Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year - hopefully

If you don't count the 49 years before I started bogging, I think this post ends the longest break in my blog career. Five whole days.

I point the finger at my new iPod Touch. The 'new coolness' filled my head with ideas and possibilities and I sat down on the 26th and began ripping our hundreds of CDs (at 256kbps using 'grip', supported by 'paranoia' and 'lame', on Ubuntu Linux). For various reasons, luckily this did not conflict with anyone else's heart-felt desire to sit also around for days doing......not much. End-of-year-itis. Bed (or couch) rest prescribed.

The result is we now have an iTunes library 25GB in size, with roughly 3,200 tracks by almost 200 artists or groups. The best stuff (about 1750 songs) is also on a 16GB USB key drive and we can play any song we want off that using the stereo remote control. Much better than shuffling though stacks of CDs just to hear one song. Maybe I'm late to it, but the issue was always time. It took days.

Ive aso found myself going for walks with the iPod Touch, with "WifiTrak" installed (an app you can download). WifiTrak allows one to scan for wifi networks of all kinds and of any strength. The default scanner tends to not show access oints with a strength of less than 15 (so I'm told).WifiTrak will show you everything, including the channel and the type of encryption used - if any. A nice tool for 'war walking'. Yes, I have found unsecured wifi on nearby streets. Amazing.

Whatever. With thousands of tracks on stereo and / or iPod, there will be no shortage of party music this evening as we head into the New Year. Given the way things appear to be headed, it looks like we may be able to party like it was 1929.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Handheld coolness

One of the great pressies I got this Xmas was an iPod Touch 8GB. This device is basically an iPhone without the phone. It has almost all the same software as the iPhone and you can download a lot more from iTunes, either for free or for cheap. Within a short space of time, I've added WeatherNZ, Facebook, WifiTrak, WordPlus and Plasma Ball.

After it it for only a few hours, the key to this device for me, the thing that lifts it out of the ordinary and into the sunshine, is the wireless connectivity. I have a wireless network at home and at work and there are wireless access points at the local cafes. Home and work are free of charge, while the cafe's tend to want $8 / hour, which is dear, but I tell myself it's not tooo bad if it is very occasional and I'm sipping a cup on your own.

The Safari browser works well, though I can't find any way to download files or to view flash content (like the graphs in Google Analytics). All you see is little blue boxes where the flash conent should be. You are able to watch YouTube videos easily enough. I also tried, and had no problems playing flash videos there, either. was a no-go. Just little blue boxes where the video player should have been.

On a busy web page, if the text you're reading is too small, you can zoom on the page easily by placing two fingers in the centre and spreading them apart. Repeat as required. To shrink a page, you do the reverse, pinching two fingers together. Easy as.

For my own purposes, I'm able to do my Gmail either via the Safari browser or via the IMAP mail client. Google Maps is good, too...and the 3.5" screen means the satellite view photo mode and the Streetview mode are worth using. Safari lets me see my Google Docs, but I didn't appear to be able to edit them. The iPod Touch screen is big, clear and provides sharp images and colours with good brightness by default.

It's a good music and video player, too, though it is a wee bit of a pain to have to import files into iTunes first, then drag / drop them to the iPod Touch. hat means you MUST have a Windows or Mac system. I usually use Linux, but the laptop also has Vista, so I had what I needed. But I'm used to just copying files over onto my phone or other cheap MP3 players. Still, the 'new coolness' means adding graphics and other nice stuff to the content, so iTunes isn't a completely useless path to acquiring these pretty things. The Apple Tunes store in New Zealand appears to be thin on content. Many of the TV shows based in the US and UK I might like to pay to watch simply aren't available. When content owners simply won't sell it to you at ANY price, then that's what Bittorrent is for, I guess. No biggy.

The 8GB is big enough for me. That's more songs than I can listen to in over a week without hearing the same one twice. I'd watch short fideos on it, but can't bring myself to the level of deseration required to attempt a feature length movie like Dark Knight or Iron Man.

The way I see it, you already have a decent cellphone (I do) and all you want is the 'new coolness', then get an iPod Touch. I'll be able to leave my laptop home more often it does pretty much everything I end to use my laptop for when away from the house. At NZ$389 all up, the iPod Touch delivers all the coolness of an iPhone without the ball and anchor around the wallet connected to a telco.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Xmas Files: Mall madness

09:00am: Trade Aid Takapuna - Found *exactly* what we wanted. Secured the goodies in mere minutes and headed for.....the mall.

10:00am Glenfield Mall - crawled around for 10 minutes looking for a car park. We got inside and found no more people than usual if this were a weekend day, so wondering where they all went? I didn't go near the Warehouse or the supermarkets (Countdown and Foodtown), so maybe that's where they all were.

11:15am - Crossed Northern Motorway on Sunset, traffic visibly congested in both directions around exits to the local malls.

Merry Xmas! ....and spare a thought for those less fortunate than yourself in the days ahead. Not everyone will be having a happy New Year. Let's do what we can to help.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's snowing out there

Canadians are looking at their first coast-to-coast white Christmas in almost 40 years. Last winter was a record year for snow in many areas, though it didn't start quite as early as this year. As you can see from the photo (Caledon, Ontario - 30km NW of Toronto), that's a lot of snow in Southern Ontario before Christmas. In recent years, there has been no persistent snow on the ground in that region until after the New Year.

Interestingly, you don't get a lot of snow when it's really cold. You get a lot of snow when it's not very far below freezing. You get a lot of snow when there is a lot of water in the atmosphere. Water that has evaporated in large quantities. In Canada, snow comes from the North.

With the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay being warmer than usual, they remain open longer than usual and you get more evaporation than usual. Hence more snow. Perversely, the growing volumes of snow in Canadian winters are a sign things have gotten quite a bit warmer (from a snow perspective) than usual.

It will be interesting to see what happens for the remainder of the winter. Some places have already received as much snow as they would normally see for the whole year.
Phillips said some parts of the country are seeing snowfall amounts that have outpaced last year's record and near-record totals at this point in the season.

But he also said it's unlikely that trend will continue.

"Already in many places in eastern Canada, we're ahead of the record from last year," he said.

"But, you know, we have a long, long way to go. I'm thinking that, hey, there's not enough left in nature to give us another one of those years."
Nature may surprise.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sock and Awe

Be a Bush "Sole-mate". Dish out your own rough justice to the worst US President ever.

Play Sock and Awe.

You know you want to.

Climate ignores denialists and keeps changing

Despite claims climate change is a myth, the ice keeps melting and the climate is generally showing little regard for assertions climate change is a myth.

Here are some new stories you probably won't be reading in the NZ Herald.

Switzerland's glaciers are melting and the pace is accelerating. Estimated at having lost 13% of their total mass of ice in the past 9 years, it's estimated that in about 100 years even the largest of them will be gone with the smaller ones disappearing long before then.
As our own government appears to be seeking ways to let the coal burn free, scientists are warning if we are to have any hope of reducing carbon emissions, we can't start using coal to make liquid fuels to replace oil. 

The classic stages of resistance to change, as summarised by Mahatma Ghandi, appear to be happening: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

We are well past the ignoring phase. That stopped in the 1990s.  The laughing is still heard in some quarters, like the National Party caucus room and the editorial offices of the NZ Herald, but most others appear to be losing their smirks as the ice keeps melting.

We now appear to be on to the fighting part, as vested interests have mislead the public to win office to secure a denialist agenda - as exemplified by Gerry Brownlee, Rodney Hide and more arrogant, ignorant others. 

I don't really enjoy using these 'terms of endearment' for people who can't see the evidence for what it is. But restating the evidence doesn't help. That has been done over and over and over. Brownlee and Hide don't give a rat's arse what the evidence is.

Meanwhile, the climate doesn't give a rat's arse what they think...and the ice keeps melting.

I keep referring to the ice because it looks more and more like this mass of 'stored coolness' is the only thing blurring the edges on a shift in climate that could be dramatic and swift  were it not for the moderating effects of water - frozen and not.

The fight will in the end be an unfair one. The climate will win. There is no doubt about that. The sad thing about it is that when it does, the denialist fools who doomed our children (not just theirs) to that fate will probably have died fat and happy.

Our short life spans keep large numbers of us from understanding many cycles or things that last longer than we do....and we are too often like May flies, living our glorious, self-centred, metaphorical 'day' amidst centenarian Galapagos tortoises - long, slow processes - thinking them to be rocks if we are aware of them at all. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Temporary climate change plateau

Posting before investigating the details? Why not.

Here is an idea I've been toying with.

I've noticed this year in Auckland the air feels cool and wet so far. Over in Melbourne a few weeks ago, it felt the same. Everyone there was saying it seemed unseasonably grey and there were waves of cloud and cool air coming up from the South.....but not a lot of rain for it. Though more than they had seen for a while.

At the same time, the opponents of climate change have been crowing about how the global temperature had not experienced a new peak for the past decade.

Maybe the two are related. This is the part I now want to go away and have a look at, but thought I'd post the train of thought here first as a benchmark (mainly for my use, but others may be interested in the idea if they have not already come across it).

The polar ice began melting - in earnest - relatively recently. Roughly the past decade. What happens when ice melts? The water around it gets colder. Like an ice cube in a drink. The more of the ice that melts, the greater the cooling effect my mask what is actually a rise in the surrounding levels of heat energy going into the system. Like ice in a drink on a hot day. Nice and cold...but its fate is certain.

Perhaps the 'plateau' in global temperature rise is a temporary effect due to ice melting in greater volumes than it is able to form each year....resulting in a net ice loss, year on year.

As anyone with a drink knows, even a relatively small ice cube will continue to keep your drink cool.....but when the last of the ice is gone, the surrounding heat will quickly warm the contents of the glass up.

In the case of the global climate system, I doubt it will be as neat and tidy as that, but it may well be that the same underlying principle is in operation.

The world is warmer, but as the ice melts (due to the rising warmth) many parts of the world may well feel cooler.....until some critical threshold is passed and the heat really takes off.....perhaps accelerated even further by the release of sea bed methane which has 20 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

Should we get to that point, the changes that follow may have been human triggered.....but they will be fully 'natural' in their cascading consequences.

No ice at the North Pole by September 2013? I wonder where the temperatures in the Northern Hemishere will go after that.....or will the Greenland Ice Sheet continue to moderate northern climes as it continues to melt?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No more Apple at Macworld

Looks like the era of the big tech trade show is well and truly over. Apple have announced Macworld 2009 (January) will be their last. Killed by online business and their growing chain of retail stores.

The only Mac I've ever owned was an elderly B&W 7" screen Macintosh that was handed down. I tossed the 20+ veteran last year when shifting house and it refused to start no matter what I did.

It won't be last, though, as the new Macs have been calling out to me for several years and the urge to buy one has been steadily growing. A triumph of marketing, I may yet join that customer base. The product looks good and there is no shortage of content on the Internet that people have produced using their Macs. This last, more than anything, is what has impressed me.

How National won the 2008 elections

In a recent talk, Noam Chomsky talks about the role of people like Crosby / Textor in election campaigns and how they undermine democracy. Also included would be the those like NZ Herald who banged on and on about the cost of the ETS while never mentioning the cost of doing nothing or reporting (that I can find) the latest research showing climate change to be caused by humans. Similarly the mis-named "anti-smacking" law. Never once did they tell people (that I can find, anyway) it has ALWAYS been illegal to hit children. Under the old law, the S59 defence only became relevant AFTER the police laid charges. Only people who actually read the law know that. The other 85% didn't....and still don't.

Arguably, they actively mislead people in order to prevent them from making an informed choice....and they are still doing it.

The full length talk ("What Next? The Elections, the Economy, and the World") can be seen here:

Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spying on who?

Did the NZ police spy on the Transport Forum?

Earlier this year, this group of "terrorists" organised a national truck blockade that disrupted traffic in all our major cities for hours. Many thousands of people had their lawful activities disrupted or prevented completely by this action.

By comparison, a few greenies ripping up GE plants in a paddock somewhere pales into insignificance.

Are the police spying on former National party MP and Minister, Tony Friedlander, who leads the forum?

Why not?

His group has already done this country more REAL harm than any group of environmentalists I've ever heard of.

Do they spy on the farmers? A few years ago, the farmer-lead tractor blockade caused a great deal of disruption.

Or do the conservative police only spy on "lefties" while the Right does much more - and greater - harm? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A long way from Taihape

..and he wasn't throwing gum boots.

"Farewell kiss" may now enter the English language as a euphemism for acts of disgust like this one.

But it's a bit late. Bush will be gone from office in 35 days. Why bother?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Capturing webcam video and audio on Linux

This post is for those who may have tried luvcview or some other, but can't work out how to capture both video and audio from a UVC standard compliant webcam. I've been Googling around and seen a lot of questions and a modest number of almost-useful answers.

I use a UVC compliant / conforming Logitech QuickCam E 3500 webcam on Ubuntu Linux 8.10.
I have installed ffmpeg and all the gstreamer packages - "good", "bad" and "ugly".

This command worked fine for me:

ffmpeg -f video4linux2 -s 640x480 -r 25 -i /dev/video0 -f oss -i /dev/dsp1 /home/steve/test.mpg

Once you have it going, you can then tweak / adjust video and sound codecs and see how that works for you. The command above creates an mpeg file, with good light and good sound I can then import directly into my video editing software (kino, kdenlive - whatever) and use.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NACTional: Our very own Flat Earth Society

At last week's climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, one wag was heard to say
"This climate conference will go down in history as the retirement party for the Flat Earth Society of the United States of America,"

Last year, in Bali, the US delegation was told to "lead or get out of the way" by a delegate from Papua New Guinea, who received a round of applause.

Here in Key-wee-land, where evidence doesn't matter as long as you BELIEVE, all forward motion on climate change has apparently ceased. The government is Hide-ing its head in the sand, awaiting the outcome of a "review" of the evidence. The "review" itself is based on the verifiably mistaken presumption (emphasis on the "pre") that there is doubt that human activity is a contributor to climate change.

Just because the NZ Herald and others refuse to print items reporting the latest science on the subject (anyone recall the last time they saw one?) doesn't mean the ice at the poles has stopped melting. 

On November 8th, New Zealand became quite a bit flatter than it had been. If NACTional refuse to lead on this, then we owe it to ourselves and the planet to get them out of the way. Working on it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Melbourne's trams

One of the great things about Melbourne is the excellent public transport system. Especially the ubiquitous trams that make it easy to get around the more central parts of the city quickly and for the price of a single, cheap day pass.

Though the services there today are provided by private operators (Yarra Trams, Connex, etc..) under contract to a single Victoria state public transport authority, the original services were constructed as an integrated system by a public organisation (Public Transport Commission)....and it shows.

Auckland's public transport is a (TOO slowly improving) shambles compared to Melbourne's. Hopefully the new government won't repeal the recent legislation that gives ARTA the power to actually define public transport services for Auckland, instead of having to beg the various operators to - pretty please - do what is needed.

(This video was edited and rendered using 'Kino' on Ubuntu Linux. Thanks to Slim Dusty for singing "Waltzing Matilda" so well)

Arrogance redux

The new government appears to have forgotten all that it said about arrogance with respect to the previous government.

How else can we explain the rush of legislation, under urgency, with no opportunity for public input or expert scrutiny?

The usual hyopcrisy. I expected nothing else from National and they are living down to my low expectations of them.

"Democracy" isn't a word they understand.

The funding of Herceptin is a dubious thing, too. This is Tony Ryall screwing the process in the arse...and never mind the evidence.

We don't even know if that VERY expensive drug even works. Never mind. We'll spend millions on it anyway and disregard expert advice for political reasons.

National.....just what I thought they would be and not a bit more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Google "Android" to be cell phone VHS?

Today brings the news that Sony Ericsson and ASUS are joining the "Open Handset Alliance". The (now 11) members of the OHA are promoting the use of Goole's Android operating system for cellphones.

Android is Internet giant Google's offering as an open platform for software development for handsets.

Motorola and others have already bet their cellular future on Android.

I'm looking forward to these offerings. I like Apple's iPhone, but the proprietary nature of it has so far put me off. It's an expensive device from a controlling company and is typically tied to a single cell network provider: AT&T in the US and Vodafone here in New Zealand. So people who want 'cool stuff' have to lock themselves into a device and network that effectively dictates to them what they can do and for how much.

Google's Android promises to bust those doors wide open and offer a rich and constantly growing function set on an open platform that will work on any network compatible with the phone hardware. I'm tired of buying the cheap phones because I need one for each cell provider. I'd like to have one really good (and very cool) phone and use it with any provider competing to offer me services.

This is much more like what I want and would happily pay for......and hopefully soon will.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Kino: Video editing on Linux

This morning marked a milestone of sorts.

It was the first time I have been able to successfully (and without major hassle) edit and render a video on a Linux system. In this case, Ubuntu 8.10 Linux.

Specifically, I used "Kino" to import an MPEG file from my digital camera. I then added a title at the start and a fade out at the end and rendered the amended video out as an MPEG which I then uploaded to YouTube. The only hiccup was Kino telling me I needed to install the "mjpegtools" package in order to successfully render the final product. One "apt-get install" later and the job was done.

For me, this is HUGE. Lack of useful and reliable video editing was the primary reason I had to move from mainly using Linux to mainly using Windows a couple of years ago. I had been almost exclusively a Linux user for the previous 5 years. I had tried everything there was at the time and it was all either flakey (Cinelerra) or didn't work at all (Main Actor, KDEnlive) or was impenetrably obtuse (Cinelerra).

Using Kino for the first time, I was able to work out, in just a few minutes, how to import a video clip, edit it and add effects ot it....then render it out.

There may be better programs out there, as I know there are several under constant development, but Kino is the first I've tried that meets my needs. Hopefully there are more.

Here is the first (very simple) vid I made with Kino: from video shot during a take-off from Auckland Airport on the 28th. Title effect added to the beginning and a fade out at the end.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Back from Melbourne

Just got back from a week in Melbourne. I hadn't been there before, so was very much looking forward to seeing a city I had heard many good things about.

I was out and around town for most of every day (and evening) which meant there wasn't any blogging going on.

Melbourne has several type of trams running up and down the main streets. The easiest on the eye were the French and German trams. The Aussie-made (Dandenong) trams looked downright ugly - painted mainly battleship grey, and the overall esthetic suggested they had been originally intended to be used in the invasion of Iraq. Stark and UGLY....made even more so by the tops of them being festooned in garish ad boards. 

Overall, Melbourne's public tranport system was excellent. For $10.10 / day each, we could go anywhere on any mode of conveyance - train, tram or bus. The services were frequent and reliable. We usually did not have to resort to a timetable as there were notice boards on most stops telling us exactly now many minutes until the next train or tram arrived. That number was rarely more than 10 minutes unless we had just missed one. Fingers crossed the new National-lead government does not kneel to the bus operaters (who have collectively made a mess of Auckland's public transport) and repeal the law giving ARTA more authority and the ability to ensure Auckland has better public transport sooner rather than later.  

Melbourne's increasingly dire water situation was rarely not in the local news. Each person is asked to try to use less than 115 litres / day. Waterless urinals in public toilets are common. Projections show Melbourne  will run out of water in 2010 while the big dealisation project underwy won't come online until 2011. That looks like being a tough year for locals unless there is a lot of rain between now and then.

Melbourne is growing rapidly, so it will be interesting to see how they reconcile the limits of resources with the desire to exploint them as through there were no limits. The whole world faces that challenge, but it looks like Melbourne will be learning the answer sooner than most. 

On the fun side, we did our best to sample the restaurants in Chapel St, Hardware Lane, Lygon St and anywhere else we found ourselves hungry. So much great food, so little time.

The service varied widely from place to place though a rule of thumb seemed to be the more Kwiis they had on the staff, the better the service.

At VONS in Hardware lane, there were no Kiwis at all and getting the (mainly European) waiting staff to pay any attention meant getting up and chasing them around the restaurant. They didn't appear to do eye contact. The calamari was like rubber and the paella was ricy muck. That was the worst one out of an otherwise very good bunch of restaurants.

I can recommend "Amigos" in Chapel St. They delivered what is probably the best chicken burrito I've ever had.

Also at the top of my list for almost everything was "Tica Tera" in Lygon St. It's a pizza place offering wide-fired pizza, excellent calamari, and good service that rated well with us. We were there in the afternoon and the Greatest Hits Aussie FM radio they were playing wasn't too my taste, but they turned it down when they noticed us looking around for a table far from the speakers. Top points for being awake....and thinking.