Friday, April 30, 2010

The Music Industry's Live Future

Random but interesting fact of the week (ok to me at least): the UK music industry now makes more money from live acts than recorded (e.g. downloads and CDSs).

Something for me to ponder over during the Tender Trap gig went to this week in Shepherds Bush. The above rubbish photo is yet another reason to hope the next iPhone has a better camera if nothing else.

This band from down under do have a song called Down River which I was thinking of using to give this post a nautical theme, but to be honest it's not their best and you'd be better off watching this or this YouTube video.

Update: Time's review here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Keep Turning Left Right

I was going to post an entry about Keep Turning Left's videos but I've been short of time and Adam got there first - it will have to wait.

Furthermore on the eve of a general election here in the UK there is a danger in this blog being seen to being partisan with such subliminal messages about what direction to take.

So for balance here's a story from the BBC about a sailor who tried to "Keep Turning Right". Apparently he left the Medway aiming for Southampton using the simple rule of KTR.

Alas this simple algorithm failed when it encountered the Isle of Sheppey, around which he circled until he ran out of fuel, after which he ran aground and had to be rescued by the RNLI.

Turn left, turn right - it's your choice.

Just make sure you don't hit the rocks on the way (Gordon Brown you know what I mean)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Tropic of Cancer

Last night the BBC broadcast the last in the travel series the "Tropic of Cancer" in which Simon Reeve followed the line of that name around the globe. For those with access to the BBC's iPlayer it can be found here.

He started in Mexico and kept going east until he reached journey's end in Hawaii. There he found the plastic beach I blogged about earlier and he made a good point: the plastic doesn't come from Hawaii itself. That's a rather scary thought, as it means the plastic has travelled a very, very long way, and there must be an awful lot of it out there, bobbing about in the Pacific.

Simon also dropped in on the bird sanctuary to visit some of the very few Hawaiian Crows in existence. The 'Alala as it is also known is now extinct in the wild, the only ones left are being bred in captivity. In a room containing a large mural of birds his guide went round pointing at those that are already extinct.

It was a sobering moment.

In a previous series when Simon travelled around the Tropic of Capricorn I was struck by his travels through Madagascar. 90% of the forest, he discovered, had already been cut down.

There are no easy answers for a world who's population is increasing while at the same time getting richer, and when getting richer means consuming more.

But like politicians at election time (such as here in the UK) no one likes to connect the dots and identify where the compromise is going to be. I am pretty convinced that we must use our brain power and technology. To save the planet we need to protect it's species, and that means protecting vast areas as natural parks.

That means increased efficiency in what we use, which means GM food and nuclear power, and taxation on consumption, including on CO2 generating sources of energy.

And that means a lot of angry people across the political spectrum.

Can we as a species do it? I have no idea, but we can should at least try.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

America's Cup 2028

BJ: G'day guys! It's Buff Junior here - Junior by name and junior by brain! I'm here on behalf of Queensland Community Cloud and JP's representing ye olde bloggers, say hello JP

JP: Hi all

BJ: And first a big thanks to all those kind words about my uncle, ol' Buff Staysail, what can I say, all choked up

JP: It's the way BS would have wanted to go, Junior. Drowned after capsizing a Laser while sailing on a vat of the amber nectar.

BJ: But enough reminiscing, it's time for the 2028 America's Cup, being virtualized live from Rio de Janerio, with the first race about to start.

JP: So lock your cloud-pad to the Google-Sail channel. Thanks of course to Google-Sail to providing real-time streaming data feeds including wave mapping, lidar wind measurements for the sail-zone, and full archival facilities so we can re-sail these matches over the cloud at any time in the future. Of course there are some dis-

Google Sail Adverts: Fantastic life style hats and goodies available now! Just make the buy gesture now and we'll scan your face, get ID match, charge your PayBuddy account, and dispatch, all automatically.

BJ: - but no one prosecuted him. And those wanting to follow the Sail-XXXX co-race, it's live on augmented overlay as we speak.

JP: Yup, that's been a lot of fun, joining and racing the actual AC fleet in real time on virtual communities. I think the video chat mode really adds to the experience

BJ: And its a good thing that boat location sensors are mandatory so that all protesting and judging can be done automatically or things could have got nasty.

JP: I tell you, it was a programming glitch, the iRules site clearly doesn't understand 3.52k

BJ: Enough of that, the two finalists are entering the start area, and we're about to see some real racing. The two skippers meet at last -

Google-Sail: Get your steam powered JetSki's 20% off now! Say "Wow" now for voice scan and we'll transfer you direct to the O'Docker Spring Sale!

JP: - with Sabrine behind the sail wing lock-up, completely naked - but enough of that, might be children on-feed. Wasn't it a great Facepad Challengers Series?

BJ: Fantastic! That final where China just pipped USA on the last downwind leg!

JP: Their hull shape tweak program is clearly superior. I heard the USA hull only had two settings, upwind and downwind

BJ: That's not much is it? China really has got the edge of memory and electro-form structures, that can re-shape the bow at the touch of a button, and they have hull-trimmers that really know their stuff.

JP: A shame about the English boat - well they did get to the semi's, before the USA team knocked them out.

BJ: You're not still blaming the sinking of St. George on sabotage by the Welsh Republic, JP? They lost fair and square - though not the epic battle of China vs. the New Iranian Republic.

JP: Re-sailing the race on virtual sail the English team had a 23.7% probability of winning. But at least that decade long legal battle is finally out of the way.

BJ: Amen to that. And it worked out fine, with the rejected foiling technology being picked up by the Red Bull Round the World Race, while adaptive hull technology was accepted, though not-

Google-Sail: Red Bull discount offer! Nod your head now if interested in entering for the chance for a ride on the Red Bull Round the World Race in-port events! Purchase and ID public mode required

BJ: -the two boats are lined up for the start, Brazil to port, getting powered up, really making some way, have they timed this right?

JP: That doesn't look right, at this rate they'll be across the line early

BJ: China leading, Brazil just behind, matching them move for move

JP: Oh my god! Did you see that!

BJ: Wow! The Chinese boat re-shaped their bow into a flat surface, breaking them just enough to be this side of the line as the gun went. We haven't seen that before, a super weapon for the finals.

JP: And Brazil were early! They are having to return!

BJ: On the Chocolate Factory augmented overlay you can see that the idealised virtual competition is slightly ahead, but not by much, so China is working at 99.98% close to optimum efficiency.

JP: Brazil are across the line, they're in chase mode, this will be a Cup Race to remember -

McAfee Cloud Protect Warning: Our systems have identified this feed as viral.

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Your ID has been deleted.


Welcome to the Plastic Beach

I've recently been listening to Gorillaz's latest album, Plastic Beach. You can get a flavour of it from the YouTube site here.

The title sounds like a contradiction, after all who would want to go to a beach made of plastic? Well it appears that we might not have a choice, given the amount of plastic floating around in the oceans today.

The BBC is currently broadcasting a series called Tropic of Cancer, in which Simon Reeve travels along the line of that name. In the last episode, to be broadcast tomorrow, he ends up in Hawaii, where they found a beach with more rubbish than sand.

The biggest trouble was the plastic breaking down into smaller and smaller grains, until it merges into the sand, impossible to remove (see below).

You can get a taster from this extract on the BBC site.

Sorry to keep blogging downer environmental posts, but this bugs me: it just isn't right.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Quiz

In a previous quiz we asked what this contraption is doing and why, as is explained here.

Here is another of them, just up river from it's sister, like giant four legged monsters walking up the Thames.

Hopefully a couple of you will recognise that as Putney Bridge in the background, together with Fulham's All Saints Church, nearly opposite Putney's St. Marys Church.

So what fanciful story connects these two churches with the naming of Putney and Fulham?

Google, Buzz, Peter Ackroyd's Thames - Sacred River etc may be used

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Access to the water - Gaza style

A story today on the BBC site reminded me that some people have more trouble getting on the waters than others.

The clip you see above is of the few fun things to do in Gaza - surf. The territory is currently under a blockade that is more like a medieval siege, with materials like glass or even paper banned, along with more useful things like parts for the sewage system, and so there was no way to import a surf board.

Enter one enterprising Californian, the surfing legend Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, who took it upon himself back in 2007 to personally deliver 15 boards. What can one say but "respect dude!"

Getting them through the blockade was a major achievement: usually when they say that you have to do a bit of kiss-up to the border guards you are only speaking metaphorically - here it was apparently literal.

But it must surely have been worth it - doesn't that look good!

There are other dangers, apart from dodging the sewage. Go too far out and you'll end up like this poor Palestinian fisherman, courtesy of the Israeli gunships enforcing the blockade:

That's not what I consider counts as the Freedom of the Seas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boats, Planes and Spaceships

Big excitement waiting for the train on the daily commute - I saw a plane! Yup, the first contrail above the skies of London since the volcanic ash descended from Iceland. Not sure if it was an overflight or test flight measuring ash densities, but definitely a plane.

Probably the first of many, as the wind is a changing, and by the weekend normal service will be resumed with south-westerlies to enjoy. It might even be sooner than that as BA has some jumbos in the air heading for Heathrow as we speak.

You can watch the skies over Europe in the comfort of you own home using this nice real time flight viewer (though it does seem rather busy at the moment).

So hopefully, fingers crossed etc, soon this little hiccup will be over, and my poor brother and family will finally make their way home.

And then it will be time for the next group writing project - sailing in the year 2020 - 2030 time frame. Well Bonnie got there first with solar sailing, but maybe she wasn't aware there were plans to race three of these around the Moon (see pic above).

While sounding exciting these things alas have very, very low accelerations, so most useful for station keeping or holding statite style quasi - orbits (yup, real space cadet here).

A good topic, but will have to put on back burner for a day or two.

Update: and just hearing that the UK's airspace is going to open again. Fingers crossed my brother and family get one of the earlier flights in.

Updated update: and with a Roooooaaaarrrr!!! they're back, or at least one airplane has just flown into Heathrow...... and then another.......

Monday, April 19, 2010

Air travel vs. volcanic CO2 emissions

While the closure of most of the airspace of Western Europe is indeed a big nuisance for many and an unwanted expense to the airlines and fragile economies, there have been some benefits.

Firstly there has the blissful quiet for us Londoners, either under the flight path or one of the stacks for one or more of the capital's airports.

But also it's been good for CO2 emissions. The figure above from gizmodo gives an indication of CO2 generated by the volcano compared to European airlines, and the wonderfully named Eyjafjallajoekull is about 20 times smaller.

So that's a little bit of good news.

The bad news is the thought of that amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere week after week, year after year, decade after decade......

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Empty sky, blue sky

Today was rather amazing, as there was nothing in the sky over London.

No planes and no helicopers, nothing moving that wasn't natural. Not even a cloud - just blue from zenith to horizon. Blue from dawn to dusk.

Except I suppose there was something in the sky, something that gave the horizon a hazy look, a something that gave the sunsets that golden glow of yesterday's photo.

The volcanic something that has my brother and family stuck on their holiday in Egypt.

Volcanic ash covering Europe from Ireland to Russia, floating up there in the blue.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Silent Skies

London's skies are for once completely clear of aircraft. There's an almost eerie lack of sound as we miss the relentless roar of jets from above as the volcanic dust continues to spread

In the pic above there seems to be a smog like reddy band along the horizon where the sun has just set, which I guess is the culprit.

You can also see the sliver which is the new moon and the evening star, Venus.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Red sky in the evening, flight cancellation warning!

Ok, maybe that's not the traditional saying.

But appropriate on a day when the entire UK airspace has been closed due to that volcano in Iceland.

The sky wasn't as dramatically red as it might have been, so will have another look tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why the Thames Tunnel is Controversial

The Thames Tunnel described in yesterday's post is designed to stop 32 million cubic metres of untreated sewage from entering the Thames each year, where it plays havoc with the wildlife and water sports enthusiasts alike. The 50 - 60 discharge "events" per year are above the maximum levels in the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 1991.

Supporters include Thames 21, Peter Ackroyd, the RYA and Olympic kayaking champion Tim Brabants (see more here).

How can such a project be controversial?

Well it is, and for two reasons. Firstly cost: as you'd imagine a 32 km long tunnel 75 m underneath the Thames does not come cheap - in fact estimates are around £2.2 billion. And this is going to come from just one source - residents of London through higher water bills.

The second is that access is going to be required to water front or adjacent locations from which bore shafts can be constructed through which to drop machinery and extract soil. And quite big machines and quite a lot of soil.

To give you an idea of the scale, the figure above from Thames Water shows a cross section in which fits three London double decker buses.

In fact "Thames Water anticipate that for the Main Tunnel Drive Shafts the typical construction duration is 6 to 7 years with indicative peak HGV traffic movements of 120 vehicles per day." (*)

You can see that this might not be popular.

So the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is currently the proposed start point of the tunnel, are raising objections - "Super sewer crater opposed". But they won't be alone - the report suggests that secondary sites will have to be located all along the river.

Watch this space, as they say.

(*) See this Wandsworth Council Planning Report, 1st March 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

But is it aground?

Gold star to Tillerman for correctly getting all three parts of yesterday's quiz spot on. The prize is one pint of London Pride (or equivalent) next time Mr T is in the Putney area.

This is indeed a jack-up rig, and it's not part of some "Drill, baby, drill" project to solve the energy requirements of UK plc.

No it is indeed a much more worthy project, to stop some of the 32 million cubic metres of untreated sewage from being discharged into the Thames each year, a river used by many a rower, kayaker and sailor. Oh yuck!

The Thames Tunnel project is a proposed 32 km tunnel to the treatment plants at Beckton. It will follow the route of the river (as in the figure above) but about 75m underneath the river bed. The boreholes are part of the geological survey, with boring to start in a few years and project completion date of 2020.

So until then be careful out on the river on days after heavy rainfall.

The was also the additional question about whether it is hoisting the right signals, being the "restricted ability to manoeuvre" shapes rather than "aground".

In this case I can point those interested at the view of the relevant experts here, namely the Port of London Authority. In Notice to Mariners M9 of 2010 it clearly states that in its opinion it should use the ball / diamond / ball shapes.

I suppose their argument is that the jack / spud barge / rig thing could manoeuvre if it really, really had to, but slowly. It is touching bottom of its own accord, a bit like a kayaker holding their position by ramming the kayak into the river bed.

And Mr O'Docker is correct in that this is the tidal Thames so technically part of the British Coastline - hurrah!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Quiz

The Wandsworth one way system is a well known London traffic black spot which drivers are only too happy to get through as quickly as possible.

However I lingered long enough to take a pic of this contraption in the Thames near Wandsworth Bridge.

Any guesses, educated or not as to:
a) what is this?
b) what is it doing?
c) and why?

Saturday, April 10, 2010


It's lovely - particularly after a Winter that seemed to drag on.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sideways Lasers?

A question for you Laser gurus.

One of the problems of living in an apartment rather than a house is the lack of storage. No garage or driveway to store those kayaks and dinghies.

There is the rather ominous sounding "lockup" which are cages shaped roughly 2.2m x 2.2m x 1m which is great for unwanted arm chairs, not so good for my requirements.

But the management is thinking of making more cages, so could in theory ask for a different size, something more useful, such as (say) long and thin.

If it were 4.1m x 1.5m x 0.7m then it would be the same volume but much more suitable for all sorts of craft. The door out of the lock-up is similarly more useful for a hull going through on its side. Though I'd guess that space would have to store both a hull and trolley, which might be a bit tight.

Any views on how easy it is to store a Laser, all the bits and it's trolley on it's side?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Post for the Planet

I love my techy toys. Today for example I've been following the blogs giving the latest news on iPhone OS 4.0 tweet by tweet. And has already posted am saving the pennies for the time that the iPad touches down blighty side of the pond.

But there is a price for this relentless pursuit of the new, shiny gleaming bit of plastic, glass, metal and mix of heavy elements, a price our planet bears.

So a couple of posts about the environment to give some balance:
  • Turtles killed by the millions by fishing gear - as in the photo above. There's some beguiling about the slow moving air breathing shell encrusted animal, and yet our greed for fish is leading to their slaughter. Can't be good.
  • Rubbish on UK beaches is up 77% on the level in 1994, and 63% of that is plastic. And the majority of that comes from public littering - yes that means you and me. Much of it is plastic bags and bottles, so take them home!
  • On that subject, the Plastiki is off sailing the Pacific to raise awareness of the plastic threat to our seas, most noticeably the great ocean gyres full of plastic.
  • It's been a bad couple of weeks for blue fin tuna, with the politicians failing both to limit catches and then failing to protect them as an endangered species
  • Finally an example of global warming related sea water rising leading to not just coastal land being lost but in this case a whole island in the Bay of Bengal. It was disputed between India and Bangladesh, both of which have high coastal populations vulnerable to further sea level rises.
So even though I've got a shopping list this summer I must somehow also find a way to balance the damage done - any suggestions?

Monday, April 05, 2010

The DW and tiredness

Easter Monday is the last day of the DW, otherwise known as the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race, when those doing the event over four days finally reach the home stretch and the last few miles down the Thames.

It was an impressive sight, a steady stream of canoes and kayaks, and almost all had gone before I had finished my second mug of breakfast coffee.

There were some supporters biking by too, calling out useful tips like to follow the centre of the channel, where the tidal flow to the sea runs quickest. More than a few seemed to have forgotten this and instead tried to cut the corners. This is likely to be slower flowing and hence paradoxically be actually longer across the water.

But you can understand how that can happen. After many days hard work both mind and body begin to slow, and so poor decisions are made that the more alert, more trained, or more caffeinated would have avoided.

Congrats to anyone who made the long trek, 125 miles over 4 days is an impressive achievement, one that contestants will no doubt remember for a long time.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

DW on Easter Day

It's Easter Sunday, a day when it surely is acceptable to have a lie in, to make a cup of tea and retire to bed to browse the papers online, and then a gentle day to reflect and have profound thoughts about chocolate.

But not for some. In particular not for those brave non-stoppers on the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race which is running this weekend. 125 miles, 77 portages, all non-stop, taking typically 20 - 30 hours.

Very impressive! And while most have finished, there are still some out there.....

At least its a beautiful evening - though that means a cold one. Venus and Mercury up there in the West again.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

JP's Boat Race

What did I make of the Boat Race?

I don't know! The start was exactly the same time as my youngest nephew's birthday party, so of course I did the good uncle trick and delivered the above.

But Cambridge won!

Ready for the Boat Race

Send in the Marines! Yup, it's looking serious with our lads taking a well earned break from Afghanistan to check the river on their black inflatables.

But did they check the tide tables? Yesterday at just after 5 pm Putney Embankment was awash with the Thames lapping at the foot of those boat sheds:

Full tide predictions at the PLA site: click here for the Chelsea tables.

iPad and the Planets

It's a good time for the tech-head, with the Apple iPad out in the US and oh so anticipated here in blightly land.

So it's probably not a coincidence that today there was a whole host of new releases of iPhone apps, including the Navionics charts. Must admit am really looking forward to seeing what they look like on the iPad - proper size charts for a reasonable price.

Alas my iPhone is completely full - it's the 16 GB 3G version and just out of contract but think it might be worth waiting till June/July to get the next version. The buzz on the tech blogs is "HD" - better screen and camera, but for me I'm hoping there'll be a 64 GB version.

So at the moment spending my time deleting apps, which makes reviewing the V4 Navionics impossible. But one that stayed in was the Planets app, which shows the location of the planets in the sky wrt the main constellations, as in the screen-shot above.

And it's been very useful in weeks passed to spot Mars and last night Venus & Mercury (see above for their positions at 8pm BST in London), so big thumbs up here.

No doubt there are others in the increasingly hard to navigate Apple Store, and again these are the sorts of app that would be wonderful on the iPad.

Update: Yes! "Planets" is an iPad app so no doubt it will look just great on that big screen.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Venus & Mercury in the evening sky

For those into astronomy it's a good time to be out looking at planets, with Mars and Saturn up there in the night sky, and Jupiter towards morning.

Also look out in the evening, as you can see both Venus and Mercury in the western sky - pretty sure that's what's in the photo above (plus of course a plane). Worth getting a bit chilly standing outside with camera and binoculars, though have just rewarded self with the astronomer's friend, namely a nice cup of hot chocolate.

More about what to see in the sky during April can be found here.

Also a neat solar system simulator over at JPL here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Exclusive! New Laser for World Masters

G'day all! Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature!

It's a special day for all you Laser fans out there, as this blog can exclusively reveal that a new Laser is coming on sale this summer, specially for the forth coming World Masters.

There has been some concern from organisers of the competition that use of an existing design will bias the competition against sailors like JP that only sail on sunny summer days in waters with the temperature of a pleasant bath, by giving an unfair advantage to those that sail Lasers on a day to day basis.

The solution was radical, to design a new class that no-one had sailed before. What's more the proposed boat opens the doors for a whole new avenue of sailing. Using the latest in sailing technology, the design team have managed to fit a wing onto a standard Laser body!

The plans were revealed at an exclusive breakfast this morning for leading journalists and wow was it a good one. Over one of the many glasses of champagne we worked hard on the last piece of the puzzle - what to call this space ship. Will it be the Laser-W, Star Laser, or even the Waser??

Whatever it will be called, I can't wait to get out there and try one. Imagine the scene: yours truly blasting through a pack of boring sail boats to get to the finish line - and hence bar - first!!