"Drive" - so-so movie, awesome soundtrack.

Dec 31, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I like moody movies and I like car movies. "Drive" seemed like an ideal blend of the two from the previews. In the end the movie turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Dark and moody yes, but the driving scenes were laughable, from the screeching rubber on dirt, to the sound of the gears obviously being changed but the in-car camera showing the actor with both hands on the wheel. Cheesy and low-budget for sure, and oddly for me, a little too violent. But the real star was the soundtrack. It's amazing. Watching it for the first time I was 100% sure the soundtrack was by Tangerine Dream. It sounds so much like their album Le Parc (from way back in the day) that I was convinced they'd been talked into doing a movie soundtrack. Turns out it wasn't - it's a guy called Cliff Martinez. Never heard of him but I'll be watching for his name on movie soundtracks from now one. Bloody brilliant.

Technology is wonderful when it works

Dec 14, 2011 | | 1 comments |

When you send an SMS from your cellphone, the carrier company is making pure profit from you. The SMS travels in the carrier identifier signal that has to be present for a cellphone to talk to a cell tower. It costs the network nothing because without the signal, there's no cell network. ie. the presence of your cellphone on a tower means you can text and it costs nobody anything. The carriers don't want you to know this which is why they charge extortionate rates for SMS plans - it's pure profit for them. However you can get around this with device-to-device messaging. If you have a Blackberry (I feel sorry for you) you have BBM - Blackberry Messenger. It's a texting service that uses your data plan to send messages directly to a device using the device's unique ID instead of your cellphone number. Apple has a similar thing now - iMessage works in the same way, device-to-device. It's why you can now text someone with an iPod from your iPhone (as long as the recipient is on WiFi of course). Device-to-device texting does use your data plan, like I said, but it's such a fractional amount that you'd need to be a teenage girl on speed before you'd see any noticable dent in your data usage because of it.

Which leads me to whatsapp - an app for most smartphones that does device-to-device messaging but it works between any two phones. So I can use whatsapp from my iPhone to message someone on an Android device as long as they also have the same app. Uses the data, not SMS, so the carriers can't charge you extra for it. The best part though is when you go international. I'm currently working on a contract for a friend of mine in S.Korea and when we're going through changes in the various items I'm working on for him, we use whatsapp to 'chat' in near realtime without incurring long distance phone or texting charges. Coupled with DropBox on my desktop, he can ask for a change, I can make it straight away, dump the updated file into my DropBox and he sees the change almost instantly. It's geekishly awesome.
Now I'm tech-savvy and moderately well educated, but things like this still make me smile. That I can do device-to-device messaging in realtime to someone on the other side of the planet and he can see the graphical changes I'm doing to his project at almost the same speed.
It's the same grin I get when I watch a Boeing 747 take off. Clearly that thing shouldn't be able to fly but it does.

Walmart isn't exactly customer friendly.

Dec 11, 2011 | | 3 comments |

You can tell Walmart isn't set up for tech savvy shoppers. Because the
other nine places I tried were out of the item I wanted today I ended
up at Walmart for only the third time in ten years. To minimize my
exposure to the hateful place, I ordered online for an in store
pickup. Mistake. Their employees have no idea how to deal with this.
Well. When someone turns up and bothers to help. I stood waiting at
the pickup area for 15 minutes ringing the bell and trying to get
someone's attention. Then it took another 15 minutes for them to
figure out what was going on. Im sure if id walked in and just picked
the item off the shelf it would have been much easier but in theory
that would have taken longer. So much for that great idea. Their
prices aren't brilliant either. They were a good 30% more than
everywhere else which I guess is why they were the only ones with
stock left.
If I hadn't need the item today, and had anywhere else in town had
what I wanted, I would have been happy leaving my exposure to Walmart
at just two visits. But sometime you can't win and today was one of
those occasions.
I feel dirty just having been in the place :-(

Less than stellar skiing conditions

Dec 8, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Well so far winter has been a bit of a bust this year. Sure it's nice and cold but it's dry. Way too dry. We've barely had any rain or snow and the resort bases are pitiful. My go-to resort barely has 2ft of snow and it's all rocks and buried trees right now. The 10 day forecast doesn't look much better either. We ought to be knee-deep in snow by now but I guess we're getting the same deal we got 10 years ago when the Olympics came to town - dry start, wet end.

Why speech recognition is a novelty.

Dec 5, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I have an iPhone4S which means I have Siri, their voice-activated assistant. Sadly, like almost all speech recognition software, Siri is still largely a novelty, and I've all but given up using it. I suspect most owners have. There's only two things I can rely on it getting mostly right - setting a countdown timer and sending the most basic "leaving work now" text to my wife. The problem is that it's not bombproof and until speech recognition can be relied upon 100%, to the point where you don't have to read what it interpreted and double-check it, it will remain firmly in the novelty category.
Last week for example, I needed to dictate a simple text while sitting at some traffic lights. I said "I'll suck up the leaves when I get home" referring to a conversation talking about leaf blowers and clearing away the autumn debris. What Siri put in my text was "I'll fuck up the girls with my get boned". Had I just sent it, that would have been a problem but Siri has trained me to double and triple check everything it interprets.
The same is true for Xbox Kinect. It fails to recognise, reliably, even the most basic commands and all it's trying to do is play games.
My car can't understand the word "dial" when talking to the phone and consistently thinks I'm saying "cancel".
My friend's Ford MySync system can't get any of the names right in his phonebook, much less understand street addresses for the onboard GPS.
Automated airline flight information lines are a nightmare. They can't get the flight numbers, dates or airports correct so in trying to get the arrival times for Amsterdam for today, you'll be presented with the departure times for Hamburg tomorrow.
Throw in an accent and the already sketchy detection rates can drop to almost zero. I have trouble and I have a relatively flat, unaccented British voice.
You know things in speech recognition have gone horribly wrong when you see people having shouting matches and arguments with their electronic devices.
And that's the point - speech recognition systems cannot be relied upon and as such, they take more time to use than conventional techniques. Typing this blog entry, for example, I'm error-checking at a basic level as I type. If I was speaking this, I'd have to speak a sentence, wait for the interpretation, then go in and hand-correct all the mistakes, which ultimately takes more time than just typing in the first place.

Cyber monday doesn't exist.

Nov 17, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I do wish the press would stop perpetrating the myth of "Cyber Monday". Black Friday has long been known about here in America - it's traditionally the point in the year where big retailers go into the black for the financial year. I prefer to think of it differently - black Friday is like a war zone with rampant shoppers trampling each other into emergency rooms to get 99c off something in SprawlMart. I think the 'black' refers to how grim the shopping experience is on that day, but I digress.
About four years ago, someone in the media made up "Cyber Monday" and claimed that it was the single biggest day of the year for online shopping. This is simply not true - there's statistically no more or less activity at most online retailers on the Monday after Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. I wish they'd stop trying to invent another reason to spend money - it's retarded enough already that Christmas stuff appears in the stores at the beginning of September.
Apart from anything else, "Cyber Monday" just sounds stupid.

Syncing iCloud to Google.

Oct 24, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I've become an Apple fan over the last few years and I like the iCloud features that came with iOS5. But up to this point, my go-to calendar has been Google Calendar, which I sync with outlook at home for a local 'backup' if you like. The utility I use at home is called GsyncIt. Works really well. Allows syncing between multiple calendars at home as well as those on Google. But lo - iCloud cometh forth. And so the big question - can you sync google calendar with iCloud?
The quick answer is no - not yet.
The long answer is yes and it's easy.
First, make sure you've got Outlook syncing with Google Calendar using GSyncIt. Next, setup the Windows version of iCloud to sync the iCloud calendar with your Outlook calendar. When it does this, it will merge your existing calendars into new iCloud calendars, and your old 'personal' ones in Outlook will vanish. Never fear, all your stuff is still there, it's just in a different folder.
Now, the piece de resistance. Go into the GsyncIt settings, and point the local calendars at the new iCloud-created Outlook calendars. It will want to do a total re-sync but when it's done, Outlook on your PC becomes the conduit between Google Calendar and iCloud via GSyncIt.
It sounds complicated but it really isn't. I'm well chuffed that I got that figured out. It means I can point my iPhone at either Google Calendar or iCloud calendar now and they're both in sync.
Why, you ask?
Because I could.

Feeling good about helping others

Oct 18, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I hate it when good people get screwed. I hate that our company is about to outsource most of its artistic talent to India - to screw the lives of 22 people and their families because of the misguided belief that it will save them money. I hate that there are managers in our organisation that are so stubborn that they flat refuse to listen to logic and reason, yet when things fail because of their arrogance, there's never any accountability. They take the praise for anything that goes right that they didn't touch, but apportion blame to everyone else when something they did touch goes wrong. I've been in the business so long that I have a clear feel and knowledge for when things will work, and when they will fail, and I hate that managers with little experience in this business do not regard my experience as valuable, rather as arrogance. It's arrogant of me to say 'I told you so' when blindly following a project I told them five years ago would fail. It's arrogant of me to tell them if they'd listened to me they would have saved N-million dollars. It's arrogant of my to have more talent and more experience than most of those above me in the chain of command. I could change that I suppose. I could go from being an office drone to someone in power. But I'd make a horrible manager. I care about people and I want to deliver an excellent product to customers. I'm passionate about my job and it drives me crazy that there are others in the same office and company as me who think that the way to solve problems is to add more management and more process to a system that, to even the most casual observer, is plainly broken. This self-destroying system has caused me to melt down in a meeting last week when I was within 30 seconds of handing in my resignation. Now I'm not the most level-headed person, so that's hardly a surprise. When confronted with lunacy and mediocrity I come out fighting. But two of my colleagues who are so calm, so unflappable, so serene that they have until now been able to float above it all - also melted down in the last couple of weeks. That's the sign that something is badly wrong. When they come unglued, it's a bad omen. This mediocrity and 'screw you' attitude of companies isn't just present at my company either. It's everywhere. I hate it when I hear of people who are trying to do the right thing, and are being hindered at every step of the way because companies and organisations they rely on are dragging their heels, overcharging, and generally being a pain in the arse. A friend of mine has a couple of friends in just such a situation - they're starting a fledgling business and website and the company they contracted out to to design their site has screwed them from here to the east coast and back. So at least I feel good about one thing tonight - I've been able to offer this couple some much-wanted relief from their problems. It might turn into a side job for me, but at the very least I've been able to ensure that they now own and possess their own source code. Something their previous IT people have been unable to do. I was able to help out. That makes me feel good. For now.

RIP Steve Jobs

Oct 6, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I learned last night that the world's last true great visionary had died and when I got up this morning, the weather was overcast and sheeting down with rain. A sombre weather statement on a sombre day. I don't know of any other CEO in the world who, if they died, would cause people to leave flowers outside the company's offices or stores. Most of the world's CEOs today would be burned in effigy. But most of the world's CEOs are not Steve Jobs. I'm sure Apple will survive without him but I'm not sure what their products are going to be like. Steve was the guiding hand in Apple - you could see his influence in every one of his devices. They were revolutionary, not evolutionary, and like it or not, Steve Jobs changed your life forever even if you never used an Apple device. It seems there were three Apples that changed the world. The first one was the one that Eve ate (if you're religious). The second one was the one that fell on Newton's head. The third one was the one that Steve created. RIP Steve - you'll be sorely missed.

Why does NOTHING work in England any more?

Sep 24, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I bloody hate the UK. The country is broken and everything in it is broken. Seldom do I have to rely on anything from England - I make it a point not to because relying on anything there ultimately ends up in disappointment. Today was no different. Sadly I'd placed an order with Interflora to deliver a spray of flowers to my mum for her birthday. (There are times when you don't have any other options). The order was placed four days ago, and of course, nothing turned up today but Interflora did send me an email telling me they would deliver, and they did take the money out of my account. Naturally, being England, their customer service phone number costs an arm and a leg, and leads you two minutes into the phone tree before you get a curt "customer service is closed at the weekends" message. They don't respond to emails to their 24/7 helpline either. Their own website has a plain English guarantee. They've broken that. I've halted the payment. Bloody England.

This is how corrupt traditional healthcare insurance is in America

Sep 21, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Since April this year, I've been struggling with frozen shoulders - it's an ailment I wouldn't wish on anyone. In order to diagnose and treat the problem, I've incurred one surgeon visit, an MRI, two steroid injections and more physical therapy appointments than I care to remember. Here's the rub. With 'traditional' healthcare, I would be paying a $20 flat fee for each visit and the insurance would pay the rest. But we're not on traditional insurance - we use a health savings account. It's sort of like a high interest savings account that your company pays into, that can only be used for medical bills. It circumvents the insurance companies (up to a certain value) and instead, you get the bill directly. Bear in mind the company pays the same amount into my private insurance account as it would do into a traditional healthcare fund in my name. So we had "the big one" today - the main bill for all my visits so far. If billed to a traditional insurance company, it would have cost them $6487, and they would have paid it. Billed to me, through an HSA, it "only" cost $2745. Paying the bill was a bit of a sting, but the money was there in my insurance account to pay for it. The only difference is if it had been traditional insurance, I would never have seen the final bill, but would have been out-of-pocket the same amount each month in terms of salary deductions for insurance. So in my particular case, in this example, the bloat of the healthcare insurance system would account for a staggering $3742 of the $6487 bill. Or put more succinctly, 57% of the bill has nothing to do with the treatment I received. For those of you in England, this scenario would have played out a little differently. You're taxed more at source to pay for the NHS, but then the medical aid is "free" in return. In this case, at the cost of at least $6487 in taxes, because there's no way the NHS is lightweight.

I think road construction bureacracy is everywhere

Sep 19, 2011 | | 2 comments |

You know the old story - why is it as soon as a road is filled in, it's no sooner dug up again. Why can't the utility companies and construction crews get in sync? Where I work there are only two ways out of the research park; an area the size of a university campus that employs some 10,000 people - perhaps more. There are only two ways out of the park by road. One is two left-turn lanes, the other is a single right-turn lane. Today, less than a month since the intersection at the right turn lane was dug up and finally resurfaced for the first time in 10 years, it was closed and dug up big-time. We don't know what's going on but they've cut that exit route off completely. This means that the other way out is now trying to cope with all the outgoing traffic in the afternoon and because of the layout of the road, the only way to get on to it is to turn left across traffic coming into the park. Of course, drivers being what they are, none of them leave any gaps when the traffic stops moving, so you can't turn across traffic to join the exodus because there's nowhere to join. The result is obvious. Mile-long queues to get out of the park and queues 40 to 50 cars deep on all the feeder roads because nobody can turn left to join the main exit. And the result of that is obvious too - crashes galore - reducing the two lanes down to one. So basically, we have just lost 2/3 of the road capacity for leaving work in the afternoon. Guess I'll be coming home at 3pm for the next 3 weeks then ....

Winter's coming :-)

Sep 15, 2011 | | 0 comments |

The mornings are getting brisk, it's dark by 8pm and the leaves are starting to turn. Best time of year is close at hand ;-)

A thing of beauty

Sep 8, 2011 | | 0 comments |

A Friend of mine has slowly been upgrading his Ford Mustang. Brakes, suspension, bodywork and so on. But today was the icing on the cake. We went down to the place where he has all the work done to gaze upon a thing of beauty: a twin screw Whipple supercharger. It sounds awesome, it looks awesome, and the air intake is big enough to get your arm into. The question now is can he drive it with this much power without damaging himself or the car? Actually, the real question is how soon he's going to need a new set of tyres on the rear :-)

The lowest common denominator

Aug 29, 2011 | | 0 comments |

So what do you think the most tweeted topic was this week? Earthquake in New York? Hurricane Irene? Fukushima radiation leaks equal to 68 Hiroshima bombs? Some other major topic of gravitas and importance?
Not even close.
Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement during the MTV VMA show resulted in 8,868 tweets per second.
We're all doomed if that classifies as "news" now.

Please explain Spotify to me.

Aug 24, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Spotify is one of the interweb's big mysteries to me at the moment. Every time I ask someone to explain it to me, all I get is "dude it's freakin awesome!". Ok but why? What is it that makes it so awesome? It seems to me like the Papa Murphy's of the music world (the pizza company that don't deliver, and when you pick it up, it's not cooked)
Spotify seems to have a wide range of mainstream music that you can't own, and can't listen to unless you have an unlimited data connection (no cellphone company does those any more), are in range of wifi or have a hard-wired network. So you can't really listen to it on a motorbike. Or in a car. Or on a plane. Or in a train.
Which to me seems - well - pointless?
Plus, if you don't own the music you're paying for, then Spotify can pull an Amazon on you and just arbitrarily take away what you've paid for.
My mp3 player on the other hand - 32Gb of music there, in the palm of my hand. 12 solid days of music that travels with me wherever I go and doesn't need a license, or a data connection, or a network. I can listen to it anywhere.

So please - without telling me that it's cool, someone explain to me what the hell it is about Spotify that has everyone hooked. Are they giving away free drugs with every signup or something? And if it's so cool, why don't they let you search their song list without signing up? For that matter, why do you need an invite? Why can't just anyone sign up? What are they hiding? It's like some super secret masonic club that the have's are not allowed to explain to the have-not's.

Energy efficient? It's just about printing dollar bills!

Aug 12, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Holy shitballs batman!
We had a new air conditioning condenser unit installed about 7 weeks ago. I wanted something a bit newer because the old one sounded like a diesel train. The newer ones are supposedly more energy efficient.

Well they're not bloody kidding.

Since 2005, our electricity bill for July into August has been anything from $95 at the low end to $150 at the high end. It's never been below $90 since we bought the house 9 years ago. We have a fairly consistent usage too - TV and console gaming in the evening, several loads of washing a week, AC during the day and so on - we're creatures of habit.

Today I received our bill for the same time period this year: $85.
So I checked the kWh usage to make sure there wasn't something dodgy going on with the pricing. Turns out, as you'd expect the price of electricity has only gone up, so it has to be the actual usage that caused the drop in price. I'll say:

This year, 818kwH, average daytime temp was 78F, average kWh/day was 26
2010, 1084kwH, average daytime temp was 81F, average kWh/day was 36
2008, 1091kwH, average daytime temp was 79F, average kWh/day was 36
2007, 1091kwH, average daytime temp was 79F, average kWh/day was 37
2006, 1109kwH, average daytime temp was 80F, average kWh/day was 38


The SiriusXM problem

Aug 11, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Here in America we have satellite radio - it's a great idea - commercial-free radio, anywhere in the country without needing to re-tune. The chink in the armour is that it's not commercial-free. You pay for it, then they still put commercials on the air. That might not be so bad if the programming was top-notch but it isn't. There's dozens of Nascar, country & westersn, and R&B channels, then there's Howard Stern who nobody cares about any more, and that's it.
Except it isn't. Or wasn't. The saviour of SiriusXM was that they streamed a time-shifted version of BBC Radio 1 from the UK. Time-shifted, as in you get the morning show in the morning, delayed by 5 hours from when it aired in the UK. This was the only reason we subscribed to SiriusXM, and it turns out that was the case for a lot of other people too. Three days ago, the agreement with the BBC ran out and SiriusXM pulled BBC Radio 1 off their stream and replaced it with an advert telling us similar music could be found on other channels. Apparently they missed the memo. Radio 1 isn't about the music - it's about Radio 1 - the DJs, the live sets, the morning shows - the entire package.
Anyway, their Facebook page has pretty much melted down with complaints, as have their phone lines in Canada and the US. Which is funny because they have 200+ channels of programming and their comments and complaints section of their own website and their Facebook page was dribbling along at two or three comments a day. Since Tuesday morning, both have been consumed with complaints about them removing Radio 1. It would seem that 21 million BBC Radio 1 listeners in the US are the only thing propping SiriusXM up, and now it's gone, people are cancelling their subscriptions in the thousands. Us included. We've still got the hardware of course so if they bring it back we can sign up again and get the new customer bonus.
The BBC finally broke their silence on this issue yesterday after all their twitter and Facebook feeds also melted down and they are renegotiating with SiriusXM to renew the service. So they say. I guess we'll wait and see. For now, our iPad has been pressed into duty as a makeshift radio, bluetoothed to a set of speakers in the house. But there's something just wrong about listening to Greg James in the morning - it should be Chris Moyles ....

I'm sore.

Aug 6, 2011 | | 1 comments |

We'd planned a little motorbike ride today - 200 miles or so - but with some on-the-fly rejigging and a the addition of some extra mountain routes, we ended up doing 380 miles instead. I'm bloody knackered. The good news is that we did the best 40 miles of motorcycle road in the country twice - once down and once up Huntington canyon. Wide sweeping turns with very few side roads. Perfect road surface, zero traffic, excellent sight lines in every bend. There is a 45mph speed limit on it though which is a total crime against road users. In a car you can safely and easily average 65mph. On a bike, the average is closer to 80mph. Actually - I tell a lie - we did see one other road user in the 80 mile round trip down and up the canyon. It was a guy in a tricked-out Lancer Evo 10 who was obviously enjoying the road as much as we were. The best part is that since the mining accident down that way a few years ago, the mine was closed so there's no truck traffic any more, and unless you're going from A to B, there's no reason to use that road. And not many people go from A to B that way anyway - they tend to stick to the longer but allegedly quicker route out on the flat. Actually no - the best part is that in all the times we've been up and down that road, we've never seen a police car, sheriff, or any form of law enforcement.
Which is all great news for those of us who enjoy riding / driving.

The Huntington Canyon Assault Team:

Why are the republicans against a debt ceiling increase?

Jul 27, 2011 | | 1 comments |

If you believe the current Republican rhetoric, Obama is the root of all evil and nothing he says or wants can be any good for the country. Speaking specifically about the debt, the way Fox News and the other Republican stalwarts are reporting it, you'd think this was the first time in history that the debt ceiling was a problem. They're also plenty happy to point out that the debt has gone up by 40% since Obama took office.

So we need to go back into history a little ways to see the trend here, to shed some light on this hypocrisy. Because that's what it is.

If we look at the Carter era onwards, which is the most relevant to most people now, it looks like this:

Carter - debt went up from $0.698Tr in 1977 to $0.997Tr in 1981. Up 42% in 4 years.

Reagan - debt went up from $0.997Tr in 1981 to $2.857Tr in 1989. Up 186% in 8 years. Debt ceiling increased 6 times: February 1981, June 1982, November 1983, October 1984, August 1986, July 1987.

Bush Snr - debt went up from $2.857Tr in 1989 to $4.411Tr in 1993. Up 54% in 4 years. Debt ceiling increased 3 times: August 1989, October 1990 (twice, once on the 2nd, once on the 25th).

Clinton - debt went up from $4.411Tr in 1993 to $5.807Tr in 2001. Up 32% in 8 years. Debt ceiling increased 2 times: April 1993, March 1996.

Bush Jnr - debt went up from $5.807Tr in 2001 to $11.909Tr in 2009. Up 105% in 8 years. Debt ceiling increased 7 times: June 2002, May 2003, November 2004, March 2006, September 2007, July 2008, October 2008.

Obama - debt is going up by about the same rate as Reagan and both Bush's, on target for between 80% and 100% in 8 years. Debt ceiling increase voted down 3 times so far in February 2009, December 2009, February 2010.

It's interesting to see that the Republicans unanimously voted in favour of all the debt ceiling increases from 1997 to 2008 (http://www.opencongress.org/articles/view/2295-A-Brief-History-of-Debt-Limit-Votes-in-the-House). Actually, when you go looking, they've been pretty much in favour of it all the time, right up to 2008. Historically, the debt has risen at a greater rate when the GOP has been in power.

So why are they now so against it? Is it because the President is Black?

So next time a Republican starts spouting off about this topic, there's some facts for you. You can go and check them yourselves - they're all available on the various Fed websites and publications if you care to go looking. Of course most Republicans would rather just spout nonsense and screw the actual facts (Glenn Beck, are you listening?)

Running away from the future

Jul 21, 2011 | | 1 comments |

So the last ever Shuttle mission landed today. Forty years ago we were walking on the moon. Twenty years ago we were in orbit. Now we're grounded, in the west at least. Japan, China and India march on with their space programs, and Europe and America now rely solely on the Russians just to get into low earth orbit. The ultra conservative right are cheering because now they see this as no longer "wasting" money on "pointless" space programs (their words, not mine). That attitude would have been fun a few centuries ago. What would the world be like if the conquistadors, or Columbus, had looked west across the ocean and said "I think we'll just stay in tonight" ? It bugs me immensely that Obama cancelled the Orion program. I like him as a president but his decision to basically shut down NASA boggles the mind. Are we suddenly afraid of spending money on science? Of course the usual argument is "it could be being used on more socially responsible programs". Well you know what? The 4 trillion dollars that Bush cost this country by taking us to war on a lie could have funded those same programs, and NASA, ten times over. Shit - the US military spends $20million a year just to air condition the troop tents in Iraq! I guess it's better to go to war than to fund scientific advancement though, and all those bleating Republicans will be the first to complain when an asian country plants their flag on the moon, or Mars.
America has suffered the same fate that England did when it retired Concorde. Financial prudence and the demands of bloated, greedy shareholders took precedent over scientific advancement.
We are marching backwards into the dark ages here in the west. It's tragic that the politicians and string-pullers are so short-sighted now. Think where this country could have been if we'd spent $4trillion on science, space programs, stem cell research, infrastructure and social programs over the last ten years.

Applying religion to road accidents

Jul 15, 2011 | | 2 comments |

There was a nasty accident on one our favourite motorcycling roads yesterday morning. A blocked culvert resulted in a 20ft section of road collapsing into a 40ft deep hole. It happened around 2am and the road is right out in the boonies and completely unlit. A couple of girls didn't see it and drove right into it, being killed instantly as their car slammed into the wall of the hole and then rolled over and fell 40ft to the bottom. That's bad enough but they had their parents on TV last night and one of the mothers said this:
"I guess the Lord had more important plans for her than I did."

I have no patience for religious lunacy like this. No mystical being that lives in the clouds had any plan for her daughter. It was a tragic accident that is entirely explainable.

Lets put it this way - if there was a God and his plan was to kill this girl in a tangled mess of crushed metal at the bottom of a 40ft ditch, that isn't a supreme being I'd want anything to do with.

Netflix are doing it wrong

Jul 13, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I loved Netflix. They saved us from the hell of going to the cinema or having to rent movies from local stores (where the service was nil). Having streaming content was a nice bonus too - a great way to catch up on old shows.
But today, they've almost doubled the price for us because in order to "offer customers more choice" they've now split their DVD/BluRay rental and streaming services into two different price plans. Instead of $11 a month, they now want me to pay $19 a month for rental + streaming.
Well done Netflix - you're actually driving people towards piracy now.
I've never pirated a movie. Never needed to. Store rentals, and then Netflix meant I didn't have to suffer the excruciating pain of sitting in a room full of people texting, talking, and herding screaming children (or a "cinema" as you might know it). But this looks like the beginning of the end. I believe Netflix might be trying to become a streaming-only supplier and that won't work for a couple of reasons.
(1) They don't have the technology, and nobody at home has the bandwidth to stream HD at 1080p with 5.1 surround.
(2) If we did have the bandwidth to do that, you know the internet providers would slap extra use charges and data caps on the home lines.
So in order to properly enjoy HD, the ONLY way to do it is to have BluRay - proper HD with full surround, not the crappy compressed 720p stereo stuff that Netflix are peddling as "HD" right now. If they ditch the disc rental part of their business, what are consumers to do? Cinemas are dead as far as I can see - it's pointless trying to watch a movie in one - the digital projectors break down all the time and the patrons are boorish and don't understand the basic premise behind watching a movie in public. (ie. shut the fuck up and watch it). You can't get HD through streaming, and I don't know anyone who regularly buys movies any more - who in their right mind is going to pay $25 for a BluRay of every movie they want to see?
That leaves only one option - movie piracy. If that's what it comes down to, I'll have no hesitation in pulling BluRay rips off P2P networks.
For the time being though, Netflix are now making less money off us because I downgraded our plan to disc-only and ditched the streaming service. I wonder how many other people will do the same thing? Or are they just relying on the normal sheeple attitude, in which case, Netflix will become no better than cable channels in terms of constantly upping the price for no good reason.
Please Netflix - don't force me into movie piracy. I like your rental service.

The high roads are open

Jun 25, 2011 | | 0 comments |

As much as I love the long, cool spring and cool summer so far, it did mean that the high mountain passes were all still snowed up. Two days ago one of the best roads around here was finally opened up and today we rode the Monte Cristo pass. The ride was spectacular with 10ft snow banks either side of the road where the augers and ploughs had cleared it away. It was an interesting comparison to our first ride up there last year which was in the first week in May, to completely clear roads. We went from 35°C down in the valley to 10°C up on top between the snow banks. There were some slow moving pickup trucks and a swarm of crazy slow Hardly Ablesons that we dispatched in fairly short order and after that it was basically 40 miles of traffic-free, police-free bliss. We stopped for lunch in a tiny little place called Randolph which, according to a plaque in their town centre, has increased in population from 480 in 1896 to 490 today. Not your typical Mormons. Finished the day by reversing the route and riding back over the pass for a second helping. Lovely.

Too much choice.

Jun 22, 2011 | | 0 comments |

My favourite local burger restaurant (#CrownBurger if you must know) recently installed a new soda machine. It's a Coke Freestyle. Now I love technology but this is taking the piss.
Rather than a row of dispensers, there's a single nozzle and a touch screen where you can choose one of 134 different drinks (133 flavoured, plus water). Getting just plain Coke or Diet Coke is actually pretty difficult.
First, you're faced with a screen with 19 icons - the different "base" drinks. Once you've found the one you want, you're presented with all the variations of it.
These are the ones you're offered for diet coke:
Diet Coke
Diet Coke lime
Diet Coke vanilla
Diet Coke orange
Diet Coke cherry
Diet Coke raspberry
Bear in mind you can have those flavours in regular Coke, Coke zero and caffeine-free Coke too. And Sprite with all its variations. And Fanta. And so on and so forth.

This is bad on all accounts. First, there's just too damn much choice, and getting a simple drink is no longer simple. Second, Americans, for the most part, when presented with this much choice, either can't make a decision, or decide that the exact combination they want isn't in the machine. Result: the line for the drinks machine is huge now. Third, people of a certain age haven't a fucking clue what the machine is, much less how to operate it. And fourth, because it all comes out of a single spout, it doesn't matter what you think you ordered, you're getting remnants of the last five people's drinks mixed in with yours.

Still - if you want some fun, press the 'water' button then look for the three water drops on the top-right of the display that form a triangle. Tap them in sequence, clockwise from the top, twice, and you'll get into the technician's service menu. From there, you really can have some fun .....

A lovely summer so far

Jun 17, 2011 | | 0 comments |

For the past ten years of living in Utah, summer has been one of those nasty times of year that we have to endure to get to the more tolerable weather of spring, autumn and winter. Endless 40°C days, blast-furnace winds that dry out everything from your skin to your garden and sun so blazing it's just too hot to be outside.
But this year, things are looking up - we've had 60 days below average temperature so far and haven't even approached 30°C yet. The hottest days of the year are nearly always around July 24th after which it starts to cool off - that's only 5 weeks away and by this point we're normally dying of heat.
The downside of course is that it's still snowing in the mountains, and we still have most of the winter snowpack still to come down which means we're enduring flooding in places. But people's gardens and the parks look beautiful and green for a change. Trees and bushes are thriving, roses and other plants are going gangbusters.
I suppose the only downside is that the motorcycling is a bit sketchy at the moment. The only mountain pass that is open right now is Wolf Creek and that's only been open for two weeks. Normally it's clear in April. Monte Cristo pass - an excellent riding road that is normally open by the middle of May still has 25ft of snow on it in the third week in June.
But you know what - I can tolerate later riding seasons in return for not feeling like I'm living in an oven for three months of the year.

When will the BBC catch up?

Jun 12, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Because of a very rain-delayed Grand Prix today, we missed most of it - the timer expired on our DVR. No problem, I thought, BBC will have it on their iPlayer. They do, but because we live in America, they won't stream here, despite it clearly stating in the BBC's own T's & C's that you don't need territorial restrictions or a subscription to watch iPlayer content if it's not live - ie. repeats.
The Beeb have clearly invested a lot of money in preventing anyone from watching their shows (no number of VPNs or proxies will fool iPlayer any more) - money that the English license-payer has paid. Sadly, it seems that even though their own terms and conditions allow it, and even though we get the BBC via our satellite subscription, we're being excluded.
The BBC need to wake up and follow their own rules.
And no, I don't want to know the result - we're going to watch Speed TV's re-run on Tuesday (because Fox bollocksed-up the US transmission over here all on their own).

My nemesis : The Vending Machine

Jun 7, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have no patience for machines that should be simple but don't work. Vending machines are a particular bugbear. It ought to be simple. Take money, give change, deliver product. It seems that nobody is able to build a vending machine that works though. And the one in our office is a particularly shining example of that variety. Over the past three years, it shows any combination of the following traits on a daily basis:
Takes money but doesn't vend.
Takes money, vends but doesn't give change.
Won't take any money.
Vends frozen cans.
Demands exact change but doesn't accept the coinage needed to make exact change.

This morning it demonstrated an all-new trick. It opened up with the familiar "takes money but gives no change" gambit but then introduced a twist - warm cans of drink that explode when you open them. It's a good job we have cheap carpet on the floors around here because mine is now covered in a large sticky patch of cola.

You know - I think I could invent a vending machine that accidentally did a better job than the pile of shite we have to contend with here.

The Gatwick Grand Prix

Jun 1, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Walking around the area around Gatwick airport this week (I'm staying in a hotel near there whilst away on business) it occurred to me that there is very nearly a ready-made F1 Grand Prix track here. Of course it could never happen but if you open the attached KMZ file in Google Earth, you'll see the route I think would work. The Start/Finish would be in the tunnel outside the terminal building, then the track would arc out on the exit road, around the roundabout and out to the M23. Loop around the elevated roundabout over the M23 and back towards the airport. Turn in towards the south terminal, and then swing left towards Slumberger house with a tight right back towards the terminal. Zip past the long term parking and back on to the straight outside the terminal. 2.91 miles. Plenty of places to put grandstands and such.

Well. We can dream.
Gatwick Grand Prix (kmz)

Fastest trip across the Atlantic ever

May 29, 2011 | | 0 comments |

So I'm travelling again, this time on business. If you've not been living under a rock for the last month you'll be aware of the horrendous storms that have swept across the midwest of America. Well those translated into an incredible jetstream across the Atlantic last night. The normal 7hr 50min flight took a mere 7 hours. We arrived so early that we ended up stacked over London for nearly an hour flying endlessly round and round. Although that's normal practice now - when we came over on vacation a couple of weeks ago, the flight would have arrived on time but again we were stacked in a holding pattern.

As a side note, when I arrived at Heathrow this morning, I didn't see a single European person either in the passport hall, the baggage hall or waiting outside arrivals. They were all Indian, Turkish and Pakistani. It actually took me by surprise when the doors to the arrival hall slid open and I was presented with what looked like Delhi Central Station. And this isn't being racist, but, it smelled like Delhi Central Station too.

The mystery of the messed up shoulder

May 28, 2011 | | 0 comments |

For a while now I've had quite a limited range of motion in my left
shoulder. Plus it hurts like hell if I get my arm into certain
positions. I gave in and went to see the doctor a while back and after
a couple of visits I ended up having an MRI scan yesterday. The extent
of the problem in my shoulder is quite alarming. I would expect this
amount of trouble if I was a rugby player or took part in some other
regular activity involving falling, crushing or mashing my joints. But
I'm a sedentary creature so quite how this happened I don't know. As
best as I can figure, I probably did it during my huge ski crash a few
years ago and its only now becoming a problem. Either way, at some
point I'm going to end up in surgery for this. Must remember to put
that off until after my planned big motorbike tour in Colorado in
July. That would just be inconvenient if I had to cancel that :-)

I hate DRM

May 22, 2011 | | 0 comments |

For ages now I've been getting "free" digital copies of movies packaged in with BluRays that I buy. Never thought anything of them - not much point really given that I have a home theatre. But this morning I thought I'd load up my iPhone with a couple of movies for an upcoming trip. Popped the disc in to my PC - no problem - brought up iTunes and it asked me for a redemption code.
What the bloody hell is a redemption code? I've got the digital copy - it's right here in my machine. Why do I need a code to get the movie off the disc? And where is it. iTunes tells me it's in the "insert" but none of my BluRays have "inserts". The box has two discs in it, and a sleeve around the outside.
So is this the latest great DRM scam from Hollywood? Do I need to re-buy the movies via a redemption code before I can watch what I've already bought?
Shit like this is why people pirate movies. I've never ripped or pirated a movie and long since gave up doing it to music, but I'm off now to find out how I can rip my movies on to my iPhone because I legally own them and I'll be damned if I'm going to buy a bloody redemption code to watch something I already own.

Heathrow's terminal 5 shopping mall.

May 18, 2011 | | 1 comments |

So I'm enduring the bloody mess that is terminal 5 at Heathrow at the
moment. It's a mess because, like all UK airports, actually traveling
is the last thing this place was designed for. Instead it's awash with
high end shops and eateries where you can't get anything as basic as a
bacon sandwich. I could have a tuna nicoise with elegant salad flowers
and rustic artisan bread if wanted, and if I had £10 to spare. Or I
could spend £2 for a bottle of coke, or £6 for a fancy coffee. But
basic food is nowhere to be found. Even the pre-packed sandwiches are
fruit to sound clever. It's ham and bloody cheese, not mediterranean
this and authentic southern that on a wholemeal fair trade something
or other.
Also as with all UK airports, the passengers are treated like
children. They refuse to post the gate numbers until half an hour
before the flight leaves. The airports think that forcing everyone to
sit in a cramped shithole will make them go and use the shops.
Instead it results in pissed off frequent fliers and a scrum when the
flight is called as 400 people all try to get to the gate at once.
Wouldn't be a problem in an airport but when all those people have to
dodge and weave through expensive shops to get go the gate, things get
a bit dicey. The other effect of course is that there are constant
announcements for people about to miss their flights. Because instead
of treating us like adults and printing the gate number on the
boarding pass, we're all forced to sit watching TV monitors.
We've been here for 20 minutes now and I honestly have no idea where
the planes are. I mean they must be here somewhere, behind the YSL
store, tucked next to Harrods or something.
Either way, for a frequent traveller, this place sucks donkey balls.
Just like every other UK airport. I'd hoped they would have figured
out how airports work when they built T5 but sadly not.

The sad state of England

May 15, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Things are bad. Really bad. The country roads are plagued with drivers
who are terrified of going faster than 45mph. The motorways are
clogged with police vans and average speed cameras forcing everyone to
do 50mph. Even the motorcyclists seem to have lost their balls; I had
a group of them pull out in front of me at Box Hill this afternoon.
"No problem - they'll get away quickly" I thought. But no. They
accelerated at bloody walking pace. The police state has destroyed
driving for everyone over here. Then there's the cost of fuel. Filled
the rental car today and it cost me $132 for 15 gallons! How can
people afford to drive?
New police and council powers mean that councils can go through your
rubbish and fine you if you put the wrong thing in the wrong bin. They
can spy on you without warrants and CCTV cameras have tripled or
quadrupled in number in the last few years, but crime has skyrocketed
so they're still doing no good. Short term loan rates are running at
1470% APR (that isn't a typo) and bank interest rates are at 0.25%.
Gas and electric prices have gone up 50% in the last year and they're
forecast to go up another 20-30% this year. Thieves are stealing
lightning rods for copper and lead from church roofs.
The government makes ours back in America look like a super talented
collection of geniuses. The papers and the public are more infatuated
with celebrity gossip than the Americans.
Public transport is on it's knees. Police forces are being slashed
across the country and the national health service is bankrupt with
record waiting times for even the most basic medical procedures now.
I'm so glad we left. England is broken and I don't think the people
who live there can see it. The pot has boiled and the frog is well and
truly dead. I worry for our friends and family left in the UK but I'm
not sure how I can help :-(

Avis vs Hertz.

May 10, 2011 | | 2 comments |

It turns out there's a big difference between Avis and Hertz in
England. I'm in the preferred programs for both companies - have been
for ages. Whenever I turn up at the Hertz desk, the response every
single time is "we don't have a car for you". At Avis, I can turn up,
my name is on the board and I can just get in the car and go. As it
should be. It's worth pointing out that back home in America, both
Hertz and Avis work perfectly in this respect. But in England, Hertz
is just crap in a way that only the English can manage. So if you find
yourself renting a car at an airport in England, just don't go to
Hertz. It's not worth the hassle.

Vroom vroom

May 5, 2011 | | 3 comments |

Today I finally got the chance to drive on a racetrack for the first
time. I spent the morning with a friend out at our local motorsports
track doing a Ford Mustang track morning. We had about 30 minutes of
classroom session flowed by a familiarisation lap around the track in
a bus. At that point we each got assigned our own race-prepared
Mustang and it was game on. We had to follow the instructor around the
track in a procession. Every two laps, the lead student car went to
the back so everyone got a chance to drive quick whilst following the
instructor up close. Once our laps were done, we got to do a couple of
laps as a passenger with the instructor driving. At which point we
realised just how relatively slow we'd been going. I say relatively
because we were 'only' doing 120mph on the front straight and 'only'
averaging 50mph in the turns. So what. It seemed quick to me even
though I know the car was capable of far more, and more importantly it
was a blast. I can thoroughly recommend this sort of thing if you have
the resources and facilities close by. You'll come away with a
mile-wide grin.

So Bin Laden's Dead. Now what?

May 3, 2011 | | 1 comments |

It was worrying but not unexpected to see Americans celebrating in the streets in the last couple of days at the death of Bin Laden. Problem is, it looked just like the mobs you see celebrating in the middle east after they've shot down a US helicopter, or after a successful terrorist attack. I'm sure the irony of that is lost on most Americans and from what was being said on the news last night, it looks like the country is split firmly in half again. Half the country think the world is a safer place and genuinely believe with all their hearts that this is the end of all the problems. The other half live in reality and understand that this is simply a big victory in an otherwise unwinnable war. The potential for retaliation is enormous and the most obvious target isn't the American public but the commander in chief.
The best news to come out of the whole event wasn't Bin Laden's death itself - that was relatively minor. Rather that the SEAL team grabbed dozens of laptops, memory sticks and external hard drives. The potential data those could reveal is far more valuable than one dead enemy.

Ooh that's going to smart.

May 2, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I bet Dubya is absolutely fuming today. The one thing he couldn't do was done last night under a different President. Osama was killed in a US raid on a village in Pakistan.
So we've cut the existing head off the snake - great news. Do we know the name of the new head yet?

And it gets worse

Apr 30, 2011 | | 0 comments |

The flooding potential gets worse by the day. Last day in April and we
have snow on the ground. Its not a lot, but this much snow down here
means another couple of feet in the mountains. Forecast for next two
weeks: rain.

The Royal Wedding

Apr 28, 2011 | | 3 comments |

Please make it stop. No - seriously - make it stop. We don't need 24/7 blanket coverage of some couple getting married.
I'm not sure why royal weddings garner so much attention. I suppose it's because people nowadays seem to revel in the goings-on of celebrities but that too is something I don't understand.
At it's core, this is a guy who is famous because of the family he was born into, marrying a woman who is shortly to become famous for being married to someone famous. Everyone will have a wonderful day, and there'll be tea and crumpets and the entire country will get a day off for some reason. Spirits will be raised for a couple of hours and everyone will be friends, but then shortly afterwards, reality will come crashing in and then everyone will return to their everyday lives and it will all be forgotten about.
The royal wedding isn't going to solve the financial crisis, or help someone who's just lost their house, or help out the victims of the disasters in Japan. Yet it will get tons of attention lavished upon it and for what? It's just two people getting married. Wouldn't the money that Hello magazine will no doubt pay for exclusive photos be better spent helping out people that actually deserve attention as oppose to the royal family, who are the last people that need attention (or money for that matter). Maybe a low-key private ceremony would be more appropriate than blowing millions of taxpayer's pounds on a high-profile, self-promoting luvvie-fest? The money not spent on the wedding could be used to benefit William's mum's landmine charity. Or cancer research.
And why are the Americans so obsessed with it .... ?

In terms of flooding, we're screwed.

Apr 26, 2011 | | 0 comments |

In the grand scheme of things, you can predict some parts of the future with a fair amount of certainty. Lincoln will never make a good looking car. The Republicans will never care about anyone other than the rich. Tonight it will be dark and tomorrow it will be light. In the same fashion, it's fair to say that Utah is screwed in terms of flooding this year.
The graph below shows one of the snotel sites for Utah - it doesn't matter which one - at this point in time they're all pretty much the same.
The purple line shows our average snow accumulation and melt.
The blue line shows the previous record high snow year, when the meltwater resulted in rivers 10ft deep flowing through the centre of the city.
The green line is this year.
The important thing to note here is that the green line has not yet started going down - we're still accumulating snow and this morning we're likely to get another 2ft up in the mountains. Even on the worst year, the snowmelt typically starts just around April 1st. This year we're looking at another week of snow at least before the temps get high enough for any of this to start to melt.
When that happens, Utah is going to learn some very important lessons and storm drainage, building houses on flood plains, and woeful bridge design. Hopefully our house won't be affected - we're high enough up, on a good enough slope between two creeks that we ought to be OK. I wouldn't fancy my chances down in the valley though.

Tron Legacy

Apr 24, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Well we finally got to watch Tron Legacy last night. That movie is
absolutely beautiful to watch. For a Tron fan like me it was a perfect
mix of story, in jokes, back references and amazing graphics. The Daft
Punk soundtrack was spot on all the way through too. It was never
going to set the world on fire for plot or character development but
that's not what Tron is about. Plus it looks like a directed third
movie could be made to finish off the story (such as it is).
If you haven't seen it, you really should. Oh and don't waste your
time with the 3D thing. The regular BluRay does it perfect justice.

Great joke

Apr 22, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I heard a great one-liner at lunch today.

Q:What's the worst part about the TSA groping 24-year-olds?

A:There's twenty of them.....

Nearly choked on a french fry.

Tax the rich

Apr 13, 2011 | | 3 comments |

In what will come as no surprise to anyone, the Republicans have
started complaining about the end of the Bush-era tax cuts again after
Obama flat refused to renew them. It makes sense to me that if you
earn more, you pay more in taxes. That's what is proposed to help out
the national debt. The Republicans however think that taxes should be
cut further for the rich whilst healthcare costs should go up for the
poor and elderly. At it's best, that is crazy. At it's worst that is
destructive to the country. They argue that taxing the rich will
reduce jobs because they equate rich individuals with companies. No.
One of my super wealthy lunchmates does not employ anyone. He is
simply wealthier than average and so should pay more in taxes. How
difficult is that to understand? Apparently it's impossible for the
GOP to understand because all they care about is war, protecting the
rich and safeguarding corrupt corporations.
The GOP want less government spending and want the economy to recover.
We all do. The difference is that their methodology is fundamentally
flawed. Cutting taxes to the richest people won't make the government
any more money or create any new jobs. Everyone is getting very bent
out of shape over this when in reality it only affects families with
an income over $250,000 a year. Within my circle of friends in four
different countries, not one of them or their families earns even
close to that amount yet the Republicans insist that these tax hikes
will affect "just about everybody". Do you earn over a quarter of a
million a year? If so, can I have some? I have a car and a house to
pay off.....

It warms my heart

Apr 9, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I went downtown today to find our new Fiat dealer, and holy crap! They
have all the Fiat500 variants in all the colours. It was lovely to see
rows of these little beauties sitting there waiting for new owners. I
spoke to the manager and he said they've been open for two weeks and
have sold twelve cars with four others on special order already. Ok
twelve doesn't sound like a lot but for a new dealership selling
European cars in the US, that's a fantastic start. Interestingly it
looks like the Abarth version is coming to the US in Q4 this year with
a new 170hp engine - more powerful than the Euro Abarth. Nice. I sat
in the Sport version and these things are loaded from the factory.
Bluetooth, satellite radio, heated everything, seven airbags, leather.
The list goes on. Even the most basic model will embarrass most US
cars now. I can see this competing directly with the new Ford Fiesta
over here which is similarly priced and loaded.
Mmmmmm. Dammit. We don't need (and can't afford) a new car right now :-(

Springtime in the rockies

Apr 8, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I love snow because I love the winter time. But this early spring snow we've been having over the last few weeks concerns me now because of the trees in our garden. Most of them are starting to bud and leaf and heavy wet snow isn't doing them any good at all. We've lost three big limbs on our cherry tree so far and I'm hoping it will survive after that mauling. Rain at this time of year is fine and light, fluffy Utah snow would be awesome but it's too warm for that now. I'm hoping this weekend will be the last of this and that we transition to spring showers now.
It's one of the oddities of living here - one day it's 20 degrees, the next day we have snow on the ground.

Utah in the springtime

Apr 3, 2011 | | 1 comments |

I really love Utah in the springtime. This spring in particular
because the winter has really lasted. Technically it's been spring for
a couple of weeks and earlier this weekend it was nearly 20 degrees.
This morning we awoke to below zero temps and about 10cm of fresh snow
on the ground. By this afternoon a lot of it had melted and by
tomorrow it will all be gone again. It's nice because it's delaying
the onset of the insufferably hot weather. It's bad because late snow
like this is terribly destructive to the trees. There were lots of
branches down this morning but I think we got lucky this time. All our
trees seemed to hold up.
The other reason we sort of need a long cool spring is because this
year we have the highest snowpack in recorded history. If it warms up
quick, we are going to see really bad flooding. In the early 80s when
they had the previous highest snowpack, downtown flooded and the great
salt lake came up so high that they built pumps in the west desert to
pump it out in case it ever got that high again. Hope they kept up the
maintenance on them. We might need them this year. So roll on a long
cool spring and preferably a cool summer like we had last year. No 40
degree days suits me just fine.

570 inches

Mar 31, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Since we've lived in Utah, the biggest single-season snowfall we've seen was about 6 years ago when Alta registered a season total of 440 inches of snow.
This year, Solitude - my favourite ski resort - has registered 570 inches of snow so far and there's more to come.
Think about that for a moment. That's 14.5m of snow in real world measurements.
Or to put it another way, when they had a bad flooding problem in Salt Lake City 20-something years ago, they were looking at a total snowpack of just under 500 inches. We're w-a-y above that now and hoping for a slow warmup this spring.
I think this means our reservoirs will be lovely and full this year.

The FAA prove what's wrong with management.

Mar 24, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Did you hear the one about the Washington air traffic controller who dozed off and almost caused a national emergency? No? FAA management in their infinite wisdom decided that the night shift at Washington airport could be covered by one guy. When he fell asleep for 20 minutes and none of the incoming aircraft could contact the tower, all hell broke loose. Now the FAA is slamming the guy for falling asleep and looking at "options" - for example rest breaks and not leaving one guy in the tower alone on the night shift. Door closed. Horse bolted. It would seem obvious to a worker that either of these options should be the norm, not something to be investigated after an incident.

I think this is another example of what is wrong with management in general. Once they get to the point where they do nothing more productive than produce paperwork and attend meetings, they tend to wander off and make stupid decisions - the sorts of decisions that they wouldn't have made before becoming management. And when those decisions turn around and bite them in the arse, it's never their fault because being in management means no personal responsibility or ownership of problems. The FAA are proving this with this tower incident and I'm sure the higher authority - the NTSB - will prove it too.
Air traffic controller falls asleep in Washington

Hybrid do Madonna

Mar 22, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I love Hybrid - I think they're one of the best DJ / Remixer pairs around right now. So I was super excited when my iPod spewed out a long-lost remix I had lying around when Hybrid did the Ministry of Sound back in 1999. Out of the whole set, the 4 minutes around Ray Of Light were bloody brilliant. Listen for yourself :
Hybrid / Madonna - Ray Of Light

American stupidity reaches an epic new low.

Mar 18, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Phew. The world is in balance again. After the science-stupid Brits post, I'm pleased to announce that order has been restored to the world. How? Japanese car manufacturer helplines in the US are now fielding calls from people worried that their Japanese cars have suddenly become radioactive.

American idiots think their Japanese cars are radioactive

That is all.

The English are scientific idiots

Mar 17, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Well this surprised me. In a survey conducted by Birmingham Science City, they discovered that 20% of Brits think light sabres exist and that you can see gravity.


24% think teleportation exists. 50% think memory-erasing technology exists, a-la Men In Black and 40% think Marty McFly wasn't using special effects but an actual hoverboard in Back To The Future.


And these people are being allowed to breed? And I thought some of these random surveys made Americans look bad.

Scientific Ignorance in Brits.

Worst legislature ever

Mar 16, 2011 | | 0 comments |

You know the local government fucked up badly when the eyes of the
country are turned on this state with a universal expression of WTF?
Amongst a great many other bizarre bills that the governor signed, he
signed the bill cutting off the public's right to know what their
elected officials are doing. Not only from the public, but everyone.
Even the press can't submit a grama request now. As the national press
coined it - a black hole of secrecy (just like the predominant religion in this state) worse than cold war Russia.
Seems like the house bill is so unpopular though that a lot of
representatives that voted for it are now doing a quick about-face as
they've realised that their own political careers are going down the
drain simply via association with the bill.
Why is it in today's world that things which are obvious to most
people go right over the heads of those who are supposed to be in the
know? It's like our legislature is filled with NASCAR fans and
WalMart shoppers.....

Not rich

Mar 4, 2011 | | 0 comments |

If you need any more proof that the Republicans are batshit crazy, and
care only for the rich, they're now claiming that a double income
family earning $250,000 a year are not rich. One Republican even went
on TV this week and claimed that amount was borderline poor. Wow. Talk
about being out of touch. This explains why they got their panties in
a twist at the prospect of the Bush tax cuts expiring. Where those of
us in the real world understand that a $250,000 income does indeed
classify as obscenely rich, the Republicans think that is middle
class. So whilst those of who are actually earning a real salary
understand that letting the tax cuts expire would be a good thing
because the rich would be forced to pay their way, the Republicans
wholeheartedly believe that it would affect "everyone in America".

Carl Wimmer

Mar 2, 2011 | | 0 comments |

We have a right wing radical in the Utah state government who is
currently getting all manner of bills put in front of the house and
senate. For example he doesn't understand that in civilized society,
you don't walk around in public carrying a gun. He's working on
getting a bill through that would allow people around here to openly
carry guns in public. At the moment there is at least the class and
exam for a concealed carry permit meaning at least some procedure to
stop just anyone doing that. Mr Wimmer wants to get rid of that too.
Imagine people of WalMart walking around with guns in public! He must
think this is still the wild west of the 1800s.

Mad world.

Feb 25, 2011 | | 1 comments |

These lyrics are very poignant right now :(

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world.

The dregs of the city

Feb 22, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I went bowling on sunday for the first time in ages and what an experience. Our little group was in it for fun, and the guys in the lane next to us were using the oddest bowling techniques and getting strike after strike. They were there for a laugh too. But come 4pm when the league bowlers appeared - well - the aisles of WalMart must have been empty. The bottom of the barrel turned up. Rednecks and yahoos and all manner of NASCAR fans. It was a who's who of white trash stereotypes. From the 500lb behemoth in a luminous green one-piece who could barely walk and had an oxygen tank, to the tattooed skinhead with a vest-top with gigantic arm holes, to the mullet brigade and their accompanying wives with buck teeth, wearing baggy t-shirts and daisy-duke shorts that hadn't seen a washing machine in 5 years.
It was fascinating to see - I had no idea this many weirdos live in such a small area.

How to lose your readers in three easy steps.

Feb 15, 2011 | | 1 comments |

Step 1.
Publish a great magazine with excellent photography and well-written articles.

Step 2.
Announce a tie-in with a mediocre web forum.

Step 3. Stop printing the magazine and move everything to the mediocre website.

I used to read a really good motorcycling magazine called TWO - Two Wheels Only. A year or so ago they started a big tie-in with visordown.com - a myspace-like website that was littered with abominable design, popup ads and a forum full of people with tourette's. Then in September last year, the magazine disappeared from the shelves of my newsagent completely. I figured there was a printing delay or something so I waited a while but come November, still no TWO. No Christmas special either - WTF? Eventually I googled it and discovered they'd simply stopped printing the magazine and turned it into part of visordown.com. The website has undergone a redesign so it's not quite so nasty now but it's still impossible to navigate.
The bigger problem is that it's not a magazine. I can't take it on an aircraft. I can't read it on a train or in the toilet. I can't take it on a ride to browse through after a long day's corner carving.
I can't see any business sense in what they've done but they must have lost almost their entire readership by doing this.


Feb 11, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I found this lingering on my phone today. I took it last week when we
had a cold snap. These temperatures are in C, and trust me - when this
little device showed a 'feels like' temperature of -20C, it was being
optimistic. By all accounts it was closer to -30C with the wind chill.
Things have warmed up a bit now though and we are approaching the time
of year when I can go skiing in the morning then come down and ride
the motorbike in the afternoon.

89c bargain.

Feb 5, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Keeping with the music theme for just a minute, I picked up an absolute steal this week. For the longest time I've been trying to find an MP3 of an ultra-rare mix of a track called 'Jackal'. Turns out it only exists on one CD - a 70-minute continous electronica CD by Tarrentella and Redanka called 'Playback Engineering'. Thanks to Amazon, I picked up a used copy for a whopping 89 cents and in ripping it today, discovered four other tracks on there that I really like. A lot. Turns out these two specialise in doing mixes all layered on top of their signature backbeat. I've heard a couple of tracks over the last few years with this same backbeat - it's unique to these two DJs (here's a sample - loop it and you'll hear their signature backbeat) - and lo and behold, there they are on the CD.
Playback Engineering


Feb 1, 2011 | | 0 comments |

There's a small DJ outfit that's been around for years now called Hybrid. They do trance and breakbeat mixes - really good ones - and I've always liked their stuff. The weird thing is that I'm discovering they have their hands in more and more of the music I like.
I stumbled across a mix today by Jono Fernandez called 'Colours Of Conscience'. Liked it. A lot. Did a little research and lo and behold - the track I was listening to was heavily remixed by Hybrid. Along similar lines, Pandora radio keeps spewing out tracks I might like - oddly enough all mixed or reworked by the same guys.
So I went back a little way in my MP3 collection and I'll be damned. I have more Hybrid tracks, either mixes or reworks by them, than any other single artist or DJ apart from Armin Van Buuren.
Anyway - if you're into this sort of music - trance, dance, techno or breakbeat, give them a look:

Meanwhile, here's a challenge for you. I have a mix of a track called "Control Factor". It's the Noel Sanger remix, and at the beginning of it, there's about 20 seconds of the track before it in the mix it came from. I'm trying to track that down so if you have any ideas, let me know. All I know for sure is that it isn't off the SummerBreeze 2 album. I suspect it has something to do with Thomas Penton and Luis Duran but I also know it's not off their 'control factor remixes' CD :(

Frozen aircraft, part 2.

Jan 29, 2011 | | 0 comments |

Remember the frozen aircraft blog post? I received a letter in the mail this morning from Delta Airlines' customer care director. He was very apologetic about the delay of the flight and credited 2500 more air miles into my Delta account as way of compensation. This was out of the blue - I didn't contact them. Which was nice. I guess that's another perk of being platinum status. The photos below are the ones I took on the day.

"Victim of my own success"


That's a phrase you see used quite a lot and this last couple of weeks I've come to have a new appreciation for what it means. I've been running my CarBibles website for ages and in 2004 I moved it to a new server. Since then its been getting increasingly popular and in the last couple of weeks things have reached breaking point. On the shared server I was on at lunarpages (my host), I was consuming 6% of the server memory and CPU time. It doesn't sound like much but on their cheapest shared hosting plans, each server holds 350 customer sites. ie. you're supposed to use about 0.2% of server capacity. I was using 30 times that much. After a lot of back and forth with their technical guys we determined that I had too much traffic for even one of their VPS servers - nearly private servers where you share with 9 other customers. In the end I had to go with a full dedicated server. ie. in a rack somewhere in California, there's now a server in a farm that is doing nothing but hosting my site.
I also now have a whole new appreciation for how expensive dedicated hosting can be even though they discounted my rate by nearly $500/year for being a long-term customer. The good news though is that being on a dedicated server, the site now has huge bandwidth and full processor and memory availability. Go take a look - Car maintenance bibles.

The ice storm

Jan 20, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I've been in Oklahoma over the past couple of days on business. We
were warned last night of an ice storm today and when we went out to
the car this morning, it was cocooned in a layer of diamond-hard ice.
The ice filed down the plastic scraper it was so hard. But it got more
interesting when it came time to fly home. We had finished early so I
bumped my flight for an earlier one. When I got to the airport, that
flight was oversold so they put me on a 2pm flight in order to give me
an upgrade. That flight was a filler. The plane had been grounded in
the morning because is the ice storm but it needed to get back to Salt
Lake City. So two other passengers and three deadheading aircrew were
put on it along with it's assigned crew to get it home. Problem:
during the storm they had de-iced the plane thinking it was going to
be used. When I wasn't, it was parked on the ramp and the de-icing
fluid settled in the bottom of the engine cowls. It was so cold that
the de-icing fluid then froze, cementing the engine turbine to the
inner ring of the engine cowl. We only discovered this when the pilots
tried to start the engines after pushback. So back to the gate we
went, everyone off, and the engineering crew were sent out to thaw the
engines. It took them nearly two hours using a heat pump to unstick
the turbines. By the time we were ready to go, it was only 45 minutes
before the departure time of my original flight. Our plane still
needed everything else to be de-iced. It took them 40 minutes to get
the diamond-ice off the wings and as we finally left, the later SLC
flight was next in line behind us for takeoff. The difference? I'm
effectively in a business jet. There's six of us up front and
steerage is curtained-off and dark. So it took a while but we finally
got in the air.
Oh - and the temperature during all of this? -15F or -26C. With
supercooled ice suspended in the 30mph wind, the "feels like"
temperature was an impressive -36C.
For those in England, do you think Heathrow would be able to operate
at that temperature?

Making time.

Jan 18, 2011 | | 0 comments |

With my videogame-like attention span these days, I don't make enough
time to do certain things any more. I have something like 34
days-worth of music in iTunes now but I have no real idea what some of
the older stuff is. That's why random play is useful. And in random
play today, an old Frankie Goes To Hollywood track came up. Not Relax,
but Welcome To The Pleasuredome. So on my puddlejumper flight to
Oklahoma, I made time to listen to the whole album, end to end,
probably for the first time since 1987. No remixes. No DJs. Just The
World Is My Oyster right through to Bang! Now I love Relax. It's
pretty much my go-to track for just about any occasion. But I
remembered today how much more awesome it is when listened to in
context with the whole album. I guess what I'm getting at here is that
if you're sick and tired of the 3 minute Justin Bieber specials that
pollute the chart nowadays, dig up and old album you have lying around
and listen to the whole thing. Make the time. It was a pleasant break
from Armin Van Buuren and trance music for me today.

Waiting for the snow

Jan 13, 2011 | | 0 comments |

The temperatures here have come back up a little now. We're averaging about -2°C in the daytime so it's getting back to prime snowing temperature. Long range forecast looks cloudy, but not snowy. The locals are, of course, complaining about the air quality as they always do at this time of year. They're so picky. It's not like London - you can spend a day outside here and not be blowing black snot out of your nose when you get home. But the news always seems to find someone who thinks the air is making their breathing difficult, or their eyes water, or some other ailment. Lets not forget that most Americans have "allergies" but when pressed, they couldn't tell you what, exactly, they are allergic to.

Robby Gordon out of the Dakar rally

Jan 9, 2011 | | 0 comments |

I'm not a huge fan of Robby Gordon. I think he's a dick, frankly. So
it was pleasing news for me to find out that he has been disqualified
from this year's Dakar rally. He destroyed a wheel bearing en route to
the start of a days stage a couple of days ago. But he had been
driving so poorly that his support car was actually ahead of him. He
didn't manage to communicate to the support car until it was way too
late - they'd already started that day's stage. So he's out, and good
riddance. He has totally the wrong attitude for Dakar racing. His
results have got worse each year he's taken part and now he's DQ and
he's gone home (rather than, you know, staying to support the other
racers). Hopefully he'll get the message now. He's not a rally driver
and he's not welcome at the Dakar.


Jan 7, 2011 | | 0 comments |

If you're lucky enough to work for a company that doesn't do trade
shows, you won't really know what the trade show grind is. If you've
been to a trade show, thank your lucky stars if it wasn't CES - the
consumer electronics show. It's the biggest electronics trade show in
the world and to say 'big' really doesn't do it justice. We just
finished day 1 of pounding the floor, fortunately as visitors rather
than vendors, and it's unlike any other show you could imagine.
Panasonic and Samsung have battleship-sized exhibits here. There are
thousands of other vendors too from the electronics giants right down
to the startups that have basically bankrupted themselves to get a
booth here in the hope of scoring their big break. It's an experience,
that's for sure.

Chris (from my NerdPhone)


Salvation from Crapware

Jan 4, 2011 | | 0 comments |

You'll know from reading this blog that I thought Sony and Polyphony did an appalling job with Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3. It was so bad that I've since actually gone out and bought an Xbox360 just so I could play Forza Motorsport 3 instead. And let me tell you it was worth every cent. If you're frustrated with the abject failure of Gran Turismo 5, I urge you to do the same.
Let me explain.
The two biggest flaws in GT5 are the dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks AI (which incidentally doesn't get any better as your driver experience level climbs), and the comically stupid "crash damage" (which also doesn't get any better as the game progresses).
In Forza 3, the crash damage can be set to off, cosmetic, or full. Cosmetic has no effect other than ruining how the car looks. Full damage means that you get heavily punished for driving like a dick. Radiators leak, engines and transmissions get broken, suspension collapses, steering pulls one way or the other - it's a joy, and it's a massive incentive to learn to drive the courses and cars properly.
The other issue - AI - is so far ahead in Forza 3 compared to GT5 that it's impossible to make a true comparison. It would be like a drag race between a McLaren F1 car and a 3-year-old pushing a stroller. I discovered everything I needed to know about Forza's AI in one race; in the third corner, I just had a nose ahead on the car next to me. In GT5, that's a disaster because the driving-on-rails AI would simply turn into you and run you off the track. In Forza, the car next to me altered its line and braked to tuck in behind me. Then four corners later, the two cars in front of me got into some sort of argument about track position, with the inside car sliding into the outside car, and the outside car retaliating. End result? The both crashed, the rear bumper got torn off one of them and I ran over it, damaging my transmission.
There were other things too. Sure Forza runs a lower resolution than GT5 but it doesn't have graphical pop-up. The shading doesn't suddenly change on the other cars. The shadows look great. The tracks have more variety in them. You have massive car customisation options - from custom vinyl and paintwork to infinite tuning of gearboxes and suspension. And unlike GT5 where you can simply win every race by slamming the best of everything into a car, Forza imposes car classes meaning you have to choose very carefully what you put into your car to keep it within the class restrictions but make it competitive. Especially in online racing.
For me, Forza has proven itself to be superior to GT5 in every realm. I urge you to buy it if you haven't already. You'll be amazed at how much more fun and less clinical it is to play than GT5.

Holiday crazy

Jan 1, 2011 | | 0 comments |

It's all about the next chance to merchandise these days. Today we saw
our first in-store Valentine's day display. And milliseconds after the
14th, I'm sure the Easter displays will go up. It's 'tarded. The shops
just want every day to be a holiday-based sale even when the day in
question isn't a holiday.