Friday, 31 October 2014

branding a revolution


I've just read that Russell Brand book about revolution. I can imagine the book is an easy topic for reviewers to snipe because of its style. There'll be plenty of contradictory offcuts to illustrate whatever point an establishment reviewer would require.

I was interested in it because of the underlying big premise - that the UK (and elsewhere) doesn't really have good electable options in the political classes. The reductionist tabloids create a "don't vote" agenda from Brand's points. I don't think he is saying that - more he is saying there isn't really a good votable choice.

The book also argues that wealth and control is vested in a tiny minority and that these people can buy the results of any election, notably the U.S. where the most well-funded party has won every time.

Brand is from Grays in Essex with a 'local bad boy makes good' backstory of his addiction raddled rise to famed Beverly Hills living. Then a clean 12 years whilst balancing Mercedes chauffeured wealth and a hybrid spirituality.

There's plenty of big thinker writers on similar topics, but its good to get a more laddish voice as a contrast.

Brand's style makes an interesting read. It's populist chatty with frequent diversions during the points being made. Sometimes it goes into overdrive with extended curlicued sentences. There'a a bundle of summary replays from other free thinkers and an underpinning message about institutionalised manipulation of economics and the world stage in the interests of big business.

Stripping away some of the surplus verbiage, there are good points about some what is wrong in the ruling mechanisms.

I can't claim to be a Brand fan, but will credit his effort here to say some things that need to be said about the state of things. Sadly, the main messaging is already being rapidly diluted by the same establishment systems he rails against.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

bumbershoot

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Just after midday, rain and wind emphasise the change of season.

Time to flip the rain hood back into service on my coat. Tomorrow they're saying the day will start at 4 degrees Celsius.

Monday, 27 October 2014

up north again

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Red sunrise this morning from around Saint Albans. What's the old saying about red sky in the morning?

Then further north and by tonight I'm walking through shadows and alleyways of an area under redevelopment.

It'll be my base for the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

snap, crackle and popping around London


A quick spin through the Chelsea tractors over to Balham during the day through unexpectedly heavy traffic marking school half-term holidays.

Little chains of red cars all over the sat-nav and some ultra-mad drivers around.

One of the worst was a black Bentley that decided to accelerate as fast as possible to catch the lights at Pont Street when I was turning right onto Sloane Street.

Earlier I'd seen the usual screechy BMW M something-or-others around by Hyde Park and I was increasingly intrigued at seeing five separate black Maseratis in different points around the same area. Maybe one or two, but five? Has no-one read the memo?

Then I passed one of those £100k BMW i8 cars which tokenistically run partly on electricity. Only for 22 miles, though, according to the manufacturers. Add petrol and it'll do 375 miles - and despite BMW's claimed 135mpg, its three cylinder engine real world result is more in the 50-30mpg range. Hardly economic, but I suppose they'll be joining the Hyde Park gang as soon as there are enough of them around.

I also spent a long time in a jam in the lane next to another electric BMW.

One of those strangely shaped i3 cars, which is a sort of novelty BMW also running on electric power. This one has all the hallmarks of a committee design and somehow has managed to avoid BMW styling cues altogether, except for a slightly bolted on looking front grill. Plug it in at home to a new circuit rated at the same wattage as a domestic ring main and it'll be 80% charged in under 3 hours to give a full 100 mile range. Or add the £2.8k optional extra called 'range extender' which is actually a petrol engine which doesn't directly power the car. No, it makes electricity to charge the battery.

They still haven't quite got the electric car thing right. Further on I saw a small electric car parked with a yellow power cable snaking to a big Audi SUV in front. The smaller car was obviously being recharged by the side of the road - no doubt using power from the bigger car's diesel engine.

Friday, 24 October 2014

in which the garage computer briefly returns to captivity


I finally got around to updating the red computer to Windows 8.1. It's been pestering me to do it for many months. I do have W8.1 occasionally running on the iMac, as a virtual service, so I know it can work.

The red computer doesn't get into captivity very often, because it's the one I use with the bike, as a kind of docking station for the ANT+ and similar. It's the inexpensive computer I bought with the grocery shopping some time ago and sits on the wifi in the garage. With the approaching chilly season, I predict the bike turbo will be back in regular use soon, so it make sense to update this dedicated PC that I use with the turbo.

Now I've just updated several Macs to Yosemite, which was a fairly quick and painless exercise, but I was kind of irrationally dreading the Windows update, in case it went wrong.

Actually, it just took a long time.

Several hours by the time it had downloaded around a Gigabyte of update and rebooted itself several times. Suspiciously long for a Gigabyte, if truth be told. The Macs all downloaded several Gigabytes in noticeably less time.

The red computer did provide a few messages, which someone had told the developers to make seem chatty. Along the lines of "We're setting up a few things for you" etc. It makes a change from "Please install the new XYZ device driver", I suppose.

I'm delighted to say that the machine still works. The bootup time is about 2 minutes, which lets me grab a coffee. It has redesigned all the wallpapers, in case I didn't like the ones I had before. Magically, the erstwhile uninstalled Norton pester screen has mysteriously returned, despite my previously removing it with the Norton Removal Tool.

Fortunately, the TACX turbo still works with its ANT+ connection and I can still dial up Trainerroads and Netflix, so when I'm using it with the bike turbo, it will still do the trick.

The slightly unfortunate news is that the actual TACX trainer software has stopped working. I can get the program started, but attempting to use it with any form of video playback has died. Maybe those device drivers do still need to be installed?

I've put it back into the wild in its partially functioning state. Maybe I'll try to fix it again on a particularly rainy day.

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

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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

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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.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

conkers and a roundabout


Yesterday's woodland walk may have been away from the main road, but when I descended the last hill, the highway and its agents reasserted themselves.

A £10 million road improvement scheme, no less. Yes, ten million quid buys you a replacement roundabout nowadays. This one being constructed over the next year.

More lanes and one of those cut across the middle things, in this case featuring an inserted merging junction. A roundabout short cut, maybe?

I don't think there is a proper word for this complicated formation yet although I expect the commuters will soon come up with an improper one?

In fairness to the road builders, they have done a pretty good job along parts of the A30 where they thinned it down to a single track, added white safety markings and a space for cycles and in some areas an uninterrupted extra dual-use paving for pedestrians and cyclists.

It's all far more low key than the CS routes in the centre of London, but does start to provide clear and improved stretches for cycling.

The replaced dual carriage way sections were often illusory on these stretches in any case, with insufficient distances to make the apparently faster vehicles gain any real time advantage.

A case of 'catch them doing it right'.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

a short walk in woodland Basingstoke


We usually refer to this area as Checkpoint Charlie. The entrance to a small woodland starts a walk towards Basingstoke, alongside the A30 which provides the ancient and once direct coaching route from London to Penzance.

Step into the woods and after a few metres, the ghosts of cars subside and you'd hardly know the area was within walking distance of the neon Basingstoke shopping mall.

Today the autumnal leaves are still in place, occasionally and ever so softly fluttering to earth. Some playful sunshine, although underfoot it's wet and there's that damp mulch smell of the season. Autumn has an altogether more earthy smell than the electric rain tang of Spring.

This route leads right into the middle of the town, although today I'll enjoy the sunshine and sharp breeze instead of the air-conditioning of the mall.

Monday, 6 October 2014

logging the return of Twin Peaks


Laura Palmer's statement about being back in 25 years is about to happen, with Twin Peaks returning in 2016, directed by Lynch.

A few of us even visited the real Snoqualmie Falls Lodge, which was the real name of the Great Northern Hotel, in Washington State. I remember the walk to the foot of the falls and the alarming sign that says 'Trail Ends'. Just before we had to hit it back to the airport.

I know the second series had some pretty weird and somewhat undirected episodes, but it still created a bunch of new television ideas in the days when most UK folk only had a few channels and common viewing would include the show.

My most recent TP fix was that recent episode of Fargo which tipped several hats towards Twin Peaks.

Cherry Pie, anyone?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

pod bay door management with ZigBee


It's a few years since I attended a conference in Westminster about energy management, smart metering and the like. The sessions included a selection of technology suppliers as well as a few politicians but relatively few 'end users' of what was then still an emerging technology.

The discussions included the catchily-named IEEE 802.15.4, which is a kind of wi-fi for homes, operating at very low power levels.

Nowadays there is a kind of Betamax/VHS war going on with various suppliers each wanting to use their preferred technologies in order to become king of the home castle.

Z-wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth 4, ye olde X10 are a few examples. Google, Apple, Samsung and a slew of currently less well-known companies are pitching to get control of the home hub.

Imagine Siri, Cortana and 'OK Google' on the wall...

"Open the pod bay doors, Hal"


It is still a bit fiddly to connect everything together and not everyone has a home 24-way gigabit ethernet switch to hook up the multitude of mini-hubs.

If I count my own example of the little extra pack-of-playing-card sized hubs requiring connection into the network, there's the one for the recently installed thermostat (Google Nest), one for the smart meter analytics (Efergy Engage), one for the lighting (Phillips Hue) one for the HDMI switching and upscaling to the telly (Denon) and one for a domestic remote control (Logitech Harmony).

Oh yes, the bathroom scales use Wi-Fi and my bikes still use ANT+ via Bluetooth 4. Come to think of it the loudspeakers using Airplay are quite passé in this mix.

Surprisingly, it all works and the various units generally commune with one another endearingly well. For me, it's all something of an experiment, so if one piece or another temporarily breaks there's always another more manual way to make whatever it is work.

An obvious question is whether we need all this stuff, but in the way of the march of smartphones, the automated home is increasingly a marketing target.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

...first sighting of the golf umbrellas of 2015 election campaigning

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It's started already. The door-to-door campaigning for the next General Election.

A strident knock at the door at 10:45 this morning.

10:45 on a Saturday?? What!

A very friendly gentleman in a Beaufort Barbour, a tweed duckbill flat cap and carrying a large golfing umbrella.

"Hello, sir", he waves a leaflet around. A short standard patter.

"...and can I count on your support?"

My pause.

"No."

"..and which issues are troubling you?"

"Many. Thank you for calling and your time. Goodbye."

Eight months to go, but I can't help thinking that there's no good answers this time around.

Friday, 3 October 2014

switched

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The big seasonal switch has flicked to autumnal.

Last weekend we were in Cheltenham, which was already golden and yellow. By the end of this week, the colours have moved south and our grass is getting its first scattering of leaves.

There's still sunshine and yesterday on the M3 I could see a flock of Canada geese gathering and following the route. I don't think they actually migrate to anywhere else, but they still exhibit the V formation flying, whilst they conduct a seasonal stocktake.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

witching season for replacement light bulbs


I can't complain that the excellent September weather has meant trialling the replacement smart thermostat for the heating may take longer. So far the thermostat has only switched on when I've been testing.

Curiously, our house's annual September peak in light-bulb pops has continued, with five bulbs pinging over around a three week period. Maybe the Phoebus conspiracy lives on?

I've taken this seasonal opportunity to rejig the lighting. We've got one of those little energy metering gadgets which tells me stuff that should really be common sense(!)
I can easily see the quiescent load of the house. To my pleasant surprise, this base load is quite low, even with the range of technology we have around the place.

It emphasises when something bigger kicks in like the electric kettle, dishwasher, washing machine and even the vacuum cleaner.

A much more surprising load is the effect of conventional lighting, which can easily double or triple the base loading. I'm not sure if I should admit to this, but I've walked around with the handheld gadget and flicked lights on in different areas, witnessing the sudden boost in energy used. I know common sense could do the same thing, but the left-brained readouts reinforce the impression. Particularly when the gadget shows the £ and pence running costs.

So for this year's light bulb season it's been a no-brainer to spend more on the replacement bulbs. There's a few higher usage areas: the office, the kitchen, the living room.

Quite a few halogen spotlights amongst that selection too. My quick calculation indicates moving to LED-based lights for these areas could save maybe £150 per year. They can be just as bright and with warm low 2700 Kelvin colour temperature they even look like tungsten.

...Okay, so I might not have been able to resist the temptation to get some internet-addressable light-bulbs too.