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(and similar audio recorders)

For casual professional recording of everyday sounds, ranging from nature to interviews, the Zoom H1 is a very convenient and inexpensive device. With outdoor recording, wind is almost always present in places like Ireland. If you use a H1 as it is, your recordings will rumble with every puff of wind and destroy your recording.
To remedy this, I initially bought a simple foam windshield and this was sufficient on calm days. But for the normal gusts of westerly winds we get in Ireland, the design had to be improved. Rycote are making Mini Windjammers that cost around £STG25.  As I know how windjammers work, I found the cost excessive and the Rycote design perhaps not the optimal solution.
Fluffy textile
I bought some nice fluffy/hairy textile in a local shop (Hickey’s). The criteria for the material was that the base material should be as transparent as possible and the outer coating as hairy as possible. As this was shortly after St Patrick’s day, I bought 2 meters of a green fluffy material for 5 euro (which is enough for perhaps 20 windjammers).
Wire cage
Next, I made a small cage from brass-wire, to contain the H1. You can use any kind of semi-rigid wire for this.

After shaping the wire-cage, I folded some fluffy textile around it with the inside out and marked where to cut the textile.

Fluffy textile sticthed together, and Velcro

I sewed the front of the textile in a curve to fit the front of the wire-cage, and along the bottom I stitched on some Velcro, which makes it easy to put the textile on on the cage and to get, for example, a headphone cable through.

Elastic cage
Finally, I used some elastic band to hang the Zoom H1 in the cage, to prevent handling noise and other unwanted vibrations to be picked up, and inserted the cage with the H1 into the green fluffy tube. Zip up the Velcro and you’re ready for recording.

Zoom H1 and Windjammer

Finished H1 Windjammer

Happy Recording!

The Irish government got the outcome they wanted, a yes vote. While many of us are of the opinion that it was insane to sign up to a law that allows the Irish government to commit the country to some extremely strict and negative fiscal policies that are not yet clear, or, if actual policies will be in the shape or form outlined in the referendum propaganda.
So, what’s the good news about this? It is that now, the Irish government cannot blame the No-side for the continued sliding into debt and unemployment.
one Irish Euro
Some people wish for a Punt Nua, a reincarnated version of the Irish Punt, while others argue strongly against this and prefer to keep the Euro. With the current state of the Irish economy, switching to a national currency would send Ireland into a financial free-fall. It would work fine for buying and selling Irish stuff within the country. Exports would probably increase. You would also find that with 100 Punt Nua, you’ll get 15 Pounds Sterling when you visit Britain, 10 Euro if you go to France or Germany. With your 100 Punt Nua, you may get US$20 if you go to the USA. Your almost-for-free-while-we-rip-you-off Ryanair ticket would probably cost 500 Punt Nua, and that’s just to get you to Stanstead.

If we can stay in the Euro-zone, Germany needs to face up to reality and support closing down the defunct banks, without hitting the ordinary Irish tax payer, and bringing corrupt and greedy developers, bankers and politicians to justice. Real justice. All of this while injecting fresh investment in companies that make things, not only retail or perhaps the worst of all: import/export (which, to me, means money laundering). It is only by making things that we can work our way forward.

Last week, I had to buy some heavy-duty extension leads and some other electrical bits and pieces to get our exhibition Design@UL working in the former Franciscan church in Limerick City. The prices were high in the local shop and when I inspected the gear, it was Made in China.

Last year, when I was in Germany on an artistic expedition, having to do similar purchases, it was half the price and the gear was Made in Germany. That’s both interesting and alarming, and probably explains a lot if you think about it.

Ballpoint pen Made in Germany

We need to change this!

Will there be a day in a not so distant future when I can walk into a shop in Ireland and most of the basic stuff is actually made here, Made in Ireland, by real people in a real economy?
In the meantime, we would all be better off if the stuff we buy is made in Europe.

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning by experimenting with all kinds of things. I also learnt a lot from various educational science kits that sympathetic parents bought, probably trying to facilitate my interests (or hoping to contain the interests on the safe side of science and technology). There were all kinds of exciting kits, ranging from The Little Electrician, to the Chemistry kit, to the Nuclear Energy exploration kit….

In addition to this, it was really fun to combine the kits with Lego, Meccano and bits and pieces from broken things found in the basement.
Back in the 1960s, it was also possible, as a kid, to walk in to the local pharmacy and buy all kinds of interesting stuff (e.g. HCL, HNO3, H2SO4, NH3, more or less the whole chemical alphabet….). You could also get a good variety of electronic components in all radio shops.

Later in life, I have always tried to choose stuff with open-ended educational value when buying (or making!) birthday gifts to young people. Sadly, the possibility to send anything interesting abroad by post has recently been made almost impossible.

The Irish postal service An Post now demand that you fill out an Aviation Security Declaration when sending a larger letter or small parcel. As far as I have googled this, it’s a fairly recent thing (February 2012?). Perhaps it’s the UK that have forced Ireland into this, as most of the stuff posted in Ireland with destinations in Europe pass through the UK, and with the Olympics and other silly antics around the corner, they are really paranoid about everything.

This leaves me with the only option, to post the most dangerous of all things: books. Books may contain ideas that may change the world.

Beside one of my working-at-home locations, there’s an off-white wall over a fireplace. On a sunny day (not too many of them this spring!), between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, the sunlight is refracted in a window in front of me, painting a very slowly moving pattern on the wall beside me.

As a graphic, it looks almost organic as it’s fading like breathing when small, light clouds pass the sun. The pattern moves, ever so slowly, along the wall and then suddenly disappears when the optical alignment is beyond whatever special condition that was there for a while disappears.

For another day, I might try to make sound from this…

More observations of light can be found here.

At a certain time of the year, at a certain time of the day, if it possibly is sunshine, the stairwell outside our lab at UL has the most beautiful little artificial rainbow.
The cause is the angle between the windows opposite the stairwell and the sun just about sneaking around the corner of the next building.

Artificial rainbow

Artificial rainbow

Even when on my way, rushing to the next lecture or meeting, this humble optical effect makes me stop and smile – or snap a photo.

Rainbow in stairwell

Rainbow in stairwell

I can imagine the fascination that for example Isaac Newton must have experienced while exploring how prisms work. White becoming all colours, and being able to manipulate the rainbow.

Vogon deodorant

A couple of weeks ago, our local community in Lisnagry and Annacotty in county Limerick discovered that our neighbour, county Clare, are planning to build a dual carriageway (what some would call a highway or cheapish motorway) straight through our local community. Their plans would require several houses to be demolished, farms to become unviable and the community segregated by a sacrifice on the altar of unlimited growth in road traffic.
Clare County Council claimed that they had made the plans publicly available already last year and that they had conducted at least one round of public consultation, which is really strange as none of us in the target area had any notion of this. Not even the farmers and landowners that the road would have a direct impact on (obliteration) had received any notice – no letter, no email, no carrier-pigeon, no nothing.
This, of course, reminds me of Douglas Adams‘ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where Arthur Dent‘s house is about to be demolished due to the construction of a motorway and while Arthur is trying to protect is house, the Vogon Constructor Fleet arrives in the sky and shortly thereafter demolishes planet Earth. The plans for the new intergalactic route, for which Earth was an obstacle, had been exhibited for several years at Alpha Centauri 4.1 light-years away, on public display in a filing cabinet in the basement of the Galactic planning authority.
The pure arrogance of post-Celtic Tiger politicians is stunning. Having read all available documents (they are still holding back the Constraints Study!), it is very clear that they have extrapolated growth in traffic volume exponentially based on a few years historical data when cars were whizzing around paid for by pretend-money from some of the now defunct banks and trucks were rolling in every second with globalised goods to be consumed in an ever-increasing death spiral by the happy Irish consumers. It is just tragic that Clare County Council and the consultants they hired have completely missed the fact the Planet Earth have just passed Peak Oil and it would be time to consider alternative economies and different ways of living, for example, growing your own food, use a bicycle and stop buying cheap and unnecessary garbage products from far away factories filled with child labourers.

It is a real mystery that a lot of people think that touch screen and multi-touch technology is a novelty. Touch screens have a long history, see for example Bill Buxton‘s extensive research on this topic.
In my own work, I stumbled into touch screen research around 1984, while speculating about possibilities to optically interconnect VLSI circuits through optically transmissive substrates. As my own lab did not have the facilities to try out some of the ideas on a micro-scale, we fiddled with normal sized opto-components and circuits, assuming that the principles would scale down if we ever managed to get a budget to pursue this radical idea.
We never found any funding for the VLSI optical interconnects, but we continued to explore the possibilities with the experimental setup, which resulted in the largest touch screens in the world at the time.

Early touch screen prototype, 1986

We were very lucky to get in contact with the local transport company in Gothenburg who gave us an order for three prototype systems. This, in turn, led to contacts with Swedish Rail, via KNM electronics, and a full deployment of our touch technology at all railway stations in Sweden.

One of the first full-scale touch screen for public transport info. 1988

One of the STINS systems, developed for Swedish Rail. 1989.

As my own interest was and remain to make new prototypes, I refocused on making slightly smaller devices that would fit around normal computer screens, CRTs. We succeeded in designing such a smaller system, more lightweight and less expensive.

The VENTRI prototype. A General Purpose Portable Communicator with a touch screen. 1992

This led to explorations of how touch technology may be used by users with different forms of physical disability. We participated in the EU initiative TIDE – Technological Initiative for Disabled and Elderly. In this European collaboration we came to work together with Speech Technology Ltd and Circuits Test and Systems Ltd  at Trinity College in Dublin. The collaboration resulted in a pretty amazing prototype of a General Purpose Portable Communicator targeted at users who could not speak and with various degrees of physical and cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find funding for any volume production and marketing of the device.

Touch screen for London Underground passenger info. 1993.

Later, I came in contact with Multimedia Technologies Ireland (MTI) in Plassey Technological Park in Limerick and Trinity College in Dublin. Together with MTI, we developed two prototypes of a system for interactive passenger information for London Underground.

My smallest touch screen prototype. Handheld. 1994.

I also started to fiddle with a really small device, a handheld unit. I made one single prototype and tried to show it, in confidence, to a few of the larger manufacturers. The one and only prototype disappeared during one of these excursions and I only have one single photo left of it, from around 1994.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

One of the main problems behind the boom-to-gloom economy is the illusion that buildings create value, or at least some kind of buildings. As I’ve written before, making things is crucial for our survival, but to keep making the wrong things for the wrong reasons is counterproductive, or put it more direct – stupid. Making things is good if these things are needed. If they are not needed, don’t make them. This applies to buildings as well. There’s no point building a garden shed if you don’t need it.
But more seriously, do we need more shopping centres in Limerick? I read in the Limerick Post today that the current Mayor of Limerick, Jim Long, wants more of the UK chains further dilute the viability of the few existing shops in the city.

“…my own preference here is for the Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer and the Asda chain, so successful in the North of Ireland.”

Now, that is the most stupid thing I’ve read, when said by a Limerick politician while the Limerick City Centre is decaying due to that the City and County have built an almost endless number of retail parks (what an oxymoron!) around the city. For each big chain store that opened along Childers Road, Ballysimon Road, etc., the local and often family run shops in town were forced to either close or relocate. You get what you plan for.

Parkway Valley chaos

Looking at the Parkway Valley area, there was a plan approved to build one of the largest shopping malls in Europe, which is totally insane when you consider that the population of the Limerick area is only about 140,000. The originally almost useless land on the east side of the Singland plane was envisaged to be worth multimillions if commercial rents and rates could be extracted for every square meter of soggy old flood plain. With the current state of the site, with massive unfinished concrete structures in place, the land is even worth less, and in my opinion it now has a negative value as the land cannot be used for anything sensible.

With the so called Opera Centre (which is a silly name), we still have time to do something more sensible. I think we should apply the term un-building to the site, which basically means to remove the derelict buildings and restore the land to a state where grass, trees and plants can grow, people can walk, play and breath and perhaps even have a few allotments for growing vegetables. Just imagine how inviting the city may look if the entrance to the city centre was green. By un-building, we open up all kinds of possibilities for the future while being able to enjoy the place now.

In the current world economic crisis, it seems quite obvious that countries that make original things, from idea to final product, are the countries with the least problems.

In making, we also need to include food.

a morph between an image of Planet Earth and a typical pizza.

Consider what you have eaten today. From where in the world did the food come from? It would be interesting to consider if every packet with a “frozen dinner” in supermarkets had a map of where all it’s components originated and how it travelled to get to you. Perhaps there should also be a number, how many kilometres it travelled to get to you.

Have you ever considered how much land it takes to produce the food to sustain you for one year? Some say that in Ireland in the 19th century, 0.5 acres (0.2 hectares) would be sufficient to grow potatoes for 8 people, assuming that they also had some chickens, perhaps a pig, and a cow grazing on common land. With a modern, more balanced, diet, you probably need about 1 acre per person, or, 8 acres (3.2 hectares) for 8 people.

And, if you grow and make your own food, you have to do all the work. No need for any gym.