So, what’s the statute of limitations on being able to say “I have a blog”? Can I still do it after 13 months without a single post?
August 15th, 2012 — Random
On the 12th of April, 1981, I was exactly nine and a half years old (half years are important when you’re that young). That was the date of the launch of the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, with the Shuttle Columbia spending the next two days in orbit with a small crew of only two astronauts (it was effectively a test flight). I was fairly young, but I do remember watching the news about the launch — it was a big deal at the time. I particularly remember that, differently from later flights, the external fuel tank was white, and not orange — orange is the “natural” colour of the protective foam around the tank, and painting it white added a significant amount of weight to the tank, so they stopped doing it at some point.
On the 28th of January, 1986, I was a bit over 14 years old. That afternoon I was at a friend’s place, his mother had the radio on and I heard something about a rocket exploding after launch in the US, but didn’t pay much attention to it; I didn’t know there was a Shuttle launch on that day, and assumed it had been an unmanned rocket carrying a satellite, or something similar. It wasn’t until I watched the news on TV at night that I knew what had happened to Space Shuttle Challenger, taking off for what was supposed to be mission STS-51-L. I remember being sad on that day and obsessively following the news for weeks after, and I was very happy when Discovery flew the first mission after the accident, in September 1988.
On the 1st of February, 2003, I was already an adult, and I was spending a quiet Saturday at home until I happened to look at the news online (I think it was on cnn.com) and read about what had happened to Space Shuttle Columbia, returning to Earth after mission STS-107. I very distinctly remember that my first thought was “not again!” — despite the 17 years that had passed since the previous accident. After that, I turned the TV on and just kept watching for however long they were talking about it. It was another sad day.
On the 21st of July, 2011, I will be nearly 40 years old. It will be 42 years and one day since the first Moon landing, and more than 30 years since that first Columbia flight. That is the scheduled date for the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis, completing mission STS-135 — the final Space Shuttle mission, ever. It’s going to be, again, a sad day. I planned on writing more about it, but I don’t think I can do better than what astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom I had the opportunity to meet twice, and who is a great person to talk to) said on Twitter: “Many lament the shuttle era’s end. But that’s misplaced sentiment. Lament instead the absence of an era to replace it.”
He’s talking, of course, about the lack of a manned space program on the part of NASA for the immediate future (and, with the difficulties it’s been having to get its budget approved, perhaps the not-so-immediate future as well).
Still, NASA goes on, as does space exploration. Just this week, on July 16th, the spacecraft Dawn will go on orbit around asteroid Vesta — it’s the first probe ever to orbit an asteroid, and in the next few years it will become the first probe ever to orbit two different bodies, when it leaves Vesta to go after dwarf planet Ceres. New Horizons is still on the way to Pluto, which it will reach in July 2015. And many other missions are still flying around the solar system – and, with the two Voyagers, even outside it.
Here’s hoping for continued progress, and hoping that in the future we’ll be able to celebrate the Shuttles as a stepping stone, and not as the end of the road.
June 1st, 2011 — Random
I was interrupted by the boarding call while writing the last post, and ended up never coming back to it… but there was more I wanted to add:
- still on Virgin America: after we’d been stuck on the tarmac for over an hour (bad weather around JFK, lots of delays) waiting for permission to taxi away from the gate, the captain started an announcement with “good news, everyone” — but it was actually good news
- in the last month, I went through security in large US airports four times; in none of these I was required to go through one of the “nude scanners”, nor was I touched by anyone at any time (but I don’t get why is it that I’m not allowed to go through the metal detector wearing a jacket — jackets, like shoes, need to go through the x-ray)
- Qantas premium economy in their 747s is… good, but not brilliant; however, if you manage to get an exit row seat, you’ll have an amazing amount of leg room (seriously; I’m tall, and I couldn’t touch the seat in front even if I wanted to)
Anyway, I’ll be glad not to see the inside of an airplane again for a while…
May 23rd, 2011 — Uncategorized
Waiting to board to Sydney in Los Angeles…
- for security screening purposes, an iPad is a laptop at JFK, SFO, LAX domestic, SYD; not a laptop at LAX international, MEL
- Virgin America is probably the only airline where the pre-flight video ask passengers not to have sex in the restrooms (this is in their “we’re all in this together” video, which they don’t seem to show in all flights)
March 20th, 2011 — Tech
Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about reading ebooks on my iPod Touch. At the time, the only two practical apps for this were Stanza and eReader Pro, with the latter being my preferred reader then. Interestingly, just a few weeks after that post there was a software update that rendered eReader useless on the iPod (it would crash on startup), and it took a few weeks for a fix to show up – I used this period to switch to Stanza, and I haven’t looked back (but it was only a few weeks ago that I finally uninstalled eReader).
In any case, there are a few more options nowadays, both for apps and for devices, and I thought I would write a bit about what I’ve been doing.
I have three devices I’ve been regularly using as ebook readers, none of which is a dedicated reader: my old iPod Touch (1st gen), an iPad (also 1st gen) and an Android phone (a Nexus S, which has recently replaced a Nexus One). I have (unfortunately) different readers in all three, and more than one on each, for the simple reason that not all readers will let me read all books, not all are available on all devices and, even when they are, not all features are on all devices. Also, the fact that my iPod is too old to run iOS 4 doesn’t help (fragmentation? what fragmentation?). Let’s look at them…
Kindle: the Amazon Kindle app is one of only two I have on all three devices (plus my desktop computer, in fact), and it is by far my preferred reader: the reading experience is great, the integration with a dictionary works flawlessly, annotations are very useful and the synchronisation between devices is very, very nice. But it could be better. Part of the problem is that it does not offer the same features on all devices: for example, you can use it to read books not bought from Amazon as long as they are in the MOBI format — but only on the iPad (and it won’t sync your reading position on those across devices); the integrated dictionary is only in the iOS devices; and, curiously, only the Android version supports reading periodicals (newspapers and magazines). I’m not a great fan of the DRM in the ebooks brought from Amazon, either, but that is more of a philosophical position than a practical consideration right now.
Stanza: this app now also belongs to Amazon, and I wonder whether it will ever merge with the Kindle app. It allows reading ePub books (and a few other formats, I believe) and it has some integration with a few books stores (including O’Reilly and Fictionwise, but this last one has been broken for several months now). This app is iOS only, but it works quite well on both the iPad and the iPod; loading external books is easier on the iPad, but that’s because of iOS 4 features (it would work equally well on a more recent iPod or iPhone). A big problem is the lack of synchronisation between devices, and (despite users asking repeatedly for it) I don’t think it’s coming any time soon. The reading experience itself is very nice, and the appearance is very configurable, so it is a very good app, and I use it for almost anything not in MOBI format.
iBooks: this is iOS 4 only, so I only have it in my iPad; I have never used the iBooks store, but this app doubles as a very good PDF reader, and that’s how I’ve been using it. Loading books is very easy (if you don’t mind iTunes) and the reading experience is reasonably good, but the app seems quite simple – there’s no progress indicator, for example, and I have no idea whether it syncs your position if you use it in multiple devices (I would be honestly surprised if it does so for non-Apple books).
Google Books: this is the other app I have on all devices (and the desktop computer, as a Chrome web app); one of the biggest advantages of this app is that allows one to see both the text of the books and the original scanned pages (where available), which then include all the original illustrations (but may be less readable for some older books). The biggest problem, though, is that for anyone outside the US this app can only be used to read public domain books. I haven’t used it long enough to form an opinion about it, but it seems aesthetically very nice. Another drawback: no way to load books other than from Google.
Kobo: I originally installed this app as a possible replacement for Stanza, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations — at least not enough to make me ditch Stanza on the iOS devices. The iPad app is very flashy, with social network integration, reading statistics, “badges” etc. However, just as with the Kindle app, on my iPod there’s no way to load books I already have other than buying them again (so I don’t bother running the app there); the non-tablet versions are also much less on the flashy side, but that’s not really a bad thing. No cross-device syncing of books not bought with the app, either. Still, it’s my app of choice for non-Kindle books on my Android phone.
And that’s it. I have to say that using the iPad to read has “spoiled” me and I don’t use the the iPod that much anymore (or the phone, but that one ends up getting more use simply because it’s always with me…). In any case, if I could have one wish it would be to be able to use a single app on all devices, with a reasonably similar experience on all of them (and syncing everything across them would be a bonus).
$ host -t AAAA www.netwhatever.com
www.netwhatever.com has IPv6 address 2607:f298:1:130::29f:98ed
That’s all for now.
I was looking at my iTunes playlist with the 25 most played songs in my collection, and I was a bit surprised at how many of them only are in my playlist at all because of other media (TV, radio, movies); a random sampling:
- Superman, Lazlo Bane: from Scrubs, of course
- the Big Bang Theory theme, Barenaked Ladies: guess
- Avatar, Felicia Day et al.: The Guild, but also because I knew Felicia Day from Dr. Horrible
- Eyes, Rogue Wave: was played in one episode of the first season of Heroes
- Mad World, Gary Jules: was the opening song for one episode of CSI a few years ago
- Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey: well, it is Journey, but the reason I have it is because of Scrubs
- The Dork Anthem, Dave and Brian: this was one of the “intermission” songs between segments of one episode of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, on NPR
- Somewhere Only We Know, Keane: this was on Grey’s Anatomy, of which I watched exactly two episodes
- Baba O’Riley, The Who: closing song of one episode of House
- Blister in the Sun, Violent Femmes: from the famous Freedom Dance on My So-Called Life
- New Slang, The Shins: from the soundtrack to Garden State
Either I watch too much TV or I don’t really listen to much music. Or both.
October 10th, 2010 — Personal
Wow. It’s been almost six months. This is what happened to our hero since last time:
Changes: I changed jobs and moved house; I’ve been living in Sydney since early June. I haven’t actually seen much of the city yet, other than the “standard” tourist attractions because…
Travel: …I’ve been travelling. I spent seven weeks in California, from early July to late August. It was summer there, but it was the coldest Californian summer in the last several decades (I understand September was a bit different). I was there for work, but I did take the time to revisit many places in the Bay Area (I lived the in the mid 90s) and to visit a few new ones. There are many pictures in my Picasa albums, and I don’t really expect anyone to have the patience to look at them all (also, the descriptions are in Portuguese); some of the ones I think are the best are on Flickr:
Others will show up there as I get time. Also, while in California…
Election: …I voted, at the Australian Consulate in San Francisco. It was incredibly easy: no queue, no one handing out flyers, all very civilised. And I got to do it two days early because the consulate wouldn’t open on the day of the elections (good thing I called them in advance to make sure).
And that’s pretty much it. Stay tuned!
April 28th, 2010 — Personal
So, a list it will be. But it was an interesting month.
Astronomy: late in March I took leave from my job to work for three months on a research project with the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University. The project involves using data mining techniques to search for pulsars in radio data — the idea is to increase the level of automation and to look at large amounts of data to identify good (interesting) candidates more quickly than a person would be able to.
I will write more about this in the future.
Parkes: earlier this month, I had the chance to spend a few days at the Parkes Observatory with astronomers from Swinburne who were there to conduct observations. This was not directly related to the project I described above — I was there to help with the installation and configuration of a new set of servers that will be used to capture and process data coming from the telescope for pulsar studies.
I will write a longer article about that visit; for now, here are some of the pictures I took while there:
Jury service: a while back I received a letter saying I had been selected for jury service. It contained a questionnaire to determine whether I was excused from serving (I wasn’t) and instructions to wait for further instructions. These came early in April, telling me where to go and when. So, on Tuesday last week I went to the Melbourne County Court, together with about a hundred other people, and waited to be selected for a trial (or not – chances are heavily in favour of not being selected, apparently). On arrival you are sent straight to the pool room (and if that’s not funny to you, go watch The Castle) where you sit and wait after watching a short video.
It turns out that, after a 3-hour wait, I was indeed selected for a trial (one of the two starting on that day). A jury consists of 12 people picked a random from the pool, but the number of people selected for a trial is actually larger; some 25 of us were sent into the court room, where’s there’s another ballot to pick the final 12. During this process the lawyers for both sides can reject any juror they don’t like (bearing in mind that the only thing they know about them is their name, occupation and what they look like), and potential jurors can also ask to be excused (in case of a conflict of interest, for example, or if they know any of the parties). And, once again, I was one of the selected (and I wasn’t rejected).
I won’t talk about details of the case other than to mention that it was a criminal case (you can be selected for both criminal and civil trials) and it was very short — shorter than average, we were told. It started after lunch on that day, we were done with the witnesses by the end of the next day and the jury retired to deliberate before lunch on the third day; by the end of the third day we were done. It was an interesting experience, and I actually enjoyed the process. I don’t think I would be saying this if it had lasted for a significantly longer period, though, as it does disrupt your life and is a very intense experience. The deliberations, in particular, were stressful and discussion was heated at times. I think it’s a good experience to go through — once.
So it looks like I only manage to write something on my blog when it’s in the form of a list of disjointed items… Rather than doing that, however, I think this time I’ll write a series of shorter, separate items instead.
Gresswell Forest: early in February I participated in a guided tour of the Gresswell Forest Nature Conservation Reserve, in Watsonia; this was part of the Sustainability Festival that happened in and around Melbourne during that month; the guided tour was very interesting, and the guide made a point of stressing how much work they need to do to try to prevent invasive species (of animals and plants) from taking over; they have lots of problems with regular garden herbs (mint, oregano, rosemary etc.) coming into the reserve with the rain water, and while the fences manage to keep most dogs out, cats are much harder to control.
We also had some close encounters with the local population of kangaroos, including a mommy-kangaroo with the joey in the bag. See photos below (click for larger versions):
I have just finished watching the first season of Buffy (yes, I am a few years late), and I couldn’t stop myself from comparing Sunnydale High to Hogwarts. (mild spoilers for both series follow)
You see, Hogwarts seemed to be under the constant threat of being closed due to risks to the students. For example, in Chamber of Secrets, after a student is attacked by the basilisk the headmaster is suspended and the school comes very close to being shut down. Similar situations occur later in the series — and this is among people (wizards and witches) who are (or should be) used to magical monsters and risky situations. I mean, Hogwarts is not the safest of places in the best of days; the whomping willow alone is an OHS nightmare, and don’t get me started on the moving stairways. It’s a wonder that they don’t lose several first-year students every year.
In contrast, Sunnydale High is supposed to be a regular school somewhere in California; except for the fact that Sunnydale lies on top of the “hellmouth”, it should be pretty much your ordinary small-town school. However, in the first season of Buffy, at least 10 students are killed on school grounds; one principal and one teacher also die (two teachers, if you count the replacement science teacher), not to mention the school mascot and the students who are killed at the dance place — oh, and there’s also the girl who catches on fire, plus several assorted injuries all around. Still, no one seems to care that much. You barely see the police showing up at the school (except for the men in black who take the invisible girl away). At no point there is any threat of closing the school, or even of parents taking their kids out of such a clearly dangerous place.
So, I am not quite sure what to make of this. There seems to be a clear case of double standards at work; either that, or British wizards are much more paranoid that Californian muggles, even where supernatural events and creatures are involved (by the way, wouldn’t Giles know about Hogwarts? Angel should, too). That might make some sense, as the wizards would know how dangerous the supernatural creatures are, while the muggles wouldn’t — but you don’t need to know that to realise that a school where over a dozen people are killed in one year is not a good place to send your kid to.
I guess I will just write that off as the effect of the hellmouth on the Sunnydale residents…
October 13th, 2009 — Random
Considering that a book that costs $36 from Borders can be had by just over $14 from the UK, including shipping, I can’t really see what’s the big deal with Amazon charging more for e-books from Australians than from Americans. In fact, a 40% surcharge sounds like a great deal.
The lack of available books, now, that’s a big problem. Not Amazon’s fault, though.
Just over a week ago, I visited the Tesselaar Tulip Festival, up in Silvan. Beautiful flowers, not so beautiful weather… The best pictures are here. (also in the album below, if you have Flash enabled)
I have wondered about this more than once… Why are there no calorie counts on pet food labels? (for reference: dry food is much more caloric than wet food)
October 2nd, 2009 — Random
Apparently, having a Mac causes you to stop writing in your blog. Or not.
As most of Australia celebrates the WWDC-eve holiday, now in its final hours, I thought it would be interesting to mention that, over the last few days, my primary computer at home has been — for the first time ever — a Mac.
And, you know what? I’m very happy with it. It’s not a very powerful machine, just a lowly Mac Mini, and I don’t have one of those fancy Apple displays, but it simply works.
Granted, there are some teething pains (or “gotchas”), especially for someone who comes from the Windows world:
- why, why, why can’t the Home and End keys move the cursor to the beginning or the end of the line? and, on a related note, why don’t Page Up and Page Down move the cursor at all? this is very annoying when editing text (yes, I know what key combinations to use to go to the ends of the line; my fingers still go to the “obvious” place, though)
- command-tab switches between applications, but not between different windows of the same application; confusing at times, ultimately understandable
- but the key combination to switch between windows of the same application is usually command-` — this is convenient because ` is just above tab on the keyboard… but it doesn’t work at all if you are using an international keyboard configuration similar to Windows’ US-International, with “mute” accent keys
But enough gripes for now. What I like:
- it is so incredibly silent! not only the computer itself, but the keyboard as well (the DVD drive, though, it’s one the noisiest I know)
- installing and uninstalling applications is a breeze
- boots in less than 30 seconds, shuts down even faster
- I haven’t seen it crash yet (but neither have I seen Windows crash in a long time)
- I can’t say enough good things about Time Machine; I wish there was something similar for Windows (and Ubuntu)
- iPhoto — lovely
- Spaces — I can’t believe Windows still does not ship with something like this out of the box
That’s it for now. I am sure I will have many more things to comment on in the future… maybe even about Snow Leopard, hopefully coming out tomorrow (the WWDC keynote is at 3am on Tuesday, Melbourne time).
We still can’t have Kindles in Australia, and the price Dymocks is charging for their e-paper based reader is outrageous… so lately I’ve been reading a lot on my iPod.
I didn’t expect it at first, but ebooks are very convenient. You can have a wide selection in a small and light device (real books are heavy), you get the ability to search, you never lose your page because the bookmark fell off… one downside, of course, is that battery life is not that great.
Another is the screen size. The iPod Touch has a relatively small screen (which, of course, can be a good thing — it makes it very easy to carry it everywhere), but I found that you get used to that. Granted, you’re turning pages every few seconds, but that is not that much of a problem. What is a problem is that you do need books that are stored in a way that can be reformatted for your device, and that rules PDF out, as that file format was not made with reformatting in mind. There are PDF readers for the iPod, but you can’t realistically read a PDF file formatted for A4 on that screen; it’s ok for a quick glance on a reference manual, for example, but not for continuous reading. And that has some implications for content availability: lots of free content is distributed in PDF format (ebooks, scientific papers, e-magazines etc.), but that is not an usable format for the iPod.
I have been using two different applications: eReader and Stanza (see screenshots below; click to enlarge). They are both very similar, and they both offer the ability to easily download books straight into the iPod from a variety of sources, with both paid and free content; Stanza does seem to offer a much larger selection of sources, including technical books from O’Reilly, while eReader is more tightly connected to their own bookstore, ereader.com (which includes the mostly SF-oriented fictionwise.com; both are owned by Barnes and Noble).
The free content, which makes up the bulk of what I’ve been reading, include mostly out-of-copyright classics and Creative Commons-licensed books, but you do get the occasional surprise, such as Random House giving away free copies of Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars”. As an aside, Stanza offers a desktop companion application that supposedly can convert PDF files into something readable on the small screen; my tests show that this definitely does not work well for most PDF files, even those that are text-only.
Both applications are very comfortable to use, and as a whole the experience is very good (although I have to say that I like eReader’s interface better, and I really like the little “progress indicator” for each book in the main window). Without a doubt, what I like the most about reading in this way is the portability, even if that means that the screen is significantly smaller than a typical book page; unless the book has relevant illustrations, that is not a problem at all. Battery usage does worry me a bit, though, since the backlight needs to be on at all times while reading (that is the main difference with electronic paper devices; in those, you only use power while changing pages); this is not a problem in normal day-to-day usage, but it may be if I try to read during a long flight (does any airline offer USB power on their seats?).