Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Urban pukeko 1

Today I ran across a pukeko* which walked almost like a duck. Living among ducks, it may have considered itself, if pukekos consider such things, as a duck.

*A pukeko is a New Zealand native bird that slightly resembles a blue chicken.

I was reminded of an Italian proverb which goes: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

This in turn set me reflecting that proverbs sometimes inspire people to rephrase or reword them.

Douglas Adams reckoned that, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.

The proverb, “The early bird catches the worm,” inspired Norman Ralph Augustine to suggest that, “The early bird gets the worm. The early worm... gets eaten.

Fools rush in… or… Better to get up late and be wide awake than to get up early and be dead all day.

A popular aphorist, Murphy (if he were a bloggist what would HIS readership be?), is credited with many sayings usually related to the inevitability of bad luck. Many people are adding to the collection of Murphy’s Laws and others are augmenting them by way of corollaries, observations, revisions, etc.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy.

O’Toole’s comment: Murphy was an optimist.

A bit of advice for tomorrow: Eat one live toad first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Night Driving

"I'm getting too old to drive five hours without a break. Let's stop at Cambridge for dinner."

"I don't mind, but then darkness will come down and you know, a fifty year old driver needs twice as much light to see as well as a thirty year old."

"Food might help me see better."

"Food could also make you sleepy. All that blood suddenly being diverted from your brain to your stomach."

"I know a good place. A bowl of mussels wouldn't hurt."

"Vision is SEVERELY limited at night. Believe me, I KNOW this stuff. Perception of depth, peripheral vision, ability to recognize colors, that all goes out the window."

"Glenn Gould used to drive all night. Humming and listening to the radio and stopping to phone friends."

Three minute silence.

"Did you say mussels?"

"I did. Big steaming bowl of twenty or more. Served with mustard sauce."

"No use driving weak and hungry."

"Love of mussels! Triumph of feeling over intellect."

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hot spring

"The rock's slippery. Careful getting in."

"AAAH. THAT's good."

"OOOH, good for the rheumatism. Actually, this fixes anything."


"Well, almost."

"You could be right. Even my panic attack seems to be subsiding."

"Not bad, is it."

"And FREE! Hot pool in the middle of a field. Stars above. PARAdise!"

"Bit different to hot pools in Japan?"

"They have all kinds. Generally have someone at the entrance and you pay through the nose."

"Not many people here tonight. Sometimes it gets a bit crowded. Locals bring their visitors."

"So you have to wait to get in?"

"OCCASionally, it's a bit of a squeeze. There was one chap who had a strategy for clearing the pool of non-locals though. Old John. Big fellow. He'd sink into the pool and say, 'AAAH, good for the BOILS.' People would make space and get out PRETTY quickly."

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them.” Sylvia Plath.

“It is a mistake that there is no bath that will cure people's manners, but drowning would help” Mark Twain.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Moth orchid

“What can you get a lady who is 84?”

“Something for the kitchen?”

Forty knives, a score of dinner plates, a dozen saucepans. For somebody who lives alone?”

“A pet? I heard keeping a cat is very soothing and helps people live longer.”

“There are people who like cats and there are those who don’t. Guess which.”

“OK. A plant?”

Later at the plant shop.

“A moth orchid?”

“Ooooh, I like that.”

“Would she?”

“She used to cultivate orchids. In a special shade house. But it’s up a steep track and she can’t walk up there any more. An indoor orchid would be perfect.”

"Giving presents is a talent; to know what a person wants, to know when and how to get it, to give it lovingly and well. Unless a character possesses this talent there is no moment more annihilating to ease than that in which a present is received and given." Pamela Glenconner.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Bar oil

I bought a chainsaw about 15 years ago. I use it only occasionally for pruning trees with thickish branches.

Being a two-stroke, you mix petrol with oil 50:1. This is within my limited ability to service internal combustion engines. The machine also requires oil for lubricating the cutting chain. This component runs around a bar which projects from the engine. Effective tool and can become a lethal weapon as a certain film set in Texas based its scenario on.

I ran out of chain lubricating oil and revisited the shop I bought the saw from. A man looking like Leatherface comes of the back, wiping his hands on a oily rag.

“I need chainsaw oil. For the chain.”

“You mean bar oil.”

“Okay. Bar oil. This is the original container.”

He peers at it. “You use the chainsaw often?”


“It’s just, well that container is a CLASSIC. They stopped making them, oh, fifteen years ago.”

I also say, “Oh.” And then add, “That would be about the time I bought the saw. From here.”

“It would have been Jack’s shop then. I bought it off him about eight or nine years ago.”

He hands over a liter plastic bottle of bar oil.

“What’s the difference between bar oil and ordinary lubricating oil?”

“Bar oil’s got glue in it.”


“Sright. Oil sticks to the chain as it is spinning around. Ordinary oil flies off on the turn.”

“Wouldn’t want that.”

“You would not. Six dollars 30 cents.”

“Pretty reasonable. I think I paid five-ninety-five fifteen years ago.”

“Ha, That was Jack. He’d discount the saw and get it back off you on the lubes and stuff. Character was Jack.”


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bird talk on gulf island

“Fellow in the big boat is pushing off back to town cause he forgot his smokes and would you believe he can’t spend two days on the island here without a puff.”

“Funny things humans. They need all those things for simple things like moving or fishing. Would you believe the joker in that little boat forgot his fishing rod so I heard him say he’s going home to buy a can of fish at the super.”

“We’re pretty lucky, us birds. We want to move, we just fly. We want to fish, we just dive in and pluck something out with our beaks. We want to go to another country, no nonsense with getting a passport and passing through immigration and the like, we just go.”

Seen one, seen ‘em all?
“When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.” E. O. Wilson.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Mondrian

Location: By a painting, referred to as the Mondrian, on the outside wall of a house.

“Time to redo the Mondrian. It’s badly flaking and starting to warp.”

“When did it go up?”

“Be a good twelve years since it was done.”

“But it isn’t exactly a painting, is it?”

“No, it’s a composite. White board, black electrical tape for the lines and three tester pots from the hardware store.”

“Ever had anyone challenge it?”

“Like because it’s a fake?”

“No, because you were copying a Mondrian.”

“No. How could they? It isn’t an exact copy of any of his paintings. It isn’t done in the same media. It’s not plagiarism because I don’t pass it off as my own. Just borrowed it.”


“And anyway, how could you copyright something so simple as black lines on a white board? Ever hear of any Japanese trying to patent their shoji sliding doors design?”

“No but some Indian is trying to patent yoga.”

The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture.Piet Mondrian.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recent migrants and no know DIY

“I need to call a carpenter.”

“What for?”

“Fix the steps. They rotted.”

“But you can do it yourself.”

“Haven’t any wood.”

“Bet you have a few sticks lying around. What’s this under the deck? Couple of four by twos. Look, knock the nails out, cut to length, and Bob’s your uncle.”

“Haven’t any tools.”

“God, you’re a hopeless case. All you need is a hammer, a saw, a square and a pencil. It’ll only take a jiffy. Here, use these.”

“Never done this before.”

Sigh. Sound of banging and cutting for ten minutes.

“See, that’s done the trick. Bit of borer but they’ll see you over the
next three or four years. By that time you might have bought some tools.”

“I’m thinking of taking a night class and getting a certificate.”

“Ha. Next thing I’ll hear is we’ll all need a licence to do our own home repairs.”

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Switching from a mediocre Pinot Noir to a decent Merlot decides summer destination

“I liked the way you arrived at the airport to pick me up. You came in style.”

“I always come in style. No point in arriving any other way. Well, it’s a bit late but let’s celebrate. When did we open this?”

“Last night.”

“I remember. It hasn’t aged well.”

“Wines don’t age overnight. Anyway, what’s for dinner?”

“Fish. You DO remember I went to the market this morning?”

“Fish sounds good. Garnishings?”

“Coconut milk, coriander, mild curry. Simple, but then the point is, you have to buy good fish. That’s the point of it all.”

“And followed by…?”

“Yes. Followed by… dessert.”

“Wunderbar. Shall I wash the frypan?”

“Thank you. Just look at this lemon. Did you ever see such a lemon? No pips at all?”

“Good one.”

“I’m so happy today. Tomatoes from my garden, parsley from my garden, and a truly great lemon. All organic.”

“That’s the little lemon we planted by the back fence two years ago?”

“He likes there.”

“Blue cheese with cranberries… delicious. But the important question tonight is, ‘Where are we going for the summer?’”

Two glasses of Merlot later each and the Times Atlas open on Scandinavia:

“Look, if we took the flight from Bangkok to Copenhagen we could stop there, see your friend, take a ferry to Stockholm, see my friend there, and then do Helsinki and Leningrad on the way back. What do you think?”

Bagpipes sound irrelevantly from across the water.

“Or Milano.”

“After eight straight years of beginning summers in Roma?”

“I know what you mean. Maybe time for a change.”

“But I don’t want to just walk around streets like a tourist.”

“True. Eating pipless lemons and meeting people you know is good.”

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Car as Art?

The car as art? Watched a Discovery program on a flight a couple of days ago, a concours d’elegance for cars. It came down to five contenders.

5. Citroen DS 1957. Sleek lines and the unique hydropneumatic suspension, but if you weren’t a French sympathizer you might have other ideas particularly about its rear end treatment.

4. Aston Martin DB5. 1964 James Bond chariot, a British based, Italian-tweaked design, powerful but heavy to drive.

3. Ferrari Dino 1968. Low looks make it one of the most beautiful Ferrari shells but a smaller engine let it down in performance compared with its bigger brothers.

2. Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic 1936.

Pronounced mudguards and goggle-eyed windows; certainly a unique sculpting of the car shape. But engine and suspension technology has improved since 1936.

1. Jaguar E-type 1961. A popular vote for a beautiful and easy enough to drive sports car. And it WAS a comparative cheap performance car at the time.

Interesting that Italians were involved in three of the designs, that two of the cars were French and two of the cars of the cars were British. All designs are pre-1968.

Anybody want to line up something German, Japanese or American and made after 1970 against these?

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cell Phones on Planes

On last night’s (12 hour, gulp) flight I am next to a techie who has been upcountry rewiring choppers for the military.

He is in avionics and I ask him his opinion on whether cell phones are a serious danger to aircraft navigation systems.

“Jury’s still out,” he says.

“But if it were a really serious danger to aircraft safety, there’s always a few phones in bags that are not switched off. I’ve never seen flight attendants coming through checking bags for those.”

“It’s a question of numbers. If everyone started phoning up on take-off and landing it could confuse the navigation systems.”

“Hmmm. I saw somewhere the FCC and the FAA are looking into ways of letting people phone while flying.

“Eventually they probably will find a way of letting people do that but there are other factors besides air safety. For example, astronomers don’t take to the idea of the skies being full of talk, like phoning to say you are on the plane could be interpreted by a radio telescope that a star had died, you know.”

“Yeah, and then there’s cabin society and the rage factor. I mean, who wants to listen to a hundred people on a flight yakking on their cell phones? That could lead to cases of irate passengers brandishing plastic knives at people having inane cell phone conversations.”

“But coming back to the actual danger, this probably is a bit overrated, wouldn’t you say? I mean you don’t see squadrons of aircraft crashing into each other and falling out of the skies all because of somebody phoning home.”

“Well there’s been one case I know of.”

“You mean, that pilot who was talking on his cell phone as he was landing? That wasn’t interference with navigation, it was because the human being got distracted.”

“Yeah, and then he destructed himself and the plane.”

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Functions in conversational structure

There is an exchange in the movie called The Motorcycle Diaries. This is the text of that short scene:

Migrant Woman: Are you looking for work?
Che: No, we are not.
Migrant Woman: No? Then why do you travel?
Che: We travel just to travel.
Migrant Woman: Bless you, blessed be your travels.

If we assign a conversational function to each of the exchanges we get something like this:

Migrant Woman: Are you looking for work? (Inquiring)
Che: No, we are not. (Denying)
Migrant Woman: No? (Expressing Surprise) Then why do you travel? (Probing)
Che: We travel just to travel. (Declaring)
Migrant Woman: Bless you, blessed be your travels. (Wellwishing)

Stripping away the words, but letting the functional structure of the exchange remain, we can build new conversations like:

Woman sitting at reception desk: Are you the sound technician? (Inquiring)
Man in overalls: No, I’m not. (Denying)
Woman sitting at reception desk: You’re not? (Expressing Surprise) Well, why are you here? (Probing)
Man in overalls: I’m here to take the exam. (Declaring)
Woman sitting at reception desk: Oh, well then, good luck. (Wellwishing)


Man in panda costume: Are you in the parade, too? (Inquiring)
Man in police uniform: No, I’m not. (Denying)
Man in panda costume: Oh, you’re not? (Expressing Surprise) Then why are dressed like a cop? (Probing)
Man in police uniform: I AM a cop. (Declaring)
Man in panda costume: Oh, well, have a good one, officer. (Wellwishing)

Question: In this litigious age, is a script writer plagiarizing when he or she copies an underlying functional structure?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Flying again

The conversation begins as conversations on planes often do. Where you flying to? On holiday? How long? What will you do? What line of work you in? Humdrum stuff. The sort of conversational openings you can predict and answer by lip reading even if you are half deaf from the cabin clatter and engine roar.

Slightly more unusual openings which guarantee I raise an eyebrow and have to react to and think of some non-formulaic response are things like, “There’s dandruff on your shoulder,” or “Good egg, this one, though I prefer mine sunnyside up,” or “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” or “You look like Lord North.”

And then there are the openings people who would be classified as being on the fringes of whatever constitutes “normalcy” use, like, “Why do you think Evelyn wrings her hands so much?” when I have never before met the asker nor the Evelyn referred to; or “Hand over your wallet, pronto,” when I am not called Pronto.

And then there are the ‘Did you knowers...?’” On today’s flight I sat next to such a person.

He is gazing out the window over the wing. People who take the window seat frequently do this. I sometimes wonder if they get sore necks. After a while, he turns to me and says, “Did you know that over the course of a long flight the wings start bending upwards a little higher than they did at the start of the flight because fuel in the wing-tip tanks decreases the weight out at there?”

I didn’t know that and I said so.
So I learned something and we talked about wing technology for quite a while. Apparently the wing looks simple but it’s a crucial part of the plane. And not just for staying attached to the fuselage. There is the shape of the wing which is a secret and which Boeing and Airbus guard as jealously as Coca Cola guards its formula. And then there are moving bits like flaps. And the way the engine is attached to the wing.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nested Conversation

"Caw Caw Caw."
"What do you think they are saying?"
"I think that's an identity signal. 'Like I am here.'"
"So what does a question like 'Are you there?' sound like?"
"Maybe the same. 'Caw Caw Caw,' with a rising intonation, maybe?"
"Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw!"
"What do suppose THAT signified?"
"Hmmm, sounded like he was irritated."
"Could he be telling us to buzz off?"
"Could be warning his mates about something."
"You notice something? The caws are generally odd numbers. 'Caw.' Or 'Caw Caw Caw.'"
"You're right. You rarely hear a 'Caw Caw', or a 'Caw Caw Caw Caw.'"
"Caw Caw Caw Caw Caw."
Now THAT call I've heard before. They make it when there's food around."
"Loosely translated as 'Come and GET it!' perhaps?"
"But only if there's a lot. They're not so vocal when pickings are slim."
"A single caw?"
"Can mean a lot of things. Like 'Gotta go.'"

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Symbols for correct / incorrect

In Japan it is exam season. End of year exams, entrance exams. These entrance exams are IMPORTANT. So much so that in a recent meeting, the dean felt compelled to spell out just what the three cornerstones of a Japanese university were. The gateway is the entrance exam. The campus is the curriculum. Placing students in a job is the exit.

Everything else, research, learning about life…. Never mind. These are back seat luxuries. This is the real world. Get good students, give lots of hours of tuition, make sure they get a job. I have no objection to these as goals, just the emphasis placed on those three. Reminds me of Ronald Reagan insisting that all briefs on political crises being simplified so they fit on one A4 sheet of paper.

Today’s comment is a comparison of English and Japanese marking systems.

And if that is not confusing to a westerner trying to relearn the correct symbols, how about this:

Look the same? Aha, but 0 (J) does NOT = 0 (J). 0 (correct J) begins from the bottom of the circle and goes clockwise. 0 (zero J) begins from the top of the circle and is traced anticlockwise. The devil is in the details.

So you learn to mark as follows:

So 0 = 2 ?

No wonder we have the impression that Japanese products are sometimes beautifully engineered but at the expense of the overall big picture.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Blogs and Websites

“I started a new blog recently,” I volunteer into a conversation during a meeting break yesterday.

“Blog?” asks the friend.

“Hmm. A sort of online daily commentary.”

“A website?” he probes.

“Not exactly a website. More like an online diary. Except that a diary, in the past, was a personal record by the writer, probably only read by him or her. A blog is more for public viewing because the writer posts his or her thoughts and opinions on the Internet and hopes others will read what he or she writes. However, most blogs only have a readership of one or two people. That writer, and his or her mother. Mostly, not even the mother.”

“So, how is a website different from a blog? In structure?” persists the friend.

“Well a website tends to be one way. A bit didactic, like a teacher lecturing in a classroom. Listeners can ask questions, but in general the info flow is one way. Some people contend that a blog is intended to be like a conversation. Someone writes their opinion and readers leave comments. If the bloggist is famous and gets lots of readers, like thousands, chances are someone will leave a comment augmenting or amplifying, or challenging or questioning what the writer says. Especially if it is a contentious issue.”

“But a conversation is spoken, isn’t it?”

“Well, you can refer to an online exchange as a conversation, but yes, writing comments means the exchanges occur asynchronously, not in real time. The writing often looks like someone is writing as they would speak.

“So a blog becomes like a website. Static?”

“ Well, not really. Usually it is the intention of a website designer to organize information with main topics and subtopics so the visitor can find information quickly. A blog tends to be chronologically linear, that is, the writer writes about one topic one day and usually changes to a completely different topic next day. Much like a newspaper columnist.”

“So you can’t find anything on blogs? They are just random ramblings?”

“Well, some bloggists tag keywords so you can search for something they have written about. But many who are only writing for themselves and their mother are less than rigorous about labeling their content.”

“So it might be a good place to exchange information with others who share your interest?”

“Exactly. Many blogs have links to other similar blogs and bloggists leave comments on each others blogs so it comes close to a discussion.”

The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed. William Gibson.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

I need reminders

The older I get, the more I seem to need reminders.

I received a chain email yesterday which reminded me of an aphorism I had forgotten. The email ended by urging the reader to pass it on to ten friends but it stopped short of saying I would have bad luck for the rest of this life and until I was 75 in the next life too if I didn't pass it on.

Anyway, in the middle of the message were three lines:

Small minds discuss people; Average minds discuss events; Great minds discuss ideas.

This made me think of blogging.
Saw a few blogs tonight with people gossip. Celeb stuff bound to get a lot of traffic, e.g. “Tom Cruise says it’s OK for his wife to scream in childbirth,” or others about things that happened; a report about “Scorpion on Plane Bites Man on Leg”.

But there are blogs which discuss IDEAS. That’s what I hoped, hope, am hoping? this blog will become. If people are mentioned, their ideas will be highlighted. If events occur, the ideas behind the events will be emphasized.

The aphorism oversimplifies, as all proverbs, epithets, aphorisms, maxims, precepts and so on do. There are people whose lives are worth discussing. Just as there are events we should try to understand.

I like to read blogs relating to how technology affects the way we communicate. See those of Robert Scoble, Don Dodge, Joi Ito or Rebecca MacKinnon for starters.

In this blog, I thought I should sometimes write about communication artefacts (like p
encils) and products (like iPods). Mediocre products can be as ephemeral as gossip about people or events. Here today, gone tomorrow. Good products can turn into artefacts and evolve and stay with us.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

A man without a map is like a ship without a rudder

I arrived at Ikebukuro Station this morning. I hadn’t been there for a year and the station has north, south, west and east exits and I had forgotten which one. I try north first. Outside it is grey buildings and a clamor of colored signs. I look for the bus stop. No luck. OK, backtrack. Try the east exit. Looks the same so I ask a passerby, “You know the Number 23 bus stop?” Blank stare. Backtrack again, try the west exit. It looks the same as the other two, except there is a PARCO department store towering above all although I could have sworn there was a PARCO at each of the north and east exits also. This time there is a group of policeman trying to separate two groups of angry teenagers intent on having a fight. I draw one police aside. “Where is Bus Stop 23?” He looks at me surprised. “Here! See!” I am standing right at it. I flush with shame. Me, Mapmaker, LOST!?

It reminded me how similar areas outside Japanese stations look. I wasted 10 minutes blundering around Ikebukuro getting annoyed with myself for not having prepared properly.


If going to a new location, carry a subway map and an area location map.

Check the station exit gate AND gate number.

Station transfer and exit maps on pillars (showing what carriages are nearest the exit you want on arrival at a station) can help prepare for arrival.

Also a small compass can help in orientation.

This is SUCH SIMPLE STUFF. But I need to remind myself of it periodically.


Friday, February 9, 2007

Blackboard Calligraphy

The other day I was helping to administer an examination. The teacher wrote the name of the exam on the board to be sure students were in the right room.

MM: That’s very elegant. Your writing.

Teacher: Oh, it’s nothing special.

MM: Come on, it’s beautifully spaced, the characters all have nice shape and balance. They have a certain flourish. Are you a calligrapher?

Teacher: Well, yes. I was a calligraphy instructor before I became an economist.

MM. THAT’s a jump.

With keyboards now the main word creation device for many of us, handwriting is something we do less of. Maybe we are becoming like the medics Earl Wilson refers to, “You may not be able to read a doctor’s handwriting and prescription but you’ll notice his bills are neatly typewritten.”

Sometimes the thought crosses my mind I should relearn handwriting. Maybe drop into a handwriting clinic. Do some serious doodling.

Somehow I started introducing writing into my drawings, and after a time, the language took over and I started getting very involved with the handwriting and then the look of the handwriting.Patti Smith.

There again, maybe my handwriting is just a reflection of my disorganized brain. Trying to improve my script would be just treating the symptom, not the cause of the condition.


Thursday, February 8, 2007

Uploading to YouTube

Fetch Leo” is a short video clip of a Siamese cat fetching a flung toy.


It’s not a memorable piece of filming but was an exercise this morning in converting an AVI file to MPEG4 and then uploading it to YouTube.

Capturing the 10 second film clip from DV tape was done by Premiere, exported as an AVI file in a couple of minutes.

The conversion AVI to MPEG4 was done using a freebie convertor called PSP Video 9 which is good for converting videos for viewing on iPods and took only a few seconds.

The most time-consuming part of the exercise was getting registered on YouTube, since all the nom de plumes I tried had been taken. Eventually I settled on FB22222 as a user name. That’s the RGB code for Firebrick, a subdued red that my father has used effectively on buildings he has designed. Such a business getting your knickers in a twist to find a name. I was getting so tired of getting the same message “Sorry User Name already taken,” I saw red.

I say it is only a mediocre video since on YouTube I immediately saw a rather better 28 second film of another Siamese cat fetching something.


That video has music and while the conversation in it is not exactly something the Coen Bros might have scripted, there is some talk. Point taken, Leo passed his screen test and will be taken on a location shoot next Sunday.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

SD card tricks

I had the following conversation this morning with Fred who uses the Internet but who grumbles it wastes a lot of his time.

Fred: Surfing? One moment you are reading about something important like a forum discussing free speech in China or the problems of autistic children or their parents, and then the next moment you get distracted and start reading gossip about some celebrity, or a thread discussing whether Tylenol or Panadol is better for headaches. And don’t get me started on how diverting YouTube is.

MM: Yeah, but you know you CAN be in some discussions which ARE quite useful for you personally. Let me show you something. OK, I admit it’s a BIT trivial. But you know I was talking yesterday about SD cards? Well, I keep them in a little metal case and I found last night that two SIM cards will fit in one SD card space. See?

Fred: Yeah?

MM: Pretty useful wouldn’t you say? Now you can travel even lighter. One small case the size of a name card holder can carry your memory cards AND your phone cards.

Fred: And if I LOSE that one small case neither my phone NOR my camera will work, right? Every solution brings new problems.

Fred always has to have the last word.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Swappability, compatibility & fixability

When I was 15, I got my first motorcycle, a BSA. Cantankerous even on good days, one day it wouldn’t start at all. A friend found the coil was faulty, he removed the coil from an old immobile AJS in his shed, hooked it up to the BSA which then promptly roared into life. Boom, boom, boom. A component from one motorcycle could be swapped with that of a different maker. Oh joy! I was mobile again until my weekly gallon of petrol ran out and I had to mow a lawn to buy some more.

Try swapping components between vehicles nowadays. Or cameras. Or rice cookers. Each bit is tailor-made for that specific product.

There are exceptions. Like SD flash memory cards. I can put an SD card into a Panasonic digicamera, or into a Canon videocamera, or a Nokia phone or an O2 PDA. (Maybe not the rice cooker.) But I like that sort of cross platform compatibility.

Yet some companies try to force consumers into buying only their products. Sony and Apple are two of the most cunning players in this game. For example, Sony equip their cameras only with Memory Stick slots and by and large you are locked into buying Sony to use the Memory Sticks.

I like this swappability, that a bit of this machine can be used in that machine. It recalls the DIY (do it yourself) shed culture that I grew up in. Because of this quirk in my background I am shying away from buying Sony and favor products from manufacturers who support more open standards.

My father had a heart valve replaced ten years ago. The doctors put in a pig’s heart valve but it finally started to give trouble so he had it replaced a few weeks ago. On the day of the operation, just before going into theater, the operating surgeon asked my father, “About this valve, today they have both cow valves and pig valves. What’ll it be, pork or beef?”

He took pig again. But he had a choice. If that sort of swappability is possible in heart surgery, why can’t mere camera makers offer the same sort of swappability?

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Monday, February 5, 2007


Is an issue more serious than a problem? Has issue nudged problem out of the everyday lexicon? I wonder about this because recently I bought a Skype phone, the kind you plug into your computer so you can use a wireless Internet connection to make cheap calls while on the move.

It doesn’t work on two separate computers, causing several OS problems, so I check some discussion threads, and find several users reporting the same experience, so I uninstall it and take it back to the shop. I see the assistant who sold me the phone. “This phone, it has a problem.

The assistant looks at me up and down. “The phone has a problem you say?” he says with an expression as if to say, “Well, that’s YOUR problem, mate.

So I elaborate.I checked on the Internet and several users reported ISSUES with the phone.

Then this assistant straightens up and adjusts his glasses. “Issues? It has issues? That’s serious. We’ll take it back. Refund you, no problem.

Pretty much like that. What caused the attitude shift? I hadn’t run outside and put on a necktie or anything. Id just substituted the word problem for issue and added a reference to the Internet. Maybe I had started speaking his language.

Speaking other languages?

Following conversation takes place between Monica Dickens and an Australian woman, at a book signing in Australia, November, 1964:

Australian Woman: Emma Chissit.

Monica Dickens, thinking that is the woman’s name, writes: "To Emma

Chissit" inside the book.
stralian: (speaking slowly and emphatically): No, emmachissit?

(in Strine, emmachissit = How much is it?)

Monica Dickens 1915-1992

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Sunday, February 4, 2007


The suffix "-ist" added to a verb turns that word into a noun, generally describing someone who does that sort of work as a job like a scientist or an artist, or someone who holds certain beliefs like a Baptist or a Buddhist, or even someone who has certain abilities like a conversationalist or tendencies like an exhibitionist.

A person who writes a blog can therefore be, and often is, described as a "bloggist" although it takes time for newly minted words to become universally accepted. But "diarist" is an accepted term and since blogs are a sort of public diary, their rapid spread should make "bloggist" a respectable word quite soon.

Granted there are some people who are professional bloggists, but for most people blogging is an addition to other things they do. Some converse through their blogs and others may do it to indulge their exhibitionism.

Could blogging be a genre or a movement? Bloggism, anyone?

And would Boswell, diarist of Samuel Johnson, have been a bloggist?

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Yellow Bicycles

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a
bicycle.” Ernest Hemingway.

The weather at zero degrees ( C ) today has me wishing it were not winter and that a ride on a summer afternoon was planned. Best I could do was put on a yellow jersey and cycle to Denny’s.

Yellow is a cheerful color, associated with daffodils in the spring, with the sun in any season…And the maillot jaune. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillot_jaune

Bicycles offen
d few people and even inspire many.

Mark Twain said, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”

H.G. Wells was unequivocal. “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

And after bicycle and its rider have navigated many years unscathed, where do they go? Disposing of a worn out human body has its prescribed protocols, but where do old bicycles go when they are not up to it anymore? For retiring old bicycles see www.geocities.com/verdrahciretop/bikes.html

“The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.” Ann Strong

That all said, here’s a last word from Paul Scott Mowrer: “There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.”


Friday, February 2, 2007

2B or not 2B?

mm 01 by Kimiyo
Originally uploaded by mapmakr.
Appropriate, sustainable technology = a pencil. Marvellous things. There's actually more to them than meets the eye. From the technical point of view see The Pencil Pages, The Pencil Museum in Cumberland, aptly in Beatrix Potter country, or The Pencil Place for collectors. And people even blog about pencils. See the indefatigable Paper and Pencil.

Beyond the technical, some become lyrical about the joys of pencils.
"A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere." Joyce Myers. Get down what you see and then redraw or edit as Truman Capote put it: "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil." And when you don't have a pencil? "One must always draw, draw with the eyes, when one cannot draw with a pencil." Balthus


Thursday, February 1, 2007

Lend me your ear

It's February 1st. First day of every month I say "White Rabbit" as soon as I wake up. Instead of me rabbiting on about why I do this, try the collection of opinions at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit_rabbit

This blog contains opinions, recalled conversations, photos, sketches, sounds, videos, music, podcasts and links.

Often it will be about how technology impacts on how people communicate, but when this becomes much ado about nothing, we'll go down other roads.

The blog has been named because I sometimes scribble notes on a PDA (an O2). Some materials are captured by camera, microphone and videocamera. Hence the inflating of O2 into "oxygenated".