She's so tall! When she opens the books, if she thinks they are too
young for her, please reassure her that I think she is very grown-up, but even
I love those books and I thought she would enjoy them EVEN THOUGH THEY
ARE VERY SIMPLE. She can give them to her children.
We went to a birthday party of an old friend, in both senses. I
didn't like to ask if it was her 70th, but I think she is 69 this year.
The average age was over 70, and the youngest apart from Natasha was about
45. Nonetheless she had a good time. Our hostess was a cat lover, so
they hit it off straight away, and Natasha became the centre of attention when
everyone realised that here was an expert on this "Harry Potter" phenomenon they
had been hearing about. Well,
please tell Natasha that Jack the Grey Cat says "hello," and raised his tail to
I am currently vetting a series
of children's books for my niece and nephews. They are designed for nine
years and up, but I think I will have to give them to them early. They
are called "An Unfortunate Series Of Events," and they are written by someone
whose nom de plume is Lemony Snicket. They are very funny, and I love
I am impatiently waiting for "The Lord of the Rings" to open. I
was obsessed by those books when I was around ten, and, of course, cast my own
movie. I want to see how this version compares to mine. It looks
Re: movies. I saw "Little Voice" the other
night and could not tell what kind of accent everyone was speaking in,
especially Brenda Blethyn. Are you by any chance familiar with that
movie, and do you know where it was supposed to be happening?
Wasn't that the one with Jane Horrocks ('Bubble' from AbFab)? I
never did see it. Horrocks can do an impressive range of accents.
She is actually from Rossendale, just a few miles from here.
Yes. I'm very fond of
her. I think she's just as cute as can be.
As you can see from the photo, I gave in to temptation when the latest
generation of sub-£100 megapixel cameras appeared on the market. It has
about the performance of a 110-size fixed-focus compact camera, but with all the
convenience of digital.
Yes, and I have an inexpensive
Epson color printer (a 777i) that, when loaded with glossy photo stock,
produces beautiful prints. The pixels are not at all visible, and the
prints look even better than they did on the screen. Ain't technology
Yes, we do quite a lot of that.
It needed a few changes to get it right, fitting a 64Mb memory card,
grafting on a larger rechargeable battery pack (as standard it used up 3 AAA
alkaline batteries in about ten shots, rechargeables did four - just too
expensive!), and dismantling a pair of Lyudmila's old reading glasses to make
close-up lenses for macro work and cartoons. Then I wrote a C++ program to
make a thru-the-lens viewfinder using the PC, for macro, because the camera is
too cheap to have an LCD screen.
The thing that annoys me about
the digital cameras is their speed, or lack thereof. I press the button
and sometime in the next century the flash goes off and the picture is
taken. Frequently the picture that appears is not the picture I thought
I was taking. Very bad when taking pictures of animals, as I am prone to
doing. Maybe I should switch to pictures of rocks.
That can be a problem, although I seem to learn to
anticipate. I can't take decent pictures of the cat because
whenever she sees me trying she comes and rubs against the camera or my legs,
so I have to walk backwards while waiting for the shutter.
My cat is about as active as
your average roast potato, but he will often be in an exceptionally adorable
position and the click of the button makes him move.
The only annoying thing is, as far as I can see, you can't trigger
still photos from the PC, you can only get a 320x240 pixel streaming webcam
image, so for macros I have to line up the shot on the PC screen, then unplug
the USB cable and press the shutter release, plug it back in and upload the
picture. Also you can't override the auto exposure and white balance in
Ah, yes, a pain. About the
only thing that I like about them, other than the convenience of not having to
scan photos into the computer, is the large viewfinder window. When
taking pictures of still things, it's great for assessing what the image will
Not having that feature is what makes this camera so
cheap. That's why I had to make a viewfinder window on the
Ah, I gotcha. Surely
that limits you, then, to shots that are near the PC?
Only for close-ups. It has an optical viewinder like a cheap
film camera, but that doesn't work if you get close. It also has a
cute reverse viewinder, a convex mirror on the front, so you can see roughly
what you are taking when doing self-portraits. When taking 'ordinary'
stills or movies in daylight at 2m-infinity, or stills by flash at about 2m,
it is fine hand held. Of course I am always pushing the envelope, so I
have a 500W floodlight (a cheap outdoor 'security lamp') which helps with
indoor movies, Wow!
Fancy! and a selection of closeup lenses that I can blu-tak to
the front for macro, made from old spectacles and binoculars, and a strap-on
rechargeable battery pack, without which it would be completely uneconomic
to use. For macro work it is not usually to inconvenient to move the
object to the computer. The only bits missing are that my laptop is too old
to have USB, so I can't upload to that, and the offline movies are in
Quicktime format, which I can't convert, edit or compress.
Can't help with the
Quicktime problem, but there are relatively inexpensive USB converters
available. I have one on my laptop and another (another kind) on the
iMac, as it didn't have enough USB ports for what I wanted to do.
They are about US$35.
Hmm, so far I haven't seen PCMCIA to USB converters here. I
don't know why not, it would seem a logical thing for older laptops that
don't have USB built in. Maybe I should look on the net. I see
ones the other way around, that connect a laptop to a USB port on a
desktop for networking, but they are passive, not powered, so won't work a
camera or other USB peripheral. It's not a great hardship though, there
aren't many times when I would use it.
When attached to the computer, its only advantage over the webcam
is that it can take high-res stills, and then only by unplugging the
computer. The webcam does better movies. Natasha has been doing
some more stop-motion
animation with that, she has written an
eight-scene plot based on a pantomime; made two sets, scripted, filmed and
voiced one and a half scenes (OK, I filmed the half-scene myself to try out
an idea), using her toy dogs as characters. Wow again. How creative.
I have improved the stage so we now have a 2' wide space with
five 20W lights and a DC power supply to prevent the lights flickering out
of sync with the camera. I put a preamplifier on my sound card so that
we get decent quality sound from a microphone. I always had the
problem that microphone input always sounded awful, across several sound
cards and microphones. It seems that sound cards aren't sensitive
enough, so you only get a full electrical level if the average microphone is
acoustically overloaded. I also rigged up a gantry so we can fly
Not to sound too elemental,
but did you try putting a "sock" over the mic? I have noticed that a
lot of folks with sound problems on their computers could improve them with
a little cap of foam.
My dad is a primo sound guy. Would you like
me to hook you up with him as a long-distance consultant? He loves
doing stuff like that, and will bore you for hours with instructions if you
Thanks but it is a solved problem. There was just a
creditbility gap between the microphone manufacturers and sound card
manufacturers. You could only get full volume in the PC if you got
real close to the microphone, or shouted. When you did that the
microphone distorted the sound because it mechanically overloaded. I
figured this out years ago and bought a cheap pre-amp, but it had the wrong
connectors. So I bought the connectors but stuffed the whole lot in a
drawer and forgot about it because I always found a work-around, like
recording voice over the phone. So when this need arose I soldered the
connectors on to bits of cable, found an extra mains outlet to plug the
pre-amp into, and it all worked. Because YOU ARE A STONE GENIUS. Then I decided to
put my FM radio tuner card through it too, because that was not loud enough
either. I had to make up an attenuator to get the radio and the
microphone to the same level. Super, it all worked.
Because of the way various pieces of software work, like the tuner control,
I have to keep the master volume in the software audio mixer set high and
adjust the indvidual channel levels for comfort.
That was sweet except
for a few odd bits of software (games, telephone answering and so on) that
break the rules and fudge the settings to their own defaults whenever they
start. That was until I got a Christmas card from C on ASCB .
That is one crazy woman. Whenever I read her posts/mails I think of a bag
lady shouting at passing cars.)
I kind of think so,
too. That S person is craaaaaazy. I have to bite my
tongue every time I read her posts and remind myself to be as kind as
possible. Crazy people get sick and scared, too. What is it
about WebTV that attracts so many weird people?
synth volume to maximum before it started. When I opened it, around
midnight, I feared the noise was going to wake Natasha! She (C) did
sort-of apologise for that.
The advantages for me are a) low running costs, once I'd fixed the
battery problem, and b) not having to wait for films to be processed. I
am a lot more prone to experiment if I can get the results right away rather
than having to wait for results the next day. I used to process my own
films, but that was still expensive and very time consuming. I still have the
equipment in the cellar.
You could probably sell it on
eBay if you are so inclined. When we were clearing out my grandfather's
darkroom, we made a pleasant boodle on what I thought was out-of-date
The enlarger is a rather heavy-duty one, which I would hate to part
with, I'm sure it must be useful for something, although I admit I can't think
Doorstop? More to the point I never feel just that
short of cash, either there is enough, or else I am so short that it would be
a drop in the ocean. Overdrafts come in quanta of thousands in my mind.
The rest of the lab gear is not worth much, most of the setup cost was in
fitting sinks, plumbing, benches etc. The copying stand already got
recycled as our animation stage.
Do you have any laboratory
glass? Flasks, beakers, etc.? Thanks to an article in a home
decorating magazine here, people are buying them like crazy to use as
Nah, they get broken. Most of what is left is
Thank you very much for the gifts.
Again, you're welcome.
I loved the picture of the
Christmas tree. Thanks.
Sigh. I'm working with my siblings right now to figure out what to do
with our crazy mother. What fun.
God, who wants Christmas? Not I, said the little red hen. I
loathe it. I worked for too long in retail.
really hate is having to learn to shop again, I haven't done it for years.
I spent most of a day looking around the shops in Manchester city centre and
came home with absolutely nothing. My, how dreary. And how exceptionally awful when it is very
close to the day. I used to shop there regularly twenty years ago,
but now I don't know where anything is anymore. The next day I bought what I
wanted in Blackburn, which is fraction of the size. We, the family, got a
£25 gift voucher from my uncle, to spend in Marks and Spencer's (I'm sure you
know that is a big clothes-food-housewares chain store particularly famous for
having a near monopoly on underwear). Marks & Sparks? Of course. Well
they have a new giant store in Manchester, built on the site conveniently
cleared by the IRA a few years ago.
How kind of them. Do you suppose some of them own stock in
companies that could benefit from a little judicious TNT?
At the time I fgured it was probably
financed by a glass company. They certainly got lots of business out of
it. One of my customers makes the crates they pack the glass
I thought to go in there and look for
something to spend it on. I went in by the entrance from the adjoining
shopping mall and found bras as far as the eye could see. I realised I was
going to have to spend some time exploring across four or five floors to even
find where the departments were. I couldn't see stairs or escalators, only
a queue for a lift (people standing in line for an elevator, to you). I
turned and left.
don't blame you. Here, department stores follow a predictable pattern,
so you know that as you walk in from the parking lot, you walk into men's
clothing; if you walk in from the mall entrance, you walk into cosmetics,
etc. I'm guessing there WAS no elevator if people were waiting for an
elevator. There are times when I cannot use the escalator here (when my
right leg won't move quickly) and I never see anyone else using the elevator
We just got back from four days at my parents. Natasha enjoyed
herself opening dozens of presents, including your books. She was asking
me to do "Where's Wallace" with her again as we got home! Definitely a hit
Yay! I have always adored
the pictures in that. Hilary Knight is one of my favorite
illustrators. My favorite panorama is the circus.
When I was little,
of course, the only museum I had ever been to was the Bishop Museum, in
Honolulu. It has a full-sized model of a blue whale, with a blue whale
skeleton inside, hanging from the ceiling in the great hall. Of course,
knowing that, and seeing the museum panorama in "WW?" at least three times a
week, I was just horrified when we went to a museum in San Francisco and there
was no whale in it. Little did I know that very few museums actually had
whales in them.
"Eloise" was perhaps more amusement to the adults, although N was
If she stays interested, there
is also Eloise in Paris (very funny, with lots of cool images of '50s Left
Bank culture and couture houses), Eloise in Moscow (also very funny, with a
spy who follows them around), and Eloise at Christmastime (more color, and
lots of fun rhymes.)
I remember my grandmother having a whalebone corset and morning ritual
like the one the English Nanny