The BBC has an interesting article about the UK Government web sites, Web Standards and Accessibility. As expected, the picture is not perfect but it is encouraging to see that the subject makes headline news and that the government is aware of it. So to all web standard developers out there, it might be time to send your CV to your local government and cite the BBC's article.
Friday, 31 March 2006
It is my last day in Atlanta tomorrow. I am flying back to London on Monday. I was planning to do 3 days on the beach but the combination of spring break, tennis tournament and me booking stuff at the last minute mean that Florida is way too expensive. At some point, I was considering going to Mexico instead but the flights are not convenient. There's no point in me going somewhere if it means I miss my return flight to London. I ended up going to lastminute.com and I eventually found something at a decent price: the Niagara Falls. I know, it's a long way North and according to the weather forecast it will be cold and wet. But then that's why it's cheap. And I have a reason to go there: the very first time I visited the US, I spent 1 month in Meadville, PA, and completely failed to see the falls. So I am now rectifying that mistake. To completely redeem myself, I will make sure I take (lots of) pictures.
Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Monday, 27 March 2006
A friend recently sent me a link to Photomatix, a small tool that can combine different exposures of a scene with a high contrast to produce an image with an increased dynamic range, that is an image where highlights and shadows come out well, rather than as blocks of white or black. So I decided to take the tool for a spin to see how well it did.
First, I needed a picture with high contrast, such as an indoor photograph that comprises outdoor light coming in through windows.
In this picture, the exposure is correct but because there is a very strong contrast between the dark and light areas, the inside of the room looks very dark, while the outside through the windows looks washed out. This doesn't do justice to the actual setting and is a very dull photograph. This is because the sensors in the camera are much less versatile than the human eye and their contrast range is not very wide. Good old negative film would have the same problem. Slide film would do a slightly better job because it has a wider contrast range but would still be disappointing compared to the human eye. So let's try to correct this.
Taking the same scene at -1EV, that is under-exposed by 1 stop, we get a darker picture but where the highlights through the windows show significantly more detail.
Then taking the same scene again at +1EV, that is over-exposed by 1 stop, we get a much brighter picture where the inside of the room comes out much better.
Now, according to the Photomatix manual, we just have to let the tool work its magic, using the midtone areas from the first picture, the light areas from the second one and the dark areas from the third one. Et voilà:
Of course, as I am using the evaluation version, I get a watermark on the output image but the result is indeed impressive. To get results as impressive as the ones on the Photomatix web site, I should probably have bracketed my photograph at ±2EV or more, rather than ±1EV, in order to have better highlight and shadow details. Also note that to take the three exposures, I needed a sturdy support: it is not something you can do while hand-holding the camera. A tripod is best but in this case, I was using a monopod while being supported by the back wall of the room.
Having said this, does it justify a $100 price tag? If you take a lot of pictures with very strong contrast, have a camera that does AEB and are carrying a tripod with you when doing so, I'd say yes as it can transform an average shot into a great photograph.
Wednesday, 22 March 2006
Apparently, us French people can't go to the US because of the inability of the French government to deliver biometric passports. I am not particularly surprised that a combination of government mis-management and strikes could make them miss the deadline. I mean, we're talking about a government here and the French one to boot.
But then, after reading the story, I thought:
How does that work? I am French and I am reading this from the US, they never said anything at the border, even though my passport is clearly non-biometric! It turns out that the only people affected are the people who had their passports issued or renewed after the 26th October 2005 deadline. Mine was issued on 2nd February 2005 so I am immune to this requirement, for now.
Considering there is a new deadline set by the US government on 26th October 2006 that requires all passports to also have a microchip, what are the chances that the French government will miss that one as well?
Transport for London, who already have a quite a bad reputation with their customers, have now decided to contact one of them through their solicitor. What is Geoff's heinous crime? Saying he loves the tube and producing some alternative and silly tube maps. Maybe someone should tell TfL that this is not good PR?
So Geoff has taken the maps down for now. Fortunately, you can see them on this mirror. Seriously, rather than paying solicitor fees, TfL should really learn from the work done by Geoff as some of the maps are just great: I could use the distance, travel time or walk maps regularly. And the geographical maps are just awesome. TfL should make them all widely available rather than threaten their author.
Sunday, 19 March 2006
I went out for St Patrick's Day last night. I went to Fado, the Irish pub in Buckhead. Same as last year, there was a 1 hour queue to get in, it was packed and they had a tribute band playing U2 songs. However, one thing I had forgotten about the US is that you need an ID to go out. Luckily, I do look over 21 and sound suitably foreign so the doorman excused me and let me in. It would have been a shame to get to the front of the queue and be refused entry.
I like the atmosphere in Fado. The people are very friendly and they don't hesitate to invite you in their group when they realise you are on your own. I even met a fellow Breton. It's a small world...
Tuesday, 14 March 2006
Monday, 13 March 2006
As if I didn't have enough gadgets already, I stopped at Dixons in the duty-free zone at Gatwick airport this morning and added to my collection:
- a crossover RJ45 network cable,
- and a Solio portable solar powered charger for my iPod.
There's a logic in all this even if it's not obvious: the crossover network cable is an essential piece of equipment when dealing with possibly strange computers; the Solio charger, when I add the relevant extensions, will also be able to charge my mobile phone and potentially my camera's battery thus reducing the number of chargers I need to carry (and it looks really cool and geeky).
I'm back in Atlanta. The flight was smooth and on time. The temperature is 25 Celsius (80 Fahrenheit) and the hotel where I am has a small but nice indoor swimming pool that I have already tried.
It would all be perfect if my mobile phone was working. I can send texts but I can't call. I did go to Vodafone last week to ensure my phone would work properly and I was assured it would. Obviously the person I talked to was mistaken.
Sunday, 12 March 2006
I've just finished packing my laptop bag to take on my flight to Atlanta tomorrow. The amount of gadgets that go into this bag is frightening:
- 1 laptop with accessories:
- power cable and transformer,
- modem cable,
- mini USB mouse (thanks to Elena),
- microphone + headphone combo (thanks to Elena as well),
- USB key,
- USB serial port,
- USB extension cable;
- 1 digital SLR camera:
- camera body,
- standard lens,
- telephoto lens (in its separate bag),
- spare battery,
- mini tripod,
- small external flashgun (I gave up taking the big one),
- hotshoe spirit level,
- cable release,
- USB connection cable;
- 1 Nokia mobile phone charger;
- 1 iPod charger;
- 2 power adapters for the US.
The guys at the airport will think I'm trying to open a branch of Dixons the other side of the pond.
Saturday, 11 March 2006
If you have iTunes, you have access to the attached Music Store. Even if you don’t want to buy anything from it, there is one great feature: the Single of the Week. Every week, you have a new single that you can download for free. Legally free music? I’ll have some of this! Especially considering it’s usually good tracks from little known artists. That’s how I just discovered Dangerous Muse and I love it.
Friday, 10 March 2006
I knew a Scottish-Cuban pub was bound to be special. Mixing whisky and cigar is bound to have interesting results, as demonstrated in the gents toilets where you can find a condom vending machine. What's unusual about that? They're not your ordinary condoms, they're whisky flavoured ones.
Waterstone’s, one of the major British book shops has just come out with a brilliant idea: a London Reading Map, a map that identifies 100 books that are related to London and what part of the city they bring to life. Or, in their own words:
For centuries London and the people it attracts have provided a fertile muse for writers from all over the world. From Chaucer to Zadie Smith, the evolution of the city has been documented and retold through the stories of hundreds of fictional characters. They lead us through time, along streets of medieval drama, Dickensian squalor and into the modern day. And every postcode, every character, every book, tells a different tale of London life.
You don’t need to be a Londoner to experience the glamour and the grubbiness of this city. Through the pages of great works of fiction we can encounter the lives or murderers, lovers, petty thieves and dreamers and experience the sights, sounds and smells that evoke this great city.
Dr Johnson’s view that ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ certainly seems to hold true as the city continue to inspire, captivate and enthral readers and writers alike.
This is by no means a comprehensive record of London writing but here are 100 of our favourite books and some of the locations that they bring to life.
The list is interesting and includes all sorts of genres so it should be of interest to anybody. Of course, the subliminal message from Waterstone’s is that you can buy all those books from them but it is a great idea nonetheless. For those who don’t live in London, here is the list, in order. They highlight the first 30 as ‘essential London reads’:
- Aldgate / Walthamstow: Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
- Baker Street: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Blackfriars: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- Bloomsbury: Maurice by E. M. Forster
- Bloomsbury: New Grub Street by George Gissing
- Borough High Street: Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
- Brixton: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- City / West End: The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
- Clerkenwell: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
- Clerkenwell: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Covent Garden: The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
- Covent Garden: The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding
- Earl’s Court: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
- Grosvenor Square: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Hampstead Heath: Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Hampstead Heath: 1984 by George Orwell
- Holborn: The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
- Holloway: Diary of a Nobody by George and Weeden Grossmith
- Kensington Gardens: Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J. M. Barrie
- Kensington: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
- Kingston Upon Thames: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
- Limehouse: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
- Newgate: The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay
- Portobello Road: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
- Smithfields: The Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys
- Soho / Greenwich: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad
- Southwark: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
- St. Paul’s Churchyard: Fanny Hill by John Cleland
- Westminster: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
- Westminster: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- Baker Street: A Metropolitan Murder by Lee Jackson
- Baker Street: Metroland by Julian Barnes
- Battersea Park Road: The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment by Isabel Losada
- Belgrave Square: A Dance to the Music of Time: Autumn by Anthony Powell
- Belgravia: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
- Borough / Lant Street: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
- Brick Lane: London Dust by Lee Jackson
- Brick Lane: Brick Lane by Monica Ali
- Brick Lane: Girl from Brick Lane by Sally Worboyes
- British Museum: Possession by A. S. Byatt
- British Museum: The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge
- Brixton: East of Acre Lane by Alex Wheatle
- Brixton: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
- Brixton: The Colour of Memory by Geoff Dyer
- Bromley: The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
- Camberwell: Camberwell Beauty by Jenny Eclair
- King’s Cross Station: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
- Chelsea: Millenium People by J. G. Ballard
- Chiswick: The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin
- Clapham / Westminster: Mr Phillips by John Lanchester
- Clerkenwell: The Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd
- Cleveland Street, W1: Saturday by Ian McEwan
- Covent Garden: Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
- Deptford: A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess
- Ealing: The Last Ealing Comedy by Matthew Bayliss
- Earl’s Court: Small Island by Andrea Levy
- Elephant & Castle: 253 by Geoff Ryman
- Embankment: The Cryptographer by Tobias Hill
- Euston Road: Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton
- Fleet Street: Towards the End of Morning by Michael Frayn
- Fulham: The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
- Greenwich: London Irish by Zane Radcliffe
- Hanover Square: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- Highbury: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
- Imperial College: Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells
- Kensington Gardens: Kensington Gardens by Rodrigo Fresan
- Knightsbridge: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- Marylebone: Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster
- Mayfair: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
- Mayfair: Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse
- Notting Hill: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
- Notting Hill: Daydream Girl by Bella Pollen
- Notting Hill: The London Novels by Colin McInness
- Notting Hill: Thirteen Steps Down by Ruth Rendell
- Notting Hill: Other People’s Marriages by Shane Watson
- Paddington: 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
- Paddington / Windsor: Paddington Bear by Michael Bond
- Park Lane: Penniless in Park Lane by Carole Morin
- Piccadilly: Piccadilly Jim by P. G. Wodehouse
- Portobello Road: London Fields by Martin Amis
- Primrose Hill: Primrose Hill by Helen Falconer
- Primrose Hill: The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
- Regent’s Park Zoo: Look At It This Way by Justin Cartwright
- Regent’s Street: Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald
- Shepherd’s Bush: Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart by Marius Brill
- Soho: Robinson by Chris Petit
- Soho: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Soho: The Long Firm by Jake Arnott
- Spitafields: Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
- Stoke Newington: How the Dead Live by Will Self
- Trafalgar Square: The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate
- Waterloo: Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin
- Westminster: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
- Westminster: Kitchen Venom by Philip Hensher
- Westminster: The House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
- White City: Wite City Blue by Tim Lott
- Whitechapel: Foxy-T by Tony White
- Willesden: White Teeth by Zadie Smith
- Willesden: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
- Wimbledon: The Light of Day by Graham Swift
Thursday, 9 March 2006
Wednesday, 8 March 2006
I had an acknowledgement of my complaint from London Buses in my email this morning:
Thank you for your e-mail regarding for buses 237, 267 and 319. The Operator dealing with your case is Arriva who will be looking into the points that you have raised.
Under our customer services policy, we do our best to respond within 10 working days. If we or one of our Operators cannot give you a full answer in this time, we will send you an acknowledgement within 2 working days and a full written response within 15 working days.
Please accept this e-mail as an acknowledgement to your e-mail.
If you are unhappy with the response you receive, you may wish to contact London TravelWatch. This is an independent watchdog body, set up by parliament to represent the interests of passengers. They can be contacted at the following address:
6 Middle Street
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us.
London Buses Customer Services
Kudos to London buses for answering this quickly. Let's see how fast Arriva answer.
Tuesday, 7 March 2006
Fresh out of my float and having bought a few essential things in Chiswick, I decided to go home. From Chiswick High Road, I have the choice between 3 bus lines: 237, 267 and 391. All of them drop me just in front of my flat. I am used to the service not being very good and waiting for a bus up to 10 minutes, even at rush hour. So, I wasn't overly concerned when I had been waiting enough time to see two E3 and one 272 buses go past. I started getting restless when a few more came and went and there was still no sign of a bus going my way. After I had been waiting 30 minutes in the freezing cold with still no sign of any bus going my way, I decided to walk home. It took me 25 minutes and no bus overtook me on the way.
As soon as I was home, I connected to Transport for London, found the feedback form and explained that I wasn't happy with the bus service in Chiswick and why. I have to admit that the feedback form is extremely easy to find and fill in so good on TfL for this, they are not afraid to get feedback. They are also aware that most feedback is negative as the form includes entries such as date and time of incident. It also looks like they really want to come back to you with an answer, as they say they endeavour to answer within 10 days. We shall see how long it takes them in this case and what their answer is, if any.
I went to Floatopia today to see for myself what it was like. The concept is very simple: you lay in a bath that is at body temperature and saturated in Epsom salt to make you float, while being in complete darkness and silence. The idea is to free the body of gravity and reduce all sensory input as much as possible to induce complete relaxation.
I arrived slightly early for my appointment. Sasha, the guy who manages the place, is very friendly and very good at putting first timers at ease. First of all, I filled in the new customer form and read the guidelines and emergency procedure. The latter specifies that in case of emergency while you are bathing, you should put on the emergency bathrobe provided and meet outside. I crossed my fingers hoping this wouldn't happen as I didn't care being outside in the freezing cold with only a light bathrobe. Once those formalities completed, Sasha showed me the facilities and explained everything. Each float room is large enough for one adult and has its own shower room attached. Bathing lasts just under one hour. The first ten minutes, relaxing music is played. It is then total silence for 42 minutes and the music starts again for 3 minutes to wake you up in case you fell asleep and notify you your time is up. You then have 15 minutes to wash and get all the salt off you. The float room has a light switch so you completely control whether you are in the dark or not and the door to it just pushes outwards. This is all done to ensure that if you panic while inside, you can easily get out and come back to the real world.
After that quick introduction, it was time to get wet. I had a quick shower just to get my skin wet and entered the room to the sound of chill out music. The water in the float room is about 30cm (1 foot) deep. I closed the door, sat down, pressed the light switch and lay down in the water. While the light was dimming slowly, I started floating. It then became pitch black. I stretched out, letting my head sink a bit. My ears filled with water and the music became faint. Then it stopped altogether. It took a few minutes for my body to stabilise in the water. I couldn't hear anything. I could feel a dull tingling in the parts of my legs that were not completely submerged but that was going away. I couldn't smell anything. I couldn't see anything. I opened my eyes that I had shut automatically. I still couldn't see anything.
Deprived of external stimuli, my body started to concentrate on internal sensations. The only movement was breathing. My shoulders and neck started to hurt. Sasha had warned me about this: it is quite common apparently for a first float and a symptom of a stressed body trying to relax those muscles too quickly. I put my hands under my neck to relieve the tension, as he had said I should do. The tension eased immediately. After a few minutes, I moved my arms away from my body again and let my head drop back in the water.
I was lying there. Logic was telling me I was immobile. But my brain was telling me I was moving upwards, standing up slightly. Weird. Then said brain went into overdrive. It was going through ideas and things I had to do: some old, some new, others old but seen from a new angle. This was not completely unexpected as it happens to me quite often when I am in a relaxed state, especially when having a shower in the morning. I know, I am weird.
The music came up, signaling the end of the bath. It felt like I had been there 15 minutes rather than nearly 1 hour. I found the light switch, pressed it and stood up. The saline solution felt like oil on my skin rather than water. I stepped out and had a good warm shower, went to the rest room and had herbal tea. There was a small book there explaining the different sensations you can have during a float. Apparently everything I had experienced was normal. The one thing I could notice immediately was that I was feeling very relaxed and my back, shoulders and neck were feeling completely devoid of tension, which had not happened to me for a long time. This was a great sensation and it lasted for a few hours after the float, despite the attempts by the local bus service to stress me; but this is another story.
According to the documentation at Floatopia, you need 3 or 4 floats before your body learns to completely relax and you really feel the effects of it so I booked another one for the day I arrive back from the USA. After a transatlantic flight, there should be a lot of stress to get rid of.
My first experience was positive but I want to reserve final judgment until I've had a few more floats because you are supposed to feel more with each one and because it is not cheap: even if it was good, the experience of the first one doesn't really justify the full price. This is probably why Floatopia offers a 3 float introductory package at a discount price.
Have you ever wondered what to do with the biscuits you want to dunk in your tea? Here is the solution: the dunk mug. Put a stack of biscuits in the slot at the bottom the mug while drinking. You have left- and right-handed versions. I saw those yesterday and bought a couple today: a lilac left-handed for myself and a mint right-handed for visitors. The other good thing about those mugs is that the bottom stays cool because it is not in direct contact with the liquid.
Monday, 6 March 2006
As if I didn't receive enough spam that I can read, I now also receive spam in Russian:
10 га Каширское шоссе 26 км недалеко от аэропорта Домодедово,
49 л. аренды, опушка леса, категория (земли поселений),
разрешенное использование ИЖС,
цена 2000$ сотка, можно сделать земли промышленности ,
собственность - цена 2400$ сотка (2-3 мес.)
If anybody feels like giving me a translation, it would enlighten me as to what they are trying to sell me. Or I could make a reverse charge call to the number provided.
A friend just told me how good Floatopia was. The idea of floating as if weightless and completely relaxing the body sounds appealing. I'm not sure I believe all the good things they say on the web site but I'm ready to give it a go. If anything, one hour away from the mayhem of the outside world can only do me good. It is quite pricey though so I might wait until I have money in the bank.
Friday, 3 March 2006
I sometimes do grocery shopping through Ocado. The main reason for choosing Ocado rather than Sainsbury's or Tesco is that you can specify the time you want to be delivered in a 1 hour slot and they do respect it. So there's no being stuck at home waiting all day for your groceries.
A nice touch is that there is always a free gift in addition to what you ordered. Sometimes, it can be really good: the delivery I got yesterday included a free bottle of South African wine, Kumala Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. Nice!