Saturday, January 27, 2007

(Re)inventing the Tweel

Have you heard of the Tweel?

This is a revolutionary new type of tyre/wheel combination (hence the name) that does not require inflating with air. The cushioning effect of air in traditional tyres is provided instead by the wheel's design and material, consisting of energy-absorbing polyurethane spokes. In essence, the wheel crumples when it goes over a bump, then regains it's original shape. Read all about it in, as ever, good ol' Wikipedia.

I found out about it from a friend at the Embassy, who sent me some photocopied photos of the tweel being tested on a Audi saloon car. I thought we were being ultra "with-it" in making a new discovery, only to have my illusions shattered when I Googled the word "Tweel", to find that the concept has been around for nearly two years already!

Still a few years off from becoming an option on passenger cars, the Tweel is currently in production and is being tested for use on new types of personal vehicle such as the IBOT stair-climbing wheelchair and on Segway's Concept Centaur four-wheel ATV.

iBot (right) and the Segway Centaur, spinning their Tweels

It is also being considered for potential use on military vehicles, where the option of a puncture-proof tyre is very valuable.

Imagine a world without flat tyres! It could be nearer than you think.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Telly Update :-(

It's been five weeks since my Philips plasma TV went bust, and a little man came round and drove off with it on the back seat of his car. Since then I've had one phone call to say that it needs a new power supply, and that they have one on order from Europe, but since then, nothing.

(Trying to put photo of broken telly here, but Blogger won't let me.)

Saudi's electricity supply is at 60Hz, with Europe being 50Hz, the affect of which is that any European-model equipment you choose to use here will be prone to burnout sooner than under normal conditions. I'm guessing this is what happened to the TV. If it is, then replacing one European power supply with another is just going to give me some more borrowed time before it goes again (I don't think the set can fit a Middle East power supply; different model 'n' all that), but that's OK with me, as long as the set lasts us til we leave Riyadh.

I called the little man's mobile today to get an update on progress, and on the fourth attempt he picked up, only to fob me off with a, "yes sir I check it. Give me time and I call you back later."

I'm waiting by the phone...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bloody bmi (again)!

I think the words, "Terms and conditions apply" must've been invented by bmi ( I continue to be disappointed by second-class service and so-called Gold Member Benefits that I can't use.

When they opened their Heathrow - Riyadh route at the end of 2005 it was amid much fanfare, even getting headline news coverage on their website for the first few months. The aircraft they used was a new model with a Premium Economy cabin in between Economy and Business Class (which bmi irritatingly and Delboy-ishly call, "The Business"), with a great in-flight entertainment system and all the other services you would expect on a long-haul flight; full meals, bar service etc. However the honeymoon period is now definitely over, and the shiny new plane has been replaced by a shabby old Boeing 767 with no seatback screens, no bar service (in Economy), and an obvious belt-tightening in the quality of the food service.

I have 300,000 bmi miles sitting in the "bank", yet am unable to use them to fly from Riyadh to London because there is never any availability of redemption seats, the website is only capable of showing availability in Economy, and when you call the "dedicated Gold Service helpline" the agents basically read from the website.

When they renewed my Diamond Club Gold membership recently they sent me four upgrade vouchers, each of which entitles me to a one-cabin upgrade: Econ - Premium, Premium - Business. The problem there is that this old tatty plane they've lumbered us with doesn't have a Premium Economy cabin, so I can't even use the vouchers.

Once, just once, I'd like to find an airline that actually delivers the treatment and the benefits they advertise for their most regular customers, without making us tiptoe through a minefield of terms, conditions, and restrictions designed to make their lives easier, not ours.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Getting back into photography with a vengeance now. Hot on the heels of my new flash unit at Christmas I recently bought an excellent new tripod as an early birthday present to myself, and also found a great photographer's website called

At this site photographers at any level can sign up and post their own portfolio of pictures. You have to become a subscriber to get unlimited storage and some other features, but it only costs $25 per year so it's pretty good value. The most valuable part though, is that you can ask the other members to critique your pictures, and also provide constructive feedback for theirs.

Click the picture to visit my portfolio

I consider myself a good technical photographer; I know how to get my shots in focus and I understand how to control exposure etc. What I am working on now is further improving my artistic ability and composition skills, to make my images really stand out.

My portfolio can be found HERE

I'd love to get your feedback on some of the images.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Flash! Bang! Wallop! Wot a Picture!

Karen bought me the most fabulous present for Christmas. The Nikon SB600 Speedlite is an accessory flash unit for my D70S camera, and it has totally transformed my attitude towards flash photography.

Up until now I've always just used the built-in flash that comes with whatever digital camera I'm using, and it's those results that have put me off flash photography in the past. When you're using an artificial light source that's flashing directly in the face of your subject, you too often get either bleached out faces, or red eyes, or both.

Direct, on-camera flash

The SB600 gets around these problems by having a head that can tilt and swivel, thus enabling you to "bounce" the light from the flash off other surfaces such as ceilings and walls. Of course you have to give some thought to the colour of the reflecting surface and best results are obtained from white or off-white surfaces, but this bouncing technique has some very nice effects. First, the light from the flash is diffused by the reflection, so it's not as harsh as direct flash. Second, because it has been bounced at an angle you can get some very nice side and top-lighting effects on your subject, which give your photos some real depth.

Flash "bounced" off the (white) ceiling

I've known about bounce flash for many years, even before the digital revolution, but had never owned one or played around with one seriously before now. The SB600 is perfectly matched to my camera too. When you switch the camera on and off the flash switches on and off in sync, the flash head zooms in and out in step with my zooming the lens, and best of all there is a remote wireless mode in which you can stand the flash unit anywhere you like -- even behind the subject -- and the little built-in flash acts as a master unit, setting the main flash off wirelessly.

SB600 Flash mounted on a tripod below and to the left, aimed directly at subject. The side lighting is preferable to front-on, but the direct flash is too harsh.

A much softer effect is achieved by "bouncing" the off-camera flash off a nearby (off-white) wall.

I used the new flash and played with bouncing the light during our Christmas visit to the UK, and I've got some much better examples of what is possible on my other blog: Neal of Arabia.