Saturday, January 17, 2004


I am off to see El Ultimo Samurai

I wonder if it is as good as El Ultimo Mohicano?

(Actually I was under the impression that Nogi Maresuke was el ultimo samurai).

Update: Not bad. Shame about the silly (and historically inaccurate) Hollywood ending.

I have two pieces on ubersportingpundit, one one further one in tactics in one day matches (specifically talking about Pakistan's overnight win against New Zealand) and another about Australia's (updated) scedule from hell in 2004 and 2005.

Barcelona has been clusterbombed. It is only a light clusterbombing at this point, and there didn't seem to be many people in the stores. (They weren't empty, but they were by no means full either. That said, I am sure they are full of tourists in August). Spain appears to be a "Short, Tall, Grande" market and not a "Tall, Grande, Venti" market). It may be that the availability of high quality low cost Spanish coffee (which costs about €1.00 - €1.50 in a local cafe/bar) is such that Starbucks' two to four times as expensive coffee is priced out of the market, actually. We shall see. In Australia Starbucks appears to be doing fine despite charging a premium of 30%-50%, but this Spanish differential is much bigger. If the WiFi in the Starbucks stores was free, that would be something to draw me in, but it was for pay and expensive.

Friday, January 16, 2004


I have a piece on the prospects of somebody sometime scoring a double century in a One Day International cricket match, and a report on today's game between Australia and Zimbabwe in which Adam Gilchrist of Australia scored 172.

I succumbed to a little temptation and got myself one of those wireless thingamies, so my laptop now connects automatically to the internet without wires anywhere in the house. This is fun. (For those that are interested, "thingamy" here means "all in one ADSL modem / router / 802.11b access point"). This is cool. I can now blog in bed without any wires.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Barcelona Gherkin

Barcelona is a remarkable city. Like many European cities, it has an old gothic centre, and this is quite nice. However, unlike most European cities, the gothic centre of Barcelona is not the architectural highlight of the city. This is because around a century ago the great architect Antonio Gaudi designed some of the most extraordinay buildings you will see anywhere. His buildings look like they are grown rather than built, and they give the city extraordinary character.

The most extraordinary Gaudi building though is the church of the Sagria Familia, which is still incomplete today, although construction continues. (Some people believe that it should have been left incomplete rather than have lesser architects finish Gaudi's work. I disagree with this. I think that most of the great churches and cathedrals of the world were built over prolongued periods of time and using multiple architects, and regardless of the greatness of the person who initially designed this one, there is no reason why it should be different. In any event, the building is like no other church that has ever been built anywhere.

Hmm. I am not sure that my attempt to juxtapose the Sagria Familia and the Finding Nemo poster was entirely successful, but you get the point.

On the other hand, this photo I am proud of, but it is perhaps less good at simply showing the building.

In any event, Barcelona has until recently had major highrise other than the Sagria Familia, which has dominated the skyline. Barcelona is on a coastal plain, and behind and around the plain is a range of what you would either descibe as large hills or small mountains. Gaudi's famous Parc Guell (which I will discuss in another post) is on the side of one of these mountains, and the view of the city from the highest point of Parc Guell is quite spectacular. Of course, it has traditionally included a great view of the Sagria Familiar. Look at it now, though, and you see something else. That's right. It's a gherkin.

This is worth investigating. I want to see it from close up. It is not actually in the centre of town, but in a place called approximately "Place of the Glories of the Catalans", which is a real dump but is at least having some regeneration. (There is a new shopping mall next door). I walk in the approximate direction. There it is

It's an under construction gherkin, with just the frame of the top section, and a strange mottled look lower down. Let's get closer.

Why the mottled look? The dark bits will presumably be windows, but why the odd L like shapes. It almost looks like somebody has been playing Tetris on the side of the building.

Quite an interesting building. Of course, the trouble is that we do not know what the building will actually look like when complete. I suspect a layer of glass will cover the whole thing, and the mottled Tetris look will go away. The building isn't quite as curvy as the London gherkin, which is I think a better building. And this is Barcelona, city of great architectural treasures. I think putting something else to accompany Gaudi in the skyline is good, but I don't think this is quite comparable in terms of overall quality. The Sagria Familia is a work of genius. This isn't. But I still rather like it.

Of course, we live in an age where it would be possible to cover the side of the building with LEDs, get somebody to set up a PC to control them, and we would essentially have a giant screen covering the side of the gherkin. Then in an ideal world we could perhaps patch this into a wireless network, so that passing geeks could genuinely play Tetris on the side of the building from their laptops. That would be really cool, and we live in an age when it wouldn't be technically very hard to implement. I am not expecting to see it happen though. At least not in Barcelona. Although somebody will no doubt try it in Japan some time soon. Or Moscow would be even better.

I was in a tapas bar having some dinner on Tuesday evening, and I noticed that there were some Spanish and maybe Catalan language newspapers available for patrons to read. One of them had this headline.

I will take that as at least partial confirmation that my idea that Spain is sucking in lots of Latin American people as a way of helping its demographic problem is true.

I have some statistics on the winning streaks of the Australian one day cricket team against various opponents over at ubersportingpundit.
A first, I suppose

One of the technological stories lurking in the background is that LED lighting is going to become much more common soon. LEDs now can come in any colour, and they are potentially more efficient and give off much less heat than conventional incandescent light bulbs. (As to how they will compare with fluorescents, well we shall wait and see).

So here it is: a fully LED lit apartment. We may all go there one day. For now, I am slightly worried about the purple (although I am sure they would call it "violet").

Update: I don't know why they went with all the purple, actually, given that it is not especially difficult to get white light from LEDs these days. (That said, LED white looks a little strange to people used to fluorescent or incandescent white, because the mix of colours going into the light is a little different).

The story behind this is that until the early 1990s, it was essentially impossible to make an LED that could generate blue light. LEDs up to then were mostly made from Gallium Arsenide, but there are phsical limits as to just how short the band gap and hence the wavelegth of the light can be made using this material. What this means is that using Gallium Arsenide you can make infra-red, red, orange, yellow and green LEDs, but not blue ones. If you are going to produce white light, you need blue. In the early 1990s an engineer name Shuji Nakamura, from a company called Nichia Chemical based on the Japanese island of Shikoku, figured out how to produce blue, violet and ulta-violet LEDs made from Gallium Nitride. This meant that LEDs can be made any visible colour and also can be made to produce white light, either by using red, green and blue LEDs together, or by using a phosphor coating around a blue LED to reduce the energy (and hence change the colour) of some of the light, which will then mix with the blue to form white. (Blue has higher energy than either red or green, so it is possible to make red or green from blue by taking some of the energy out, essentially. It is not possible to turn red or green into blue by putting more energy in, however).

LEDs have a number of potential advantages: they are light, tough, and potentially more efficient than conventional lights (although we are not quite there yet). However, making LEDs was (and is) still quite expensive compared to making incandescent or fluorescent lights (and there are one or two other issues that I won't go into right now) which is why LEDs haven't completely taken over the lighting business just yet. However, they have found their way into certain niche markets such as traffic lights, and lights used on bicycles and for other outdoor sports. Most people believe they will take out a lot of the rest of the market before too long though.

(Another niche application is giant scoreboards in sporting arenas and other large outdoor screens. You may have noticed that the quality of such screens improved dramatically in about 1995. This was because of the invention of the blue LED. Prior to that such big screens had to be made of a large number of small cathode ray tubes, and the pictures were often fuzzy. After the invention of the blue LED, a combination of red green and blue LEDs could be used to make the pixels, and these big screens suddenly produced much sharper and brighter pictures).

Another place to look for LEDs like this is in pixelated displays giving departure times in railway stations and bus shelters and the like. Older such displays will always be yellow or red. Newer ones may also contain blue or even white. Huge numbers of red and orange displays is one of the things you remember about travelling on trains in Japan, as they took to these displays in a big way early. (That said, even newer ones are often still red or orange. Force of habit, I guess. That and the fact that red and orange LEDs are still cheaper and more efficient).

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Back in London

My plane was late. Easyjet said that they had had an equipment problem with another aircraft, and that they had therefore doubled up two flights. Instead of having separate flights from London to Toulouse and Barcelona, they used the one plane to make a circular London Toulouse Barcelona London trip. What this meant was that I didn't get off the plane and through customs and immigration until about 1am. Fortunately I was flying into Gatwick, which is on the main southern rail line out of London and trains run late, so there was no difficulty getting home. I just got home late: at about 2am. (A real problem with Stansted airport is that the last train runs at midnight). Anyway, the air ticket didn't cost much, so I won't complain the way the Yobbo is about Qantas.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Foodie Observations

Excellent gherkin, by the way. Photos tomorrow.

There are quite a few Basque restaurants in Barcelona. This is not terribly surprising, as Basque food is pretty widely acknowledged to be the best in Spain. Such reastaurants here pretty much invariably have nice decor and are rather upmarket, suggesting that there is a certain trendiness to it. In the actual Basque country, one can have the same food in a restaurant with less nice decor for half the money.

On the other hand, there may always have been a substantial number of Basque restaurants in Barcelona, but I simply did now know what Basque food looked like last time I was here. Travel does indeed broaden the mind.

This looks like it will be my last Spanish blog posting. I'll be back in London (late) this evening. I have had four days of lovely weather in one of my very favourite cities. Barcelona is truly a gorgeous place. I now have to get my act together very fast, either by taking the job on offer and returning to Australia, or by finding some work in London very fast. Anyway, see you tomorrow.

Ten years ago, I found that English was not especially widely spoken in Barcelona (or Madrid, either). I guess that was a legacy of fascism more than anything else. Spain didn't join modern Europe until 35 years after everyone else. (And I felt that in Barcelona everybody was too busy being bilingual in a Spanish/Catalan sense to be concerned about English). It was really noticeable that if you went over the border into France then you could get by in English with much less difficulty.

But this has changed. Most young people here now seem to speak English reasonably well and there doesn't seem a big difference from France in this regard. (Spain seems a more fast moving, happening country in most respects though). I guess ten years of being a major destination and of being perceived as a really hip and interesting place will do that for you. And of course there is the general globalisation that has gone on in that time. And just the fact that the Spanish economy has gone gung-ho forwards, and the Catalan economy probably even more so than that of Spain in general.

Anyway, enough blogging. There is a gherkin in the skyline I want to investigate.

Monday, January 12, 2004


This blog has been nominated for "Best Overseas Australian Blog" in the Australian blog awards. If you feel like going and voting for me, please do. If you don't, well I'm just happy to be here. (Ubersportingpundit has also been nominated for "Best South Australian blog". It's a shame there isn't a "special subject blog" category or similar that that one can't be nominated for. After all, contributors to the blog are in South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and the United Kingdom, so the regional classification perhaps doesn't say much).
A slightly different world

Another interesting thing about being in Spain is that you are in a different world culturally and linguistically. And it is quite a big one. Walking down a street full of shops selling expensive women's clothes, one finds the same convention as anywhere else of shops giving the names of the cities where they have outlets in the shop windows. You know, "Paris London New York Tokyo Los Angeles". That kind of thing. However, in quite a few shops here the places are different. It is "Miami Puerto Rico Argentina Paraguay Barcelona", and that kind of thing. (Note: I will come back and add a photo to this post in a couple of days). The Spanish speaking world is quite big, and it does show. If I could read the newspapers and understand what was on television it would no doubt be bigger. Just as globalisation has brought the English speaking peoples closer together, it is and must be doing to same thing to the Spanish speaking world. Another issue that must come out of this is that Spain has a way of avoiding the fearsome demographic crisis that faces much of southern Europe, which is to open up immigration for Latin Americans. There are no doubt lots of Peruvians, Argentines and Paraguayans who want to come here. It's an awfully nice place, and it's these days very rich and successful. One theory of current world development is that "lifestyle cities", where the weather is nice, there is ocean nearby, and the partying is good, are the sorts of cities that attract young, well educated "knowledge workers". Well, Barcelona is gorgeous from that point of view. Even though it is not nominally Spanish speaking, it must be a huge magnet for people from throughout the Spanish speaking world. I don't know how the Catalan speakers feel about this.

And the other thing about it is that it is interesting to see how parts of the US fit into this. Britons, Australians, and Americans are terrible at speaking foreign languages on the whole. It is entirely normal for people from these three countries to go around the world, only speaking English, and getting by. But when you are in Spain, at least some of the Americans separate from the others. For the ability to speak Spanish is these days not uncommon amongst Americans - particularly younger Americans. Miami is on the list above, after all.

Update: Here is the picture. We have a reflection of the street scene rather than the goods in the shop, and "Barcelona" at the very bottom of the list is cut off, but you get the general idea.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Wireless is fun

I just applied for a job in London while sitting on a park bench in Barcelona. Cool!

Update: Of course, I also just blogged from a park bench in Barcelona. Sad!

Further update: None of my the people I normally do instant messaging chatting with are online. It would have been cool to do some of that from a park bench in Barcelona.

Even further update: It would also have been cool to post a photo of the park bench in Barcelona from which I am blogging but (sadly) I forgot to bring a USB cable with me to Barcelona. What I need is a wireless camera.

Yet further update: Blogging from a park bench in daylight is actually harder, and the ambient light level is fairly high, making my LCD screen a little hard to see. My digital camera has the same problem. However, it has a conventional viewfinder as well as the LCD screen, so one point for good design there. There would be no trouble in the grey of London, however. Mainly though, bring on Organic Electroluminescence.
Bad habits

I tend to let myself get even scruffier than usual when I travel. I tend not to shave, and my clothes get crumples, and similar. Perhaps, if I am going to continue to try and chat up American girls in cafes, this would help.

Today's American girls were from New York and Texas. One of them was in Europe playing the part of Maria in a touring American production of West Side Story. The chat was pleasant, although as regular readers of this blog know, the nicest American girls come from Ohio.
Post modern faux pas of the day

I got a little MP3 player as a "free gift" when I got my Dell laptop before Christmas. I am finding I use it a lot. I program myself a playlist, and I then listen to music as I walk down the street. Programming a playlist for your life is something like I expect it is to put together a soundtrack to a movie, only harder, although the consequences are less pad if you get it wrong. There is nothing terribly unusual about this activity at this point. If you look at people carefull, you will see lots of them with earphones coming out of their clothes. (In Guell Park today I saw a young couple lying down in the sun, with each using one of the two earpieces coming out of an MP3 player. How cute, but it probably doesn't work well with those early stereo recordings where they put the singing on one channel and the music on the other. Also, I see a market opportunity for MP3 players with multiple earphone jacks. But I digress).

A consequence of this (and also of hands free earpiece based mobile phone setups) is that it is far less unusually to see people talking out loud when there is nobody there, and being in apparent worlds of their own when walking down the street. For those of us capable of being in apparent worlds of our own, already, this is a fine thing. We are now closer to the core of global culture than we once were. But, as other people are finding, we are not as much in a world of our own as we may appear. We can come back to the world when it is necessary. Turning the music off as need be is something we get very used to doing.

Except when we don't. One should try to avoid doing what I did in Parc Guell this morning. I was wandering around and I had the MP3 player on, and I thought it would be nice to get a photograph of me in front of one of the more interesting sculptures. So I asked a man to take a photo for me. Now, when I ask people things like this, it normally happens in places where I do not speak the language and I have to get by through gestures and the like. So I did this, it worked fine, and we were making progress at getting photos taken. However, after a couple of minutes I realised that the man was talking to me, and that I had left my music on and so could not hear him. (I had not conciously been aware that I had left the music on, even though I could still hear it. My mind had just not realised there was a need to turn it off and so had not). When I turned it off I realised he was speaking to me in English. However, because I had not expected him to speak English, my mind had not thought to turn the music off as it now automatically does in cases where I expect a reply. I was of course embarrassed by this and I apologised, although he did not seem to mind. But walking off I thought it was curious. The mind plays strange tricks, sometimes.

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