Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Japanese knotweed of festivals

.. as in an unwelcome import.

This really sums it up beautifully, for me.

I blame E.T. Before that, no-one in the UK went trick-or-treating .. it was something those weird colonial types did. We had Guy Fawkes Night.

These days, every child in the land wants to go collecting sweets. Everyone has second-hand stories about gangs of uncontrolled youths and eggs - or worse - being thrown. Luckily, round our way they are mostly chaperoned and relatively well behaved. We did have a few teenagers trying their luck - but I'm glad to say that they accepted sweets instead of money.

.. and that's where you have to draw a line. A gang of hoodies, knocking on someone's front door and demanding money is extortion, isn't it? Or demanding money with menances. Or something. Definately not right - and probably illegal. There should be a campaign to put more police on the streets for Samhain. Sorry, Hallowe'en. I should start one. I just can't gather together enough righteous indignation .. and won't someone please think of the children?

But there's more! What's all this? At work today, there is pumpkin-and-bat shaped bunting. The staff at the coffee cart are wearing masks and scary lipstick. It's all gone too far! I'm slowly going mad!! Even using three exclamation marks!!! Eeeeeeeeek.

Note that I strongly dislike the use of stereotyping anyone wearing a particular garment (or haircut, etc..) as being of a certain pursuasion. I onw - and wear - a hoodie. It was the best description which came to mind, however. Artistic licence and whatnot.

This is what in other places might be called a coffee shop. Here, it's where we go to buy "posh coffee". Go figure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ubuntu Upgrade

So .. three days on, how's the Ubuntu upgrade? [non-techies may safely assume this post isn't for them]

Regulars may have guessed that my weekend was spent upgrading Ubuntu from version 7.04 ("Feisty Fox") to version 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon"). The download and upgrade all executed without hitch. It did take longer than anticipated, but worked fine. I had downloaded the CD ISO image (and sharing via bittorrent - a very popular file!) before realising that there was an upgrade path. Upgrading meant downloading a whole CD's worth of updates ...

There have been a few slight wobbles with Firefox locking up and user switching getting confused - but no real showstoppers. Picasa still works - though users have to be added to the video group, now that AppArmour locks down the video devices. The icing on the cake is getting my printer working, thanks to discussion list help.


  1. test NTFS compatability

  2. migrate user directories to common Windows / Linux partitions

  3. encourage the family to try it out

Onwards to life beyond Windows!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Big Turn-Off

Digital terrestrial TV ("Freeview") has made the news once again today. The ongoing campaign to wean the viewing public off analogue technology has been tweaked up a notch by today's publicity around the first analogue transmitter to be switched off.

I'm all for digital TV. No, really. I look forward to being able to have multiple interactive channels available all over the house. I'm not convinced it'll be so easy, though. My analogue TV reception is terrible. My nearest transmitter is a mere mile and a half away, but t'other side of a hill. The only line-of-sight transmitter is over thirty miles away and that is just over a hill brow, too. It's not as if I live in a valley. Far from it, my bedroom window overlooks a valley and the hills beyond. It's just that all the transmitters are the other way.

Enter the marvelous Megalithia. Here, you can enter your OS grid reference, pick a transmitter and see the terrian along the line of sight - and work out how tall your aerial needs to be. The Digitalpy FAQ pages have been helpful, too.

This is all very well, but in the absence of a transmitter in the right place, I'll be relying on satellite TV - which means I cant afford to put a TV in the kids rooms. Pah. Maybe broadband TV will come to my rescue. Progress mumble mumble in my day mutter mutter all this was fields.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Great Storm

In 1987, those of us who lived on the South Coast of England were subjected to the biggest storm to hit Britain in living memory. In retrospect - and in comparison with, say, Hurricane Katrina - it was not so bad. It was bad enough to cause "significant loss of life and devestation". This has only come to liight as I stumbled across a page about it on the Met Office website. It'll be twenty years ago on Monday.

My personal memories are still clear. I lived in a ground floor flat across the road from the beach - a few miles from Shoreham-by-Sea. I was woken in the early hours - one o'clock or so - by the noise. It was very loud - like nothing I'd neard before. I had a gas fire against the chimney breast; it was humming and vibrating as so much air was being drawn though it. The french windows were rattling like something out of Close Encounters.

I cautiously looked out of the window to the garden. Normally, I propped my windsurfer against the wall. For some reason, I had left it lying flat on the grass. As I looked I could see it being picked up by the wind .. making it hover about. I got rather unnerved by the strength of the wind: I was worried the windows were going to give way. I could almost feel the strength of it through the glass.

In the morning, having got a little sleep as the wind had peaked, I cycled to work. The coast road was red with pulverized rof tiles .. as if someone had powdered them and sprinkled the dust all over the road. My route took me along the airport perimiter track. The scene is difficult to imagine without having seen it. The light aircraft and helicopters were scattered and broken like childrens' toys.

Many TV programmes have been made about that night - and everyone who was there has a story to tell. I'll certainly never forget it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Quasi Universal Intergalactic Deminonation

Go on .. lend us a quid.

"None of the existing payment systems we use on earth - like cash, credit or debit cards - could be used in space," said Professor George Fraser from the University of Leicester.

"Anything with sharp edges, like coins, would be a risk to astronauts while the chips and magnetic strips used in our cards on Earth would be damaged beyond repair by cosmic radiation," he added.

... 'nuff said

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Work of Genius

I am humbled. Ronnie Hazlehurst was a popular composer of TV music, I know. What I've just read though has brought a huge grin to my face.

The theme tune to "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" spells out the title in morse code. No, really. A rumour was referred to in his obituary. Some bod (Jim) at BBC 6 Music has decoded it to prove it.

Now I know the theme to Inspector Morse did the same thing. But I reckon it's worth celebrating all the same.

Silly: probably. Fun: yes. Unique: well, no. Genius: definitely.

Rest in peace, Ronnie.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stop Spam: Read Books

Now here's a piece of joined-up thinking:

You know that anti-spam thing - where you have to type in a random set of letters and numbers in an obscured image? Oh, go on .. you do. Well, some clear-thinking bods at Carnegie Mellon Uni in Pittsburgh have found a use for it. Translation from printed word to computer data.

The "random" text used in this idea is in fact the image of a word which cannot be confidently interpreted by OCR. This is already distorted - by age and distortion - and random "noise" is added for good measure. A control word is added, giving two words to "translate". The user then types in both words; if the control word is entered correctly, the translated word is stored.

By randomly assigning words to the millions of users online every day, the translation process is delegated to the world in general. Bit by bit, word by word, old texts are being computerised for posterity. All in the name of security. And, for free.

Everyone's a winner!