Thursday, 31 December 2009

Drinking From The Bottle

Apparently drinking beer straight from the bottle is considered a little uncouth! But like me "Fred likes to glug his beer from the bottle, but Mrs. Fred is appalled. So Fred went out and did something about it -- he created this bottle-in-a-glass as an homage to real men like him." Fred you are my hero!

If you also aren't allowed to drink straight from the bottle then you could buy your very own glass.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Use For What?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Ha Pea Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Pre-Christmas Dinner

As you may know, last weekend we held our now traditional pre-Christmas dinner.

There were six of us altogether and the menu read as follows:
And as you can see the whole lot was accompanied with copious quantities of red wine.

There was of course a lot more food cooked over the weekend including a maple and mustard glazed ham as part of the Saturday lunch buffet, and a batch of Cranberry and Orange muffins which were all eaten before they had a chance to go cold!

Monday, 21 December 2009

MAG's 2009 Christmas Quiz

Given that we knew there wouldn't be a JAD's Christmas quiz this year I've spent some of the last twelve months thinking of fiendishly difficult quiz questions for everyone else to have a go at. Unfortunately I only managed to come up with 10 questions instead of 20 but hopefully you will find them challenging and enjoyable.

Please don't post answers to the questions in the comments as that spoils it for everyone else. Details of how to submit entries to the quiz can be found in the PDF version of the quiz but for those who just want the questions they are:
  1. Which Rumour returned to the BBC after 12 years?

  2. Connect 1885, 1955, 1985, 2015

  3. If the mouse is purple, the goldfish blue and the scorpion orange then what colour are the dove, peacock and cow?

  4. Johnson's Dictionary, the four minute mile, Kew Gardens, and fourteen others.

  5. Play fair and give the inventor his due!
    I T A Y
    T R H A
    C M W O
    K R W S
    U S T R
    E G W U

  6. Identify
    1. A Soho 'Lady'
    2. A Lonely Spinster
    3. A Schoolboy's Crush
    4. A Flame-Haired Seductress

  7. Connect and explain
    1. Jahnna N. Malcolm
    2. P.J. Tracy
    3. Zizou Corder
    4. M. M. Mannon

  8. Connect
    1. Claudia, Jed, Leo, Josh and Donna
    2. Malcom, Zoe, Hoban, Inara and Jayne
    3. Sydney, Arvin, Marcus, Marshall and Jack
    4. Brian, Sandra, Gerry, Jack and Esther

  9. If hares can run at 10 m/s, tortoises can only walk at 10 cm/s and a snail moves at just 1 cm/s what is the minimum time the hare must have slept for the tortoise to win a race of 3 km?

  10. Why might turning through 360 degrees not be enough to keep you facing in the same direction?

Hopefully you will all enjoy having a go at the questions. The closing date is midday on the 4th of January 2010 and as I said before the submission instructions are in the printable PDF version.


Friday, 18 December 2009

I've Started Cooking!

This weekend we are hosting our annual pre-Christmas dinner (see 2007, and 2008 part1 and part 2). Sorry if you haven't been invited this year but we are struggling to find room for those who are coming to sleep.

Anyway I started on the cooking yesterday and made 4 dozen mince pies and a dozen flapjacks. We've already made the syrup for the mulled wine.

Cooking today will mostly focus on the cold food for tomorrows buffet lunch and of course dinner this evening for those we are arriving today -- if they make it through the snow.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

First Cup Of The Day

For years I used a mixture of free coasters (I acquired quite a few as a student) and AOL CDs (well they should never actually be placed inside a computer), but last Christmas Bryony bought me a set of 'proper' coasters for the desk in my study. I'm not entirely sure how accurate the message is though.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that before my first cup of coffee I can't handle anything, I'm not sure that after the first cup I can handle everything!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Press Release

If you read this blog regularly (especially here and here) then you will know that it has been quite busy at work recently as we were preparing for a major new release of GATE. Well today was release day!

The website has been relaunched, software has been released and the University even issued a press release!

Of course I'm only a very small cog in a much larger team, so for once I'll allow a picture of me to appear on this blog so you can see the rest of the GATE group.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Offprints and Odd Things

Some of you may remember that back in March I finally got my first journal article accepted for publication. It was published online almost immediately but it has only just made it into an actual printed journal. I haven't seen the actual issue yet (not sure if I ever will) but the offprints arrived at work last week.
It's quite nice to finally have this article fully published and done with. The work reported in the article was done about four years ago, but it took us a while to find a journal that would accept it and then two years to revise it to their satisfaction. Hopefully my next journal article won't be quite such a struggle.

At the other extreme though is a publication with my name on it that I only knew about after it had been presented. If you remember I went to Lyon at the end of September to discuss some work we have been doing in conjunction with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Less than a month after my trip to IARC some of the work was presented at the 59th Annual Meeting of The American Society of Human Genetics -- not a conference I ever expected to publish work at. If you are at all interested in genetics then feel free to read the abstract. I'm a little jealous of the lead author though as he had to go all the way to Honolulu, Hawaii to present the work!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

My Bees Wouldn't Set!

A few weeks ago I baked a birthday cake for Bryony. Whilst I might spend hours icing a cake I usually just bake simple round or square cakes. This time though I thought I'd use one of the novelty cake tins we seem to have acquired recently. Specifically the tin for making a bee hive shaped cake.

Once I'd converted the recipe into something that could be understood (poor English and American amounts don't make for easy baking) the cake itself was easy to bake and assemble. What you can't see from the photo is that there is a back to the cake and so the two halves have to be stuck together with honey flavoured butter icing. Everything was really straightforward apart from the fact that the bees wouldn't set!

The bees were made by piping three different colours of royal icing onto greaseproof paper and letting them set -- unfortunately they didn't. The problem was that making the black icing for the bodies of the bees takes quite a lot of food colouring in comparison to coloring the yellow icing. When I had eventually made black icing I piped the bodies onto the paper and then the yellow stripes and wings. A few hours later when I was ready to assemble the cake I found that while the yellow and white icing had set solid the black icing was still very runny. In the end we left the bees overnight to set. Unfortunately this didn't help much and the black icing was more jelly like than anything else.

In the end I managed to gently lift a few of the bees onto the cake without ruining their shape too much and even if they were a little soft the whole thing still tasted pretty good. I'll certainly be using the cake recipe again, even if I don't use the tin for a while.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

You Muppet!

If you like the Muppets and you liked this post then you are going to love this!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Winter Has Arrived!

Well winter definitely arrived this weekend. On Saturday morning it snowed in Penistone, and it was so cold this morning that I've had to wear a jumper to work for the first time this year!

Hopefully there won't be quite as much winter as there was last year.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Forcing Rats To Eat Selenium!

As I've mentioned before we are currently in the run up to a big software release at work. Not only are we making a major release of GATE but we are also updating the website and making minor releases of other bits of software developed by the group.

As part of this I've been fixing bugs and looking at security issues in our wiki/CMS system -- GATEWiki. Testing a web application automatically and reliably can be really tricky, but we are using Selenium to test GATEWiki. Without going into too many details a Selenium test case is a script which is used to control a web browser (in our case Firefox) in the same way a normal user would interact with the application. We have Hudson setup to run a whole bunch of Selenium tests every time someone checks in changes (as well as running normal unit and integration tests), and anyone can check on the latest build results.

Whilst we have have been careful about security during the development of GATEWiki we want to make sure that there are no gaping security holes. One interesting approach to looking for security issues is to use ratproxy. As it's name suggest ratproxy is a web proxy that monitors requests for security issues. It is designed to watch normal user behaviour and so I decided that using it to monitor the Selenium tests being run would be a clever way of reviewing potential security problems in a repeated and reproducible fashion. Configuring this was actually quite straightforward (if you are interested I created a simple Firefox profile template directory with the necessary prefs.js file).

One obvious security issue was that we were not enforcing the use of HTTPS during login and hence passwords were being sent in the clear. GATEWiki is built using Grails which uses an embedded Jetty web server and it was easy to configure this to send all requests that would involve sensitive data via HTTPS. Unfortunately this caused Hudson to be unable to run the Selenium tests via ratproxy.

The problem is that when secure requests are sent via ratproxy, ratproxy throws away the original security certificate and re-signs the requests using it's own certificate. Due to the way Firefox now handles untrusted certificates (lots and lots of big scary warnings) there is no way I could find to make Firefox remember that it should trust pages signed by ratproxy and hence it would just sit there waiting for the user to accept the certificate. This is fine for local testing, but not much help for unattended testing via Hudson. Fortunately the fix is actually quite easy, although it took me an age to figure out.

If you look in the ratproxy directory you will find a file called keyfile.pem which contains the security certificates used to sign any secure page. All you need to do is replace this file with one that a) ratproxy can handle and b) Firefox can be made to remember should be trusted.

If you are on a Linux box or have cygwin installed under Windows then you probably have a copy of the OpenSSL package available and this can be used to produce a new set of certificates which will do the job. The keyfile we are trying to produce actually contains both a private key and a public certificate so we need to create both of these and then combine them into a single file.

Let's start with the private key as we need this to create the certificate. Simply issue the command:
openssl genrsa -out keyfile.key
Dead easy! The thing to note is that this key isn't password protected, which may not be ideal but is required otherwise ratproxy won't be able to use it.

So we have the private key let's now create the certificate. This is a bit more complex but start by issuing the command:
openssl req -new -x509 -key keyfile.key -out keyfile.crt
Now this will ask you for a whole bunch of information. Fortunately we don't have to provide many answers. Simply leave all the fields blank (by answering .) except the 'Common Name' field. This must be set to the hostname of the ratproxy server. Most of the time this will simply be 'localhost' but if you are running the proxy on a remote machine then you will need to set this value appropriately.

The final step is to combine the key and certificate into a single file that you can use to replace the default ratproxy keyfile.pem file with. Just issue the command:
cat keyfile.key keyfile.crt > keyfile.pem
And that is it. You now have a file that ratproxy can use and that you can tell Firefox to trust permanently.

I know it probably isn't an overly interesting blog post (I certainly doubt it lived up to it's title) but hopefully it will save someone else an afternoon of trying to figure out what's wrong with the ratproxy certificate and how to replace it.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Fussy Eaters

I'm sure that most of us know at least one fussy eater. You know the kind of people; I don't eat anything that's green; I don't like oranges; salad, not a chance!

When I was growing up my brother was the fussy eater (sorry David but you know it is true), whilst I'd eat anything you put in front of me. There are of course things that I'll eat because someone else has cooked, but that I don't particularly like. Specifically I don't like sprouts. No matter if they are boiled or steamed they just turn out inedible. But of course it isn't the food but how it is cooked that is usually the problem.

Take my brother for example, the only type of potato he would eat as a child was chips. My Mum refused to always cook him chips but we found that if we steamed or boiled potatoes then sliced them up and stir fried them for a few minutes he would eat them as they kinda looked and tasted a bit like chips. Well it turns out if you stir-fry sprouts, following this recipe, they also become an edible food-stuff -- although I'm guessing the shallots and Parma ham help!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Comment Spam

I've been writing this blog for over two years now and have never suffered from comment spam until recently. I'm not sure what has changed but I've started getting really obvious (or at least I think it is obvious) comment spam.

A person either without a public profile or who has just joined blogger will comment on two or three posts within a matter of minutes. The comments are usually only slightly related to the post and sometimes not at all. But what they all have in common is a link at the end of the post to some random web site; usually the site seems, at first glance, to be a blog or encyclopedia but when you look for more than a few seconds it is clearly trying to sell things without making it too obvious.

I was just ignoring them and hoping I wouldn't have to hurt anyone's feelings by deleting the comments but then the other day someone posted the following comment in reply to my post on Pomegranate, Cranberry and Pepper Jelly:
Credit unions are recognized as a force for positive economic and social change and have provided significant social and economic value in both developed and emerging nations. International Credit Union Day is sponsored by World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the international trade association and development organization for credit unions, and Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the premier trade association for America’s credit unions.
Now that is definitely spam -- there is no way in which it is related to the post and it is definitely unwanted. So that was the final straw, anything that looks like comment spam will now be deleted as soon as I see it. I'm not going to turn comment moderation on yet as hopefully I'll be able to spot and delete them quite quickly.

If you are reading this and have one of your comments deleted then either a) it was spam please don't do it again or b) I deleted it be mistake whilst annoyed at some other spam, sorry!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Pain of Flat Pack Furniture

Flat pack furniture is great; you don't have to worry if it will fit through the door, you can easily move pieces around to the right room to assemble, and it's usually cheep but functional.

The pain, both figuratively and physically, comes when it takes six, yes six, hours to assemble a single item of furniture! No I'm not incompetent! It was a big sideboard and one of the pieces had been drilled the wrong way around necessitating a 20 minute detour from the instructions while I disassembled instead of assembled the base unit.

I put it together Sunday afternoon and my hands, legs and back still haven't recovered from the experience. The palms of my hands are actually bruised from gripping the screwdriver.

Maybe next time it would be easier just to buy ready assembled furniture after all!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Pomegranate, Cranberry and Pepper Jelly

Some of you may remember a previous post in which I mentioned the difficulty in finding an ingredient. I had found that sauce made from red wine and pomegranate, pepper and cranberry relish went really well with venison steaks, but that I couldn't find any more of the relish. Well my jar of relish finally ran out and I still haven't been able to buy anymore. So last weekend I decided that I'd just have to make an alternative.

I hunted around the web but couldn't find an appropriate recipe so I took suggestions from quite a few places to come up with a recipe for Pomegranate, Cranberry and Pepper Jelly.
Last night we tried the jelly in the sauce (served with beef rather than venison) and it was superb. It wasn't quite as hot as I would have liked (hence putting pepper last in the name), but I can tweak that a little when I make a future batch.

As an added bonus I had some cranberries left over so I decided to try and make my own Cranberry and Orange Muffins. Eaten warm from the oven they were superb. Even cold I think they are better than the one I bought in Starbucks!

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Trotternish Pumpkin

Question: What does the Trotternish peninsula of Skye and a pumpkin have in common?
Answer: The images in the two blog posts were assembled using PhotoGrid!

When I was writing the blog post about our trip around the Trotternish peninsula I looked high and low for software to easily create a grid of photos. I found a few options but they were either a) a feature in a huge piece of software or b) not able to create the kind of image I wanted. Of course this could mean only one thing... I'd have to write the software myself.

The image in the Trotternish blog post was from the first, very basic version of what I'm now calling PhotoGrid -- it arranged the photos in a grid with the only option being the number of rows. The software has advanced quite a bit since then as you can tell if you look at the image in the pumpkin post. Here is a screenshot of the latest version:
There are still lots of things that I would like the program to do that it doesn't but hopefully I'll find the time to add new features soon. For now at least the main features are:
  • Auto-arrange will attempt to separate images of a similar colour to produce a more appealing grid -- for example, if your photos are either mostly white or mostly black you will end up with a chequer board pattern.
  • The border colour is determined by working out the average colour of the photo as this is unlikely to clash with the photo.
Eventually I'll clean up the code and release it but for now you can and use the software to create your own grids.

If you have any comments/suggestions about PhotoGrid or ideas for future versions then please leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.
v1.0.0 - 19/08/2010:Lots of bug fixes and performance improvements. Some new artwork and better error handling. There were some changes to the way in which the application can be started from this page. If you have used the application before and now it won't start, sorry, but see this post for details on how to fix things.

v0.4.0 - 06/01/2010:Almost no code changes but this release coincides with the opening up of the source code.

v0.3.1 - 30/01/2010:Quite a few performance improvements and real feedback on progress of loading images or saved projects. You can also now choose auto to reset the border colour to the default.

v0.3.0 - 24/01/2010:You can now customize each tile (or a set of tiles) by right clicking on them. This allows you to set the border colour and specify a title and URL which can be used to produce a HTML image map. Also when saving the grid you now have some control over the size of the generated image.

v0.2.2 - 20/01/2010:Fixed a small bug in v0.2.1 and some serious refactoring that will make the new features easier t0 implement.

v0.2.1 - 18/01/2010:More code simplification, added an extra theme colour (the average colour across all photos), and added some code in preparation for new features I'm intending to add soon.

v0.2.0 - 12/11/2009: Simplified a lot of the code but more importantly removed the assumption that images were always 4:3. Each tile is now assumed to have the same aspect ratio as the first tile in the grid.

v0.1.1 - 10/11/2009: The only change in this release is to use all known JPEG file extensions (ignoring case) when filtering the file list whilst trying to add photos.

v0.1.0 - 09/11/2009: First public release of PhotoGrid.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

It's Christmas.... At Starbucks

I hate the way that holiday treats are no longer confined to their holiday. For example, a Cadbury Creme Egg isn't a special Easter treat if I can buy them the first week of January. I have, however, been waiting since the first week of January for Starbucks to think it's Christmas!

Yesterday I walked into Starbucks and noticed that the usual paper cups had been replaced by red cups with snowflakes ready for Christmas. Why is this important? Christmas means they sell Cranberry and Orange Muffins! If you haven't tried one before then you really should stop whatever you are doing and find your nearest Starbucks as soon as humanly possible -- they really are that good.

(Werid Note: Starbucks is in the dictionary Blogger uses but Cadbury isn't. I wonder how much Starbucks coffee the Blogger staff drink?)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Line Endings Are Conspiring Against Me!

It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you!

At work we are gearing up for an important release of GATE. We released a beta last week so that we could get as much feedback as possible on the current build before making the final release. Unfortunately I managed to introduce a show-stopping bug into the build which rendered the default GATE application (ANNIE) unusable under Windows.

I'm pretty careful about testing code before I commit changes so I was mortified when it became obvious that the beta was badly broken. What follows is a verbatim copy of an e-mail I sent to the GATE group explaining how the bug was introduced and why it hadn't been spotted by any of our tests. The specific situation might not happen to many software developers but it's a good example of why we shouldn't rely only on automated tests for application stability.

I was very annoyed at myself for allowing the bug to slip into the beta build but at a complete loss as to exactly how it happened. I've been thinking about it some more and I now know how it happened and I think the reason is important enough to share with everyone.

This isn't an excuse for what happened but it should be a warning to everyone else that sometimes even when we are careful with tests etc we can get caught out. This will be quite a long e-mail as I want to fully explain the situation for those not familiar with the internals of the JAPE parser/compiler. If you want the take home message there is a simple summary at the bottom.

The code that fails was trying to split a block of Java code generated by parsing a JAPE file into separate lines and then return the line at which use of the deprecated annotations parameter had been spotted. The method I checked in looked like this:
public String getSource(int line) {
String[] lines = getSource().split(nl);
return lines[line-japeLine];
where nl is a class field that is initialized to System.getProperty("line.separator"). So this method should split a block of text into separate lines based on the platform specific line separator and then return a specific line from the resultant array. This should be safe as the code block is from the generated Java source, which uses the same nl field for separating lines.

I developed the code at home under Windows and it worked -- ANNIE ran with no sign of the exceptions reported against the beta. I checked the code in and a short while later Hudson checked it out, built it and tested it (including running ANNIE) under Linux (see here for the latest build/test results). Everything built and ran successfully.

At this point with it having been tested under Windows and Linux I was fairly happy that the code was stable (I was especially worried after Hamish had agreed to the change but had cautioned about adding new code so near to a release as statistically new code means new bugs - man was he right!).

Ian then built the beta release, publicized it on the mailing list and as we know ANNIE broke spectacularly for anyone trying it under Windows. The only question is why?

I'm willing to bet a beer/coffee to the first person with the time to checkout and build the beta from subversion (SVN) under Windows that it works. So what is different about the builds Ian pushed to the website?

The answer is that the line endings and subversion have conspired against me :(

When a JAPE source file is parsed the Java blocks that make up the RHS are added to the Java source code as is. And we use the platform specific line separator to build the rest of the source. When we check JAPE files into SVN we make sure that we set the svn:eol-style to native. So if you check out GATE from subversion all the ANNIE JAPE files have the native line endings and so the full Java source file that we eventually compile has the same line ending throughout and everything works. This is why ANNIE ran under both Windows and Linux when checked out of SVN.

When Ian built the betas I'm guessing that he did so under Linux (or on his Mac but for the purpose of this discussion that doesn't matter). So again the tests would run as the JAPE files would have Linux line endings and we would use the Linux line separator.

A user then downloads the beta from the website and tries running ANNIE under Windows -- it fails. The problem here is that the JAPE files in the beta builds have Linux line endings and we then use Windows line endings to assemble the code. I then use the Windows line separator again to split the code to get at single lines of source. Linux uses the single \n to represent the end of line while Windows uses the two character \r\n. So when I try and split code containing Linux line endings using the two character Windows line ending nothing happens and the array offset exception is thrown.

If we had built the beta under Windows then we may never have spotted the problem, as splitting on either platform using either line ending would have worked. The problem would have only arisen if someone created a JAPE file under Linux and then tried to use it under Windows without SVN in the middle, which conceivably might not have been until after the final release.

My fix was to simply change the offending method to
public String getSource(int line) {
String[] lines = getSource().split("\n");
return lines[line-japeLine];
which works on all platforms we support.

Looking back it's clear that there is no way we could have easily caught this using the automated tests. Fortunately we have caught the problem now rather than after the final release, yet I don't have any idea how we could stop similar problems occurring again in the future.

In Summary: The bug only appeared because the svn:eol-style was set to native, the beta release was built under Linux, and together this means we end up with a mixture of line endings when running under Windows. Had we built the installers under Windows the issue of running ANNIE would never have arisen but it would have bitten anyone editing JAPE under Linux then running under Windows (without SVN in the middle), which may not have happened until after the final release.

If anyone has any thoughts/suggestions on ways we could improve the testing to try and pick up such weird cases in the future please let me know and I'll try adding them to Hudson.

Sorry for both the bug and the long post but I thought it worth taking the time to explain how the problem arose so we can all (me especially) try and avoiding it happening again in the future,

Monday, 2 November 2009

Measuring Sheffield

I've lived and worked in Sheffield for 12 years now and yet I still sometimes come across things that I've never noticed before. For example, last Thursday I walked down the side of the Town Hall and spotted this set of standard measures.
In fact there was a lot more than just this one plaque as the floor has small plaques set into it to show longer measures.

Apparently the standard measures were "presented to the city by The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor (The Earl Fitzwilliam, D.S.O.) and by him declared available for public use on the occasion of the visit of the British Association, September, 1910".

Friday, 30 October 2009

Chopping Up A Courgette

There are two obvious ways to cut up a courgette: slice and dice. Unfortunately depending on what you are cooking both of these methods can be somewhat lacking.

For example, if you are making ratatouille, then dicing the courgette probably isn't a great idea as it just turns to mush in the sauce. On the other hand slicing the courgette tends to result in the middle turning to mush leaving you with polo mint like rings of skin. Surely there must be a better way?

When we were on Skye courgettes featured in one of the meals and I learnt a new and brilliant way of chopping them up. Basically you cut at 45 degrees to the courgette and between each chop you turn the courgette by 90 degrees. If that didn't make any sense then try the video which shows me cutting up a courgette for dinner earlier this week.

This method leaves you with chunks of courgette that have just about the right ratio of skin to middle and tend to hold their shape when cooked.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lyon's Smallest Restaurant?

While I was walking around Lyon I stepped past what has to be Lyon's smallest restaurant. Unfortunately it doesn't actually serve food!

You can tell just how small the restaurant is by looking at the reflection of me taking a photo in the glass panel on the left of the photo.

Okay so it's not really a restaurant at all, but a miniature on display in the window of the Musée des Miniatures. As far as I could tell entry to the museum was free but unfortunately I didn't have the time to spare as I had to get across Lyon for my train. Next time I have to go to IARC for a meeting I'll go back and take a proper look.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Blog Comments

I often comment on blogs but I very rarely go back and read what others have then written in reply. I could subscribe by e-mail to those posts I comment on but for some reason I don't really like that approach much. It is, however, possible to subscribe to not just the posts on a blog but the comments as well.

What follows assumes you are using Blogger although I assume similar functionality is available with other systems such as WordPress.

You can subscribe to the comments for any Blogger blog using the URL

where BLOG_ID should be replaced by the (wait for it) ID of the blog. So for example, here is a link to the feed of all comments for this blog.

Knowing or finding the ID of the blog you wish to subscribe to is, however, a bit of a pain. If the blog is hosted by blogger (i.e. has a URL) then an easier URL to use is

where obviously BLOG_NAME is replaced by (yes wait for it again) the name of the blog.

A relatively boring post but hopefully it will help at least one person follow the comments on at least one blog!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A Year of Posts!

If you hadn't read this blog before and wanted to catch up by reading a post a day it would now take you a full year -- a leap year to get to this post. On reaching this rather arbitrary point I thought I'd look back on the blog in a similar way to the two posts I did marking the 100th and 201st posts.

As it turns out nothing much seems to have changed (other than the blog template). It still appears, from the labels, that the blog is all about photos (122 posts) of strange (76 posts) food (41 posts)!

Also based on comments the most interesting posts are still those about the random bits of software I've released into the wild through this blog. The post on embedding QuickTime movies in webpages is almost two years old and still regularly gets comments.

Since I last surveyed the blog I have of course stopped blogging about two things: books and recipes. I'm now writing a blurb for each book I read over on my Writing The Blurb blog. Recipes are not going on a blog as such, but on a custom built web based cookbook, although you can subscribe to the recipes just as you would any other blog.

I'm not sure when I'll next survey the blog but given the three totally unscientific surveys so far, I'm guessing that not much will have changed!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Coral Beach

The weather must have known that our holiday on Skye about to end as the last full day we had there was warm and sunny. We made the most of the weather and headed out to Coral Beach. Whilst it wasn't warm enough to sun bath it was very pleasant.
Whilst the beach looks like fine white sand it is actually not sand at all! Apparently the sand is actually the ground up bleached skeletons of a red coralline seaweed known as maerl.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

One, Two, Three... Quadriga!

A quadriga is a chariot pulled by four horses abreast. It was a word that I had never heard before my recent trip to Berlin. One of the most famous quadriga sculptures sits on top of the Brandenburg Gate and the person who showed us around Berlin actually referred to referred to it as a quadriga. The week after I was in Berlin I had to go to Lyon with work and guess what I saw there? I doubt anyone will need to be told but the photo on the left is from Berlin and the one on the right from Lyon.
The quadriga atop the Brandenburg Gate is quite traditional and based upon the only surviving ancient quadriga. As you can see from the photo the sculpture in Lyon is very different; a piece of art rather than a model of real life. Apparently it was sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi after he became famous for creating the Statue of Liberty and represents France as a female figure attempting to control the four major French rivers. It may not be classical but I definitely prefer the one in Lyon over the one in Berlin.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

With a Toot and a Whistle

As some of you may know our garden backs onto the railway line that runs between Huddersfield and Barnsley. There are two trains an hour past the house, one in each direction, and you quickly get used to the noise. The trains are only small and from inside the house they pass almost unnoticed.

So on Sunday afternoon when I was out in the garden I heard a train approach. Firstly it was going the wrong way and secondly it didn't sound 'right'. Then I saw the smoke! Unfortunately because of the slope at the back of the garden and the overgrown shrubs the smoke was all I saw, but I heard the unmistakable toot and whistle of a steam train as it approached Penistone station.

After much hunting around on the web I found that it was the Tin Bath Extra pulled by LMS Black 5's 45231 and 45407, otherwise known as The Sherwood Forester and The Lancashire Fusilier. If the scenery around Penistone looked at all like that near Blaenau Ffestiniog and I had been able to see over the fence at the back of the garden then I'd have seen something approaching the view in the photo taken by Flickr user gazzajo. I'm going to keep watching the Steam Tours webpage so that next time I'll be ready with my camera.

Our house currently doesn't have a number plaque and we have been debating what picture might go on one for a while. As we live near a railway I'd always suggested a steam train but Bryony had said that as we don't get steam trains going past the house that wouldn't work. Well now I might just get a steam train on the plaque!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Whole Pumpkin: Part 2

Yesterday I cooked a pumpkin. Not just a little bit of a pumpkin either. I cooked everything but the stalk, pith and skin. It was a long but worthwhile afternoon in the kitchen.
I toasted the pumpkin seeds, which I then used as decoration on top of pumpkin soup which we ate for starter. I also made a pumpkin pie which we ate for desert. The rest of the pumpkin was roasted and made into puree which I have frozen ready for making more pies or soup in the future.

Unlike last time I tried cooking a pumpkin yesterday was a success. Everything was edible and I didn't end up wasting lots of pumpkin or my time!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Whole Pumpkin

My most disastrous culinary experience was my first and only attempt at making pumpkin pie. I managed to misread the recipe and used mixed spice instead of allspice! I had one spoonful of the pie and threw the rest away -- a complete waste of a pumpkin.

So as pumpkins have started to appear in the shops ready for Halloween I thought I'd have another go at making pumpkin pie. I needed 1Kg of pumpkin but when I did the shopping online I could order large or extra large with no idea of weight. So I ordered extra large to be on the safe side and ended up with a 4.5Kg pumpkin.

So not only am I determined to cook an edible pumpkin pie I'm also not going to allow 3.5Kg of pumpkin to go to waste. I'll let you know how the pie turns out and how much of the pumpkin I actually manage to use in a later post. If you need me I'll be in the kitchen, listening to music and cooking a pumpkin!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Weird Pit Exit

This years Formula 1 championship ends in just over two weeks at the new Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. As it's a new track no one knows exactly how the cars will perform around it but this video of Bruno Senna driving a two seater F1 car around it should give us some idea.

That has to be the longest straight in F1 and I assume the KERS cars will have fun, but isn't that the weirdest pit exit ever? Who though putting a dark tunnel in the pit lane was a good idea? Maybe it will work just fine but I can envision an accident there completely closing the pit lane and needing the race to be red flagged so that everyone doesn't run out of fuel and grip.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Music To Cook By

As anyone who knows me will attest I'm not really a big fan of classical music. There are exceptions; the second half of the Last Night of the Proms, Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King, and I did once enjoy a whole evening of classical music. But these are exceptions.

My taste in more modern music, on the other hand, is quite eclectic and ranges through such varied bands/groups/artists as Green Day, Avril Lavigne Runrig, Billy Joel, Delta Goodrem, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Cast, Dire Straits, The Hollies, 10CC, ...

So what do I listen to when I cook? Well before our trip to Skye I would have definitely picked something from the pop list. Something I could play loud (or at least as loud as I could get away with) and sing along to. Since we got back from Skye though only a single CD has been played in the kitchen. It has been played loud and over and over again. And the CD in question? The Magic of the Mandoline.

I would never force myself into someone elses kitchen but I will always offer to help. Cooking is an art, and great food only leaves the kitchen if the chef is happy and enjoying his work (I was going to say relaxed but I doubt most chefs would say cooking for others is relaxing). So when I am helping in someone elses kitchen I try to fit in rather than force my ideas, hence I ended up listening to mandoline music. To say I was blown away by it was an understatement. I honestly don't think I've ever heard classical music quite like it (it's definitely classical, the composer of the majority of the music on the CD is Vivaldi).

So if you like cooking and listening to music then I'd suggest you find a copy of The Magic of the Mandoline and see if it helps the creative juices flow!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lyon at Night

After a productive day at IARC in Lyon I was invited out for dinner. In case anyone wonders why I was at a cancer research institute it's because I'm working on a project that is attempting to use knowledge mined from biomedical literature in genome wide association studies.

It was one of the staffs birthday and I was asked to join them for the dinner they had already planned. I had a bit of time to kill before meeting at the restaurant so I thought I'd see a few of the sights. I headed towards the restaurant along the river which gave me great views of the Basillica Notre-Dame de Fourviere and the Cathedral St-Jean.
From the same bridge the view north along the river towards the foot bridge was pretty good as well.
I didn't want to be late for dinner so I headed off to the restaurant leaving the rest of the sight seeing for the following day.

We had a wonderful dinner at Léon du Lyon. Even on the last day of September it was warm enough to sit out at the street tables and enjoy the relaxed multi-cultural atmosphere. Around the table were (I think) one Swede, two Brazilians, one Russian, two French and me the only Brit. Given the range of nationalities it should be no surprise that the conversation was all in English, although I did need help dealing with the French menu (thanks Mattias). Thanks to everyone for a great evening!

Out of Sync

Well I spoke too soon when I wrote the last blog post. While the encoded videos had the right framerate when I actually tried to watch one, the audio and video were out of sync. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

So the ffdshow filters may not drop frames but something was still going wrong so I decided to have another look at the InterVideo codec that is used by the DVD player software (I use WinDVD, specifically version 8 which was developed by InterVideo although new versions are now branded as Corel) and which was originally decoding the MPEG-2 files before all this trouble started. My wild guess was that there would be a way to force it to output all the frames even if that meant running slower than real time. I couldn't find anything on the web so instead started digging around in the registry.

I eventually came across the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\InterVideo\DVD8 registry key. This has a DWORD value called NOVideoDrop which was set to 0 which I assume means false. Changing this to 1 didn't make any difference during the encoding but I felt I was getting closer to a solution. Next to the key for WinDVD 8 there is a Common folder which contains sub folders called AUDIODEC and VIDEODEC which I assume stand for audio and video decoder. The VIDEODEC folder contains sub folders for a number of programs including Windows Media Player and Windows Media Encoder. So I took a guess and added the NOVideoDrop entry to the folder for the encoder and hey presto I now always get 25 fps and the video and audio are in sync!

So to summarise, to make sure that the MPEG-2 decoding does not drop frames when using the InterVideo MPEG-2 codec add the following two DWORD entries to the registry, setting the value of both to 1.


The first entry makes sure that the command line interface (which is run via cscript) encodes without dropping frames. The second entry does the same for the main graphical interface to the Windows Media Encoder. Of course if you are using a different program then you may need to add the NoVideoDrop DWORD in other folders as well.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A Realtime Headache

UPDATE: The solution in this post was actually flawed in that the audio and video in the compressed videos ended up out of sync. See this post for my, hopefully, final solution.

I've spent a lot of time over the last few days banging my head against an annoying computer problem. I seem to have finally figured it out and so I thought I'd blog about it in case anyone else has a similar problem.

I've been slowly transferring a whole bunch of old VHS tapes on to the computer using a USB MPEG-2 encoder (specifically a Dazzle USB capture device). This produces large MPEG-2 files which are ideal for burning as a normal DVD. Sometimes though I'll have a bunch of short clips that are not really suited to putting on a DVD. As the MPEG-2 file format is relatively uncompressed even short clips can be quite large and so further compression is a good idea.

Now for reasons that are too complex to go into here I've been converting the MPEG-2 files to Windows Media Video files (actually to the VC-1 standard, using the WMV9 codec, which is the basis of the encoding on HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks) using a command line interface to the Windows Media Encoder. This has worked flawlessly for well over a year and then mysteriously broke about a fortnight ago.

Living in the UK the videos are in the PAL format and so I've been producing 25fps MPEG-2 files and keeping the same framerate when compressing further. When the encoding finishes the command line script produces a summary of what it has done, which includes the expected and actual framerate. They should both be 25fps -- 25 frames coming in each second and 25 frames going out. Strangely about a fortnight ago the actual framerate started fluctuating wildly. I tried encoding the same file a number of times and saw framerates varying from 8 to 19 but nothing approaching 25. Such weird framerates meant that the resulting videos were completely unwatchable.

I assumed that the problem was with the encoding of the video given that I could watch the original MPEG-2 file without any problems. So I reinstalled the Windows Media codecs and the encoder software all to no avail. I tried reinstalling the DVD software as I know that is used to read the MPEG-2 files. Still no joy. In the end I decided I'd do a complete format and reinstall of Windows. Annoyingly that still didn't work.

It turns out that the codec I was using to decode the MPEG-2 file works in realtime. That is it drops frames to make sure the video and audio are in sync. Now I can play a DVD (and hence MPEG-2 files) on the computer without any problems. But when encoding the files I'm both playing and encoding at once and that pushes the CPU usage high enough for frames to be dropped. What I can't figure out is why it suddenly became a problem. I'm assuming that something had switched the codecs being used but from what and why I don't know.

Anyway the fix was to find a non-realtime MPEG-2 codec. Fortunately the free ffdshow codecs will decode MPEG-2 fully irrespective of CPU load. So finally after about two weeks of banging my head against the problem I can get back to encoding videos again at the correct framerate.

The only problem seems to be that if I open an MPEG-2 file in Windows Media Player it no longer respects the aspect ratio and so plays wide screen footage as 4:3. Maybe there is a setting in ffdshow that I'm missing but it's a small price to pay especially as I can watch the files using normal DVD software at the correct aspect-ratio.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I'm On The Road... Again!

Another week, another work meeting. Last week I was in Berlin, this week I'm in Lyon. After my stressful trip home last week I'm quite glad that instead of flying I'd decided to travel the entire way from Sheffield to Lyon via train. It's actually very easy -- Sheffield to London St. Pancras, St Pancras to Lille on the Eurostar and then Lille to Lyon.

I was hoping to get a photo of a Eurostar train for this posting but in the end I had to resort to using one from Wikipedia. The train is so long and you access the platform in the middle that all I saw in both directions, before boarding, the train was carriages.

I'm working all day tomorrow at IARC and then I travel home on Thursday afternoon. This leaves me Thursday morning when hopefully I'll get some time to walk around and see some of Lyon. Anyone reading this been to Lyon? If so any suggestions on what I should try and see?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Banking Reform

Next to the U-Bahn station at Spichernstraße in Berlin there is a large investment bank. Outside the bank there is a sculpture. Given the way that banks have behaved in recent years I'm thinking that the statue is more than a little insulting to the average man on the street that used to trust the bank with their money.

Of course I could be wrong and the man being kicked off the ladder could be the banker but somehow I think it much more likely that the banker is doing the kicking.

I think that it's actually a really good sculpture I just think it should have been positioned somewhere else. If it truly reflects the mindset of the banking community then we definitely need to push for worldwide banking reform!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag, and Checkpoint Charlie

Our short walk around Berlin moved from the Holocaust Museum to the Reichstag via the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately they were setting up for a political rally at the Brandenburg Gate and so it was difficult to really appreciate it, and certainly difficult to photograph.

In contrast the Reichstag was easy to photograph from the large square in front of it. We had intended to queue to enter the dome but even at almost 9 at night the queue was long and we decided to spend the time seeing other parts of Berlin instead.

From the Reichstag we walked past the British Embassy (which was well barricaded off and surrounded by lots of armed police) to Checkpoint Charlie. We finished the evening with beer and food (deer goulash) at Cafe Stresemann just a few yards from the checkpoint. A fantastic and educational evening!

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

"I'm not even supposed to be here today!" was my response to a question I got on the way home on Friday. I'd just boarded the plane and was asked what I'd been doing in Munich.

As you know I've been working in Berlin all week but found myself boarding a plane in Munich. What should have been a long but straightforward return journey to Manchester via Brussels became just a little more stressful and tiring.

We arrived at Berlin Tegel airport with plenty of time to spare, checked in and then waited for our plane to board. When boarding time arrived and the flight wasn't listed on the display at the gate we knew something was wrong. Apparently there was a strike at Brussels airport and while our plane had left Brussels on time no one knew what time it would be able to leave Berlin and head back. It quickly became clear that we weren't going to make our connecting flight.

Fortunately, the Lufthansa staff were great. We had decided that the only thing to do was wait and see what happened and then a staff member came across and told us that we had been transferred on to their Munich flight which was just about to depart so that they could make sure we got back to Manchester albeit a few hours later than planned.

In the end we arrived back in Manchester only an hour and a half later than expected so it could have been a whole lot worse.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Quietly Contemplating History

Berlin contains what has to be the biggest memorial I have ever seen. The Holocaust Memorial covers 19,000 square metres of prime Berlin real-estate and consists of 2711 differently sized concrete blocks and apparently doesn't actually represent anything in particular. I'm guessing if the memorial has any meaning it is that the huge scale of the memorial reflects the scale of the atrocities it remembers. At night wondering among the blocks is quite eerie but it was a good place to stand for a few minutes quietly contemplating history.

East Meets West

Last night a small group of us went on a walk around the centre of Berlin to see some of the more famous sites. It was a really clever idea as one of the complaints with work meetings is that we never really get the chance to see the places we visit as we are working all day long. We started at Potsdamer Platz which is an important public square and traffic intersection.

It's amazing to think that just 20 years ago I would likely have been shot at had I tried to get anywhere near the spot from which I took this photo last night -- standing with my left foot in East Berlin and my right foot in West Berlin.

Until November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall was the main physical symbol of the Iron Curtain. In Potsdamer Platz (where I took the photo) it wouldn't be until the following weekend that the wall was breached and people could cross the wall at what had originally been a major road junction in Berlin.

As we walked around the centre of Berlin we kept crossing the line of the wall (a double strip of cobble stones to make it obvious where it used to be). Because of the way it moves around it isn't always clear if you are in the old East or West Berlin. We laughed about that at one point and that brought home just how much Europe, and Berlin in particular, started to change for the better 20 years ago.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Is It Safe To Sit Down?

I'm in Berlin this week with work. Hopefully I'll get to see a few of the sights while I'm here but so far the most startling thing I've seen is the warning on the toilet in my hotel room.

I'm not sure how close I want to get to that toilet!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Keep Heading West

What constitutes the UK mainland? One definition (that many delivery companies use) would be anywhere you can drive to without needing to take a ferry. Under that definition Skye, although clearly an island, is part of the UK mainland. That means that the most westerly point of the mainland is to be found on Skye and not on Ardnamurchan as I'd always thought (in my defense when I went to the most westerly tip of Ardnamurchan the Skye bridge hadn't been built).

The most westerly point on Skye is Neist Point and we made the short walk from the car park out to the coast. Of course the view west from the very edge of Skye would be just sea so I stopped a few yards short to take a slightly more interesting photo.
I didn't build up the little stack of rocks just to add something to the photo it was already there. In fact there are so many stacks of rock the trick would have been trying to take a photo without including one. Here is the view looking back eastwards and as you can see someone has been very busy.
Apparently they get built up every year and then the first winter storm arrives they all vanish.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Fairy Pools

Having been shown around Trotternish on our first full day on Skye, we moved south into the Cuillins on the second day to do a walk in Coire na Creiche. The walk follows the river, which has cut fairy pools (circular pits made by the river spinning pebbles around which drill into the rock) into the rock giving fantastic scenery. On a nice day I'm sure it would be spectacular, but with the low clouds and rain it was magnificent.

The walk requires crossing a stream at two different points. A few days before we had arrived on Skye the Mountain Rescue service had been called out to help a party who had got stuck out by the fairy pools. There had been about 2 inches of rain in just a few hours and the streams had become impassable. Not wanting to be rescued we had checked both crossings (they are both close to the car park) on the way out to make sure we could get back. There was a lot of water but both were easily crossable. It then rained, a lot. We stayed mostly dry given that we were well prepared with waterproofs (my new Gore-Tex jacket worked perfectly) but the rivers started to fill up. By the time we got back to the crossing the stream was quite a torrent. One of the crossings was impassable and so we had to detour to the other one. We got across but there was an awful lot more water than when we had set out. Another hour of rain and we might well have been stuck.

We then drove to the Sligachan to fully dry out while sipping a nice cold beer.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Trotternish Mosaic

On our trip around Trotternish I've so far shown you The Storr, the Diatomite works, Kilt Rock and the Singing Fence, and the view from the car park for walking the Quiraing. There is of course an awful lot more to see. Rather than boring everyone silly with lots and lots of posts on the same subject I'll finish talking about Trotternish by showing you a selection of other photos we took that day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The View from the Car Park

The view from most car parks is usually pretty dull. Even in the middle of the highlands of Scotland car parks are often situated out of the way or hidden among trees. There are, however, some notable exceptions. For instance here is the view from the car park you would use to walk the Quiraing on Skye.
The view is looking almost directly west towards Staffin Bay and takes in the Qiraing on the left, all the way around to Loch Leurn na Luirginn, Loch Cleat and the crags of Dun Dubh on the right. I think you will agree that it's quite the view!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Kilt Rock and the Singing Fence

The third photo opportunity on our whistle-stop tour of Trotternish was the Kilt Rock viewpoint.

From the viewpoint the most impressive sight is actually the waterfall which was all the more impressive given that it had rained almost non-stop for all of August.

Kilt Rock is actually the rock formation at the back of the photo. It is apparently called Kilt Rock as the columns look like the pleats in a kilt. I'm not entirely convinced myself but it was a lovely spot in which to stand and enjoy the view and listen to the fence sing.

To stop people leaning out too far while looking at the waterfall and to stop them being blown away when it's windy a fence has been erected along the edge of the cliff. For some reason the tubular metal fence contains a number of small holes. The holes combined with the gaps between the rails and a strong wind make the fence sing!

Saturday, 5 September 2009


The next stop on our trip around the Trotternish peninsula of Skye was the Diatomite works at Inver Tote. Diatomite (known locally as Cailc) was discovered at Loch Cuithir in 1886. By 1889 the Skye Diatomite Company was extracting Diatomite from the loch and transporting it via railway to drying sheds at Inver Tote. The remains of the sheds can still be seen today although the railway has long since gone.
For those of you who, like me, have never heard of Diatomite before, I'm told that it is a whitish clay like deposit of microscopic shells. It has a number of industrial uses but it is probably best known as the additive used to make nitroglycerin stable giving rise to the patented product -- dynamite. If you want more details then the Wikipedia page is quite informative.

Monday, 31 August 2009

The Storr

Although we managed a quick photo stop at Eilean Donan on the way to Skye we didn't see much else as it was late on in the day.

For our first full day on Skye we had were shown around the Trotternish peninsula. There are lots and lots of sights to see in Trotternish so there will be at least a couple more blog posts on the subject, but I'll start with the first stop of the day -- a really good view of The Storr and the Old Man of Storr.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

A Kind Of Magic

I've always enjoyed visiting Scotland but there is something magical about the landscape of the Highlands. I enjoyed one of those rare moments of magic as we rounded a corner in the car on Thursday evening to be presented with an uninterrupted view of Eilean Donan castle. The only thing that spoilt the view was my first midge bite of the holiday!
As you may have guessed from the last sentence we are currently on holiday in the Scottish Highlands. To be precise we are staying with friends on Skye for five days so you can expect lots more photos and blog postings over the next few days.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Writing The Blurb

When I first started this blog one of the things I intended to write about was the books that I read. I have done a few postings about books but most of the time I can't think of enough to fill a post. So I've decided to start a new blog called Writing The Blurb.

As the name suggestions each post on Writing The Blurb will be just a short blurb. Hopefully the shorter format will encourage me to write a blurb for each book I read.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The War of the Roses

No I didn't spend the weekend re-enacting a 15th century dynastic civil war or watching a 1989 Michael Douglas film, I actually spent a very pleasant day at Headingly Cricket Ground watching the final day of the 249th Roses Match between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

We arrived in plenty of time as we needed to sort out the tickets on the day -- Dad is a member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and had vouchers for free tickets which Bryony and I used and then we had to get an extra ticket and temporary members pass to get Mum in as well. Once we were all inside the ground we went straight to the members area to find a seat. Here is the view from the seat I sat in all day.
As we had arrived quite early we saw both teams warming up, which as well as lots of work with cricket bats and balls involved a quite violent game of 5-a-side football from Yorkshire and a game of rugby from Lancashire that seemed to have even fewer rules.

Play got under way on time with Yorkshire finishing off their first innings. Lancashire then came in to bat for their second innings. Given that quite a lot of play had been lost earlier in the game due to bad weather it was very unlikely that the game would end with anything but a draw but that didn't stop the players trying hard to score runs and to take wickets. Unfortunately the Yorkshire fielders dropped at least two catches during the day and at 5pm the match was declared a draw.

This was the second sporting event we have been to this year after having attended the Formula 1 race at Silverstone. Both completely different, both very good in their own way, although the cricket was easier to photograph!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Tweet, Tweet

I'm not a fan of all the social networking sites that seem to be so popular with everyone from lonely teenagers to top level management with nothing better to do then twitter all day. Whilst I haven't signed up to any of these sites I have just posted my first tweet.

To try and raise the profile of the GATE group, GATE now has accounts on both Twitter and Facebook (I refuse to create an account on Facebook so don't expect to see me on there) and we are being encouraged to use them to inform the community about our work. Not sure how often I'll tweet (I'm told that it should be about once a week) but you'll know that the tweets are mine as they will end [MG].


Sunday, 16 August 2009

Dining in the Dungeon

Whilst sorting through some photos yesterday I realised that I never finished blogging about our honeymoon last year, so expect a number of posts over the next few days while I finish doing the posts that I had mostly finished writing a year ago.

The first hotel we stayed at on honeymoon was Dalhouise Castle. Any good castle should have a dungeon, but how many of them have a dungeon which is now used as a dining room?

When dining in the dungeon restaurant you first take drinks in the library while perusing the menu then you are led down the dark, narrow steps into the dungeon. At night the restaurant is lit mainly be the candles on the tables. It really is a very interesting place to have dinner!

We didn't want to break the atmosphere by taking photos when there were other people dining so we snuck in just after lunch one day (the restaurant is only open for dinner). To our surprise we found that the lights were mostly on and so it was actually quite easy to move around and take photos. We did get a nasty shock though when the maitre d' silently appeared behind us. Fortunately he didn't want to string us up by our toe's from the rafters but actually offered to let us choose which table we wanted to sit at that evening.

You don't have to be staying at the hotel to have dinner in the dungeon so if you are ever in the area I'd certainly recommend booking a table.

You Built A Time Machine... Out Of A DeLorean?

In his weekly blog Ian mentioned the funny t-shirts available from Snorg. Having a browse through I came across these three designs.

Now I've mentioned before that the Back to the Future films are some of my all time favourite movies from when I was younger. Fortunately they have also stood the test of time quite well and so I still enjoy watching them -- hence I quite like the t-shirt designs. This isn't, however, a blog about t-shirts.

A long time ago (on a web page far back in my browser history) I read an article about how good a spaceship the time machine in the films would have to be just to cope with the distance travelled ignoring the time displacement. Because the Earth rotates on it's axis and moves around the sun, time travel at a fixed location (i.e. the Twin Pine Mall car park) involves not just figuring out how to travel through time but also how to move very fast to stay in the same place.

I won't go into all the maths (the article is a fun read so go read it) suffice to say that it would have to travel a lot faster than the heap of junk car that John DeLorean actually tried to sell!