Thursday, December 17, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

on bicycle through Brussels

I could not resist - rented a bike. Costs 1.50 Euro subscription per day, plus 50 cents for each half hour. I am just cycling along that wide avenue towards West where the Bssilica stands.

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bicycle rental in Brussels

these sites are all across town. very tempting - should I try it?

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Salad Salerno and Water, Exki, Brussels

something healthy and refreshing.

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Belgian Fries with Curry Mayo

My lunch for today. Somehow I now feel the need for fresh green salad full of vitamines.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

At Restaurant T'Kelderke

Jnfortunately this pcture is too dark... but I enjoyed the food: Mussles in white wine cream sauce, with frites and white bread, and a "white beer" - delicious!

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Brussels, Grande Place at Night

is always a nice sight!

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Sandwich in BMI Flight

Hsm and mustard, tastes quite good!

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Inside Embraer 135/146

this plane makes the KLM city hopper Fokker planes look lsrge!

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Leeds Bradford Airport in the Evening

not much going on here. While for other airports, Friday evening is rush hour, everything is quiet here.

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Posting Pictures from Mobile Phone Using MMS

Already for quite a while I was experimenting with various methods for using my mobile phone to quickly put pictures online. Usually I take pictures with my digital camera instead of the phone, because the quality of that camera is better than the phone camera. But in case there would be a live event, it would be much nicer to be able to quickly take a snapshot and post it online.

There are several web sites and applications which support this: once can always email a picture to them, or use a dedicated application on the phone which allows a direct upload through the internet and a specific API. But this is only feasible while having a low-cost internet flat rate. When travelling abroad, this upload method can become quite expensive due to high roaming charges.

The low-cost - or at least controlled-cost - alternative to upload pictures from abroad is to use MMS. Usually one MMS costs as much as 4 SMS. This method was supposed to replace SMS since quite a while, but it turns out that there are several issues with incompatible standards and proprietary methods of MMS implementations.

MMS is supposed to send out something similar to an email: a multimedia file (picture, video), with some text. This should also work from phone to phone, and the interface for sending it is similar to sending an email. However, my O2 service for SMS does something quite stupid: for example, when I send a MMS to an email account, the service then, instead of just creating an "email" which would have the text as the message body and then the picture/video as an attachment, sends an email with some generic text, completely eliminating my text. Instead, my own text is sent as an attachment.

I have tried this a few time, but this is quite frustrating: I can send for example with this method an email to my blog, instead of using any internet connection, but on the blog the entry appears just like this:

You have received a Media Message
This Media Message has been sent using an O2 camera phone.

To reply to this media message you will need to use your own camera phone.
Simply take a picture, or video and send it to the person that sent you this

If you do not have a camera phone, get one today! Either visit or come and see us at your local o2 store.

Please note: You cannot reply to this message via email.

And there is no image, and no text. See example here where I simply sent a picture from my mobile phone to my blog via MMS.

Fortunately there are some services which properly deal with this pseudo-email, make some sense of it, and set it up so other users can view the uploaded picture. I have tried out a few of those services here and want to show the results. This is by no means comprehensive - there are probably many more such services there available. The selection I made was more or less random, with services I came across accidentally.

The following parameters were used:
the picture was an SVGA image (1280 x 1024), captured with my mobile phone. I choose to compress it, so that the file size was just 223k (MMS has a limit of 300k filesize).
In the MMS I chose the following:
Subject: "View into James Graham Courtyard"
Text: "Picture taken from 2nd floor inside Leeds Met James Graham Building"

Here is what the various services did with this.


MoBlog posted the picture properly and shows the heading. However, the body text is lost.

MoBlog appears to be more of an insular solution: I did not find a way of having my message forwarded to any other social network, nor is there a widget available which could be included in my own page.


TwitPic is closely linked with Twitter and will forward a tweet with a URL to the image.
It uses the MMS heading as the caption, but looses the main text. I can automatically forward a post to FaceBook, Twitter, Plaxo (and maybe other services) where then a text line with a link to the image is printed.


Twixr has its own application running on the mobile phone, which allows to enter a body text. But since this also uses the internet, I would not use it when abroad, but use MMS instead.

When sending an image through MMS to Twitxr, the body text disappears and is replaced by a "You have received a Media Message" caption - not very attractive. Another constraint: the header MUST be a geographic location, e.g. "Munich Airport". Otherwise Twitxr will send an email to the default email account with an error messge: "Invalid location". Quite annoying. Twitxr provides a widget on which the latest picture is shown. This widget can be embedded in a blog or any web site.


Although more designed for high-end photography, Flickr surprisingly provides a relatively good response to an MMS being sent: The image gets posted properly with the correct heading, and when forwarded to Facebook the image appears nicely as a thumbnail there (at least that is how it was until yesterday). However, also here the main body text is lost, and the update/forward to Facebook can take a couple of hours, depending on the synchronisation settings.

MobyPicture - My Choice!

And then came MobyPicture. I had tried it a while ago but had somehow missed its large amount of features. When I made my experiment with the MMS, I realised that MobyPicture was the only one of all those services I tested, which fulfilled all my requirements. This is the only service which correctly detected the text attachment and interpreted it as the body text of the picture. So I could use a picture heading and a body text. Furthermore, it supports a very large number of other services to which it can forward/post: Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, etc. It also has a widget which shows a few thumbnails and can be embedded in many of the social networking sites or in any other web page.

I set MobyPicture up to forward the picture to my blog, and it correctly posted there the picture, with heading and body text - see this example.

There is a danger of getting a whole avalanche of postings, when linking to all the services: since these services often are connected to each other, the same posting could show up multiple times. Since I forward all my Twitter tweets to Facebook, I would get duplicate messages there. I decided therefore not to use any forwarding to Twitter and Facebook, but just to post to my Blogger account - all my posts there are then forwarded to Facebook. I still have to explore which is the best way of using MobyPicture to avoid those duplicate messages. It appears that when posting through Blogger, the image is not forwarded to FaceBook, whereas a direct link from MobyPicture to Facebook posts the picture.

During my next trip abroad I will test MobyPicture more, to see if it really works well and what the best way is of using it. So be prepared for a series of picture posts here on this blog, sent from my mobile phone through MMS and MobyPicture.

It appears that MobyPicture is the best way for managing and automatically distributing pictures captured with a mobile phone.

Nokia event

in the Leeds Met Rose Bowl Auditorium, 17.Nov.2009

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

View into James Graham Courtyard

You have received a Media Message
This Media Message has been sent using an O2 camera phone.

To reply to this media message you will need to use your own camera phone.
Simply take a picture, or video and send it to the person that sent you this

If you do not have a camera phone, get one today! Either visit or come and see us at your local o2 store.

Please note: You cannot reply to this message via email.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opening of the Leeds Christmas Market

On Friday evening the Leeds Christmas Market (German style Christkindel Market) opened on Millenium Square. I just had finished a meeting in the Rose Bowl, so I walked down to the market as it got dark around 16:30. The arrangement of the booths is slighty different than last year, but I found what I wanted: got a Brezel with ham and cheese, then a Bratwurst, and finally some fried potatoes. There was some live music at the steps of the Civic Hall, but unfortunately it began to rain. A queue formed, when a chap gave out free beer - I joined the queue and got my pint.
Then met with Monika and Julius who were here from Austria regarding their PhD. Had a glas of Gluehwein, then we wanted to go into one of the tents. But the line was long now - and we did not want to stand in the rain. So we went on to the Victoria Pub where a few more people from Leeds Met joined us. I had to leave around 20:30, as a pile of reviews was waiting on my computer to be done.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Published and Sold a Picture!

As my friends know, I do have quite a few pictures on Flickr. A few times I have been asked for permission to use them for non-commercial purposes, and I have always granted this permission.

At the beginning of September I got an inquiry through Flickr about a picture I had taken a few years ago during a visit at the Ellenroad Engine House:

This picture will now be used in the editorial local guide of the North Manchester Yellow Pages - and I have actually received a payment for this commercial use! This is the first time I sold a picture. Hope that there are many more to come.

So if you want to use one of my pictures for any commercial purposes, just let me know.

(I really need to tag my pictures properly with location, keywords, fitting title etc.... currently my collection is a bit difficult to browse).

Friday, November 06, 2009

And Selling a Car

When I had decided buying that Renault Megane, I naturally HAD to sell the Citroen. Since it only had 2 months left before the MOT was due I felt that I could not ask for a large price. It has more than 189k miles, 12 years old. Still running strong, so I considered a price of £ 350 was reasonable. Posted an ad in the Autotrader for £ 9.99 which would run for 2 weeks. Already one day later the first phone call came. A few more calls came in before the first caller actually wanted to see the car. So I prepared and cleaned it a bit.

Night fell, and the potential buyer still had not shown up... I was wondering if I should reschedule the appointment. But then he came with his wife, in a taxi that drove off after they had gotten out. Seems they were really determined to buy the car. After a short test drive in which he commented on the relatively hard suspension (must be because of that hydraulic leak that happened two years ago, some of the suspension-air must have gotten lost), he offered to buy it; obviously the car was irresistible (or maybe it was the price...). He paid cash, and after filing the formalities they drove happily away with the Citroen.

Buying a New Car - And First Repairs

I did not really plan to buy a new car, but the need to replace the Citroen Xantia eventually became more evident: only two months left until the obligatory annual MOT. Since the car did currently not have any problems, I was confident it would pass this test. But what if it would not? I would have then the choice to put again a few hundred pounds in it for repairs, or would have to scrap it. Which would be a pity, since is really drives well, is quite economical in its diesel consumption and someone still could put this car to good use.

Originally I had thought about this already months ago, and selling the car in summer would have been good. But time went by so fast, and now it already was autumn, the time for the MOT deadline approaching fast. My friend Clive who now works at a car dealership, offered me to have a look at the cars he was selling. Most of them in the mid-range mileage around 50k miles, with good life left in them. Price range between £s; 2000 and 3000. But since I would not use this car much, I thought it would be a waste to spend so much on a car that would mostly stand: for all the daily driving I use the small Smart car, which runs economically, reliably, and always finds a parking spot. But there are occasions when a larger car is needed: for driving a bunch of friends, or for bringing the odd Billy bookshelf from IKEA. So for these occasional drives, I came to the conclusion that I would not want to spend more than £ 1000 on a "new" car. It would be nice if the car would have an automatic transmission: I am already sick from that constant left-hand switching the gears, while I was brought up using the right hand for this (which now has nothing to do, only can lean out of the right car window).

So around the end of September I decided to have a look at Clive's selection in his car shop, and I also began to browse in the Autotrader. And there online I found it: A metallic-red 1999 Renault Megane Scenic RXE, with automatic transmission and two sunroofs, for £ 950. Quite a high mileage: 130k. I decided to have a look and drove to Dewsbury, where the seller lived. The car looked very good. A few scratches, but nothing serious. I test drove it around a few streets, and it appeared to drive smoothly. The radio did not work and there was no luggage cover. Otherwise the car seemed to be in a good condition. So I decided quickly - and bought it for £ 950.

On Friday afternoon I took a train to Dewsbury, picked up the car and drove it back to the university, just in time before heading out again for an external evening meeting. This time was the first time I drove the Megan on the Motorway, M62 to Pontefract. The car ran great. There was a construction on the motorway, speed limit to 50 mph, I could smell the fresh tar. But strangely the construction did actually not have any new road surfaceing... I realised that the tar smell came from my car. What could that be? Some oil getting hot? When I left the motorway, I noticed some faint smoke coming from under the car. The cooling temperature seemed fine, so what was the problem? Some oil dripping onto a hot part? I had noticed that the automatic transmission seemed to switch a bit hard sometimes. The smoke went away as I was driving more slowly, and when I arrived at my destination it was gone completely. But the smell of hot oil (tar-like) remained. I decided to watch it on the way back. But this time there was no smell or smoke at all.

Now I got worried. I decided to have the transmission checked in a workshop before I would go on any longer travel tour with this car. So on Monday I brought it to Leeds Transmission Services. The diagnosis cost £ 45. The result: several things failing. New solenoids are needed (what are these for in a transmission?) - would cost £ 350. Also a rebuild of the transmission might have to be done - would cost £ 650. So these repairs would cost more than I had paid for the car. This was not what I had wanted... I asked what simply changing a complete transmission would cost: between £ 250 and £ 350. They might search for a transmission, or I could find one myself.

Now the next few days the car actually seemed to work fine. I drove for a longer distance in the Yorkshire Dales, and except for the faint tar smell of burning oil there appeared to be no problem with the transmission. But after 2 weeks, I noticed that the indicator light of the automatic transmission did flicker when in "D": it flickered between "D" and "N", although it was clearly latched into "D". When then driving outside the city, I noticed that the gearbox did not switch up into a higher gear than 3. The gearbox had 5 gears, so this was now a problem when driving at a higher speed.

I began to search on the Internet; found the site 1stChoice, where I could make a search for any car part. This site sends out queries to all members of its network, and then back come the quotes for the requested part. One quote came back from a dismantler located not far from Goole. He had this transmission from exactly a 1999 Megane, but was not sure if the specific type would be correct. So on one Saturday I drove to there. (Fortunately I had renewed my AA breakdown cover, so I was not worried about the car breaking down.) I kept away from the motorway, because the transmission would not switch higher than the 3rd gear. I noticed that leaving it for a while idling in "P" before driving did help - for about 10 minutes the transmission worked fine all the way up to gear 5. But then the indicator again began to flicker, and the gears kept switching between 3, 4 and 5. No, this had to be fixed. Fortunately this transmission from the dismantler was the right type. That car had an accident at 56k miles, but all of its engine parts were still functional. I decided to buy the transmission and have it shipped to Leeds Transmission Services, where they put it in.

This was the cheapest option to fix the car - I had also asked at a Renault dealership for an estimate, and they came up with several 100 £ more. I hope that this repair now lets the car run fine for the next 2 years or so.

And now I can finally take it out again for a longer ride. The smoke smell appeared to have gone - this could mean that this burning oil smell was related to the transmission and not, as I had originally suspected, from a leaking valve cover gasket or even a cracked engine. The engine looks quite clean, no oil traces there. But I guess I will get a confirmation of this only when I will take the car for a longer ride out on the weekend.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Leeds Blogger Meeting

When I am now writing this post, the event I am talking about was already almost 4 weeks ago. However, I was very busy these past weeks during October, and so I have a bit of a backlog (instead of weBLOG, this is then a bacKLOG - I wonder if someone already has copyrighted the term KLOG; if not, then I am doing this hereby!).

Back on 1. October, NEON, a digital PR company, had asked if bloggers in Leeds would come to an evening event for a meet-up. Sounded very interesting, and so I went. I was one of the first ones there, but after a while the space at the Cuban restaurant Azucar filled up. I met people whom I so far only had known through their Twitter ID or their blog alias.

NEON hosted the evening, providing drinks and a buffet - very nice! The reason for this was that they wanted to present to us bloggers a campaign organised by their customer Havana Club. This is a manufacturer of rum. Now I understood why they served those mojitos! They were of course made with that Havana Club rum.

So what is the big deal? Well, Havana Club set up a website about Cuba and especially about the city of Havana at, and NEON wanted us to have a look at it, give them feedback about it, and - write about it on our blogs.

This is an interesting approach which appears to become more mainstream: to market a product or service not through the traditional channels, but through the "viral" social networking communities.

Of course, me posting my KLOG so late somehow misses the point of the blog "spreading the word"... but I still want to give a few comments. The site is actually quite nice. It highlights artists and cultural events in Havana. There is a map which allows users to locate artists and their work in Havana. Very flashy and visual intensive site, looks very good!

There is also a treasure hunt organised by Havana Club, using their Twitter feeds - the Twitter feed gives some clues, while the answers are on the havana-cultura website - the competition closes around 31.October.

Here is a picture of Krista handing out a prize to Jonny at a raffle during the evening blogger meeting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Visit of Friends from the US

I had not seen my friend Paul and his girlfriend Linda since 2005 - he had worked also at Rockwell Scientific and had left around the same time as I (summer 2005). At one time we had driven around Thousand Oaks in my Eldosaurus (the 1974 Caddy Eldorado Convertible), and they had fond memories of this. Now they were coming to the UK, and they planned a stop in Leeds, during their trip from London to Glasgow. After Ken had been here in autumn 2005, nobody else from my US friends had made it to Leeds, so Paul and Linda were the first ones since then.

My schedule allowed to take Wednesday off, and I planned to drive them around a bit. Unfortunately in my Smart car there can be only one passenger, and I hesitated to take the Citroen, because I might get some problems - there had been recently a flicker of the lights and the RPM meter. Not sure what this meant, but I did not want to take a risk with my guests, and so I decided to rent a car for a day. Got an Astra, with automatic transmission, from Enterprise.

First I thought we could visit the Peak District and see Chatsworth House. But the drive took longer than expected, and after a short break at Chesterfield we decided to cancel this plan and move on straight away to another friend whom Paul wanted to visit. This meant driving into Lincolnshire, where I had never been before.

We made it back in time to Leeds Station for their evening train to Glasgow - it was great to spend some time with them and to catch up after more than 4 years!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Austria

On Friday I have a whole day to give a workshop on "Scientific Publishing" to PhD students. I did the first part of this workshop last year in Cyprus, so this time is a continuation, with more advanced topics.

The day goes by well, but in the evening I am somewhat exhausted from talking the whole day. Go for a glass of wine with Erwin and Julius.

Next day, Saturday, I have reserved for my own ventures: I visit the Roman ruins at Carnuntum, which is located at the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava. I had been there 15 years ago, but my pictures were only on film, and I have not yet digitised them. Also, they made much progress at the Carnuntum excavations, as I saw from the web site, so I was very much looking forward to this.

The weather in the morning appeared to be somewhat foggy; I had hoped for bright sunshine. So when I arrived at the first sight, the Civilian Amphitheatre of Carnuntum, it almost felt a bit nippy, as the sun seemed to hide behind a thin cloud layer. But later this layer disappeared, and it was a really glorious day, with 26 C. There are several sites in Petronell-Carnuntum: two amphitheatres, an open air museum with excavations and reconstructions, a indoor museum with finds, and the "Heidentor" (heathens' gate) outside of the town. I spent several hours at the whole set of sites, looking at details, and trying to imagine how it was here, during its peak time, and then during its decay after the barbarians invaded from the North.

The ruins of the "Heidentor" outside of Carnuntum, shown with a non-digital Augmented Reality display.

I took lots of pictures, then had a nice quiet lunch at a Gasthaus in Bad Deutsch-Altenburg right at the banks of the Danube river.

Afterwards I drove to Erwin who lives not very far from Carnuntum. He was just getting wood for his wood fire heating at home, and so I had the chance for the first time to try a motor chain saw. Cutting wood is so easy!

Then a few bits of shopping, buying some stuff that one cannot get in UK, e.g. Austrian Lebkuchen, Kaminwurzen etc.

After coming back to Krems, I met with Peter and Ingrid who had invited me to their home for a nice dinner and chat.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Travel to Krems, Austria

On Thursday I had a full day of travel: getting a taxi in the morning 7:15, train leaves Leeds Station at 7:55, arrives at Manchester Airport 9:15. Flight leaves at 11:00. Everything works like a clockwork, but I am somewhat tired. The night before I had worked on my presentation for Friday, and I had brought it in the final shape. But then I only had 4 hours of sleep. So I closed my eyes and slept during the flight. Nothing else to do - the night before I had forgotten to check-in online, so I did not have a window seat on the first leg of the trip.

In Munich I only had very little time between the flights. But I wanted to get some local food. The restaurant Kaefer would only serve full meals, but I just had time for a quick snack. So I just got a single "Breze" from them. Hmmm, these real Bavarian Munich Brezen (=pretzels) are just soo good! Soft and warm dough, but a thin crust outside. Just right. On the way to the gate I saw another place, which had a Leberkaese, and I got a roll with warm Leberkas and sweet mustard. Is a staple of Bavarian rustic cuisine, and I did not have one for a long time. So while waiting for the boarding, I just stood there and munched my sandwich, to the envy of the other waiting passengers.

For the flight to Vienna I had a window seat. But there was nothing to see - a thick white cloud seemed to hang over all Central Europe. When landing in Krems, there was even a slight drizzle.

Got the rental car ok, and then drove from Wien Schwechat towards Krems, which is about 70 km west of Vienna. Not much traffic on the road, I moved along swiftly. Once arrived, I rushed to the town center to get some essential purchases, for example something to drink for later. Also got some cash from the bank. Realised that I had forgotten to tell my bank that I will travel abroad - I am sure that they will block my debit card soon again, as they usually do when I use it abroad.

Go to the restaurant "Alte Post" in the centre of Krems, a quite rustic place with typical heavy meals. Afterwards I do some last fine-tuning of my presentation

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What is a "blog"?

In the past, the definition of the term "blog" came from the abbreviation of "web log". This term describes a kind of online diary, because its entries are sorted by date.

Recently, I have seen that the term blog appears to be often used just to denote a single entry. For example, sometimes a single forum post is called "a blog" by some people who want just to denote this one particular entry. So in their view, a blog is something like a single reflection, a single "blurp" about something.

I think that this latter definition is wrong - it changes completely the meaning of the term "blogging" and reduces it to just another form of expressing one's opinion. Such a single post has a name: "blog post" or "blog entry". And in my opinion, this is how it should remain.

Two Leeds Met Staff shortlisted for THE Awards

Every year in autumn, the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine gives awards to universities in different categories. Leeds Met has been shortlisted and commended a few times in the past years. When this year's shortlist came out today it was nice to see that two members of staff are on the shortlist for "Most Innovative Teachers of the Year": Nicholas Halafifi from the Carnegie Faculty, and Catherine Sanderson from the Faculty of Health.

Congratulation to you two for this nomination, and best wishes for the actual award ceremony!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Buying Car Insurance - Through Web Comparison Sites

Today my car insurance was due for annual renewal. I had gotten a quote from my previous insurance, but the price had actually gone up in a year, although my no-claim-bonus (NCB) has increased, which should actually have brought down the premium to pay. So I was looking for an alternative. Fortunately there are good sites out, and decided to do a brief comparison. I checked: GoCompare, Compare the, and Quoteline Direct.

Each of the sites opens a separate browser window, with the browser controls missing. This is a bit annoying, because now I cannot have this in a separate tab, nor can I do all the things I would like to, e.g. "find in page" etc. I assume that they all use the same software for these comparisons.

GoGompare usually comes up the first thing when I search in Google for car insurance comparison sites. I had successfully used this site last year for two insurance quote. The forms online are easy to fill in, and if one check mark remains checked, the first two cheapest insurances will actually call you to finalize the deal. I did that last year, so within 15 minutes after starting the search I had my insurance completed. This year I unchecked this box, so that I could further follow up.

CompareTheMarket makes these nice TV commercials with the Meercats -, quite innovative, and yes, that commercial sticks in your head when it comes to thinking about comparing insurances. But the site had a problem: it did not allow me to choose an EC/EEC license. When I entered an "International License", I was quoted almost double the price I paid now... only entering "full UK license" gave more reasonable prices.

So far, GoCompare was ahead of the two sites regarding getting a good deal on the insurance. But then I tried again another site which I came across when searching for how "endorsements" can influence the insurance price: Quoteline direct. Their web form is a bit finicky, it is easy to make mistakes, but they provide very good guidance for each form item, so eventually the form can be filled in correctly. They came up with quite a high price, but I thought this was the effect of the (few) points I have on my license. Some of the quotes were for direct online booking, others were only available if one would call. The cheapest one was for calling in - so I called them. It turns out that the web form was incomplete - did not capture that I have been in the UK only since 4 years. So the price went up - and I found this not acceptable. They should quote based on complete information, and they should capture this information through their online form.

I went back to GoCompare and was curious: what would be the difference between getting a quote with indicating the "points" and a quote where these "points" are omitted (not telling them about points "may" invalidate the insurance!). To my surprise both quotes came out the same - the few points on my license did not make any difference at all!

Summarizing I can say that of these three insurance comparison sites, GoCompare wins clearly. I will use them again at my next renewal, and also for any other insurance comparisons I might undertake. CompareTheMarket is ok too, their price results are similar and sometimes even better than GoCompare, but they need to revise their forms to get all the info for making correct quotes. At the bottom is QuotelineDirect, which had overall the most expensive prices, and then even made them higher because not all info had been captured by the forms.

Some car insurance companies (e.g. Aviva) make a pointed statement in their commercials of not wanting to be included in those comparison sites. I do not quite understand why - they must have too high prices and must be afraid being compared with others, so there is no loss for me in not comparing them to others.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Movie: "The Truth is Out There..."

Today I did something that I wanted to do already more than 25 years ago, but never had an opportunity to do so: I directed a movie.

The Leeds Met Staff Development Festival began today, in a scaled-down version compared to previous years. But nevertheless, there are great events, workshops, and activities throughout this whole week. One of these activities caught my attention back in summer when the schedule was announced: "Make a Film in a Day", organised by the Northern Film School of Leeds Met. I have been fascinated by the medium Film since the late 1970s when I began to get interested in the art of movie making. At one point during my last years at high school I even toyed with the thought of becoming a director, being inspired by such masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Tati, Claude Chabrol, Werner Herzog, Robert Altmann, Billy Wilder, and the classic masters of film noir. But when it came to choosing a career, I opted out of this path as it seemed to me a bit too much high-risk. However, I kept a high regard for movies and movie-making, and while living near Los Angeles for nine years I enjoyed being so close to the movie production scene with its still vividly living history (of movie classics), with highlights of renting my old car (1971 Plymouth Fury Stationwagon) to movie and TV productions ("Almost Famous" 2000 by Cameron Crowe, although my car did not make it into the final movie cut) and with once meeting the actress Jane Russel and the TV host Robert Osborne from TCM.

So when I saw the "Make a Film in a Day" event, I did not hesitate and enrolled myself. So today at 10:00 I showed up at the Northern Film School in the "Electric Press" building in Leeds City Centre, together with 19 other like-minded colleagues. First we were taught a few of the basics and terminology of film making. Then we were divided into 3 groups: each got a task to make a short 3 minute long film. I got into the group "Leeds Metro Studio" which was given the task to produce a "Science Fiction Western", with the sentence in it "the truth is out there..." and with using the props of a space helmet, a cowboy hat, an American flag, and an alarm clock. We then divided the roles in the group. I was interested in the editing, but someone else took that first. The director's job was left - I first hesitated, but then thought about my long interest in movie-making, and volunteered for the director's job.

The first two hours were spent on outlining the story. Everyone in the group came up with ideas, from something like "Back to the Future III", "West World", "Kate and Leopold". It was hard to come up as a group with a consistent story line - each of us had very interesting ideas regarding the visuals, but it appeared difficult to include them all in a consistent story. But thanks to the help of screen writer / director Dan Meldon a story slowly evolved: a young woman, played by Victoria, exits an elevator/lift in a building, then sees something unbelievable: at the reception desk there sits the clerk Chip with a cowboy hat, played by Muthu. She thinks she is on the wrong floor, goes back into the lift, goes to another floor. There is Muthu again, this time wearing a space helmet. She asks if she can register here. Muthu sends her to the 52 floor, but not without giving her the helmet because "the air is thin up there". She goes up there, leaves the lift wearing the helmet, arriving at the ground floor of the newly opened Rose Bowl lecture hall where she is greeted by fellow colleagues who applaud her and take pictures of her with their mobile phones: she has arrived at the Staff Development Festival. A live chorus sings in the background. This latter thing actually was not planned, but it happened as we filmed in the Rose Bowl, because another event had the Leeds Met Singers in the background.

Pretty weird story, we wanted to make it quite surreal. Unfortunately we only had very little time for the actual filming. After we had the story sorted, we got an hour of specialist training, so the editor, camera and sound crew could do the job. The actors and directors of each group were told about some basic rules of filming, the different shots, and the "do not cross the line" rule. We got our props sorted, then went to the two locations: in the Civic Quarter buildings, and in the Rose Bowl. Filming time was set to only 1 h 15 minutes. The first scene took already longer than expected to shoot. We did several takes, with various shots: medium, closeup, and in different directions, to get the initial dialogue. I was the one saying "action" and "cut" - quite some fun. It was also my duty to coach the actors into great performances, and discuss with the camera woman the particular aesthetics of the shots, to preserve that intended surreal feel.

I really enjoyed this whole directing. Unfortunately time was running out, and despite of filming for a total of more than 2 hours, we could not film all the various shots we had planned.

But when then our editor put the scenes together in "Final Cut Pro", a very nice short flick developed. In the end we had a screening of all three films that were produced by the groups today: one had created a film noir murder mystery, the other had made a parody of a blackmailing mob movie.

Filming in Civic Quarter buildings of Leeds Met

Editing in the post-production

This was a great fun, and when later this evening I watched in the movie theatre Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards" (very recommendable, if you can digest Tarantino's lack of inhibition against violence depiction), I could somehow more appreciate all the work that had gone into this movie.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

New Mobile Phone: XDA Guide

Since a week, my mobile phone acted up strangely. It just kept freezing, and I had to do numerous restarts until it would work again. I suspected that it would be related to a memory problem, but there was still more than 40MB free. Of course, some people will say "I told you so" - because this phone runs Windows Mobile.

I have used Windows Mobile devices since a very long time, when it was still called Windows CE. And there was always some trouble with them, especially related to the synchronisation with a PC: there were in many cases duplicates of contacts and files created, and I had manually to go through them and delete them.

But what I always liked about these Windows Mobile devices (PocketPCs) was that they would fit in well with my desktop (or laptop) PCs: I liked the "compatibility". Back in 1998 I had bought for work a NEC Mobile Pro, running Windows CE 2.0. And since then I had a series of devices, all working with the Windows OS. Great was the Toshiba PocketPC, or Handheld PDA as it was called in 2002. My brother gave me a GPRS modem for it, and I made phonecalls and connected from the net with that thing. Since 2006 I had a mobile phone running Windows Mobile: the O2 XDA Exec, with a nice keyboard and a 640x480 screen. In 2008 I switched to a XDA Stellar (HTC TyTN II), with a smaller keyboard, a smaller screen, but this reduced also the weight and size of the phone overall. This phone is the one that now somehow got sluggish since a week.

This Friday afternoon I wanted to make a call and send some txts, as I was on the way to a meeting - and the phone just would not start. Everything froze after a few strokes on the touch screen. I had enough then and entered the next O2 store. A day before I had already scrolled through a few models on the web site, so I knew that for a non-business tariff there would be no phone with a keyboard anymore. They had an XDA Guide, and after a short deliberation I took it. I needed to upgrade my phone plan for this, but then the phone itself was free. I later found that O2 has more other XDA phones available, but not in stores, only online. And some are also only available on business tariffs.

Here are the first comments about this phone XDA Guide:

It runs Windows Mobile 6.1. Yes, some people do not like Windows, but I like the fact that I can use Excel for utility consumption lists and petrol mileage, that I can write Word-compatible (sort of) files, and that I can look at my powerpoint files on the phone (I actually never ever did this, but if I want, I could). I also like that I can write software, using Visual Studio and the whole .NET framework. And since Microsoft ActiveSync 4.5 I actually never had any problems with synchronisation, no more duplicates. I also like the direct connection to the Microsoft Exchange server at our uni, so I can get all the emails right on the phone, share the address book with my more than 2000 entries between the server and the phone, and can have my whole work calendar on the phone. These reasons are why I resisted the Apple iPhone lure, which is very tempting. But I see currently no alternative to a Windows Mobile phone for my requirements. Version 6.1 now has a nice integration of Exchange, Gmail Hotmail, or any other email service into one interface. Also, applications can now (finally) be closed down. The greatest advantage of Windows Mobile phones over the iPhone is that they can be used as modems. This is really great - I always have internet connection on my laptop, no battery-power-hungry WiFi is needed.

The XDA Guide runs a special user interface on top of Windows Mobile: TouchFlo uses the touch screen for iPhone-like interaction with the fingers. However, the integration with Windows Mobile appears a bit superficial: top and bottom line on the screen show the Windows fonts and colours, and in between is the FloTouch screen. There was probably not an easy other solution to program this, but it looks definitely not as classy and sleek as the iPhone. But it works nice.

The XDA Guide has a GPS built in, and it comes with the software CoPilot 7, which provides voice navigation. This is very nice, because the software would otherwise cost an additional amount to purchase. The cradle for installation in the car is ok, but the power cable which one needs is a bit short. It also goes out straight from the bottom, so one needs some space underneath the device on the dashboard, otherwise the cable connector will eventually get bent. The battery life when using GPS is short as with all GPS-powered phones, so while driving one needs the power from the cigarette lighter.

The overall device is very light and slim. Quite a difference to my previous bricks that I carried. Also one big improvement: there are no buttons or controls that can accidentally be pressed. With my previous phone, the XDA Stellar, it happened more than once that while I carried the phone in the pocket, phone calls were made (to the last caller) just by accidentally pushing some buttons. The XDA Guide only has a "on" button at the top, which needs to be pressed down very firmly and cannot just be activated accidentally.

Overall I am quite satisfied with the phone so far. Great set of features, does everything I want. of course I miss the built-in keyboard... the onscreen touch keyboard is ok, but a bit too small for my fingers for fast typing. Somewhat silly is also that one has to change between letter mode and number mode - and the decimal point is in the letter mode, so when entering decimal numbers, one has to switch back and forth between the modes...

But overall this is a nice device. Has of course also a camera, quite standard at 3.2 MP. The quality is ok, but is no match for a normal digital camera. Memory is better than on any previous model: 340MB RAM for data and 186 for software, so even after installing a few apps the memory still is more than 270MB data and 100MB program space.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Back at Work

I had 3 weeks off. During this time, I did a few excursions around Yorkshire, travelled on a steam train, took tons of pictures and videos. August was quite nice, with no really hot day (max temperature was 25C), but with some nice sunny days. I also used the time to familiarise myself with the Diffie-Hellman-Merkle algorithm, which allows to create a secure shared key for encryption/decryption, which is generated simultaneously on the client and the server, and does not need to be sent between them - allowing data to be sent encrypted over an insecure connection.

Now since Tuesday I am back in my office. I still have to solve that mystery why on some days exactly at 7:04 in the morning my PC shuts down... some mysterious remote control from the IT dept?

Did a few reviews for a conference (ISVC), wrote a referee report about an applicant due to promotion (at a foreign university), otherwise did just slacking off. Could watch during the daytime at 15:00 episodes of the US TV series Monk which is about a detective with some serious obsessive-compulsive disorder - one of my favourite programs while I lived in the US.

Now the daytime program for me takes place in my office, or in meetings. And a long list of things to do: preparation of teaching material, writing one or two paper manuscripts, preparation of a workshop. And of course apply for funding of my research work activities.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Steam Fair in Pickering

This weekend, actually already starting on Thursday, 6.August, until Sunday, 9.August, there was a big event in Pickering, which is a small town located at the south border of the North York Moors Park: a Steam Fair was held there, with all kinds of road steam engines on display: steam rollers, steam tractors, but also steam-powered fair attractions, organs, and flea market. A great sunny day on Saturday, and the event was well visited.

Lineup of steam tracktors, ready to drive into the show arena.

Organ, used at the Munich Octoberfest

Carousel and Helter-Skelter in the background

Sometimes the air was a bit polluted.

Draisine, predecessor of the bicycle, from 1817

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"The Ashes" in Headingley

When living in England, one cannot escape that every 18 to 30 months or so the sports news are filled with talk about "the Ashes". As I learned, this is a competition between only two countries: England (yes, this is not the UK but England only, as one of the "Nations" of the UK) and Australia play cricket to "win the Ashes". And this weekend, Friday until Monday, this competition takes place here in the famous Headingley Carnegie Cricket Stadium. When I passed by the stadium Friday late afternoon, there was lots of activity. The weather had been great Friday and Saturday, so the drainage system on the grounds which had some problems a few months ago was not put to a test. Instead, the only tests were the matches, because in cricket a game is called a "Test". Don't as me why there are only test matches (when are then the real matches?) of what an "Inning" is (are there any outings?) - I am blissfully ignorant of cricket or any other sport... I once heard (by an American) that Cricket is nothing else than "Baseball on Valium", because unlike Baseball which is usually over in 2 1/2 hours, cricket test matches last usually a few days and appear to go on a very slow pace. Americans would not have any patience for that.

And what is the story about "The Ashes"? As my German friend Falk explained to me, in 1882 Australia won for the first time a cricket match on an English ground. Some saw this as the end of English Cricket, and so the wickets were burnt, and their ashes was kept in an urn. Since then, these two countries play every 2 years about winning this urn, "The Ashes". Most times Australia won the Ashes, and also currently hold the title. Following the recent news from Headingley, it does not look good for England this season eather...

There is good info on the Ashes on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Problem with MS IE8 and FreePDF: Prints only First Page

I encountered a problem with Microsoft Explorer 8 and FreePDF: when trying to print a web site that would stretch over several pages from Microsoft Explorer using the FreePDF printer driver, only the first page is saved as a PDF file. I noticed this accidentally when trying to retrieve a previously saved page, which had then only been saved partially.

The same printing from the same web site works fine on Google Chrome.

I have no idea what the cause of this problem is, and I cannot point out if it is an MS8 problem or a FreePDF problem.

One solution is to do first a PrintPreview, then print from there - this works and creates a PDF with all the content broken down into pages.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Into the Summer Break

The Leeds Met Headingley Campus has become quiet now. The final year students had their Graduation Ceremonies last week and have now left the university. Many members of staff are taking their holidays now in summer, so the buzzing in front of the James Graham Building has come to a halt. Instead, the dismantling crews have begun to take the white Marquee apart which stood here on the Acre the past few weeks.

In September, the annual Staff Development Festival will be mostly in the new Rose Bowl, so there is no need anymore for the Marquee.

The Headingley Caedmon Webcam which I set up, has been featured on the Latest News page, and I have recorded for every day a set of image sequences which could be made into a time-lapse video. Now the camera will record an image series of the dismantling and the following recultivation of the Acre.

I am making the executable of the image capture software freely available for download/installation. In addition to the image capture, I have written a small utility for automatically placing an image from a webserver onto the Windows Desktop - is also available online. In the future I will release the source code of these projects as OpenSource, but I have to do a bit of code cleaning before.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Cigarettes, Whisky, and Wild Wild Women"

The above headline was the motto of Henry Allingham and he claimed that this was the reason for his longevity. He was 113 years old when he died this Saturday, and for one month he was the oldest man on Earth. Born in 1896, he was one of the last witnesses of the whole 20th century, linking the Victorian Empire with our current times. It must be fascinating to talk to people like him and hear the accounts of historical events from someone who lived through them. May he rest in peace after his long life.

His motto shows a very positive and humorous attitude. I myself do not smoke and very rarely drink Whisky, so that leaves only one thing... and that is all I am going to write about it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Graduation Week 2009

The Leeds Met Graduation 2009 was held this past week at the Headingley Campus, in the white Marquee on the Acre. Each day another faculty had their celebration, and on Friday it was the turn of our Faculty Innovation North. In two celebrations, our students and the students from the Regional University Network were handed their award. Two honorary degrees were also conferred: to entrepreneur James Caan and to the CEO and Founder of MOBO, Kanya King. Later that afternoon, a reception was held to honour our former Dean Cath Orange who is leaving the university in a few months.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Away Day

Today our faculty had an "Away Day". From my work in Germany I associate this kind of day with "a day out", a "Betriebsausflug" with picnic and barbecue. But in the UK this appears to be different: the away-day is actually a day of work, just slightly away from the usual offices. Ours was in the Leeds Met Old School Board. There were actually very interesting discussions about the past year in the faculty, improving the student experience, and planning forward for the coming academic year. Was a good opportunity for all the academics in the faculty to talk about what worked and what did not work. Next week will be another such away-days, this time only for the Professional Group.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Graduation Week

This week there are the Leeds Met Graduation ceremonies, held at the Headingley Campus in the Marquee. I have set up the Leeds Met Caedmon Webcam to record an image every 30 seconds during the day. Friday will be our Graduation of Innovation North, followed by a celebration of our former Dean Cath Orange.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Visitors from India

Since my return from the US, I have been busy at work, catching up with things that were waiting for me. But the main activity was that our friends Falguni, Mitali, and Kiran from Anand in Gujarat, India had arrived on 22.June here in Leeds. We had visited them last November, and now they completed the visit exchange. Brian had taken care of them for the first week, and right when I returned they were on a visit in Stratford-upon-Avon. I picked them all up from there. On the weekend of 4.July Jane had organised a conference at the Northern College Barnsley about "Global Perspectives in Adult Learning", in which I took part on two days. Then this Wednesday the group went to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales for an excursion, and on Thursday I had organised a meeting at Leeds Met with them and a few people at Leeds Met with an interest in Climate Change. On Friday evening our friends left back to India.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Return back to Leeds

Monday morning I get my stuff ready packed, have breakfast, then check out. Still some hours, so I decide to drive a bit into Long Island. Cross over a toll bridge into Atlantic Beach. The beaches there have a light sand, there are also many dunes. But it is not possible to freely access the beach: one would have to pay somewhere else to get an admission, or be a resident.

I stop a few times to take some pictures, then drive on.

This little stretch of land has two coasts: one outward to the Atlantic, another one inward towards the mainland.

Time is getting tight, I need to get back to the airport. Have to find a gas station to fill up the rental car. Everything works out in time, and I fly back. During the approach of Leeds (LBA) the Emley Moor TV Tower peaks out of low ground fog.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

And back again in New York City

This time I stay in Queens, not far from the JFK airport, near Jamaica Ave. Has actually a good connection to JFK, with the AirTrain. I explore a bit the neighborhood of Jamaica Ave.

The NY subway E train goes express to Manhattan, it takes only about 30 minutes. I get off near Central Park at 5th Ave.

In the Central Park there are the "Victorian Gardens" with lots of attractions for children:

I walk down the 5th Avenue, passing the Rockefeller Center:

Further along 5th Avenue. The street has been closed for some event, it is being opened block by block. Later I realise that there just had been the annual Gay Pride Parade.

Near the Empire State Building:

Near 33rd Street:

Near Greeley Square with a view of the Empire State Building:

In the evening, back at the hotel, I enjoy watching TV: Bill Maher, and then the cartoons on Fox: Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill. I also use the free WiFi to upload the first set of pictures to Flickr and Photosynth.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back to the Countryside of NY State

Again out into the countryside of the Hudson Valley. Through the town of Sleepy Hollow, visiting the large cemetery. This is the hometown of the headless horseman's tale.

Further north very nice view over the Hudson River Valley.

Many antiques in the town of Millbrook. I actually buy something: a headset from an old rotary dial phone. This will make a great extension of my mobile phone!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Another Day in New York City

I had gotten a good deal for staying in the Empire Hotel, which is located right across Lincoln Center. But for an extension of the stay the price would go up horrendeously. So I decide to move to another Hotel: the Hudson Hotel. Very strange - this hotel has no sign outside, I almost miss it. There is just "a hole in the wall". Later I learn that the hotel is themed after "Alice in Wonderland".

More walking around the area in Manhattan, Upper West Side.

Views from roof terrace of Hudson Hotel:

58th Street, in front of Hudson Hotel:

And at night:

Dinner at Rosa Mexicano (sic!), a nice Mexican restaurant.

Later I cannot resist going to Times Square, 42nd Street:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New York City: Liberty Island and Ellis Island

I have been in NY many times since 1987, but I never had done one the most important Must-Do-Things for tourists and visitors: visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. There was a long line for buying the tickets, and the airport-style security checks also took time. But then I finally was on the boat. Nice opportunity for many pictures of Manhattan.

The weather first was cloudy, but it then turned sunny. The base of the statue was only open for a limited number of visitors with advanced reservation.

Further on to Ellis Island, the first stop of many generations of immigrants.

This is the central registry hall:

After this excursion, a walk through Lower Manhattan.

A visit at the construction scene of the World Trade Center Site.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lorin Maazel's Farewell Concert at Lincoln Center: Mahlers Symphony #8

All four performances of Lorin Maazel's Farewell concert had been sold out, when I first checked the web site of Lincoln Center for availability. But when checking again, just hitting reload every few minutes, suddenly seats became available. There was a problem with the web reservation - one could click on a seat in the chart, then it was reserved, but proceeding and actually doing the payment did not work. So I called and reserved my ticket over the phone.

The performed work was Gustav Mahler's Symphony #8, which I actually had never heard before. A great work, unusual, with chorus, also called "Symphony of 1000" because so many required performers.

A review of the concert is available from "Classical Source".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Haven to Poughkeepsie

On Tuesday morning I check out from the accommodation in New Haven. I now have the option to drive in any direction. Have no hotel reservation, so I can completely arbitrarily move anywhere. I decide to drive up Northwest, towards Poughkeepsie. Since my GPS does not have the map data, I drive just following the signs. Very nice landscape throughout Northern Connecticut, into New York State. Drive through the Bulls Bridge in Kent, one of the many covered bridges in New England.

When I come closer to Poughkeepsie, I suddenly see a large wooden derilict building on the right side of the road, hidden behind bushes and partially overgrown. I stop and take a few pictures, for later assembly into a Photosynth:

It turns out to be the former Bennett School for Girls near Millbrook and has been decaying for more than three decades. It appears to be a quite magical place, and there are many sympathetic posts on a forum with many entries about this building and its history.

I continue driving and soon am in Poughkeepsie in the Hudson River Valley. Appears to be a relatively sleepy town at the River Hudson, where the river banks have some remnants of former industrial installations.

A large bridge across the Hudson Valley captures my eye: it is very rusty and appears to be no longer in use, but there is construction and repair around it. Later I find out that this is a former railway bridge which is being converted into a pedestrian bridge. This will be the largest pedestrian bridge in the world!

It is getting towards evening, and I soon need to find a motel. When browsing the web, I had seen several motels in the area, but when driving now, I seem to be in the wrong area. I decided to drive for a few more miles north of Poughkeepsie, then I will return and search the south side of the town for a motel. But luckily I see a nice place appearing shortly after passing the Culinary Institute of America: The Golden Manor Motel in Hyde Park looks very inviting, and the do have a vacancy at a very reasonable price: $55 per night. So I found my next stay for the night.

In order to use their free WiFi, I have to do a strange thing: enter a pin number which is printed on their router into a form which appears on my laptop... no other guest ever had to do this.

I briefly have a look at the FDR Presidential Library which is just across the street. Very interesting museum and gift shop.

Afterwards I have dinner at the nearby Applebees. There are a few special offers: get two small beers for the price of one, and have a combo of three different small dishes. I have Chicken Wings, Burgers, and Mini Quesadillas.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sightseeing around New Haven

After the conference I have now some time to do some sightseeing. The cemetery of New Haven appears to be quite a landmark, with its pseudo-Egyptian theme.

There are nice old houses in the downtown area. Overall, about 2/3 of the town center area appears to be the Yale University Campus, with its grandiose buildings.

All my pictures from New Haven are here in this Flickr set.

In the evening I head towards the coast, have an appetite for some nice seafood. And indeed, I spot the place: from far away it seems unremarkable, but I know from Southern California how these places usually look. And indeed, this is an excellent place: Sage American Grill and Oyster Bar.

Very nice atmosphere inside, with a fine dining area below, and a less formal bar area upstairs. I go to the bar area and order a lobster bisk and small lobster rolls - tastes delicious!

After this dinner I drive a bit further along the coast, to Bridgeport which has a very nice park along the coast.

MCM 2009 is Over - Was Great!

This morning was the last session of the 4-day conference Mathematics and Computation in Music (MCM) 2009. It was a great opportunity for the academics and practicioners in this area to meet and discuss. Was very well organised, sufficient catering, excellent venues. My photos about this event are on Flickr in a separate set.

My poster got a lot of queries and discussions - I will follow up and prepare a full paper on this, probably submitting to the Journal of Mathematics and Music:

MCM 2011 will probably take place in Paris, at IRCAM.

And I am looking forward to the Windows version of OpenMusic, which the developers said will be out in 2 months from now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Conference MCM 2009

Today in the afternoon the conference Mathematics and Computing in Music began. 6 presentations, each 30 minutes long. Some with very deep mathematical topics. Afterwards a keynote about the change of music theory between 1300 and 1500. Very interesting. The venue for the keynote and the reception afterwards was the Beinecke Library, a very interesting building: From the outside it looks like a windowless structure, ...

... but inside one notices that the outer wall panels actually are semi-transparent and let some light through.

In the centre there is the actual library, with the books shelves behind glass, allowing the view as if there would be a gigantic bookshelf!

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Haven - First Look

In the morning I get up at 7:30 local time. Have to get a parking permit from the Housing Office. The parking is in 15 minute walking distance, not very close but doable. Hope it does not rain too much.

I walk through some of the streets of New Haven, have breakfast (am quite hungry now, since for my internal clock it is already afternoon, and no breakfast or lunch yet). Similar to Cambridge University, this is a "City as Campus". Monumental buildings, streets with shading trees, a very pleasant atmosphere. But not far away outside of the campus, there are poorer neighborhoods, some run-down houses, closed factories. Almost feel like back home in Yorkshire with its closed mills!

Took a few pictures, will probably upload them tonight.

Driving to New Haven, CT

The rental cars at JFK are at one spot that can be accessed by the AirTrain. There is no rental shuttle bus from the terminal, as it is customary at most other airports, but one uses the driverless train to go to the station "Federal Circle" - a map shows the route of this train.

The car is a Chevy Cobalt. The usual mushy and soft handling of a typical US car with automatic driving and soft suspension, but this is also a welcome change to the rough surface-deficiency-detector that I am usually driving (Smart Car). It is slightly raining, but quite warm. I head north, through the evening rush hour traffic of New York City, through Queens on the 678 Freeway, then further on the I-95. The traffic appears to get denser the later it gets and the further I am away from NYC... where are all these people going, on ah Thursday night around 21:00?

When I want to upload my map set from the laptop to my GPS, I realise that this laptop does not have the dataset... so I am without any map. And I had not printed out anything regarding directions... all I have is to rely on my instinct. Well, it works well. Arrive in New Haven around 22:00, and just follow the signs for "Yale University". Once in the city center, I can use the Campus map which I did print, and I find the dormitory fast.

The room is quite sparse, is a suite with two separate single bedrooms. But should be ok for the next few days. Tired and exhausted I fall asleep - did not even twitter my arrival.

Difficulties at US Border Control

Just when I was getting ready to do the final preparations for my travel, checking emails for the last time before closing the browser, I got an email from, where I had registered our Leeds Met Caedmon Webcam: the camera status was inactive. And indeed, when I checked, there was only the image from Tuesday morning there...

This meant that after one hour of sleep and before driving to the airport, I had to stop at the Uni campus to fix this - otherwise the image would not be updated for the duration of my absence. The guards let me in at 3:00 am... and I was able to fix the problem. For some reason I had forgotten to check the "send image to ftp server" check box...

I had a nap on the flight from LBA to AMS, then again at the AMS airport in one of those comfortable sleeper chairs that are in the upstairs lounges.

Since ages I always made a stop in AMS at the food bar between the gates D and E: that is the only one which serves a delicious hering roll with frehsly cut onions over it - a delight especially for the seat neighbours in the plane (keeps them at a respectable distance). And with it I always had ordered a DeKoninck beer, that looked so nicely amber and tasted great. They were the only bar that had this beer, fresh from a tap. But now they did not have anymore this beer, but only the omnipresent Heineken (which is also ok, but that one can get anywhere).

Boarding went ok. Due to the new ESTA regulations which require getting advanced approval for entry into the US, they had abolished the individual interviews which had been conducted with each passenger before boarding; that was what still was done 3 years ago when I travelled to the US last time. The flight took ok at the scheduled time.

I had again a nap to catch up on some of the lost sleep, especially since I also would have a 3 hour car drive ahead of me after arrival. But I also could not resiost browsing the nice on-demand video selection. Watched "The Reader" - excellent film! Wanted to watch "Slumdog Millionaire", but then was too tired.

After arrivel I already expected trouble with my entry: my Green Card which I had since a long time, was formally still valid for a few years. But I knew that there was the regulation that one must not remain for more than one year outside of the US. Well, my last entry into the US had been 3 years ago, and I was not quite sure how to handle this now. Just in case I also had filled out the regular green entry form for visa waiver and have gotten the ESTA approval. When I showed my green card at the Border Control, the officer told me to go into an office to clarify. There I waited, with a few other unlucky souls whose entry status was unclear. AFter 15 minutes the officer sent me away to another office. Again a 20 minutes wait. Then I am called to discuss the situation, and I tell them everything. They send me back again into the first office. Another waiting. Then the officer there calls me. They do have on their computer screen all my data: when I have entered the US, stayed there, paid taxes, just everything. And they explain that the green card is not a replacement for an entry visa. What I should have done after staying out from the US for more than one year: gone to the US embassy in London and gotten a new entry permit. Well, I did now only want to stay for a few days, and I explain to them that I also was already prepared for "the other route", through the regular visitor visa waiver program. But there is just this bureaucratic problem that I do have this green card, and this actually requires me to relinquish the green card after it basically has lost its validity. Another waiting, the officer discusses in a separate room with her superior. Then she comes out, but deals with another case. There appears to be a bit of psychological pressure being applied... but I remain calm and smiling, have nothing to loose. Then she calls me and tells me "we are going to do something very nice to you". And she explains that they let me in now, on the basis of my green card. But when I am back in UK, I will have to go to the embassy and relinquish this card. Ok, sounds fine to me. So no ESTA, no I-94 visa waiver form, the officer puts the stamp onto the blue custom form, and off I am to the last control, the customs officer. The whole procedure took 1 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Ready for Conference

This night I will have to get up before 3am... for a flight to the US. I will attend over the coming weekend the Mathematics and Computing in Music (MCM) Conference 2009. Have a poster there, about the Riemann Tonnetz. My contribution was to determine a numeric parameter of this model, but I made an assumption that was critisized by the reviewers of my submission: I put out the theorem that Major and Minor third are equivalent in their "tonality consonance". I put forward some argumentation for this, but there remained some doubt... I hope to be able to convince the experts that this is a valid approach that I proposed. The consequence would be a metric for determining the degree of "consonance" in a music piece, allowing to judge the melody or the harmony for consonance in quantitative terms. This may be useful for analysing / searching / retrieving online digital music.

At Investment Forum, York

Today I spent the day at the York Racecourse, where normally horses run around in a big oval, and people win or loose money when betting on them. Is a very big thing here in the UK, and 3 years ago I actually had been at one, as a part of a Leeds Met uni charity event. But today was no horse race, instead it was a race for money. For the money of investors, who had the choice of investing into companies who presented their case in front of a panel. This event was organised by Connect Yorkshire.

Was indeed very interesting: there was a mix of startup companies and established ones, covering a range from the IT sector to traditional shipbuilding. I was mentoring one of those companies, which gave me a nice insight into this process. The presentations of the companies were very interesting, and I hope that some of them will attract investment.

In the afternoon there was a TechTalk organised as a continuation of that event. The Oracle VP of Business Applications gave a keynote about the development of business software. The discussions with the panel and the participants then turned to "cloud computing", which is a hot topic in the IT world since about 2 years. I personally do not quite share the optimism in this technology development which was expressed by almost every speaker: for me the trend towards outsourcing software and data storage creates new dependencies on hubs and communication and is in some ways a step back to the mainframe technology from the 1960s and 70s. But I do agree that in situations where collaboration between users is required, cloud computing can be a very sensible way of enabling this collaboration.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Problems with Windows Mobile Phone - Miraculously Solved

This past Tuesday, at 10:54, something must have happened: this was the last time when my Windows Mobile Phone (HTC TyTN II) synchronised its email with our server at work. I could not identify the problem... the calendar sync went ok, there was a connection to the server, just when it came to email, all that was displayed was "connecting...", then "0/760", trying to get the emails over. I had contacted our tech support, thinking it had to do with something on the server. They could not find any fault, so I kept trying with the phone, changing sync settings etc. Internet connection on the phone worked ok, anything else also seemed to work fine. Then yesterday I found another fault: tried to run Google Maps which I had installed last year, and that gave an error: "Google Maps cannot be opened. Either it is not signed with a trusted certificate, or one of its components cannot be found. If the problem persists, try reinstalling or restoring this file". Now that was strange. I had used Google Maps a few weeks ago, it was working fine. A couple of phone soft phone resets did not help. I hesitated to do a hard reset, fearing I would have to install all my applications again.

I installed the latest version of Google Maps, worked ok. Except when I wanted to set GPS options: a crash with an error message occurred then.

Not sure what the cause for these problems was. There must have been something in the memory. Maybe an overflow? I still had more than 47M available. I deleted manually all emails in my inbox on the phone - more than 250. Tried again to sync, but still did not work.

But when I woke up this morning, the email problem had "healed" itself! The inbox was filled with new emails, and the connection to the Windows Exchange server seemed to be ok. Not sure what solved this problem... I will try to monitor.