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October 2010

Vulcan to the Sky

Just a short one here.

I think I’ve mentioned XH558 before. It’s the last flying Avro Vulcan bomber, one of the classic aircraft designs made and built in Britain. XH558 is 50 years old this year and run by a charitable trust. It’s an awesome sight, managed and maintained by a charitable trust. Problem is, with the current economic climate they’re a funding shortfall to the end of the year. Over the last month, the charity has been trying to raise £400,000 to cover the gap and ensure that the Vulcan isn’t permanently grounded.

It’s important to me in a lot of ways; it’s a sign of British engineering and also harks back to a different world where the UK had a vision of itself very different to the slightly grubby one of today. I also think that it’s important that so much hard work would be lost if the trust has to shut up shop. It’s something that inspires people when they see it.

They need to raise just under £150,000 in the next 4 days to guarantee XH558’s future as a flying aircraft.

If you feel you can, please consider making a donation at http://www.vulcantothesky.org/ or buying some of their merchandise at http://www.vulcantotheskystore.co.uk/ which has stuff for all ages.

Thanks for listening.

Whitby: Steam and Surf

On the Rails

Train arrives at Levisham
The Train Arrives

So here we are on a steam train on a wet and dismal day. Somehow the hiss of the steam, the rhythmic pulsing of the pistons, and the reassuring rumble as we travel along the track all make it worthwhile. It took us nearly an hour and a half to travel from Wetherby to Levisham Station, not our original planned start thanks to the joys of the traffic on the A64, but now we're on our way to Whitby for fish and chips! To steel ourselves as we travel along, we are supping hot mugs of tea and a slice of best chocolate tiffin from the very friendly teashop at the station!

The trip on the train was great, even with visibility being somewhat limited. We arrived in Whitby pretty much on time. It's a place that we've never visited before. I've got to admit that my first reaction wasn't especially good, as the station deposits you amongst some classic seaside town shops and arcades and a cold and wet October afternoon is never the best time to see such places. Actually, I'm not certain what the best time is, but I digress. Looking out across the road, we saw the CAMRA listed pub (oh, so tempting) and the Abbey looming above the River Esk.

A brief stop in the Tourist Information, and we discovered where the steam bus, Elizabeth, went from for a tour of the town. We started down the road in a bitter wind and fine cold rain, stopping for a detour into an outdoor shop where I bought some gloves. The shop assistant spotted that I wanted them straight away, commenting that "I wasn't the first today and wouldn't be the last". We stopped at the Lifeboat Museum, and I acquired an identical lifeboat for Nathan to the one that has had failed electronics from being repeatedly and deeply immersed in the bath. "Look, Daddy has fixed it."

Whitby Harbour
Not the calmest of days

We had lunch overlooking the harbour entrance in a fish and chips restaurant, which had a great view. It was a bit more expensive than the Wetherby Whaler, but very welcome as a respite from the weather, and Nathan did a great job at charming the waitress. Stomachs full, warmed up, we were steeled to head back out. The weather had died down, but we were disappointed to find that the steam bus wasn't running. So instead, we cross the river to the south bank and started to explore the Shambles area.

Spider Web Tea “Rooms /></a><br /><span style=My, that’s a big spider!

Shopping in Whitby
Happy Shoppers

This completely changed my impression of Whitby; I really liked this bit, much more than the amusement arcades. We liberated some fudge, and admired the Halloween decorations that were going up in advance of the big Goth Weekend next week. These went so far as a spider web over the whole of building with a Tea Room in, and many swinging pumpkins with carved faces.

Whitby Pumpkin Street Decoration
Pumpkin - What would Britain in Bloom make of this basket?

We decided against visiting the Abbey, as we had less than an hour and both Jill and Nathan were struggling. I didn't really fancy a repeat of Maiden Castle, where I raced up the hill to take pictures while everyone waited for me.

Bad English
Amusing Sign

I was greatly amused by the lack of the word 'or' in a safety sign for a jet boat in the harbour as we walked back to the station. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in again, so we took refuge with a great cup of tea in Al's Cafe opposite the station. The owner was about to close up, but took pity on us, which was greatly appreciated.

Whitby Outer Harbour
Looking out during the break in the weather.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam engine was on time, and we settled into our seats, only to find out that the station that we were getting back off at had a platform that was too short for the carriage we were on. We'd gone all the way up to the engine so Nathan could hear better, so had to swap carriages half way back. There was a little bit of a drama as the engine needed to refill its water and the tower it planned to use hadn't enough, so we ended up slightly late. However, it was no worse than Network Rail!

Nathan crashed out on the way back home, but we topped off the day with a picnic in the lounge for dinner. All in all, a great family day! Sadly, I have to report that I saw no Goths or Vampires, even as dusk fell. However, I do still remember the church that loomed over the town (rather than the Abbey), looking all Lovecraftian.

Lovecraftian Church at Whitby
Lovecraftian view...

iPad App Mini-Reviews

iPad Screenshot - App Review

I'm finding myself using the iPad more and more as a productivity tool, which is good. I've come across a number of apps recently that that really helped with this.

iPad Screenshot - PlainText
PlainText’s default view with DropBox ‘PlainText’ Folder to the left

The first is PlainText, by Hog Bay Software. This is a really simple writing application with a clean, minimalist, interface with the killer fact that it syncs to DropBox. This means that the text files that I create are available on my iPad, iPhone, Mac and Work XP laptop. Indeed, it's accessible to anyone that I share the DropBox folder with. Later this month, Scrivener will also be able to sync to PlainText via DropBox, so all of a sudden I have a pervasive and portable writing solution. There are two modes to look at the screen; with a sidebar showing all the files – and folders – you have, and a ‘focus’ mode that only shows the document that you are working on. The interesting thing is that the text width doesn’t change on either. At first I was disappointed that the focus mode didn’t increase the amount of text displayed on a line, but then I realised that it approximates your field of focused view when looking at the screen.

iPad Screenshot - PlainText Focus
PlainText’s Focus view

PlainText is v1.0 at the moment, and there are updates already queued at the app store to add functions and improve usability. One thing that I should mention is that although it is free as an application, it has an iAds hook which appears on iOS 4 devices. You can pay to remove this, which costs £2.99 across all instances. I really like this software.

PlainText: http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/
DropBox: http://www.dropbox.com/

iPad Screenshot - iA Writer
iA Writer - good app, but the screen is too cramped for me

An honourable mention should go to iA Writer, which in some ways is very similar. It syncs to DropBox (manually triggered) and has a similar minimalist font, albeit a typewriter style one rather than a serif face. It also has some extra tools for editing which are clever. However, I just feel that it takes up too much of the screen with the keyboard and extra controls and feels constricted like you're watching your typing through a letterbox slot. It's also iPad only, unlike PlainText. It is worth a look, but it wasn't quite the one for me.

iA Writer: http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/writer-for-ipad/

iPad Screenshot - CarbonFin Outliner
CarbonFin Outliner - a really useful engine for productivity

CarbonFin Outliner is something that I've been using more and more. It is an outlining package, so good for planning structure for projects, doing to do lists and also for taking notes in a lecture. I had been waiting for OmniOutliner to make to the iPad (which is coming) but this already touches all the bases so I can't see a reason to change. It's not universal, but there is an iPhone version.

CarbonFin Outliner:

iPad Screenshot - Mindnode
Mindnode - the best mind map application I’ve seen, period

Mindnode is another application that I've recently stumbled upon. This is a universal iOS version of a program available on the Mac under OS X (both in freeware and paid versions) which is quite the best mind mapping software I've come across. It's strength is in the simple drag and drop interface and the focus. It also exports nicely in a variety of formats (including OPML which means that you could mind map and drop it into Outliner if you wanted to). I'm really impressed with this and imagine that it will get quite some use. I may try it at work as it supports mirroring vs the VGA out cable.


iPad Screenshot - Touch Up
Applying the blur filter in Touch Up

The last app to discuss is called Touch Up and is a great little filter tool for editing photos. It's quite different to the more traditional apps like Photogene, as it applies a filter to a whole picture, then you can erase or modify the effects by touch. The header picture for this entry was created in it. It's a screenshot of my home page with a blur filter applied and then removed over the apps I has talked about. You can stack layers one on top of another, which can lead to extra effects. There is also an in-app upgrade which adds tools like dodge and burn, which are probably even more useful for photographers. I think that there is a place for this and the more traditional apps like Photogene in the iPad users arsenal.

Touch Up:
http://touchup.roguesheep.com/ (And no, that URL is not a dodgy one!)

As a final thought, if you fancy signing up for DropBox, which gives you 2Gb storage for free, then let me know, as if I invite you and you accept we both get extra storage! Win-Win!