Minnie © PJ Croft

As I write this, Minnie’s making doggie noises as she dreams, a very regular occurrence. She’s barking and yipping in a very muted way, so she’s obviously in a dream scenario.

She also has emotions: happiness, sadness, loneliness, wistfulness, joy, friendliness, fear, and so on.

She also observes, predicts, draws conclusions, reacts, makes decisions based on observations, recognises situations and people, makes decisions on how to behave and so forth. In other words, although she might not be self aware in the way humans are, she has a mind. She dreams, therefore she thinks.

So if she thinks, does she have a soul?

Humans are deemed to have a soul, which, according to religion, if we’re not good, won’t go to heaven when we die. What about dogs? Dogs have no malice in them, unlike humans. Dogs can be vicious, but it’s because they’re reacting to fear and reverting to pure animal behaviour: defence, aggression when challenged etc.

So given that dogs are innately ‘good’ and don’t naturally make plans out of malice or revenge or dishonesty as humans do, where do dogs go when they die? Do they have a soul? Is there a dog heaven? Does the loving God make a special place for these wonderful animals? Or do they just cease to exist?

If so, what about cats? Many people ascribe emotions to cats and love them just as much. Do cats go to heaven when they die?

If so, what about rats, those tireless workers sacrificing themselves in the search for cures for human disease? No-one suggests rats are malicious, not like some Wall Street or Macquarie St financial people. Do rats go to heaven when they die? Or bats, or gnats?

Oh, what about dolphins? We all know they’re intelligent, lovable, capable of forming bonds with humans. Surely dolphins wouldn’t just cease to exist when they die? I saw a program years ago about a performing horse and its owner. The love that horse showed for its human owner was just blindingly and emotionally evident. Did it go to heaven when it died?

You may recognise a reductio ad absurdum, an argument or proposition taken to extremes to prove a point. Why is it that religion believes there’s a Heaven where we go when we die? If there is a Heaven, is it reserved for humans? We share 97% of our DNA with mice and rats, let alone monkeys, chimps, baboons. Is there a God watching every living thing that dies and operating the gate depending on that 3% difference? Sorry Minnie, you can’t come in even though you’ve loved Pete, your owner, without reservation throughout your life.

I respect people who believe in God and Heaven, provided they live up to their principles and don’t try to convince me. But I can’t summon the uncritical acceptance to believe that there’s a soul that will somehow rise out of me when I die and somehow submit itself to the Heavenly gatekeeper, who is simultaneously admitting or rejecting all the millions/billions of dolphins, cats, earthworms and oysters that die each day.

I believe we have evolved to have self awareness, and that makes us aware that we have choices about our time on earth to do good or not, but when we die, that’s it. Our life force was sustained by well known biological processes, but when they stop, that’s it for us as individuals. That’s all there is. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but I don’t think I will be.


Memories of Scotland

I came across the above Google Earth view today and regretted that I hadn’t included it on the DVD, but better late than never. What a magnificent thing is Google Earth and what a fantastic part of the Earth. I’ve circled some of the more significant places I visited and it puts them all into perspective, with the relief map showing the mountains, lochs and valleys especially clearly.

It also reminded me of something else. I was browsing similar maps of the South Island of New Zealand the other day and saw the name Murchison on a couple of the localities. I’d forgotten that when I was in Kyle of Lochalsh (see image above), I found a small garage and enquired about getting the fuse checked for the cigarette lighter sockets in the rental car to get my Tom Tom sat nav going again.

The guy who did it for me was named Stephen Murchison. I’d forgotten his first name until now, but he waved away my attempts to pay him, even for the cost of the fuse, and I was very taken by his quiet competence, generosity and friendly attitude. We chatted and I said his name was very familiar from the Murchison District, Murchison River and Murchison Gorge in WA. He said his grandfather was probably responsible as he did a lot of the exploration in WA in the 19th century. I had no idea.

Now I find the name in the South Island of New Zealand as well. I’m not surprised, as I believe a lot of Scots emigrated to NZ. I realise now why the Kiwi accent is the way it is – it’s not far from the Scottish accent.

Stephen said he and some mates were planning a trip to Oz this year, so I hope he’s having a good trip. I suspect he might be a credit to his family name. Thanks again Stephen.


Stiff cheddar

© PJ Croft

Q: Why is it that New Zealand can make cheese wrappers that peel apart easily, smoothly and tidily and Australian cheese makers can’t?

A: I don’t know. Has anyone else noticed this? Not only does NZ make great cheese, they also make great packaging. Why do I have to struggle so hard to get the “peel here” tab on Aussie packets to cooperate? Why, when I peel the plastic on Aussie cheese, does it tear instead of peeling? C’mon Aussie, c’mon. NZ cheese is better.


What’s the Use?

I’ve been talking to a neighbour recently. He has young children and he’s concerned about the speed of cars along our street. You can see in the image above where we are – my house is the horizontal ellipse, his house is a few doors south, next to the vertical ellipse.

This street is a 50kmh street, as they all are around here. There’s a council 50kmh warning sign at the top of the street and this speed limit has been in force for about 5 years. Everyone should know that the limit in WA is 50kmh in built up areas unless otherwise signposted.

Yet according to traffic measurements sent to us by the council last week, our street carries around 700 vehicles a day and the average speed down our street is 69kmh! The average speed is 69 kmh in a 50 kmh street!

This makes me very angry. This wasn’t news to me; I’ve many times stood on my verge lawn gaping at some vehicle approaching at high speed in this quiet street and feeling furious about it. What’s worse is that because I stick to the limit, I get cars zooming up behind me and tailgating me. I’ve even had cars pull out and pass me on at least four occasions in the past 5 years!! I was obeying the law, but I was going too slow for them.

It’s clear to me that many, many people simply will not obey the law.

In the same vein, at the top of the image above, there’s a yellow circle showing the STOP sign where the slip road off Marmion Avenue leads to my street. The STOP sign may as well not be there! People will not stop! I reckon eight out of ten cars just drive straight through it. Most slow down and look, but I’ve learnt to be very careful when driving north (up the image) past it because so many people take the risk and drive straight through.

Too often I’ve heard the comment that “Oh, 50km/h is just a joke; it’s too slow; it’s not necessary”, as if that justifies disobeying a law because you don’t agree with it. Yeah, right.

Anyway, the council’s solution, already decided, without any consultation with us, is to put an oval ‘chicane’ slowing point in the road outside my neighbour’s house, cutting into his verge to do it. He’s not happy about that because these things are just a challenge to many drivers to see how fast they can swerve through it, and as our street is a bus route, the bus drivers aren’t going to be pleased either (mind you, I reckon the buses are some of the worst speeders). He considers it will make his kids less safe, and I agree.

I believe the drivers have already done their speeding by that point in the street – they pick up speed coming down the hill from the stop sign junction.

What’s triggered this is that I had one of the closest shaves I’ve ever had last Tuesday. I was a front seat passenger in a car when we were trying to turn right at traffic lights. The driver was waiting for the traffic to clear and the lights had changed to red, when another driver came through the red light at full speed just as my friend was about to make the turn. Luckily he saw him coming, but all four of us in the car were shocked and amazed. If our driver hadn’t been alert, I would have copped the full force if the other car had hit us.

I was somewhat shaken, but it’s just another example of the criminal disregard for the law in this town. Red light? Ah, she’ll be right, drive on through. STOP sign? She’ll be right, ya don’t need to stop, stopping’s for wimps. Fifty km/h speed limit? Nah, don’t agree with that law, just drive at the usual 60km/h + 10km/h on top. It’s their right, isn’t it?

As far as I’m concerned, people who refuse to obey the law should lose the protection of the law.

But I’m wasting my breath. Nothing will change, people don’t care.

I speak as someone with a clean driving record, by the way. In 45 years of driving I’ve never had a traffic offence or been found to be speeding and I’ve only ever had one minor reversing accident with a stationary car, so I feel qualified to wave my fist like this. Grrrrr!


Make a DVD? Yeah, sure…

Nottingham Castle entrance

Hooley dooley! I’ve finally finished making my first DVD. What a saga it’s been. I started around New Year, and allowing for the slight handicap that I’ve never actually edited video before, it took a bit longer than I expected … about 6 months to produce 36 mins worth.

Of course, there’s nothing like jumping into the deep end and starting with high definition video. Premiere Elements? Sure, it’s cheap, but it says it can take AVCHD, so it must be able to do the job, right?

Well, up to a point. A point about 30 minutes in, actually. Then it starts saying, er, computer says no. Constant crashes, constant out of memory errors, constant lockups. It got so that I knew I could do about 10 minutes worth of work and I might as well shut down and reboot, because it would crash soon anyway. Another 10 minutes, restart, dum de dum. Boring.

Then I discovered Canopus Edius Neo as a demo and although it wasn’t as friendly, at least it stayed up and running. But how to get the material I’d already edited across? There was no direct method, so I just had to export from Premiere in the highest quality mode and bring that into Edius. Trouble was, Premiere could only export about 10 minutes worth at a time before it crashed again. It took 8 attempts to get usable segments (each segment taking about 4-6 hours to export) and then I discovered that the audio dropped out about 80% of the way through each segment.

That meant I had to go back and re-export several segments to get enough overlap to recover the lost audio. More 6 hour export sessions!

OK, now I could bring them into Edius. Everything looked fine at first, then I discovered the audio was out of sync with the video. Not just a little bit, it was out by a full minute in every 5 minute segment!

Eventually, by trial and error, I found that I had to separate the vision and audio and slow the vision down by 83.42%. Then it dawned on me that this is the ratio of 25/29.97, which is the difference between PAL and American NTSC frame rates. Crazy! It seems to be a bug in the Edius conversion, but I’ll have to follow that up later. At least now I had a workable timeline in Edius.

But that meant I was stuck with the work I’d done in Premiere and all I could do in Edius was cover sections with new material if I wanted to change anything. Luckily I was able to do most things I wanted.

Then it was time to burn it to DVD. But Edius seemed to only allow export to BluRay discs! Crazy. I thought it must be a limitation of the demo version, so I started to work out a way to bring it back into Premiere to burn to DVD since that seemed to work well enough.

To cut a long story short, I eventually discovered that Edius will burn to DVD, it’s just not that obvious.

OK, let’s do it. I’m now up to Sunday 21st June, mid winter’s day. It burnt the first disc OK and I could see the finish line. I discovered a couple of small editing errors and fixed them, then tried to burn a second DVD. Error! It wouldn’t work! (You only find this out after about 20 mins, of course.)

It took until this afternoon, Monday, to finally get a good DVD that I could send to Sue Haig in the post. Every time I tried to do something, I ran into some new snag. It still won’t burn a DVD unless there’s a Z in the month and it feels like it. I tried to print a DVD case sleeve. The printer scrunched the paper. I tried to print the DVD label on the disc. The printer has decided it won’t follow the usual procedure and I had to struggle for about an hour to get something decent. Every time I try to do something, some new hurdle arises!

However, I’ve now got one good DVD that I can copy, so that’s all I need. I can now offer a DVD of The Road to Dornie, A Week in Scotland, if you’d like a copy.

All I ask is a letter from you with return address, and three $1 stamps to cover $1 for the mailing sleeve, $1 for the postage and $1 to cover the cost of the disc, inner sleeve and the ink etc.

I can now think about moving on to a second DVD, and I have enough material to keep me going for the next 12 months. I have in mind to do Venice and Milan next, followed by a disc covering Cambridge, Nottingham, and York, including the Duxford Air Museum, which is a story in itself. Concorde, B-52, SR-71, F-111, all within touching range.

Cheers, Pete

You must be joking

Busselton lightning 1991 © PJ Croft

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this morning quantifying the cost of a powerful PC for video editing, which is what I’m doing.

I’ve just built a Core i7 quad core PC which shows up as having eight processors (it actually says 8 threads). It has 6GB of fast RAM, 1.5TB of hard drive apart from the 80GB boot drive, a ‘good enough’ graphics card, lots of SATA, USB and Firewire on board, 6 channel audio, a dual layer DVD burner, networking and all the other goodies.

I already had case, monitor, keyboard and mouse and wireless network card, but all up, it cost me $1235. I’m using the free copy of Windows 7, but this is cheap!

I mention this because a friend is drooling over wanting a new Mac Pro with Final Cut Pro for serious video editing. I’ve just done the costing for comparison.

The Mac Pro with 2.66GHz Xeon quad core processors (giving the same 8 threads) and 3GB of RAM, 1TB of hard drive (only one drive) and pretty much the same for everything else too costs $5217!!

That’s for half the RAM of the PC ( another 3GB costs another $300, which is double what my 6GB cost!). Another 1TB of hard drive adds $239. There’s no wireless networking for this price, it’s extra, and just about everything else is extra. Want RAID? That’ll be another $1400!! In my PC, it’s included free.

You don’t even get a monitor for your $5 Grand!

I’m saying I can build and equip an at least equivalent PC running Windows 7 with 2TB of RAID hard drive space and all extras, with a 24″ LCD monitor for about $2,000.

Add Final Cut Pro Studio at $1549 versus Edius Pro at $900 plus some FX extras and the PC is a bargain by comparison. It’s no contest. I don’t believe the Mac is $4000 better.

Think about it, son. PC

Mea Gulpa

ET modified © PJ Croft

Another update on BlueGen.

Sorry, I seem to have misread the specifications. They mention a figure of 17KWh and I assumed that was its capacity, but I’m afraid it’s only 2KW. That’s still good, but it means it would struggle at tea time in winter.

To work out the capacity you need, just add up the power demands of your appliances. For example, at this moment I’m using the computer at 350W (max), monitor at about 80W (guess), amplifier at about 10W (estimate), two fridges at about 250W each (guess) and two CF lights at 5W each. That makes 950W, which is easily within its capacity.

But at dinner time on a cold night, a typical family would add another 6x 9W CF lights, two stove hotplates at 500W each, possibly the oven at say 1000W, one TV at about 400W (maybe two TVs if kids), a heater of some kind at 2KW and possibly the kettle at 2KW for short periods.

That makes 5400W (5.4KW) with bursts up to 7.5KW. Bang. No way could the BlueGen supply that. Of course, you must have a gas supply so the stove could be gas and so could the heating. That takes 4KW out of the total and brings it back to within the BlueGen’s range, but if you have to buy new gas appliances, it bumps the initial capital cost up considerably.

Air con in summer is another matter. There are no gas air conditioners, so if you have even a 2.5KW aircon, you’ll need mains to run it.

This is not as rosy as I thought. I might email CFCL and see what they say about it. All this applies equally to solar power, by the way, except that BlueGen supplies you with hot water as a byproduct for ‘free’, whereas solar needs a separate water heater of some kind at extra cost.

Cheers, PC

PS the photo above was a table ornament that I’ve put through an ‘art’ filter.

Fuel cells

The sun and its solar flares. Image © SOHO

I saw a small item The Australian’s business section last week that gee’d me up summat smartish, like.

Headed ‘Home power plants loom’, it told of an Aussie company called Ceramic Fuel Cells Ltd and their plan to begin sales of their product BlueGen, a dishwasher sized fuel cell box that generates 17KW of electricity when fed with a supply of natural gas. That’s the same gas that runs your stove top and heater, etc.The BlueGen domestic fuel cell

Now considering that WA has ginormous, humungous reserves of natural gas, and that our household electricity bills are definitely going to nearly double in the next three years, probably to about $2,000 a year for the average household, this stopped me in my tracks. I’d been thinking that it was going to become economical to use solar power or something in order to become free of dependence on mains power.

I got onto CFCL’s web site http://www.cfcl.com.au/BlueGen/ to find out more. It turns out that CFCL is a spinoff of the CSIRO, which inspires confidence for me, and has a solid management and board.

They’ve developed a method of generating electricity from a wide range of fuels, not just natural gas but LPG, methane, biogas, and others I can’t remember.

The cost of the device is around $8,000 according to the article, but if you were paying $1,000 a year for your electricity now, and probably more in the future, it will pay for itself in a bit over 8 years.

What you’re effectively doing is paying for your power for 8 years in advance. Once you have one of these devices, you’ll never have another electricity bill. You’ll still have to pay for the gas, of course, but I suspect it will be a lot cheaper than electricity.

The advantages would be:

  1. Independence from the power grid. No more power outages! That matters to me, because I get hour long power failures, or longer, several times a year.
  2. You can sell the excess power back to Synergy. 17KW is a lot for a home, so you’ll have excess power to sell.
  3. Once it’s amortised, much lower power costs. Run your aircon as much as you need with no environmental guilt.
  4. It’s a relatively small device with no moving parts and little maintenance needed (maybe none except routine safety checks?). No pollution, either.

There are others, but you get the drift.

In the past few days I’ve heard from two people who track their electricity costs. One household pays about $4.25 per day, or $1,551 pa, and the other pays about $7.50 per day or $2.737 pa! At those rates, the unit would repay itself over 5.15 years and 2.9 years respectively, not counting the cost of the gas used.

Consider that the price of electricity is due to rise by 30% from next month, then another 30% in 2010/11, and another 15% in 2011/12. That’s a compound increase in electricity cost of 94.35% in the next three years! That’s massive and it’s going to happen to us all. If you’re paying $300 a quarter for your power now, you’ll be paying around $600 a quarter in three years’ time.

I reckon this unit would pay for itself in about 2 years for most people! Provided the cost of gas doesn’t rise as much, of course.

The company has set up subsidiaries in Britain and Germany and is aiming for these markets first, and Japan. They plan to start sales in Australia in October, I think.

I’d definitely consider buying one. Cheers, Pete

I’m in luck

Edinburgh looking NE from the castle © P J Croft

Just when I was beginning to despair of getting a stable, powerful editing program up and running on my new Core i7 computer, Canopus came to the rescue yesterday.

To recap, I’ve been having all sorts of problems editing my hi-def video using Adobe Premiere Elements 7 on my Core 2 Duo computer. I got near the end (about 35 mins of program) but the program just kept crashing. I’ve been on the forum – everyone’s having the same trouble.

Then I discovered Canopus Edius Neo, a slimmed down version of a well regarded broadcast editing program. I used that for a while and although it’s stable and capable, it’s nowhere near as nice to use as Premiere.

I built this new, much more powerful computer last week, thinking that would allow me to continue with Premiere. But no, that program runs rather poorly on the new computer, and still crashes and locks up, despite masses of RAM and 8 cores of CPU! I don’t think it’s a very well written piece of software.

No worries, I thought, I’ll install the demo version of Edius Neo and finish it that way. But I’m running Windows 7 64 bit on the new computer and Neo didn’t like it. I couldn’t get it to run!

Woe is me, I thought, what am I going to do now? But yesterday, I was browsing the forums and noticed a reference to Edius Neo 2. Sure enough, it’s just come out, right at the time I need it. Shazzam! I downloaded the demo, installed it and it works great. How’s that for luck?

It’s not as nice to use as Premiere, but I think Canopus have made themselves a sale. Of course, as far as I can see, it’s not released in Australia yet, but I’ve got 30 days on the demo so that will let me finish my project. There are other hassles with sound synchronisation, but several hours work this afternoon has shown a way to fix that, so I’m nearly finished The Road to Dornie. I hope to complete it this week or next.

What a saga! I’ve been struggling with this for nearly 6 months now, so it’ll be good to close it off and move on to something new. Venice and Milan, I think. I have lots of material from my time there last year.

I was thinking of taking advantage of the low airfares to repeat the trip to London and Europe this Aug/Sept/October, but I need to lose weight, regain fitness and make sure the band is working without problems first. It’s probably not a good time to be travelling while there’s a flu pandemic on either, I think. I’ll see how it looks in a month or two.

Venice, Grand Canal © P J Croft


Sierra Nevadas, USA 1988 © P J Croft

I had the next injection of fluid into my gastric band yesterday (Friday), only a week after the first lot. I wasn’t noticing any effect from the first injection, nothing at all, so I emailed the surgeon last Monday and asked if I could speed it up. No problem he said, and within an hour, I had a new appointment.

When I said I wasn’t getting any benefit, he wondered if I might have a leaking band. Easy to check – just put the needle in and draw the fluid out. If there’s 3ml in the syringe, then there’s no leak, and that’s how it turned out – it checked OK. It seems I have a bigger band that needs more fluid, so he put another 2ml in, making 5ml in all so far.

Now I can feel it. It just feels a bit harder to get food down and I’m burping a bit more when I try. Nothing serious. I’m also noticing a feeling of fullness after only a little food. This is good. I’m still getting a bit hungry, but if I can cut the total food intake, without getting ravenous, that’s ideal.

I’ll let this work for a week or two and see what happens. Let’s hope for good results.

Cheers, Pete