Search Results: "jeans"

9 March 2022

Jonathan Dowland: Broken webcam aspect ratio

picture of my Sony RX100-III camera Sony RX100-III, relegated to a webcam
Sometimes I have remote meetings with Google Meet. Unlike the other video-conferencing services that I use (Bluejeans, Zoom), my video was stretched out of proportion under Google Meet with Firefox. I haven't found out why this was happening, but I did figure out a work-around. Thanks to Daniel Silverstone, Rob Kendrick, Gregor Herrmann and Ben Allen for pointing me in the right direction! Hardware The lovely Sony RX-100 mk3 that I bought in 2015 has spent most of its life languishing unused. During the Pandemic, once I was working from home all the time, I decided to press-gang it into service as a better-quality webcam. Newer models of this camera the mark 4 onwards have support for a USB mode called "PC Remote", which effectively makes them into webcams. Unfortunately my mark 3 does not support this, but it does have HDMI out, so I picked up a cheap "HDMI to USB Video Capture Card" from eBay. Video modes
Before: wrong aspect ratio Before: wrong aspect ratio
This device offers a selection of different video modes over a webcam interface. I used qv4l2 to explore the different modes. It became clear that the camera was outputting a signal at 16:9, but the modes on offer from the dongle were for a range of different aspect ratios. The picture for these other ratios was not letter or pillar-boxed, but stretched to fit. I also noticed that the modes which had the correct aspect ratio were at very low framerates: 1920x1080@5fps, 1360x768@8fps, 1280x720@10fps. It felt to me that I would look unnatural at such a low framerate. The most promising mode was close to the right ratio, 720x480 and 30 fps. Software
After: corrected aspect ratio After: corrected aspect ratio
My initial solution is to use the v4l2loopback kernel module, which provides a virtual loop-back webcam interface. I can write video data to it from one process, and read it back from another. Loading it as follows:
modprobe v4l2loopback exclusive_caps=1
The option exclusive_caps configures the module into a mode where it initially presents a write-only interface, but once a process has opened a file handle, it then switches to read-only for subsequent processes. Assuming there are no other camera devices connected at the time of loading the module, it will create /dev/video0.1 I experimented briefly with OBS Studio, the very versatile and feature-full streaming tool, which confirmed that I could use filters on the source video to fix the aspect ratio, and emit the result to the virtual device. I don't otherwise use OBS, though, so I achieve the same result using ffmpeg:
fmpeg -s 720x480 -i /dev/video1 -r 30 -f v4l2 -vcodec rawvideo \
    -pix_fmt yuyv422 -s 720x405 /dev/video0
The source options are to select the source video mode I want. The codec and pixel formats are to match what is being emitted (I determined that using ffprobe on the camera device). The resizing is triggered by supplying a different size to the -s parameter. I think that is equivalent to explicitly selecting a "scale" filter, and there might be other filters that could be used instead (to add pillar boxes for example). This worked just as well. In Google Meet, I select the Virtual Camera, and Google Meet is presented with only one video mode, in the correct aspect ratio, and no configurable options for it, so it can't misbehave. Future I'm planning to automate the loading (and unloading) of the module and starting the ffmpeg process in response to the real camera device being plugged or unplugged, using systemd events and services. (I don't leave the camera plugged in all the time due to some bad USB behaviour I've experienced if I do so.) If I get that working, I will write a follow-up.

  1. you can request a specific device name/number with another module option.

17 December 2021

Jonathan Dowland: ereader

Kobo Libra H2O e-reader Kobo Libra H2O e-reader
This year I finally bought an e-reader: a "Kobo Libra H2O": a 7" 300ppi screen with an adjustable colour temperature front light, waterproof, physical buttons on a "margin"/spine which pushes the case dimensions up to 8", which is sadly a little too big for most jeans pockets. In fact this is the second time I've bought one. Sarah and I bought a pair of Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2nd generation) readers as Honeymoon gifts for each other in 2013. Sarah took to hers, but after giving mine a try and reading a couple of books on it I ended up giving it to my Father-in-law. The main problem I had with it was the colour temperature of the backlight: it was too blue and "clinical". It's interesting to me to realise how the environment that I read in can become indelibly linked to the memory of that book. One book in particular that I read on the Kindle was James Smythe's "The Machine", a modern twist on a classic horror story. This was perfectly complemented by the somewhat pallid, sick colour of the backlight, especially on its lowest brightness settings. It didn't go so well with other stories.
Broken Libra H2O e-reader Broken Libra H2O e-reader
I got on much better with the Libra H2O. For me, e-books and e-reading has not replaced traditional paper books, but complemented them, giving me an opportunity to read in contexts and situations where I couldn't manage with a real book (such as in the pitch black, lying on my back with a toddler on my chest). I feel that being able to read more often thanks to the e-reader has spurred me on to read even paper books more frequently as well. Unfortunately the screen broke, about 10 months after I bought it! After a bit of soul-searching on what to do about replacing it, and briefly considering the latest Amazon Paperwhite (which now has a 300ppi display and adjustable-colour temperature front-light). This looks like a very nice e-reader: no physical buttons which is a bit of a shame but narrower without the margin/spine of the Kobo, so possibly more pocket-friendly. On the other hand, I really felt that I wanted to avoid giving Amazon the money, for a whole variety of reasons.
Libra 2 e-reader. Spot the difference? Libra 2 e-reader. Spot the difference?
So I instead settled on the "Kobo Libra 2", which is a slight refresh of the Libra H2O, but almost identical. I'm going to pair it with a nice cover for when its not in use and hopefully it will last longer than its predecessor. My current favourite feature on the Libra 2, that I don't remember on the H2O and I'm fairly sure doesn't exist on Kindles is it supports a "night mode", which is effectively a reverse video, white-on-black mode. This is fantastic for keeping the light levels down at night. I was already using the backlight at about 2% brightness and occasionally found even that too bright.

30 May 2021

Russell Coker: USB Cables and Cameras

This page has summaries of some USB limits [1]. USB 2.0 has the longest cable segment limit of 5M (1.x, 3.x, and USB-C are all shorter), so USB 2.0 is what you want for long runs. The USB limit for daisy chained devices is 7 (including host and device), so that means a maximum of 5 hubs or a total distance between PC and device of 30M. There are lots of other ways of getting longer distances, the cheapest seems to be putting an old PC at the far end of an Ethernet cable. Some (many? most?) laptops have USB for the interface to the built in camera, and these are sold from scrapped laptops. You could probably setup a home monitoring system in a typical home by having a centrally located PC with USB hubs fanning out to the corners. But old Android phones on a Wifi network seems like an easier option if you can prevent the phones from crashing all the time.

24 December 2016

Shirish Agarwal: Trains, Planes and the future

Swacch Bharat - Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Swacch Bharat Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Some of the content may be NSFW. viewer discretion advised. I have had a life-long fascination with trains. One of my first memories was that of 5-7 year old, clutching my mother or grandmother s hand seeing the steam engine lumbering down whistling and smoking at the same time. I was both afraid and strangely drawn to the iron beast and the first time I knew and then slowly understood that if we come with luggage and the steam-engine comes, it means we are going to travel. I have travelled some, but there are lots to explore still and I do hope that I cover some more of it during my lifetime. The reason I am writing about trains is an article which caught my eye couple of days. Besides seeing the changing geography, the variety of food one can get on train and in stations is one of the primary reasons that Indians love to travel by trains. It is one place where you could have incredible conversations over cup of tea or favourite food and unlike air travel and the famed IFE (In-flight entertainment) people are actually pretty social even with all the gadgets. For those who are wondering, the author was travelling between Jamshedpur, Gujarat to Kolkatta, a train ride which has now gone on my bucket list for the delectable items the author has described To add to the above, it is still cheaper than air travel, although that is changing a bit as Indian Railways seeks to modernize Railways and make it into world-class bullet trains. Indian Railways has a long, rich culture and some of the most interesting nuggets you learn over time adds to the fascination of the Railways. For instance I m sharing this letter which I read first in book and then saw in the New Delhi Railway Museum. The letter I am sharing below was written by a certain Shri Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj Railway Office in year 1909, almost 38 years before India became independent. I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station. This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers. If it were not for Mr. Okhil Chandra Sen we would still be running with water bottle (improvement) and jeans/shorts/whatever (again improvement) while the possibility of falling over would always be omnipresent in a hurry. Now we do have toilets and some of the better trains even have Bio-toilets which should make things better as well.(/NSFW) For the plane bit, most of my flights have been domestic flying. Some of my most memorable flights is when flying from Mumbai on a clear sky overlooking the Queen s necklace, loving it and landing in Bangalore during mist or rain or both. Delhi is also good as airports go but nothing much adventurous about it. It was only with the experience of my first international flight, I realized the same feeling again, nervousness and sense of adventure as you meet new people. Nowadays every week I do try and broaden my horizon by seeking and learning a bit about International Travel.
Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

In this I came across an article on National Geographic site which also evoked similar feelings. While I can t go back to the past and even if I did (in distant past before I was born), I wouldn t want to improve my financial situation at all (as otherwise I would hit the Grandfather Paradox or/and the Butterfly effect (essentially saying there s no free lunch), it still makes you wonder about a time when people had lot more adventure and lot more moving parts. I do wish they had a much bigger snapshot of that plane so I could really see how people sat in the old aircraft. The low-resolution picture doesn t do justice to the poster and the idea of that time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder for an implementation of Butterfly effect. The Grandfather Paradox has been seen plenty of times in fantasy movies like the Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes and many others so will not go there. For the average joe today, s/he has to navigate security,check bags, get her/imself processed through passport control, get boarding pass, get to the gate on-time, get to the aircraft via bridge or bus, get to the seat, somehow make it through the ascent and use your IFE and get snacks and meals till it s time to touch-down and re-do the whole drill again as many times you are connecting. I really admire Gunnar Wolf for the tenacity he showed for the x number of connections he made both ways.
The world's 10 best airports Copyright: Changi International Airport

Photo Courtesy Changi International Airport, Singapore

While leafing through the interweb today, came across an article . While you can slice and dice the report anyway you want, for me if ever I get a chance again for an International Travel, I would try to see I get a layover at these three airports in order of preference (this is on the basis that none of these airports need a transit visa for the activities shared) a. Changi International Airport It is supposed to have shower amenities, has a movie theatre (+1), free tour of the city (+1) and of course as many Indians do go to Singapore as a destination in itself would have multiple vegetarian options (+2) so would be nice if I need to layover. b. Zurich Airport (ZRH) For passengers with an extended layover, Zurich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne. From business-insider.com. While I m not much of a bicycle and inline-skating freak, if the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne is anything to the scale of Isiko Museum which I shared in a blog post sometime before, it would be worth by itself. I haven t tried to find the site but can imagine, for e.g. if it has a full-scale model of a submarine or train engine, either steam-engines or ones like SNCF or any of the other bullet-trains and early aircraft, it would just blow my mind. When you are talking about transport, there is so much science, business, logistics etc. that I m sure I ll overload with information, photos and any trinkets they have to buy. c. Central Japan International Airport (NGO) It has a 1,000-foot-long sky deck where passengers can watch ships sail into Nagoya Port. There s also a traditional Japanese bathhouse where you can have a relaxing soak while watching the sunset over the bay. BusinessInsider.com Not a bad place to be if you need a layover. Just sink yourself in the bathhouse and see the bay and ships coming in. Luxury indeed. Honourable mention d. Munich Airport (MUC) A nearby visitors park features mini golf and a display of historic aircraft. Business-Insider.com . Now this would have made my list but I guess one would need a Schengen visa to access the visitors park but then if you have that, then why just stay in the Airport itself, could travel through Europe itself and have a longish stop-over. So all in all, it s indeed a fascinating time to be alive, dreaming and just being. Till later. Update I had forgotten to share one more reason why I was writing this article. Although somewhat of a cynic, am hopeful that Pune metro happens. Also, if I had just waited a day, would have been able to add couple of wonderful articles that would make people wanderlust more
Filed under: Miscellenous Tagged: #Best Airports, #Central Japan International Airport, #Changi International Airport, #Food, #Loo, #Nostalgia, #NSFW, #Planes, #Steam Engine, #Trains, #Zurich Airport, Indian Railways, memories

3 September 2016

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (July and August 2016)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

17 July 2016

Iustin Pop: Energy bar restored!

So, I've been sick. Quite sick, as for the past ~2 weeks I wasn't able to bike, run, work or do much beside watch movies, look at photos and play some light games (ARPGs rule in this case, all you need to do is keep the left mouse button pressed). It was supposed to be only a light viral infection, but it took longer to clear out than I expected, probably due to it happening right after my dental procedure (and possibly me wanting to restart exercise too soon, to fast). Not fun, it felt like the thing that refills your energy/mana bar in games broke. I simply didn't feel restored, despite sleeping a lot; 2-3 naps per day sound good as long as they are restorative, if they're not, sleeping is just a chore. The funny thing is that recovery happened so slow, that when I finally had energy it took me by surprise. It was like oh, wait, I can actually stand and walk without feeling dizzy! Wohoo! As such, yesterday was a glorious Saturday I was therefore able to walk a bit outside the house this weekend and feel like having a normal cold, not like being under a cursed: -4 vitality spell. I expect the final symptoms to clear out soon, and that I can very slowly start doing some light exercise again. Not tomorrow, though In the meantime, I'm sharing a picture from earlier this year that I found while looking through my stash. Was walking in the forest in Pontresina on a beatiful sunny day, when a sudden gust of wind caused a lot of the snow on the trees to fly around and make it look a bit magical (photo is unprocessed beside conversion from raw to jpeg, this is how it was straight out of the camera): Winter in the forest Why a winter photo? Because that's exactly how cold I felt the previous weekend: 30 C outside, but I was going to the doctor in jeans and hoodie and cap, shivering

13 January 2016

Norbert Preining: Ian Buruma: Wages of Guilt

Since moving to Japan, I got more and more interested in history, especially the recent history of the 20th century. The book I just finished, Ian Buruma (Wiki, home page) Wages of Guilt Memories of War in Germany and Japan (Independent, NYRB), has been a revelation for me. As an Austrian living in Japan, I am experiencing the discrepancy between these two countries with respect to their treatment of war legacy practically daily, and many of my blog entries revolve around the topic of Japanese non-reconciliation.
Willy Brandt went down on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto, after a functioning democracy had been established in the Federal Republic of Germany, not before. But Japan, shielded from the evil world, has grown into an Oskar Matzerath: opportunistic, stunted, and haunted by demons, which it tries to ignore by burying them in the sand, like Oskar s drum.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Clearing Up the Ruins
Buruma-Wages_of_Guilt The comparison of Germany and Japan with respect to their recent history as laid out in Buruma s book throws a spotlight on various aspects of the psychology of German and Japanese population, while at the same time not falling into the easy trap of explaining everything with difference in the guilt culture. A book of great depth and broad insights everyone having even the slightest interest in these topics should read.
This difference between (West) German and Japanese textbooks is not just a matter of detail; it shows a gap in perception.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Romance of the Ruins
Only thinking about giving a halfway full account of this book is something impossible for me. The sheer amount of information, both on the German and Japanese side, is impressive. His incredible background (studies of Chinese literature and Japanese movie!) and long years as journalist, editor, etc, enriches the book with facets normally not available: In particular his knowledge of both the German and Japanese movie history, and the reflection of history in movies, were complete new aspects for me (see my recent post (in Japanese)). The book is comprised of four parts: The first with the chapters War Against the West and Romance of the Ruins; the second with the chapters Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nanking; the third with History on Trial, Textbook Resistance, and Memorials, Museums, and Monuments; and the last part with A Normal Country, Two Normal Towns, and Clearing Up the Ruins. Let us look at the chapters in turn: The boook somehow left me with a bleak impression of Japanese post-war times as well as Japanese future. Having read other books about the political ignorance in Japan (Norma Field s In the realm of a dying emperor, or the Chibana history), Buruma s characterization of Japanese politics is striking. He couldn t foresee the recent changes in legislation pushed through by the Abe government actually breaking the constitution, or the rewriting of history currently going on with respect to comfort women and Nanking. But reading his statement about Article Nine of the constitution and looking at the changes in political attitude, I am scared about where Japan is heading to:
The Nanking Massacre, for leftists and many liberals too, is the main symbol of Japanese militarism, supported by the imperial (and imperialist) cult. Which is why it is a keystone of postwar pacifism. Article Nine of the constitution is necessary to avoid another Nanking Massacre. The nationalist right takes the opposite view. To restore the true identity of Japan, the emperor must be reinstated as a religious head of state, and Article Nine must be revised to make Japan a legitimate military power again. For this reason, the Nanking Massacre, or any other example of extreme Japanese aggression, has to be ignored, softened, or denied.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Nanking
While there are signs of resistance in the streets of Japan (Okinawa and the Hanako bay, the demonstrations against secrecy law and reversion of the constitution), we are still to see a change influenced by the people in a country ruled and distributed by oligarchs. I don t think there will be another Nanking Massacre in the near future, but Buruma s books shows that we are heading back to a nationalistic regime similar to pre-war times, just covered with a democratic veil to distract critics.
I close with several other quotes from the book that caught my attention: In the preface and introduction:
[ ] mainstream conservatives made a deliberate attempt to distract people s attention from war and politics by concentrating on economic growth.
The curious thing was that much of what attracted Japanese to Germany before the war Prussian authoritarianism, romantic nationalism, pseudo-scientific racialism had lingered in Japan while becoming distinctly unfashionable in Germany.
In Romance of the Ruins:
The point of all this is that Ikeda s promise of riches was the final stage of what came to be known as the reverse course, the turn away from a leftist, pacifist, neutral Japan a Japan that would never again be involved in any wars, that would resist any form of imperialism, that had, in short, turned its back for good on its bloody past. The Double Your Incomes policy was a deliberate ploy to draw public attention away from constitutional issues.
In Hiroshima:
The citizens of Hiroshima were indeed victims, primarily of their own military rulers. But when a local group of peace activists petitioned the city of Hiroshima in 1987 to incorporate the history of Japanese aggression into the Peace Memorial Museum, the request was turned down. The petition for an Aggressors Corner was prompted by junior high school students from Osaka, who had embarrassed Peace Museum officials by asking for an explanation about Japanese responsibility for the war.
The history of the war, or indeed any history, is indeed not what the Hiroshima spirit is about. This is why Auschwitz is the only comparison that is officially condoned. Anything else is too controversial, too much part of the flow of history .
In Nanking, by the governmental pseudo-historian Tanaka:
Unlike in Europe or China, writes Tanaka, you won t find one instance of planned, systematic murder in the entire history of Japan. This is because the Japanese have a different sense of values from the Chinese or the Westerners.
In History on Trial:
In 1950, Becker wrote that few things have done more to hinder true historical self-knowledge in Germany than the war crimes trials. He stuck to this belief. Becker must be taken seriously, for he is not a right-wing apologist for the Nazi past, but an eminent liberal.
There never were any Japanese war crimes trials, nor is there a Japanese Ludwigsburg. This is partly because there was no exact equivalent of the Holocaust. Even though the behavior of Japanese troops was often barbarous, and the psychological consequences of State Shinto and emperor worship were frequently as hysterical as Nazism, Japanese atrocities were part of a military campaign, not a planned genocide of a people that included the country s own citizens. And besides, those aspects of the war that were most revolting and furthest removed from actual combat, such as the medical experiments on human guinea pigs (known as logs ) carried out by Unit 731 in Manchuria, were passed over during the Tokyo trial. The knowledge compiled by the doctors of Unit 731 of freezing experiments, injection of deadly diseases, vivisections, among other things was considered so valuable by the Americans in 1945 that the doctors responsible were allowed to go free in exchange for their data.
Some Japanese have suggested that they should have conducted their own war crimes trials. The historian Hata Ikuhiko thought the Japanese leaders should have been tried according to existing Japanese laws, either in military or in civil courts. The Japanese judges, he believed, might well have been more severe than the Allied tribunal in Tokyo. And the consequences would have been healthier. If found guilty, the spirits of the defendants would not have ended up being enshrined at Yasukuni. The Tokyo trial, he said, purified the crimes of the accused and turned them into martyrs. If they had been tried in domestic courts, there is a good chance the real criminals would have been flushed out.
After it was over, the Nippon Times pointed out the flaws of the trial, but added that the Japanese people must ponder over why it is that there has been such a discrepancy between what they thought and what the rest of the world accepted almost as common knowledge. This is at the root of the tragedy which Japan brought upon herself.
Emperor Hirohito was not Hitler; Hitler was no mere Shrine. But the lethal consequences of the emperor-worshipping system of irresponsibilities did emerge during the Tokyo trial. The savagery of Japanese troops was legitimized, if not driven, by an ideology that did not include a Final Solution but was as racialist as Hider s National Socialism. The Japanese were the Asian Herrenvolk, descended from the gods.
Emperor Hirohito, the shadowy figure who changed after the war from navy uniforms to gray suits, was not personally comparable to Hitler, but his psychological role was remarkably similar.
In fact, MacArthur behaved like a traditional Japanese strongman (and was admired for doing so by many Japanese), using the imperial symbol to enhance his own power. As a result, he hurt the chances of a working Japanese democracy and seriously distorted history. For to keep the emperor in place (he could at least have been made to resign), Hirohito s past had to be freed from any blemish; the symbol had to be, so to speak, cleansed from what had been done in its name.
In Memorials, Museums, and Monuments:
If one disregards, for a moment, the differences in style between Shinto and Christianity, the Yasukuni Shrine, with its relics, its sacred ground, its bronze paeans to noble sacrifice, is not so very different from many European memorials after World War I. By and large, World War II memorials in Europe and the United States (though not the Soviet Union) no longer glorify the sacrifice of the fallen soldier. The sacrificial cult and the romantic elevation of war to a higher spiritual plane no longer seemed appropriate after Auschwitz. The Christian knight, bearing the cross of king and country, was not resurrected. But in Japan, where the war was still truly a war (not a Holocaust), and the symbolism still redolent of religious exultation, such shrines as Yasukuni still carry the torch of nineteenth-century nationalism. Hence the image of the nation owing its restoration to the sacrifice of fallen soldiers.
In A Normal Country:
The mayor received a letter from a Shinto priest in which the priest pointed out that it was un-Japanese to demand any more moral responsibility from the emperor than he had already taken. Had the emperor not demonstrated his deep sorrow every year, on the anniversary of Japan s surrender? Besides, he wrote, it was wrong to have spoken about the emperor in such a manner, even as the entire nation was deeply worried about his health. Then he came to the main point: It is a common error among Christians and people with Western inclinations, including so-called intellectuals, to fail to grasp that Western societies and Japanese society are based on fundamentally different religious concepts . . . Forgetting this premise, they attempt to place a Western structure on a Japanese foundation. I think this kind of mistake explains the demand for the emperor to bear full responsibility.
In Two Normal Towns:
The bust of the man caught my attention, but not because it was in any way unusual; such busts of prominent local figures can be seen everywhere in Japan. This one, however, was particularly grandiose. Smiling across the yard, with a look of deep satisfaction over his many achievements, was Hatazawa Kyoichi. His various functions and titles were inscribed below his bust. He had been an important provincial bureaucrat, a pillar of the sumo wrestling establishment, a member of various Olympic committees, and the recipient of some of the highest honors in Japan. The song engraved on the smooth stone was composed in praise of his rich life. There was just one small gap in Hatazawa s life story as related on his monument: the years from 1941 to 1945 were missing. Yet he had not been idle then, for he was the man in charge of labor at the Hanaoka mines.
In Clearing Up the Ruins:
But the question in American minds was understandable: could one trust a nation whose official spokesmen still refused to admit that their country had been responsible for starting a war? In these Japanese evasions there was something of the petulant child, stamping its foot, shouting that it had done nothing wrong, because everybody did it.
Japan seems at times not so much a nation of twelve-year-olds, to repeat General MacArthur s phrase, as a nation of people longing to be twelve-year-olds, or even younger, to be at that golden age when everything was secure and responsibility and conformity were not yet required.
For General MacArthur was right: in 1945, the Japanese people were political children. Until then, they had been forced into a position of complete submission to a state run by authoritarian bureaucrats and military men, and to a religious cult whose high priest was also formally chief of the armed forces and supreme monarch of the empire.
I saw Jew S ss that same year, at a screening for students of the film academy in Berlin. This showing, too, was followed by a discussion. The students, mostly from western Germany, but some from the east, were in their early twenties. They were dressed in the international uniform of jeans, anoraks, and work shirts. The professor was a man in his forties, a 68er named Karsten Witte. He began the discussion by saying that he wanted the students to concentrate on the aesthetics of the film more than the story. To describe the propaganda, he said, would simply be banal: We all know the what, so let s talk about the how. I thought of my fellow students at the film school in Tokyo more than fifteen years before. How many of them knew the what of the Japanese war in Asia.

5 September 2015

Russell Coker: A Long Term Review of Android Devices

Xperia X10 My first Android device was The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10i [1]. One of the reasons I chose it was for the large 4 screen, nowadays the desirable phones (the ones that are marketed as premium products) are all bigger than that (the Galaxy S6 is 5.1 ) and even the slightly less expensive phones are bigger. At the moment Aldi is advertising an Android phone with a 4.5 screen for $129. But at the time there was nothing better in the price range that I was willing to pay. I devoted a lot of my first review to the default apps for SMS and Email. Shortly after that I realised that the default email app is never going to be adequate (I now use K9 mail) and the SMS app is barely adequate (but I mostly use instant messaging). I ve got used to the fact that most apps that ship with an Android device are worthless, the camera app and the app to make calls are the only built in apps I regularly use nowadays. In the bug list from my first review the major issue was lack of Wifi tethering which was fixed by an update to Android 2.3. Unfortunately Android 2.3 ran significantly more slowly which decreased the utility of the phone. The construction of the phone is very good. Over the last 2 years the 2 Xperia X10 phones I own have been on loan to various relatives, many of whom aren t really into technology and can t be expected to take good care of things. But they have not failed in any way. Apart from buying new batteries there has been no hardware failure in either phone. While 2 is a small sample size I haven t see any other Android device last nearly as long without problems. Unfortunately I have no reason to believe that Sony has continued to design devices as well. The Xperia X10 phones crash more often than most Android phones with spontaneous reboots being a daily occurrence. While that is worse than any other Android device I ve used it s not much worse. My second review of the Xperia X10 had a section about ways of reducing battery use [2]. Wow, I d forgotten how much that sucked! When I was last using the Xperia X10 the Life360 app that my wife and I use to track each other was taking 15% of the battery, on more recent phones the same app takes about 2%. The design of modern phones seems to be significantly more energy efficient for background tasks and the larger brighter displays use more energy instead. My father is using one of the Xperia phones now, when I give him a better phone to replace it I will have both as emergency Wifi access points. They aren t useful for much else nowadays. Samsung Galaxy S In my first review of the Galaxy S I criticised it for being thin, oddly shaped, and slippery [3]. After using it for a while I found the shape convenient as I could easily determine the bottom of the phone in my pocket and hold it the right way up before looking at it. This is a good feature for a phone that s small enough to rotate in my pocket the Samsung Galaxy Note series of phones is large enough to not rotate in a pocket. In retrospect I think that being slippery isn t a big deal as almost everyone buys a phone case anyway. But it would still be better for use on a desk if the bulge was at the top. I wrote about my Galaxy S failing [4]. Two of my relatives had problems with those phones too. Including a warranty replacement I ve seen 4 of those phones in use and only one worked reliably. The one that worked reliably is now being used by my mother, it s considerably faster than the Xperia X10 because it has more RAM and will probably remain in regular use until it breaks. CyanogenMod I tried using CyanogenMod [5]. The phone became defective 9 months later so even though CyanogenMod is great I don t think I got good value for the amount of time spent installing it. I haven t tried replacing the OS of an Android phone since then. I really wish that they would start manufacturing phones that can have the OS replaced as easily as a PC. Samsung Galaxy S3 and Wireless Charging The Galaxy S3 was the first phone I owned which competes with phones that are currently on sale [6]. A relative bought one at the same time as me and her phone is running well with no problems. But my S3 had some damage to it s USB port which means that the vast majority of USB cables don t charge it (only Samsung cables can be expected to work). After I bought the S3 I bought a Qi wireless phone charging device [7]. One of the reasons for buying that is so if a phone gets a broken USB port then I can still use it. It s ironic that the one phone that had a damaged USB port also failed to work correctly with the Qi card installed. The Qi charger is gathering dust. One significant benefit of the S3 (and most Samsung phones) is that it has a SD socket. I installed a 32G SD card in the S3 and now one of my relatives is happily using it as a media player. Nexus 4 I bought a Nexus 4 [8] for my wife as she needed a better phone but didn t feel like paying for a Galaxy S3. The Nexus 4 is a nice phone in many ways but the lack of storage is a serious problem. At the moment I m only keeping it to use with Google Cardboard, I will lend it to my parents soon. In retrospect I made a mistake buying the Nexus 4. If I had spent a little more money on another Galaxy S3 then I would have had a phone with a longer usage life as well as being able to swap accessories with my wife. The Nexus 4 seems reasonably solid, the back of the case (which is glass) broke on mine after a significant impact but the phone continues to work well. That s a tribute to the construction of the phone and also the Ringke Fusion case [9]. Generally the Nexus 4 is a good phone so I don t regret buying it. I just think that the Galaxy S3 was a better choice. Galaxy Note 2 I got a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in mid 2013 [10]. In retrospect it was a mistake to buy the Galaxy S3, the Note series is better suited to my use. If I had known how good it is to have a larger phone I d have bought the original Galaxy Note when it was first released. Generally everything is good about the Note 2. While it only has 16G of storage (which isn t much by today s standards) it has an SD socket to allow expansion. It s currently being used by a relative as a small tablet. With a 32G SD card it can fit a lot of movies. Bluetooth Speakers I received Bluetooth speakers in late 2013 [11]. I was very impressed by them but ended up not using them for a while. After they gathered dust for about a year I started using them again recently. While nothing has changed regarding my review of the Hive speakers (which I still like a lot) it seems that my need for such things isn t as great as I thought. One thing that made me start using the Bluetooth speakers again is that my phone case blocks the sound from my latest phone and makes it worse than phone sound usually is. I bought Bluetooth speakers for some relatives as presents, the relatives seemed to appreciate them but I wonder how much they actually use them. Nexus 5 The Nexus 5 [12] is a nice phone. When I first reviewed it there were serious problems with overheating when playing Ingress. I haven t noticed such problems recently so I think that an update to Android might have made it more energy efficient. In that review I was very impressed by the FullHD screen and it made me want a Note 3, at the time I planned to get a Note 3 in the second half of 2014 (which I did). Galaxy Note 3 Almost a year ago I bought the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 [13]. I m quite happy with it at the moment but I don t have enough data for a long term review of it. The only thing to note so far is that in my first review I was unhappy with the USB 3 socket as that made it more difficult to connect a USB cable in the dark. I ve got used to the socket and I can now reliably plug it in at night with ease. I wrote about Rivers jeans being the only brand that can fit a Samsung Galaxy Note series phone in the pocket [14]. The pockets of my jeans have just started wearing out and I think that it s partly due to the fact that I bought a Armourdillo Hybrid case [15] for my Note 3. I ve had the jeans for over 3 years with no noticable wear apart from the pockets starting to wear out after 10 months of using the Armourdillo case. I don t think that the Armourdillo case is bad, but the fact that it has deep grooves and hard plastic causes it to rub more on material when I take the phone out of my pocket. As I check my phone very frequently this causes some serious wear. This isn t necessarily a problem given that a phone costs 20* more than a pair of jeans, if the case was actually needed to save the phone then it would be worth having some jeans wear out. But I don t think I need more protection than a gel case offers. Another problem is that the Armourdillo case is very difficult to remove. This isn t a problem if you don t need access to your phone, IE if you use a phone like the Nexus 5 that doesn t permit changing batteries or SD cards. But if you need to change batteries, SD cards, etc then it s really annoying. My wife seems quite happy with her Armoudillo case but I don t think it was a good choice for me. I m considering abandoning it and getting one of the cheap gel cases. The sound on the Note 3 is awful. I don t know how much of that is due to a limitation in the speaker and how much is due to the case. It s quite OK for phone calls but not much good for music. Tablets I m currently on my third tablet. One was too cheap and nasty so I returned it. Another was still cheap and I hardly ever used it. The third is a Galaxy Note 10 which works really well. I guess the lesson is to buy something worthwhile so you can use it. A tablet that s slower and has less storage than a phone probably isn t going to get used much. Phone Longevity I owned the Xperia X10 for 22 months before getting the Galaxy S3. As that included 9 months of using a Galaxy S I only had 13 months of use out of that phone before lending it to other people. The Galaxy S3 turned out to be a mistake as I replaced it in only 7 months. I had the Note 2 for 15 months before getting the Note 3. I have now had the Note 3 for 11 months and have no plans for a replacement any time soon this is the longest I ve owned an Android phone and been totally satisfied with it. Also I only need to use it for another 4 months to set a record for using an Android phone. The Xperia was free as part of a telco contract. The other phones were somewhere between $500 and $600 each when counting the accessories (case, battery, etc) that I bought with them. So in 4 years and 7 months I ve spent somewhere between $1500 and $1800 on phones plus the cost of the Xperia that was built in to the contract. The Xperia probably cost about the same so I ll assume that I spent $2000 on phones and accessories. This seems like a lot. However that averages out to about $1.20 per day (and hopefully a lot less if my Note 3 lasts another couple of years). I could justify $1.20 per day for either the amount of paid work I do on Android phones or the amount of recreational activities that I perform (the Galaxy S3 was largely purchased for Ingress). Conclusion I think that phone companies will be struggling to maintain sales of high end phones in the future. When I chose the Xperia X10 I knew I was making a compromise, the screen resolution was an obvious limitation on the use of the device (even though it was one of the best devices available). The storage in the Xperia was also a limitation. Now FullHD is the minimum resolution for any sort of high-end device and 32G of storage is small. I think that most people would struggle to observe any improvement over a Nexus 5 or Note 3 at this time. I think that this explains the massive advertising campaign for the Galaxy S6 that is going on at the moment. Samsung can t sell the S6 based on it being better than previous phones because there s not much that they can do to make it obviously better. So they try and sell it for the image.

19 June 2014

Russell Coker: Phone Car Accessories

Tree Frog Dashboard Mat phone stuck to fridge I ve been given some more MobileZap products to review. The first is the Tree Frog anti-slip dashboard mat [1]. This is designed to allow a phone to stick to an angled surface of the inside of the car without slipping. The pictures on the web site show a phone stuck to a curved angular surface of a car dash. To test this I stuck my phone to my fridge, the flat metal surface of the fridge and the almost flat plastic surface of the gel case of my phone are pretty much ideal surfaces for the sticky mat to adhere to. But even so keeping my phone stuck to a vertical surface is impressive. This mat is cheap enough that it could be used for many other tasks than securing a phone in a car, for example it could be used to stick a phone to the wall of your office. It s apparently washable and can be expected to keep gripping things if washed regularly. One thing that could be improved in the mat would be to have some holes in it. When I detached my phone from the fridge some large air bubbles developed between the mat and the fridge, this would be a problem if I wanted to regularly stick my phone to a flat surface such as an office wall. When in my car it didn t work nearly as well. The pattern on the surface of the car dash which is designed to avoid glare when driving is difficult to stick to, it s a bit like trying to attach sticky-tape to unpainted wood for similar reasons. A phone will still remain in place on a 30 degree angle from the horizontal (which is significant) but the mat grips much more tightly to the phone than the dash, which is a little inconvenient as the mat stays attached to the phone when you remove it from the dash. Sorry for the boring picture, it s black and flat so there s not much scope for making it interesting. 3.1A USB Car Charger AA battery charger and 3.1A car charger Above is a picture of a 3.1A USB car charger and a AA battery charger. The car charger isn t particularly exciting, but providing 3.1A through two USB sockets is noteworthy it can charge one device at 2.1A (the maximum any device draws) or two devices for a total of up to 3.1A [2] (with protection against over-current). Previously in my car I used the 2.1A charger that shipped with my Galaxy Note 2 and an inverter to provide 240VAC as the devices I had to charge a phone from a car socket didn t provide enough current. This new device uses less space and also allows charging two phones at once. One problem with this device was finding USB cables that could handle the current, for benchmarking I used a phone that was running Ingress and acting as a Wifi access point. I discovered that the cables that Samsung ships with their recent devices (Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet) seem to work best and support charging my Galaxy Note 2 or my wife s Nexus 5 while playing Ingress and running as a Wifi AP. Most of the other cables that I have in my collection won t even allow a phone to remain at the same charge level while playing Ingress. AA Emergency Phone Charger The AA phone charger is best suited for emergency use only, it takes one AA battery and has limited current capacity [3]. A NiMh rechargeable battery has a nominal Voltage of 1.2V, to provide 5V to charge a phone the Voltage has to be boosted by a factor of 4.16 which would reduce the current by a factor of 4.16 if the charger was 100% efficient. As 100% efficiency is impossible the current would be reduced even more. It seems unlikely that a AA battery would be able to sustain a current of 2A so the supply from that charger would be less than 500mA IE less than the least capable PC USB port or mains powered phone charger. A test with a Nexus 5 showed the phone charge level decreasing while being very lightly used (mostly just checking whether the charge level was increasing) when a NiMH battery was connected. A test with an alkaline battery and the same Nexus 5 showed the phone charge level increasing when lightly used but it probably wouldn t do so while playing Ingress. It seems that a single NiMH AA battery can only be used for charging a phone in a real emergency situation (IE an act of god type disaster not a need to level up in Ingress). If mains power was out then you could charge a phone while it s turned off (AFAIK all Android phones support this) and then use it once it s charged. This charger supports a wide range of phones (including LG phones from 5+ years ago and Nokia from ~10 years ago) so it could be good for charging an old phone in an emergency. Older phones need less power to charge and generally last longer between charges. With an alkaline battery the charger works a lot better, but it s still for emergency use as I generally only use rechargeable batteries. This is a device I might put in the bottom of my case when travelling, not a device that I ll use regularly. I don t think that this is a deficiency in the product, it s just a limit of what can be done with the power requirements of modern phones and the capabilities of AA batteries. If you want a battery to use while playing Ingress you definitely need something a lot larger. This charger is good for emergencies but not suitable for my main use (charging phones while playing Ingress) so I ll give it to my parents, they do a lot of hiking and camping and my father often goes fishing. Taking a few AA batteries to charge a phone would be much more convenient for such use than taking one of the larger batteries I use for Ingress. Also as the charger is relatively cheap there s less potential financial loss if you drop it in sea-water. 20800mAh Battery picture of 20800mAh USB battery Above is a picture of a 20800mAh battery pack that MobileZap sent me [4]. I haven t yet discovered what it s capacity is, during the recent Interitus anomaly it kept my Galaxy Note 2 and my wife s Nexus 5 adequately charged for 5 hours of intensive Ingress playing (we alternated between phones). Without an external battery it would be unusual for either of those phones to last for 2 hours. The battery has two ports labeled 1A and 2.1A which implies that it can supply a total of 3.1A. I am a little dubious of that implication. After the Interitus anomaly my wife and I had dinner with some friends and I let a friend charge her Samsung Galaxy S5 on the battery at the same time as my Note 2 (which claimed to be 2% charged). When I connected my friend s phone my phone instantly shut itself down due to lack of charge, so I presume that the supply on the 2.1A port is reduced when a demanding device is connected to the 1A port. The next day my wife and I went to the city again to play Ingress and attend a protest against some of the awful things that the Abbott government is doing. As an experiment I didn t charge this battery to see how it would go for two days of use charging two phones. Again there was no problem and it still claimed to be half charged when we got home. So far the only problem I ve found with this battery is that it never reports being fully charged, not even if I leave it on charge for days. That doesn t seem to be a great problem to me, if I disconnect it before it s fully charged then that won t hurt the battery life (unlike NiCd batteries that have to be fully charged every time) and even if it s not fully charged it will still charge phones for a long time. The battery is about 19cm long. I have jeans with unusually large pockets to fit large phones [5] so I can fit this battery in my pocket while a USB cable is connected to charge my phone. I also have a new winter jacket from Scottwear which has pockets that can fit the battery (and lots of other things). Anyone who doesn t have such clothing should plan to use a backpack, handbag, or some other bag this type of battery won t fit in the pockets in most clothing. MobileZap also has some other interesting Nexus 5 accessories [6].

27 May 2014

Jon Dowland: 2012 In Review

2013 is nearly all finished up and so I thought I'd spend a little time writing up what was noteable in the last twelve months. When I did so I found an unfinished draft from the year before. It would be a shame for it to go to waste, so here it is. 2012 was an interesting year in many respects with personal highs and lows. Every year I see a lots of "round-up"-style blog posts on the web, titled things like "2012 in music", which attempt to summarize the highlights of the year in that particular context. Here's JWZ's effort, for example. Often they are prefixed with statements like "2012 was a strong year for music" or whatever. For me, 2012 was not a particularly great year. I discovered quite a lot of stuff that I love that was new to me, but not new in any other sense. In Music, there were a bunch of come-back albums that made the headlines. I picked up both of Orbital's Wonky and Brian Eno's Lux (debatably a comeback: his first ambient record since 1983, his first solo effort since 2005, but his fourth collaborative effort on Warp in the naughties). I've enjoyed them both, but I've already forgotten Wonky and I still haven't fully embraced Lux (and On Land has not been knocked from the top spot when I want to listen to ambience.) There was also Throbbing Gristle's (or X-TG) final effort, a semi/post-TG, partly posthumous double-album swan song effort which, even more than Lux, I still haven't fully digested. In all honesty I think it was eclipsed by the surprise one-off release of a live recording of a TG side project featuring Nik Void of Factory Floor: Carter Tutti Void's Transverse, which is excellent. Ostensibly a four-track release, there's a studio excerpt V4 studio (Slap 1) which is available from (at least) Amazon. There's also a much more obscure fifth "unreleased" track cruX which I managed to "buy" from one of the web shops for zero cost. The other big musical surprise for me last year was Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny: Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. I knew nothing of BJH, although it turns out I've heard some of her singles repeatedly on Radio 6, but her band's guitarist Ed Blazey and his partner lived in the flat below me briefly. In that time I managed to get to the pub with him just once, but he kindly gave me a copy of their album on 12" afterwards. It reminds me a bit of Goldfrapp circa "Seventh Tree": I really like it and I'm looking forward to whatever they do next. Reznor's How To Destroy Angels squeezed out An Omen EP which failed to set my world on fire as a coherent collection, despite a few strong songs individually. In movies, sadly once again I'd say most of the things I recall seeing would be "also rans". Prometheus was a disappointment, although I will probably rewatch it in 2D at least once. The final Batman was fun although not groundbreaking to me and it didn't surpass Ledger's efforts in The Dark Knight. Inception remains my favourite Nolan by a long shot. Looper is perhaps the stand-out, not least because it came from nowhere and I managed to avoid any hype. In games, I moaned about having moaning about too many games, most of which are much older than 2012. I started Borderlands 2 after enjoying Borderlands (disqualified on age grounds) but to this day haven't persued it much further. I mostly played the two similar meta-games: The Playstation Plus download free games in a fixed time period and the more sporadic but bountiful humble bundle whack-a-mole. More on these another time. In reading, as is typical I mostly read stuff that was not written in 2012. Of that which was, Charles Stross's The Apocalypse Codex was an improvement over The Fuller Memorandum which I did not enjoy much, but in general I'm finding I much prefer Stross's older work to his newer; David Byrne's How Music Works was my first (and currently last) Google Books ebook purchase, and I read it entirely on a Nexus 7. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but the experience has not made a convert of me away from paper. He leans heavily on his own experiences which is inevitable but fortunately they are wide and numerous. Iain Banks' Stonemouth was an enjoyable romp around a fictional Scottish town (one which, I am reliably informed, is incredibly realistical rendered). One of his "mainstream" novels, It avoided a particular plot pattern that I've grown to dread with Banks, much to my suprise (and pleasure). Finally, the stand-out pleasant surprise novel of the year was Pratchett and Baxter's The Long Earth. With a plot device not unlike Banks' Transition or Stross's Family Trade series, the pair managed to write a journey-book capturing the sense-of-wonder that these multiverse plots are good for. (Or perhaps I have a weakness for them). It's hard to find the lines between Baxter and Pratchett's writing, but the debatably-reincarnated Tibetan Monk-cum-Artificial Intelligence 'Lobsang' must surely be Pratchett's. Pratchett managed to squeeze out another non-Discworld novel (Dodger) as well as a long-overdue short story collection, although I haven't read either of them yet. On to 2013's write-up...

4 February 2014

Russell Coker: Clothing and Phone Cameras

In 2012 I wrote about my jeans from Rivers that fit the largest available phones (and the smaller tablets) in their pockets [1]. Those jeans are still working well for me, I can add the fact that they don t wear out quickly to the list of positive attributes. Recently my sister asked for advice on getting a new phone, she was considering the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (the phone I m using now) because it apparently takes better pictures than the Nexus 4 she s using. I ve used both those phones and I hadn t noticed a difference in picture quality, but there is some variation in manufacturing and it could be that I ve got a below average Note 2 and a better than average Nexus 4 so I ll assume for the sake of discussion that my sister would actually get an improvement in picture quality by using a Note 2. If you have a phone that doesn t have the picture quality you desire then one option is to buy a phone with a better camera, but you will be limited by issues of physics. A thin phone has a short focal length which means that the lens has to be small and therefore the amount of light that gets to the sensor is small. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has some of the best camera hardware that you ll find in a phone, but it s still only 14.5mm thick where the camera is and that will limit the quality a lot. Any compact camera should be able to beat all phone cameras in terms of picture quality in most areas. The Samsung Galaxy Camera [2] is also worth considering, it has more features than a typical compact camera and good GUI that allows novice photographers to take advantage of it. Also being able to blog your photos directly from the camera could be a useful feature. But the big down-side of a compact camera is that it s not that compact. Most people won t find it convenient to carry a compact camera with them at all times and therefore they might miss a good opportunity to take a photo. The Galaxy Note series of phones also suffer in this regard because they are larger than most phones. If your phone won t fit in your pocket and you have it in your backpack when on the move or on a bench at home then you will probably miss some good photos. As I was at a Rivers store recently I tested my Note 2 in the pockets of women s jeans. Rivers scored very poorly in this regard, one pair of women s jeans had fake pockets (this is just wrong for working clothes) and of the rest only one pair could fit a Note 2. The pair that fit a Note 2 didn t completely enclose the phone, one corner was sticking out, this would probably give a risk of having the phone fall out of the pocket and cause some discomfort to the wearer. I have a pair of shorts with similar size pockets and find it very annoying with the Note 2 in the pocket (for about 10 months of the year I wear jeans so this isn t a big deal). Rivers jeans only count as geeky jeans for male geeks. It s disappointing that with about a dozen different styles of women s jeans there didn t seem to be a single one with pockets of comparable size to the men s jeans. I had to recommend that my sister not get a phone from the Galaxy Note series if taking pictures is a priority due to the apparent difficulty in getting it to fit in a pocket and the probability that she would miss good photos due to this. In past discussions of phone size there have been mentions of the possibility of getting clothing altered. Does anyone have a good experience in getting clothes altered to have bigger pockets or in the case of women s clothing to have fake pockets replaced with real ones?

9 October 2013

John Goerzen: Two Kittens

Almost every time he got off the bus for the past month and a half, Jacob started his afternoon in the same way. Before toys, before his trains and his toy bus, before anything indoors, he went for our cats. Here he is, cradling his favorite, Tigger: Laura and I both grew up around cats. We had been talking about kittens, and shortly after we got engaged, one of my relatives offered us some free kittens. We went to his place one evening and selected two of them one calico and one tiger-colored. Since what is now my place will soon be our place, they came to live with me. Our cats were one of the first things we did to prepare for our lives together. Oliver wanted to name them some rather impractical sentence-long names ( The Cat Who Always Likes To Run ), so Laura and I suggested some names from one of their favorite books: Tigger and Roo. They both liked the names, but Oliver thought they should be called Tigger the Digger and Roo the Runner . Never mind that they were just 6 weeks old at the time, and not really old enough to either dig or run. Here s Oliver with Roo, the day after the kittens arrived here. I have always had outside cats, both because I m allergic to cats so I need them to be outside, and because they sometimes literally quiver with joy of being outdoors. Tigger and Roo often chased insects, wrestled with each other, ran up (and slowly came back down) trees, and just loved the outside. Sometimes, I have taken my laptop and wireless headset and work from the back porch. The kittens climb up my jeans, inspect the laptop, and once Roo even fell asleep on my lap at one of those times. Jacob has been particularly attached to Tigger, calling him my very best friend. When Jacob picks him up after school, Tigger often purrs while cradled in Jacob s arms, and Jacob comments that Tigger loves me. Oh dad, he knows I am his friend! The kittens have been growing, and becoming more and more comfortable with their home in the country. Whenever I go outside, it isn t long before there are two energetic kittens near my feet, running back and forth, sometimes being very difficult to avoid stepping on. I call and I see little heads looking at me, from up in a tree, or peeking out from the grain elevator door, or from under the grill. They stare for just a second, and then start running, sometimes comically crashing into something in their haste. Yesterday when I went to give them food, I called and no cats came. I was concerned, and walked around the yard, but at some point either they come or they don t. Yesterday afternoon, just after the bus dropped off Jacob, I discovered Tigger on the ground, motionless. Once Jacob was in the house, I went to investigate, and found Tigger was dead. As I was moving his body, I saw Roo was dead, too. Both apparently from some sort of sudden physical injury a bit mysterious, because neither of them were at a place where they had ever gone before. While all this was happening, I had to also think about how I was going to tell the boys about this. I tried to minimize what he could see, Jacob had caught an unavoidable glimpse of Tigger as we were walking back from the bus, but didn t know exactly what had happened. He waited in the house, and when I came back, asked me if Tigger was dead. I said he was. Jacob started crying, saying, Oh Dad, I am so sad , and reached up for a hug. I picked him up and held him, then sat down on the couch and let him curl up on my lap. I could quite honestly let him know he wasn t alone, telling him I am sad, too. Oliver arrived not long after, and he too was sad, though not as much as Jacob. Both boys pretty soon wanted to see them. I decided this was important for them for closure, and to understand, so while they waited in the house, I went back out to arrange the kittens to hide their faces, the part that looks most unnatural after they die. The boys and I walked out to where I put them, then I carried both of them the last few feet. We stood a little ways back close enough to see who was there, far enough to not get too much detail and they were both sniffling. I tried to put voice to the occasion, saying, Goodbye, Tigger and Roo. We love you. Oliver asked if they could hear us. I said No, but I told them what I felt like anyway. Jacob, through tears, said, Dad, maybe they are in heaven now. We went back inside. Jacob said, Oh dad, I am so sad. This is the saddest day of my life. My heart is breaking. Hearing a 7-year-old say that isn t exactly easy for a dad. Pretty soon he was thinking of sort of comfort activities to do, saying I think I would feel better if we did So they decided to watch a favorite TV program. Jacob asked if Laura knew yet, and when I said no, he got his take-charge voice and said, Dad, you will start the TV show for us. While we are watching, you will send Laura an email to tell her about Tigger and Roo. OK? What could I say, it wasn t a bad idea. Pretty soon both boys were talking and laughing. It was Big Truck Night last night, at a town about half an hour away. It s an annual event we were already planning to attend, where all sorts of Big Trucks firetrucks, school bus, combine, bucket truck, cement truck, etc show up and are open for kids to climb in and explore. It s always a highlight for them. They played and sang happily as we drove, excitedly opened and closed the big door on the school bus and yelled All Aboard! from the top of the combine. We ate dinner, and drove back home. When we got home, Jacob mentioned the cats again, in a sort of matter-of-fact way, and also wanted to make sure he knew Laura had got the message. A person never wakes up expecting to have to dump a bowl of un-eaten cat food, or to give an impromptu cat funeral for little boys. As it was happening, I wished they hadn t been around right then. But in retrospect, I am glad they were. They had been part of life for those kittens, and it is only right that they could be included in being part of death. They got visual closure this way, and will never wonder if the cats are coming back someday. They had a chance to say goodbye. Here is how I remember the kittens.

11 February 2013

Russell Coker: Phone/Tablet Sizes

Galaxy S3 vs Xperia X10 1/2Galaxy S3 vs Xperia X10 2/2 The above two pictures show me holding a Samsung Galaxy S3 which has a 4.8 display in my left hand and a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 which has a 4.0 display in my right hand. I am holding both phones in a manner that allows me to touch the top opposite corner with my thumb the position I need for one-handed phone use. The Xperia X10 can be completely enclosed by my hand, when I have a bottom corner resting in my palm it won t slide down while the Galaxy S3 can slide. Also one thing I didn t realise before having the pictures taken is that my posture is quite different when using the two phones. With the Galaxy S3 my wrist is clearly bent and this seems more likely to cause me to have more problems with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome [1]. I haven t had any serious problems with CTS for the last 2.5 years but I have had minor problems that suggest that I will have to be careful about my posture for the rest of my life. So it seems that a 4.8 phone is just too big for ideal one-handed use (grasping the vertical phone from the bottom). As I had CTS problems with my left hand I will try to use my new phone with my right hand as much as possible. Also I can reach further than the width of the phone screen when I grasp it from the side, so for me a size of about 5.2 would be better than the 4.8 of the Galaxy S3. It s quite likely that the Samsung Galaxy Note with it s 5.3 screen would be a better device for me to grasp from the side. But the Galaxy Note 2 might be a little too large for me. Note that I am only considering ways of holding the device that permit full operation. Anything that involves changing position for different uses or occasionally using two hands for a mostly one-hand operation doesn t count. 7 inch tablet The above picture is of me holding a 7 Android tablet (which I have just returned to Aldi [2]). When holding it from the sides I can reach more than half the screen with one hand so it seems that the ideal size for a tablet to be held in two hands for me would be 8 or even a little larger. A tablet larger than that could only be properly used if resting on my lap or a desk so for me 8 is the size that differentiates things which can be strictly used as tablets (holding with two hands and using thumbs for input) and things which are more like Netbooks (on desk typing). Ideal Device Sizes for people based on Height I am about 190cm tall. If we assume that height and hand size are strongly correlated then we can look at median heights of various age groups and determine what might be a good device size. I am also assuming that everyone wants to have the largest possible device, but some people have other criteria such as the size of their pockets. For me it s 8 tablet, 5.2 side-grip phone, and 4 bottom-grip phone. I used data from a chart of the average heights of American boys [3] and a chart of the average heights of American girls [4] to determine what size devices might suit children of various ages. Note that before the age of 12 the height of boys and girls is near enough to identical.
Device Two Hand Tablet Use Phone Grasp from Side Phone Grasp from Below
7 tablet 14yo boy or 17yo girl noone noone
Galaxy Note 5.3 10yo 95th percentile 17yo boy noone
Galaxy S3 4.8 6yo 17yo boy or 95th percentile 17yo girl almost noone
Galaxy S and iPhone 5 4.0 3yo 10yo 95th percentile 17yo boy
iPhone 4 3.5 noone 8yo 14yo boy or 16yo girl
One thing that particularly interests me is the educational use of Android devices for children. As few people buy new phones and tablets for young children that largely means that children borrow devices from their parents or are given older phones when relatives no longer need them. So it seems that if all other things are equal then an adult might choose a phone with a 4.8 display to allow it to be used as a tablet by children in the 6-10 age range. Conclusion It seems that the iPhone 4 is a good size for one-handed use by women of average height. By the standards of the people who don t regard gripping a phone from below as a significant feature the iPhone 4 would be designed for the hand of an 8yo. By any standards all iPhones other than the iPhone 5 were not the ideal size for most adults to use maybe they are well designed to fit in a pocket while unused. Charles Stross criticised the iPhone because it s too small to be seen well by people with poor vision [5], he also makes many other interesting points about the use of phones and I recommend reading his article (and the rest of his blog). The common tablet size of 7 seems like it might be ideal for women to hold with both hands, but for men of average height a 7.5 tablet might be better suited, it sounds like a small difference but it changes button size (good for people with thicker fingers) and allows displaying more data at once (15% greater screen area). Of course if you want to use a tablet on a desk then something much bigger would be better, maybe 12 or 14 . I think that there is a real market for 14 tablets that are designed to be carried around the home or office and then used on a table or lap which differs from the tablets that are designed to be more portable. There is also the use case of holding the phone in one hand while typing with the other which I haven t considered in this post. I don t think it s interesting because in that case almost everyone will find that the limitation is the size of their pockets and the size of an object that can be held to one s face for a phone call not the size of their hands. I ve previously written about my search for Geeky jeans and the ability to put a 7 tablet in my jeans pocket [6]. So I think that pocket size isn t a phone selection issue for men. The fact that women s clothing tends to have tiny pockets is another issue, if someone knows of a good analysis of phone size vs pockets in women s clothes then please let me know.

17 November 2012

Russell Coker: Geeky Jeans

It s likely that most people make things like comfort, style, and price the main criteria when purchasing clothes. But there are other things that can be more important such as the ability to fit a phone in the pocket. My last pair of jeans was from Rivers (one of the more affordable Australian clothing stores which also has online sales) [1]. They were the long leg version and have front pockets that are 28cm deep (measured from the bottom of the pocket to the lowest part of the lip) and 15cm wide (a 15cm ruler will barely fit sideways in the pocket). I ve just got some new jeans from Rivers which are the regular leg length, they have front pockets which are 21cm deep and slightly more than 16cm wide. The old pair could fit a Nexus 7 tablet in the front pocket. The new pair should more easily fit such a tablet in the pocket but it might be less comfortable to walk with the tablet in the pocket. I don t plan to try using my front pocket for a tablet (I d be more likely to use a backpack or my Scott e vest [2]), but a Galaxy Note 2 (which is about the largest device that most people would want in their pocket) would fit nicely. I find the Rivers jeans to be quite comfortable and I like the way they look. They also only cost $25 online or $30 in the store. When I bought my first pair before I even had a 4 phone they were good value and they will be even better value early next year when I get a bigger phone. Even though Rivers jeans may wear out faster than more expensive brands, for $30 it s easy to just buy a few pairs at a time. During an email discussion of geeky clothing the issue of women s clothes having fewer and smaller pockets was raised. Unfortunately I didn t think to measure the pockets in women s jeans when I was at the Rivers to discover whether they have big pockets too. I ll do that next time I m in the area.

19 May 2012

Richard Hartmann: Motherland's bosom

I read a translated poem about Russia being "the Motherland" and its vast bosom years ago. Having driven through a significant part of it, I can agree on the "vast" part... Also, as I am on a train and without access to the Internet, I will refrain from linking to a lot of pages; sorry. (Turns out I am posting this a week later, but I will still not link to stuff now; no time). Russia in general Moscow Sights Kreml Our remaining time in Moscow was spent with touring the usual suspects; the Kreml is a lot less impressive in real life, the Red Square is tiny when compared to the stories I heard about it and the Chapel ofi St. Basil is even more colorful and impressive in real life. Lenin's body was inaccessible because workers built seats for the May 9th parade to the left and the right of it and they apparently thought it would be a good idea to block access to one of the main tourist attractions while doing so. A river tour of Moscow was a nice cool-off and we got to see quite a few things. We managed to see the weekly military parade within the Kreml grounds, but it was mostly pomp and little substance. The National Treasure which you can access with an extra ticket within the Kreml grounds is nice, but less impressive than the tourist guides would make you believe. That being said... There's another museum within the museum and.... Whoah... Tourists pay extra, visitors go through the only non-security-theater check I encountered in Russia, guards are armed, people can only enter and leave in batches, and the stuff which is presented is mind-boggling. Disregarding the fist-to-calf-sized chunks of gold and platinum which are still in their original form directly from the mine, there is real, actual treasure galore. Little heaps of uncut and cut diamonds, an outline of Russia filled with cut diamonds and other random "we have this stuff" displays can be found as well. Then, you have various tiaras and other jewellery made from various gems. Not incorporating, but largely made of. All that pales in comparison to the crown, royal apple, scepter, etc. It's hard to put the amount of tiny multi-colored light points that shine at you into words. I was just standing there, swaying back and forth to catch the moving pattern of pinpoints. It's said that this collection is equalled only by the ones in the Tower of London and the one Shaw of Iran had and boy do I believe it. TV Tower Getting up there was funny. The old-style Soviet queuing system was used: "Security" for approaching the tower was multi-level, the guards see you approach along a long walkway way in advance and the main guard shed had several small cabins separated by thick glass. So good so menacing. But in a twist that would make Bizarro and Garry Larson proud, I was required, by means of metal detector gate, metal detector wand and even an x-ray machine to remove every shred of metal and other hard objects from myself and the camera bag and put them onto a table. Once I was without anything except my clothes and the bag was completely empty, I could pass. Everything I had had to remove was just laying there, not inspected in the least, for me to stuff back into pockets and bag and to take with me. This "everything" included a Spot Messenger 2 with lots of green and red blinky lights. The guard did not even glance and it. Security theater? Security theater. The view from 364 meters down on Moscow was nice, but there was a lot of Smog so I couldn't see very far. Jumping on the glass floor while looking down was a lot of fun, though. Subway to Thiefing I bet Christopher Nolan rode the subway in Moscow at least once. That unnerving sound you hear during several key scenes in "The Dark Knight"? Two thirds of all subways make the same sound while moving. Also, I had an encounter with a pickpocket down there; very classical, too. Guy approaches quickly, talks loudly and sounds as if it's really important (in Russian... duh... that's sure to keep me interested). His approach made me turn and protect my left leg pocket automatically, most likely marking the target for the tiny woman standing behind me. Now, I have to tell you something about my usual travel layout. As my normal pockets are very deep, it looks as if their content was in the leg pocket. Plus, there's an extra, hidden leg pocket where I keep the passports and train tickets. The outermost leg pocket is protected by a velcro flap, but it contains nothing of value; usually the appropriate phrasebook, local map, maybe a tissue or chewing gum. Due to this layering, the outermost pocket looks as if it's full to the brim with stuff. Also, I took pains to make it a habit to protect said leg pocket with my hand, nothing else. This looks as if that's the target, but what I am actually doing is protect my normal pocket with my forearm. The right side is different, but the most easily accessibly pocket always holds some small change. I pay from that stash but my actual wallet is well out of reach. Anyway, once the guy ran off, talking to several others, most likely marking all them for the actual pickpockets, I wanted to enter the subway. While the Russian-style queuing took place, I felt an unusual tug at the velcro flap. I looked down and saw a tiny woman to the left of me with a jacket held over her right side with the left arm; I look up to check no one is trying to steal from my permanently assigned female, feel another tug, look the woman into the eyes, look up again and around me, look down again and she is gone. All that took maybe three seconds and I had boarded the subway after an additional two. In hindsight, it makes sense to choose the time of entry for attack. It's crowded, you are being pushed around, and once you are in the subway, it will start moving more or less immediately while the thief remains in the station. In this case, she would only have gotten a grubby map of Moscow's subway and an English-Russian phrasebook, but she got nothing at all. Moscow-Novosibirsk Where to begin... If you think a few hours on a train are a long time, try over fifty hours. Things get so bad, you start getting land-sick while not in a moving train. You even start missing the familiar tunk-cachunk, tunk-cachunk, tunk-cachunk... of driving over rails with gaps in them when you are not moving. The defining element of the Trans-Siberian Railway are birch trees. And birch trees. And then more birch trees. You would not believe how many birch trees there are. This is made "worse" by the way the Russian Railway protects their rails. Left and right of the track, there's a cleared area of maybe ten to twenty meters, sometimes as little as three. Outside of that, they plant ten to twenty meters of birch trees, presumably to catch snow during winter. Beyond that protective perimeter, there's the normal landscape.As a result, on top of the near endless stretches of birch woods, you see most if not all scenery through a layer of birch trees. You get sick sick of birch trees after a few hours and you see them for days on end. Bullet points to save myself some typing and you some reading... Novosibirsk The non-existent hostel We arrived at ~0200 local and made our way to the hostel we had booked a room with. Walking to the correct address, we saw several signs but they all turned out to be for a police station and some other state agency. We walked back, forth, double-checked, triple-checked: no hostel. We then walked around the building through some not-quite-nice back alleys, but other than a few entries to private flats, there was nothing. Thankfully, the booking slip included a number which we called and after at least twenty rings (no kidding), when I had given up and wanted to hang up, it stopped ringing. Dead silence. After maybe ten seconds, someone started talking in Russian. I asked him if he spoke English and told him that we could not find the hostel. He mumbled something about being sorry and that we should wait, he would come down. Fast forward a minute or two and someone walked towards us. Again, he mumbled about being sorry, that the hostel "did not work" at the moment and that we would need to sleep in his private apartment. He ushered us into some back alley entrance, into his flat, and proceeded to remove the sheets from the couch on which he had slept; after putting on new sheets, we had our "hostel" bed, ready to sleep on. We briefly considered if he would murder us in our sleep, but him and me even got to talking a bit. Over cheese, sausage and rum (at 0300), he admitted that the hostel did not exist and he merely planned to turn his flat into a hostel for the summer while he and his family moved into their summer house (the Russian term of which escapes me, at the moment) in the countryside. He had accepted our reservation as he thought he would be finished by that time. He did not even get started, though. While he sent us an overbooking notice through booking.com two days before, we were on the train at that time, so... booking.com even called him to check what happenend to us as we did not book another place through them. Good customer service/protection, that. Next morning, he didn't even want to take our money (we paid anyway) and, as a means of compensation, drove us into the city in the morning and to a train museum well outside the city limits, one of the fabled scientist cities, and a large lake which everyone in Novosibirsk claims is an ocean, in the afternoon. Foreigners, foreigners! All in all, Novosibirsk was relatively uneventful, safe for one bizarre episode. We took our lunch in a local fast food joint (why do all the good stories happen there, and not at the various truly local places?) and threw the cashier our well-rehearsed "Niet Russkie; anglisky?" with phrasebook in hand and he actually understood a few words of English (beef, chicken, fries). We told him, in our worst Russian, that we are from Germany wished him a nice day and went to sit down. A few minutes later, a girl approached us, literally hopping from one foot to the other and wringing her hands. She told us that the cashier had told her that we spoke English and if it would be OK if she talked to us. We suspected some sort of elaborate ruse, but went with it. Turns out, she had English at school and really wanted someone to practice English on. Two young men passed our table and exchanged a few words with her, sitting down out of sight. When she told us that she had to leave now but if it would be OK if the two boys joined us we suspected a ruse yet again. But those two were law students, one with a minor in English and one with a minor in German; both of them also extremely nervous, asking us if we would talk to them. When they had to leave, they told us that the three of them worked at the burger joint and that their shift was just about to start when the news that foreigners were here spread amongst staff like wildfire. The girl stopped by several times in between cleaning tables, getting in a sentence or two before being cussed at by her supervisor. All in all, this took about twenty minutes and seeing three people so nervous and grateful to talk with us felt beyond absurd. On the other hand, not a single traveller we met even considered stopping in Novosibirsk during their transit so there really does seem to be a shortage of non-Russians there. Weird, and memorable. Novosibirsk-Irkutsk Irkutsk / Listvianka / Lake Baikal Listvianka Aah, lake Baikal... the oldest and deepest lake on Earth which holds a fifth of the global non-salt water reserves; a must-see in my book. Quad tours at break-neck speeds, dry-suit diving with Russian regulators, walking barefoot in between and across drift ice that made its way onto the shorei, and extended hiking around the lake's coast... All of which I could not do because I was ill and had to spend two solid days in bed. The draft from the open window in between Novosibirsk and Irkutsk was enough to give me a rather bad cold which peaked at Lake Baikal. Still, the area was lovely and we were glad to be out of a train and able to unpack our stuff without having to repack immediately for once. I am not sure where my current losing streak with regards to diving is coming from (Grimsey, diving north of the Arctic circle with birds that plummet into the water and hunt fish: Only guy who does this is on the Icelandic mainland that day; Svalbard, diving north of the Arctic circle in permanent darkness: The few people who do this privately did not reply while I was there; Baikal, oldest, deepest, largest lake on Earth: ill), but I will most likely return to Russia for a week of ice diving in Lake Baikal next winter or the one after that. As an aside, I saw several people walking to Lake Baikal with buckets to get their water. Other people got it from a well which was still half frozen. If you have running water consider yourself lucky... Irkutsk Nice city, largely uneventful. The farther east you get within Russia, the more normal women look. In Moscow, just as in Paris, they are way over-dressed and even service personnel will walk with high heels. Thankfully, I don't have to wear heels, but for the other males out there: Walking and standing in these things hurts and thus most if not all people who stand and walk for a living have flat shoes. We happened upon preparations for a military parade, complete with cordon, viewing podests, at least half a dozen TV cameras etc, but were not sure if it would start soon enough for us to catch our train.We asked someone who told us it would start at 2100 local, at 1945 local it seemed about to start, and sure enough at 1955 sharp, the whole thing went under way. About a dozen groups of 50-100 people each, all in their own, respective uniforms stood against one side of a cordoned-off street and several higher-ups on the other side. Two highest-ups shouted into microphones and the throng of people on the other side shouted back answers. Then, the two highest-ups stood in the back of a jeep each and drove past said throng, stopping in front of each group, shouting into microphones mounted in the back of the jeeps and the groups shouted back once again. After that, all groups marched around the make-shift plaza once, saluting the higher ups. Once they were done, and they took ages, two trucks drove by with soldiers jumping out of the moving trucks and moving into crouching positions. They ran around in a circle a few times and engaged in pretend hand-to-hand combat. I am sure they are skilled at whatever style they wanted to show, but they were overdoing things so badly, they were funny, not imposing. When they jumped over some barriers, the barriers fell to pieces and everyone scrambled to make it look as if that was part of the show. While carrying off the gear, it fell into further pieces which was even more funny. An armoured personnel carrier ended the show; several tougher looking guys jumped off of that one and their mock combat involved fully automatic fire (of blanks), several flashbangs, smoke grenades and, to top things off, the machine gun mounted on the APC moving down the opposing team with blanks. I never witnessed a "real" military parade in person but this one was somewhat disappointing. On the one hand, there was a distinct lack of ballistic missile carriers and tanks like you see in movies, documentaries and games, on the other hand, the whole thing had a make-do feeling to it. The cordoning police had designated spots to stand on, yet walked around. They were standing to attention, yet checking their cell phones. Several people in one uniformed group were wearing track suits and jeans. Another uniformed guy had a grocery bag with him; yet another one was carrying a huge water bottle. Bikers zig-zagged through the cordon and when the whole show was just about to wrap up the police finally started putting up barriers around the unmoving pedestrians, not blocking the bikers. One little girl was standing well within the cordoned area, watching with big eyes and after she did not react to the police talking to her, they just built the barriers in a curve around her. And to top it all off, some guy with a cane walked all through the parade with his personal camcorder, trying to direct the whole show while being ignored by everyone. Still, I am sure he managed to mess up some otherwise perfectly good TV scenes. Irkutsk-Russian border TL;DR 3000 kilometers of birch trees

11 April 2010

John Goerzen: Final comments on our trip to Europe

I wrote a lot about our trip to Europe here, and I had a few more comments to share. I had a great time there. It was fun to stay with people, and it was also fun to explore cities on our own. I am eager to be able to go back. Communication
I ll admit I wasn t sure how I d do there. I speak only a little German, and no Czech at all. I have never been in a situation in which I don t speak the dominant language, and this is probably typical for Americans. (I m not going to count the few exceptions of eating at small Mexican restaurants in the USA where the staff speaks little English, as it s not really the same experience to be in that situation for an hour or two.) I was most apprehensive about our time in Berlin and Prague. In those cities, we didn t know anyone. And, although I speak a little German, I speak no Czech at all. In the end, though, it all worked out fine. I never saw anyone get frustrated with us for our lack of language knowledge, and we also never got rattled. With patience and a bit of ingenuity, we figured things out in every different situation. I feel a sense of accomplishment from that, and I think it s left me more ready to travel in the future. And, I d also have to say, that was one of the most interesting lessons of the trip: how two people that don t share a common language can still communicate. It might be slow, but it s also rewarding and easier than I might ever have thought. I remember particularly buying a couple of fragile carved wood souvenirs at the Zeidler Holzkunst (wood art) shop in the Altes Rathaus in Leipzig (Seiffener Volkskunsterzeugnisse was on the window). The shopkeeper spoke no English. We were interested in some rather fragile items, and I wanted to ask her if she could pack it in a box. I didn t know the German words for pack or box . So after a couple seconds thought, I realized I knew how to tell her, in German, that we re from America. And then I asked, Can you? (in German) and gestured for a square box, figuring maybe she d put it together that we d need to pack it well to take it home with us. Success. She quickly produced a box, and asked if that s what we wanted. A few minutes later, a bit of pointing towards the glass case communicated what we wanted to buy. It took a little longer than it would have from someone that spoke English, but this was more rewarding in the end. The train station in Prague was another challenge. It didn t have nearly as much English signage as other train stations we d been in. We did a little wondering around, and some educated guesses, and a brief English conversation in a bank, we eventually found an ATM, a place to change the big bills for smaller ones, and a Metro ticket shop that was open. Clothes Many Americans, and American travel books, suggest not wearing jeans and tennis shoes in Europe. Many commented that people dressed more formally in Europe. That advice appeared to be rather wrong, especially in L beck, where it appeared that many people dressed less formally than in the USA. As we went south and east, we saw fewer jeans, but still they were rather common. Our biggest blunder here was probably the shoes that we brought for Terah. She brought some shoes that looked nice, but weren t very good for walking. She wound up with some painful blisters on her feet, and wished she had just brought her regular tennis shoes. Luggage and Packing We try to travel light when we can. All of our luggage for the entire trip fit into two carryon-size suitcases, though we sometimes separated some items out into a backpack for ease of use in airports/airplanes. This worked out about right. We did laundry once in Germany so we didn t have to pack enough clothes for the entire trip. As far as electronics go, we brought along an international GSM phone from onesimcard.com, my Droid (which could use Wifi but not GSM), Terah s iPod Touch, a GPS, my digital camera, and a laptop. That also was about right. We used the Droid to call back to Indiana to check on the boys, using SIP over WiFi for free calling via Google Voice. The laptop is a small one, so didn t add a lot of weight or bulk. It was nice to have to check out maps and Facebook. The GPS was somewhat less useful than I had anticipated. I had pre-loaded it with street-level maps of most of Europe, and also put on it points in Berlin that had been suggested to us. The transit maps were really more useful most places, especially when combined with a detailed street-level map. In Berlin, though, the detail on the street-level map from our hotel was somewhat lacking, so the GPS came in handy. It was also nice to quickly be able to see where the nearest S-Bahn and U-Bahn stops were, then cross-referencing with our transit map to figure out how to get where we wanted to go. One night in Leipzig, after a concert at the Gewandhaus, we made a couple of wrong turns on our way to a tram stop. The GPS would have saved us 15 minutes of walking had we brought it along, but we figured it out with our street map and it wasn t really a problem. Rick Steves is a big advocate of money belts when traveling. These are a belt with a zippered pouch, and are worn under your pants (though over your shirt, if it s tucked in). The idea is that it s hard to pickpocket. He suggests having a days worth of cash in a front pocket, and passports and larger bills in the money belt. We brought one but never used it. I kept small cash in my pocket, and we kept passports and my wallet (with larger bills) in Terah s purse, which was on a strap around her neck, zippered shut, and held under her arm. We had no problems. I tend not to keep my wallet in my back pocket even when traveling in the USA. Also, the hotels we stayed in had safes, and the residences were of course plenty safe, so we had no problem leaving valuables there. I brought only a single lens for my Digital Rebel XTi, a 28mm fixed lens that is small and light. That was just fine, and I was happy to have a fixed lens for photography in dark churches. Also, I wouldn t have wanted to carry around a bulky zoom lens all over. We sometimes took the camera with us, and sometimes not. In Berlin in particular, we just left it in the hotel room. I figured (correctly) that there would be plenty of photos on Flickr of the sites we were visiting, and we could just enjoy the time a little better if we weren t worrying about a camera too. But I was glad to have it along. Transportation The transportation systems in the cities we visited felt more, well, balanced than they often are in the USA. It s not that there weren t busy car-filled avenues, but more that there were also quiet shopping streets where cars were banned. Cars often seemed to be more of an option than a necessity, and not always the best option at that. Public transportation was common, as were pedestrian routes and bicycle lanes. The only American city I ve visited that felt even close to this approach was Portland, OR. I wish we adopted it more often here. I also admire the German intercity rail service, operated by Deutsche Bahn. You can get all over the country pretty quickly. The trains we rode on were quiet, smooth, and timely. I wish we had that kind of service in more parts of the USA.

25 November 2009

Biella Coleman: Ninja Mind Tactics

Over the years far too many years I have occasionally chronicled the slow death of my mother, a death of mind, personality, really person that comes with Alzheimers. She has officially had the illness for 7 years now but had symptoms prior to this time, in the form of perceptual disturbances that are the defining feature of the rare type of Alzheimers she has, Benson s syndrome. As her illness progressed and we saw her doctors they would always ask: what other illnesses or health problems does Vera have? And I would answer none. Without fail and almost immediately, the inquiring doctor would respond back none? often with a slightly raised eyebrow, the one word uttered not to challenge the veracity of my answer, but used instead to convey another meaning, often bathed in some mixture of compassion and pity. It was an acknowledgement of the future that awaited us, basically stating with no other illness, this is going to be on heck of long and difficult haul of a life experience, which has indeed been the case. However, after nearly two years of being bed bound in a nursing home, physical health problems are now creeping in and my mother is descending into different type of hell, especially since she can no longer communicate the physical pain she might be in. The words she knows are few: no and a few other words (she likes to tell people they are loco and indeed I can only imagine how true this accusation of crazy is given that we are keeping her alive against her wishes). Her consistent and persistent wailing, agitation and crying do of course communicate the depth of suffering this being the hardest thing to bear witness to. She does have periods of calm, coaxed in part by the drugs she is given but these are not enough to override the pain she and we feel. About two months ago, her body started to give, the first problem being a fracture that led to significant internal bleeding and required a blood transfusion and a brace she is still wearing. A few weeks ago when I was visiting her, she basically developed these black and red welts on the bottom of her feet in a manner of two days, so instead of boarding a plane to NYC, I took her to the emergency room and stayed a full week while she was pumped with intravenous antibiotics. At first, doctors thought it might be gangrene, which was mortifying mostly because of all the associations that come with it. The doctors determined that it was not in fact gangrene but that she has a bone infection technically called osteomyelitis a tricky condition to treat that requires at minimum 45 days of IV antibiotics. The hospital/doctors who had originally determined she would stay there for her treatment, changed their mind unexpectedly and announced their intention to ship her to a long-term care facility, which in theory we were not opposed to, except for the fact that it is very far from where my sister lives, and also it is a facility we had not verified for ourselves. On top of it, we knew she had a legal right stay in the hospital (though some doctors informed us otherwise). We preferred the hospital because it is so close to our house, we would be able to hire someone to visit her when my sister is at work, and we suspect that she will have additional complications from 45 days of IV abx so why not stick around and receive treatment and care from the same internist who had been nothing but a great doctor. The story took a turn toward the surreal when the infectious disease doctor decided to release her to her nursing home with a treatment of oral antibiotics, even though every single doctor we saw from the emergency room doctor to the weekend internist who subs for her regular doctor, repeatedly informed us the only treatment is IV antibiotics for at least 45 days, possibly more (which is the normal treatment protocol).
Since so many people don t know how to maneuver complaints and take action in hospitals, doctors and other staff can exploit this to make medically dogdy decisions (which happened in fact when a feeding tube was put into my mom, but that is another long story I don t think I ever wrote about here). I am sure also that some doctor s are less willing to take questionable action with certain patients depending on the class and background of their family members but I bet the first impression I give off to doctors, to invoke Erving Goffman s work on self-presentation, is not someone willing to take swift action. In the hospital, I have the sense that most doctors don t take me all that seriously, probably thinking that I am 5 foot slacker/artistic type that I admittedly do look like as I dress in jeans, a hoodie and a winter cap because the hospitals are so effing, ridiculously cold in PR (and I can t help my height nor the fact that I look 24 or so). So it usually comes as a surprise when I bring out my mind ninja tactics developed over years of being and thinking like an academic, whose craft is research, whose passion is arguing, and for some of us who are politically inclined, who love the challenge of righting wrongs. So when this happened I contacted lawyer-friends, talked to the social worker and promptly complained to the head of client services/ombudsperson and made a stink but of a very particular sort: it was packaged in massive tact. I was very deferential (especially since those folks have nothing to do with the mess, they are there to help and are your allies), repeatedly pointed out how the doctor s decision amounts to medical negligence, and made it clear that I was willing to take action, leave my work if need be and get my ass down there, and casually mention how in the 5 hours between their decision and my phone calls, I have already taken action (how I have contacted lawyers on the island, etc). Needless to say, the hospital decided that my mom is staying put in the hospital and I am relieved. But this solace is only of the tiniest sort. I am still reeling from the absurdity of her condition and her suffering. She is only alive because of a feeding tube that I am opposed to, her state of being a modern day zombie that in reality, or at least from my perspective perpetuates her suffering. For this reason, truth be told and at one level relieved that her body is finally failing, that there is a chance, a light at the end of this lonely, now horrific tunnel that her life will end sooner than later. This, however, makes it no easier emotionally nor ethically as it is my mother who must journey alone through significant pain and suffering as her body now goes elsewhere a journey we can watch in person yet are powerless in its face.

Biella Coleman: Ninja Mind Tactics

Over the years far too many years I have occasionally chronicled the slow death of my mother, a death of mind, personality, really person that comes with Alzheimers. She has officially had the illness for 7 years now but had symptoms prior to this time, in the form of perceptual disturbances that are the defining feature of the rare type of Alzheimers she has, Benson s syndrome. As her illness progressed and we saw her doctors they would always ask: what other illnesses or health problems does Vera have? And I would answer none. Without fail and almost immediately, the inquiring doctor would respond back none? often with a slightly raised eyebrow, the one word uttered not to challenge the veracity of my answer, but used instead to convey another meaning, often bathed in some mixture of compassion and pity. It was an acknowledgement of the future that awaited us, basically stating with no other illness, this is going to be on heck of long and difficult haul of a life experience, which has indeed been the case. However, after nearly two years of being bed bound in a nursing home, physical health problems are now creeping in and my mother is descending into different type of hell, especially since she can no longer communicate the physical pain she might be in. The words she knows are few: no and a few other words (she likes to tell people they are loco and indeed I can only imagine how true this accusation of crazy is given that we are keeping her alive against her wishes). Her consistent and persistent wailing, agitation and crying do of course communicate the depth of suffering this being the hardest thing to bear witness to. She does have periods of calm, coaxed in part by the drugs she is given but these are not enough to override the pain she and we feel. About two months ago, her body started to give, the first problem being a fracture that led to significant internal bleeding and required a blood transfusion and a brace she is still wearing. A few weeks ago when I was visiting her, she basically developed these black and red welts on the bottom of her feet in a manner of two days, so instead of boarding a plane to NYC, I took her to the emergency room and stayed a full week while she was pumped with intravenous antibiotics. At first, doctors thought it might be gangrene, which was mortifying mostly because of all the associations that come with it. The doctors determined that it was not in fact gangrene but that she has a bone infection technically called osteomyelitis a tricky condition to treat that requires at minimum 45 days of IV antibiotics. The hospital/doctors who had originally determined she would stay there for her treatment, changed their mind unexpectedly and announced their intention to ship her to a long-term care facility, which in theory we were not opposed to, except for the fact that it is very far from where my sister lives, and also it is a facility we had not verified for ourselves. On top of it, we knew she had a legal right stay in the hospital (though some doctors informed us otherwise). We preferred the hospital because it is so close to our house, we would be able to hire someone to visit her when my sister is at work, and we suspect that she will have additional complications from 45 days of IV abx so why not stick around and receive treatment and care from the same internist who had been nothing but a great doctor. The story took a turn toward the surreal when the infectious disease doctor decided to release her to her nursing home with a treatment of oral antibiotics, even though every single doctor we saw from the emergency room doctor to the weekend internist who subs for her regular doctor, repeatedly informed us the only treatment is IV antibiotics for at least 45 days, possibly more (which is the normal treatment protocol).
Since so many people don t know how to maneuver complaints and take action in hospitals, doctors and other staff can exploit this to make medically dogdy decisions (which happened in fact when a feeding tube was put into my mom, but that is another long story I don t think I ever wrote about here). I am sure also that some doctor s are less willing to take questionable action with certain patients depending on the class and background of their family members but I bet the first impression I give off to doctors, to invoke Erving Goffman s work on self-presentation, is not someone willing to take swift action. In the hospital, I have the sense that most doctors don t take me all that seriously, probably thinking that I am 5 foot slacker/artistic type that I admittedly do look like as I dress in jeans, a hoodie and a winter cap because the hospitals are so effing, ridiculously cold in PR (and I can t help my height nor the fact that I look 24 or so). So it usually comes as a surprise when I bring out my mind ninja tactics developed over years of being and thinking like an academic, whose craft is research, whose passion is arguing, and for some of us who are politically inclined, who love the challenge of righting wrongs. So when this happened I contacted lawyer-friends, talked to the social worker and promptly complained to the head of client services/ombudsperson and made a stink but of a very particular sort: it was packaged in massive tact. I was very deferential (especially since those folks have nothing to do with the mess, they are there to help and are your allies), repeatedly pointed out how the doctor s decision amounts to medical negligence, and made it clear that I was willing to take action, leave my work if need be and get my ass down there, and casually mention how in the 5 hours between their decision and my phone calls, I have already taken action (how I have contacted lawyers on the island, etc). Needless to say, the hospital decided that my mom is staying put in the hospital and I am relieved. But this solace is only of the tiniest sort. I am still reeling from the absurdity of her condition and her suffering. She is only alive because of a feeding tube that I am opposed to, her state of being a modern day zombie that in reality, or at least from my perspective perpetuates her suffering. For this reason, truth be told and at one level relieved that her body is finally failing, that there is a chance, a light at the end of this lonely, now horrific tunnel that her life will end sooner than later. This, however, makes it no easier emotionally nor ethically as it is my mother who must journey alone through significant pain and suffering as her body now goes elsewhere a journey we can watch in person yet are powerless in its face.

6 November 2009

Joey Hess: nethack

The large cat sniffs the planter. Your houscat snarls! Your housecat hits.
   -- --........                   Tools
    *.( -.. ...                    l - A blessed +1 laptop named gnu
  % /.. ..' 'f**                   Armor
  .....+...f..**                   j - blue jeans
  # @.. ..                        t - t-shirt
  ----------                       s - socks of warmth +2
When an afternoon on the sun room begins to look like this, I swear off nethack for a few more months.

13 October 2009

Jonathan McDowell: What to wear?

I tend to dress quite casually - unless there's a good reason to do otherwise I'll be in jeans and a t-shirt, or something similar. I'm comfortable in it and I take the view point that in general people shouldn't be making assumptions based on what I'm wearing. Of course they do, and while this can be infuriating at times it can also be amusing. The man at the RBoS who witnessed me signing the personal DD guarantee form for Black Cat obviously couldn't reconcile my appearance with what I was there to do, for example.

I'd never thought about this from the other side until a few weeks ago. I spoke to someone who explained how difficult it had become to conduct business meetings with other companies with the increased level of business casual. In fact on occasion different branches of the same company that he'd be meeting with would have different dress codes, so he'd go to something involving casual dress in the morning and something with full business suit attire in the afternoon and end up feeling over or under dressed.

This isn't likely to make me change my own behaviour in the immediate future (I don't have to interact with external parties as part of my current job). It did help me realise that there was another explanation for awkward behaviour when I'm my usual scruffy self that wasn't just about judging on appearances though.

(All of the above blatantly obvious once you think about it, but it took that conversation for me to do so.)

Next.