A Couple of Photos from a Vineyard in Africa

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Work

I had a paper published this week.. the first in ages. I suspect I should really be turning papers out at a much greater rate but hey. This is, I think, at least a good paper. In fact I’ve even had some enquires from the trade press about it, which means that at least a couple of other people have read it:) For anyone who wants to read about the joys of high power supercontinuum sources the paper can be found here Optics Express 16, 5954-5962 (2008). Optics Express is an open access journal which means the general public can read it with out having to pay to do so (instead we pay to publish).

As an aside I’ve now also taken down all of my really old dot mac websites. Partial clean up.. now I just need to keep going.

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It’s all getting a little bit out of control

The digital world which I’m responsible for is all becoming a little bit of a mess. I’m largely responsible for mtheory, iancumberland, fog and my own personal website which can be found on dot mac, mtheory and this blog. My personal stuff is getting uncontrollably spread out. Three different locations on dot mac, pre iWeb, iWeb and post iWeb, then mtheory attempts to mirror dot mac but isn’t up to date… and now I’ve this blog. Clearly I need to do some consolidation. The pre iWeb can probably just be killed off.. then I need to do something about the rest. Making decisions about that is hard. 

To add to my woes, iancumberland needs updating and the easiest thing to do in the long term is make it maintainable by Ian, a rather large chunk of work I fear. Fog is in the best state being the most recently written, though it is hacked together from an older code base and due to limitations in college I don’t have any control on the server side. In fact I’m not even sure what services are available. Clearly in the future this is going to be a bit of a nightmare. However I’ve done a lot to update the code and pull it into the College’s redesign. The problem of what to do next almost certainly won’t be mine. On the upside though the site is cleanly under version control which is nice and all the nasty html hacks have been removed and replaced with much cleaner CSS (bar those in the College’s template system which is a mess and they paid a lot for that).

mtheory on the other hand is the single biggest mess, a hack of php, html and open source tools such as WordPress, Mediawiki, Roundcube, Squirrel Mail to name a few. All disconnected from each other and the odd hangover from the last version which hasn’t been taken care off make it a visual and maintenance nightmare. The to-do list is long and I’ve no time to start it. Plus one or two bits are broken and currently hiding. Add in the fact that I’ve never really got around to doing what I intended to do with mtheory and it can be summed up as a shambles albeit one that at least works for its users.

Finally there was evil elvis which has been parked up for some time now, and a push to get another added to my rotation. The latter is simply an impossibility. The reality is that with my work commitments it takes me 6-9 months to role out any sort of website or major revision. Thus the mess is clearly going to continue unless I get seriously ruthless at some point soon.

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Drinking

There appears to be an endless stream of stories about teenage drinking, binge drinking and our generally drinking culture in the press. You’d almost think that every time they get stuck for something to print out comes some sort of drinking story. Now there’s great debate over the 24 hour licensing laws that came into force last year. Personally I’m for them, thought to be honest I would have been happy if they’d just got rid of the 20 minute drinking up rule.

A pint of beer should take any sane person more than 20 minutes to drink especially if it’s your third or forth of the night. In England what happens is that you decide you don’t want to go home just yet, get another drink from the bar at 11 pm, the bar happily takes your money off you and 5 minutes later they are asking you to leave. 20 minutes later they take whatever is left of your pint from you and kick you out. This in turn leads people to down their pints. It would be better for everyone if you could just finish up in your own time (this is what largely happens in Northern Ireland). Of course the pubs (chains) are then employing staff to do very little whilst not bringing in money and hence probably want customers out as soon as possible. The so called desire for a contential cafe culture is never going to be achieved when you get asked to down your pint or leave your pint and go. 24 hour licensing partly resolves this issue were the pubs stay open later than normal. Unfortunately most pubs still shut at 11pm.

Teenage drinking is another one that annoys me. Not because I begrudge the teenagers that drink, I think you really need more for kids to do in most of the country, but because I’m sick of the politicans going on about it. The Torries today came out with the idea of an extra tax on alcopops. This is all well and good but wouldn’t it just be simpler to implement the current licensing laws. Anyone who has ever been to the US knowns that you need to carry your passport everywhere if you want to get a drink. The reason is simple, get caught serving to someone underage and the premises losses its license. I’ve been in resturants with 60 year old Americans and they’ve been ID’d. This was a little shocking but at least no one feels bad showing their ID. Similar powers exist in the UK they just aren’t implemented with any vigour. I suspect once a couple of dozen pubs have been shut down and several Tescos can no longer serve alchol, the industry would get fairly serious about not serving to kids who are underage. When you’ve the choice between making money or making more money and potentially going out of busniness with a reasonable level of certainity people will opt for option 1. At the minute there’s little to no risk for pubs/shops that are caught serving to kids and thus you may as well take the extra cash.

Get some politicans on Question Time and this is what they all say, what annoys me is they’ve been saying it for so long and not actually doing it that I really can’t be bothered to listen to it anymore. But why not do it? Well if my local pub got shut down because it got caught with an underage drinker I’d be annoyed. Added to this that envitably it would be potrayed as the one that slipped through, that the pub never servers to kids, oh and look here’s a picture don’t they look like they are 23? Honest mistake surely. Lots of upset locals who vote.. people lossing jobs.. important social hub lost leading to break down in the neighbour hood.. the whole thing would be seen as a draconian use of power for the rogue event of an underage drinker. The press, I fear, would in a word make it unpopular for the government. Unpopularity is never good, especailly when you want to stay in power. Of course the truth is that they aren’t rogue events, or if they are someone is making a lot of numbers up for fun.

I suspect we will continue with the status quo. 

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Apple TV Take 2

So Apple announced the iTV later to become the Apple TV in September 2006. It went on sale (in the US) during February 2007. Now they’ve just released a new update for the software called Apple TV Take 2 and reduced the price. So where does this get us and why am I even bothering to talk about it. Well back in 2006 I’d a conversation with a friend about Myth TV a linux based opensource TV/PVR tool with some additional features. It’s fairly neat however he was having trouble getting it to run on his old hardware that he planned to stick under his TV. In the end this perhaps isn’t surprising as video is traditionally quite demanding for a computer. Our conversation moved on to the, yet to be released, Apple TV.

In my mind the Apple TV was always going to happen. I’d similar conversations before it was even announced with friends about the Airport Express and whether Apple would do a video version. It was clear to me at the time that 802.11g wouldn’t have the bandwidth to stream video and thus we’d have to wait for 802.11n to appear. Even then I wasn’t sure if n would hack it in real life. The need for a video version of the express was essentially driven by their release of TV shows and later movies to the iTunes store. Of course what way Apple would do it, was another matter.

The original Apple TV was a slight let down in my mind. At the time there was no TV or movie content on the iTunes store in the UK, there’s still no movies and little TV content. Thus it’s still not a lot of use in the UK. I also felt that they should have added the following (assuming that it was to run OS X, which we now know is the case).

  • Full 1080p HD resolution
  • An API set so that people like Elagto can do eye TV (mac TV PVR) on it, TV PVR would be nice.
  • Dashboard widgets.. it would be nice to have your dashboard replicated on your TV. Lots of people probably don’t use it but you can pull handy info like weather and stock data etc to it..
  • RSS feeds, the Squeezebox does this and it’s handy. OS X (Tiger) does this in it’s screen saver in a nicely rendered fashion.. should be little to no effort and would be cool.
  • iChat AV, usb port, sort out the iSight. Plug into Apple TV and add an icon option for audio or video only for iChat. Seriously video chat in the living room would be very nice and shouldn’t be hard to implement. All those children with parents who aren’t very computer savvy would love it.
  • Movie rentals would be the most useful feature. Save people having to go out to the rental shop or wait to see what the online rental store has sent them to watch. Clearly bandwidth is an issue.

At the time I pointed out that the problem with some of the above is in order to make it full proof you’d want to tell it to just copy settings from you Mac which locks out functionality for Windows users making them feel like second rate citizens. So the question is has Apple done much with Take 2 to add to my requested feature list. Lets deal with each in turn.

Well there’s now 1080p but this is provided by upscaling so there’s no real gain here unless your TV has a particularly cheap upscaler in it. But it’s a welcome addition I guess. Fundamentally the Apple TV will need new hardware to support 1080p natively. Will this happen? Well eventually yes but if your going to deliver content over the web then there’s currently a trade off between quality and size of file. Until the mass of people’s broadband connections are 24 Mb or above we’re probably not going to see a step to 1080p and much larger files with less compression. To be honest the convenance of being able to decide to watch a movie, browsing one and then watching it there and then outweighs issues of quality for me.

Apple appears to be completely resisting the idea of either opening up the Apple TV or doing PVR functions on the Apple TV. Now I guess if you plan to make money from selling TV shows and movies you don’t want people recording stuff from free to air digital broadcasts. However in most countries there is no content on iTunes (or next to no content). I wouldn’t mind having an Apple TV to provide access to my music, photos etc. in the living room but I’m not going to buy a handful of TV programs that are largely American in the UK. No I want BBC iPlayer available and C4 maybe even iTV. Interestingly the Beeb have talked about this recently. Either way allowing someone like Elgato do PVR for the Apple TV would allow me to ditch my Freeview PVR and have one better device. We also still need content on the iTunes store in the UK.

Dashboard widgets and RSS feeds are still a no-no. Though Apple has filed for a patent suggesting that it may be considering such a move. It also includes the inclusion of iChat features. Honestly my mum would love to be able to talk to my brother via his flatscreen telly in the living room while her 2 year old grandson plays around in the foreground. When you’re a flight away, an way of seeing your grandchild is much sought after.

So what have we got, well movie rentals are here (if your in the US) which is great. We’ve also got You Tube which Apple appears to be in love with, flickr and .Mac web galleries. Good additions but there’s still not the content or feature set to convince me to go out and buy one. Maybe one day.

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The Last Post

Installing WordPress is relatively straight forward. I’m not going to argue with that. The default themes aren’t bad, but as one friend once said to me, “all WordPress sites look the same.” He’s right. I’ve just spent ages browsing through themes and not found anything that is outstanding. It’s not because you can’t make WordPress sites look different. It’s just that your average blogger perhaps hasn’t the skill to code an entire theme or perhaps the time. After all if they were particularly apt at coding they may well just write their own blog software from scratch, perhaps using a framework. Of course if someone wrote an amazingly different theme lots of people would adopt it and then we’d be back to ‘everything looking the same.’ WordPress sites lack of distinctiveness is due to WordPresses success. The thing is of course that WordPress is very good.. why should I spend my valuable time maintaining custom code to just publish a blog. I have briefly looked into writing some themes for WordPress in the past, it doesn’t look to bad however I’ve just not been able to find the required weekend to get it done. Instead I plan to hack this theme a bit and then just get on with whining on about stuff.

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iLife what iLife

Busy. It’s the end of March and where did it go.. my brothers Birthdays came and went (I even managed not to forget about them) and err what else has happened? I guess I was in work a lot the first half of the month striving towards a project milestone to use company speak. Reminds me of 1984 saying company speak.. ermm fortunately work isn’t that bad.
So my digital life has fallen by the way side. Between work, Rachel moving over to London, Scouts, dull Scout paper work, climbing once a week and the odd gig (Zero 7 and Placebo) March has flown by. I’ve still not finished writing up Japan, nor sorted the photos into some sort of condensed format. Now I’m tired yet again and just want to sleep. On the upside, I got a car this month, the clocks have gone forward and hopefully I’ll start cycling home from work occasionally..

Till the next time when i can’t find any time to write anything, have fun.

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Basement Jaxx

Been there done that.. want to do it again!
Seen the Jaxx in the Forum in London in December, simply amazing.. I suggest that if you ever get the chance to go and see them, then go and see them.. they are fantastic live!

I’m off to see Air on Monday night which I’m quite looking forward to and should be good having had a quick listen to their new album. Anyway that’s all from me for now..

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Long time no news

Well what has been going on.. you’d think I’d vanished of the digital world..
It’s been ages since I posted in my blog.. perhaps the writing up of Japan just proved to daunting for me. Then again I’ve maybe just been far to busy. Which reminds me of a longish list of things I have to do. 

In short December was fairly cool, quite busy and a rather short wet trip home for Christmas. I managed to have an excellent pre-Christmas dinner with some of my friends up in London and then a great post Christmas dinner with many of my friends at home. My only problem was that 9 days at home just wasn’t enough time to get to see everyone I wanted to. I didn’t even get close to traveling to my uncle’s to see my newest cousin. Oh well. It rained lots and I didn’t get a great deal of sleep. That was that.

Since coming back work has been manic and the first 2 weeks of the month have flown past. The good news is that I’ve been climbing every week for the last 4 weeks, heck I’ve even been out cycling. Amazing.. though there was a fair old breeze to say the least. Speaking of cycling I’ve just gone through the 2000 mile mark on my bike since a year and a bit ago.. not bad going I suspect. 

The only other thing of note so far has been the Comus dinner in college which my girlfriend Rachel was brave enough to come to.. anyway pictures are here. Honestly I will get around to publishing the other stuff on Japan as well as cutting the 1200 odd photos down to a select view to publish on the web. Isn’t digital great;)

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Japan- Part 5 sleeping at 200 mph

Over a week gone, less than a week left, one trip out of Tokyo and Kyoto to come. It’s time to see some more of Tokyo, before zipping away.
Odaiba, aka Tokyo Bay Area, doesn’t sound like a place for geeks. Alas you may well be right.

Monday was another early start, Jose had to work and in his words we were to spend the day with Auntie Ray. Off course I couldn’t ever imagine Ray as my aunt but never the less I understood where Jose was coming from.

The journey out to Odaiba is worth mentioning for two reasons; firstly Dewart amusingly requested that Darwin done something stupid for a photo and then promptly remarked “Darwin that’s just stupid!” Possibly the quote of the the trip. Secondly if you ever go out take the Yurikamome line which goes over the Rainbow bridge circling as it rises up to it.. giving you a great view. 

Odaiba itself is all pretty new by the looks of it and apart from a mass of shops there’s some cool things in the area. A tiny Statue of Liberty, I’ve no idea why they have one.. perhaps they’ve just got a thing for tiny statues. Then there’s the Fuji Television building, which is pretty impressive. However the coolest thing by and far is the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation . Not only is everything in English as well as Japanese the staff are pretty much all trained to help you in English, well they do their best. 

Being a Physicist I loved the place. Given that Ray is a Biochemist and Darwin et Dewart are Mechanical Engineers they too loved the place. It’s all extremely hands on, brand new and bang up to date with the latest things going on in the science world. There’s even a scaled down neutrino detector. It’s a great place and unsurprisingly was full of school kids. Darwin et Dewart drooled all over the window to the room with moreLego than their minds could cope with. There was a very interesting display of a mechanical internet, plus some rather expensive working robot displays.

This is one of the best museums I’ve been to, unlike the Science Museum it is bang up to date, on the other hand it doesn’t deal with that much history. I honestly can’t think of a better place to stimulate interest in science in kids. The Experimentarium in Copenhagen is very hands on but it’s more a collection of interesting effects in science than cutting edge science, still great for kids though. 

Anyway enough of all the fun we had there.. if you’ve any remote interest in Science or Engineering then go there it’s cool. After that we popped around to the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, being best described as a collection of upside down pyramids it’s interesting to look at. After that it was a trip to the Toyota showroom, probably the biggest car showroom in the world, complete with concept cars, several cafes/bars and other delights. From there we grabbed some food in Aqua City (big mall basically) before heading back to meet Jose after work. From Joe’s work it was straight to the bar with some of his work-mates and there we stayed till about midnight I guess. I said goodbye to Ray and we returned to Joe’s. Another early start beckoned.

Tuesday begins. We drag ourselves of the floor (even Jose, who had the luxury of several layers of foam mattresses). We head to Tokyo station and pay a small fortune for some Shinkansen (the Bullet trains) tickets to Kyoto. We boarded, I fell asleep, 2 hours later we’re there. Not much happened during our first day in Kyoto, we sorted out our hotel, night bus tickets back to Tokyo, wondered around, got our bearings, had some food and admired some Temples lit up in the dark. We returned to the hotel and had an Onsen (traditional Japanese bath). 

It has to be said that the hotel was not only a bargain (we simply showed up at the tourist office who have a list of hotel rooms that are available for that night, quiet often on offer) but very traditional. Well Ok I don’t know if it was but it seemed quite traditional. Certainly Darwin, Dewart and myself were glad of some foam mattresses to sleep in. Alas Jose decided to snore to add to the chorus produced by Darwin. 

Where was I? Onsen.. are a traditional Japanese thing, with lots of etiquette surrounding them. In short you go down to the Onsen, get naked, get washed with taps and a bucket whilst sitting on a tiny stool, rinse yourself clean then get into a large pool of roasting hot water with whoever else is there. It’s a public bath in the truest sense of the phrase. It’s an unusual experience and the heat of the water is quite relaxing. The baths are normally male/female only but there are family/mixed/couples etc in places. Tattoos are a big no, no Jose said.

We all eventually got to sleep, Wednesday was going to be a very long day.

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