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dave2002: pitas page

a weblog about wikis, weblogs, classical music,
travel, and other odd things which happen
to spring into the author's mind.

Work in progress today!

calendar fixing, fixing article links, css fixing

Well - works more or less in ie anyway.
Sorry mozilla, netscape etc!

One day the calendar and archiving will be uptodate - maybe!

[Hint: When reading articles click on the links and also on the headings. There may be different articles linked to the text in different contexts.]

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what this weblog is about

keywords: weblogs, wikis, classical music, opera, theatre, books, art, travel, media.

This blog started off as an experiment - an investigation into weblogs, which is why there are links to material about weblogs further down. There are also links to wikis which are also of interest, and to other communications tools and pages.

Another interest, though often not expressed directly in the text, is the development of so-called content and knowledge management tools.

Other strong content themes are music and opera, theatre, books, media including tv and films, travel and a modicum of science, with occasional references to art, photography and poetry, reflecting some of the interests of the author. It is possible that more scientific and technical material appears in dave2002.alt.

This weblog also is a vehicle for experimenting with weblog design, and for familiarisation with tools such as css, xml etc. A quirk is that sometimes, following e.e.cummings, words are written in lower case.


Some links cross refer to dave2002.alt, which was used while maintaining this page, and which may also contain more technical details relating to weblog production, or more details of scientific or mathematical interest. At times dave2002.alt functions as a meta-blog.

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zonealarm - firewalls!
Wednesday, April 18, 2007 -- 09:38 a.m.

I've used zonealarm for years, and as a product I still think it's good. I even paid for pro versions for a couple of years, though I wasn't really sure whether they were significantly better than the free version.

Last year, when my subscriptions ran out I just couldn't be bothered to pay again. I don't know whether that's good or bad! I've inherited other machines, and maintain a couple more, so I don't really want to have to pay for new firewalls if I can avoid that. I wouldn't mind paying a modest amount for all the machines I have (let's say around 4-5) right now, but I really don't want to pay a lot.

I notice that zonealarm are now trying to do linked deals with other organisations before supplying free firewalls or updates. This has somewhat irritated me, so I've installed the kerio (sunbelt) firewall on one machine - which seems fine, and the comodo firewall on another - which has a few problems (it's if anything over secure) - but basically pretty good. I've also got a version of kaspersky's system via a magazine, which I'm intending to install soon.

I really think that zonealarm are losing it - they have had (mostly - one version I used was a bummer) a good product, but I'm now happy to switch to other products.

writely and google - migration issues
Friday, November 10, 2006 -- 10:54 a.m.

google has now introduced a new service called documents and spreadsheets, which provide on-line, web-based text editors and spreadsheets. Some of the features have been inherited from writely. Unfortunately it seems to me that the migration of users and documents from the previous writely system has not been handled well, and some users, including myself, may find it hard to locate previously created work. When yahoo incorporated flickr earlier on, the migration seems to have been relatively painless, but google appear to have made serious mistakes with the migration from writely.

energy and ethics
Thursday, October 26, 2006 -- 06:56 a.m.

What do you think when you turn on a light switch, or put the key to start your car? Probably not a lot, other than you "need" light or to travel somewhere. I've put the word need in quotes, as more often the phrase "want to have" might be more appropriate.

Do you ever think about other consequences of your actions? There are some differences between turning on a light bulb and starting your car. If you use your car, most of the pollution which arises is in the vicinity of the vehicle, so as you drive you are polluting the areas around you. Driving a car is also generally more demanding on energy than a single light bulb.

When you turn on a light you are taking power from the electricity grid, and this has consequences elsewhere. In the uk these consequences do not appear to most of us to be severe, as the uk is relatively unpolluted. In china the situation is different. China has the worst polluted cities and regions in the world. Turning on a light bulb in beijing or shanghai has effects on other people living outside those cities. Currently a large part of china's energy supplies for some large cities are provided by coal fired power stations, which are very polluting. Cities such as datong which is also well known for its world heritage site are unpleasant to live in, though the people who live there may have little choice. Most pictures are unlikely to show the degree of dirt and grime, and give an impression of the pollution.

The chinese government is aware of some problems, and is trying to clean up the environment, but it will be a huge task. There is a push to clean up the environment around beijing and other important centres for the 2008 olympics, though this may have consequences for other regions, since most visitors will only go to the largest cities, and it's possible that the pollution will get worse in other cities which are less likely to be visited.

There are other issues about energy consumption which we tend not to think about in the uk where many of us use electricity and cars with little thought. In china many people still walk or use bicycles. Some would probably rather use motor bikes or cars, and have a more western style of life. Yet if the large body of the chinese population (currently around 1.3 billion people) all wanted to behave like that, even if they could, that would be even more damaging for the environment, even if some of the pollution problems could be partially solved, as they would be likely then to produce more pollution as a country than the USA.

Rather surprisingly, some of the best details of country by country pollution are available from the united states.

Note: At the time of writing the pitas site is not updating properly, so some of the links have been lost. They will be put in later, when the site is more reliable.

chinese names
Saturday, May 27, 2006 -- 06:18 a.m.

Choosing a chinese name may be a useful thing to do for someone who is not chinese, though there may be some pitfalls. The recommendation appears to be to enlist the help of someone who is a native chinese speaker, and who knows you. There are also companies which will do it for you - I don't know how good they are.

There's a fun tool for generating chinese names. It's also clear that there can be problems with converting chinese names into western languages. Is Chan really a different name from Chen or Chung? What about Chan Wong - could it be Wong Chan? This article addresses some of the issues.

end of an era
Sunday, April 23, 2006 -- 10:23 p.m.

AT 5.30 am this morning the bbc put out the radio 4 uk theme written by fritz spiegl for the last time. You can listen to the original theme here and also find out a bit more about fritz. There is also a new single which contains the theme, plus "sailing by", and it's available from several outputs. The single was produced in an attempt to save the theme, but this was unsuccessful. The theme can also be downloaded from the single for a very modest sum from the iTunes website. I really can't hear too much difference between the new and the old versions, though the new version is much better recorded. The sound of the cor anglais is different in the two versions, though I can't say I really prefer one over the other. There are slight differences in the brass and string sounds too, but really there is not much to choose between them.

I think it was a mistake to abandon a musical start to the day, though I actually do think this particular piece may have been past its sell by date. Perhaps it could feature in future last night of the proms concerts as an extra item?

Now to track down the bbc world service theme!

chinese characters
Thursday, April 20, 2006 -- 08:37 a.m.

The site at zhongwen.com has an interesting idea. Every few minutes the site features a new chinese character. I think in order for this to work you may have to refresh your web browser, but here is an example:

Have fun with that.

ring day
Monday, April 17, 2006 -- 11:38 a.m.

The bbc is playing the whole of wagner's ring cycle today. So far it's not bad, though some are obviously finding it torture to judge by the comments on various message boards.

climate change experiment
Saturday, April 1, 2006 -- 08:28 a.m.

The bbc is promoting a distributed computing climate change experiment, which is potentially interesting. This runs using software developed at berkeley, called boinc. I've tried a few of these boinc projects before, but this one is really big. This presents quite a number of problems. Firstly to be useful each computer has to be active for a very long time. The experiment works by running a climate model to simulate years from 1920 to 2080, and on my computer which is perhaps not too atypical it takes about a day to run each year. Thus it should take about 160 days to complete the whole thing.

Personally I think the design of the experiment is very flawed, because it is not reliable enough. The software I'm running is apparently the previous version which was discovered to be less than 100% reliable. I should have updated it last time it crashed, but I didn't. However that's no problem, because it seems to have crashed again, and I might as well restart it. I can't understand why they didn't design the experiment with state changes saved on the server to allow for restarts. An alternative, though perhaps less good, would have been to provide an automatic restart feature on each user's machine. I suppose one reason for not storing the state centrally might be that each model state could be large - but I really don't know. If that's the case then states should be kept locally to keep the network traffic low. Currently my directory with data in is over 1 Gbyte, but it should compress down, and I don't think it's all data. To be precise currently the folder contains 1,277,263,872 bytes (1.18Gbytes) and I was able to compress it down to 385,187 kbytes (about 385 Mbytes). If most of this is needed to maintain the state of each model, then transferring this up/down even in compressed form could put quite a load on the network, so maybe the designers did get it right.

There are help forums/message boards, but it's taken me several days to realise that there are several. I've had helpful comments from one of these, but even the boards seem to have problems. I registered and posted, but now the board seems not to recognise me at all.

I think I've still got time to get this right and do the complete run, but it'll require a bit more effort. There are procedures for doing backups which allow restart. I'm only just beginning to sort this out. Someone has now written a script to automate the process, but it's not claimed to be ultra reliable. This project may eventually get somewhere, but it does seem to have quite a few flaws, both in the software and also in the communications and instructions.

In the process of doing this I discovered a few other useful things though. Firstly I can now monitor the temperature on this machine using a neat tool called motherboard monitor. Sadly this is no longer supported, though if you have a motherboard which is compatible it seems to work well. I have several machines, and on one, based on an MSI-6385 board the temperatures reported (centigrade) went over 100 degrees. I figured that this was probably an error, so I manually reconfigured the sensor for the CPU to point to Winbond 2 Diode, rather than the present value for that board. I hope that was just a configuration error for this board, as now the temperatures reported are much more reasonable. Running the climate change programs really does push the temperature up. I had the temperature on this machine (this has an MSI 6533 ,motherboard) up to 55 degrees a few days ago, but then I installed more memory (probably irrelevant) and while doing that I took the opportunity to vacuum out the fan and heatsink. The temperatures now seem to be below 50 degrees. If you do decide to run the program - and I'd recommend giving it a try - then it is worth downloading this temperature monitoring tool and checking your machine's temperature. The rise in temperature when the program is running is definitely noticeable. If the temperatures are higher than (say) 55 degrees it is worth checking your hardware carefully, and making sure that fans are clean and working, and that vents are not blocked. However if the readings are ludicrously high suspect a faulty sensor, or an incorrect sensor setting in the configuration files.

If you live in a hot country, or have your central heating on a lot, or you haven't cleaned out your computer case for a few years, then I think it's easily possible to reduce your cpu temperature by 5 degrees by cleaning. Perhaps for most of us this isn't necessary so often, as most of us don't run our machines at full CPU all the time, but if you do know how to open up your machine and run a vacuum cleaner over it carefully then you will probably improve its ability to handle higher loads. Definitely worth doing.

I'm not planning to join the brigades of overclockers, but I've also discovered that system stress testing is something that those guys do, and one of the most popular programs for that is prime95 which is actually a program for finding (most probably mersenne) prime numbers. Apparently the stress procedure is to run this program for at least 10 hours to see if it crashes. This is not a guarantee of reliability, but it seems that many systems will give up on this program within 10 hours. I've not tried yet, but obviously I should if I'm going to hang in with the climate experiment.

ps: Since I first wrote this I've noticed that my model has "come back" - again! I don't know where it went, but since I restarted it a few days ago it would appear not to have crashed. The worrying thing is that the program may "disappear" for several hours, with no response to the graphics - which is supposed to be symptomatic of failure, but then may re-appear later on. If it really crashes again I'll have to download the apparently more reliable latest version of the software, but I hope I won't have to. I really think I'm going to have to get to grips with backing up the data periodically, which is not something which has been advertised too widely, apart from on the forums. This is going to require something of the order of an additional 1 Gbyte for each image I think.

sr mozart
Saturday, April 1, 2006 -- 07:27 a.m.

I nearly missed this. swedish radio is sending out a new dedicated internet radio channel which they call mozart. The music is lovely. Each day they broadcast a selection of mozart's works in runs of about 8 hours, so if you miss anything the first time round you'll have two more tries. It looks as though it's got a few more days to go, and then I'm guessing it'll disappear. If you read this in time, then do try it out. If you have problems with ths site, then note the following: "spellistor" is the swedish word for "play lists", "hem" means "home". You can get the whole thing running by clicking on "webbradio". There is "hjälp" available ("help"), but it's in swedish. There are direct links to the streams for use in different players, which can definitely be useful. It works in the web based player, and also in real player and windows media player. The quality is good providing you don't drop into the low bit rate streams. I think it is easiest to use the list of stream links to avoid problems with low bit rates.

over the top
Saturday, March 11, 2006 -- 09:14 a.m.

Have we reached the top of the blogging wave? Is it all downhill from now on? This article suggests that weblogs are now on the decline.

reporting problems
Wednesday, February 1, 2006 -- 07:00 p.m.

Don't you just get fed up with some web interfaces? Many look as though they've been deliberately designed to prevent users getting through to the organisation which was responsible for them. For example, amazon uk has a good website which will help you to order stuff, but if you have any problems .... try to find the right web page! Even if you do find a page which allows you to send an email, the chances are that it won't actually work - no doubt there's some excuse about cookies and privacy etc. I tried twice - initially with firefox, and then with the "always works" internet explorer. No luck!

However, just in case you also have the same problem with this firm, there are some telephone numbers, though as with the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, no doubt they are written on tablets a few light years away.

If you have this problem, then here are the numbers ...
> Customer Service can be reached from Monday to Saturday,
> 8:00 am -- 6:00 pm (GMT)
> Phone: 0800 279 6620 (from within the UK)
> +44 20 8636 9451 (outside the UK)
> Fax: 0800 279 6630 (from within the UK)
> +44 20 8636 9401 (outside the UK)

uk tax deadlines
Sunday, January 22, 2006 -- 07:54 a.m.

Boring isn't it? Here I am telling you about tax filing deadlines! I used to not bother myself, until the inland revenue, as it called itself then, started to fine people £100 for not filing in time. I've not been fined yet, though apparently around a million people don't get their forms in on time. Obviously if you can afford the £100 and you've got better things to do you'll not worry, but most people might find £100 useful.

So, when do the wretched things have to be in? By the end of this month - January 31st - you should have sent in your tax return. Strictly it should have arrived at your tax office by then. You can also file on-line, and this is quick. However, if you haven't already registered for the on-line service there is almost certainly not enough time left to do that now. If you've forgotten your password or username try to get them asap, but again, it's unlikely that you'll get them back in time. Next year maybe!

Some of us don't have to fill the forms in, if the hmrc as it now calls itself, decides that our affairs are so boring that they don't need to check each year. If you've not been automatically sent a form you are probably ok, though as always with such bureaucratic organisations, if they decide that you should have had one and filled it in etc. they think it's your responsibility to have let them know. My guess is that if this happens they'll most likely just ask you to fill in the form, and may waive the fine, but if they've sent you one to fill in then they're watching you and you've got no easy excuse if you don't reply to them.

So, what should you do? If you've sent one back already that's good. They shouldn't fine you for that should they! If you've sent one back, but there are problems, you should deal with the problems as soon as possible. However, they shouldn't fine you, as you have complied with their filing request.

If you've still got a blank copy of the form floating around somewhere, go and find it, fill it in, and post it..

If you've lost the form, you can request another copy from your tax office, but you'll have to do so pdq - phone them, or visit them if you are nearby - don't write - it'll take too long. This is very useful if you have been sent the short form as this is much easier to fill in. Your tax office can tell you about this. If that was the case you should get onto them asap, and get that short form. The short form is not available any other way. Otherwise all is not lost, as the complete forms are available from the hmrc website - just download them, and print them off, and fill them in etc. You can start with these two:

You might need to check out some of the other forms - but that'll get you started. V. boring, but you might do it for £100 mightn't you.

The long forms are considerably more tedious to fill in. You can estimate some values. For example, if you've a bank and a few building society accounts, and you've only earned (say) around £25 interest in the year, just aggregate the lot, and put down £25 - mark it "estimated". Don't cheat - it's not worth it, but it's really not worth chasing up all those accounts which pay out 5 pence per year - nobody really cares. If in doubt overestimate a bit - it'll still be cheaper than paying a fine for not supplying the information.

If you can do all this in time, then you'll avoid the £100 fine, though you may have a tax bill to pay, and that may incur interest if you don't pay it also by January 31st, though that will probably be a lot less than the £100 if you behave like an ostrich.

tax calculations
Saturday, January 21, 2006 -- 10:06 a.m.

I had major problems with the uk tax forms this year. I tried to use the online service, but I didn't have the username and password which I set up years ago. It took weeks to get these sent to me, by which time I'd missed the end of january deadline for on-line filing with the opportunity to have tax adjusted via my tax code. I gained access to the on-line service at the end of january, the day after the deadline.

When I gained access I watched the calculation, and noticed that I'd have to pay tax - not an enormous amount, but nevertheless more than I would have liked. I decided to fill in the short form.

After a while I received a letter back, requesting a truly HUGE amount. I wrote a complaining letter, but fortunately it was saturday afternoon, so I didn't post it. Then I noticed that I hadn't filled in one of the boxes on the form, so I changed my plan. Before sending in the updated information to the uk tax office, I decided to make a spreadsheet to calculate what I should pay them. I am not guaranteeing that this spreadsheet is correct, but I thought that others may benefit from it, so I'm making it available.

In the list of spreadsheets below, the spreadsheets should all be identical, apart from the details which are personalised. Thus if the details are changed, the spreadsheet should still work. There are also notes to be read in conjunction with these, which should also be downloaded. PS: I'll be loading up some more of the spreadsheets shortly. I need to make a correction for people with very low incomes to avoid negative values. I have now done this but only uploaded the new template for Ben Student. I'll gradually replace the others in time. The calculations should be correct for most people who fill in the short tax form for 2004-5. However if you are a pensioner earning more than 19500 the calculations will not be correct, since the allowance has not been adjusted. A warning will be given by the spreadsheet if this applies to you.

These spreadsheets are provided "AS IS" with no warranty.

If you find a very obvious problem, please put a comment below.

Thursday, January 12, 2006 -- 08:15 a.m.

I have been planning to revamp this site, and now could be as good a time as any, but there are always too many other things to do!

In the meantime take a look at the british library'spages which now have mozart's manuscripts plus some audio. It works ok for dial up users, though at present there seem to be some slight problems for broadband users. If you are a broadband user you might find that you can get it to work if you select the dial up option. Of course, this could all be a problem with my browser ....

ps: happy new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 -- 02:30 p.m.

I figure that some people might need help with recording internet radio streams. rm recorder is a good tool for working with real audio streams. One snag is finding the rtsp urls which are needed to make this work. Often these are hidden away, and many providers do not make it too easy to find them.

However there are tools, such as urlsnooper(2) which can track down media streams, and once these have been found it should be feasible to load them into rm recorder or wm recorder.

There are some really good lists of internet radio stations, including surfmusic. [I'll come back and edit this in little while, as I've other lists ...]

bach christmas so far
Saturday, December 17, 2005 -- 08:37 p.m.

The bbc is currently on a mission to play through all the currently known works by js bach, and is calling this enterprise a bach christmas. You can listen to this on the live radio feed from the website, or on regular broadcast channels if you live in the uk.

So far it's going well, though there is some dissension on the message boards.

bach christmas
Friday, December 9, 2005 -- 08:25 a.m.

The beeb is starting to wind us up towards its forthcoming presentation of all j.s. bach's works on radio 3. This will start next friday evening - 16th december and finish about 10 days later. They've also put up some decent pages about bach and an advent calendar for the countdown.

I suspect that some will switch off altogether, others will dip in from time to time, and some will have their radios on all the time.

I think it's a good idea, though you'll have to use cds, listen to other stations, or other means of musical nourishment if you don't want to listen to bach over christmas.

I couldn't possibly encourage anyone to record all this material, because of copyright issues, though recording some for personal use may be legal. You can do this with various technology, including cassette recorders, cd recorders, and a computer with a large hard drive. For recording with a computer tools such as audacity and total recorder are good. audacity will probably generate large files, while total recorder can do various forms of compression on the fly. This includes doing mp3 compression, which if done in vbr mode using rates from around 160kbps to 320 kbps will give good enough quality for most people - and in any case strictly this may be more than the quality of the broadcast so perhaps unnecessary. It is possible to get around 8-10 hours of music onto 1 Gbyte of storage space using the mp3 compression at reasonable enough quality. Avoid going as low as 128kbps with mp3 unless you really have to.

Alternative methods of recording are to use stream recorder tools such as wm recorder and rm recorder, and to record from internet radio streams. These won't work well with the bbc's output though, because the audio quality is relatively poor, so they should only be used as a backup, or if you don't live in an area where you can receive a broadcast signal either on dab, dvb-t or satellite. This will be the only way that most people outside the uk will be able to receive this.

Yet another way is to use a dab or dvb-t card for your computer, and use the software which comes with that. Mac users will have to look around for different equipment, or find drivers which will work with kit made for pcs.

hinton quintet
Tuesday, December 6, 2005 -- 06:58 p.m.

alistair hinton's quintet is to be broadcast tonight on bbc radio 3. It is also available on the internet via the bbc radio player. It is in fact a broadcast of 3 cds which last around 3 hours, and the quintet is not quite what it seems, for it also employs a soprano. It has received good reviews elsewhere. I'll add my impressions later.

robert simpson
Sunday, December 4, 2005 -- 05:38 p.m.

Just over a week ago I went to a recording of robert simpson's 5th symphony. I meant to say how I found it at the time, and to point to the broadcast. It was extremely well performed. I now see that the broadcast is coming up really soon - today - at 18.30 on performance on 3 on radio 3. It'll probably still be available for a few days in the listen again mode, but this performance was awesomely dynamic and loud in places and the conductor and orchestra were excellent. Even dab will not do it justice.

If you are in the uk try to listen on dab or freeview, otherwise try the broadcast using the bbc's internet radio player. I'll certainly try these again, so will listen.

energy saving
Tuesday, November 29, 2005 -- 07:33 a.m.

newsnight had an interesting short video last night about energy saving and attitudes to it in the uk.

It'll only be available for 24 hours I think, which is a pity. See the page at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm then select the video for Monday.

Click on the text which says: "Although Monday's show is unavailable, you can click here to watch Susan Watts' report on climate change" - this is next to a picture of the world.

It's surprising how many people think that they can't do anything to help reduce energy consumption. We're all more or less guilty - but some of us are more ignorant of what we are doing than others. Having said that, I often leave my computer on overnight. I do have some energy saving lightbulbs though, and in the next few years watch out for solid state lights - which will be very efficient.

I wish the bbc would leave videos like this up for longer periods - a week at least.

biased amazon reviews
Sunday, November 20, 2005 -- 07:44 a.m.

I generally like amazon, but I have recently been disappointed with them. I feel that they are not giving honest reviews on their web sites, and most users will not know about this. I bought a western digital hard drive from them for just under £100. It was one rather like this one. Like almost all the other reviewers I thought it was brilliant. I would have given it *****. That lasted 8-9 days, then it wouldn't go any more. I did lose some data, but nothing earth shattering - pity - but there it was.

Amazon took the unit back, and refunded (I hope ... must check again) my money - no problem there.

Then I wrote a review for amazon's web site, pointing out that using drives like this for backup is not guaranteed, and users could eventually be disappointed. It was not posted on their site. I wrote several more, in the same vein. So far I've not seen my review, and the average rating for this item is *****, so my single star (*) presumably has been ignored completely. I do not "have it in" for amazon or even western digital. I replaced the hard drive with a la cie unit from ebuyer, and this is significantly noisier than the western digital unit, and doesn't (I think) stack vertically - I'm not risking it anyway. However - it is still going - after many hours of continuous operation. As I said in my reviews for amazon, mine was probably just a relatively rare bad unit, and most users won't have a problem, but it would be misleading to suggest that nobody has problems, and in particular anyone who uses devices such as these to backup important data might find that they get let down.

Obviously I shouldn't have joked to a friend that the new backup unit would probably fail before the drive it was to backup - because that's exactly what happened. The good thing is that it failed quickly, before I loaded it with a lot of vital data.

After all this, and amazon's repeated ignoring of my review, I went to their web site to see if I could take this further. There is an option to ask why amazon does not publish reviews, so I used that. I am still waiting for a reply. Amazon have completely ignored this. The state of the reviews is now difficult to determine, as currently there are 39 reviews - perhaps including mine - but they don't display when the page is activated. Maybe they did get round to publishing it, but maybe not - I can't tell.

Is there a message from this? Yes - there are two at least.
  1. As stated, any hard drive can fail - even a brand new one, so one should never rely absolutely on one, even from a reputable manufacturer - and I include western digital here. I make multiple copies on different machines, and I've bought a new dvd burner to burn cds and dvds which I use regularly. I know that these may fail, but they probably won't fail too rapidly, and they can be used to restore data if there's a problem in the short term.
  2. Don't believe all the reviews you see on sites such as amazon's - the supplier may be filtering reviews without giving anyone any reason. Most of you won't know.
What do I think of western digital? Difficult to say! I would buy another unit - as mine was much quieter than the one I have replaced it with - and it was good value, and it was probably just a rare bad unit. Most users will probably not have a problem, but everyone should take care and not assume that any data is secure on any disk drive from any manufacturer.

analog(ue) radio returns?!
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 -- 07:41 a.m.

drm (digital radio mondiale) is a collection of organisations which are intending to produce new am digital radios. See the recent press release. I have to say that at this time I can't quite see the point, though technically it is interesting. What advantages will this have over dab or other forms of broadcasting? worldspace have been promoting digital satellite broadcasting for several years, and it works, though the quality is not great. For some applications quality is not a big issue - but I still can't really see why there is thought to be a need to invest in amplitude modulation broadcasting.

In the usa there are moves towards enhanced am/fm services, with firms such as ibiquity developing new ways of broadcasting. In geographically large countries where there are areas with low population density, there may be more merit in such developments, since it would otherwise be expensive to develop a broadcasting infrastructure to serve just a few people. However, as the iridium satellite experiment showed, creating products and infrastructure for a few people is hardly likely to be commercially successful.

time shifting
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 -- 06:30 a.m.

In the past I have sometimes woken up in the night, and tried various forms of amusement after having given up attempts to go back to sleep. These may have included reading, listening to the radio, watching tv, or simply "working". During the night some of the media - radio, tv - put out programmes which are significantly different in content and style from those transmitted during the day.

The relatively recent purchase of a large (250 gbytes) disk drive has enabled a new activity for me - even when I am not trying to get back to sleep in the early hours. For several days recently I have connected the output of a dab radio to my sound card, and simply dumped 8-10 hours of programming on to my hard drive for later listening. For short programmes, say up to 4 hours, when I may really want to listen repeatedly, I store the output in pcm format, but this eats up storage space rapidly. For longer sessions I have tried various compressed formats, such as 320 kbps mp3, or vbr (variable bit rate) mp3 between 160 kbps and 320 kbps. This usually results in files around 1 gbyte in length, which are just about manageable. I could get more data stored by using lower data rates, but I still feel that mp3 loses quality significantly below 160 kbps. In theory it shouldn't really matter too much when recording from dab, since dab quality is arguably lower still, but I suspect that using a mixture of different modulation and compression methods is unlikely to improve quality, and so far the file sizes are not too problematic. At least the outputs can be put onto cheaply available dvds or cds - for listening in the car etc.

For the recording I use totalrecorder from high criteria. I have tried other tools as well, such as tuner2.com. Some, such as mostly classical, exist in several versions, such as mp3 and aac, so it's possible to do a comparison.

One reason for not using aac at the present time is that I have not found an aac convertor which will convert on the fly as sounds are recorded. iTunes has arguably the best aac convertor, and can be used to compress recordings which have already been made, but this requires an extra processing step. It's possible that eventually there'll be more aac convertors readily available, and that these will work in the manner required and also work with tools such as total recorder and audacity, but they haven't happened yet.

ok - after all the technical stuff - now what about the content? I have discovered that the bbc's programme "through the night" has a quite different nature from programmes delivered during the day, and it's possible to hear music by composers one would otherwise not have heard of - such as joseph touchemoulin - about whom little seems to be known, other than that he wrote a flute concerto in a, and sinfonias in b flat and c for example.

The wisdom of recording long periods of output of a radio station regularly is questionable, as when will I get time to listen? However as an occasional activity which can be used to discover some pleasant music which I'd otherwise not hear or know about, this can be worthwhile.

I'm also assuming that this activity for copyright purposes will be treated as acceptable use, in the same way that most of us record tv programmes for personal use.

martinu quartet review
Monday, October 31, 2005 -- 11:18 p.m.

About a month ago I mentioned the start of the ocms music season, with a concert by the martinu quartet. Last saturday there was a very good recital by ana-maria vera, who played mozart, debussy, granados and liszt. There is a review of the martinu quartet's concert from the local paper, which shows the artists inside the church where the concerts are held.

music society calendar
Sunday, September 25, 2005 -- 06:53 p.m.

The oxshott and cobham music society now has a web page with details of the calendar for the coming season, which starts next saturday. There are some good concerts, and the celebrity concert with nicola benedetti should be a high spot, but the openers, the martinu quartet should also be very well worth hearing. Overall the concert series looks well put together and should be worth investigating.

proms 2005
Wednesday, August 31, 2005 -- 04:57 a.m.

I managed at last to get to a few proms. Both so far were by the bbc philharmonic orchestra conducted by gionandrea noseda, and both were excellent. The first had brahms' violin concerto, played by nicolaj znaider, together with liszt's rarely played faust symphony. The performance of the violin concerto was good rather than outstanding, with a very good soloist accompanied by a somewhat inflexible orchestral backdrop. I'd like to say that this was due to my position in the hall, and that this was just my own conception, but I think not. I'd love to hear znaider again accompanied more sensitively. The liszt symphony was superb. Listeners at home might have wondered why it received such a good reception, as the structure of the piece is unusual to say the least, but the beautiful sound of the orchestra in the hall overcame objections about the nature of the music.

verdi's requiem, which was sunday's performance was also very well done. The choir must have had around 250 members, and it was amazing how well they sounded, and that such a large choir was capable of singing so quietly. Noseda's performance brought out the quiet passages in both the orchestra and choir very beautifully, though it also had power in the loudest passages. Excellent!

wagner from bayreuth
Friday, July 29, 2005 -- 01:04 p.m.

There are a few internet stations broadcasting the wagner operas from bayreuth this year. One is nrk alltid klasisk and another is bartok radio. Today is parsifal day, and the opera starts at 1500 gmt with pierre boulez conducting.

A schedule of broadcasts from bayreuth is available.

Unfortunately most of the rebroadcasts are in lower quality streams. Both nrk and bartok radio put out at relatively high quality, and bartok radio actually has mp3 at 320 kbps. At that rate it seems likely that any problems should not be due to mp3 encoding, though there's relatively little to choose between the high bit rate from nrk and bartok radio.

During the flying dutchman however, I could not keep a constant connection to nrk, so bartok was definitely the one to go for. That was before I discovered the 320 kbps mp3 connection, so I was using the 96 kbps connection in real player.

[PS: Parsifal is also being broadcast on Italian Radio. The quality is not really very good - only 32 kbps, but there is a libretto available - in German and Italian naturally! ]

star ratings
Friday, July 22, 2005 -- 01:11 p.m.

I did not know much about the star ratings scheme for health provision in the uk until very recently. The scale is from 0 to 3 stars. The hospital mentioned in the recent panorama programme was zero rated, though this doesn't really excuse the very poor performance exposed.

Some political parties (e.g the conservatives) have expressed opposition to the star rating scheme, but I have to say that I think it's better than nothing. Rating schemes can always be misused, or give a false or meaningless picture, as with the university ratings, but nevertheless there is information to be obtained from such ratings, or the efforts to evaluate institutions.

The star rating system for hospitals does not guarantee that good service will be obtained in a three star rated hospital , or that only poor service will be available in a zero rated hospital, but there will be some linkage. It is possible that some hospitals will obtain a high rating by concentrating on specific areas, and neglect others. For patients or prospective patients it may be important that they check that the ratings are appropriate for the conditions they will be treated for.

Some hospitals which are very good for treating certain kinds of cancer patients are less good for other conditions - heart conditions and orthopaedics for example, and it's quite possible for the situation to be reversed with other hospitals in the near vicinity. Since most admissions in the uk are done on post code, patients or their relatives who care about what happens to them should try to find out which hospitals are good for treating what.

hospital problems in the uk
Thursday, July 21, 2005 -- 08:15 a.m.

panorama had a terrifying programme on tv last night. It was about the care of elderly people in british hospitals. Care for the elderly is a very big problem, and some of us may end up with the sort of problems which were covered in the programme. There is almost certainly not enough money being put into elderly medical care in the uk, and people who are old and physically and/or mentally infirm are not in a position to actively complain or take other steps to improve their situation.

The programme concentrated on just one hospital in brighton, and it appeared that the problems did arise because of a combination of insufficient funding and poor management. While having more funding will not necessarily lead to a better run hospital, it seems reasonable to assume that having substantially less funding than required is likely to lead to corners being cut, and poor practices which will be ignored by the management. Once such poor practices are established then it will become hard to remove them. The particular hospital mentioned in the programme has been trying to improve management and operations, but having incurred a significant deficit due to maladministration, it appears to be struggling to correct the operational faults while at the same time still working with a reduced budget.

There are very significant issues about this case. It could be that the hospital was just one "rogue" hospital in the uk, though the programme suggested otherwise. If the resourcing for elderly patients is lower than needed for reasonable care, then this situation will occur across the whole country. There appeared to be many failings, and the staffing within the wards was at too low a level, and a poor mix of trained and untrained staff.

I thought that the programme might be repeated again later in the week, but a search of the radio times pages indicates that this won't happen. However the panorama page does have a video clip from the programme which shows some of the problems. The fifty minute long programme elaborated on these, and gave several examples.

Major failings noted were:

  • staff failing to keep adequate records
  • staff failing to actively manage patients, in particular:
    • failing to give pain killing drugs at scheduled times
    • failing to monitor patient's fluid intake and provide fluids at regular intervals
    • failing to respond to patient's need for bowel and bladder evacuation
    • failing to interact with patients to provide mental stimulation
    • failing to clean up patients who had bowel or urine problems
    • failing to respond to reasonable requests by patients for help - examples: toilet requests, requests for help with movement, requests for help with pain
    • failing to monitor and treat patient's oral condition, which may make eating and drinking difficult
    • failing to provide appropriate food and drink, and assistance with eating and drinking
  • no care plans for each patient
  • choice of food (though available) not offered
  • food being served cold
  • food for patients being eaten by staff
  • poor communications between nurses and other staff, including ancilliaries and cleaners
  • lack of time each day to complete necessary activity
  • poor communications between hospital and friends and relatives
  • poor overall monitoring of patients - some even died without being noticed, or relatives being notified in time (several hours delay...)

If you are reading this from outside the uk it may still be of interest to you to watch the video, and then ask if the same problems could arise in hospitals within your own country.

Looking after patients like this is very demanding, and it is easy to see how they could be treated badly or mistreated by nurses and staff who may become overwhelmed by the job. Workers within hospitals need to be given a reasonable chance to be able to perform their jobs at least adequately, in order to avoid some of these difficulties.

There also needs to be political awareness of the problems, and appropriate levels of resourcing. Unlike many other situations, where sometimes cutting corners may be the only way to get jobs done within reasonable time, when looking after people in hospitals, cutting corners is generally likely to lead to major problems, and causing patients to suffer, possibly a great deal.

global warming
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 -- 04:59 p.m.

The independent had an article on global warming yesterday. It made interesting reading, and emphasises the point that america is making most of the pollution worldwide. What I can't understand is what exactly is it that the usa is doing which is causing all this? OK - they have more cars, more aircraft use, and they use energy in both the summer and winter in many states because of air conditioning. In many countries though, although pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are growing due to vehicles, these are not actually yet the major reasons. Usually it's industry and domestic heating which are the major culprits. I read the other day that the construction industry is responsible for around half of the co2 emission in europe - unfortunately I don't have a reliable source for that. So perhaps it's all those large homes which are being built in the usa which are causing the pollution. I just don't know.

In countries such as the uk it's actually not completely obvious that reducing vehicle traffic will have a beneficial effect. Using a vehicle uses less energy per hour than leaving the central heating on, though sadly I suspect that there will be people who go out and leave the heating on all day in the winter. People who go abroad for holidays in the winter may leave their heating on at home because they will be afraid of the problems which could be caused by burst pipes, which from an individual point of view will certainly be more damaging and represent a greater financial loss than a week or so's energy bills. There are all sorts of reasons why people behave in apparently odd ways, and have behaviour which is not environmentally friendly, and some of them are at least partially rational.

The uk is at least getting some things right now, with grants for home insulation. Home insulation may have an immediate effect on comfort within the home, but it may actually simply reduce the cost of heating, and consequently a reduction in energy consumption and pollution. There seems little doubt that this is going to have an effect if carried out effectively across the whole country.

It is a pity that bush appears so resistant to any form of rational argument about energy usage and pollution, but I think most europeans are resigned to that now. It's not even the case that developed european countries are so virtuous compared with the usa, as energy use and pollution are still very significant even in these countries, though most governments are trying to reverse the trend even if only by massaging the figures. If china and india start to behave in the same way which eventually seems likely then we will have an environmental catastrophe.

death of a salesman dvd
Thursday, June 2, 2005 -- 03:56 p.m.

Apparently this saturday's telegraph (newspaper edition) will include a free dvd of arthur miller's death of a salesman with dustin hoffman, john malkovich, and others.

woodhouse music
Saturday, May 21, 2005 -- 04:07 a.m.

woodhouse music are doing purcell's dido and aeneas in september (2nd - 4th). It should be a good event if the weather holds up. Woodhouse is a very attractive venue near holmbury st mary in surrey.

The web site is a little vague about two things. Does everyone have to join the club in order to attend one or more concerts? I think not - there must surely be some form of guest membership. Pricing - prices are not give for any events. Most concerts/recitals are priced at £15, but dido will be £35. There may be discounts for quantity purchases. Check with the organisers for any concessions.

mystery man
Monday, May 16, 2005 -- 08:12 a.m.

The bbc has been broadcasting news about a mystery man who was found in sheerness, kent, and is unable to speak. Apparently, when given a pencil and paper he drew a picture of a swedish flag and a picture of a piano. When he was shown a piano he sat down and was able to play classical music to concert standard for several hours. His details are being circulated to orchestras in the hope that someone will recognise him.

computer memorabilia
Wednesday, May 11, 2005 -- 09:01 a.m.

I was amazed to see this entry for a sinclair zx 80 - currently over £200 on eBay. I checked to see what the prices are for some other sinclair stuff - mint spectrums for example, but they don't compare with this one. Maybe if things get old enough they really do acquire a value!

Friday, May 6, 2005 -- 07:08 a.m.

The royal opera house is currently giving the first performances of lorin maazel's opera 1984 based on george orwell's famous book. I've not been to the opera house since it was refurbished, so now might present an opportunity.

There aren't many reviews yet, though some are not particularly favourable, which is a pity. I didn't realise that lorin was putting in so much of the money for the performances. Perhaps this season will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear and see this work. There are other reviews and background articles - but unfortunately they're not particularly encouraging. Lorin is a very good musician, and besides being a very well known conductor he is also a very good violinist. It seems that he will probably not be remembered for his composing.

moblog danger!
Friday, May 6, 2005 -- 06:43 a.m.

I thought I'd look briefly at moblogs, so I went over to moblog.co.uk to see what they're all about. The trouble seems to be that many people are putting up material which is barely interesting to them, let alone to everyone else. There are some shots which are spontaneous, and some which demonstrate that the images taken on some cellphones are really not too bad. Another problem with the moblogs seems to be the lack of narrative. Unless the pictures are really good, which mostly isn't the case, it's hard to see what the entries are really about. Maybe moblogs serve a private purpose, but then why do they exist in a public forum?

One thing which might make them more useful or interesting would be the ability to select an image and use it somewhere else - something which is possible in flickr - and in fairness it may also be possible in some moblogs - I just don't know yet.

There seemed to be some concern about cherry - "don't jump!". The pelicans also form an interesting group. Would I go back to the site? Maybe - occasionally!

Perhaps other moblog sites are more interesting?

my furl list
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 -- 05:07 a.m.

OK - I know I've not been writing much lately, nor even producing code. However, you might just like to see some of the things I've been bookmarking with furl, so I've put some of the latest entries in a box down at the bottom of the side panel.

Sorry you have to scroll down there - when I get round to it everything will change.

This site will eventually get a complete makeover, but it's going to take a while. The trouble is that life get's in the way!

furl it
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 -- 02:49 p.m.

furl seems to be an amazing system - though I'm not sure if it will scale up. It takes a little while to get used to, but it's worth it. If you try it do get an account, and play around.

There's a similar system at del.icio.us but this one seems to focus more on community than individual aspects, and I've not had so much luck with getting that one to work.

I've not been posting so much lately, but in the meantime dave2002 has been posting photos on flickr.

a dog
Thursday, March 10, 2005 -- 10:14 a.m.

Does anyone like dogs?

Picture - online service
Monday, February 28, 2005 -- 11:12 p.m.

I decided that I should have at least one entry each month, so this month I've been looking at photos on flickr. Not only that, but if you look around I think that in time you'll see some photos from dave2002. The flickr service seems good, and one of my friends assures me that it's one of the best available.

belated happy new year
Sunday, January 30, 2005 -- 09:31 p.m.

I'm not the only one to put blogging on the back burner from time to time. james gosling admitted to this a few months ago. Obviously work and other life factors play their part, and sometimes there's just too much to do. There are perhaps other reasons which are to do with the public nature of blogs, including the public at large, but also friends, employers and family members. How many people are actually influenced by external factors, or an awareness of the potential readership, is an open question, but the fact is that writing a weblog is not like writing a private diary. Even if the entries are themselves harmless, the activity of writing can be tracked - for example - "why didn't you plant the bulbs in the lawn?" - someone might notice that the weather was good for that when you were spending your time putting up your blog material. Sometimes it's perhaps better to minimise the chances of this happening by reducing the activity itself to something which most can live with.

Not that this is an explanation for a prolonged writing absence ... Work, and trips to several countries including the usa, the netherlands, latvia, and sardinia have taken their toll.

happy new year!

wireless tips
Thursday, December 30, 2004 -- 09:42 a.m.

Dave over at dave2002.alt has been configuring wireless networks, suffering, but finally getting some relief for what seem to be common configuration problems.

Friday, December 24, 2004 -- 08:15 a.m.

Try this! Could this only happen in Ireland, or has some photo editor helped things along?

Driving: parking!
Wednesday, December 15, 2004 -- 09:29 p.m.

Do you want to check out whether men or women are better drivers? Try this test. I'm not sure if it's serious, but it's really entertaining! Highly recommended!

online manuals
Wednesday, December 15, 2004 -- 05:16 p.m.

It's great to see so many firms now putting manuals up on their sites. For example fuji have manuals for most of their recent cameras (e.g the s7000) and other camera manufacturers do likewise. I have a watch which I replaced because I couldn't work out how to change the time when the hour changed, but it's still going. Now I've managed to download a manual page from casio so I may be able to use this again. Other manufacturers also have useful manuals - e.g nokia, philips etc. Usual trick is to search "< product name> user manual" in google or similar. Note that sometimes manuals are on the manufacturer's site, and sometimes appear to be elsewhere -as in www.instruction-manuals.co.uk. Keep the manuals (often in pdf format) on your machine when downloaded - just in case. Maybe a search for "instruction manuals" might do the trick.

It's good to know where to find manuals for portable equipment which you use - such as cameras. You might just find that you need to go into an internet cafe in order to download the pdfs in order to make some more complicated devices work in more advanced mode when travelling. Been there, done that!

Also if you do keep manuals on your computer - worth doing - you can use the new desk top search facilities from blinkx or copernic to find them if you forget where they are. I think the similar tool from google won't work, as I don't think it searches pdf files. Microsoft will be bringing out their own desk top search tool shortly.

su doku
Saturday, December 4, 2004 -- 09:41 a.m.

su doku is a new craze in the times. Instead of the normal crossword puzzle there are number puzzles in which the numbers from 1 to 9 have to be placed in rows, columns and in each of 9 squares on a 9x9 grid.

I can't link you directly to any puzzle, so I suggest that you use google and type in "su doku" to find the latest puzzles. The way the times puzzles work is that they start off easy on mondays, and then become harder during the week. If you access the puzzles via the times website you'll need to locate the on-line version of the newspaper edition - the on-line version does not contain these puzzles.

Friday, December 3, 2004 -- 10:17 a.m.

ok - so this is the month when these pages are (hopefully) going to get updated. One of the big problems with pitas is that it's difficult to fix problems once pages have been archived, so it's quite important to get everything right first. Other systems don't have this difficulty I think. So, I'll be checking the template, making sure that all the links are more or less right, then archiving. Then the pages will shrink back to something more manageable and updating can be simpler again.

In the meantime I will very much recommend seeing stravinky's ballets petroushka and the firebird which are currently in the repertoire in latvia. Interestingly the performance of the firebird looked almost identical to one which I saw on film - I think that was a russian version. Presumably the overall design and choreography is pretty much the same for some of the opera and ballet houses in the east. However seeing these in real life is a completely different experience. Also seeing these pieces as ballets makes the pieces seem much shorter than when merely listening to a cd or in a concert hall.

Anyone looking for a few days culture could do a lot worse than taking a trip to riga. By british and american standards prices are very low. Food and drink in riga is also good and very reasonably priced.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 -- 11:53 p.m.

This month is national novel writing month - and I missed it - the novel writing that is! Maybe next year!

I wonder if any of the novels which have been written are any good? It looks as though some brits went for it.

gamma ray bursts
Monday, November 22, 2004 -- 08:38 a.m.

The swift satellite, part of a mission to detect gamma ray bursts, was launched on saturday. This contains instruments for detection of gamma rays, x-rays and uv light which have been designed and built by teams around the world. The team from penn state is operating the missions control center.

Gamma ray bursts are quite frequent, with about one each day. The energy released in each burst is apparently massive, perhaps equivalent to the energy of our sun over billions of years, and the bursts are quite short lived with times measured in seconds or minutes. During operation the swift mission will detect gamma ray bursts, and then rapidly align other instruments to point at the area of sky from which a burst is coming. It will also co-ordinate the operation of other ground based instruments to search appropriately designated sky regions.

Friday, November 19, 2004 -- 07:30 a.m.

cd masters yesterday had rachmaninov playing schumann's carnaval. I have to confess that this is not one of my most favourite pieces, but the playing was stunningly good. Playing like that could have me listening to this piece more often, and demonstrates that rachmaninov really was a very good pianist - one of the best ever, though now he's remembered perhaps more as a composer. The playlist shows the cd number on rca, as well as some other interesting items.

10.11 MOZART Divertimento in E flat major K289 (Sextet)
London Wind Soloists/Jack Brymer
DECCA 430 298 2

10.26 SCHUMANN Carnaval
Sergei Rakhmaninov (piano)
RCA 09026 61265

11.03 BRITTEN Symphony for cello & orchestra Op.68
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)/Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Benjamin Britten

[recording information extracted from bbc playlist
currently at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/cdmasters/pip/ol99k/]
The mozart divertimento was very enjoyable, and not heard very often. jack brymer produced a more or less complete set of recordings of mozart wind music in the 1960s with the london wind soloists, and it still sounds good today.

I didn't hear britten's cello symphony, though it could have been interesting. I would expect the decca recording with rostropovich and britten to be more reliable though, but the russian performance might have had a sense of occasion which can be lacking in studio performances.

There's also an archive of previous programs which goes back several months, which can be useful for tracking down cd numbers.

ps: to hear a rather grotesque version of rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto, try this page - it's described as the rachmaninov lover's home page - but what did rachmaninov do to them to deserve this very quirky sound? In fairness however the page does point out that midi is not an ideal way to represent such music.

valery gergiev
Saturday, November 13, 2004 -- 09:13 p.m.

Tonight's tv (bbc2) broadcast performance of russian music by valery gergiev and the mariinsky orchestra in aid of beslan is splendid. I thought I'd check up what was the schedule in st. petersburg. I found the following schedule for valery:

24th Nov: Khovanshina - Mussorgsky
25th Nov. Verdi Requiem
26th Nov. Puccini - Turandot
27th Nov. Mahler - 8th Symphony
(see here)

Some people don't know how to lead a quiet life it seems!

Saturday, November 13, 2004 -- 08:18 p.m.

I was looking at the cdselections catalogue recently and noticed that they had some 40 cd box set (yes really) for around £35. These contain the major output of composers such as beethoven, mozart, haydn, mendelssohn and vivaldi. I was slightly tempted, but decided against them. However hmv shops now have the same box sets for under £30!

The recordings are marketed by brilliant classics which has a web presence at joanrecords.com.

Certainly the vivaldi set has some good performances and recordings, though there may be a lot of padding. At about 75p per cd though it's hardly bad value. I suspect that all the sets will be rather a mixed bag, and some of the better performances or more interesting items in each set can be obtained separately for less, but if you want a fairly comprehensive survey of each composer's output these can't be bad.

These sets are compact, so will have cardboard sleeves. It's also been possible to get them in much larger boxes with jewel cases, which take up a lot more space - and that might cost £40 or more. cdselections currently have the larger sets on offer for around £50. If you want the more compact sets you'll either have to go to hmv or phone up cdselections and quote the recent catalogue.

blogging sins!
Thursday, November 11, 2004 -- 04:51 p.m.

Oh dear! I have sinned! See this article on mistakes when blogging from blogarama.

However it's all very well saying "let your readers know when you are going to be away". That might just be like something in one of paul merton's sketches based on tony hancock.

Words to the effect of "we won a night out in London and it was announced on the radio - had a good time. So did the thieves who were listening - we came back to an empty house" spring to mind!

Thursday, November 11, 2004 -- 03:03 p.m.

Watching the road to perdition and ned kelly proved to be entertaining, but of the two I found ned kelly more involving. To be honest I thought that american beauty was vastly overhyped, and the latest film from sam mendes based on gangster stories was entertaining and well acted, but not outstanding. ned kelly on the other hand was both entertaining and also interesting from a historical point of view. As it happened I did not realise what happened to ned kelly, and indeed the additional material on the dvd I watched made it clear that many of the things depicted in the film really did happen, such as the long dictated letter sent to australian officials. Obviously there is considerable interpretation of kelly's life, but it is certainly made very plausible that he was not a bad man, rather someone caught up in very ugly times.

Another rather horrifying thing to think about is that these events happened only about 130 years ago. Civilisation in australia has surely come a long way since then, yet could there be a reversal in that continent, or indeed in any other so-called civilised country? I certainly hope not, but it's only just over 500 years since columbus set sail for america (though he ended up in cuba) and around 400 years since the pilgrims settled there. America now considers itself to be civilised, as indeed does much of europe, yet much of the period between up to the present day has in fact been quite unsettled.

Watch ned kelly, and ponder whether you'd like to live in the society which is portrayed there, and also whether your society could revert back to something less desirable than most of us would care to think about.

lunar eclipse
Wednesday, October 27, 2004 -- 09:15 a.m.

There'll be a lunar eclipse tonight, but it won't really get here until around 2pm, though "officially" it starts earlier.

There's a description of what to expect if you stay up to watch here. For readers in the US and elsewhere it will still be Wednesday when it starts.

There have been four successive total lunar eclipses in recent years - a phenomenon called a tetrad. After this the next total lunar eclipse will be in 2007. The period of totality will last over an hour.

There is also information from NASA about the eclipse.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 -- 10:28 p.m.

Unbelievable! Well, not any more! I saw christmas decorations and other merchandise in tescos over the weekend, and today I saw more christmas products in sainsbury's. We haven't even got to halloween yet.

bug checking
Monday, October 4, 2004 -- 10:52 p.m.

Currently I'm looking at interpolation and picture quality. This page from qimage has a couple of interesting test prints. The first (there are actually two for different types of printer) is a printer test card, while the second (again two) is an image done in four different resolutions. It took me a while to get the printing done because I forgot to check the nozzles and it turned out that the red wasn't getting through. Eventually I managed it, and only wasted one card in the process.

With my printer I'm afraid I really can't see a lot of difference between the 720 ppi and the 240 ppi image - not in artificial light at this time of day anyway. The 180 ppi image I think is slightly rougher. It's quite possible that they will all look different in daylight, so I'll check again tomorrow. Another factor may be that my printer is just not up to getting really good quality prints at high resolution, though now that getting prints done at the photo shops for standard sizes is becoming much cheaper - say £5 for 50, it's hardly worth bothering.

If you feel like checking out your printer go on, download the files, and check out the bugs. I checked - the 720 ppi image really does have more information than the others, and the 180 ppi image is really not so good. That's blowing the images up quite a bit on the screen - you'll need to do that to make sure that you believe the test is fair. Once you've done that, just print them off, and see if you can see the differences.

ebay shops
Sunday, September 26, 2004 -- 12:48 p.m.

I've been bemused by some so-called ebay shops - there doesn't seem to be much opportunity to bid, which is what I thought ebay was all about. Then I discovered online-selections, which appears to be a spin off of cd-selections. Sometimes the prices on the two sites are the same, or similar, and sometimes the prices on the ebay site are much lower. Some of the items for sale are clearly non biddable - usually marked "buy it now", and the price would be the same on the cd-selections site. Other items are at low prices, and I think that normal ebay bidding applies.

If you see something you want to buy at cdselections, check out the ebay site to see if you can get it cheaper there by bidding. There's not much point in bidding up to the sale price on the main site though, and if you want to buy more than one item it's probably easier to do it through the main site as the postal charges will very likely be at a flat rate, not per item.

Fun to try though. At present there are several box sets which are bidding slowing (e.g haydn symphonies box - last seen at around £30), and which are very good value if they can be obtained at the low end - but don't get carried away!

money back
Friday, September 24, 2004 -- 10:51 p.m.

dave gave up trying the onspeed service and requested his money back! It was an interesting service, but for broadband users at least it offers relatively few benefits, and the complications could not be justified. This still does not mean that it won't work for dial-up users, though it's not a long term solution for speeding up internet connections. Users who subscribe to pay per minute dial-up may find that apart from some time saving, they may also make sufficient saving to justify subscription. In the long term surely most users will switch to faster broadband services.

Monday, September 20, 2004 -- 11:14 p.m.

dave has been evaluating onspeed over at dave2002.alt. Most of us who are broadband users might not find this terribly useful, but some dial-up users, and some users of mobile wireless may find it very helpful.

Sunday, September 19, 2004 -- 11:06 p.m.

Here's something to think about. We've got spiders that seem to live in our bath. Every time I go for a bath there's a big spider. Of course I don't know if it's the same one each time. I usually toss them out using a piece of paper, but tonight I picked one up in a box, and took it out and dropped it in the bushes. My thought is - "can it find it's way back to the bath?" Will it?

I don't know the answer. You might think that spiders are too dumb to do this - it's a possibility, but it's also possible that they have enough sensory kit to make it an easy task. If they want to get back somewhere they may have the ability to do so. I don't know. I wonder if someone else knows?

If there's a spider there again tomorrow I may have to resort to putting drops of paint on it before dropping it into the bushes. Next question - "what's the best paint to use for marking a spider?"

prom retrospective
Saturday, September 18, 2004 -- 09:25 a.m.

I've not been here for a while - sorry about that!

Another slightly worrying thing - there has apparently recently been some discussion that keeping a diary - and I suppose a weblog can be a form of diary - can be bad for one's health. I'm not sure of the details, but there were several letters about this recently in the times. I must try to find the original articles.

I eventually managed to go to three proms this year. The first, with bernard haitink had haydn, bartok and dvorak, and was with the dresden staatskapelle orchestra. They were very fine indeed, and the performances were very good, though perhaps a bit "measured". Superb orchestra though - is the berlin orchestra really any better?

The next was with a new piece by a finnish composer, followed by bartok's bluebeards castle - a piece which is supposed to have deep psychological significance. Is this another way of saying it has an incomprehensible plot? Not that there really is much plot anyway. Some of the music is very fine, and the performance of it was extremely good. john tomlinson as bluebeard was magnificent. My seat was just at the back end of the first violins, so for once the concert was loud enough, though the balance was quite odd. I could also read the music which was a strange thing to do.

Finally I stood up to hear an all evening concert of dvorak with sarah chang, charles mackerras and the czech philharmonic orchestra. The violin concerto was good, though I wasn't absolutely knocked out. The last piece - the new world symphony - was very good, though here ironically I wondered if mackerras moved things on too much sometimes, unlike haitink a few days earlier who didn't rush anything.

Well - that's the proms done for this year. The concerts I went to were very good. I hope that next year some american orchestras will come back.

freeview revisited
Sunday, August 29, 2004 -- 01:14 p.m.

Freeview boxes seem to be reducing in price. Thus our nokia (221t) model is now about £30-£40 less than when we bought it. Other models are also cheaper, such as the philips dtr 1500, which argos currently have for £59.99. There are some really cheap models too, but it looks as though one really has to be careful with really cheap ones. Apart from quality issues, they may lack features. I assumed that a box is a box is a box, but this is not so. Some maybe don't have all the interactive services available, and perhaps some can't be upgraded for topup tv (though not everyone will care about that - but it could be a consideration for some). Some don't have audio outputs, or digital outputs, and some only have one scart socket, which personally puts me off, because it makes things a bit harder if you want to use other devices which only have a single scart.

If your tv only has one scart, then you can only use at most one device in your system which has only one. This assumes that all the other devices have two scarts. The way round is to buy some form of scart distribution device or switch, but that adds cost, and is possibly an ugly solution. The additional cost of extra scart leads and the switch device probably will outweigh the cost of buying devices with two scarts in the first place.

As a result of the reduction in prices, I can now tell you a bit more about the philips dtr 1500. Its performance is very similar to the nokia 221t, and arguably the picture quality is as good or better. However, it does lock up more frequently than the nokia. One other thing - it doesn't seem possible to adjust the picture width, which the nokia can do. Mostly this is not useful, but on interactive tv channels, such as the alternate events from the olympics, the display does not fill the tv screen. With the nokia it is simple to enlarge such pictures to fill the whole screen, so this is a slight advantage.

One model, from goodmans (gdb5), goes slightly further than other freeview boxes, by also providing a dab tuner to allow reception of radio stations which aren't broadcast on digital tv channels.

Of course you can always just buy a gizmo to go in or with your computer instead - such as the devices from nebula electronics. These are good if you don't have a TV and are happy to use a computer display instead, and cost around £100.

Monday, August 16, 2004 -- 04:22 p.m.

I picked up a copy of information world review a little while back, and it surfaced so I started to read it. I came across the acronym "FoI", so it took me a few minutes pondering to realise that it meant Freedom of Informaton (rather than the french word for "faith"). Further reading and looking at steve wood's recommended blog site showed me that we've actually had a freedom of information act since 2000 - though presumably it's not active yet. It will come into force in janary 2005. Presumably all the discussion around this has been handled secretly, just in case anyone gets the idea that they will really be able to extract any useful information, though it's interesting that discussion of fees has suggested that too low a level of charging could lead to malicious use, and deliberate overloading of the system. How likely is this really? More likely is that high fees will just deter people from seeking any information which they might feel that they're really entitled to.

mahler prom
Wednesday, August 11, 2004 -- 09:04 a.m.

Last saturday's prom with the national youth orchestra was splendid - to my ears at least. The conductor, roger norrington, insisted that the orchestra played without vibrato - or at least with minimal vibrato - even in the mahler symphony. This is an interesting idea, which he claims is based on historical facts. I am not so sure, as there were several conductors who had known mahler, and they did not eschew the use of vibrato in their performances. You can hear the peformance by going to the radio 3 web site and looking for the on demand streaming audio - which should be available for a few more days. I hope also that there'll be a repeat of the concert on the radio, but I haven't spotted it in the schedules yet.

I know that not everyone liked this performance, and it was strange not to have the aural haze that sometimes surrounds music - particularly string music - at some climaxes, but this meant that emphasis had to be achieved by different means. As I said - I enjoyed it, and I think it worked fine.

strange uses
Monday, August 9, 2004 -- 07:04 a.m.

I was surprised to read about the strange uses for condoms in india. It may be good that a product can be used for alternative purposes, and that it actually has useful properties in those applications, though this suggests a need for products specifically designed for those. Nevertheless I agree with the comments of those who think it's a shame that they are not being used for their intended purpose - unless of course there's overproduction, which I doubt.

devil of a search!
Sunday, August 8, 2004 -- 06:09 p.m.

I just found a new search engine - not sure what it's based on,or exactly why it was developed, but see here for a devil of a time! It seems to work ok anyway.

tv top ups
Sunday, August 8, 2004 -- 02:57 p.m.

After a few days of fiddling with several set top boxes, and adding new channels to several nokia 221t units, we discovered a new firm offering additional channels - top up tv - for £7.99 per month. However what they don't say is that in order to get it to work you have to buy an additional card or device - a so-called CAM - probably costing at least £39.99 (see turbosat.com. You may also need to buy a card which costs at least £20 to start receiving the service. That makes the thing less attractive. Seems like misleading advertising to me, but that's life!

cheap cameras
Sunday, August 8, 2004 -- 12:16 p.m.

dixons/currys/pc world are currently offering an olympus c460 zoom camera for around £150 - for a few days only. It seems to be referred to as a d580 in the usa, which is why I couldn't find the review at first. In the us the c460 is an obsolete model.

Quite a good price for a reasonable camera I think - see review.

Alternatively staples also have a short term offer on a canon a75 at £159. The dixons' group olympus offer is notionally at half price, so more of a "bargain", but it's possible that the a75 is a better camera. It seems that it's arguable whether the a75 is better than the a70 which it replaces.

Incidentally, if you go for either of these offers, you'll almost certainly have to buy more memory, as the cards supplied with these cameras have barely enough capacity these days.

Sunday, August 8, 2004 -- 07:27 a.m.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum which is running at the national theatre is one of the best musicals in town at present. Compared with anything goes and jerry springer - the opera the music is rubbish, and the jokes are corny, but nevertheless it is very funny and an entertaining night out, and like most nt productions it is very well done.

Meanwhile you can listen to a short "opera" which is very funny by going over to the bbc radio 4 web site, and selecting the link for "the now show". This link will be replaced in 7 days or so, but british listeners at least may appreciate the topicality of the references to football. Listeners abroad may make less of it - though typing "sven goran eriksson" into google may make it more understandable. Here are two examples - and here - of what you may find. As I have said before, this is complete rubbish, though it seems that not only the newspapers are making money out of it now. It just seems to be a temporary cash cow for all those people and organisations which are currently tuned in to this amazingly trivial affair. michael owen has also stated his support for eriksson.

Thursday, August 5, 2004 -- 03:50 a.m.

channel 4's programme you are what you eat is not one I watch regularly, but this week's was grimly fascinating. The drakes are a couple who seemed as though they were going to eat their way to oblivion, and they were made to face up to this by being shown food and drink corresponding to their monthly intake. There were then made to diet and to take exercise, and it appeared that they were becoming visibly healthier within two to three months. We were made to face up to the unpleasantness of their inner bowel condition by sequences showing them undergoing colonic irrigation. Not only did we see them lying down with tubes attached, but we were also shown the process in action. Definitely not for faint hearted viewers - this stuff should have been x rated and shown at 3am in the morning, if at all, but it was also amusing. Perhaps laughter is the only way we can cope with watching people lie back and their poo come out at 500 mph down through transparent tubes - and yes, there was discussion of the nature of their poo and whether it was good or not. More worryingly, looking at the details of the programmes, it seems that other unfortunates may have been encouraged to try this procedure, and perhaps there were visuals to prove it for them too. Fortunately I missed them all.

Some people, for example john harvey kellogg, have even got over obsessed with this sort of thing.

Still, there are literary equivalents, as readers of heinrich böll's group portrait with lady (gruppenbild mit dame) will know.

On the face of it colonic irrigation, which otherwise goes under the grandiose title of colon hydrotherapy, would appear to flush out material which we'd rather not have within us, and there would appear to be obvious benefits, yet actually the medical profession generally advises against it, so it is considered to be a form of "alternative medicine". I was also unaware that it is not just a recently adopted medical fad, but has been "popular" for at least 80 years. The appeal of course is that we have "bad stuff" within us which the procedure attempts to remove. The reality is that most of the material which we harbour in our insides will break down - more or less effectively - naturally, and also attempting to remove this by flushing it out may cause more harm than good. There are possibilities of infection, and some patients have even died due to punctures within their digestive pipework. Some people have claimed to feel better after procedures like this however, but it does sound rather grim. If in doubt read the article about the man who lost - and then found - his marble.

mad world
Wednesday, August 4, 2004 -- 04:13 a.m.

It's tittle tattle. Whatever sven gets up to in his spare time is surely none of our business. Does it even matter whether he tells "the truth" about what he does - what has any of this got to do with his job, which I understand to be running the england football team? We've seen this sort of sad madness with american presidents, but why waste time on someone who generally seems to be merely a rather good football manager?

We are told things like "The Swede held secret talks with the independent lawyer hired by the FA to investigate the damaging events of the past couple of weeks.", but who has decided that the matters under discussion are "damaging"? Some self appointed guardian of the public morals perhaps, or someone who is just trying to make a fuss about matters which perhaps should remain private, simply in order to gain a better position for themselves, be it power, or just good old simple money. After all, this presumably sells newspapers, and keeps bbc reporters and other journalists busy, when otherwise there's not much going on - apart, that is, from the usual dire problems in many parts of the world. One wonders again whether news is not about reporting things that are happening, and which are immediate and relevant, but about creating news - raising awareness of things which were always there. The media does have a lot to answer for, but it's probably not going to happen.

The only concern is that perhaps some people should also be considered as role models, but is that part of their job description? Maybe if some people do really bad things that should be looked into, but there does seem to be rather a hyped up witch hunt going on. Why? In logic arguments based on false premises may be valid, but still deliver a false result. Perhaps some media people believe that if enough attention is paid to this that they can lose sven his job, which may be cheaper for the england football team, but is by no means guaranteed to improve its performance.

The world is mad, and shows every sign of continuing in that vein.

bed bugs
Monday, August 2, 2004 -- 11:07 p.m.

At this time of the year many people suffer from hay fever and/or asthma. In the uk over the last decade it is claimed that there has been a very significant rise in allergy related illnesses. There could be many factors.

One simple one could be the rise in the use of low temperature washing powders. The common house mite produces debris which will exist in bedding and chairs. Clearly washing is likely to remove a lot of this, but washing at low temperatures does not kill the mites. Temperatures of 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) or more are needed to kill the little blighters. It may also be desirable to wash not only the covers of bedding, but also the padding - e.g the pillows and the duvets etc., though this does not have to be done so often, and you might have to make a decision not to use such high temperatures, thus removing the debris, but leaving some of the critters alive.

Besides bedding, it may also be important to minimise dust. Carpets can retain dust for a long time, and not only that, but they can sustain various unsavoury forms of wild life, such as fleas. There have been reported cases of people using products such as acclaim 2000 and staykill on carpets to treat for insect infestation after their pets have been infected realising that their own well being increased shortly afterwards. Fleas can apparently live for around a year in carpets, so maybe a dose of something to kill any bugs which might be lurking could make you feel better.

Of course just as many people are affected by this kind of thing, there are many who are unaffected. Also, just because people have hay fever or asthmatic symptoms does not imply that dust or house mites are the cause, but if you, or people living with you are having problems of this kind, then it probably won't do any harm to take some precautions, such as the ones suggested here.

Saturday, July 24, 2004 -- 05:03 a.m.

I've just stumbled across what might be an interesting web page - ideas from cbc. There's a series of lectures - the massey lectures - which has had some pretty distinguished people in the past. This year's speaker is ronald wright, who has written a book "a short history of progress". Could be worth looking out for.

more on pain!
Saturday, July 24, 2004 -- 03:49 a.m.

Now I've had practical proof that suntan cream works. Of course I don't know what suntan cream actually does, or if what it does has long term effects, but I do now know, with a high degree of certainty, what happens when the sun is allowed to go to work on untreated parts of the body. The first indication was that my head started to get sore, but that wasn't a big problem, and was fixed by applying a small amount of cream where it mattered. The more serious problem came when I went out for several hours and did not think to put cream everywhere, so missed out my ankles. Result - several hours later a lot of redness, and then pain. The pain was quite intense for a while, and only settled down after a day or two while the redness lasted over a week, and even now is slighly sensitive. That's what comes from a few minutes forgetfulness, and ignorance of the nature of the problem. It could have happened back in good old england, but it seems rather less likely. Biarritz on a sunny day in july is sunny enough to cause big problems. Oddly I've lived in places where this might have been a continual problem - firstly in the usa in central ca where the heat was intense, but perhaps so intense that we normally didn't stay out long, and secondly in sweden where in the winter the reflected ultra violet from the snow could have been damaging - though there the number of hours of sunlight was often limited in the winter.

And what was my body doing while this was going on? Getting damaged obviously, but did I feel pain? No! The pain was delayed - so much that I wonder what use it was - if any. There is a suggestion that delayed pain might still function as a training stimulus - reducing the likelihood that I'll do that again (sure!) but more immediate pain would have been more effective. There must be a number of situations where pain has limited usefulness, and in fact can be a major hindrance. I have mostly tended to assume that pain has a function in alerting one to a problem, like stepping on to a nail or putting one's hand in the fire, but delayed pain - what good is that?

Also, did you know that there are several different types of pain? Next time you walk into something and hurt yourself (preferably your leg or feet ...!!) if you think about it you'll discover that you may feel pain twice. This is because there are two waves of pain with different effects. The first is a sharp pain which alerts you to the initial shock, but then there is a delayed, duller pain which occurs perhaps 1 or 2 seconds later. Why have we got such a mechanism? What's the point?

Other forms of pain seem similarly pointless. Why headaches? Headaches are often related to dehydration, so this can be useful if one knows this, but not everyone does. There may be some headaches which are not related directly to dehydration - how can we tell? Why don't mechanisms such as thirst fix problems before they occur anyway?

Pain is "obviously" some form of mechanism for survival, but at times it may have exadtly the opposite effect. Pain does not have to be a good mechanism for individual surival in order to evolve - it simply has to be a mechanism which on average over a large number of individuals gives a positive survival benefit. If you are running away from a problem, and then stumble, and injure yourself you may then experience pain which will hinder your escape. Over a large number of people who stumble and then encounter pain this may be helfpful, as on average it may prevent further body damage, but to the individual who wants to escape a severe problem this can be a killer. Evolutionary processes do not worry too much about this!

There are some articles, such as this one, which address some issues about what pain really is. Another is from wikipedia, which at least starts to raise some issues about why it exists, even if it does not then give much further insight, but many online articles deal more with management of pain. or with legal issues.

Pain is very obviously a big issue for us, and it's still not really understood very well. I've side tracked from one issue to a bigger one. The issue of how how suntan creams "really" work, and in fact whether they actually do long term will have to wait, but in terms of preventing short term tissue damage I have evidence!

surfing champion
Friday, July 23, 2004 -- 10:25 p.m.

The surfing at biarritz was interesting to watch, though we missed the final stages. The weather was pretty grim on saturday (17th) and sunday anyway, but I found those pairs of people surfing together quite amazing. There are some more pictures, including tandem surfing. Although the surfing has finished, there's still a worthwhile exhibition of scuplture by pablo gargallo, though until recently biarritz was also host to an excellent exhibition of sculpture by camille claudel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004 -- 10:41 p.m.

I am currently enjoying reading bill bryson's book on the short history of nearly everything, and was surprised to read the rather sad entry about some aspects of the life of max planck. Indeed it does seem that his son was involved in the july 20 plot, but I had not realised how many others were also involved.

the tempest
Thursday, July 8, 2004 -- 11:23 p.m.

Last weekend I went to a performance of the tempest, and the somewhat remarkable thing was that since the performance was out of doors, and the weather forecast was not very good, it seemed that the event would be rather tempestuous itself. In the end nothing remarkable happened, though it was rather cold, but there was no rain.

I'd not seen the tempest for many years, and I wondered what it was all about - really. I still don't know, but I found that charles lamb had produced some useful little guides to the plots of several of the plays. Perhaps in the fullness of time I will seek a deeper analysis, but for now this summary of the plot will do.

saturn orbiter
Tuesday, June 29, 2004 -- 10:59 a.m.

The spacecraft cassini is about to become the first artificial satellite around saturn. This article will most likely be expanded. The orbital insertion will be tomorrow - 30th june.

time errors
Monday, June 28, 2004 -- 07:55 a.m.

I was just thinking about what to write next when I noticed that the clock setting on this weblog is all wrong. Maybe it depends on the browser and machine used - here I'm using ie with an iBook, and pitas seems to think it's about 9.20p.m, whereas it's just 7.55 a.m. In case you're wondering - yes - I did reset it manually.

Maybe it's something which needs fixing, or perhaps I need to reset something. I've not had many problems with this before.

painful problem
Friday, June 25, 2004 -- 01:25 p.m.

So why do we get toothache anyway? If we have evolved so that our responses give us competitive advantages, then what is it about toothache which provides this? Nowadays the pain could be taken a a sign that we need treatment, and by going to the dentist the life of each tooth can be prolonged, but how would that have benefitted our ancestors who lived in caves and mud huts? Perhaps like tom hanks in castaway they would have used stones or sticks (not having ice hockey boots to hand) to knock their painful teeth out, and there is even some evidence that primitive men used small stones to somehow “fill” their teeth.

I asked a colleague and friend about this a few years ago, and he suggested that the most likely thing is in fact that toothache is a byproduct of a feedback system which we use every day. Even for humans the pressure on teeth during eating can be considerable (though crocodiles can exert many times more force ....), and the jaws are actually capable of exerting more force than the teeth and gums can reasonably stand. Inside each tooth there are nerves which detect the forces applied to the teeth, and these are used to provide feedback. If you bite hard down this feedback mechanism will prevent you damaging your teeth. This sounds quite plausible.

Given this explanation for why we have nerves in teeth, then toothache is simply an unwanted side effect which occurs when a tooth breaks down, and its nerve is stimulated directly - perhaps by heat or cold, or often by coming into contact with liquids. Don't believe every explanation though!

Toothache is a pain we can do without, but I have less sympathy for crocodiles. Now it seems that some man eating varieties in australia and other countries have managed to breed so successfully that they are becoming a real threat, and a cull may be necessary.

opera baggage?
Saturday, June 12, 2004 -- 02:05 p.m.

There's an opera being broadcast tonight on swedish radio at 7.30pm (swedish time) - that's 6.30pm uk time, and perhaps 1.30pm in the us (east coast) - with the odd title of "om man blivit av med sitt bagage", which I can't quite translate. Does it mean "if someone becomes one with his/her baggage" or "if someone loses his/her baggage"? I tend to thing the former, but what is this about? The composer is brytta byström.

Curious, eh! Listen by going to www.sr.se/p2/. The conductor will be the swedish conductor and composer b.tommy anderson - he is this week's featured p2 artist. There is a database of swedish composers which lists anderson, but does not have many details yet.

You should find the quality of the audio stream quite good at around 96kbps, and definitely much better than the audio streams put out by the bbc on their radio3 site which are at too low a bit rate and often have audible artifacts.

more on venus
Thursday, June 10, 2004 -- 10:22 p.m.

I did get to see the venus transit in the end, though it was not very easy. I used a pair of binoculars, and with the help of a few pieces of paper and some friends we managed to focus it and eventually notice the very small dot on the sun's surface. I had tried a few hours earlier without success, though I probably hadn't got the focusing right. The big problem was stabilising the binoculars, so in 2012 I'll have to rig up a stand or use a tripod. I may also have to go to california as I don't think it will be visible here in europe. Anyway I'm glad I tried this time round.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004 -- 09:20 p.m.

I hear moans from people on the bbc from time to time that people are apathetic, and won't vote in elections. Next week's european parliament elections are, however, degenerating into farce. According to hmg everyone who's entitled to a postal ballot will get their papers in time, despite recent major hiccups in getting papers out. In the meantime no-one in my area has even bothered to tell me about the elections. I have no idea who to vote for, what they stand for etc. Talk about being laid back. I've been trying to find out whether there are any web sites with lists of areas and candidates, and what each candidate is standing for, but so far without success.

I'll modify this entry if I find any further useful information - though this might be enough to suggest to anyone reading that if the people running these are this well organised that we really don't need any more of them trying to organise things from brussels or elsewhere in europe. I'm not anti- europe - but this is taking incompetence to new levels.

Postscript: I've now found a list of potential candidates. I had no idea how the lists were being organised - whether regionally or otherwise. Now it's looking to me as though the candidates may in fact be for most of the uk, or at least a significant part of it. I've still no idea how I actually vote. Do I have to vote for one candidate, a bunch of candidates, a party - whatever? How is the voting going to be done? Is it going to be first past the post, stv, mtv whatever? How is one supposed to find out?

In the meantime, I re-iterate what I said before - something about running a party in a brewery wasn't it?

sic transit gloria
Monday, May 31, 2004 -- 11:14 a.m.

well, sic transit venus actually! Next week there'll be a rare opportunity to watch a transit of venus on 8th june. Do not under any circumstances look directly at the sun, and even with filters it can be dangerous. Some filters block out visible light, but not invisible radiation. Eye damage can be permanent, but may not show up for an hour or two after exposure. It is possible to use lenses and to project an image on a screen, and it may even be possible to use a pinhole, which is something I may get around to trying.

There are graphs showing the transit periods of several of the major planets. There was a transit of mercury in 2003 (7th may), and there will be another on 8th november 2006, after which the next will be on 9th may 2016. See also here for more information about mercury.

These transits do not happen very often. Mercury has more frequent transits than venus. The next transit of venus after this one will be in 2012 (june 6). After that you've missed your chance - unless you plan on living to be over 105, since the next two Venus transits will be in 2117 (dec 11) and 2125 (dec 08).

If you are in the usa then you may be able to see the venus transit in progress at sunrise, though californians and others on the west coast will not be able to see it. If you are in asia or australia then you may be able to see the transit in progress at sunset. Many europeans, africans and indians should be able to see the whole event (4 contact points).

history lesson
Monday, May 31, 2004 -- 08:03 a.m.

the history boys by alan bennett is a ribald entertainment. Even with the currently lax standards of british tv, I doubt whether they'd show it. There's bad language, and sex of a sort, though it's all implied rather than actual or simulated, and certainly not the page 3 variety. It's another play which works on several levels - one of which is as a reminder of schooldays. They weren't really like this play, but they did have some similarities. There are a number of twists to keep the audience awake, which the playwright doesn't seem to find difficult even though the play is quite long. A great evening out!

violinists and violins
Wednesday, May 26, 2004 -- 04:06 a.m.

Tonight I'm listening to elmira darvarova playing tchaikovsky's violin concerto on radio 3. Since I've never heard of her, I tried searching with google, but didn't find much. For some strange reason I managed to find this page which seems not to contain any reference to her, but has information about what violins many well known violinists play, or have played. I am surprised to see so many players playing on stradivarius instruments, and also to realise that many play on instruments which are two, or even three, hundred years old. Fascinating stuff.

elmira, by the way, is a pretty good violinist - that's a euphemism for very good. She is also the first woman concertmaster of the metropolitan opera, new york.

Sunday, May 23, 2004 -- 08:32 a.m.

I've just realised that apple have now introduced lossless encoding for itunes, and this means that in theory ipod users can get "perfect" sound from their devices. Perfect in the sense that it's as good as the original cd, or whatever it was recorded from. In case you didn't realise, you can also download itunes (free) to run on a windows based pc, and you can store the encoded music on your hard drive. \

Now that ipods with 40 gbytes are becoming more common, lossless compression should allow you to store around 100 cds, though of course you can also store 3-400 cds in fairly decent mp3 encoded form - I'm assuming that 256 kbps encoding is possible. Actually it would seem to be. itunes on my borrowed ibook goes up to 320 kbps. In fact itunes seems to come with a pretty decent mp3 encoder which should allow good results in most situations, using sensible data rates - 128kbps or above. If you can cope with 256 kbps or more use that. Don't even think of squeezing more using lower rates, though at its maximum compression itunes goes down to 16 kbps, and will probably sound grim. I might try it just to check!

Having said that, I don't normally let my cds anywhere near apple equipment. I found that they come out really hot when I play them on the imac I have in my office which has a superdrive dvd recorder. I can't believe that's good for them.

I've not noticed anyone else mention this, but it seems a problem. I don't mean warm, btw - I do mean hot!

Sunday, May 23, 2004 -- 08:06 a.m.

tarnation was a hit at the cannes film festival this year. Some people thin k that it's of interest that it was created using an apple computer and imovie and cost around $200. Before it was shown at cannes, it was also shown at the sundance festival. It sounds quite a sad story anyway.

tv and radio music
Saturday, May 22, 2004 -- 09:55 p.m.

Classical music is not very popular these days, and perhaps this is not too surprising. Jazz is also not particularly popular. Most people "see" music on tv or listen to cds or the radio. What many people just don't realise is that firstly the quality of the sound is often very severely compromised by the broadcaster, and secondly, even a good recording or broadcast is not going to be more than a pale imitation of a live performance. I'm not saying that everyone has to like classical music or jazz, but simply that most people never give most musical forms a chance because they don't hear much live music. Some people have perhaps never heard anything live, and they don't realise the subtleties which are possible, and which don't show up on cds or in broadcasts.

Tonight we had performances of dvorak's new world symphony and his cello concerto on bbc4 from prague, but I was struck by how boring the tv presentation was. It was better in the cello concerto than in the symphony. I think the performance of the symphony was really quite good, but it was completely robbed of any life by the miserable lack of dynamics in the tv presentation. At least in the cello concerto there seemed to be more of an impression of involvement with good playing by the soloist.

It is not really surprising that many people would find this type of music boring if that's what they think it is like - yet I suspect that in the hall it would have been rather a good experience. An even better performance would have had everyone on the edge of their seats.

If you have never been to live music give it a try, though don't expect miracles every time. Most live performances by good musicians are better than recorded ones - even if they are not as "perfect", and some - perhaps 1 in 10, or even 1 in 100 are stupendous. Additionally, like sport, one can't be sure what's going to happen in "real life", so live concerts may deliver real surprises, which one would not expect from cds.

Monday, May 17, 2004 -- 08:41 a.m.

I finally found out what E & OE means - "errors and omissions excepted". I often find when looking at adverts that I've really no idea what a lot of the abbreviations mean. Finally I decided to type "E & OE" and "acronym" into google to see what turned up, and after some hunting around this meaning, which seems most relevant, turned up.

The acronymfinder may also be good for this. It seems to be excellent, though has dreadful active popups - ugh!

failed experiment?
Wednesday, May 12, 2004 -- 06:45 a.m.

The savoy opera experiment is coming to an end - early, which is a shame, though perhaps not completely unexpected. What was apparently unexpected was that the critics seemed to enjoy themselves at the performances, which would appear to have been good, though there was a hint on a recent tv broadcast that this might have been tempered on reflection. Another factor is possibly that if the intention is to attract young people, the operas chosen would appear not to be too relevant today, though I'm not sure if the target audience would have been the british public, or rather the large number of foreign tourists who visit our capital every year.

Arts funding continues to perplex me, though I never did get a reply from the lso about their financing. It was claimed that each concert they put on makes a loss, and similarly with each opera put on at the royal opera house, even the full price tickets are not covering the costs. I like music, I like opera, yet is it right that it should be publicly funded? It would appear that every time I go to an opera or a concert, the british tax payer is giving me money back - arguably rather more than the amount which I pay. This contrasts, presumably, with football matches, where the gate takings, together with the tv revenue, should cover the costs, and allow the teams to pay very high salaries to their players. However, even other sporting events have odd accounting. The derby, run at epsom, would appear to me to be mostly financed by tv and advertising, rather than takings at the gate. The prize money alone could perhaps be more than the takings, yet it continues to be popular, and is presumably financially viable.

Where opera and music fail is that apparently they are not of great interest to advertisers. The recent bbc young musician of the year competition was apparently shunned by sponsors and advertisers, as "no-one" wants to be associated with classical music any more. This is a great shame. Although I do not wish to decry the achievements of many sportsmen, many musicians do devote their lives to their art, and they are very highly skilled. Music is still worth supporting, whether it is out of the public purse, or by private sponsorship.

Despite this, it may still be hard to justify. Just to mention a few things, orchestras such as the lso are in fact well known to many through films. Many films have soundtracks which feature backing which has been made by major orchestras from around the world. If there were no good orchestras this would not be possible. There have been many pop albums made with classical musicians providing additional backing, though perhaps this is less true today. Many of the beatles' songs had support from some really quite prestigious instrumental players - though most pop music fans will not realise just how good, and how well known some of these players are/were. Names such as alan civil (horn player) spring to mind, and there are many more.

In america arts projects are often funded by corporate or private sponsorship. In the uk, although no arts group could afford to turn away such funding, the arts council and other publicly funded bodies do provide much of the funding. In terms of visible "bottom line" evidence, music and opera may be hard to justify, but I still have a feeling that our world would be very much worse if we didn't have it, and even funding it from the public purse may not be such a terrible thing. Apart from providing employment to participants, who are highly specialised, and perhaps in societal terms, relatively few, music still gives pleasure to many, even if this is only shown by the support for radio stations like classic fm - which could not exist without properly trained musicians.

It is possible that some of the people who attend concerts and operas, and who enjoy it, may be some of the most productive people in the country in terms of their income generating potential - though I can't prove it. One could argue "if they like it so much, why don't they just pay for it, then?" - which is a fair comment, but would require a change in attitude. I am now thinking that I would not mind paying more to hear a concert, or see an opera, given the costs - some of which I now believe in.

Gubbay's experiment has been interesting, and perhaps shows more. It is possible that many arts projects are badly run financially, and could be much more carefully done. Yet entertainment which requires hundreds of people to participate on a nightly basis, and also be paid for it, is inevitably going to be expensive, however tight the financing. Against this, live performances, and this includes the theatre as well, are almost always far more vivid than tv or film - despite the special effects.

I'll probably revise this, and refine it during the next week. However, I will definitely try to book for the two operas the barber of seville, and the marriage of figaro before they close. If you are coming to london in the next month - up to june 19th, I suggest that you do too.

goodbye lenin
Saturday, May 8, 2004 -- 05:45 a.m.

goodbye lenin is a good film, thought provoking, and a reminder that some things haven't always been like today. The surprising thing is that the events in the film occurred less than 15 years ago, and many of us have forgotten this already. Also very surprising is the timescale of the film, which suggests that many of the changes occurred very rapidly indeed. It didn't take 15 years for most people to accept or come to terms with the changes, and many had done so within a year. The film appears to be based on historical fact, with an element of fantasy, and is well acted. I'm not saying what it's about - watch it!

young musicians
Sunday, May 2, 2004 -- 10:58 a.m.

This year's bbc young musician of the year final looks like it will be a stunning event. The programmes this week on bbc4 and bbc2 had shown some very talented musicians, some of whom have been eliminated in the semi-finals or earlier. The comment from one of the judges on one of them was "in any other year he'd have been straight into the final". This year we have yet another very young competitor in the final. I have to say that I'm not particularly in favour of very young competitors in the final - it's not that I don't think they're good, but I do think that they get a boost because most people seem to want them to do well. The other problem with this competition is how do you really compare, say, a saxophone player, against a cellist, or a percussionist? It just doesnt' make sense. So the final tonight (5.15pm on bbc2) will have a very young pianist, a flute player, a percussionist, a trumpet player, and a violinist. All are very good. I had thought that the pianist was going to play the oldest of the pieces, but I was wrong. The szymanowski violin concerto dates from 1916, the nielsen flute concerto from 1925, and the ravel piano concerto from 1931. The trumpet concert was written in 1950,and the percussionist will play the most recent piece, written in 1972.

This will definitely be worth watching. At this stage (before the performances) I have no concern about who is going to win - all the performers are very good, and I think anyone could win it on the day. I suspect that we may find that our own prejudices are the dominant factor - do we like the pieces played, do we find the performers atractive, are we in favour of very young musicians, or others who are slightly older etc? There could be an obvious winner, but as I said, at this stage I doubt it. Tonight I may change my mind, and will in any case probably disagree with the judges as will many others around the country. You will be able to vote on this, via the website. Good luck to them all, I say.

There does not seem to be any obvious presence today on the radio, so on-line listeners won't get to hear any of this. However, I suspect that there will be opportunities to hear most of this event and the performers in the coming weeks. For example, watch out for in tune on radio 3 at 5pm most evenings (uk time).

cd and dvd archiving
Monday, April 26, 2004 -- 10:12 a.m.

A recent article from the independent suggests that cd-rs may not have a long shelf life for archiving purposes.

This is distinctly worrying. I have some "old" (perhaps 5 years!) photos created on a digital camera, and now stored on cd-r. For a long while I had copies on zip disks, and also directly on magnetic disc memory. I also created multiple copies.

Note that I also have some much older photographs, which have been stored as prints, slides and/or negatives. "Obviously" prints and negatives will deteriorate with time. However, I do have many slides and negatives which must now be 30 years or more old. I would suspect that many of these can still be seen quite well, or can be reconstructed by rescanning or other methods.

I have seen some very old photographs "restored" by digital processing - here we are talking about photographs which may be nearly 100 years old, and I believe that it is possible to go further back than that.

Yet what the independent article is suggesting is that if we put faith in cd-r as a archiving storage medium, we may lose all our photos completely within a few years. This is disturbing.

It had previously been thought that 5-10 years would be quite reasonable lifetimes for data stored on such disks, with the possibility of longer periods - perhaps up to 50 years or more.

Generally if digitally recorded material can be recovered, then there is no quality loss, though if recovery is less than perfect, there can be some loss. However, if the damage to the digital data is such that the encoded material cannot be recovered at all, then the information loss is total. This is much worse than some modest degradation which can arise due to film or print degradataion.

What are the solutions? You could decide to read all your old cd-roms back into your new computer system. The chances are that unless you are a video freak, you may well have quite a few Gbytes spare, which can be used for this purpose. This won't necessarily protect you, however, as even just last week I talked to a friend who'd lost a whole drive. Modern drives are quite reliable, but they still fail, and when they do ....!!!

You could go back to older forms of storage. In my case this might mean going back to zip cartridges, which seem to have been quite reliable. I even have some images on floppy disks, but these really are too difficult to handle. The problem is that these storage media may be susceptible to damage from magnetic fields, though otherwise they seem quite good. They seem to go through airport x-ray machines without too many problems, too.

Another approach might be to maintain a tickler file (bring forward file) for any cd-roms. Use cd-rom to record your images, but note the date on which the recording is done, and put a card into a bring forward file - use paper - it may be more reliable. A year or two down the line, read the cd-rom, and copy it to a new one. Test each for integrity at each stage. With luck an on-going process of recreating cds should minimise any future data loss, but note that it does require active involvement. If we accept the evidence from the independent, then simply expecting images to be available in 30-50 years will just not work, and even 2-5 years may be problematic.

The independent article just points out the problems. Further investigation may be need to check out specific problem areas. For example, if I take cd-roms through airports, will they suffer degradation due to x-rays or other tests? This is unknown. It is plausible that if the dyes used can degrade either in the presence of light, or spontaneously even in the dark, that they might degrade more rapidly in the presence of other forms of radiation. Increases in airport security may mean that computer media gets much more exposure to radiation than in previous years. Film is now becoming distinctly difficult to use for this reason, and some people have reported significant loss of photographs probably due to multiple exposures to airport security systems, despite claims that most airport equipment is safe for relatively low sensitivity film - less than 800 asa.

Dire stuff! This may be alarmist, and may be just paranoia, but it could be real. It will affect any data stored, including, but not restricted to, photographs. That means that disks containing programs and other data may also be affected.

Start checking now if you have cd-rs containing important material before it's too late.

the permanent way
Thursday, April 22, 2004 -- 10:48 p.m.

david hare's play the permanent way is a very interesting form of drama. It's hardly a comedy, though it has occasional touches of humour. Quite what it's for I'm not sure - raising social awareness of problems with transport I guess. It certainly makes one think. I had a slight feeling that the playwright thought, as did many of the participants, that there must be someone, or some organisation, to blame for the problems, yet with complex issues such as this play deals with, this may be a mistake.

The information from the nt does not make it clear what the play is about. In the last decade the railways in britain have been subject to considerable re-organisation, and forms of privatisation. There have been several major rail crashes, including southall, ladbroke grove, hatfield and potters bar. The play discusses these incidents, and considers whether the accidents could in any way be related to the organisational changes within the railway industry. What the play does not do is to consider rail crashes and incidents which occurred before the re-organisation. There is an assumption that the crashes must have been due, in some ways, to the changes in operational management, yet no clear evidence is presented of this. There were crashes before, such as hither green, clapham junction, and several others.

It is quite possible that it would be unreasonable to ascribe blame to anyone - though this does not rule out the possibility that someone or some organisation actually is culpable for some of the incidents. More reasonable might be to just decide that there is no single factor which stands out, and that the important thing is to reduce the probability that accidents will occur in the future, due to any of the possible factors. This will not be acceptable to anyone who believes in a blame culture, but may be the only way to make progress with such difficult subjects.

There are definite signs of problems, however, since recommendations following previous crashes have in many cases not been carried out, or have been proposed and then cancelled. The atp equipment which has been recommended to improve rail safety, and which is common on the continent, has still not been installed, and there are doubts that it ever will be. Note, however, that this does not imply that rail travel in the uk is getting more dangerous, simply that measures to improve safety which have been recommended have not been implemented. Some measures have been developed which are applied to tube trains, and the technical details may be of interest.

There is an interesting essay by toby moncaster which describes various forms of signalling and safety protection. Another interesting article deals with push-pull operation of trains, which in itself does not have an impact on whether crashes occur, but does have significant effect on the outcome once a crash is under way.

There is evidence that previous governments have tried to put a value on human lives which has determined whether or not to implement safety features.

Since 2001 safety issues have been handled by the rail safety and standards board.

Pragmatists will still point out that the carnage on britain's roads is orders of magnitude greater, and we "accept" this without blinking most of the time.

The play is definitely worth seeing if you can get seats, but as I've said already "it's not a comedy".

evelyn and others
Monday, April 19, 2004 -- 01:39 a.m.

evelyn is quite a well made film starring pierce brosnan. Not everybody has liked this, yet it is based on history, and this surely makes it worth watching. The consequences of the irish children's act may, or may not, have been originally intended, but once they had been observed the church and the state colluded to keep things that way, until desmond doyle decided to make a challenge. Brosnan makes a reasonable attempt to convince us that he is doyle - not fully successful, but perfectly acceptable.

mona lisa smile is a film based on wellesley college, usa, and much of it seems incredible. Perhaps the best section is the sequence which is placed right at the end with the credits, showing old fashioned adverts. The idea that a hoover would be a good present for anyone is faintly ridiculous. The film seems overlong, and might make a better short film. Some of the scenes seem really over the top, yet there is some evidence that wellesley might have been like that. We should perfhaps check out what hilary has to say.

about schmidt is a really good film, with jack nicholson showing that he really can act. I always thought that he could only play over the top characters, as in the ludicrous but entertaining anger management, but this shows that he is not inevitably typecast. It is an odd film, unusual, but nevertheless plausible. jackie brown, on the other hand, is not, though it is entertaining - as well as being rather violent. There is also an element of suspense which is quite well done.

wireless networking
Saturday, April 10, 2004 -- 11:43 a.m.

dave2002.alt now has more information about how to set up and use wireless networks.

handling data
Saturday, April 10, 2004 -- 07:59 a.m.

This is a really neat idea from egg. There is a demo, but I haven't managed to get it to work - yet. I think it needs javascript enabled. I couldn't even get it to work with firefox, so I hope that the moneymanager tool itself has been tested thoroughly.

The other day I had to drive 40 miles in order to pick up some cheques and put them into my account. I did wonder - why? Why couldn't I have just had the whole thing done electronically? It would have been good for me, and probably good for the environment too. Surely we should now be geting close to a time when things like this are completely unnecessary.

There are still major security issues about data sent via computer. I have discovered that banks in the uk are apparently not allowed to distribute information about account interest using on-line banking. Heck - I'm not asking them to send emails - everyone knows they can be interecepted and forged. No, I'm talking about fully secure data transfers, either secure email (or here), or secure data transfers, possibly including money transfers. Providing that quantum computers (more on this - and a computer language!) don't completely undermine all the security based on encryption, then I believe that authentication and security methods which could be used are now up to the job.

Let's get more of this stuff on-line, and save time and traffic congestion.

Monday, April 5, 2004 -- 11:37 p.m.

I've been lax about keeping this up recently, but there are reasons. I've travelled about 10,000 miles in the last month, and been to several different countries. I even spent a weekend in edinburgh!

Then of course there is work .... I'll try to put up some more interesting stuff in the next few weeks.

going wireless
Monday, April 5, 2004 -- 11:27 p.m.

I've been trying to get wireless networking going for more than a year now, though now I can understand why it may not have worked before - walls! I still think a major reason was the poor software interfaces with the various bits of kit, but it does look as though my original challenge of sending a signal about 40-50 feet was definitely on the severe side - because of the 4 or 5 walls the signal will have to go through. At least having a wireless laptop working now means I can test these things out much more quickly.

In the meantime I'm enjoying having the laptop available - I just use it as an extra radio, by "tuning" it into appropriate internet "radio" stations. Some are very good - for example the bbc has on-demand features for many programmes - also music.

Someone obviously thinks there's a market for this sort of thing - see this.

Oh - just in case you need to know - I managed to get the wireless connection working using ad-hoc mode, so I didn't need to use an expensive wireless router. ok - the prices on those are dropping, and they do have some useful features, but you don't have to run in infrastructure mode, and you can get a system running with just a couple of cheap wireless access cards. Having said that, it's possible to get a reasonable router for not much more these days - at least according to pc pro.

Saturday, April 3, 2004 -- 11:05 p.m.

The dancer upstairs is a curious, and curiously compelling film, directed by john malkovich. It makes a lot more sense if you watch the dvd version, and watch a bit more about the background to the film.

Definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004 -- 11:45 p.m.

Have you ever been to a car boot sale or a jumble sale? Maybe!

Have you ever tried to sell stuff at a car boot sale or a jumble sale? If not, then this is what happens. You collect all your stuff which you are trying to clear out, put it in your car, and take it down to the sale. Then you lay it out on your table, and when you've done this you walk around to look at what other people have for sale. You'll recognise a lot of it - it'll look just like yours. That's perhaps the first law of junk - everyone else will be trying to sell the same things - records and cds you've got tired of, books which you've never read, old telephones, old computers, things that don't work. That's why it's all called junk, and that's probably why you won't sell much of it either.

You'll probably see something you want to buy, so you'll do that too, thus reducing your potential profits, and also increasing your storage requirements.

If you have any good stuff at all, you'll probably sell it for less than you really thought it was worth in the first few minutes, and maybe someone else will get a bargain - but heck - you didn't really want to keep it anyway, did you?

After a couple of hours, during which you may drink several cups of coffee, orange juice or tea, and maybe also chat to your new "friends" who are also trying to sell their stuff, you will pack most of your stuff back in the car and take it home, together with the "new" stuff you've bought. You'll be unlucky not to make any money, but the main purpose of the exercise - to make space will almost certainly not be achieved - unless of course you simply stop off at the dump on the way home and tip everything you took in the first place.

You may have an environmental or ecological aversion to doing this, but if you want to save time, filter out anything which might be good and try to find some way of selling that to people who might want it. Then go to the dump on the way to the sale - then skip the sale. [Note - if you know you're going to do this, then you can even save the entry fee!]

Oh - those "valuable" plates you sold - you could have sold them on ebay, but then you might have had to spend a fortune on packaging, and there's even a non-zero chance that you wouldn't have got paid anything.

You may be luckier at large car boot sales, but you'll spend more time there. Do it for the experience, but not often!

Monday, March 29, 2004 -- 08:25 a.m.

I found this page from tbe bbc created last year. It still seems relevant today. There is at least one very expensive report which suggests that wireless lan connectivity for mobile users will be totally eclipsed by the rise of 3g services based on cellular phone networks by 2007. Mind you, 3g services are already running behind schedule, and haven't appeared here yet.

Right now finding a wireless connection is like finding a needle in a haystack. There are pages (may only work in ie - shame!) which give one some clues as to where to look, but unless the connectivity is available in places where people actually want to go, this technology will fail, at least as far as public access to ubiquitous services is concerned. Some maps make it look as though coverage is good, but remember that even if there are a thousand access points with a 50 metre radius in a city, that's only a total area of approx 8000 sq metres. If you consider a one square mile area (say the city of london), that has an area of approximately 2639400 square metres, so the ratio is about 0.00298 or about 0.3 per cent. That's hardly great coverage, and that's a much higher density than the current coverage in the UK.

This doesn't mean that wireless networks will not have a place, as they may still become a preferred method for connecting small or even medium sized networks together. It just means that expecting to be able to connect to a wireless lan network anytime/anyplace may not happen.

In turn this may mean that laptop computers and pdas will start to sport multiple systems devices - such as bluetooth, 802.11.. and 3g - to provide what has been called "always best connected" (abc) services.

Another bbc article suggests that about 40% of wireless lan access points will be in hotels, with a smaller percentage in cafes and pubs. There are even plans to have wireless in mcdonalds, though experience in san francisco hints that this may not work out well. Do we really expect pin striped suited people to want to be seen eating big macs? Starbucks has apparently faired better, and claim that people spend more time there if they can use wireless connectivity, and they do spend more on coffee!

When wireless networks work, they're great, but connectivity models need to scale up. The situation is not helped by the proliferation of different operators. Unfortunately this may affect 3g users as much as wireless lan users - but the eventual greater coverage of 3g services may mean that by 2007 more users will be prepared to pay for 3g services than for wireless lan access. Fragmenting markets does not seem like a clever way to assist growth in what is still a market with a low demand.

It seems that there are now around 2500 wireless lan hotspots around europe, and there is a newly announced plan to introduce trials in rural libraries in the uk.

Many users may become resistant to paying for services, and rely on free services, such as found in some hotels (e.g some hyatt hotels). The possible security loopholes are many, but a large number of users may be quite willing to accept the risks.

I'm not the only one watching - ian fogg of jupiter is also interested - look out for his weblog. You can also look out for wi-fi networking news.

Monday, March 22, 2004 -- 09:10 p.m.

It seems that restaurants really are a french invention, while america invented the cafeteria. Also there's progress on restaurants giving information about the composition of their food, which is helpful, but surely it's about time that food portions sold in some countries are reduced in size. The problem is that there is a strong link in consumers' minds between price and quantity - who wants to pay the same or even more to eat less? Also, some of us were brought up to finish our plates - presumably because food had been in short supply only a few years earlier. It seems wrong to not eat the food which is placed before us, though there are also interesting questions about whether it is right to kill so many animals in order to feed the population. The trouble is, of course, that many animals wouldn't even be kept alive if they weren't "needed" for eating, and this would probably lead to a downturn in farming, and the economic effects would not necessarily be good.

mozart and delius
Sunday, March 21, 2004 -- 06:58 a.m.

the beeb is currently running a series of programmes about mozart, including some tv programmes on bbc2, some on bbc4 and probably some radio programmes linked in as well (discovering music).

So far I've not seen any, though I did watch the end of the programme with the d minor piano concerto - which was good. I recorded the programmes as I went out to hear a concert of music by delius, which is to be broadcast in the summer in the discovering music series. This had three works - "on hearing the first cuckoo in spring", "walk to the paradise garden", and the 2nd dance rhapsody. I was surprised to discover that the first of these is very largely based on a norwegian folk tune, which has been set as a piano work by grieg. To my ears delius didn't really alter it too much, though he did make the cuckoo very much more obvious.

The second piece was probably the high spot of the evening. The title makes it sound as though there is something ethereal going on. The piece is an interlude between scenes in delius' opera a village romeo and juliet, which involves a family dispute about land, and the eventual suicide of the lovers. The paradise garden is apparently the name of a pub!

delius' music doesn't do much in the way of developing themes, and I have always found it difficult to take. The conductor, martyn brabbins, also hinted that he had found delius' music difficult - though he's getting to like it! There are other pieces which are worth hearing - such as la calinda from koanga, and the sleigh ride - you can find these on some cds, for example the ones by beecham.

One thing can definitely be said about delius' music - it's very much more beautiful in live performances than on cds and the radio.

Nevertheless, a comment as we turned on the tv to check that the video had recorded the programmes - "mozart is much better than delius".

Monday, March 15, 2004 -- 11:14 a.m.

sedna is the name of a newly discovered planet. sedna was discovered in 2003, but announced as a planet today. sedna is a name which derives from inuit mythology. Interesting news!

Saturday, March 13, 2004 -- 10:44 p.m.

zum is a strange sort of gypsy band formed of string players, possibly with the addition of instruments such as the accordion. If by any chance you go to hear the london concertante - a small group of string players - in concert, then as an encore they may suddenly metamorphose into zum. They're pretty good in classical music, but zum is something else.

They've got a concert coming up at st martin in the fields on tuesday 27th april - could be worth a visit. I'm told the cds are good too, but will wait until I hear them again live.

Saturday, March 13, 2004 -- 07:55 a.m.

ok - the gremlins have been eating away at this weblog, and there's a slight problem with the archived file from february. Still, it is very slight, and could have been a lot worse. One of the big disadvantages of pitas is that archiving is pretty much irreversible, so apart from copying the archived file, and editing it and hosting it somewhere else, which is obviously a viable solution, there is not much else I can do. Given the scale of the problem (near miniscule), I don't think I'll bother. One of these days I'm going to migrate this material to a more serious content management system, which should allow much greater flexibility.

Monday, March 8, 2004 -- 10:13 a.m.

bananas are a useful food and source of energy, and they also have some properties which can be useful to know about from time to time. This is not the place to go into some or all of the not so pleasant details, but basically if you are having intestinal problems, bananas are often a good thing. The curious thing about bananas is that they can help with different types of intestinal problem. They contain mucilaginous bulking agents which are good for constipation.

Other fruit which may be beneficial include mango, papaya and pineapple, though a tame expert I spoke to insisted that these wouldn't necessarily work well, and that bananas are tops.

It's difficult to get good objective data about these, and I personally dislike a lot of the health freak sites, but there is evidence that some of these fruit will at least help in some uncomfortable situations. Bananas have the merits of being generally easily obtainable, and being quite easy to store and use.

bananas have high levels of potassium, and some have claimed that they have calming effects which are similar to beta blockers, but these claims seem largely unsubstantiated. Because of the potassium, some medication will react badly with bananas, so care is needed.

It is claimed that there are protein-digesting enzymes in pineapple and papaya (pancreatin and bromelain) and these may have anti-inflammatory action.

another act of privacy
Monday, March 1, 2004 -- 04:21 a.m.

I'm always amazed at some of the names of acts used in the usa. Here's one - called gramm-leach bliley - often abreviated to glb, which deals with financial privacy responsibilities. This is an interesting area, because not only is it necessary to provide privacy, but it will also be necessary to provide evidence that privacy has been provided, to government agencies. I can send you a private message - just stick it in an envelope, and send it to you via some reasonably secure method, and ask you to send it back. When it arrives back I could just destroy the whole thing. This would continue to ensure privacy, but would eliminate any audit trail.

Of course if I were bill bryson, I wouldn't even be thinking about audit trails and privacy, but no doubt contemplating what sort of people might be called gramm-leach or bliley, which takes me back to where I started - and will end.