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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Return

And so we start our long journey back to the UK. We left Galera first thing Wednesday and spent most of the day driving up through Spain. We arrived at our hotel Palicio Urgoiti in Bilbao in time for dinner.

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Sky Website 2016

How long have we had websites now 20 odd years? You’d think Sky could get theirs right.

I went into the Sky website today to change our account – we have so many online options now it is hard to justify the sky package.

So off I went with my username and password – neither of which would work (I have this stuff all detailed in case I forget ).

So after finally getting the username and password sorted I went into Sky website.

Sky duff 1

Clear enough -  click this link to cancel HD and boxed sets ONLINE, yes?

Sky duff 2

You have to wonder.

What UK? We are Screwed

In a historic, democratic vote of 17+ million brexiters against 16+ million remainers, Britain voted to leave the EU.

One could say we can’t fight it – that is democracy – but then we democratically elected the Conservatives and that hasn’t stopped labour supporters actively opposing anything the Tories so. Indeed in terms of eligible voters, well under 40% voted Brexit.

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We’re there – at last – and all is well – check out http://www.bedrock.es

Ready to Rock

Trip from Bellingham to Galera

Here we are, once again all ready to start the unfeasibly long trip to Galera for the summer.

I must say I am looking forward to this – between the snow, rain, hailstones, expensive beer and Comrade Corbyn I really need a break from the UK. Had my last supper (last Indian probably for months) the other night in Hexham and very nice it was too). As everyone’s parts freeze here in the Northeast, temperatures are running up to 22c mid-day in Galera though the forecast says a tad cooler this coming week, probably 20c. Time will tell.

I say we’re “ready” – that’s probably overstating it a little. Yesterday’s painting job came to a grinding halt when thumping great hailstones came from the heavens so the door needs a little work on it. I just started sealing the bath and I’m wishing I’d left it alone.

3 cats, a computer, TV and a boatload of ancillaries including the new fridge need packing into the car before our early departure on Tuesday. There won’t be much room to breath. One route is as bad as the other – but the plan right now is to take the A1 route.

By Tuesday night we should be in Portsmouth where we stop-over, then onto the ferry first thing Wednesday, a LONG trip and the food on the ferry is DIRE unless it has changed in the last 4 months – do we’ve bought a mini-fridge to take with us – it’s good for 4 cans of pop and a few sandwiches.

That takes us through to Thursday morning at which point we alight at Bilbao and start the drive down to Galera.

With luck we’ll be there mid-to-late evening. So much to do, I have a new battery for my solar panels and a new nail gun to fix up the Pergola. That and a little repair work (ALWAYS) and some white paint are priorities as is getting around to see everyone.

Over to www.bedrock.es for the summer.

A fine song

You don’t really get any better than this – while elsewhere in the world idiots are chopping heads off and blowing themselves up –  this – one of the finer products of the 20th century sung by a master.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2016 from Peter ScargillA happy new year to everyone looking in. It has been a quiet holiday, I have done a LOT of writing on the technical blog and I have quite a few samples of various kinds of equipment on the way to review as the blog goes from strength to strength.

We’ve been here in the UK in some of the worst weather on record though in Bellingham we’ve missed the worst of it by some way. Looking forward later this month to meeting friends from Spain who are over here right now and generally getting the house ready for our return to the sun in April. Maureen has had flu over the last week and so we’ve not been anywhere other than visits to friends.  I’m taking the opportunity to learn – in particular to get stuck into the technology surrounding the “Raspberry Pi” and more advanced computers such as the Radxa Rock Pro – but that is all detailed on the blog.

Winter of discontent

Here we are back in rainy, miserable, cold Britain and I have to say not voluntarily but the cottage needs work over the winter.

The first thing I had to do on returning to the UK was to update computers that had not had updated since July, the fridge was duff, Microwave had some damage, heating was acting up, the electrician I asked to fix the hot water something like a month or so ago hadn’t done the job…  in short, lots of work to do.

tmp413FWe’re just about to upgrade the cottage to high speed broadband – and when I say that we’re looking at up to 80 Mbps down and up to 20Mbps up – that should bring the place into the 21st century – well, for rural areas anyway!

Meanwhile shortly after returning from Spain we headed off to the USA for Thanksgiving – in Chicago. An interesting place, wealthy for the most part, people are super friendly but it is a little like being in a time-warp, nothing significant has changed since i first went there – the same music (80s rock and country and western) seems to dominate the radio, cars don’t seem to have changed much…  on the other hand neither has the price of fuel. Americans may gripe at the cost of “gas” but when it costs £20 to fill up the tank you really are in automotive heaven!

At one point we went down to an electronics store – specifically when they introduced the “Raspberry Pi ZERO” – the $5 computer on a board. Made in Ireland you’d think we’d get the best deals here in the UK – no chance. In the USA I picked the board up for $5.31 – here they are like gold-dust and people are selling them on Ebay for as much as £40 – or twice that with the magazine that was giving them away for free.

So, I’m back, Maureen is back soon and now the job of fixing up the house begins.


UberA lot is said about UBER and what an evil monster it is. London taxi drivers like nothing more than to gripe about them (and I’m sure they do elsewhere, I just happen to have taken quite few London taxi rides in recent times – probably no more). And so it was that this Monday as I spent my first day in Boston, desperate for a ride, the taxi drivers spent (at least the morning) parading around the MIT buildings and no doubt everywhere else with anti-Uber stickers plastered over their taxis.

The problem is… they are taxis… And what do we do with taxis? Hail them, except we could not as they were too damned busy protesting.

So last night faced with a large purple bump under my foot due to walking miles with shoes not meant for walking (as my other shoes are in the bag which Iberia airlines misplaced) my colleague Swee An ordered an Uber taxi on his mobile. We got to watch a little map with his taxi superimposed as the driver firstly went the wrong way then as he tried to stop near us was harassed by an MIT police patrol which took him a block away before he managed to return for us. All good fun but I have to say everything worked smoothly and the real time monitoring feature of the app is great.

Instead of inconveniencing everyone with strikes maybe the traditional taxi companies should consider a move into the 21st century. If you can’t beat them…

Cost for me is not SO much of an issue but in a foreign country, convenience wins every time.

mapAnd so on my final day in Boston, I grabbed the app, signed up and gave them a shot. Despite the foot I’d decided I needed to get into Boston itself to take some pictures and I just walked and walked and.. by lunchtime I was fairly well beaten and after some attempts to get back to the riverside, standing in the middle of a street with no name, I gave up and opened up the app.

The app knew where I was, where the nearest car was and offered me a reasonably priced ride after requesting my destination. 2 minutes later, a nice looking car driven by an imposing black lady arrived and we headed off back – having a nice chat along the way. I packed my gear and got ready to go to the airport. Once again I contacted Uber.

Again all I had to enter was the destination and up came an approximate price. This time I had a benchmark as it had cost me $35 to get here in the first place. It cost me $31 to get back, in comfort with a very friendly driver who told me all about his experience with Uber. He’s been doing this for a while now and Uber take 20% cut of his fairs..

My web account has receipts, maps of my journeys and more – this at least on the surface is just SO much better than taking a traditional cab, I can see why the cab drivers are up in arms – maybe instead of getting together to protest they should be getting together to modernise.

Sadly it would appear they are currently banned from Spain where alternatives such as Mytaxi,  Hailo aand Cabify prevail. It seemed the Spanish government caved in to pressure from the taxi lobby. and of course you may know that in Spain you can’t just fit solar panels to your house – something to do with pressure from the electricity company… hmm.

Religion, Black Holes and Education

SpaceI note there is a small push to get the movie “Interstellar” into UK schools, the basis for this being that the special effects were science-driven and as it turns out, apparently represent some of the best visualisations of what it might be like near a black hole.

The basis of the movie is simple enough – a few years into the future, we are running out of resources and nature is fighting back (a popular theme, the idea that nature is right and we are wrong – something I find a little silly being as the best nature could manage for most of time was a bunch of rocks and until we started understand nature we rarely lived past 50).

In the movie, mankind is doomed, our only hope being to colonise other worlds and the only way to do that being to use a black hole as a stepping stone to get to these very far away places. The movie focuses on various aspects of relativity, so that compared to those on the ship approaching the black hole with it’s massive gravitational pull, those back home are ageing much more rapidly. They also attempt to show visually what might happen if you approach the event horizon of a black hole (though I was always led to believe that the first thing would be you were ripped to bits). The imagery is staggering but more importantly this is as near to accurate as we know how to make it, simplifying an otherwise complicated subject sufficiently for keep it both educational and VERY entertaining.

While this is to be applauded, frankly for those of us brought up in a science-friendly environment, the leap to understanding all of this is relatively straightforward and quite exciting. Indeed part of the fun is picking flaws in the movie.

However to someone who does not have that educational background (self-taught in my case – my parents and teachers did a good job of making me want to know more), it is likely that the movie represents a lot of flashing lights, decent acting and not a lot more.

One of the big problems of science versus religion is that the latter takes almost no effort whereas the former can take a lot of effort. Simple answers are “comforting” and science at the extremes rarely provides simple answers. Attempts to explain modern science to school-kids will ultimately fail unless the teachers involved actually understand the science AND are able to relay this to the layman enthusiastically – skills which don’t always go together. Once someone becomes a teenager, if their early up-bringing and schooling didn’t give them analytical skills, attempts then to teach modern concepts in science are almost guaranteed to be doomed to failure.

I was brought up in a world if Richard Attenborough, Tomorrow’s World and Science fiction which often turned to science fact, constantly learning something new. People on my watch list include Brian Cox, Elon Musk, Craig Venter… I’m interested in world-changing projects like Oneweb and the world at Cern

What of those who spent their youth reciting a book, over and over almost to the exclusion of everything else? How will their thoughts contribute?

Is I get older and hopefully wiser it is becoming increasingly obvious that organised religion today is bad, VERY bad. Children are like sponges – if you tell them that fighting for the fatherland is good – they’ll suck it up. If you tell them it will be ok if they blow themselves to bits, they’ll suck it up. In countless historical examples we see how easy it is to set children off on the wrong path. There is an unparalleled responsibility put on adults to ensure that children are presented (in as balanced a way as possible) with interesting facts and our best guesses as to how everything works and ensure they understand the difference between fact, theory and fiction – yet what actually happens? In most of the world, parents and society fall over backwards to imprint their brand of religion on their children and this is just PLAIN WRONG.

Here’s a heretical thought for the future: Scrap religious education as such and take another approach. Let’s called it “Origin studies” for the sake of argument. We all want to know where we came from and where we are going (yes even those who don’t believe in fairies). Was there a beginning? Will there be and end and where do we fit in the middle? How do we define “purpose”?

Such a scheme starts with government determination (which likely won’t happen) and suitable qualified teachers (which likely won’t happen)… begin with the simple stuff… explain that in early times, people with almost no knowledge of the world and absolutely no knowledge of the universe, in order to give meaning to lives and to try to explain the unexplainable, came up with the idea of god. Explain WHY we have a tendency to form competing groups at every opportunity and how useful that was for early survival and how absolutely destructive it is today. Are those views and lifestyles still relevant? Explain that hundreds if not thousands of gods which people used to believe in have fallen by the wayside – and that there are a few left which millions of people still believe in – mostly incompatible – explain also that by and large those world regions with the highest belief levels have the poorest education – study the relationships between physical and psychological well-being, belief and education.

Then go on firstly with very simply explanations and a heavy dose of imagery, how science is filling in the gaps, giving us the opportunity to look again at those belief systems with fresh eyes and actual knowledge. Explain that it is important to split science into two areas – information which started as theory and became fact, ideas that are still theory and simple observations. For example, evolution is not just a theory, it is a well proven fact. Black holes not so long ago were theory, today they have been observed but our PRACTICAL experience of them remains low. Explain that the idea of the multiverse is just one unproven theory among many and explain WHY we have these competing theories. Explain also that leaving new discoveries to others is no good – we are all capable of contributing ideas and should not be frightened to do so.

The universe is expanding and APPEARS, extrapolating backwards to have come from a point. Is that a fact or are there alternatives? If it is a fact, what of before the big bang – or indeed is that the wrong question?

When the child becomes an adult, the sky will be the limit for them – they can then choose what to believe in, create their own beliefs and likely contribute to our collective understanding. For myself I have a mental model of how most things work but thanks to my up-bringing that model can change with time – I’m quite happy to look at new information with a view to getting a fresh perspective. Those blighted by religion from youth often cannot and will not see beyond what they were originally taught and indeed many do not even have the ability to question or have been taught that there are things you should not question, to which my response is “Bollocks” yet those beliefs are so strong that in some parts of the world they will still kill to enforce those beliefs on others. See examples where atheists (or those with competing religions) are attacked or even killed for daring not to share the same invisible friends as others. The analytical skills of some people have been utterly crippled and perhaps they wish to inflict this on others.

If we owe anything to the future it is to provide the upcoming generations with the skills to evolve and expand and not to cripple them with our own inadequate visions of how everything works or even the widely held, pathetic belief that we should not or cannot understand because “we are not worthy”. Time is running out for us to understand the world well enough to preserve it – and “praying” just won’t save us.

Science has answers for many things – yet many of those answers are full of gaps merely due to lack of time and effort. Collectively we can reduce those gaps. When all the gaps in our knowledge are gone, if such a thing is possible, perhaps then we will become the gods some people believe exist. Or… we can go the way of the dinosaur.