Archive for March, 2015

The weather was capricious today: dark grey skies dropping lots of rain alternated with white clouds and a bright sun, neither condition lasting very long. One constant: the wind, forceful and destructive at speeds up to about 100 km/h.

Today, a tree fell on a house in Wijnegem (photo: BFM)

Today, a tree fell on a house in Wijnegem (photo: BFM)

When all is said and done, the past month wasn’t too spectacular in terms of sunshine, as evidenced by our solar energy production numbers. Over the last 5 months of May, electricity production on our roof averaged about 185 KWh for the whole month. So this year’s 155 KWh falls far below that number, and it’s even worse when compared to last year… Never mind. Who am I to complain: I do not have to contend with a tree fallen on my roof.

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It won’t turn your smartphone into a cosmic death ray gun, but it might help forward a scientific project: CRAYFIS. I found out about it through the NPR website, but for all the details you should head over to the arXiv.org site, where the authors have published a paper titled “Observing Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays with Smartphones“.


In short: the app will turn your smartphone-at-rest into one of (hopefully) many networked particle detectors.

When a high energy cosmic ray hits the top of Earth’s atmosphere, it creates a shower of new energetic particles.

“So if we have a bunch of users nearby each other, all running the app, they will all see hits in their phone; they’ll see particles being detected by our app in their phone in the same moment,” says Whiteson.

And by analyzing the distribution of the particle shower detected by the phones, Whiteson says, the astrophysicists will learn more about the high energy cosmic ray that produced the shower.

That’s the idea, anyway.

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Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) calls it “Helpful, yes, but still super creepy“: Google knows all about your plane tickets, just by following your email…

@csoghoian on 2015-03-23

Google will even insert the flight into our calendar, if you have one. Great, isn’t it?

Well, it isn’t all that great. I can give you two reasons why this shouldn’t happen.

First of all, it’s an intrusion of privacy to insert appointments or events into a calendar without explicit consent of the owner of said calendar (I won’t talk about the fact that Google reads your mail; if you don’t like that, you should just run your own mail server). So if Google wants to do this, they should at least ask permission to do so before adding to the calendar.

Secondly, interpreting emails (and attachments, I suppose) is hard – people make mistakes in reading mail, notices, letters, books, etc. And Google makes mistakes too. In my case, Google found out about our holiday plans – but entered the flight on the wrong date, a week before it is supposed to happen. Is that the only mistake, or did it also miscalculate the time difference between Belgium and our destination? And what about the other info about the flights? How can I trust Google to get all that data right?

In summary it is very clear: what Google tries is creepy… and not helpful. My calendar is meant to be precise, so please let all mistakes be mine, and mine only! It all comes down to “trust”, in the end. So far, I trust Google not to abuse the info it reads in my mail. But I also need to be able to trust the information entered in to my calendar, and that’s where Google failed.

If anyone is going to help me indicate when not to miss a  plane, it should be the flight organiser or the travel agency – and they too need my permission before touching my calendar!

* * * * *

All this on a day when I talked to a co-worker about setting up one’s own mail server in the cloud. What a coincidence!


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Springtime In Our Garden

The day started out chilly and grey, but in the afternoon the calendar was proven correct: spring is here!

The first blossoms are showing!

The first blossoms are showing!

Without the wind we had this morning, taking a good picture of the first, small blossoms (we’re expecting many more of them) wasn’t too hard ;-)

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Being human requires more than shelter and food. When disaster strikes, shelter and food are among the first goods to be loaded on ships and planes, in order to help the victims. Necessary, but not sufficient, says the Photohoku project.

Check out the "Photohoku: Yuko Yoshikawa at TEDxTokyoTeachers" video (click on the picture) to learn more about the project.

Check out the “Photohoku: Yuko Yoshikawa at TEDxTokyoTeachers” video
(click on the picture) to learn more about the project.

Peterson and other professional photographers travelled to the tsunami zone to do portrait sessions with families who had lost all their photos. Peterson used instant film to ensure families immediately had prints to fill the first few pages of a photo album.

The work brought a lot of smiles, along with something deeper. “We have seen with tsunami-affected families in Japan how this effort has had a positive emotional and psychological impact in providing a way for people affected by disaster to move forward,” Peterson says on the project website.

(Source: Petapixel)

As an amateur photographer, I like this project (just hoping I never need their assistance). Clearing rubbish and rebuilding a life is an absolute necessity in such situations; having a means to build memories may be a great help to work towards a happier future.

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Another smart device is being built in the coming months by COBI: the Connected Bike. The Kickstarter campaign has largely surpassed the original goal of $100.000, and production is supposed to be starting soon – after all, delivery s promised for 2015 Q2.

I can certainly see myself using this or a similar system on my fitness rides, or while touring with family or friends.I have been dreaming about a smartphone on my handlebars, but the current possibilities are either rudimentary of very expensive. A system that includes an extra battery, integrates with a dynamo, and simplifies manipulation of the apps on the smartphone would fulfill my fantasies – and more!


Just wondering: could I use the same (or a similar) hub on my motorcycle, thus allowing me to have a better GPS in combination with practical smartphone functions in a single device? How about it, BMW: do you care to talk to Carsten about such integration?

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We live in this house for over twenty years now, and in all that time I have seen the usual small birds in our garden: sparrows, tits, great tits, blackbirds, greenfinches and the like. Over time, the seagulls left the area, the doves stayed, and crows and magpies made their appearance. Nothing out of the ordinary for a suburban area like this, I’d say.

Since about ten days, however, a new guest has made a few appearances in our garden: the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos Major). After two visits to the trees he finally showed up at the bird feeder – there can be no doubt about his/her love for peanuts ;-)

The great spotted woodpecker in our garden

The great spotted woodpecker in our garden

I managed to take a series of photographs, but it was already rather late in the afternoon, in the shadows; the resulting pictures are not as good as I would have liked. But who knows: perhaps there will be another occasion for a photoshoot in the next days? The weather forecast promises a sunny and warm Sunday…

If you want to see a spectacular picture of a woodpecker, have a look at the news item “Woodpecker shown flying with weasel on its back in amateur photographer’s amazing image“, reported on the ITV website. DIY Photography also writes about these photographs, and includes an appraisal of their authenticity by an expert witness: “Weasel gets the ride of his lifetime while clinging to the back of a flying woodpecker“.

A close up of the image shows the woodpecker in clear distress. Credit: Martin Le-May

A close up of the image shows the woodpecker in clear distress.
Credit: Martin Le-May

Some guys (photographers!) have all the luck!

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In December 2014 I mentioned my entry into the Kickstarter universe. I signed up for a notebook stand called Flio, which at the time was supposed to enter our house in January. As it is, it took quite a bit longer: the package was delivered early this week, at the beginning of March.


The packaging of the Flio is simple, just like its contents

The packaging of the Flio is simple, just like its contents

Never mind the wait; I must admit that I like what I got. The bamboo version is well done. It will take my Macbook, but I can also use it for my tablet – the angle of the Flio is well chosen. Now all that remains to be seen is how long it will last, but with bamboo that should not be a problem.

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Quick update on our solar energy production numbers: February clearly ups the mean for the production in all the months of February of the last 6 years. And although January was not exceptional either, their total production was the second best in the existence of our installation.


I know that 6 years is not very much in terms of weather (let alone climate), but it is good to see that those Sunhunter tubes are still working as they should. Having been on the roof to investigate a leak, I also know that I’ll have to invest some time in cleaning the white reflective foil underneath the panels – but that’s a job for when the weather is a bit more clement ;-)

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