Monthly Archives: September, 2007

A Wedged Bear in Great Tightness

Bear on bridge

And how he was rescued…

(From the BBC)

Candid about cameras

CCTVVisitors from abroad often ask me whether I’m concerned by the level of video surveillance in Britain. It’s widely reported that we are the most-watched country in the world, with more public CCTV cameras than anywhere else.

Well, I’m not too worried, though I know that if I had more time to worry about such things, I probably should be. My lack of concern is partly because, as someone who has been burgled on several occasions, I tend to approve of any measures that might help catch wrongdoers. Remember that old adage about “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged”? Secondly, as I’ve written before, I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, and my faith in our authorities’ (a) general good intentions and (b) general incompetence makes it hard for me to get wound up about suggestions of anything too sinister.

I am very aware, though, that the fact I can afford not to worry about this is a privilege denied to much of the world. There are only a handful of countries where I would feel as unthreatened by it as I do here, and history is littered with stories of overnight revolutions… I may yet live to regret my folly. But life’s no fun if you feel you ought to worry about everything!

As I pointed out to friends recently, we all have numerous devices in our homes which anybody in the entire world could use to wake us up repeatedly in the middle of the night, deprive us of sleep, and, if they so desired, shout abusive messages at us, and do so completely anonymously! We tolerate such an outrageous situation because, for most of us, the benefits of the telephone outweigh the likely disadvantages. For me, CCTV cameras in public places still fall on the same side of the line.

There are about 5m CCTV cameras in public places in England and Wales – approximately one for every ten people – and the average Briton can expect to be caught on camera around 300 times per day. (I imagine a very small number of those instances will actually be recorded, however). The other figure I learned from this week’s Economist, though, which surprised me rather more, is that there are around 30m cameras in the USA, which makes the ratio per head of population about the same. Since many of my concerned visitors are from the States, I thought this was an interesting statistic.

It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer…

…as Michael proves rather frequently using his mobile phone. I think this is splendid, for example.

Pixels Galore

On the (somewhat wearisome) occasions when I have to visit trade shows, it always amazes me how many exhibition stands give you absolutely no idea of what the company does. There’s a company logo and some meaningless catchphrase… you know the kind of thing:


Bringing the Best to Your Customers

and a couple of guys standing around in suits wondering why nobody comes and talks to them. If you’re HP, people will know what you do and you don’t need to tell them. But if you’re Footle & Wirble, you need to get the message across in the time it takes me to walk slowly past your stand. Especially if you don’t have any pretty girls there.

My pal Dennis Crespo at DisplayLink has done a lovely, succinct 1-minute demo of what you can do with their technology. I’m not sure if he intended it for exhibition stands, but this is the sort of thing that I think would work well.

It’s the histogram that counts…

[pun intended :-)]

John has a pointer to this great idea.

And the ‘picture-hidden-within-a-picture’ concept reminded me of a not-so-distant craze… do you remember how we all went cross-eyed a few years back looking at autostereograms?

Just for nostaligia, here’s a nice horse and here’s an animated one – a swimming shark.

A corker of a good idea

This is very clever….

Prof Richard Wiseman has written a book called Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives. As part of the publicity – and as a stroke of marketing genius – he’s been releasing some great YouTube videos.

This is “Corkology”:

A month later, to coincide with the book’s release, he released a clip showing how it was done.

Even more impressive, I think, is the Colour-changing Card Trick:

There are more videos on the Quirkology site.

These have been all over YouTube, but I managed to miss them. I came across Richard Wiseman’s work through the (rather good) Skepticality podcast.



Michael and I were in Paris in July, just a few days after the launch of the Velib’ scheme (Vélo Liberation) – which provided bicycles for public rental at hundreds of ‘stations’ around the capital. We didn’t get a chance to try one, though I’ve used a similar facility in Copenhagen before. The Paris scheme works partly because it was funded and managed by JCDecaux in exchange for control of large amounts of advertising space, and partly because users need to provide a credit card-based €150 deposit to be able to hire one.

Anyway, apparently it’s been a huge success, with 10,000 bikes deployed and people using them for 100,000 journeys per day.

Ken Livingston, are you listening?

There’s more about the scheme here and here, and many other successful operations are running in other cities around Europe.

Ten years ago in Cambridge, of course, we had the Green Bike Scheme, which has passed into local legend – almost into mythology, because even if you lived in the city at the time you might have missed it. 300 unclaimed bicycles from the police pound were painted green and deposited at special stands around the town with the idea that people would just pick them up at one place and drop them off at another. Well, they got the first half right. All of them were stolen within the first day or two. I lived in the centre of Cambridge at the time and never even saw a Green Bike, let alone rode one. The special stands were quietly removed a little while later.

Perhaps, though, in some way, we played our part in the success of such schemes in other parts of the continent, by illustrating how not to do it…

That’s what I want

It has often bugged me that the only way to recharge the batteries for my MacBook Pro is to plug them into my MacBook Pro.

Usually, I want to run them down in my laptop, and charge them up somewhere else! I have one spare battery, and I’d love to be able to charge one while using the other and then swap them over. This would be good when curled up on the sofa, but even better at a conference when I may want to use the laptop all day with no power sockets in reach of my chair!

So I was very pleased to discover that NewerTech make exactly what I need. It’s not cheap, but I think it’ll be worthwhile. Have ordered one…


Summer’s lease hath all too short a date

I was out at Wimpole Hall this afternoon with friends. A beautiful afternoon. Congratulations to Robert & Turi on their 7th anniversary!
(Click pictures for larger versions)

The stables.

Stuff that memories are made of.

Handsome fellows, eh?

They seemed pretty placid, but I didn’t want to get too close!

Amazing colours in the garden.

Life’s extremes

“It’s how long until I can ride one of these?!”

G Feakes

HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort are irrelevant

USB plugThat, at least, is the verdict of this post on The Inquirer.

The technology created by my pals over at DisplayLink is getting ever-increasing publicity, if the size of the Google Alerts landing in my inbox each morning are anything to go by! And this is all good stuff.

One of the things that inspired me, when we started DisplayLink, was a feeling that that this technology was inevitable. The speed of general-purpose data networks was increasing very much faster than the resolution of displays, or the capabiity of the human visual system, which is essentially a constant. At some point, we realised, there would be no need for dedicated video connections like DVI because general-purpose networks would be cheaper, more flexible, and fast enough. We started Ndiyo and DisplayLink because we worked out that with 100Mb/s ethernet and USB 2.0, they were already fast enough for almost everything.

With 1Gb/s ethernet and USB 3.0, they’ll be fast enough for pretty much anything. And the networking world won’t stop there.

This doesn’t mean that graphics cards will go away. Many people, especially games players, will still want them for performance reasons. But you won’t need them for electrical reasons – to drive a particular type of signal over a particular kind of connector. VGA and DVI will go the way of the Centronics printer port. So graphics cards, whether standalone or built in to the motherboard, will become optional.

One of the things that excites me most about this is the fact that almost any device with a processor will soon be able to display a user interface on a decent-sized screen, if you care to plug one in. If you’re frustrated by the limitations of the user interface on your answerphone, your photocopier, your home alarm system, you’ll be able to plug in a 15″ or 17″ LCD and get a more sophisticated version. It makes sense because the manufacturer of the device concerned won’t have to build in a graphics chip, a framebuffer, or a VGA connector.

I started playing with this kind of thing when I worked on the VNC project at ORL/AT&T. It’s great to see the DisplayLink guys making it a reality.

Scantily Scandanavian

Sometimes I really think I ought to move to Sweden.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser