Sunday, December 13, 2009

Congratulations, Annise!

Just as she did 12 years ago, Annise Parker has won a political run-off but this time she won the race to be Mayor of Houston. The report in the Daily Telegraph gets the names mixed up but even so, this is obviously world news!

I worked with Annise about 10 years ago and have been a supporter ever since. Well done, Annise!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Philip Stott's Inverted Pyramid

As I was driving up the M5 on Thursday morning, the Today Programme was finally coming to terms with Climategate. A useful debate ensued with the "skeptics" corner bravely manned by Professor Philip Stott. I really liked his contribution, not just because I think he talks a lot of sense, but more because his measured reasoning was hard to fault.

The crux of his argument rests with the notion that all of the anthropogenic global warming "fact" rests on a very small collection of temperature data. Thus all the models that have been created rely upon statistical manipulation of this data set. Stott likened this to an inverted pyramid and that if you remove or damage the upside down pinnacle of the pyramid, everything based on the small foundation will collapse.

In addition to this, Stott also introduced the observation that most of those involved with climate research are not necessarily the best qualified. Among other disciplines, he noted that most geologists have a difficult time accepting global warming as a man made problem. Although he didn't pursue this, the reason is obvious - most global warming scientists and all the politicians who accept their findings have little idea of geological time and processes. If only they would open their minds . . . . .

Monday, November 30, 2009

Denying is not always anti-green

OK, I'll briefly weigh in on Climategate, as it is now coined. And my best point of reference is George Monbiot's blog in the Guardian.

Poor George, he found himself in a bind. But at least he recognized it, unlike most of his followers who could only chastise him for "making things even worse". Good science is what is needed, not clever fabrications now revealed by hacked e-mails. Climate science has demonstrated itself to be far from good science, as I have often claimed. As a PhD scientist myself I am deeply saddened by some of the comments made in the e-mails - it sort of becomes a "buyer beware" mentality which pure science should never bow to.

Coming just before the 100% political Copenhagen climate change summit, this may be good news for us "deniers". Of course, we never were deniers, that was just a moniker applied by those with more faith than science, who now find themselves in a similar situation.

The conference itself will prove to be an interesting exercise in politicized science. Meantime, let the show begin!

Don't do this with your average point and shoot. . .

Waterproof and shockproof, it says on the label. Well, it is certainly waterproof, having been dipped in the Rieve Heric for a close up of the stream bed! The Pentax Optio W80 may not be the best point and shoot but it does do some things rather well.

The other French Apple Store

At the Odysseum, Montpellier. Very impressive.

I Duz Windoze (7)

Yes, I do. Courtesy of Parallels 5.0 and the installation was relatively easy once I had worked out which version of Windows I really needed (hint, read the box and decide what you will never use). The Coherence Mode is interesting in that you can literally switch from Snow Leopard to Windows 7 with a click of the mouse.

Why bother with Windoze? Well, there are those programs that Microsoft has chosen not to port to OS X, such as Project. And there are still software designers out there who honestly think that the Mac OS isn't important. Example? IKEA - but at least they are honest enough to admit the shortfall.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A new camera!

During the summer my Canon SD1000 failed me. Apparently this is a common feature with small Canons that have a mechanically protruding lens. One speck of dust and the mechanism fails. Whole websites are dedicated to the problem but Canon refuses to accept any responsibility.

So I decided that a more reliable camera should replace it and a waterproof, shockproof camera seemed to be the best solution. There are a number of them out there but the one that suited me best was the Pentax Optio W80. This was partly because I would be able to use my existing SD memory card. The W80 has formidable specs but it remains a point and shoot camera, so it is always interesting to see what happens when it is pushed to the limits. The photo below was taken at the telephoto limit (5x) of a jack up rig some 24 kilometers off shore from Pointe Noire, Congo. The fishing boats in the foreground are much closer. Conditions were not ideal for good photography, so the result really isn't bad at all. If you click on the photo you will see a maximum quality jpeg which is 9MB large.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Steve Jobs, CEO of the Decade

The man who saved four industries? Well, there's a lot of truth in that. But for a retrospective, here is a link to Jobs' 2005 Stanford Graduation Address. Says more about the man than all the eulogies, mainly because the man is saying it himself!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Back by Popular Demand!

Four and a half months, but the time has really flown. Lots of other priorities came along and in many ways it was good to say au revoir to the internet for a while. While "gone" I did renew my Flickr membership, thereby retaining the 4000 plus images. It has been interesting to see that the photostream still gets lots of visitors.

I think I am going to revamp and simplify focalplane.com but I will not start on it just yet.

And now I have made 1,000 posts to this blog!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogged out

This the 999th post on this blog.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Namibia Wildlife

Last week I had a brief opportunity between the completion of business meetings and catching the plane back to Europe to visit Okapuka Game Reserve, 30 minutes north of Windhoek. What a pleasure!

I had carried my Nikkor 300mm f4 lens with me "just in case" and it proved to have been worthwhile (even if it did garner the attention of security personnel at Frankfurt Airport).

Here is a link to the Flickr Slide Show of 29 photos.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Should I throw in the towel?

A quick look at Blogger statistics reveals that I have posted 996 times to this blog since 2003.

I thought I would be looking forward to reaching a major milestone but in fact I am not. I might just be getting bored with the whole internet thing. Twitter doesn't interest me at all, and maybe the entire social thing is not what I need. Flickr has been a great influence on my life but even there I am finding it difficult to stay tuned and involved.

I am trying new avenues and for a short while now the member-only trainorders.com has kept me informed on what is going on in North American train circles. But I again feel no compulsion to get involved in a big, lasting way. A useful resource for things I want to do but not something I want to devote a lot of my time to in "giving back". That last sentence sounds very selfish to me.

I have a number of features running in parallel at the moment. Too many, perhaps.

I am seriously thinking about dropping out of Flickr when the membership renewal comes up.

I am seriously thinking about dropping, or at least mothballing, this blog.

The focalplane pages I maintain have not been receiving enough care and attention and there is a backlog of material I don't have time to add. There is no reason for them to disappear altogether.

I would like to expand on my "Snaps and Crackles with Pops" blog, dedicated to the grandkids.


So, should I throw in the towel?

Book recommendations to put on your expenses

I have been following, at a distance, the Daily Telegraph's campaign that has exposed the ugly side of the "Mother of all Parliaments", also known as the Palace of Westminster. It would seem that the MP's Expenses exposé has awakened a sleeping giant otherwise known as the electorate.

Some essential reading for these troubled times:

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

1984, also by George Orwell

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand


These tomes (well, Animal Farm is actually a very short read) all dwell on the premise that power corrupts. Furthermore, those in power will also do almost anything to maintain their status quo, including passing laws that keep them in power to the detriment of the people they are supposed to represent and serve.

As Yogi Berra might say "It's like déjà vu all over again."

National Train Day

This link includes a slide show of hundreds of photos taken at and near Portland Station, Oregon the other weekend. Southern Pacific GS-4 "Daylight" No. 4449 figures prominently; it was the star attraction.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Moral Guilt

I have been looking for a simple phrase to sum up what I see happening in the political world of climate change.

Climate change activists are on a mission. Not to save the world, though that is their mantra. No, it is to elevate themselves up the political structure of our society, to become recognized and then to control.

This they have done with incredible success, largely supported by politicians clutching at straws. And the way it has been achieved is through the manufacture of Moral Guilt.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where is John Galt when he's needed?

I have been following the UK Budget from a distance and it appears that the Government has really got things in a mess. Sure, the banks started the ball running down hill but you have to ask where was the Government when all this was going on? I mean, bankers making huge bonuses just for moving money around (and not necessarily in the right direction most of the time) should surely have triggered a few alarm bells?

Well, they obviously didn't. One of the things I've noted about governments these days is that the peoples' representatives mostly come from a legal background, have only worked in service industries, and rarely have much inkling about how ordinary people make a living. They are consummate politicians, being capable of lying and then not apologizing when things go awry. They are not the peoples' representatives at all.

So I wonder if there will be a revolution in the UK. Probably not, the British stiff upper lip will prevent such a calamity.

Ayn Rand's question "Who is John Galt" seems more and more appropriate to the situation.

Remembering St. George

Poor St. George. All he did was slay a dragon and save a maiden in distress. And today is his day, not that you'd actually know it. Reports that the Government is spending all of £116 on raising a flag adds up to the sum total of its interest. Cousins Andrew and David, never mind Patrick, all get huge celebrations. Even if green beer is hardly celebratory.

The irony is that the English Flag of St. George, a red cross on a white background, is more associated with soccer (and by inference hooliganism) than it is with patriotism.

We bought a St. George's flag in Houston many years ago. Over the counter, just like that. I should try to find it and fly it.

But this brief post is my contribution for St. George in 2009. Happy St. George's Day!

(PS, it is also the day William Shakespeare was born (possibly) and the day he died)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Global Confusion

I understand that today has been named Earth Day. For the rest of us, every day is Earth Day. It's where we live, after all.

But the recent reports on what is happening to the planet are anything if confusing. That's the trouble with trying to analyze something that is so complicated with too many variables.

Today we learn, for example, that pollution is slowing down global warming!

I for one don't believe most of what is purported to be a scientific "finding" if it has anything to do with climate change. The climate will change, that's the only given we can work with. Meantime the scientists and politicians continue to speculate what will happen ten, twenty, maybe a hundred years from now, and, unfortunately the politicians are using this speculation to adversely affect our quality of life and ability to get through a recession. That's a risk they should not be allowed to take.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama's People in Birmingham

This just in - a photographic exhibition at the BMAG, on until August. Tip of the hat to Ash10.

Secret Papers

Yet another example of showing secret papers to the public (via photographers, naturally) has emerged today. It will be interesting to see if a resignation follows. As a Minister of the Realm, I will place safe money on the outcome - Hazel Blears will not resign (though she can prove me wrong if she wants to!)

When on a long distance flight there is always the concern that bringing out work will compromise any secrecy that may be necessary (I sign confidentiality agreements all the time). The first thought is "I wonder what he/she sitting next to me does for a living - could he/she work for a competitor?"

That's why some of us use shredding machines, file folders, etc. etc.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Carbon Dioxide, the dangerous pollutant?

You know, it really bothers me that the EPA has come to heel with the environmentalist lobby and pandering Obama administration and made the declaration that carbon dioxide (CO2) is now to be considered a dangerous pollutant and major cause for global warming.

This is such tosh that it makes my scientifically trained brain positively hurt.

Don't any of these people know basic botany, biology and meteorology?

Botany: photosynthesis needs carbon dioxide to work.

Biology: without photosynthesis we would run out of oxygen, essential to life as we know it on Planet Earth.

Meteorology: water vapor is the major "pollutant" in the atmosphere when it comes to controlling the atmospheric temperature. Carbon dioxide is only a minor constituent.

So, why doesn't the EPA and everyone else declare water vapor a dangerous pollutant? Humans make an awful lot of water vapor. After all, the "smoke" escaping from thermal power station cooling towers is actually water vapor even though the environmentalists will have you believe it's the product of combustion.

Coming back to Earth, for a moment, water vapor in the atmosphere has always been around - think clouds!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Electric Car Subsidies in the UK

Well, I suppose I have to comment on this, the latest "move" by the British Government in support of their "carbon-reduction" policies.

Let's see how this works. You trade in your existing gas-guzzler and buy an electric vehicle or hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle. The new car comes with a fat subsidy. I wonder where the money comes from?

The new car also has batteries. Heavy batteries that contain toxic materials. So large and heavy that a four seater car becomes a two seater car. No room for the kids, then?

The all-electric car will have a range of around 150 miles, maybe less, and all of £20 million will be invested in providing charging stations around the country. But charging takes many times longer than re-fueling at the pump, so journeys will take longer, assuming there is a charging station handy. In this case the hybrid does seem the more sensible option.

Of course, electricity is still largely produced from burning carbon-based substances - oil, coal and gas. The amount generated from "environmentally friendly sources" is woefully small and unpredictable. So the point of generating carbon emissions will change but the amount of carbon emitted will not. If anything the amount of carbon emitted will increase because of energy losses down transmission lines and the fact that electricity is generated whether or not we choose to use it.

Which is why gasoline remains the world's most efficient and portable energy source.

Finally, one more thought. That old clunker needs to be scrapped, disposed of, even re-cycled, requiring even more energy, just as the new vehicle also requires energy to be built.

If people wish to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle, let them do so. That's their choice. It is the incentive that's ill-conceived.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Stupid but Honorable

The top policeman in charge of anti-terror in the UK, Bob Quick, emerged from a car yesterday carrying secret papers that were in full view of reporters and photographers. The contents of the papers, once revealed, caused an accelerated action to pick up suspected terrorists. It seems the plan was compromised by its leader's stupidity.

(Hardly an original concept in the UK these days)

What is unusual about this event is that within 24 to 48 hours the man responsible has quietly resigned.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Ian Tomlinson

I have been following the London G20 Meetings from a distance and with little real interest until the reports of Ian Tomlinson's death began to emerge.

Mr. Tomlinson was not a demonstrator but a worker on his way home from work. Initial reports stated that he had collapsed and had been carried into relative safety by police officers because missiles were being thrown in the vicinity. He died shortly thereafter.

The Police issued some bland statements that a report would be issued in due course as to whether an investigation was justified.

Then came the video. This shows Mr. Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by a police officer (in full view of several other officers) where Mr. Tomlinson suffered a blow to the head from which he is presumed to have died.

Only now, several days after the event and the release of the video, have the police admitted that an internal investigation is necessary.

It is inevitable that certain parallels can be made to the de Menezes shooting in South London several years ago. Then it was the shooting of an innocent person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time it was a police baton, not several bullets, but the result is the same. No doubt there will be those who say it was all an unfortunate accident, that there was no malice and that the push to the ground was not supposed to be life threatening. Look at the video.

I am not one to judge from my distance but surely an investigation is necessary from outside the structure of the Metropolitan Police? An independent inquiry would seem to be fully justified. I don't like to use irony when an innocent death is involved but is it not strange that the police officer has not yet been identified, either from the video (think image enhancement techniques that work so well in identifying terrorists, etc.) or by fellow officers?

In reviewing various entries made over the years, this blog carries frequent observations that the police in Britain have ceased to be public servants, hiding behind CCTV cameras, rarely interfacing with the public they are supposed to serve (and who pay their salaries and pensions).

Remember, Ian Tomlinson was a worker, dressed down as advised by the authorities so as to be safe from demonstrators' ire. Thinking, no doubt, that as an innocent bystander, he was protected by the law, he walked in front of the police officers, no doubt in a hurry to get home. If he had mistrusted their intentions and walked behind them, he would be alive today.

This all comes at the same time that the Hungarian website (linked to yesterday) displayed a series of images of low life in Cardiff, Wales. Those leaders who sit in their ivory towers, whether Parliament or Scotland Yard, need to get out and about in the real world. Like Ian Tomlinson did.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The New Society?

Quite why it takes a Hungarian website to publish these pictures, I know not, but if you really, really want to know what could be happening in the cities of the UK after dark, then visit this page. Be warned, it is not nice.

Science and Earthquake Prediction

The recent earthquake that has devastated central Italy and caused hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and much property damage was inevitable. The area sits atop a major fault that is known to be active. The problem with earthquakes has always been man's inability to predict when they might occur.

So earthquake prediction is something that seismologists actively pursue, often without much success. The nature of earthquakes can be summed up in the words "few, if any, foreshocks, many aftershocks". The biggest shock is usually the first, coming with no warning.

So an Italian scientist decided to try to define earthquake activity using emanations of the gas radon. He had good evidence that the technique could work and when radon emissions changed in and around L'Aquila he spoke up. But the local government didn't listen. Worse, they suggested he was scaremongering and should keep quiet.

The Apennine Fault was not paying attention, however, and the scientist was proved to be right.

Why didn't they listen? Perhaps it's because science has been dumbed down in recent years to the point that scientists are no longer taken seriously as experts in their chosen subjects. And where do we look for evidence of this? In the great Anthropogenic Global Warming debate. Joe Public has become so disenchanted with the rhetoric surrounding global warming that all science is being discounted. The best science is rarely reported, the worst science is making all the headlines. And researchers know this, to the point that many who need funding are cheating.

Looked at this way, there is a reason why the local authorities made their mistake in ignoring the evidence of an impending earthquake.

Will we learn from this?

Unfortunately I doubt it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Birmingham is not in the Black Country!

The BBC gets it wrong!

Revisiting the Maldives Question

Today I read that the president of the Maldives is to ask the Queen of England to help him stop his archipelago nation from disappearing under the ocean due o global warming and rising sea levels.

Hasn't he heard of King Canute?

But seriously, the Maldives are not going under at all. Scientific studies that have been suppressed by the Maldives government show conclusively that in recent decades the islands have been rising relative to sea level. You can read about it here.

The main problem in the Maldives is coastal erosion due to over development. But no-one on the tourism gravy train wants you to know that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

OFCOM fines BBC £150,000

Last year there was an unfortunate incident broadcast by the BBC that stirred up public outrage. Today we read (on the BBC's website) that the government regulatory body OFCOM has fined the BBC £150,000.

This is interesting as, with all government regulatory body fines, it is the government that levies the fine but someone else who has to pay. In this case, the TV license fee payer is the piper that pays the tune.

It would be interesting to know how many such fines are levied each year and exactly what happens to the money collected by the various regulatory bodies.

Postscript; A government minister is suggesting the fine be paid by those who caused the incident. Good luck!

Post Postscript: Sunday, this report. Seems only the TV license fee payer is liable to pay the fine. Perhaps it is time for a mass revolt against the TV License Fee.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Wire on BBC

The big news these days emanating from the "Beeb" is that they have bought rights to The Wire, HBO's series based on and in the City of Baltimore, Maryland.

I have watched every episode (something like 60, I believe) and in some cases watched several of them several times over. This really is adult* TV at its very best. So my advice is, go and get hooked, you won't regret it. One caveat, though, is that you will have to work at it, The Wire is not easy entertainment.

(*Adult for the language and some pretty raunchy sex scenes)

Whatever happened to ribbed containers?

This piece concerns the frightening mistake a young woman made when she reached for a bottle of eyedrops but instead squeezed the contents of an identical bottle into her eye which contained cosmetic nail glue.

We hear so much these days about Health & Safety. Yet 50 years ago, for the purpose of assisting those who are blind, all poisons and toxic substances had to be sold in ribbed bottles.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Let's exchange climates!

One of the facets to emerge from the G20 gathering is that I have come to learn that the European Climate Exchange exists! What exactly is this?

Well, their website sometimes shows trader types on the telephone, no doubt arranging lunch or some other boondoggle. Or maybe they are actually trading climates:

"I've got this warm spell in the Maldives. Trouble is, the tourists think sea level is rising so they won't go there. But the good news is that hotel rates have plummeted and I can offer you a really good discount."

Or:

"Icebergs aren't melting as fast as we had hoped. I'm offloading a ton of paper that says they would. Interested in buying some at a discount?"

Or:

"You remember that good summer we had a few years ago? Well, my neighbor next to our second home in the country is a bit of a yokel but he swears this summer is going to break all records. I'm buying water utilities on the side, suggest you do the same."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's a carbon economy, stupid!

As G20 week unfolds in faraway London and the politicians and leaders gather to discuss the world economy, it might be appropriate of me to remind them that our economy is essentially based on carbon (coal) and hydrocarbons (oil, gas). Without our dependence on carbon-based fuel then civilization as we know it is not going to survive.

Idealists may not like a dependence on carbon-based fuels but they would soon understand my (and many others like me) concerns that the politics of the day are moving ever closer to calamity. Under the disguise of a "new religion" called global warming, those who would control the rest of us believe they have found a solution in environmentalism.

Don't be fooled. This is a red herring.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rising Sea Levels?

Experts, i.e. those who study sea level changes, not those who think they do like Al Gore, are likely to know what they are talking about when it comes to predicting the future of our coastal cities.

As a geologist I have my own take on the subject. Since the last ice age began to recede there has been a significant global rise in sea levels. This has tailed off in recent centuries as there is simply very little ice left to melt compared with the huge thicknesses of ice that accumulated on the continents during each phase of the four ice ages. The only significant ice sheets left are Greenland and Antarctica and these are tiny compared to the huge sheets that covered the northern hemisphere during the peaks of the ice ages. (To illustrate, the Matterhorn in Switzerland was completed covered by the Alpine Ice Sheet, while the peak of Everest was likewise shaped under moving ice sheets in the Himalayas).

The Greenland ice sheet is but a remnant of its former area and thickness, so it is reasonable to state that there is relatively little left to melt.

Much of the Polar ice that can melt is resting on water. It is, to put it another way, already a part of the oceans.

So consider this simple experiment. Take a full glass of iced water. The ice cubes float on the water and just like icebergs, stick out above the rim of the glass. Let the glass warm up and watch the ice melt. No water flows over the side of the glass! When all the ice has melted there remains a full glass of water. Go back to the reason why icebergs float - ice is less dense than water.

Apply this to the oceans and it becomes obvious that whatever happens to the polar ice regions there will be no effect on sea level change.

But this, of course, is too simple.

Why? Because some parts of the Earth's surface are rising, some are falling, mostly due to tectonic forces within the Earth's crust. Relative sea level changes can therefore be measured and found to be different all over the globe. An unscientific quick look at the problem can easily focus on those areas that are drowning and draw the wrong conclusions.

Another factor that influences many coastal cities is subsidence due to additional loading (buildings in London, for example) or to extraction of water from deep wells (a problem in the Texas Gulf Coast). Such subsidence has nothing to do with global sea level changes.

Which is why I trust a real expert like Nils-Axel Mörner.

Earth Hour - the point?

I will freely admit to switching ON all the lights at home during Earth Hour. I was protesting a protest that I believe to be false and pointless.

False because the basic premise that humankind would be better off in a carbon-reduced society is unproven. Pointless because the exercise was introduced as a "fun" thing to do, having a candlelit dinner or, in warmer climes, a beach barbeque.

The organizers should have considered the idea of Earth Week or even Earth Month. But it would have been a complete failure for their purpose in that Mr and Mrs Joe Public would have soon begun to realize (possibly in the second hour) that this was not going to work.

No emergency room at the hospital. No street lights to ward off burglars. No office or factory come Monday morning. No telephone system. Etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Atlas Shrugged gains popularity

This just in from the pages of the Daily Telegraph. It is interesting that Ayn Rand's book is enjoying better sales at the present time. Ironic perhaps in that I was recommending the book just a few weeks ago to several people who had never heard of it!

It would appear that the book has quite different effects on different people. Personally I enjoyed the book and its outcome. I can only imagine that many of the today's world leaders find it all quite difficult to swallow. The article states that Reagan was an admirer. It doesn't mention that Thatcher has also been a strong supporter of the Rand philosophy.

Ayn Rand lives on within the portals of the Rand Institute.

Safari 4 and Updated Websites

One of the new features of Safari 4 is a curved panel of recently visited or bookmarked pages:



The star in the top right corner means that Safari has noticed that the page has changed since it was last viewed. Which means that those pages that update, or simply change, frequently are going to get the star whereas those that don't will probably be ignored. I think that's a good move and I hope it means that more website designers will embrace the "converse with your audience" concept of site design.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Vintage Amtrak Commercials



A whole 6 minutes of Amtrak commercials dating back to the 1970s. Those prices were very reasonable!

Inter City 125 Ad - the Speed trap!



A hilarious TV commercial from another age. The Inter City 125 continues to provide excellent service on the "modernized" British Rail.

The Authoritarian State

A new book has been reviewed in the Daily Telegraph which claims some interesting statistics about daily life in the UK. For example, twenty five percent of the World's CCTV cameras are located in the UK.

I have noticed something else about many British CCTVs, particularly those owned by "Big Brother". They can photograph you but you cannot photograph them. The cameras, that is! So I may have unwittingly broken the law when I took this photo last year:

The ubiquitous CCTV

Friday, March 06, 2009

Estacio de Franca - Improving the image

The previous post shows the end result of some photo manipulation so I thought: why not show the steps I took from rather poor, dull image to a better end result? Here is the original:

The first step was to modify the color temperature to warm things up a bit:

Next, the exposure was increased by about 70%:

And finally the shadows and highlights were adjusted quite dramatically. This brought out the details of the roof and made an almost pseudo-HDR image effect.

These small images don't do the details any justice and in fact the final version looks a bit washed out. The full sized image can be viewed here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Estacio de Franca, Barcelona

Barcelona, Estacio de Franca
When in Barcelona in January we stumbled upon the French Station, an impressive but under-used terminus which is in remarkably clean condition. Compared to the sprawl of commercialism that surrounds a typical London station, the original architecture has been nicely preserved and cleaned. The train shed is a beautiful structure.

The photo was rather dull due to the weather being cloudy. So I have tweaked it a bit in Aperture and the result is almost a pseudo HDR effect. I basically adjusted the shadows and highlights to bring out details that would otherwise be invisible.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Train Orders

I've just joined Trainorders.com, a US railfan site with lots of useful railroad resources. One posting pointed me to this site which contains realtime movements of Amtrak's western railroad services. These are the really long distance routes that take days to complete and can be hours behind schedule. However, a quick look suggests that Amtrak is doing quite well today, no doubt because there are fewer freight trains running during the recession. (An estimate 200,000 freight cars are currently idle).

I wonder if there are similar sites catering to UK railfans (anoraks)?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Safari 4

Some interesting developments in the "browser war". I rather like the changes between Safari 3 and 4 though I gather not everyone does and it may not the fastest browser after all.

On Panhandling

Street people hurt when the temperature is below -20ºC and it really is not too difficult to reach into your pocket when their request is for your "spare change". But recently in Calgary I was faced with a lesser demand. "Could you spare a penny, Sir? I need to get together the bus fare to ---------."

A penny, I thought, why only a penny. Then I looked at the man, possibly in his twenties but cold and down-shouldered, hunched against the cold wind, his face unshaven, his clothes ill-fitting. Why would anyone ask for just a penny? I have to suppose it was a complete lack of self-esteem.

I gave him more than he asked for and as I walked away I suggested that in future he might set his sights a little higher. I wonder if he will.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The mirror gun

It would appear that the global warming lobby is getting more and more desperate if their ideas for combatting climate change are anything to go by. The latest concept is reported here.

Personally I find such schemes very frightening. Scientists have yet to make a climate model that actually works but are "going ahead" with schemes to stop something they have yet to prove is happening. And the costs! $350 trillion is no small sum, in fact it is unimaginably huge.

Let's just suppose that the climate does change but in the opposite direction, heading straight for another ice age (there have been four cycles already so that is not as unpredictable as you might think). So there are a trillion mirrors up there, acting as a giant sunshade and hastening the cooling. It doesn't take much imagination to work out that the mirrors are not going to be removed in a hurry.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The iPhone's camera

Just how good is the iPhone's camera function? If you compare it to a $1,000 plus digital SLR, then the truth is it is a very inflexible piece of kit. The literal "point and click" camera with absolutely no user control.

Even so, given the right conditions, the iPhone can take reasonably good photos. Ideally the sun should be behind the camera and the range of light contrast should not be too great. For example, two thirds sky will bias the exposure setting, making the landscape or headshot much too dark.
West Greenland - 3
This is an example of what can be achieved.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Down Memory Lane

Another "heads up" from Pete. This time it's a link to a group called 28 Days Later who investigated an open factory door at 3, Legge lane, Birmingham and went inside to take photographs and report to the world.

If that address isn't familiar (why should it be?) then I should explain that it was the location of Ashton & Moore (Metal Colourers) Ltd. until very recently. They've upped sticks and moved to another location in Hockley.

But this is the location I knew and in fact I really grew up there, spending many a day during school holidays. I actually thought that was what most school kids did! And when I was old enough I went to work as the maintenance man's assistant (he was a Polish refugee named Joe).

The place looks a bit worse than I remember, what with the inevitable industrial decay. But it's good to know that the business has moved on and hopefully up.



I wonder what will become of it? The rather fine Victorian terracotta frontage is the only thing worth saving so I suppose it will all come down in the name of progress. The chemicals used (see photos) probably mean that the building could never be used as a loft style residence.

For more history on the site, try this. And the A&M site is here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tiger Oil - the memos

Pete sent me this link. He also asked me if I knew the owner of Tiger Oil but I am pleased to say that I never met him, never mind worked for him!

That is not to say that some of his demands from his employees don't ring a bell. One owner I worked for had very similar views and could express them just as succinctly! But his language was slightly more in tune with today's terminology - he didn't fire me, he "let me go".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Whistleblowers

No steam trains here, just honest people who see wrong and want to do the right thing.

It seems to me that the term "whistleblower" is viewed as derogatory by many people in society. This seems to be strange but perhaps most of us simply do not like to see our boat rocked. There is nothing quite like the status quo even if this means we are losing out on something important.

Whistleblowers tend to create mayhem if the aftermath of their revelations are anything to go by. Think Enron in 2002 or HBoS in 2008. In each case the primary whistleblower opened up a can of worms that reverberated through society. The real perpetrators of the mayhem haven't exactly got away scot fee but why should the whistleblower carry any of the burden?

I knew several of the key players in the Enron failure and had friends in both Enron and Vinson & Elkins. Friends lost all their savings though misguided loyalty to the company and its ever-climbing and then rapidly plummeting stock. I am sure similar events surround the collapse in the various (many) banks during the current crisis of confidence.

Confidence is the problem. So often the houses of mirrors that reflect a supposed confidence start to implode and when a concerned employee sees what is happening and tries to do something, the collapse is inevitable. In the worst cases it would appear the the whistleblower approached senior management who denied the problem and maintained business as usual. Regulatory agencies likewise ignored the tell-tail signs while the politicians merely hoped the inevitable would not happen on their watch.

I say "Raise a glass to the whistleblower, revere him or her as the custodian of sound capitalism!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Beehives and Black Horses

This rather strange title refers to Lloyds Bank, much in the news today. Lloyds was founded in Birmingham in 1765 as a private bank to assist manufacturers and traders in the city, then a major player in the period of Enlightenment. This was the zenith of the Lunar Society's activities.

Lloyds has gone from strength to strength and, together with Barclays has been a survivor. How it will weather the current banking crisis will be interesting to say the least.

Gordon Brown apparently brokered the take over of HBOS by Lloyds to create was was then called a great opportunity. I doubt if Lloyds shareholders would now agree, particularly as the truth about HBOS' reckless business model is still emerging. As an Enlightenment start-up, Lloyds was probably also anti-Establishment. Present day management has obviously joined the Establishment.

So what of the beehive? It was the bank's first symbol, representing hard work and industry (and I bet bees don't earn bonuses!) Later the bank took over premises that had a black horse as its symbol. The black horse was possibly adopted simply to save money!

Oh how things have changed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

IEP - lots of new trains by 2015!

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) has made a major step forward with the award of a significant order. Good news but perhaps we should also note that this is almost certainly too little too late for solving growth problems within British Railways. By the time they are introduced the demand will be even higher than it is today.

The winning group includes Hitachi which is building the high speed Kent trainsets; this may well have been a deciding factor in the selection. Comparison of various modern trainsets (the HS125/HS225 is hardly modern and yet gives a better ride than more recent designs) suggests that Bombardier probably should have been passed by; they built the Virgin Voyagers, with the stinking toilets! While the Adalente design by Alsthom, ugly as it is, has also not been a big hit because of reliability issues.

I only hope the winning design is as good as the HS125/HS225 design it will ultimately replace.

Charles Darwin - 200

Wired.com celebrates Charles Darwin's 200th birthday with a very useful piece on the history and details of evolutionary theory. Some comments:

I am pleased that Alfred Russel Wallace gets a mention - he made similar observations and drew the same conclusions as Darwin while traveling through the East Indies. It was his determination to publish his findings that finally drove Darwin to put pen to paper. In this way Wallace is the other hero of evolutionary theory.

Dinosaur Footprint
The teaching of evolution in schools should not be too difficult. Children love dinosaurs, heck they often know more Linnean names for dinosaurs that many fully qualified geologists (including me!) Evolution should be taught within their context, both the ability to adapt as well as the forces of natural selection can be easily applied. (That's a dinosaur's footprint taken in a stream bed in Central Texas, © focalplane.com)

My own recollections of learning about evolution started in primary school when we were shown pictures of a moth that was light colored in the country but dark in industrial areas so that it blended with its background. Such subjects should be taught early, not left until too late!

Obama's scientific support

The BBC once again demonstrates that it has an agenda on climate change without questioning the source or providing an alternative point of view. Professor James McCarthy, president of the AAAS, makes this statement:

"We have a moment right now of extraordinary opportunity, with a new president, positioned with scientific leadership that has known no equal in recent times. The calibre of scientific advice that is close to this man is truly exceptional. If in his first term, in the next four years, we don't make significant progress in these areas, then I think the planet is in huge trouble."

So it may be worth considering two of Obama's inner circle.

1. The Vice President, Joe Biden, said this on climate change during the VP debate:

BIDEN: "If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is man made. That's the cause. That's why the polar ice cap is melting."

(At least that "dumb candidate" Sarah Palin knew something about climate cycles)

2. The previous VP, Al Gore. He won a Nobel Prize for his "Inconvenient Truth" film that has since been barred from showing in UK schools because it is flawed. His own carbon footprint is full of hypocrisy, while his carbon trading schemes are designed to add riches to his personal coffers.

As someone I know often says: "We should be scared, very scared."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good Timing?

It is interesting to see a chief scientist at Britain's Meteorological Office predict that Scotland won't have a ski industry in 50 years. I suppose that the time to make global warming predictions is when the weather is at unusually cold levels - that way it is hard to be proved wrong, but it is strange that a Met Office specialist can predict the weather fifty years from now yet usually gets it wrong to the next day.

Of course he does have a point - there is a difference between weather and climate, though this is not entirely obvious to many people, including, unfortunately, the politicians.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mountain Rescue

The news has been littered recently with stories of British hikers and climbers who have succumbed to the elements while tackling normally well-signed trails in dangerous conditions. Now the authorities are asking that only the experienced and well-equipped should even contemplate being out on a mountain.

Quite right.

But there are some unanswered questions here. As we have pointed out in several of our hiking trail travelogues (particularly Big Bend, Texas and Cader Idris, Wales), it is imperative that hikers set out with the right equipment and knowledge, that they do not underestimate the conditions that may exist hours from starting out, and that they turn round and head for home before it is too late.

We personally know far more about survival in a desert environment (Big Bend) than on a cold British mountainside but the basic rules are not very different. We noticed several people hiking up Cader Idris with minimal equipment, the idea being that with less to carry it is possible to get up and back in next to no time. The problem with this is that an unexpected sprained ankle or a sudden change in the weather leaves the hiker fatally exposed to dangerous conditions.

But there is another side to this debate. Unfortunately there is a complete lack of education on dealing with these situations nowadays. The primary reason I can think of is that H&S dictates that such activities should not be encouraged because by explaining the risks we may be encouraging the taking of those risks. I am not sure what the answer is here, but one story I recently heard in Cornwall is that schoolchildren were only allowed to go on a field trip to a well known and safe summer holiday beach if they kept their shoes on. This sort of protective mentality is not only sending the wrong message, it is also limiting the experience and education of how to cope with risk.

Great Britain, the nation that sent explorers to the poles and the highest mountains, is losing its ability to explore.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tornado in London

No, this is not a weather report. The brand new steam locomotive, A1 Class 60163 "Tornado" made its first long distance revenue earning trip from Darlington to London. This report makes much of the fact that it took "twice as long" as a modern train. However, to be fair to the steam locomotive's timing it had to stop three times to replenish its water supply. When steam trains regularly pulled main line expresses they had the capability to scoop water up from troughs or pans laid down between the tracks. These have been long removed.

If you would like to see a particularly good photo of the locomotive, Flickr member freefotouk has one! Should you be wondering, Peppercorn was the name of the chief engineer who designed the original A1 Class.

Tobogganning

More Somerset Snow - 4

Snowy Somerset

Somerset Snow - 3
It's been a snowy week in the UK. This photo was taken on Friday morning on top of the Brendon Hills near Bathealton. Blizzard conditions overnight with a strong north wind created these drifts.
Somerset Snow - 2
Further down the lane we came across a tree blocking our way. The heavy wet snow caused a lot of trees and limbs to break and fall. This one completely blocked access for the local farmer trying to get hay to his cattle (he did manage to get to the field the long way round).

Sticks and Stones. . . .

There seems to have been a plethora of "celebrity" name-calling in recent months and the BBC is generally at the center of the storms-in-a-teacup.

First we had the despicable behavior of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross (neither of whom I have ever seen or heard on TV and radio) which caused Brand to be banished (and his career perhaps enhanced) while Ross was forced to take three months off without pay. And now Ross is back he has shown that his style of humor hasn't been tempered by the mild slap on the wrist he received.

Last week we had two interesting events that both had a political twist. Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson, both on the payroll of the BBC, have fallen foul of its rules. The former, daughter of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher, appears to have been rather stupid in using the term "golliwog" while on the BBC's premises. She has refused to apologize and has been fired.

Then Jeremy Clarkson referred to the current PM as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot". He subsequently apologized but tempered the apology with the statement that he still considers Gordon Brown to be an idiot. He hasn't been fired (as least not yet, and probably won't be).

What is interesting about all three events is that the BBC demanded an apology as if this would set everything to right. Make an apology that has no sincerity (as I think Ross did) and you are back at work. Refuse to apologize and you've lost your job. Make a politically correct apology and you will probably be OK.

Readers of this blog will know I think the BBC should be pared down with a large hatchet into two radio channels and one TV channel. Everything that they do in competition with commercial radio and TV should be privatized. In other words, the BBC should be more like America's PBR/PBS. But for as long as celebrities like Ross and Clarkson earn high ratings and (for Top Gear at least) overseas earnings for the BBC they will no doubt continue to be excused.

So what is the big picture emerging from all this? The BBC appears to be a law unto itself and doesn't always represent or cater to the wishes and demands of the license fee holders. It is damned difficult to opt out of the license fee and still own a TV (even if it may only be used to view non-broadcast material). But in reality the BBC is simply an extension of the way the present government (and future ones of any color if their manifestos are to be believed) has manipulated the way society works.

I grew up in a world where you said "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me". Sometimes the words did hurt, it's true, and in today's terminology they were not politically correct. But we were no less tolerant then; in fact I think today's elites are hopelessly intolerant of anything they feel they must disagree with.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Good News from Brum!

Read all about it here!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Wi-Fi Hotspot - Calgary Airport



And it's a strong signal as well - European airports please take note - FREE, EFFICIENT, NO HASSLES!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bear with me!

I assume this is what the (mainly) women in call centers mean while they struggle to handle a request. But I can't help thinking that they could imply baring all - except that with the sound-only medium of the telephone this hardly makes a lot of sense.

But the thought for today is to come up with the best retort.

"Please bare with me"

"I will if you will"


Surely I am not the only one to think along these lines?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on Carbon Trading

Yet more hot air emanating from the EU, as they (who are they) insist that the US must now join forces to save the planet from global warming.

How?

By adopting carbon trading (a mechanism firmly rejected by the Bush Administration but likely to be embraced by the Obama Administration). As I have stated before, carbon trading is a bureaucratic crock, an excuse to let the rich nations continue business as usual at the expense of poorer nations. It could also be thought of as bribery and corruption, with the corruption being firmly in the control of the bureaucrats. A license to make money with no material gain for society.

We don't need carbon trading. It's a waste of time and money. Built on an unproven premise (anthropogenic global warming) to satisfy politicians needing to do something, the concept is hopelessly flawed. Essentially, the idea is that Peter will pay Paul not to generate carbon so that he can continue to do so. Paul, by the way, is likely to be a poor nation that desperately needs to industrialize to feed its population. Peter, on the other hand, is a rich old world nation saddled with traditional business practices and that refuses to modernize and streamline its business.

China and India, of course, can see no benefit from carbon trading. For as long as they remain outside the trading circle the entire concept means less than nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The "other" Greenhouse Gas

All this talk about carbon dioxide, man-made global warming and the cost of controlling the planet is beginning to make me giddy. But then a colleague reminded me that it is no wonder that scientists cannot get their global warming models to work when meteorologists cannot even predict the next seven days of weather with any precision.

So what's the connection, you ask?

Simply this. By far the largest component of the so-called greenhouses gas effect is water vapor.

The Green Bandwagon

In the week following President Obama's inauguration there has been a surge in press releases from the global warming crowd. Most of these predict some form of future calamity, but conditional with the liberal use of the would "could". Examples include the wiping out of Emperor Penguins (could happen), the stagnation of oceans (could happen), while climate change is (probably) irreversible.

I have linked to the last one because it is worthy of additional comment. The irony of the scientists' conclusion is that is doesn't matter what we do to prevent climate change, it won't make much difference. Yet from those same mouths comes the quote:

"Climate change is slow, but it is unstoppable - all the more reason to act quickly, so the long-term situation does not get even worse."

If ever there was a two-faced plea for additional research funding, there you have it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Joseph Needham and China history

I've just finished reading Simon Winchester's "Bomb, Book and Compass" which introduced me to the lifelong ambition of a brilliant scientist to document and then attempt to answer why China once lead the world in invention and progress and then around 1500 AD ceased and slipped ever backwards until about 15 years ago.

The answer came in the epilogue and I believe it contains a frightening message for Western society. It would appear that all reason for invention was subsumed by the ambition for anyone bright enough to rise up the ranks of the all important empire bureaucracy. The need for progress diminished accordingly, indeed change was seen to be positively dangerous to anyone involved in maintaining the Emperor's status quo. Ironically, communism was no different, Mao simply becoming an authoritarian emperor in a drab tunic.

It would seem that Asia is gaining the upper hand. China now "owns" much of the West and is learning what the West needs. Much of the manufacturing that used to be concentrated in places like Birmingham, UK or Pittsburg, PA has been lost to China but to a large degree the products are still designed in the West. How long will it be before China takes over the R&D?

I would think that the recession we find ourselves in can only accelerate the transfer of power toward China. More and more jobs in Europe are already moving into bureaucracy. Does this mean that Western innovation will cease?

Friday, January 23, 2009

25 Years of the Mac

This article should bring back the memories. Though I must admit that my own Mac journey is only around 20 years old. My first Mac was a "wicked fast" IIfx with some impressive specs for its day (1990). I even had a super-large 1 GB full height hard drive installed, making this a computer worth around $12,000 at the time. The computer was hooked up to an extremely heavy 21" Ikegami monitor that was priced at $3,500.

I obtained this Mac by default. It was loaned to a startup company, New Wave Exploration, of which I was a 50% partner. The idea was to sell seismic processing software but my business partner turned out to have personal financial problems (he filed for bankruptcy) and I decided to fold the company, buy the system and start using it as my main computer. It replaced an 80286 PC by another start up company, PCs Limited, later renamed Dell. I have never looked back. And it is possible that this computer also set Pete on his way to being a social media consultant (he also uses a Mac today).

The IIfx lasted a long time but eventually I moved up through a variety of mostly portable PowerBooks, right up to the present time.

In the early days Apple Computer had an office in Houston and also sponsored an Apple Petroleum Group which met once a month. One of the things I remember was handing in my business card to the receptionist who immediately scanned it into her Mac Plus and printed out a sticky label for my lapel. At one of the meetings we were shown an early version of Quicktime. It was the time of the First Gulf War (1991) and the demonstrator admitted that he could watch CNN in a small window while at work. That all seems so simple today but at the time it was mind-boggling!

Apple's flirtations with the oil industry went into decline and fewer and fewer of the large companies supported Macs. At one time the exploration departments of BP, Amoco, Conoco, Chevron, Arco and many others all had Macs but their IT managers couldn't handle more than one operating system at a time. The messages went out and with them the creative tool so many geologists had at their desks. In retrospect the opportunity for Apple was killed by the very complexity and unreliability of Microsoft's systems that required huge manpower support.

For me the Apple OS has rarely been a problem. Being in a minority can be difficult but in recent years Apple has endeavored to help out by providing export capability from iWork so that I can send Word and Excel files to colleagues who have never used a Mac. Ironically my Mac has saved the day on a number of occasions, including being able to set up quickly with a strange presentation projector in Africa and being able to rescue a PowerPoint file that no-one could open by importing it into and exporting it out from Keynote.

Microsoft have tried hard to scupper this ability to collaborate - they have never produced a Mac version of Project, for example, forcing me to buy Virtual PC. All that did was persuade me never to buy a Windows machine. I do recognize that the difference between operating systems is closing but Apple always seems to be one step ahead where it matters most - ease of use and ability to be productive.

So the question now is, after 25 years of the Mac, where do we go next? I really haven't a clue but I am looking forward to whatever comes down the runway from Cupertino.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Maybe I'm "old school" too?

A year or so ago I was sitting in a meeting listening to some wise words from a man who has maybe 50 years hands on experience doing what he does. Two young "turks" sitting next to me looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

"Old School", said one.

"Yeah", agreed the other.

At the time I let it ride. But the comment festered inside me. Just what is so wrong with being "old school" anyway, I thought?

And to be truthful, there is nothing wrong with experience. Goodness knows, the way we don't learn from past mistakes is living proof that as a society we don't put a whole lot of stock in experience.

I think I'm reasonably good with new fangled technologies and I have certainly embraced the social media thing with a modicum of enthusiasm. But recently I have been researching and quietly monitoring some of the new concepts, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. and I simply don't get them. I usually feel I'm eavesdropping at a party when reading a Twitter "stream", a sort of public SMS that maybe I shouldn't be reading at all. Certainly, I have no desire to join in and correspond with what appear to be sound bites.

That's not to say I disagree with these social media tools. It is simply not my scene. In fact one of my (rarely broken) rules is never to mention what I am doing until I can talk about it in the past tense. I suppose I don't really want anyone to know exactly where I am as I write.

People much younger than I don't seem to have this problem. Good for them! It must be a generation thing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cleaning up the eco-friendly environment


Modern eco-friendly light bulbs are not that ecological or friendly, apparently. When they explode, as they sometimes do, all sorts of nasty substances are let loose into the environment, requiring the ten steps above to be used to remove them to the local specialist recycling center.

Quite what happens to you if you don't follow the instructions I am not sure. Tip of the hat here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seriously Alarmed

This is the title of an article in today's Telegraph. The author, one Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, has his photo on the page and he's smiling. The article is anything but amusing so perhaps he should change his stock photo.

That aside, the article carries some stunningly bad news about Sterling and the UK economy. But Mr E-P, I have to ask you a question. How is that you, along with everyone else in the City of London, never saw this coming? Which ever way you answer the question, shame on you.

Welcome to the Real World, Obama!

So the honeymoon is over. Being President-elect must have been an easy job with everything waiting for today. But now the clock on the first 100 days will start ticking. Being President in these troubled times will not be an easy job and I rather fear that President Obama has been given an near impossible task by many of his closest supporters - the American (and foreign) media.

Many moons ago I wrote this. My feelings on Obama haven't changed much but I am saddened by his choice of running mate (Biden) and Secretary of State (Clinton). Neither sum up "change" for me, just the "same old".

But in the spirit of the day, Hail to the Chief!

Monday, January 19, 2009

MacWorld on Video Downloads, etc.

A useful insight into what is wrong with the business model(s) for video sales.

RipIt

The previous post discussed a problem with ripping Narnia. A quick search suggested I try RipIt. So I downloaded the 7 day trial and. . . it works! Looks like RipIt.com will be getting my business.

The differences between Mac the Ripper and Ripit appear to be twofold. First, the RipIt interface is even simpler than MTR. A few preferences but that's it - load the DVD and start to rip. Second, the result is not a folder of files with strange acronyms and extensions, but a single file that can be played with Apple's DVD Player and which has the extension .dvdmedia.

But the real difference is that RipIt coped with the copy protection crap as if it didn't exist.

When I loaded the .dvdmedia file into Apple DVD Player it was like playing the DVD itself. For example, several annoying trailers for other movies, etc. But when I loaded the file into Elgato's software I simply deleted all but the main feature and created a single m4v file of what I wanted!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Elgato Turbo.264


I am slowly working toward a hard drive based media center. The latest acquisitions include a 1 TB Western Digital hard drive which will be connected to an Apple Extreme; this will store all the music and videos and will be connected by ethernet to our Apple TV, whose 160 GB hard drive is nearly full.

But the real subject of this post is an interesting simple co-processor on a USB stick by Elgato.

If you own an old, relatively slow Mac, as I do, then ripping DVDs is slow and tedious. The Elgato Turbo.264 makes this an almost realtime process (but note that with the latest speedy processors there isn't going to be much difference).

The DVDs (which, of course, I own) were first ripped to the computer's hard drive using Mac the Ripper, an open source application easily downloaded. This puts all the contents of the DVD in a folder but this then needs to be converted to the right format for the Apple TV. I only convert the main feature (if I really want to see the extras, I still have the DVD). This takes up around 1GB of storage space per movie and the Elgato device speeds things up to around 2 hours (Handbrake, excellent open source software, takes maybe 3-1/2 times longer).

The screen capture of Elgato's elegant software controller is shown above, ripping Narnia, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Earlier I ripped Fargo, a superb movie for the collection, which cost me a bargain $4 (Canadian) at Calgary's HMV store. (Note: Narnia has a particularly insidious copy protection device built into it and the ripping failed, so this one will require more research)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prince Harry and the media

Not being a royalist I am almost reluctant to weigh in on the subject of Prince Harry using the nickname "Paki" in referring to a fellow soldier. But my point is not about royalty as much as the absurd degree to which the media pick up on and abuse language.

The term Paki is not abusive to everyone - listen to South Asians speaking and it becomes apparent that a person from Pakistan is a Paki just like someone from the province of Baluchistan (in Pakistan) is called a Baluchi. Following the logic of the British media and others, someone from this area of the world can be a Baluchi but not a Paki.

I would guess that the nickname "Paki" has an unfortunate etymological history in the media's coining of the term "Paki-bashing" several decades ago when racial tensions in Britain's cities were high. If so, then Prince Harry is actually being judged by the very originators of the "racist language" he is accused of using.

A case of the pot calling the kettle . . . .

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brian Gorge, Minerve (New Hiking Trail Guide)

As well as slowly upgrading the hiking trail guides to iWeb, I have also added a new one today - the subject is a half day hike up the Brian Gorge, Minerve, in southern France.

Minerve Trail, Brian Gorge

Apple Software Upgrades

Unless you are in the market for a 17" screen laptop (I'm not!) then the big news from Apple this month is that both iLife and iWork and getting meaningful upgrades. These two packages are disappointing in one way in that I don't really use all the components and if I could buy just Pages, Numbers, iPhoto and iWeb, then I would. I don't think iMovie will even work on my 4 year old PowerBook.

One interesting business solution is the introduction of the iPhone App "Keynote Remote". If only Keynote was the de facto presentation software in place of god-awful PowerPoint! Keynote Remote allows you to control the presentation with your iPhone while either reviewing your notes in portrait mode (on the iPhone) or the next slide in landscape mode. I'm going to try this App even if I don't actually use it at work. Sometimes I simply forget what the next slide is going to be, talk about its content and then realize that I should have clicked forward several minutes ago.

Again, why has the business community allowed PowerPoint to be omnipresent? That's a rhetorical question.

I am hoping that iWeb is going to be a more sophisticated package, even as I gradually convert focalplane.com's content over to it. (Update, five hiking trails are now converted to the new format).

Monday, January 05, 2009

Spires and Cranes


So we stepped out from the Metro and came face to face with Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. First reaction? A mixture of the grotesque and the fantastic. Other adjectives include ugly, unfinished, over-rated and incoherent. Perhaps the hype was over-done, perhaps I just don't get it.