Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On the third day of rioting

There are three things going on here and it is difficult to separate the three, even for those living here.

Prologue: On Saturday night, Alex Grigoropoulos, a 15 year-old boy died as a result of a bullet wound to the chest. The bullet had been fired by a police contractor who should not have been carrying a weapon and was affectionately known as "Rambo" at the station-house on account of his short temper. Depending on which version of the story one reads the kid may have done nothing to provoke the wrath of the "policeman", may have pelted a police car with beer bottles or done anything in between. It is not unlikely that someone in the group of kids spoke indecently to the "policeman". The policeman responded by calling out the words, "This'll show you" before firing his weapon. Depending on who you read, the "policeman" then fired either two or three times. The "policeman" claims to have fired one warning short into the ground and two into the air. Eyewitnesses claim that the "policeman" took aim and fired twice at the 15 year old. The extent to which the use of deadly force is justified (in any of the scenarios which preceded the shooting) is left as an exercise for the reader. The coroner as at 9 December has not determined the angle at which the bullet entered the boy and so there is no way to determine whether it was a direct hit or the result of a ricochet. Obviously, graduates of the blinkered school of autopsies would have trouble pronouncing on such a simple thing as entry wound direction. As a result of the shooting the following happened:

1. On Saturday night, immediately following the shooting: Riots in central Athens started by anarchists / troublemakers using the death of Alex Grigoropoulos as an excuse to burn rubbish bins and throw stones around. This has continued as a theme every night since then and has resulted in banks and other commercial properties to be destroyed, as well as public vehicles (fire-engines, state sector cars, etc).

2. Schools have closed for a few days in mourning and there have been genuine expressions of grief / solidarity with his family. School children have made mainly peaceful marches on public buildings. Some have pelted said public buildings with stones and eggs and stuff, but the school children in general are not troublemakers.

3. Politically motivated groups have been calling on the people to do all sorts of weird things like bring down the government, begin armed class struggle and refuse to serve in the military (amongst others). They are trying to capitalise on the death of Alex for political gain. If I could spell the word demagoguery I might even write it in my blog.

So while the death of Alex Grigoropoulos is a very bad thing, it is being mishandled by everyone. The anarchists (it is only a small number of them) should be crushed - their fight has very little to do with Alex and the politicians should desist from their bickering and sit down to talk about reforming the police force on the one had and protecting the safety and property of your everyday Athenians living and working in the centre of Athens.

So, on with the show.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Alex has 13 friends...

That's what is says on the facebook page with his friends - a bunch of dippy 15 year olds like himself. So, Alex has 13 friends... either that should be 'had' 13 friends, or else, has millions of friends.

The hooded well-known unknowns are planning to burn the town again tonight, but I doubt it is now for Alex. They do it because they like to face off the police and burn property.

There's a whole lot not right here any more. As a former dippy teen who may have been in the wrong place from time to time while growing up, my thoughts go out to his friends and family.

While I disagree with capitalising on everyone's grief and anger by politicising Alex's death - a good hard look should be had at what sort of person is walking the streets of this country carrying and who it is we trust to carry guns. I hope that in the backlash to your death, Alex, the streets will become safer for my as yet unborn child, which will no doubt be just as dippy as I was.

Friday, October 24, 2008

... and the underwater dream

I never got round to completing the write up of this dream. It involved a big chest of treasure as well, I think.

It was a few nights ago now, but very vivid in the colours and the play of light and shadow. We were about 20m down although everything was bright as if we were no deeper than a few feet and the sand was as reflective as that at the beach on Elaphonnesus. I was there with a bunch of people, including Nikos and Kom, not sure why I was there, but I was enjoying it. At some point my bottle came off my back, but caused no distress to my breathing - I just had to hold the bottle so the tubes wouldn't run away.

There were no fish, only arthropods and that struck me as weird - as did the lack of plant material in the sea.

That'll learn me to write up the dreams closer to when they actually happen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NRH rexit...

NRH regit, he would say. Or perhaps we said it, or wrote it. It stands, whoever said it. NRH taught me Latin - for better or for worse, my first year of Latin - my first formalised taste of the grammar of an inflected language and much more came at his hands.

Of course, he did more than teach Latin - he was headmaster - "Norman Foreman". And he was famously in charge of discipline and corporal punnishment - only a plimsole in my day but stories of earlier generations made the plimsole seem a treat.

Longest serving head master in the UK apparently. Such things don't excite me. What does is that I could translate into and out of Latin at O-Level standard when I was still 12. What does excite me is that I can still hear his voice declining the adjective "Ingens" (which as veryone knows is the model for present participles).

I guess the loss is felt equally because he was a teacher and because he is an influential memory from a bygone time when everything was different.

Anyway - ave atque vale

Saturday, March 29, 2008

...and the weekend of the lions (coming soon)

Coming soon: a weekend in Ankara with Lion sculpture on both days. Can you tell where it is yet?

Anatolian hands

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

...and the beginning of lent

So, the beginning of lent is a strange time. It sits in between Lent and the Carnival straddling as it does the time of plenty with all its bacchic dionysiac hang-overs and the austere and Christian fast which brings us to the greatest holiday in the calendar: Easter.

The dome of the Omorphoklisia church with kite in the background.

It is usual practice for the municipality to provide the "Koulouma" (a word derived from the latin cumulus), the surplus of whatever is left that has to be done with for Lent. It's common for the municipalities to provide food suitable for fasting in open spaces where kites may be flown, for that is our custom.

We decided to visit Veikou Park, belonging to the municipality of Galatsi (a suburb of Athens built by refugees from and named for the Romanian Town of GalaĊ£i), not least because the park is close to a 13th Century church which I have read about and want to visit, but have not had the chance to do so. The view from a distance was brightened up by the large number of kites in the sky all with their happily streaming tails. We parked about a mile from the church and walked up to it, then crossed opposite towards the park where there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on, things being bought and sold and people thronging and whatnot.

We bought our kite from a Roma at the entrance - a fancy schmancy affair in the shape of a bird, with a 3D body. The seller set it up for us leaving me to carry around this huge bird with more than 1m wingspan complete with bits of wooden rod sticking out (I would have had someone's eye out on one of them, but I was being careful).

On our way up the hill, we passed many of the people who are by their presence and nature helping to increase the cultural diversity of Athens. Extended families were sitting and picnicking, some with their women in headscarves, some with their women in saris most with meat on their plates thereby indicating their "otherness". It was quite exciting to be here at the beginning of the breaking of the homogeneity of the Athenian cultural make-up and it was interesting to see the Albanian balloon seller trying to persuade the Kurdish family to buy a balloon for their little girls.

We flew the kite - it soared and took us to the limit of our line - we wanted to have had more line and more time. For all my previous attempts to get kites in the air - this is the first time I can comfortably say that I have flown a kite properly. And I am hooked!

Now it is time to start preparing the messenger and the parafauna for next time!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Oregon Scientifc helmet cams: ATC1000 and ATC2K compared

Once upon a time, what seems now like a long time ago, but isn't, I read about the Oregon Scientific helmet cam on the NSS caving forum. One of the gear-heads mentioned the ATC1000 which was just out at the time and I bought one and played around with it.

About six months later I bought the upgrade model ATC2K. So, seeing as I had promised this to the guys over at forums.caves.org, time for my side by side comparison, here goes:

ATC1000 on the left, with AAA cell, right the ATC2K with AA cell

The ATC2K improves on many of the ATC1000's "problems" for caving. For me, these are waterproofness of casing / behaviour in low light / battery issues / mount. We'll go over these one by one.

The first is the more rugged and more waterproof casing. A side by side comparison of the two cameras shows that the older model is far longer than the recent one, but thinner and more cylindrical.

The ATC1000 is rated only splashproof (although mine has survived a brief total dunking) whereas the ATC2K is rated as being waterproof to 3m. The ATC2K also has a shadow guard (peaked front) for reducing flare and has a more rubbery feel than the ATC1000s very plastic look. Both have received their fair share of knocks and scrapes while attached to my helmet, without any problems or malfunctioning. After about 8 months of use (and this is connected to the mount also) the front end of my ATC1000 came off, making it no longer splashproof. I have submerged my ATC2K to about 4 or 5m without problems.

Behaviour in low light, next. The ATC2K is very much better at acquiring an image is low light. I don't know whether this is a CMOS issue, or a result of different hardwired software in the camera. The ATC1000 shoots at 15fps and gives a very smooth image with many tonal ranges. The ATC2K shoots at 30fps and gives a more contrasty (sometimes blocky) image. Whether the trick to achieve the increase in fps also necessitates loss of image quality I am not qualified to say. How this links in to the fact that the ATC2K will give a better balanced image in low light I also don't know. For someone who has not seen the image quality of the ATC1000, the quality of the ATC2K is not noticeably bad. The fact that it will capture an image, when the ATC1000 will not is what is important to me.

Comparison in low light and external conditions

Comparison in street conditions

Comparison in cave conditions

Battery issues: size and lifetime! The ATC1000 takes four AAA cells. The amount of recording I could get out of new alkalines varied from about 45 minutes to 75 minutes depending on the subject and the amount of time the camera was on standby. The lifetime of some otherwise pretty good Ni-MH batteries was not so good, ranging from 30 minutes to no more than 60 minutes. The cost of new batteries per hour recording or the inconvenience of carrying many spares was unsatisfactory. Further, it is almost impossible to change batteries without a pen or a safety pin to release the latch, especially when wearing gloves. The ATC2K takes two AA cells, much cheaper and much easier to find. The battery life was close to two hours for alkalines or well over one hour for Ni-MH rechargeables, meaning that you have to open the back more frequently to change memory card than to change batteries. So with the ATC2K you get many more hours recording for the buck. Another thing is that the battery indicator comes on when you have about 10 or 15 minutes of recording time left, giving plenty of warning. On the ATC1000, it would often come on immediately before the camera died. I am curious what the TFT screen on the back of the ATC5K is going to do to battery life.

Mount issues: The ATC1000 did not have a satisfactory system for mounting the camera on a helmet - the system required leaving the clasp in place on the helmet and sliding the camera in and out, something which may have sped up the detachment of the front cover of the camera. After a few uses like this, I decided on using inner tube rings to keep the camera attached to the helmet, something which worked well enough as long as I jammed a toothpick in there as well to keep the axis parallel to my line of sight. The mount for the ATC2K is much more handy, having a clippy system allowing you to detach the whole camera from the female mount with ease. I have the female part permanently fixed to my helmet and clip the camera into it whenever I want to. It sticks out from the helmet quite a distance but this is easy to get used to. As I wanted to be able to alternate place of mounting between helmet and elsewhere, without having to take off the helmet so as to undo the strap, I wrote to Oregon's customer support about getting more female clippy parts, but I received no response.

Some words about Oregon's customer service: there ain't none. You buy the camera, and that's it. If you want to contact them by e-mail, they'll never answer you. I have sent repeated mails to Oregon about various questions and none have been answered. I once sat in an automated telephone queue for 40 minutes never getting through to the support staff. Oregon are crap - if you buy something, from that moment on you have to come to terms with the fact that you are on your own. This is not the sort of customer services I have come to expect from across the lake. People interested in the ATC3K and ATC5K coming soon, should keep this in mind.

One more thing - after about 11 months of use, my ATC2K developed a patch of dead pixels or something, which was not on the exterior of the camera but which created a dead spot a few pixels in diameter. I have tried to reach Oregon about this as well, but with no joy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

...and the alcohol induced blackout

So, I have spent part of this morning, still nursing a dodgy stomach and a slightly groggy head, reading such gems as: "subjects are capable of participating even in salient, emotionally charged events-as well as more mundane events-that they later cannot remember" and "far from losing consciousness, the literature suggests that it is possible for individuals to experience blackouts while appearing only moderately intoxicated to the outside world". Tell me about it.

The last time this happened was back in the mid nineties, at that famous boatie dinner where they served a carrot soup for starters and then no one (apart from RVM) remembers anything at all. It is not good waking up and not knowing how you got home, how you got those bruises, what you did and what you said. Especially if the last time this happened, you were told that you had kicked a fellow from the vet school in the face (hi, Rachel).

So, I figured out for myself that some time between 3:18 and 3:24, I blacked out. I have photographs I recall at 3:18 and photographs I appear in but do not remember being taken from 3:24 onwards. On one level, it feels like I had a chance to get things out off my chest, that lack of alcohol would have inhibited. On another, it is scary to think that my own memories of everything I have been told that I said and did are gone forever and cannot come back.

Apparently, when the blood alcohol content hits an upper limit the capability of the brain to form long term memories fails, because the alcohol interferes with the transfer of messages from the short term to the long term memory. It's like its being relayed to a tapedeck with no tape in there.

It is all just a blank and this is scary. When the guards are down, we open the way to the monsters from the Id to come rampaging through to the real world. It seems they did to some extent.

Well, I remain groggy and confused. While my first two blackouts were five years apart, the second and third were more than ten years apart. I hope the next one will be so far in the future that it won't happen.


Friday, February 08, 2008

... and the tale of the broken thermometer

So, K's been 'fluey for about ten days now, probably due to more than one cold or 'flu bug. I have managed to remain uninfected so far, which is just as well, as I have not had a jab for two years.

I received a text message one evening - "I have broken the thermometer"

Great - there's me thinking that the house will be flooded with hyper poisonous mercury fumes and what-not. In the event, there were no fumes and no little silvery liquid blobs zooming around my floor like the T-1000. There was however a small bubble of mercury rolling up and down the plastic case in which the broken thermometer was sitting.

No probs, I think, I'll take it to the chemists next door and ask them to dispose of the thing safely and I'll buy a new electronic thermometer while I am there.

Hello, I say to the nice chemist as I walk in, I'd like to buy a thermometer and to leave you this broken one so you can dispose of it with your other hazardous waste.

- Blank stares.

There is no provision for disposing of mercury thermometers safely, I am told.

So it all goes to the landfill?

- Nods

And the baby seals? I ask pleadingly…

- Shakes.

So it seems that there is nothing to be done but let the broken thermometer go the landfill, potentially be played with by the gipsy children, end up in the ground water and the food chain in general, and finish up in the baby seals or worse still in the cute fluffy polar bear cubs.

I resolved at that point to write to the municipality, something I have not yet done, but, believe me, I will do it. Apparently, there is no provision for safe disposal of medicinal sharps, either.

I love living in the Alabama of the European Union.