Life and death situation

Last night I took part in a St John’s Ambulance training exercise that I was roped into. They wanted some fake casualties to practise on, so PhilB, Ellie and I went along last night to pretend to be injured! It was actually a lot of fun, a side of acting I’ve never tried before. The first batch of injuries was sport-related, so Mark (the St John’s bloke who did our make up and was a casualty too) had a broken collar bone from playing football, Ellie had a badly bruised knee, and Phil and I had a rugby accident which left him with a bashed head and me with a cut on my arm where he’d put a stud into me! The second round was general clubbing injuries, so Ellie had fallen down some steps and had concussion, Mark was drunk and had a twisted ankle, Phil was drunk and nausious, and I was drunk and uncooperative and had another cut on my hand from falling over. The make-up was rather rushed, because Mark was running late, but we used some pretty realistic fake blood which actually made me feel uncomfortable looking at it dribbling down my arm…

The acting side was good fun too, with a good deal of improvisation (which I’d never done before). I think I might have overdone it in the first round – I was supposed to be a rugby player with a cut arm, but I seemed to give the impression I was going into shock so they laid me on the floor! Think I might have overdone the reactions a little! Still, I covered it with a story about not having played rugby in ages and probably wouldn’t play again after this experience!! In the second one I had to be drunk, which was kinda difficult because I’ve never been anywhere near drunk before. Still, I think I managed to pull it off, just about, and managed to be disruptive and uncooperative enough for them to bundle me off to “Nightline” once they’d dealt with me! Still, all good fun, and I learnt quite a lot in terms of first aid from it as well, which was good. Expose to examine. That was the phrase of the evening. Next thing you know I’ll be so good at first aid I’ll be able to run my own hospital. On my own. Blindfolded. Just so long as I don’t get any patients.

A blast from the past

I’ve just been looking through all my notes from when I was at uni, reading all the lecture notes I made. Those of you who were with me when I was studying will know that “lecture notes” for me was quite a fun pastime, not least because it rarely involved listening to a word of the lecture! I found references to the infamous binary bush (a cousin of the binary tree), accompanied by some binary grass (11111111111). Then there was the boolean definitions that Phill and I came up with. Here are a few good ones:

Conditional Boolean: sometimes true | sometimes false
Y2K Boolean: frue | talse
Oxymoronic Boolean: the next statement is true | the previous statement is false
Women’s Boolean: true (which often means false) | false (which often means true)
Politician’s Boolean: 3
Black Hole Boolean: tru……
Optimist’s Boolean: true.
Quantum Boolean: true | false | not sure yet

There were also written conversations between Phill and myself regarding classes (if you don’t know about object-oriented programming you probably won’t get this). There was a mention of Superman having inherited his superpower properties from his parents’ superclass, how a clairvoyant class wouldn’t need a constructor method because it would already know what value to initialise to, how a JCB class would have a deconstructor, and how a goldfish class would need its constructor method to be called every 5 seconds. Some of it was quite funny, if you happen to know what constructors and classes actually are in that context, but I expect you’ll all think I’m some sort of computer-freak now I’ve shared it with you all…

Life in the shadows

Well folks, today I didn’t do any work. No, really, I didn’t do anything. I watched Platoon this morning, which was rather bloody but quite interesting. Managed to catch a glimpse of a very young-looking Johnny Depp, who I saw three brief scenes, with lines in only one (he was very good though, managed to pull off a translator role, speaking English and Vietnamese). I can see why that film didn’t exactly herald his entry into stardom, he was effectively a nobody in that film! I then spent this afternoon tidying and cleaning, and then sat down and wrote an article on Shadows. Do take a look at it if you are bored – it’s nothing particularly scientific or philosophical, but I thought it was quite clever! Basically just seeks to revolutionise the way we think about shadows.

New PhotoLounge

After a long period of inactivity, I have finally done something with my PhotoLounge. Actually, it was more a case of replacing it, rather than improving what was already there. Don’t get me wrong, I did like my old system, it was all completely hand-coded by myself, and it worked. But maintaining it was a bit of a pain and took a lot of work, so I’ve given in and opted for an out-of-the-box solution instead. I’m using a Coppermine gallery, which you can find at www.minipix.co.uk/gallery. It’s set up with two levels of access, public and members. Most people when they view the site will see the albums I have designated as public, so that everyone can see them. However, there are some pictures which I think ought to be members-only, partly to maintain my copyright and partly to protect the privacy of those in the photos! I know it’s not usually a big deal, but some people get a little edgy about having their photo taken if they think the whole world is going to see them online doing something silly! So now it’s only us friends who can laugh at each other, rather than the whole world. If you want to sign up to be a member, please e-mail me, as I haven’t yet found a way of allowing visitors to apply for membership within the site itself. Oh, and as a little taster, let me tell you that there are currently two albums on the new gallery, one of pictures of my lovely Mini, and one of pictures from last term’s Chaplaincy Murder Mystery evening.

New phone

Well I’ve finally bitten the bullet and bought myself a new phone this morning. It’s a Motorola L6, which is the little brother to the RAZR phones which have been so popular. It’s not a flip phone like my last one (which was a Samsung A800, for those of you who are interested) but it’s incredibly thin and rather stylish! It’s also got a camera in it, which is a bit of a novelty, plus mp3 ringtones, WAP access, colour screen, Java games and Bluetooth. Vast improvement on my previous phone. I think I know my way around it reasonably well now, but I expect there are plenty more things I’ll learn about it in time.

I also went onto campus today for Chaplaincy lunch, which was nice. Not been to a uni event in ages, so it was nice to catch up with a few people there. Ellie made me eat about half of a broccoli quiche though, because no one else was eating it. I felt a little quiched-out after that! Needless to say, I haven’t actually managed to get much work done today, what with a long lie in (blame the cold – sniff sniff), new phone and lunch, though I did do a little this afternoon. Apologies to everyone reading this who works 9 till 5 every day…

Ah yes, one last thing before I sign off – I’ve been sorting out my costume for the Chaplaincy panto in a few weeks’ time. I’m not giving away what I’m going as, but I’ve got most of the costume already in my spare-clothes-suitcase, just need to get myself a few accessories – I’ll need something for my feet, something sharp, something dangly, something that goes bang, something red, something that doesn’t require a hole, and something that will wash off. And if you can guess from that what I’m going as, you’re more perceptive than I give you credit for!!

Mac vs. Windows

I was having a conversation with a friend a while ago about which was better, Windows or MacOS. He was very clearly a Windows person, and wouldn’t even consider OS X as a viable operating system (which I thought was a bit harsh). However, I have to admit to being a little biased myself, towards the offerings Apple has thrown our way. So, after sifting the net for other people’s opinions, I thought it was about time I shared my musings (if you’re not into computers in any way, feel free to ignore all of this post).

Firstly, we ought to make sure we are comparing the right things with each other. After all, it’s no good comparing Mac OS X Tiger with Windows 95, for instance. However, it does present something of a problem, in that Apple has released several versions of their operating system in the time that Microsoft has released one. Windows XP graced the general public at much the same time as Mac OS X, but while Microsoft has brought out Service Pack 1 and 2, Apple have completely revamped the entire system, three times. So do we compare Windows XP SP2 with Mac OS X Tiger, or the original XP with the original X?

I must also point out here that whilst I use computers most of the time, I am not what you might call a power user. I push my computer to the limit, admittedly, but speed is not the be all and end all for me. Everyone has their own needs from a computer, mine has always been the experience and the appearance, so this is what I will mainly focus on here.

When Windows XP first came out, it was a sigh of relief that the horrible greyness had finally been dispensed with! There was colour to the operating system, some subtle 3D shading on the task bar and on buttons, which generally made the look and feel far more friendly. However, there was the flaw – it was too friendly. Everything had been dumbed-down to make it hyper-accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of their intelligence. Many quickly commented on the Fisher-Price interface, with the gaudy primary colours look more like a toy than a power tool. Of course, the first incarnation of Mac OS X was much the same. It too was a huge step forward, leaping out of the confines of grey tool bars and introducing a far smoother user interface. It was not without its flaws though; the pinstripe effect was quickly withdrawn in the subsequent edition as people probably complained of headaches. However there was a lot of eye-candy which made OS X stand out from the crowd – subtle transparencies, smooth transition effects, nice bubbly scroll bars that were friendly without being condescending.

From here, things start to get more interesting. Apple brought out their second version of OS X, Jaguar, which introduced a swish brushed metal feel (in places) and generally cleaned up the interface a little. OS 10.3, Panther, refined the interface further by smoothing out the pinstripes and also added a hefty load of extra functionality. And then there was 10.4, Tiger, which ironed out the pinstripes completely and made the whole thing look even more clean and smooth. Windows XP, on the other hand, just stayed the same. Yes, Microsoft released a couple of service packs, but they didn’t do much that the average user would notice. No doubt Microsoft was too busy fixing bugs and blocking up security holes to pay much attention to the GUI. There are also several nice functional aspects that Apple has introduced which Microsoft has so far completely neglected. Tiger saw the introduction of Spotlight, the hyper-fast search facility that somehow manages to find anything, anywhere, in no time at all. Similar technologies are now available for Windows too, but not built into the OS.

Then we have the future. Microsoft has been working on Windows Vista for some time now, and we are beginning to see what it will end up like. Similarly, Apple told the world recently that it would be releasing another version of it’s operating system shortly after the release of Vista. From what I’ve seen of the interface so far, Vista is cleverer than XP and has thankfully lost its plasticy Fisher-Price feel, but is still very messy. Microsoft have tried to catch up with Apple by putting window transparencies in, and while it may be very clever to have transparent window titles combined with a blur effect, plus window shadows and glowing window buttons, it’s possibly a little too transparent for my liking. Too much of the background shows through, it’s too in-yer-face, it’s as if Microsoft is trying to show off with a new effect it’s found but doesn’t know quite how to use it effectively yet. It’s also a little disappointing that we won’t get all the flashy technology we were promised when the project was called Windows Longhorn. Apple, on the other hand, haven’t told us very much at all about their new operating system, but if it’s going to be an improvement over Tiger, it ought to be something truely remarkable. And just to show you how much ground Microsoft has to make up, people are already comparing Vista with Tiger, which in terms of release date seems a little unfair, but even with this in mind OS X Tiger holds its ground. Yes, there are things that Vista will do that Tiger can’t at the moment. But Tiger isn’t exactly hot off the press now so we should expect that.

So, a conclusion? If you want an operating system that allows you to write a letter to your grandmother and check your e-mails once or twice a week, it’s not going to make a scrap of difference what you use, so just get the cheapest one. If you want to do clever programming and networking things, use something like Unix or Windows Server System, because you won’t need it to look pretty. If you want to play games, get a Windows machine because games developers don’t pay enough attention to Mac users yet. If you want something that is nice to use and pleasing to the eye, get a Mac. I’m currently running OS X Tiger on a 1Ghz G3, and haven’t really needed to use my PC since. I just love the interface, the clean lines, the subtle rounded edges, the window shadows, the transition effects, the stability, and the fact that Windows users look at it and say “what do I do with it?”

New toy

My new camera arrived today! It’s soooo much fun! Some of you may remember my excitement when I bought my previous camera, a Fuji FinePix A210. That was a good little camera – only 3.2Mp but produced some pretty good results. But the S5600 is quite a large step up from that. It looks more professional, it feels more professional, and parts of the manual still confuse me!! I’ve been taking some pictures of random things in the lounge, testing it out, and I’ve got some interesting results. Despite the general lack of ambient light the camera managed to focus on pretty much anything, which was quite impressive. When viewed on the computer at 100%, some of them were a little grainy, but that’s to be expected with using high ISO settings. I’m looking forward to using this in good weather outside, I should be able to get some really impressive photos! The 10x zoom is very useful too – I can see our bird table quite clearly with it! The flash is pretty impressive too; I went out into the garage to take a picture of Neddy’s dashboard and got a really clear picture, despite it being very dark in there. The camera has an AutoFocus Light, which is basically a little green light on the front which temporarily lights up the scene so that the camera can focus on something, which means the camera can focus even in the dark! Ellie’s coming round this evening, so I’m going to try and get some nice photos of her (we still don’t have a nice picture of us together…. must put that right!!).

In other news, I’m on the lookout for a new mobile phone. Yes, I know I’ve just bought a new camera, but my current phone’s display is playing up a little. Every now and then I’ll open it up (it’s a flip phone) and the screen won’t show anything. I thought it might have been a loose connection, but if I switch it off and on again it’s all fine, so it must be something else. I’ve been doing a little research and found a phone I rather like the look of. It’s the Motorola L6, which is a cousin of the very stylish RAZR and SLVR phones. It’s got a camera in it too, which would be nice. Yes, I know I’ve just bought a camera, that’s not the point. How many times do you see something and think “Oh, if only I had brought my camera!” Now think how many times you walk out the door without your phone. There are bound to be loads of times when it would be useful to have a camera phone. I wouldn’t want to use it to take wedding photos or anything serious, but for taking photos of people at a party or of the ridiculous 12 inch exhaust that someone has bolted to their car, I reckon a camera phone is just the sort of thing we all need to hand at a moment’s notice. I’ve just got to persuade myself I can afford it…

Super Snapper

Well, I’ve finally bitten the bullet and bought a new camera. Online price was far lower than in-store, which was nice, so hopefully I should have it delivered within the next few days. For those who I didn’t tell already, or who can’t be bothered to scroll down and read about it in one of my previous blog posts, it’s a Fuji FinePix S5600, which is actually quite a new model, and fits my requirements pretty much exactly. Not only does it look the part (big black casing, big black lens), but it sports a 5 Megapixel sensor (which is more than adequate for an amateur photographer), a 10x optical zoom, plenty of control over shutter speeds and ISO settings and stuff, some preset settings for pointing-and-clicking, and it also takes the same type of memory as my previous camera so I can reuse the same cards. All very exciting!

And why did I buy it now? Well, it was either that or wait until my next pay-cheque. Thing is, I didn’t really want to wait that long, and Phil and Jenny’s wedding is only three months away (for those that don’t know, I’m an official photographer for the event!), so I’ll need to get some practice in to make sure the pics are spot-on!

In other news, I’ve not done a lot today. Nor yesterday, actually. It’s that tiresome waiting game, waiting for people to either get round to paying me so that I can start work, or not being able to decide whether they want me to work at all, or just delaying progress while they think over details or whatever. I’ve had various odd bits to do for Chelmsford, but that’s about it really. Still, that’s left plenty of time to play my guitar, and I’m going to a music practice at church this evening too, so that’s something to look forward to.

Finally, I’ve noticed that since putting the dashboard in my Mini it’s made the engine sound quieter! I didn’t expect it to make that much difference, but obviously that extra panel is acting as a bit of soundproofing. All good, I suppose, and I can still hear the dulcet tones of the engine so I won’t forget that it’s there! I still need to sort out my exhaust, which is still blowing somewhere, but there’s not a huge amount I can do right now. Not only is it wet and cold and I don’t really want to be outside, but I don’t have any car jacks or anything to repair the pipe. So I reckon that’s gonna be another job for a nice friendly Mini Club person to help me with!

Pics of Neddy

I thought it was about time I posted some pictures of my Mini, Neddy. These are ones I took shortly after buying the car, so they’re not entirely up to date, but they should give you an idea of what he looks like!
Neddy
Interior
Incidentally, I did some work on Neddy this afternoon, taking advantage of the good weather to give the car a good wash, and also fitted the chrome rear number plate light (which looks very nice). Another difference from the photos is that I’ve got chrome windscreen wipers and a carbon-fibre dashboard. I’ll take some pictures of those too at some point, next time the sun comes out….

Looking rather dashing

I fitted a dashboard into my Mini today! Well, I say “I” fitted it… it was actually mainly the hard work of a friend of mine, who has done it before and knows what he’s doing. I went round to his house this afternoon and we had a go at it, though it turned out to be a lot harder than we were expecting. To start with we had to get the old two-dial clock and housing out, which was something of a nightmare! The screws were all in the wrong places, nothing was easy to get to, and it generally took a lot more effort than either of us expected just to get the thing out. Once it was out, we found that the brackets that had held the housing on were going to get in the way of the new dashboard, and to unbolt them would require a lot of fiddling around under the bonnet, so in the end we just bent the brackets out of the way! Next we had to loosen the nuts on the top rail, to make room for the dash. There again, the nuts weren’t in very helpful positions, but we managed it in the end, and the dashboard fitted in ok in the end.

The two-dial assembly was fitted onto the three-hole plate, which fitted onto the front of the dash in front of the steering wheel, but that presented some problems too. For a start, the indicator lights are in different places, so although my right indicator flashes through the green hole on the right, the left indicator flashes against the back of the dash so can’t be seen! Still, that should be remedied once I source a three-dial block that I can substitute in. The next problem was fixing the dial plate onto the dash – the nut was going round, but so was the bolt! So my friend and I drove round to another guy’s house so that he could glue the bolt back in. Once that was done, fixing it all in place was no problem, and it looks sooooooo cool! It’ll need some chrome air vent bezels to really set it off, and there is still a CD player to put in, but it’s getting there! At some point I really must put some photos up here…

Unfortunately, all this had to be done outside in the freezing cold, and I was also working on an empty stomach, having missed lunch, so by the time I got back home I was in desperate need of some hot crumpets! Next on the to-do list will be to fit the driver’s side air vent in place and give the car a jolly good clean inside and out!