Monthly Archives: May, 2009

Parental transport responsibilities

You know how people say (when their kids reach a certain age) that they’re just taxi drivers now?

It could be worse. They could actually be the taxi!


I had great fun with my friends Martin, Hilary and Eddie today in my… ahem… two-man canoe…


Regular readers will no doubt be amused that four days after writing proudly about my iPod-waterproofing system, I bent a little too far forward while standing on a pier and my phone, which of course wasn’t in such an enclosure, slipped out of my shirt pocket.

So I ended up doing a little swimming in the Great Ouse that I hadn’t really planned, and it was actually most refreshing. For me. I haven’t yet dared ask the phone how it feels…



I know you’ll be pretty amazed by my artistic ability, as demonstrated here. When your pulse has stopped racing, you can look at this little Quicktime movie to see how I did it.

This was my first experiment with the Brushes app for the iPhone/iTouch, which would be little more than a toy if it weren’t for the sort of things real artists are managing to do with it. This guy‘s getting a lot of attention.

Thanks to John for the initial link.

A bit nebulous?

Not your average panorama – this beautiful image is from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day site. It’s the Carina Nebula, and you can click it to find out more.

Here’s another (rather different) beauty.

Water Music

I love swimming but have to admit that, when done as an exercise, it’s not always the most riveting occupation. So my latest gadget is an attempt to remedy that.


It’s an Aquapac case for an MP3 player, and when combined with an iPod and some waterproof headphones…

iPod in Aquapac

…it should allow me to listen to lectures from Cornell while ploughing up and down, thus enriching both body and mind. Prepare for some energetic and terribly erudite posts after the weekend!

(If you don’t notice any change, I probably listened to Britney Spears instead.)

Climbing the world’s tallest trees

Most of us love climbing trees when we’re young, and I was no exception. How come I never realised one could do it as a job?

There’s an excellent TED talk by Richard Preston which will change the way you think of trees, or the way your kids think of them, in about 20 mins…

You can subscribe to the TED talks on iTunes if you want a really easy way to get them…

Feathered friends


These three have grown fast since they fluttered down out of their nest a couple of weeks ago. Still definitely not adults, though!


vnc2dl2Warning – for geeks only…

I’ve just posted an alpha version of VNC2DL on github.

This is a VNC viewer which uses the new Open Source library from DisplayLink to display a VNC session on a USB-connected display, rather than in a window.

Just in case it’s useful to anyone…

Thought for the day


Do you wish to mark your place in the history books as one of the great scientists of all time? I’ve been thinking that it would be a good thing to do, but haven’t got around to it this weekend, because I realised I had a fundamental problem to overcome. Yes, you guessed it…

I don’t look interesting enough.

Would Albert Einstein have been imprinted so firmly in the public consciousness if it weren’t for his moustache and hair? Or Charles Darwin if not for his beard? Or Stephen Hawking, poor chap, without his wheelchair?

I suspect that, while they might have transformed their disciplines in just the same way, they wouldn’t have got the same column inches in the papers.

So I recommend that, before announcing your great discovery, you adopt something that will make press photographers flock to you. Facial hair may be overdone now, so I’d go for a dramatic bow-tie or an eccentric hat. Silly glasses, perhaps.

For women, of course, the best thing is to transform yourself into a total knockout babe… but we men have to come up with gimmicks to be taken seriously.

A GPS treat for Mac users

For nearly a year now, I’ve been geotagging all my photos (marking them with latitude and longitude) with the help of a GPS logger that I hang from my belt. The upshot is that in Aperture, for example, I can right click on any photo, and select ‘Show on map’. Google maps pops up with a pushpin at the location of the photo.

My camera and the GPS logger don’t actually talk to each other. The photos and the recorded GPS positions are linked up using their timestamps after I’ve copied them onto my laptop. I’ve been using Jeffrey Early’s GPSPhotoLinker utility to do this, which has worked nicely, but this last week he released a new, renamed, and much-enhanced version: PhotoLinker 2.0.


This lets you browse your GPS tracks with a map interface, geotag your photos with a great deal of control, and is definitely the best Mac utility that I’ve tried for this stuff. I’ve been beta-testing it for a little while, but it’s great that it’s now public. Even if you don’t do the photo-geotagging thing, it’s a nice way to view GPS tracks. You can select from a variety of background maps.

Have a look at the introductory screencast to get a feel for what’s involved.


For those interested, in my case, PhotoLinker is just part of my ‘workflow’. The AMOD device records NMEA logs as plain text files, and appears as a USB flash drive when I plug it in. Chronosync fires up automatically and copies any new logs onto my hard disk, then runs a Makefile which uses GPSBabel to do some filtering and create GPX versions of the tracks. GPX has now pretty much supplanted NMEA as the lingua franca of GPS logs and PhotoLinker can read GPX files directly. I use Aperture to manage my photos, but I’ve told it not to keep them in its library: it manages them in an external directory, which also means that apps like PhotoLinker can access them easily.

The sound of (two-wheeled) silence

Zero S bikeI enjoy riding motorbikes, though I seldom do so these days. But I know, in any case, I’ll never be a true biker because I’ve always felt a bit embarrassed about the sheer noise that’s often involved in having fun on two wheels. Bike engines are, by their nature, more exposed than car engines, but bike exhaust systems have also never really embraced the concept of a ‘silencer’. Their chief aim seems to be the conversion of waste combustion gases into testosterone.

The only bikes I’ve owned have had engines more akin to those of lawn mowers than cars, so this hasn’t been much of an issue. But, for me at least, the near-silent operation is one of the things that makes the Zero S electric bike even more appealing.

It takes four hours to charge, and has a 60-mile range. It’s probably much easier to get it close to a power socket than would be the case with an all-electric car, too.

Now there’s only one other issue to conquer: the terrifying thought of what I’d look like in full leathers…

Open Source support for DisplayLink chips

Very good news this afternoon from DisplayLink!

They have released a nice, simple, Open Source library for driving their USB Display devices. It’s available under the LGPL, which means you can link against it in a variety of ways.

The hope is that this will allow a large range of USB host devices – phones, embedded systems, netbooks, routers – to drive large displays, without the need for a conventional graphics chip.

We started DisplayLink with its roots firmly in the Open Source world, and it’s great to see the company contributing back to the community.

The library and documentation can be found at, and the press release is here.

Congrats to all involved!

Advanced Cut and Paste

A very quick tip today…

Everyone uses cut, copy and paste – we’ve all become so used to the clipboard metaphor that it’s pretty automatic. Most clipboard systems have a big limitation, though – they only store one thing at a time.

If you’re like me, you’re often in the middle of moving chunks of text around in web pages, or copying URLs into email messages, and then get interrupted by an IM message asking for someone’s phone number. You copy & paste the number from your address book and then want to go back to where you were before… but you’ve overwritten the contents of your clipboard.

This is why you need a ‘clipboard history’ utility. If you use one, this will all be obvious to you, but if not, go and get one now. Tools like Quicksilver and Launchbar (my favourite) have them built-in, or you can use a simpler standalone utility like JumpCut or Clyppan – they can all basically do the same thing in this regard: they give you one more keystroke to learn as an alternative to ‘paste’, which, rather than simply pasting the last thing you copied, gives you a menu of the last few things and lets you select one. Some will paste it directly for you, others will put it in the clipboard so you can paste it yourself.

You may want to hunt around for a utility that feels right for you. I like speed and simplicity, and with Launchbar I can just pop up the list, cursor-down a couple of times and then hit return to paste in that big chunk of text I was working on before I was so rudely interrupted. It’s very slick. Launchbar costs money (but does a great deal more for you as well).

It may take a while for the clipboard history idea to become instinctive, but once it has, you won’t want to be without it. Besides, you’ve been doing cut and paste for a long time now. Isn’t it time you graduated to the next level?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser