word "rapidly" in a geological time concept. As solid as the Earth's crust appears to be, we know that it is constantly moving up and down and around, and it is this activity that is the prime cause for global as well as local sea level changes. Ice Ages are rare phenomena in the geological time span covered by the chart (600 million years) so cannot and should not be invoked as reasons why we may be facing rising sea levels in the future. Better to look to plate tectonic motions if you want to predict whether or not London, New York and Shanghai will all disappear in the geological future!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

-8ºC Last Night

The other morning I walked ten blocks downtown Calgary and it was cold in the pre-dawn rush hour! This photo was taken from the office window at 9 a.m. by which time the sun was up and the temperature starting to climb a little.

Knowing the temperature before venturing outside is a must during the winter months but exactly what constitutes "cold" depends on where you're from! Locals in the warmth of a hotel lobby may chide for wearing gloves but it seems most people do anyway!

It looks like there is a slight warming trend!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

Today the Daily Telegraph has published a series of photos and brief descriptions of the 30 greatest conspiracy theories of our times. Global warming is one of them!

Under an interestingly emotive picture reads the following, I quote:

29. Global warming is a hoax - Some climate change doubters believe that man-made global warming is a conspiracy designed to soften up the world's population to higher taxation, controls on lifestyle and more authoritarian government. These sceptics cite a fall in global temperatures since last year and a levelling off in the rise in temperature since 1998 as evidence.

So let's take a look at this. First of all, from a geological point of view, the time scales quoted are ridiculous and meaningless. Secondly, we know that climate change is the norm, for there is no such thing as a "stable climate" (except in the minds of politicians).

The evidence for global warming being significantly man-made at this time is not completely understood. The most significant greenhouse gas is water vapor, not carbon dioxide, while much of the CO2 released into the atmosphere is natural, not anthropogenic. Science simply doesn't know the true impact of man-made CO2 emissions on the atmosphere and climate. The scientific jury is still out on the subject, despite so called "consensus" statements by the IPCC, etc.

This leaves the political ramifications of the conspiracy theory and here we have something a lot less scientific and therefore harder to debate. There seems to be no doubt that the evidence of anthropogenic global warming is continually being distorted by those who can use it to control lives and, as many global warming deniers have pointed out, the main reason for Al Gore's unscientific slide show, an Inconvenient Truth, has been to promote Gore's own image and wealth. We are beginning to see evidence that politicians will use doublespeak to promote green agendas. Climate change taxation is certainly with us already.

Does that make it a conspiracy? An interesting question. But consider this. By grouping the subject along with 29 other conspiracy theories, it would appear that those who question global warming politics are being cast in the same light as those who construct huge paradigms for alien visitations and so on. "Deniers", "Heretics", now "Conspiracy Theorists"! The name calling continues.

Green Taxes are Upon Us

So the UK Government appears to be set on reaping the benefits of the first sale of carbon emission permits. This article from the BBC somehow manages to keep a straight face while the green movement doesn't know whether to cheer or cry.

But the rest of us should start worrying. Who is going to pay the tax? Not the energy companies. No way. Expect more increases in utility bills. And as to other European countries passing on the funds to the consumers! A whole level of bureaucracy will be needed to take money from you and me just to give some of it back.

Wake up, wake up, the green movement is taking over and it ain't going to be pretty. The only green I can see in all this is money being frittered away on nonsensical schemes so we can all feel good about ourselves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Foreign Exchange Fluctuations

Recently I've been trying to keep track of and understand the massive changes in foreign exchange rates between the US Dollar, Pound Sterling and the Euro. The relatives changes in currency since the beginning of the year (2008) are quite seriously amazing. Using the website the following YTD changes can be seen:

£ Sterling to US $ - currently 1.4967, down 23.59%

Euro to US $ - currently 1.2624, down 4.32%

It wasn't so long ago the £/$ rate was permanently stuck at 2.0. Past Christmas holidays provided the scenes of hordes of shoppers flying to New York to shop. Not this year, I would think. Perhaps the pound was artificially too high then. I can certainly remember what little is left of the UK manufacturing sector complaining about lack of competitiveness in the export market. So at least they should be happier now, assuming they can obtain investment funding from the banks. Tourism should also benefit from the change in exchange rates, but that assumes that tourists can afford to spend money during a recession.

The contrast between the Euro and the Dollar is a lot less significant, suggesting, possibly, that something here has yet to give. If we assume that the dollar is too large a currency in the hearts and minds of the rest of the world, then my guess is that the Euro is heading for a fall as well. Eventually, it is probable that things will even out, I suppose, with the status quo (whatever that is) winning out in the end.

That assumes we continue to have a free market economy. But here I am not so sure. There are dark days ahead, I think, when it comes to how the current financial collapse will be managed and who will be doing the managing. Very, very few of the world's leaders apparently saw this coming, yet it is the same people who claim they will get us out of the mess that they, basically, allowed to happen.

At this point I have to admit that conspiracy theories start to look very attractive! Fellow global warming heretic Professor Philip Stott has an engaging piece on his blog that is highly recommended. The comparisons between the present political situation and George Orwell's 1984 are much more than coincidental.

Apple, Adobe, iPhone and Flash

This article on Wired points out that Apple's "control-freak mentality" toward the iPhone will prevent Adobe's Flash system from ever being ported to the iPhone OS. The slew of comments to this article makes for interesting reading but, as might be expected, all the comments come from the "geek sector" of the user community. Who else reads Wired?

Well, I do, but mainly it's an attempt to keep up, remain savvy and occasionally learn something useful! Besides, I like the fact that Wired puts all of its articles on RSS readers, not some ridiculous appetizer to get you to click through.

That aside, this article misses the point for the vast majority of iPhone users. We (I am just about in the majority here) don't know what we're missing most of the time and don't really care. Web pages without Flash ads load quicker and are less distracting. That's a distinct bonus. The downside might be that we could occasionally be frustrated by a web site that insists on being Flashy. In which case the owners of those sites might just recognize that they are missing an increasingly important sector of the internet.

Some comments suggest that the only way to go with an iPhone is to jailbreak it. Well, that's a personal decision, but not one I will make in a hurry, unless I find myself living in a country where there is no official agreement to provide a service.

As mentioned last Saturday, there are advantages in Apple's ability to control its wide range of core hardware and software offerings.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Misleading headlines

This one caught my eye on the Daily Telegraph RSS service:

"Climate change threatens spectacle of birds at wetland sites"

I think we are all becoming conditioned to reading between the lines whenever we see "climate change" in a headline. Whatever follows is bound to be negative, anthropogenic and indicative of imminent disaster.

All this article is about, however, is the expectation that fewer birds are migrating to some of the best viewing sites in the UK. Some species are causing concern with globally reduced numbers, while others are on the increase. That's as it is likely to be - the only constant in life is change.

Now that our spectacles are threatened, what can we expect next?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Airport Express

Apple's small wireless device is a neat package - connected to the internet it can distribute to ten devices (computers, Apple TV, iPhone, etc.), can allow all users to access one printer and can allow your iTunes music to be distributed wirelessly to one or more powered speaker systems around the house. It can also be an add-on to a larger network.

But there is more! When on the road it makes a very useful wireless hub for computer and iPhone, whether in the hotel or the office environment, or both. The device is small and light and has no need for power cords as it can plug directly into a wall socket or power strip.

Although I haven't done this yet, it is clear that the combination of iTunes, Airport Express, power speakers and iPhone with the Remote app makes for one very sophisticated music system. To whit. Computer is in den. Speakers are in living room. iPhone can adjust the music selection and volume from anywhere in range of the wi-fi network, say the kitchen! Moving from living room to dining room? Simply switch to a different set of power speakers (though this requires a second Airport Express).

This is all very impressive and speaks volumes for Apple's commitment to controlling all aspects of the system, from computer to OS, to software, to peripherals.

G20, lemming genes and the ostrich syndrome

So, the world's leaders are meeting to determine how to stop the roller coaster global economy from plunging down into recession. These are the same people (i.e. politicians) who never saw it coming yet they are now the self-styled experts who are going to "save the world".

Can I be the only cynic? Probably not. Politicians, even though they may stand for a wide spectrum of ideologies, all seem to share a lemming gene. When faced with impending doom the simplest solution, short-term though it may be, is always to pretend it doesn't exist and that it will go away. This could be called the ostrich syndrome.

Where I get really cynical is in the complete turn round that many politicians are now making. The UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e. treasury secretary in US parlance) for 11 years before taking over from Tony Blair. If ever there was a borrow, tax and spend Chancellor, it was him. But now he has suddenly embraced the concept that tax breaks will kick start the global economy.

Of course, he cannot simply reduce taxes. No, it is much too efficient to, say, remove the lowest paid members of the workforce from the tax rolls completely (why do people who only make minimum wage even have to pay income tax in the UK?) The plans always seem to include some form of means test such that the individual must claim for tax credits. Such a policy demands additional bureaucracy, and of course that means more government paid jobs that might otherwise be a whole lot more productive.

There is an old political saying that "the people get the government they deserve". It's probably true when there's a choice, but modern democracies don't seem to offer much of a choice. HM Government's "loyal opposition" generally doesn't seem to have much of a clue as to how it would tackle the problems.

On the other hand, I do applaud George Osborne, shadow chancellor, for having the nerve to suggest that more government borrowing could cause Sterling to collapse. The acrimony his statement has drawn demonstrates my point - lemmings don't like colleagues who refuse to follow the leader.

So, put your head back in the sand, George, and be a good boy!

Dordogne HDR


Taken a couple of months ago, this is a five exposure composite high dynamic range compilation. For the first time I used a tripod for the five rapid fire exposures and the extra quality of the details in this picture shows that a tripod should be de rigeur!

The location is on the bank of the Dordogne, looking west, near where we stayed a night at Paunat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Using the iPhone Abroad

I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but I think I've got it sorted.

The key is to switch data roaming off. That way it is impossible to rack up unwanted charges downloading data through foreign cell phone air space.

It is also unwise to ever access any 'net-based app (including Mail and Safari) when there is no Wi Fi available. It seems that as long as you don't access any data delivery apps they don't seek out that data (presumably because data roaming is switched off).

The other fail safe method is to switch the iPhone to Airplane Mode. The problem with this, of course is that you can't receive phone calls. But you may not want to receive many calls anyway, given the charges incurred! And consider being many time zones away from home - all those sales calls could wake you up at an unreasonable hour - ugh!

As a number of comments on various iPhone web sites mention, the problem all stems from the iPhone being such a versatile smart phone. I hope that in the future the mobile providers of the world will be able to get together to offer reasonably priced data roaming plans for frequent travelers. You could say that the iPhone is simply ahead of its time when it comes to marketing plans for those of us who travel a lot.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Maldives and political scaremongering

The newly elected president of the Maldives (a group of over a thousand coral atolls in the Indian Ocean) has come out with an interesting plan in case global warming should cause sea levels to rise and inundate his nation.

That is what many climate change scientists believe will happen because of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). But I would suggest that they've got it all wrong.

Coral atolls, for as long as they are living organisms, keep pace with sea level changes. If my memory serves me correctly, I learned in school that Darwin observed that atolls appear to keep pace with subsidence, maintaining their elevation. This observation was further supported by drilling into atolls to find shallow water corals formed the bulk of the structure for thousands of feet below present day sea level.

The fact that the present day Maldives are so close to sea level supports the observations made by many eminent geographers and geologists.

Corals thrive in environments like the Maldives - open ocean bringing food, clear water to allow copious light to penetrate deep on the flanks of the reefs, occasional storms to re-distribute the coral as sand, vegetation to bind the sand and so on. A coral island is a unique ecosystem that appears to be able to survive almost anything, even ice ages!

So why do the Maldivians feel so threatened? Well, the islands have been selected as a test case for the global warming lobby. Surely if anything will sway public opinion it is a small island nation losing its birthright to the greed to man made carbon dioxide emissions?

So let's look at this a bit more closely. Global sea level changes are not constant. Some coastlines are emerging at the present time, others are sinking. The net balance seems to be reasonably constant. But "the ice caps are melting", says the AGW lobby. However, predictions of global sea level rises don't appear to be following their observations. The evidence provided is always very selective. My own photographs of East Greenland have been used to prove that the ice cap is shrinking by comparing those I took in August with those taken by others at the beginning of summer.

If the Maldives are going to disappear in the near future, my suggestion is that it will probably be due to man-made interference with the ecosystem based on coral and coralgal framework organisms - take away the bricks and the walls will come tumbling down. While the Maldives government has absolutely no control over climate change, it does have a responsibility to maintain its own natural sea defenses. The temptation to develop tourism will always be great (heck, I would love to go there!) but this has to be done carefully. Allow the corals to maintain the fabric of the islands and sea level changes will have much less impact on Maldivian society and its future.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

50 "factoids" about Barack Obama

As reported here.

Not all that illuminating but:

He uses an "Apple Mac". Translated for non-UK readers, this means an Apple computer.

Although he may be a bit prudish (he left when a stripper arrived at a stag party) he admits to liking Picasso, one of the lewdest artists ever to paint.

He cooks chili. Who doesn't?

He would probably have become an architect if not a politician. Given the egos of the average architect, that's a bit worrying.

He ignored CNN while on the campaign trail - a positive sign!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

California High Speed Rail

Well, the votes are in on Proposition 1A - "Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act" and 52% is enough to start the project rolling, perhaps eventually at 200 mph.

This is not the first true high speed rail project mooted in America (the Northeastern Acela program uses existing track, rather like Britain's high speed trains do). Many years ago, during the last oil price crisis of the early 1980s, Texas proposed a system linking Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio with a three axis web centered on somewhere around Smithville. The journey times at 200 mph would have been in excess of an hour from end to end (i.e. Houston to Dallas) but would have been from city center to city center, obviating the need to use airports. The whole idea was far too competitive for the airlines (Southwest Airlines in particular) who lobbied against the plan and ultimately killed it. Many is the time I have sat stuck in Dallas Love Field airport while a thunderstorm raged outside and wondered why the rail project could not have garnered enough support! The concept still lives on this website.

Many high speed rail mockers exist but they soon become converts when visiting France or taking Eurostar under the English Channel. In America it is often said that what California does will be copied across the continent. Maybe by 2100 the nation will be crisscrossed by high speed rail. But that is beginning to sound like Ayn Rand futurism!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton, RIP

Michael Crichton died today. We lose a great author as well as a champion of common sense against scaremongerers.

Anyone who didn't enjoy Jurassic Park (the novel more than the movie) is missing something. The concept of cloning to bring back extinct species gets more real every day. In fact we are now thinking it is possible to clone an iced-in mammoth. So in that respect, Crichton was ahead of his time.

But there is a one page passage in the book that sticks in my mind. In it Malcolm (chaos theorist) explains to Hammond (park founder) that life will always survive no matter what man does to annihilate it, even if it is only bacteria deep in the Siberian ice after a nuclear wipe out. Evolution will begin all over again once it can. This is important in the context of global warming "science" in that life and the planet will survive in one form or another in spite of, or because of, what Homo sapiens does or does not do.

In this respect, Crichton has fallen foul of environmentalists who, as is too often the case, see everything from an anthropogenic point of view. He may have entertained with his writings and the movies that stem from them, but Crichton has done much more than that to those who can read between the lines!

[a geological aside: The title "Jurassic Park" has spawned a lot of inconsistencies from a geological perspective. For example, the Jurassic Coast is actually the Mesozoic Coast, while all the dinosaurs in the book were actually from the Cretaceous period!]

60163 - got that number?

An historic day that almost slipped by unnoticed! Britain's first NEW steam locomotive for decades has undergone its first trial run.

The demise of steam is etched permanently in my memory - I was just the right age to be caught up in it. Before we were called anoraks we simply collected numbers. No, we didn't just collect numbers, we studied the different designs, the sounds they made, the defining shapes that allowed a locomotive to be spotted hundreds of yards down the line.

So this is exciting news. Most historic locomotives have been rebuilt several times over but only a few have been significantly modified. One example, 71000 Duke of Gloucester, was rebuilt according to the original plans and performs much better as a result (there is a theory that the plans were not followed in order to demonstrate that the design was a failure, so hastening the end of steam on British Railways).

60163 Tornado should be an unqualified success and it will be interesting to see it running on modern main lines, hopefully at speeds in excess of 75mph!

(A pity that the Telegraph got one thing wrong - a locomotive is only part of a train, unless, of course, it isn't pulling anything!)

Queen asked good question at LSE

And the accompanying photo is good too! Turns out Elizabeth II has the same concerns as her subjects!

Barack Obama - President Elect

Months ago I indicated support for Barack Obama as a potential vehicle for change. That was back when he was fighting off a sustained challenge from Hillary Clinton and before he chose Joseph Biden as his running mate. His confirmation as the Democratic candidate pleased me, but the selection of Biden didn't. Biden is definitely "old school" and not one I can trust. I would not suggest he will be a puppeteer like Dick Cheney, possible the most vile VP in history, but even so, Biden is not "change".

I am not euphoric about the result (as you can probably tell) mainly because I know the real power in America is not necessarily the White House but Congress. The Democrats will have a strong grip on both Senate and House of Representatives and together with a Democratic president this could spell legislative disaster. Rubber stamps simply don't work in politics - it's as though legislation is pushed through without any common sense thinking behind it. To whit, the early Blair years in the UK, serving up huge plates of flawed legislation that is then "spun" into action. The early Bush years were likewise calamitous, leading us to overkill in the War on Terror, thus handing a measure of victory to the terrorists who have been marginalized.

The ideal US Government is one that has a balance of power between the two parties. Call this a "stand off" if you want but the truth is the rest of the country seems able to get on with its life just as well without too much action in Washington. Some would say it actually does better. I wonder if there is indeed a historic correlation between political stalemate in Washington and economic good times?

So, congratulations to Obama for being elected. But now come the truly difficult challenges of

Waking up to the economic realities of a recession now that the election is over

Selecting a cabinet in the next 77 days that will represent what the voters expected

Moving from behind the rhetoric of good oratory to actually running the country

I wish him and his family well.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Small Business - no seats on the PM's jet!

So this comes in over the RSS feed:

And I get all excited. After all, I've spent the past weekend extolling the efforts of my father building a small company in Birmingham, my son is doing much the same and I am self-employed. Does this mean that small business really is getting a helping hand from the UK Government?

Ha ha, ha de ha ha.

First off, the CEOs had to be invited onto the "company" plane. The report says they included HSBC, Shell and BG. So much for small business as a priority to the new minister, Lord Mandelson. No, these people only know how to rub shoulders with those who earn megabucks running other peoples' (the shareholders') businesses with the only downside a golden parachite when they fail.

Pass me the vomit bag!

Monday, November 03, 2008

When RSS is useless

And I mean USELESS! Although others are guilty, the BBC is possibly the worst offender. The following is a screen shot of an RSS feed item received today:

Just what does this mean? It isn't possible to gain any knowledge from the headline or the "body" of the report. It is simply a hook, designed to get you to visit the website. Now I would understand a commercial site doing this but the BBC is non-profit, paid for by an increasingly unwilling public through the license fee.

I rather imagine a couple of out-of-touch BBC executives discussing how to get more people to visit the site coming up with this strategy.

By the way, I refused to click through so I don't know who she is, or what movie. To be honest I don't really care.

But if you want an example of a really good RSS feed strategy, look no further than Wired!

Kill yr blog

So says Paul Boutin on Wired:

Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won't find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook?

The idea is simply this. Blogs are passé, blogs require too much writing and therefore reading, so the new sites such as Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc. are the way to go.

As someone who finds understanding text messages difficult (too much ambiguity, hell, often I have no idea who the sender is!) I shudder at the thought of viewing and interpreting abbreviated garble-geek-gook.

It's interesting that Flickr is included as the way of the future. Many of my contacts write excellent prose that some Flickrites find interesting and pleasing!

And just for the record I hate emoticons too!

ICE - In Case of Emergency

I reproduce this letter to today's Daily Telegraph (there is no lasting link to Letters to the Editor):

SIR - A friend tells me that paramedics in America encourage mobile phone users to store an ICE ("In Case of Emergency") number in their phone directory.

Apparently, the idea came from a paramedic who found that, although most victims carried mobiles, no one knew which number to call.

It seems like an excellent idea to me.

Me too! So much so, I've already added mine!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Leslie C. Ashton - a website

Two days ago I mused on the idea of putting together a website chronicling my father's life. The site is now ready.

Technically, I used some material I have been gathering over the years but included new photos and research scanned and discovered since Friday. I decided to use iWeb as it is easy to manipulate and required no new domain names or anything that might slow me down. I would particularly like to thank April for providing genealogical know how and Shirley for sending key material.

Philosophically this project could have been hugely time consuming but I decided that it would be better to lay down the basics now and possibly upgrade bits in the future. My only thought would be to visit and add a few photographs of Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt, the place where my father won the Military Cross.

Think of it as my digital memorial to the life story of my father, Leslie Charles Ashton.

If after viewing the site you have any comments, please feel free to add them here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The future of the BBC

For whatever it's worth (an annual license fee*, actually) here is my opinion on what should be done about the BBC:

Scrap Radios 1 and 2 and all the digital stations that we, along with many rural license payers, cannot receive.

Have one TV channel dedicated to news and quality programming.

In other words, the BBC should emulate America's Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

All the disbanded channels should be commercially funded or they cease to exist.

* On the subject of the license fee, we have had to put up with repeated threats to pay our license even though we have proof it was paid up nearly a year ago. The most recent letter threatens to have debt collectors at our doorstep if we do not pay.

West Somerset

Today we spent an interesting Saturday in West Somerset, organizing some Christmas festivities but also just looking around. Minehead, that wonderful Victorian resort on the Bristol Channel has been dunned down in recent years by the addition of a Butlins holiday center, yet in many ways the presence of Butlins seems to have revitalized the town. The town center is as attractive as town centers are these days with a wide main street busy with people even when a strong northeasterly blew cold air along its length. In a very clever move the old Victorian area on North Hill has been preserved from too much encroachment, providing a pleasant contrast to the inevitable seaside "attractions" along the promenade.

The West Somerset Railway is undoubtedly another positive reason for the areas success in attracting visitors. In a few weeks time we are taking part in an excursion train from Bishops Lydiard near Taunton to Minehead and then by bus to Dunster for their annual "Dunster by Candlelight" evening. The fact that the train is just about fully booked (there were only three seats left on the one we selected) is a very good sign in these trying times.

As we drove home we discussed what makes the area so different and therefore so special. Like so much of Somerset, it seems, you get what you see, not some hype that doesn't exist. Somerset is an honest county in a country where there is too many a promise that doesn't hold true.

Friday, October 31, 2008

You spell Mendecourt with an "H"!

During the 1980s when I lived in Houston, I entered into a long and sporadic correspondence with representatives of the British Army to try to find out more about my father's Military Cross, awarded (official language says "won") during the First World War in northern France.

That is all I knew at the beginning of the search. By the end I had received a typed commendation that reproduced the citation that went with the medal. The key was that my father was in charge of a section that overran a German machine gun position at Mendecourt.

And there the story died on me. I had always assumed that Mendecourt simply disappeared in the mud of the First World War trenches.

Then today April said "I wonder if Mendecourt starts with an "H". Hendecourt. A quick Google search revealed enough to get us excited and the village of Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt revealed itself as a location of two Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.

I knew that my father was an officer in the Liverpool Regiment so further affirmation was found in the details of the action in 1918. The Liverpool Regiment, along with a Canadian division, were involved in the action.

The official Gazette for the medal was then discovered (again by our in-house expert, April) and everything tied together except that the Gazette was printed in wartime so there is no mention of the location.

The full citation should now read:

2nd Lt. Leslie Charles Ashton, 5th (attd. 8th) Bn, L'pool R., T.F.

Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt, France

For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership. When the enemy attacked he led his platoon forward to meet them and drove them back, inflicting heavy losses. Later, he led his platoon with great determination in an attack, and, encountering an enemy machine gun, he killed the gunner and captured the remainder of the team. It was largely owing to his excellent example that the attack was successful.

We now have some additional information to work with, in particular the location. The village did survive and the Upton Wood (British Army code name, apparently) cemetery will no doubt have the remains of several of my father's comrades.

This has me thinking about the entire scenario once again and in the day of the internet it would seem a good subject for a website, perhaps using

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Peak Oil mischief

Today the newswires are all over a report by the Peak Oil Group that sensationalizes a future lack of oil will be a greater threat than terrorism.

I guess the first thing we should ask is who exactly is the Peak Oil Group? Not surprisingly it is made up of alternative energy resource interests, though its chairman is an "ex-oil industry executive". So they clearly have an axe to grind and are currently concerned that, with oil prices dropping, their projects are beginning to look a lot less economically viable. Hence the scaremongering.

The second question we should ask is if the statement is actually true that there will be a future lack of oil. Yes, oil is a finite resource, so it will run out "some day". What has fooled the pundits so far is naming the date when oil production peaks. At one time the peak was estimated to be around 1950 but so far technology, exploration successes and wildcatters' guts have put far more oil into the pipelines than anyone has ever imagined. And the same is probably true today. I say probably in that there are political pressures due to most of the oil being under the control of a few countries, in particular, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. That is where the terrorist threat is greatest so it is hard to see how one threat (peak oil) is greater than the other (terrorism) as they are potentially linked in an earth shattering way.

It behoves us all to desire and expect alternative energy sources, but these need to be economically viable and sustainable. Unfortunately wind and solar energy systems are not economically viable except in very special circumstances. The cost of making solar electricity panels, for example, far exceeds the savings we can expect from them. Wind energy can work with other energy sources but not replace them. The Scandinavian model demonstrates this type of potential viability, where Denmark sells its wind power to Sweden (when the wind blows) and buys Swedish hydro-electric power back when it doesn't. The problem is that some of the infrastructure is idle most of the time, requiring excess capital investment and operating costs.

By comparison oil continues to be the most versatile, cost effective energy source we have.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The new MacBooks and Firewire

I had a good look at the latest MacBook and MacBook Pro yesterday and bemoaned to the Apple Store sales representative that Apple no longer fitted any Firewire port to the MacBook and only a Firewire 800 port to the MacBook Pro. For those of us with several portable Firewire 400 only hard drives, this seems like a backward step.

In fact it isn't. Fortunately. The Pro will be the only model to consider in the future, mainly because we use SuperDuper to create bootable back up discs which apparently do not work using the USB port (I haven't tried this but have read that only Firewire drives are bootable).

So, if I upgrade to a MacBook Pro I will need a 400 to 800 adaptor like this one from Sonnet. That's a small price to pay for progress, I suppose, but much smaller than the cost of upgrading some of my PPC-only software.

Meantime I just keep on trucking with my four year old PowerBook!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Google Earth for iPhone

Well, I am sure that this news has traveled around the planet a few times already, so my post is more concerned with what I did when I found out that Google had released Google Earth for the iPhone.

I first found out using Newstand while standing in the Exeter Apple Store (using their free wi-fi) at 10:30 a.m. this morning.

At 11:30 we were sitting in Café Rouge, drinking chocolat chaud when I decided to visit Apps and download the Google Earth App using O2's 3G signal. This took a minute or two and another minute or so to set it up.

At 12:30 we were waiting for a diagnostic check on our car's computer and the dealership has free wi-fi. So I started to experiment. The GPS is coordinated with Google Earth just like it is with Google Maps. No streets, as far as I can see, but superb aerial detail of the Exeter area. Then, by accident, I allowed the iPhone to tilt and immediately the software started to download and render an oblique view. Fantastic!

So then we came home and I went exploring geographically and took this screen shot of Cabanes de Fleury, our favorite Mediterranean beach:

The view is oblique, looking due north at the mouth of the Herault river. Beaches to west and east are equally good but Cabanes de Fleury is located on the western side and is the "wilder" of the two. I have since turned on lat and long as well as altitude which enhance the details if that is what is wanted.

All in all, incredibly easy to buy (it's free!) install and operate, I would have to think this is an absolute ***** winner.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mouse Traps!

Following from our recent wiring problem with the car I went to the local garden center and bought two mousetraps, shown here:

Each trap has a different purpose. The larger trap is a humane (for the purchaser, I presume) trap that doesn't kill the mouse. The mouse enters at the right end, trips a lever which closes the green "door". The idea here is that the mouse can be released back into the wild. The traditional mouse trap in front, aptly named "Little Nipper" is very effective at eliminating the mouse altogether.

So why buy both? Well, my rational goes like this. A wild mouse has inadvertently strayed under our car and found it has a partiality to electric cabling. Annoying though this is, the mouse is basically in its territory. On the other hand, if a mouse takes up residence in our attic (we have had this happen before in another house) the mouse is now in our territory and must go!

I know that chocolate is supposed to work better than cheese. But I ate the chocolate myself.

Fun with Writing Pad

Writing Pad is an iPhone app that allows you to "speed write" text using the virtual keyboard. Basically you run your finger through the letters of a word and the software cleverly works out which word you were trying to "type". It's quite accurate and will give options when there is a potential choice. With practice I would think it is a quicker form of typing than the basic keyboard. The text does have to be copied and pasted into another application, though and this is where the iPhone lets the app down. The only way forward that I can see is to e-mail the text.

The screen shot shows some nonsense I typed in by randomly moving my finger over the keyboard. The last word, sociopath, was a bit of a surprise but you will see that the software also came up with an alternative that would be preferable!

One additional comment that applies to quite a few apps - it works best when the iPod is removed from my incase leather case. That makes it a lot less productive unless I buy a different case!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The hypocrisy of it all!

EDF (French company, by the way, that controls much of our electricity distribution and prices) is sponsoring the Birmingham Half Marathon. So what?

Well, the official title of the race is, wait for it:

The Race Against Climate Change

So don't bother to enter, it's not a race anyone is going to win! The climate will change!

This gem was provided courtesy of BiNS, one of the best sites around for digging up interesting bits and pieces of Birmingham news and nonsense!

Parliament fiddles while the planet burns?

Although you won't see much about it in the "oligarch" soaked pages of the media these days, the UK parliament will debate the Climate Change Bill next week.

Just what will the Climate Change Bill mean to us all? Here are some thoughts:

1. It's a tax. Well, not a tax sensu stricto, but the means (i.e. excuse) for increasing taxation.

2. The Bill looks to targets set for the year 2050. Not many current MPs will be around by then so whatever they decide will be moot for them. The claim that they are doing it for future generations will be examined below.

3. The UK (and maybe Europe, though this is looking less and less likely) intends to set an example to the rest of the world. Who in their right mind thinks that China and India, never mind the Third World, is going to sit up and take notice?

4. Industrial lobby groups are already positioning themselves to obtain opt outs. The airline industry is one such entity that may well be exempt. This will mean that individuals will end up being disproportionately penalized.

5. The UK is a small (<2%) contributor to global CO2 emissions and will become even smaller as other nations take over our once famous role as a manufacturing nation. By focusing on service industries, the UK is in fact exporting its share of CO2 emissions to other countries. Again, the targets being set will be disproportionately distributed onto the shoulders of the individual.

6. As the political will in the UK declines, so the politicians need a new stick with which to control the public. Environmentalism is the new Socialism. It's simply another way for a self-styled elite to control the rest of us.

7. The net result for future generations will be that the UK will slide down the economic ladder of nations, its influence as a political power will erode and taxes will increase to breaking point. More and more of the workforce will be in the government's employ, ensuring that the political status quo stays the same, further propelling the UK into obscurity.

Much of what is in the Climate Change Bill is actually good common sense clothed in gobbledegook. But to exhort us to be economical, to save money, to be responsible for our lifestyles and so on is to admit that ordinary people are still smart enough to be able to think for themselves and act accordingly. Listen to any government minister talk on the radio and it becomes increasingly clear that the last thing they want is for people to be independent of government.

Even as Parliament debates the Climate Change Bill ordinary people will be re-cycling, building compost heaps, re-using plastic bags, turning down their thermostats, sealing windows for the winter and adding more insulation. Why? Because they see the sense in it. But their eyes will glaze over when the subject of their carbon footprint comes up on the ten o'clock news.

[And remember, much of the "science" on which anthropegenic global warming (AGW) is based is being shown to be invalid - the "hockey stick" being a prime example. Politicians are being incredibly selective about what they believe is good science and there are precious few politicians who have ever studied science]

Friday, October 24, 2008

"And welcome to the world of downloading endless apps!"

So said Pete in an SMS after I announced my purchase of an iPhone 3G. He's right, of course. It's the apps, stupid!

While the iPhone comes loaded with some very useful standards, including phone, e-mail, browser, iPod, calendar, photo album, camera, Google maps, iTunes, etc., etc., the real world has a whole range of add on applications (now called apps) that "enhance the iPhone experience".

What surprises me is that most of the apps I have actually bought have cost either nothing or no more than $5. These are the apps I have found the most useful so far:

Newstand ($4.99): a very useful and tweakable RSS reader which easily opens up those teaser RSS summaries into Safari.

Traffic UK ($1.99): I used to wonder whether the notorious M5 had traffic problems. Now I don't have to!

Flashlight (free): Great for finding the bathroom in strange hotels in the middle of the night!

There are plenty more but so far I am not ready to evaluate and report on them. Grocery Gadget Shopping Lists ($2.99) looks to be useful while Light Table ($0.99) also has promise.

The disappointments include London A-Z ($9.99, the most expensive app I've bought) and Apple's own Remote (free), designed to help operate the Apple TV but it cannot do anything about the volume control.

Web-based apps using Safari include and just recently the Birmingham Post which is excellent (tip of the hat to BiNS).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Of mice and technology!

Our car started to do strange things recently, and the gas tank problem has already been reported here. Today the car went in for a diagnostic check and the service agent called after about two hours with the news that we had had a mouse living on top of the gas tank! Apparently the wires had been chewed and that had given rise to the various problems!

So now we have to deter the mouse from setting up residence in order to avoid future expensive repair bills!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


This report concerns climate change protesters who accuse the police of exaggerating turnouts in order to justify their numbers and costs. I suppose over-egging is to become a new by-word. But surely "over-exaggerating" is a superfluous term?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Flickr milestone!

500,000 views and rising. Well, according to my Flickr stats page, that is.

Quite amazing!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Since records have been kept!

Don't you love this! MPs will have a longer Christmas break this winter. Longer than since records have been kept! Thirty years!

Actually, they should be given around 52 weeks a year off. The world would be better off without their interference!

Dafter than daft

I simply despair at reports (and the research that was conducted) that lead to this!

Thingamagoop Movie "Dunkirk"

Dunkirk from Pete Ashton on Vimeo.

OK, this is a five minute movie made under interesting conditions, best described here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Driving on Empty

A few days ago we filled up the tank, then drove about 50 miles. Yesterday morning the gage registered nearly empty with the computer readout saying "55 miles remaining". Had someone siphoned out most of the fuel? Not really a possibility, but we filled up the tank, only to find that it was, in fact, already nearly full. So the gage was playing up?

We continued to drive, confidant in the knowledge that we had plenty of fuel. The computer registered fewer and fewer miles remaining and the needle continued to fall toward empty. Finally we had no fuel left, according to the readouts. Yet we continued to be able to drive!

Wonderful, we have a car that runs on air!

The bad news is that there is something obviously wrong and that something is probably not cheap to fix.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Stable Climate?

Philip Stott points out another wonderful example of the certainty of belief in global warming. In this example James Cameron calls for the push for a "stable climate" not to be de-railed by the current global economic fiasco.

As Stott points out, "stable climate" is as good an example of an oxymoron as you are likely to find.

Put another way, a colleague recently suggested that "climate" is what we like to predict, while the "weather" is what we get!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Financial Crisis and Fighting Climate Change

According to some European politicians, the two cannot go hand in hand. Quite so, fighting climate change would cost Europe even more than the financial crisis, which at least can be said to be man-made.

As is often said here, climate change is not something man should be fighting in the first place and anthropogenic global warming is a fiction worked up into fact by those who are looking for the "new religion" to replace communism and socialism. So what can Europe do about this conundrum? After all, some countries now have "Ministers of Environment and Climate Change" and they must be able to keep their jobs.

Well, the simplest and most honest solution would be to stop mentioning climate change and start talking about economizing. Honest economizing, that is. Not banning certain light bulbs when their replacements are environmentally no better, but promoting the idea that turning those unnecessary lights off would save money. The sceptic public should understand that rhetoric and might even accept it.

Overcrowding on trains not so bad

But only if you change the definition of overcrowding!

Note also the report that of the 1,300 new carriages the government promised 18 months ago, only 423 have been ordered and none of these has been delivered.

My recollection of train overcrowding in the London commutes I did over 10 years ago is on a wet morning and the smell of damp Barbour jackets, a peculiar odor to put it mildly!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Mac Notebook Computers. . . .

I own a four* year old Apple 15 inch PowerBook, complete with 1.5MHz PPC processor. Not the fastest computer around these days but it seems to just about handle Aperture and the other power hungry apps I depend on.

So it is with only a passing interest that I read the revelations from Cupertino concerning the latest upgrades to the MacBook range. Sure the technology is getting better and better, slicker and faster, cooler and longer running. Etc., etc., etc. But if I don't need to upgrade, why should I? Besides that new iPhone was not exactly cheap!

*Yes, four years old, quite a long time for computer ownership which says a lot for the brand.

rss, opml and newsreaders

The iPhone continues to amaze and exceed expectations. It is also pushing me into new areas of internet experience and know-how. To whit, rss readers.

I first tried NetNewsWire as I already have it on my PowerBook but their iPhone app seems quite buggy and simply forgot some of my feeds even though they are registered with Newsgator.

So I paid the princely sum of $4.99 for Newsstand as it has good reviews and seems to be more stable and more flexible.

So then I had to import my feeds. Not so bad, really. I first exported all my NetNewsWire feeds as an opml file and then uploaded this to a new, free, account on Once uploaded the iPhone app quickly downloaded the file and with a couple of key strokes I am in Newstand heaven. Well, 1033 items are now waiting to be read!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Tories' Transport Plan

The Conservative Party has released some new plans that include no new runways at Heathrow and Stansted but new high speed rail lines from Heathrow to St. Pancras to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

At first look the ideas make some sense. But it is only when you think about the apparent illogic of serving Heathrow with high speed rail and yet not building an additional runway that the good sense begins to come clear:

Basically the high speed rail links will enable travelers to and from London to use additional airports at Birmingham and, possibly, Manchester. At the same time it is probable that much European traffic from the Midlands and North will divert from air to rail and pass through St. Pancras, thus reducing some travel in and out of Heathrow.

High speed rail will apparently take only 45 minutes from London to Birmingham. That almost puts Birmingham International (BHX) in the same "time-radius" as Gatwick but with the bonus that Birmingham is a much more efficient airport!

Well the plans are a start, at least!

Banks - do we own them now?

"With the nationalization or part-nationalization of banks, does this mean that we, the people, now own the banks?"

"Of course not! The government has bailed out the banks, you silly billy!"

"But wait, if the government has infused funds into the banks, where did the money come from?"

"Why, the taxpayers, of course!"

"In which case, surely it is the taxpayers who own the banks?"

"Not on your life, you surely don't think the government is going to let you think you are a shareholder, do you?"

"Why ever not, aren't they supposed to be public servants, as in 'servants of the public'?"

"The government doesn't think like that. Anyway, soon the government will employ more people than all the private sector, so it will be self-serving."

"And what of the rest of us?"

"Consider moving somewhere else."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shelter from the Storm

Courtesy of the Custard Factory. Be sure to play the movie!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hindsight is 20/20 vision

It's interesting how the very same people who either were doing or watching in the banking world now tell us they knew all along there was a problem with the global banking industry. From presidents to prime ministers to the IMF and central bankers, it would appear they all woke up a few mornings ago and found layers peeled off their eyeballs allowing them to see the truth - but all too late.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hiking with iPhone GPS!

We have a set of books describing walks around the UK and they always turn out to be varied, interesting, and sometimes challenging for map-reading.

Today was no exception in the latter department because the books are old and whole areas of timber had grown up in the past 30 years! So when the route stopped making sense I switched on Google Maps with satellite images and hey presto a blue symbol popped up to show us exactly where we were! I hadn't previously switched the unit on out of doors and had no idea just how good the GPS function is!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Road to Escondido

This is the title of an album featuring J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton, released in 2006. It is another duet style collaboration (I am also thinking Robert Plant and Alison Krause, Raining Sand) with voices that complement each other nicely. But of course there is more in the history of this album - J. J. Cale wrote Cocaine and Midnight Special, both of which have helped to maintain Clapton's position at the top over the years since Cream.

I'm writing this partly because, in the late 1980s, I had the opportunity to see and hear J. J. Cale at Rockefellers on Washington Avenue, Houston. Although Rockefelllers is still standing, it has been closed as a performing venue for many years (do tell me this isn't so anymore!). It was an intimate setting to see and hear the greats, including B B King and Lucille!

But J. J. Cale's concert was a huge disappointment at the time - he seemed totally disinterested in his fan base and didn't work too hard in reeling out his various classics. It is nice to hear this newish album, though, as it sets him back up on a plinth of fame for me.

It is interesting that neither of Clapton's big hits are covered on this album and there may be good reasons that stem from Clapton's period of substance abuse. The story I remember is that Michelob Beer used Clapton's Midnight Special for more than a year of TV commercials before Clapton suddenly revoked the right on the basis that selling beer was not what he felt he should be doing.

Philip Eden on the Weather

The Daily Telegraph weekly comment on weather (Saturday, back page) by Philip Eden always makes for interesting reading. Today he has written an interesting feature on how government agencies abuse the statistics with the word "unprecedented".

But, isn't that what governments do?

Monday, October 06, 2008

What are banks for?

This is an interesting and complicated question, so I will start with some hoary chestnuts - the old sayings we have had over the years about banking.

1. So you want a loan? You have assets? OK, we'll lend you money against those assets. You don't have assets? Oh, dear, no deal.

2. You owe us $20 billion. You can't pay. You're important. We'll work something out. Oh, sorry, I misunderstood, you owe us $20 thousand. You can't pay? You're not important, we'll take your property. Thank you very much.

3. We're Jewish, you're not. We're foreclosing tomorrow. (a hoary chestnut much quoted in America's Midwest,and not my opinion)

4. Yes, we'll look after your savings. . . .

5. When times are good we're going to charge you extortionate interest rates. When times are bad we'll increase those interest rates. Well, the times are bad for us. . . .

6. Yes, we know the Central Bank just cut their interest rates, but that's for loaning us money, not you. So we are going to raise the interest rate on that loan we have with you. Just because we need a (dividend/bonus/helping hand/condo in Sarasota)

7. You're a small business about to go under? Well, why should we help you? We are a big business going under and we really need to walk away with one of the bonuses we are accustomed to. Oh, you have employees about to be made redundant? Tough luck is all we can say, after all, we are suffering just like everyone else.

And so it could go on. Banks - do we really need them?

Now, the truth is we do need banks. But don't you think we need banks that are properly regulated? Banks that fear that they can be audited and found out for the ultimate sin of kiting*? Our politicians are currently making all sorts of whimpering sounds that could be construed as excuses. Their complicity needs to be exposed. The central banks - where were they? On vacation, presumably. Ministers of finance? Hell, most of them were bankers yesterday so they cannot be trusted.

The mattress seems like a good place after all.

*Kiting - not an expression you hear very often because those who do it don't advertise. Banks are apparently quite good at kiting - which simply put means you borrow money and use the funds to establish credit against which you borrow more money. Banks borrow money from central banks, the same central banks that are now bailing them out! By any definition in the book, that's kiting.

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining!

Europe's attempts at controlling climate change are about to crumble.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Flickr Malaise

Lots of things going in in our lives at the moment and for some reason I have lost interest in belonging to the Flickr community. This has happened to other Flickrites so I imagine the urge will return.

I am uploading a few images from recent weeks as the mood takes me, but there is a large backlog building up out in the Aperture/iPhoto workshops!

iCal starts to be really useful

The iPhone seems to be the last piece of the iCal zig-saw puzzle that has had me disappointed for some time.

The combination of computer (with iCal), MobileMe and iPhone means that I can add or edit an iCal entry on either the iPhone or the computer and its updated entry will be copied to MobileMe and then synced to the other device within 15 minutes, assuming the receiving device is switched on, or when the device is activated.

So, for example, I have shopping list set up for Monday morning. As I think of things to add I simply add them to the nearest device and hey presto, the update is synced. So that on Monday, when I go to Exeter with the iPhone I will have all the items on the list. No excuses for forgetting anything!

Oh - so there is a downside!