The random musings of a random man.

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A tale of two insects

Recently, whilst battling through the rain to look for something someone had lost (which wasn’t in the place I was looking for them) I spotted what I thought was a particularly large, bedraggled spider between the bottom of one of our window frames and the sill. Closer examination revealed that it was, in fact, a particularly small, bedraggled bumble bee that was sheltering itself from the monsoon.

With some care - bumblebees aren’t like honeybees, they don’t have a barb on their sting and can thus use it as often as they like - I managed to extract her from her hiding place and take her indoors. Once inside she began to show some signs of recovery, crawling around my hand and suffering herself to have a few warming and drying breaths from yours truly.

It was at this point I noticed that the bee had several mites running around in the gap between her thorax and abdomen. I pondered ways to remove them, including using a thin paintbrush and cocktail sticks but then I happened upon a fascinating little article entitled ‘How to Repair a Bumble Bee’ on the UK Safari website. 

A very clever lady, Elizabeth Close, developed a technique to rid the bumblebee of its unwanted hitchhikers. To do this, prepare some cups or glasses of slightly warm water, persuade the bee to climb onto a stick (or paintbrush handle in my case) and gently dip her in the water. The mites jump off and plummet to join Davy Jones’s locker but the bee survives. I managed to de-mite my bee using two cups of water (there were at least half a dozen mites) but I also nearly drowned her when she fell off the paintbrush.

It was looking touch and go for a while but I managed to dry her on some kitchen towel, give her some honey on the end of a cocktail stick and let her warm herself by an old Ikea light that I managed to liberate from upstairs. Here she is looking fairly unimpressed by her ordeal:

(she might be doing bee push-ups for all I know!)

I kept her overnight (in a plastic container with plenty of air holes and lined with paper towels) and put her outside the following morning. Once she’d sunbathed for about five minutes, she took off and flew away into the distance leaving me feeling rather pleased.

This feeling of happiness persisted until yesterday.

Strolling through my local town during a sunny lunchtime, I was both excited and concerned to spot a Scarlet Tiger Moth sitting right in the middle of the pavement. I managed to get a couple of photos of the moth:

before noting the proximity of a number of other pedestrians, at least one of whom looked to be wearing some particularly heavy, lepidoptera-squashing boots.

Moved by this concern, I attempted to scoop up the moth from harm’s way. It responded by spreading its wings (revealing the beautiful patterns you may have seen on the Wikipedia link) deftly avoiding my clumsy digits and beginning a graceful, fluttering arc of flight that took it straight into the radiator grille of a passing taxi.

Bugger.

Some you win, some you lose.

I’m in complete awe of the skills demonstrated in this video. A finger-painting of Morgan Freeman done on an iPad in Procreate.

The Katana myth again…

petermorwood:

The Japanese sword is a good weapon. What it’s not is some weird combination of Excalibur and lightsabre.

The European longsword is a good weapon. What it’s not is some weird combination of iron club and barbell.

It would be easy to adopt the approach displayed by some, er, uncritically enthusiastic katana-fans, which is to hit capslock, shout, swear and diss every other sword and the people who used them. Like so:

Here’s the thing fuckwads. Katanas were used by MASTERS OF BATTLE called SAMURAI who knew precisely WHERE to hit, WHEN to hit, HOW MUCH FORCE THEY’D NEED, ETC. Samurai (at least when they started out, they got pretty corrupted and sloppy toward the end) were ONE WITH THEIR BLADE. The katana was known as the Samurai’s soul.

The FUCKING LONGSWORD on the other hand, was handed out to basically any fucking FARM BOY who happened to enlist/get recruited into the fucking army. That’s the equivalent of YOU picking up a fucking SWORD and getting thrown into battle. So yeah, they’re going to fucking need to be durable because no idiot who picks up a sword is going to know where to swing it so it doesn’t shatter into a million pieces. Oh and by the way, a long sword is also nearly 3 times the weight of a katana (ITS A FUCKING HACKING WEAPON), so it wouldn’t be nearly as precise or fast as a katana. And after about 10 swings, your arms will be fucking DEAD TIRED. Do you understand how much a fucking sword weighs? ITS A GIANT FUCKING CHUNK OF METAL. ITS NOT A FUCKING STICK YOU PLAY GAMES WITH…

And so on…

This reads like someone in frantic denial about something they don’t like because it may well be true and that spoils their worldview. They’re not alone, apparently. It also reads like someone who has probably never touched a real sword of either kind, or read anything about them other than on-line misinformation and hype.

Read the raving again, but add a bit of common sense. If a weapon is so heavy that swinging it ten times leaves your arms dead tired, what the hell use is it?

Read More

An excellent consideration of something that all too often becomes mired in hyperbole (and rants!)

Right on, Commander!

Load New Commander (Y/N)?

Elite. If you’re of ‘a certain age’ then this title probably conjures images of being hunched over the keyboard of your 8- or 16-bit computer, battling your way through space in your trusty Cobra Mk III, trading, battling, upgrading your kit, battling some more, trading, getting jumped by Thargoids in witchspace, trying to dock without blowing up and so on and so forth. 

I know it does for me; I can’t begin to count the number of hours I put into this seminal space-trading game during the 1980s on my trusty Commodore 64. Most of my friends played it (I can still remember taking the mick out of my old mate Phelpsy, because his BBC version had fewer ships in it!) some of us rather obsessively. I became so immersed when playing that whenever I was in combat and an enemy ship flew over mine, I would reflexively duck.

I loved the game.

The title came from the ranking system. You started off as Harmless, then progressed (based on your number of kills) to Mostly Harmless, Poor, Average, Above Average, Competent, Dangerous, Deadly and finally (after more than 6400 kills), Elite. For every 256 kills, a message popped up on screen reading: ‘Right on, Commander!’ I got to Deadly (2560-6399 kills) but somehow managed to knacker the cassette tape (yes, kids, some computers used to use cassettes back then.. the next question is probably ‘What’s a cassette?’) with all my game saves on them. I started again and clawed my way back to Competent but never had the time to get back to - or beyond - my old rank, again.

I suppose this was one of my first soul-crushing encounters with a computer, though come to think of it, typing pages of magazine code listings into my ZX81 (with 16kb RAM pack expansion, that’s right, read it and weep at the power) and then losing the lot to a power cut or bodging the RAM connector were probably the first… computers have changed but their inherent problems continue to vex me, even to this day..

But I digress!

There have been sequels (we won’t talk about them) and, I believe, some wrangling between the creators David Braben and Ian Bell (of which I don’t know enough to comment) but Elite IV had been promised by the former for longer than I care to remember.  I used to check up on progress every six to twelve months, only to find that there hadn’t been any. 

Concept art

Now, however, things seem to be about to change. David Braben has transformed Elite IV and put the sequel out for funding as Elite: Dangerous on Kickstarter. I’m sure you know the drill, you pledge money to the project and depending on how much you stump up, you get increasing rewards.

I’ve bunged them £20 and we’ll see how close they get to their target (hopefully, they’ll reach or exceed it) which is £1,250,000 by January 4th, 2013.

Should the game be funded, will this have the same impact as the original? Probably not, (at least, not for an old, jaded git like myself) as the genre they helped to define and establish is already a strong one. However, one of the great things about Elite was the vast, open nature of the game and it sounds as though the sequel will retain the same concept. The game’s wiki also hints that it can be played offline and/or, intriguingly, online in a format approaching that of an MMO. The project looks great and sounds intriguing. If you have a few quid spare, perhaps you’d like to chip in, too?

For the retro heads, check out the splendid (free and multi-platform) Oolite - there’s also Pioneer (an Elite 2, type of game) which I’ve yet to try.

Oolite

Hoar today, gone tomorrow.

Frosty view 1

This morning, I took a stroll around the countryside that surrounds Hypocrite Towers. It was part constitutional and part to enjoy the last bit of frost. The forecast suggests that we’re going back to mild, wet and windy conditions again

This rather annoys me.

I like the seasons to be distinct and I love cold weather. When there’s snow or frost about, I’m a happy hypocrite. Many disagree with me but I’ve since realised I’m what they term (on some weather forums) as a snowciopath (thanks Laura!) This is someone who wants snow, regardless of the consequences to others.

It’s winter, it’s supposed to be cold. Instead, we’re going back to the dreadful weather that the U.K. seems to have laboured under since April - murky, overcast, mild and wet. My God it’s rained this year. I’ll bet the water companies have wasted most of it too. If there’s a hosepipe ban in the next two years, drown their CEOs! Bah.

Anyway, I just wanted to rant that this short-lived, delicious cold spell is coming to an end. We’ve not had any snow (we rarely do) but we’ve had a few days where there’s been a hoar frost and it’s been quite lovely to see it. I have friends in Finland (hello Damon and Maaria!) and Canada (hello Adam and Vicky!) who have proper wintry weather and I’m sure they’ll be amused by this comparatively poor showing but when it comes to Britain, beggars can’t be choosers! 

Frosty view 2

Thinking of buying a Mac Mini 2012?

Mini Ha Ha

This is just a little caveat emptor post for anyone who is contemplating buying the latest Mac Mini (late 2012) from Apple.

I won’t say don’t buy but I will say that if you’re currently thinking of buying and if you intend to run your Mini via its onboard HDMI port, then perhaps you should take a look at some of the following, before you part with your cash:

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4472316?start=0
https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4490924?tstart=0
http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1484486
http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1478837
http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1485897 

TL;DR - some (it’s not known how many) people who’ve bought the 2012 Mac Mini and are using the onboard HDMI port (even with an adapter) are getting random black screens and static/snow on their TVs and monitors.

I was directly affected by this, my Mac Mini was running without issues and then, about ten or eleven days into using it, the black screens/snow started happening. They seemed to get progressively worse until changing inputs and/or powering off the HDTV it was plugged into didn’t clear them and I had to reboot. By this time, I’d had enough so I was able to return my Mac Mini within the fourteen day period that Apple allow. The chap in the store claimed he hadn’t heard of any issues but I asked him to log the problem with it and he said Apple would probably email me about it. (They haven’t yet.) I have no idea what triggered the problem, my suspicion is that it started once I was sleeping and waking the Mac Mini, rather than leaving it running but close to the end of the return period I found it was becoming virtually impossible to use.

No-one seems to agree on what’s causing the problem, theories abound from a hardware fault with the HD4000 to a software glitch with the version of Mountain Lion 10.8.2 (which has since been pulled from Apple’s site) causing handshake problems. Apple have yet to acknowledge that there is an issue but some are pointing to similar problems being experienced by Linux and Windows users who are connecting via HDMI and using the HD4000 integrated graphics on their PCs. Additionally, some have noted that Intel have known about this since the summer and have issued a couple of fixes for it, which don’t seem to have solved the problem at all and, with Haswell being on the horizon, are questioning their ability and commitment to address it. At least one user said that Apple techies were suspicious that it was being caused by VLC making the display sleep. So, it seems to me, whatever is making this happen, has yet to be definitively identified.

The workaround for those affected - although some say they are still having issues - is to use a Mini Display Port to HDMI cable or adapter off the Mini’s Thunderbolt port. That wasn’t an option for me and I also felt I shouldn’t have to do this with a brand new computer.

None of the mainstream tech sites seem to be covering this fault and small fry like myself aren’t going to make much of a difference but it seems to be affecting a certain proportion of Mac Minis (some owners have reported absolutely no issues) so if you’re intending to buy and you will be using the onboard HDMI port then I would think twice before laying down your cash.  Or, if you do buy one, then at least keep a close eye on your Mac Mini to see if it does show this issue. 

I’m waiting and watching to see if a fix is forthcoming.

My Mac Mini, in a bag, on a Fetzer Maple desk in the Cribbs Causeway Apple Store, next to a 13" Retina MBP
 

Edit December 12th: Apple have released an EFI update to fix the issue. 

No Photoshop

These are rather good! Art student Chooo-San (Mr Chooo, I suppose!) doesn’t use digital trickery or any other technology apart from acrylic paint to achieve these clever trompe-l’œil images.

Assault and battery?

Zip it!

Unzip it!

Hat's life...

More here on the original blog (Japanese.)

^Click to embiggen!
A juvenile, female* speckled bush cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) sips delicately from raindrops on a honeysuckle leaf.
I’ve been rescuing these (and other) beasties for many years. The crickets have a habit of wandering in through open windows and then getting lost indoors. This one was no exception, I found her quite early one morning and she must have been inside overnight at least.
Previous crickets have always proven to be very thirsty when I’ve found them and they will go quickly to any nearby water droplets on foliage when put back outside. Once or twice a year, I’ll discover a desiccated cricket body lying on the carpet somewhere, one that was not lucky enough to be rescued in time and it always makes me feel a little guilty that I didn’t find them!
*At least, I think that’s what she was!

^Click to embiggen!

A juvenile, female* speckled bush cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) sips delicately from raindrops on a honeysuckle leaf.

I’ve been rescuing these (and other) beasties for many years. The crickets have a habit of wandering in through open windows and then getting lost indoors. This one was no exception, I found her quite early one morning and she must have been inside overnight at least.

Previous crickets have always proven to be very thirsty when I’ve found them and they will go quickly to any nearby water droplets on foliage when put back outside. Once or twice a year, I’ll discover a desiccated cricket body lying on the carpet somewhere, one that was not lucky enough to be rescued in time and it always makes me feel a little guilty that I didn’t find them!

*At least, I think that’s what she was!

Some photographs: Part I - Ladybirds - Herefordshire, 2012

Replaceface - this is splendid!

In your face!

"Your face goes here" is the tagline on the excellently silly replaceface blog (a fellow tumblr-er, too!) Now this is what the interweb should be about.

It’s a project that replaces the faces in George Dawe's portraits of leading Russian military figures of the Napoleonic war period with those of friends or celebrities. The results are highly pleasing:

I'm told I resemble RDJ a little - I wish!

One more thing....

It is true.. the man has no di...

Anger is an energy

Say hello to my leel friend

They are also for sale, printed onto canvas and supplied with a gold frame, they maintain their appearance of an oil painting. Private commissions are also available.

They’re not cheap but if your wallet/purse can run to such things, then these would look brilliant on the wood panelling of your long gallery at home.

You've got red on your portrait

Ozzy pranks fans at Madame Tussauds, New York.
I found this pretty amusing! :o) 

(No swearing but maybe not quite SFW.)

Some more photos (what I found!)

Strangely enough, I stumbled across these striking images by photographer Ondrej Pakan whilst looking up tips to get rid of duckweed on ponds! This took me to a page on Telegraph’s website where I spotted his photos.

A rather wet Damselfly by Ondrej Pakan

Apparently, he spends hours getting soaked, waiting to capture the few seconds after a downpour when the insects are bejewelled with water droplets. 

The discomfort must be worth it as the end products are truly beautiful and you can see them here.