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March 2008

RIP Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Picture swiped from amazon.co.uk, where you can buy a copy!

The last week has seen a number of the great and good pass on, but the one that resonated with me was the news of Sir Arthur C. Clarke's death at the age of 90. Clarke was one of the great visionaries of the 20th Century, and many things that he envisaged have come to pass including geosynchronous satellites, sat-nav, a number of space transport maneuvers, and plenty more – such as the space elevator – sit there in development or as tremendous concepts. Clarke also popularised science, and gave the story that became one of the most acclaimed SF films of all time, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Personally, the latter bored me silly although I admired the imagery.

Anyway, Clarke has great significance to me, along with Andre Norton and Isaac Azimov, as his writings shaped my interest in Science Fiction (especially hard SF) at a young age. I was introduced to him by my Australian second cousin, Kathy Finlay, who bought me a copy of Rendezvous with Rama when I was still a young lad. I loved the tale of scientific exploration, adventure and technology, combined with the shear sense of wonder of first contact with an alien artifact. Sadly, the later sequels didn't match up to the first book, but – like the Highlander films – one can always pretend that the later versions don't exist! This sense of wonder had me reading more of his books, then moving on to other authors and genres. Over Christmas, I re-read a number of his older works and they're still valid today.

I got quite annoyed listening to some of the literary intelligentsia harping on about how he was important, but really 'not very good as a writer'. It seems you have to write turgidly like Atwood's (apparently non-SF) post-apocalyptic novel, Oryx and Crake, to be a good writer. I think that time will prove them wrong, and that his significance will be more recognised as the distance grows.

So, rest well, Sir Arthur, wherever you are.


Firewire vs USB2

Had to do a lot of disk to disk copies the last two days. Firewire 400 gets me 18 MB/s, USB2 gets 2 MB/s, same drive.

'nuff said. I know which I'm using if I get a choice!


Don't they grow fast?

I'm sitting on the bed on Sunday morning as I type this on the PowerBook, with a storm of energy and excitement running around yelling 'hiya', with the telephone handset clutched against his ear. Fortunately, the phones can be locked, so we're not getting knocks on the door and complaints!

I went to Portugal for three days (or more accurately, I went to Portugal for a day and spent the two days either side travelling) and was shattered when I got back. This was a combination of not sleeping well the first night in a strange bed (which is something I've always suffered with at hotels) and then an 04:30 hr check in at Lisbon Airport the next night. Fortunately, my flight back to Manchester was already off by the time the muppet ran onto the runway with a backpack on, so the travel didn't get extended even more.

Anyway, when I got back, I went to sleep for an hour and was woken by Jill calling me as she got in. I got to the top of the stairs to see Nathan holding the stair-gate and rattling it. When he saw me he yelled 'hiya dada', which made my heart jump! I couldn't believe how much he'd grown in the four days since I'd seen him last. I guess it's something that all parents have to get used to.

I promised some more pictures in the last post, so here they are:

Conducting an imaginary orchestra.

Mummy, Grandad and Me!
Arriving at his Grandad and Nana's house.

Toddling and running!

Grandad and Me #2
With his Grandad!

Right, let me tell you a story!
Holding Court...

As usual, if you click through, there are more pictures on Flickr.

Currently feeling: Relaxed.
Currently listening to: Broadcasting House (Radio 4)
Currently reading: Chernevog (CJ Cherryh).

When the Wind Blows...

Bit of a palava today. I was due to fly to Portugal with work, and it all went pear shaped at Manchester when the BA desk told me that my connecting flight from Heathrow to Lisbon was suspended and likely to be cancelled, and that they recommended that I didn't travel down on the shuttle flight. So I turned around, with perhaps 6 hours of the day wasted in getting ready, travelling on the M62 and waiting. What particularly annoys me is that we booked the flight 3 hours before I got there and we got no warning from work's travel broker. And I'm probably going to have to try again tomorrow or the day after. The real downside is that going to Portugal means that I'm going to have to miss TravCon08, which I was really looking forward to.

iChat image
The view from iChat

Nathan's at his grandpop and grandma's tonight, which is a strange feeling. We watched him on the iSight camera using iChat earlier today, which was cool, even if he was somewhat unimpressed by us doing so! He's back tomorrow for his swimming lesson. He does seem to be enjoying himself at the moment, and is toddling about all over the place causing chaos as he has fun. One of his latest tricks is grabbing a phone, almost saying "hiya" – or at least a very close approximation of it – and then handing it to you with a grin and a giggle.

The weekend was good. On Friday, we went to the Merseyside and North Wales Engineering Dinner, which is organised by Jill and my professional institution, the IMechE, in conjunction with the IChemE. Meeting with the M&NW team is always refreshing, as it gives us new heart in what the engineering institutions can be. That's something we find lacking at the moment in the Yorkshire Region, where there are too many people stopping things moving forward with a negative attitude that is very hard to push against.

Jill and I launched our assault on the craps table in the fun casino, helped by the croupier (?) who had inadvertently set the odds of 30:1 coming up 1 in 6 times. We used our usual system and ended up with even higher than normal returns, ending up top gamblers of the night with a fortune in excess of £500 million. Sadly, it wasn't for real, but we did walk away with a water pistol, a bottle of red, a bottle of champagne (drunk) and a 2 hours session in a Ferrari or a Porsche! Naturally, Jill is getting the driving session as she had the faster car before we became sensible and swapped the Corolla T-Sport and MG ZS for the Avensis estate.

Parkgate: Dee Marshes in the Sunlight
The Dee Estuary Marshes at Parkgate, more if you click through...

We spent the night, and a big chunk of the next day with Phill and Linda, Nathan's Godfather. It was lovely to see them and exchange gossip. I think Jill would have got me to sneak their new kitchen in the car if it was possible, but to no avail! After that, it was Parkgate for ice cream on a windswept, bright and stormy day, then back to my parents in Cheshire before returning to the Wirral on Sunday with Nathan to see his Nana and Grandad. We also saw Nathan's Aunty Paula (Jill's sister) and Phill came to see his Godson. Lunch was a nice meal at The Country Mouse at Brimstage Hall craft centre; good plain fayre that Nathan loved. We had a great time with my in-laws, and it was a shame to leave when we did (around 19:30 or so). The only disappointment I discovered was that Jill's mum escaped from all the photos I took. I'll have to remedy that next time. there are some really nice shots, which I'll upload to Flickr soon.

Currently feeling: Tired, and fed up of motorways.
Currently listening to: The cat purring.
Currently reading: Rusalka (CJ Cherryh).

Jules Verne about to fly

I'm pretty excited about the imminent launch of the Jules Verne ATV, the European Space Agencies contribution to the International Space Station. Admittedly, it owes more to the technology of Apollo and the disposable space craft concept than the re-useable Space Shuttle, but this is just a first step.

Jules Verne ATV
ATV diagram from the BBC news website - click through to see the original.

Of course, the media talks up the fact that this could be adapted for passenger transfer, and even to become recoverable rather than burning up sacrificially, but I still think that it's a big step forward for Europe, moving us to catch up with the premier space power, Russia. I mean that with all seriousness. NASA dominates in remote technologies against Russia, but the Russians dominate manned flight.

The ISS keeps the dream alive, that there is somewhere to go and explore, a voyage of discovery.

Currently feeling: Happy.
Currently listening to: BBC News 24 in the background.
Currently reading: The Execution Channel (Ken MacLeod).

Splish! Splash! Splosh!

... or "Dominic, Ready, Go!".

On Tuesday, Jill was on a training course, so wasn't on her usual day off with Nathan. This meant I got to step into the breach with our young swimmer and go to Waterbabies with him. This was quite a daunting prospect, but thanks to some expert advance tuition by Jill using a teddy bear to demonstrate, and Nathan's patience, I survived! The other thing that helped was that the other people on the session had cried off as they were either very pregnant, or their child had a broken limb, so we had 1:2 tuition from the instructor.

Nathan was, as ever, a little star in the water and full of excitement and enthusiasm to chase the little rubber fish they use for encouragement. Me? I was knackered by the end of it, especially when I discovered that the water was far more shallow than I anticipated and as a result I got a great workout. I really enjoyed it, and it was worth the day off! It's a shame I have no pictures of the session.

Evolutionary Dead End?

Since I posted on Office 2008 at the weekend, I've had a chance to use PowerPoint 2008 seriously. The upshot of this usage is, if you have a G4, don't bother, it's a laggard. On either of the G4's (1.5GHz and 1.25GHz with 1.25Gb and 1Gb RAM respectively, both running Tiger) it's significantly slower than PowerPoint 2004, and it gets worse the more graphics you have in the presentation. Interface-wise, it is a lot better and much more Mac-like. I guess the newer Intel based Macs will be more than happy with it, performance wise.

Of course, I'd prefer to be using Keynote, but PowerPoint is what I need to talk work.

Feeling pretty tired now, as I'm doing a lot of juggling at work (no, I'm not really employed as a clown, it just feels like it sometimes), and I'm looking forward to a few days off that I've booked this week! Need to confirm I can make TravCon 08, and sort out some stuff around the house. I guess it's time to end this now!

More Pictures

Here's a shot of the moon I took on a cold windy night on the road between Little Ribston and Spofforth;

Moon on a Cold Night 3
The night of the Eclipse.
This is the same location in daylight, some weeks earlier;

Winter Landscape 2
Into the mist.
I loved the way the mist created layers into the distance. It also created some nice views of the trees when the sun broke through;

Winter Landscape 7
Stand of Trees in Cold Winter Sunshine.

Finally, in case you've been pining for a certain young man to appear here;


Evolution by Microsoft

I've recently upgraded my copy of Microsoft Office from v.X through Office 2004 to Office 2008, and I've been pretty surprised at the steps forward that have been made, especially in the last step.

Here's Office 2004, as exemplified by Word 2004. This was the second version of Office written for Mac OS X, and cleaned up a lot of the glitches in v.X (things like long file name support, and slightly improved stability). The application was a Carbon one, which means that it was built with tools developed for compatibility with OS 9 originally.

Word 2004
Click Through for Larger Image.

Now, I like this version, as it pretty much mirrors the Windows XP version of Office 2003 (which I have at work), but is still slightly easier to use.

And here's Office 2008, as exemplified by Word 2008.

Word 2008
Click Through for Larger Image.

Under the hood, there are a lot of changes here. The application is a universal binary (supporting Intel and PPC chips) and it has been recoded in Cocoa, which is the native OS X way to build apps. However, the bit that has really surprised me is the fact that the interface has been cleaned up so much. All of a sudden, it feels like a Mac application, rather than something that was cloned from the PC version. The clutter has gone, and it feels a lot more enjoyable to use. Ok, so you can't quantify this easily, but I'm really impressed. It looks like the twin pressures of OpenOffice/NeoOffice(*) and iWork 08 have forced an evolution on Microsoft.

Wow! And they dropped the home user price below £100 for 3 licenses! For once I'm impressed with Microsoft!

*Okay, I know that many of my techy-friends would prefer to see me with Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice, but my only defence is I love the Mac interface, and if the commenting tools were better on OpenOffice, I'd use it happily. But they didn't cut the mustard when I tried them a month or two back.