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.