rashbre central: November 2013

Saturday 30 November 2013

snappy happy

Jesmond Dene, Newcastle
Well, I've idly been using the iPhone as my main carry around camera during November, as per my stated plan at the beginning of the month.

It's worked surprisingly well as a compact camera replacement.

I know its 'only' got 8 Mega-pixels compared with the 41 Mega-pixels of the recent-ish Nokia, but I can't help wondering exactly where marketing overtakes results. That's more pixels on a tiny sensor than on a full frame Nikon, for example.

I've tried the Nokia but noticed that both the startup time and the 'film wind' time from one shot to another seemed excessive. Measured in seconds, it appeared. A lot of processing to do 41 MP maybe?

For many social occasions that lag could mean the defining moment will have passed. It will still be fine for cityscapes and less timing critical shots, of course.

The Nokia has a proper shutter (instead of an electronic one) and image stabilisation. It means that the camera has a little bump on the back where the lens gubbins is fitted and so from the back the phone looks like a -er- camera.

It's reached a point where I start to think of the things I'd want on a proper camera again and that's where trade-offs start to play out.

I've decided I'll keep to the simpler iPhone form factor, with the smaller jpegs that are easy to manipulate onto web sites and social media.

My sense with the iPhone is that it's 'good enough' for many purposes. Maybe not to crop the pictures, but hey, this is for snaps in any case.
The iPhone camera works fine in daylight or at night in what I'd call 'street scenes'. It doesn't work so well indoors in less well lit areas, although there's a clever flash for such situations. I habitually disable flashes on cameras, but I may need to revive it on this one.
The lens is also quite good at fairly close shots and can do a reasonable job of blurring the background, as long as you don't expect some kind of miracles. The 'zoom' is digital, so the magnification is somewhat artificial.
There's various burst modes and high speed modes too, so speedy clicks are well catered for. I've decided I actually quite like using it, and even the little mode of using the volume control as a shutter button adds to the basic ergonomics.

It'll never replace a decent compact system camera or an SLR, but photographically, it seems to me that this type of phone has reached a good level of general purpose usability.

Maybe next month I'll use it for some kind of mini project.

Friday 29 November 2013

tracking the specials agent

comparethemeerkat screenshot
I should have realised when I saw the huge west London billboard advertisements a month or more ago. They are the ones usually reserved for new prestige car launches and airlines.

They were advertising Maiya the specials agent meerkat.

I had to renew some kind of insurance policy at the time and somehow let the meerkats persuade me to switch suppliers. That and the dramatic change of price, of course.

My reward would be the acquisition of a cuddly toy. Naturally I plumped for the exclusive limited edition one, knowing all along that it will be going to join a small collection elsewhere once it has safely arrived at rashbre central.

Now anyone who has been along the meerkat route will know that they are delivered from Meerkovo by Postkat, who doesn't always take the most direct route.
I checked with Sergei's meerkat tracker, which uses the same technology as the Meer Space Station, and it's indicated that Maiya is now in Dover.

Just because it's reached this country doesn't mean it will take a direct route for the next part of the journey.

Thursday 28 November 2013

and now I'm hearing voices...

imageThere's an interesting old book about building a computer operating system called 'The Soul of a New Machine', by Tracy Kidder. It's about how a bunch of people developed a new computer back in the days when computers had their own offices.

I was reminded of it today when I finally caught my own computer talking to itself.

I've suspected it for some time, but there's usually too much other ambient noise for me to be sure.

But today, when I thought I heard it, I silenced other nearby sound sources, and sure enough, I could hear a little voice coming from somewhere around the machine. It was one of those moments when I actually crawled around under a desk to be sure of the source.

A little voice was coming from one of the flashing light boxes. Of course, it was really some form of Radio Frequency Interference, like you sometimes hear on public address systems, or that sound that clucking sound that old cellphones generated on most office conference phones. Now I know why they put those magnetic rings around wires on certain types of connections.

What also amused me whilst I was tracking down the source, was that the backup disk box nearby was looking suspiciously like another almost sentient computer. A blue-eyed version of HAL, maybe?

Tuesday 26 November 2013

cheatin' back post blues

its starting to look like a guitar
Got them.
Got them.
Got them.
Got them.

Cheatin’ back-post blues!


Got them.
Got them.
All of them.

Cheatin' back-post blues.

Tried so hard to stay with it.
Tried so hard so to kill it.
But I can’t every minute.
So I have t-t-to re spin it.
Those ch-ch-cheatin’ back-post


All the time now.


Cheatin’ back-post.

Cheatin' back-post blues.

Monday 25 November 2013

time storage devices

time storage device
I thought I'd keep the theme of time travel running a little longer this week.

The picture supporting this is of one of a number of time storage devices (TSD) that I have identified. Some of them are quite small, like this window opener and others can be absolutely huge, even larger than London.

I'll start with the small one and how it works.

It looks like an ordinary window opener, doesn't it?

The thing is, it doesn't open the window. That's how it stores time.

I wanted to use it today and discovered that the only way was to find a screwdriver, remove the catch and then re-adjust the setting. It required a special fitting. The fitting required a special drill. The drill wasn't charged and so had to be plugged into the mains for a while.

I think it took me about an hour to open the window.

See where I'm going?

Stored time.

The window catch had stored an hour of my time and was patiently waiting for me to release it.

I guess a medium sized burst mode TSD is Waterloo train station. It works on a slightly different principle, because it can operate on many people at once, unlike my single person window catch.

And then there's a very large scale continuous TSD like the M25 motorway around London, which runs by the ongoing scooping up of thousands of people and a subsequent slow release of their time.

So I've discovered that TSDs can operate in one direction, but now I need to find some that work the other way around.

Sunday 24 November 2013

deciding de time for de-icer

"...so do you know something that I don't?" asked the grinning checkout lady in the supermarket.

I was buying milk and screen wash.

I looked into the basket and there were 5 litres of concentrated screen wash and only 4 litres of milk.

To emphasise the point I looked at the still waiting to be scanned cans of blue spray stuff and the two blue squirter things.

"It's going to get cold soon," I explained, before she could think I was buying the screen wash as a cunning substitute for Tennents Extra Strong.

I idly wondered whether lager would have been cheaper than the screen wash.

teaching expertise?

screenshot_191I know that sometimes members of the teaching profession glance at this site, so I thought I'd pass on a tip from Lady Banana.

Lady Banana spotted the new book about teaching by Michael Gove.

He certainly takes a very direct line in this publication. This is an example of a book that is probably not quite as useful as a Kindle download, but at the moment it's also free.

Saturday 23 November 2013

can daleks travel faster than the speed of light?

Saturday night at the BFI
We were at the BFI on Saturday evening and it turned out there was a bit of a bash on for Doctor Who.

A couple of daleks managed to gate-crash and it made me think again about the time traveller dilemma. It would make sense to publicise a set date for time travellers to convene and a globally publicised Doctor Who fest could be one such moment. No actual time travellers were present though, unless they forgot to mention it.

It remands me also of the telly programme about Doctor Who physics shown a few days ago. It illustrated relativity, spacetime curvature and the effects at the edge of a black hole when observing the event horizon.

Some of it has great mathematics, but I can't help thinking there's a whiff of phlogiston about it. Phlogiston was the stuff supposed to be consumed by things that burned. Until a better theory came along.

So my dilemma is that clever people say things can't move faster than the speed of light. OK, so how can the earth's position relative to the sun by gravity be twenty arc seconds (8.3 minutes) ahead of its observed position? That would mean that gravity was somehow working faster than the speed of light.

Or, how could a black hole, which consumes all light, be able to have a gravitational pull? The gravity would have to be able to escape, whilst the light couldn't. Doesn't this mean it needs to travel faster than light?

Someone will say gravity is a wave, or that there's a yet to be discovered particle called a graviton. But whatever the explanations are, it still seems to me that there's some black holes in the theory.

How else would the daleks have been able to get in the bar?

Friday 22 November 2013

time acceleration

Doctor Who cast
Fun with both time travel and history acceleration today with this pop chart lookup. Click through to see many years of top 30 or top 100 singles, complete with a mini play list, via Bob Borst's site.

What with it being my birthday month, I tried my birth year and found interesting curios amongst the songs (gulp).

For the UK there's also the UK Official Charts listings, but it doesn't provide an automatic playlist.

For this blog I've set both of the above searches to 1963, because of the extensive coverage of Kennedy and Doctor Who over the last few days. Two stories from adjacent days, both receiving comprehensive UK coverage at the moment.

Thursday night on television I could watch analysis of the sight lines Elm Street or the politics of Dallas and then flip to see the first ever Who episode (or the whole series, if required).

By the morning the rolling news on the hotel room television had already moved on and extensive coverage had moved to another story. Tweets were coming in of Monty Python's planned reunion.

Crunchy frog, anyone?

Thursday 21 November 2013

not exactly jet set

Thursday started in London, but has ended in the Midlands. Well, north of Birmingham in any case.

It was late as I walked towards the hotel lobby. A couple of Christmas trees twinkled in the corner.

I'm not sure why, but after the cones and jams of the motorways it felt slightly awkward to be suddenly thrust into this apparently festive world.

I decided to head to my room, make a cup of tea and call it a night.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

hemlock grove as hebenon to the eyes?

Hemlock GroveI finished watching a film on Netflix recently and it came up with a suggestion about watching a Netflix series called Hemlock Grove. I thought this might be a handy thing to have as I've started to use the bike turbo again for the winter season and duly clicked on the first episode.

Oh dear.

I've been sticking with it, but I'm not really sure about how or why they made it. What I've enjoyed is the sheer number of horror film concepts that they've managed to throw into the first couple of episodes. Kind of Addams Family meets Twin Peaks, done in a Young Adult format but with lots of steam of every kind.

Even the High School Kids could work out who was a werewolf ahead of the authorities. Here's a clue:
Hemlock Grove

So what do we get? There's a High School. A posh family. A 'gypsy' family who move into the town. There's a wood where Strange Things Happen At Night. There's a very tall goth girl with a kind of facial disfigurement. A secret scientist laboratory. A few Unspoken Secrets. A gnarly dude who runs through the woods and has a bit of a twitch. A vintage sports car. Much use of big eyes acting.
Hemlock Grove
Then there's the casualties. The body count is quite low at the moment, but I have a feeling it is going to rise in every episode.

I'm paused somewhere in Episode 3 but am going to stick with it for a few more episodes. I'm finding a strange fascination for the cringeworthiness.

Tuesday 19 November 2013


Tonight was a bit of a secret squirrel affair.

One of those places along a quiet street in central London where there is no marking to explain what you are entering.

To be buzzed in from the street and then to head for the drawing room. To wait for other guests to arrive, before being whisked to another area for cocktails and more.

Annoyingly, that's about all I can disclose. Kind of hush-hush.

Monday 18 November 2013

Dex appearing

Just in case the Sunday post didn't show enough of the early seasonal decorations, I thought I'd add another one here.

The more obvious choice would've been Harrods, but I've gone for Harvey Nick's instead. There's a suitable quantity of stars, illuminated street decorations and the type of aerial xmas trees particular to this area of West London.

I'll have to take a regulation Sloane Square picture, too.

But that can come later. Maybe wait for December.

Sunday 17 November 2013

jiggly picture

It's been a busy week, what with travelling and all.

The jiggly nature of the picture summarises the experience. Or maybe that I'm still taking all of my pictures with the iPhone.

London (signified by the red buses), some cycling, the early proper signs of Christmas, with the illuminated stars appearing along Sloane Street.

Saturday 16 November 2013

trippy and circular moments

a bit trippy
The last week was unexpectedly trippy. Not because of the extra drugs I took for my cold. They were only Lem-sip, after all.

But there were a few things that went somewhat off kilter.

Not specifically for me, but related circumstances caused me to cover a lot of ground.

Mainly circuits of the M25. Amazing how both north and south can have simultaneous roadworks. I knew it was bad when the sat nag started to tell me to turn around on the motorway.

It's all regaining balance now and today I even managed to go for a local bike ride.

First time in over a week. 24 miles. That's just over 6,000 miles cycled this year.

Friday 15 November 2013

every step you take

I've clocked a fair few car miles this week, although it's been at the expense of cycling.

There was a strange moment when one of the online systems I use for monitoring my cycling sent me an automated message saying it was missing my activity.

It links with the story on the front of the Economist this week which is about ubiquitous monitoring and threats to privacy.

I'm not going along the route of the 'life-loggers', but it becomes an interesting challenge to achieve the right balance between functionality and privacy.

More of the systems like Google want to join everything together, presumably to make a better target market of we individuals.
glasses with embedded video
It raises the question around 'Glassware' and similar offerings that can observe and tie things together.

I gather Google won't provide face recognition on the live platform, although I assume that fringe activities will find ways around this.

I already have to smile for the camera every time I enter the United States and the fast lane back into the UK is via biometrics stored in the passport.

The 'next generation identification' systems have subtly become current.
google glass
Say "Cheese".

Thursday 14 November 2013


Morning rooftops with the first frost of the year.

They are saying that by the weekend it could turn properly cold. I'm quite enjoying the sunshine we still see at the moment.

I know it's a fuzzy looking picture. Normally I'd use a bigger camera to take something like this, with a bit of a zoom on it. Instead, it's the little iPhone camera using the digital zoom on a high setting.

Big brush strokes?

Wednesday 13 November 2013

the lower lower thirds rule

Lower Thirds
I usually have one of those advert blockers switched on when browsing the internet. I'm not sure what I'm missing, but generally the adverts I do see are misdirected anyway. The cookie crumbs seem to remember what I've already bought, rather than what I might need next.

Television is different. If I'm watching something pre-recorded then hitting the 30x usually does the trick. If it's on-demand, it may still have advert breaks but they don't have any actual advertising within.

So real-time commercial television is increasingly a novelty. I've decided to filter adverts using a specific easy to remember rule. I call it "The lower lower thirds" rule:

"Not more than 8 small print words."

That rule keeps me entertained during many drudgy adverts on telly. I simply decide that more than 8 words of riders and disclaimers invalidates my attention. I could add others about 'no animated animals except meerkats' and 'no quick money' but simply watching what's in the lower lower thirds works well most of the time.
small print

Tuesday 12 November 2013

winter tyre time

not my car, nor my wheels
No, it's not my car, nor my wheels, but it was close to where I was sitting and waiting.

I've had the wheels swapped over to winter mode now.

I can tell the difference easily enough because the summer wheels have six spokes and the winter ones have five. My summer wheels and tyres go on holiday now, down to the seaside at Poole and will return again in the Spring.

When I lived in mainland Europe it was quite common to do this and in some places it was the law. I think it is still relatively uncommon in the UK.

I wonder if there will be a frost?

Monday 11 November 2013

another wall

It's not that I've run out of ideas, so much that I've run out of time over the last few days to produce blog posts. So here's another wall. This one is something of a self portrait, although its somewhat difficult to discern.

Oddly enough, I quite like this, with a mix of wall, shadow, light from outdoors and some interesting textures.

Sunday 10 November 2013

orange moment

A few plans were changed at the weekend as a result of late breaking news.

Instead of a regular update, here's a picture of the still 'under development' wall in the music room at rashbre central.

It has to be orange, of course, although this picture features diamond shapes instead of the more typical triangles.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Friday 8 November 2013

ye olde Fuji X100 gets version 2.01

Fuji X100
A couple of days ago I mentioned twisty dial cameras and made a short reference to the Fuji X100. The Fuji uses analogue style dials and I've had one pretty much since it was launched.

It's about three years old now and has been superseded, but a couple of weeks ago a new firmware update was released by Fuji (V2.01).

I have to say, I was quite impressed.

The major niggle with the older version was a sometimes sluggish focus, particularly when in manual mode. There were ways around it, but it illustrates how software can still get in the way even on something ostensibly analogue.
fuji x100
This update provides a real boost to the camera, improving startup, focus speed, focus short distance range and adding a new and useful highlight function.

It is slightly intriguing that Fuji provided this level of change on what is clearly a superseded model.

My guess is that people with 'Classic' X100 wouldn't switch to the updated X100s, so this provides a decent level of comparable functionality and keeps people saying nice things about the brand.

Perhaps it's regarded as a simple engineering update, but it's a bit like getting a new camera.

will the impulse engines hold?

star trek control room
I published a chart on here a few days ago about the UK energy gap. Co-incidentally, the wider discussion has turned up in the news now, along the lines of whether the UK's impulse engines will hold through the winter.

There's a fancy report produced every year by UK National Statistics for the Department of Energy and Climate Change which covers the main UK Energy sources. I've pasted a couple of quick extracts from 2013.

Alongside the actual production of energy, there are various levels of inefficiencies in the subsequent transmission and distribution. I know some of this is down to physics, like power lines sag more when they are heavily loaded (because they heat up).

There's still some interesting stats though.

In the UK, the DECC charts show that for electricity, the distribution and transmission losses appear to be bigger than the actual power output available. You have to read the chart from left to right. What goes in, and what comes out...
DECC DUKE 2013 report
I may be reading this wrongly, but it looks as if that 567.5TWh transmission and distribution losses is bigger than the circa 350TWh of available power?

That powerline sag and related distribution loses 5-6% of electricity. The DECC diagram seems to suggest rather more is disappearing.

Hold that thought and I'll add in the specifics of the renewables power feed. It currently looks as if its own complicated conversion processes are also rather inefficient.
DECC DUKE 2013 report
I know its measured in different units (ttoe), but it also seems to show big losses.

Of course, it's great that more renewable forms are being identified, with biomass being more than 70% of the current renewables, wind about 20% and hydro about 5%. The target is to get to 15% of all power from renewables by 2020.

I'm kind of wondering how this will play out in the upcoming debates. And whether I need to buy some candles. Although, wait, they are energy inefficient too.

Thursday 7 November 2013

is a tweet like two punched cards?

a tweet by punched card
I know there's actually 80 columns to an old IBM punched card, but I somehow think of a maximum tweet being like two punched cards.

On the old punched cards, columns 73-80 were for sequencing and 72 was reserved to signal that a continuation card followed. So pragmatically 70 characters per card, or half a tweet.

So I've always sort of thought that twitter has harnessed a short messaging platform for chatter using a maximum message length of two IBM cards.
twitter logo
So if we treat Twitter as an I.T Company, somehow it's single idea and its ramifications is today valuing the IPO capitalisation of twitter at around $30bn.

That's between a quarter and a third of the total market capitalisation of IBM ($117bn).

Or if we treat Twitter as an advertising and media organisation, its market capitalisation is about double that of BSKYB ($14bn).
twitter ticker
Hashtag 140 character big business? Hashtag traderorinvestor?

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Almost Wordless Wednesday and posted late

Trying to get out of the woods with this NaBloPoMo by back posting Wednesday.

That makes me up-to-date.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

twisty dial cameras

Nikon Df
An intriguing development on the photographic scene in the very month when I've decided (just experimentally) to take most of my photos using an iPhone.

Yes, Nikon have just introduced a new digital camera that looks very much like...an old film camera.

This Df unit looks very much like a last century Nikon Fx film camera, albeit with some fancy electronics inside. It will be interesting to see how this gets reviewed against the rest of the DSLR cameras, seeing how comprehensively it breaks the normal DSLR mould.

I've wondered whether digital cameras could get away from complicated layered menus and back to simpler twisty dials. This seems to be a reasonable attempt to do just that. I've only seen pictures of this Df and I've a feeling that it might be lighter in the hand than expected and also missing things like split screen focus.

It's also rather expensive in its current guise, apparently costing more than Nikon's fancy D800. It also seems to come with a new 'retro lens' as the only option - albeit one without an aperture ring, which I find somewhat curious. Something of a half-way house.

Whether it is the start of a new camera line, or the end of proper mirrors in the next generation of conventional Nikon DSLRs remains to be seen.

It will also be interesting to see whether, in design terms, the old-school look really does stand up in the 21st century or if its simply a market testing experiment. I'm wondering if the next 2014-ish conventional Nikon DSLRs will start to use the dials again too?

Nikon's recent raft of announcements somehow reminds me of London buses, where there can be a long gap and then a whole load come along in one go.

Of course, it's not the first camera to go along this analogue look route; my Fuji X100 does it as a kind of 'alternative to rangefinder' camera, admittedly with some early teething troubles that took a while to fix.

My little Olympus OM-D is another camera that has taken the more twisty dials route, seen here with a few of its old-timer friends.
Spot the OM-D

Monday 4 November 2013

mashed potatoes and ailurophiles

screenshot_174Interesting recent developments have been the return of a couple of bloggers to the scene.

Well, one didn't really disappear, but I didn't have access for a while. That's Doris Mash.

As Doris says, Life is a bowl of mashed potato: Sometimes lumpy; sometimes smooth and creamy; and sometimes it has interesting bits in it!

screenshot_175And then there's Shephard Summers who took some time out to remodel the blog and returned in a blaze of new colour and style.

As Shephard says: Writer, world-traveler, foodie, music-junkie, magpie, theatre geek and ailurophile. I make my own sunshine.

Welcome back to this blog's reading list.

Sunday 3 November 2013

nano nano und Mork vom Ork

Mork and Mindy
As this is a back-post, I thought a suitably retro picture would be good.

Thanks to Hannah Curious the Transatlantid I've been reminded of NaBloPoMo - which is National (sic) Blog Posting Month. I've used November a few times to take a run at various pieces of novel writing, but this year decided to give it a miss.

Yes, NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - will have to wait for another year. I'd rather spend time on sorting out the various pieces I've partly completed than start yet another one. There's The Square, The Circle and Pulse all waiting in the wings for further attention. That's surely enough?

So this time I'm going to try to do the one blog post per day in November thing. To be honest, this used to be easy, but I'm aware that my 'ten minutes a day with one photo' rule about blogging sometimes breaks down.

And yes, I know it's 'nanu-nanu' in Mork & Mindy.

Saturday 2 November 2013

dancing with the moonlit knight?

selling england by the pound
I get some of those emails from political parties most weekends. I think they mail out on Saturday expecting they have a better chance of being read. Recently they feature the countdown clock for the next election. 550 days according to the Labour Party.

Enough time for the government to sell off a few more UK assets, I suppose. We've been watching Britain's remaining industries and services drift into offshore ownership.

"Selling England by the pound" may have been coined around 40 years ago, but by now it's largely 'job done'.

The privatised world created an array of new feeding troughs for the privileged. The accompanying outsourced world created offshore opportunities by removing in-country wage packets.

Emerging companies were sold and re-sold so that BA is now Spanish, London's Arriva bus services are German, the original BT cellular network became O2 which is now Telefonica, four of the Big 6 energy providers are German, French and Spanish.

Of course, globalisation brought the service sector to prominence in the UK, with London as a financial feeding centre.

With this early countdown to the next UK general election, there's already much jostling for position, as well as chatter about the futility or otherwise of voting. An ancient lyric from the Who springs to mind: 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.'

The catalogue of curious situations continues to develop:
  • Privatising part of the Royal Mail in a way that gave the banks advising the pricing both plenty of shares and an opportunity to sell them earlier than regular punters. Ker-ching.
  • Apparently allowing the largest shareholder in the new Royal Mail to be a Cayman Island based hedge fund. Surely no spivs?
  • Hiding black holes of lost money in pension funds, ultimately creating smaller incomes for those that have saved.
  • Paying off cavalier captains of industry who generally escape with low reputation but lottery winner sized handouts.
  • Allowing a 3rd generation EPR nuclear build to strike energy pricing at around double current rates (£48 vs £92.50). Then index linking it and making it contingent upon the UK taking a second plant somewhere else. Over a barrel perhaps?
  • Watching the energy companies add 10% to their consumer bills, whilst trousering profits so large that an ex Prime Minister even comments about it across his own party.
  • Running the quietly understated UK Asset Resolution bad bank (Britain's 5th largest mortgage lender with some £66bn of loans), but now adding another £38bn of bad bank assets instead into a sub component of RBS.
simplified energy creation and consumption
A bit of an energy gap?

I'm sure there's plenty more examples; I picked finance and energy as starters. We could easily add education and healthcare to the list. No, wait a minute, that's what the politicians are planning.

The thing is, unlike the Who lyrics, we will get fooled again.