Saturday, 30 August 2008

knife + fork = ?

if spoon + fork = spork then knife + fork = ?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Are You Mark Greenwood?

Whilst this story clearly won't be as funny as it's inspiration, Are You Dave Gorman?, the story behind this blog post made me smile at least. So without further ado...

Last Sunday, on what was a remarkably fine day in Manchester (I think this is probably the first time I've ever seen the sun appear over Manchester), I found myself running a workshop on Information Retrieval for Question Answering (IR4QA) as part of a a conference on Computational Linguistics. At most of the big conferences there are student volunteers who help with setting up projectors etc. and generally ensure that things run smoothly. The workshop was no different and I quickly spotted my helpful volunteer due to the exceedingly bright blue T-shirt with the conference log on it. Having checked that I didn't have any problems she sat quietly at the back until lunch time.

I was just packing up my laptop, as I wasn't going to leave it laying about over lunch, when she came across and started a conversation with the question "Are you the English Coffee Drinker?". Given that I wasn't exactly thinknig about this blog at the time it took me a second or so before I answered with a surprised yes.

It turns out that she had found out she was getting a new office mate called Mark Greenwood and so had Googled his name to find out who he was. She had worked out it wasn't me but thought she'd point out that there would be another Mark Greenwood working in a related field to me.

Bizarrelly I already knew about an R. Mark Greenwood who works in Manchester and whom I'm sometimes confused with as he also publishes papers in related fields, but this also wasn't the one she was talking about. So there are now at least three people called Mark Greenwood working in fields related to natural language processing -- it's a good job I always use my middle initial when publishing papers so the chances are good that if something is writen by Mark A. Greenwood then that is actually me.

So are you reading this thinking I'm also called Mark Greenwood? If you are then please leave me a comment and let me know what you do and lets see how many Mark Greenwoods we can find. I may even start plotting us on a map!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Small Change

As I mentioned in a previous post our coins are changing. At the moment only the reverse designs are being altered and not the size, weight or composition of the coins. Over the last decade or so we have, however, seen the 5p, 10p and 50p coins reduced in size. To put our current coins in perspective though I thought I'd show you the oldest coin I own -- a 1797 George III "cartwheel" copper penny.

In 1797, England was not yet ready for the modern system of token coinage in which coins made out of non-precious metals, such as copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, etc., circulate based on their face value, rather than their bullion backed value. So when in 1797 Matthew Bolton was granted a contract to mint copper pennies and twopenny pieces they had to be worth their face value. Given the price of copper in 1797 this meant that the penny piece was minted from 1oz of copper and the twopeeny from 2oz of copper. To give you an idea of how heavy these coins are they weigh roughly the same as eight modern 1p coins.

These coins were the first to be minted by steam power (Bolton had collaborated with James Watt when establishing his Soho foundry near Birmingham) and they were so precisely struck that forgery was almost impossible. Unfortunately my specimen isn't in very good condition so it is difficult to appreciate the workmanship of the original coins. Fortunately you can see pictures of a much better specimen on the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery website.

The coins didn't last in circulation for very long, partly because of their sheer size and weight and partly due to the rising price of copper. Many of them were taken out of circulation and melted down. Bolton's next issue was lighter and without the distinctive raised rim. Today because of their age and collectable value they are worth a lot more than their material value, which given they are made from 1oz of copper is approximately 11p.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Mamma Mia! it's WALL-E

Having been looking forward to seeing WALL-E ever since I saw the first trailers, we finally made it to the cinema yesterday to watch it. It was brilliant, even better than I thought it would be.

As we often find it difficult to see all the films we want to at the cinema, we thought we would make the most of yesterday and so saw Mamma Mia! as well. Now I've never been fond of the idea of a musical based on a single band's music. For example, I'm a big Queen fan but have no particular interest in going to see the musical We Will Rock You which uses their music to tell a story. I'm also not a huge ABBA fan (I have been known to dance to their music when drunk, but who hasn't?) so have never really been interested in going to see the stage show version of Mamma Mia! It isn't that I don't like musicals (I've been to see quite a few over the years, including Starlight Express) I just could never really imagine how songs that were written as individual pieces could be crafted together to create a good musical -- I always thought it would seem that the songs were forced to fit the story.

Even when I heard there was going to be a film version of Mamma Mia! I wasn't that interested until I saw the trailer. It looked funny, and the performances of the songs sounded pretty good. So I decided that maybe it would be worth seeing. In fact it was really, really good. Ignoring for a minute the fact that Pierce Brosnan can't really sing, the whole thing worked really well. I won't spoil it for you by giving away any of the plot, but I will say that if you go to see it at the cinema don't leave until the white on black scrolling credits appear otherwise you will miss some hilarious dancing and singing.

So for those who haven't seen it yet here is the trailer:

WALL-E, My Rating: 5 Stars The film lived up to my expectations from the trailers and I'll certainly by buying the DVD later in the year.

Mamma Mia!, My Rating: 5 Stars A truly brilliant film, much better than I would have thought given the premise of turning ABBA songs into a musical.

Friday, 15 August 2008


I've never really been a fan of CAPTCHA as a way of checking that I am human. Unfortunately, I fully appreciate that they are an important way of cutting down on spam etc. There are a number of different CAPTCHA systems, some of which are better than others.

reCAPTCHA is my favourite system as I feel like I'm doing something useful as well as proving that I'm human. The aim of reCAPTCHA is to help in the digitization of old books. Put simply each CAPTCHA consists of two words; one is a normal CAPTCHA to which the answer is known and the other is a scanned word from a book which OCR couldn't properly recognise. If you can solve the first then they assume that you can solve the OCR problem as well. Once the same word has been presented to a few people they can determine the correct word with a high degree of accuracy.

They provide code and tools to help you add reCAPTCHA to your own site. They also provide a really simply e-mail hiding service. As an example here is a link to one of my e-mail addresses.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008


Over the years I've owned or used a number of books to help me try and identify fungi that I've come across. Often I've struggled to come to a definite identification and usually felt that the books I've looked at have been lacking in good photos or illustrations.

Take for example this fungi I photographed about 10 feet in the air just outside the churchyard in Kirby Lonsdale.
I couldn't work out what type of fungi it was from the books I had. Eventually after consulting at least two if not more of the fungi books of a friendly blogger I came to the conclusion that it was a porcelain fungus or in Latin Oudemansiella mucida.

During our Honeymoon we took a trip to Dawyck Botanic Garden (more on the garden in later postings). They have a lovely new visitor centre which contains a nature orientated bookshop. Flicking through a book on mushrooms my eye was caught by one of the plates showing a perfect picture of the porcelain fungus -- so close to what I had seen that there was no room for doubt. Of course I now own a copy of said book, Mushrooms by Roger Phillips. I'd certainly recommend anyone who has an interest in mushrooms to buy a copy. For reference here is the photo that caught my eye.
If you want to see more of the photos and to get an idea of the accompanying text then Roger also maintains a very good website devoted to mushrooms.

My Rating: 5 Stars A truly excellent book, the best book on mushrooms I've ever used.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Partial Solar Eclipse

If you looked outside at about 10:15 this morning you might have seen a partial solar eclipse.

I took this photo with the help of some clouds at 10:16 which, according to this BBC News article, was the time where the moon blots out the biggest chunk of the sun (when viewed from the UK at least).