Down at the beach watching the world go by

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The Martian by Andy Weir

I love reading books

There are times when I get so into doing other things that I forget that I really like reading and then there are other times when I read one book after another. It’s always good when you are transported into a different world and you just enjoy the story and the experience of following what’s going on with a character. At the moment I’m reading about a cheeky astronaut called Mark Watney who has been stranded on Mars. Obviously he is a very clever fellow and is managing to stay alive in a very hostile environment using his brains and an irreverent outlook on his predicament. So we’re getting this first person story from our hero, Mark, along with the back story of what is happening back on Earth. Then there is also the crew of the mission that left him behind on the spacehip heading back to Earth that have a part to play.

When I first started reading the story it was on the back of reading a book by Philip Rothfuss about a character learning all sorts of magic and fighting skills living in a fantasy world and it was a very big change going from one book to the other. It can seem odd sometimes when you have to go from one style of writing to something quite different and at first it seemed that the book ‘The Martian’ was nowhere near as good. The thing is, the most important point is the story and I am finding that this book is a real page turner, just as much as the previous book I was reading ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’.

The Martian eBook Andy Weir Amazon co uk Kindle Store

As has to happen with any story, our protagonist in The Martian has to have things go from bad to worse and sometimes even worse than that, before things can start to get better. Writers and readers do like to have a happy ending though so I am expecting things to get sorted out at the end of the story. On account of this truism, we will probably have our character amazingly saved at the last minute. I am still only two thirds of the way through this book and the way that I am going with it, it is not going to take me too long before I get to the end. In any case I can certainly recommend this book as a good read.

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Getting into Siri on my iPad

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Gizmag for great articles about technology

One of my favourite websites – GIZMAG

I am a lover of technology and sometimes it feels like I am living in the future with all of the excellent technological changes that are happening. There is an excellent website that I get regularly sent to my email address called GizMag and it has a range of articles looking at various areas of technology. In the latest email that I received there was a link to an article about a new bicycle with a sealed drivetrain, an article about Ducati motorcycle, a robotics article, something about the engine failure causing a recovery of a spacecraft to not work out, details about how nano pixels can be used for flexible low-power high-resolution screens for computers and amongst other things there is a health article about how proteins could take the place of fats in diet cheeses and cakes. I get one of these emails every couple of days with the latest articles that have been posted to the site and there is nearly always something to interest me. It is quite easy to click one of these links and then lose an hour or so reading articles about the latest in technology.

Gizmag

Green articles in GizMag

Quite regularly there are articles on there about green homes and a green living. Articles such as the latest in zero energy houses that are good for the environment. I would love to have one of these houses that has super design and super insulation and at the end of the year would have a surplus of energy. With the cost of solar panels coming down and the technology of batteries getting better there will come a time when the self-contained house as far as energy requirements are concerned will be the norm. I particularly liked the article about the house by Honda in which they used solar panels in conjunction with the same sort of battery technology as used in their cars, along with geothermal heating and cooling of the house to construct a house that didn’t need to be connected to the electric grid. If ever I decide that I’m going to build myself a house then these are the sorts of things that I will be looking for for the design of it.

Silly articles for thrill seekers

There was an article about the tallest waterslide in the world which is over 50 m tall and looks to be just as scary as it looks to be amazing. There is a water park near to where I live and I have enjoyed using the tallest of the waterslides there and is great fun even though not even half as big. There is another article based on bicycles which shows a motorised big wheel drift trike which has a small motor propelling it very close to the ground and would make a big kid of the largest man. So there are articles in there which are based upon old technologies and petrol engines, but then you will also find a lot of articles based upon an electric vehicles. I particularly found the article about an exotic Italian electric motorcycle informative and entertaining. Personally, I would love to have one of the electric motorcycles made by Zero Motorcycles and this one in the article by an Italian company, Energica Ego Electric motorbike looks pretty amazing too.

Posted in technology.

Birthday parties, A Visiting mom and my best friend passing away

As always the months tend to fly by and that was the case with June. I wanted to complete a blogathon on this website, but I found that with my wife’s birthday party and all of the work and things going on, I was unable to finish the job. At the end of the month, things got to even more difficult and strange with the sudden death of my best friend Karl Berlin, he died the day after my wife’s birthday party.

Karl

Goodbye to my best friend

It was bit of a shock to say the least with my friend dying suddenly. He was only 61 years old and the night before he was at a party with us and he looked to be happy and healthy. The very next morning he woke up with some chest pains and his wife got the ambulance in pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before they had him in hospital and tried to do an operation, but it was too late. Many people have said that it is a better thing if you go quickly and you don’t have a lingering death although dying too young and before your time is very sad indeed. karl died on Thursday and funerals happen very fast here in Spain. The service and funeral was on the Monday which was at the limit of how long it can be between dying and being cremated. There were a lot of people at the funeral, quite a lot of expats from England of course. I got up and spoke about how sad I was to lose my best friend and how I thought it was strange that somebody so clever should be so useless and learning languages. I didn’t say much, but it seems everybody appreciated that I spoke from the heart. He really was the nicest guy you could wish to meet and know as a friend.

So I had to deal with going to a funeral and trying to help where I could as well as keeping my mother entertained while she was here to visit from England. My mother is pretty easy to keep amused, all I have to do is to take her to the beach when it is possible. This month of June the weather hasn’t been great though. We have had one or two days when the weather has been either cloudy or it has been raining. In fact, looking at the weather forecast there will be one or two days in the first part of July when we can expect some thunderstorms.

Mom

Mom to the beach

Life has to go on and with my mother visiting I need to take her to the beach for some sun and relaxation. The old girl will be going home again tomorrow and so we have to make the best of the time while she is here. I am still disappointed that my daughter-in-law and my mother didn’t get to meet each other. It was because of the French Air traffic controllers having a strike and stopping all of the planes coming from Dublin. Now we will have to wait until they come over with the baby which could be maybe in January and I will have to try and arrange for my mother to come over for a visit at the same time. It would have been really nice to see Iris with the big bump and the baby still growing. Mind you we were able to get a glimpse of that on Skype. She was able to talk to us and show us the bump when they called us to wish Victoria a happy birthday.

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Gardening isn’t as much fun as riding a bike

Get that grass cut

Today I have used a strimmer, the lawnmower, a wheelbarrow and a rake and I hate gardening! On the plus side so far with all the walking around the garden with the lawnmower I have logged 5000 steps. I use the fitness application called Noom to keep track of things. Since February using this application to record my input of calories and also my use of those calories with exercise, I have managed to lose 10 kg. Between now and the end of August I expect to lose another 3 kg to get to the weight that I want to be at. Another good thing which has an effect upon my losing weight has been cycling. I use an electric bicycle, but I’m still cycling hard because I am looking for going faster rather than going easier. The electric bicycle is particularly very good for going up hills and when I am coming home there is a tough hill at the end of the ride. If I didn’t have an electric bicycle then that hill at the end would certainly put me off riding to and from work. Having an eBike really works for me. So instead of using the bike once in a blue moon, I am using my bike nearly every day. I have had a few days over the last week when I couldn’t ride my bicycle because of the rain and thunder storms and I got quite frustrated waiting for the weather to get better.

Wheels and spokes on an eBike

Since having this electric bicycle I have had a few problems with the wheel with the motor in it, because the spokes weren’t strong enough for the power of the engine. I have had to have the wheel rebuilt twice. The first time was because I hit a pot hole in the road and then I had to get it rebuilt because the spokes that were replaced were too puny.

Some expensive Electric bikes out there.

There are some very nice good-looking electric bicycles around. I saw a bicycle made by Grace which is very enticing but is very expensive. There is also the bike called the Stealth Bomber but that is even more expensive. If I was going to spend that much money then I would rather go for one of those Zero Motorcycles. The other sort of bicycles that I could be interested in would be the recumbent bicycles. I have seen that there are some people that have made of those into electric bicycles too! I imagine that’s what they would take quite a bit of getting used to, especially the sort where the steering is done with the hands lower down. The handlebar steering mechanism is situated underneath your bottom rather than above your shoulders. Even though these recumbent bicycles are quite expensive I have seen one or two of these around lately. All of this is much better than gardening!

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On Camera Flash Stinks – Learn to use off camera

Getting the best from your camera flash

One of the first things that you have to learn when you are getting into photography is that using the flash on camera is generally not a good thing to do. This doesn’t necessarily mean that using a flash is bad, but you do have to know how to use strobe lighting properly. Quite often when you take a photo using the on camera flash you will find that the subject is completely blown out and will have horrible highlights and shadows that generally make your photos look terrible. You can do some things to improve the situation by using tricks to soften the light from the flash on your camera. You can use little tools which will deflect the light off walls and ceilings in the room which will also soften it. A better route to take would be to use off-camera flashes that are controlled by wireless. The way to do this is to get the wireless sender that you put onto the hot shoe on your camera (My Sony NEX 6 has a hot shoe)and then have receivers which you connect to the flashes which you place in better positions for lighting your subject. To a certain extent this is much like the way that you go for three point lighting when you are shooting video. You will have a key light which is the main light to light your subject on one side and then on the other side you will have a fill light. You can do it with just the two lights but you could also put a light behind your subject which helps your subject to stand out from the background. There you have your three-point lighting.

Following the advice of the Strobist

There is a photographer called David Hobby who has a website called Strobist and here he has loads of information about how to use these off camera flashes or strobe lights. There is a Strobist 101 lighting course which will give you all of the basics that you need to learn how to use your flash lighting. I bought two of the Nikon SB25 flash units and I also got receivers plus a wireless controller. You can get some really interesting effects using even these small battery-powered devices. You do need to spend some time learning how to use these devices and getting the settings just right for your photos.

Liam on rock 00331

Shooting in the direction of the sun

One general piece of advice when you are taking photographs is to have the sun behind you when you are taking the shot this is so that you have a better lighting for your subject who is facing into the sun. Although sometimes all you get is a person who is squinting which doesn’t necessarily look so good and you won’t fix that in post processing. What you can do with off-camera strobe lights is to have the sun behind your subject and then use the flashes to light the subject. I have found that these sorts of photos will give some stunning effects in terms of how the subject looks in relation to the lighting of the background.

There will be more about this subject in the Geeky Photographer book when it is published.

Posted in Photography.

Creative Mojo

What’s a Mojo?

My own personal background is in art. I used to be an art teacher and before that I was an art student and artist. My interests were in drawing, painting and printing back in the old days and now my creativity goes much wider than that. I really enjoy the process of making videos, right from the point of shooting the video in the first place to the editing of the resulting video clips. Photography has always been a big passion of mine although it has ebbed and flowed over the years. With the latest digital camera that I have, I love taking pictures and creating photographic artwork that is all part of my need to be creative and to show the world my creations. Then there is the writing that I love doing.

Everyone can be creative

For me being creative is just part of what I am and comes very easily to me. For those of you that don’t believe that you are capable of creativity I would like to suggest that it is not that difficult when you properly understand what creativity is. Putting it as simply as possible, creativity is just making decisions to do something, try things out and be as experimental as possible and choosing what you think works best. At some point in the process you say it is done or it done as far as you can take it and the next thing you do will kill it.

Screenshot 17 06 2014 22 46If you are going to be a life logger then you are probably a creative person or have the embers of creativity burning within you. Even if you don’t know what it is that’s giving you the urge to be expressive in a very personal way like this, take it from me that there is some creativity involved. If you get into this creative way of life and present what you do to the world via the Internet then probably you are going to want to do it in such a way that it is going to be interesting and possibly entertaining for the viewers. You aren’t going to be like one of those boring teenagers that wander around all day doing nothing and saying “I’m bored”. You will almost certainly read, view and consume what you have created yourself and you will want it to at least be interesting for yourself to experience.

Study art and learn from the masters

To be a good writer you have to read. To be a good movie maker you have to watch as many films as you can. Artists look at the art that is around them and also whatever is in Art galleries. It will probably be a good idea for you to have a look and see what other people have done in your chosen realm of creativity. Look at some of the successful and entertaining artists and say what they have done and how they have done it. Study art and learn from it. If you are going to make your stuff public then you want it to be a good reflection of yourself. You should put some thought into what you do.
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There is a great deal of pleasure to be gained from being a creative person and having good things to show to your audience. That audience might be small, it could be just for yourself, it could be just for your friends and family and then again it is something that you could grow to be huge if you really want to. There’s nothing wrong in new producing something that you are proud of.

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Living in the future now

Where is my Hover board?

As a person who is really very pleased with the way that technology is progressing, I sometimes think that we are living in the future. We haven’t yet got to the stage of having flying cars or flying hoverboards, but there are some incredible things happening in the technological space. There is all sorts of home automation which we never never thought were possible yet now they are everyday commonplace sort of things. We have home automation which is really quite amazing. You can walk into your house and have your music follow you around the house. It is now possible to send images, video and music from one place in the house to another. You can even have it so that the house kind of knows where it is you are in the house and will optimise your media consumption.

You can now get lights which will change colour or dim based upon preset configurations depending upon your mood or your requirements for the time of day. So for example you can have it set so that’s it will be the perfect lighting for getting your brain ready for sleep at the end of the day. Or you could have more of a blueish sort of light for the morning time to make you feel more awake. We can have it so that the house will know when we’re near home and will turn on the heating for us and maybe one or two lights .

I know where my friends are sometimes

What about if we are out and about and we are trying to coordinate with our friends to arrive at a place at a certain time. We can set it so that other people know exactly where we are, so instead of having to send a lot of texts back and forth to say we are stuck in a traffic jam and it is going to be another half an hour before we can get there, our friends will know exactly where we are. We can even have it so that the system we are working with will give an estimated time of arrival.

Health monitoring

There are systems coming on board that will monitor our body statistics and vitals and let us know if we need to go and visit a doctor. It will soon be the case that if have allowed the applications on our smartphone to do so, we can have the application send information directly to the doctor. It is possible then that the doctor might contact us if the prognosis is bad enough that we really do need to get emergency attention as soon as possible.

Apart from various types of information that we can send out to medical places, to our home or to work colleagues for instance there is a huge amount of data that is incoming. It can be quite overwhelming if all of this incoming information is just dumped on our devices. So what we can do is we can arrange automation on our computers such as by using the application called Hazel. Hazel can detect the information coming in and it can route this information into places where it will make sense for us when we need to look at it. We could even make it so that we get notifications for only a certain types of information such as data which is required immediately or is somehow or other more important.

Apple coming up with the way to do some of this

Some of the systems are available right now and some of these things are becoming available using Apple Macintosh devices such as the iPad, iPhone and the Mac desktop computer. There are things happening that will make all of these things work together and for some of us it will seem like we are living in the future right now.

Not like when I was a lad

Certainly it seems a very long time since when I was a teenager and we didn’t even have a phone in the house, mobile phones hadn’t been invented and neither had computers. Well actually, I am not quite that old, computers had been invented but they were still a long way from being the size that could fit onto a desktop house.

Posted in Computers, life.

What’s Your Tribe

Which tribe do you belong to? It certainly is a fact that we want to belong to a tribe and that starts off with the smallest of tribes which is our family. Then as we grow older we join other tribes. Tribes such as the school that we go to. You learn to compete with other tribes so there are children from other schools that are to some respects, the enemy . Within schools there will be a certain amount smaller tribes within that big tribe also. Tribalism found in the grouping of the swots and the nerds and then there will be the people that like sports. Don’t forget there is the main pair of tribes with male versus female.

Windows versus Apple Mac

One of the latest separations of people now, putting into one Tribe or the other, is down to which computer operating system you use. There was always the rivalry between Apple and Windows and now were seeing that rivalry translated into Apple versus Google with iOS on one side and Android on the other. I have just seen an article by somebody that said it is impossible to do productive work on an Android device compared to what can be done on an iPad. To a certain extent that it is partly true and also it is a biased lie. If you want to write something and to post it onto a blog site, or if you want to take photos and do things with those photographs to publish them, then you can easily do that just as well with an Android device as you can with an iOS device. On the other hand, if you are wanting to do some video work or if you want to record audio then you are better off to be using an iPad or an iPhone. So both sides have advantages and disadvantages and really you have to go with whichever suits whatever you want to do the best.

Switching to iOS or Switching to Android

Android vs Apple Google Search

I have been an iOS user for a long time and for at least five years I was using just Apple products. Then I decided I would like to try out some of the Android devices and I got the Samsung Galaxy S3 telephone. When I first got this device I was very pleased with it and there were a number of things that it could do better than my old iPhone. Then I took it a stage further and I got a Nexus 7 to use as a tablet around the house. Once again I was very pleased with this device and I used it more often than I used my iPad. I like both of these operating systems and now I have to wonder which of these tribes do I belong to? I can see how it looks from both sides of the fence.

Link Baiting

It could well be that this article written by my Internet friend that was heavily biased towards three Apple iOS mobile operating system was written to stir up things. This can sometimes be called link baiting. What you do is to make a statement which is quite radical and you get people from both sides of the divide commenting, attacking or defending one side or the other.

Power, Religion and Politics

Another area of tribalism is religion. Religion is completely divisive and will easily separate one group of people from another. There is a huge history behind the wars and fighting between two religious tribes and people have been prepared to kill in order to say who had the best imaginary friend. I think the world is very badly served by religion and humanity would be far better off without it.

The World of Football

Football – there are many people that will go to extreme lengths to be partisan towards one football team in particular. Where I live there is a huge divide between those that support Real Madrid and those that support Barcelona football club. Those that have the link to Spain and the Spanish way of thinking are the supporters of Real Madrid and then the Catalans will put their support behind Barcelona. As an Englishman living in Catalonia I am quite happy to be a Barcelona supporter. When I lived in Birmingham in England I had the misfortune of being introduced to Birmingham city as a football club to support by my uncle. It was a shame that I didn’t wait a little longer until I was able to go to football games with my friends and I would’ve ended up as an Aston Villa supporter. Aston Villa were always a better team and therefore a better tribe to belong to.

We’re all human beings

Obviously we need to have this sense of belonging and whether it comes from belonging to a group within a school, a family, a religion, a football team or because you are from a particular country. It is, in the big picture of things, quite irrelevant as we’re all human beings. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was no religion and there were no countries and we could enjoy the football game without having to be a rabid supporter of one side or the other. I imagine John Lennon even had some of those things as a wish for the future in one of his songs.

Posted in life.