Monthly Archives: June, 2007

Hex your Mac

Want to edit binary files on your Mac? Hex Fiend looks neat.

Flying Saucers

At a recent business meeting, an acquaintance referred to “The Flying Saucer Company of Peterborough”. I assumed that this hypothetical company was one he had plucked out of the air and given an amusing name for the purposes of illustrating his point.

Flying saucerBut no, there really is a company making flying saucers in Peterborough. Small ones, at present, and battery powered, but the little video clip on their front page gives the impression that they’ve managed to make them work pretty well. Stability has been one of the problems to plague similar projects in the past.

Their site says:

The craft will be most useful in urban environments, where its ability to hover and fly close to and within buildings will enable close quarter surveillance and intelligence gathering. Having no exposed rotating parts, brushes with walls etc., do not compromise the craft’s flight.

There was an article a couple of months ago in the Daily Mail which includes some more information and links to a video clip giving a better idea of how it works. Of course, being the Mail, they focus on the fact that the US military is interested, and how the inventor “set about turning his workshops into his own mini-Area 51s”!

Good God. I can’t believe I actually referred readers to the Daily Mail. Standards are slipping. I apologise. Will attempt to rectify.

Tony Blair on life in the spotlight

Tony Blair has been speaking about the media, and how it has changed in the last few years. Extract:

[T]he media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before.

They are not the masters of this change but its victims. The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by “impact”. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed.

Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressures as broadsheets.

The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked. The consequences of this are acute.

First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light. Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.

Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself.

So – for example – there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean.

The full text is here


I’m occasionally snatching the odd moment to get to grips with my new copy of Photoshop CS3, and there are some lovely new features. One of them is the excellent ‘photomerge’ facility for merging and aligning photos, which, amongst other things, makes for very good panoramas.

So today I was playing with the largest photo I’ve created so far. It’s an evening view in North Island, New Zealand, and is a little over 25Mpixels, created from several raw images merged. I didn’t take much care over the originals – I just jumped out of the car and snapped away, hand-held, in pretty low light. Still, it was the set of photos I happened to have at hand, so here it is at about 1/20th of its full resolution:

New Zealand panorama

And here is a slightly larger version which will probably still fit on your monitor.

But how to appreciate the full image? It looks very nice on my 24″ monitor with 1440×900 resolution, but even that only shows me a fraction of the full resolution. I think I need to find somewhere that will create large prints in unusual aspect ratios.

If you want to get more of a feeling for the original resolution, you can try a page including a Flash-based viewer generated directly from Photoshop’s ‘Zoomify’ feature. You can zoom in and out and drag the image around. This won’t show you the full original quality but you can get close. You can just see the sheep on the hills beyond the road, for example. But it’s pretty hard to see the borders where Photoshop merged the original 5 pictures together.

Fun stuff. Here is a full-res JPEG (3M) if you want to test out your JPEG viewer.

Out of Vision

My friend Phil Ashby has long experience in the world of video production, both inside the BBC and independently. So it was with pleasure that I discovered his podcast Out of Vision. This targets quite a specific niche: it’s intended chiefly for those who make a living around Final Cut Pro, which is quite a lot of the video-production world now. (I hover humbly in the outskirts, being an enthusiastic user of Final Cut Express).

Anyway, Out of Vision is very nicely produced, with Phil interviewing a range of experts in the field about how recent changes in this world affect their real lives. If you know what an EDL is, or are considering the pros and cons of switching to a tapeless workflow, this is definitely for you.

Joost about good enough

Through a friend – thanks, Allan! – I have been able to try out Joost, the new peer-to-peer TV service being created by the guys who did Skype and Kazaa. I’m quite impressed – I’ve only watched little snippets so far but the experience is pretty good.

I haven’t found anything on there that I really want to watch yet. Even Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuits on Demand didn’t hold my attention for too long. Still, if they get some good content they seem to have a nice platform to distribute it. And I’m not exactly the average TV viewer…


I’ve uninstalled Apple’s Safari 3 beta, and gone back to version 2, at least for the time being.

The new one has some nice features, is noticeably faster, and has better JavaScript support. But it’s also definitely still a beta, and crashed a couple of times, and seemed to have one or two interesting side-effects on things like iChat.

I find it interesting that, only a few years ago, a web browser was just an accessory, where it’s now the most important app on my machine and needs to be pretty solid. But that also means I want a good, fast one, and this looked very appealing, so I’ll be upgrading again as soon as the wrinkles are ironed out.

M.Ward’s “Chinese Translation”

Not quite sure why, but I find this rather appealing. An interesting mix of cultural influences.

US States by GDP

US States - GDP

(Click for more info – thanks to John for the link)

The Blackstone Key

Many readers will know, but many others will not because she’s been keeping it quiet for months, that my wife Rose’s first novel will be published next spring. Since it’s now listed on, though, the cat is probably out of the bag.

The Blackstone Key is a thriller/adventure set in the late eighteenth century. It’s the first of (at least) a trilogy to be published in the UK & Europe by Little, Brown under the Sphere name, and in the U.S. & Canada by Simon & Schuster (Touchstone). It’s also being translated into German by another publisher.

More news as things develop…

Leopard, Leopard, burning bright

Some nice demos of the pretty new features coming in Apple’s next version of the OS can be found here.

Steve Jobs apparently said that Leopard will be available in October, and made a nice comparison with Vista: The Basic version will be $129. The Premium version will be $129. The Business version will be $129 and the Ultimate version will be $129. It’s all the same thing. “Most people”, he quipped, “will just go for the Ultimate version.”

Surfin’ Safari

Mmm. That’s interesting. Steve Jobs has just announced the imminent release of the Safari browser for Windows – there’ll be a beta release later today.

That’s very smart. iTunes is one of the most popular Windows apps. It’ll be interesting to see how Safari does… And anything which ups the market share of minority browsers is a good thing in my book.

Update: Safari 3 Beta is now available, from This was posted with it. The Mac version, of course! It does seem rather snappier, and has a few nice features – the ability to rearrange tabs and tear them off to form separate pages is cool, and very nicely implemented. One thing I’ve often wanted is to be able to move a tabbed page from one window to another, so that windows are groups of pages on a particular topic. Now it’s easy….

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser