Narwhal Circus

…Will be resumed as soon as possible. I’m in bed with a bad cold.

Well I say bed, it’s more the couch, in front of the TV. Sipping a hot drink. I’m recording TV and updating my phone. In the oven, a whole chicken is roasting for dinner. It doesn’t sound much like hardship, and I have to admit it’s not. I’d probably enjoy doing this little – if I was doing it of my own free will.

But I’m cooking the chicken now because on Sunday I was too fuzz-headed to figure out how, and I haven’t written this blog – or done anything much else even remotely constructive – in days. I think the closest I got to creativity was a couple of rounds of the Game of Liff over on my friend Susan’s blog, and even then I faded out almost immediately.

That’s typical in fact. I don’t feel so bad – my inner ears are little diving bells, but there’s no other real discomfort – I just can’t concentrate. Not that I’m a paragon of laserlike focus when I’m well, it might be admitted, but now I’m all, you know, kind of

That was going to be a sentence that trailed off aimlessly, but while I was writing I honestly fell asleep. Weirdly, my attempt to describe reality became the reality. But I feel a bit better for it at least. Maybe today I can write something coherent.

Hoping you’re well.

My First Failed Career

Still not quite finished with that attic, would you believe. Right now I’m cleaning and repacking my old darkroom equipment. Not sure why. Did anything ever become so suddenly and so profoundly obsolete?

Maybe one day it’ll be retro-chic to take analogue pictures. After all, it had so many aspects you just don’t get with digital processing. Like handling poisonous chemicals in the dark. The gear seems OK, mostly. A few negatives chewn¹ by rats who apparently thought film was still made out of cellulose. No harm really, they were of a band I’d covered for a magazine in about 1984. Goth, but with lingering traces of New Romantic. Robert Smith Hair and Simon Le Bon pants. What I’m saying here basically is that the tooth-marks of rats have improved these images.

I wanted to be a photographer for several years. Right up until the day in fact that I finally understood it was real work. You’re running around with a box that has about fifteen knobs on it, trying to capture the moment. Set one wrong, and you lose. This is stressful.

And the costs! The film costs money, the developing costs more money. The printing costs really fantastic amounts of money. Eventually I did my own developing and printing, but it didn’t save much and it was even more hard work – especially as I’d had to settle for the cheapest, crappiest equipment going. This LPL 3301D enlarger didn’t even cast an even light, which is really the least you should expect. Possibly the worst thing ever made in Japan.

I don’t think of myself as a photographer any more, yet ironically I take far more pictures these days. Because I can. Since my camera turned into a phone the cost has become too small even to quantify – plus I actually have it when I see something worth photographing. And whether doing it more has improved my eye or just the odds, I think I get better results. Take that one up at the top there, from last April. That’s closer to being a good photograph than anything I ever took with a proper roll film SLR.

This is a new golden age of photography. And it happened so fast. Imagine if I’d appeared in my darkroom and said to my younger self “Some day soon you’ll take better pictures with a telephone.”

Actually I did, but at the time I just put it down to the chemicals.

  1. I’m quite convinced it’s a word.

What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

Dial C for Panic

A 1999 Ford Transit Ice Cream Van at Heath Vil...
The Chimes of Nemesis

Should you be worried by the WHO’s warning on mobile phones? Well don’t let me stop you. On current evidence you’re more likely to be run over by a taxi – hell, you’re more likely to be run over by an ice cream van playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. But the World Health Organization has decided that they are a ‘possible cause’ of cancer. So if worrying is your thing, knock yourself out.

I know what you’re going to say. All this ‘putting things in perspective’ stuff is well and good, but getting cancer in your brain is f***ing scary. I am forced to agree. But if we take precautions in proportion not to how likely a threat is but to how frightening, we’ll all go around with crash helmets over our crotches in case we ever meet that Amazonian fish that swims up you. That’s the scariest thing in the world.

So how can we properly calibrate our fear with only ‘possible cause’ to go on – are phones extremely deadly, or only slightly deadly? With billions using mobiles, the prospect of them all getting cancer would make any previous threat to human life seem laughable. Perhaps everyone has a time bomb in their head right now. It could be. Many years may pass before cellular genetic damage manifests itself detectably. With little more than ten years’ real-world evidence, how can we know?

Well of course they have been around longer, it was just that they were rare until prices plummeted at the turn of the century. Indeed in the form of carphones and briefcase-sized portables, mobiles of a sort have been with us since the 70s at least. These were different from ours though. They were on different frequencies, they were analogue rather than digital, they didn’t use a cellular system. Most saliently of all perhaps, they created far stronger electromagnetic fields. So it is entirely possible that while the phones used by the red-suspendered bond traders of the 80s were deadly, the modern kind is not.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

The question for the rest of us is, should this extremely vague pronouncement change our lives? Well speaking for myself I suspect that, pursuant of very many poor lifestyle choices, I am already too raddled with incipient tumours for this to make any measurable difference. But while the jury is still out I think it would be wrong to let kids use phones unnecessarily.

Which is to say, at all. Let the pristine little buggers text.

Your Phone Can Replace Your PC

Tux, the Linux penguin
The Penguin Cometh

My big tech news: I have a desktop computer on my phone now.

It’s running Linux, the free alternative to Windows or Mac. With it I can edit Word documents and spreadsheets, create PDFs, do Photoshop-class image editing. The screen is pretty tiny for that kind of thing of course, but it’s doable. In essence, I don’t need a computer anymore. It even runs Firefox. Not the new mobile version you can get for Android, but the full-scale desktop one.

Oh, and it still makes phone calls.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve been messing with this stuff half the night and I take on an even bigger project tomorrow. More of both these things anon.

Thumbs Up

QWERTY keyboard layout - homes keys - Start po...
WRONG

So let’s see can I do this and cross the street at the same time… OK, no collisions thus far. Bicycles are the worst. Silent and deadly. Like woodlice.

Yes I’m blogging while walking again, using my phone’s thumboard – that is, a keyboard the right size for typing with your thumbs. This time though I’m in an urban environment, which is even more stupid. (Please do not try this at home. Richard is a trained stuntgeek.) Of course we’ve all entered text while walking, on our phones. Some of us have also tried it using the handwriting recognition on a tablet PC, which works pretty well. In terms of speed though the thumboard beats both hollow. It takes two hands, but if you’re texting on an ordinary phone the other hand is idle anyway. Or should be.

So though thumboards may be perceived as unfeasibly cramped they’re actually more useful than the larger keyboards you’ll find on things like netbooks, which are still too small for touch typing but too wide to be used like this. They’re a great invention and deserve a bit more respect.

But back to the local colour. I’m walking via the campus, site of my undistinguished but enjoyable academic career. Those four years seemed to go on forever, yet somehow I could still never find time to study. The place has expanded almost out of recognition since then, and hoardings up now promise that when complete it will be the largest school of engineering in Ireland. Shame, I preferred it as a university.

He may be a geek folks, but he’s still an arts grad.