Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's here!

The photo above shows my brand new and much anticipated Raspberry Pi model B computer, which arrived at Pewty Acres on Friday morning. Unfortunately at the time of writing I need to obtain a power supply, micro SD storage card and a HDMI mini cable before I can put the Pi into action. More in the next few weeks.

As I have previously written, the Olympic torch will be making its' way through Erith after being delivered to Erith Yacht club by boat from the Essex side of the Thames. It will route along Manor Road (not the most picturesque of locations at the best of times) before making its' way to Hall Place for an evening event. I was doing a little research into the torch parade, and came across some fascinating information. "The relay of the flame" as it was originally called was not a relic of hundreds, or even thousands of years of Olympic tradition as many people think; it was invented in 1936 by Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels for the Nazi games. Goebbels and several other high ranking Nazis were fascinated by the occult, and the image of the flame being transported around Germany prior to the start of the games was meant to symbolise the Nazi spirit alive in the citizens of Germany. All utter tosh, of course. What stuns me is the the British allowed the flame bearing and lighting of the Olympic flame ceremony to continue in the 1948 games in Britain. All I can surmise is that with less access to historical information back then, the organisers did not know that the torch was a Nazi invention, and thought that they were maintaining a long held tradition. Such is the power of "tradition". Even though the torch will be coming past my front door, I somehow doubt that I will bother to go out and look. Some of the torch bearers have not exactly covered themselves in glory, before the event has even taken place. Putting Olympic torches for sale on Ebay is something the press quite obviously were going to fall on in a feeding frenzy - it was just asking for trouble. To me, the Olympics represents the triumph of that class of people who used to obey orders without question, and have ascended to giving orders in turn. In consequence, there is order, hierarchy, "stand behind that there barrier", and a belief that what really matters about your nation is that some bloke can suspend his education for years and at the end of it jump three inches further than a fellow from Papua New Guinea. It all seems utterly pointless and very expensive, and for what?

I was quietly minding my own business, standing in the checkout queue in Morrison’s earlier this week, when I was violently jabbed in the side by an elbow; startled, I looked around and saw an elderly bloke – probably in his mid to late seventies. He looked like a shorter and less immaculately tailored version of Noel Coward in his later years, albeit with a purplish nose, less hair and a growth of stubble. OK, actually not a lot like Noel Coward at all, but you get the idea. I would have normally given the deliverer of the elbow jab a sharp piece of my mind, but in consideration of his advanced years, I thought better of it and held my tongue. The man then said something indistinct; I decided that I would ignore him and returned my attention to the progress of the checkout queue. Moments later I heard a commotion behind me; the man slurred to the woman behind me “Let me in here –  I have only got three items” – he sounded drunk, but then I thought that with his age, he could have had a stroke affecting his speech, or some other impediment. My charitable thoughts were interrupted as a blast of whisky fumes hit me like a smelly whirlwind – he reeked of booze and was clearly rather more than a little over refreshed. Fearing for my eyebrows, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and hoped that he would not make any more of a scene. A difficult situation due mainly due to his age and apparent infirmity. Goodness me, he did whiff. Hopefully it was a one off. I just hope when he does turn up his toes that they don’t cremate him as I reckon he’d go up like a Roman candle and take a week to go out!

I have never understood why modern computer keyboard are fitted with Caps Lock keys; just what is the point? I can fully appreciate the need to physically lock up the keyboard on a traditional manual typewriter, but who ever needs it on a PC or Mac? Anyone who types online in block capitals is pretty much guaranteed to be psychotic. I even know one chap who physically removes the caps lock key from any computer keyboard he owns, just to stop himself inadvertently pressing it mid sentence, as I am sure we all do from time to time. Any reasons why we need to keep this anachronism? Answers on a post card please.

Whenever two or more local people get together, it is only a matter of time before the subject of the conversation turns to the Dartford River Crossing. Local MP David Evennett is campaigning for residents of the London Borough of Bexley to be included in the discount zone when the toll fees are increased by 50p in October 2012. Cash charges for car users will go up from £1.50 to £2, from £2 to £2.50 for lorries and from £3.70 to £5.00 for heavy goods vehicles. Mr Evennett said to an interviewer from the News Shopper: “Bexley residents should not have to pay any more to use the Dartford Crossing”. This statement raised the ire of a number of readers, and as any local will gladly tell you, they almost to a person feel cheated and aggrieved that the original promise made by the crossing developers to abolish the crossing toll entirely once the structure had been paid for was ditched years ago. The communal resentment of this betrayal is something that is deep in the local psyche, and frequently crops up in conversation. I really don’t see that the cash cow that is the crossing toll will ever be abolished, however annoying it is to local residents.

Did you know that Bananas are radioactive? Not an urban myth, but a verifiable scientific fact. Bananas contain a small amount of a naturally occurring form of radioactive potassium.  There is even a unit of radioactivity measurement called a BED (Banana Equivalent Dose). It does beg the thought, are the physicists at CERN considering constructing a Large Banana Collider?

So, the illustrious Jonathan Ive, head designer at Apple got an knighthood this week. I think this was a really bad move, and wonder who nominated him for the award, which to my mind is misplaced and inappropriate. Ive was born and raised in Chingford, Essex, but during his fifteen year tenure at Apple he has lived and worked almost exclusively in California, USA. He pays no British taxes, and brings no corporate benefit to the British economy. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing personally against Ive, I am sure he’s a nice bloke and everything, but all his work has been for an American company in the USA. I don’t doubt he deserves public recognition for his ground breaking design work, but it should be the American government that is making the award, not the British. I fail to understand why he would get a knighthood for working for a foreign power?

I recently stumbled across a curious and intriguing website; for a (short) while I was almost convinced by it. The site is called The Sci Fi Air Show. The concept is simple but very clever. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, when many classic / cult science fiction TV shows such as the original Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999 were in production, the spaceships used in the programmes were not models filmed in special effects studios, but instead were full sized, working space vehicles. After production of the various shows ended, the vehicles quite often were abandoned to rust and decay. A dedicated group of rich enthusiasts have clubbed together to restore and fly the spaceships at air shows and rallies around America, in a similar fashion to the real life Commemorative Air Force. A complete history of each vehicle, along with details of the restoration and notes relating to their flying characteristics is included on the website. Do check it out; it really is very clever.

This week I seem to have come across, or been sent links to a number of curious websites this week the one above was fiction presented as fact. The next one is fiction potentially turned into fact; they seem to be a bit like buses – you see nothing for an age, then several turn up at once. This one is a gem; at first impressions are that it is the work of a crank – a dreamer who does not understand the real world. When I continued reading the details of the site, my view began to change. The project the chap proposes is heavily researched, and the engineering involved is extremely difficult, but not impossible using current or very near future technology. The proposed project is called Build the Enterprise; it proposes that work should begin to research and build a real version of the Starship Enterprise that would be capable of acting as a vehicle with which to reach Mars, to act as an orbital spaceport and a space station with accommodation for up to a thousand people. It would obviously not have warp drive or transporters, as that kind of technology is possibly hundreds of years from being possible, if at all. This all sounds like the wish fulfilling ravings of a lunatic, but if you actually read the website and study the figures, it actually makes quite a lot of sense. It would be a massive undertaking over many years, but the potential end results would change the exploration of space forever. Do take a look and see what you think.

Talking of fictional space hardware, in the real world I was surprised that the successful launch and docking of the SpaceX Falcon rocket, fitted with a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station did not make a bigger news story. OK, it was covered, but I would have expected it to be headline news, not a third division story. Private enterprise has always been involved in the exploration of space, but until now it has always been as a contractor to government organisations, rather than actually running a full space service. Historically speaking, most earthbound exploration was carried out by private enterprise, rather than governments. The East India Company was a prime example of a private company that eventually became as powerful as many nation states through its’ aggressive exploration and commercial exploitation of the resources it discovered. Much of the foundation for the British Empire of the 19th and early 20th century was down to the actions of commercial organisations such as the aforementioned East India Company. Certainly the principle of NASA outsourcing the bread and butter activities such as provisioning the space station to companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation, makes operational and commercial sense, and frees up their resources for the more cutting edge deep space and near planet exploration.

Sometimes I despair. On Wednesday evening something happened that made me doubt whether the generosity of human spirit really exists in Erith. It was a lovely dusk; the blood red sun hung low in the sky, and I felt it was a good opportunity for me to fire up my Nikon D300 camera. I walked down Appold Street and took around half a dozen photos of the setting sun over Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. As I snapped away I heard a man’s voice behind me saying loudly “F*** Paedo!” There were two men accompanying a small boy of five or six years of age walking past me, down towards Morrison’s car park. I was first confused – who else was around that they were referring to? There was nobody; it became obvious that they were referring to me. Bearing in mind they approached me from behind, and I was clearly taking photographs of the stunning sunset, I was astonished that they could make such a surreal assumption. I debated having a go at them for their offensive, inaccurate and hurtful comment, but bearing in mind the impressionable little boy, I decided it was not appropriate. Being subject to behaviour of that nature, I would not be surprised if he grows up to mimic his warped mentors. How the feckless scrote who addressed me could associate a bloke clearly photographing the evening sky with a child molester was something I could not connect in my mind. It then occurred to me that he probably considered anyone with a professional camera a pervert – despite from my understanding that most genuine abuse images being recorded by camera phones – being discreet and common place. Then I thought that he was clearly of low intelligence and even lower social skills – he probably thought the camera would steal his soul if pointed in his direction (not that it was).  Using a Digital SLR camera in public is a lottery nowadays; in my experience people either want to be in your photo, or they take great offence in you even being present. As I wrote a while ago, the security guard in the Riverside Shopping Centre tried to ban me from taking photos of the building, despite it being a public place and him having no rights to stop me. The irony seemed to escape him that the entire shopping centre is festooned with CCTV cameras.

Probably at least partly due to the recent retro Halfords TV advert, and the death of its’ creator, the Raleigh Chopper bike is in the news. There are many fan websites, and reproduction versions are now on sale. When I was a kid I had a bright yellow Chopper bike, and I can tell you for certain, even after several decades I still recall it well. Some writers eulogise over the bike, but I am not one of them. Sure, it looked good in a garish kind of way, and it no doubt cost my parents a packet at the time. The overwhelming memory I have of the bike is that it was so HEAVY. It was very strongly built, from heavy gauge tubular steel, but this meant it weighed a ton. It was also ridiculously over geared, thanks to the gigantic rear tyre – it was almost impossible to get out of first gear without having to stand on the pedals to keep the bike moving forward. The large tyre also made wheelies impossible – and the tiny front one also made riding with no hands almost suicidal; the wheel diameter meant there was little in the way of centrifugal force to give a gyroscopic stabilising effect as you get on more conventional bicycles. I had many a happy day riding it however, mostly as I was blissfully unaware of the drawbacks at the time.

The ending video this week is the first part of a three episode series of lectures on the life and times of Alan Turing, one of the fathers of modern computing.

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