Google Instant: Been there, done that

With a fair bit of hype Google launched their "Instant" search yesterday. Well Catherine was getting it, it wasn't showing up on my machine despite being behind the same router and using the same browser. Today it is.

Google describe it as:

The new experience transforms search, delivering results instantly, in a way that has never been done before. Now, results appear automatically.

Very nice. Basically it returns results for every character you type, well less so if you type fast. At the moment it's being pretty slow here, and only kicks in after I've typed a word or two. Was a bit faster yesterday so I assume their servers are under more load than usual due to all the coverage.

But Long Zheng in about two hours put together the same thing over a year ago with Bing's AJAX APIs.

Never been done before? Get real Google. You also lose points for using the word "magic" in your little marketing video.

I'll stick to using Bing as my default search engine, I only ever copy and paste things into Google, such as error messages as Google seem to do better in that regard and as such Google Instant isn't much use to me.

Some astronomy bits in the Lake District

As regular readers will know in early August Catherine and I went off on a little trip to the Lake District which was largely enjoyable (bar the rubbish Virgin trains and to a lesser extent the rain). We stayed in Near Sawrey a few miles south-west of Windermere.

Of course it was solely coincidence that we would happen to stay under dark skies, in a village where a conveniently placed hill would block any light pollution from Windermere, during the week of the Perseid meteor shower. :-) However as always the atmosphere is out to destroy me, and we probably only got about 90 minutes of clear skies in total, pretty poor for 4 nights.

My plans for photographs of the Milky Way reflected in Esthwaite Water, or magnitude -12 fireballs reflected in the lake never materialised due to the extent of the cloud cover. There was no point in wasting what little clear skies we had trekking down to the lake only to find it had clouded back up, the wind speeds would also have been prohibitive. So we mainly just hung out the front of Buckle Yeat, hiding behind a wall to block the lights.

Nevertheless the clear skies we got were nothing short of brilliant. The Andromeda galaxy easily visible, the Milky Way was positively glowing right the way across the sky with the dust lanes easy to make out. You didn't have to look away to try and make out the details in it like there is in Yeovil, and dream on trying to see it in Aldershot. It was just there, glowing and glowing rather brightly I might add.

What really surprised me the most however was stars close to the horizon were just as brilliant and plentiful as stars near the zenith. As someone who has always lived in a town of >30,000 people we're not used to seeing that much stuff lower down in the sky. The lower 30° is usually a total write-off even on a good night. On the first of my get-up-and-see-if-its-clear checks during the night I took one look out the window hoping to maybe see a couple of stars, and bang the whole constellation of Perseus and dozens of stars behind it were just sat there on the horizon. Within about 10 minutes I counted 6 meteors, and that's just looking through the window at the radiant, and that was on the Tuesday night, the peak was on Friday morning. A couple of dozen more awaited us outside in the 30 minutes or so of clear skies we had that night.

In the brief time we had I did take a few images of course.

Milky Way and the Summer Triangle

First up, the Summer Triangle made up of the stars Deneb, Vega and Altair and of course the Milky Way behind them. And of course a huge lump of cloud. Exposure time was about 30 seconds at ISO1600. The amount of detail that this image picked up is remarkable; this was only a 30 second exposure. Back in Yeovil I'd need almost double that to get as much detail. And of course the entire image would be orange from all the light pollution, not just the clouds.

Star trails around Polaris

The traditional star trails around Polaris image. This was an exposure of about 12 or 13 minutes at ISO200. Again this would have been good reflected in a lake with say an hour's worth of exposure.

And on the Thursday night, the only Perseid meteor that was bright enough and happened to fly in front of the camera. It was clouding over rapidly at this point and this was the last part of the sky to remain clear within about 10 minutes it had completely become overcast. This was a 20 second exposure at ISO1600.

What's in store for the future? Well I'll get the full resolution images over on my gallery at some point. And perhaps next time I'll run some statistical analysis of cloud cover in the region so I can predict the best week to go and we'll forget the meteor showers, and this time I'll take an equatorial mount with me, a 10 minute exposure on the Milky Way under those skies would been awesome.

Make sure you have the latest Windows XP/Vista service pack installed

Earlier this year Microsoft discontinued security updates for Windows XP with Service Pack 2, and Windows Vista with no service packs. I'm still seeing a lot of machines out there without the latest service packs installed, most of which are now out of support.

Users running Windows Vista without any service packs have not had any security updates for over four months now. That should set some alarm bells ringing. Those on Windows XP SP2 might have noticed this month's patch Tuesday being somewhat quiet. That's because you're not getting your updates!

I generally recommend people to install service packs as they're released. However I do come across other IT support people recommending people to "wait". Of course in reality they end up waiting so long they forget to install it and reach end-of-life for their version, blissfully unaware that their machine is now vulnerable to dozens of exploits with more increasing every month.

As of this post Windows XP's latest service pack is version 3, and Windows Vista's is version 2.

How to check with Windows XP

Click Start
-> Right-click My Computer
--> Click Properties in the menu

That will open the following window:

Windows XP System Properties

Your service pack version will be indicated within the red box. If you have less than Service Pack 3, or no service pack is listed you should upgrade now.

How to check with Windows Vista

Click Start
-> Right click Computer
--> Click Properties in the menu

That will open the following window:

Windows Vista System

Your service pack version will be indicated in the red box. If there is nothing listed there, then you do not have any service pack installed. In that case you should upgrade now. Service Pack 1 is still supported, however I'd still recommend upgrading.

How to upgrade

The fastest way to do this would be to check Windows Update. On Windows XP or Windows Vista you can click Start -> All Programs -> Windows Update.

If for some reason Windows Update isn't listing any service packs, check to make sure the update hasn't been hidden, on Windows Vista you can do this by clicking 'Restore hidden updates'. If it still isn't showing up, then download the full installers manually. Here's Windows XP SP3 and Windows Vista SP2.

So do yourself a favour and just check to make sure your machines are up to date.

Turning that advert off in Windows Live Messenger (Wave 4)

A new beta build of Windows Live Messenger Wave 4 was released yesterday. Like the previous Wave 4 build, conversation view was plagued by an annoying advert, yes you could close it to make it go away but it was an annoying extra click.

Windows Live Messenger (Wave 4)

Yes, well annoying. Microsoft have however also added an option to turn it off. This only effects the conversation view, not the Social or Contact list views. It is fairly well hidden in options. If you make your way to Messages and down the bottom under Conversations is an option called "Show expanded footer in conversation windows" uncheck that and the advert will be hidden by default.

Windows Live Messenger (Wave 4)

Sorted. My main issue has been resolved, now if only we could get handwriting support back.

Photosynths from the Claife Heights

As promised here's a couple more Photosynths from the Claife Heights, basically on top of the hill north of where we stayed at Near Sawrey in the Lake District.

First up this Photosynth was taken just east of Wise Een Tarn, and shows off some of the surrounding landscape quite well. Make sure to check out the highlights on the right hand side which will point you at some interesting places.

Then this one taken on the south bank of Moss Eccles Tarn a bit smaller in scope than the previous but pretty cool anyway.

For those that haven't seen the first of where we stayed at the Buckle Yeat Guest House here it is. With a bit of luck I'll have the last two finished up in the next few days.

Buckle Yeat Guest House Photosynthed

Those following me on Twitter will know I've been away with Catherine to the Lake District for a few days to enjoy the odd walk and bike ride here and there, and also to enjoy the dark (but mostly cloudy) skies and hunt for Perseids.

I'm in the process of going through the photographs I took for use with Photosynth and getting them uploaded. For starters here's Buckle Yeat. Don't forget to press P to toggle through the different point cloud options, press F to make the viewer fullscreen.

We stayed at the Buckle Yeat Guest House in Near Sawrey, approx 4 miles south west of Windermere. More Photosynths to follow over the next few days, including some landscapes.

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