Archive for the ‘Misc’ category

New Scientist – Climate Change Myths

May 17th, 2007

New Scientist Climate Change MythsI recently saw the documentary on Channel 4 that promotes the view that human’s contribution to global warming is negligble compared to the effects of the Sun and cosmic rays. The documentary was well produced and quite convincing, and prompted much discussion in the media. It was certainly a topic in several conversations I had around the time. It did sound convincing that the Sun was the major factor controlling the world’s temperature, and that humans could do little to control global warming. But part of me remained unconvinced, and baulked at the idea that George W. Bush could be right in his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol :)

Now, New Scientist magazine has published a special issue about Climate Change, and it addresses many of the myths surrounding global warming. The key points are available in a series of articles on the New Scientist web site. They present a balanced view of the arguments, and I think they successfully challenge the points raised in the documentary. What I took away from it is that while the Sun does indeed act as the main source of heat for the planet, human-generated CO2 is the best candidate for the recent trend of increasing temperatures. It is also clear that there is a large degree of uncertainty around the role of clouds in the global climate. However despite the uncertainty the majority of scientists working in this field are convinced that human-caused global warming is real, and we need to act sooner rather than later.

WordPress upgrade

May 10th, 2007

I’m about to attempt to upgrade WordPress to the latest version (v2.1.3), so the site may be unavailable for a little while. Hopefully this will go smoothly :)

UPDATE: Looks like things are working well so far. I’ve had to tweak the template stuff to make things work, and the Google Sitemap Generator plugin doesn’t seem to want to work, other than that looks good!

Another Update: Sorted out the Google Sitemap Generator problem. I had to tweak sitemap.php to cater for a duplicate declaration for the js_escape() function. Here’s what it looks like now (it’s at the very beginning of sitemap.php):


if(!function_exists('js_escape')) {
// Escape single quotes, specialchar double quotes, and fix line endings.
function js_escape($text) {
$text = wp_specialchars($text, 'double');
$text = str_replace(''', "'", $text);
return preg_replace("/\r?\n/", "\\n", addslashes($text));
}
}

So, all back to normal now :)

WordPress PDA Plugin

May 4th, 2007

I just installed the WordPress PDA Plugin, and it’s absolutely great. I tested it out via the browser in my Sony Erricsson K800i, and the display is much cleaner, and much quicker too. I’ve also added it to My Halo News.com. I may play with the templates a little, but the defaults are good enough to use without any tweaking. Highly recommended :)

I’ve also been playing around with the layout both here and at My Halo News.com. I was trying to find a nice-looking way to handle the embedded Amazon aStore page at My Halo News.com using an absolutely positioned sidebar on the right of the page, but I couldn’t get it looking well. I really don’t want to use TABLE tags, so I decided the easiest way to get a more flexible layout is to put the fixed-width sidebar on the left of the page, and let the main content adjust itself on the right of the page. This has worked quite well, and actually looks pretty nice too. You’ll see this style on both sites now.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum is 25 years old

April 26th, 2007

Sinclair ZX SpectrumI came across this article from BBC News about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and how it is now 25 years old. The Spectrum was an affordable home computer popular in the UK and Ireland in the days before PCs came to dominate. You hooked it up to your TV in a similar way to today’s game consoles. It came with 48KB of memory, an 8-bit Z80 processor, and a built-in BASIC interpreter. It had 16 colours, sound, and eventually had a large library of games which you would load from cassette tapes. It was brilliant :)

Friends of my family had a son that got a Sinclair ZX-81 – the precursor to the Spectrum. This had a whole 1KB of memory, a flat membrane keyboard, and the built-in BASIC interpreter so you could type in programs line by line. I got my own ZX-81 soon thereafter, and cut my programming teeth on it with the help of the simple programs provided in the manual. When the Spectrum came out a short while later, I just had to get it. I can still remember the smell of it when I took it out of it’s box :)

It’s hard to over-estimate the impact of the Spectrum – not just on me, but on the UK computer game industry. The Spectrum was as much about creating the games as playing them with it’s focus on programming. The manual was a good primer on BASIC, and once that was mastered you could delve into the depths of Z80 machine code programming. Magazines would publish games that readers had sent in – often requiring you to type in lines & lines of machine code instructions in hex, and if you got one wrong it would crash when you went to run it, and you would have to start typing it in all over again (unless you were smart and had saved the code to tape first!). It’s funny to think that I owe my livelihood in a large part to the same programming language I began with over 25 years ago :)

As for the gaming side of things, my adolescence was filled with time spent battering that rubber keyboard attempting to make Daley Thompson run a bit quicker to win the decathalon, cheering on tiny stick men that played out the highlights of matches in Football Manager as I made my way up the divisions, and fought and traded my way across the galaxy in Elite – still one of my favourite games ever! There were many, many more games, some of them not so good. But the good ones were typically really good. I think this was because the limits of the machine meant that there wasn’t flashy graphics and 5.1 surround sound, so gameplay was really important. None of the games could look so good that it didn’t matter so much if it was crap to play.

And now, the legacy of the Spectrum lives on. Rare, the studio that has created games such as Goldeneye 007 for the N64, and Viva Pinata for the XBox 360 (and many more) began life creating some of the best Spectrum games. Founded in 1982 by the Stamper brothers, it went on to create chart toppers for the Spectrum throughout the 80s, and followed those up with games for various Nintendo platforms, before being acquired by Microsoft in 2002 for US$377 million. Earlier this year, the Stampers announced they were leaving Rare to pursue other interests.

And now, the circle is complete. You can now download an updated version of Rare’s first Spectrum game Jetpac as a XBox Live Arcade game Jetpac Refuelled. It includes the original game, as well as a new HDified version with 128 levels. I had to buy it, and it brought back memories of trying to get a big enough score to send in to CRASH magazine by sellotaping down the fire key and positioning my spaceman in just the right place on one of the levels where he was safe, but would continue to kill the aliens – while I went downstairs for dinner :)

All this, from a small black box with rubber keys.

Let’s get this show (back) on the road

January 23rd, 2007

So, as you can tell, this is the first post in a long while. I’ve been doing lots of work in the background moving to use WordPress, and consolidating posts from several Blogger blogs into this blog. Plus I’ve been doing work on My Halo News.com and Halo Screen Saver.com, which has taken up a lot more time than expected. I’ve found WordPress nice to work with while setting up this blog, so I decided to use it for the CMS for My Halo News.com. As part of doing that I’ve been trying to import the 20,000+ articles into WordPress – with mixed success. Mostly there in there now, but there’s around 2,500 duplicates I have to sort out, plus I have to change the automated news aggregation job so that the articles get posted to WordPress automatically. Hopefully that will be sorted out soon. Apart from all that, there’s still some look and feel work to do here and at My Halo News.com, but I’ve decided to stop letting that get in the way of posting here, since there’s lots of stuff I keep meaning to talk about. So, let’s get going – again!

Focus vs. Mass

August 11th, 2005

Seth Godin has another interesting post over on his blog. He talks about the affect of the “new media”. It seems to boil down to:

“Focus is no longer expensive. Mass is.”

Changing Minds

August 5th, 2005

Seth Godin is a marketing author who talks a lot of sense (in my opinion!). In this post on his blog he talks about the challenges of changing people’s minds:

Being right isn’t the point. Being right and being persuasive don’t seem to matter much either. Being right, being persuasive and being with the right person when that person is pre-disposed to change their mind… that’s when things happen.

PPL Progress

July 22nd, 2005

While I’m catching up with the past couple of weeks events, I should mention that I’ve had my third PPL lesson with Sky Trace. I had a different instructor this time – Dennis, from Lille I believe. We did a lot of exercises this time round, since he was pushing me to see where my boundaries were. Both he and I were pleasantly surprised to find that I could take all that he threw at me – which to be honest is not that much really, but for my third flight I think I did OK :) I’m becoming much more comfortable with the motion of the plane, and at one stage I had the plane trimmed and flying level with no hands on the controls!

I can’t wait to get back in the cockpit, but I’ll have to. This weekend is busy, and then August’s weekends are already booked for camping trips. So, it looks like September will be the earliest I can fly again. In the meantime, I’ll start reading the PPL books by Jeremy Pratt. I ordered these online from Play.com, who seemed to have the best prices – roughly €25 per book, delivered. I’m still waiting on one of them to be delivered, but the main one I need at the moment is book 1 – all about learning to fly :)

Come fly with me…

June 18th, 2005

Last Saturday I had my first introductory flying lesson with Sky Trace flying school, based in Weston Aerodrome in west Dublin. The weather was lovely, with little wind and only the occaisonal cloud to spoil the sunny morning.

Since it was to be the first flight of the day, my instructor Augustin showed me all the checks that have to be done on the Robin 2160 (EI-SKV). Once we had checked the control surfaces, warning lights, oil level, etc., we climbed in and I got familiar with the cockpit. We went through the pre-flight checks, then taxied over to a spot where we performed some engine tests. Once we were happy with the engine’s performance, we taxied to the end of the runway and requested clearance for takeoff, which was given straight away. Augustin pushed in the throttle, and very quickly we were up into the air.

Once airborne, we climbed to 1500 feet and headed in the direction of Maynooth. Once there, we climbed to 2000 feet and aimed for Enfield. On the way there, Augustin let me take control and get used to the feel of the small adjustments needed to keep the plane flying level and in a straight line. Once over Enfield, he showed me how to do a banked turn, which I then performed, going anti-clockwise first, then clockwise. We then turned around and headed back to Maynooth, stil with me at the controls.

Once at Maynooth, Augustin took control once more and brought us down to 1500 feet in anticipation of our landing back at Weston. We flew over the airfield, perpendicular to the runway, then turned left and came around for the landing. I was a little nervous of the landing, having only experienced landing in larger jet aircraft. However, the low weight of the plane and Augustin’s deft handling both contributed to a very soft landing, much to my relief!

It was only a half-hour flight, but I had confirmed that I wasn’t terrified stiff, and that I really enjoyed it. I signed up for my next lesson there and then, and I am planning to get my Private Pilots Licence. For that I will need 45 hours flying time, and will need to pass several exams on topics such as navigation and meteorology. It will probably take me over 2 years to get there, but I’m looking forward to the trip :)

Star Wars: Episode III

May 20th, 2005

I saw Star Wars: Episode III last night, and I came away having enjoyed it more than I expected to. After the disappointment of Episodes I and II, I had set my expectations fairly low for Episode III. Now, in some respects, I was right – the dialogue is rubbish, some of the acting is poor, and Natalie Portman’s role is diminished so much she might as well not have been in the movie.

However, the technical aspects of the film cannot be faulted. The special effects are great, the locations well rendered, and Yoda looks better than ever. The whole fight scene between Anakin and Obi Wan on the lava planet looks spectacular. I found the opening space battle scene a bit confusing to watch yet impressive, but I think I hadn’t adjusted properly to the angle I was looking at it from – front row, over to the side.

In the end, Anakin’s fall to the dark side was not convincing, especially the particular scene when he switches allegiance. The script can be blamed somewhat, and Hayden Christensen doesn’t have the acting ability to carry the scene without a good script, so it seemed somewhat anticlimactic. Even his final transformation into Darth Vader seemed to lack any real drama. Christensen didn’t seem able to fill Vader’s boots either physically or metaphorically.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy the movie. There’s lots of detail in there for the Star Wars fan to notice and enjoy – the Millenium Falcon (or a ship just like it) can be seen docking in one shot, there’s early versions of various spacecraft, including the Emperor’s shuttle, and many more things like that. I did get carried away by the story, with only brief moments where a clumsy line or inconsistent behaviour from the characters jolted me back to reality. It does bring closure to the story, and no doubt these prequels have brought the Star Wars universe to the attention of a lot of new fans.