Monday, May 30, 2005

Arrived in Hilo

I arrived into Kona yesterday slightly ahead of schedule, picked up my rental car, and drove to Hilo. This pretty much killed me...

I'd managed to pick up a business class upgrade on the Osaka to Vancouver leg, which was pretty good since that's a nine and a half hour flight. But I paid for it flying from SFO to Kona. I ended up in the back of an ageing 757 stuck beside some people that were too big for their seats, not that this was saying much. I was pretty much too big for the seat, which considering I'm not a big guy, that's saying a lot. I had one of the most uncomfortable flights I'd had in a long time, and when I finally got into Hilo I went to bed and slept for twenty hours straight.

Did I ever mention I don't really like all the travelling I do?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A day in Vancouver

I had a two day layover in Vancouver, however I've not managed to take advantage of the opportunity to do anything fun. Instead I've slept a great deal, and tried to catch up with my email...

I've got a 4:30am check-in tomorrow morning, so I'm currently packing for the trip out to Hawaii. Hopefully I can get some sleep on the plane, as I'm flying into Kona rather than Hilo, so I've got a couple of hours drive ahead of me after touch down in the Big Island.

Update: I'm currently sitting under a T-Mobile HotSpot sign in SFO waiting for my connecting flight out of San Francisco into Kona. I managed to get an hour or so's sleep on the flight down from Vancouver. Hopefully I can get a bit more on the longer Pacific leg...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Back in transit...

I'm currently packing in hopes that I can manage to catch the 10 o'clock Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, and from there the Haruka Limited Express back to KIX...

Update: I'm now sitting at Gate 8 in the KIX International Departures area waiting to board Air Canada 36 to Vancouver, where I've got a two day lay over before I go onwards to Hawaii.

Flight AC 36 from KIX to YVR

I'm impressed with the wireless network here at KIX. While the access points are spaced a bit too far apart, which means that the quality is a bit variable, access is free and I haven't been entirely out of coverage anywhere in the airport so far. You can't complain really...

Mac OS X 10.4.1

I must have missed this during the hectic days surrounding the IVOA meeting, but it looks like Apple released the eagerly awaited 10.4.1 upgrade to Tiger at the beginning of last week. The summary does mention, so maybe some of the more troublesome problems with the new have been fixed? Anyone?

Anyway for those of you who missed it, full details can be found on the Apple site...


One of the things that has startled me about Japan is the way ancient and modern are mixed, apparently at random. Seemingly ancient shrines are dropped haphazardly between skyscrapers, and temples are wedged into the middle of shopping districts. Visiting Sensō-ji today has left me with an abiding impressions of a city locked in a battle between its past and present.

Standing on Nakamise-dori, the street leading from Kaminari-mon, the Thunder Gate, to the temple itself. Looking north to Hōzō-mon, the Treasure Gate.

Standing underneath Hōzō-mon looking northward across the temple complex to the main temple building.

Standing on the steps of Sensō-ji looking back towards Hōzō-mon, the Treasure Gate, which stands at the entrance to the main temple complex.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Apple Store

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently having fairly severe laptop problems. Since I'm currently in Tokyo this meant a trip to the Apple Store in Ginza.

My last two [1, 2] vists to an Apple retail store have been to the Pasadena store. I'd sort of expected that the Ginza store would be like Pasadena, only slightly larger. I guess I wasn't expecting a 5 story Apple cube...

CREDIT: Apple Computers
The Apple Store in Ginza

It doesn't look like I'm going to be able to get my laptop fixed, or even get a decent guess at what has gone wrong, until I'm back in the UK though. Which is somewhat unfortunate, but I've solved (or at least patched over) the problem in a predicable way. I bought an Airport Express, and am now hoping that the remaining bits of my laptop will hold together long enough for me to get back into the UK.

A letter from Tokyo

We arrived from Kyoto into Tokyo on the Tokaido line Shinkansen exactly on time, an unexpected event for one used to the vagrancies of the British rail system. Gemma visitied Osaka last week while I was attending the interoperability workshop, and apparently profuse apologies were given when the train arrived into Shin-Osaka station some 2 minutes late. Talk about culture shock...

Tokyo, from the 30th floor of the New Otani Hotel

The Tokyo subway system is perhaps the most complex and extensive system in the entire world, however it is claimed that it remains one of the most user friendly. However despite these claims, we were glad that the actual process of "getting around" is pretty much the same as it was in Kyoto and that we'd therefore had a relatively gentle introduction to the Japanese subway system. This made getting from Tokyo station to our hotel much simpler than we, or at least I'd, been expected...

Friday, May 20, 2005

IVOA Kyoto

I've had a busy time during the meeting, hence the lack of blog postings. So far I've given two talks on VOEvent this week, and I'm just about to go and give another in a joint session with the UCD group...

One well placed exploding Nokia phone...

On the down side, the ethernet card on my laptop has died. This means I'm stuck in Japan, on my way to Hawaii via Vancouver, and not due back into the UK for over a month and I'm without wired internet access. This is not good timing, although at least the wireless interface is still working which means I'm not totally cut off.

From here I'm on my way to Tokyo, so I'll drop into the Apple Store there and see if I can get things fixed, but I'm not hopeful...

Update: More from Tokyo...

Monday, May 16, 2005

A new day...

After negotiating the complexities of the Kyoto subway system, I managed to make it from the hotel to the Kyoto International Conference Hall where the conference is being held...

The gardens at the conference hall

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Arrived into Kyoto

Arriving into KIX about an hour late, Gemma and I ran into a crowd of AstroGrid and CDS people in the arrivals hall, so we all made our way together to the Haruka express to Kyoto.


The neighbourhood around the hotel...

Getting into Kyoto we had about 3 hours before we could check into the hotel, so Gemma and I had a brief wander around the neighbourhood, including a stop at a local noodle bar which, looking at the incomprehensible website, might be part of a chain. Getting back to the hotel, we were eventually allowed to check-in and collapsed exhausted in the room, all thoughts of further exploration gone.

The conference starts tomorrow though, so I really need to write my plenary talk about VOEvent now...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Flying Lufthansa to Osaka

I'm currently sitting in seat 55D on Lufthansa's flight LH 740 from Frankfurt to Kansai International near Osaka, connected to the Internet via Lufthansa's FlyNet broadband service.

It's surprisingly responsive. I checked my email over the University's VPN, and logged into the machine running the eSTAR node agent for the Liverpool Telescope to check that last night's observations went okay. It's slow, but useable. Certainly more usable than a GPRS connection, and there is very little to show that I'm currently at 35,000 feet somewhere over Asia. Of course since I'm in economy there isn't a power socket, so I'm stuck working off my laptop's battery. I've got to admit I don't normally mind this too much, but since I actually have internet access it's a lot more annoying than normal.

I've got to admit though, this is sort of cool...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Google Local UK goes mobile...

The Google Blog has a pointer to the new mobile version of Google Local UK. I've had a play with this and it looks like it works just as well as the web version, which is to say somewhat sporadically, as there seems to be something wrong with the way Google maps UK postcodes to actual streets. For instance my house isn't where I think it is, at least according to Google, but none the less I manage to make it into work in the morning. How odd...

I'd recommend the Thai Orchid...

However it does do okay driving directions, which surprised me for some reason, if in a somewhat simpler form than Google Maps, and the overall the interface isn't bad. But it's a somewhat lacklustre entry into a market fast becoming saturated location based services. Why would you use Google Local UK rather than a service that already knows where you are?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

In Transit

Well I'm off around the world again. I'm currently in transit to the IVOA Interoperability Meeting in Kyoto, where it looks like I'll be talking about VOEvent a lot.

Too much luggage...

Update: I'm currently holed up in the Renaissance London Heathrow. It's where I normally stay when I'm going through Heathrow, as despite looking awful on the outside, it's very comfortable on the inside, the food is reasonable, it has broadband internet access, and oh yeah, it's a Marriott so I get air miles. You have to have priorities...

Update: I'm currently somewhere over Asia...

Update: Arrived in Kyoto and I'm currently holed up in one of the two conference hotels, the Hearton Hotel, trying to write my talk for the plenary tomorrow.

USB key drives

We ordered some USB keys drives branded with the eSTAR logo for the upcoming HTN Workshop in July. They arrived a couple of days ago, just in time so I could take one with me to the IVOA Interoperability Meeting in Japan, handy...

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

I don't think I've ever seen so many key drives in one place before!

Click on Tiger

The BBC World's Click Online covers the release of Tiger, and in a surprisingly hard hitting interview Stephen Cole grills Brian Croll, Apple's director of software marketing, about Tiger in general and Spotlight in specific...

The BBC's Click Online talks about Apple's Tiger

(via The Unofficial Apple Weblog)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Google down? Google hacked?

Om Malik has the breaking news... (via Engadget)

It looks like Google was briefly down and out with some sort of DNS issue. If anything emphasises our reliance on a single provider for search, mail and the even the blog you're reading now, it's something like this happening. Did anyone feel the Internet shudder under our feet?

Update: Something odd is definitely going on. However it looks like the screen captures floating around the blogosphere, which apparently show that Google has been a victim of domain hijacking, are probably an artefact of people's browsers cycling through a list of alternative addresses when they found that they couldn't resolve

Update: Larry Magid was on CBS radio talking about the problem, it does look like Google was down globally...

Update: It now looks like this incident was definitely caused by DNS problem, and only affected Google. However it also looks like all Google services were down for over an hour before they started to reappear.

Update: Slashdot finally has the story, what took them so long? People were starting to assume it was a conspiracy...

Update: The Register doesn't have that much to say about the incident.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Tiger breaks

From the sounds of the screams of pain echoing around the web, not only is the new a lot uglier than it used to be, but it also doesn't work very well.

The new, ugly isn't it?

I was fairly happy with Panther's despite the fact that you couldn't let it automatically synchronise IMAP folders. It was fairly robust and had some good features, but it sounds like 2.0 is a major step backwards from Apple.

Update: Looks like there are some fixes available for Apple's new

Friday, May 06, 2005

10.4.1 released to developers?

The rumour is that Apple seeded 10.4.1 to developers yesterday, so we should expect the first desperately needed bug fixes for 10.4 to show up on software update any time now. Of course, I still haven't upgraded yet...

The election result

I woke up this morning to a Labour victory, with 619 of the 646 constituencies declared, they have passed the 324 seat mark which means that they hold a majority in the House of Commons. But it looks like the initial exit poll and the forecasts were more or less correct.

Results as of 09:45 this morning...

Labour's majority has been severely reduced as they currently hold only 353 of the 619 seats declared, a net loss of 46 seats on the 2001 result. The Conservatives have a net gain of 33 seats, and the Liberal Democrats a net gain of 11, giving them their best result in 70 years. At this stage, even if all the remaining 27 seats declared for Labour, the government's majority will be shredded. Since all 27 seats won't return for Labour, it's likely to be lower than this, possibly much lower.

Update: With all seats apart from Staffordshire South, where a by-election will be held in the next few weeks, having returned results the final tally gives Labour 356 seats and an absolute majority of just 67.

However the size of this majority is somewhat misleading, amongst other factors the torturous politics of Northern Ireland will influence it, since as a matter of party policy Sinn Fein candidates elected to Westminster never take up their seats, and the Unionists will always vote with the government.

Additionally while many "rebel" Labour MPs were returned to Parliament, perhaps the size of the government's majority will keep them in line now the consequences of their rebellion are more serious. It will also be interesting to see how the unusually large number of independent MPs, and the presence of a larger than normal third party, will change the dynamics of Parliament.

One thing is certain however, pushing through controversial legislation, such as the introduction of identity cards, will be a lot tougher for the government in this Parliament than it would have been in the last.

Update: The BBC has an interesting article with snippets from the foreign press covering the election results...

Update: The BBC is reporting the predicable consequences of Labour's terrible performance at the polls...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The general election

It's just past 10 o'clock in the evening, and the polling stations have now closed. The BBC exit poll is predicting a sharply reduced majority for Labour from 160 to just 66 seats with a 5% swing away from Labour, with 37% of the vote.

The first results, from the early declaring constituencies, are expected between 11 o'clock and midnight.

Update (22.45): Sunderland South has returned first for the fourth year in a row, with a Labour majority of 11,059 and a 5% swing away from Labour on a 49.9% turn out.

Update (23.25): Sunderland North was the second constituency to return and has been held by Labour with a reduced majority of 9,995 and a 8% swing away from Labour on a 50% turn out.

Update (23:30): Houghton & Washington East returned next with a 9% swing away from Labour. Although it is tempting to make try and generalise from these first three seats we have to bear in mind that they are not typical. Its still early in the night...

Update (23:56): The first result from north of the border came in from Rutherglen & West Hamilton which was held by Labour, but with a reduced majority, down by 4%.

Update (00:32): The seats are starting to come in in quick succession now, so far all have been held by Labour but with much reduced majorities, with a swing away from them of around 7%. Although so far only safe Labour seats have returned, there seems to be a large swing towards the Liberal Democrats.

Update (00.35): Putney has just returned with the Conservatives taking the seat back from Labour who won it in the 2001 election, with a 9% swing away from Labour and a 6% swing to the Conservatives, on a turn out of 60%. While it would be dangerous to generalise at this stage we may be looking at the a sufficiently large swing away from Labour towards the Conservatives to give a hung parliament, which would be a fascinating result to say the least.

Update (01.04): John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has held his seat in Hull East, although even here there has been a large swing of 8% away from Labour, while Gordon Brown the Cancellor of the Exchequer has won the new seat of Kircady & Cowdenbeath.

Update (01.07): My local constituency of Torbay has been held by the Liberal Democrats, although with a much reduced majority. However even with a swing away from the Liberals of 10%, the majority is still comfortably more than the 12 vote margin they held when they took the seat away from the Conservatives in 1997.

Update (01.13): We're still waiting to see if the swing in Putney of around 6% away from Labour to the Conservatives is representative of the swing in the marginal constituencies, or whether the national average of around 3% is more typical. As I mentioned before a swing of 6% would lead to the rare occurrence of a hung parliament.

Update (01.29): Peterbourgh, another marginal, has just returned with a 7% swing to the Conservatives allowing them to take the seat from Labour.

Update (01.41): This is turning into the first true three party battle in some years, or perhaps a series of two party battles, although the two parties in question aren't always the same! Coming up to 2 o'clock in the morning Labour has a net loss of 3 seats, the Liberal Democrats has a net loss of 1 seat, with the Conservatives having a net gain of 3 seats and the SNP having a net gain of 1 seat with 127 of 646 seats declared.

Update (01.48): At this point in the night we usually have at least an initial forecast of result, however tonight the results are all over the place. For instance Dumbartonshire East has just declared with a 15% swing to the Liberal Democrats away from Labour on a 72% turn out.

Update (01.51): The BBC is now forecasting that the Liberal Democrats will return with 59 seats, the Conservatives with 201 seats, and Labour with 357 and a majority of 68 seats, which is in line with the results from the original exit poll.

Update (02.16): Tony Blair, the Prime Minster, has held onto his seat in his Sedgefield constituency with a 6% reduction in his, none the less still substantial, majority.

Update (02.20): Now the first forecast is in I think I'll call it a night. It looks like I'll wake up in the morning to another Labour government, abet with their credibility damaged and with a severely reduced majority. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is reported as saying that he believed that Labour's position on the Iraq war has damaged their position.

Update (09.45): Most of the results are now in...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cheerfully at the trailing edge

Today I upgraded the operating system on my Powerbook, not to Tiger, but to Mac OS X 10.3.9. I've been holding off upgrading for a long while, I had been running 10.3.6 until the upgrade. When you've got things to do, and a working computer, upgrading wholesale is risky.

The most obvious result of the upgrade was that several of my third party applications immediately broke. Along with this a whole slew of bookmarks were added to my Safari bookmark list. I wasn't very happy about that.

One of many, C.K. Sample has upgraded to Tiger. It doesn't exactly look that much fun to me, so I'm holding off for a while. Maybe 10.4.1 will be more stable...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

MRO arrives in Florida

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has arrived in Florida for its final checkout before its launch which is currently scheduled for the 10th of August.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was delivered in two large containers from Lockheed Martin to Cape Canaveral on an Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Over the next several months, engineers and technicians will prepare the spacecraft for its scheduled launch in August.

Update: The BBC has the story...

VOEvent Sourceforge Project

As part of my work following up from the VOEvent workshop, which was held in Pasadena earlier in the month, I've established a Sourceforge project for VOEvent related software.

Currently the project hosts some pre-alpha release Perl modules which I threw together in the days following the workshop. These modules allow you to parse incoming GCN binary packets and convert them to pseudo-VOEvent messages based on the examples we generated during the meeting.

The code has also been placed onto the Sourceforge's CVS server under a module name of "perl_modules". Patches and additional development effort from the community would be welcome...