Brazil (Michael Palin)

Michael Palin’s latest book brought back memories of my previous encounters with Brazil.

When I was doing GCSE Geography, there was barely a corner of the curriculum that didn’t have an example from Brazil that could be quoted while answering an exam question. And there was a suspicion that writing down ‘Brazil’ in response to any question that stumped you might gain half a point.

“Está chovendo” are the only two words of Portuguese I know, courtesy of a university friend Shirley who was brought up in Brazil (and baptised in the River Amazon).

And a couple of summer’s ago I read two thirds of Fordlandia by Greg Grandin, a fascinating – if over-detailed – history of Ford Motor Company’s failed experiment in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest to develop a rubber-plantation to feed into their tyres, complete with US-style buildings and customs. One day I’ll finish the book and post a review.

Michael Palin visited Brazil to film a recently-broadcast TV series. His eponymous titled book documents his travels across the vast country, twice the area of India. Palin contrasts the forests, the mines, the beaches and the favelas. He notes the role of religion and witchcraft, carnivals, the influence of Portugal, as well as spotting many examples of minimal clothing – both on the beach and in forest tribes. And he even finds a tribe getting lessons in videography.

Basil Pao’s photographs really bring Michael Palin’s commentary to life, capturing the colour and vibrancy of the country. Sadly Pao’s name doesn’t make it to the book’s front (or back) cover. Also missing from the book is an index.

Palin describes a country where poverty and prosperity mix on the beach, and twenty years of military dictatorship are less visible than the 1950s government building distinctive architecture of Oscar Niemeyer. (In two week’s time, he’ll turn 105!)

Included in his travelogue, Palin surveyed the remains of Fordlândia by boat. The pictures really bring Grandin’s more wordy tome to life.

What I wasn’t taught in GCSE Geography was that within 20 years, Brazil would become a superpower, leapfrogging the UK in 2012 to become the world’s 5th largest economy.

Throughout the book, the reader is gently introduced to often flamboyant individuals who guided Palin and his crew through different regions and cities: Gabby the “Beyoncé of the Amazon”; 70 year old cowboy Julio; Marjorie , a transsexual who describes herself as “a woman with a penis”; a blogger called Raul; Marlisa, a special forces publicity officer; and many others.

Before finishing in São Paulo, Palin stops over in Rio de Janeiro and discovers rising rents as foreign buyers snap up property ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It’s all in sharp contrast with the new city of Brasília which took over as the country’s capital in 1960 and was constructed in the unpartisan interior, away from the more dominant south east.

I missed the TV series that preceded the book. But I found the book a fascinating excursion through a country which was undersold and underexplored in those school geography lessons.

Disclaimer: My copy of Brazil was supplied by Easons in conjunction with Michael Palin’s booksigning (Belfast store at 12.30pm on Friday 23 November), but didn’t have any demand or influence over the content of this review.
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Shitty pictures of your food are all over the Internet. Sites like Instagram are loaded with photo after photo of lumpy goo. What you’re trying to share is the joy you feel when the waiter delivers that beautifully plated pork chop. But your photo doesn’t tell the story of that experience. Your photo rips away the delicious smell, the beautiful room, the anticipation of eating, and the presence of people you love.

Scott Simpson, The Magazine #4

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SHOCKER: Vagrant base box using RPMs

I’ve been using some of the base boxes available from as a starting point for lots of Vagrant VMs recently, but came unstuck when the version of puppet in use on the base box was substantially different from our production environment (2.7 v 2.6.8 in our production environment). (I was working on alt_gem, an alternate package provider for maintaining gems outside the RVM in use by puppet)

At first I thought it would be simple enough to downgrade puppet on one of my Vagrant VMs, but then I discovered that nearly all of the CentOS/Red Hat vagrant boxes install ruby & puppet from tarballs, which is balls frankly, shouldn’t we be using packages for everything?!  (Kris Buytaert says so, so it must be true)

So instead of ranting, I tweaked an existing veewee CentOS template to install puppet & chef from RPMs, for puppet, it uses the official puppetlabs yum repo, for chef it uses the frameos packages. (I’m a puppet user, so I’ve only tested the puppet stuff, chef is at least passing the “veewee validate” tests).

You can grab the box here:


To use it in your Vagrant config, make sure this is in your Vagrantfile:

  # Every Vagrant virtual environment requires a box to build off of. = "CentOS-56-64-packages"

  # The url from where the '' box will be fetched if it
  # doesn't already exist on the user's system.
  config.vm.box_url = ""


I’ve sent a pull request to Patrick to get the new template included in veewee, and a pull request to Gareth to get the box listed on

Now, time to go back to what I was doing originally before I got side tracked :-)



Posted in *nix, Open Source, Random Toad | Comments Off

Giving Thanks

As an American in Northern Ireland, I always try to make a Thanksgiving meal for myself and some friends.. if I am not back home with my family! This year I am doing the same, but under slightly different circumstances. I don't mean to whine or complain, but a few months ago my husband of 8 years asked for a divorce. He had been away with work for a while, and now is in England.. and he decided not to come home, just sent an email. Shortly thereafter I lost access to the joint bank account, and a month later he cancelled my rent payments. My life turned upside down in a very short period of time. Now I wait to see if the benefits office will help, while I look for full-time work... meanwhile eating through my savings in order to pay the bills, and trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life now that I am starting over.

Sure, things are hard. But I have a roof over my head. I have family, although they are far away, who care. I have friends who bring me cake on my birthday and send me LEGO. I have the ever-goofy Loki. I have my health (well..and the NHS!!).

I look around me and most of my UK pals are gearing up for Christmas. The TV is full of commercials encouraging us to part with our money for presents (and apparently a hair dryer is a good gift!). And although there is a lot of Black Friday stuff back home, Thanksgiving is not about that. It has always been a day spent with family and friends. Food and football. Descending into that tryptophan-enduced coma after eating just one more helping of turkey. So, amidst the uncertainty of my own personal life, I am thankful I have enough to feed my friends and enjoy their company.
So enjoy your family, your friends. Eat turkey and pie. And remember what is truly important.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Lightroom 4 Unmasked

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an integral part of my photography workflow. I have created a range of free Lightroom presets and I have dedicated a chapter on using Lightroom to enhance long exposure photographs in the Long Exposure eBook. There are times when Lightroom is just as important as the camera.

I use Lightroom to import, manage and process the images I capture and although I feel it has a massive impact on my photography I am very aware I haven’t really scratched the surface of its sheer processing power.

Welcome Lightroom 4 Unmasked

Lightroom 4 unmasked is a new 312 spread PDF by Piet Van Den Eynde covering virtually every aspect of Adobe Lightroom 4. The book covers 13 chapters detailing every Lightroom module in easy to understand layman’s terms. Piet is an Adobe Certified Expert and as such brings to the book years of experience training hundreds of photographers.

The book also includes 60 “Cases” which are a range of excellent worked examples and how-tos. These are brilliant, it one thing to know how a module works but it is even better to see the application. The “Cases” cover everything from the basic workflow right through to detailed lens correction.

Lightroom 4 unmasked

My personal favourite “Case” was the ‘Working with 2 monitors’ scenario. I often have the opportunity to work in a two monitor setup but had created a convoluted workflow that really didn’t maximise the power of Lightroom. The two pages alone of a dual monitor offered a transformation to how I work, they actually leave me frustrated that I struggled sliding windows back and forth for so long.

I have used Lightroom since the first every public beta and I perhaps have just stuck to the adjustments that I am comfortable with and haven’t really ventured into the unknown. Having read Lightroom 4 unmasked cover to cover I am now acutely aware of what I have missed out on.

I should also mention that the photography featured in the book is also a great source of inspiration. Piet is as skilled a photographer as he is a trainer.

Even if you have been using Lightroom for years this (massive) ebook is so packed with knowledge it is going to contain something you didn’t know or a workflow that will help you develop and improve.

Lightroom 4 Unmasked isn’t a ‘read once’ book it is the type of document you will keep going back to again and again as you work with the various modules in Lightroom. It will remain on my reading list for longtime to come. Get the eBook here.

Special Offer on Lightroom Unmasked

Use the promotional code LR4FIVE when they checkout and get ‘Lightroom 4 Unmasked’ for just $15. This code will expire TUESDAY, November 27, 2012 at 11:59PM (PST). Get the eBook here.

Lightroom 4 Unmasked is a post from: FlixelPix Photography All content copyright FlixelPix. Photo reproduction strictly by written permission only.

Posted in Blog, ebooks, lightroom | Comments Off

Spark Wi-Fi Adaptor Brings Internet and App Control to your Lights

Here’s another Kickstarter project to control your lighting. Spark is a Wi-Fi adaptor that fits between a light socket and the bulb (incandescent, dimmable CFL, or dimmable LED).  With Internet connectivity and an API Spark promise interesting things to come from 3rd party App developers as well as their own free Apps for iOS and Android.  The [...]
Posted in Featured, hardware, Lighting, New Products, Wireless | Comments Off

The Infinite Tides (Christian Kiefer)

First sentence: “The airlock opened.”

The Infinite Tides is a book about emptiness. The emptiness of space. The emptiness of astronaut Keith Corocan’s family relationships which he sacrificed in order to pursue his training at NASA. The emptiness of his house which had nearly all its furniture removed by his wife while he was circling the Earth in the International Space Station.

Up on the space station, Keith was a respected engineer, responsible for fitting a complex robotic arm that he had redesigned. With the arm fitted, he looked down at his home planet and admired the beauty and completeness:

“It was a moment as glorious and transcendent as any he could have imagined and he would realize only later that it represented the single coordinate point in which he understood that he had done it, that at last he had entered the long incredible upward-turning arc that had been the trajectory of his life, and that he was, finally and undeniably, an astronaut.”

Towards the end of the space walk he was astonished by the “green and brown continents and blue oceans and white clouds”. Ready to go back into the airlock he had “a strong feeling that he had lost something”.

Soon after returning inside the space station, a colleague took him aside and broke the tragic news that Keith’s teenage daughter Quinn had died in a car accident. Technical difficulties meant that his return home could not be expedited and he eventually departed from the space station three months later, suffering from migraine headaches and separated from his wife.

Back on Earth, Keith was no longer deemed fit for work. Other than flashbacks to his training and time in space, the plot follows Keith as he prepares to sell the empty family home he had spent so little time in. The estate is an anonymous suburbia: four or five plans of houses laid out in endless cul-de-sacs.

Keith is no longer in control. He is in denial about incoming bills and the boxes of personal effects that his wife moved to the garage. He is enchanted by his next door neighbour, Jennifer. Initially irritated by a Ukrainian man’s antics in the local Starbucks, Keith warms to Peter Kovalenko’s love of astronomy and spends countless hours with him sitting in a field looking up at the stars.

As an engineer with a deep understanding of mathematics, Keith’s thinking is crammed full of infinite parallels, angles, planes, vectors, apogees and perigees. The mathematical prose adds to the beauty of the book and does not distract. Keith’s daughter shared his mathematical gift, but to his disappointment latterly chose cheerleading over academia.

Confronted by an expert in another discipline who is also out of luck, the novel explores whether Keith will have the capacity to reach out and help Peter to overcome his difficulties? Or will Keith’s lack of grasp of his own personal situation leave him unable to help another human being?

Christian Kiefer’s first novel is a dark tale. Happiness is always tinged with sadness and regret. Depression is not just a state of the mind, but a state of suburbia. Helplessness is combined with a difficulty to accept help. Academic intelligence does not equate to emotional intelligence or even an instinct to dig out of a hole quickly.

Despite its 400 or more pages, The Infinite Tides is a fast read that draws the reader into the life and plight of revered astronaut, ex-husband and absentee father Keith Corcoran. While the lead character’s back story adds a sprinkling of magic space dust, the emotions and dilemmas are very Earth-bound and common. A good, if bleak, read from musician, poet and first-time novelist Christian Kiefer.

Available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Posted in BelfastFestival, space | Comments Off

Fit out firm behind Belfast Easons wins award

It was no surprise to learn last night that Dublin-based Jennings Design Studio, the company behind the fit out of the new Easons Donnegal Place branch – the old WH Smith store – had picked up the top award at the Irish 2012 Fit Out Awards.

Bookshops and newsagents rarely have a sense of style that goes anywhere beyond library chic. But with curved book cases, colourful slabs of perspex hanging from the ceiling, a wooden tree, low seats in the children’s zone and a bright atmosphere in a windowless cave, Jennings did well to make the shop attractive and fresh.

Dead trees can still be award-winning!

Of course, it is not to everyone’s taste. East Belfast blogger Lord Belmont found it to be ‘spartan’.

The ceiling on the ground floor appears unfinished: Bare concrete; ugly pipes, ducts, ventilators and wiring can be seen. Is this their idea of a state-of-the-art shop? A sales floor without a ceiling?

I haven’t yet been into the newly refitted Lisburn Easons to see if it has received the full Pompidou treatment!
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Skin Care

Really? Skin care? Yep. A while back, the lovely Sera suggested that I try some products by Purity Organic Skin Care.  Hooked up on the old Twitter, I was sent some samples to try. Samples.. ?! Nope, they sent full-size trials of their face wash, face scrub, regular moisturizer, overnight moisturizer, anti-aging serum, and make-up remover!  Wow.

So why on earth is this whisky-drinking blogger blogging about skin care? Because I have been fighting to find something that *works*. I have oily skin. Always have. Minor acne that rarely goes away and have tried all sorts of things to keep the oil under control and my skin clear. I've tried ProActiv.. and it worked to a degree, but god-forbid you stop using it for a month.. NIGHTMARE! I used Clinique, too. But it's so expensive...  So why shouldn't I test out some new stuff?

Anyone who's read this blog knows my style of reviews..

The face wash is awesome.. a little goes a LONG way. Cuts through through the grease and grime of the day in a flash.  I use it right after the scrub.. which is nice and gentle, but does the trick.

I am one to abhor most moisturizers. They always make me feel greasy. However, the day-time Purity one is great for after swimming! That chlorine can do a job on you, so that lives in my gym-bag.

I have found a great night-time combo, however. A little bit of the serum, followed by the overnight moisturizer. I wake up NOT feeling greasy and horrible as I usually do.

And.. the winner... the make-up remover. I think they call it the cleansing lotion..  I had a bit of a laugh at Halloween. Just to scare the kids a bit as they came around trick-or-treating.
A combination of water-based makeup and grease paints, I had envisioned a battle at the bathroom sink. Nope. I rubbed in a bit of the lotion, and rinsed. That was it. It was all gone. A washcloth to get the last bits off, but NO SCRUBBING.

A total win.  So, my UK-based people.. if you are frustrated with expensive stuff, or want some products that aren't loaded up with harsh annoying chemicals, check these guys out.  The link... it's up there. Go click it. Tell them I sent you!

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Aviosys Announce Next Generation IP Power 9258

The Aviosys IP Power 9258S/T (4 port) delivers higher reliability quality at competitive cost and has been selling well in worldwide remote power management market since 2004.  To meet increasing demand and different market requirement Aviosys is proud to announce a next generation advanced IP Power 9258XX, which has all features and functions from the standard model [...]
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