Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Yay! SMS a go-go!

I spent hours trying to get gmail to forward driving school enquiries to my phone without success, but eventually, by using a proxy service, I got it sorted out. Enquiries from my contact form cause my phone to alert me about a minute after they've been sent.

Good times (inserts a big smilie)

driving lessons in Wallasey?

On the Beach

Ever read "On the Beach" by Neville Chute?

It's a scary and dark story alright.

The premise of the book is that a major war has taken place in the Northern Hemisphere, and lethal amounts of radiation are gradually moving southwards. It follows the lives of a group of people living in Southern Australia as they move towards their inevitable fate. I cried buckets when I first read it.

There are few glimmers of hope in the tale. Part of the plot involves a nuclear submarine, which has been sent as far north as it can go, to find out if the radiation is clearing at very high latitudes. Pardon the spoiler, but that hope is snuffed out.

The characters are in denial. On one level they know the end is coming, and that they can do nothing to prevent it, so they act as if the threat doesn't exist. The American submarine commander buys presents for his dead family. A woman plants flowers in her garden that she will never see bloom.

There's a huge difference between waiting for the end of life on earth,, and waiting for a bloody huge financial car crash of course, but still,

driving lessons in Wallasey anyone?

Monday, 26 September 2011

up and away in my beautiful balloon....

Having established the basic mechanisms for a flight simulator, it's something of a mystery why Google Earth haven't extended the concept to far more than the two aircraft it features.

Imagine being able to pilot a helicopter! Or a space shuttle! Or for that matter, a submarine, or car, or boat...

Well, what google earth don't do can always be done by someone else of course.


You can pilot an airship, or sail a boat.

that's about all. You have to use your imagination, and pretend that if you smack into something that isn't water, bad things will happen, as the ships will sail merrily on through parks, gardens, fields, mountains and buildings, almost as if they weren't there, but it's an interesting way of looking at the scenery for a while.

They promise improvements in version 2...


e-mail to sms...

driving lessons in Wallasey?

I got a couple of enquiries today via the contact form. Unfortunately, I didn't get to read them until several hours after they were sent, so I'm currently trying to find out if it's possible to either make the contact form generate a text message to my phone, instead of an email to my gmail account, or to forward those emails (and only those emails) to my phone as a text message.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Easter Island

I'm currently (re)reading Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse".

The two main chapters in the book go into considerable detail about modern Montana, and the Norse settlement of Greenland a millenia ago.

Diamond also devotes a considerable portion of the book to Easter Island - One of the most isolated societies in the world, and one that collapsed because of a number of reasons. Jared Diamond lists it's isolation, the people's destruction of their resource base, the relative fragility of Easter's ecosystem because of it's geographical location, and the guns, germs, and steel of visiting Europeans.

And that isolation is profound. This is what Easter looks like from 20 miles up.

You need to zoom out to over 2,000 miles above the earth before you see another inhabited bit of land - Pitcairn, 1,200 miles to the west.

Mark Lynas, a journalist with a keen interest in climate, ecology, environment etc, posted a summary of a book that claimed to debunk Diamond's work on his blog.


Now, a few days later, Jared Diamond has taken the time to respond, and Lynas has published his response in full, here:


Lynas is critical of bad science, regardless of source. He's been critical of groups like Greenpeace in the past, rather than trying to force the facts to fit an agenda. He tends to act as a collator of research. His book, Six Degrees is a drawing together of thousands of research documents, and this mini "debate" about the work of two different researchers, Diamond on one side, Hunt and Lipo on the other, comes as no surprise.

Interesting stuff for sure.

It's the end of the world as we know it

I first heard REM way back in the mid 1980's. My mate Dave would get me stoned when he was up from Portsmouth Poly, and I'd listen, spellbound to Murmur, Document, Reckoning, Life's Rich Pageant. Even Fables of the Reconstruction and Dead Letter Office had their moments.

I have to admit, when Green was released, I found that I was losing my affinity for what they were doing. At the time, I blamed myself for kneejerking against them signing up with Warner Brothers, but listening back, Green really doesn't stand up there with their best releases.

Since then, I've only really listened to their new output sporadically. I retain a certain soft spot for New Adventures in Hi fi, but I couldn't name most of their 21st century stuff.

Michael Stipe is, of course, a much broader artist than just REM. He's also very much visually creative. I think he has much in common with David Byrne, although Byrne tends towards static works, while Stipe is associated with TV and film.

They've split, without acrimony, at a time of their own choosing. I wonder what they will do next?

So many memories of blissed out times. Thank you REM.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


I'm trying to put links to various social media websites on my website.

I want people to "Like" my website, so I became an approved developer, and generated the code for a facebook "Like" button.

I put the code into my website, and upload the updated page to my ftp server. Then I take a look at my page.

And there at the bottom, exactly where I want it is a lovely Google+1 button.


I do want a google+1 button on my page, but I don't want two google buttons and no facebook button.

This one has me scratching my head.

Just as a matter of interest, I shall put the same code here. The next line should be a facebook like button...

Never mind. Just a cache problem. It shows up properly on Bren's PC, and now shows up properly after I closed the window and opened the page in a new window.

driving lessons in Wallasey?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Donkeys Vs Penguins

It all started here, on a whim.

But then I revisited the idea on Google Insights. Penguins are more popular than Donkeys, although their popularity is more sporadic. Donkeys just plod on, while penguins alternate between manic surges and bouts of ennui.

So I decided to run with this a bit.

What would win in a fight between a penguin and a donkey?

What has the larger population?

If you had to kiss/shag/marry/eat one or the other, which would you choose?

And so on.

Who would win in a fight between a penguin and a donkey?

My wife reckons the donkey would win. I think it depends on the arena. If they were to fight in a field, the donkey would easily win. the penguin's waddling gait and soft flippers would be a disadvantage compared to the donkeys' quadrupedal stance and vicious hooves and teeth. On an ice floe, or in the cold waters of the Antarctic ocean, I reckon the penguin's streamlined form, and  thick layers of fat would balance out the donkey's weight advantage. In addition, in water, the penguin would be able to swim underneath the donkey, and stab it in the belly with it's sharp beak. The donkey, with it's bouyant body would be at it's mercy.

What has the larger population?

According to This Document, the world's donkey population stands at around 44 million.

This Link breaks down the number of penguins into their various species. The cumulative total comes to about 64.5 million.

Go penguins!

If you had to kiss/shag/marry/eat one or the other, which would you choose?

I'd kiss the donkey. I'd shag the penguin. I'd marry the donkey. I'd eat the penguin.

There. I said it.

more insights

Google Insights is coming up with some odd graphs.

Regular reader, John, pointed out that Llamas are more popular than Elvis (actually Llamas aren't, but Llama is)

the search patterns for "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" are almost identical.

As are the patterns for "Cheese" and "Ham".

Cheese is not worthy of mention in Vietnam. Ham, however is huge. Perhaps it's vietnamese for Llama.

Monday is International Talk like a Pirate day.


There has been a long standing debate about what it's better to be - A pirate? or a Ninja?

Pirate wins the battle on Google Insights.

There you go. More soon, I suspect.

Where's Wally?

If finding the guy in the stripey jumper wasn't enough, the where's Wally pictures also had other things to find, like a rolling pin or a crocodile or what-have-you.

So anyway, here's the deal.

I want some interaction here, dammit! I type away, and the site stats say people are reading what I write, but rarely do they have anything to say about what I write.

This is fine. I'm writing for me more than for anyone else. I'm glad it's getting read, and I'm not seriously craving or courting attention.

But I want you, the reader of this blog to set me a challenge.

Things that I must find on either google earth or google street view.

Now, it's not enough for you to just say "OK. Find a guy in a stripey jumper". It must be something you have seen yourself, so that if I fail to find my own example, you can post to say "Well here's the one I found..."

Apart from that, anything goes really.

This post was prompted by finding a dead person on Google Street View.

Update: Well, why not take the idea further?

 If I find a whole load of stuff (which is what I spend time doing anyway) and award points for finding it, there's a sort of online game that people can play. Why should I have all the fun?

Easy stuff like "A purple car" earns just a few points, while hard stuff like "A man with a bucket on his head" would score loads of points.

Hmmm. I feel a website coming on.

car stuff...

Diesels emit less CO2 than petrols, but there is still only a certain amount of either type of fuel that can be extracted from a barrel of crude. So if everyone suddenly changed to diesel, they'd need to supply more crude than they do for the current petrol/diesel mix)

Still, as someone that covers a lot more than the average number of miles each year, it makes sense to use a diesel rather than a petrol. The diesel engine takes me between 40 and 50 miles on a gallon of fuel, depending on the type of driving I or my pupil are doing. When I taught in a petrol engined Ford Focus, I was getting between 22 and 30 miles to the gallon.

If you pass your test in a car with automatic transmission in the UK, you can only drive cars with automatic transmission. If you pass in a manual car, you can drive either sort. So automatic tuition is something of a niche market. I've driven automatics before, but not much, and I much prefer the control and familiarity of a manual car.

Finally, hybrid or electric engined cars are obviously going to be much more to the fore in the fairly near future.

So I've been looking for a hybrid diesel with manual transmission, and until now there has been no such thing. Hybrid cars, like thr Prius, are almost always automatics. Honda's CRZ is a manual hybrid, but that was about the only one available, and it's an odd looking beast.

It's also petrol engined. So only two of my three requirements are met. From what I've read, it's not as fuel efficient as my current diesel Ford fiesta.

It's easy of course to find a diesel with manual transmission. Two out of three boxes ticked again. But what of that holy grail vehicle? The Diesel Hybrid with manual transmission?

Well diesel hybrids are starting to happen. Volvo do one. Mercedes Benz do one. And Peugeot do one.

the volvo promises just 49g/km of CO2 - Less than half of what my little fiesta emits, and that's in a car that produces enough power to drag it's heavy carcass from 0-60 in under 7 seconds. And it's claimed to do an average of 150 miles per gallon. A huge leap forwards compared to what most cars offer. Unfortunately, it's far too big to teach in. And it has an automatic gearbox. And it's going to cost about £40,000. That's far more than I can afford to pay.

The Merc does about 70 miles to the gallon and produces about 109g/km of co2. No improvement on what I have already then really, since that 70mpg, like all manufacturers figures, is almost certainly utter bollocks. It's also automatic only, and although the cost has not been announced yet, it's a luxury vehicle and is in no way suitable for people who like to smack into kerbs and stall at the drop of a hat.

Finally, there's the Peugeot 3008.

Now this is a diesel. It's also a hybrid. And it has a manual gearbox!

It chugs out 99g/km of co2 - not much less than my fiesta, which produces about 110. What you get is not more efficiency but more power - around 200bhp when you use both electric motor and diesel engine. So still not quite what I'm after. Also it's selling for about 27,000 quid. Still far above my budget. One for the early adopters.

Things are heading in the right direction though, albeit far too slowly. In terms of the bigger picture of course, this does seem like shutting the stable door after you've rearranged the deckchairs. But perhaps two years from now, I will be teaching my pupils in a manual diesel hybrid.

Friday, 16 September 2011


Google are trying to promote internet based business growth in Liverpool and it's environs. I got invited to the launch event. Along with the beer and circuses you'd expect (jellybeans, stress putty and dancing girls, all in Google's corporate colours, and the hyping up of what the internet can do for local businesses, there was some genuinely useful stuff to be had.

The speakers told us about Google Analytics. This gives data on who is visiting my site, and why. Currently, hardly anyone is, except me, and I don't count.

Also there's Google Insights. This tells you how popular certain search phrases are.

Here, for example, is how popular various driving instructor relevent search enquiries are.

There's an obvious correllation between the terms, and there is an equally striking seasonal variation in when people look for lessons.

Then there's a thing called the Google Juice bar. This is basically a free 40 minute session that includes an audit of my website, and advice on how to maximise it's potential. I'm booked in for this on Tuesday.

Here are the dancing girls by the way. The sound quality is bloody awful.

The terrible state of the roads in Aylesbury.

I wrote a letter to the council about this.They're looking into it.

driving lessons in Wallasey? Anyone?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Solar power and space elevators revisited...

About 18 months ago, I posted about how we could use space elevators to harness solar energy. (Jim Bliss added some ideas and suggested a book for me to read - more about that later)

Now there's a company with a similar but much more practical idea.

You see, to get into space needs a lot of technical stuff. Some really heavy duty engineering. And what you're getting is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

What I mean by this is that if you collect solar energy from 12 miles above the Earth's surface, you're above 95% of the atmosphere. Going another hundred miles up doesn't gain you much, but adds enormously to the cost and complexity of your operation.

What is being proposed is that optics are attached to a sort of hydrogen balloon, which is connected to the ground using a pipe that conducts the collected light down to the ground, where it is used to heat stuff up, rather like using a magnifying glass to burn holes in black trousers.

Personally, I think this is a great idea. The science is straightforward and well understood. The power plants have a very small footprint compared to more conventional solar power generation, and can easily be placed close to where they are needed. the hydrogen required to make the things float can be obtained using some of the power they generate.

There are risks too of course. The pipes that conduct the light to ground have to be large. Weather, Ice, high winds, Aircraft, terrorists. All would pose a threat.

A variation on the theme is to put photovoltaic panels 12 miles up and send the energy down a much smaller pipe as electicity instead. This would potentially be a much better way of using PV in high latitudes.

Thank you to The Oil Drum for the article.

It even contains some rather fetching google earth representations of how such a power plant might look. Clearly  company after my own heart.

Falkland Oil...

They've found oil off the Falkland Islands!

It really was worth sending the navy in all those years ago!

Here's the link...


The recoverable reserves are estimated at around 350 million barrels.

That's a lot of oil. Even one barrel of the stuff is big enough that you have to be quite a skilled hurdler, or be in possession of a big mallet if it comes rolling down a ramp towards you.

But if it had to fulfill the world's demand for oil, how long would it last?

Well, accoding to 2009 figures, the world consumes a little over 82 million barrels per day.

This marvelous discovery is sufficient to meet the world's needs for...

just over 4 days.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


My skybound adventures are currently on hold following a rather nasty interaction between little video camera and some rather uncompromising damp sand.

I may possibly be able to rescue footage of it's final flight by putting its micro sd card into my phone and transferring it to my computer that way, but my computer too is buggered up.

A green (not blue) screen of death.

I can get it running but only in safe mode.

Currently trying to transfer about 140Gb of files from my C drive to my other hard drive. It's bloody hard going.

Friday, 9 September 2011

High as a kite

I tried to fly my kite a couple of days ago down on New Brighton Prom. The wind was pretty strong, and the kite was flapping around all over the place.

After repairing the damage caused (spreader bar penetrated ripstop nylon) with some insulating tape, I tried again from a different more sheltered  location. The wind was a bit weaker, but very turbulent. It was impossible to get the kite high enough to find steady winds.

Today though, the winds are much lighter, so I went down to the Prom again, and risked sellotaping my little camera to the kitestring.

And I actually ended up with some footage!


As you can see, the results leave a little to be desired! I may need to attach a weight to the bottom of the camera to make it less affected by the buffetting. Also, attaching the camera to the string a little below the kite might help too.

Still, early days. If you click pause during the video, you can occasionally get some reasonably interesting still images. 

The little camera itself seems pretty shock resistant. It took some fairly hard landings, although no direct high speed nosedives, and still works just fine. I really wouldn't want to try sending anything expensive up there at the moment. 

Take two...

I added a pound coin and some blu-tak to the bottom of the camera. I also attached the camera to the string about a foot or so below the kite, instead of much closer to the kite. Finally, I attached the camera to the string with two pieces of sellotape, instead of one. I also used my Bren attachment, to facilitate launch and recovery. This time, the kite didn't crash to earth even once.

Here's the result:

Although still far from perfect, there are moments of lucidity here.

Bren has an idea for a housing. I've suggested adding a tail to the housing to make it point into the wind.

And then I found...

A bottle cage that I never got around to putting on my bike...

Attach camera to cage. Tie cage to kite...


I tied the cage to the kite using only one piece of string. Hence the assembly was free to rotate. But tie it on at two points, and I think it's going to finally be pretty stable. You can see for yourself how much better this third try is.

Next next bit...

Another day, another phone call from someone wanting to sell me their services. From a mobile phone this time, and it didn't help that the line was bad, but some bloke was shouting aggressively into my lughole about how his company could optimise my website for use with mobile phones. He was very insistent, and when I told him I wasn't planning to spend any money this year, he told me that he was offering this for free.

I asked him what his company got from it, and he explained that they make their money in the second year.

It dawned on me that the optimisation is therefore temporary. They remove it after twelve months. At that point I told him I'd do it myself.

He was incredulous. Do it myself? But it's difficult and complicated and his company is the biggest and best mobile optimisation company in the whole damn world.

Bye then.

But there you go. He's identified a potential source of business that I might not be exploiting as well as I could.

So that's my next task - to find out about mobile internet, then to work out what changes if any I need to make to make my website more mobile friendly.

First of all, what does my site look like on a moby?

Well here's a handy emulator that will show me...

It's not actually too bad. Initially the text is compressed into a block of tiny writing on the left of the screen, but when I click on it, it's all perfectly legible.

Will keep looking into this. Right now, I have a kite to fly.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Next bit...

I got a call on my mobile phone about a week ago.

Some guy from Manchester was offering his services as a search engine optimiser. I felt for him, as he was clearly working hard to get his business off the ground. But I'm trying to do as much as I can for myself, to keep the costs down, to expand my knowlegde and experience into new areas, and because I'm a stubborn bugger. So I politely declined his offer.

However, now that I have a site I'm happy with, I need to get my ratings up, and as ever, I want to do it without spending money.

I asked for advice on some discussion boards, and was pointed in the direction of certain software, that I then "acquired". Normally this software costs a couple of hundred quid. A few years ago, I wouldn't have felt the slightest twinge of guilt about such acquisitions. These days I'm more aware that somebody somewhere is not getting what they should be entitled to.

I'm also aware that in saying "Come and have driving lessons with Paul Sharp", I'm also saying "Don't give your money to Joe Bloggs" despite Joe Bloggs also needing to make a living. Nature of the beast of course. Everybody has to compete for everything. Ah well. Come the glorious day...

Anyway, this SEO stuff is stretching me. I understand the basic idea: Put the right keywords into your site and get other sites to link to it. There's other stuff too.

Then submit site to search engines. Said search engines then say "OK. Lots of lovely relevent stuff here. Put it up near the top..."

There are things that don't work properly with the software I got but I've used it to look at the html of other local driving school websites, the ones that show up at the top of the listings, and put a lot of the same meta tags into my headers.

I've also used it to look at the code of my site and check it for errors. It found quite a few. It also told me exactly where and what they are, so I should be able to fix most of them.

The text contained within my webpages is also important. I ran a sort of scan that simulates what a google spider does. It told me this:

Total web page size:    10,632 bytes
Visible text size:    612 bytes
Total HTML size:    10,020 bytes
Visible text to web page size ratio:    5.76% (the more the better)
Number of images:    6

Context is important of course. It's saying the more the better, but this is a little worrying. I wanted to keep it all simple and clear, not windy and verbose. A hangover from the days of dial up perhaps, but to me it makes sense to optimise and minimalise.

The same spider simulator can also be used on other sites. Generally the ratio seems to be about 15-20%. All the pages I've looked at contain far more links than mine does.

I've spotted some interesting techniques. For example, one highly ranked page had a list of almost every town on Wirral. Each link had it's own seperate page. Karen Jones does lessons in Wallasey, and the rest of Wirral. Are you looking for driving lessons in Wallasey? Call her on 012345678. Karen Jones does lessons in Greasby and the rest of Wirral. Are you looking for driving lessons in Greasby? Call her on 012345678. Etc.

I think that's a really good idea. I only need to do one page, then use it as a template, and from there, fill my index page with intra-site links.

So... Work to be done still. Some of this is interesting. Some of it is just really boring and repetitive, and some of it is frustrating and mentally taxing.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

First Contact!

I've wanted to be able to do a contact form for yonks. Somehow I was never able to get my head around it.

Today, I have spent a long time reading up on it, and with a lot of trial and error, I finally managed to get a proper contact form on my website. One that forwards queries and comments directly to my email account. I was able to make use of some free code downloads from this site.

A contact form effectively comes in two parts. The first part is html code that allows people to make comments. The second part is something called php code, which then sends the comments to a specified place, in this case, my e-mail address.

What I couldn't work out was the way it all fits together in a website. So I spent ages copying the php code into my webpage, and wondering why it was not working properly. Eventually it dawned on me that the php code is a seperate file that you ftp up onto your host server. The html code then goes looking for it.

But this wasn't just a matter of copying and pasting. I added a new field for phone numbers, and altered the php file so that it correctly went through. I have some idea of what I'm doing with this stuff now.

I've also tidied up, made a few stylistic changes, and spent a long and annoying time debugging things that should on the face of it have worked. Tables are wonderful things, but they do sometimes do some frustrating things.

So now I have a website that I'm happy with, at least for now. Now I need to get people to see it.

I keep wanting to send myself messages!

driving lessons wallasey

you want 'em! I got 'em!

Friday, 2 September 2011


I've shelled out about seventeen quid for a kite. I want to attach a video camera to it, and shoot movies from up in the sky.

This particular sort of kite is supposed to be amongst the most stable available. I'd actually like to be able to take pictures, but that requires either a lot of money or considerable ingenuity. I've heard of people rigging up timers based on the melting of ice cubes.

I do however have this little video camera.

It's the same one I used to video the bike rides a few months back. It's a bit temperamental, but if I use a certain sequence of events, I can get it to work properly.

Apart from starting it recording, I have no control about how long it records for. I suppose with practice, I could get  degree of control over which way it points.

Anyway, I shall post the resulting videos. I doubt if they'll be as good as this...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

about 6 weeks...

since I had a cigarette. I've not been counting but I looked back at my blog posts and it appears that I stopped on 16th July.

Big deal. So what!

It's been nothing. Not even worthy of a "meh". I've achieved nothing. Achieving nothing is easy. I shall continue to achieve nothing for the forseeable future.