Monday, March 31, 2008

Fear of flying?

I don't fly. Or at least not unless it's a dire emergency. I've tried to analyse my fear and can't really pin it down. Partly it's a fear of dying prematurely under circumstances not under my control - in a car or on a bike, even in a train, I can do a lot to reduce risk and escape harm. But in a metal tube 10,000 feet up there's really nothing that can be done to prevent the plane plummeting and crashing.

As one did yesterday. And as planes do each month throughout the world, with annual fatalities well into the thousands....

Having worked in the aerospace industry I know how many things can actually go wrong. And the thought of being in a fly-by-wire aircraft with computers in (more or less) complete control just scares me rigid. Remember the near fatal 777 crash at Heathrow a month or so back when the computers failed and the plane plummeted?

Add to that my gut feeling that man was not meant to fly. And just don't get me started on helicopters. And don't even breathe the name 'Chinook' or 'Osprey', technical novelties that put so much stress on the underlying engineering that it's a miracle the planes stay in the air for more than a few minutes at a time.....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yay - solar gets serious

It's about time that big power companies stopped messing around with green energy and took it seriously. Kudos to Southern California Edison for ramping up to 250 megawatts of solar power on the rooves of commercial premises (reports Green Wombat).

Solar power in itself won't supply the earth's energy needs by a huge margin (quite apart from the green impact of making the solar cells/kit in the first place), but it's a good start. Add in more and more wind turbines and wave power generators and I can see some countries getting a quarter or even a half of their power from green sources by about 2020.

Save the planet? Maybe we just will. But we need more initiatives like this one.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Vinyl better than CD? Absolute tripe!

As someone who started with vinyl records (LPs) back in the 1970s and graduated through cassettes to CDs, I get fed up with so-called audiophiles who say that vinyl recordings sound better than the same pieces on CD. They're simply talking rubbish.

In favour of their argument, they suggest that the 44kHz sampling rate of digital music means that the 'full' analog waveforms of music aren't stored when on CD. They'd be right, but unless we're talking about piano music and the listener is a 20 year old afficianado with perfect hearing the difference is completely inaudible.

Certainly for 99.999% of people, and especially those who like listening to music a lot (and fairly loud), hearing won't be perfect. Even more so as we all get older.

In favour of CD 44kHz sampled music, there are many factors, including:

  • These days, most CDs are either recorded digitally in the first place, or digitally remastered, which means ZERO hiss, ZERO wobble/wow, PERFECT graphic equalisation, ZERO crackles, and so on
  • By existing, essentially, in the digital domain, it's trivial to store/backup/convert a CD of music, for safe keeping or for transfer to another device or medium with NO degradation whatsoever
  • CDs don't degrade the more you play them. Unlike vinyl records. When buying an old LP, I was very aware that I only really had 40 or 50 chances to listen to the music at its best, even with a new needle, as the grooves would be too worn to play properly after that. In contrast, CDs can be played an almost infinite numbers of times with the music sounding as great at the end as at the beginning
  • Obvious, but CDs are many times more robust and more portable, as are the bits of equipment that play them

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cool technology and cool music stuff!

Here's a great marriage of old and new. Microsoft's new Silverlight multimedia plug-in has been used to good effect by Hard Rock Memorabilia, to show off a multitude of classic guitars, outfits, lyrics and other miscellany in super-zoomed detail. Worth a look and a read if you're into classic 1970s and 1980s rock music!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Modern Art - yeah right

We made the mistake of wasting an hour in the Tate Modern gallery in London last week. Floor after floor of 'modern art'.

What a waste of time, space and electricity. The flagship work was a crack in the main floor of the gallery, apparently - I kid you not. There was another work on a wall which looked like a kid had thrown a can of paint on the canvas - I went closer and read the artist's description, which read "I threw a can of paint on the canvas"!

I'm no art heathen. I love music and I love paintings by the likes of Monet, Constable and so on. But what I saw last week was rubbish, quite simply.

Glad to have got that off my chest!