Friday, December 19, 2003


I have a piece on why it is bad that aviation rights between nations are decided by bilateral treaties over at Samizdata.
What is heaven like?

I'm sitting in my local pub with a pint of ale, working on my laptop and writing some blog postings. They (including this one) will have to be posted later, as there is no network here, unfortunately.

I think I have in fact realised what in my world, heaven would be like. A nice English pub. Real ale on tap. (Perhaps a Bavarian weissbier or a dark Belgian Trappist beer or two for variety as well). Good food. And free WiFi.

I am thinking that yes, heaven would definitely have free WiFi. Or perhaps it would have that CDMA2000 1X based cellular data service that Glenn Reynolds was talking about yesteday. That would be even cooler.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


I have a piece on the privacy implications of using electronic tags to charge for tolls over at White Rose.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Verizon Wireless service

Yes Glenn, that cellular wireless service that you are trying is CDMA2000. (Probably only 1X though). Stephen Den Beste will no doubt be happy.

I can't imagine there is any way it will interfere with WiFi. WiFi operates on 2.4 GHz or (not often just yet, but probably an awful lot in future) 5MHz. Verizon's wireless service is on 800MHz or 1.9Ghz. The frequencies are completely different.

Update: If I had really wanted to cover all my options, I could have bought my laptop with 802.11a/b/g, a GPRS modem (ie a cellular modem running over GSM networks), Bluetooth, and IrDA infrared. The version I bought has 802.11b/g and IrDA only. That's enough for me now. (Bluetooth likely does reduce the performance of WiFi if used at the same time, as it uses the same 2.4GHz frequency band).
Comments on my MP3 player, and some rambling about my computer

Warning: self indulgence to follow.

Dell gave me a "free gift" with my new computer. I had a choice of an all in one printer/scanner/copier, a second battery, a digital camera, or an MP3 player. I already have a printer and a scanner so I didn't get this (although given that my laser printer needs a new drum (which I knew, but was trying to pretend was not so) and my scanner's driver causes a BSOD on the new computer (which I did not know) I may have made the wrong choice in this instance. I already have a digital camera (somewhat better than the one they were offering) so I was never going to go for that. A second battery is likely useful (although the battery seems to last for about five hours of use, which is much better than my last laptop, and in any event it isn't that hard to find a coffee shop with lots of power outlets - Starbucks are particularly good in this department), but the final option was a new electronic toy I didn't already have, so I got myself a new electronic toy. The MP3 player in question has only 64Mbytes of (flash) memory, so it isn't like I got an iPod, but none the less it is quite useful. It is about the size of a cigarette lighter, weighs practically nothing, and is far, far better than a cassette or CD based Walkman of just a few years ago, and makes portable music easy.

I have ripped my entire CD collection to MP3 (using a bit rate of 160kbps) and stored it on my hard disc and I am playing music on my laptop using iTunes, which is fun. When I copy these MP3s to the MP3 player, I only get about an album and a half of music, unfortunately. It is a shame that the MP3 player does not have a memory card slot or simply more memory, but that is the price of getting about the cheapest possible MP3 player. (The player in question retails in shops for about £60 and a little less over the internet). The other option of course is to transfer the music to the MP3 player using a lower bitrate. The trouble with that is that I want the high bitrate for computer based use, and the lower bitrate for portable use, which probably means I need to keep two copies of all my music on the hard disc. I wonder how I get iTunes to duplicate the entire music library at a lower bitrate. I really don't want to go through the process of putting all my CDs in the CD-ROM drive again.

Still, not the end of the world. This sort of thing is why I got the 60Gbyte hard disc, which I am thinking was a very good decision. Certainly it gives me more flexibility than the giant 5Gbyte disc on the old laptop. (Of course, by standards of not very long ago, 5Gbyte was giant, but it now seems quite puny). On the other hand, it might have been better to have taken the "free" printer/scanner and just bought an MP3 player with slightly more features. Except that I wouldn't have done that. Getting an MP3 player was in indulgence I wouldn't have gone through if I had had to fork out actual money. However, if I now go and buy a new printer or scanner out of necessity, I will have spent a similar amount of money. The idiotic thing about laser printers is that I can now buy a new printer for the cost of a new drum for the old one. And I can buy a new inkjet printer for less than half that. So I am not sure quite what I will do.

But for all that, the MP3 player is fun. It doesn't eat batteries quite as fast as the digital camera does, but getting some rechargeables for it was also clearly imperative. It uses a single AAA battery, so I needed different batteries from the AA ones used by the camera. But sizes fit into my existing charger, however, so I just needed the batteries. The cheapest NiMH AAAs were £7 for a pack of four. I only needed one or maybe two, but that is not an option. And of course I could buy a pack of 12 for £10, which seemed a good deal, although I did not need that many. So I now have 12 AAA rechargeable batteries. But somehow, I feel I am going to need a lot of rechargeable AAA batteries in future, so this may be good preparation for the years ahead.

And I need to get myself a high income again, so that I can stop going neurotic over things like this.

Except of course even when I do have a high income, I still get neurotic about things like this. It is just my nature.

I am drinking another bottle of Argentinian Malbec from the Mendoza region. For a bottle of wine that only cost me £4 or something, it is outstandingly good.

It is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. I am the umpteenth person in the blogosphere to mark this, but I shall mark it anyway because it is worth marking. If you want to read somethng about it, go and read Friedrich Blowhard's fine piece on the subject.
Awaited movie of the year

I saw The Return of the King. More of the same, basically, but all coming together nicely in story terms towards the end. As in the book, there is a lot of tidying up after Sauron is defeated. Some reviews have criticised Peter Jackson for including all this (although to tell the truth one large episode is missing), but I think it is necessary. Firstly, it means that 20 minutes or so are devoted to the characters at the end, and this gives the film a little more depth after all the actions scens. Secondly, in the context of all three movies, it nicely bookends the story. The story starts in the comfortable world of the Shire, and also ends there, with the brutal wider world and decisions of life or death and fights for the world in between. If you throw away the ending, you might as well have done without the beginning as well.

And Eowyn rocks.
First, kill all the lawyers

The instruction book for my computer contains the following paragraph

California Residents

WARNING: Handling the cord on this product, or cords associated with accessories sold with this product, will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash your hands after handling the cord.

Does this mean that cords only have lead residue in the state of California? (Is it the weather?) Does it mean that they do, but that the State of California doesn't care about non-Californians? Does it mean that lead isn't harmful to the rest of us? Does it mean that the State of California cares, but Dell doesn't? Callous bastards.

Actually what it means is that the State of California feels the need to mandate that computer manufacturers put stupid disclaimers in computer manuals, probably without their being any reputable scientific evidence, and computer manufacturers just go along with it. (Are those various combinations of bold and italics mandated by law?) It's probably Erin Brockovich's fault.

Monday, December 15, 2003


I have another piece (with extensive photos) on my trip to Antwerp over at Samizdata.
Look, no wires

Okay, Glenn and Virginia have been doing it for years, but I am sitting in a cafe working on my laptop, which has no physical connections to anything, and I am happily working away with a full (and fast) internet connection. This is really, really cool. Unfortunately, my regular ISP will not let me connect to its SMTP server from another ISP (or at least it will not without proper authentication) so I cannot send e-mail right now. Hmmm. I'll look into it.

Update: Okay, that's fixed.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

This is a public service announcement

Scott Wickstein informs me that his personal blog has moved again. The new address is Update your links. The blog now seems to be called "The Weekend Warrior". Personally, I quite liked the name "The Eye of the Beholder", but that could just be me.
Nobody's Perfect

Just when I was thinking how much more stable the new Dell laptop with Windows XP is compared to the old IBM Thinkpad running Windows ME, I attempted to install the driver for my scanner. (This is a Packard Bell Diamond 2400 if anyone is interested). And with no warning I got a full scale Blue Screen of Death. Horrible. I thought I wasn't going to have to face these any more. It's repeatable, too, as I tried again and I again got a BSOD. The CD at least in theory has an XP version of the driver, too, so I don't know what is going on. Is it some kind of hardware conflict?

In any event, I shall attempt to find a newer version of the driver.

Blog Archive