AirToob Lightning
I like looking on the bright side. I relate very much to the Mediterranean extended-family, take-it-slow, money-isn't-everything outlook on life. I'm not a great cook but I like cooking, especially Mediterranean food (my recipe page is here). I'm interested in environmental issues. My main hobby is flying (on a PC simulator).

The people I admire most are those who see no end to pain, illness, grief or disability and who still retain a sense of humour, people who spend time making life better for others in any way, and people with toxic parents who have "broken the chain" in bringing up their own children.

If you like my pages you will probably also enjoy my web site - do visit! You can get a quick flavour of it here.

PS: I'm a refugee from StumbleUpon. I have copied all of my old SU reviews (the ones containing images) here, except for some not-so-good and outdated bits.

As Michelle in 'Allo, 'Allo might say, please read the following very carefully - I shall write it only once!

I'm a great believer in tags. SU restricted you to 5 tags per post (and then only for site-review posts), but here you can have as many tags per post as will fit into about 200 characters, so I have tried to take full advantage.

For example, you can select from this blog (if you want to) only posts to do with arts, science, entertainment, books, movies, music, environment and so on.

If you're feeling down (or even if you aren't), try this selection of things to enjoy in life, which is pretty much what these pages are all about.

You will find a larger selection of my favourite tags here (or click the White Rabbit below).

The main thing is: if you like something about one of my posts, try clicking the corresponding tag at the top of the post. If you keep doing this, you may find yourself navigating down some nice paths through this blog (for example, this one or this one).

Among these tags you will find the name of a Categorian or Stumbler if their work features in that post, so if you click one of those names (e.g. expressioniste or johnshaven) then you will get (hopefully) a nice selection of that particular person's work as it appears on my blog.

You can find my posts that introduce other Categorians if you click the Cat... then if you like one of the posts that you find, click that Categorian's tag on that post to see everything that I have snaffled from that person! (And you can do the same for ex-Stumblers if you click the image to the right.)

There are plenty more tags to choose from. Enjoy your visit!

WHITE RABBITS - If you're pressed for time, and you would like a quick sample of what I think are the best of these pages, or help in finding quickly what you need, then go here or click the White Rabbit!

Click the cat to chat!

OK, so you're in a hurry and missed the White Rabbit... Just to point out that there's a lot of (hopefully) good stuff hidden in the back pages that most people don't see. If you want a fast sample that jumps you in at different points, try clicking the Coyote!

Once you're there, you can follow a sequence by clicking the chevrons >> at the end of a post, or try clicking a tag you like at the top of a post.

Have fun!

Brian's miscellaneous rambles...

... with words (thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything) - click the image to the left

... with pictures (my photos and photoblogs) - click the image to the right!


For essential Categorian help, just click Help at the top of your screen - and don't forget to make Help your "friend", that way you can easily see when new help information has been added.

It can really, really help to know something about HTML and web pages, if you don't already.
Try here for pointers to some good stuff (even for complete beginners), and also the web design utilities that Matt lists here - and don't miss Karenak's Guide for Categorian Beginners and Borderline's Categorian Help.

When you look at someone's awesome web page and wonder "How do they do that?" then (if you know at least a little HTML) try looking at the source text ("Page Source") for that page. You can do this from the "View" menu of browsers (or Ctrl+U on Firefox or Chrome) - some later versions of browsers hide it under "Web Developer" or similar.

My own Categorian Help posts will be found here, and my Computer Help posts will be found here.

Do you want your reviews to be noticed by other users?

Do you want to find other users who share the same interests as you?

Do you want to be notified of new site reviews for topics that you like?

The Categorian Library is your key to all these things... if you need some help with it, you might find some useful stuff here (or click the image).

HERE BE TREASURE - or my archive pages, anyway:

1 (Oct 2007) | 2 (Jan 2008) | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 (Jan 2009) | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 (Jan 2010)| 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 (Jan 2011) | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 (Oct 2011) | Nov | Dec 2011 | Jan 2012 | Feb | Apr | May | Jun-Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec 2012 | Jan 2013 | Feb | Mar-May | July | Aug | Sep-Nov | Nov-Dec 2013 | Jan-Feb 2014 | Jun-Jul | Aug-Sep | Oct-Dec 2014 | Jan 2015 | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | July | Aug-Sep | Sep-Oct | Dec 2015 | Jan 2016 | Feb-May | Jun 2016 |

Archive pages 1 to 34, and part of 35, come from my StumbleUpon blog. Dates in brackets refer to original post dates on SU. Because I transferred the blog manually, dates in my Categorian blog prior to October 10th 2011 (unless marked as original dates) are the date of the transfer.

Archive pages present posts in increasing-date order (oldest first). This is the opposite direction to the "normal" blog pages which are in decreasing-date order (newest first). One effect of this is that the contents of a given archive page (page 5, say) always remain the same, unless you delete something, whereas the contents of a given page on the "normal" blog keep changing as you add stuff to the front.

“Waiting for the Train” (my title), very nice work © by the Polish photographer Adam Wawrzyniak

Thanks yet again for this one to Jerry, and for all these other treasures that I have gratefully snaffled from him over the years.

Autumn is a great season... click the picture for many treasures from this time of year

“Hortensia” © by the Romanian photographer Radu Carp, whose other work is well worth exploring

(another treasure found on Jerry's fine pages)

If you like this, you will probably love these portfolios from Radu, as well as several others:

[Leaves and Colour]

Gene Wilder
11th June 1933 – 29th August 2016

Last month saw the sad death of Gene Wilder, a gentle comedian whose best-loved films included Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and (one of several with on-screen buddy Richard Pryor) Silver Streak.

My personal favourite was the classic Young Frankenstein, one of several collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks.

Many memories of that wonderful collaboration will be found here.

Amy Purdy (a link well worth following) dancing at the Rio Paralympics Opening Ceremony...

with a KUKA industrial robot...

in a stunning 3D-printed dress.

Their bring-the-house-down routine (including a samba from Amy that was able to wow Brazilians) suggested the theme of “disability meets technology”.

However, watching the athletes at Rio, and the many others all over the world that they inspire, we aren't seeing “disability” - just amazing ability.

If you like this, you might want to revisit...

[Breaking the Mold: The London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony]

[London 2012: The Beautiful Games]

The wonderful kinetic sculptures of Anthony Howe...

as shown on his web site

...and combined brilliantly with the Olympic Cauldron in Rio (click for more images)

What we take for granted...

The Global Positioning System (GPS) seems to be part of our lives now in all kinds of navigation and positioning applications, from the aircraft we fly in (and Tomahawk cruise missiles) to geo-caching and domestic Sat Navs.

I first encountered the GPS in my flight simulator, mirroring what was happening at the time in real aviation. One of the joys of the very realistic sim was learning to navigate from charts and radio beacons. GPS and flight computers took some of the fun out of that, while making aviation safer - although the radio beacons are still there and are still essential.

(Not too many years from now, I fear, much the same might be said about self-driving cars... but that's another story.)

Having only recently acquired a modern smartphone, which packs a GPS receiver (and much more) into a mind-bogglingly small space, I became curious to know more about the GPS system.

I hadn't realised, for example, that GPS satellites follow 6 different orbital paths, with several satellites distributed in each path. Each satellite takes about 12 hours to orbit the Earth once, timed so that it passes over nearly the same locations on Earth every day (as you can see if you keep your eye on a particular satellite in the graphic for two revolutions).

The graphic (from Wikipedia) is visual example of a 24 satellite GPS “constellation” in motion with the earth rotating. It shows how the number of satellites in view from a given point on the earth's surface, in this example from Golden, Colorado, changes with time. (As of February 2016 there were 32 satellites, a few of which are not in use, to improve receiver calculations with redundant measurements.)

A GPS receiver has to be able to receive signals from at least 4 satellites in order to function correctly... but why?

And how do the satellites themselves know exactly where they are in space at any given time as they orbit?

The key to the GPS, it turns out, is time - very accurate time taken from atomic clocks. The GPS receiver in my phone doesn't need an atomic clock itself, but it has to know (among other things) how long the signal from each satellite that it can “see” has taken to reach it. Since this signal is moving at the speed of light, a difference of 1 metre is a difference in signal arrival time of a little over 3 billionths of a second (3 nanoseconds).

The GPS satellites know very accurately where they are at all times because they are tracked from the US Air Force's monitoring stations around the world in the GPS's Control Segment, as described here. As part of this process, the Control Segment updates each satellite with knowledge of how it is moving and with fine time corrections - satellites carry atomic clocks that are synchronised with each other and with atomic clocks on the ground. Why and how both of Einstein's theories of relativity (which have opposite effects on time) are taken account of by the GPS is described in this fascinating article - or else try here.

Satellites that are currently having their orbits changed are marked “unhealthy” so as not to be used by GPS receivers.

How a GPS receiver uses the transmissions from 4 satellites to work out its 3‑dimensional position is described here. The reason that it needs 4 satellites instead of 3 has to do with the fact that a GPS receiver's clock is not synchronised to the satellite clocks, for cost and complexity reasons.

And that's not all, folks... (at least, not for me).

I look at my slim smartphone and wonder: how, with its tiny GPS antenna, and certainly without several parabolic dishes, does my phone receive usable signals from satellites that are at least 12,600 miles away (the shortest red lines on the moving graphic above)?

A GPS satellite is powered by solar panels, generating a few hundred watts, not all of which is available for transmission. Furthermore, the transmitted signal is not, of course, sent straight to my phone... it spreads out over a large area of the Earth, its power diluted enormously, and a tiny, tiny part of that power falls on my little smartphone's GPS antenna. That antenna must be receiving each satellite's signal as the faintest electronic whisper in a sea of electronic noise.

As Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Is there also a danger that we become too reliant on the GPS? Following extraordinary political decisions in the USA, the GPS was made fully available for civilian use around the world, with the same precision for civilians as for the military. On the other hand, of course, there are safeguards in the event of hostilities, and occasional disruptions from activity in our sun, particularly Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). The ability to read maps and navigate for ourselves might be a skill worth preserving...

It's also good to know that real-world pilots still have to be able to navigate using radio beacons, as well as by dead-reckoning (and navigating by the stars when available) over a large ocean.

If you like this...

[What we take for granted... what would a megabyte (gigabyte, terabyte) look like if we could see individual bits?]

Moonshadow68 has a wonderful collection of cartoons - if you haven't checked them out, I highly recommend a visit!

Watching the brilliant white dot that is the International Space Station (ISS) transit the sky in a few minutes is a great experience, especially if you are following what's going on up there.

It can only be seen properly around sunrise and sunset, so that you can catch the sunlight reflecting off its huge solar arrays against a dark enough sky. Wherever you live, you can find your next opportunity to see it by clicking the image above.

Watching the ISS transit became much more interesting to people in the UK when Tim Peake became the first British ESA astronaut to go on board the ISS.

Before, during and after his 6-month mission his activities have been followed with great interest by children and adults alike. Watching that brilliant white dot traversing from horizon to horizon, a little over 250 miles up and moving at 17,100 miles per hour, became extra special when we knew one of the people up there.

Tim's trip up to the ISS in the Soyuz was shown live on UK TV, with expert (and highly appreciated) commentary by the retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Tim's arrival at the ISS involved manual docking and prolonged safety checks, and taught us that manoeuvering in orbit is much more counter-intuitive than some space epics would suggest!

If you like this...

[A video tour of the International Space Station]
[The International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle]
[Enjoying the view of Earth from the ISS Cupola]

Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We recently went on a 7-day cruise on the Douro River in Portugal, a wonderful experience. This cruise started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

We saw many examples of Portugal's use of solar power and hydro-electric power, and learnt why its world-leading investment in renewable energy is so good for its economy, as well as for the environment.

Click the above image to see the trip itself...

...or click this one to see my photos of some of the art we found in public places

We also visited the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum in Salamanca. Photography wasn't permitted there, but click the picture for my post about it.

If you are interested, these are also the direct links to my photoblogs:

[Cruise on the Douro River]
[Some Wall Art Along the Douro]
[The Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, Salamanca]

If you would like to skip the photoblog, then (as usual) click the chevrons (>>) below to move on to my next “normal” post

Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We have fallen in love with Portugal, a very friendly (and eco-friendly) country. It is especially friendly to the English - the oldest alliance in the world between two countries that is still in force, we learnt, is between England and Portugal (if you're interested, see here).

Our cruise (on the AmaVida, or “Love Life”, a small but excellent river boat) started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

Porto (map link) - start of our river cruise on the Douro. Our first evening was a harbour tour, beautiful in the evening light.

The building to the right of the cathedral, catching the sun, is the Bishop's Palace.

"The Maria Pia bridge, commonly known as Ponte Dona Maria, is a railway bridge built in 1877 by Gustave Eiffel" - who later was responsible for the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York, among many others

Next morning, starting up the Douro in early-morning mist

Approaching the Crestuma Lever dam, with a relatively small lock (only a 46 foot rise)...

...but which still generates over 100 MW of hydro-electric power

The side of the lock, which I could easily touch from inside our cabin window. The boats on the Douro are designed to JUST fit in the locks.

The boat rises at about one inch a second in this lock...

...and we are soon heading upstream. This is a very different river from (say) the Rhine!

Approaching the Carrapatelo Dam, with the highest single-rise lock in Europe (115 feet)

Serious sluice gates... and as with all the dams, they generate hydro-electric power here, around 200MW in this case (around 800 GWh per year)

Going in... some passengers enjoyed this, while others retreated to the lower decks!

Hmmm... this is all going to fill with water...

Going up (looking ahead)...

... and up (looking behind)...

Unlike in the small locks, the rate of rise increases considerably after a while, because the incoming water is far enough below the boat not to disturb it

While traversing locks and going under low bridges, the sun-deck shade awning is lowered hydraulically... showing that its top is covered in solar cells...

...which, together with the solar cells on the captain's wheelhouse, can supply the entire electrical demand on the boat in good conditions.

The Mateus Estate - remember Mateus Rosé? It was generated purely for export and to generate much-needed income, the bottle's shape taken from WWI canteens.

The Casa de Mateus Foundation was established here and, with the university town of Vila Real, still plays a major part in the cultural and economic recovery of the region

The Cedar Walk...

,,, only a few grapes grown here (but big vineyards elsewhere)...

...and another kind of harvest, free energy. Portugal really gets it. They produce enough hydro-electric, solar and wind energy to export some clean-generated electricity to other countries in Europe, while they collectively laugh all the way to the bank!

(In May 2016, the whole of Portugal ran for four consecutive days on renewable energy alone.)

Evening at Régua (map link)

A walk after supper

Next morning... England voting on Brexit...

Leaving the Bagaúste Dam (a mere 84 feet rise), looking back...

Another 560+ MW of electricity generated here

Castelo Rodrigo, a very picturesque fortified hill town, current population now down to 65, near the border with Spain

Looking over Spain (if I'm facing the direction I think I'm facing)

The much bigger town of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo below, where most of the population of this village has moved to

Welcome refreshments (free wine tasting)

More pictures of Castelo Rodrigo here

Descending towards Barca D'Alva (map link), where the Douro forms the boundary between Portugal and Spain. Spain is to the right of the bend in the river. The distant mountains beyond the river are in the Bragança District of Portugal, which was populated before the Romans by the Celts.

Rejoining the boat at Barca D'Alva, where it moved to during the day's excursion.

The next morning we had a day trip to the beautiful city of Salamanca in Spain, where because of the heat (close to 100°F) we spent the majority of our free time in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, one of the finest collections of such art and sculpture in the world. We couldn't take photos there (except in its wonderful Art Nouveau café) but I have featured it in this post below.

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 2]

Douro River Cruise - Return Journey to Porto

[Portugal/Spain visit continued from Part 1]

Leaving Barca D'Alva for the return journey

One of many pigeon houses (or dovecotes) that are a common sight in the vineyards. They were originally used to achieve several things at once: to raise pigeons for food, to produce a ready source of manure, and to attract raptors who (if I understood the guide correctly) scare off other wildlife that feeds on the grapes.

There is a programme in Portugal to restore these to active use - I can't find a good description of the programme, but you may find this post on the use of dovecotes as wild nutrient collectors interesting.

The "Quinta" of a famous name in Port wine

Back at the low railway bridge (only 7m clearance from water level) - everyone keeping low

... and a train crossed just after we went under

The captain's large wheelhouse (if that's the right term) collapses around him during these transits, leaving him standing at the controls. And yes, not wasting any space that can house solar panels.

About to descend the Valeira Dam lock, which has a single lift nearly as high as the Carrapatelo's

House Martin nests - I think

The guillotine gate being lifted up

Going down... 109 feet

(BTW: If you are interested in awesome locks, check out the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift in Scotland, the only one of its kind in the world)

Night at Pinhão (map link)

Back in Porto - another famous name in Port wine (their web site is here, a link that I highly recommend you to follow if you're interested in the history and production of Port wine!)

The huge barrels at the end are for long aging of Tawny port, the small barrels are for the younger Ruby (if I have got it right)

From right to left: the "cheap and cheerful" Ruby (only relatively cheap!), a 10-year-old Tawny and a 20-year-old Tawny (far from cheap). I actually preferred the middle one, my spouse preferred the really expensive one on the left.

And some of the vintage wines which mature on sediment in the bottle, and can be kept almost forever if stored in this position. Seriously expensive!

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 3]

Some Wall Art Along the Douro

[Portugal/Spain visit continued from Part 2]

I took photos of some of the wall art appearing in public places.

These pictures were on display in the dining area of Quinta da Roêda, one of the Douro Valley’s finest vineyards, owned by Croft Port. The artist is António Ervedeiro, but I haven't found any information about him online (yet).

I also took a small selection of the many tile murals at Pinhão's small railway station. The old-style baskets for collecting grapes weighed over 100lb when full.

Before the dams were built, the Douro was shallow with fast currents. Taking the loaded Port Wine boats downstream to Porto was relatively fast, perhaps a week or so, but it could take a month to bring the boats back up to the vineyards.

Things are much faster now!

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 4]

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, Salamanca, Spain, June 2016

[Portugal/Spain visit continued from Part 3]

We had a day trip into Spain to visit the beautiful city of Salamanca in Spain, where because of the heat (close to 100°F) we spent the majority of our free time in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, one of the finest collections of such art and sculpture in the world.

We weren't allowed to take photos there (except in its wonderful Art Nouveau café, see later in this post), but I found online some work by artists and sculptors that we really liked.

If you click any of the following images you will be taken to the source of that image.

“Les Girls” by Demetre Chiparus

“Coy Dancer”, an Art Deco chryséléphantine by Ferdinand Preiss

A “Spring Landscape” vase by the Daum Brothers (more of their work can also be found here)

A beautiful vase (housed in this museum) by Émile Gallé (more of his work can be found here)

An Arsall Cameo Glass vase - Arsall was a trade name (from Art+Allemand) of the VLG glass company

We were allowed to take photos in the museum's wonderful Art Nouveau café (you may want to follow that link to see many images of the place).

I couldn't resist taking photos of the “Belle Epoque” espresso coffee maker, a work of art in itself!

Click either image if you would like to know more about it

If you like this...

[Index of all my photoblogs]

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