Saturday, September 01, 2007

NASA is firing up the experimental rocket engine 5M15, which runs on compressed liquid methane. Holy mama!

Black Jack Crack said:
A waste of money. The moon is a gray dead rock that circles the earth, Mars is a red planet that has never sustained life, we are COMPLETELY ALONE.
Those NASA clowns throw away billions of dollars for shit like this when the money could be spent improving our world. Pass me a prozac.

Robert KvH said:
It's always hard to predict what technology will result in a spinoff that can change the world. The drive for miniature electronics got a large push because of the weight and space restrictions of launching things into space. Would you prefer to give up all the satellites in orbit? ie no GPS location, no weather satellites (no hurricane warnings), etc? Exploration of the unknown is an important part of human existence. Similar comments were made about leaving Europe, China, etc. Don't forget, without an accurate chronometer, navigation was wildly inaccurate.

Back to myself:
Indeed. I am not in doubt naysayers have been saying it since the dawn of civilzation: "What? Go gallivanting away on a poinless and expensive adventure to find other towns? When we have so many problems to fix right here in our own town?"

Learnee writee Inglish

Does anybody know a good online course with coaching, for improving my style and grammar in English?

Google speed

Man, Google web crawling/updates have become just insanely fast. I have noticed this recently, and got it shoved in my face right now. I was just looking for data pertaining to my article below, written less than an hour ago, and I'll be damned if the very same article did not show up prominently!

Update: ... and this article showed up within fifteen minutes!

By the way, if you have a site, how about giving me a link? It can only help my google ranking on various subjects.


I'm considering getting some absinthe. It's been a while, but I had a fondness for it in the lifetime as van Gogh. Sure, it might have had a hand in the famous attacks, but who knows, it might have lend an edge to the art too. Worth a try. :)
(Just for the record, my alcohol intake is something like one drink per month.)

From wikipedia:
At the height of this popularity, absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug; the chemical thujone was blamed for most of its deleterious effects. The Lanfray murders of 1906 caused a petition to the Swiss government leading to its outlawing in Switzerland, and, as a chain reaction, other countries. By 1915, it was banned in a number of European countries and the United States.
Though it was vilified, no evidence shows it to be any more dangerous or psychoactive than ordinary alcohol.

I am just remembering that my first ever solo art exhibition took place in a "bar" in Copenhagen called Tannhäuser (after the Wagner opera) in... 1985? I put "bar" in quotes because it was an unusually high class place (or snobby, depending on viewpoint). They did not serve beer, and only played classical music. They were possibly the first place in the world for decades to serve absinthe.

Skinny Puppy

Skinny Puppy is an acquired taste, but they have now stayed in my top ten of favorite bands for nigh twenty years. Rare. Video.
(For some reason in the live version the label named this song "Hexonexxon", it should be named "Hexonxonx" as in the original version.)

Motley Fool

Motley Fool (U.S. or U.K.) is an excellent site for financial advice "for the rest of us".

For example, my bank, in a typical meeting with an "advisor" (read "salesman") had convinced to buy an ISA (tax free savings account in the UK). The setup fee was £500 (a thousand dollars). On Motley Fool I found out I could get the same product with zero setup fee! Luckily it was within the two-week grace period, and I cancelled.
And it is a moments work to go to Fool to look up the best interest rates currently available. And so on.


Gary Winogrand talks photography video.
Thanks to Mike.

Nikon L10

We just talked about good cameras being much cheaper these days. It keeps happening.

"It used to be that any digital camera selling for anything close to $100 was just trash, not worth even that modest expense. With the Nikon Coolpix L10 though, "bargain" doesn't have to mean "junk" any longer." - Review

iPod Goldie

It had to happen: gold plated iPods.

The site won't tell you the price, but rumor has it the smallest one is $19,000. Which is pretty silly. Gold is not that expensive. It's just another way to bleed people who have a lot more money than sense.

If you have money to burn, you need something good to plug it into. How about the $150,000 Steinway Lyngdorf Model-D Music System? I find that more interesting, actually, since the money goes to other things than just status. Though of course one needs to be a real enthusiast or seriously well off to use that kind of money on just a sound system. Oh, and one needs the home to carry it. But damn, they are impressive.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The future of the Net

The future of the Net.


Even the most famous writers had to work for it. First drafts are not always good. Below is the first draft of the first page of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
I got it from Tim Powers on his mailing list. I asked Tim: "Awkward is no overstatement. Are you sure it's a first draft as such? It reads more like an outline."
He answered:
"That Hemingway page was virtually _final_ draft, actually! It's from a carbon of the manuscript that Fitzgerald read "while proofs were being set" at Scribner's! Luckily Fitzgerald read it and wrote Hemingway a letter full of crucial advice, and luckily Hemingway made the appropriate changes. This is all in Matthew Broccoli's book, Scott and Ernest. Hemingway is one of my favorite writers, so it's reassuring to me to see that he could do clumsy stuff that didn't (quite) make it into publication."

This is a novel about a lady. Here name is Lady Ashley and when the story begins she is living in Paris and it is Spring. That should be a good setting for a romantic but highly moral story. As every one knows, Paris is a very romantic place. Spring in Paris is a very happy and romantic time. Autumn in Paris, although very beautiful, might give a note of sadness or melancholy that we shall try to keep out of this story. Lady Ashley was born Elizabeth Brett Murray. Her title comes from her second husband. She had divorced one husband for something or other, mutual consent; not until after he had put one of those noties in the papers stating that after this date he would not be responsible for any debt, etc. He was a Schotchman and found Brett much too expensive, especially as she had only married him to get rid of him and to get away from home. At present she had a legal separation from her second husband, who had the title, because he was a dipsomaniac, he having learned it in the North Sea commanding a minesweeper, Brett said.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Box Brownie

This lovely picture was made by Bert Hardy in the 1940s, using the very entry-level Box Brownie camera, as proof of the pudding after having written an article about how an expensive camera was not necessary to take good photographs.

Of course some may argue that with a crappy camera, a good photographer is even more necessary, due to the camera's limitations.

And then again, especially in modern times, there is a wide margin between a "crappy" camera and an "expensive" camera. Fifty years ago a good camera cost several months income for most people, today you can get a good camera for a few hundred dollars.

TTL quoth:
There is something magical about vintage photos that I don't fully understand. Even a mediocre vintage photo has so much more impact than an equivalent contemporary photo.

There's something to that.
It could be nostalgia.
It could be generally richer grey tones in the larger formats then.
It could be that most images that are seen still were taken by accomplished photographers, and the knew how to get the most from B/W, since color was rarely used by serious photographers until after 1970. Using the right light to mold the forms and separated objects and so on.
It might be something else.

Every man's heart

"In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty."
- Christopher Morley

Lost in Thought

The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.
-- Paul Fix

It's a funny line.
But I wonder... people who do get lost in thought, aren't they the people who actually do think?

Just asking

I think conflicts are counterproductive, and I avoid them. So I don't like to haggle or negotiate. But sometimes I'm amazed at what can be accomplished through a simple query.

For instance, earlier this year it got through my thick skull that web hosting had become cheaper. With my commercial site, which has tons of traffic, it's a significant expenditure. So I just enquired with my web host, and without any discussion at all, I got my bills cut by two thirds!

Similarly, this week I noticed that interest rates have risen. My company has a cash reserve just sitting there, and I enquired as to the rate of interest I'm getting. As with the example mentioned above, I had used a few minutes to look up competing rates, and I simply mentioned them. And again, without even any prompting, I got a much better deal, this one being 0.75% increase in interest.

In general I find that just a bit of friendly and simple communication is a very productive thing, perhaps the most productive thing you'll find.

Update: Two examples of different attitudes to conflict: novelists/comic writers Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

Alan Moore seems to have gotten into firefights with most anybody he has worked with, and for instance he famously refuses to talk to former co-author Stephen Bissette. I've talked to Stephen, and he does not even know why! Alan also refuses to work with DC Comics, despite the monumental success they had together once with the groundbreaking work Watchmen.

Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, gets along with almost anybody. And when his very literary "comic book" Sandman got to be a huge hit for DC Comics, instead of going to the trade journals and bitching about how work-made-for-hire contracts were f***ing him over, he wrote a polite letter to DC and asked for a bigger slice of the cake, since he baked most of it. And lo and behold, he got it.

Wild Hogs and My Cousin Vinnie

Just a quick note, because you can surely find hundreds of reviews and pages on Wild Hogs, so I'm not gonna add much to that, except to say it's warmly recommended. Great fun, and all the actors are in top shape.

Oh, Marisa Tomei... sigh. Have you seen My Cousin Vinnie? Wow. Great movie, dead funny, and her performance in it won a highly deserved Oscar. And she's so attractive I have to bite my knuckles when I watch it.

I wish Marisa had been in more comedies though. Looking over the lists to find more films with her to watch, there's frankly not many that beckon me. They are mostly sappy romances and sleazy thrillers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Color games

Test your perception of color.

Macro software

David Pogue on macro software. An entertaining video and article about very useful software.

Funny enough, I actually decided recently to blog this myself. Until last year, incredibly, I had never used macro software*. Considering I've had over a decade of being considered a geek, this is weak.

I now have magic keystrokes for all the apps I use frequently (maybe a dozen), documents I use often, I have a keystroke to save quotes in a text file for use later, I have a stroke for a folder-renaming sequence I use several times a week, I have various keystrokes for frequently used business replies to emails (including hitting Reply and typing "Dear ___", with the space being filled with the name I have highlighted in the email I'm replying to. It's really great.
*Apart from a keystroke-launcher to start apps or files. Which I have long found indispensible. But that software was decontinued, which was why I finally took the leap to real macro software.

From Pogues article: "... neither Mac nor Windows lets you set up a keystroke of your choice to open any program or document — a feature that would speed up your work dozens of times a day." I couldn't agree more. For a brief while, in Mac OS 9, you could assign F-keys to opening apps. But that disappeared in OS X. It's a really bizarre omission. I change back and forth between various applications probably hundreds of times every day. Perhaps most people don't?

Rip van Winkle

Lo this headline:
"Not long ago, both parties were smugly predicting that the movie-disc war between the Blu-ray and the HD DVD camp would be over in 2008, but it has not played out that way."

What? Did I sleep too long? Is it already 2009? Come on, I know that times are moving faster and faster, but are we at the point where we are now looking back at what happened next year?

Anyway, even as I bought a HD-DVD player a couple months ago, it is only now that it's dawning for real upon me that most movies do not come in both formats, only in one of them. That is really stupid of me not to notice. But then it is also really stupid of the movie industry to do it that way.

"HD sales currently amount to barely 1% of DVD sales." - article.

Central Park

The real-estate value of Central Park is estimated to be $528,783,552,000.
Central park is also now (unlike twenty years ago) one of the safest urban parks in the world.
The park has a fascinating history. For long periods since it's opening 130 years ago, it fell badly into disrepair and mismanagement. It's pretty amazing really that it is now kept as well as it is. The cost is big.
Consider the number or people who would pay fortunes for bits of it to develop for commercial purposes. And then consider the hell-hole New York City would become in a few decades if the park were to disappear.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 review video

Gordon Laing at the UK site does nice video reviews to complement his articles. Newest example is this review of a Nikon telezoom lens with image stabilization.
I commend Gordon for his simple and down to Earth explanations, easy to understand, and he always makes many good points which will be relevant to most camera buyers.

Here is his review of one of my favorite lenses, the 18-200mm superzoom.

A big UPS

UPS is a courier company, but it also means Uninterruptible Power Supply, a box which makes a computer run on in case of a power cut.
Here is a story of installing a really big one. Six tons!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Low light photography

Photo by Greg Markley

I've been going on about the importance of good low light performance of cameras. And what do you know, in my inbox today came the perfect example of why it's important. Clearly flash would have totally ruined this wonderful picture from my pal Greg. It's like a Rembrandt, isn't it.

Leviathud sed:
"But...but.. it's low light.. and there are no strange coloured grainy dots and smudges and.."

To be frank, I have run the picture through an anti-noise filter in Photoshop (Noise Ninja). There was noise before that.
It was taken with a pretty standard digicam. But I think if it had been taken with a camera with excellent low-light handling, like a Fuji F30 or a Canon 5D, then the noise filter might not have been necessary and then the picture would have more detail. Of course this kind of picture does not live on detail, so it may not have been "better" for that.

Here it is before my slight editing:

Dylan, drugs, and palindromes

Will coincidences never end? A day or two ago I almost posted the lyrics from Bob Dylan's This Wheel's on Fire (see below). I had looked it up because I'm watching Absolutely Fabulous where it's the title song, and I got curious about the lyrics. Well, I got no wiser after looking them up.

Then yesterday I had reason to wisecrack about flower power.
I am sorry, but most music I hear from the late sixties and early seventies, like Dylan or The Who*, just says to me: "druuuuuugs"! The lyrics and even the sound itself just seem drug addled, I don't know how it's possible.

*update: I may have been thinking about The Doors here. I was only a wee bairn at the time, and nobody played that sort of music where I lived.

And to top it off, today I heard about Weird Al's song Bob, which at first glance seem to simply make fun of Dylan's incomprehensible lyrics, but then turns out to be entirely composed of palindromes (reads the same backwards and forwards):

I, man, am regal - a German am I
Never odd or even
If I had a hi-fi
Madam, I'm Adam
Too hot to hoot
No lemons, no melon
Too bad I hid a boot
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Warsaw was raw
Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Rise to vote, sir
Do geese see God?
"Do nine men interpret?" "Nine men," I nod
Rats live on no evil star
Won't lovers revolt now?
Race fast, safe car
Pa's a sap
Ma is as selfless as I am
May a moody baby doom a yam?

Ah, Satan sees Natasha
No devil lived on
Lonely Tylenol
Not a banana baton
No "x" in "Nixon"
O, stone, be not so
O Geronimo, no minor ego
"Naomi," I moan
"A Toyota's a Toyota"
A dog, a panic in a pagoda

Oh no! Don Ho!
Nurse, I spy gypsies - run!
Senile felines
Now I see bees I won
UFO tofu
We panic in a pew
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo
God! A red nugget! A fat egg under a dog!
Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog

This wheel's on fire
If your mem'ry serves you well
We were goin' to meet again and wait
So I'm goin' to unpack all my things
And sit before it gets too late
No man alive will come to you
With another tale to tell
And you know that we shall meet again
If your mem'ry serves you well
This wheel's on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode !

If your mem'ry serves you well
I was goin' to confiscate your lace
And wrap it up in a sailor's knot
And hide it in your case
If I knew for sure that it was yours ...
But it was oh so hard to tell
And you knew that we would meet again
If your mem'ry serves you well
This wheel's on fire

Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode !

If your mem'ry serves you well
You'll remember you're the one
That called on me to call on them
To get you your favors done
And after ev'ry plan had failed
And there was nothing more to tell
You knew that we would meet again
If your mem'ry serves you well
This wheel's on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode !

I quite like Siouxie's version, which was the first I heard of that song. It's seems everybody does the melody different, and I like this one.

Twilight pictures

Six o'clock morning.

Leaps and bounds in digital

Kids who have never known anything else are blasé about it, but middle-aged fellas like meself are continually amazed at the sheer rapidity of technological progress. And this is in all areas, but obviously the more digital and less physical areas go the fastest.

In the area of enthusiast and professional digital photography, it's a new revolution every two years. In the late nineties, the only really good digital cameras where some huge and expensive ones like the Kodak DCS 620. Really big, and $15,000 each. And yet Kodak DCS 620 only had two megapixels.

Then in 1999, a revolution came, in the form of Nikon D1. It was half the price of the Kodak, and yet had slightly more pixels, 2.7MP. It was a huge hit for professionals. The image quality was not up to 35mm standards though. And it was pretty bulky, and still not within range of many amateurs.

About a year later, next revolution: Canon D30. A bit more resolution, 3MP. But much smaller and cheaper, "only" about $4,000. A huge hit. But it should be noted that the body was pretty much only amateur quality.

Next rev: Canon D60 and Nikon D100, around the year 2002. They were even cheaper than the D30, and had twice the resolution, 6MP! I remember that Laurie Jeffery was quite upset that my D100 was sharper than his expensive "old" D1.

And on it goes: Nikon D200, 2005: This upped the image resolution, in my opinion, into the super-35mm area, 10MP (and for every step the quality per pixel also got better), and upped the speed and mechanical quality of the body into semi-professional range. Many, many professionals use this body. Not to forget, it was yet a bit cheaper than the foregoing models. Around $2,000.

And now, the Nikon D300. Faster, tougher, better in all ways. This one can only be seen as a fully professional camera. And yet it is a few hundred cheaper yet than the predecessor.

A few years ago you paid a big premium for the speed and flexibility of digital cameras, and you had to look at the savings in film and processing to justify it. Not any more. With the Nikon D300 I am actually quite amazed at the sheer amount of technology they have stuffed into the camera for the price.

I honestly did not think the price gap between film cameras and digital cameras would ever be closed, because of all the extra technology there has to be in a digital one. But the gap has been closed, and maybe even a bit overlapped, it feels to me. And so soon too.

Lulu - The Man Who Sold The World

Lulu - The Man Who Sold The World

I looked up Lulu, because apparently she's a big pop star, but until I saw her on Ab Fab I'd not heard of her.
Try a few samples, she not my bag, but I like her in combination with Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World.
Bowie's songs are a gold mine for other artists to cover. He does the best melodies ever.

Here is a version from Bowie himself, where he drags that song into the style he is mostly using in his middle age. Meaning remove any melody and sound whiny.

Here is Lulu's first big hit, Shout. Hot stuff.

It is sad that the hip-swinging sweet girls of the sixties got lost under the big dirty tsunami of drugs, long hair and incoherent lyrics of the flower-power era.

Update: some interesting comments on this post, read 'em.