onsdag 29 juli 2009

Environmental threat - new generation of software coming

The business pages are saying how the launching of Windows 7 later in the year will give a boost to computer sales, which have been in the doldrums lately. It will enable Microsoft to phase out Windows XP, which is still being sold with the new generation of notebook computers which cannot run Microsoft’s most recent system, Vista.

There is another way of looking at this. The advent of W7 will mean that millions of perfectly serviceable computers will be disposed of. Many will end up as landfill. When the energy used to produce and deliver a computer is taken into account as well, this is not environmentally friendly.

But it is good news for Linux users who will now have the choice of a new generation of computers coming onto the market at knock-down prices. Three-year-old Thinkpads are a particularly good buy, and the latest will now have dual-core processors and SATA drives, which are now available in energy-saving solid-state versions.

My only real complaint about the dominance of M$ is that is encourages hardware manufacturers and service providers to be lazy and not bother to give support. Often this doesn’t matter but it limits the choice of things like scanners and it is difficult to find 3G internet that works except with M$ and Apple. The EU needs to get stuck in here. Probably the best strategy would be to promote the use of Linux internally which would save a fortune in licence fees and give better security.

Linux is often criticised as being for geeks, but in my experience distributions like SuSE and Ubuntu are much easier to set up than a new Windows system, what with all the installation disks that have to be run, and the 25-digit security codes that have to be registered for each application.

To install a Linux system, it is only necessary to pop the installation CD into its tray, select the default options and then go off and leave it for a while. Linux software not on the installation disc will be available on-line, and there is no need to subscribe to anti-virus software. It is useful though not essential to partition the disk, which admittedly is something one needs to know about, but the same actually goes for Windows. Data and programes should always be kept on different partitions so that the programs can be updated on a clean formatted partition (section) of the disk without disturbing the data that is on it.

The reason for doing this is because one of the charming features of Windows is the so-called ”Recovery Disk”, which restores a computer to its factory-fresh condition at the click of a mouse button. It works perfectly, and of course ensures that everything else on the disk – correspondence, address lists, photographs, all the installed software applications – vanishes at the same time. Programmes all have to be reinstalled and all the data is lost forever unless it has been backed up.

M$ is always worried about illegal copying but it is beyond me why anyone would choose to use Windows even if it was free. It is just a bloody nuisance as far as I can make out.

måndag 27 juli 2009

What is the right width for a railway carriage?

Question: What is the right width for a railway carriage?

Answer: 3 metres inside, 3.2 metres externally. This gives enough space for seats, armrests and a gangway in between.

If there is any significant new railway construction to take place in Britain, this should be kept in mind. Future building should not be sub-standard. Britain was the first country to have railways. We made the mistake of building them too small. Now is the time to make good.

söndag 19 juli 2009

A high speed line for Britain?

Support for the construction of a new high speed railway in Britain is growing, though there are going to be years of debate about where it should go and what sort of a line it should be.

Britain is not ideal territory for high speed rail. 80% of the population is packed into about one-third of the land area, south of Leeds and east of Cardiff. Most of the journeys made are quite short. It is also the case that within this core area people are fairly spread-out, which makes it difficult to serve them by public transport, and particularly so with rail transport. Britain’s whole pattern of land use assumes that most people will make most of their journeys by car. Outside this core area, however, there are two important centres of population, the Scottish lowlands belt and Tyne and Wear, and this strengthens the case for high speed rail significantly.

A further difficulty concerns the entire concept of the line. Rail promotes itself on the strength of its ability to provide good journey times between city centres. But most journeys are not between two city centres. Depositing people in a congested city centre when that is not their destination is not a good thing. Passengers using the Channel Tunnel service, for instance, find the time saved by the construction of the new line is squandered in a taxi queue or in the traffic jams in the streets around the terminal.

There are other considerations too. The Channel Tunnel rail link is constructed to the European loading gauge and it is fairly obvious that European gauge trains should be able to use any other high speed lines that are built in Britain. Whilst there is no difficulty in designing trains that will fit the smaller British gauge and also be able to run on European gauge routes, it would probably be impossibly expensive to construct European gauge routes into city centres, though it should not be ruled out. More likely, it seems that a European gauge high speed line running north of London might terminate at a location close to the North Circular Road, with good onwards connections both into Central London and around the suburbs. Cricklewood in North London has been mentioned, and with its existing fast Thameslink connection to the City and southwards, a line that terminated at Cricklewood could well be as useful as a route that ran into the centre.

But is the European gauge the right one in any case? I came across some calculations in the June edition of the Swedish railway magazine Tåg. It was pointed out that four seats 50 cm wide with 8 cm for the armrests in between, 3 cm between seats and bodysides and 46cm for the gangway adds up to an internal width of 3 metres. Adding 20 cm for the thickness of the bodysides gives an external width of 320 cm, which is the standard width of trains in Scandinavia and of the Amtrak fleet in the US but wider than European gauge stock. The same width of vehicle body will also accommodate acceptable 2+3 seating for short journeys.

Looking further ahead, there is the question of whether the line should be able to accommodate double-deck stock. This is achieved in Europe by having low curved ceilings on the upper-deck, which is not satisfactory. Only on the railways of Finland (VR) are there double-deck trains (above) which do not have low ceilings. This is a legacy of the period before 1917 when Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian empire and the railways were built to Russian standards.

The logic of this argument seems to be that since the UK high speed railway will run primarily as a self-contained system, there is no need to be downwardly compatible with either other UK lines or main line Europe, provided that standard UK and European stock can operate on it. In any case, the amount of passenger traffic passing from Europe on to a high speed line north of London would be small, as the distance is approaching that at which rail is uncompetitive with air.

In short, therefore, if there are going to be new railways constructed in the UK, they should be built to a larger gauge altogether to permit the operation of double-deck passenger trains of full width (320 cm) with full-height ceilings on both decks. Such trains might be needed on routes such as London to Birmingham and Manchester sooner than anyone imagines. The volume of long distance rail travel could grow dramatically within a few years of the opening of the line. Future generations will not thank us if we repeat the mistakes of the 1830s and leave them with a legacy system with a restricted capacity that forces passengers into cramped uncomfortable trains.

Every long journey starts with a local journey
But whether spending money on a high speed rail network is good value for money is a question that still needs to be asked. It may well be better value to put the investment into making improvements to local transport. Every long distance journey starts and ends with a local journey. The cost of a high speed railway would pay for quite a few urban tram systems. There is a still a need to establish priorities.

onsdag 15 juli 2009

SJs Biljettlotteri

Jag tycker mycket om SJs websajt. Där är det mycket lätt att titta på tidtabellen, hitta tåg och köpa biljetterna.

Men man vet aldrig hur mycket biljetterna kommer att kosta. Jag har köpt biljetter från Göteborg till Köpenhamn för bara 95kr, men har ofta betalt 400kr. Om man får köpa billiga biljetter så måste man göra det veckor före. Biljetterna är giltiga bara ett särskild datum och en särskild tid, annars måste man köpa nya. Vem vill verkligen göra det?

Jag anser att biljettpriserna bör göras enklare. Bara två biljettprisnivåer behövs: ett vanligt pris, kanske 1kr per kilometer, och ett högre pris under högtrafik, kanske 1.5kr per kilometer. Då kan men vet precis hur mycket resan kommer att kosta.

Och en sak till. När man reserverar en fönster plats, finns det inte alltid något fönster bredvid. Man kan inte tittar på landskapet men istället man får se bara plast. En fönsterplats bör betyda just den. En fönsterplats utan fönster är ingen fönsterplats. Den är en falsk beskrivning.

måndag 13 juli 2009

On holiday

Sorry no regular internet at the moment, will start posting again in mid-August.

Brexit row over brand protection

As part of the acrimonious Brexit negotiations, there is a row over protected product names such as Melton Mowbray pies and whiskies general...