Sunday, May 31, 2009

The WolframAlpha search engine

A friend of mine asked me if I knew anything about this new search
engine, which I've just had a look at via Google.

It is truly amazing.

It's a "computational-knowledge" search engine, and it's free to use.
You don't have to download anything (or register online with it).

Here is a link to an online demo, given by Stephen Wolfram.

(It takes 1-2 minutes to load up)

Here is a link to the website itself.

So I invite you to have a go at using it, after watching the video ...
perhaps you'd like to find out what happened on your birthday, or
check what the weather was like on that day?

It would have been brilliant to have had this website to help me
(and my dad) do my school Maths homework ... would have saved us many
hours of work. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Recently ....

Our daughter L and her two children went home, back to London, last weekend.
As you can imagine, our house felt very quiet and empty without them ... so
I felt sad, but at the same time I felt somewhat liberated ~ free to catch up
on a lot of little jobs around the house, and free to catch up on some admin
work for my local U3A.

Yesterday and today, we've had some gorgeous hot weather ... glorious sunshine,
with temps around 25 deg C.. Having said that, I don't like being out in the sun
too long ~ I tend to sit in the shade, where it's a bit cooler, and then go out
for walks late afternoon / early evening. So Summer is definitely here ... it
must be, as today was the first day of summer I left my longjohns off. Tomorrow,
I will be even more daring, and get out my pair of Roman-style sandals to wear.
This event takes place most summers when the hot weather arrives.

I have to admit also that I'm one of those untrendy blokes who wears sandals
with socks on. I don't like my feet sticking to the inner soles of sandals ~ I
don't like stickiness underfoot (especially the stickiness of doggy-poo or of
chewing gum). Also my feet are somewhat unsightly, as I've had both big
toe-nails removed permanently ... not a pleasant sight.

Yesterday, Mrs C and I went across to see our daughter R and her two children,
who live on the other side of Nottingham towards the M1. The plan was that we'd
motor up the M1 to see a lovely National Trust property, Hardwick Hall, which
was owned by the Cavendish/Derbyshire family for a few centuries. We were all
set up to have a picnic there, but after driving less than a mile, we had to
turn back again as an engine warning sign appeared on the dashboard of R's car.
So we picnicked in R's back garden instead. I'll post a few photos from the
picnic onto my Flickr site fairly soon.

Today, I've just been pottering around the house and pottering around on this
computer. Mrs C made a lovely celery and onion soup for lunch (with a few bits
of Blue Stilton cheese melted in it). And for the evening meal, we both put
together a pizza, which we had with a green salad & a glass of white wine,
while watching some TV.

We've started to watch the entire second series of The Wire, which we videoed
while L was staying with us ~ so we watched the first two episodes of The Wire,
this evening together with the finals of Britain's Got Talent ~ some very
talented contestants.

Last weekend, we visited another National Trust property, near Daventry,
called Canons Ashby ... an Elizabethan pile owned by the Dryden family. We were very impressed with what we saw. One of the beds upstairs had a lovely Chinese silk bedspread on it, on par with the gorgeous one at Caulke Abbey. Well worth a visit, and the NT restaurant was excellent too.

I'll stop there, as it's my bedtime.
Talk to you soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hello again

Sorry about the fact that I’m blogging less often. I’ve got a lot of
work on at present, so for the next 2-3 months I might only be able
to post a blog every 2-3 weeks.

Our daughter L and her children are still with us, and will be so
for the coming week. Her partner J has just spent a long weekend with
us, so I’ve been busier than usual with all the household duties, food
shopping and child-minding, as well as socialising, of course.

In the past week, I’ve also been busy updating one of my websites, as
well as looking at various programs …

Google Chrome … it looks good if you wish to conceal a lot of your
browsing (adult sites, holidays for your partner, etc). However, I’ll
stay with what I’m familiar with: Internet Explorer, for the time being.

Irfanview … for free photo-editing and for viewing your photos and
videos (thanks, Kevin, for letting me know about this). However, for
viewing photos and vids, I prefer to use Windows Photo-Gallery and
Windows Media Player.

Gimp … free photo-editing. This looks very good, but it’s somewhat
different from Photoshop in its layout and use.
I’ve found some excellent videos on YouTube on how to use it.

Kompozer (a successor to Nvu) : a free website building program …
there are some good videos on how to use it (& Nvu), on YouTube.

(I'm doing all the above research for future IT teaching material, as
well as for my own personal use).


There’s been a lot of coverage in the UK media about the expense claims
submitted by MPs, alleging that some have been somewhat OTT or even
fraudulent. I have to say that I’m starting to feel bored by the
ongoing daily stream of revelations about these claims, and by some of
the lame excuses being given by some MPs. Most of them say that what
they claimed was “within the rules”. But then, we know it’s the MPs
themselves who make up the rules. The whole expense claims system
seems to be rotten to me, and appears to be easily open to abuse.

What is a fair claim, and who should decide on this matter? An
independent body, I think, independent of the MPs. Should we ditch the
present system and replace it by a daily attendance allowance on top
of an MP’s basic salary? (This is Gordon Brown’s solution to the

Most MPs will require somewhere to stay in London if they live some
distance away from it … perhaps a hostel / a two-star hotel where
they can put their feet up for a few nights each week? Let’s do away
with the allowance for a second home for MPs.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Picasa 3

Most of my time at present is taken up with general household
duties, babysitting, and food shopping, though in the evenings
we usually settle down to watch some TV. For example, tonight
we watched an episode of Taggart on ITV catch-up, but I slept
through the next programme Mrs C watched, as it didn't interest
me (and also I'd had some extra wine and felt tired too).

I mention all this as most of my computer-based activities now
take place either around midnight and at around 6am ... the
quietest times of the day for me ... and people-free. You can
tell from this that I'm a fairly introverted type of person.
However, I do enjoy some company in the day.

This morning I had a bit of fun exploring some of the features
of Picasa 3 - the photo-editing ones. I downloaded Picasa two
days ago, to try it out again (for the third time in recent years).

I was very impressed with most of the photo-editing tools, in
particular those for adding text, cropping, sharpening,
straightening out the verticals, and for changing the colour.
I didn't like as much the re-touching & gradient tools (Photoshop
is a lot better), and there was no way of altering the dimensions
of a photo other than by cropping it. I'm thinking about the
creation of a banner for a website, where it would be good to
be able to set a width at say 610 pixels and an overall size at
around 75-100kb (which is what you can do in P'shop).

However, I am amazed by what you can do with Picasa 3. I'll keep
it on my computer for a while, so I can do basic fixes such as
sharpening a portrait, very quickly.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

More piccies

Cutie 2 at 2 weeks

Grandma with Cutie 1 in our garden

Photo taken in the evening light
~ my camera is a Canon 350 DSLR.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Back in Nottingham

Yes, we came back to Nottingham today, calling in at our other
daughter with the two children, who/whom we hadn't seen for the
past two weeks. The past 2 weeks have flown by, with being so
busy with helping out our London daughter.

Our cats, Miss D and Slayer, were very pleased to see us - both
came very quickly into our house to greet us, and they spent the
evening indoors watching TV with us (catching up on Mad Men
& Taggart, and then watching Britain's Got Talent).

Both of us felt rather odd being back in a larger and rather
empty house - empty of people - though it was nice to relax &
do things at a much slower pace. This is only a temporary state
of affairs however, as late tomorrow afternoon, we'll be joined
by L. and her two little children: Mini and Baby-with-no-name.
I'll be collecting them tomorrow at Northampton Services on the
M1, as I've done before.

Mrs C was very well organised as usual, with creating a menu plan
for the next few days. Today we had jacket potatoes with cottage
cheese (plus a generous helping of cabbage, brocolli and carrots
plus some Australian red wine - the Wine Society's Spicy Red).
Other menu ideas include home-made mushroom burgers, Abel & Cole's
veggie burgers, home-made pizza, spag bolognaise made with Quorn
mince, and then white fish cooked on top of a pile of roasted veg
(in our Remoska). In fact most of our roasting & baking is done in
the Remoska (stews, jacket & chipped spud, bread rolls, toasties,
and cakes, and salmon & tuna fillets)... and we steam-cook all our
other veg.