Category Archives: Technology

Google Glasses

For those of you with a creeping fear of Social Media, or even those with just a slightly hesitant adoption of the tidal wave of new online interactions be prepared for the arrival of the new Google Glass. These have been spotted out and about, and are due to be launched later this year.

‘Glass’ (and you will be amazed how soon this joins the everyday lexicon) is a wearable computer eye piece, which allows you to snap photos, read the news and Google search all while looking like a cross between James Bond and R2D2. Glass is not yet publicly available, but those nice people at Google is offering keen geeks to purchase them early for $1,500, if they write them an essay about why they deserve to be allowed to trial them.. oddly I have not quite found the time to send off my essay.


I would like to think that I am reasonably comfortable with most of the social media… despite the endless baby photos and ‘Shares’ from “I f*cking love science” or “This is what I ate for lunch” I find it a useful tool for keeping up friendships, trying to organise my life, and distraction/entertainment. But I am just not too sure about these glasses. Call me a gruff old traditionalist (and many have called me worse) but I rather like, and indeed almost expect, a person’s undivided attention when interacting with them… OK so there are obviously times when it is acceptable and normal to be trying to do two things at once, but knowing that my conversant was either googling the cinema times or checking in on FB while talking to me would rather irk me. The ‘subtlety’ of it is more frustrating than even the ‘i’m on the train’ conversations much parodied in the late 90’s. Or perhaps I am just being old?

No… No, I am not…the technology is certainly impressive, but as one blogger pointed out, it is all a bit close to Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End. The book it set in the not-too-distant future, and everybody interacts with the world via augmented-reality contact lenses. It is a sort of self accepted and social media infused Orwellian dystopia. (Note to self: a good name for a cocktail?)

Anyway, I was pleased when a lot of my ideas and views were echoed by an article in the usually brilliant Atlantic. Adrien Chen had obviously been reading my mind (perhaps having borrowed a set of these new glasses) when he described those that sport the new glasses as ‘assholes’. He goes into a long and clever diatribe about the way that Google has create a product so imbued with ‘assholishness.’: “Glass is just the latest in a long line of asshole moves from Google. Google’s project to scan and upload all books in existence to the internet without the publishers’ permission? Asshole behavior. Sending cars with cameras around to take pictures of everyone’s houses for Google Streetview? Asshole behaviour.”

While the products that Google has created are undoubtably brilliant, and useful, they are all part of the creeping invasion of privacy and accumulation of personal information. Perhaps those that are uncomfortable with these developments are not the Luddites that they are so often portrayed as, but defenders of privacy and liberty. As Chen says, “much of Google’s assholishness ended up producing very useful products (I love Streetview), but this doesn’t change the fact that they rest on an act of colossal assholery, an arrogance that says your privacy/copyright doesn’t matter because Google wants to make a new thing that happens to demolish it.” Read the rest of his article here, or just burn it directly onto your retina here.


Filed under Technology, Timology

Snow Scooter!

As the more observant of you might have noticed it’s that time of year again when the British transport system grinds to a halt, schools are closed across swathes of the north-east, the number of ‘sick days’ skyrockets, and children everywhere seem permanently attached by their squished noses to to frozen window-panes; yes, there has been an inch of snow somewhere in the Highlands. Time to dig out those scarves and gloves, phone in sick, and head to the slopes with the dinner tray to whizz down the icy inclines.

But what’s this? No, kids these days don’t want a homemade skeleton bob cobbled together from biscuit tin lids, they want one of these: Snow Scooter! Or so ‘Discount Vouchers‘ would have you believe.

Described in the marketing as “The Latest Trend on the British Slopes” [I wonder where the mean.. surely mild inclines/ green and pleasant lands?] they retain at an eye watering £21.99 with another £6 hidden in there for P&P.

The developers seem convinced that “it is important to look good whilst hurtling down a hill and this snow scooter will do just that, as you cruise past sledges and leave them face first in your powder!” Form an orderly line…

Now Scooter

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Petrol from thin air… a masterpiece of British technology

This one may have escaped your attention, hidden away in the depths of the Daily Telegraph, but it has the potential to change the world as we know it… essentially, some cunningly clever British scientists working for a small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.  Cool egh! Theoretically if the process was attached to a green energy source such as a wind turbine or solar electricity, they could make petrol that actually captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its manufacture process… and the petrol produced can go strait into any normal petrol car! 

‘Experts’ have already hailed the breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis, but thus far they have only actually produced about five litres of petrol in just less than three months … so its not going to rival the hegemony of the oil giants such as Shell or BP any time soon, but the theory is there. Read the full article here.


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Cathedrals to Science and Industry

Bank Holiday weekends normally involve a lot of travel… going to see parents, friends, relatives, loved ones. All good Brits are used to moaning about the clapped out travel infrastructure of this country; endless jokes about leaves on lines, pot holes in pavements, and long queues at Heathrow, but we rarely stop to marvel at the sheer beauty of some of our engineering masterpieces.

Dashing about in our everyday lives we never stop to focus on some of the awe-inspiring collections of rivets, cleats, plates, joggles, spans, arches, ribs, joists and finials that make up what early engineers might have called our ‘Cathedrals to Science and Industry.’

Now I know I am a geek, but I have always found Paddington Station a beautiful place. Crawling into the barrelled vaults by train, all London beckons. It’s a place of meeting and parting, passing time waiting and frantic dashing. It’s also beautiful. Believe me, and if you don’t, then stop and have a good look next time you are loitering waiting for the 17:56 First Great Western service to Worcester Shrub Hill.

Now real geeks have been allowed to study architectural drawings and  railway archives in libraries all over the country, but Network Rail has just put part of its beautiful archive of Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure diagrams on the web. Its ‘geekery light’ if you like… you dont actually have to own a thermos flask, nor a high vis jacket, but allows you to peek at their impressive collections from the privacy of behind your laptop.

 I defy you not to marvel at the audacity of the high-level bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, with its columns cascading like waterfalls, nor find harmony in Bristol’s neo-gothic Temple Meads station. And do have a look at Maidenhead bridge, designed in brick by the multi talented (and most spectacularly named) Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has two middle arches spanning the river in great leaps. The image below shows Turner’s attempt (successful in most estimations) to capture the scene.  They were lower and broader than anything previously constructed in brick, and the Great Western Railway’s directors feared the bridge would collapse: they insisted on the bridge’s temporary timber supports remaining even after it opened. Annoyed, Brunel secretly lowered the supports a bit so they did not actually support anything… but thats exactly what you might expect from a man whose middle name is Kingdom. 

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Many thanks to Cookie for inspiration for this one… When Facebook’s much vaunted stock market debut finally arrived on the 18th of May this year, it was marred by technical glitches at its home exchange in the US, the Nasdaq. After a great deal of anticipation, rock and roll celebrate endorsements and razzmatazz , repeated SEC filings and re-filings, shares were finally priced at $38 each..

Initially at least, trading was fast and intense, with 80 million shares changing hands in the first 30 seconds alone. But soon, some traders began complaining that it didn’t seem like their orders were being completed. Others found that they were getting shares at a higher price than they expected. Now, following  months of legal wrangling, and claims against JP Morgan relating to the IPO, there have been claims alleging that important information about Facebook’s financial outlook was “selectively disclosed” to big banks ahead of the IPO.

So, from a non technical perspective, it was a total balls up, people were possibly cheated, and those who did cheat, didn’t even have the good grace to do it well.


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Lawrence of Arabia and the Brough Superior

I know a few of you are Lawrence of Arabia fans, and I am sure most of you know of my obsession with the man and the legend.

I receive automatic emails from various auction houses whenever any Lawrence related tat comes up for sale (yes, I am that sad) and received the latest one only yesterday. A sale of autographs in Hayes, Middlesex is offering a cheque made out by Lawrence to Martins Bank Limited and made payable to Mr. George Brough for the sum of £11-3-0., and caught my eye.

First, the bad news. It’s valued at between £600 – £800, placing it firmly out of my league, and it is only a piece of paper. You can bid on the auction here.

However, interestingly the cheque is signed ‘ J H Ross.’ Lawrence was a total recluse; he flirted with notoriety and fame, but found it painful and shameful. In order to rid himself from the American journalist Lowell Thomas’s colourful and romantic depictions of ‘Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraft man in August 1922 under the name John Hume Ross, at RAF Uxbridge. He was soon exposed and, in February 1923, was forced out of the RAF. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925.

Throughout his life Lawrence was a keen motorcyclist, and, at different times, owned eight Brough Superior motorcycles. These beasts (and look them up… they are beautiful monsters) were either provided to Lawrence by George Brough, or he purchased them at a reduced price in a sort of early celebrity endorsement. (It is possible that the cheque carries a red ink bank cancellation through the signature as it was rejected by Brough.)

The date on the cheque is 11th June 1929, and as any TEL fan will tell you, this was the year that he purchased the bike that he called George VI (UL 656), it was his seventh Brough. A Brough typically cost about £150 new (more than an average sized house in those days) so this was either a part payment, or a token sum for the machine. Inicidentaly, Brough only produced 139 bikes in that year, but was already flirting with the idea of manufacturing cars as well as bikes. This cheque would have been for the SS100 (Super Sports), powered by the twin-cam KTOR JAP V twin (J. A. Prestwich of Tottenham) These were fast bits of kit; in 1927 George Brough achieved a record 130 mph on the SS100 and in 1928 Brough broke his own record with 130.6 mph. In 1932 Ronald Storey achieved 81,08 for the standing half-mile at Brighton, and in 1939 Noel Pope secured an all time Brooklands track record lap time of 124.51 mph on an SS100.

But it was all to end in tragedy. At the age of 46, two months after leaving the Army, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his eight Brough in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. His final Brough is still preserved in the Imperial War Museum.


Filed under Oxford: The Perspiring Dream, Technology, Timology

Is this the way to Amarillo?

Last night on the bus going home I was prating about on Googlemaps… It just about passes the time when you are too tired to sleep, and have forgotten your headphones…

I have made an amazing and important discovery. Tony Chirstie was obviously a total fool… Amarillo is really only just round the corner from Home… in fact there are only two turnings involved… how can he possibly need to keep stopping and asking for directions? I think there is a conspiracy going on there, and I shall investigate further…

For those of you who have no idea what I am going on about follow this link… but beware its horribly catchy… well catchy and horrible.

This one is marginally better if only because it raised millions for charity… somehow… what must the world make of us?… loonies!

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Swords to Ploughshares, and Aircraft Carriers to Ear Trumpets

I sometimes check the local auctions… just to see if Tibet or Younghusband Mission related items come up on the market. There have been a few over the years, but have all sadly been beyond my meagre pocket.

Its always an interesting browse however, as you would be amazed by the tat that some people try to sell, or that auctioneers deme valuable. If you ever wanted to coat your furniture entirely in formica, or collect small china cats, the local auction house is the place to go.

Anyway, this item ticked my fancy… its not especially ascetic, and I am unsure of its practical use, but it’s a must for any collector of tat, clutter, and ornamentalia: A military issue ear trumpet by R.J. Dowling of  London. (With military crows foot stamp, 12.5cm.) Priced at a very optimistic £40-£60 it can be bid for at the Bellman Auction House in Billingshurst.


It does slightly beg the question… what sort of military fighting machine would need a military issue ear trumpet? Have our armed services been cut back to such an extent that we are now sending regiments of octogenarians to the front line… the comedy opportunity and value of this image is priceless… Her Majesty’s Brigade of Armed Mobility Scooters? The Massed Pipes and Slippers of the Welch Fusileers? The Coldshiver Guards? It’s all very well and good beating swords into plough shears, but you will have to make a lot of ear trumpets from an aircraft carrier.

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Eiffel Tower under construction

Salut mes petit pois, this one has been doing the rounds on Twitter and t’internet, but thought it was worth sharing here with you…

A few petit facts interesant pour vous: The pig iron structure of the Eiffel Tower weighs 7,300 tonnes… as the tower was initial supposed to be demolished in 1909, and as a demonstration of the economy of design, if the 7,300 tonnes of the metal structure were melted down it would fill the 125-metre-square base to a depth of only 6 cm. And secondly, depending on the ambient temperature, the top of the tower may shift away from the sun by up to 18 cm because of thermal expansion of the metal on the side facing the sun.

And for all those of you who thought you were going to get a glimpse of the actual construction… Bien, et Mange tout alores!

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Man arrested at Large Hadron Collider claims he’s from the future

A would-be saboteur arrested today at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world! Read the full story here. Now, I must go and bury some more junk in the garden for me to dig up as a child… back in a second. 

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