Rode Some Planes


Last week I rode some planes: Stockholm – Brussels – East Midlands Airport – Brussels – Stockholm – Oslo – Stockholm. Two of the engines involved were kind of fun because of their small size. The movements of EU bureaucrats has created a market for short plane hops anchored in Brussels, and so the cheapest way for the rest of us to move about by air in Western Europe is often to join the briefcase carriers and change planes in Belgium. These were the machines:

If you want to know what model you’re riding, just check the seat-pocket safety folder. Sometimes several similar models are indicated, but the air hostesses will know which one you’re on.

Someone on the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast recently pointed out that it was only 60 years from the Wright brothers’ first successful flight to the first moon landing. Quite something, huh?

Oh, and I finally got an explanation (don’t know if it’s the whole explanation) for why you’re not allowed to walk beneath the wings of passenger aircraft on the tarmac! A sign told me that it was because dirty water might drip from the wings and soil my clothing. I thought it was to keep insane gamers from tossing toy-soldier goblins into the jet motors.

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Synthesiser Mind-Meld

Apples in Stereo mastermind Robert Schneider demonstrates his latest technical combo: a vintage 80s synthesizer hooked up to a recently released EEG game controller, which allows him to change the pitch of the synth’s output with his thoughts.

I particularly like the non-glitzy surroundings. The guy is sitting in shorts and t-shirt on a beat-up couch, unshaven and with his hair poking out in all directions, looking like a stoner and showing off his bizarre invention. It’s very far from the Kraftwerk esthetic, yet some of the tech is decades later than Kraftwerk’s.

Check out the latest Apples album, Travellers in Space and Time! I’m currently listening to it randomly interleaved with, among other things, Cathedral’s latest effort, which makes for a pretty interesting contrast.

Thanks to Moomin for the tip-off.

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School Girls Fined for Placing Teacher Break Room Under Electronic Surveillance

Reports Swedish Broadcasting, Dagens Eko:

When two school girls in the 13-16 years age bracket found a lost key ring for their school’s teacher break room, they had an idea. They bought simple audio surveillance equipment in a tech store, waited until everyone went home, and installed the bugging gear in the break room.

Their idea was to snoop on a grades conference planned for the following day, thereby to glean information that they might use to improve their grades.

The plan failed, as one of the girls happened to reveal it on Facebook.

Instead of secret information and raised grades, the story ended with each girl being fined SEK 2000 by the district court.

Extra points for pluck and daring, though, kids!

Lars Aronsson comments: “Little Sister Is Watching You”.

Junior Live-Streams His Video Gaming Sessions

I used to play a lot of computer games, and 12-y-o Junior loves them. His gaming experience is of course different from mine back in the day, not only because the games look much better now, but also because of on-line interactivity. There are a couple of developments that surprise me a great deal.

One is the Let’s Play film clip. These are clips on video sharing sites where someone plays a computer game while commenting on it, and they’re really popular with kids. You don’t have to be extremely good at the game or record clips of hidden or hard-to-reach areas. You don’t have to say anything terribly interesting or witty. Just record yourself playing the first couple of areas in a popular newish game, and loads of kids will watch the clip.

And this brings us to the next step: live Let’s Plays. For his birthday, Junior wished for only one thing: a video grabber with cables. While before he could record only games played on the PC, the grabber now allows him to capture the output from his Wii console. And it has streaming video capability. Yesterday Junior streamed over twelve hours of live video from that console (we sent him out to bounce on the trampoline every now and then for exercise). Over that period, 400 people checked in to watch the stream and listen to his banter. At most, 28 people watched at the same time. And the returning audience members converse with him on Skype while he does this. He has buddies all over the US and UK! It’s like a crowd of kids in front of a gaming console and a TV set, lounging in the living room and watching one kid play a game — only they’re all on different continents. Mind-boggling!

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Free Books in My Phone


I got the Aldiko e-book reader for my Android phone the other day – for free over the net. It came with two apparently random free books in epub format: H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. And whenever I like I can get more books for free over the net from within the e-reader: either old ones whose copyright has expired, or newly written ones with a Creative Commons licence. Austen, Doyle, Lovecraft, Twain, you name it! I can also buy copyrighted e-books and put them on my phone. The cost works out to about the same as if I mail-order a used paperback from the UK, the difference being that I don’t have to wait and I will have nothing to put on my shelf (which is pretty full already). My next book purchase will probably be an e-book.

Meanwhile, a top-tier literary agent representing a huge number of huge names has made an agreement with Amazon to deliver his author stable’s output directly to the on-line book store for e-reader access without the involvement of any publisher. New times! Will we see the high-street print-on-demand booth soon? Or will the paperback novel soon be obsolete?

The cheapest way to get hold of a copyrighted book, though, is still to borrow it from a friend or the library. My local doesn’t have much that interests me, but they offer an excellent inter-library loan service. I order over the net, they notify me by SMS when they receive the book, and then I pay €1 to borrow it down at the library. (Local loans carry no such fee.)

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Holographic Radar Detector Images Underground Metal Objects


A metal detector is very nice, particularly when there isn’t a lot of aluminium in the ground. Archaeology cannot do without it. But what I really want now is a holographic radar instrument. Still in the prototype stage, this technology is being developed by Tim Bechtel of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and colleagues, who primarily have land-mine removal in mind. It will image underground metal objects in 3D. Gimme gimme gimme!

And oh, how I hope that my country’s legislators will allow a responsible metal-detector hobby to develop here before holographic radar detectors hit the street.

Via BBC’s Material World. Quentin Cooper rules!

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Twitter Conversations Scare Off Followers

Using the @johndoe method to communicate over Twitter is a really stupid way to use the medium. Aren”t people aware that all their followers receive those tweets just as if they were normal ones? And aren’t they aware that many of their followers will thus receive only half of a usually pretty pointless chat conversation? It’s as if the newsreader on TV left his mike on and broadcast his lines in a water-cooler conversation about sports.

I think this behaviour is amazingly stupid. If I subscribe to a Twitter feed and discover that it’s full of banal lines from one-on-one conversations, I just unsubscribe. Discuss!

Update immediately afterwards: Aha! The amazingly stupid one turns out to be me! If you look at somebody’s Twitter home page, you see everything they tweet, including @ replies. But if you add them to your feed, those tweets are suppressed. So in order to find out if somebody’s feed is worthwhile despite all their chatter, you have to subscribe for a while. Thanks to Dayna for setting me straight.

Update same evening: Still, if you have a Twitter conversation with someone, the entire exchange will show up in the feed of everybody who follows both of you guys. So the rule is nevertheless, make sure every tweet you send is intelligible and worthwhile as a piece of standalone text, even if it’s a reply to somebody else’s tweet.

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Swype: Fast Text Input for Android


For me, the main drawback of switching to an Android phone was not having a physical keyboard any more. Typing on the touch screen keyboard is infuriatingly slow and error-prone, even if you use the word-suggestion feature. (It isn’t very smart, offering word suggestions not in order of how frequent each word is in everyday text, but in alphabetical order.)

But now it seems I’ve found the solution, that allows me to type fast in English and a few other large languages. Swype is an input method where you write each word by drawing a continuous line on the soft keyboard from key to key. When you lift your finger from the screen, Swype figures out what word you meant. Fast! The image above shows somebody writing the word “quick”. If Swype gets confused it offers word suggestions. You don’t even need to press space between words. Check it out!

Via Paddy K.

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Swedish Heritage in Your Smartphone

i-db6d5a66de18b4eb2f012b33e27cad8b-kringlamobil.jpgThe National Heritage Board of Sweden has released a beta version of a location-aware heritage-data browser for Android. The name is Kringla Mobil, and it talks to the central mash-up database that collates information from museums and organisations all over the country. My Visby buddies Lars and Johan are driving forces in the project.

I just stepped out into my yard, pressed Kringla Mobil’s map button and searched for gravfält, “prehistoric cemetery”. Immediately I got a number of markers on the map: not all the cemeteries in the vicinity, but the ones for which the database contains some kind of media. Pressing the marker nearest my home, a cemetery belonging to the deserted hamlet of Kaknäs near Stockholm, I got a detailed map of the cemetery, the original of which is in the ATA archives in town, and a descriptive text derived from the sites & monuments register. Cool!

To get Kringla Mobil, just search for it on the Android market on your handset and download it. And to participate in the development of the first full-fledged version, join the Kringla Forum.

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Facebook Fail

Facebook has turned up security a notch and effectively locked me out when I’m on the road.

I have hundreds of Fb contacts that I don’t actually know and wouldn’t recognise if I met them in the street. Mention their names to me and they ring no bell. This is partly because of this blog, partly because skeptics around the world like to have exotic Scandy contacts. Now, Facebook notes that somebody’s trying to log onto my account from an unfamiliar location. Imagine what happens when it starts to show me pictures of random people from my contact list, with a selection of seven names each to choose from.

No. Clue. I mean, people get tagged in images on Fb where you can barely see their faces. And in many cases I wouldn’t know even if I could see their faces clearly.

So I hope Facebook goes back to the drawing board on this one.