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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 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 🙂


Iraq Shoe-Thrower released

Muntadar al-Zaidi who threw a shoe at former US President Bush, has been released.  The act made him a hero in the Arab world and beyond.

Let’s reflect on that a moment. Under the rule of the dictator Saddam Hussein who is no longer in charge thanks to Mr Bush and other western leaders, had he done the same thing to Hussein, does anyone want to take bets as to what would have happened? Perhaps he would have been shot immediately and his family shot shortly thereafter?

The fellow attempts to physically assault a leader of the free world and what happens?  A jail sentence and how he’s out and about to enjoy his popularity! Come to think about it even the Russians would have sent him of to Siberia for the rest of his days.

We’re getting soft and we WILL regret it.

The End of a Holiday

We’re on our way back to the UK after 5 weeks of incredible weather in Spain (see the Spanish blog) to rain, recession, flu and on a brighter note, 4 new kittens – which is quite exciting. I’m assuming our cats have forgotten all about us by now – I think this is the longest single stretch we’ve ever left them alone (well, not alone, friends have looked after them at our place in Wark).  I’ve a week of intense meetings to come one after another so maybe I won’t notice the tan disappearing.. got the phone packed with stuff to watch on the plane. All that remains is to turn off the computer, package it up and put it in the car.. it all seems far too final… but then, it’s only a matter of months before we’re back in the sun. Maybe just 10 minutes more tanning….


LEDS – the Greatest Scandal in Electronics Today

How not to run trains

Well, ok, perhaps that title indicates that I used to read the Sun newspaper too often in my youth.  I’m sitting on the train on the way up to Aberdeen for another FSB all-day meeting over the weekend… in the empty part of the train I might add (and you wonder why National Express gave up!) and I just happened to look up at their lighting – all brand-spanking new LED lighting (well, apart form the masses of fluorescent lights needed to make up for the fact that the LEDs don’t give sufficient light).

LEDS (Light Emitting Diodes) you may well know unless you’ve been in Africa for a while, are the lights appearing all over the place that are supposed to last 100,000 hours or 200 years depending on whether you read English or Chinese instruction. All of the lighting manufacturers seem to be as bad as each other, they all claim the led lightingsame figures, straight from the spec sheet without ever actually doing real tests…   You probably can’t see in the photo, but as you’ll find in any B&Q demo, the super-new LEDS in the train are starting to go… erm, yellowy, which usually means they are on the way out having been over-powered.  As electronics is my thing (I’ve been playing with circuits since I was a kid and have run electronics companies for years) I tend to have endless different types of LEDs floating about and I’ve tried various combinations of voltage, current, variation over time – you name it and it’s always the same – if they get too hot either constantly or intermittently – eventually the colour goes off and they start to die.  This seems to apply more to WHITE LEDs than the others.  The only ones I’ve seen that DON’T get overpowered are the garden solar lights and the reason for that is cost -  a solar panel capable of damaging a LED would cost more than the whole lamp+packaging – so they are usually drastically under-powered and that’s why most of them are useful only for decorative purposes.

So, next time you’re considering LED lighting, make sure you look at a demo that’s been running for some time before forking out your hard-earned cash! And when you decide to trade in your LCD TV for a brand new NEW LED TV – make sure it has a good guarantee!


BT – Brains of Britain

You have to wonder about good old BT…  in the middle of the worst recession for years and with a potential for 25% of the population to be off sick with the flu, BT decide to put up their daytime rates by a whopping 17% – which will apparently bring the cost of a daytime call to a minimum of 5.25p.  They have to be NUTS.

Personally I’ve not used BT for years and if it were not for the need to install a BT line initially when moving to some new houses, I’d never use them again.

tmpD1Most folk out there will be familiar with Skype – though it never ceases to amaze me that there are still some who’ve never heard of it. Skype on the surface of it is a simple PC program for sending messenger-type messages to other Skype users or perhaps talking to other Skype users via microphone and speakers (or headset) – but in fact it is far more than that. At the first level you can buy “Skype out” credit and make calls to real phones – and at the second level you can pay a quarterly fee and have an incoming number – and that’s what I chose to do some 3 years ago now.  I use this for all my calls and have never looked back.

SkypeIn and SkypeOut
Of course you don’t need a PC to use Skype, you can buy dedicated Skype phones and so in my office in the UK I have one of the better Logitech cameras with built-in mic – and over in Spain I have a USB unit that plugs into the laptop over there and lets me make calls over a wireless phone – I think it was about £29 at Maplins – you can also get dedicated phones that need no computer at all, just a wireless connection.  I think I pay about £2 a month for the privilege of all-inclusive landline calls all day and all night, paying only for calls to mobile phones – and even then the cost is quite low.

So – did the BT announcement annoy you as much as it did me? Yes? then do something about it!! GIVE THEM A MISS.

A Nice Clean Browser

Have you noticed how much cleaner the IE8 interface is compared to the past – well that is if you ensure abominations like the Stumbelupon, Yahoo and other toolbars are closed?

Internet Explorer

Nice – but there is still clutter there – and if you’re not on a high-res screen – perhaps you have one of those little EEE computers, the info at the top of the browser can end up taking up much of your screen… so I set about looking up ways to minimise the clutter. I’m increasingly a Firefox fan and here’s my new Firefox setup.

Cleaned up Firefox

Firefox menu popup

As you can see, pretty cleaned up – but what happened to the menu??? I simply reduced it down to a pop-up as you see on the left. And how did I do that?  Simply go get this add-on and follow the instructions for a nice, clean Firefox menu. It’s worth the effort.

But… what about the rest of it? Simple – once you have the compact menu – there is a lot of space to it’s right! Simply right-click your menu area and click CUSTOMISE – not only can you drag items from the options given but you can drag any icon from any OTHER toolbar over to the top – including the back button and anything else – then when you are done – hide all the other toolbars and you end up with something like the image above – but customised to suit your tastes…

I love it. Oh and if you’re into customising Firefox – check out out iMACROS and FoxTab.  No more filling in passwords for me!



A New Wave?

Last night I sat down for the first time and watch Google’s “preview video” for Google Wave and I’m very excited.

I don’t know about you but I have NEVER thought email was very good.  For credentials, I’ve been using emails since before they were emails, every day of my life – by the hundred (it’s not unusual for me to process over a hundred non-spam emails a day) so I’m no stranger to the concept. I use Exchange mail for work – and privately having tried just about every email system on the planet I’ve settled on Google mail.  I also have several blogs, a Twitter feed and presenses on Facebook, LinkedIn and a thousand other social and business networks. I maintain all of my images on Flickr and Google Web album – and videos on blip.tv and Youtube.

Wave goodbye to email?
So why would I say that I believe the age of the email could be coming to an end thanks to Google Wave?  Well, for several reasons – firstly let me explain what I think is wrong with email – then I’ll go on to briefly describe Google Wave and what I think is right with it.

Email is a MESS. You have various formats even to this day, so anything but the most plain and boring email is likely to upset someone using Linux. Embedded images sometimes work (showing inline) and sometimes show as attachments. Any lengthy conversation is a pain in the bum to re-assemble – especially if some clever Charlie changes the title… and if you add someone into the conversation you have to go through all your old emails on the subject and forward them on – it just does NOT work well at all apart from the simplest SEND/REPLY scenario.

But of course, email was invented before the Internet really took off – long before in fact. I was one of the old school using Fidonet and running a Midnight line LONG before the public knew about email. Meanwhile we’ve all become used to the likes of Skype, various Messengers, social networks and other ways of interacting with people.  Email has severe legacy issues in trying to maintain compatibility and… well, it’s not ideal.

And then along comes Google Wave (which at the time of writing is not out yet) – like a breath of fresh air.

I could point you to their video but the tech-types doing the video might put you off – indeed even this email is possibly long enough to put you off – but if you’re still here let me dive in and try to explain.

Google WaveImagine starting off an email – perhaps an invitation to a party, by opening a NEW email, sending to one of your pals and CC’ing a bunch of others. A couple of days later the replies start to pour in. You can’t simply group them together to see who’s coming because some clever Charlies have changed the subject line! Some simply reply, some send additional emails with questions about what booze to bring. Before long you have lots and lots of emails to contend with – oh and you had to keep the email plain because Fred down the road is using an old email client that doesn’t like formatting.

Now imagine a better way, in Google Wave, simply open a new CONVERSATION and drag in various contacts from your address book.  Your contacts who are also using Google Wave (there is a hurdle there but bear with me) see a new conversation has opened from you. They open the conversation and put in their reply… they may at a later date add comments.

As soon as someone puts in a reply, on your computer the conversation turns BOLD indicating there is something new in there – open up and you see the replies – all in ONE place. At any time you can drop in an image or video… again, changes make the conversation come up in bold for everyone involved. They can choose to respond every time this happens – or just occasionally look in. People can reply anywhere on the message, not just at the end.  Think of it as a permanent Messenger thread organised by subject.. As soon as you start editing, others will see the WAVE turn bold and if you want could interact there and then. This makes Google Wave potentially MUCH faster and more convenient than email.

If you’re not seeing this, some images might help – I grasped it almost immediately and I simply can’t WAIT. The issue of course is that we all have to buy into this to make it work – and there are only a couple of companies with enough clout to make us do this – one is Microsoft – the other is Google. I think it might just succeed.

Here’s a screenshot – click on the image to see the full screen – if this doesn’t sell the idea to you – I can’t help :-)  And this is just the preview – what else will they think of by the time it is introduced.

Google Wave

Here’s a Google Wave form to fill in if you want to be kept up to date – I certainly do. Oh and the plan is to make it open-source – and Google are openly saying you could put the code on your own servers to make a “private” wave system!

If you want to see this in operation INCLUDING AT THE END AS-YOU-TYPE language translation…. here’s the video. It’s a little cheesy but if you can stomach it, their explanations are far more interesting than mine! See the stuff near the end – amazing.

Swine Flu “Cannot be contained”


I just don’t believe this government – and WHY have we gotten to the point wherein “we could see over 100,000 cases of swine flu a day by the end of August” ???

Why the HELL as they’ve seen things rise like this, haven’t they been stopping travel, testing people at all airports and stations etc… 100,000 a DAY for heaven’s sake.

I just hope the politicians are the first to go down followed by civil servants.

Something New

Tired of XP – but Vista is rubbish and you don’t want to use the release candidate of Windows 7? Don’t despair!

Seven Transformation Pack

The solution is called “Seven Transformation Pack” and I’ve just installed this on my second computer – and up to now it’s BEAUTIFUL. No guarantees it won’t turn your computer into a harmless rock – but it worked for me! So what’s special about STP?

LiberkeyInstallation is simple enough, involving a reset and about 15 minutes of your time. The various packages that are put together by the author of STP include a Windows 7 start button, semi-transparent task bar, 3d task switch and a Windows 7-like set of gadgets… but probably the biggest boost for Windows XP users – large icons – at last!

Enough talk – here is the link to Seven Transformation Pack

RadioSureWhile you’re at it, a couple of other nice new packages I’ve added to my PCs… look up LIBERKEY – a wrapper around the best open-source software – which automatically updates the software for you and can be held on a memory stick or on your computer. If nothing else, apart from the other really nice OS packages included – I loved RADIOSURE the best… instant streaming radio and a quick search – pulled out Riviera Radio instantly and has niceties such as fade-in-fadeout – even fades between radio stations as you select.-