Friday, April 27, 2007

Just posted some pictures from Heike's birthday last week

Heike celebrated her birthday last Saturday night (we waited until midnight to congratulate). I got a few pictures of Liam together with his 2-month-younger cousin Celina, as well as his aunt Tina.

It starts off serious

From Celina, Tina ...

but pretty soon there were laughs all round

From Celina, Tina ...

and in no time both kids were in fits of laughter, glad to have the attention they so obviously deserve :-)

From Celina, Tina ...

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There are many online Office Apps around at the moment, e.g. Google Docs & Spreadsheets. However I had not yet seen an online app to replace Visio before today.

Then I came across Gliffy. This online drawing tool uses some pretty nifty Macromedia Flash technology to impart the feel of a desktop tool within a browser app. The stencils include Masic Shapes; Flow Chart; UML Shapes;E-R Diagrams; Networks; UI and user-uploaded graphics.

Once drawn, the pictures can be saved as graphics files, embedded in websites and blogs, shared with other collaborators etc.

Here's an example diagram I mocked up...

Not necessarily a work of art, but also not substantially worse than I could have achieved with a Visio installation. Most surprisingly, the tool was very easy and fun to use as well as quite intuitive.

3.5 Stars out of 5.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Religion 101

Follow this link for a highly entertaining multiple-choice quiz to test your understanding of religion. Here's a sample question to get you going...

"As we all know, there is only one true religion. What is the one true religion in each of the following circumstances?

  1. You are born in Karnak in 3000 B.C.
  2. You are born in Bombay in 300 B.C.
  3. You are born in Baghdad in 900 A.D.
  4. You are born in Mexico City in 1956 A.D."

Let me know how you score :-)

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European Railways to Challenge Discount Airlines (we can hope)

Spiegel amongst others are reporting on the Railteam consortium's attempts to stem the tide of budget airlines stealing their passenger (English version here). The idea is simple enough, rail companies from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium along with British operator Eurostar plan to co-operate on ticketing, connections and customer reward packages, in order to make the European cross-border rail experience competitive.

Sounds like a great idea, which I support fully. However, I think these guys have their work cut out for them. A quick visit to reveals that I cannot book a return to Paris this weekend, because the advance order deadline has passed. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, then tried to book the following weekend, i.e. travelling 8 days in the future. The website couldn't calculate a price, even after taking my BahnCard and age into account. If I really had wanted to travel to Paris, I guess I would have had to physically go to the station and buy a ticket. Scary inefficiency in an online world.

This is not just a problem between Germany and France. I tried to book a train journey from Munich to the Dolomites for my father last year, the online rail booking was terrible, enabling me only to buy a ticket to Venice! Even on the train things are more chaotic than necessary - recently on the way back from Amsterdam to Heidelberg I overheard the following surreal conversation between conductor and an unsuspecting American passenger:

(P): To Frankfurt please, here's my credit card.

(C): You have to pay 29 Euros cash, as I can only charge a credit card for the German leg of the journey.

(P): I have no Euro cash, just the credit card.

(C): Then dollars or off at the next station.

(P): ???

I wish the Railteam consortium luck in sorting out this mess.

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Robot Recipes

The Register is reporting about a DIY robot kit, funded by, amongst others, Google, Microsoft and Intel. El Reg sells the story as a high-tech conspiracy to take over our living rooms with self-build cyborgs. In actual fact, the Telepresence Robot Kit (TeRK) project seems rather quaint. There are even a number of Recipes for robots to try out at home.

For example, you can build the Qwerkbot Classic:

or go for the more advance Qwerkbot+:

If anyone builds one of these things, please let me know how it goes.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Text from Thorung La Pass

This morning I got a text from my dad to say that he's crossed the Thorung La Pass, the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit. The trek was pretty tough, he's suffering a bit from the altitude, but otherwise all is well.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Google My Maps

Under there's a great new mashup whereby you can put together your own maps, and annotate it with your own placemarks, including photos etc.

I tried this out by making a map of some of the sights we saw in Amsterdam over Easter:

click here to examine the map.

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Liam's Birthday

Liam celebrated his 2nd birthday on Monday. He kicked off with muffins for breakfast,...

From Liam's Second...

then he had all his classmates sing for him at the creche...

From Liam's Second...

then we brought himself and some of his friends to the park for the afternoon.

From Liam's Second...

Full pictures of the proceedings are to be found here

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Psychic Skeptic

Australian skeptic Karen Stollznow has a fascinating account of her application to become a phone line psychic. The company claimed to have a very thorough testing regime, in order to ensure that only those with real psychic gifts could qualify. They even went so far as to say that less than 5% of applicants would be deemed acceptable by their high standards.

The bulk of the article describes Karen's progress through the tests, using only the skills of pop psychology and occasional bullshitting. To find out how far these skills can get you in the world of Psychic make-believe, read the story here.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007


After getting the tip about Podiobooks from net@nite #17, I've been trying out Podiobooks. The concept is pretty simple: an audio book released on an RSS feed like a podcast. The price is compelling, yes, it's free, i.e. ad-supported.

Scott Sigler was the author interviewed, he had written and agreed publishing terms for Earthcore in 2001, but after the September 11 attacks the publisher clammed up. Desperate to get published, he started reading the book himself as a podcast in 2005 on Podiobooks. Now an established author, he has several other books for sale, see his website. Amazingly, he says his ad-generated income from Podiobooks is still higher than that which he gets from selling paper copies!

This kind of cutting out the middleman is exactly what the internet is good at, and it's great to see it succeed without any DRM or other nasty stuff. I'll go the same way with my novel, whenever I get around to writing one ;-)

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Posting from ScribeFire

As the tag at the bottom of this post indicates, I'm experimenting with ScribeFire, a Firefox extension which allows you to create and publish posts in the bottom segment of the browser. This is actually pretty handy, as for the most part when I post, I'm checking some sot of online information source anyway. Now this is in the top half of the window, while I type in the bottom half. Recommended.

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News from last week - Ultrasound #4 all ok

A quick snippet that I meant to post last week, but forgot. Heike had her 4th ultrasound at Week 25, all is well. The prediction of a girl still stands, anyone who has Irish girl names to suggest please feel free to use the Comment box

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Easter Weekend in Amsterdam

From Easter in Ams...

Heike, Liam and I spent the Easter weekend in Amsterdam with Hans-Günther, Tina and a collection of the Kurpfälzer Trabanten regulars. The photographic evidence is catalogued in the Picasa gallery here.

Our accommodation was in the Hotel Arena, a converted orphanage apparently. I'd definitely recommend this place as a good compromise of price, comfort and central location. In addition, the rooms have a wacky charm, with the beds positioned in an upper floor within the room. Liam had a lot of fun throwing things down from the bed onto the living area below.

Of course sightseeing in Amsterdam was interesting. Previous visits for me were either passing through or work-related, so sights like the Palace and Niewe Kerk were mandatory. On Sunday we visited the Artis Zoo, which was a great day out for Liam. He especially liked the crocodiles, and insisted that he wanted to take the 3-metre-long specimen home with him...

The only downside to the trip was that on the way home, Liam had an upset tummy, and had to have several changes of clothes as the contents of his alimentary canal came out one way or the other. Fortunately a night's sleep at home put him back on his feet again.

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