Eric Lindsay's Blog 2007 June

Friday 1 June 2007

Livescribe Computer Pen

Crave shows a smart pen based on Anoto and like the Leapfrog Fly Pentop or Logitech io2. Livescribe from Jim Marggraff of Livescribe. I had seen these smart pens (which need a special Anoto like dot positioning paper). The pen has microphone, speaker, a tiny OLED display, and it writes with real ink, as well as dumping what you wrote (and recorded) into a computer via USB. If it all works, it will be interesting to see what is released at the end of the year.

TiVo in Australia

TiVo is a digital video recorder that allows time shifting TV shows. Tivo is said to be coming to Australia in August 2008, in partnership with the Free to Air Seven network. The announcement was by Seven CEO David Leckie. The voice over IP company Engin is a partner. The service is probably intended to compete with Foxtel iQ.

Not sure how the channel would keep advertisers happy, as TiVo owners can skip commercials - as distinct from taking a bathroom break, making a drink, taking out the garbage, or channel surfing. I am also not sure how an electronic program guide (EPG) would work in Australia, given most shows don't start or stop anywhere near their nominal times. I have a widget that (before it broke) showed EPG from IceTV, but it simply wasn't much use due to bad scheduling from the TV stations. Also I am regional, and IceTV didn't have good coverage of regional times.

I can't help notice that Harvey Norman stores actually tend to have a small pile of PVR style DVD recorders sitting in the home entertainment section these days.

Actually, I think TiVo is too little, too late for TV. The only thing I regularly watch is the news. Jean gave up on TV last century. I'm not a sports enthusiast. These are the only time critical shows I can think of. For movies, I'd rather get a DVD, and watch it without advertising. Not sure what that leaves for the TV channels. Most of the reality TV shows they have these days are of such low interest to me that I'd have to be paid (and paid well) to watch them (and I wouldn't give them all my attention anyhow). Maybe James Packer has the right idea to get lots of money selling off most of his interest in Channel Nine?

Comment on IPTV. For those who eat and drink TV - now you can PTV too.

Acabion GTBO

Rare (26) and expensive ($870,000) Acabion lightweight (300 kg carbon fibre and titanium frame) fully enclosed streamlined five metre two seater motorcycle, governed to 550 kph for road use (55% of throttle). Choice of 1400 cc turbo charged 550 HP or 700 HP dragster engine. Fuel consumption 2.5 litre per 100 kilometres ECE norm, 3.5 litres per 100 kilometres at 200 kph. Range from the 90 litre tank at 100 kph, 2400 km. At 200 kph, 1650 km. Two Swiss Maxon electric engines totalling 3 HP for low speed use. Acabion say the frontal area is a mere 0.69 square metres, and claim a drag coefficient of just 0.125.

Their idea is a future streamliner skyway road system with lanes a little over a metre wide, with fully automated traffic running routinely at over 300 kph. These would be cheap compared to normal size roads.

I love it when someone designs a vehicle (and road system) like this!

Saturday 2 June 2007

When Power Fails

What would you do when the power fails? Lots of solar stuff? Have you looked at the price of that? Imagine you need air conditioning and fridge, so you need at least an 8KW generator. Maybe a water cooled Onan diesel (petrol generators are cheap but doesn't last). Probably cost $10,000, but has a reasonable chance of lasting 10 to 20 years at 4 hours a day. Uses a bit over a litre an hour, say 5 litres for four hours, call it 20,000 litres in 10 years to provide 12 megawatt hour per year. Say fuel costs $2.50 a litre on average (currently half that), your total cost is $60,000 for 120 megawatt hours, or 50 cents a kWh. About 5 times what you pay for mains power.

Now solar might give you 6 hours of power a day, but 8 kW would be 80 @ 100 watt panels, or about $80,000 up front. Up front is the killer.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Internet Porn Lacks Value

The Internet made a great distribution media for pornography, but now porn content on the internet doesn't sell, thanks to increased competition from lower cost producers. This wasn't what the porn kings expected when they enthusiastically took to the internet. One more industry in decline thanks to cheap distribution, and independent producers with a low entry cost.

However the pornographers are hitting back with a new ingredient. Quality! Excuse me while I chuckle about this.

Beattie Labor and Climate Change

New climate strategy by Queensland. Claim you will spend A$400 million on climate change. Claim you will reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 and 60% by 2050, relative to 2000. Claim you will have 18% of the state energy generated by natural gas and 10% by renewable energy by 2020. This from a government that couldn't manage to supervise council water supplies? On the other hand, Queensland would have a surplus of power, were it not for the number of coal fired power stations that can no longer source sufficient cooling water during the drought. Plus gas is already used by a bunch of peak power stations, so maybe the 18% can be reached. Beattie claims the next power station in Queensland will use clean coal. Plus all government buildings will be carbon neutral by 2020. This is all part of the ClimateSmart 2050 initiative.

Lots of money for clean coal technology, which may not even work. I strongly suspect cost effective clean coal will demand a depleted oil field nearby. For safety reasons, carbon dioxide storage must be distant from towns, and distant from forests.

I am unsure what the purpose of the hydrogen fuel store support is. Hydrogen is not an energy source. It is a storage media for energy, but not a particularly good one. Current hydrogen production methods are basically steam reforming from coal.

For Queensland residents, Beattie intends to mandate that all faulty or broken hot water systems are replaced by gas hot water systems after 2010. They will make exemptions in the many areas where gas isn't available, so it isn't actually all of them.


I had a new Western Digital USB hard drive, cheaper than Firewire, but slower I suspect. Plus you can't boot a PPC Macintosh from USB.

First attempt to use SuperDuper! to backup quickly failed. Seemed that formatting the USB drive with Disk Utility from my Standard account left permissions wrong. So I did the format again as an Admin user. That got through the first error. Didn't get very far into the copy before it failed again. It seemed that sleep didn't agree with it, so I stopped the computer from sleeping. Decided to try just copying the user files. Looks like it will take about 10 hours (actually managed 235,997 files in 5:46:12), and the maximum copy speed being shown is 8.5 MB/s. I don't want to even think about how long trying to make a bootable clone will take. Especially since a PPC Macintosh probably will not boot from a USB drive.

Monday 4 June 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Somali refugee and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been visiting Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival. Her autobiographical bestseller Infidel recounts some of her horrifying experiences in the backward African Muslim society in which she grew up. She escaped to The Netherlands, and renounced Islam. She has been a vocal critic of Islam since. A film she wrote, Submission by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh aroused strong criticism by Muslims. Extremist Mohammed Bouyeri murdered van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004, using a knife to pin a five page death threat to van Gogh's chest. Hirsi Ali has been under 24 hour guard ever since. Hirsi Ali notes that Islam is inferior to Western culture, and points out Mohammed was a pedophile.

I note that according to the Suras, the illiterate Mohammed was also a liar, a thief, a bandit, a bigamist (by his own rules), a child molester (with a 9 year old wife) and a murderer. No doubt I will be told this was a bad translation.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Beattie Labor Budget

New state Labor budget to build facilities needed yesterday long after tomorrow, by going into debt $28 billion after blowing $14.7 billion GST and other income. Smart State my arse.

Apple Macbook Pro

Upgrade release of the Macbook Pro laptop. Getting very close to enough incremental updates to tempt me. 2.2 or 2.4 GHz Core2Duo CPU with 4 MB cache to replace my 1.25 GHz G4. 2GB of (667 MHz) memory instead of 1 GB. Front side bus speed and maximum ram are up with the Santa Rosa additions. ExpressCard replaces PCCard (but that isn't helpful to me). Magsafe power. 802.11n draft Wi-Fi. 1440 x 900 resolution and they have LED backlights now on the 15 inch model, with the 17 inch 1680 x 1050 CCFL backlit model offering an optional 1920 x 1200 display. Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics with 128MB or optionally 256MB. I think that graphics card has hardware H264 decode assist. iSight camera. 120GB or 160GB hard drive instead of 80GB. Battery life listed as 6 hours now, which is a nice 20% increase. Weight is slightly down to 2.45kg with battery and optical drive installed.

I wonder whether they mentioned - with optical drive installed previously. Does that imply you may not have an optical drive in some model? Not a spectacular update to a new model, but you wouldn't expect that on a regular Tuesday release. Seems a solid bunch of upgrades to bring it in line with current technology, well placed to tempt someone ready to get a replacement laptop.

Prices are A$2899 (US$1999), A$3599 (US$2499) and A$3999 (US$2799), and I think that means a price cut in Australia. Australian prices excluding GST are A$2635.45, A$3271.82 and A$3635.45. Current conversion (using Calculator to find the rates) of the US prices are A$2392.86, A$2991.38 and A$3350.49, so the additional premiums are A$242, A$280 and A$285. Not nearly as bad as some premiums in the past.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Natcon in Melbourne

Convergence 2, The Australian National Science Fiction Convention commences in Melbourne on Friday. That is only about 2000 kilometres, so why not attend?

We left the Whitsunday Terraces at Airlie Beach for the Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine. Took the midday DJ956 flight to Brisbane, where we waited two hours for our connection, and then DJ328 on to Melbourne. The flight was a bit late, so by the time we dumped the bags in our room at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, where we had a room for a week, it was way past dinner time.

We took the easy way for dinner, and ate at the hotel. Not bad at all, although service was initially slow. The wine was excellent. It was a light 2006 Matua Valley Merlot, from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

Thursday 7 June 2007

iPod vs OS X

An iPod (or any music player) has a very marginal utility for me. I bought an iPod Nano to see whether I changed my mind about that. After some initial enthusiasm, I hardly ever use it. I do take it with me on long trips, plane flights, to avoid the inflight entertainment, but I could manage almost as well with just my noise reducing headphones to reduce engine noise.

Naturally I am very happy for Apple to have an additional cash cow, as it enhances their presence as a corporation. However I believe Apple will saturate the market for a better music player fairly soon, and enter an area of replacement sales, and minor growth. Especially with mobile phones offering music (albeit mostly done badly) as competition at the low end ("mp3 came free, with the phone"). Taking a small bite from the very large phone market, before it eats mid and low level iPod, seems a sensible move for Apple. They need another hit item to continue to expand their sales. The iPhone could be that hit.

For that matter, the AppleTV could be that hit. I don't believe it will be, but I can see how it could be of use to some potential customers (I am not one of them).

On the other hand, I loved the iPod HiFi. I have restricted space, and the combination of an iPod HiFi and an Airport Express is great. The AudioEngine 5 is marginally better, due to significantly better sound, but less convenient and less versatile. I don't think anyone is actually counting the iPod HiFi as any sort of great cash cow for Apple. They need a few category winners that have large sales and good margins.

However my main interest in Apple is OS X. Not even their nice looking computer hardware. I would be happy enough with OS X on any reasonably well designed computer, since these are sufficiently reliable to fit my needs. Indeed, I would have a much expanded range of hardware to choose from were Apple not legally restricting OS X to their own hardware. The Apple computers I have bought have been fine computers, and I am very happy with them. But I didn't buy them because they were good computers. Apple Computers were just the extra tax I paid to get OS X (instead of the horrors of Windows, and the frustration of Linux).

So that annoys me about Apple. Paying extra for one of their computers, just to get OS X (and other Apple software). It won't stop me doing it again.

Shopping in Melbourne

My first task for the morning was to find an OfficeWorks store, so I could organise photocopying my FAPA mailing. Luckily there was one on the next block to the hotel, and they opened before 8 a.m. My 40 copies were ready an hour later. I also had to grab a 4 way power board, to remedy the deficiency in power points in our hotel room.

I also managed to find a Safeway, to get the making for a light breakfast for each day of our stay. This was convenient, because a few nearby cafes that initially looked suitable closed during the long weekend. Finding the Safeway was confusing, because here Woolworth's food stores are called Woolworths. I was astonished not to find a Woolworths in the phone book, and didn't realise that in Melbourne one sought a Safeway.

In the morning after breakfast I checked all the JB HiFi stores I could quickly locate. However the only DVD I managed to find was Seaquest DSV Season 1. I suspect that will be marginal both as SF and as worth viewing, but I have never heard of it.

We visited the mall that contained an old shot tower. The top of the building was surrounded by a glass tower, giving a great daylight view of the shot tower. Had a nice little museum in it. Plus a Minority Report style video demonstration controlled by waving you hand around. Pretty neat.

Jean located a Post Office for me, and it turned out to be the National Philatelic Centre, so FAPA got fancy stamps on their envelope.

Haighs Chocolates had at least two branches in Melbourne, having expanded from their South Australian base. Should be a law against stores giving free samples. I had to get several bags of confectionary to test later.

I did eventually find the Chocolate Fire store, hidden around the corner of an arcade, and had their sugar hit chocolate drink.

Later in the day I got to David Jones to check their Apple models. I was hoping for a miniature tablet style computer from Apple, but no luck. The helpful sales person there drew my attention to some nice small Asus miniature computers. The models were Asus UIF and S6F, which I noted for Jean to look at.

Jean had pointed out the illuminated Google badge she had was somewhat lacking in illumination, and suggested I do something about this. Neither Dick Smith store had the CR927 button cell batteries the badge needed, so I headed up to Jaycar Electronics in A'Beckett Street. A helpful sales person couldn't match the cell model, but since they sold micrometers, he checked the thickness and diameter of some silver oxide cells they did have, and found me a few button cells only 0.5mm smaller in each dimension than the originals. Close enough for electronics work. Jaycar are one of my favourite electronics stores.

I had to rush back to the hotel after that to help Jean lug her laptop and other gear out to a car to take her to a talk she was giving to the Australian Society for Technical Communicators.

That evening after Jean returned from giving her talk, we went to the food court for dinner. We ended up at Safeway seeking some ham and cheese for me, and chicken and salad for Jean for our dinner, since the food court seemed to be closing down early. The hotel meals were bit large to attempt each evening, so we tended to get snacks at the convenient Safeway.

Canon Powershot TX1 camera

While checking Camera House for a Canon S3 IS (the recently outdated model), I happened to see the Canon Powershot TX1. An ultra compact, ultra zoom 7.1 megapixel vertical camera with a F3.5 10x (6.5 mm to 65 mm, or 39 mm to 390 mm equivalent) optical zoom with continuous mode optical stabilisation. It isn't a low light camera with the F3.5 lens. The lens cover is built in. It has two macro modes, one down to zero distance. Movie mode can go to 1280 x 720 (720p) at 30 fps, which is HDTV. Video is taken in M-JPEG, so file sizes are large, hitting the 4GB limit at 13 minutes. It even uses component video to show results on a HDTV. ISO to 1600, but who would use more than 200? Takes SD cards. This February release looks like a really interesting first try at a hybrid camera. Uses an NB-4L 2.8 Wh battery, which wouldn't do a quarter the shots of AA batteries as in an S3 IS. You would need a spare battery. Includes both Windows and Macintosh software. Cannon even managed to fit a decent 44 KHz stereo audio recorder in, although it can't take an external microphone. You can even use it without video as an audio recorder. Alas, no Firewire associated with the video mode, only USB 2. The twist and swivel 1.8 inch display is electronic, at 115,000 pixels. The camera even has face detection for optimising exposure. The flash is weak (less than 2 metres), but I'm surprised they had space for it. You can buy an expensive optional slave flash. Canon Powershot TX1 gets a reasonable review.

Friday 8 June 2007

Convergence 2

I dragged Jean out to David Jones to check the nice small Asus miniature computers I had seen the previous day. The models were Asus UIF and S6F. On the way, we came upon our first fan, Robin from Tasmania, who was also headed for David Jones, but for the food court for breakfast. Robin had managed to get to the New Zealand Natcon the previous week.

This was the first day of Convergence 2, The 46th Australian National Science Fiction Convention, held in Rydges Hotel on Exhibition Street, only a block or so from the Grand Chancellor where we were staying (at a cheaper rate). Luckily the weather was nice enough to make this practical for Jean. The booking was originally made before Jean decided to attend with me. Sally Frost seemed to spend all her time at the desk, and soon handed me my membership package.

While the convention badges were a nice purple colour, and the first name in distinctly larger letters than the second name, I still found them hard to read at any distance. The con name, as usual, was more prominent than the name of the attendee. I really wish cons would do the right thing about that. Maybe ask someone with really bad eyesight to check the readability of the badges late at night, in a dimly lit bar, while drunk. Also, maybe print the name on each side, if the badges can flip around on a piece of string. Several cons have solved this problem previously, and we really shouldn't forget the lessons of numerous past conventions.

Justin was setting up his books in the dealers room fairly early. This time he wasn't running very much relating to the con at all. Not even the auction. I believe Jean managed to place a book order, but with the convention devoted to fantasy, I didn't find any books I wanted anywhere in the dealers room during the convention.

Justin was of great help with names. We mentioned our iRobot Roomba floor cleaning robot and Scooba floor washing robot. Since the company name was iRobot, I wanted to name them Adam and Link. The name of the robot protagonist of Eando Binder's story collection I Robot (the title was later used for an Asimov collection, against Asimov's wishes). Jean was not so sure about the names. Justin suggested calling them E and O. Both Jean and I liked this. Eando Binder was a pen name for brothers E and O Binder, although Otto wrote most of the later stories.

Paul Kidd launched Kitsune Press that evening, his print on demand publishing venture. He had his novels Lilith, Dreamscape, Petal Storm, Mus of Kebridge, and Neu Europa available at the cocktail party launch. Alas, young adult fantasy is not the sort of thing I enjoy. However since my fellow ANZAPA member, fan GoH Cath Ortlieb was there, I decided offering to get any or all of the books for Cath's children was a good solution to finding a willing reader. The real shock is always finding fan children who are now taller than me, or their parents, when I remember them as being much younger. Cath (and others) later persuaded Marc to attend briefly on another day for her GoH speech. He was looking in great shape with all that bicycling.

I did enjoy the cocktail party, as many of the convention members attended. Likewise, several people were in the bar, despite the noise level and shortage of seats. Naturally U.K. attendees Mark and Clair were visible at the bar.

Saturday 9 June 2007

Convergence 2

I dropped off the 10 kilogram of items we had brought for the fan fund auctions with auction organiser Perry. Luckily I had the paperwork all done, having collected auction sheets the previous day. I hadn't seen Perry very often since Aussiecon 3 in 1999. He indicated leaving his long time job was likely in the near future. Seems a lot of long time fans are reaching that age.

Professional Guests of Honour (GoH) at the convention. Australian Isobelle Carmody first attracted attention with Obernewtyn, and has averaged slightly more than a book a year for 27 years since. Fred Gallagher, or Piro, American illustrator, is known for anime inspired MegaTokyo online, plus several print collections. South African David Freer authored a dozen alternative history, fantasy or sf books with Eric Flint and/or Mercedes Lackey, and is art director for Jim Baen's Universe.

Since the convention GoH were mostly young adult fantasy writers, the panels were also mostly fantasy. A lot of young adult panels, which are not relevant to me. Plus readings, which I usually avoid. I don't believe I had read any of the work of the GoHs this time. I basically didn't find many of the panel titles of sufficient interest to attend. However I was there to socialise with old friends, so the lack of panels of interest to me was not a problem.

David Cake from West Australia was present, returning home from attending the New Zealand NatCon as FFANZ delegate.

Ang Rosin was the GUFF delegate. Like many U.K. fans, she was sighted in the bar when the convention was less busy.

I noted the continued Australian bid for the 2010 Worldcon for Melbourne, and wish it well. I haven't been to a Worldcon outside Australia since probably Chicago in 1982, so an Australian Worldcon is probably the only one I would attend.

Jean and I had lunch with Lee Harding, kindly organised by Yvonne Rouseau, with Robin along, and Craig turning up later obviously seeking a lunch. We hadn't seen Lee in ages, so this was a wonderful treat, for which we thank Yvonne very much. It also showed how well the Chinese restaurant across the road from the con worked for quick meals.

I was interested to note a variety of panels on media, particularly home made, and also TV series that received little air play. The availability of TV series on DVD (and on bit torrent) revived interest in many old shows. I gather Terry Frost and Dave Cake covered Oliver Stone's 1980's Wild Palms, reacting to Reagonomics, and set in 2007. That would have interested me.

I did see some of the inconclusive Digital Rights panel that followed it. The obvious tension between creative artists and writers wishing to protect their intellectual property, and consumers, is not going to go away. The lack of space for middlemen in an age of digital productions is already changing publishing and bookselling. Some artists (and even more publishers) will demand digital restrictions. Some consumers will always pirate. Others, like me, will not buy any product with digital restrictions (unless I can easily crack the copy protection). So I would buy music from EMI, but won't touch Sony products. I can't see a middle ground.

Craig was visible around the convention and on panels, promoting an on-line daily comic strip for doctors, Doc Rat by Jenner. I also saw a satirical scene he wrote for X-Men 3.

The book launches this evening by Hachette Livre were Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres, from Orbit Books, and The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung. Marianne kindly autographed the copy for Jean later.

Bill Wright had a fine bottle (or two) of wine from his cellar, and a space in which to indulge thanks to the party in room 302. I seem to recall Mark and Clair, and Robin along also. Since I have both space and climate control problems with storing wine (and therefore don't do it) I asked Bill how he had room for a cellar in his apartment. A temperate controlled storage lockup elsewhere was the answer.

The Ditmar Awards this evening consisted pretty much entirely of nominations for works I had not only not seen, but had never heard of. I am truly out of sync with what is happening in Australian fandom and writing.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Convergence 2

I had to go out early to get Jean some yoghurt for breakfast. I like the way the Safeway is open early.

The only panel I noted was a part of Craig and others talking about comics as a business. My drawing and writing skills preclude that for me.

Jean and I had lunch with Lewis and Marilyn, at the Chinese place. This was sufficiently quick that they could get back in time for a panel. It was good to catch up with what they had been doing. Also to hear what changes they had made to their innovative home.

Grumpy old fans would have been an appropriate panel for us to attend, but we didn't. I think Jean liked the title (she has a mug) much more than she would like the TV show (which she doesn't watch).

A panel on forthcoming movies interested me. Terry and Mitch were far more likely to know about that sort of stuff than I am. I enjoy that sort of panel. Especially the cynical comments on the likelihood of the product being worth seeking out.

Convention programmer Jamie told me I should view the short gay comedy film Outland. He was right. The shameful secret in the film is not being gay, that was simply accepted by everyone in the film. The shame was being a science fiction fan. Especially awkward for the fan bringing his new boyfriend home, while all his fan friends head for his place for a rescheduled sf meeting. Getting rid of the media figures, including the blow up Dalek, was a scream. Well received at film festivals around the world.

Jean and I had dinner with Roman at the Chinese place.

The launch this evening was for Orb #7, a long standing speculative fiction magazine back in action. Also a screening of another fan movie, Clair McKenna's The Luminal. Tentacles, sea creatures, and conflict between sea and land. Different. Shows how hard it is to do a movie, and how much time it takes to do all the work it takes.

I don't recall any parties in the hotel, but the bar had a fair few fans in it.

Monday 11 June 2007


Somehow I got persuaded to rush out to the OfficeWorks store when it opened at 10 a.m. to pick up a few blank CDs so we could make an extra copy of Helena's convention photographs. Helena had kindly provided us to CDs of her photos for the first few days of the convention, for us to copy to Jean's laptop. I had somehow stuffed up my photography, using my old (relatively compact) Pentax Optio camera without a camera card. Normally the camera refuses to operate when the card isn't present, but several of its functions are less than perfect these days after 10,000 photos.

Before the convention closed I did remember to renew my Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine subscription. I also bought Jean a red ASIM hat (it goes well with her being an Linux user - albeit not RedHat - and with her interest in the Red Hat society).

Lunch with Perry and Lucy Sussex at strange mostly shut food court. I think Jean was sensible and wandered off to a Subway with Lync.

The convention closed at 3 p.m.

Dead dog party in the bar on overpriced snack meals.

Blind fan Les, who did wonderful costumes at many cons, had been attending this con without anyone helping him. He seemed to be coping well with the hotel (which had a fairly regular layout) and with Melbourne. He was staying at the Victoria, which he was familiar with, but I find it a maze. It was interesting to have a chance to actually chat with Les, even if it was after the convention.

Mark and Clair returned later. Eventually a bunch headed to the serviced apartment where Damien and Juliette were staying. Very nice little final dead dog there until we left around midnight.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

iMac Upgrade Model

I was hoping for an iMac upgrade model announcement today. However, zip! Nothing, no hardware updates. The existing 24 inch iMac is attractive, but I can't really justify upgrading for the facilities it provides. Guess I have to wait until Leopard appears.

Shopping in Melbourne

Unexpectedly found a Next Byte store, but failed to find any indication of changes to the models Apple intended to sell.

The Burke Street JB HiFi had been recommended as a source of DVDs. Got four seasons of SF series I had missed on TV. Plus several SF movies. For a while I had been thinking I wouldn't manage more than a few DVDs during this trip.

I happened upon a Target store, which had slightly different DVDs to previous stores. That added a few more movies to my haul.

I had to get Jean some photos of the Shot Tower, so I also checked Borders. That at least added a few novels to the shopping haul. Didn't find any novels I wanted at the convention.

Harvey Norman is a real hard store to get into, especially when it has started drizzling with light rain. You can see it from the street, but you have to go down lanes into the middle of QV, up a few elevators, and then through a Domayne store to find Harvey Norman. Way too awkward. They did have a nice range of Western Digital hard drives. Lots of terabyte models, some USB plus Firewire, some network connected with gigabit Ethernet. All I got was a cheap (and dumb) iPod dock for a Nano.

Jean sent me out in the rain to get kababs for us for dinner.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Return Home

I am not a great admirer of getting up at 5:15 a.m. to take a taxi from the hotel to Melbourne airport for an 8 a.m. DJ311 flight Brisbane, but it beats getting up even earlier for a 6 a.m. flight that connects to exactly the same final DJ955 flight home. Only a 30 minute stopover at Brisbane, and we continued on the same plane. At least we had seats towards the front of the planes for each flight, which made entry and exit easier. We reached the Whitsunday Coast airport a little after midday. Back to the Whitsunday Terraces at Airlie Beach soon afterwards.

Proserpine apparently hit a new overnight low of 8 degrees. Ouch!

Folks, the entire Twitter idea is dumb! Who gives a shit about what anyone is doing at any one moment? If you are not a Samuel Peyps or a James Boswell, your trivia is simply trivia. Just check the trip notes of the past few days for evidence.

Thursday 14 June 2007

iPod Variations

ipod, idop, idoq, dopi, podi, boqi, iboq. iTunes, senuti.

Friday 15 June 2007


Friendly phone call early in the morning from architect neighbour to say the plumbing in a nearby Whitsunday Terraces apartment probably would not meet fire specification. Not happy about the cores taken out either (I later found one core in the skip, and that at least hadn't hit rebar). Saw builder, who didn't want to know what the plumber did. Saw owner, who wasn't happy. Checked with reception, as did the owner, and rousted our long suffering building manager out at home since he wasn't flying in the poor weather. As a volunteer fireman, he knows about this stuff. Fire collar was indeed needed. Owner was not happy, since tradespeople were all scheduled to arrive to continue his renovation.

I can't believe how cold it has been here. The room is down to about 21 degrees, and outside it dropped to 17 degrees. Total dull overcast, and raining most of Thursday evening and Friday morning. My rain gauge showed 80 mm, however we hadn't been home all week to empty it.

I checked with another neighbour to see if his long under repair roof had leaked. It had. Mentioned that to building manager a few minutes later when he phoned me about problem number one. He and the (different) plumber (about number 4 in a series) visited (this plumber spontaneously asked where the fire collars were). They checked in the leaking roof space. One leak was fixed. We discovered that the fibreglass repair over the flashing actually consisted only of the initial silicon, not the actual fibreglass. Plumber will come back on Monday (if the rain stops) to do some waterproof paint, until the fibreglass guy can be organised to return and complete the job we all thought he had already done.

After weeks of not having anyone visit at all, and phone calls only from telemarket people, had building manager kindly reporting on his findings, another visitor about doing a web site, and the first owner thanking me for letting him know about the problem. Waste of a morning for several people.

Saturday 16 June 2007

Safari on Windows

Computerworld's Mike Elgan says Apple picks a fight it can't win by running Safari under Windows. He correctly points out that Apple normally doesn't compete directly against other vendors. Especially in a mature market.

I think he misses the point in having Safari on Windows. It isn't intended to displace Internet Explorer (who cares about your free browser competing against Microsoft's free browser). Apple just want Web 2.0 developers to make their applications run on Safari, for the iPhone (and for Windows). Isn't it likely that Google developers would have Safari compliant web applications if their developers had Safari on their Windows PCs (as well as IE and Firefox)?

Complaints about Safari not looking like a Windows application are irrelevant, since it doesn't need to displace any Windows application. iTunes doesn't look like a Windows application. Quicktime doesn't look like a Windows application. Safari on iPhone won't look like a Windows application.

One interesting sideline to this is that, like Firefox and Opera, Safari can handle correctly presented XHTML, which IE can not (yet). I am extremely tempted to start converting my web pages from HTML, and IE users can just lump it (since the problem is IE). Safari (and Firefox and Opera) work very well indeed with valid standard compliant HTML. I am very tempted to find whether this holds true with clean XHTML.

Next step might be for Apple to implement the Dashboard api for Widgets on Windows, so Windows users could use some of the handy Apple widgets that use only html, css and Javascript. After all, Webkit seems to be behind that. Unfortunately, many widgets actually use more than these, so those wouldn't work.

Sunday 17 June 2007


Australians buy a million vehicles a year, and their average life is 11 years. Existing 440,000 hectares of sugar cane crops could produce 4.6 billion litres of ethanol a year (120 t/ha cane, producing 88.5 litres/tonne). Around 1.7 million vehicles (15l/100km for 15,0000 km a year) could run a year if that were sold as E85 blend. Wheat can also produce ethanol, with West Australia probably able to produce 540 million litres. Fuel consumption would be 40% higher, and performance down 10% relative to petrol. However by 2015, Australian oil supplies would be only 40% of consumption (85% now).

However we use 25 billion litres of petrol and diesel a year, 15.8 billion litres of that as petrol for passenger cars.

There is another potential 24,000 ha of cane production around the Ord River, although it would need development.

Energy Supply

Emissions Targets and Least Cost Generation Options is the November 2006 report from the Energy Supply Association of Australia. Half our greenhouse gas emissions come from stationary energy, mostly electricity generation (35%). Electricity demand is expected to grow by more than 65% by 2030. This would take 30 GW of new generation capacity, at a minimum cost of A$35 billion. The study treats a variety of emission and generation scenarios.

Responses to the study make interesting reading.

Monday 18 June 2007

Silverbrook Memjet Printer

In 2004, Balmain company Silverbrook Research produced more patents than anyone else in Australia. Kia Silverbrook once worked for Fairlight Instruments, producers of the Computer Video Instrument digital video effects controller. He also worked for Cannon Information Systems in Australia. Many Silverbrook inventions involve Memjet inkjet printing. One is ingenious very fast Memjet printing via 6400 print heads across the full width of the page. Seems it may use clogged nozzle detection and cleaning plus compensating for failed nozzles. I hope to see the first printers using Memjet around 2008.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Colour on the Web

Browsers often show colours badly, as few computers have their systems correctly colour calibrated. Try Is Your System ICC Version 4 Ready? for a specially constructed image that shows the problem. On my iMac G5 running OSX 10.4.9, Safari 2.0.4 was ready. Neither Opera 9.10 nor Firefox managed all four profiles.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Zero Cost Recorded Music

Will Page at the UK MCPS PRS Alliance has an interesting PDF article asking Is the Price of Recorded Music Heading Towards Zero? The framework presented does help understand the issues, whether producer, distributor or consumer.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Tunnel through house

Seen on various sites, a tunnel through a house in Houston. The artists Dan Havel and Rick Dean did this wooden time warp tunnel before the Art League of Houston house was demolished.

Friday 22 June 2007

Computer Crashes

Mainframe computers running thousands of users typically do not crash. Reliability is measured in minutes of downtime in years of operation. Even Unix mini computers could be relied upon to work 24/7 for a year.

So why are many personal computers so prone to crashing? Basically users don't care. So manufacturers don't care. Even if users care, most want minimum purchase costs, not minimum lifetime costs.

A PC will not likely have redundant hardware, nor disk and memory error correction. Applications that are buggy tend to grab memory and not let it go, without the operating system refereeing access properly. Early PCs ran everything in a common address space. Code is typically bloated, with insufficient testing. Early PCs were more reliable, not because they were better, but because they were simpler. New code tends to be untrustworthy. There is a lot of merit in not changing things that work, or changing it slowly and carefully.

Administration is a weak area. The typical PC owner is sloppy about administration, and even run full time as an administrative user. They don't keep or even read maintenance logs, don't diagnose crashes (even when frequent), and basically don't look after their systems. They make careless changes without checking for problems. Hence current PC operating systems attempt to do the repairs to themselves (and continue to get better at it).

Anyone can write a program for a PC. There are no qualifications, so the programs range from brilliant to insanely bad. The user often can not tell which is which.

Hardware can be a problem, although software problems are more common. Power supplies can cost hundreds, or as little as $10. If buying a low cost computer, which power supply will you end up with? Cooling fans sometimes have sleeve bearings rather than ball bearings. These typically fail within a year or so. Memory chips and sockets are always a problem. At the very least, make sure your motherboard and memory both use gold plated contacts. The electrolytic capacitors used in motherboards are a weak point. Not only do some manufacturers skimp on quality, there have also been a number of incidents with fake name brand high quality capacitors sold to manufacturers, only to fail within a few months.

It has been a long time since I used Windows. When I did, I thought it ran a lot more reliably if you backed up your data, and reinstalled the entire operating system every year or even every six months. Back then, using Ghost to let you install over Ethernet from a server seemed the easiest way to cope with reinstalling quickly on dozens of computers.

Don't be a beta tester. Wait until programs have been out there for a while. Then check user forums for complaints about problems. When the problems die down, that is time to install fancy new programs.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Air Conditioning Efficiency

Energy efficiency rating is basically the cooling capability divided by the power consumption. It should be on the label on the air conditioner. Or look up energy ratings for your air conditioner. Remember some makers lie.

Calculate your air conditioning needs at Choice. Not a great match to construction techniques in all parts of Australia.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Vertical Living

In most of Australia, people live in detached houses, on the iconic quarter acre block. Most country towns didn't have anything you could call a high rise flat until recently. Now a third of Sydney homes are apartments. In Airlie Beach, restricted by surrounding National Park and sea, only about 20% of homes are houses. If everyone wants to live in the same area, you build up, if council regulations permit, as on the Gold Coast. Or, in this town, make new land.

A resort apartment complex often contains swimming pools, sauna or spa, gym or other sporting facilities, restaurant or cafe. In a compact town, with everything close, you can leave the car at home. Like most older people, I never exercise. However if I walk through the Whitsunday Terraces resort to the main street and back, I have to walk down 12 flights of stairs, and walk back up the twelve flights of stairs. Do that three or four times a day and you manage better than a half hour on a StairMaster at a gym. The town is well equipped with restaurants and bars for the tourists.

For families with children, apartments do not seem as suitable. Whatever the balustrade design, children have a considerable ability to get next to a large drop to hard ground. Lack of playing space, and possible noise complaints. Little wonder families with children attempt to get a house.

Tuesday 26 June 2007


I wanted to talk about chocolate, not phenyl-ethylamine C6H5(CH2)2NH2. So 660 milligram of C6H5(CH2)2NH2 in 100 grams of chocolate. A stimulant related to dopamine and adrenaline. Built in high. Wonder why my blood pressure remains low?

At least the doctors say cocoa butter, a really saturated fat, seems to have little or no effect of serum cholesterol. Phew. That was a close call. Tastes good, but isn't absorbed well.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

The Last Psion

The Register special feature on history of Psion, the last computer. Points out the Psion 5 was new silicon, a new computer design, a new operating system, and new applications, from scratch. It may be the last such device designed for general use, as companies no longer attempt all four stages of design. Andrew Orlowski has produced a fascinating article for anyone who has seen a Psion.

Thursday 28 June 2007


Wow Energy claim to have a coal power plant scrubbing system that partially removes carbon dioxide. However according to newspaper reports, power utilities have little interest in scrubbing exhausts unless required by law. WowClean is said to remove 85%-95% of heavy metal pollutants, including mercury. Pilot projects show removal of up to 85% of the carbon dioxide. The pilot plant is mobile, so tests can be made at existing power plants. The scrubber can be retrofitted to existing power plants. Costs are said to be around US$25 million for a 250 MW power plant. WowClean is also said to remove 95% of carbon dioxide from air, which may make it eligible for Sir Richard Branson's US$25 million reward for technologies that can take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Rain Stops

A clear day today, with no rain. Even got laundry hung out to dry at the Whitsunday Terraces. The past two weeks have brought over 200 mm of rain, probably 6 times our usual June average. The Weather Bureau says an La Nina is more likely this year. Maybe the drought will end, and some decent water reach the dams.

Friday 29 June 2007

Tax the Rich

Warren Buffett says the USA tax system allows him to pay less taxes than his secretary and his cleaner. The US$52 billion man said he was taxed at 17.7% on the US$46 million he made last year, while his US$60,000 secretary was taxed at 30%. The comments target a debate on growing income inequality, and how the super-wealthy are taxed.


Jean's new small Dell XPS M1210 laptop computer arrived around 3:30 this afternoon. When Jean had last checked the Dell website, it was just leaving the factory. We didn't expect it until Wednesday. Jean got busy pulling open the six boxes that arrived. Hmm, she got this one because it was light, only two kilograms. Not sure how the six boxes got into this deal.

The arrival more than outweighed my removal of four older wireless keyboard to reception, for them to try. But at least those went from my room.

Saturday 30 June 2007

Power Out

Brief power outage in the Whitsunday Terraces at 1:10 p.m. Been a while since we had one (at least that I noticed) in Airlie Beach.

Irrelevant aside. Earlier today I had taken an unused 600 watt inverter down to the markets to give to one of the folks whose rural property wasn't connected to a power line. Maybe I should work harder at figuring how to run solar cells.

Apple iPhone Review

A detailed Apple iPhone review by Wireless Info, compares iPhone performance with Helio Ocean, LG Prada, Nokia N95, Treo 750 and Blackberry 8800. Great in some areas, flawed in others. No MMS, no IM, no broadcast SMS, no custom ringtones. No hard drive mode. No TV Out (unlike video iPod). Notes application is weak, and there is no To Do. Camera is middling, everything auto, no manual settings, no zoom, no flash, no macro, and doesn't do video (personally I'd rather use a specialist camera for most photos). iPhone gets good marks for unexpected speed in most circumstances, except network dependent EDGE browsing. Email doesn't have junk filtering. Safari crashes (although lousy web site coding doubtless don't help), and has no web password completion. Safari doesn't have a Flash plugin (I think Flash is a waste of space anyhow).

One item that astonishes me is the complaints about being stuck with EDGE rather than 3G. I don't know how it works in the USA, but according to figures I found on the web, around 50,000 USA cities have cell phone networks, of which 160 have 3G. Doh! Are these complaints for real?

No manual music management in the iPhone, so you will need a consolidated playlist for the gadget. This basically means syncing of each sort of data is limited to one computer (you could however use one for music and a different one for contacts and pictures). You can use an On The Go playlist in iPhone to manipulate what you listen to. No lyrics available. No iPod microphone use, no recording, no import from cameras.

While Windows XP users can use iPhone, Macintosh users need at least OS X 10.4.10. This may annoy a bunch of Panther users. Personally I thought OS X upgrades offered enough to make upgrading a non-issue, but perhaps that is just me.

As you would expect, Apple have a downloadable iPhone User Guide in PDF, which tells how to use some of the iPhone features that are not obvious. I doubt most people will bother to read it.

The hackers have tried to crack the iPhone. Progress seems pretty reasonable, given how little time has passed.

It is obvious that some of the more vocal critics of iPhone simply don't understand the value of ease of use. Lots of minor problems with iPhone, but for a first generation product it seems impressive.