A resolution to improve my Greek….again

Every few years I resolve to go and see my friends in Greece again, and of course I need to be able to speak to them and their friends. Each year I struggle to learn a few more words and remember a bit more grammar; I’ve seen most of the books and tried most of the systems, but it takes real effort to get any progress. My brain isn’t the correct shape for language training! Perhaps by making it more public, it will become more of a commitment. I doubt it, but at least I’ll leave some things here that may help other make some progress. I’ve put some of the word lists here in a format usable by Anki, the latest application that I’m using to learn words with. It’s free for most formats, but is worth a donation. This year I’m going o start with the kypros.org lessons and then go back to the Hellenic American Union scripts which are more of a challenge. They are podcasts and are easy to use. Kypros-Net should do the same with their audio.
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Curious maps on the new i7 processor

I had a job last week to build a new machine for Pro-Active, near Bath. Their Curious Maps system hard drive had crashed. It was around ten years old, so good value for the old PVR graphics card in it. Would probably still work but we’d had to chip off the dust inside. They asked me to put together a new system, so I held off a week until the i7s came out. It had to produce a full digital video and key signal, live to the mixer so we looked at the AJA cards. I did think about Blackmagic, and some people swear by them, but I didn’t want to risk it. In the end we put in a card we knew had the power, the AJA Xena 2K card which would give us all resolutions up to 2k. It will be great for the Curious Maps system they have, at normal D1 resolution, but will cope with HD when they get the higher end jobs.
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BBC education dropped

Do I hear correctly? The BBC is being forced to take down its free educational site, Jam. What a disgrace. OK, there must be some of our money being spent on this site, but surely that’s what a successful public service should be doing. It should be helping to educate the next generations of children in all aspects of life. Literacy and numeracy are part of the deal. How can the Government bow to the pressures of commercial companies who cannot cope with the competition. Isn’t this what free trade is all about.

The teachers have had an excellent resource. They can point children to the particular place to get the information in the knowledge that most of them will have a look at least. There is no way that this will be done in the future, with the same results. Some of the teachers will have to take out any web references from their teaching notes. Without the free BBC resource, they will not be able to choose one commercial supplier over another. This would constitute bias and favouritism! So what we shall be left with, or should I say our children will be left with is no guidance at all.

When the parents do decide they would like some help they will then have to find some cash to get it. Which site will they choose? Will they get value for money? I doubt it. If the companies cannot keep up with some competition, they will not be capable of producing something that is useful at a reasonable cost. Not all parents will be able to afford to subscribe to several suppliers until they find one that works for their children. How many times have we bought a service on the web, or at the door, only to find that the deal was not worth it and the service was thrown away. Many, many parents will not be able to do this. Their children will simply not get the opportunity.

Where will it stop? Will all the BBC sites that compete be taken down – with music, videos, sport, the list is endless and why should News be any different. Will other news companies decide that the BBC has too much funding for News. Why should they be allowed to take the public licence fee and produce News programmes? I’m happy with what the BBC is doing with my money. It’s not much money to produce such results. I want to know that there is an accountable body producing content that I can rely on to be balanced and well thought out. If that means that the BBC has to become a huge multinational company to succeed then I’m all for it. Let’s spread our values to the world and allow our children the best chance to flourish.

Sony Playstation

Had the chance to have a look at the new Playstation 3 this weekend. Sony needed to get some market reaction from users of other systems and we were at the right place, at the right time to borrow the box and have a go.

They gave us Genji, MotorStorm, Resistance:Fall of Man and the old favourite Ridge Racer, now version seven. I remember playing the original RidgeRacer in the arcades and the track looks very familiar but with a huge amount of increase in quality. The graphics are excellent for this initial release and I’m sure they will improve on later games. Are they better than the Xbox? I think that recent games on the Xbox show almost the same quality, but maybe that is coming to its limits. I probably need to connect up to a true high definition display to see the system at its best.

The cable to the remote seemed a bit short until we realised that it was only for recharging. The console has wireless controllers, Bluetooth I think. It seemed to work well and they have a tilt detection switch inside for an extra level of control. This means that by tilting the controller one way or the other, the user can steer vehicles in the Motor Storm game ( an updated , uprated BigDirtMover type of race game) I loved the preview movie for this game and the production was similarly good. So much attention to detail, with motion blur, dust effects, tremendous crashes and good sound.

My son seemd to enjoy the Resistance game, but I didn’t see that one. He’s more into the first person shooters that I ever will be, this time with aliens as well as soldiers. Good graphics, good sound, good game by the sound of it.

Playstation 3 runs cooler than the Xbox, but is a bit larger. Shiny and black, with touch controls and a slot for the disc. Looks great to me. Pity we have such a huge investment in the Xbox. I do get fed up with the noisy, hot Xbox but I doubt that we’ll find the money for another games console for a while.

Take a break

For once we have taken some family time. We have stolen the children away from school to get them onto skies for the first time. An EasyJet flight to Toulouse was a start. A night time drive to find Frances’ place in Beauchalot, in the South of France. It’s a delightful bed and breakfast owned by a charming english woman who runs art and ceramics holiday classes. Have a look at francesceramics if you’d be interested. We stayed there last year when I was allowed a weekend away with the boys from the office. Just as good this time, good weather, sunny but still snow, delicious home cooking and a relaxing house altogether. The glasses of wine in front of a very large log fire just brings warmth right through.

The ski slopes are an hours drive away in all directions, so we sampled three different slopes. They are local resorts, so not many tourists. We were out of school holidays as well, which helped to keep the crowds down. The kids did well. They’d been on the Milton Keynes SnowDome for a weekend or two, but quickly adapted to having long pistes and high slopes around them. Blue runs were normally our choice and we made good progress. On the final day, though, the blue run was closed for lack of people (we were there with only a few dozen others on the slopes ) so we were forced to the upper green slopes. It seemed high for them at the start, but after one slow run down they were off. We had to ski hard to keep up. It was breathtaking scenery and being with the children showed me what life should be like. If only it could be every day.

New Mod for Half Life

New Mod for Half Life

We’ve been playing aroung with Gary’s Mod for a while now. It’s amazing to me how much you can do with a mod. There seems to be so many additions that must take almost as much time to create as the original game! The kids meanwhile, just take it in their stride as something that is entirely normal. How I wish they appreciated how much work has gone into the system, from the number of transistors in the graphics card, right through to the dedication of the Half Life modders community. It couldn’t be done by one person, but one person can so much to the whole experience. I must find out more about Gary.

I must also find out more about how to drive these graphics cards. All the lighting effects in the new technical Mod for Half Life 2 that my son has. It’s a seaside area and looks as tho’ it is done to show off some of the techniques that Valve are looking at. The lighting is the main source of inspiration. The software uses HDRI images to enable some fantastic lighting effects. The scene is dulled down when looking at a bright light, just as though your iris is closing a little to cope with the brightness. The seaside water reflections are great. Valve also offer a talk through of all the effects, explaining the pros and cons of each. You should definitley look for this download and check it out. It’s called the “Lost Coast”.

Banks are so much hard work.

Banks are so much hard work. Abbey make life difficult.

Pixel sites look interesting. Had a chat to Francis to see the project timescales. Perhaps it could help. We shall think about it overnight and see how we feel later in the week. Let’s get the Merchant Id setup tho’. We shall need that on all the sites as we go live with all the projects.

Might expand the 3d stats idea. Chatted to Al. He seemed to think that there might be a chance of funding there, possible with some exchanging of shares etc. The groups website have no web impact at all, really. The music site has some stats, but no links. Perhaps I could offer my expertise to them as well. Lets put a business plan together and see where it leads. Streaming video into the living room, hopefully. let’s get a page up at Happy Tuesdays so that we can bring people in to the idea.

Note to the diary – check all the streaming videos, showreels to make sure that they work in all the browsers….