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|Thursday, February 26th, 2015|
|Pulled the Trigger
I booked the flights for my birthday trip to Japan last night. The price is surprisingly low, at only 500 quid return via Air France, changing in Paris Charles de Gaulle. It's costing me a lot more than the absolute cheapest flight at £393 but that was offered by Turkish Airlines, changing in Instanbul and adding up to about 17 hours bum-in-seat for the two legs which is a couple of hours more than I think I'd be comfortable with. The AF flight I chose operates via Haneda airport, a first for me as I've always landed at Narita up till now. The 6:00 a.m. arrival suggests I'll be hitting the Yamanote line
I'm not going to spend a month in Japan this time around as I was originally planning but it's still going to be a bit over three weeks in total, centred around eating tanjoubi (birthday) ramen (noodles) in Onomichi
(Heaven on earth) on May 18th. Buying a JR pass
is next, it's likely to be a 14-day pass but I could fit a 21-day pass into my stay. The extra cost over the 14-day pass, about 13,000 yen isn't that much given the way I abuse JR passes -- if I did two more overnight trips on the Sunrise Seto
in the extra seven days then that would save me the cost of two nights in a hotel. Have to think about it but there's no rush, I won't be buying one for a few weeks yet.
|Friday, December 26th, 2014|
|State of the Nojay
This is a bucket-list update since I've not been, well, updating this Livejournal thing recently and besides it's traditional at this time of the year.
Firstly, I hab a cood. First one I've had for a while, not serious or disabling, just a dribbly nose and a raw throat. Strong drugs are holding it at bay.
I have a job at the moment, a temporary contract doing call-centre support for VeryLargeOnlineRetailerCorp. It will end pretty soon as they start to slough off their seasonal staff now the Black Friday and Xmas peaks are over. It's not particularly enjoyable but it's not soul-destroying work either. I'll be happy to leave but I'd go back again next year if I'm "at leisure". As Pterry says, it's indoor work with no heavy lifting. The pay isn't great but it's not minimum wage, quite.
Since I had some cash coming in I plowed a chunk of it into another computer upgrade for myself, a Dell UP3214Q monitor
which I got on a cracking deal on Black Friday from NRG-IT
, a company I've bought other monitors from in the past with exemplary service and prompt delivery. I recommend them if you're in the market for an open-box return/refurbished monitor at a very good price.
I have no peripheral vision left. As they say, "Once you've tried 32 inches you can never go back". Feeding it a 4k (3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz) signal required a video card upgrade too, something with a DisplayPort output but that wasn't too expensive to source or tricky to set up. I've got my original main monitor, another NRG-IT Dell IPS display set up as a sidekick second monitor in portrait mode, 1440 x 2560 fed from the same video card.
4k is, well... I went for an IPS/IZGO dsisplay because I've been spoiled by my previous monitors providing the good colour gamut IPS technology provides. The extra pixels are really welcome when looking at content that benefits from it, like pictures. Text and browsing require an upscale to avoid appearing teeny-tiny, not surprisingly with the sheer number of pixels on the screen. My eyes aren't getting any younger and they really benefit for the extra display real-estate -- my previous 27" monitor was getting to seem a little cramped in regular use.
I've downloaded a few 4k videos to test the screen -- yes it is awesome but unfortunately the CPU (a four-core 3.2GHz AMD device) is not capable of supporting the frame rate. There's no hardware decode circuitry for 4k content in commodity video cards yet as there is for HD video at 1920 x 1080. This screen is the equivalent of 4 standard HD screens tiled 2 x 2 and having no hardware acceleration puts all of the decoding load onto the CPU which frankly isn't quite up to the challenge. There may be another upgrade in my future, an 8-core CPU should be a drop-in replacement...
Loncon 3 came and went in August. It was a Worldcon, 'nuff said. I toted that bale and lifted that barge before, during and after the con plus artshow construction and deconstruction as is my wont in such circumstances. I am starting to consider I'm getting too old for that sort of effort but I survived this one with a bit to spare. Not "never again", quite but the next-but-one British Worldcon may well have to do without my inestimable services in that regard.
Future plans -- I hit the Big Six Oh in less than six months time and since I have some extra cash in my back pocket I've decided to carry on the hallowed tradition of the past few years and celebrate my tanjoubi
with ramen in Onomichi. My plans are still subject to change but I'm considering spending about a month in Japan this time with more travel around the country to places like Mount Aso
in Kyushu and down to Kochi
|Thursday, July 3rd, 2014|
|Really Useful Box
Just finished hacking on another long-term project, a really useful box. Nobody makes one of these as a retail product, you can't buy them in the shops. So what is it?
Well, it started out in life as a computer power supply that died spectacularly one day. I kept the metal case, threw away the rest of the smouldering electronic entrails and then started drilling and cutting. The resulting Really Useful Box contains a 13A socket, a 30-minute clockwork timer I rescued from an old electric cooker three decades ago, a 10A circuit breaker from a scrapped minicomputer of similar vintage and a voltage spike suppressing varistor from the "this'll come in handy someday" drawer. This box is really useful for powering stuff that might blow up when switched on for the first time and means I don't need an infinite supply of spare fuses and the timer lets me run things like battery chargers or lights for a limited period. Like I said, really useful. I wonder what I should call it?
|Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014|
|Sunday, May 4th, 2014|
|Order of Business
Note to self, in the morning its coffee THEN soldering iron. Nothing I can't rework but it's annoying, especially after reassembling the metalwork with its fourteen hold-down screws before discovering my mistake.
|Saturday, March 1st, 2014|
Ashinano Hitoshi, one of my favourite mangakas (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou
, Kabu no Isaki
) is back in the saddle again with a new series, Kotonoba Drive
running in Afternoon
magazine. It's not anything radically different to what he's done before but that's not a problem for me -- basically a girl on a small-capacity motorbike (a Honda ST70
, I used to have one about 30 years ago...) riding around town and experiencing stuff.
When I say "not anything radically different" I mean it. The first chapter of Kotonoba Drive is a reprise of one of the PositioN
stories Ashinano-san published way back, set in a sudden sea-fog and the second chapter brings back the Glider Master from the same series. As yet there are no super-natural overtones to the series or at least not much and that was a feature of the original PositioN stories, a temporary disassociation from the real world that suddenly snaps back into place.
At least it's not Endless Eight
|Tuesday, February 25th, 2014|
I got a S/H last-generation video card for a bargain price at a boot sale a few days back, an Nvidia 8800GTS and I've only just got round to trying it out as I wanted to get through Problem Tuesday without shutting my machine down (I hibernate it at night as a rule.)
The video card I had fitted previously was an ATI/AMD device (an entry-model 5450, about as cheap as they come) so I changed cards with some trepidation expecting a lot of driver installations and hacking around at lower resolutions to get it to work since I was not just changing cards but manufacturers too.
In fact what happened was that It Just Worked. Windows 8 thought about it for a bit then brought my main screen up (a 2560x1440 Dell) in the same maximum resolution the old card had been configured for. It even remembered my second monitor's setup properly, a 1920x1200 display in portrait mode, no muss no fuss. Remembering the agony of configuring video systems in previous incarnations of Windows this swapover was almost... pleasant.
|Saturday, February 22nd, 2014|
|A Bit of a LISP
Digging through the tidal wash of rubble in one corner of the living room we came across a pile of old circuit boards which were originally part of a Symbolics LISP machine
, one of the desk-sized workstations from the mid-80s. If anyone has an interest in acquiring these/taking them off our hands or knows someone who might be interested in them please get in touch. Pictures and more details on request. We can bundle them up and ship them if someone will pay the carriage but note these are big heavy circuit boards. We may also have a couple of original Symbolics LISP keyboards to go with them.
|Saturday, February 15th, 2014|
Just got a new toy, a small Arduino board called a Nano costing well under a tenner from the usual Hong Kong suspects via Amazon. It's about the size of a USB thumb drive with a ATmega328 CPU on board giving 32KB of program flash memory, 2KB of static RAM and 1KB of data EEPROM and running at 16MHz. It's powered by an on-board USB connector which also allows access to download and run programs. There's a lot of free support, example programs, coding help and simple tools to produce and test code (known as "sketches", based generally on C with Arduino specific extensions and libraries).
It's sitting plugged into my desktop machine at the moment with a green LED pulsing gently, my first attempt to code for it. As with most beginning projects it involved some cut-n-paste programming from a code example, "Blink", the basic "Hello World" of Arduino programming. By the time I had finished with it the simple blink example was converted to pulse-width modulation on a rising and falling cycle; it still blinks but the brightness rises and falls gradually instead of being on/off.
I have plans for it, another little project I've had in the back of my mind for a few months. I'll steal other people's code to get it working then tweak it from there -- my intention is to build an editing foot-pedal USB device that emulates a specific keyboard operation; press down to emit CTRL-C (copy) and release to emit CTRL-V (paste). Hopefully it shouldn't be too difficult.
|Thursday, January 16th, 2014|
|Only after I had typed it
did it seem a slightly weird thing to say.
"...measuring the LD50 figure for ingestion of octonitrocubane"
Hmmm. Youtube, no hits. Damn.
|Friday, November 29th, 2013|
|'Nother Niggle Nobbled
I'm somewhat parsimonious in respect of software purchases. I bought an OEM copy of the Corel graphics suite a long time ago and I've run it on various computers under various OSes, from Windows 2000 up through XP, Vista, Windows 7 and it's now currently on this desktop under Windows 8. The suite's image processing program, PhotoPaint works perfectly but alas the other major utility in the suite, Corel Draw wasn't so happy on Win 8 with an odd error popping up any time I attempted to use it. It's not something I wanted to use much though so it didn't cause me problems but the fact it didn't work did rather niggle -- after all I paid a whole five quid for this package more than a decade ago and back then that was real money.
I investigated Windows 8's compatibility mode which is intended to support older software like the Corel suite and after a couple of attempts I found setting Corel Draw's launcher properties to "windows 7" mode fixed the problem and it now works again. Oddly enough selecting XP mode didn't fix the problem, don't know why -- after all I have run this program directly under XP mode in the past. Still, another minor success.
|Friday, November 22nd, 2013|
|Polishing the Numberplate
So I got the Asrock mobo, benched it, transplanted the CPU and memory and then powered it up to see if it was OK. The CMOS battery was flat but that's not an uncommon thing in a board that's been in store for a while and I've got a pile of spares so one fresh CR2032 later I was into the BIOS and poking away merrily. I ran into problems but nothing insuperable -- I'm typing this on it at the moment which is a good sign. Techie trash talk follows:
It doesn't like the 4GB memory sticks I had in the Biostar board so I'm currently running it with some donor 1GB sticks = 4GB total memory. I might be able to fix this later but the Asrock memory stick compatibility list seems to only like 4GB sticks that are double-sided and these sticks are single-sided i.e. they have fewer chip packages than the qualified memory on the website list so the SS sticks may have higher bus loads that the Asrock memory interface can't handle.
The video took some tweaking to get working but it's all right now -- apparently if the default sound-over-HDMI setting is left enabled in the BIOS that kills the DVI dual-link option which I need for the onboard Radeon graphics to run my main monitor at 2560x1440. This mobo has three PCI-e slots for heavy-duty video card Crossfire, at the moment I'm using none of them. Maybe later, but running multiple video cards is a gamer thing and I'm not much into games.
The audio drivers needed updating, a simple download and install made the sound system work as much as I need it for the headphones I typically use -- the mobo supports digital audio, surround sound etc. which my tin ear wouldn't appreciate.
My old-school PS/2 cable splitter doesn't work on this mobo unlike the Biostar board it replaced. I'm using the single PS/2 connection for my keyboard and a spares-box USB mouse rather than the fit-my-hand PS/2 mouse I've used for ages. I'll fiddle with this a bit more later, USB-PS/2 adaptors are cheap but sometimes they don't work.
The real miracle is that my original boot disk with its Windows 8 image configured for the Biostar board just worked on this new mobo. Great shock, I didn't expect that. Windows, it Just Works.
One annoyance is that I've lost the useful Centronics LPT port on the Biostar board which was accessible via a header and a cheap ribbon cable from Amazon. This Asrock board doesn't have a similar LPT port which means I'm going to have to fiddle a bit to get my old-school laser printer to work; there's a USB-Centronics adapter in a box somewhere behind me I'll experiment with later.
Next thing to try is flashing the BIOS to the most up-to-date version, that might fix the problems with the 4GB memory sticks. Maybe. The new BIOS enables the board to use Piledriver and Bulldozer chips if I decide to upgrade in the future.
EDIT: powered the machine up this morning and Windows wanted to have a word with me. Since I had swapped out the motherboard the system reckoned this was a significant enough change to the hardware spec (no shit Sherlock) that it wanted me to reactivate the original Win8 licence. This required phoning an 0800 helpline and punching in a lot of numbers and then listening to another long list of numbers and typing them into the system. Luckily I didn't drop any of them and got it right first time so everything's good. I presume I've got a couple of similar activations in reserve before MS would stop revalidating this licence key. I don't really want to find out the hard way, thank you Jesus.
|Sunday, November 17th, 2013|
|Jack Up the Numberplate
...and wheel a new car under it.
That's an old joke of folks into renovating old cars, take a classic "in need of some work" and replace pretty much everything but in the end it's still the same car, really. I'm in the same boat with this computer I'm currently typing on so it's time to get out the heavy hammers.( Cut for deep technical crapCollapse )
Worst case I end up going back to the beginning and do a complete rebuild from scratch, hardware and software. If so then salah.
|Monday, October 28th, 2013|
|A Slight Unrequested Electricity Surplus
Interesting fact -- if the building's electricity supply loses its neutral connection the live voltage can swing up to (according to the Kill-o-watt meter plugged into a mains socket) a juicy 340 volts or so, about a hundred volts above what we pay Mister Scottish Power large amounts of money to provide.
The result is a lot of dead computers, monitors, lightbulbs, a fried microwave oven, mains-powered radios etc. etc. etc. Older equipment like the fridge, freezer, the central heating controller etc. all survived the Voltalypse surprisingly well. Since the overvoltage happened on the distribution side of things Scottish Power will cough for repairs or replacement of the fried gear, and so a couple of techs turned up at noon today to make an inventory of dead and defunct items and take them away for evaluation and repair or replacement. Being the sort of household we are it was fun explaining to the nice men from the Board about Alan's computer, the one with the SCSI hard drives running FreeBSD 4 with the ancient and now well-toasted AT series power supply, the sort they don't make any more. Watching them try to move my big laser printer was even more fun...
We lost a remarkable number of wall-warts and low-voltage power supplies and, surprisingly, a surge-protected power strip which blew up when the power was restored although it seems to have done its job beforehand as all of the devices plugged into it did in fact survive.
|Sunday, October 20th, 2013|
|Cobblers: a film review
"The Garden of Words
" is a short (45 minute) anime by Makoto Shinkai
, a creator (animator,scriptwriter, director, general dogsbody) who is well-known for his stylistic approach to storytelling in the anime medium. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, end of movie -- that's a Makoto production and this one is no different. This isn't a spoiler, you saw the name Makoto Shinkai on the poster before you bought the popcorn. Real spoilers follow:
A high-school boy with a passion for designing women's shoes and a disruptive homelife spends rainy mornings sketching ideas for shoes in Shinjuku park in Tokyo. There he meets a young woman who drinks beer and eats chocolate in the rain and they strike up a hands-off relationship that turns problematic when he discovers that she is a teacher at his school who is having her own personal and professional difficulties. They connect and then, inevitably, separate and the story ends there as many Japanese stories do, with promises for the future which may never be fulfilled.
The lushness of this movie is in the imagery, weather and greenery, rain and lightning depicted in almost painful detail, colours that burn the eye and structural detail that strains belief that they were only pen and ink, hues and shading. Makoto-san is known for his love of imagery and this movie does not disappoint. Oh, and yes there are trains. Here's
a trailer (Youtube).
I saw this movie at the Scotland loves Animation festival, with Makoto-san present as a guest and interviewed after the movie about his life and works.
|Friday, August 23rd, 2013|
|The Edinburgh Pipe Festival
I was walking through Edinburgh city centre today carrying a bundle of shrinkwrapped steel tubes. I got some funny looks, a round of applause, my picture taken twice, an invitation to appear in a Fringe production and an Arts Council grant. No Perrier award though, dammit. BloodyFestivalbloodybloody...
|Sunday, August 18th, 2013|
|The Dustbin is History
I keep a spare LCD monitor around for testing PCs and such. It's a bit rough, the screen is scratched and the mount is a lashed-up assembly of assorted bits but it did the job when I needed it. Recently though it started flaking out on me, failing to power up properly or shutting down on me at random. I got another LCD monitor in a bootsale for a few quid to fill its boots and of course now I had a replacement I decided to hack on the old one and see if it was fixable rather than simply tossing it into the recycling bin.
It came apart reasonably easily and once I had the casings off it was clear a couple of the electrolytic capacitors in the PSU were bulged, almost certainly the result of capacitor plague
. I got a couple of new caps from the local Maplin and after a few minutes sodomising^Wsoldering them in place the LCD monitor came back to life. It's still scratched and not exactly the best monitor in the world but it's nice to have saved it from an early grave.
|Friday, July 5th, 2013|
|Friday, June 28th, 2013|
|The Other 10 Percent
Thog's Iron Law of the Internet states that 90 percent of the images on the Web are porn. It's kind of a relief to discover someone on Pixiv
whose art isn't pornographic and is also of decent quality. More interesting is that he's Korean and, apparently, not a professional illustrator although what he's put out would make a very convincing portfolio. I give you Anyan
Anyan is also a military aviation buff which he riffs on in a manhwa comic called Flight High School about a girl's high school where all the pupils are anthropomorphic military aircraft. The in-jokes come thick and fast -- Rafale-chan's inability to get anyone other than the French to date her, F-35B's expensive dietary habits, Tu-95's noisy intrusions into everybody else's affairs and so on. Well-drawn, funny and sharp, the occasional series is being scanlated by a military-manga group, /ak/ and can be found at Batoto.net
among other places. I particularly like the fact that all of the reconnaissance aircraft girls wear glasses...
EDIT: here's a link to Anyan's own blog
is Korean manga-style comics with a few differences from Japanese manga such as reading left-to-right.
|Sunday, June 23rd, 2013|
I bought a new-to-me camera for my recent trip to Japan, a second-hand Fujifuilm HS30EXR
bridge camera outfitted with what is termed a "superzoom" lens. It's the first digital camera I've had with a substantial zoom capability -- my usual pocket camera is a Panasonic LX-3
which takes wonderful low-light pictures with its Leica lens but it has a limited zoom range of about 2.5X and previous cameras I've owned were still under 6X. The HS30EXR as its name suggests has a 30X zoom range with a 35mm film equivalent focal length of 24mm through 720mm. Like most bridge cameras these days it has image stabilisation which helps a lot when using the further reaches of its zoom range making even handheld pictures possible with a little care in holding the camera, bracing the body and some attention to shutter speeds and ISO settings. The trade-off as with most superzooms is that the chip sensor in the camera is quite small, in fact it has a smaller sensor than my pocket-sized LX-3. This eats into its performance in low light and general picture quality despite its claimed 16 megapixel image size. So how did it turn out?
This is a resampled full-frame shot of the Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida, taken at a distance of about a kilometre with a zoom setting of about 40mm equivalent.
Here's a closeup at maximum zoom (720mm) taken from the same location. This is again a full-frame 16MP image, resampled.
This is a full-sized crop from the picture above showing a workman on the structure.
The further reaches of the zoom optics start to show up problems with chromatic aberration, noise etc. which isn't helped by the small sensor chip and somewhat overenthusiatic processing done inside the camera before a compressed JPG file is emitted. The camera does have a RAW mode but it only generates 3MP images. There's also the problems of shooting through a lot of air; it was a warm day when I took these pictures and some of the image degradation was due to mirage, haze and air pollution over a distance of a kilometre. It's still impressive given the range the glass has to work across as well as the "built-down-to-a-price" construction; the whole camera even new cost less than a midrange 70-200mm zoom lens for a DSLR.
I shot this picture hand-held at maximum zoom a few days later (ISO800 at 1/1640s, F5.6), manually focussing and guesstimating the exposure after the auto settings produced overexposed blurs. Not too shabby, I think for a sub-£200 camera.