Friday, 28 May 2010

Falling In Love Again

As Elvis said during his so-called Comeback Special in 1968 (the mother of all unplugged shows), "It's been a long time, baby!"

The wait, that is.

For my iPad.

Heck, I even wrote about it back in early February. I knew then that the iPad would be something special, so waiting four months to actually get hold of one (or even to see one in real life) has been quite a challenge.

Well, the waiting came to an end yesterday afternoon, one day before the official release of the iPad here in Spain and in several other lucky countries around the world. I had already received an email from Apple, to let me know that the iPad, which I had ordered as soon as that was possible from Apple Spain, would be delivered this week. Yesterday morning, a delivery company phoned me to say that they would deliver a package from Apple between three and six o'clock that afternoon (that's a pretty small time scale here in Spain). Finally, at about four, the van stopped in front of our drive and the delivery chappy announced that he had two packages for me. I had also ordered the special Apple iPad Cover, so that was no surprise. Things started to get hairy when delivery chappy kept on searching in the van and scratching his head.

There was only one package!

Fortunately, it was the good one, the one with the iPad, and a quick call to Apple Spain confirmed that the iPad Case would be delivered either the next day (today) or on Monday. No problem there—who needs a case when they've just received a new iPad to set up and play with?

Incidentally, photos of this momentous event can be seen in this specially commissioned Picasa album (photos by She Who Must Be Obeyed).

And how is the iPad?

Need you ask? It is wonderful, gorgeous, beautiful, easy to set up, easy to use. Emailing is so easy; surfing is so easy; reading ebooks (I've tried with epubs and PDFs) is easy, displaying photos is a dream, watching video is a cinch…

The virtual keyboard is a lot better than I thought it would be and the iPad reacts to alignment changes quickly and smoothly, so that moving from portrait orientation to landscape poses no problem at all.

I still say the geeks are wrong (actually, I think a lot have changed their opinion since February). They need to look at what the iPad is and not what they think a computer should be. Two different things and I love the iPad the way it is.

Oh, and the Apple iPad Case arrived this afternoon and is equally gorgeous and perfect for the purpose for which it was designed.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Cactus d'Algar 2010

Elise and I visited Cactus d'Algar again last Thursday afternoon. We had first visited the place in September 2008, so it was time to go back to see how the cacti were progressing.

Cactus d'Algar is located between that horrible tourist resort of Benidorm and the rather more pleasant inland village (though overly commercialised), Guadalest. Follow the signs for Callosa d'en SarriĆ  and thence to Fuentes d'Algar. Take extra care in the latter, as it can be overly crowded, with tourists wandering aimlessly over and along the narrow road. Pass through Fuentes d'Algar, and about 1.5 Km along the same road, on the right-hand side, is the entrance to Cactus d'Algar.

Cactus d'Algar is a huge cactus park, thankfully hardly commercialised, with just a small souvenir shop at the entrance. Once inside, there is an even smaller bar and a large terrace, overlooking the expanse of the park, which is largely situated on slopes that face south and south-west. If you feel so inclined, you can buy delicious coffee or other drinks at the bar, but there is usually very little to eat, so don't be afraid to bring a picnic: tables are provided.

From the terrace, follow the network of paths that snake along the slopes and through the thousands of cacti (it is said there are some 500 species on display). They range from the very small to the extremely large, and the expanses of Echinocactus grusonii are quite magnificent. Even if you are not a cactus fan, don't forget your camera, as there is sure to be something you will want to photograph.

When you return to the terrace, you have the chance to buy some very nice pots and even a few plants (cacti and succulents, of course), but there is no attempt at all to force anything onto you.

(Click on the photo to see plenty more from the visit.)

Thursday, 6 May 2010


Some years ago, I wrote and published a book called "Roots Of Elvis." It was based on the information I present in my Elvis Presley The Originals site. The problem with a paper book is that it is difficult to keep the information contained therein up to date. In the several years since the book came out, the information on the site has been modified and added to. Even now, the quest for original versions of numbers later recorded by Elvis Presley turns up an occasional earlier version or even a brand new title, though this is becoming very infrequent. Still, my thoughts turned to a way in which I could present the information in such a way that it could be kept up to date, following the updates made to the site, yet without requiring an Internet connection to peruse the data.

My first idea was to write an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app, but this was a tad limiting and also required more effort on my behalf than my over forty years in computing could muster. Twenty years ago, I would probably have jumped to the challenge, but it all seems a bit much nowadays. Then I saw an electronic book (ebook) in a format called epub. I realised that this offered a number of advantages: I already had the basic book layout, for it was much the same as the Elvis Presley, The Originals site layout, which is specified in CSS; the epub format allowed internal links, allowing at least some user navigation; I guessed that the intellectual effort required to produce an epub ebook was less that that required to write an app.

After some Web searching and examining of existing epubs, I was ready to try my hand, so created some fixed files, as required by epub, and set up some others with variable holders. The latter were filled in, using the same script I use to generate the website from locally stored data (all done with the free revMedia application); the script was extended to produce the data required for the epub format: manifest, list of chapters, tocs, navmap, etc., as well as the individual chapters of the book in separate .xml files.

It all went relatively smoothly and revMedia also allowed me to use a couple of Unix shell commands in order to compress the numerous files into the epub format single file holder.

So now, each time I make a modification tot he contents of my Elvis Presley, The Originals website, I also generate a new version of its accompanying book, Roots Of Elvis, in epub format.

The epub version of Roots of Elvis can be downloaded for free from here.

Here are some sites that I found useful during my research of the epub format:
Epub Format Construction Guide;
An Epub Tutorial;
Dossier epub;
ePub Zen Garden;
Validate ePub documents.

Just one point, though: the otherwise very good An Epub Tutorial above provides a set of Unix commands to generate the compressed epub file that do not work in all cases. Instead of these, use the following:
zip -q0X yourfilename.epub mimetype
zip -qXr9D yourfilename.epub *

Laid back

Well, the tiles have been laid. Of course, things didn't go entirely according to plan (if there ever was a plan): the "same" tiles are now somewhat darker than the original model from four years ago and are also about 1 mm. longer on all sides. 1 mm is very little, of course, until you lay ten tiles down edge to edge, when it becomes 1 cm and the joints are then noticeably out of line with those of the tiles that you are trying to match up with. Not a huge problem, but aesthetically inelegant. Colour variations are to be expected; same thing with wallpaper: two rolls of the same colour and pattern from two different baths also look subtly different. The biggest problem, however, had to do with a few square metres of tiles that we had put down two years ago in one of the corners at the back of the house. It was simply not possible to match up the joints with the new tiles we have now had laid from the drive-in, up the side of the house, that meet this two-year-old patch, and, furthermore, the tiles are laid at a very slightly different angle. The final result looks strange, but has a certain avant-garde something about it, like the yellow-brick road suddenly taking an unexpected turn to the left in order to avoid the Emerald City. Anyway, that's my excuse.

The layer has done a very good job, really, especially as the idea was to avoid steps, even though the area is not level, with a height difference both from back to front and from left to right. Despite this, Watsis, the chap who laid the tiles, has managed to create smooth, gently sloping surfaces. Well done, that man!

The tiling was finished on Tuesday. We let things rest yesterday and today started on the cleaning of the tiles and the replacing of the plants. First, however, we put some fencing below the new trellising; the Trachelospermum jasminoides plants are growing very well and I thought it would be better for them to have something to climb on lower down, too. The fencing can't be seen in the photo, but it's there and looks good. The cacti that can be seen in the photo have only been placed provisionally. Now that all the cleaning has been done, however, we shall see about placing them better tomorrow. Some new irrigation pipes will also be required and some old ones moved to different positions.