Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The CD is Dead, Long Live Downloads

Another article that succinctly explains what is going on in the music retailing business. The last paragraphs are telling - that the "shuffle" option is the great breaker of music industry tradition - a random selection is not what they want you to hear!

A Clockwork Orange

Although I haven't seen the Stanley Kubrik classic for years, A Clockwork Orange has stuck in my memory. Never has it seemed to be more of a harbinger of the future than now. Various events conspire to recreate the images of the movie, based on the book by Anthony Burgess.

The recent murder of a father by a gang of teenage thugs, fueled with cheap lager, brings to mind Alex and his droogs, high on a milk shake containing halucinogenics (imbibed at a place that used to be on the Staines A30 roundabout - it's gone now). As Alex explained:

"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence."

Burgess employed a lot of pseudo-Slav/Russian vocabulary, also used in the film. Interesting that this has also staged an entry into British society, though it fair to say that modern street slang has much more of an international flavor.

The idea of a government who looked to solve a problem by spin is also in the book and film. Alex' re-education is just that, no different from the way in which the present UK government spins its statistics to prove everything is "on track" (even the railways!) But it's more, it's social engineering taken to the nth degree, a situation that is certainly recognizable in a society that says you cannot put "wife" on a form but should only use the politically correct entry "partner". Yes that happened to me last month.

Burgess explained years after publishing the book that the title came from the Malay word for people "Orang" and the idea that people can be manipulated like clockwork machinery, to be wound up and let go and then would up again. Isn't this a corollary for the so-called Nanny State? I think so. First we identify humans as ape-like beings with little intelligence, the dunning down of society, then we mold them into what we really think they should be.

This theme has run through a lot of 20th Century literature, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Lawrence Durrell and Anthony Burgess. All these writers were smart observers of society. It's scary that they seem to have predicted so much that is coming true.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Old Houston Store Signs

A few years ago I decided on a project - to photograph many of the older store signs that remained on the streets of inner Houston. These are in a Flickr set. Last night, Flickrite Nick-D posted 8 comments that all point to this set being history in the very near future. But the biggest disappointment was not a sign being pulled down but an entire block, the Alabama Picture House:
The Alabama Picture HouseHow this could happen I just don't know, but, knowing the greed of the average Houston developer, it is certainly possible. Buildings don't have to be a 100 years old to qualify on a historic register - the Gage Hotel in Marathon has been listed for years and yet was only built in 1927.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Phyllis Nicklin's 1960 color slides of Birmingham

First, you need to go to Created in Birmingham and read both the article and the many comments.

I've selected this image and tweaked it ever so slightly in Photoshop to bring out the color - the color as I remember it! Anyone with an interest in this subject should follow the links above and explore a wonderful resource.

A few comments. The Woolworths on the left was the largest store in the chain at the time. Further up the hill the fine stone portico was the entrance to the Market Hall. This building had its roof blown off in the Second World War so it was an open air fish market as I recall - and I recall live eels squirming around on ice as a boyhood memory. The Midland Red buses that plied the Stratford Road terminated in front of St. Martin's Church, which would be to the right of the photographer. You can just see a double decker in the frame. My memory says that the 150 service went to Stratford and was occasionally shared with a Stratford Blue bus (Stratford Blue's still exist). The local service to Earlswood was the 151 or 179, I think, and this ran a couple of times a day to the Reservoir Hotel, leaving the Stratford Road at the now long-gone George and Dragon public house. The old markets were behind the photographer and they were wonderful if a bit scary to a young lad up from the country (all of nine miles to the south!) The market stalls (barrows, really) were on their way out to make way for the 1960s Bull Ring Development. Some were horse drawn and I remember the horses would stand patiently with a feed bag while the hustle and bustle went on around them.

iPhone Sales

In the past week there have been negative comments about iPhone sales. After Apple announced less than 4 millions units sold, AT&T then announced that they have under 2 million subscribers. Add in a few hundred thousand units sold in Europe and the difference is around 1.3 million. Where are missing iPhones, asked the cynical reporter, are they still on the shelf in the Apple Stores?

Well, I don't have a window into this, but my guess is based on the fact that every iPhone I have seen so far (not many mind you, I don't exactly live in the center of ground breaking technology) has been unlocked and replaced with a non-linked SIM.

These iPhones are turning up in places a long way from AT&T and the European providers. Try Viet Nam (where I understand there may already be 100,000s in use) and the Congo (where I personally have seen two). And from what I understand, the firmware updates do work.

(With this in mind I might just get an unlocked model!)

Back to my point here. Apple's sales figures suggest there may well be a huge underground market for the unlocked iPhone. Apple, AT&T and the other cell phone companies don't want you to know this as it would hurt their contract derived revenue streams. Their business model has been criticized but does it matter all that much if an unlocked phone not only works but also will accept firmware upgrades? Apple actually is the winner here because they would benefit either way.

Incident at Pointe Noire

Incident at Pointe Noire - 6
Flying in to Pointe Noire yesterday we saw the result of what appears to have been a crash landing by a Russian Antonov freighter which resulted in additional damage to a parked EquaFlight Boeing 727.

Unlike what recently happened at London Heathrow there is nothing on the news wires about this incident so I am not sure if there were fatalities. There were tire marks and gouges in the grass suggesting the Antonov had crash landed and swerved off the runway to the right and onto the tarmac area where it must have collided with the parked Boeing. The two planes had been separated by the time we landed.

Sunday, January 27: News update here

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two sides of a triangle

In order to travel to London yesterday I called First Great Western about a week ago and was told that I could not make a booking on the 20th or 21st because of an impending strike. South West Trains likewise advised that while they had a service, the middle third would be by replacement bus service. Hmm, no thanks! So I looked at my 2008 "Bradshaw" and decided that the best choice would be 2 sides of a triangle: Tiverton to London via Birmingham!

Well, it all worked to plan, no strikes, no delays, no buses and a twenty minute connection at New Street. The nine car double Voyager now operated by Arriva Cross Country crested the 1:37 Lickey Incline without slowing down, very impressive! 1:37 doesn't sound a lot but in fact you can see the incline quite easily by lining up the window frame with buildings, etc. My first real journey on a Virgin Pendolino was effortless (they may be the best trains in the UK other than Eurostar) and very quiet. Unfortunately the journey was in the dark so I could only sense the tilting effect on the bends.

And now for the irony. There was a First Great Western train running direct to London. But of course my ticket was not valid. I understand that customer morale with FGW is now so low that passengers are planning to hold an "unpaid fares" day as a protest to their bad record of service, timekeeping, etc., etc. My experience with other train operating companies certainly puts FGW low on the list of customer satisfaction, though there have been some brighter moments.

What to write about?

What with the weather, the time of year and so on, there really isn't very much to say that is positive, so I went looking for something to photograph and this is it:
In Flood
Not very exciting, is it? The good news is that all the rain we have had has not been causing any more problems than muddy lanes and churned up fields. No widespread flooding, thank goodness.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Change is Normal

The BBC website has yet another of those chilling reports about climate change. Our coastlines are eroding faster because of climate change.

This really is another example of short term short-sighted science. We are still experiencing the major climate change as the planet warms up after the last of the four Ice Ages. Our coastlines are, in fact, highly unstable because of this major warming period and have been for over 10,000 years. Visit many of the shale and mudstone cliffs along the south coast of England and you should marvel that there are cliffs there at all. Barton-on-Sea has steep, fast eroding cliffs made of a plastic grey mud (not even a mudstone) that is continually slumping into the sea. Lyme Regis is famous for its Blue Lias shales that are also sliding seaward, carrying and exposing beautiful ammonite fossils with them. The red Triassic marls around Sidmouth are also collapsing as has been documented on this blog.

The reason why we have such soft cliff coastlines is simple. The last ice age captured a lot of water in the ice sheets, causing a lowering of global sea levels. Then, when the ice began to melt, the oceans migrated back onto the land and began a rapid phase of erosion. Atypically fast erosion, I should stress. Although geologists often refer to the Principle of Uniformitarianism (which states that the Present is the Key to the Past) we do know that this rule was made to be broken. And the sight of mudstone cliffs 500 feet high make the point rather well!

In the long term we can assume that erosion is gradually slowing down along the UK's coasts as equilibrium is attained. Not that we are close to equilibrium yet, in fact it may never be reached if we are plunged into another ice age within the next 15,000 years.

Keynote available as video podcast - Subscribe from iTunes

Bravo to Apple once again for having the guts to put the entire Steve Jobs Keynote on iTunes as a video podcast just hours after the event. I'm still downloading it (1.2 GB!!) and you can too by going here and following the link published. Basically you simply subscribe to the podcast and it downloads into iTunes, ready to sync to your iPod or Apple TV (or you can simply watch it on your computer, though that's becoming distinctly old school).

Note: I found out the hard way that this link goes to the 2007 keynote podcast. Major, major crap out from Macworld. . .

Note to the Note: Finally available three days later. Easiest way to obtain it is through iTunes as a podcast subscription.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Macworld Keynote - First Impressions

I've only followed the blogs and not seen the keynote quicktime so these are initial reactions:

1. Apple TV - for an Apple TV afficionado this is all good news, right down to the free software update for those of us who believed from the outset. Truth is, though, that this feature of the keynote will be lost on most people for at least three months. Then they will say "doh!".

2. iPhone - no news, and why should there be? AT&T has already given the timeline for 3G. If you haven't got an iPhone yet, simply wait 6 months more if you can (if you can't, go ahead, but you may regret that later).

3. Time Capsule - the idea of a 1 TB back drive attached to an Airport Extreme makes so much sense it hurts. Why does it hurt? See 4.

4. MacBook Air - the big deal of week 3 of 2008. Wow, what a concept! But for me? Not really. I'll probably save up for the MacBook Pro version as my only computer. MacBook Air kinda assumes you have a desktop lurking somewhere (which we don't need). Plus the MacBook Air only has a USB 2.0 port. NO FIREWIRE!!!!!!! With all those wonderful Firewire drives around the house we are apparently part of the "old technology". Gee, thanks, Apple! Win one with Apple TV, lose one with Firewire. Progress is never that simple.

5. The analysts will be wondering where the future lies. Simple. Apple TV has tremendous dollar potential. You make so many dollars selling hardware, so many dollars selling software upgrades and so many dollars selling content. Apple TV is content. It's the next phase of the iPod Revolution. Believe me, this is significant stuff!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Booking Train Tickets Offline

Just spent an hour booking a single rail journey! The following obstacles were negotiated:

Internet bookings no longer accept overseas credit cards - is the UK tourist industry entering terminal decline?

Sunday January 20th - rail strike on First Great Western, not taking bookings at all

Sunday January 20th - major work on Southwest Trains, 2 hour bus journey between Andover and Woking. Declined (it's a terribly slow service anyways)

Third alternative - Cross Country to Birmingham, Birmingham to London (two sides of a triangle). Booked.

Big surprise, Arriva Cross Country actually has helpful staff once you get past the voice activated "which station did you want to leave?" question.

Bigger surprise - the two sides of a triangle run may be longer but the price is the same!

Unknowns - will it work?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Oak and the Ivy

OK, it sounds like the name of a pub but in reality this is a subject for debate. At this time of year our fine oak trees are bare of leaves and give that wonderful latticed silhouette against the winter sky.

Well, almost bare. Most oak trees and many other arborial species seem to be choked with ivy with long and thick creepers of green leaves smothering their trunks and main limbs.

Some say the ivy needs to be cleared away so that these trees can be saved from early demise. Others say that the ivy gives protection to bugs and birds and should be left in place.

I tend to to lean toward the first group, primarily because these really fine trees that make up the quintessential British countryside need to be preserved. Ivy can grow on lesser saplings and in hedges. Oak trees don't come a-dime-a-dozen.

Well today I followed my leanings and cut the main stems to the ivy that is smothering our oak tree.

Picture to follow (it's dark at the moment!)


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Outdoor Pools in January (UK)

Can you believe it? I went swimming last evening in an outdoor pool at Exeter Country Club! We recently joined in order to improve our winter fitness levels and I discovered that this winter the outdoor pool is being kept open and, most important, heated! It turns out that a lot of members like to use the outdoor pool and the cost of heating is no more than shutting the pool down for the winter. Perhaps one reason members like the outdoor pool is that kids won't go near it!

While the water is not as hot as the indoor pool (where you can work up a real sweat by not doing anything) there was some steam rising into the 7ºC atmosphere. So it was comfortable for a good workout. Last time I swam outdoors in winter at night was at Banff Springs Hotel, Canada when it was -5ºC. But there the thermal water was too hot to swim in!

Wi-Fi Security is not for him - or me

An interesting point of view from Wired on why you don't have to have secure wi-fi. It's easy for me to agree since we live in the "middle of nowhere". However, the concept of good neighborliness is interesting and it works - in the past I have in fact eavesdropped on a neighbor's open wi-fi network when my own server was down and it saved me time and inconvenience. I would like to think I have reciprocated this impromptu service to others.

The legal ramifications are interesting (see the article) and only the paranoid would probably actually have to worry. I mean, do hackers really sit in cold cars outside your home when they could do the same mischief in the comfort of a warm café?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Good Night and Good Luck

I have finally been able to watch this movie. I had hoped to see it at the Electric Cinema in Birmingham, the oldest surviving movie theater in the UK and the sort of place where such a period piece would be most fitting - do visit their website to see why I mention this!

As to the movie. Excellent! The acting, screenplay and camerawork are all top notch. The film noire black and white medium gives the movie its 1950s look while the contemporary sets are superb, right down to the chain smoking! The film clips from the era, particularly those of McCarthy, are sometimes hard to tell from the actual scenes shot for the film - only the quality of the photography keeps them apart.

The message is of course as timely today as at any time, what with the neo-cons and the weapons of mass destruction rationale for going to war in Iraq. But perhaps what is also pertinent is that all this happened on CBS, a.k.a. commercial TV. Would it, could it have happened with the BBC if a similar situation had occurred in the UK?

Thoughts on Barack Obama

I like Barack Obama. There is something Kennedy-esque about his personality even though the platitudes he incorporates into his oratory do make you wonder just how deep he really goes.

As I get older I should like the candidates with experience as they tend to be of my generation (or older in some cases!) But older candidates generally seem to be old school, steeped in the status quo of Washington. The grass roots will always favor the non-status quo characters such as Obama and Ron Paul. So I wonder aloud why it is that Obama has gotten to me.

And perhaps this is the reason. Of all the candidates he is the one I would most welcome into my home. I would feel comfortable and I am sure he would too. I really cannot say the same about most of the other candidates.

Today we learn that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the come back kid in New Hampshire, the state where her husband also scored surprisingly well despite setbacks emanating from exposure about his character flaws. What does this say about Obama and Clinton? Was Iowa a flash in the pan? Will Clinton now go from strength to strength? Of the two who could actually win the election?

Well, this is what I think might happen. John Edwards may recognize he is losing out and could throw the towel in and support the candidate who would be most likely to have him as a running mate. That person would appear to be Obama. An Obama/Edwards tickets could carry the country in November. I am not sure that Hillary Clinton could, regardless of her choice of running mate.

The Republicans have a long way to go to convince the voters of their best candidate, but whoever it will be, my guess is that he will have an easier time against Clinton than anyone else. After all, there is such a thing as the anti-Clinton vote!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Momentum (ATV)

An informative article on what could be about to happen with your Apple TV - what, you don't own one yet!

Monday, January 07, 2008

My political message for 2008

Why? Because there really isn't anyone else. Is there?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Other Shoe!

Waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Apple TV won't require more than a couple of weeks, apparently. This article helps to explain what is likely to happen.

What I like about the Apple TV is the basic simplicity of the device - an iPod for the living room. As one with poor (degrading) eyesight I find it very difficult to use a multi-button remote and look at menus on the TV screen, particularly as so many on-screen menus are hard to see never mind read. The Apple remote is so simple you don't need to look at it so the only focus needed is the correct glasses for viewing TV.

And as others have pointed out (see the comments to the article) there is something 20th Century about loading and unloading DVDs, particularly when there are young kids in the house.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rail Fare Increases and Network Rail Fines

Today sees another round of inflation busting fare increases for those of us who attempt to comply with the initiative to travel by train. Some commuters will pay up to 11% extra to continue to stand all the way from Canterbury to London or from Bath to Bristol.

Meantime, Network Rail failed to complete essential work over the holiday period at Rugby, an important junction on the much maligned West Coast Main Line. The government's response is the threat of a multi-million pound fine.

Fat good this does. The fine will go to the Treasury where it will disappear into general funds. Not one penny of compensation to the poor travelers, those who actually suffered as a result of Network Rail's failure. No, the only additional money that will change hands is the fare increase, ironically applied on the same day.

According to a Daily Telegraph Your View poll, most travelers are at their wits end when it comes to rail travel and I can understand where they are coming from. After our pre-Christmas journey to London we have decided that next year we will drive. The journey, congestion charge and parking will cost less than the full fare and we will travel when we want to.