If, like me, you’ve wondered why it is that designers of portable computers seem to ignore usable battery life or at least place it low down on the priorities list, then take heart.

Yes, I know batteries are all about weight and bulk but do we really want something that is only the thickness of a sheet of paper if it has a usable batter life that is measured in minutes?

The Guillemot Corporation have tackled the issue head-on and has announced two new 10-inch eCAFÉ netbooks under its Hercules brand, one less than an inch thick and the other promising at least 13 hours of “real use” battery life (details here) – even the slim one has 4.5 hours of usable life (details here).

Ok, so they’re notebooks and I’ll need to wear my specs to read a 10.1 inch display – I can live with that. They’re running a Linux operating system rather than Win-Doze (note to my one loyal reader – it comes fully installed, so don’t panic!) – I can live with that too (even if I do find it a bit quirky in places due to years of indoctrination). What I have difficulty living with at the moment is a Fujitsu Siemens laptop whose battery only lasts from take off at Gatwick to somewhere over the middle of France before giving up, and much as I might like to, I can’t blame that on RyanAir.

This little baby could, from memory, last from Heathrow to touchdown at Changi airport in Singapore…

At a currently suggested price of USD$ 269.00 this is a cracker, though when it will be available in the UK isn’t clear…

Now it’s George Orwell’s turn to feature here (in a roundabout sort of way) – sorry Mr Einstein, we’ll hear from you again soon I’m sure.

The draconian state that Orwell envisaged in “1984” is alive and well and living within the internet and sources accessible to government departments, security services and those in the know.

There’s nothing I can add to the evidence that Zeit Online have posted here to graphically illustrate the point.

I won’t say “enjoy” – maybe “be careful” would be more appropriate…

The iPhone and world domination…

Posted: February 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Patriot Missile iPhone app...

We all probably realise that the Apple iPhone has a dominant position in the world market – and, let’s be honest, it is wonderfully designed and a thing of great beauty (no, I don’t have one!) – but did you realise that it is also now set to take over the world in military terms too?

It seems that the US Army contracted C² Technologies Inc. to create a series of  “apps” for training Patriot Missile crews in the set-up and deployment of the weapon…

Is this a new twist on Microsoft’s “blue screen of death”???

Steampunk in the fast lane…

Posted: February 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

It’s been a while since I last posted anything and I offer profound apologies to my loyal fan.

Various reasons exist for my literary absence but mostly it comes down to ‘nothing has moved me’. Today, however, something stirred…

Foden Brewery Waggon

Courtesy of the Brewery History Society

Steam is something ancient, right? Whilst that may have been true as far as infernal combustion engines and electric motors having taken over, there has always been a power-delivery element to steam that has been difficult to better by any other means (as anyone who has stood next to a “White Steam Car” at a vintage rally when it has moved off will testify to)  and, it seems, the technology is being reappraised with interesting results.

Did you know that Britain currently holds the World Land Speed Record for steam-powered vehicles?
Given the great prowess demonstrated during the Victorian and Railway ages, this may not be a great shock – after all Mallard set the railway record of 125.88 MPH (2-2.58 KMH) in 1838 and that still stands, so why shouldn’t the British also hold the vehicle record stretching back decades? Absolutely no reason at all, but the current world record was set at Edwards Air Force Base, California in August 2009…

BSCC Vehicle

The current World Steam Record holder

As a result of the hard work and determination of the small team from Hampshire (click here to visit their website), the record now stands at 139.843 MPH (225.04 KPH) for the measured mile and 148.308 MPH (238.68 KPH) for two consecutive runs over a measured kilometre.

Only the British would be daft enough to set a steam car record in the twenty-first century – or so you might think!

The Americans are now preparing a contender to have a go at the record, possibly as early as August of this year (stay tuned) and their attempt is going to be using piston rather than turbine technology as the British did. According to the website of The United States Land Steam Record Team (click here to visit their website), the “Cyclone Engine” is “a compact, heat regenerative, external combustion engine that has been developed to achieve high thermal efficiencies and power to weight ratio. The engine, invented by Harry Schoell, operates on a Rankine cycle, and uses multiple heat recapturing processes off its cylinders, exhaust manifold and condensers to achieve thermal efficiencies reported at over 30%.

The Cyclone Engine uses water as both its working fluid and lubricant, and can operate at super-critical pressures and temperatures which Cyclone claims to result in greater output relative to its size. The Cyclone is capable of running on virtually any liquid or gaseous fuel, including 100% biofuels.“. More information is available on “the Rankine Cycle” here and if you can make any sense of it you’ll be doing better than I did!!!

US Steam Car

The Steam Car... naked...

The project is currently awaiting the fabrication of the glass-fbre body shell (why not carbon-fibre one wonders?) and so the vehicle is currently rather skeletal, but nonetheless purposef ul.

Much as I am a true ‘flag-waving Brit’ I wish them good fortune as a bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone (though all speed records have claimed their toll in the past of course) and it could take us back to a time when speed records were talked about by boys (and the occasional girl) in the school playground and newspapers carried developments with a sense of pride.

While cost is alway a consideration un matters such as these, I hope that the British team are watching closely and preparing to enter into battle…

Dumbing down TV…

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

We read  last month that “An hour-long edition of the ITV1 soap gave it bragging rights over BBC1’s EastEnders. Emmerdale averaged 7.423 million viewers, a 32.7% share, between 7pm and 8pm, while the BBC1 soap could only manage 6.490 million (26.5%) between 7.30pm and 8pm.” and that ” The Secret Millionaire averaged 1.517 million viewers between 9pm and 10pm, beaten by the second half of BBC2’s Autumnwatch, which averaged 2.13 million (8.3%) between 8.30pm and 9.30pm, and Autumnwatch Unsprung, which had 1.768 million (7.1%) between 9.30pm and 10pm. The two wildlife shows had an extra 58,000 and 63,000 viewers respectively on the BBC HD channel.” It’s also well known that some people will sit all night watching people sleep on Big Brother – is this ‘dumbing down tv’?  Quite probably it is, but it’s not what this post is about…

We now have digital tv, we have HD, HD-Ready, DVB, DVB-S, DVB-T2, LED, TFT, Plasma and probably several more since I typed the first letter of this post… But is it getting any better quality-wise?

TV’s are getting thinner, pictures are getting brighter and if things keep up their current rate of progress, there may well be claims for a viewing angle that exceeds the number of degrees in a circle by the end of 2011 and the marketing people will be calling it “Hyper-3D” or something equally meaningless.

Am I against super-slim, bright, natural colour displays that can be viewed from whatever position you find yourself in? I most certainly am not! What I do have a problem with is the fact that in many respects this digital roller-coaster that we’ve all been ‘encouraged’ to board, actually provides a viewing experience that is of a lower quality than it was thirty years ago…

The current HDTV standard (1080i/1080p) has a resolution of 1290 x 1080 and a quoted screen definition of 2,073,600 pixels – advertised as 2.1Mpixel – with, currently, 24-bit colour (8 each for Red, Green & Blue) giving just under 17 million possible colours and 30-bit, 1 billion colours waiting in the wings. It’s impressive, very impressive!!!

Surely it can only be a matter of time before somebody manages to devise a method of producing an almost infinite number of colours from Red, Green & Blue – just as nature does…

If they can find a method of getting away from the limitation of ‘x’ number of points of light (columns) across each horizontal row then things would be really on the up. Imagine the tv display that boasts “Infinite Resolution, Infinite Colours”!

Imagine if they could devise a method whereby a minor bit of interference hits your ears as a barely audible crackle for a fraction of a second and appears on screen as a few tiny scattered white dots that you hardly notice because they’re over too quickly – that, surely, has to be an improvement over the pop followed by so.. ..at d..sn’. .ak. .en.e .or .ever.. .econds and pictures that look like a flicker-book with several pages missing – all followed by a blank screen and a message announcing “NO SIGNAL”.

How much would you pay for a tv like that – £10,000?, £5,000?, £2,000?, £1,000? So how does a price of 285 guineas sound? Very strange if you’re not ‘of a certain age’ and British I should think, so let’s say a bit under £300…

That was the price of a colour tv in 1967 when they first became available to the public…

Now, I fully admit that the old shadowmask cathode ray tube wasn’t capable of displaying an infinite number of points of colour across each of its 625 lines because of needing to shoot beams of electrons through holes in a thin metal plate, but that could have been overcome years ago. I also accept that 625 lines is different to 1080 lines – but I worked with 875 line colour tv monitors way back in 1969 so the limitation was, even then, in the transmission infrastructure, not in the receiving end of the chain, and that too could have been overcome with more modern technology.

There was a headlong rush into ‘digital for digital’s sake’ that has in many areas of life done us no favours, but we were fed the hype and we bought into it and we bought it – and often mortgaged ourselves on our ‘flexible friends’ to do so…

I am not a Luddite, digits have their place – without them this blog wouldn’t be possible – but does it really have to be “chips with everything”? Does a digital toaster that offers you 256 levels of burnt really offer an improvement? Do we need digital doorbells and pay extra for ones that offer “that real bell sound”?

People who appreciate high quality audio are going backwards to ‘the valve sound’ because digital sound – incredible though it can be – just isn’t right somehow to the ‘audiophile’ – our ears, after all are analogue devices and our eyes (in their best years) can distinguish far more subtlety to colour and brightness than any digital system can ever provide.

Just see how many shades of grey you can see in HM’s coiffure as you watch The Queen’s Speech and, if you’re watching digital, think what you may be missing…

A Philips G6 TV, Christmas 1967 –  photo courtesy of Graham Gosling   (www.rockcity.adsl24.co.uk/philips/oldnostalgia.html)

P.S.

If the numbers 4.43361875 +/- 1 and 15625 are as ingrained in your brain as they are mine, you know that Peto Scott didn’t conquer the antarctic and you still see a feint image of Test Card G when you close youe eyes, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from – I hope you are older than you look too…

Merry Christmas to all the ‘old farts’

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The Game’s up Rudolph…

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Gotcha...

Now we may know why Rudolph has a red nose – he’s possibly a junkie!!!

According to Pharmacology Journal Online (who doesn’t read it?), reindeer are rather fond of getting stoned. They apparently actively seek out ‘magic mushrooms’ (Fly Agaric – Amanita muscaria) – those with a white-spotted red cap so beloved of 1970s hippies and garden gnomes everywhere. Seemingly this causes the animals to “behave in a drunken fashion, running about aimlessly and making strange noises.” – known in human circles as ‘office christmas party syndrome’.

According to the learned journal “Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used by mankind for its psychotropic properties. But its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances. Reindeer seem to metabolise these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain unmetabolised and are excreted in the urine.” – now we know.

What we are also told, and this is where it gets a bit wierder (depending upon your internet browsing habits) “Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer urine for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen.”

Those with more conventional views of the Christmas traditions could do a lot worse than watch the video below for an up-to-date version of things. Merry Christmas everyone…

 

If a picture paints, etc…

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Sometimes words just din’t really add anything. Take a look at this wonderful example of cumputerised mechanical engineering – a 5-Axis CNC from Daishin in Japan meets a block of aluminium…

If you’re puzzled as to what the “5-axes” are (I was) – try the explanation here.