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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


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

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

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.