Monthly Archives: April, 2008

Did the earth move for all of you?

I think this is the best idea that I’ve seen for distributed computing on the SETI@home model: earthquake detection.

As you probably know, many new laptops come with accelerometers in them which let them do things like park the hard disk heads if dropped, before they hit the ground and the heads crash into large chunks of your data. People have made various fun toy applications using the output of these sensors. But what can you do if you network large numbers of accelerometer-enabled computers together?

Who knows how well it will work, but it’s a great example of lateral thinking. And vertical.

Law in action

One of the useful bits of information in the manual for my new car:

Always be careful when closing a door. You could otherwise cause serious injuries to yourself or others. Make sure that no one is in the path of a door.

Good. I’m glad they put that in. It’s a big manual, though, and I haven’t got to the “Running with scissors” section yet, so I’m not handling any office implements for a while.

Don’t try this at home

Did you know you can destroy your webcam if you lick it too frequently?

More information here.

Perhaps the word had got about that webcams were originally a way of dispensing caffeine more effectively.

Thanks to Andrew Arends for the link.

Delusions of grandeur

I think my iPod has ideas above its station.

I got a new car today. It’s rather nice. And it has an iPod adaptor cable.

When I plugged the iPod into this gleaming tonne-and-a-half of throbbing sports-tuned German engineering, it said, “Accessory attached“.

Accessory attached

The emperor’s new paintwork?

I’m in the process of buying a new car, and I’m bemused by the fact that every dealer wants to sell me a ‘paint and upholstery protection’ package, typically with a name like ‘Safegard’, promising a Teflon-based coating that saves my paintwork from nasty pollutants, saves me having to wash the car, and ensures that spillages of coffee etc inside will cause me no future problems.

All of which sounds attractive, but it could also be the emperor’s new clothes. These highly-efficient protective barriers are conveniently ‘invisible’, and who’s going to spill something on their new car seat just to test it out? More to the point, has anyone done a side-by-side test where they also spill something on an ‘unprotected’ car seat?

I’ve had fun asking dealers questions like, “What deficiencies in Volkswagen’s paintwork is this designed to address?”, but I’d really like a scientific answer to this. Many dealers persuade you to protect your precious shiny new vehicle in this way, and they tell me that they have a good take-up rate. If it’s that good, though, why don’t the manufacturers do it? Does anyone know of a Consumer Association or similar blind-test report on this? – I couldn’t find one.

Are huge numbers of people being conned? Is this just a cunning way of charging you £300 for a wash and wax?

Tabitha cumi

Quite a few of my readers will know Seb and Abi Wills. They popped into the Ndiyo/CamVine office today with 12-day old Tabitha.
Seb, Abi & Tabitha

She’s very sweet.
Tabitha Wills

We did our best to impart a few words of wisdom to set her on the right path. Linux good! Yes! Windows bad!… that kind of thing. She’ll thank us one day…

Another great picture of her here.

HP enters mini-notebook fray

The ASUS EeePC has been a great success. Next week, HP will start shipping a similar machine and, yes, the lowest-cost models are also Linux-based.


The Guardian’s ‘Science Weekly’ podcast is rather good, and the episode I’ve just enjoyed finished off with a great song by Johnny Berliner about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

The classics in this genre are, of course, Flanders & Swann on The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics and Tom Lehrer’s recitation of the periodic table to the tune of ‘I am the very model of a modern major general’. If you like these, I recommend following the link above and scrolling about 22 minutes into the podcast.

More from Johnny here.

Using the Sony eBook Reader with a Mac

Sony eBook readerAbout a year ago I wrote about my experiments with getting a Sony PRS500 Reader talking to my Mac.

Quietly, over that time, it’s been getting easier, as Kovid Goyal has turned his rather unexcitingly-named libprs500 from a basic command-line utility to a full-featured GUI application, which can do things like capture RSS feeds and format them for the Sony. It still has some quirks, but is well-worth checking out, and it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

OK, so now it’s real

Walking through Stansted Airport this evening… Rose was there in Borders with the big names. Iain M. Banks, Melvyn Bragg, Jack Higgins, Rose Melikan…. Very strange feeling…

The Blackstone Key

All part of life’s rich tapestry

It’s important to keep variety in one’s life, I feel, and not get caught up in too much of a repetitive daily routine.

Take today, for example. I drove out to a nearby village, had a pleasant lunch with my wife and mother-in-law, and then, a little later in the afternoon, a lion peed on me.

This is not something that I would normally expect on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but life would probably be very dull if it didn’t happen from time to time.

He was, I admit, the other side of a fence. We looked each other in the eye, we both purred some suitable greetings, and we seemed to be getting on rather well. But then, as he turned to go, he lifted his tail, and his range and aim were good. I turned fast, but not quite fast enough to stop a little from going down my neck.

I shall continue to assert that he intended this as a mark of great friendship and respect…

A child is born

The Blackstone Key

Well, as regular readers will know, Rose’s first novel, The Blackstone Key, launches today. She’s written academic books before, but this is her first work of fiction, and is the start of what will be at least a trilogy.

It’s the nearest we’re likely to come (or indeed, have any desire to come!) to announcing the birth of a first child, so we’re quite excited. Mother and baby (1.8lbs , ISBN 978-1847441331) doing well so far!

If you, or anyone you know, is interested in historical adventures, this should be on a bookstore shelf near you in the next day or so, or you can get it from Amazon or The US publisher has described it as “Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie”, which is good, because it might sound pretentious if I had said it. 🙂

Amazon are also taking orders for the sequel, which will be out in about 11 months’ time.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser