Reading on the iPad

I like reading, and reading on the iPad is just fine.  Not great, room for improvement, but mostly good enough.

I have four main book readers: Kindle, iBooks, Readmill and Google Books.  The one I want to use most is Readmill. The one I actually use most is Kindle.  iBooks is fine until you have footnotes to follow, and then it’s unusable; but is my default choice for PDFs.  Google Books is so slow that I’ve not taken the trouble to investigate what else is wrong with it.

Kindle does most things right.  The only key feature it’s missing is an indicator of how far you are from the end of a chapter.  This is probably flagging me as terribly shallow, but I like to know if I’m approaching the end of a chunk of a book or not, so I can decide if I want to spend a few more minutes to get to the end or not.

The sharing from a Kindle is OK, but it doesn’t come close to the direction of Readmill.  I want Readmill to succeed, but it’s just not very good at displaying text: the sizing is all off, making it not fun when you get down to the nitty gritty business of eyes moving over words.  In other respects, it does well.  Rather than bang on about it, here’s my summary:

My opinion of Readmill (as of Oct 2011)

How are we getting on with BT Infinity?

Martyn asked:

How do you get on with BT Infinity in general? I was going to sign up but plan to move house in < 18 months so didn’t want the contract

Good question.  Moving ISP is a scary thing, better the devil you know, and all that.  For us especially so as Be, our previous ISP, were pretty good.  But we can’t get cable where we are (our neighbours can, we can’t: long story), so for speed no-one else can compare with BT for us.

In summary, we’re getting on very well in the most part.  During the day, we reliably see download speeds of 35+ Mbps and upload speeds of 8 Mbps.  That upload speed is fantastic for shipping photos around.  Not measured the evening performance, but not noticed any problems either.

The hardware (modem and wifi) are OK.  The modem died in the first month, but it was replaced by a BT engineer in 48 hours.  You can’t change the DNS on the wifi unit, which is a pain as BT’s DNS servers have crapped out on us once already.  But in general, you turn it on, it works.

I need to start keeping a log, but in the last couple of months I think there have been two outages. In both cases it took 3+ hours to resolve.  One was a DNS problem, and today… I don’t know what the problem was but it affected more than just BT.

All ISPs have outages, but the real difficulty with BT is getting a status report or even an acknowledgement that they know there’s a problem.  They do have a web status page but it’s never seems up to date.   Phoning them up is a waste of time. The @BTCare account tries, but can’t keep up, so you don’t often get any feedback until the issue is resolved.

Which is all a shame, because mostly it works and works well.  If BT were on the ball when there was a problem, I’d actually recommend them.

Jane on the radio: the photos

Previously on “Jane on the radio”… we’d discovered a recording of Jane’s christening. Now we have the photos to go with it:


The write-up in Ariel, the BBC internal magazine, said:

Baby Jane made a name for herself last month when her Christening service was broadcast on Radio Humberside.  The Christening, at St Nicholas Parish Church, Hull, coincided with the time of Humberside’s regular Sunday morning United Acts of Worship.
It came as a happy surprise when the Vicar told Humberside staff: “We are doing a Christening this morning. Do you mind?” Humberside Station Manager John Cordeaux was delighted. And baby Jane Fothergill was the ideal ‘star’ — well behaved, but making just enough baby noises to make her presence felt.
In the picture, Engineer Garry Heeley is adjusting the microphone at the font with Miss Fothergill about to be given her name by the Rev Christopher Hawthorne.

Travel apps we used.

During our time away in Hong Kong, Sydney and Tokyo, we decided to use iPhone apps whenever possible to get by. These are the apps we found useful:

  • Instapaper – brilliant for keeping light reading to hand.  The pro version is needed unless you can live with just a small number of pages.
  • Dropbox – for travel documents, and entertainment.
  • Built-in Maps app – generally filling the cache when we had WiFI and then using the GPS on the 3GS to find our way around.
  • The built-in Screen shot (hold iPhone menu button and power button) – great for capturing images of maps  with a route on when you have WiFi but think you might lose the map or directions out of the cache later.
  • Todo – for getting junk out of our heads so we could forget about stuff and enjoy ourselves.
  • FelaurPDF – transport maps which were too large to view on the in-built PDF viewer.
  • Power Plug – visual reference for the power sockets around the world.
  • Metro – for finding our way around Hong Kong and Tokyo.
  • Weather Pro – use this everyday to plan for the weather.
  • Currency – handy for converting back to GBP.
  • The built-in camera app – obviously, but useful to snap route information to look at later.
  • Sydney Travel Guide  from Fidesereef
  • HongKong Travel Guide also from Fidesreef.
  • Tokyo Travel Guide from Fidesreef, again.
  • Tokyo Zuti for getting around the train system.
  • Tokyo Cool City Guide
  • Transit Sydney
  • Sydney Street Map – offline map with GPS support.
  • Hong Kong 720 (useful before we went)
  • NHS DrinksTracker – for keeping score.

We also had TripIt, Dopplr and TripAdvisor apps, but I don’t think we used them.

We picked up one paper guide: at Sydney airport we did a Loney Planet “print and bind” of a chapter of Tokyo from one of their travel guides.  This was so that I had something to use on the flight to figure out what we were going to do in Tokyo in a limited amount of time.  As a bonus, the guide was bound in an anonymous brown card, making us look less touristy if we needed to refer to it.

Jane paying for a printing a Tokyo guide
Jane paying for a printing a Tokyo guide

In Hunter Valley

Two-ish hours north-ish of Sydney is the wine destination of Hunter Valley where we spent a lovely couple of days with Lisa, Mitül, Ash, Jono and Anna.

If you drink a little wine from time to time you’ll recognize the name “Hunter Valley”, but it turns out there’s just a handful of boutique vineyards left here.  The region contributes just two per cent of all Australian wine.  The upshot is: it’s tourism that’s the real industry in Hunter Valley.

These facts were given to us by our tour guide and minibus driver, James. He’s an English ex-pat, and former travel agent, with a brisk, dry manner and cavalier attitude to driving. I liked him a lot.  He’d take us over dirt roads to some great wine tastings, prepping us on the eccentricities of the owners, while we bounced around in the back of the bus.

With four vineyards to hit in the day we needed to make at start  at 10am.  Kicking off a wine tour so soon after breakfast wasn’t something I’d fully thought through—I’m not yet at that stage of life where I wake up thinking I could really do with a nice glass of red.  However, when the minibus arrived and we climbed on-board the immediate concern switched to defending ourselves from the hoard of mosquitoes in the minibus.   “Are there mosquitoes back there?” asked James in a tone of surprise that suggested he knew damn well there was, had a pretty good idea of how they got there, but wasn’t comfortable explaining the cause. I may have read too much into his tone.   Not that it mattered much, as we’d nailed most of them by the time we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill.

Jane made notes on the wines, so I don’t have to mention them, other than to say there were some lovely wines, once you get passed the problem of tasting wine while minty toothpaste still lingers in your mouth.  That problem goes away pretty quicky, but for me was replaced with a different problem.  How much wine was I drinking?

I’ve started using the NHS drinks tracker (iPhone app) and it doesn’t have a category for wine tasting, and as you taste more it becomes increasingly difficult to translate wine strengths and tasting measure volumes, or “standard drinks”, into “units” used in the UK.  It wasn’t until the third vineyard that I found a handy leaflet which at least told us how much was in a tasting measure:

By about the third vineyard, I’d probably had enough wine tasting for the day.  Ash and I started wandering around a cellar with a calculator working out how these people make enough money from selling wine to people like us, or from wine clubs.  “They don’t”, was the short answer from James.  I guess it’s all about the wine passion then…

The tourism side has warped some people’s minds a little.   At an ice cream place there was a no photography sign. WTF? Jono asked the question of a member of staff and she said the rule is there because the competition had been copying their designs.  Although she added “….but I don’t care”.

But if you’re out that way, I’d definely recommend heading out there.  We stayed at a lovely place in what I’d describe as the middle of nowhere, and I could have probably enjoyed another day or so there.   But I’d have to drink less wine.

The Secret Life of the Dog

Cathy pointed out an episode of Horizon that was on the BBC recently, discussing the science behind the human/dog relationship:

We have an extraordinary relationship with dogs—closer than with any other animal on the planet. But what makes the bond between us so special? Research into dogs is gaining momentum, and scientists are investigating them like never before. From the latest fossil evidence, to the sequencing of the canine genome, to cognitive experiments, dogs are fast turning into the new chimps as a window into understanding ourselves.

If you’d asked me what I thought about the whole dog ownership thing, I’d have said that there’s no real understanding going on (that is, on the dog-side of the relationship).  I’d have guessed that dogs are manipulating us into handing over the next treat, meal or bit of affection by a cute ability of making us think they understand what’s going on.  It’d be an illusion I’m happy to go along with because of the very tangible benefits.   But it looks like I was wrong, and there’s some science pointing towards there being real understanding and communication.

Here are the notes I made:

On dogs understanding humans: the left gaze bias (Daniel Mills, University of Lincoln). Our facial expressions are not symmetric. When you look at a face you focus on the left (the person’s right) side of the face first, possibly because the left may be a better indicator of emotional state [citation needed].   This left gaze bias was thought to be unique to humans, but dogs also do this when looking at our faces, and they do it only when looking at human faces: not dog faces, not other objects. No other animal is known to do this.

The thinking is that detecting human state (e.g., anger) would be advantageous to dogs given that they live in close proximity to us.

On humans understanding dogs: barking (Adam Miklosi, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest).  In audio tests that involve playing dog barks to humans, people tend to agree on what a dog bark means, and are generally correct in their interpretation. Given that dogs are evolved from wolves, who don’t really bark, the suggestion is that barking developed specifically as a way for dogs to communicate to humans.

Bonding (Kerstin Uvnäs-moberg‌, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm). When a (human) mother breast-feeds her child she gets a hit of oxytocin, a hormone that helps the mother quickly bond to the baby. Blood samples taken from dogs and dog owners before and during a petting session show that  both human and dog get a similar hit. The effect is a lowered heart rate, lower bloody pressure, reduced stress.

Dog behaviour: smart or just mimicking? (Juliane Kaminski, Max Planck Institute). “[…] in certain ways dogs may think more like us than any other animal, including our nearest relative the chimpanzee.” For example, dogs can understand pointing, which chimpanzee do not, and they can even follow our gaze. Again, these are abilities dogs do not use with each other—just for use with humans. Puppies seem born ready to communicate with humans.

Nature or nurture? (Kubinyi Enikö, Eötvös Loránd University). What happens if you try to raise wolf cubs in the same way  you raise dog pups?  Differences in wolf behaviour compared to dog behaviour become evident at 8 weeks (e.g., no interested in human activities, no eye contact, conflicts, destructive behaviour).  The conclusion is that the dog is not a “socialized wolf”: it’s a selective breeding thing.

There were plenty of other interesting features in the programme, so go watch it.  It’s available on iPlayer until early in April 2010.

Energy Information

Jono and then Graeme pointed me at Google’s energy information project, which looks very much like something I’d be interested in.

Specifically I was wondering if it was possible to take the data from something like Wattson and using some heuristics or some kind of Fourier analysis to detect what appliances were consuming electricity. And better still, compare that against what’s possible and, perhaps in some cases, suggest it’s time to dump that highly inefficient model of refrigerator and replace it with a new one 🙂

But anyway… I don’t know what Google are doing, but take a look at the graphs they want to produce. They looks useful to me.

Graeme also pointed me at HomeCamp: it’s a hack day/unconference, around the theme of energy monitoring.

Gates vs. Jobs

Justing thinking: although I’m a MacOS X fanatic, and officially dispassionate with respect to Windows (unofficially I’d use a stronger word), Bill Gates could turn out to be the bigger geek hero in the long run. What? I just mean the stuff he’s doing now has all the promise of turning out to be monumental.

Of course, maybe not enough to undo all suffering his company has caused. Time to go re-watch that Gates vs. Jobs video

Jane on the Radio

Forget the religion aspect: this is an absolute gem.

A couple of weeks ago, in Hull, Jane was introduced to the vicar who christened her. That seems a pretty rare event to me, but extraordinarily Jane’s christening was broadcast on the radio.

In 1972 BBC Radio Humberside were running a show called “In His Name”, and their broadcast of 15 October 1972 was from the church in Hull on the day Jane was being christened.

Back at Jane’s parent’s house we found the C90 cassette that the station manager had recorded of the show. So, gather round, feel the full quality hiss of the tape: 36M MP3 version (or 35M Ogg format, for you freedom lovers).

Christening tape

Wet Wednesday in Lewes

Ever wondered what Bonfire night in Lewes is like? Well, unfortunately, this isn’t going to help that much. I arrived very late, wandered through part of the town to meet some friends in a pub, and then we headed out to one of the bonfires to see the fireworks. On the way back, we bumped into another one of the parades which was heading out to another one of the bonfires.

Apologies for my first experiments using Soundtrack for the “music”.

You can see a higher-quality version at Blip.TV.