December 2008 Archives

I like taking pictures when I get the chance. I made what I now think was a mistake by selling my nice camera some time ago, and recently have been doing research into a replacement. While doing this research I found that Amazon UK is currently selling the Canon G9 in their post-Christmas sale for £230 - very good value indeed. I wouldn't normally be given to writing puff pieces for products, even with a crafty Amazon associates referral link dropped in there, but I thought this was mentioning.

The G9 is a chunky, robust (metal-bodied) digital compact camera that's about the closest you can get to DSLR results from a compact. It has the sort of controllability you'd expect from an SLR, including actual honest-to-goodness dials on the top for mode and ISO, and even has a hot shoe for attaching an external flash. It's nice to handle and has a rangefinder feel - if you fantasise about owning a Leica you can close your eyes and pretend you're using an M8. I've found mine to be great fun for taking pictures with, and the compact size - it's not a tiny compact, but it's still radically smaller than an SLR and fits in a pocket - perfect for actually carrying it around with me. It's got a nice long zoom lens (35-210mm equiv) with a usefully wide wide end and extremely good image stabilisation to make handheld photography in low light do-able. I shot this photo here handheld at 1/8 sec. If you want even more control it'll even shoot RAW. I love mine to bits, in short.

It's the price it is because Canon superseded it quite quickly with the G10. The reception the G10 got was decidedly lukewarm as Canon seemed mostly interested in chasing megapixels rather than building a better camera, and the only addition that I really found worth worrying about was that exposure compensation now has a dial too. The G10 did do something useful, though - it had the useful effect of pushing the price of the G9 way down to the point that if I were in the market for a new camera right now, I'd jump at it like a shot. 

Of course, 230 quid is fairly close to the prices of entry-level DSLRs like the Nikon D40 so if you want serious photography you'd most likely be better off picking up one of those, but for a camera you can take just about everywhere you go and still use to take great photos, the G9 is hard to beat.
Found via Wikipedia - a useful collection of sound files of what various hard drive failure modes sound like. These are the noises which tell you that you should have made backups..
I've become a big fan of Google Reader recently as a replacement for standalone RSS readers. As a result, you may have noticed a feed of my shared items from Reader - that's the ones I think are interesting enough to share with people -  now appears down one side of this page - if you prefer a direct link, there's one right here. So if you want to know what's preoccupying my mind, it's right here - a cavalcade of sciency stuff, lolcats and puerile internet memes. A fairly accurate map of my brain, all told.

I guess this is why I don't post here as often as I wish I could. There's so much stuff already available on the Internet these days piped right into Reader that I find it hard to believe there are many original things left out there to say. And even if there are, how can they compete with pictures of cats with witty captions?

Ganz verkehrt

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Those who know me may also know I'm something of a public transport nerd. This stems from a time when as a seven-year-old my family went to Hannover for six months and I was most impressed to discover it had a tram network, which was at the time in the process of becoming the Stadtbahn with progressively more sections being moved into tunnels in the city centre. I've been fascinated by trams, trains and transport networks in general ever since.

Imagine, then, what I discovered upon moving to Switzerland. Zürich feels as if it was designed entirely by transport nerds. As well as having a copious and famously punctual (this is Switzerland - if a train's more than a few minutes late people start calling for a public inquiry) suburban railway network (the S-Bahn), there's a decidedly old-school tram network with turning loops at the ends of the lines due to the trams only having cabs at one end (and doors along one side) and even a number of trolleybus lines. About the only thing that is missing is a proper métro or U-Bahn - people decided in a referendum some time ago that they were quite happy with trams, thank you. There are still some underground bits - the decidedly odd S18 (the Forchbahn) combines on-street running with seperated railway routes plus a couple of stations underground, as if it isn't sure what sort of railway it is either, and the vestigial remnants of Zürich's original planned U-Bahn result in the number 7 tram route running underground for a couple of stops too.

It's all ridiculously comprehensive, very efficient, almost completely integrated - timetables for one service coordinate with others to make transfers simple - and reliable. More than that, it's cheap, even if by comparison with other transport systems across the border in Germany it's more expensive due to the higher cost of living. A CHF150 half-fare card gets you half price travel for a year, for starters, and if you travel at all regularly there are some ridiculously reasonably-priced season tickets for the network. With few exceptions, the same ticket works whatever transport medium you're using thanks to the local unified ticketing organisation, the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund. Things are so integrated, in fact, that even a cable car and a couple of mountain railways share the same ticketing system!

The upshot of this is that it's absurdly easy to get around. I've twice arrived far, far too early at the airport due to still working on UK assumptions and not really believing that I'd be able to get from my temporary apartment to the airport terminal in 25 minutes flat. Under most circumstances you simply don't need to own a car - but even if you do find something for which you need wheels of your own, the Mobility car-sharing scheme keeps hundreds of vehicles in hundreds of places across town. The main Swiss railway operator, the SBB, is so famously reliable that when a set of points got damaged recently leading to trains from Bern to Zürich having to be diverted and taking ten minutes longer as a result, it was one of the top items on the TV news. Even after heavy snow things keep moving.

I'm sure I'll get used to all this sooner or later. But in the meantime, hey, I'm lovin' it.


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Heavens, an entire month since I posted here. I've been meaning to, I promise, I've just been busy with the usual new-country excitement plus work being kind of busy. Anyway, here I am now. Hello!

Housing is a hot topic at the moment in Switzerland. New housing isn't being built fast enough, and the success of Swiss businesses in attracting expatriates means there's something of a shortage. Everyone who gets the opportunity will cheerfully inform the new arrival that they're pretty much doomed, that an average of 0.3 apartments are free in the canton of Zürich at any one time, that any apartment you do find will cost 500% of your monthly income, and that your best and only bet is to commute from somewhere in northern Germany. 

In fact, things are not quite as painful as all that, at least compared to other places I've lived such as London and Dublin. It's helped out somewhat by the way apartments are let. Rather than the first person who answers the ad, shows up and says "I'll take it!" getting the place provided they're actually able to pay the rent, prospective tenants arrange to visit the property first, then if they like it they'll submit an application form. The landlord then follows up references on the prospective tenants who they think might be suitable, and base their decision on that. It's more like applying for a job than it is like renting a flat.

Fortunately, we've also been extremely lucky. We found an apartment we both liked (although it suffers slightly from being right next to a motorway, the motorway's running in a cutting and the rest of the noise is taken care of by Efficient Swiss Double Glazing) on the first full day of house-hunting, and a couple of days later the landlord agreed that it would be ours. It's within the Zürich city limits (just), and very handy for public transport links - there are three railway stations either within walking distance or a short bus ride away, and the terminus of a tram line is not far away. 

We get the keys at the end of January. I'm looking forward to having a permanent residence that's less than two hours' commute from work, and indeed should be about 35 minutes door to door on a good day. I'm wondering what I'm going to do with all the extra free time. 


I tweet way more than I blog because I'm a very lazy man. Obviously you should follow me there and bask in the glory of my wisdom in chunks of 140 characters or less.
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