From October 2004

Fireworks!

Had an excellent evening yesterday – went to the annual Grey College fireworks display with Echo, a couple of her friends (whose names escape me because they were inexplicably hard to pronounce!) and some people from anime who we managed to loose very early on in the large crowds unfortunately!

Fireworks

When it came to taking a few pictures (or well over 100 in my case!) I broke the primary rule of firework photography – I didn’t use a tripod, mainly because I don’t have one with me and it would have been a tad inconvenient to lug around all night! Although well over 50% of the photos I took are unusable I did manage to get a few good ones that look pretty cool in my opinion 🙂

Fireworks

Needless to say the display was excellent, lasting for about 20 minutes – well done to Simon and Katherine who helped put it on. As expected it was very busy, it felt like the entire student population had descended on Grey (which probably isn’t far from the truth)! Fireworks always bring out the pyromaniac in me – I greatly miss setting them of at home (it all seems a long long time ago now though)!

Fireworks

After it was over we headed over to Ustinov College and met up with Kanako (my Japanese sensei) who lives in the same flat with Echo and a few others. Here I learnt to eat an apple with chopsticks (see if you can work that one out!) and had a bit of a cultural exchange between the Chinese, English, Japanese & Turkish (it turns out they’re not that different really)!! I picked up a few words of Chinese (which is an exuberantly difficult language), I just hope I don’t confuse it with all the Japanese I’m learning otherwise I might end up with some very weird hybrid Chino-Japanese language (Korean possibly ;-))!!

Fireworks

Somehow we ended up in what I think was a vaguely Halloween-type party (lots of people wearing bed sheets) which was OK but I ended up with a raging headache from being close to some very loud speakers – I imagine this is how boxers feel after being smacked about the head so many times that they end up with brain damage (that’s certainly how I feel right now)! At least the clocks went back tonight so I got an extra hour in bed this morning!

You can see more photos in the gallery.

Update: Echo sent me some cool videos of the fireworks which you can download here and here (approx 10mb each – right click and ‘save link as’).

Map of Creativity

Found a cool visualization today [via kottke.org] called the ‘Map of Creativity‘. It’s aim is to present an “interactive database of innovative educational projects throughout the world“.

Map of Creativity

The map itself is very innovative, allowing you to drill-down to different projects by geographic region whilst the visualization dynamically re-arranges itself accordingly. I especially like things like this which allow meaningful interaction without detracting from what it is trying to achieve – something I hope I can carry through with my visualization project this year.

Netscan

If you like this then you might also like to take a look at Netscan which is another good project that looks at mapping hierarchical relationships of Newsgroups in the Usenet. Variations in colour indicate a change in the number of posts for this month compared to last month.

An aside: If you like photography take a look at ‘Small World Gallery‘ which focuses on the fascinating art of photomicrography. The images were captured through a microscope and are quite incredible to look at.

Paranoid Fruit

Another Wednesday is here and the nexus of the week has been reached! I like Wednesdays because I don’t have any Computer Science lectures, only a Japanese class in the afternoon which makes a nice change from the norm.

Today I thought I might pass comment on the two anime series we’re watching at the society this term – Paranoia Agent & Fruits Basket. Both are fairly wacky pieces, one with a fairly complex and mind twisting plot the other is just plain stupid, but very funny – I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which!

Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent is primarily about a kid dubbed with the title “shounen bat” who has been going around on roller-blades attacking people with a golden baseball bat. Two detectives are on the case to stop this kid from any committing more attacks but they soon find that this is much more than they can handle…

Paranoia Agent

The animation is excellent, if somewhat a little psychedelic at times! One thing which confused me was the volume of central characters which soon mount up so much so that I found it difficult to keep up with who was who, the less be said about the complexity of the story line!

Fruits Basket

Fruits Basket is a completely different animal (that was a very poor joke for those who have seen it!) which follows the story of a high-school girl, Honda Tohru. Having lost her mother in a car accident, she has come to live alone in a tent in the forest near her school. Never a quitter, she strives to honor her mother’s memory and work hard to do the best she can with her life but soon things overcome her. Who will turn up to help her out?

Fruits Basket

The synopsis makes it sound a bit depressing but in fact it’s absolutely hilarious – you’d have to see it to know what I mean! The story line is pretty random and at times it does feel like the same stuff is being recycled a bit but it’s still fun to watch.

Speed Demon

The Internet connection in college is pretty fast, in fact you can’t get much faster considering we’re directly connected to the SuperJANET backbone, the UK’s education and research network. The network is government funded and the largest of its type in the UK with cross-continental links to Asia and the US – quite impressive.

Backbone Diagram

I was downloading a couple of fairly large files the other day and was pretty astounded by the transfer speeds I was getting, close to 1megabits per second through a proxy server.

Fast Download!

I decided to run a bandwidth speed test with Ethernet being the base connection type. It worked out that connection speeds averaged out at about 2.6 megabits per second which is higher than average for the UK! You can see the results here. Now if only they allowed BitTorrent connections through properly…

Teikyo Festival

Had a great time this morning at the ‘Teikyo Festival’ of Japanese culture which was put on by Teikyo University of Japan in Durham (held in the ‘Lafcadio Hearn Cultural Centre’) –

Teikyo Festival
Kimono wearing

After arriving at about 10:30am everyone was given a program of events which could be visited throughout the day – there was a wide range of stuff you could do and see including traditional games, origami, tea ceremony, kimono wearing (for girls), calligraphy, martial arts and music.

Teikyo Festival
Tea ceremony

One of the highlights was being able to watch a traditional tea ceremony which is a ritual way of preparing and drinking tea – mostly done as a hobby by people today (apparently). Basically, the tea is first prepared by the host, and then drunken by the guests. The tea was a bitter matcha green tea made of powdered tea leaves – almost clear in color, nothing like you’d normally drink over here. I don’t usually like or drink tea but I thought I’d give it a go – it was surprisingly nice!

Teikyo Festival
Origami crane

Dotted about the place were hundreds, if not thousands of tiny origami models, some plain whilst others were made out of brightly decorated paper. The Japanese attention to detail is incredible, the students had obviously put a lot of work into putting the festival on – no wonder they’re top of the electronics manufacturing game!

Teikyo Festival
Kendo

Another highlight was the Kendo (a martial art) demonstration. Here two surprisingly aggressive girls dressed up in full protective gear and proceeded to bash the living daylights out of each other with long sticks! I managed to get some great pictures and even a cool video which you can download here (25 mb – right click and ‘save link as’).

Teikyo Festival
Food time!

After this we got some food (Japanese noodles with pork & cabbage) and I had my first experience of using chopsticks which was slightly tricky at first but I soon got used to it (photo’s available in the gallery!). The food tasted good and I managed not to make a fool of myself with the chopsticks!

Teikyo Festival
Little person

I ended up snapping 170 pictures (!) of which I got a few good ones that I’ve placed in a new album in the photo gallery – all-in-all a very successful and enjoyable morning 🙂

Management

For some reason todays Dilbert strip struck a cord with me – perhaps it has something to do with the Project Management course I’m taking?!

Dilbert

Unfortunately, even with my relatively small experience of the workplace, Dilbert is all to realistic – it’s a little wonder that anything ever gets done in business & industry considering the way some managers work! When it comes to my position as technical manager for one lucky SEG team this year I actually plan to baffle my team with multi-leveled buzzwords and other nonsense just as a little experiment to see if they actually accept it! If they do then my worst fears about humanity will be proved true 😉

Nothing else to report this week really but I should hopefully have some interesting content for the weekend conditions permitting etc.

Forbidden City

Continuing on from yesterdays decidedly Chinese theme I thought I might pass comment on Jean Michel Jarre’s latest sound and light spectacular in Beijing’s Forbidden City last Sunday. Obviously I wasn’t actually there but managed to get hold of a recording of the show via BitTorrent. The very fact that it was held in the location it was is pretty astounding considering its historical significance (Tiananmen Square is right next to it) but it was pulled off amazingly well.

Beijing Concert

Along with the trademark lasers, images and colours were projected onto huge inflated white cylinders, cones and spheres over the area which changed in time with the music. Most of the music was from his latest album ‘Aero’ (which I reviewed here) and thus was presented in surround sound live (quite a feat of technical ingenuity)!

Beijing Concert

The concert also featured the Beijing Symphonic Orchestra and a collaboration with soloist Cheng Lin who played her erhu (a traditional Chinese stringed instrument). More than 15,000 people turned out to watch the event and even more via a live TV broadcast.

Beijing Concert

If you get a chance it’s definitely worth a watch, whether for the amazing electronic music or the beautifully choreographed display.

On a slightly different, but still very oriental note I had my second Japanese lesson today. Again it went very well although I think I’m going to have to put quite a bit of work into learning Hiragana which is a totally new experience for me (as with the rest of it!). Today we learned more introductory stuff and basic numbers which annoyingly have different forms depending on what context you use them in!

David

In case you’ve ever wondered (!) the above is my name (David) in Chinese as written by Echo-san during the class – it makes my head ache just imagining how you go about translating it although it does look a lot cooler than the romanised version!

China Town

As I promised here are a few more pictures from the oriental side of Newcastle (more of a street than an end really!), specifically ‘Wing Hong Chinese Supermarket’ where you can find a variety of weird and wonderful things which I doubt you’ll find in Sainsbury’s any time soon!

China Town
One of many shop’s in Newcastle’s China Town but probably the only one worth having a look round if you’re not Chinese!

China Town
Behold a variety of different ‘Hello Kitty‘ branded pastas – this is one fad which doesn’t look likely to end any time soon! This said, I find the thought of eating cat-shaped macaroni rather disturbing!

China Town
Hell Money – according to sources this is burn as an offering when you die. Apparently it’s name was a bit of a mistake as those who called it so thought ‘Hell’ meant ‘afterlife’ in English! (In case you were wondering, no I don’t have blue fingernails – it’s not my hand!).

China Town
I spotted this in a window of a health shop nearby – it begs the question of weather ‘Slim Tea’ is actually any thinner than your average cup, and how exactly does that work?! What I especially like are the photo testimonials of people who have hair regeneration therapy just below the sign and happy people who have lost weight just above it!

Light & Shadow

Yesterday afternoon me a few other people ventured into Newcastle for a little excursion and for once I got a few pictures I’m quite pleased with – it’s amazing what a few tweaks in Photoshop can do to a photo! I was trying to experiment with light and shadow a bit but as I discovered trying to do this in a hurry is not so easy – it would have been nice to take a bit more time over it.

Newcastle Trip
Img 1. Probably my favorite photo of the day – I tried to purposefully place the sun behind the subjects head to create the sharp silhouette and capture the shadows created by the window on the floor.

Newcastle Trip
Img 2. Here I wanted to capture the shadows and reflections going across the chairs and wall in the empty gallery. It didn’t really work but I like the low-level angle of it.

Newcastle Trip
Img 3. I had to mess around with this one quite a bit and sacrificed some of the foreground detail to enhance the amazing sun-rays coming though the clouds. In the high-res version you can see birds flying around just above the bridge which look quite good.

Overall I took about 50 pics – the above are my ‘serious’ ones, I’ll post a few more ‘lighter’ photos tomorrow if I get time! More of the same (in a higher resolution) can be found in the photo gallery – please tell me what you think of them 🙂

The World

Are you an aspiring megalomaniac or simply have a few million $’s going spare? If so then here’s the investment opportunity for you! Some people own real estate now you can own a sizable chunk of ‘The World’!

The World

Nakheel, a real estate developer in Dubai, is undertaking a mammoth project to construct a cluster of 300 islands in the shape of continents just off the coast. It’s a project straight out of a Bond film but according to the web site it’s already happening. I think it would take a certain type of ego to live there, kind of an Essex man’s dream I would imagine – definitely not where I’d want to live out my days!

Found via hippoblog.