Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth

As many of you will know Bryony is most definitely not a moth person yet I have her to thank for the subject of this post. We were heading out in the car yesterday when she spotted something larger hovering at the bottom of the drive. Her initial thought was a large insect and it wasn't until I took a closer look that I realised it was a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum).

I've never actually seen one before, although I think one put in a brief appearance at my sister-in-laws wedding which I saw as a shape flying away. Fortunately they are kind of hard to confuse with anything else.

After a few photos I thought I'd try a video to show you just why it's called a hummingbird hawk-moth. Unfortunately the camera was playing up (it's working fine now so I'm assuming operator error) and it kept stopping after recording just a second or so; the longest useful clip contained just 14 frames shot at 25 frames per second!

Rather than showing the raw video I've cropped and processed it (a complex procedue that itself can and will fill a technical blog post at some point) to produce an animated GIF that loops around to give you an idea of how it behaves.

I saw it again, briefly, this morning in the back garden but by the time I grabbed the camera it had gone. Hopefully it will be back and I'll get some better photos and video.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Political Futures Tracker

I usually avoid politics, I certainly don't tend to air my political thoughts in public. Of course if you live in the UK then you can't really avoid politics at the moment as we now have just a month to go before the election. Not only will I be bombarded with leaflets and adverts but even my work is political at the moment. We've been working with Nesta to develop the Political Futures Tracker which "tells us the top political themes, how positive or negative people feel about them, and how far parties and politicians are looking to the future". I've been spending a lot of time on this recently writing code, analysing data, and producing nice visualizations.

Most of the work has been looking at how politicians use Twitter, but we are also analyzing the party manifestos as they become available. So if you want some (hopefully) unbiased analysis have a look at the six blog posts we've published so far and keep an eye out for some live analysis this evening (George's tweets are probably the best live source).

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Solar Eclipse

Long time readers might remember that back in 2008 I managed to get a photo of the partial solar eclipse with the help of a few clouds to stop the camera just washing out. On that occasion there was only a small part of the sun that was obscured. Yesterday's eclipse was an altogether more impressive sight, and yet again the cloud cover was just perfect for taking photos with a normal digital camera.

Both photos were taken from my doorstep, the one on the left at 9:11am and the one on the right at 9:35am which was roughly the peak of the eclipse. If you missed it, then you'll have to wait until 2026 so see a similar eclipse in the UK.

Thursday, 1 January 2015


Looking back over the posts for 2014 it seems this blog has been rather neglected. In fact I've made just 14 posts. It isn't that I'm not blogging as much as I used to but that my posts are now spread across three blogs. In total I've actually written 167 posts; six over on my code and electronics blog and 147 on model railways. I also joined Twitter at the end of 2013 and so have posted some items there over the last year as well. It does mean though, that I have a fair amount of catching up to do on this blog, so just as I did last year, I'll fill this post with brief glimpse of the rest of my 2014 adventures.

Looking back over the year the most interesting things (from a blog post of view) have probably been the trips away with work, as I've had the opportunity to visit some really great places. I visited four new places but only blogged, briefly, about the trip to Kaiserslautern. The first trip of the year though was in February when I went to Luleå in northern Sweden.

One of the main reasons for holding the meeting in Luleå in February was that there was a chance to see the northern lights. Unfortunately the weather was rainy rather than very cold and clear so I'll have to wait to see the northern lights. I did, however, get to experience a 15km ride over an ice road from Luleå out to the island of Hindersön. The trip was at night (we had dinner at the Jopikgården restaurant on the island which included reindeer steak and cloudberries) so there wasn't much of a view, which was probably a good thing as it was scary enough as it was. As we left solid ground and were driven onto the ice we were told to undo our seat belts as it's easier to escape from a sinking car without them on! If that wasn't bad enough part way over there was a little moment where the car wasn't pointing the right way, and our driver admitted he'd never driven an ice road before and it wasn't his car. It was certainly an interesting evening.

The following morning, before the meeting started, a small group of us managed to also make it out to Gammelstad which is a UNESCO world heritage site just outside Luleå. Apparently it's the best preserved church town and consists of 424 wood-built houses around the central church. Traditionally the he houses were only used on Sundays and during religious festivals by those members of the congregation who couldn't return home the same day due to the distance and travelling conditions.

After the icy cold of northern Sweden a trip to Turin in June made a nice change. It being Italy there was an awful lot of good food and coffee, although strangely I didn't have any pizza, but the highlight of the trip had to be the evening visit we made to the Egyptian Museum. Apparently it houses the worlds second largest collection of Egyptian artifacts after the museum in Cairo; it certainly was very impressive with lots to see and take in. Certainly well worth a visit if you are ever in Turin.

October saw the final work trip of the year to a new destination, this time Istanbul in Turkey. This was my first trip to Turkey and was certainly interesting. First of all Istanbul is HUGE. I don't think I've ever seen such a large sprawling city, which means I saw only a very tiny part of it, but what I saw was great. It's the first time I've seen the boundary between two continents. We had dinner at a restaurant on the European edge of the Bosphorus looking across the water to Asia. I also managed an afternoon of sightseeing and with a colleague in which we visited both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia as well as sampling the delights of Turkish ice cream which is chewy and doesn't melt in the heat!

I've already blogged about some of our holiday on Skye in August including dolphins, seals, and Loch Coruisk but it's also worth mentioning that we had a wonderful lunch at the Kinloch Lodge Hotel; the first time I've eaten food that comes with a Michelin star!

Strangely I also seem to have spent quite a while fixing things this year, I even spent about 45 minutes on Boxing Day replacing the door lock on a dishwasher. My favourite fix of the year had to be the new bracket to fix the fridge door. I've already blogged about this, but I thought it worth mentioning agin especially as it made Shapeways review of the year blog post!

I also fixed a toilet using a piece of gaffer tape after it stopped flushing. It turns out that part of he mechanism is a rather flimsy plastic sheet, which can easily tear over time and when it does it can no longer lift the water to flush the toilet. Fortunately it's easy to repair... if you can get the toilet apart.

So it was an interesting year even if I didn't blog about a lot of it. Hopefully 2015 will be just as fun for us all!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Loch Coruisk

So having past the dolphins and the seals on the boat trip from Elgol on Skye we eventually disembarked from the boat and made the short walk to Loch Coruisk, which was perfectly timed for us to eat our lunch, and what a place to have lunch!

Getting to Loch Coruisk on foot would require a serious walk and while I'm sure that would have been much better exercise I wouldn't have got to see the dolphins so I think we definitely chose the better option!

So I've now done three blog posts covering just one day of the holiday. It was a very good day but there were certainly other blog worthy moments during the week so I'll try and pull at least a couple more posts together for you all to enjoy.

Monday, 15 September 2014


When we came back from our recent trip to Skye I really did intend to try and get blog posts up quickly, given how few I've written for this blog this year. Alas, I seem to have failed alread as it's now over a fortnight since we got home and so far you've had one post, albeit with a video of Dolphins. So here we are with a second post ... all about seals.

So having seen the dolphins playing right up against the boat, we eventually headed back towards the short and Loch Coruisk. The harbour entrance is protected from the worst of the weather by a number of small rocky outcrops and this, on a good day at least, is where the seals bask in the sun.

The boat did a number of turns around the rocks to make sure we all got a really good view, before heading into the harbour so we could disembark and visit the loch, but that will be for the next post, which hopefully won't take another two weeks to appear!

Saturday, 6 September 2014


So in the previous post I blogged about a wonderful weekend in Inverness at a family wedding. Now driving to Inverness, or anywhere else in the north of Scotland, takes quite a while. It's made worse by the fact that I don't drive so Bryony did all the driving; approximately ten hours each way. You would think this would rather limit our trips to Scotland, and it does, yet just two weeks after the weeding we were in the car heading north, this time to stay with friends on Skye. Fortunately my mother-in-law was joining us as well so there were two people to do the driving. There will probably be a number of posts about the holiday as we had a great time, but I thought I'd start with the dolphins.

Ever since we first visited Skye back in 2009 (you can see all my previous Skye posts here) our friends have suggested we take a boat trip from Elgol to Loch Coruisk which is right in the heart of the Cuillins. Unfortunately either the weather hasn't been great or we've visited too late in the year and the boat trips haven't been running. This year we were there at the right time and had glorious weather (for the first three days anyway) and so over dinner on the first night while planning the week the boat trip finally made it onto the schedule.

There are a number of companies that run boat trips from Elgol but we went with Misty Isle Boat Trips; this is the company our friends always use when taking visitors out to Loch Coruisk and as everyone involved is so friendly they've never seen any reason to try any of the others. One of the reasons for the trip, other than to see Loch Coruisk, is that you can be pretty much guaranteed a close up encounter with seals which bask on the rocks on the entry to the harbour where you disembark for the short walk to the loch. Of course it is likely that you will get to see other wildlife as well (we got a golden eagle soaring over our heads as we re-boarded the boat) but there is obviously no guarantee. Fortunately we were lucky and had a pod of dolphins playing around the boat on the way out.

Apologies for the quality of the video. Firstly this is straight from the camera with no sensible editing and secondly for some reason it looks horribly blocky once uploaded to YouTube. I'm not sure what the problem is but I'm guessing it's down to a reduction in file size to make the streaming possible on "normal" internet connections. Anyway... this should at least give you an idea of the experience we had which was best described as magical, and that was before we got to the seals or to see Loch Coruisk, which will be the subject of future posts.