22 October 2005

Who is the beast? Why, it's a man of the cloth!

Yes, there's a mysterious 'vege-ravaging' beast rampaging around the UK, and this screen grab from the website of UGC cinemas finally reveals its identity! Look carefully in the bottom left corner and all will be revealed!
Were Rabbi
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15 October 2005

I've finally sung at St John's College, Cambridge!

At a fortnight's notice I was offered the opportunity to sing with the English Arts Chorale in their performance of the Bach B Minor Mass at St John's College, Cambridge last Saturday. Anyone who is familiar with the work will realise that it's one of the hardest sings in the repertoire—long, relentless and tiring. Having not sung it since the early 90s, I was a little sceptical that they'd actually take me at such short notice, but I was encouraged to come along and try out. I had dreamt of singing at Cambridge all my life, so how could I refuse?

So I showed up to the ante-penultimate rehearsal, got some of it right although I fumbled my way through several of the cruel runs at conductor Leslie Olive's cracking tempo. I was pronounced adequate without having to undergo their usual audition ordeal, and it was Cambridge, here we come. At this first rehearsal I was struck by the choir's excellent handling of the rapid bits, and real sense of ensemble and subtlety in the delicate bits. Les encourages everyone to sing the very least they need to create a good tone, and pursues a bright clear 'young' sound, and it works. The choir has a good blend of strong voices and for an amateur choir of 45 or 50 voices is very good indeed.

We arrived at St John's College on Saturday last for the big day. The College is lovely, dating back to the early 16th century. The Chapel, which is world famous for its choir and its acoustic is, surprisingly, much newer, having been built in the 1860s. It is nevertheless a beautiful building, with a magnificent polished floor, lovely roof treatment and austere dark woodwork. There's a Quicktime movie you can scroll around on St John's College website which you might like to check out. The place is long and thin, with the organ mounted above the Quire on the Cantoris side. One look at the place and you can see the sound is going to be nice and detailed in the front half, and a wash of meaningless noise at the back, and that's pretty much how it is.

We had been practicing at my son's school in Reigate, accompanied by piano. The dress rehearsal in this completely different space, now with organ and chamber ensemble was, frankly, a disaster. Suddenly without the percussive authority of the piano, tired from more than two hours travel, and perhaps a little overawed by the occasion, heads went down and timing went out the window. To add to the disaster, the oboist's music was lost, and the tenor soloist was clearly under-rehearsed. This could be ugly.

But as I said earlier, this is a pretty decent choir. With three hours between rehearsal and concert, would we get our heads together in time? Would there be anyone in the audience to care? And most urgently, how was I going to get my fat neck into the tiny bow tie with which I had been provided?

In the end, I need not have worried too much. Joanna fixed the bow tie with the ingenious application of safety pins--a girl thing if ever there were one. The audience was just shy of 250 which in a college chapel is pretty good. The tenor soloist had been working hard between times and was fine. Soloists were very good all round, and the violin, horn, flute and oboe generally excellent—top class players all. And the choir were suitably transformed—they sang well, with reasonable tightness and authority until the inevitable 'wall of tiredness' which affects every choir I've ever heard about two-thirds of the way through the Bach B Minor. After a couple of ensemble wobblies at that point, they recovered to a very musical conclusion. They could have been a little tighter on the day, and perhaps just a little more sophisticated in places, but overall it was pretty good, and in several places, brilliant. And the star of the show was Ian Le Grice, the choir's accompanist, on the organ.

So all told, a very good show. And what a joy it is to sing in that incredibly famous chapel. As wave after wave of audience applause washed over us at the end, I was high on the space and the sound, and just did not want to get off the stage, knowing I may never have this opportunity again—an absolute buzz.

My '6-week' world tour started last Christmas, but somehow didn’t involve any singing until quite recently. Of late I have performed Brahms Requiem with the Surrey Choral Festival, rehearsed Spem in Alium with the Tallis Scholars (yes THE Tallis Scholars), and soon I have another Spem with the highly regarded Exmoor Singers of London in early November, followed by yet another Spem with the English Arts Chorale at Arundel Cathedral, along with the Faure and Brahms Requiems. But in this 500th anniversary of Tallis's birth, every Spem is sacred, every Spem is great!Go to eebahgum!

11 October 2005

Earthquakes don't kill...

Behind the disturbing images currently on our TVs showing the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan lies an equally horrible truth which isn't getting much media attention—that most of the deaths could have been prevented.

Earthquake experts have long asserted that earthquakes don't kill, buildings do. And buildings generally don't unless people have messed up.

Although this has been a very significant earthquake, massively destructive because of its closeness to the surface of earth's crust, it would not have caused anything like the carnage had buildings been properly built in conformity with the building codes present in most countries. Bad engineering, non-existent quality control, inadequate government regulation and quite probably systemic corruption have led directly to the death of tens of thousands of innocent people, many of them children. Lack of capital may well be an issue, but the Pakistani government has no difficulty finding the money to play nuclear games or engage in pointless military conflict with India.

Whilst the international community is rallying to provide much-needed assistance, I hope we're also willing to call a spade a spade, so that something positive can come of this disaster.
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10 October 2005

Gaudi's Barcelona

In 1987 I bought the Alan Parsons Project CD Gaudi. Despite being from my favourite band of the time, the album was pretty awful, apart from one and a half tracks. But the subject matter, the life and works of the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, had me hooked. At the time I promised myself that I would one day get myself to Barcelona to experience some of Gaudi's work first-hand, in particular the magnificent La Sagrada Familia.

sagrada web

Finally, after 18 years, that dream was realised last week, as Jonathan and I spent three whirlwind days in Barcelona. It's a marvellous place, full of wonderful high-class shopping, fascinating markets, and a Mecca for lovers of the Avant Garde and surrealism. And despite the prominent influence of artists such as Picasso, Dali and Miro on Barcelona, and it on them, one figure reigns supreme over the Barcelona skyline and, it seemed to me, the Catalonian mentality—Antonio Gaudi.

Jonathan Park Guell

I'm not going to go into intimate details of Gaudi's biography (which you can read at Wikipedia here), or a deep meaningful analysis of his work. To me, his structures are more than architecture—they are a weird form of organic art into which you can immerse yourself and somehow feel connected with the transcendent, but your mileage may differ. Certainly, they are all more amazing in actuality than in photographs, but here are a few more anyway. I'll be adding more to this page over the next week or two:

viaduct web

Park Guell central hall

(6 Megapixel images from my Nikon D70 are available on request. More images to come...)Go to eebahgum!

7 October 2005

Review: Apple's own iPod killer, the Nano

ipod_nano1Call me a Luddite if you will (okay, okay, stop now) but I never really ‘got’ the Sony Walkman thing. I really love music of every variety (except, of course, country and western), and thoroughly enjoy listening to a very good audio system, so listening to music through scratchy little earbuds with the sounds of the outside world disturbing the rhythm and sanctity didn’t seem all that appealing. Besides, most of the time I actually enjoy interacting with the world outside my head, rather than retreating into the twisted space within.

So Walkmans, Discmans and MiniDisc players came and went, and I remained disinterested. Even the iPod, for all its obvious style, didn’t do much to change my mind. Admittedly, I did take to listening to music on my PDA from time to time, but I wasn’t exactly hooked. I did it simply because I am a gadget freak and I could.

When I added the Orange C500 Smartphone to my gadget arsenal, the first signs of enlightenment quickly followed. At last, here was a device small enough and with good enough battery life to make listening to music on it seem pointful. Besides, it was already with me all the time. Recently I have found myself watching movies and TV programs on it, as well as listening to language learning CDs for my holiday in Barcelona last week.

But the iPod Nano has almost got me convinced. If you haven’t yet seen one, it is very small, if not quite, as Apple claim, ‘impossibly’ so. And it’s absurdly stylish, which will surely be the main motivator for sales. On top of that, it has a number of excellent features such as syncing with Outlook on the PC, a built in stopwatch, and an inbuilt screen lock function that may discourage theft. I’ve blogged before on my view that portable electronics, in particular digital cameras, should have inbuilt security, so it’s good to see Apple doing something on this score.

But the iPod Nano is still far from perfect. Some of my gripes:
  • It needs a larger capacity than the current 4 Gb if it is to serve a serious photo storage device. Of course, that will come soon enough (as soon as Apple have sold out of full-sized iPods, I imagine)
  • The headphone socket should be on top of the device. At the bottom it pulls on the connector, requires more trailing cable and looks less cool
  • An FM Tuner in there would be really nice
  • It is flawed as a photo viewer—the screen is not really of high enough resolution and the inability to pan or zoom into a photo is a surprising omission
  • Some people will also feel the lack of Firewire syncing and the absence of a remote control are also issues, though neither of them worries me.
But minor issues aside, there’s no doubt that the Nano is tiny, light and gorgeous and it sounds good to boot. It’s the iPod killer that none of Apple’s competitors have managed to build. I mean, who would want to carry around a huge iPod when they could have a Nano? Does anyone really need to have their entire music collection on hand all the time?

Actually, I don’t need even need to carry 4 Gb of music with me. A 1 Gb card in my phone holds all the music I need, plus all my TomTom maps for my mobile GPS. And I can watch videos, run applications, use it as a powerful alarm clock and make telephone calls, all without needing to carry a second device. That’ll do me just fine until Apple bring out a Windows Smartphone with an iPod Nano’s size, style and functionality. Until then, I can't see the benefit in giving up telephone, GPS navigation, video player etc just to get more music and more cool.

At the end of the day, if the ultimate converged device is the goal, then my Smartphone is closer than the iPod Nano. But my advice is rush out and buy an iPod Nano today. I have a birthday coming up soon, and it would be the perfect gift for a gadget-obsessed guy like me.Go to eebahgum!

3 October 2005

McDonalds Spanglish

With the self-assurance that comes from having listened to Spanish lessons in mp3 files on my phone for 10 minutes a day last week, and having spent a whole day in Barcelona without being lost, pick-pocketed or kidnapped, I sauntered into El McDonaldos and confidently asked for "uno hamburguese ab fromatge por favor". The accent was impeccable, the prounciation perfect, even if I do say so myself—I sounded exactly like an Anglo-Australian tourist mumbling in broken Spanish. It was now that I remembered the problem with learning foreign languages, when the customer service officer replied in a barrage of rapid Spanish, none of which I recognised. Unperturbed and with great self-assurance, I replied, as one does, "Huh?".

I think it's back to those Spanish mp3s for me!
Go to eebahgum!

1 October 2005

eebahgum's 1st birthday and blogging as a state of mind

Yesterday was eebahgum'’s first birthday. After a gestation period of only a few days the birth was reasonably painless thanks to the '‘new blogger'’ and its great default templates. Since then I'’ve changed little, in part because I'’ve tried to focus on content and structure, but if truth be told, also because I'’ve never bothered learning enough about HTML, CSS or any of the other mandatory acronyms. Let'’s face it, life is short, and my family would rather I spent most of my time talking specifically with them, than more randomly with the blogosphere. At the end of the day, much of my blogging is done, well, at the end of the day, when the rest of the household is asleep.

And it'’s been a colourful year, with the '‘restructuring'’ of my employment and the surprising demotivation which accompanied it, then my running away from home for a while to new country, new home, new job with the resultant rediscovery of self which has come with it.

Now I've never been one to pour my heart out in print, and thank heavens for that, but just writing about the things which interest, annoy or amuse me is a great motivator for me, because it changes the way I look at the world. I find myself always on the lookout for things which I think might be interesting to write about, but also trying looking at issues in a more critical and objective way. It's one thing to have an opinion, but entirely another thing to have to express it in writing, especially to people who donÂ’t know you all that well. And the perpetual challenge is to try to put your point of view in such a way that those who disagree with you from the outset might yet be willing to engage with it in some way.

In fact, the very possibility of writing about some things tends to change the way I observe all things. In a way blogging seems to me as much about a state of mind, a way of looking at the world, as it is about what one actually writes—the journey, if you like, as much as the destination—and that too is something to celebrate.

But the most important thing about the blogosphere is that it's other bloggers and blog readers who have planted, watered and nurtured this garden of possibilities in which I have my patch and so it is to you, above all, that I raise my glass today. Live long and prosper!Go to eebahgum!

22 September 2005

Link exchange—why it works and why I don’t do it

One of the secrets to getting more visitors to your blog is having more people link to you. That seems pretty obvious: more links = more traffic through those links. What isn’t quite so obvious is that more links also means more hits through search engines. If Google sees plenty of references to your website when it is spidering, I am led to believe that it will receive a greater weighting, meaning that it will rank higher in searches, and perhaps even be spidered more regularly.

If that’s the case, then exchanging links, either ‘manually’ or using a link exchange tool such as Reciprocal Manager or SolvoLink, would be a great way of boosting your traffic.

But although I would love more visitors, I just can’t bring myself to exchange links. My philosophy is that I should only refer people to sites that I really like or are relevant to the topic in question. Equally, I only expect other people to link to me if they see merit in something I write or in my blog as whole, or if they know I know where they live (just kidding!). So if I link to you, I’d be flattered if you reciprocated, but I neither request nor, indeed, expect it.

Okay, that’s all very altruistic, but how does it sit with my occasional use of BlogExplosion, which is, in a sense, a reciprocal linkage system? Well, I guess I’ll just have to admit to being inconsistent there. I do like to browse blogs, and if I’m going to be doing it anyway, I may as well get some hits from it. And I’ve found quite a few BlogExchangers do actually read, digest and comment, rather than just click mechanically. I see that as something a little different from actively recommending a blog by linking to or blogrolling it. But perhaps that’s just my inner ‘hit junkie’ speaking :-)Go to eebahgum!

18 September 2005

Silly idea of the week: Samsung E760 cellphone

samsung E760Samsung’s latest mobile, the E760, is certainly a stylish piece of ear candy, but its ‘unique selling proposition’ is the silliest idea I’ve heard this week. To quote from the latest Link catalogue, in order to start the phone’s camera or mp3 player:

“…no need for keys, just shake the phone while holding the hotkey.”

No matter that you’ll look a complete dork standing there shaking your mobile, but you still have to hold down a key! Oh, sorry, it’s not a key, it’s a hotkey. I see the difference.Go to eebahgum!

14 September 2005

Another great idea for your portable music player

Sumajon SmartwrapIn case you haven’t been able to tell from my recent postings, I’ve got headphones on the brain at the moment (though I suppose that’s the usual place for them, in a sense). My last post reviewed a set of retractable ‘phones, but for those who already have a set of favourite ear companions, you can get some of the advantages of retractable ‘phones with this clever little piece of plastic from Sumajin, called the Smartwrap. It’s a stylish cable management device, available in a range of colours to match your entire wardrobe. You could conceivably make something very similar yourself, but for the ultimate style statement, pick up one of these from Sumajin’s website, and while you’re there, get some of their coloured earpads to match.Go to eebahgum!

Review: Boxwave Minibuds 2.5 mm headphones

Boxwave’s Minibuds are retractable earphones designed for use with portable music players. They’re available in black or silver-white, with either a 3.5 mm or 2.5 mm plug. My previous post bemoaned the problems I’ve had in finding headphones for my smartphone, and the Boxwave is one of very few options available with a 2.5 mm plug.

I weighed up the Proporta and Boxwave options before choosing the latter, swayed by the marketing blurb on Boxwave’s website, user comments on the web and the fact that they have a little clip on the back for attaching to your clothing, which the Proporta ‘phones do not. A dangling cord may be inconvenient, which is the whole point of retracting phones, but a dangling retracting thingy would be downright annoying, I decided.

I ordered the Minibuds from Boxwave’s decent website at a cost of US$23 plus postage, and they arrived from the US to sunny Surrey in about 5 working days, a week before Boxwave’s ETA. Very impressed so far!

As you can see in the picture, they’re quite attractive, although a little fragile looking. The retractor mechanism works well but is not immensely powerful, and a little care is needed to make sure the cables don’t bunch up when retracting. The clothing clip, whilst a great idea, is quite small and a little fiddly to attach in practice. I daresay I will get use to that. Certainly the freedom from trailing cables is wonderful, although best of you can attach the spool midway between your ears and media player. As I usually have my phone on my belt, that’s a problem when, as today, I am wearing a polo shirt, as the only place you can attach the spool is a little too high, so you’re still left with excess cable. Even then, it’s way better than normal earphones in this regard. The earpieces are a little on the large side, and very snug fit in my smallish earholes. I’d rather they were a tad smaller, but I have used larger still and got used to them in the end.

But what about sound? Well, it’s really quite good. There’s plenty of volume compared to the Orange supplied headset, and much better bass response. Earbud-type ‘phones often feel very bass light, but these have quite a flat frequency response. Bass is a little wooden sounding, and naturally not all that extended, but rock music comes across with a fair degree of ‘oomph’ and some real dynamic range. Midrange presence is good and voices, spoken or sung, sound quite realistic. Extreme treble is a little subdued and lacking in the clear sparkling quality of better phones, but very few earbuds ever manage that sort of transparency anyway. All in all, music is presented with energy and enthusiasm, if not the ultimate level of detail.

I wondered what effect the foam earpads were having on sound, so I took them off and was immediately rewarded by a slight improvement in both volume and upper midrange/lower treble. As I’d found the phones a little tight in my ears anyway, this also improved comfort. This makes me wonder if a fine mesh cover over the diaphragm (like some premium earphones) would sound better than the rather solid plastic cover that is there at the moment—something Boxwave might care to look at in future versions.

Pros: Compact and portable; stylish and pretty cool; practical retracting mechanism; solid sound quality.

Cons: A little fragile; treble could be more detailed; better sound may be available for the same money.

Overall: Reasonable sound with extreme practicality makes this a must-have for my Smartphone.

Rating: 4 blackpuddings (4 black puddings)
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13 September 2005

The 2.5 mm headphone dilemma, and perhaps the best solution

Smartphones, like my Windows-based Orange C500 or the Palm-based Treo series, make lovely little mp3 players. The sound may not quite be in the iPod league, but they are, after all, telephones, PDAs, video players and a whole lot more besides, so it would be churlish to make too much of that. And to top it off, my Smartphone cost rather less than an iPod.

But one of the areas which holds the Smartphone back as a music player is the manufacturers’ decision to provide 2.5 mm headphone sockets. Like most ‘emerging standards’, this one is nigh on impossible to find at high street retailers, and trust me, you’ll want to upgrade from the standard headsets that come with your phone pretty quickly.

That leaves you with two obvious options. Either settle for a set of ‘phones with a 3.5 mm and use an adaptor, or begin the ‘holy grail’ quest for a 2.5 mm pair. The former path means you have a world of choice, but the size of the adaptors, the degradation in sound quality that they bring and the extra weight hanging off your phone’s fragile 2.5 mm socket may dissuade you.

As for purchasing options, you’ll find the odd combined headphone/microphone for use with phones at some mobile phone shops, but acoustically they’re probably no better than the unit which shipped with your phone. And although there’s no option that I know of from mainstream headphone manufacturers such as Sennheiser, Sony and so on, there are a few retracting cable designs available from specialist manufacturers of PDA and phone accessories such as Proporta and Boxwave. Boxwave’s offering is currently on my review bench and I will blog about it (quite favourably, I anticipate) within the next day.

But there’s one other option which doesn’t seem to get a mention elsewhere—cut off the 3.5 mm plug from a pair of normal headphones or earplugs and solder on a small 2.5 mm plug which you can pick up from your local electronic hobbyist store. It’s not rocket science, and may give you the best of all possible worlds.Go to eebahgum!

8 September 2005

An open letter to the Football Association (or my proposal for the England team)

Dear FA,

I gather from watching England’s performances over the last couple of years, and in particular the last 3 games, that the England coaching position is once again vacant. In last night’s embarrassing performance against Northern Ireland (which division do they play in anyway?), there was a man next to Steve McLaren in the coaching box, who looked like the incumbent coach, but seemed to have no emotional interest in the game at all, and why should he, not being English?

I have good news for the Football Association – I am willing to make myself available for the position, and for my proposed 6 month trial I am willing to accept a greatly reduced salary of only £500,000. I guarantee that under my coaching the team will play more attractive football, forge out better results and basically look more like they have a clue than is presently the case. I recognise that the team has only lost one qualifying game under the previous coach, but that much vaunted statistic is surely no more than you’d expect from such a talented team. More to the point, how many times have narrow victories or weak draws been snatched when a cricket score was expected.

But before I start, I’d like to dispense with one or two items in the current job description, namely the following:

  • Must be a better ball handler off the pitch than on it
  • Must be absolutely clueless about footballing tactics
  • Must encourage hopeful punting of the ball down the length of the field rather than playing to feet
  • Must use trial matches to experiment with players and formations which will never be seen again, and so use up valuable time the key players could have spent learning to play together
  • Must constantly play most players in the wrong positions to the benefit of the few
  • Must have assistant whose name sounds like a piece of hand-baggage
  • Must show absolutely no passion whatsoever, at least not for football

Instead, I shall concentrate on the basic elements of football, such as defending, passing to feet, teamwork, tackling, attitude, discipline and putting the ball in the back of the net. My teams have always played creatively, with attacking flair and close-marking, physical defence. I have cultivated team spirit, effectively harnessed talent, and dealt incisively with insubordination and poor sportsmanship. I see no reason why this approach, which has worked so well at schoolboy level, should not be perfectly applicable to the current England squad.

I look forward to working with you and my new team.

Grand Master EebahgumGo to eebahgum!

26 August 2005

'New physics', same old problems

I caught an interesting docudrama on Thursday night entitled E=mc². It looked at the lives of Einstein, as well as Michael Faraday, Antoine Lavoisier and Emilie du Chatelet, all of whom contributed in some way to the thinking which resulted in the Theory of Relativity. Overall it was quite well done and accessible, even for those whose understanding of the science may not have been great.

What I'd like to take issue with is the oft-repeated contention that the world was changed forever by the Theory of Relativity. It's a lovely romantic notion, and indeed, it should be true. But then I look at the recent London bombings, the riots in Gaza, the awful state of scientific education in wealthy countries such as the USA and the massive influence of fundamentalism around the world, and I realise it's bunkum. Of course, the cumulative knowledge of the human race is greater than ever, as is the number of people who have access to formal education. There is more opportunity to acquire education, at least in most countries, than at any previous point in history. Yet precisely the systems, media and communications technologies which could be used to eliminate the ignorance which breeds hatred and violence have instead been hijacked to propagate various forms of ignorance. When once ignorance was diffused and belonged to individuals, it has become systemic and belongs to groups. And because these groups are self-encouraging, and in many cases defined by their opposition to mainstream thought, this is a form of ignorance far more dangerous and harder to combat.

And there can be little doubt that the worst perpetrators of this form of institutionalised ignorance are fundamentalist religious groups. Whilst extremist Islam obviously comes to mind, fundamentalist Christianity has been at least as successful at convincing its followers to disengage with modern science and thought, whilst enjoying all the trappings of modern medicine and technology which that science has brought them.

Those of us who believe that ignorance is the root of all evil and that the world can be made a better place through education have, frankly, been caught with our textbooks down. We have allowed religious groups, and every form of ‘-ism’ to hijack the public discourse, and we have allowed our governments to relax on their educational agenda. Meanwhile the agents of misinformation have not been nearly as apathetic. Lest we forget what the consequences of such complacency can be we need look only at Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

So has Einstein changed the world? Has the equivalence of energy and matter changed the world in any visible way apart from through nuclear bombs and the Cold War? In today’s world at least a third of the population live under what I might view as repressive regimes. Large sections of the African and Asian population do not have access to basic education. In the Middle-East, Pakistan, the US and other countries, hundreds of millions are in the grip of the anti-intellectual thought which comes with fundamentalist religion.

I could go on, but I’m starting to depress myself. Perhaps more important than despairing about the current situation is asking, “Where to from here?” Is there anything in my naive assertion that education and compassion really can improve the world, or is entropy inevitable, even in social systems? What do you think?Go to eebahgum!

24 August 2005

My cell phone is a word processor

Hard to believe perhaps, but this article is being written entirely on my Windows Smartphone. Not, I hasten to add, on the little abc keyboard or even using T9 word recognition. No, this was typed on my Dell Bluetooth keyboard using a lovely little freeware text editor called Orneta Notepad. And the good news is that it all works rather well—a very practical solution for the mobile writer.

C500 Smartphone with BT keyboard

That shouldn't come as such a surprise. My Orange SPV C500 may be small, but it packs in a 200 MHz processor and a bright 176x200 screen. And the operating system is not all that different from the version of Windows that runs on my PDA. Problem is Microsoft don't even ship a simple text editor with Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphones, which is a damned shame, because I have to tell you, this is extremely good fun! Also, if I could afford the telephony costs, I'd be able to upload this article to my blog directly from my phone.

On top of that, the phone makes a pretty neat mp3 player (although decent 2.5 mm plug headphones are pretty hard to come by), a cute video player, aided by the excellent sound from the on-board speaker, and a tremendous portable navigation system when coupled with my Bluetooth GPS and TomTom Mobile 5 software. Although I prefer the larger screen of the PDA for in-car SatNav, on the phone I get 7.5 hours battery life or more, compared to the PDA's 3 and a bit. That was enough for a full dayÂ’s walking in London last weekend.

As well as that it does all the usual stuff like sync with my Outlook calendar and tasks and make phone calls. On that last point alone it is the best-featured, best sounding...simply the best mobile I have ever used. Throw in all the other features, tried or simply imagined, and you have a little miracle.Go to eebahgum!

19 June 2005

Aston Martin at Le Mans

Frustrating not to be able to watch the Le Mans race on television, but I am closely watching the lap times at the official Le Mans website. As I write, the race is 9 hours gone, and an Aston Martin DBR9 has led the GT1 class for several hours, and has just moved up to 6th overall. The only cars in front of it now are the much more powerful LM1 cars, and even the LM2 cars are all training the GT1 cars. A quite amazing performance so far from the Astons and Corvettes.

The second Aston was hit by a couple of stop-go penalties early on and has clawed its way back into 4th in the class and 12th overall. It will struggle to catch the Corvettes from there, but Australian David Brabham is a very fine pilot like his father before him, and his car certainly fast, so if it survives the journey anything is possible.

Somehow 'watching' the race over the internet from Southern England, just knowing I am only one country away, is much more exciting than doing so from Australia. Viens les Astons!
Go to eebahgum!

18 June 2005

Save me from Dell screen protectors!

There's not all that much point in using screen protectors on your shiny new PDA if they make the screen much less usable and have to be replaced so often that you risk damaging your screen in the process.

So it is with the pathetic Dell-branded offerings I purchased with my Axim X50v. They are hard to get on without bubbles and dust being trapped underneath, and they scratch up horribly from the first stroke of the stylus. Six days the first one lasted before I was turning up my screen brightness to avoid looking at the horrible scratches.

What I and all other PDA users need is hard, non-sticky protectors which last a very long time. Such beasts do exist, for example, the highly regarded ClearTouch Crystal from Boxwave. I can't seem to find them in the UK, though, so it's on-line I must go. I'll report back as soon as I've tested them out.
Go to eebahgum!

On Ashley Cole and Chelski

ashley_coleThe face of football is about to be changed for ever. The name Bosman has already become ingrained into the annals of football history, and Arsenal fullback Ashley Cole's name may be about to join it. He's been fined £100,000 for meeting with Chelsea officals without them clearing such a meeting with Arsenal. No doubt Chelsea have acted illegally and unethically and deserve their punishment (£300,000 for club and £200,000 for Jose Mourinho, the Manager). But what about Ashley Cole? In almost any other walk of life one is free to explore employment possibilities without fear of censure. Indeed, one's right to do so is protected by law. Football's ruling bodies, though, forbid in their sport what is a fundamental entitlement in normal life. One could argue that this is a long way from normal life—that the amount of money alone makes it a surreal world in which other rules need to apply. Perhaps, but it still looks like restraint of trade to me. And if Bosman taught us anything, it was that in the new Europe football will struggle to remain a law unto itself.

So Ashley Cole is appealing his sentence. He may or may not win that appeal, but whatever the outcome in the short term, the worms are out of the can. In the long term football may be the winner. That remains to be seen. In the shorter term Cole may well leave Arsenal, feeling the club has been unsupportive. That will be bad for the club, and probably for Cole who has come through the club's youth system and blossomed under Arsene Wenger. He will not benefit from the distraction of the court case, nor from the reputation he is likely to gain as a result.

In fact, the only short term winner will be Chelsea. They will not gain Cole's services, but they were hardly defensively weak to start with. What they have succeeded in doing is loosening a key defender from their main rivals, which only makes Chelsea comparatively stronger. £500,000 in fines may have been a cheap price to pay for that advantage. Go to eebahgum!

17 June 2005

Reflections on Fleet Street and Aston Martin

The name Fleet Street is so evocative of the newspapers, good and bad, that many visitors to London are confused when they can find little or no journalism actually going on there. You might argue that in the corridors of The Sun or The Daily Mirror it was ever thus, but Fleet Street is now no more than a collection of journalism’s ghosts. Major papers have been moving away for three decades, and that exodus was just about completed this week when Reuters vacated the area after 66 years. That leaves only one newspaper publisher, D C Thomson, best known for those esteemed literary periodicals The Dandy and Beano, to which I owe much of my development.

If great names have been performing something of an ereptation from Fleet Street, one of motoring’s greatest names is making a return to hallowed ground this weekend. Aston Martin, eebahgum’s favourite carmaker, is returning to Le Mans, where it was last sighted in 1959. Aston Martin DBR1s came first and second on that day and Aston will be hoping history is repeated with the DBR9 to support its ambitious plan of more than doubling production this year to 5,000 vehicles. Not that demand has been much of an issue lately for Ford’s most prestigious marque. The current waiting list for a new Aston is more than 18 months. I guess that gives me some time to save.Go to eebahgum!

5 June 2005

My new toy: A Dell Axim X50V

After extensive market research over several months, a new family member has joined the eebahgum clan. It's a shiny new Dell X50V Pocket PC with the top spec and a bluetooth keyboard. First impressions are... it's cool, useful and well built, but rather disappointing for battery life. Doubtless every intricate detail will follow soon :-)Go to eebahgum!

29 May 2005

eebahgum, I be a winner!

For someone who is completely unsuperstitious, perhaps downright sceptical, I've had my fair share of luck in life. I haven't won the lottery (no doubt because I never enter them), but I've garnered several door prizes, a few radio quizes and am well ahead on the nags.

But I've finally broken through big time. Yes, you guessed it, I've just won the Sick Sad World Caption Competition! Thanks Vorbis. Your cheque's in the email.
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Stupid Beautiful, Master of the Understatement

In a comment on eebahgum!, my blogging friend Stupid Beautiful said "Nice work reworking your blog! I've done the same over at Stupid Beautiful Lies". He is indeed a master of the understatement——his is not a rework so much as a re-invention of what was already a very well written and engaging blog. It is now a truly spectacular display of Flash prowess. Perhaps he should rename it Stupendously Beautiful. Check it out!

New Stupid Beautiful
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eebahgum! three point oh

eebahgum! has undergone another upgrade. Last time round I was frustrated with blogger's lack of categories, so I created my own by setting up a second blog with a series of category pages that link back to the URLs of each individual posting in the original blog. It's a bit clumsy and tedious to maintain, but straightforward enough. If you'd like more info just drop me a line.

The question was, how to get to those category pages. It would have been simple enough to just create text links in the right column, but that would move other info quite a long way down, and struck me as a little dull at the time. So I decided to try to be clever (too clever by half, looking back) and implement a DHTML menu system. This had one big plus, but several minuses. The plus was that it stayed visible even when users scrolled down the page. The first minus were that it was very slow to load, and some readers had disappeared before it appeared. The second was that it seemed not to work equally well in all browsers. And the third, perhaps the most important, was that no-one seemed to use it!

So the DHTML is gone, in favour of an image map banner with hotspots. And while I was there I reduced the hierarchy of the entire site by a level by merging some of the category pages. With any luck the whole thing will be a little quicker and more compatible, but I'd love your feedback.
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23 May 2005

Eurovision: And the loser is...

Helena PaparizouOnce again this year’s Eurovision song contest was utterly appalling. Whatever your music taste there was almost nothing here to like. I enjoyed the shallow but poppy Danish offering, and could tolerate the songs from Switzerland and Latvia, but needless to say none of those songs won.

Instead it was the favourites, Greece, who romped home with the truly frightful “My Number One” sung by a Helena Paparizou, a sort of Hellenic Jennifer Lopez with even less talent. And just check out these lyrics:

You're my lover
You're the most impressive person I discovered

You're delicious
So capricious
If I find out you don’t want me I'll be vicious

You're addiction
my conviction
You're my passion, my relief, my crucifixion

Now the stupid thing about Eurovision is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad the music is, because in the popular vote every country just votes for the other countries that are popular in their country. You could take away the music entirely and just cut to the voting and the result would be unchanged. It is, in a word, a farce. And rather like war, there are no winners, only losers. In this case the losers are music and the viewing public.

[Photo source Delegation, taken from the Eurovision website]
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22 May 2005

Review: Nikon D70 Firmware Upgrade 2

> more articles on digicams

Hot on the heels of Nikon’s launch of the new D70S and D50 comes a firmware upgrade to the D70 which promises to raise the D70 to ‘S’ specification. The only features you’ll then be missing from the newer D70S are the slightly larger 2” LCD screen, and the ability to use a manual cable release. Huge kudos to Nikon for demonstrating such commitment to their user base.

D70 updated menuI upgraded my trustee D70 a few days ago. The process is simple enough. You just download the zip file from Nikon, format your CF card, copy file A over, insert the CF card in the cameras and navigate through the camera’s menus until you find the Firmware version option. When you select upgrade the camera thinks for a couple of minutes and it’s done. Same process for file B and you have a D70S (almost).

[Incidentally, I suggest downloading from the US site here (Windows) or here (Mac). The equivalent UK and Australian sites require form filling, registration and serial numbers. That’s just a pain.]

But what does it to do for you? Well the immediately obvious thing is the revised menus (as shown). They were pretty intuitive in the first place, but now they look great too. Gone is the boring old blue, to be replaced by a new grey feel with yellow highlights a little more 3-D effect if I’m not mistaken. There’s no doubt it looks a little more modern and is also easier to read, especially in bright light. It’s a minor improvement, but a hit with me.

Nikon claim that performance of the 5-area AF system has been improved in Dynamic area and Closest subject modes. That’s got to be a good thing, because closest subject mode has frustrated me no end, sometimes seeming completely random in its choice of subject. I have abandoned it in favour of Single area mode some time ago. Now I have my AE-L button set to lock exposure only and my camera always set to single area AF, so that a half-pressed shutter button locks focus. The only time I might step away from that is when snapping a rapidly moving object in which case Dynamic area comes to the fore. And my initial (very subjective) tests suggest that the focusing is now better in both these modes. A little faster and a little more accurate in its selection of focus area, but I’ll still be sticking to my existing setup 98% of the time.

Nikon have also upgraded the PictBridge functionality, allowing page-size settings to be applied from the camera. Well, whoop-di-do. I’ve already stated what I think of PictBridge, and won’t be changing my mind there in a hurry!

Also upgraded is the display of remaining exposures in NEF (aka RAW) mode which always was a little screwy and pessimistic. Better that than optimistic, but closer to correct is probably the best alternative, and I’d say it is much more accurate now, although I seldom use RAW mode myself.

The penultimate change is that the default setting for the camera clock has been changed from 2004.01.01 to 2005.01.01 and you can no longer set the clock back to a date before 2004.12.31. Yup, it’s true. My world is changed forever :-)

Lastly, Nikon claim that a bug has been fixed which “sometimes caused communication between the camera and computer to be unexpectedly terminated when using Nikon Capture Camera Control”. I’ll have to take their word for that, as I have never tried Camera Control. Has anyone else experienced this problem?

So all in all, there’s nothing earth-shattering in this upgrade (which suggests the same of the D70S, although I have yet to try one) but enough to make it worth the effort of doing. It will make your already great camera just that bit nicer to use and probably improve the second-hand resale value. The most significant thing about it is is probably the message it sends, that Nikon cares, and that can't be a bad thing.

> more articles on digicams
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FA Cup returns home to Highbury

As we walked away from the Arsenal Stadium tonight, a highly inebriated but joyous gooner came up to us, and declared "We played like shit, but we won!"

And, in truth, it was hardly Arsenal's best performance. In typical fashion they dominated possession for large amounts of the game without ever doing anything meaningful in front of goal. Thierry Henri was sadly missed, as United were content to sit back early, with all 11 men behind the ball, and hit Arsenal on the break.

The second half showed the shrewdness of United's tactics as a tiring Arsenal allowed them more and more space in front of goal, and were certainly lucky not to go behind a couple of times. We were very thankful to Ljunberg's last minute headed clearance off the bar and the sterling efforts of Lehmann and Senderos.

Arsenal certainly picked up the intensity again in extra time and pressed forward in search of a goal, but even with Van Persie now in the fray there was nothing happening up front. And although Rooney and Ronaldo looked constantly dangerous, penalties were inevitable.

The big shock was that Arsenal actually won on penalties. Can anyone remember the last time that happened against any opposition outside the schoolboy league?

My views on mad Lens Lehmann are well documented, but even I have to admit he was imperious tonight. He made several great saves, was only caught out of position a couple of times, and his penalty save was exceptional.

So United managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And there's a kind of poetic justice in that, because Arsenal seem to me to have often been the better team against United without winning, and never was that more true than in that FA Cup semi-final a few years back. But then I'm a gooner, so I suppose you'd expect me to think that way.Go to eebahgum!

21 May 2005

C'mon the Arsenal!

It's the FA Cup Final today, and for the first time ever I am in the UK for the event. That doesn't help very much as the game is in Wales, and I wouldn't have a hope of getting tickets anyway. So it's not much different from being in Australia, really.

I am therefore very keen to experience the game in a way that I couldn't in Australia, so the plan is to brave the drizzly weather and head into North London to a pub somewhere near the ground, perhaps the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park (say that 10 times quickly after a few pints!). The place will be packed, the atmosphere goonerish. Not sure what it will be like for Jonathan and Joanna who won't ever have experienced that degree of voluminous amber-lubricated lunacy before, but I should have fun!

Good old Arsenal,
We're proud to say that name,
And while we sing this song,
We'll win the game.

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You need an optical viewfinder

> more articles on digicams

There’s a growing trend for digicam manufacturers to fit out their trendy consumer models with increasingly large screens at the expense of an optical viewfinder. Sony, Pentax, Canon and Nikon, companies who would know better, have all jumped on the bandwagon. What in heaven’s name are they thinking?

The optical viewfinder is one of the few indispensable features of a digital camera, as necessary for the basic point and shoot photographer as for anyone else. And here are some reasons why:
  • LCD screens, although constantly improving, are still very hard to read in bright light. Even if you like using them to frame photos you will still sometimes need to use an optical viewfinder.
  • LCD screens tend to flatten out depth of field, so even large ones are sometimes not entirely indicative of the picture you’re about to take.
  • LCDs, particularly large ones, churn through battery power if you always have them on. Turning off the LCD and using an optical viewfinder is a great way to get a few more crucial pictures out of your ailing battery.
  • Holding the camera up against your head is a great way of reducing camera shake, and far more stable than holding it out in front of you, especially with today’s very small cameras.
  • And for some people the most important reason of all is that you simply can’t look like a real photographer holding up a camera at arms length in front of tour face and squinting at an LCD. No-one in this pose looks cool or radiates a sense of extreme photographic expertise.

    > more articles on digicams
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20 May 2005

Part of the answer is undoubtedly blowing in the wind

wind farmThe placard waving luddites are at it again in the UK. This time they’re complaining about government plans to build more wind farms, bemoaning the amount of noise they make and how they spoil the lovely countryside.

The facts are that modern wind farms are incredibly quiet. Depending upon wind direction they sound ranges from inaudible to a subdued swishing as the blades pass near the tower. The supposed low frequency noise problem is a myth. You can hear mechanical gearing noise from up close, but usually not from a hundred metres away. People who cite mountains of anecdotal complaints of low frequency noise are either misinformed or deliberately misleading, and the evidence for illness caused by infrasound from wind turbines is tenuous at best, although undoubtedly worthy of further investigation.

Considerable amounts of scientific testing have consistently disproved the Don Quixote lobby’s noise complaints. Similarly, surveys from all over the world show overwhelmingly that opposition to wind farms decreases after people have lived near one for a while.

As for Prince Charles’ suggestion that wind farms are a “blot on the landscape”, he is entitled to his opinion, although I’m not sure why it should get any more airplay than anyone else’s. In that regard it seems that democracy still favours the Royals. Needless to say, I disagree with Charles, and so, it would seem, do the vast majority of people who live near wind farms.

Nevertheless, considerable sensitivity needs to be shown to local communities when deciding on locations for new developments, and perhaps the government has not handled this as well as it might have done. That said, the need to reduce emissions is a public concern more important than the sensibilities of individuals. We are talking about the long-term sustainability of the planet; about the future of our children, and the “blot” argument doesn’t really hold up very well in that context.

Lest anyone think I am as blind in my advocacy of wind farms as I accuse their opponents of being in their opposition, let me look, if not at the other side of the coin, at least at its edge. Wind farms are not the answer to our energy and emission problems, per se. They are, however, an excellent partial answer, with a payback cost similar to other technologies and a very low cost per unit of electricity (lower, for example, than nuclear energy).

It will always be cheaper to save electricity than to generate it. And there can be little doubt that our usage is far too high. But it would be naïve to suggest that lifestyle change will do any more than delay the inevitable need to find long-term energy generation solutions.

In the end, I think we’d all be better of with a little less hot air, and a few more wind farms.Go to eebahgum!

18 May 2005

Bill Gates the Benevolent

Bill gates_smallIt doesn’t seem so long ago that Bill Gates was being pilloried as the personification of evil. In fact, a quick Google search shows 29,200 matches for “bill gates” and antichrist. Scary, because I keep writing ‘quick Google search’ as if one were able to do it slowly and more thoroughly if required. Scary also because we all know that a goodly percentage of those 29,200 matches probably aren’t kidding; that many people actually believe all that semi-Christian, semi-new age numerological bullshit that suggests absolutely and incontrovertibly that William Gates III or maybe the Pope (or perhaps someone else) is definitely evil incarnate ‘cos it dun say so right there in the King James Version of the Bible.

Surely most free-thinking people now realise that this is probably not true. In fact, as massively wealthy business tycoons go, Bill seems a pretty good guy who keeps to himself and has an endearing geekiness that makes you realise that Revenge of the Nerds and Jimmy Neutron really are sophisticated allegory and that there’s still hope for those of us who’d rather blog than bungee jump.

In fact, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill is one of the world’s most generous philanthropists, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes. More than that, they give intelligently, not just throwing money at do-good causes, but selectively funding proposals from leading thinkers to address major world issues. The Foundation’s “grand challenges for global health” program has drawn so many quality responses that Bill recently announced an upgrade in funding from $200 million to $450 million. Now that’s health funding not be sneezed at.

I am sure that software really can be evil, and I offer as proof Microsoft PowerPoint. But as for Bill, I have little doubt that he has done more good for the world than all his critics put together.Go to eebahgum!

8 May 2005

Am I an A-list blogger?

Well, in so far as I saw my name on ‘a list’ of blogs some time ago, perhaps I am!

‘A-list blogger’ is a phrase bandied about pretty often, but what exactly is such a beast, and why should the rest of us care? When I typed “what is an A-list blogger” into Google, I got all of 7 hits, most of which referred to a brief piece at Stephen’s Web referring to Dave Pollard’s article which refers, in turn, to a few other bits of research. But Dave also offers some fascinating and extensive calculations of his own, and I’ve taken the liberty of grabbing this eye-opening table:

A list blogger table

Frankly, I had no idea that any bloggers were getting that many hits. That’s truly amazing, and good luck to them. I find myself a little jealous, a little incredulous, and little unsatisfied. I say unsatisfied for two reasons. Firstly, I find the notion that a ‘top blog’ can be defined quantitatively just a little distressing (though I have no doubt that you generally only get that popular by offering sustained quality). But secondly, I can’t imagine people who get that many hits feel the same thrill that we ‘up and comers’ feel each and every time someone visits. Sure, I’d like more readers (as opposed to simply hits) but I rather enjoy reading my stats, looking at every incoming hostname and feeling some slight personal connection with both , er, I mean every one of you.Go to eebahgum!