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!

3 May 2005

In the streets of Chelsea, Premiership Champions

Chelsea revellers

It was 50 years coming, but Chelsea finally won the Premiership title on Saturday night. And rather than complaining about how they had to buy an entirely new team to do it, or bemoaning their sometimes negative football, I wish them all the best. They were clearly the best team for the better part of the year. Their success was built, not merely on a bottomless wallet, but also on strong management from Mourinho; superb defence, most notably from John Terry and Petr Cech; a strong midfield who can track back but also generate drive and score goals; and a very creative attack. Joe Cole, for example, has blossomed into an inventive and exciting player for both Chelsea and England.

So my beloved Gunners have no doubt being beaten by the better team this year, and there’s no shame in that. And being such a good loser, I thought we’d head down to Fulham Road, Chelsea on Saturday night to absorb some of the premiership-winning atmosphere. I have to admit, when I went to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea thump Pompey earlier this season, there was a distinct lack of atmosphere, as if Chelsea were already too used to winning. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case this time. Instead there was a great deal of singing and merriment, every second person advertising Fly Emirates or waving a blue and white flag. Every car horn blared and every glass and voice was raised, except those that had been thrown in the middle of the road to be crushed by cars. Glasses, I mean, not voices. The vocal throng didn’t seem to have a huge repertoire, but at least most of it was clean and good-spirited, which was lucky considering Jonathan and Joanna were with me, and I was resplendent in red and white!

I was amused when the crowd outside a pub started singing “Are you watching Arsenal?” There’s a certain comfort in the fact that even as the new champions, Chelsea fans still seem to measure their success by comparison with their illustrious North London neighbours.Go to eebahgum!