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Archive for October, 2009

The scale of things

I  hadn’t planned on learning anything this morning.

In fact, the scale of my ambition was merely to get up and have a cup of coffee on this fine Saturday morning. Having just returned from a trip to Blackpool my laptop was sitting on the table next to the coffee..and as you do I turned it on.  I have an excellent time-wasting program on the laptop called StumbleUpon which as in the last led me to all manner of excellent websites, anyone reading my blogs will recall the “10th dimension” videos… one minute you’ve no idea how a multiverse might work, the next you’re on the road to further learning.

And so it was this morning. Just HOW small are things like the flu viris… do you have a mental model in your head? What about a water molecule – sure, it’s small but do you have any kind if idea how small. I didn’t really. But now that’s all changed thanks to a superb piece of FLASH. Check this magnifier out, it’ll only take you a few seconds.

Meanwhile…. a laugh…

Dumb Cat Can’t Figure Out How To Drink – Watch more Funny Videos

Ignorance is Bliss

I always get a chuckle when the “mums-against-masts” brigade end up in the papers as some kind of local heroes. Totally oblivious to any source of scientific common sense, the protesters line up to stop yet another mast being erected, hence ensuring that the Northeast of England remains a communication backwater (rural Northumberland being a prime example – signals on the A69 from Hexham to Carlisle are almost unusable for any meaningful conversation (hands-free of course). If only these knowledge-free people could see phone signals visually, they’d realise they are barking up entirely the wrong tree.  Almost all kids today (and most adults) have mobile phones and they take them wherever they go (ask any teacher). Whether on silent or not, these phones are TRANSMITTERS, just like the masts, but closer. The signals they put out are small,  but not insignificant in comparison to masts, but then it’s not all about signal strength – distance is important too. 

Given a strong base signal, mobiles put out a weak signal to communicate back to the base – and they do this regularly. Given a distant base, they have to put out a stronger signal (anyone notice how quickly phone batteries go down in weak signal areas?). That means that by ensuring there are as few base stations as possible (economics and misguided protesters have ensured that in large parts of Northumberland, mobile phone communication is unreliable, just where it is needed the most), the phone which sit millimetres away from children’s skin, regularly transmit with the highest possible power, all day, every day. Even those who don’t have mobile phones are probably sitting inches away from someone who does and who’s phone is supplying a regular, close-proximity supply of radiated energy. In operation mobile phone transmitting strength drops to almost nothing if the base station is local, with a poor connection it can be as high as 2 watts, which might not sound a lot but your readers should read this next sentence over and over till it sinks in: The signals from base stations are but a TINY fraction of those received by users holding their own phone within millimetres of their ear!!

Just like the windmill and nuclear protesters, these people will not stop the march of technology, they never do, they will merely succeed in ensuring that we have the worst possible services thanks to lack of thought and lack of basic knowledge.

More Face, Less Burkha

Once again we have someone digging in their heels and insisting on wearing a Burkha in their job. I have a real problem with this – I’m as unhappy as anyone else that we live in a surveillance society but if I can have my face plastered all over monitor screens – so can everyone else.  What do these people have to hide I wonder??  I think we are FAR, FAR to accepting in the UK.

British Airports – the Pits

Bloody typical… we’re picking up Maureen’s mum this morning from Manchester airport so we figured we’d stop over at a hotel to make life easy in the morning…  7am flight arrival.

So before leaving the hotel, a mere 6 miles away from Manchester International, we checked on the airport website. 20 minutes delay… fine – just enough time to go for a sausage and egg McMuffin.

I’m sitting here drinking luke-warm Costa Packet coffee in the airport and doing the blog on my wonderful Windows 7 – equipped laptop.. because – by the time we got here, the delay had increased to 2 hours!  Someone tell me – on a 7 hour flight, how the hell can you lose 1.5 extra hours once you’ve taken off!! And there’s no McDonalds – just a SPA store. Awful place.

Meanwhile I note our local pub has won a silver medal for sustainable tourism! Amazing what a woodchip burner can do for your credibility tick-box. Personally I’d have liked to have seen them win an award for employing all local workers but I guess that’s not going to happen.

Oh and we’re down to one kitten – kept the little ginger one – called Ollie.  He’s my new best friend.

The Death of an Era – the Portable Cassette Recorder


The era in question of course died years ago but as I’m having my “Autumnal Spring Clean” as colleague Simon put it… after many years of taking this item off the shelf, cleaning it and putting it back there, it’s finally going in the bin, leaving only a photo on the web in remembrance.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with this Panasonic stereo radio and stereo tape cassette recorder, capable of recording straight off the radio onto tape. It’s not even as if it looks terrible. It’s in good condition and not THAT ancient looking. I’ve ensured over the years that it remains fully functional and dent-free.

It’s more to do with the fact that I’ve not had a cassette tape in the house for years – my wife through out my collection of tapes, lovingly created over many years complete with Dymo labels and one album per side, storing my tastes in music from “Spooky Tooth” and “Black Sabbath” going back as far as the time when the Philips cassette took off… which incidentally was shortly after I won the Philips competition for the best new name for the device and came up with “musicassette” – which netted me the first Philips portable cassette player and a boatload of albums I  may add. She threw them out – because they were simply gathering dust with no hope of ever being used again (and contrary to what you might hear, cassette tapes most DEFINITELY degrade while sitting doing nothing)!

Not only do I not have any tapes but I cannot imagine why I’d go out and buy one. With the likes of Spotify on the web I can listen to any track I want to including most of the oldies.. at considerably better quality than I had on the tape… and if I want to do that on the road I can put the lot on a memory stick which is 20th the size of this Panasonic unit all without any loss of quality.

What’s sad is the amount of space in my brain devoted to a complete understanding of the operation of these antiquated devices, an understanding that would still defeat the average teenager of today, however, it’s totally useless!! Of what use is knowing the struggle manufacturers had to get the head gap down to less than a micron to get hi-fi out of a media that was never intended to be hi-fi, or the variation of bias-recording techniques used to stay in the magnetic linear region to defeat the 3 main basic issues with tape – distortion, noise and saturation. I followed developments from the old reel-to-reel Ferrographs, through the Sony (ferrite and ferrite) and Akai (glass-crystal heads), dual locked capstan…. I could rant about the various technologies for a week… and given a bunch of components could probably create something from scratch. But why bother, with 2 terrabyte drives as cheap as chips and enough storage for millions of tracks… why on earth would anyone want a tape recorder.

But it’s all permanently useless, we’ll never need this again any more than we’ll ever need DOS (typical start of the bios off the top of my head included jumps for cold start, warm start, keyboard check, keyboard input, screen out etc etc….) tons and tons of now totally defunct information.

Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to get out brains wiped to make way for new information… seems such a waste – hardly in the same league as childhood memories of sweethearts and winning the bowling…

Meanwhile, the bin today is just that bit heavier…. a sad occasion. The good news is I got 4 rechargeable batteries out of the deal.




And then there were three

We’re now down to three terrors.. the little one centre back has gone to a good home already4 kitties

1 kitty1 kitty

Ok…. anyone for a kitty?

A Day Off

Rosie - Proud Mum

Today I’m taking a day off to concentrate on important things like our new kitties, Stargate Universe… and the blog.

So first things first… Stargate Universe.. I’ve only seen the first episode and half of the second one – and I have to say, this looks like the best yet and I thought Atlantis was good. Buying a large plasma TV was one of our best ideas – really does shows like this justice. The effects in Stargate Universe FAR exceed anything they’ve done before in terms of “realism” if there is such a thing when describing large spaceships. The days of CGI looking like CGI are just about gone (as evidenced by the superb effects in “Surrogates” with Bruce Willis which we went to see last week). Robert Carlyle looks like he was born to play the part and the quality is just bang on. Hallowed be the Ori

Fighting kittens

Its such a long time since we had kittens I’d forgotten how much fun they can be. You can see the proud mum (Rosie) on the left, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such devotion to offspring in a cat yet she’s incredibly generous, no problem at all with us playing with the kittens.  Only a week ago they were struggling to stand on all four paws and yet now they’re running all over, kicking hell out of each other and generally having a marvelous time. Our two older cats are of course having a hard time of this but they’ll get used to the ideas. The problem with kittens is that they are extreme time-wasters.

Once you settle down and start playing with them, before you know, hours have gone by and you’ve done absolutely nothing.

Terror #1


In the above battle scene though it’s not obvious, the four of them are absolutely kicking each other to bits. To the left is witless – and that really is an understatement – but he’s friendly – indeed they all are. Rosie of course is pure-bred – but dad, well, to call it casual sex would be about right.

Of course we’re not keeping them all, current estimates fall between keeping one and two of the ginger ones, one is already signed up to go… which is a shame but as we already have 3 cats including Rosie….

So this weekend I plan on taking it easy, a little work on the house perhaps, a drip to go see District 9 tomorrow – and we have to drop into B&Q as the bargain-basement Freesat kit I just bought has a bust decoder (after I spent hours last night putting the dish together). Good old B&Q.

And now… some coffee I think and back to “Stargate Universe”.

More trouble with kitties


The Wark Apple Fair

Despite absolutely atrocious weather, we took the grandkids down to Wark Apple fair on Saturday.. and they had a great time as you’ll see below.

Don’t you just love seeing the smile on their faces?




Oh, well, maybe not…

The lives of Kittens

We have 4 kittens right now from our cat Rosie who herself isn’t a year old yet. Rosie is a Maine Coon, one of the oldest natural breeds in the USA (these are the “official state cats” of Maine apparently. Rosie has 3 light-coloured and one black kitten (see cats section) and they are marvellous fun. She has been a superb mum spending most of her waking hours wandering around making sure her kittens are ok – while never giving any of us any impression that we’re unwelcome to play with them. Such a shame this only lasts a short while 🙂


Energy Issues – How Many Light Bulbs

Very rarely does anyone put our energy problems into perspective – and still manage to speak in a language the layman can understand. This fellow has succeeded. Sadly most of the comments in the original YouTube video are mindless. This is worth watching.


He’s right, switching off phone chargers is silly – the mere effort of making the change could be used to make more relevant change, like taking showers instead of baths or turning the heating down just a touch -  or in the winter making sure windows and doors are properly sealed…

I still see people in shops looking at disgust at low-energy light bulbs, I see countless lampshade designs which are unable to take any but the very smallest of these.. I see the likes of B&Q still way overcharging for compact fluorescents that the supermarkets now sell for pennies.

I think personally that the 100w incandescent lamp ban was too little – we should have scrapped the 60w lamps as well – there really is no reason not to convert unless you use dimmers.

Ive no facts in this but I can’t help thinking that if we stopped importing cheap crap from China – and found tax incentives to encourage people to buy locally produced electronic goods and cars that are designed with repair-ability in mind, we’d be doing a lot for the environment. Many of today’s goods are simply impossible to maintain or repair – deliberately… and that’s silly.