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Tuesday, 26 February 2008


Finally, I'm back in the blogosphere again! It feels like forever, although it is actually less than three weeks, since we were burgled and my laptop was stolen. It has certainly highlighted to me the importance of taking regular backups, which I hadn't been doing. Fortunately, as I had only had my previous laptop for three months, the loss of data was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

The one thing left to sort out is that our patio doors are still mostly boarded up. The burglars actually put a brick through a double-glazed, toughened glass door. They must have been really desparate. Two lights were on in the room, and we were asleep upstairs, too. Instead of a double door sized window onto our back garden, we currently have only a foot-wide gap to see through, and the rest is fibreboard.

Perhaps it is because of this, though, that a little mouse felt safe enough to run across in front of the glass in broad daylight this morning.

In fact, he came across a dozen times, pausing each time in front of the blue rubble bag into which we put all the broken glass, and then darting across to the pile of seed and nuts I left out for the birds, taking a single peanut and scurrying away again.

I watched him for about ten minutes, as he dashed in, picked up the peanut and then ran off, meticulously continuing until there were no peanuts left in the pile.

As he sped off with his loot, I looked to see where he was disappearing to, expecting that it might be our garage, only a few feet away. I was wrong, though.

To my great surprise, he was running the entire width of our garage, under our next, door neighbour's car and diagonally away farther than I could see into their garden. What an incredible, arduous shopping trip for such a tiny creature!

I don't know what made him so bold - I've never seen a wild mouse in daylight before - but on his penultimate trip he caught sight of me, and looked straight at me as he paused by the rubble bag, and I thought I might not see him back again.

Wrong again - he still came back for the last peanut. Maybe he thought cold weather was on the way, or maybe he'd just discovered what seemed like easy pickings, but he was a delight to see anyway, did no harm and is welcome to my peanuts any time.

Although I'm sure our burglars also felt desparate in their own way, I can't sympathise, and I do begrude the damage they've done and the trauma they've caused. Perhaps they think we have more than them, and so they can morally rationalise their actions, but they do not take into account how hard we've worked to get here. We love our house and the suburb we live in, but this is not a wealthy area full of big houses. It is a mass of standard 1930s semi-detached houses. It epitomises ordinariness, in many ways.

Still, we're okay, and everything is getting back to normal slowly. We're putting extra security on the house to stop it happening again, and I'm just about to replenish the mouse's nut supply.

Friday, 8 February 2008


I don't think that I could ever be a dedicated follower of fashion in a clothing sense, and I rarely take an interest in lifestyle advice programmes or magazines, which sometimes makes me think that I'm not much swayed by appearances. However, this is completely cast aside any time that I find an elegant, innovative industrial or mechanical design.

Some time ago, I was looking at the fascinating Gorey Details, hoping to find some unusual Christmas presents, when I came across a beautiful postcard, and just had to buy it. It was a photograph of the Spacelander electric bicycle, taken from an exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. I knew nothing about the bicycle itself, and assumed that it was probably a single model built as a prototype, never going into production.

Then, this week, an old photograph from the wonderful Modern Mechanix was reproduced on several blogs, and I felt sure that this was the same lovely bike as my postcard. Sure enough, it is. I hope my reproducing the image here counts as "fair use", as I've struggled to find out who owns the copyright. The postcard is printed by

This prompted me to find out more about the Spacelander, which I was able to do thanks to the fantastic research compiled by Leon Dixon, whose website, The National Bicycle History Archive of America, is an amazing resource that will delight all enthusiasts. Thanks to Dixon's research, I was able to find out that, far from being only a prototype, the Spacelander was manufactured and sold, although only 522 were ever produced. This figure he counted up from the manufacturer's original shipping lists, which he still owns.

The designer himself, Benjamin Bowden, was born in London in 1906, and died just a decade ago in Forth Worth, Florida. The New York Times carried his obituary. He designed for the British sports car company, Healey, and later moved to Ontario where he had a hand in improving the performance of the Ford Thunderbird. The Spacelander is the most beautiful bike I have ever seen, and I am surprised that the creator of such a perfect marriage of form and function is not more famous. If these were in production today, I would most certainly buy one, and I doubt that I'm alone in that. Like all iconic designs, it is ageless, and looks as futuristic now as it did in 1946.

Monday, 4 February 2008


I'm a long-standing fan of David Lynch, and, as I've said before, I love flies. Now, Isabella Rossellini was once married to David Lynch, and now it looks as if she's maybe taking the insect investigations a lot further, too.

Just to clarify, when I said, "I love flies", I absolutely did not mean carnally!!


One of the things about having narcolepsy is that it is difficult to find work. It's not really that I'm incapable, in fact I can do quite a lot of things that employers find useful. The problem is that most emplyers want these things done at particular times, and that's what isn't so easy. Although in general I'm more alert in the mornings, there are days when I start falling asleep at nine o'clock in the morning, and others when I might be reasonably alert all day. Because one of the peculiarities of narcolepsy is night-time insomnia, my most productive work hours can sometimes be at two or three o'clock in the morning.

Hence, I've been trying to see what potential there is for making money online, where I can choose to work when I am feeling most alert, and take naps whenever I need to without letting other people down. I'm going to do a series of posts on what I find out, and try to give an honest analysis of what potential I think there is for earning, and how this compares to what the sites themselves say about it.

One of the first money making opportunities I found on the web was Amazon Mechanical Turk. It's a web application by the same people who are better known as an online bookstore, and is named after a famous chess-playing automaton built by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1769. Kempelen convinced many people throughout Europe that he had built a machine with artificial intelligence, able through its cogs and gears to beat some of the best chess players of the day. The Turk was, however, in machine intelligent terms, a fraud, since its achievements at chess were actually being accomplished by a grand master concealed inside.

Amazon Mechanical Turk's principle alludes to that cautionary tale, some tasks are repetitive and fairly simple, yet are not accomplished well by machines or need human input. Once you register, you are able to choose from thousands of available HITs - Human Intelligence Tasks. This is perhaps the simplest possible model of crowdsourcing, and perhaps clickworking is a better description, since many HITs do not require and great deal of skill.

Examples of the kinds of things that appear on Mechanical Turk are:

  • Write a short plot description for a specified movie - $0.50
  • Choose you favourite photo from a given set - $0.01
  • Give you opinion about a topic on a website - $0.10
  • Make a list on a website - $0.25
  • Guess the colour to appear on a given website on a given day - $0.01
  • Write a short blog article on a specified subject - $1.00
  • Answer a survey question - $0.01
Some HITs have a bonus payable for good work, and these can be very lucrative indeed, compared to the standard payment. Some can be very interesting, and can lead to new finds on the web. It isn't big money, in my opinion, but more a worthwhile recreation. Having said that, I believe that it is easily possible to make a lot more than I do, with dedication. It is quite possible that good coders might be able to write scripts to help them with some HITs, and thereby earn far more.

Mechanical Turk is a subsidiary of, and tends to have a US bias in its HITs, and also in its payment system. Earnings are accrued in an account, and workers can have tis transferred to their US personal bank account, or converted into gift certificates. Workers in India can take payment from their accounts in the form of a cheque in Indian rupees, but in the rest of the world the gift voucher is the only payment option.

I find Mechanical Turk more a bit of fun than anything else. By playing around for about an hour, I can earn a couple of dollars, but I'm pretty slow and easily distracted by the more interesting tasks, and spend quite a while looking at the background sites to the HITs. It's definitely worth a look, though.