A scarily long time

Ten years ago today, I pushed publish on a old a battered piece of software, and this appeared on the internet:

This is my first attempt at a post. So there’s not actually anything here.
But hey, I’ll give it a go.

I was young, immature, had too much time on my hands and too many idiotic thoughts in my head that I thought the world needed to hear.

Ten years, 5,272 posts, 6,531 comments, 409,072 spam comments and over a hundred thousands visitors (apparently) later, I’m still here. Much less so; I went from doing about 800 posts in my first year to doing 50 last year, and the number of comments made in the last year was even smaller. But I’m still here, still immature, have significantly less time on my hands and still have far too many idiotic thoughts in my head. Considerably less young, though.

For how much longer I’ll be here, or the blog will be here, I know not. As long as I can find a couple of things every month that I feel like talking shit about, I suppose…

The geekiness continues

I’ve already gone on about Flight Radar 24, at length, so I shall not go into detail about its awesomeness and how said awesomeness appeals to me, if not to others. Clearly it’s becoming a bit of a legend, what with it being used as a reference on broadcast media during last nights extraditions.

I’ll just mention a new and interesting (to me): their increased coverage of aircraft on the ground at Heathrow.

Screen capture from FlightRadar24.com, copyright belonging to them and whoever they get the imagery from

They’ve either worked with BAA to get a feed directly, or they’ve got someone who has a nice line of sight to the field to put a receiver nearby, because the level of detail is awesome. On most airfields the planes disappear from coverage before landing, whereas in Heathrow you can see not only when the plane lands but where it taxis to; in many cases you can see not only what terminal they arrive at but also what gate. For example, in that image there’s a small BA plane at the far left just arriving into terminal 5A; there’s a BA 777 firmly parked at 5B, and the highlighted line is the path an Emirates A380 has taken from Terminal 3, Pier 6 on its way to the queue for take-off from runway 27R.

This level of detail is probably entirely unnecessary and quite boring to most people, including TLW, but I find it fascinating. And quite relaxing, if I’m honest.

The next step will be to go to Heathrow at some point and see ow well the level of detail reflects what can be seen out the window. I understand that there’s a nice view of the apron from Terminal 5…

And there’s more

Some time ago (is it really almost a year?) I posted about my geek love for Flight Radar 24. Because it mixed several of the things that I like in one geeky package: mobility, flight, statistics and general awesomeness. The fact that it was pretty efficient at bring out an augmented-reality interface also worked.

Unfortunately, that last feature only works on the mobile app. The desktop site didn’t do it, and suffered in comparison. Today, it clearly decided to come out fighting.

Can’t bring in a touch-screen, AR interface to the site? Fair enough. Instead bring in a facility to add the flight’s parameters to a Google Maps view and trace a representation of it across the screen.

very copyright all the people listed at the bottom, google, and FR24

Funnily enough, I can nearly see my house from here. Or at least the park where we walk the hound.

Yes, it’s entirely silly. Yes, it doesn’t actually better the world in any meaningful fashion. But it makes me smile, and it’s geeky. So it is clearly excellent.

Err, I don’t think that’s me

According to this professional looking personality test, I’m not quite cool.

You have your cool moments (you tend to look pretty cool, for starters) but you’re not someone others look up to as confident, individualistic and at times brilliant. But don’t worry too much about it. You have other traits that more than make up for it, from your love of friends and family to having a great team spirit and being trustworthy and dependable. You’re also quite modest and self-effacing, which might not be cool but is certainly appealing.

Well, that’s clearly not the case at all. I mean, I’m still slightly tangerine, and I can’t think of anything less cool than that…

Another thing I forgot to do anything about

TOday nine years ago, I wrote the first post of what became this blog. Clearly this last year hasn’t been the busiest of years for the blog; for whole months of the year I’ve completely neglected the blog. But I keep meaning to keep the blog going, so I’ll not lay it to rest just yet.

The stats, as is traditional.

  • 5,224 posts
  • 106,000 unique visitors, apparently

And that’s all the interesting numbers that I have…

If you’re going to steal, be honest

That is my mantra of the day, and it is the reason that I’m admitting that I stole this list from Grannymar. I’m not a big one for email forwards, but I thought I’d give this a go here where it can just sit and not bother people who choose not to be bothered with it.

The idea was to:-

Hit forward and place an X by all the things you’ve done,
remove the x from the ones you have not, and send it to your friends. So being a good sport, I am prepared to share it with all of you:

This is your life:

  • (x) Shot a gun (not very well…)
  • ( ) Gone on a blind date.
  • (x) Skipped school (and generally got caught)
  • (x) Watched someone die (too many, and some too recently)
  • Visited any of the following:
  • (x) Europe (well, duh)
  • (x) Africa (Egypt)
  • (x) Asia (Malaysia)
  • ( ) Australia
  • ( ) Antarctica
  • (x) Canada (quality skiing in Banff)
  • (x) North America (New York, the south west and Colorado)
  • ( ) South America
  • (x) Flown on a plane (a great many times, but not yet enough that I’m bored of it)
  • ( ) Served on a jury
  • (x) Been lost (oh, many many times. But it’s fun because you get to find your way again)
  • (x) Travelled to the opposite side of the country (in both Ireland and England)
  • (x) Swam in the Ocean (the Atlantic, clearly)
  • ( ) Cried yourself to sleep (not in memory)
  • (x) Played cops and robbers
  • (x) Played cowboys and Indians
  • ( ) Recently coloured with crayons
  • (x) Sang Karaoke (badly. Very badly)
  • (x) Sang a solo or duet in public (not sober)
  • (x) Paid for a meal with coins only (and demanded the extra cheeseburger that my NUS card entitled me to at the same time)
  • (x) Made prank phone calls (the fun that only the Scouts can bring, eh…)
  • (x) Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose (which is worse: warm beverages or carbonated beverages? Discuss)
  • (x) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
  • ( ) Had children
  • (x) Had a pet (the Roxinator)
  • (x) Been skinny-dipping outdoors (a very long time ago)
  • (x) Been fishing
  • (x) been boating (both in silly little sail efforts, and in more style)
  • (x) Been downhill skiing (not this millennium; I prefer snowboarding)
  • (x) Been water skiing (in the Bann. It was cold.)
  • (x) Been camping in a trailer/RV (only if a caravan counts)
  • (x) Been camping in a tent (a decade in the scouts and one or two festivals)
  • ( ) Flown in a small 4-seater airplane (should probably do that at some point…)
  • ( ) Flown in a glider
  • (x) Flown in a helicopter (on my own, too. I even got to play with the big boys!)
  • ( ) Flown in a hot air balloon
  • (x) Walked on a glacier
  • (x) Driven a motorcycle/been a passenger (yes, and I have a certificate to prove it)
  • ( ) Been bungee-jumping
  • ( ) Gone to a drive-in movie
  • (x) Done something that could have killed you-but not (of course, but yet here I am)
  • (x) Done something that you will regret for the rest of your life (obviously, but no big things)
  • ( ) Rode an elephant
  • (x) Eaten just cookies or cake for dinner …and ice cream for breakfast (Yes, I was a student)
  • (x) Been on TV (and I even have proof!)
  • (x) Stolen any traffic signs (why yes, I was a student)
  • (x) Been in a car accident (with the head of the local CID, no less)
  • ( ) Donated blood
  • ( ) Gone Curling
  • Favourite drink: Good coffee with better whiskey
  • Favourite number: 42
  • Favourite Colour: blue-ish
  • Favourite movie: Oh, so many.
  • Favourite dessert: ALL OF THEM
  • Where you hope to be in 10 years: With TLW, somewhere sunny.
  • Furthest place you will send this message: As far as the ‘publish’ button

So, does anyone feel they know me any better?

The times, they are a’changing

In 2006, I was a low rank nerd, with a score of 68. I was single, lived on my own, and spent many hours of every day on blogs and the like. Computer games were played often.

In 2011, how have things changed?

I am nerdier than 70% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get geeky images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

Hang on; I spend much less time on t’internet than I used to. I spend less time playing computer games. I’m married, fer crying out loud. How can my nerd score have gone up?

It gets worse: by some metrics I’m actually nerdier.

NerdTests.com says I'm a Slightly Dorky High Nerd.  Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

How the hell did that happen?

Childish terror

There was a period, at the tail end of Primary 6 and the start of Primary 7, when certain of the teachers at my school would be looking a tad more tired at the end of the week. Not because they were being too stressed at work, but because they were out doing tuition after school to get kids through the 11+.

I never had such tuition; instead we had old practice books in the house and by God we were to practice. But it shows how seriously people worked to prepare for that simple two-paper test, and how much rested on it. (‘course, it’s now disappearing from Norn Iron without any idea what follows, but that’s not the point.)

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the BBC sample test, which puts 11+ style questions to people who should really be able to walk through it.

Managed a respectable score (90+%) and a decent time (5 minutes), but the fact that I still got something wrong on it tells me that I ain’t as smart as I think I am…

Geekery of the highest order

I know, I’ve mentioned it many times, but there may be some who are unaware: I am a geek about planes. I don’t even limit it to the fast, exciting, military ones; boring ol’ civilian airliners interest me.

Which is why I’m quite pleased with one of the small unexpected benefits of the house that TLW & I got last year: it’s just about twenty miles due east of the threshold of Runway 27L at Heathrow Airport. So most days, there are hundreds of flights heading from the Biggin Hill and Lambourne stacks and making their final turns just overhead. At any given time you’ll probably be able to see three aircraft turning final from the kitchen window.

This pleases me; what pleases me more is that the planes are low and slow enough that you can make out some details. BA and their innumerable 747s are easily distinguished by their blue underbellies. Quantas are hugely distinctive because of their tailfin, plus a lot of their flights are A380s – hardly the world’s least distinctive shape.

However, there are a great many of the flights aren’t immediately identifiable. Too many planes, shallow viewing angles and so many airlines that just paint their fleet plain white with a small logo. So help was needed.

This is where the geekery gets out of hand: I went mobile. A website exists (FlightRadar24.com) that tracks hundreds and thousands of flights in real time, and displays this over a Google Maps map. So I can look now, and I’ll see that the plane that’s just turned overhead is BD552, a BMI flight from Bergen to Heathrow; the operating aircraft is G-MEDG and it is currently doing 127kts on a heading of 270 at 4025ft. It’s followed by a BA A321 from Amsterdam and an Aegean A320 from Athens. Amazing information, and all on the desktop.

More geekery is available, though. For that website has a mobile app that is really very reasonably priced. And it does all the above, but with a little added bonus: augmented reality, wherein it will overlay the flight information onto the mobile phone screen as you point the camera at a bit of sky. So, for example, if I was to be walking the dog in the local park and spotted a plane that confused me, I could point my phone at it and get all the information I’d ever need.

Lifted from: http://shanemcdonald.org/myblog/

This is the iPhone version; the Android version is pretty similar

This is both awesome and insane. Whereas the guy who got that screen grab says he used binoculars to see if the planes matched up, I get to use the Mk1 Eyeball. And look like a loon in the park, but considering that I always have Roxy with me I’m still not the craziest looking creature there…

Something from the list

So, last week, when I sat down to write a normal post, I instead came up with a list of things I could post about. And one of the things on that list was:

The new and interestingness that is my shiny Kindle

So, today, I shall write about it.

I’ve been asked, more than once, why I’d bother with a Kindle. Long story short, it intrigued me. The ability to carry thousands of books with me, and keep track of where you are in each of them; to get subscriptions delivered on the day of publication; all things that are interesting to me.

So, TLW very kindly got me one for my last birthday. And over the last three or four months, it’s been used quite a bit.

The positives:

  • It’s light enough to hold it for extended periods of time.
  • The case with the built in light enables you to read in the dark without necessarily disturbing others, even if they’re right next to you. Very useful for reading on the plane, or in bed when you can’t sleep.
  • The number of free books available is awesome. The back catalogue of Dickens has taken a pounding, all at no cost to me. Huzzah.
  • The integration with Amazon is very well done, and makes it painfully easy to buy books.
  • The screen is a masterpiece of elegant simplicity; not cluttered, easy to read in all lights, and since it’s not backlit there’s no more eye strain than there is on paper.
  • The Amazon reformatting of PDFs and Word documents is very clever, and means that instead of me having to print out reams and reams of silly policies from work, I can just fire them over to the device and not break my back carrying them.

The downsides?

  • Try as it might, it’s not a replacement for books. About half my reading since I got it has still been good ol’ paperbacks, and I’m OK with that.
  • The magazine subscription model doesn’t seem to be working well for me; I’ve not gone for any, because they don’t seem competitively priced.

All in, I’m very much a fan. So much so that TLW is getting a reciprocal gift (his’n’hers kindles, ahoy!) and seems happy with the thought.

To sum up: (a) I really like the Kindle and (b) to the people who yesterday tried to convince me that I was a fool and that I should have got an iPad: honestly, I’d rather have the measles.

Testing testing…

Is this thing still on?

And more importantly, is anyone still listening?

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, this here place got somewhat hacked. By which I mean, totally pwned. So I stopped a lot of things happening on it, and deleted a lot of scripts and the like. And then said to myself: “I should probably take the time to rebuild the entire site”, which seemed like the right thing to do. Then *boom*, life happened. Anniversaries, trips, celebrations, birthdays, expeditions and visitors happened. And I completely forgot about it, and with it forgot to blog at all.

A couple of email conversations and FB messages later, I thought that I should at least turn the place back on. So that I’ve done: a clean install, and I Didn’t Quite Catch That is back on the air.

Whether it will stay there is another matter; I’m not sure if I still have the blogging bug, given that I’ve not written anything in over two months. I’ll see what happens, but if I decide that I’m past this little phase, I’ll try to draw a line under it properly, instead of letting it wither and die.

Signs that I ain’t ever growing up

This arrived in the post yesterday. I like how the sender carefully avoided letting me know that I was getting old.


And inside, there was a gift, and a little note:

Cheers, short person, for your highly immature gift. Which I’ll clearly have immense fun playing. Hurrah!

Obvious ideas. Just very, very late.

Most of the phones I’ve had over the last decade have had an FM radio receiver in them. And I used to use the feature quite a lot, when out and about on a little walk. But I’ve always found FM to be a poor choice in a mobile, for two reasons:

  1. An AM receiver would allow me to listen to sport on 5live. Sport being much more time relevant than music.
  2. A DAB receiver would allow most of the FM channels (without the pirate interference that’s endemic in this part of London) and both 5live and 5live Sports Extra.

I can understand why FM was chosen over AM (the majority of stations are FM and there’s probably only room for 1 receiver), but I don’t understand why phones into which the manufacturer is piling more and more high technology (touchscreen, NFC, barcode readers, wi-fi) would choose FM over DAB, especially when DAB is being pushed so hard by governments.

So it’s good to see someone bringing out a DAB attachment for phones.

Every once in a while a device comes along that makes you wonder why it wasn’t available ages ago. For me, the Nokia Digital Radio Headset DAB falls into this category. It brings the wide, wide range of DAB radio stations to your Nokia mobile, cunningly disguised as a standard headset. Look a little closer however and there are a couple of clues as to its real purpose.

Now, it looks like a clunky solution and there is always the problem that it’s Nokia only1, and yes it costs a bit. But given that this is a first attempt, there should be other solutions coming along soon. And a similar setup shouldn’t take too long to come along. Especially to Android, since so many crackpots are making apps for it and all the manufacturers are all implementing standard chargers

1 – And this former Nokia fanboy is very much a former fanboy. Yes, six of my nine phones may have been Nokias but the last three have been (a) not Nokia and (b) better than Nokia.

Most awesome. I’ll take three.

What does every house need? Yes, you’re right, it needs an aimable beer cannon.

Yes, you saw that correctly. The guy has wired up an air cannon to a fridge and put the control on his mobile phone. So he can now, at the touch of a button, get a beer thrown across the room to him.

I’d like one of those, please.

But the applications don’t end there; there are many things that people would like to be able to have delivered through one of these; beer, snacks, books, blankets. This is a technology with countless potential applications.

I think that the most useful thing to add to it will be voice activation; once that’s taken care of then the sales will come rolling in…

Dime Bars

If anybody has a stockpile of common sense that they could afford to share, please could they distribute some to both sides of this twitter dispute.

A Tory councillor has been arrested and questioned following a comment on Twitter “calling” for the stoning of newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Gareth Compton, 38, a conservative councillor from Erdington, Birmingham, was questioned by police for “sending an offensive or indecent message” contrary to the Communications Act of 2003, The Independent reports. He was released on police bail on Wednesday night.

Compton defended his remarks as an arguably misguided attempt at humour. “I did not ‘call’ for the stoning of anybody,” he said via his @garethfcompton Twitter account.

“I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying on Radio 5 Live this morning, that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran..”

In the cold light of day, it’s a stupid comment. It’s just very very silly. But in context, it’s a condensed take on a valid criticism of the original speaker: how would she like it if she was to be stoned to death and nobody spoke out in her defence?

This is one of my main problems with twitter, it’s far too easily taken out of context. A blog post, or a newspaper article, or even a comment on a message board is surrounded by the context. Most really quotable bits are sandwiched in between the explanation paragraphs. But twitter doesn’t show things like that, especially in the publicly viewable bit, and the culture of it tends to be referencing real-world events much quicker than other media does.

So comments like this stick out like a sore thumb, and appear on the dashboards of other people without any context. And then people get angry.

So the common sense is needed: partly because the people writing comments need to think about how they’ll appear to people without the context, and partly because the people who get really upset should think about finding the context before firing off complaints to people.

Sheer genius

Way back in 2007, just as I started reading it, XKCD did a map of t’internet, showing how big each major part of it was relative to other parts.

And now, they’ve updated it.

click to embiggen © xkcd.com

It really is essential that you click to embiggen – some of the detail is amazing. First big difference: look at the relative sizes of Facebook and MySpace in 2007 and 2010. And then look just a little west-south-west of centre on the 2010 map: around the Snob sound…

Also, as I was writing this TLW walked in and said the following: “You know, whenever I walk in and you’re looking at something spectacularly geeky, you act just like I’d caught you looking at porn…”