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.