Friday, 17 December 2010

Comprehension Test: The Answers

Okay, so here are the answers to the short comprehension test I posted the other day.

According to the news article...
  1. The accident took place in Queens
  2. Four vehicles were involved; a bus, a truck and two vans
  3. Five people were taken to hospital
  4. None of the injuries were life-threatening so we can assume there were no fatalities.
Now that was quite straightforward apart from the fact that the BBC couldn't count. If you listen to the voice over they clearly state that there were three vehicles involved yet you can easily see four in the video.

To make matters worse they even had the descriptive text for the article stating that there were three vehicles. Although after about forty-eight hours someone did eventually change the text.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Scenes From A Beijing Street

Okay so this post has ended up a little out of sequence. To get to Tian'an Men on the last day I was in Beijing I (well me and three others) walked to the nearest subway station to catch a train to the square rather than taking a taxi. These were all street scene photos that I took during that walk to the station.

Comprehension Test

Watch this short news article and then answer the following questions.
  1. Where did the accident take place?
  2. How many vehicles were involved?
  3. How many people were injured?
  4. Were there any fatalities?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Tian'an Men

As you may remember from one of my earlier posts on Beijing we got to see Tian'an Men Square after dinner one evening, but the gate, after which the square takes it's name, wasn't lit up. Well on the last full day I had in Beijing I spent five hours walking around the Forbidden City (more on that later) which you enter through Tian'an Men.

The rather prominent portrait hanging from the gate is of Mao Zedong, who proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China from the balcony of the gate on the 1st of October 1949.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Proper Snow

Like the rest of the country we've had snow this week. Not a light dusting but proper snow. This was the view from the front door this morning just after Bryony had left to go to work.

I'm not sure exactly how much snow we have had but, Bryony stuck a tape-measure in a sheltered non-drifting bit and got a depth of about 36cm and on a trip to the shops I miss-judged the edge of the pavement and ended up with snow above my knees. It's certainly a lot worse than it was in January. In fact I don't think I've ever seen so much snow in Yorkshire before.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

LarKC, The Movie

On a number of occasions I've tried to explain to people what it is that I do for a living. Telling people that I'm a University Researcher working in Computer Science gives most people all the information they need -- in other words they are bored already! Some people, however, make the fatal mistake of asking questions such as so what do you actually do? what is your research about? This post is for those people.

One of the projects I'm currently working on is called LarKC, which stands for the Large Knowledge Collider. As part of the dissemination activities the project funded a short movie to try and explain what we are doing. So heat up the popcorn, turn down the lights and enjoy "LarKC, The Movie"!

So now you know. Although I'm not entirely sure that will have cleared things up for anyone outside the semantic web community.

The LarKC platform can be used for many different, large scale processing tasks. I'm working on one of the use cases along with people from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Specifically, we are looking into ways of using previous biomedical publications to improve the efficiency (and hence save money) of genome wide association studies.

I bet you wish you'd never asked!

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Great Wall Of China

When I initially found out that there was going to be a project meeting in Beijing I knew that I wanted to go and experience such a different culture. When I found out that there was going to be a trip to the Great Wall I knew that I'd make sure I got to go!

Whilst the idea that the wall can be seen from space, and even the moon, is nothing more than a myth (seeing the wall from the moon would be the same as seeing a human hair at a distance of two miles), it is a wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In other words, it is well worth visiting!

If you visit the wall from Beijing then it is more than likely that you will be taken to Badaling. In many places the Great Wall has disappeared or is badly in need of restoration, at Badaling, however, it has undergone substantial restoration and is well maintained over a very long distance. The wall follows the natural landscape in order to increase it's defensive capabilities and at Badaling this involves going steeply up the hillside on either side of the valley, giving visitors fantastic views of a long stretch of the wall.

The downside to building up valley sides is that walking along the wall can be very difficult. Some of the sections are exceedingly steep. Some bits are stepped and some are just ramps at about 40 degrees. My calf muscles certainly knew I'd been walking along the wall by the time I returned to the bus!

Apparently there is a Chinese saying which translates as; He who doesn’t reach the Great Wall is not a true man. Having now stood on the wall I guess I'm a true man!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Additional Material

I saw this on the back of a book I read whilst in Beijing and I'm a little confused. I'm guessing my questions is: compared with what?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Air Quality: Crazy Bad

I wasn't originally intending to do a whole post about the air quality in Beijing (it is bad) but I just read a news article that I thought worth sharing. Apparently the US embassy in Beijing monitors the air quality as they believe that the Chinese government always under-reports the problem. Last Friday, the day I left Beijing, the air quality index hit 500 and the embassy initially reported this as "crazy bad"! I'm not entirely sure which index this is measured against (each country seems to have their own way of measuring), but if we assume this is against the Chinese metric, then according to Wikipedia, severely polluted is anything above 300 which is described as: Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities.

I don't have any photos from Friday, so I'm illustrating this post with one from Thursday when the pollution wasn't quite as bad. Here you can see the view from Tian'an Men looking across the road into the square. On a clear day you would be able to see other buildings through the smog in the background.

When we left on Friday morning and headed to the airport the pollution was so bad that you couldn't see from one side of the expressway (eight lanes in total) to the other, and we didn't even have to go through the centre of the city.

I haven't suffered from asthma for over a decade now but walking around central Beijing on Thursday (more on this in a later post) I could have done with an inhaler to help my lungs work better. I'm still coughing and finding it difficult to breath properly and I've been back in the UK for three days. Hopefully my trip hasn't reduced my life expectancy by more than a few days, but I'm surprised that anyone can live for any length of time in Beijing.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Fresh Food

I'm usually quite happy to try new food, but I draw the line at food that is still moving. In all fairness they would have cooked the scorpions had I wanted to buy a kebab (cooking renders the sting ineffective) but the fact that they were still wriggling kind of put me off. I suppose at least you could guarantee that the food was fresh!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Vibrating Luggage

Well I'm now safely back in the UK (actually arrived back last night but have need to catch up on sleep). I'll post more about my time in China later but I just wanted to say a quick thank you to Lufthansa for not destroying my luggage.

I checked my suitcase in Beijing for the two flights to Manchester via Frankfurt. About 10 minutes before boarding the plane in Frankfurt I was called to the desk. When I went over I was asked to accompany one of the staff as my luggage was vibrating and they were not willing to put it on the plane until I'd satisfied them there was no security problem. As soon as she said it was vibrating I knew exactly what the problem was; my electric razor. It's not the first time it has accidentally turned on in my luggage but it's definitely the first time it's had airport security worried. So I followed the member of staff into a secure area where my suitcase was sat at the bottom of a set of steps being watched from a distance by a member of the ground crew. I unlocked and opened my suitcase, found the razor and turned it off, which satisfied everyone concerned.

I'm sure if this had happened in the UK the case would have been torn into or blown up just to be on the safe side. So my thanks go to the sensible staff in Frankfurt!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tian'an Men Square

So after feasting on duck we were taken on a brief walk aorund the area near Tian'an Men Square. The guide started by walking us down Qian Men Dajie (Emperor's Avenue). I'm not sure what this street was like before the Olympics were held in Beijing, but it is now a soulless shopping street. Everything had been torn down and re-built for the Olympics -- the architecture was different but not particularly interesting.

For me, The highlight of the walk was my first glimpse of the (in)famous Tian'an Men Square,.
Unfortunately it is closed at night so we had to make do with simply looking in across the barrier. Apparently the square is closed at night because it costs too much to police it to the level the state requires.

What you can see in the photo is actually just the south end of the square. On the left is Zhengyang Men whilst on the right is Mao's Mausoleum. The famous Tian'an Men ('men' means gate) from which Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic, and from which the square takes it's name, is actually at the north end of the square. Unfortunately it wasn't lit up and so I didn't manage to get any good photos.

The project meeting I'm in Beijing for actually finished at lunch time and I don't fly home until Friday (it was cheaper to stay longer than to take an earlier flight) so I'm hoping to do quite a lot of exploring in the two days I have left. Tomorrow there is an organized tour to see the Great Wall, and on Thursday I intend to try and visit the Forbidden City and Tian'an Men square during daylight. Hopefully this will give me lots more to blog about.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Local Delicacy: Peking Duck

So did anyone have a guess as to where I am this week? I'll give you a hint: Peking Duck is the local delicacy. Yes I'm spending the week in Beijing, China.

Last night was the social meal and we went out for proper Peking Duck! We went to the famous Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant in the center of Beijing and had a fantastic meal.

I'm not exactly sure what all of the things I ate were, but I can recognise roast duck pancakes and (as our waitress named them) "Beijing Hamburgers". I did photograph my attempts at making pancakes  but the photo in this post shows the better examples the waitress made up to show us how, which included rolling the pancake using chopsticks (I rolled mine by hand). Incredible Dexterity!

As well as serving fabulous food the restaurant was interesting in a number of other ways. There are lots of photos of famous politicians who have dined there when visiting Beijing, including George Bush (the first one), Nixon and Ted Heath. But more interestingly was the size of the restaurant. We were served in room 502. Just like a hotel the first number dictated the floor we were on. It really was huge.

To walk of a little of dinner we then had a short guided walk around the area near Tian'an Men Square, but more on that in a later post.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3. Hopefully you can all hear me?

I'm away with work this week and I've had to jump through some hoops in order to access my blog. I think everything should work but I thought it wise to check before I wrote a long post only to find I couldn't publish.

So where am I you ask? I'll get to that in a later post but for now see if you can at least work out the country given the labeling on the coke can.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Last Sunday I spent a very cold one hour forty minutes waiting for a tin bath to appear! The Tin Bath "Extra" steam service was due to pass through Penistone station at approximately 14:45. This is the same steam excursion that I missed seeing last year. So I was out on the side of the railway for about 14:30 waiting for it to pass. I had my little camera and the gorillapod set up on the fence to record video as it went by and me main camera at the ready.

The first sign of a problem was a guy passing on a bike who said that he had heard that it had been delayed by about 10 minutes. Then they let the normal service from Penistone to Sheffield leave at 14:50 blocking the single track section to Barnsley meaning the earliest it could arrive would be about 15:30. So I decided to wait.

It then became apparent from talking to other people that it had been seriously delayed in the morning due to the derailment of another train. And that it hadn't even left Sheffield yet. There was also a rumour that they may send it by a different line to try and make up time.

When they let the service train leave for Sheffield at 15:55 I decided to give it up as a bad job and go home. The only photo I'd taken was the test shot to check I could shoot over the fence.

By the time I'd walked back to the house I was frozen and the light was starting to go. It wasn't long before it got dark and I assumed that it must have gone a different way. Then at 16:50 I heard the unmistakable sound of a steam train. Of course all I could see was smoke rising up from behind the trees at the back of the garden -- exactly the same as last year. I'm assuming the people on the train were annoyed as well as they wouldn't have had much of a view in the dark.

Ah well maybe next year it will be third time lucky and I'll finally get to see more than just the smoke as a steam train passes through Penistone.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Penistone to Mallaig Line

Some of you may remember the following two things 1) there is a railway line running across the back of our garden and 2) last October a steam engine pulled a train past the house. Given the gradient from Barnsley to Penistone it actually required two LMS Black Five locomotives to pull the train. Unfortunately all I saw was the smoke from engines 45231 (The Sherwood Forester) and 45407 (The Lancashire Fusilier).

The first half of our recent holiday in Scotland was based around seeing lots of bits of the highlands that we hadn't seen before, and, doing it in style.

The stylish way to see the countryside between Fort William and Mallaig has to be the Jacobite Express. We didn't get to look at the engine in Fort William because we were running a little late and wanted to get a good seat and so it was only when we got off in Mallaig that we found out we had been traveling behind The Sherwood Forester.

If you haven't been to Mallaig before then I'll just say that it seems a wonderful little fishing community that serves what has to be the best set of fish and chips I've eaten in a really long time.

We didn't take the train back to Fort William but were instead collected by a coach so that we could spend longer visiting some of the places we had seen from the train, specifically Glenfinnan with it's viaduct and monument to the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The World's First Air Purifying Dress?

Sorry that it's been a while since the last post, but we've been away on holiday and whilst I've been doing lots of things that warranted a post I just haven't had the time. Now of course I'm back at work and don't have the time either! Anyway I'll try and write some posts about the holiday over the next week or so but first...

On Monday this appeared just a short walk from the train station in Sheffield (If you can't read the sign then click the image for a nice large version that you should be able to read properly).

Is it art, fashion, science, a combination, or just really strange? I can't quite make up my mind!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Penistone's New Market

For good/bad (delete as appropriate) Penistone is now a fully developed Tesco Town. As part of the development though the whole market area is being re-done and this includes the building of a new market hall.

Now when I heard this I assumed it would be some cheep stone/brick affair what I didn't expect was a traditional oak beamed crook barn! Unfortunately due to the safety fence I couldn't get really good photos of the development but if you are interested the company building the hall, Carpenter Oak Ltd, have a really good page showing how the work is progressing.

Once the building is finished, around the end of October, I'll go have a proper look around.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Double Negative, Double Jeopardy

Now I don't really know anything about this death penalty case other than what I've read in the news article. However, I'm tempted to agree that she probably wasn't well defended in the original trial if her lawyer and his staff know as much about the law as they do about the English language. When recently contacted the lawyer's office responded with "He's not making no comment." Personally I think that abusing the English language like that should probably be a crime!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Observational Skills, Or Lack Thereof

We've been living in our new house now for over a year, yet it wasn't until a few weeks ago, when cleaning the bathroom, that I noticed the taps didn't match! For those of you with similar observational skills to me, the tap on the left has a squared end whilst the one on the right is rounded.

We've had a fair number of guests/visitors over the year but I've yet to find anyone else who has noticed that they don't match. I'm guessing that given they work no one has really looked too closely at them.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Code from an English Coffee Drinker

Whilst I know that most of the regular readers of this blog are computer literate I'm acutely aware that most of you are not programmers and are easily bored by some of my posts (like this one and this one). So I've decided to start yet-another-blog so that I can write about software development without driving away those of you who regularly read this blog.

So from now on I'll be blogging my tales in the usual place (i.e. right here) but code will appear on Code from an English Coffee Drinker. I'll still blog here about new pieces of software that I think you will all be interested in, but my new blog will give me a place to write about the underlying code. If software development is your thing, then head on over and have a read.

Friday, 10 September 2010

100% Steril

Spotted in the window of a tattoo parlour in Innsbruck, Austria.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

My E-Mail Is Back!

Finally, just over 48 hours after I last had an e-mail they have started to arrive once more. It looks as if they are trickling in out of order, probably as a backup is restored, but at least now I can send e-mails and receive any news ones.

Of course I've not been distracted by e-mail for two days but I'm sure dealing with all those e-mails will take up quite a bit of today!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Thirty-Six Hours And Counting

It's now been more than thirty-six hours since I last received an e-mail. At first it was quite liberating to not be distracted every few minutes by a new e-mail. Now it's just weird. I think I might actually be suffering from withdrawal. It's getting so bad that instead of checking my e-mail every few minutes I'm checking the Universities computing status page.

Apparently it is now fixed for 80% of staff but I must be in the 20% who won't get e-mail back until at least tomorrow as I still get an error message when I try to connect to the mail server.

Ah well, such is life!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Lots of Presents!

If you sent me a present in this pile then THANK YOU! I'll e-mail you all separately when the e-mail is working again.

A Day Without E-Mail

I haven't had any e-mail since 7:30(ish) this morning. Apparently there is a problem with the Universities e-mail store that might not get fixed today. It's amazing just how much work you can get done when you don't have e-mail distracting you every few minutes -- there are of course plenty of other distractions on the internet.

Anyway, I've no idea how long the problem will last but if there are any friends/family out there who need to contact me urgently then don't send me an e-mail as you won't get an instant reply like you usually would.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Asian Elephant Vocalizations

Periodically at work we get e-mails telling us of new corpora that we can order as a member of the LDC. Usually these aren't particularly interesting e-mails but a few days ago there was an announcement of a new corpus of (yes you guessed it) Asian Elephant Vocalizations. I leave you with the official announcement of this fascinating corpus!

[This corpus] consists of 57.5 hours of audio recordings of vocalizations by Asian Elephants (/Elephas maximus/) in the Uda Walawe National Park, Sri Lanka, of which 31.25 hours have been annotated. The collection and annotation of the recordings was conducted and overseen by Shermin de Silva, of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Biology; voice recording field notes are of Shermin de Silva and Ashoka Ranjeewa. The recordings primarily feature adult female and juvenile elephants. Existing knowledge of acoustic communication in elephants is based primarily on African species (/Loxodonta africana/ and /Loxodonta cyclotis/). There has been comparatively less study of communication in Asian elephants.

This corpus is intended to enable researchers in acoustic communication to evaluate acoustic features and repertoire diversity of the recorded population. Of particular interest is whether there may be regional dialects that differ among Asian elephant populations in the wild and in captivity. A second interest is in whether structural commonalities exist between this and other species that shed light on underlying social and ecological factors shaping communication systems.

Data were collected from May, 2006 to December, 2007. Observations were performed by vehicle during park hours from 0600 to 1830 h. Most recordings of vocalizations were made using an Earthworks QTC50 microphone shock-mounted inside a Rycote Zeppelin windshield, via a Fostex FR-2 field recorder (24-bit sample size, sampling rate 48 kHz). Recordings were initiated at the start of a call with a 10-s pre-record buffer so that the entire call was captured and loss of rare vocalizations minimized. This was made possible with the 'pre-record' feature of the Fostex, which records continuously, but only saves the file with a 10-second lead once the 'record' button is depressed.

Certain audio files were manually annotated, to the extent possible, with call type, caller id, and miscellaneous notes. For call type annotation, there are three main categories of vocalizations: those that show clear fundamental frequencies (periodic), those that do not (a-periodic), and those that show periodic and a-periodic regions as at least two distinct segments. Calls were identified as belonging to one of 14 categories. Annotations were made using the Praat TextGrid Editor , which allows spectral analysis and annotation of audio files with overlapping events. Annotations were based on written and audio-recorded field notes, and in some cases video recordings. Miscellaneous notes are free-form, and include such information as distance from source, caller identity certainty, and accompanying behavior.

Broken Applications

So I've written my own fair share of bugs into software in the past but I hate it when I come up against bugs in software that I have absolutely no control over. Unfortunately these bugs might bite you as well as me.

I've released a number of bits of software through this blog that use Java Web Start to make it easier for you to download and install them. Unfortunately there appears to be a number of bugs which result in the installed shortcuts breaking and even causing the launch link on the web page to not work if you have previously run the application.

Well I upgraded PhotoGrid yesterday and everything broke. I'm assuming it may have broken for everyone else as well. It took me a while to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it so I thought I'd write it up here in case I've broken it for everyone else.

We can fix the problems using the Web Start cache viewer, which you can load by issuing the command javaws -viewer (on Windows you can enter this command into the Run... dialog box accessed from the Start Menu), and which should look like...

Now select the application that won't start and click the red cross button to uninstall it. Even though it will now have been uninstalled Web Start still remembers some details which can be a problem. So in the drop down box at the top left switch to viewing Deleted Applications. A similar list will appear and go through the same steps (select and the red cross) to fully delete the application. You should now be able to re-install without any problems.

The problem only seems to arise when I have to edit the JNLP file that is used to launch the applications. Updating the actual code works flawlessly. On the plus side it is quite rare for me to need to edit the JNLP files and so I'm hopeful that once the applications are working again they should continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Apologies for any inconvenience and I hope it doesn't put you off using the bits of software I write.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I consider myself to be fairly well read and as such have a fairly large vocabulary. It is unusual, therefore, for me to come across not only a word I haven't heard before but one for which I can't even work out a meaning from it's context. The word in question... quinquennium.

As readers of my photography blog will already know we recently had a day out to Helmsley in North Yorkshire. As well as enjoying the fine views of the castle and the wildlife in the walled garden we spent an enjoyable half an hour browsing around an antiquarian and secondhand bookshop, not something I've ever really done before1. Whilst looking through the Yorkshire History section one book jumped out at me: The Story of A Modern University; A History of the University of Sheffield. Given that between us Bryony and I have graduated three times from the University I decided to buy the book without even looking at it's contents.

In 2005 the University celebrated it's centenary and as part of that celebration published a book, The Steel City Scholars, which documented the first one hundred years of the University. As someone who enjoys history I pre-ordered a copy without even thinking about it, and while I've flicked through it I haven't read it in any detail. The book I bought in Helmsley was published in 1955 to celebrate the first fifty years of the University. It is a very different book.

The Steel City Scholars draws on many first hand accounts to given an accessible and highly interesting account of the University's first century. In contrast the book I found in that secondhand bookshop is a scholarly work. I wouldn't necessarily describe it as dry but I think I'm even less likely to read this one in detail. Nevertheless I'm glad I bought it, if for no other reason than it taught me a new word; quinquennium. The second paragraph of the introduction reads:
The period with which it deals begins with the foundation of the institutions which were later to unite to form the University, and ends with the summer of 1952. This latter date is convenient not only for reasons of publication but particularly because it coincides with the end of an eventful Vice-Chancellorship, and also with the end of a financial quinquennium during which, largely by progressive increases of government grants, the University's activities and resources had been multiplied beyond all the imaginings of earlier times.
So here we have a word which I had never heard before and had no idea of it's meaning. In retrospect I could have worked out that it was related to time but without a classical education involving Latin I think I would have been hard pressed to figure out that it means a period of five years.

I'm actually tempted to keep reading to see if I learn any more new words2!

1 As a child I remember spending lots of times in second hand bookshops but we were always looking in vain for one specific book never just browsing for fun. My Dad is an avid fan of Nigel Tranter and I believe now has a copy of every book he has ever written. Whilst I wouldn't describe myself as from a poor background, my parents were always careful with money (my Dad is, after all, a Yorkshireman) and so he would wait until a new novel was published in paperback before buying it. Unfortunately one novel, The Lion Let Loose, was never published in paperback and by the time we realised this we couldn't find a hardback copy anywhere, hence the trips to secondhand bookshops. Eventually he wrote to the publishers who agreed to republish the book in paperback and so our trips to secondhand book shops dried up.

2 The last time I came across a new word was again in an old book. In fact it wasn't a new word but a new meaning. I was reading Bryony's Grandmother's favourite book, The Roadmender by Michael Fairless, which starts I have attained my ideal: I am a roadmender some would say stonebreaker. Both titles are correct, but one is more pregnant than the other. Now I know that there are multiple meanings for the word pregnant but I had no idea what the meaning was in this context. Fortunately Bryony's Dad (Scriptor Senex) not only gave me a copy of The Roadmender but also a copy of Barclay's Dictionary which dates to the mid to late 19th century. The dictionary is fantastic, deserves a post of it's own, and defines pregnant as teeming; breeding; big with young. Fruitful; or causing fertility. Full of consequence. Evident; clear. Easy to produce. I'm assuming that the relevant definition is full of consequence which I'd never heard of or used before.

3 I can't believe I wrote a blog post requiring footnotes!

Friday, 13 August 2010


I'm not usually a fan of modern art, but I recently saw a series of images that I really liked. Some of you will know that earlier this year I made a number of trips to London as part of a project I was involved with at work. Specifically I was visiting the Biomdical Research Centre for Mental Health at Denmark Hill. On the walls of the centre were a series of pictures that had been specially commissioned for the building.

On one of my trips I eventually spotted the sign that described the series, which is called Bloom and is by the artist Magda Kaggwa. The description reads: Magdalena Kaggwa's objective for the BRC Nucleus commission was to produce a series of six prints portraying the human skull gradually consumed by flowers, intensifying with each image and progressing from a bud in the initial stage to a full flowering bloom which engulfs the brain area in the final print. This concept aims to convey the advancement of mental illness in an individual through the invasion of the skull by flowers, exploring the beauty and complexity of the mind and confronting the psychiatric and social stigmas that inhabit perceptions of mental health issues whilst encouraging a deeper and more sympathetic understanding.

I'm not sure I buy into all that but I do know that I really like the series. My favourite (and the image I used in this post) is number 4, you can see the whole sequence here.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Following Prototype Through The LightWindow

So I've finally got the new layout mostly working. It's a combination of the XML layout from my book blog and the original style sheet from the HTML version of this blog. In other word, if you were to take a look behind the curtain you'd find that it's a real mess! Anyway now that I have something that kind of works I can slowly tweak it and tidy things up, hopefully, without anyone noticing.

There were a few problems with the conversion to the new layout, but one in particular, caused me no end of problems and so I thought I'd explain the problem and detail the solution. As a bonus if you read through this you might just understand the title of this post!

One of the reasons for upgrading the blog template was that I couldn't use any of the widgets with the HTML layout, and I wanted to be able to add a blog list and the followers widget. So once I'd replicated the old layout I started to play with the widgets. The blog list worked a treat and so you can now see the last post from my other blogs under the "I'm Also..." heading, but when I added the followers widget I just got a blank space. I knew the problem wasn't with the followers widget as such as it was working fine on one of my other blogs. Given that behind the scenes most of the widgets use a fair amount of JavaScript I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that one of the scripts I was loading was interfering with the followers widget. The problem was which one.

As well as any JavaScript loaded by any of the other widgets on the page or added by Blogger I also load nine other JavaScript files in the head section of the template. These provide support for embedding QuickTime videos and Google Maps, providing syntax highlighting on code snippets and the fancy popup display when you click on an image. Some of these are a single JavaScript file, others require multiple files to be specified, and some even dynamically load extra files as needed. Not knowing which of these was the problem I started by removing everything and low and behold the followers widget appeared correctly.

So I added back the JavaScript includes one at a time until the followers widget disappeared. This led me to the culprit -- prototype.js. Apparently "Prototype is a JavaScript Framework that aims to ease development of dynamic web applications". Now I don't use Prototype directly within the layout but it is used by the LightWindow script that I use for showing the large version of photos. I didn't know exactly what the problem was so I tried upgrading to the latest version of Prototype (v1.6) but that didn't help. I then tried the release candidate for the next version and the followers widget appeared. Unfortunately the LightWindow script didn't work properly -- I think there is an issue determining the correct size to scale the image to but I couldn't track down the bug to fix it myself. So...

I then went hunting to see if this was a known problem that I could fix in some other way. Of course not knowing how the followers widget works internally didn't help. Anyway after a lot of false starts I eventually found that adding the following JavaScript to the page just before the followers widget fixed the problem (it really does have to be just before the followers widget or it doesn't seem to help, I added it, inside script tags, at the end of the archives widget to get it in the right place):
window.JSON = {
parse: function(st) {
return st.evalJSON();

stringify: function(obj) {
return Object.toJSON(obj);
Apparently the problem stems from a bug in prototype that messes up the JSON parser used by the followers widget.

So if you find your followers widget disappears after adding a new widget or some JavaScript to your layout it might be worth seeing if this fixes the problem before you spend two days trying to hunt down the solution.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Upgrading The Layout

If you remember a few months back I had to move the blog to a new URL because blogger were withdrawing the FTP publishing support I'd been using.

Moving away from FTP publishing meant that I could, in theory, start using the more modern XML based blog layouts. At the time I moved the blog I decided to do one thing at once and so left the design as it was. The old HTML based layout doesn't allow for the customization/widgets that you can have with the new layouts and so the ability to customize the layout is limited. I've finally decided to take the plunge and upgrade the layout. Unfortunately I basically have to start from scratch so you may find the layout changes every time you visit for the next day/week or so while I get things sorted. Hopefully you'll still be able to find everything!

Saturday, 31 July 2010


This is the third, and final, post about our recent trip to Herefordshire. On the Sunday morning we drove south from Fownhope and parked by the river just north of the small hamlet of Hole-in-the-Wall (I wonder if it has anything to do with the book/film Stardust?). We walked along the road and by the river and saw a number of interesting things; damsel flies, buzzards, sheep, mayflies, mistletoe. Unfortunately I failed to get photos (good or otherwise) of most of the things we saw.

The one exception was this Scarlet Tiger moth which sat perfectly still while I shoved a camera right up to it -- the macro mode on the camera focuses well at just a couple of centimeters.

I've no idea how many species of birds and insects we saw over the two days but I'm guessing it was quite a lot and certainly helped to make it a memorable weekend.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Since the beginning of the year, and after reading A Village Lost and Found, I've been dabbling a little in 3D photography. From the results so far (first attempt, second attempt) I'm certainly no T. R. Williams, but it has opened up a range of interesting photography ideas that I'd never previously considered.

Taking good sequential stereo views (where you take the view for one eye and then move and take the second view) is difficult enough but combining them correctly to produce a good stereocard is as difficult, if not more so. You have to align the images both vertically and horizontally, and crop out sections that don't appear in both views. When you have two aligned views you still need to decided on which 3D format you want to display the images; parallel, cross-eyed, red-cyan, amber-blue ...

Of course, as with previous problems, the answer, as far as I'm concerned, is to write a piece of software to either 1) do the work for me or 2) make life as easy as possible. So without further ado let me show a screenshot of 3DAssembler.

This shows the side-by-side editing mode. There is also an overlayed editing mode as well as a preview mode to see the final 3D result. 3DAssembler currently supports four 3D formats; parallel and cross-eyed for freeviewing (i.e. without any special glasses) and two anaglyph formats, red-cyan and amber-blue. Lots of people have red-cyan glasses kicking around (I have four pairs from the Shrek +3D DVD, as well as a pair that came with the programme for The War of the Worlds live show) that you can use with 3DAssembler. The amber-blue anaglyphs can be viewed using ColorCode 3D glasses, which are becoming a popular way of presenting 3D content as they give better colour re-production than red-cyan (I have a pair of ColorCode 3D glasses I got free with a TV guide so I could watch a 3D episode of Chuck). Given that pictures are often easier to understand than words (certainly my words) here are examples of the four output formats for you to try viewing; parallel, cross-eyed, red-cyan and amber-blue respectively.

So if that has whetted your appetite for 3D photography you can download 3DAssembler and have a play around. If you haven't any photos to try it with then there are some example photos included in the download.

If you have any comments/suggestions about 3DAssembler or ideas for future versions then please leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

v2.2.1 - 09/12/2014: Re-packaged so that there is an easy download available given that it is almost impossible to launch a Java programme from within a modern web browser.
v2.1.0 - 04/12/2010: You can now create portrait 3D views without having to use an external program to rotate the images. This release also includes a fix for a memory leak which should make the application more responsive.
v2.0.0 - 11/09/2010: You can now use zooming to help align the images properly, you can also now specify the exact values for the three alignment options using the advanced ribbon. The final image can also be cropped which helps to remove items that only appear in one view. There is also a custom anaglyph option where you can specify how the RGB channels should be produced. Added support for importing and exporting stereo versions of JPEG (*.jps) and PNG files (*.pns). There are also lots of performance enhancements and bug fixes.
v1.4.0 - 20/08/2010: Mostly bug fixes and a few bits of updated artwork. Also you should now find that 3da files are linked to the application so you can open a saved project easily.
v1.3.0 - 07/08/2010:You can now configure the auto layout feature based on the scene type and restrict the directions in which the images are aligned. There are also quite a few performance enhancements which should make the application work a lot faster. I've also opened up the source code -- you can get all the details from the Hudson project.
v1.2.0 - 22/07/2010: Quite a few bug fixes and error handling but the main improvement is that it is much easier to now move the images around using sliders instead of buttons.
v1.1.0 - 18/07/2010: A few bug fixes, but I've also added a green-magenta anaglyph format which should work with TrioScopics3D glasses (I've got four pairs that came with the Coraline DVD). I don't think this format is as good as either red-cyan or amber-blue but I've added it for completeness. Here is the same example as before in this new format:
v1.0.0 - 16/07/2010: First public release

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Wessington Pasture

After wandering around Broadmoor Common we all jumped back in the cars and made a second attempt at finding Wessington Pasture. This time we were successful. The reserve is a mixture of woodland and open pasture and we saw quite a lot of wildlife.

Marbled WhitesAn Aggressive SpiderCommon Green Grasshopper

We didn't see much in the wooded section (apart from a quick flash of a green woodpecker) but again we saw lots of Marbled Whites in the pasture. In fact one of the first things we spotted was a pair of mating Marbled whites. The nicest thing about seeing this pair is that we can tell the difference between the sexes -- the female has slightly orange tinted underwing.

When I got bored photographing the Marbled Whites I moved on to a rather aggressive spider that Bryony had found. No idea what species of spider it is but if you got anywhere near it's funnel like web it would shoot straight out at you. On one occasion it nearly jumped onto the camera lens. Having previously been bitten by a spider (slight tinkling and a little swelling) I decided to escape before it could do me any damage.

The last new thing I photographed at the pasture was a charming little Common Green Grasshopper (or at least that is what I think it is from looking at Bryony's field guide). He was very patient and just sat there for ages while I took a number of photos some, like this one, using the camera's macro function about 2cm from him! On the way back to the car I spotted only my second Harlequin Ladybird to add to the day's species list.

Note that if you visit the pasture please don't park on the road. If you open the gate you can drive down to a small car park. We left the cars on the road as it wasn't obvious there was a car park and came back to find a pleasant note from the farmer asking us not to park on the road in the future.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Broadmoor Common

Over the weekend, whilst staying at The Bowens in Fownhope, we did a number of short walks and took an awful lot of photos (616 to be precise -- or, in old money, just over 17 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film). I thought that rather than writing one long post I'd do a number of shorter posts one for each of the places we visited.

On the Saturday morning we set out in the cars to visit Wessington Pasture. Unfortunately we missed the turning (it looked like the entrance to a farm) and ended up at Broadmoor Common instead. According to the information board the common represents a fine example of a flower-rich ancient grassland. The abundance of wild flowers makes it an ideal habitat for moths and butterflies and they didn't disappoint.

RingletSix Spot BurnetMarbled White

As we stepped out of the car I got flown at by a Ringlet butterfly which was considerate enough to then land on some brambles right next to the car and in an ideal place for a photograph. Of course I don't really need to go all the way to Herefordshire to see Ringlets; we had some in the garden yesterday, well we did until the Robin ate one! Just as I was finishing photographing the Ringlet there was a cry from the other side of the car park as my mother had spotted something much more interesting, a Marbled White.

I've never seen a Marbled White before and neither had Bryony. I guess I shouldn't have been overly surprised by their presence. There was a photo of one on the information board and my butterfly book states that the unmistakable Marbled White is a lovely butterfly of unimproved flowery grassland, which seems to match the description of the common on the board. Unfortunately they don't seem to like sitting still, rather they flit from flower to flower annoyingly fast for someone who is trying to take their photograph. In fact it wasn't until we were nearly ready to leave that I finally got a decent photo.

There were other butterflies flitting around (definitely a Small Tortoiseshell) but I didn't get any photographs. I did, however, manage to photograph a day flying moth, specifically a six spot Burnet moth. This sat quite still on a thistle for quite a while allowing us all to take as many photos as we wanted. It still hadn't really moved when we decided to walk a little further up the road.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


A long time ago I ate a muffin. This was, however, no ordinary muffin. I'd just finished a long walk in the Yorkshire Dales and was relaxing in the car park at Kettlewell when I was offered a muffin. Honestly from just looking at it I was a little underwhelmed. There was no thick frosting, no chocolate chips, in fact it looked very plain indeed with just a light dusting of sugar. I took one bite though and was stunned. I had taken a bite from a muffin but it tasted as if I was eating a donut! This donut-muffin hybrid has since entered into myth as I've never tasted another one and neither has anyone else I've talked to about it. I'm not entirely sure why, but last week the mythical muffin reared it's tasty head in my mind and I decided that it was time to figure out a recipe for baking my own.

I knew that I didn't already have an appropriate recipe, otherwise I would have made the muffins before, so I went out and hunted around on the web. I found quite a few different recipes and cobbled a few together to match the ingredients I already had in the house. Once I had settled on a recipe I went straight to the kitchen to cook. Making the mixture didn't take very long but then I had a nervous 20 minute wait before I could taste one. They looked like muffins, but they tasted like donuts. Success!

If you want to try making your own Donut/Muffin hybrids then I've added the recipe I used to the cookbook. Enjoy!

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Bowens Country House Hotel

We've just spent a very nice weekend with family at The Bowens Country House Hotel. The hotel is situated opposite the church in the small Herefordshire village of Fownhope. We took lots and lots of photos so there will be a few more posts describing the weekend but I thought I'd start with a stereoscopic photo of the hotel.
If you know how to view magic-eye pictures then you should be able to freeview this image and see the hotel in glorious 3D. If that last sentence didn't make any sense then have a read of this previous post I wrote about taking and viewing 3D photos. If you want a high-resolution copy that you can print and use with a proper stereoscope then try this one.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

I Am Still Here, Honest!

Sorry I haven't blogged much recently. It's been a busy time at home and at work. I'm not working on three different projects at once at work which requires a little bit of juggling and some time working in evenings to keep on top of everything. This week I have to spend Wednesday and Thursday in London helping to finish up one project but then we have two weeks of annual leave so hopefully I'll have lots to blog about.

Anyway if you want to know about the project I've just started working on, then you could read the press release.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Shaken iPod Syndrome

Computer equipment, especially disk drives, are fragile pieces of technology and just like babies don't usually take too kindly to being shaken around. Shake a baby too hard and it will die. Shake a disk drive too hard and it will quite quickly become unreadable. For this reason I'm usually quite careful with disk drives but I've just spent 30 seconds vigorously shaking one around!

Getting out of the car on Friday night I managed to drop my iPod. There appeared to be no obvious damage to the outside and so I turned it off and didn't think anything more about it. This morning on the train I turned it on and instead of being able to play music I was met by a sad faced iPod and a horrible clicking noise. As well as the sad iPod logo it displayed a link to Apple's iPod support page. This suggested a serious hardware fault but gave a number of steps to try and recover the iPod. Of course none of the steps worked.

I've had to have my iPod repaired once before (a broken click-wheel) and so went to see how much it would cost to replace the hard drive. The company I used last time was iPodsRepaired and they are quoting £85 to replace the 60GB drive in my iPod -- that is about half the cost of a brand new top of the line classic iPod. So before deciding what to do I thought I'd have a hunt around the web to see if there were any other suggested fixes. As you can probably guess, most of the suggestions involve vigorous shaking.

When a disk drive makes that horrid clicking noise it is usually because the head is stuck and can't move properly for some reason. If you can get the head unstuck without damaging the disk platters (the bits that hold the data) then hopefully it should start working again -- at least for a while. Some people suggest deliberately dropping the iPod onto the floor (I'd guess a carpeted surface), others bashing it hard onto a desk, but many suggest shaking of some form. The fix that seems to have the most success is to take the iPod apart, remove the had drive shake it a little and then reassemble. Given that I don't have the appropriate tools to dismantle an iPod with me at work I thought I'd just try a bout of vigorous shaking anyway (dropping it seemed silly as that is what had caused the problem in the first place). So I shook it for about 30 seconds and then, with my fingers crossed, turned it on. The Apple logo appeared and then the screen lit up and there I was back at the menu!

So I wouldn't in general advise anyone to shake a hard drive but if you have a dead iPod then it certainly seems worth giving it a good shake before spending money on having it repaired. If shaking doesn't work and the drive really is dead then you can't have made it any worse so what have you to lose.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Buying Caviar By The Terabyte

Some of you may remember that back in March I blogged about a rather poorly researched/written news article on the BBC's website. The article was about a change to the way computer hard drives are manufactured, moving from 512 byte to 4K sectors. At the time I claimed that it was a complete non-story that seemed to be aimed at scaring users of Windows XP to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7. Well I now know just how much of a non-story it really was.

Having recently run out of disk space (again) I decided to add another drive to my computer. Given the difference in price between the different drives I was looking at I eventually opted to buy a Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5 Terabyte drive. The drive is clearly labeled as using the advanced format and explains how to configure the drive depending on how you will be using it. Having installed and formatted the drive I visited Western Digital's Advanced Format webpage and downloaded their recommended tool for aligning the 512 byte and 4K sectors to provide optimal performance. I loaded up the tool (a simple to use graphical affair), selected the disk to align and 10 seconds later the job was done. Ten seconds, that was all it took to align the sectors. That just shows how much of a non-story the original news article was. For anyone who can read the label on the drive there is no problem at all.

What really scares me is the amount of disk space I now have. I have three drives in my computer totaling over 2TB. Given that the first computer I used with a hard drive (I so don't miss loading programs from tape) was my Dad's laptop that would hold about 80MB of data 2TB seems insane. How times change.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Subliminal Advertising

A few weeks ago a bit of a storm blew up around what appeared to be subliminal cigarette advertising on Ferrari's F1 car. It has been quite a few years now since cigarette advertising was common in mainstream sport. At one time almost every Formula 1 team had a sponsor from the tobacco industry; Williams were sponsored by Rothmans, McLaren by West, Jordan by Benson and Hedges and Ferrari by Marlboro to name just a few. In 2005 the Tobacco Advertising Directive took effect which banned, within the EU, almost all forms of tobacco advertising including that in F1. So using the Ferrari F1 team, and specifically the livery of the F1 car, to advertise cigarettes is clearly illegal so what is all the fuss about?
Well it turns out that while Ferrari can't legal advertise cigarettes they are still being paid a large amount in sponsorship by Phillip Morris the makers of Marlboro cigarettes -- the full name of the team is in fact Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. What has got some people up in arms is a barcode like logo displayed prominently on both the F1 car as well as the drivers overalls and helmets and large amounts of team merchandise. Some people claim that the barcode logo looks a lot like a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. I'll let you judge for yourself if you think this is true or not.

Given that for a number of years the barcode has been displayed in the same place on the car as the Marlboro logo used to be then I think that almost anyone with an interest in F1 could assume that it was related to the old tobacco advertising, but I doubt that anyone who saw the logo for the first time would suddenly have an overwhelming urge to smoke a cigarette. The fuss would probably have blown over if it hadn't been for a statement put out by Ferrari in which they apparently claimed that the barcode was part of the livery of the car and not part of any Phillip Morris advertising campaign. Given how much advertising space on an F1 car sells for, I find it hard to believe that the barcode isn't being paid for by a sponsor. Also if the barcode really was part of the Ferrari livery then I would assume that they would vigorously protect their copyright in the logo and so it would be highly unlikely to appear anywhere else. This clearly isn't the case as the same barcode also appears on Ducatti MotoGP bikes, which just happen to also be sponsored by Phillip Morris.

So regardless of what Ferrari may claim I think it is pretty clear that even if they didn't think the barcode was subliminal tobacco advertising Phillip Morris certainly knew what they were doing and when it came to the crunch Ferrari bowed to pressure and removed the barcode logo from their cars; although it still appears on the drivers uniforms and helmets. Now while I think it is an interesting story of a large multi-national company trying to skirt advertising regulations I don't think I'd have researched and written this post if it wasn't for the nine hours I spent queuing in Munich airport last week.

The queue I was in at Munich airport moved very very slowly and so for about two hours I was stood outside the duty free shop. Airport duty free shops are now the only place I regularly glimpse cigarette adverts and I don't usually pay them much attention but on this occasion one of them stood out as being more than a little interesting. Here was a clear tobacco advert that incorporated a barcode design which, while not the same as the one on seen recently on Ferrari F1 cars, was similar enough to catch my eye. I instantly assumed that Dunhill cigarettes were made by Phillip Morris based on nothing other than the barcode imagery so their "advertising" would seem to work, at least on me. Here was a story. No longer was the Ferrari barcode subliminal it was part of a tobacco advert! Unfortunately when I started to research this post I found that the Dunhill brand is actually owned by British American tobacco (BAT) -- damn! Now cigarette companies are nearly all partly owned by each other but no matter how hard I dug I couldn't actually find a clear connection between BAT and Phillip Morris and I almost gave up looking. I then found that while a brand may be owned by one company it is very common for a different company to make the cigarettes under license -- I assume this is to do with which companies have factories in which countries. A little more digging and I found a number of pages that make it clear that Phillip Morris make Dunhill cigarettes under license from BAT.

So we know that Phillip Morris sponsor both Ferrari and Ducatti and that both use a barcode logo as part of their racing livery. We also have evidence that Phillip Morris are responsible for the manufacture (and I assume advertising) of Dunhill cigarettes, an advert for which also uses a barcode like logo. I think it is now very clear that the barcode on the Ferrari was advertising tobacco in clear contravention of the 2005 tobacco Advertising Directive and I don't see how Ferrari could continue to claim otherwise.

An interesting story that in no way shape or form makes a nine hour queue at the airport any more bearable!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

White Chocolate

I like chocolate. I try not to eat too much (it's not good for my waist line or migraines) but I do like the odd bit now and again. I like good chocolate (think Thorntons or even better Hotel Chocolat) but I'm also partial to the everyday confectionery type chocolates as well. Whenever I get to choose a chocolate I either choose the coffee flavoured ones or I go for the white chocolate ones -- I even recently had a coffee flavoured white chocolate truffle!

I assume that the rest of the British population isn't like me when it comes to white chocolate. Whenever there are special editions of well known chocolate bars they never seem to involve white chocolate. If you head to the continent though this changes quite dramatically. In France last year I ate a white chocolate Twix and in Munich I bought a white chocolate chunky KitKat. Both of them were fantastic. Come on people why can't we have white chocolate special editions in the UK?

Friday, 14 May 2010

A Room With A View

Given that we don't go around wasting tax payers money booking expensive hotel rooms when we travel for work I usually end up looking out over a car park or at the wall of another building. I was, therefore, surprised by the view I got when I pulled back the curtains of my room at the Park Hotel Vitosha in Sofia.
Certainly a better view than I had the first night of the trip!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Catching Up On Sleep

Just to let you all know that I made it home from Sofia early this morning without any more volcanic ash cloud related delays. I'll blog more about the trip when I've finally caught up on all the sleep I've missed over the last few days (I didn't sleep well even at the hotel in Sofia as I think I've pulled some muscles in my back/shoulder trying to sleep at the airport).

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A Night At The Airport

As you know from my last post I spent Sunday night trying to sleep on the chairs by the departure gate at Munich airport. Notice I said trying to sleep, those chairs really are not comfortable. Anyway I thought I'd post a few of the photos I took that evening showing the departure board, my pillow and blanket and the view from my bed.
So if you want something fun to do then I'd definitely suggest A Night At The Opera or A Day At The Races and most certainly not A Night At The Airport!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Under A Cloud

No I'm not feeling particularly depressed although I am unbelievably tired. As some of you may know I'm due in Sofia, Bulgaria this week for a project meeting. I was due to arrive late on Sunday evening but... it's 2am on Monday and I'm sat in Munich airport. Yes the volcanic ash cloud is back. They closed the airspace at 3pm on Sunday and my flight wasn't due to leave until 7:25. I was hopeful that it would all sort itself out before my flight but of course I'm just not that lucky. So at 4pm they told us to go to the Lufthansa service centre where they would try to arrange accommodation and alternative transport. I dutifully joined the end of the queue. Nine hours and ten minutes later I finally reached the front of the queue. I don't think I've ever stood up almost motionless for quite so long in my entire life and I can promise you all it isn't an experience I wish to repeat anytime soon.

So I'm now on standby for the 9:30 flight (which boards in just seven hours) and if that ends up being full then I've also got a seat confirmed on the 1 o'clock flight. I've been issued with a pillow and blanket so I'm going to try and get some sleep but somehow I doubt I'm going to get much rest.

[I made it on to the 9:30 flight and am now at the meeting in Sofia, I'll update the story properly when I'm not working and when I'm not quite so tired!]

Saturday, 1 May 2010

An Odd Choice Of Photo

I wonder who choose the following still from the third leaders debate to illustrate the programme on the BBC's iPlayer.
I'm sure they could have found a slightly more flattering and less bizarre image if they had tried.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Bedazzled by the Sweet Sugary Goodness

Periodically (every Thursday, I think) a few market stalls are setup outside Sheffield's City Hall selling local(ish) food. The problem is that they are only just setting up when I pass on my way to work and have nearly all sold up and left when I head home. On the few occasions I've left work early for some reason I've been tempted by one stall in particular but it has never been the right occasion.

Last week the stalls were still there when I left work and I knew that any food I bought would get eaten, so I bought a box of four cupcakes from the Bedazzled Cupcakes stall. Unfortunately two of them got rapidly demolished when I got home and before I'd had time to find the camera! They were absolutely delicious and I wouldn't hesitate to buy more in the future.

Not Quite Time Team

When we moved in the main accessible area of the garden was just one large square of grass without any borders or interesting features other than a rusty old metal swing. We have quite a few plans for the garden but none of them involve a swing! So one of the first jobs this year was to remove the swing. I'd actually put it off a few times as I thought it was going to be quite a lot of work but on Saturday afternoon I was encouraged into having a go. Removing it was actually a lot easier than I expected.

I used a small hacksaw to cut the four main posts about a foot above the ground. I then started to cut it up further but my hacksaw blade broke so I resulted to trying to undo the very rusty nuts and bolts holding the rest together. After liberal application of WD40 and the production of a lot of sweat and tears I managed to separate the rest to make it easier to move and dispose of.

I then dug out the four poles which were buried in concrete. Two of them just pulled out (worrying really) but two required more effort and a spade to remove.

The last post I dug out seemed to have been set in a bigger chunk of concrete, but when I got it out it was obvious why -- it had been inscribed. So I now now that the swing was originally put up in 2002 and given that I know the names of the people living here before I even know who AS is. So not quite Time Team but interesting never the less.

So we now have a garden without a swing and can start making borders and putting in plants. Hopefully it will start to look more interesting than it did when we moved in.