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!

Friday, 14 August 2009

More Comics

As I haven't been slacking off this week (lots of work and house sorting stuff) I haven't had the time to think about doing long interesting blog posts. So to keep things ticking over I thought you might like a couple more comics.

Firstly in relation to a previous post on the combination of a knife and fork we have...

And for completeness here is the other Dilbert strip that I have framed on my study wall

Normal service will hopefully resume soon!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Slacking Off

Whilst I would never readily admit to slacking off, both of the following cartoons have applied to me in the past -- and for most scientists you can easily replace compiling with running experiment.

I'm not sure if one is funnier than the other although I do have a framed copy of the Dilbert strip on my study wall.

Evicting the Squatters

Well today was eviction day. You may remember that we had squatters (i.e. wasps building a nest in a bird box) in the garden. When they were minding their own business I wasn't too bothered by them. On Saturday, however, I was cutting the grass when one of them launched an unprovoked attack leaving me with a very sore arm.

So I called the council on Monday to arrange for them to be moved and I was told no problem they will be shifted on Wednesday. Well the guy just came. He spent longer suiting up than he did destroying the nest. In fact he was so fast I didn't have the chance to take a photo to accompany this post. Hopefully we won't have any more problems, although apparently if they come back and start nesting again this year then the council will send someone out free of charge to have a second go -- hopefully that won't be necessary!

Monday, 10 August 2009

I-Plate Update

Well it's been over three days since I fitted the I-Plate to my phone socket and I thought I'd give you all an update. Before fitting the I-Plate I did a number of tests of the speed of my broadband using the Broadband Speed Checker (I did try embedding the speed checker in this post but for some reason it wouldn't work even when I followed the instructions, ah well worth a try). Whilst the numbers varied a bit they were always around the 5200 Kbps mark. Adding the I-Plate didn't seem to make any difference although the instructions did say that it might take 48 hours before any improvement.

So I've just tested it again and I'm now getting around 6200 Kbps -- an improvement of 1 Mbps! Given that I'm on an "up to" 8Mbps service and was told by BT that the most my line would actually support was 6Mbps I'm quite impressed. Added to the speed improvement the broadband has been very reliable since I added the I-Plate -- no slow downs requiring me to re-boot the router and no disconnections. All-in-all I'm extremely impressed by such a small piece of kit that only cost me £1.20!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Too Many Mammals!

Disclaimer: No mammals were hurt in the writing of this blog post!

For quite a while I've been looking for the opportunity to have a little fun with the papers I write at work. They usually have very boring titles and the content is often not of interest to anyone outside the small research community that attends the conference. So the chance to brighten up a paper was not to be missed.

I did some work late last year with three colleagues on improving the diversity of the output of automatic term recognition systems -- sounds boring right? Basically we were applying a re-ranking approach to a list of terms so that the top x terms were more diverse than before (clear as mud I know). Anyway, we were using a corpus of Wikipedia documents about wildlife so many of the terms were the names of animals, birds, fish etc. In the first version of the software the list seemed to be heavily weighted towards whales and so I was going to be really controversial and suggest that there were Too Many Whales. Unfortunately after some fine tuning of the baseline things settled down a bit and so the paper title became Too Many Mammals -- to be completely truthful it became Too Many Mammals: Improving the Diversity of Automatically Recognized Terms, which will be presented at RANLP in September.

I'm still aiming to improve on this as I know that it is nowhere near as good as the classic paper on the Big Bang Theory by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow or the fantastic question answering paper A Sys Called Quanda.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Fitting the I-Plate

Well my I-Plate arrived today so I now have a slightly fatter phone socket. It took me longer to find a suitable screw driver than it did to fit it!

As yet I'm not seeing any really speed difference but the instructions do say that it can take up to 48 hours for any improvements to be noticed so I'll check again after the weekend and let you know.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Would You Like Faster Broadband?

Ever since we moved house the broadband hasn't been as reliable as I would like. Periodically it has dropped so low I would have been better off on dial-up! Now I don't know what the problem is but I would like to find a solution.

It turns out that one common cause of slow broadband is noise on the line caused by a redundant part of the phone cable (for those in the know it is the bell wire that is the culprit). BT sell something they call the I-Plate (what is with the fascination of adding I to the beginning of product names?) that is supposed to filter out this noise. Apparently they have been selling the I-Plate for over a year but I've never heard of it before.

The I-Plate can only be fitted to certain types of phone socket (for those who like product codes then it's the NTE5 type master socket) that look like the one in the picture.

What is interesting is that as of July they started to make them available to BT Total Broadband customers (which includes me) for just the price of the P&P -- at the current moment that is just £1.20. If you qualify you can request yours through this short questionnaire, if not then you can buy one direct from BT through their online shop.

So given I have the right kind of phone socket and am a BT Total Broadband customer I've ordered mine and I'll let you know if it makes any difference once it has arrived.

A Very British BBQ

On Saturday we had a very British BBQ:
  • There were sausages.
  • There were burgers.
  • There was copious quantities of beer (Yorkshire Square to be precise).
  • There was a lot of rain!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Forgetting To Change The Clocks

I always remember to change my watch when I travel abroad or when we switch from BST to GMT (or vice-versa) but I nearly always forget to change the clock on the digital cameras. This usually doesn't cause too many problems other than annoying me when I realise I've forgotten just after taking a few hundred photos.

When I put together the highlights programme for the British Formula 1 race I was using photos from two separate cameras and so needed to ensure that the clocks were in sync. Unfortunately they were both out by an hour and about five minutes different from each other. So to put the photos in order I had to find a way of easily changing the timestamps.

After quite a long period of browsing the web I came across a really easy tool for doing almost anything with the EXIF information embedded in the JPEG files including altering the timestamps. The tool is unimaginatively called ExifTool. I actually used two commands, one to fix the timestamps and then one to rename the files based on the time they were taken. This allowed me to then put the photos from both cameras into the same folder and hey presto they were in chronological order and easy to import into the video editing software.