The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

As well as visiting the Crawick Multiverse last week, I also visited another of Charles Jencks gardens: the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Whilst both gardens share common themes, and the use of sculpted landforms, there were also marked contrasts between the two. Perhaps the biggest was the fact that at the Multiverse, there were just two other visitors aside from my brother and me. At the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, I was one of over 2,500 visitors… This was no doubt caused by the fact that the GoCS is open to the public for just one day each year, whereas the Multiverse is open every day.  The Multiverse is also relatively new – it was opened in June 2015 – whilst the GoCS was established in 2003.

At the visitors’ entrance is the  Garden of Worthies – a row of plaques – leading to the Buttocks, complete with a notice on this day:

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Along the way, I passed Charles Jencks himself:

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The garden contains Jencks’ signature landforms, and the Snail Mound was extremely popular with visitors:

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Here are all the photos I took (before the battery on my smartphone went flat).

Another stunning garden.

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The Crawick Multiverse

Just back from a week in Scotland, visiting family living in Kirkcudbright. During the week, my brother took me to the Crawick Multiverse, a landscape work of art created by Charles Jencks.

It’s stone circles for the 21st century, because it incorporates current cosmological theories into landforms. Quite stunning.

Here’s some photos.

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Floating and Voting

Tomorrow, the 15th March, we in the Netherlands go to the polls to vote for our political candidate of choice. Note that I didn’t say “to vote for our next government” – with 27 political parties to choose from on the ballot paper, it is inevitable that we’ll end up with yet another coalition government.

As well as the mainstream parties (8 or 11, depending on your definition of “mainstream”), the parties also include the “Non-Voters” party (12 candidates), the “Pirate Party” (with 37 candidates) and the “Jesus Lives” party (6 candidates). Somehow, I don’t think Jesus stands much of a chance. Perhaps he needs to hitch his wagon to the “Political Calvinist Party” – the evangelical Christian party, with their 30 candidates – not one of them a woman, because a woman’s place is of course in the home, and certainly not in politics. Yes, it’s the 21st century, but clearly not for some people.

And as usual, Geert Wilders has been generating more heat than light. His manifesto – actually a list of 11 bullet points covering less than one side of an A4 page – lays bare his anti-Muslim and anti-EU soul. He must be fully aware that he hasn’t got a hope of forming a government – few other parties will touch him with a bargepole in a coalition – and one suspects that he only does it to provoke. What is worrying is that his probable strategy – to pull the other parties to the right – appears to be working, at least in the case of the VVD, led by the current prime minister, Mark Rutte. Wilders appears to have goaded Rutte successfully into matching his rhetoric. Rutte is increasingly trying to appeal to Wilders’ PVV voters, and that’s a very dangerous, and populist, game.

Then we have Erdoğan butting in, and inflaming the passions of the Dutch citizens who have dual Dutch and Turkish nationalities. His “Nazi” rhetoric hasn’t exactly helped Dutch-Turkish relations of late, but then, one suspects, it wasn’t intended to.

And on top of all this, our newspaper, de Volkskrant, has been full of vox-pop pieces on floating voters, there seems to be a veritable flood of them. I confess that I am bewildered by the number of people who seem incapable of making up their minds. The choices are clear, at least to me. Tomorrow I’ll be following in my father’s footsteps and voting left-wing. He was a lifelong socialist, as am I, and believed in a caring society. My vote will be going to the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), and to a woman. Sorry about that, Calvinists.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 1 Comment

Media in the Home – The State of Play, part 3

This weekend has seen a major upgrade in our HiFi system. I’ve replaced both the QUAD 44 preamplifier and the QUAD 405 power amplifier. Bought back in 1981, they’ve both given sterling service, but ever since I had our QUAD electrostatic speakers refurbished last year, I’ve been looking at QUAD’s new Artera range of equipment to drive them.

The plan was to replace the QUAD 44 preamplifier with the Artera Link, and the QUAD 405 with the Artera Stereo. However, even though the Link was unveiled a year ago at the 2016 Sound and Vision show in Bristol, production of the units has only just begun.

I am now the proud owner of an Artera Link, and it joins the recently purchased Artera Stereo to give new life to our music.

Quad Artera Link

I chose the Artera Link because it can be connected to the network; it is a streaming device, in addition to being a CD player, preamplifier and a high-end DAC. I’m taking a bit of a gamble here; the current streaming capabilities of the Link don’t interest me any more. It supports UPnP, AirPlay and Spotify Connect. UPnP is an example of the “lowest common denominator” approach to solving a problem and while it is a de facto standard in the market, it’s really not well-suited to delivery of high-quality audio streams. AirPlay is a bit better designed, but again, it doesn’t support high-quality audio streams, e.g. DSD. And while Spotify has a huge music library available for streaming, the audio quality of its streams is not (yet) HiFi.

What I really want is for the Artera to become a Roon-certified network player.

This is something that QUAD will have to develop in conjunction with Roon Labs, but if QUAD see it as a market opportunity, it’s well within the realms of the possible. Once developed, new firmware can easily be deployed to the Artera Link via the network.

In the meantime, I’ve integrated my Artera Link into our Roon system via a USB connection to a Sonore microRendu. The latter is already a Roon Ready-certified device, so I can use it to feed FLAC and DSD audio files to the Artera Link.

However, the icing on the cake would be for the Artera Link itself to become a Roon Ready device. That would mean fuller integration into Roon, for example being able to control the volume and digital filters of the Link from within Roon. Hopefully enough of QUAD’s customers feel the same way to persuade QUAD to take the step.

Addendum, May 2017: I’ve sold the Sonore microRendu and replaced it with a humble Raspberry Pi 3, running DietPi and Roon Bridge software. To my old ears, this sounds just as good, but at a fraction of the price of the microRendu.

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The Continuing Saga of Broadband Internet

It’s been 15 months since I blogged about the poor state of broadband internet in our area. In that time, steps both forwards and back have occurred, so I thought it would be useful to summarise the current state of play in our household.

We are still no closer to getting fibre optic cables laid in our neck of the woods, despite some initiatives from commercial companies. Our hopes were raised last year with announcements that ten Local Authorities (including ours) had signed a declaration of intent with an investment company to finance the commercial rollout of a fibre optic network. The company had already done similar projects elsewhere in the Netherlands, and things were looking good. However, after starting two projects in neighbouring Local Authorities, things seem to have slowed right down. The company refuses to commit to further projects in the remaining areas, and has said we must wait until September before any further news. The Local Authorities will be exploring other alternatives, but I see little hope of getting a fibre optic connection here to the Witte Wand before at least the end of 2018.

So, what to do in the meantime? In the absence of fibre optic, some are saying that its time has passed, and that broadband internet will be delivered to the home by 4G and 5G networks. It’s certainly true that 4G can help, but it is not a complete solution, and it is an expensive alternative. It’s far too early to predict what will happen with 5G – the technology is still being developed, and I suspect that when the telecom companies make their initial investments, they are going to look to recoup their costs as quickly as possible. So when 5G does finally arrive, I’ll wager it won’t be cheap.

Last year I mentioned that KPN had introduced a “4G fast internet for the home” product. Since then, T-Mobile has introduced a similar product. Although cheaper than KPN’s product, it still costs €50 per month for 100GB, and once your data allotment is used up, you have to buy extra blocks of data if you want to continue access to the internet.

I’ve decided, as a (hopefully) temporary solution, that until the arrival of a fibre optic cable to our door, I will supplement our slow ADSL internet connection with a second, separate, 4G internet connection from T-Mobile.

In effect, it doubles our internet costs from €50 per month to €100 per month.

On the other hand, while the 100 GB per month data allowance lasts, our internet download speed goes from 4 Mbps to 40 Mbps, and our upload speed goes from less than 1 Mbps to at least 35 Mbps. T-Mobile also offer free access during the night (midnight to 6 am), and they are currently trialling free 50 GB bundles during weekends.

I don’t want to stop our current ADSL subscription with XS4ALL (a Dutch ISP). For one thing, the subscription also covers our telephone usage, and T-Mobile do not support telephone usage in their 4G for the home package. Another reason is that our data usage is more than 100 GB per month (I’ve often seen it reach 200 GB).

So I needed some way to manage simultaneous access to two internet service providers, in a transparent manner.

A neighbour working in IT suggested the solution: use Sophos UTM Home Edition running in Hyper-V on my Windows 10 server that I use for our home cinema. With his help, I set it up, and after a couple of head-scratching moments, it’s been running flawlessly. Sophos UTM is firewall and router software that usually runs on dedicated hardware, but running it in a virtual machine on a server that is doing other things means I can kill two birds with one stone. It’s also free for home use. I have it set up so that the 4G connection is used preferentially, but if it goes down, or my monthly data allocation is used up, then the system automatically switches to the ADSL connection, and this is transparent to all the computers on the internal home network. Here’s a picture showing the two external internet connections and part of the internal home network.

Network Layout January 2017 - Partial

I’ve just completed my first month of operation of the new setup, and so far, it seems to be working well. However, it does come at a cost. As I wrote last year, those of us in the Dutch countryside must remain in the slow lane, or pay through the nose for fast internet.

Posted in Computers and Internet | 5 Comments

Garden Visitors

As if to provide a distraction from the ongoing horror that is Trump’s Presidency, we had a fleeting visit from a migrating flock of Fieldfares a few days ago. The flock had spotted the fruit still hanging on our small Japanese flowering crabapple, and descended en masse to strip the tree.

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There must have been a hundred birds in our garden having a fine old time eating the fruit before moving on.

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I also noticed a Waxwing that had joined in the fun.

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Fruit on the ground was soon disposed of…

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And once the tree was bare, the flock moved on…

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Posted in Nature | 2 Comments

“A cruel, stupid and bigoted act”

…and I’m sure we’re only at the beginning of Trump’s nightmare presidency. The Guardian editorial on Trump’s anti-Muslim orders nails it.

The words in the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal famously read:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Sorry, lady, but as far as Muslim refugees from countries where Trump does not have business interests are concerned, your lamp has just been doused.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 2 Comments