Monthly Archives: January 2012

Motorway speed limit

People have been talking recently about increasing the motorway speed limit to 80 mph. I’d like to see this happen, even if just given a trial on one or two roads.

At the moment when a motorway has reasonably free running traffic people tend to drive around 80 mph naturally. It’s not as if it is just one or two drivers, but a significant percentage (who are of course distracted from paying proper attention to what is in front of them by worrying about being nicked). So all this would do would bring the law into line with the reality of what’s actually happening on the roads. The real problem is with inappropriate speed, not high speed, and that’s best sorted out by proper education and getting people to drive at the speed they are comfortable with.

Britain’s speed limit is lower than many other countries in Europe while some roads in Germany have no restriction on them at all (though there is a recommended 130 Km/h (81 mph) limit), yet even on the unrestricted autobahns you very rarely hear of any accidents. Remove the distraction of worrying about being caught may even reduce the number of motorway incidents.

However what I’d really like to see is more ‘active’ speed limit controls, especially on urban motorways. So often the limits on these roads are set to cater for the rush hour traffic situation which is totally different from the rest of the day, let alone week-end. Driving down an almost empty, 50 mph limited motorway on a Sunday morning just generates contempt and disrespect for speed limits, and this contempt is then carried across to other situations. Adjust the limit as the situation changes (morning, afternoon, night; weekday, weekend) and then however vigourously enforce the limits. The technology is there to give variable limits, urban motorways are quite heavily monitored with video cameras feeding back to control centres, people are quite used to seeing electronic signs around the place, so there’s no technical reason why this could not happen, just a matter of politicians making decisions!

Internet use and data security

As we use the internet, how seriously do we take our data security?

I’ve been using the internet now for over 20 years. My first real experience involved a friend taking me off to some Unix computers to look at a collection of amazing planet / space images he’d found from (I think) NASA. This was not using a web browser (this was just as the web was starting to get noticed, my first web browsing experience was about 3 months later) but through Gopher space. However even prior to this I’d been playing around with computers for some time.

So over all these 20+ years of computer usage I’ve been infected three times by viruses, the last one about six years ago. However yesterday was the first time I’ve actually had one of my services (Twitter) hacked into. This did get me thinking a bit about control, and about how much I now have (or don’t have) over my information when actually using the computer in front of me. Even now, I’m not writing this on a word processor on my machine, but using Evernote, which automatically saves this to a server somewhere out on the internet! I’m currently using Macs, often hyped for their resilience against viruses, I also keep my software up to date with the latest patches and fixes, yet this did not stop my Twitter from being despoiled.

With the expectation now of ‘total access’ to all of your services from anywhere, school, work, home, on the train (even my local buses are now advertising wi-fi access) we’re passing across to others so much control without knowing what’s going on with our data. We all tick those boxes saying we have read the Terms and Conditions, but how many do read them, or when you do, make any sense of them. Even if your data is (supposedly) stored on a server in the EU or in the United States, what route did it take to get there. While you were tapping away on the keyboard, did the wonders of the internet direct it from your ISP through to some other country before it made its way back to your preferred data centre? If your data is intercepted en-route, who do you turn to for help!

I really do find it useful to have access to my information and to be able to do my social networking from anywhere and everywhere, but there is a price to pay for this. I just hope it’s worth it!

Closed Currys, not surprised.

Just walked passed a Currys Digital store here in central Glasgow to find it totally closed.

Saddened in that it is one less high street store open, but not surprised to see it happen. One thing that has characterised my visits to any (what was) Dixons / Currys / PC World was that I would leave feeling more irritated and annoyed than I did when I went in, my ‘customer experience’ in any of these Dixons Retail group stores was always negative.

I remember a while ago going into one store and while looking at one or two laptops was approached by a sales girl who asked what sort of laptop I was after. I said I was after something that had to be dual-core processor and the video output to be digital. She said ‘back in a minute’ and when she returned selected a lap-top saying this one would be suitable for me, pointing to the (analogue) VGA output saying that this was digital. I questioned her about it but the assistant repeated that this was suitable, told me the output really was digital, and was keen to complete the sale. Fail!

Another instance was of looking at printers and being approached by a sales assistant. I said I was looking for one of the cheaper postscript compatible machines. She said she didn’t know if they had any but would go and ask. (I have no problems with staff not knowing – they can’t know everything – so long as they are honest about it.) When she returned she said that they didn’t sell that make. The trouble is that postscript is not a make but a printer language common across most high and mid-range printers with some low-end machines postscript compatible too. I don’t know who she asked, but the end result was incorrect information from the staff and a disappointed customer. (Needless to say, there were postscript compatible printers there.)

As for the number of times I’ve overheard staff tell customers that ‘this camera’ is better than ‘that camera’ because it ‘has more megapixels’ is too many to list here. Or being told this is better ‘because it’s digital’. Then when you ask why does that make it better, the response just to repeat ‘because it’s digital’. Or of course, going into one of their stores and then waiting 20 minutes to be served, only to be eventually approached by a member of staff saying that the store is now closing. This has been a depressingly common experience; it’s apparent that as soon as it gets anywhere near closing time the staff all start heading towards the back of the store, reluctant to serve customers. I assume in case it delays their exit out at the end of the day.

Then there is the integration of (or lack of) the running of their web site compared to that of the store. Senior management has not yet latched onto the fact that consumers now expect seamless integration between the two. To find the web saying there is stock and on going to the store finding none, or price differences between the two is unacceptable. Customers expect to find ‘exclusives’ consistent between the channels. Their stores need to compliment, not compete with their internet presence.

I prefer buying in a shop, to be able to see and handle the actual product at time of purchase. To be able to walk out with the item, not having any postal delays and trying not to miss the delivery van. However finding staff who don’t know their products, who only seem interested in customers if they can get the customer to buy something that will fulfil their daily sales target just sends me off to places like Amazon. It’s not that I want to go to Amazon, but am being driven there because of the quality of service from their high street stores.

Good books, young and adult.

Good books can be for both young and adult reading.

One thing I’ve been reminded of through reading (and enjoying) the Harry Potter books is that just because a book may be written with a young audience in mind doesn’t mean it’s not a good adult read.
Modern-day authors like Pullman and Paolini have written some hefty-sized ‘teenage’ books which I’ve found quite captivating. The Narnia series by C. S. Lewis seemed to me, when reading them during my childhood, as a good, fun, adventure story involving the fight of good and evil. However recently reading them again as an adult, although not a particularly intellectually demanding read, the interplay of the various characters can take on a far greater meaning when viewed from an adult perspective. (Now I think about it, I really must read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again.)
Eoin Colfer’s Artmis Fowl books have always entertained me, though I do think his latest in the series, The Atlantis Complex, a little bit weak. I’ve also enjoyed following the adventures of Howl and his Moving Castle. (Diana Wynne Jones.) Another favourite has been the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve.


I suppose it all depends what you want from a book. Sometimes it’s nice to have something that taxes the brain and is a demanding or challenging read. Something that really makes you work and in turn can provide a tremendously rewarding reading experience.
Other times though, it is nice to be able to relax and allow yourself to flow into the story without too much effort, where it’s easy to allow ones imagination to head off into another world. Life without this bit of escapism would be a so much more stressful place.

Final Cut Pro X

 Final Cut Pro X

It’s now around six months since I got my copy of Final Cut Pro X.

A bit of history. My first video editing experience started off with Windows Movie Maker, but I soon wanted something that could do a bit more, and could also do HD. I mucked around with the 14 day trial versions of various programs and eventually settled on getting CorelDraw’s VideoStudio Pro X2. Cheap ‘n’ cheerful and did a competent job.

It didn’t take long to settle down to some basic YouTube video editing, and I could see that this, for the money, was quite a powerful editor. However it’s one thing to be a powerful editor, it’s another for the user to know how to use these powerful features, and perhaps its one biggest weakness was lack of availability of really good on-line tutorials.

I must have had it about a year (6 months of getting to know it, then 6 months of getting frustrated with it!) when I decided it was time to move on, with the priority on not just finding a good video editor, but an editor with good tutorials!

It was then by chance I came across Izzy Hyman and his www.izzyvideo.com web site. Here was a place with some really well presented tutorial videos on 1) making videos in general; 2) using Final Cut Pro 7; 3) using Final Cut Express. This was exactly what I wanted. The cost of Final Cut Pro 7 was way out of my budget, but Final Cut Express, at student price, was affordable. This also meant a shift from Windows to Mac (which was something I’d been thinking about anyway), and through the help of a friend I got hold of a 2nd hand MacBook Pro. This MacBook was a couple of years old and not exactly ‘high spec.’ but ran Express quite nicely.

It was about 7 or 8 months after this that Final Cut Pro X came out – and met with a very errrr…. ‘mixed’ reception! The pre-release press comments had been quite favourable, however when it came out they gave it a serious slagging. A lot of this was because they had thought that all the new features in FCP X would be in addition to / on top of all the existing Final Cut features, but on release they discovered that quite a few features considered important by the film making community were now missing. However for my use these missing features were not important and Apple had priced it very competitively. Izzy Hyman very quickly got onto his site some really good Pro X tutorials, so upgrading for me was an obvious thing to do.

The install went without a problem and it appeared to run smoothly, however the window that displayed the actual video stream only displayed it in what looked like 16 colours (the editing & other windows were still in full colour). After a bit of investigation it turns out that my MacBook had a compatible graphics card, but Pro X wanted 256 meg of RAM minimum where my machine only has 128 meg. Though a pain, this was not the end of the world, I was surprised though that the Apple app store / iTunes had allowed me to install it on a below spec. machine.

After using Pro X for a while I also realised another reason why some of the ‘professional types’ didn’t like it – it was too easy to use! Here was a powerful bit of software that had, with it’s new drag ‘n’ drop interface, taken out a huge amount of the mystique of video procuction, and at a cheap price too. It really has speeded up my routine of processing a video. Selecting which bits from different clips and adding titles and effects has not just become easier, but so much quicker.

I have since upgraded to a MacBook Air which runs it very nicely, this now means I can get most of my editing done on the train journey back from things like YouTube gatherings, which is nice.

So if anyone is thinking of a move from their basic editing software to something a bit more powerful, check it out. I certainly have no regrets, even though I had to change operating systems too.