Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tube seating hierarchy reports: [edited]

In the reference diagram below, the preferred pecking order of one end of a Hammersmith & City line carriage is dissected:

Position 1 is supreme, because you have only one neighbour, and (usually) a wider seat, with windows behind and beside you, plus a door which might give some hope of a breeze.

Position 2 has only one neighbour, and the breeze factor, though usually someone’s arse squished up against the glass partition beside you.

Position 3 is like position 2, in that the occupants have a maximum of one neighbour, but being in the middle of the carriage offers less hope of fresh air and more crowds.

Position 4, meanwhile is the worst of the seated positions, having two immediate neighbours and thus no elbow room.

Of the standing positions, position 5 is the prime spot, in front of the emergency exit door, which provides both fresh air and leaning support, along with putting the occupant in a good tactical spot to steal an available (1) or (2) seat, should one become available.

Weirdly, the next best standing areas are actually position 6 spots, because they provide somewhere to lean and the possibility (on all but the busiest rush-hour services) to make a dash for a high number of seats - more than positions 7 and 8, at least.

Meanwhile, position 9 is utterly tactical - by hanging onto the centre pole, the user suffers some mild discomfort, but usually has more space to read and (crucially) is in the best maneuvering position when one of the (3) or (4) seats becomes available. People occupying position 9 really tick off people who’ve been loitering in positions (6) or (7), because a seat can be stolen out from under their very noses.

Finally, the blocking move, position 10 can work out well, because it effectively covers the exit seats in position (3), which means getting a seat is a good possibility.

The worst possible place to stand is position 11, being neither close enough to any seat to have a hope in hell of ever sitting down and yet also far removed from anything to lean on or hold onto. Poor, poor 11s. Life’s never fair.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Elgato Turbo.264

Elgato reports: [edited]

You have a collection of videos on your Mac. They’re movies you downloaded from your camcorder or digital camera, or perhaps projects you created yourself with iMovie. They could be short video clips that friends and family sent you by email, or TV shows, music videos, and movies that you recorded with EyeTV.

How do you make them iTunes-ready for your iPod or Apple TV? How do you put them on a Sony PSP? And how do you speed up an export process that can be agonisingly slow?

Turbo.264 is a powerful video encoder in the form of a compact USB 2.0 stick. Use the included software to convert your Mac videos one at a time or in a batch; The application drops the converted file(s) into iTunes for you, ready to sync automatically with your iPod or Apple TV.

Alternatively, plug in Turbo.264 while you use the iPod or Apple TV export command of popular Macintosh video applications. Turbo.264’s hardware encoder jumps in to take over for your Mac’s processor, and does the hard work of encoding the videos to an H.264 format. Not only does Turbo.264 help get the job done faster, it frees up your processor for other tasks. Think of it as a “co-processor” for your Mac.

RegHardware 's review gave it 95%, concluding:

"A couple more CPU generations and the Turbo.264 will be redundant, of course. But why wait three or four years for H.264 encoding speeds you can have right now, for a fraction of the price of a new Mac? And the results speak for themselves: Turbo.264 pumps out iPod, PSP and Apple TV-friendly video in a fraction of the time your Mac can. If you use one of these devices for video, Turbo.264 is a must-have."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chavez shuts down RCTV

Reuters reports: [edited]

Venezuela shut down an opposition television channel on Monday and replaced it with one promoting President Hugo Chavez's self-proclaimed socialist revolution. Chavez has long sparred with opposition channels, which he calls "horsemen of the apocalypse" for backing a botched coup against him in 2002.

The closure of the channel exposed the country's sharp political divide - thousands of Chavez supporters held street parties while opposition demonstrators faced cordons of police, chanting anti-government slogans.

In a tearful farewell program, RCTV staff packed a studio and prayed together. "Do not lose hope. We will see you soon," RCTV presenter Nelson Bustamante told viewers.

Pollster Datanalisis found almost 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the shut-down, but most cited the loss of their favorite soap operas rather than concerns about limits on freedom of expression.

Among the Chavez supporters swigging beer and dancing in the streets of central Caracas, some thought the president should go further and shut down the few remaining opposition networks, such as Globovision.

"They all participated in the coup and incited violence," said shopkeeper Jose Quijada, wearing the hallmark red T-shirt of Chavez supporters.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Free Manu Chao single

Manu Chao sings in French, Spanish, Arabic, Galician, Portuguese, English, and Wolof, often in the same song. He is one of the world's best selling artists, predominantly in Europe and Latin America.

His latest single 'Rainin [sic] in Paradise' is an enjoyable 'driving' tune, and it's available as a free download from his website.

Harley hearse

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: [edited]

Mark Krause's latest twist on funeral traditions features an air-cooled, twin cam engine; six gears; and a glass-sided carriage trimmed with crushed velvet.

"Just trying to do something different," said Krause, who is known for just that. "Milwaukee's a Harley town, and there are so many people (who) find recreation in motorcycles."

Krause is among a group of funeral directors nationwide who have been shaking up the tradition-bound business with practices that cater to a trend of less ceremony, more socializing and more personalization in funerals.

Industry observer Doug Hernan said Krause's latest move fits the trend toward customizing funerals and giving them "a little bit more 'wow' factor."

"Really, it's a little bit more thinking about the funeral as theater," he said. "The funeral director of yesterday was more of an order-taker," Hernan said. "Today, he's expected to be an event planner."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Honda RN-01 G-Cross

Produced by Honda specifically for downhill racing events, this bike was introduced in the 2004 racing season by the Team G Cross Honda who compete in the NORBA and Mountain Bike World Cup points series races.

It uses a carbon-fibre internal gearbox instead of the ubiquitous dérailleur gearing used on other MTBs. This allows the riders to change gear when not pedalling, so they can hit the ground in just the right gear after one of those heart-stopping jumps.

Mind you, I don't expect my mum will be too impressed. Her Harrods-green Dawes Kingpin had a perfectly serviceable (Sturmey-Archer) system decades ago. Not sure whether she did many jumps with it though.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monster iFreePlay Headphones

Monster reports: [edited]

The Monster [Grrr... ed.] iFreePlay headphones feature a port for an iPod Shuffle.

The headset (with Shuffle) weighs 62g.

Amish stay green

The Baltimore Sun reports: [edited]

Down a curvy road and past square fields, gray barns, still plows and grazing cows, a visitor will eventually arrive at Andrew Stoltzfus' workshop. This is Amish country - the horse and buggy are a dead giveaway - yet there, in the middle of his shop's rusty metal roof, sits a tiny nod to contemporary society.

Stoltzfus is an Amish traditionalist. He works with his hands at a sawmill, wears plain clothes and the requisite straw hat, and doesn't care much for the conveniences of the mainstream world. But he uses solar energy to charge batteries for buggy lights, flashlights and the nebulizer that his 6-year-old son sometimes uses for his asthma.

Most Amish people hook up only a few panels - compared with the 40 or 60 it would take to keep a typical American home running. They use solar electricity for such things as lights, refrigerators, cordless tools, medical equipment, air purifiers and well pumps for their homes, electric fences and water filtration systems on farms, and phones, pagers, copiers, burglar alarms, cash registers and computers at businesses.

The irony of the Amish leading the so-called modern world down an alternative energy path delights Spratley of Green Energy Ohio.

"I think we can always learn something from people who may not have all the high technology we're inundated with," he said. "It certainly shows energy independence can be done, and done in this [temperate] climate."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bush blocks mobiles

The Register reports: [edited]

US President George Bush will be followed about by a helicopter which jams mobile phone signals during an upcoming visit to Australia, it has emerged.

According to reports in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, train stations will also be temporarily shut down and parts of the city will "become restricted areas".

Conjecture around the phone-jamming helicopter has arisen as a result of its appearance in attendance on Mr Bush at the 2005 APEC summit in South Korea. Reporters covering the conference said that a Black Hawk chopper would shadow the presidential motorcade, and as it passed overhead mobile phones would lose touch with the local network.

"Whenever Mr Bush visits a foreign country local sovereignty is surrendered to US authorities as he moves around in heavily armoured vehicles that follow him around the globe," said the Telegraph.

Jamming technology employed to prevent command-detonated bombs functioning is nothing new, of course. British infantrymen would carry man-portable jammers on patrol in Northern Ireland decades ago, and security geeks in London might note similar equipment (in smarter backpacks) occasionally being carried by guardsmen engaged in public ceremonies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

British history at a glance

The BBC have uploaded an elegant and informative interactive timeline of British history.


3D Pulp Fiction

Joseph Bellows Gallery reports: [edited]

[Thomas] Allen's photographs are inspired by his childhood experiences with pop-up books and View-Masters. He begins his process by cutting figures and images out of illustrated pages of old books and vintage fiction novels. Allen rearranges and juxtaposes the forms to create three-dimensional scenes. Next, he carefully lights his subjects and photographs the scenes.

The work combines the humor of children's pop-up books, the nostalgia of dime novels, and the drama of the stage. Allen's inventive and evocative photographs capture characters and events in mid-action. And the viewer is left to wonder what will happen next.

Monday, May 21, 2007

About face

New Scientist reports: [edited]

Body builders and gym buffs, look away now. It appears that the opposite sex is much more interested in your face than your bulging biceps or elegant figure, especially if you're a man. At least that's the upshot of the first study to assess how much faces and bodies contribute to someone's overall attractiveness.

Twelve women and 12 men took part in a trial to assess the attractiveness of people in photographs, on a scale of 1 to 7. Some participants saw the entire person, some saw faces on their own, and some just bodies. Marianne Peters from the University of Western Australia in Crawley and colleagues assessed the face-only and body-only ratings to see how well they predicted the "entire person" ratings.

They found that faces account for more of the variation among ratings than do bodies; in other words, faces are more important. For women rating men, 52 per cent of the attractiveness score was made up by the face rating, while for bodies it was 24 per cent. The trend was similar when men rated women, with 47 per cent of a woman's overall attractiveness accounted for by her face, and 32 per cent by her body.

Peters says that women focus especially on the face because they are better at picking up emotional cues which are key to partner suitability.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Starcraft II reports: [edited]

StarCraft II continues the epic saga of the Protoss, Terran, and Zerg. These three distinct and powerful races will clash once again in the fast-paced real-time strategy sequel to the original StarCraft. Legions of veteran, upgraded, and brand-new unit types will do battle across the galaxy, as each faction struggles for survival.

Featuring a single-player campaign that picks up where StarCraft: Brood War left off, StarCraft II will present a cast of new heroes and familiar faces in an edgy sci-fi story filled with adventure and intrigue. In addition, Blizzard will again offer online play through, with several enhancements and new features to make StarCraft II the ultimate competitive real-time strategy game.

Friday, May 18, 2007

HD-DVD 'uncrackable' encryption cracked, again...

Boing Boing reports: [edited]

AACS, the anti-copying system behind HD-DVD, has been cracked again before its next update was released. HD-DVD was cracked some months ago after the "processing key" for the discs was uncovered by a poster on the Doom9 message-board. In response, the AACS Licensing Authority "revoked" that key, so that new HD-DVD titles would no longer play on older players until they were updated.

The first DVDs with the updated keys ship on May 22, but the new keys have already been compromised - that means that HD-DVD has been broken again, even before it was actively patched.

The AACS key was the subject of an enormous amount of controversy earlier this month, when the AACS-LA sent legal threats to sites that had included they key in their reportage of the initial break. Although the key initially appeared on just a few sites, in the wake of the controversy, more than 1.3 million pages have now published the number. More people know how to break HD-DVD than own HD-DVD players.

This raises the question: what will AACS-LA do now? Key revocation doesn't work. Suing the Internet doesn't work. DRM doesn't work (this DRM took years and cost millions, it was broken in days, for free, by hobbyists).

Pirates who download movies don't ever see DRM. Honest customers who buy media are the only people who ever get restricted by it - and it's clear that a lot of people aren't willing to pay money for movies that are less useful than the pirate versions they can get for free.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

15 x 11 x .8mm, 8 Gigabytes

Just how much tighter can they pack those little men in?

Zoolander phone, sans irony!

Mobile Burn reports: [edited]

Pantech Wireless, Inc., the U.S.-based subsidiary of Pantech Group, Korea's leading mobile phone manufacturer, today announced the release of the Pantech C3b. The enhanced phone adds Bluetooth functionality to the already popular "world's smallest camera flip-phone" family of handsets.

The phone is 69 x 43 x 20mm (think 'matchbox'), and weighs 71.9g (think '3 AA batteries').

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Synthetic diamonds come of age

Wired reports: [edited]

This winter, a sparkling diamond landed in front of a technician at the Gemological Institute of America in New York City. He ran tests, noted the stone was man-made, and graded it as he would any diamond. It was the gem industry’s strongest acknowledgment yet that lab-grown diamonds are just as real as natural ones.

For years, De Beers, the world’s largest purveyor of natural diamonds, argued against the acceptance and GIA grading of lab-grown stones. But since 2003, synthetic diamond production has taken off, driven by consumer demand for merchandise that’s environmentally friendly (no open-pit mines), sociopolitically neutral (no blood diamonds), and monopoly-free (not controlled by De Beers).

As a result, Gemesis, the leading manufacturer of gem-quality diamonds has expanded operations rapidly. Three years ago, the company had 24 diamond-producing machines; now it has hundreds - matching the cash-value output of a small mine - and is turning out a new one every other day.

“At this point, we operate like any other mine,” says Clark McEwen, COO of Gemesis. “We produce rough diamonds in our machines and sell to distributors who do the cutting and polishing.”

And despite their steady pronouncements of disdain, the old guard finally wants in. Michael Werdiger - one of only about 90 firms in the world that distribute De Beers’ diamonds - has been buying Gemesis’ yellow stones, a colour that is particularly rare in nature.

Because man-made yellows are increasingly plentiful, they sell for up to 75 percent less than natural yellows. Just a few wholesalers now supply Gemesis’ stones to hundreds of independent and midsize chain jewelry stores in the US, selling out every month.

“These diamonds exist,” GIA spokesperson Laura Simanton says, “and we can’t ignore them any more.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Playstation 3 vs. Wii

Wired reports: [edited]

Sony’s PS3 features heavyweight processing power, while Nintendo’s Wii is half the size and half the cost, but has only flyweight graphic abilities. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each console.


GAMEPLAY Spent two dozen hours with key launch titles and played 8 to 10 other games on each console.


The first thing you notice is the compact, innovative design — the tiny console is about the size of three DVD cases. The remote-shaped controller features a built-in speaker, force feedback, infrared transmitters, and gyroscopes that are opening up whole new avenues of gameplay. But the graphics on launch titles are downright janky — comparable to the Gamecube at best.

WIRED It’s almost impossible to convey the enormous promise of the “Wii-mote” controller. You have to experience it. Downloadable versions of classic Nintendo games are our kind of killer apps. And like the high-end PS3 we tested, it ships with Wi-Fi functionality.

TIRED No game developer has really unlocked the potential of the Wii-mote. Low price seems less of a bargain when you consider the lower-tech specs and the absence of DVD playback. No online multiplayer with launch titles.


Blu-ray movies really do look markedly better than standard-definition, and game developers may eventually find a way to use scads of processing power and much bigger Blu-ray discs to deliver experiences that no other console can. But despite all the talk of “the first console with true 1080p resolution,” the PS3’s launch games look no better than the Xbox 360’s. Plus it has a ludicrously high price tag, tons of extra DRM, and a far less robust online service. How do you say “boondoggle” in Japanese?

WIRED - Sleek interface. Wireless joypad is comfortable and light. Doubles as Blu-ray player.

TIRED - 11-pound leviathan sucks up to 380 watts while running a game (versus 203 watts for Xbox 360 and 53 watts for Wii) and pumps out enough heat to turn our test lab into a sauna. Joypad lacks force feedback, which is sorely missed.

Monday, May 14, 2007


A selection of words submitted to the Washington Post's Style Invitational. The rules were to find a dictionary word, then alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supplying a new definition.

Euphoria experienced at getting a tax refund.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Primitive vs. professional

Amazing Filtered Things has a number of examples of professional artists interpreting children's drawings. They make for interesting viewing, not least because I often prefer the originals. As one of the blog comments reads:

"All the professional drawings are so dark and foreboding. I think at least [a] few of the kids drawings were more cheery. I wonder if that means anything."

Thanks to Sora for the link.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Extra helpings of Ratatouille

Yep, the latest 9 minute trailer for Pixar's upcoming animation is so comprehensive that you may not have to pay to watch the movie!


Piaggio reports: [edited]

Piaggio launched the first Vespa model — and with it the scooter phenomenon — in the spring of 1946. Sixty years on, Piaggio has come up with another revolutionary product: the MP3, an innovative three-wheeler with two front wheels.

Because of its innovative three-wheel concept, the MP3 is equipped with a revolutionary electro-hydraulic front suspension locking system that keeps the vehicle upright without using the usual central stand.

To ensure rider safety, the tilt mechanism not only shuts off by pressing the handlebar switch, but is also automatically deactivated if vehicle speed exceeds 15 kph, if the butterfly valve is not fully closed or if engine rpm is higher than 3000.

The MP3 is type-approved as a standard two wheeled motorcycle and is available in two engine displacements, 125 and 250 cc.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

25GB of free online storage

Mediamax offers:

- A secure place to upload, store, access, and share files.

- Access your files from any web browser.

- Share all your files.

- Host videos, audio, images on the web.

- Backup your files and data.

Mac users can upload stuff via an FTP client, and you're not restricted to individual files, it recognises folders. And for those of you who care, it also recognises Apple's Automator scripts.

PC users get the ability to sync files and automatic backup routines.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The PS3 is still waiting for its 'killer app', a game that is good enough to buy the console for. Many are claiming that it may arrive in the unlikely form of a 2D platformer that looks like a hybrid of Pikmin and Button Moon.

The brainchild of Mark Healey and Alex Evans, co-creators of Media Molecule's critically acclaimed Rag Doll Kung Fu, Little Big Planet's genius is that it is both collaborative and customisable.

As Edge reports: [edited]

"It doesn’t have a separate level editor – it is one, and your character is the game’s star and designer rolled into one.

"A button press brings up a thought-bubble menu system, and a cursor that’s tethered to your character by a luminous colour-coded kite string. With this you can place objects in the world, decide their physical properties, move them, reshape them, create new ones from scratch, apply stickers, paint pictures, add sound, import photos, design costumes.

"You can work with a blank slate or from a template, and there’s a scale of creativity from arranging ready-made components to designing your own. Media Molecule is calling this system Poppet, for no particular reason. (Creative director Mark Healey, Media Molecule’s lunatic lynchpin, says he’s been trying to reverse-engineer an acronym for it, but with limited success.)"

The Edge article is a long one, but a fascinating read. It left me wondering why LittleBigPlanet hadn't been developed for the Wii, until I caught a snippet in the latest edition of Games magazine, in which Alex Healy reveals...

"I always thought Sony had the best parties... I remember many times standing outside them without a ticket, watching all these people - producers, most of the time - so I thought, one day I'm going to a Sony party."

So, now I know.

Oh, and to watch the promo video click here, as the ancient proverb goes, '4 minutes of YouTube is worth a thousand words'.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

My first experience of the Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro was his excellent cinematic interpretation of the Hellboy graphic novel series. Del Toro is a maverick, often quoted as refusing to direct a Harry Potter movie unless one of the kids died in it, and losing his chance at directing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe after telling the producers that he "Didn't want the f**king lion resurrected".

Pan's Labyrinth is a fabulous, scarily gothic Alice in Wonderland, viewed through the eyes of a child living through the horrors of post-civil war Spain. This is NOT a children's film. There are scenes of feral violence, which I found myself watching through tightly closed fingers.

The actings is uniformly excellent. The CGI is seamless, not showy. The cinematography is powerful, especially in its use of light to evoke atmosphere and moods.

Most of all Del Toro revives one of the primary purposes of fairy tales, to remind us that there ARE sometimes monsters under the bed, that we live in an unpredictable universe where good people don't always win.

However, the universe that Toro depicts is poly-dimensional, with redemption available for those with the eyes to see. Definitely one for the DVD collection.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bayeux Tapestry, the movie

YouTube is hosting an excellent animation of the Bayeux Tapestry, complete with helpful textual commentary.

Go on, treat yourself to 5 minutes of 'edutainment'.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Planet Earth II?

Wired reports: [edited]

Scientists seeking habitable planets beyond Earth scored a lucky hit last week with the discovery of Gliese 581c, the first yet found with an orbit in the so-called Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold).

But confirming life there, and in other yet-to-be-discovered systems, will require a new generation of space telescopes capable of picking up "signatures" such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane.

NASA and the European Space Agency are developing planet finders that will do just that by 2020, assuming funding comes through.

NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, is already underway. The artist's rendering shows a traditional telescope on the left - a visible-light chronograph - that will launch in 2016 and pick out likely candidates. An array of infrared telescopes (right) will launch four years later and look for life signatures.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

5,000 years in 90 seconds

Ever found yourself fretting and worrying over 'who has conquered the Middle East over the course of world events?'. Well, mither no longer!

Visit for a flash animation that condenses '5,000 years of history in[to] 90-seconds'.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Popular Science, June 1933 reported:

Propeller-Driven Car Hangs from Monorail

An improved airline cab, capable of 155 miles an hour, is the latest invention of the French engineer who developed the trench mortar used during the World War. Suspended on monorails, the cabs resemble airplane fuselages.

A small propeller at the front of the cab is driven by a fifteen-horsepower electric motor. The monorail, which guides the car, also furnishes the electric power for the motor. The inventor has been working on air cabs for over eleven years and has constructed many designs as well as complete air rail systems, many of which underwent severe test successfully but were found too expensive for practical use.

In the photograph, two of his airline cabs are shown suspended from the monorail along which they are expected to run at high speed.