Monday, 31 October 2011

oh dear

We have a garden pond to help encourage frogs and other amphibians.

Hedgehogs may suffer, however.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

I'm tired of this meme

Looking through our favourite TV listings magazine, it seems to be knee deep in artfully posed casts. We get them draped over the set:

or against a skyline:

Sometimes they looks as if separate pictures have been badly Photoshopped together:

The newest variant of this style appears to be a flying goose-like V shape, to emphasise the main character:

With a big enough cast, two Vs can be used to highlight the upstairs and the downstairs main characters:

Sometimes, when the poses are chosen well, this can work. But mostly, it's just very tired. Every new TV series seems to get one of these style of shots.

How about a new meme?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

hyperbolic hyperbole

What's with hyperbolic discounting? It's everywhere! I first consciously noticed the term at a workshop about six weeks ago, and now I can't turn around without tripping over another paper, article, or blog post on the subject. The most recent example is a post I read yesterday, from the [citation needed] blog, about how Future Self is able to be so much more productive than Present Self: "things that would take me a week of full-time work in the Now apparently take me only five to ten minutes when I plan them three months ahead of time". The post also contains the wonderful:
It’s about large-scale automated synthesis of human functional neuroimaging data. In fact, it’s so about that that that’s the title of the paper*.
Yet I didn't even notice how wonderful it was, until I read the footnote:
* Three “that”s in a row! What are the odds! Good luck parsing that sentence!
Three "that"s in a row, and yet I parsed it just fine. It reminds me of the time (many years ago) when my English teacher at school expressed surprise at how bad a speller I was (I'm better now, partly due to several decades more practice, but mainly due to spell-checkers). "I don't understand how you can spell so poorly given you read so much." It took me a while to realise that some people see the letters in the words they read; when I'm deeply into reading something (fiction or technical) I don't even see the words. I know when I've been pulled out of the book when I start seeing the words. That may be because something is wrong, which may include a misspelling. But there's a big difference between recognition (I see it and know it's wrong) and recall (I can spell it from scratch).

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Jupiter's moons

Which of Jupiter's moons did we manage to snap yesterday? More help on the web, from the Sky and Telescope site.

So it's Ganymede further out and Europa closer in, then. Callisto is too close to see in this:

Or is it? Enhance, enhance! (courtesy of Photoshop)

Now, with a following wind, I can convince myself there's a third moon snuggling up to the (now very evidently) over-exposed Jupiter. Also, we can see that the camera lens really is a bit rubbish -- with the red and blue splitting out. But still, pretty good with no (very) special equipment.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

International Space Station (2)

I saw the ISS for the first time in April. We saw it again tonight, at around 19:45 BST, with a bit more technology to hand. I used the "Space Junk lite" app on my Android phone to check where the ISS was going to appear -- although it was so bright and obvious that wasn't really necessary (but it's a cool app anyway).

We also had a camera ready. We have a venerable old Canon EOS 20D digital SLR (2005 vintage), with a 18-55mm lens, here set at about 24mm.

The camera wasn't moved between the first two pictures, so the star field is the same, showing the very clear streak from the rapidly moving (from right to left) space station. (Click to embiggen, and see the stars.)

The camera was moved for the final shot, which shows the ISS fading from view as it moves out of the sunlight.

We then went back indoors, and watched the last ever Sarah Jane Adventures episode, over tea. Sniff.

Jupiter was very bright, so a bit later (around 21:30 BST), when we realised just how well the ISS shots had come out, it was time to try to photograph it with a bigger lens, a Sigma 70-300mm, set at 300mm.

Okay, so not the sharpest focus, but, OMFSM, two moons as well! We can stand in our front garden with a commodity camera and lens, and snap Jupiter's moons.

redressing the balance

We tend to remember outliers, especially negative ones. So, just to redress the national stereotypes balance, here is the (much more representative) departure board at Kings Cross, exactly three weeks later:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

more scammers

So not long after the scam phone call, the phone rings again. It's British Gas -- they get to call me because I'm actually a customer. But they're not trying to sell me gas, they're trying to sell me insurance. Or a maintenance contract, as they call it. When I said I wasn't interested, the guy said "not even if you had a £800 boiler breakdown?" Gah! That's just as much trying to invoke fear to make me buy something as was the virus scammer.

Then, a bit later, a third phone call. This time, something to do with market research. "Have you heard of the Telephone Preference Service?" I ask them, "because I'm a subscriber". "Oh, very sorry -- you've come up on a national database -- you should take it up with the TPS". Yet curiously, when I went to the TPS website and re-registered, just in case my previous registration had evaporated or something, I was informed that I was already registered.

So, not just cold-calling scum. Lying cold-calling scum.

Robert Heinlein has an apt quotation: "Waking a person unnecessarily should not be considered a capital crime. For the first offense, that is." I believe the same sentiment applies to cold callers.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I kept answering the phone and at least engaging in an initial conversation -- I was waiting for a business call from a colleague. That was the fourth call. Fortunately, I didn't bite his head off...

"Windows support" -- not

Just had another scam phone call -- someone with a strong Indian accent claiming to be calling from "Windows Technical Support" (or something close to that -- I wasn't taking notes), and saying that they had received reports of problems with my computer, that it had a nasty virus I didn't know about, and had I noticed my machine running slowly lately?

I was a tad bored (writing a tedious document will do that to you), so I strung them along a bit, to see what they were really after. They said they could prove who they were because they had my computer registration number, and only the registered owner and Microsoft would know this (along a bit of gobbledygook about how this happened).

I said I thought they were a scam and that they were trying to sell me something. (I didn't ask how Microsoft knew my phone number to contact me about the problem.)

Aggrieved, they offered to prove they were legitimate by telling me my machine's registration number. I should turn on my machine and look at its registration number myself, and compare them.

I said: "But you've just told me my computer has a virus. So how do I know that virus hasn't downloaded the number to you? You having the registration number is therefore no proof that you are who you say you are."

Pause. Then they repeated of all the stuff about only Microsoft knowing the number.

So I repeated my reason for believing that their having the number would not constitute proof that they were who they claimed to be.

Pause. Then a slightly plaintive: "so what can we do, then?"

This was not providing me that much amusement value really, so I terminated the conversation, then Googled "windows phone call saying they know your computer id". Top hit was “Windows Support” Scam Worsens / Money Watch. From the comments it seems many people have much more stamina than I do for keeping scammers hanging on the phone.

Scammers are scum.

Update 12 July 2012:  Aaaand I got a comment, from sanjay gupta-bot, on this post:
Nice Blog! Informative Content for Technical knowledge. Thanks for sharing your views.We resolve every issue arising in your computer operating system, windows,software,internet security,registry settings,sound drivers etc in one call.Visit this link XXXredactedXXX
Spamming a blog post about spammers.  Gah! 

Monday, 3 October 2011

bio-optically organized knowledge

Some great new technology here -- I want one of these!


Oh. Hang on...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

national stereotypes

I've just got back from a very productive three day meeting in Paris. Just around the corner from where I was working, there was a marvelous cobbled street (Rue Mouffetard) lined with oodles of little speciality shops: boulangeries, patisseries, chocolatiers, butchers, fishmongers, fruit stalls, cafes, and, within less than 50 yards of each other, four fromageries.

4 cheese shops

The smell was amazing. (I think there were a few shops selling non-food items, too, but they didn't really register.)

Friday evening, I travelled back on the Eurostar, arrived punctually at St Pancras, crossed the road to Kings Cross, to be met with:

Kings Cross 'departure' board

Home sweet home.