Archive for the 'YamYamFeatures' Category

Castle Miranda

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Castle Miranda is otherwise (more properly?) known as Chateau Noisy. It’s a long way from here, in Belgium, but was designed by the English architect Edward Milner. It is, to vastly understate things, a beautiful Neo-Gothic building that has been terribly neglected. You can read all about it in an account on David Baker’s excellent site here. It’s also very popular with urbexers.

David’s a professional photographer, and has taken some beautiful images of the chateau- you can visit the gallery by clicking the image below:

Castle Miranda

Castle Miranda. Image courtesy of David Baker: click to visit his gallery.

The bad news is that the owners want to demolish it, despite many offers to purchase the site over the years. See Dave’s post here, and a petition site here (hint, use Google Translate if you can’t read French).

Pelsall, Common

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

I’ve bought a slide scanner, and I thought some readers might like to see this photo of Pelsall Common in the early 70s, taken by my late father. It’s me, my mom, and (I think) a next-door neighnour who was friends with my sister stood around my Dad’s Wolseley 16/60 on Pelsall Common- the railway bridge at Fordbrook Lane/Vicarage Road is in the background.

Me and family on Pelsall Common, circa 1973. Click to embiggen.

Me and family on Pelsall Common, circa 1973. Click to embiggen.

It makes an interesting contrast with this Google Streetview image form around the same place in 2012:

A similar view in 2012

A similar view in 2012

I can’t work out if the fancy wall and gates are there, but obscured- will have to look.

On The Buses, again

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

This time, I wasn’t driving.

We went to Aston Manor Transport Museum‘s open day in it’s new Aldridge home. The new building is bigger and better for purpose, if not as impressive as the old tram shed in Witton. We had a great time: a look about, a ride in some lovely old vehicles, and a chance (thanks to the lovely people) to see if I can fit properly behind the wheel of a D9 after the PD2 disappointment (I didn’t, properly).

I think I’m becoming a bus pervert: the sound of a Gardner 6LX or Leyland 0600 and a Self-Changing Gears Pneumocyclic gearbox is becoming strangely attractive. Both the Gardner and the Leyland engine are slow-revving, noisy beasts with enough torque to pull anything.

Pics- click to embiggen.

Daimler CVG5

Daimler CVG5 in West Bromwich Livery

Daimler COG5

Daimler COG5 in Coventry Livery.

Guy Arab LUF

Beautiful, Gardner-engined (with crash box) Guy Arab LUF. We had a ride to Walsall & back in this.

Guy Arab IV

Guy Arab IV

One great thing this year: plenty of bus journeys (all included for the admission price- we went to Hardwick and back, Walsall and back, and Chasewater and back on a mix of old machinery), and the fact they met up with steam trains at Chasewater for the train perverts. Great value and fun.

Internet Censorship, again.

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

I’ve touched on this before, and it seems worth a revisit: in a week where The Pirate Bay has been blocked by Virgin Media, and discussion of an opt-in for Internet porn has resurfaced, and people who don’t understand have made themselves look uncharacteristically foolish (via The Register), it seems worthwhile to explore a few things.

This is going to be a mix of my opinions, and technical facts. The tech I know about: I’m sysadmin for a medium-sized business: I know how web filters, DNS, and routing works. I know about tunnelling, VPNs, and proxies, but I rpomise not too go too deep into the tech.

To set out my opinions: the Internet should not be censored by ISPs or the goverment for two reasons: first of all, it’s wrong. It might be porn or copyrighted material today, but it could be your political beliefs or anything else deemed unnacceptable tomorrow.

Secondly, it doesn’t work. Technically, it doesn’t work, because techies will find a way round it by use of a VPN, SSH tunnel, or anonymous proxy. Once the techies do it, they’ll distribute knowledge or tools on how to.

It also doesn’t work on another level. How do you define porn, for example? As The Register points out, is this site porn, or is it OK because it’s educational and produced by Channel 4? If we’re talking about electronic distribution, is this little lot OK, because there’s no pictures?

What level of nudity and/or sexual activity is OK?

Children have always had access to porn: stashes of magazines, their dad’s videos, etc. People need to get a grip and do some parenting, instead of devolving things to their ISP or the government.

Moving away from porn, The Pirate Bay, it should be noted, didn’t actually host any copyrighted material, just links to filesharing of that material, which also makes it a dodgy target.

I guess what really annoys me is this: this is blaming a transport medium. I have one expectation of my ISP: I don’t want “value added content” or crappy customised search pages. I want them to route packets of data, correctly, and unfiltered, without having to opt-in. Let us not forget that in the 1950s ‘saucy postcards’ were banned (and their creator found guilty under the Obscene Publications Act…, so can we really trust a government to be our moral guardian, or perhaps we should start burning books now.

Will someone please think of the children?

Work on the Avion

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Looks like the visit to the Avion by some urbexers was well-timed: over the Easter break my bother-in-law emailed me:

Just thought I’d let you know that they’re demolishing it ……we went to Morrisons today & the back half has already gone.

I’m pleased to say that it’s not actually being demolished, or at least not all of it: the planning documents (PDF, 80kB) on Walsall MBC’s site don’t go into detail (and I can’t find anything more detailed), but they do say:

Part demolition and alterations and change of use to Class A4 (drinking establishment) with external seating area, extension of adjacent car park, new boundary fences and pedestrian access.

which pretty much confirms the Wetherspoons story.

They’re not mucking about though: I called in at Morrisons on Monday, and you get a good view at what’s going on, and they’re demolishing a good part of the large auditorium behind. At least there’s nothing architecturely significant about it- pretty basic 1930s construction, brick, steel girders, and a sheet roof.

Avion Cinema from Morrisons car park, 23/4/2012

From the side, it’s clear how much has been demolished:

From one side. 23/4/2012

What I’m not sure about is how much is going to be demolished, or how much is original: it’s a big old shed of a building, so clearly they won’t need all of it. Can’t help but think that the top of the frontage, on the other side, would make a nice roof terrace…

Skyhook

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

A technical oddity from a colleagues Android phone today led me to do a bit of googling, and discover a interesting bit of tech: Skyhook.

The oddity was that the colleague’s phone kept thinking we were in Glasgow, before realising we were actually in Birmingham. The interesting thing being that we had been in Glasgow about a year ago, but my colleague had replaced his phone in the intervening time. What was going on? It had us both stumped for a while.

The answer was this:we were using a number of Cisco wireless access points that were last used there, and then packed in a box.

Skyhook uses a combination of Wardriving and automatic submission by wi-fi and GPS equipped devices to keep a database of the BSSID (or hardware) address of wi-fi access points and their location. Android and Apple smartphones then use this data to do automatic location in addition to, or instead of GPS (which doesn’t work if the signal is blocked by, for example, several concrete floors) and cellphone tower triangulation, so Skyhook evidently had records of our APs being used in Glasgow (probably auto-submitted by the older phone), and my colleague’s current phone was using this data, and then later correcting via cellphone triangulation.

The BSSID is (or should be) unique to each AP, so unless someone does exactly what we did, it’s reasonably reliable for locating things. One thing is for sure, there’s a lot of location data held by Skyhook.

Dirty Trick

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

For some years now, I’ve been a great fan of Lenovo PCs, especially laptops: the build quality is good, and the price not obscene. However, there’s one aspect I’ve discovered today that makes me less happy, though it would seem that HP and others are not above the same tickery.

Laptops are less stndard than a desktop PC, but always the great advantage of the PC platform over a Mac has been the openish nature of it: hardware is semi-standardised, drivers are available. This is also often the downfall: the fact that you can shove in any bit of hardware means you then run the gauntlet of dodgy drivers, but that is your choice.

So, then, when my other half’s Lenovo laptop stopped connecting to wireless and then bluescreened, after testing the obvious first thing, I suspected the wireless adaptor. It’s a Mini-PCIe card, so an easy swap, and a quick look on ebay found that a card with the same Broadcom chipset was very cheap.

It takes a while to arrive, from Hong Kong though :-(

Once installed, dissapointment awaits:


Unauthorised network card is plugged in. Power off and remove the Mini-PCI card.

Get this: the BIOS looks at the ID of the card, and unless it’s one of the ones deemed acceptable for that model, the computer won’t boot. Even though the card is compatible in every other way (and, in this case, identical except for the ID), only a limited range of Lenovo-branded cards will work- sometimes not even ones from another Lenovo model. This really isn’t on: it’s deliberatley closing something just because you can: this behaviour would be expected from Apple: it’s one of the ways they keep stability, by using a limited range of approved, tested hardware- but it just goes to show that big, evil tech firms always are and always will be that way.

Off to Ebay again for a secondhand genuine part then… I did consider flashing the BIOS with a modified one, but there’s a risk of bricking the laptop, and the download links for this model seem to have gone.

Debunking Debunking

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Geek content follows, but I’ll try to lay off the tech a bit, as I’m hoping to reach out to people who would usually say “WTF?” to one of the tech twatter debates.

I’m a follower of opensource.com, and I’ve been a Linux user for years now, so this article caught my eye: it’s in respose to this rather wonderful Oatmeal comic:

How to fix any computer

Which is a joke, full of exaggerations for comedy. It plays on stereotypes of computers. Windows is unreliable, needs constant reboots, and regular reinstalls. Macs are expensive and closed, non-tweakable, Linux is hard.

There’s truth there, of course, but I feel that the author missed the point a bit- the exaggeration is there for effect, and claiming that there’s no truth there isn’t helping. Also, as the author is a sysadmin, he’s likely to be more comfortable fiddling than an average user.
(more…)

Sales Volume

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

I picked up via good old usenet this story from the US that says that the FCC are going to limit the volume that TV adverts are played at in the us, so that the average volume of the programmes and adverts are the same.

A great idea. let’s hope it comes here- but….

It’s not quite that simple.

It may well be the adverts aren’t actually louder. In fact, the ASA already regulate volume here in the UK, but clearly, it doesn’t sound like it. The US, it would seem, didn’t even have that.

Just like with music, compression gets used. Not lossy/lossless digital compression like MP3 or FLAC, but dynamic range compression: making the quieter bits louder, so whilst the loudest bit is only as loud, the overall sound is louder. You might have heard the reverse, a wide dynamic range, with a DVD movie- you generally turn the volume up a little to bring the quiet sections up.

The upshot of this is that, if measured in one way (with a peak-level meter, for example), the adverts are still only as loud as the programmes, but they may sound appreciably louder (and if the station is showing a movie without DRC, they almost certainly will) so lets hope those legislating talk to someone who actually knows about the subject if UK law is reviewed, and we can all avoid hitting mute in the ad breaks…

Black Country Bathams Bus Tour

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Bathams. The mention of the word will have a beer drinker in the West Midlands thinking “oh yes”. Sadly, up in the Northern Wastes of Walsall, we don’t see it that often. The Four Crosses gets it occasionally, but not often enough, so when an article in Beer, the CAMRA magazine, featured the Bathams pubs, we felt we had to try at least some of them: off to the Black Country proper! Our bus mojo was with us all day today, unlike last time: 9 bus journeys, with a maximum of 10 minute wait.

First step was Brierley Hill, via Walsall- and a long bus journey on the 404H and The Vine for a couple of pints and lunch. Round the corner for the X96, and a short trip into Dudley, and The Lamp. A short walk into Dudley, and a number 1 to Upper Gornal, for The Bfrittania, then back to Dudley again: a trip out to Pensnett for the Fox and Grapes, then home via a quick call in at The Imperial to see if the refurb improved it (it had).

A pleasant way to spend the day: it sounds like a lot of drinking, but the logistics of it (my better half spend some time researching bus routes) mean that this took around 8 hours to complete, and we had to leave out some pubs. We could have easily stayed in a couple of them longer too. Can we investigate a direct rail link from Walsall Wood to Brierley Hill please?


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