Voskhod instruments by Tom Royal on Flickr
Valentina Tereshkova with Vostok 6 by Tom Royal on Flickr
Voskhod Capsule by Tom Royal on Flickr
Chartwell by Tom Royal on Flickr
Chartwell by Tom Royal on Flickr
Heron by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr
Highgate Cemetery by Tom Royal on Flickr

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

November 30th, 2009

GF1 - now Ralph approved

On a happier note, I’ve now finished testing Panasonic’s DMC-GF1 – both written and video reviews will be online shortly. Will pop links up here, but in the meantime, here’s Ralph taking a good look at the 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.

Edit – video review is online here.

Lesson Learned: Paypal’s ‘Buyer Protection’ stinks

November 30th, 2009

Ah, Ebay. I’ve used it to buy and sell all kinds of low-value crap (old video games, more old video games, old camera lenses and so on) and all with no problems, but I suppose that had to come to an end at some point. But in any case, should something go wrong with an Ebay transaction, you’re protected by Paypal and its Protection for Buyers, right? Well, maybe – but in some cases it’s as useful as a chocolate teapot (those are probably available on Ebay, too). Anyhow, let me explain.

I needed, for various dull reasons, a component video cable for the Xbox 360. Amazon didn’t have any to send out from its warehouse, so I took a look on ebay – and there I found this veritable bargain (clicky for a larger, legible version):

Ebay Page

Note the picture of the Microsoft leads in their little plastic box, and the wonderful description: “don’t risk buying cheap copies on ebay buy here and get the real thing”. So, what showed up in the post? Clue: not “the real thing”.

The actual goods

That’s “the real thing”, complete with HMV pricetag, on the right, and the pile of cheap knocked-off crap that arrived from my ebay friend on the left. Note that not only is it not the one advertised, but that it’s a cheap and nasty fake – and also that the people who made it copied the wrong packaging, so it claims to be a VGA cable (oops). What you probably can’t see from here is that the plugs themselves are crummy with scratched connectors. Yay for high quality.

So, I paid £6 or so for this. I’m not hugely bothered by losing £6, and nor am I bothered by someone selling knocked-off Xbox cables – but, had I wanted a cheap alternative, I could have bought one from any of the Ebay sellers who label these (cheap) goods properly and honestly. I wanted the real thing, chose a seller offering it at a good price, and paid up. Now I’d like my money back.

And so, to Ebay. I looked for an option to complain to the seller, but there is none – instead I had to open a dispute with Paypal. I filled in the form, describing the product as a fake item and “not as described”, and submitted it. I expected Paypal to contact the seller, but instead I got a message saying that he was unavailable so the “disupute” had been escalated to a “claim”. Splendid. At no point was I asked for proof of what had gone wrong.

So far so slightly odd. But then, a few days later, another email arrives from Paypal:

You may be eligible for a refund on this PayPal transaction.

To qualify for a refund, return the purchased item to the seller in the same condition you received it. Please do this within ten calendar days of receiving this email.

The amount of your refund is based on our Buyer Protection programs and we may not be able to repay the full amount of your transaction. Please review the Buyer Protection programs in our User Agreement before posting the item back to the seller.

You are responsible for all postage and packing costs of returning the merchandise.

So, in order to possibly get a refund of £6 or so, I’ll have to pay £5 to send the item back (via registered, insured post just in case it should “mysteriously” fail to arrive with the ebay seller, or rather go straight in his bin). And I don’t get that £5 back. The logical thing to do in cases like this is, of course, not to throw good money after bad – which will require me to cancel my claim, leaving the buyer to go on and con others the same way.

So, there you have it: for low value goods, or anything that’ll cost a lot to transport relative to their initial cost, Buyer Protection is worthless. The seller, with his garage full of cheap crap, gets to keep selling it to people who think they’re getting a proper licensed product. Paypal gets to carry on taking a cut of each payment to the dodgy seller. And the buyers? We get ripped off, write off the loss then go to HMV. Hurrah.

Update: as I said above, the sensible thing to do if you get ripped off in a situation like this is not to throw good money after bad. When it came to actually dropping my Paypal claim, however, I couldn’t do it. So, despite it being the financially stupid move, I posted the cable back at the cost of a few quid – and, hurrah, got a refund. Net result: the lying seller doesn’t get to keep my money, but the Royal Mail does. Meh.


November 27th, 2009


Early warning: expect some mild spoilers here.

Earlier this year Helen and I paid a visit – or perhaps a pilgrimage – to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. One of the main exhibits was filled with information about a film I hadn’t at that point seen: Gake no ue no Ponyo. The exhibit was fascinating, with a special focus on the design and animation of the numerous wave and sea scenes in the film, and I made a note to search out a copy on my return to England. On getting back, however, we found out that for reasons unclear it won’t be released here until sometime next year.

Last night, however, I finally got to see it. Ponyo, which seems to have picked up the rather unwieldly English title “Ponyo on the cliff by the sea”, was being presented in Japanese as part of the Barbican’s Japanimation season with an introduction by Helen McCarthy, and six of us managed to pick up tickets. Actually, on the subject of the title, if anyone with a better grasp of Japanese than I knows where the sea comes from, I’d love to know – it looks like “cliff (no) above (no) Ponyo”, or “Ponyo on the cliff”, to me.

The story is pretty simple: a young boy, Sosuke, meets a goldfish, Ponyo, and they fall in love. Obstacles are presented and – it’s a children’s film, so this shouldn’t count as a huge spoiler – overcome. As with many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, though, this takes place in an environment where everyday Japan meets the supernatural, and with a subtle theme of environmental concern (the drag nets, the idea of nature being pulled out of whack, the moon, etc).

It’s colourful, beautiful and beguiling, with a gorgeous look that mixes realism (the dry dock of the working port, the retirement home where Sosuke’s mother works) with childlike drawings (the house on the hill, the simple boats bobbing out to see). And of course the waves – at times magically  transformed into giant fish and in one scene racing the camera as it tracks horizontally – are magnificently animated and almost worth the price of a ticket alone.

The film is funny, too – Ponyo’s first encounter with a sheet of glass and her enquiries as to the profession of Sosuke’s father, in particular, drew big laughs from the (almost entirely adult) audience, while the slightly crazed driving of Sosuke’s mother Lisa raised gasps and smiles. The problems faced by Sosuke, Lisa and Ponyo don’t ever seem *that* dangerous or frightening, and the conclusion isn’t as uplifting as, say, the girls from Tonari no Totoro travelling by Catbus to check on their mother – but they build up and wrap up the plot neatly.

So, predictably, I’d entirely recommend Ponyo when she eventually swims up to these shores sometime in mid 2010. The English version is being distributed by Disney, is produced by John Lasseter and has a cast packed with well known actors – so I’m sure it will at least get a big release, and I suppose subtitles don’t make too much sense for an audience of small children. See it in English, then rent the DVD or Blu-ray for the film as it was intended.

Squids in

November 27th, 2009

Panic over. This site, and all my email accounts, are now happily swimming along on a new hosting account with Laughing Squid Hosting.  If you need me, I’m back on tom@thisdomain.com.

Also, an added bonus: I get two spare MySQL databases to play with, so expect some pointless new tools to appear online shortly.

UPDATED – Email problems

November 24th, 2009

Update – my main email account is working again. After two email outages in a month, though, I’m moving my web and email hosting to a new company, so this website may disappear offline for a few hours at some point as it transfers.

— Original Post:

If you’re trying to email me then please use my work address. With brilliant timing, Fasthosts’ email service decided to fail for the second time in recent weeks right after the company took £63 from my credit card for hosting services.