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Thursday, 23 October 2014

flash and flare

The replacement rubber band arrived for my bike lights, so I'm back in business with the extra bright back light again - just ahead of when it is really needed.

I could have fixed it with a plain silicon band or some tape, but somehow the proper red band looks better, and is easier to remove.

I've had these tiny but powerful Flash and Flare lights for a couple of years now and they are generally pretty good - although nowadays there's even brighter tiny lights around, so I may have a glance at some when I'm away next week.

The Flash and Flare use CR123 rechargeable batteries that last several hours between charge and I keep a couple of spare 'normal' batteries in the saddlebag as well, although haven't needed to use them. The only careful thing is re-aligning the lens to the body when swapping the battery, to avoid mis-threading the lens.

I still also keep a couple of Knogs wrapped onto the bike as well 'just in case'.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

can Jibo out predict Nest for the right temperature setting?

Alongside all the sci-fi movies it is interesting to see the march of the real robots.

I'm happy enough about using the little nest heating thermostat that runs on ZigBee and provides extensive sensor based energy management. It is also brilliantly simple to use for something quite sophisticated.

Nest/Google don't advertise its innards, but a quick look via iFixit reveals a Texas Instruments AM3703CUS Sitara ARM Cortex A8 microprocessor, 512 Mb mobile DRAM, a 2 Gb NAND flash memory, an Ember EM357 integrated ZigBee/802.15.4 system-on-chip, a Skyworks 2436L high power 2.4 GHz 802.15.4 front-end module and a TI WL1270B 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support. Instead of a conventional bimetallic strip, this is a full fledged computer.

Of course, it's powerful enough for the current duties, but I'm more interested in the extensions, as it starts to integrate with Jibo and other domestic products.

I can already run the heating, fireplace and some lighting from the simple-looking TV remote. The same Harmony remote also sends an 'at home' signal when it is moved or it senses someone walking around. We've played around with a 5km Geofence too, so that the system knows when we are returning home and can flip itself out of 'away' mode. I'm not so convinced about that one actually.

A mundane and slightly daft test case I've been using is a bin collection reminder, via IFTTT, which sets a notification on Tuesday evening, and also selects the correct bin to be collected. Add 'voice' to the notifications filter them to relevant devices and it starts to get interesting.

At one level this could all be kind of spooky, but at another it is probably the start of the 'beyond smartphones' technology twist.

There's some interesting problems too, as one autonomous system requests service from another. Ask the Jibo to adjust the nest heating. Nest knows better and refuses? Then what? Robot wars?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

rainbow, but no unicorn

They said Tuesday would be a rain-lashed day of huge winds and general mayhem caused by the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo moving across the UK.

On a car journey, we had our share of those wind tunnel tubes of spinning leaves, but an altogether brighter overall day than I was expecting.

A song about rainbows and unicorns had just come on the car radio as we approached this road junction although I'm sure the animal I spotted was a white pony, not a unicorn.

Monday, 20 October 2014

like a thursday thirteen, only different

1) Finally got around to cancelling the weekend papers. I decided the Times no longer has enough of interest. It's quite a relief to not have to read it (with maybe a couple of exceptions)
2) Watched that television programme about cats. The two that sit in our garden can exhibit those signs of stressed relationship with one another that the scientists presented.
3) Are the particle graphics now the best part of X Factor?

4) Can't help thinking about those 'None of the above' tee-shirts, reflecting next year's election.
5) Mostly moved the home computers across to OS/X Yosemite, but still not attempted the Windows 8.1 update on the red computer. I like that the OS/X still just works.
6) Within sight of my 4000 mile cycling target for 2014. Currently just over 3500 miles, year to date. Embarrassingly I have mislaid my progress tracker spreadsheet.
7) Had to order new bandy clippy things for the bike lights. The previous ones have disappeared to somewhere safe.
8) A strange excitement that the nest thermostat is now predicting when we are out and managing the heating autonomously.

9) Noticed a nearby car park has a whole bunch of fancy looking new cars in it. Lots of foreign plates too. Something doesn't quite add up.
10) Some TV adverts just don't work. That energy advert with the dancing poo, for example.
11) Wondering when is the right time this year to change the car tyres for winter? It's still 16C-18C at the moment.
12) May decide to revise a novel text during this year's NaNoWriMo.
13) It isn't Thursday, so this can't really be a Thursday Thirteen.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

cabin in the country and a few musical numbers

I could tell we were in the countryside.

"Do you have any hunting guns with you?" came the request from the check-in desk.

...or maybe I'm in an episode or Eastenders?

No, we were in West Sussex, about to stay in some wooden cabins before heading to a show in a nearby Chichester.

The potentially rustic room had a modern twist, and gave us a sound base for our evening.

Then to Chichester Festival Theatre, where we watched the show 'Gypsy', featuring Imelda Staunton excellently playing the Momma Rose mother
to Gypsy Rose Lee. I had to admit that I've never seen any production or movie so it was an entire surprise to me.

I last saw Imelda Staunton in that recent Brit-com Camden Town gays support Welsh miners movie "Pride" where she played the Welsh town committee ringleader. In Gypsy she gets some really big songs and plays them for keeps. The other cast members, which includes Kevin Whatley as Bernie the agent, play well but are at least a notch or two below Staunton's performance.

I think the original treatment is from 1950-something. To my mind there were a few curious jumps in the logic of the production, which I suppose is in the nature of musicals, but here somehow mildly confused my sense of the story. That's not to say it wasn't easy enough to follow, but it did feels as if the main Acts had been somehow gaffer-taped together.

None of that detracts from the wisecracking Sondheim lyrics and the surprisingly elaborate staging, with West-End level false perspective rotating rooms and stage entrances via whizzy platforms.

There was also a very strong orchestra and a less common nowadays overture at the start of each half.

So, an evening's entertainment, and a cracking performance from Staunton, before we headed back to the far from silent wooden huts in the countryside.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

caught in the act

It's not really the bird feed that is attracting the squirrels.

It's my neighbour's pear tree which still has 30-40 pears on it.

They launch themselves into the tree from an adjacent roof.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

under the skin

With BFI running a sci-fi season at the moment, I thought I'd get in some of the movies.

The first one was the old school Capricorn One. Made in the 1970s, it is the conspiracy movie about three astronauts having to pretend to land on Mars whilst stuck in a tin shed in Utah. It's the one with the two black chase helicopters...Definitely one to re-watch.

The other one is 'Under the skin'. It's modern 2014, has Scarlett Johanssen as a alien 'woman who fell to earth' roaming the streets of Glasgow in a white van to select male prey.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer of the Guinness surf commercial - which even gets a short nod in one of the scenes.

Although based upon a novel, it feels like a simple short story with an alien glimpse of Glasgow through the eyes of an icily cold well-spoken killing machine. The victims end up in a room similar to the 20:50 Richard Wilson art installation.

There's rangy filming around Glasgow's streets and suburbs and what seems to be a frequently improvised dialogue. Scarlett the A-Lister can dress down as well as scrub up for red carpets. The Mica Levi soundtrack music creates an immersive alien environment, like we are hearing the alien's thought waves.

Compared to Species, the Hollywood movie where Natasha Henstridge's alien woman is hunted through L.A. by Ben Kingsley, 'Under the skin' seems so much more matter-of-fact in the way that Johanssen goes about largely undetected business.

There's more, in what proved to be a surprisingly thought provoking indie sci-fi movie.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

its often the lock nut on a leaking radiator

I've been somewhat underwater today.

Not in the usual work sense, but because a radiator somehow sprung a leak.

My short term fix used that stretchy self amalgamating tape. It helped whilst I waited for the plumber, but for a while the living room began to resemble the inside of a whale.

We are two mariners
Our ship's sole survivors
In this belly of a whale
It's ribs are ceiling beams
It's guts are carpeting
I guess we have some time to kill

It reminded me of a recent conversation about choosing one Decemberist song to use in a "best-of" list.

The Mariner's Revenge Song had been short-listed; my own choice was Chinese Acrobat, but I think we settled on the excellent Bagman's Gambit.

The knowledgeable plumber agreed as he tightened the errant lock-nut.

By now the lounge is back to normal, aside from a tropical ambience whilst the carpet dries. No mariner's revenge, so instead here's Colin Meloy singing 'We both go down together', in an elevator.

Monday, 13 October 2014

emergency swimwear and zombies

Another weekend activity involved obtaining emergency swimwear...so that we could use the fancy spa at the Corinthia, obviously.

We tripped around the corner to Lillywhites, which has huge quantities of swimwear on the 6th floor. Now Lillywhites is right by Eros* in Piccadilly Circus. The well-known meeting place for out-of-towners.

So far, so good.

Then I noticed the first one. Corner of eye. A fella who looked as if he'd been in a recent accident, but still seemed mobile enough.

Glance across again to the statue. A slight change in its population. They seemed to be getting more, er, gruesome.

A few moments later one flitted right across my field of vision. Yes this was turning into a full-on zombie attack.

They say you never see the one that gets you.

* I know it's not really Eros - It's Anteros who was Eros brother - note the plumed butterfly wings and long hair.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Book of Mormon

The cab driver looked slightly quizzical.

"You know what it's like?"

We said we did.

"Only some people really like it and others really hate it"

He sniggered. He was one that liked it.

"It's really raw. really raw."

What wouldn't be fun about the sell-out show about Mormons leaving training camp to go doorbell ringing?

That they advertise the show on buses with the line "Can someone get me a ticket?!" indicates its popularity.

That we were somehow front row circle is still a mystery to me. The safety curtain is a star field, before being transported initially via Disney-esque animatronics to the All-American Prophet Joe from Rochester, New York as he discovers the golden plates of the Third Book.

I won't mention the main plot or setting, because it's better to see it the first time without knowing too much. What I will draw from the liveliness of the audience is the conclusion that most people were the 'likers'.

Slick, multi-dimensional, bawdy, a starkness to contrast the cheesiness of the cheery Salt Lake City. Rather more cultural references than it would seem possible to include. Even the dancing paper coffee cups were in the right place.

The bimodal distribution of the reviews is quite understandable. Most will give a five or a one.

And, yes, having a saying does make it all seem better.

And the real Mormon missionaries outside the theatre afterwards were doing a roaring trade harvesting email addresses.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

days of fear and wonder

I've enjoyed the trailer for the new BFI Sci-Fi season: Days of Fear and Wonder.

The trailer provides a fun opportunity to play 'spot the sci-fi movie' and the season isn't just showing on the South Bank. There's screenings all over the country as well as via BFI Player.

I shall need to make a list.

30 million minutes with Dawn French

I've just been to see the Dawn French solo show which was funny, poignant and like a very entertaining and somewhat personal conversation.

It'd be unfair to call it a stand-up show and was constructed as a series of carefully crafted segments from Dawn's life.

The 30 million minutes of the show's title refers to her time alive (around 50-something of our earth years) and she talked and acted her way through some of the significant moments. This was story-telling rather than gag-driven humour in a way that creates its own niche.

Completely by chance we were in the front row for this show, set on a simple black stage with AV back projections mainly comprising family photos and a few short film clips. The simplicity belied what was actually an incredibly slick set of production values. It all worked, giving bitter-sweet insights into being Dawn French, bundled with some life affirmation for the audience.

Of course Dawn also acts for a living and was able to bring in a level of emotion beyond that of many comedians. There was also good physical humour all of which added to the way that Dawn owned the stage. The audience were engaged from the very first minute of the show.

I didn't know much about Dawn French's past: her childhood as an RAF child partly spent in Cyprus; the sadness of her father's suicide; Billie, her adopted child with Lenny Henry. By the end of the evening I knew the difference between her two grannies (the naughty one and the nice one) and where to sell jewellery in Plymouth.

The show's focus was on personal life and there were only passing references to many of her show-biz exploits and friends. This wasn't tittle-tattle from the set of Vicar of Dibley or how French and Saunders got along.

So, two excellent helpings - another 120 added to those minutes, with a toffee ice-cream in between. A ten-finger point back to the stage. Yeah.