25 December 2004

Santa's new transport

Santa's finally upgraded his transport, but perhaps he should have chosen something a little bigger! Merry Christmas from eebahgum!

small SantaGo to eebahgum!

18 December 2004

eebahgum's recent overhaul

No DHTML menu at left? Click here to open eebahgum! in a new window.

Over the last two days eebahgum! has undergone a major overhaul. I was very keen to implement categories as a way to arrange my various rants, but such functionality is not native to Blogger as it is to, say, Movable Type. To replicate that concept I've created a number of category pages in a separate blog with similar formatting, and done a lot of linking back to individual post pages. Now when I sit at the keyboard I find myself typing "a href=" without even thinking.

The only immediately obvious change is the floating DHTML menu that you should see to the left of the page which links to each of the category pages, and also gives you a global way of returning 'home'. This is all a bit of a work in progress, but I'm quite happy with the result so far and welcome your feedback.

I've also added a fair amount of new content, especially in the Weird Words archive. Some of you might recognise my weird words as being adaptations of the Word for the Week email series which I wrote a little while back. What the heck, I still like them, and will be posting more of them, as well as new words, regularly.

Now I think it's time for a little lie down.Go to eebahgum!

Review: A feather on the breath of God

bingenHildegard von Bingen was one of the greatest women of history. Born at the end of the 11th century and living into her 80s, Hildegard became Abbess of the nunnery at Bingen, but she was a person of many talents. Theology, music and poetry were amongst them, but she also became a famous woman of medecine and science, and as her fame grew she became advisor to kings and popes. She was also a talented brewer, and apparently the first person ever to add hops to beer. Then, perhaps because of the sexism of her society, and most of those since, she was largely forgotten until about 25 years ago, when her mystical writings started once again to become popular, followed by her music.

This is the CD that in 1982 started the Hildegard of Bingen musical revival, and still ranks amongst the finest early music CDs ever recorded. It's the perfect blend of superb music, performance and recording. It is apparently still the best-selling CD in the Hyperion catalogue, and one listen will tell you why.

I was entranced the first moment I put this on the CD player, and have remained so for the more than 20 years it has been in my collection. As my beloved Emma Kirkby's voice floats gently over the opening 'Columba Aspexit' I am transported to a better place. Okay, give me some literary license here--I really love this.

There seem to be two basic approaches to Hildegard's music. One is to sing it like a performance work, to increase the drama by emphasising the speech rhythm and exploring the dynamic range. The other is to deliver it in a more liturgical manner, with the emphasis on serenity and looking inward. The Gothic Voices in this CD favour the latter approach, and the other major Hildegard interpretors, Sequentia, seem to favour the former.

Which approach works best rather depends on the material, and Hildegard's corpus is vast. The material on this CD is very much liturgical, and the Gothic voices understated readings, focusing on phrase and melisma, work beautifully. Whilst Emma will always be the highlight for me, her associated artists are also of the highest calibre, in particular Emily van Evera (sop) and Margaret Philpott (alto).

I think Sequentia's more dramatic approach works well when they are recording Hildegard's more declamatory music, such as passion plays and so on.

'Feather on the breath of God' is a lovely sounding disk. There's a delicious ambience and space around instruments and voices, the stereo image is rock solid, and the voices are clear and articulate.

But ultimately what really makes this disk stand out is the music. Here is early music which sticks in your head, which you'll be humming and trying to remember in the shower. Astonishing stuff.Go to eebahgum!

[This article first appeared on epinions]

17 December 2004

Review: SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash cards

Sandisk Extreme CF cardsIt's pushing 100°F in the Adelaide shade today. In nine days I'll be on a plane heading for Poland and I'm likely to see sub-zero temperatures. Those sort of temperature extremes take a toll on digital devices, and memory cards can be particularly vulnerable.

SanDisk have responded to this challenge with their 'Extreme' range of memory cards. Not only are they tested in temperatures ranging from -13 to +185°F, they are all shock and vibration resistant. This is achieved by coating all the innards with a layer of silicone which SanDisk call 'industrial strength RTV'. That stands for Room Temperature Vulcanised, by the way, and is the only significant difference between the Extreme Cards and the slightly less pricey SanDisk Ultra II range.

So are they any good? Based on the evidence of my 512 Mb Compact Flash (CF) card, the answer is a resounding 'yes'. This is the fastest CF card I have used and has performed without a hiccup so far. The silicone coating and temperature rating certainly give me a nice warm feeling, although I have to admit I've never seen a CF card fail except by rank carelessness during insertion (not by me, I hasten to add).

Cards in the Extreme range will set you back about twice the price of equivalent 'ordinary' cards and are available in sizes up to 4 Gig. If you work in strange environments or are simply concerned about having the most reliable cards available, then they're a no-brainer. I'd still recommend buying two cards half the size you need rather than one huge one. That way you can keep shooting if one fails or disappears. And although these cards are fast, SanDisk have just released the Extreme III range which are faster still for only a few more dollars.

QUALITY: 5 blackpuddings VALUE: 3 blackpuddings
VERDICT: Pricey, but fast, and the only choice if data integrity is important to you or you work in extreme conditions. Get an Extreme III if you really need speed.Go to eebahgum!

12 December 2004

Hey, digicam manufacturers, give us some security!

beagleboysAlong with laptop computers and cellphones, digital cameras are surely one of the most stolen 'personal accessories'. Cellphones have IMEI numbers, SIM card locks and passwords. Computers have operating system passwords and BIOS level protection, and biometric security devices such as fingerprint scanners are currently coming onto the market. Laptops and cellphones are still stolen in vast numbers, probably because thieves know that most owners don't use the security features available, but at least owners are being offered options.

But what are digital camera manufacturers offering by way of security features? Absolutely nothing, it would seem. How hard would it be, as a bare minimum, to password protect the memory card? This would allow the camera to be used without interruption, but require a password when the camera is connected to a PC to download images or when the card is placed in a card reader. On more advanced cameras, biometric devices could surely be incorporated into the hand grips or shutter release buttons. Canon already has technology to automatically focus on your desired subject by monitoring your retina. Could this not easily be used as a security device?

I don't know the perfect answer here, but I have yet to hear anyone even asking the question. I'd be interested in your views, and I encourage you to contact your favourite digicam manufacturers and get them working on some solutions.

Of course, the best security is some sort of visual deterrent, so that thieves can tell from afar that stealing your equipment is more hassle than it's worth. You can already use such devices as Tracer Tags, which are very effective against loss, and probably somewhat effective against theft. In Australia you can also buy Data Dots which are virtually invisible microdots you put all over your equipment and register with the manufacturer. Stickers then warn would be thieves that the equipment is protected. But any such system is heavily dependent upon a third party staying in business and doing its job properly, which is an unknown.

So it's over to you manufacturers. Give us simple effective security, and a nice big non-removable sticker to tell the world and I won't have to hang on to my camera quite as hard each night.Go to eebahgum!

10 December 2004

Ho hum...obligatory BlogExplosion blog

be_logoSeems like every second blog is talking about BlogExplosion. You know the kind of thing——"Hey, you should check out BE. It's really cool. I'm getting hundreds of hits a week. You should sign up. You really should. Blah-de-blah-de-blah".

And of course, that's all basically true. BlogExplosion drives half a person to eebahgum for every blog I visit. That half a person has to hang around for at least 30 seconds before moving on, but of course, he or she doesn't have to read a single word, especially if using a nifty tabbed browser like Firefox.

So when is a hit not a hit? Ultimately the acid test of whether anyone's reading is still the number of people who leave comments, subscribe or blogroll me. BlogEx has helped with all those a little, which is good, and worthy of recommendation, but I'd be surprised if more than 10% of BlogExers actually read as far as my banner. That's not a criticism of BlogEx users, just an observation of the way the system works.

I admit it, I'm a traffic whore. I like to go and check my stats 37,000 times a second, and when I see some hits I get a little welling of excitement. But then when I see that they're mostly from BlogEx, it's always a little deflating.

If there's a moral to this blog, it's this: by all means sign up for BlogExplosion, and browse with whatever enthusiasm takes your fancy, but if you really want to support the Blogosphere (and therefore your own blog) then you can do that best by scattering your erudite comments about with abandon. Anything else is ultimately a 'get hits quick scheme'.Go to eebahgum!

8 December 2004

What's so great about PictBridge?

pictbridge_logoDigicam manufacturers all rave about how their latest cameras are 'PictBridge' enabled. Yup, you can print directly from your camera to your PB enabled printer without turning on your computer for a single solitary moment, not even a little bit. Sure my computer's on all the time anyway. Sure, I am completely opposed to plugging cables into my expensive digicam because once you stuff up the weedy little connectors your entire camera becomes a paperweight. PictBridge is really exciting technology, right?

Maybe not. In reality, most prints I have seen using PictBridge, frankly, SUCK! Colour accuracy is atrocious and the output is usually slower. And I seem not to be alone in this observation. The Winter 2005 edition (Hey, isn't it still 2004?) of the esteemed photo mag Popular Photography and Imaging tests 6" x 4" colour printers and finds, surprise, surprise, that PictBridge "colour accuracy was noticeably lower in comparison with prints made using a computer connection".

Consider also that most digicam owners probably have a computer, so they don't really need direct printing anyway, and we seem to be looking at a technology that's as useful as the proverbial ashtray on a motorbike, or perhaps the digital zoom!

That being the case, why are camera and printer manufacturers plugging PB so much? And why does the very same copy of Popular Photography, in its group test of 8 Megapixel cameras, list PictBridge compatibility in the list of 'hot' features for every single camera in the test? Anyone buying an 8 Megapixel camera is surely interested in quality, and PB compatibility would therefore be a low priority. Mind you, buyers of 8 MP cameras should generally be buying digital SLRs anyway, but that's another blog.Go to eebahgum!

7 December 2004

Come to a Christmas thingy!

This is a show I'm singing in tomorrow (Wednesday) night. Why not come along, particularly if you happen to live in Adelaide.

OSC flyerGo to eebahgum!

4 December 2004

Shock results with long zoom digicams from Panasonic, Minolta and Canon

Minolta Z3 Canon S1 IS Panasonic FZ20
When it comes to cameras, size does matter. I've always had a thing for big lenses, with large apertures and long zooms. So it's with great interest that I've been following the various new long zoom digicams with anti-shake mechanisms. I've already commented on how impressed I was with the Minolta Z3 in my first play, but the more I read, the more I was convinced that the new Panasonic FZ20 was the toy for me. 12x optical, 5 MP, substantial hand grip and anti-shake. Almost as good as an SLR/fantastic value, the reviewers said, and I knew they were right.

That was until I played with one in the company of Sam from Ted's Cameras in Adelaide, never known to be backward with her photographic opinion. She was clearly unconvinced by the FZ20. She felt it was too slow to focus and stabilise the image, and the images were not as shake-free as the older and cheaper 3 MP Canon S1 IS. Well, that's not what I'd read in all the reviews, so I set out to prove her wrong.

And I failed. I got clicking with the Canon, the Panasonic and the 4 MP Minolta Z3, and after photographing both internal and external subjects I came to the following conclusions:
  1. The Canon IS system consistently gave less blurred results than the other two cameras, despite the lower resolution. This was very noticeable indoors in average lighting, less so in daylight.
  2. The Canon was also very much faster to acquire focus, with little or no hunting. By contrast the Panasonic hunted up and down fairly slowly before every shot, and the Minolta seemed to flitter with indecision several times before making its mind up. The Panasonic was frankly the most annoying in this regard.
  3. The Pana won in the image noise stakes, and at its best had more detail, but so it should being a more modern 5 MP camera.
  4. Overall, each of the anti-shake systems gave better results on than off, but the benefits were smaller than I'd imagined, and quite inconsistent so you never really knew how much benefit you'd get from shot to shot.
  5. Combine the time taken to focus with the time taken to stabilise, and you end up reducing your certainty of getting the shot you imagined. That tends to offset the advantages.
Well, that was all a bit of a disappointment. The stabilisation systems were clearly not the panacea for all ills I had imagined, and each of the cameras was ultimately fatally flawed. The Canon simply didn't have enough resolution for me, and has too small a screen although it does seem a brilliant thing at the price. The Panasonic was just too slow and the image stabilisation less good, and the Minolta is a cute little package but ultimately too shiny, toy-like and average in its picture taking. Bang for the buck these are all great value, and that Leica lens on the Panasonic is impressive. Any one of them will give you a lot of camera for the money, just bear in mind the issues I have raised and decide whether they are for you.

By now I was a shattered man, and experience tells me the best cure for that is simply to spend more money——a bit of the old 'retail therapy'. So when I learned that Nikon were offering $200 cashback on their SLRs, I broke the bank and ordered a Nikon D70 with 18––70 and 70––300 lenses, duty free. I might have added 60% to my budget but I'll end up with 16.7x optical zoom (out to the equivalent of 450 mm in 35 mm speak), far better pictures, much more versatility, fewer compromises and bigger muscles from carrying the camera bag and tripod.Go to eebahgum!

27 November 2004

Anyone for GMail?

Google Mail, or GMail, seems to be what all the best dressed bloggers are wearing this season. I was probably the last kid on the blog, er, block, to sign up, but if anyone would like an invitation to this (for now) exclusive service, drop me a line.Go to eebahgum!

25 November 2004

Battered, bruised, but for once unbeaten

After a year since its first visit to the racetrack, my BMW Mini has finally won a race, although as the driver I guess I can take some credit. About 20 race meetings have taken a toll on the bodywork as you can see, but she's (why are cars female anyway?) running pretty sweetly with a tendency to nice controllable oversteer.

Mini top view

Mini front end
And lest anyone doubt it, perhaps having heard of or witnessed my somewhat 'percussive' style of driving, here's the evidence, as photographed by my friend and roving correspondent David.

If you've read this far you might actually be interested, so let me tell you a little about the car. It's a Tamiya 1/10 scale front wheel drive BMW Mini, which comes in a kit costing about $330 Australian (around $25o US at the moment), but that's with the clunky mechanical speed control. First mandatory upgrades are metal ball bearing races to replace the plastic ones in the kit, then an electronic speed control (mine's made by GM and costs about A$100).

In a stock racing category, you are only allowed a limited selection of approved upgrades (called hop-ups) before you're non-stock. My hop-ups include aluminium front uprights, toe-in rear uprights, oil-filled shocks with short springs, and an upgraded servo saver. Tyres are presently HPI belted radials on the rear, next-to-no-name brand sponges on the front, and racing pack is a GM-VIS 2400 mAh NiCd, with a 3000 mAh NiMh for practice and backup. Controller is a Sanwa Blazer AM pistol grip, with Sanwa servos.

The car is pretty quick even though the tyres I am running are a little smaller in diameter than the stock tyres run by some of my competitors. My guess is it will push about 40 km/h. The only real problem is that my driving is, er, how do I put this without insulting myself, utter crap, though it is improving. And that applies to my 1/10 scale car as well.Go to eebahgum!

5 November 2004

On men and watches

They say you can tell a man by the company he keeps. If, for example, he keeps a company like Microsoft he'’s probably a very wealthy cybergeek, and I'’d be inclined to call him ‘'Sir'’ or ‘'Your Majesty'’ in the hope of handouts.

I'’m sure you can learn a lot about a man from his car as well. More than that, you can tell how he would like to be seen, and perhaps how he sees himself. A red open-topped sports car driven by a short, balding, spread-waisted fugly with a Hawaiian shirt, flaunting a hairy chest, medallion and one arm outside the car makes me think ‘'mid-life crisis'’ with some surety. When I see a Japanese family sedan with spoilers, skirts, bonnet scoop, 35 profile mags and large exhaust, 4 foot driver reclined in seat so as to appear 3 foot, and '‘boof boof’' music blaring from the stereo, I make a mental note to thank God I didn'’t have daughters.

So what of Seiko's and Pulsar'’s latest ads for watches? The Seiko ads suggest things like:

“It’'s not your car. It’'s not your friends. It'’s not your job. It’'s your watch that says most about who you are.”

I think what tells me most about a man is his demeanour, attitude, the way he talks and what he says. That much seems pretty obvious. As result these ads seem to have elicited quite a deal of criticism. But I think you can also tell a fair amount about the inner book from the cover, and I for one do use a man’'s watch as one of the ways of formulating an impression of him at first meeting.

My journey in watches

My father was a Rolex man. A solid, unpretentious, slightly old-fashioned exterior hid a quiet flair and a taste for real quality. He looked after his two Rolexes, lovingly cleaning them, removing scratches and generally making them appear their best. In his final year or so he found wearing a watch started to annoy him, and thought about selling them, but first asked me if I'’d like them, and in particular, if I'’d wear them, After all, why own a classic car if it’'s never driven?

Well, I’'m a Longines man. Progressive, creative, into style though a little unreliable. But my father’'s watches were so much a part of him that I had to have them, and wear them I do when in a Rolex sort of mood. That’'s not often, but they each get to see the world a few times a year.

In my quest to find out what sort of man I was, I tried quite a few watches. An elegant old Swiss Universal was my first ‘'grown-up'’ watch, a hand-me-down from my father. It had a remarkable hand-made mechanism, but I was going through my teen geek years and wanted digital! An ugly but reliable Citizen digital (the first with an alarm) was a good school friend. An elegant Seiko looked the part, but lacked character and never gelled with me in the same way. A multi-function Omega Sensor Quartz was used by astronauts but died in the shallow end of a friend'’s swimming pool and had to be flown back to Switzerland for emergency surgery. Omega, unsurprisingly, discontinued it soon afterwards.

All these watches came to me as '‘surprises'’ from Dad, and I have them all still, hidden in drawers and boxes. I don’'t know where they are exactly, but they’'re somewhere, and I will come across them from time to time, like old photos; chronometers which chronicle my life.

Longine ConquestFrom the first time I set eyes on a 1980s Longines Conquest, the watch apparently inspired by Charles Lindbergh, I realised I could not rest until I owned one, and 10 years ago a two-tone metal-banded model joined clan Conway. I’'d wanted the crystal back, but when I tried one it was just too fat for my delicate wrist, so it’'s the plain-jane model, and it does just fine. Reasonably accurate and elegant to this day (mine is not the VHP model illustrated and doesn’t have romans but is otherwise the same).

Pulsar’s adverts

So Seiko, I'’m a believer in part, and I think your advertising is subtle and effective. It surprises me that some people are so inclined to literalise creative copy just so they can get hot under the collar. But if a watch tells us about the man, what was your subsidiary Pulsar thinking when they came up with these ads?

Pulsar ad 2Rather than letting the watch tell the tale, they’'ve decided to fill in the details for us, perhaps because wearing as Pulsar actually says '“Can'’t afford a Seiko, let alone a Swiss watch”'. The trouble is they tell us too much. I can relate to some of the oddities of these characters, but those to which I can'’t relate distance me from both the character and, ultimately, Pulsar watches.

Take Character 1. First, he’'s impossibly good looking, which would put many men off immediately. But whilst I can relate to his hatred of coriander and love of sandcastles and Dostoevsky, his passion for reality TV and Chihuahuas and his belief in ghosts mark him as shallow and superstitious, and lead me to the conclusion that he just keeps a copy of Crime and Punishment around to impress chicks, not because he can actually read. And I just don’'t like toy dogs.

Pulsar ad 1

As for Character 2, the one with the doped-up expression, I can relate to antique maps, steam typewriters, sci-fi and butterscotch pudding, and tolerate the kilt. But not having a mobile phone paints him as a Luddite, wanting six children suggests he is socially irresponsible and clueless about parenting (I mean, does he look fatherhood material?). And owning 27 pairs of jeans? Well, it’s not like me to be judgmental or anything, but what a loser!

I’'m sure we all fancy ourselves as individuals, so the idea of marketing watches as a means of individual expression is a perfectly good one, and it works for Seiko. But as soon as the individual becomes a weirdo, loony or loner then the advertising is doomed to failure. It’'s a fine line, and although I'’m sure Pulsar has a fine line of watches, they seem to have crossed to the wrong side of the line in marketing.

Women’s watches

You'’ll notice I’'ve focused very much on men and men's watches here. Frankly, like most men, I just can'’t understand women'’s watches. So often they are tiny braceletty things with eccentrically shaped faces and convoluted bands which go equally well with any clothing because they go with absolutely nothing. Oh look, are those hands? I can just make them out with the naked eye—remarkable. But where are the markings?

I’'ve resigned myself to the fact that the women’'s watches I like are never the ones my partner likes. Like women and neckties, it is a brave man who buys a watch for a woman. At the end of the day, if watches can tell you a little about a man, they can also speak volumes about how little men understand women.

Why watches?

So why do some of us have this fascination with watches? Is it because they are a permanent reminder of our link to history and the future, a meeting point between the temporal and the ephemeral? Do we form some subconscious relationship between the human pulse and the ticking of a watch? Is it simply because they'’re the gadget with which we spend the most time?

What do you think? And what sort of watch are you?

Go to eebahgum!

2 November 2004

Mathematics redefined by journos and pollsters

50 equals, ummmNew York correspondent Phillip Coorey is quoted in the Adelaide Advertiser as saying:

A Newsweek poll, taken before and after bin Laden [meaning his video] appeared, gave Mr Bush a 50% to 44% lead over Senator Kerry. But with the poll's 4% margin of error, this represented a statistical dead heat.

Say what? How can 50 be statistically the same as 44? Have pollsters or journalists redefined mathematics as we know it? By my reading a '4% error' means this poll is giving Bush 50% ± 2%, i.e. 4% of the number in question. But even allowing that what the journalist means is 50% ± 4%, there is still a difference of 6% between the raw numbers. Either that is significant, given that the data is part of the same poll and therefore directly comparable, or the entire poll is questionable.

Of course, most such polls are based on 500 to 1,000 respondents from a certain area or loose demographic, so in any responsible statistical sense they probably are questionable anyway. No doubt they create employment opportunities for door-knockers, telephone canvassers and numerically challenged journalists.Go to eebahgum!

The sweet smell of victory, and horse manure

Well, my two standout picks came 1st and 2nd, and one of my other rated horses came 4th. I have yet to see a full finishing list, but I'm feeling pretty happy with the day's takings. Hope you had good luck as well. Go to eebahgum!

The Late Mail

Vinnie Roe and Distinction are both attracting money at good odds, but the Late Mail is for Pacific Dancer.Go to eebahgum!

1 November 2004

Melbourne Cup tips

50 equals, ummmA few hours before Americans go the polls, Australians go to the races. Of course, the US election is important and all, but the Melbourne Cup is really serious. For 10 minutes on the first Tuesday afternoon of each November, every Australian workplace and shop comes to a standstill to watch Australia's richest horse race. And despite the fact that everyone's suddenly a horse-racing expert, bookies and totalizators across the country nevertheless rake in money at a canter. Expect over A$100 million to be bet this year in a country of only 20 million people.

The Cup is a punter's nightmare. Top class horses from the UK and New Zealand travel vast distances to compete with Australia's best for the A$4.15 million on offer. Each year many starters are untested over the 3200 m, or being ridden by jockeys who hadn't seen them before the previous morning's trackwork. The field is vast, and the potential for bad runs immense.

Until recently I had a great record in tipping this race. I made a mess of it last year, but I have now picked the winner 11 years in 15 tries. And because I am not afraid to make a prat of myself in public, here are my tips for this year.
Of course the usual disclaimers apply. I am not responsible, blah, blah, if you lose don't complain to me, but if you win money on my tips please send it to me by return mail, etc, etc.

Conditions: Rain is forecast, and the track has also been watered, so it's likely to be Dead to Slow.

The top 2

Makybe Diva Last year's winner looks likely highly likely to win again. She is an outstanding mare who will cope with any conditions and if she gets a good run it's hard to see her being bettered.

Vinnie Roe If there's a bit of give in the ground, the champion Irish horse will be in the finish. Coming off a fourth consecutive victory in the Irish St Ledger.

Others to watch

A good Irish stayer from a top trainer, but a bit of an unknown here. In form, but all his success has been on good tracks. One to watch.

Elvstroem Three wins in a row two starts back in G1 and G2 races. All came from racing handy. In Cox Plate run he was slow off the line and caught back, but ran on well. Untested at distance, but in real form. Will handle wet track.

Pacific Dancer Won Geelong Cup over 2400 from being 11th at the 800 and 400. That field was not of the same class, but he showed he can stay. Needs dry track though.

Grey Song 6th last year running on at the finish, and finished well in the Caulfield. Will be thereabouts. Will handle heavier going.


Catchmeifyoucan If you like an outsider, this is the one to be on. Lacks the class of the others, but flashed home for 4th in the 2400 m Metropolitan Group 1 having been 13th at the 800 and 400 and caught wide throughout. Will handle all conditions.

Question marks

Media Puzzle Won this race well in 2002, then didn't race for 94 weeks due to a leg injury. A class gelding with proven ability, and working quite well, but looks too risky here.

She's Archie Second last year in a tremendous run. Good early preparation this campaign, then injured and has not run for a month. Has the ability, but perhaps the poor preparation will be too much.

Stay tuned for my late mail an hour or two before race time, and good luck.Go to eebahgum!

28 October 2004

What's this vote pairing business, anyway?

Like many outside the US (and perhaps inside) I admit to being pretty befuddled by many aspects of the American voting system. I follow the policies closely, and understand much of how actual government works. I've even read Parliament of Whores by the hilarious P J O'Rourke. Despite that, and although I passed Primary school, I have yet to graduate from Electoral College, and I always thought Chad was a place in Africa.

In Australia we have an Electoral Commission which ensures that all voting and counting is impartial and run in the same way across the whole country, yet in the US there seem to be different rules and processes in every state (and even different systems in Maine and Nebraska), and the potential for error or corruption seems ever-present.

And just when I thought I might be getting a handle on it, I come across Vote Pairing. Huh? As I understand it, this allows a 'progressive voter' who may support Cobb, Nader or Badnarik in swing states to still support Kerry-Edwards, while a Democrat in a safe state registers a vote for Cobb and Co.

Does it makes sense? Will it make a difference? What do you think?
Go to eebahgum!

26 October 2004

Record scratched but unbroken

Arsenal crestOn Sunday, Arsenal's unbeaten run came to an end at 49 games, and I am in mild mourning. Logically, it couldn't go on forever, and it's the greatest domestic success by an English team since the beginning of English league football in 1863. The previous longest unbeaten run was a mere 42 by Brian Clough's great Notts Forest side of the 1970s. The only other team ever to go through a season unbeaten was Preston North End in 1888/89, when the season was only 22 games, rather than the 38 we have today.

To put this into global perspective, no German Bun­desliga team has ever been unbeaten for a season, nor any team in Holland or France. Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid did it in Spain more than 70 years ago when it was a less formidable challenge. In modern football, only AC Milan have achieved a comparable feat when they went unbeaten in the 1991 season, and you could argue that English football today is much more physical and competitive than Italian football back then.

By anyone's reckoning, this is a remarkable achievement in the history of sport. What a pity, then, that the run ended under such ignominious circumstances. In a characteristically (and mutually, I grant) petulant encounter against arch-rivals Manchester United, in which Arsenal were clearly the better team in the balance, the game was decided by a penalty awarded for a blatant dive by ManU wunderkind Wayne Rooney. A player of his standard shouldn't really have to cheat, and it will almost certainly come back to bite him. Refs will be watching him more closely in the future, and his team-mates in the England dressing room will be unimpressed, especially the highly regarded Sol Campbell whose leg Rooney flew over.

Aside from that the referee should have arguably have sent off ManU defender Ferdinand, and penalised Ruud Van Nistlerooy for a blatant stamp on the knee and shin of Arsenal defender Ashley Cole.

So cheating and bad refereeing decided the match, rather than football. That's increasingly common in the modern game, unfortunately, and the introduction of some degree of video adjudication is way overdue. But that's another conversation. For this one, we may have come to the end of the record, but you can rest assured it won't be broken anytime soon, and we gooners will be playing it over and over!Go to eebahgum!

19 October 2004

Clive's New Black Game

I've had a bit of fun recently playing 'Clive's New Black Game'. That's where you get in a conversation, preferably with someone you don't know all that well, and occasionally punctuate your comments with "[something] is the new black". I recommend that [something] at least be related to the topic under discussion, but it's not mandatory.

The real secret to success in this game is not to overdo it. In any given conversation any less than twice is clearly too little, and more than thrice is probably too much. Space them out—don't get too eager too early. And in a subsequent conversation with the same person, just drop it in once, preferably fairly late in the conversation.

Occasionally, someone will ask you what you mean. Just stay calm and say, "Well, you know..." then change the topic seamlessly. If really pushed for an explanation, just say "
[something] is the new black" again, but with increased exasperation in your voice. Trust me, it'll work.

As a matter of interest, I ran a Google search on the phrase "is the new black". Towards the top of the 20,700 matches were the following:
  • black
  • red, orange, blue, grey, gold, pink, green... (hmmm, I think I sense a pattern here)
  • awkward
  • scar tissue
  • Australia (woo, hoo!)
  • plagiarism
  • flatiron steak
  • chocolate
  • fat
  • java
  • bashing Bush (hard to argue with that)
  • imperialism (now we're talking)
  • poverty
  • war
  • idiocy
  • apathy
and perhaps the ultimate wisdom du jour:"butt crack is the new cleavage".
Go to eebahgum!

13 October 2004

I gotta use words when I talk to you

So said, T.S. Eliot's Sweeney. Somewhat prophetically, he hit on the perpetual dilemma of the web communicator. Whilst this rapid, borderless medium has some of the hallmarks of conversation, you can't see my expression (count yourself lucky), my posture, the way I stick my tongue out a little when thinking, or that strange thing I do with my right hand.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I have recently taken to clicking on the button on the top right of a Blogspot blog, optimistically labelled 'Next Blog'. It's fun entering other people's worlds, engaging with their views on life. Or at least it would be if the signal-to-noise ratio weren't so poor.

The first problem is how many blogs have a single entry, half complete, and dated when Adam were a boy. Thought of blogging and changed your mind? Fine, but please pick up your litter on the way out. Problem number two is the blogs which are just lists of links for marketing or traffic purposes. They're the blog equivalent of spamming in my book. Perhaps we should dub them blams or spogs.

But perhaps the biggest problem of all is people who refuse to use words and punctuation when they write. Is it really cool to leave out every clue to meaning and aid to readability? u mt thnk so...bt u no 2 me imnsho it jst sks. So I was amused to read Jennifer Garrett's excellent article Eats, Blogs and Leaves. It's full of pearls of wisdom like:
It's time for a little tough love, people: Anyone who types in all lowercase needs to be taken out back and beaten. You are not e.e. cummings; you are not being "artistic." You're just too lazy to hit the shift key. If you can't be bothered with the extra keystroke, I can't be bothered to read your site.
Go girl! Fellow bloggers, when I read your blog there is a conduit between what I am reading and what you were writing. It's made up of words, grammar, punctuation, page design, and so on. The clearer you can make that conduit; the less congested by bad spelling, abbreviations, and dots, the more I can connect with you, and isn't that your goal?Go to eebahgum!

11 October 2004

What's in a name?

It just occured to me that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's surname backwards is...Ebagum! Might he really be from Lancashire?

3 October 2004

Moleskine—The PDA goes back to the future

Move over Palm Pilot and Pocket PC——the portable digital assistant for this season has gone retro and it's called the Moleskine (pronounced mol-a-skeen'-a). This little black book is the modern incarnation of the legendary notebook used by Van Gogh, Matisse, Breton, Picasso, Hemingway, Chatwin and now Conway.

Between its elegantly formed, hard black oilcloth covers rest 90 leaves, available blank, ruled or squared. Naturally, I chose the squared——why should order only be horizontal? There's also a neat expanding pocket in the rear, to house, I'm sure, the receipts from your favourite Parisian cafĂ©. In it you'll find the history of the Moleskine, in French, German, Italian and (no doubt with some reluctance) English. There's a quality thread binding with bookmark, and a tasteful elastic closure to maintain discretion.

It's odd that something so quintessentially French should now be made in Italy, and predictably it comes at a premium——expect to pay about $22 Australian, £8 or $11 Stateside. But this is no mere notebook. It's an intimate connection with the creative current of history, a blank novel waiting to be written (just add words), a magnificent mythology. And as an entry ticket into the aspiring literati club, it would be cheap at thrice the price.

Most of all it's a beautiful anachronism, and the more I immerse myself in technology, the more I hanker for such things.

1 October 2004

Cellphones are dangerous!

One from the archives:
Cellphones ARE dangerous, there can be no doubt. Just the other week I got my Nokia belt clip caught on my car's door frame as I got in and hurt my hip badly, dented the car and broke the clip off the back of the phone. A few weeks before, the phone fell out of the car and onto my big toe. Once I was carrying the wretched thing in my breast pocket when I ran into a barrier and bruised my ribs. On another occasion I had my hands-free unit in my ear when I knocked it and ripped it out of my ear cavity. Damned painful, I can tell you.

But it's not just physical damage which you have to watch out for. Frankly, I find it threatening to be rung up by people to whom I owe money.

Then there's driving. Of course it's dangerous using a cellphone in a car, especially if you have no hands-free unit. Even with the hands-free you still find yourself fishing around for it when the phone rings, or being distracted by arguments you may be having with those people mentioned above. And you still don't have enough hands to change gears, control the steering wheel, turn the pages of the newspaper and give the finger to other drivers.

Radiation? Well, that's the least of my worries. But if it worries you then do three things:
  1. Get a hands-free unit. I recommend one from your phone manufacturer, not a cheap clone. Or try the one of the funky Jabra headsets--mine has higher background noise than the Nokia original (which broke) but has great audio quality, is comfortable and looks cool.
  2. Don't panic! Bear in mind that we are surrounded by radiation from all sorts of things--microwaves, TVs, computer screens, lights, the sun, short-wave radios, and so on. Cellphone radiation is just a drop of water in an inescapable ocean. And 3/4 of illness is psychosomatic, so they say, so the worry is probably more dangerous than the radiation.
  3. Don't be too hip. If cellphones are dangerous, then wearing one clipped to your belt whilst in use is the worst thing you can do. At least your brain is protected by fluid and a hard case. Your internal organs have no such protection.
By all means take precautions, but don't be put off by ill-informed hype. And when a friend tells you he's been on the cellphone and has a headache from all the radiation, just suggest he doesn't press the phone so hard against his head the next time.

30 September 2004

Digicams: Curing the shakes

Camera shake is one of the most common afflictions of the amateur photographer, second only to camera envy. And while digital cameras encourage you to have a few goes until you get it right, it's not that easy to spot blurry images on a little LCD screen unless you zoom into them and check focus. The traditional solution has always been to carry a tripod or monopod, but non-pro snappers have always been averse to that.

Enter image stabilisation. It's been on video cameras and professional lenses for a few years, and has now made its way to mid-range digicams. There are a few competing systems out there. The Canon and Panasonic solutions cancel shake in the lens. The Konica Minolta solution moves the CCD sensor. The new Nikon solution just transfers the shake to your hip pocket, at least for now. The question is, do these systems work?

And the answer, from my experience so far, is a resounding 'yes'. I've seen excellent results from the Canon IS digicam, with its 10x zoom, and recently had a play with the new 4 MP Konica Minolta Z3. It looks like a Star Trek prop, and has rather too many shiny surfaces which I'd find myself rubbing fingerprints off all the time, but it's very compact and has an astonishing 12x zoom (35–420 in 35 mil-speak). Standing in the camera store I took photos of posters at a shop across a wide arcade, and at 12x zoom the text was crisp and shake free at about 1/100 of a second. Zooming in on-screen I could read the crisp fine print which I could only just detect with the naked eye. There's a bit of purple-fringing and noise levels are average, but overall this is a marvellous thing.

I'm looking forward to playing with the forthcoming Panasonic FZ20. With 5 MP and Leica lens which achieves f2.8 across the whole zoom range, I expect the results to be better, but it's also a vastly larger camera. Choices, choices...

29 September 2004

Digicams: The quest for the holy grail

It seems like much of my life is consumed by the search for the perfect digital camera. And of course, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of Shopping applies--the longer I look, the more things change. At least I think I've defined my requirements now. All I'm after is a digital SLR with a stabilised 12x zoom and swiveling screen, of at least 8 megapixel resolution. And it has to be small enough to fit comfortably in my pocket, and cost no more than $500 US. Simple, right?

There have already been some interesting encounters on the quest--stay tuned!

Movie Review: Peter Sellers

I am usually the last one out of a movie theatre who isn’t being paid attendance money. Having a friend in the film-making business encourages me to pore over every word of the credits, savouring every funny name and future legend.

So it came as a surprise to see several groups still debating ‘Peter Sellers’ as I rose to my feet. They clearly were not discussing the merits of the film, as that, alas, would have been a fairly short topic of conversation. A little eavesdropping led me to the conclusion that they were instead discussing the accuracy of several aspects of the tale.

And let’s be clear, this is a tale, rather than a biographic film. It starts at the end of Sellers’ ‘Goon Show’ years, when I would really have like to see the background to how he came to be there, his relationships with Milligan, Seacombe et al. It then presents a theory of Sellers’ life which can be pretty well summarised in two sentences. I can just about picture it in my TV Guide now—“Peter Sellers was a flawed comic genius whose character was shaped by his domineering mother. He was therefore bereft of actual character, existing largely in a miasma of invented characters, both on and off screen, leading to a series of failed relationships, dependence on a charlatan psychic and his ultimate death from a dodgy ticker”.

Well, that’s a perfectly good theory, but it’s all a bit simple. One only has to look at Sellers’ improvisation in the Goons, Lolita or Strangelove to realise that he was a very rare sort of genius indeed, and I for one would rather have a wider picture of his life and come to my own conclusions, rather than have an interpretation of a man whom I have related to in film over many decades thrust upon me. In a sense this is a myopic biopic and manipulative to boot.

Sure, director Steve Hopkins tries to make the journey interesting. Reality and film sometimes blur into an attempt at stream of consciousness. Like a Sellers film, Geoffrey Rush moves in and out of Sellers various persona, and also those of key players in Sellers’ life. It’s a valiant attempt, but ultimately it’s all a bit to obvious and indelicate. To me, the artifice of a film should be like a skeleton—I want to know it’s there, but I’d rather not see it all the time.

What nearly saves this film is the performances. Geoffrey Rush is perfectly cast and shows real versatility, particularly in the excellent recreations of vignettes from Sellers’ films. He is ably supported by Emily Watson as first wife Anne, Sonia Aquino as Sophia Loren and Charlize Theron who is spot on as Britt Ekland and continues to grow in stature as an actress, as well as being pleasant to look at. John Lithgow overacts horribly as Blake Edwards, which makes him just about perfect from my recollection (what did Julie Andrews ever see in that man?) and Stephen Fry tries to play Oscar Wilde again, but in the wrong movie. Frankly the film would have been better (and shorter) without his character.

But even fine performances are not enough to make this a good film. It is ultimately too deliberate and too obviously manipulative for that. And the clever vignettes recreating actual Sellers’ films actually made me want to rush out of the theatre to borrow those Sellers originals rather than prolong the agony much longer. For a true Sellers fan this film will be disappointing, but one will have the satisfaction of the self-importance which comes through recognising many of the filmic references. For the person unfamiliar with Sellers’ work, it will hold no interest whatsoever. Whichever camp you are in, rush to your video store and demand a copy of Dr Strangelove. It will teach you much more about Sellers’ confused comic genius than any myopic biopic.