Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Feed The Birds (Do They Know It's Christmas?)

I've cooked two Christmas puddings over the last two days. We really don't need two Christmas puddings, and I had no intention of cooking more than one.

Unfortunately I have a cold, and when I started on the first one yesterday my brain clearly wasn't functioning very well. It was only after the pudding had been steaming for about three hours that I realised I'd missed out one ingredient; the soft brown sugar. So I've spent today steaming a second pudding, and the first one has turned into high class bird food. Hopefully the birds won't mind the missing sugar, and hopefully I remembered all the ingredients the second time around.

Friday, 16 November 2012

In Wikipedia We Trust?

Ever since Wikipedia became popular there has been an ongoing debate as to how accurate a resource it actually is. Personally I'm of the opinion that it is a useful jumping off point for more serious research but should never be used as a trusted source of information. For this reason it should never appear in the references section of an academic piece of work -- a fact I find it hard to get students to take on board.

If you want a good example of why Wikipedia shouldn't be trusted, and why you should always consult the original sources where possible, I've just blogged about the inaccuracies in just one small piece of one article. If the rest of Wikipedia is as bad then we really are in trouble.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Which Should Come First: The Book or The Film

Recently I've read a couple of blog posts concerning the film adaptation of a novel. Firstly there was a post about The Ghost, and then more recently this post about Tell No One. My comments on both posts reminded me that for a few years now I've had a blog post of my own germinating at the back of my mind. So without further ado...

If given a choice would you read the book first or watch the film?

For those of you hopping for a clear answer to this question, I'm sorry but I'm going to disappoint you. There are some films where I only found out they were based on a book as the credits rolled, and others where I only watched the film because I'd already read the book. Strangely there have been good and bad experiences regardless of the sequence. Here are just a few examples, and the order I'd personally recommend (feel free to disagree with me in the comments).

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
Recommendation: Film then Book

I'm starting with Jurassic Park as it was the first time I'd really thought about the question of which to read/watch first. When I saw the film I had no idea it was based upon a book. It was only when the follow up film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, was about to be released that one of my school friends offered to lend me the books.

Now I had really enjoyed the first film; it had a plot, it had amazing special effects, and a good musical score. The book, however, is better. There are more dinosaurs and the kids are slightly less annoying. I think I'd still have enjoyed the film had I read the book first (the special effects would have kept me interested) but I would definitely recommend seeing the film first and then allowing the extra scenes in the book to add to the experience rather than being disappointed when your favourite scene is cut from the film.

As for the follow up films; I suggest ignoring them completely. The second book, is well worth reading, but has little in common with the second film. The third film, Jurassic Park III, has little in the way of plot, although it does use some of the scenes from the first book that never made it into the film, but that isn't really enough to rescue it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J. K. Rowling
Recommendation: Watch the film, don't bother with the book

While there was a lot of hype around Harry Potter, even before the first film was released, I didn't have any intention of reading the books or watching the films. I did eventually end up watching the films though, some of them even at the cinema, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Okay, so there is some poor acting in the first film, but given many of the actors had never acted before this isn't exactly surprising, and I think adds to the charm of the early movies.

After having seen the penultimate movie, Bryony suggested I read the books so that I didn't have to wait for the last film. This seemed like a reasonable idea, so I went back and started from the first book. Unfortunately it's terrible. I know it's aimed at children, but I find it badly written and lacking in convincing descriptions of many of the key scenes or sequences. The latter books, which are aimed at slightly older children are much better. I'm guessing that just as the child actors learnt to act, J. K. Rowling learnt to write as the sequence went on. If you have already seen the films and now want to read the books, then I'd suggest skipping the first book entirely, I promise you won't be missing anything!

Tell No One, Harlan Coben
Recommendation: Book then Film

Tell No One was the first book I read by Harlan Coben. It was a gift and so I had no real expectations of what it would be like. It is, however, an excellent novel; one of those books that you find hard to put down. When I heard it was being turned into a film I could see how it could be a great movie. Then I found out that it was being filmed in French, a language I don't speak at all.

When I eventually got hold of a copy of the movie I watched it dubbed into English, rather than trying to keep up by reading subtitles. Even then it was quite difficult to follow. I think that had I not read the book I would have been unable to enjoy the film at all. It is of course difficult to criticize the movie given that native French speakers might find the experience very different, but I certainly wouldn't suggest watching it without having read the book first.

The Hunt For Red October, Tom Clancy
Recommendation: Either the book or the film first

I first saw The Hunt For Red October a long time before I read the book. Having also seen Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, I actually made the decision to read one of the other Tom Clancy books (from the same series) first so that I could judge the writing without knowing the plot.

Tom Clancy's novels are extremely detailed, often with an unbelievably large number of interconnected plot lines. As such the film adaptations have to leave out quite a large amount in order to keep the running time down. Fortunately, for the novels that have been filmed this doesn't really seem to have detracted from the story.

The General's Daughter, Nelson DeMille
Recommendation: Book then Film

Like the Tom Clancy novels and films it probably doesn't matter too much which way around you read/watch The General's Daughter. The film is good adaptation of the book, although it does change the settings for some scenes, and expands on some issues only briefly mentioned in the book.

My reason for suggesting you read the book first, is that I found it impossible to read the book without picturing John Travolta as the main character. Normally I can easily separate the characters from the actors that play them but for some reason with this story it was almost impossible. Not that there was anything wrong with his portrayal of the character, but when reading a book I prefer to imagine the character as described and not as depicted in a film.

So there we go, a few examples of film adaptations and which way around I think you should read/watch them. As I said at the start though there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern that I can use to predict the ordering for the future. The only common thread seems to be that if both the book and film are excellent then the ordering doesn't matter too much, but given that you can't judge either the book or film without having first read or watched them that doesn't really help!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Very Welcome Sight

I arrived in Paris today for a work meeting that lasts until the end of the week. This is actually turning into something of a habit as I was in Paris from Tuesday to Friday last week for a meeting related to another project I'm working on. If this week is anything like last week then there won't be much to blog about as I won't get to do any sight seeing of any kind. Having said that I did think the sight that greeted me when I got to my hotel room today was worth blogging about.

When traveling in mainland Europe I'm always annoyed by the fact that hotels never seem to provide coffee making facilities in the rooms. This is common in the UK, but I've almost never seen it anywhere else. So imagine my surprise, and delight, when I found a kettle and coffee in my room. Mind you I guess this means the rest of the week will be downhill from here!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet?

Just over a week ago I was heading through the centre of Sheffield when I noticed a marque had been erected at the top of Fargate (the pedestrianized shopping precinct). Given that it wasn't a market day I was a little intrigued. It turned out that the full scale model of Bloodhound SSC was on display for the day. Unfortunately I was in a rush to get to work so I only really had time to have a quick look and take a single photo.

Bloodhound SSC is being built by the same team behind the current land speed record holder Thrust SSC. Building of the actual car is underway with a plan in place to break the current world record of 763mph next year, and then move on to trying to break the 1000mph mark in 2014 at which point it will be traveling faster than a speeding bullet.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?

I started writing this post about a month ago on my birthday (thanks to everyone who sent me a card or present), but somehow I never finished it, and it ended up banished to the drafts folder. Anyway....

Rarely does a day go past when I don't do a Google search for something or other. And even though today is my birthday it isn't one of those rare none Google days. I usually search Google directly from the address bar in Firefox so rarely see the main search page, but I do keep an eye on the top left corner of the result pages for interesting doodles (you can browse past doodles if you don't know what I'm talking about) -- I wouldn't want to miss a doodle as good as the PAC-MAN one for instance. Anyway, I noticed that there was a doodle today so I went to the main search page to see a larger version and find out what it was about. Bizarrely though the doodle on the main page didn't match the one on the results page.

On the left is the doodle from the result page, and on the right is the doodle from the home page. Clearly they aren't the same. Often the reason for a doodle is obvious from the doodle itself, but if you hover the mouse over the doodle on the home page you'll get a tooltip explaining the occasion. So imagine my surprise when I hovered over the doodle and saw that the tooltip read Happy Birthday Mark!

The explanation was, of course, obvious; I was logged into my Google account which, since I signed up for Google+, includes my birthday. Now I'm not one of the people who are overly worried about the amount of information Google knows about me, and I'd freely made the decision to include my birthday in my profile, but still I was rather surprised that they would use that information to show me a birthday doodle.

Oh and if you were wondering the actual doodle for today, that everyone else saw, was to celebrate Maria Montessori's 142nd birthday.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Colour Coded Pipes

While holidaying on Skye, and dodging the frequent rain showers, we managed to accidentally time a shopping trip to Portree with the Lifeboat open day. I've never needed to be on a lifeboat (thank goodness) or had the opportunity to wonder around one before so I made full use of the chance.

I didn't take too many photos while on board as it was quite cramped, both as the inside is remarkably small, but also because of the number of people looking around. Strangely my favourite, albeit slightly blurry, photo is of a simple sign showing the colour coding scheme used for the pipework. I'd never really thought about it before but having a standard colour coding scheme makes perfect sense, although I don't know why some of the colour swatches were missing, unless they are for pipes that aren't actually present on this specific lifeboat.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Deilephila Elpenor

Seen as I didn't receive any complaints about the Latin titled blog posts I'm going to continue with a post about Deilephila elpenor; more commonly known as the Elephant Hawk Moth.

As you can see from the photo today's post is actually about the caterpillar rather than the adult moth. If you want to see what the adult looks like then you can see a dead specimen in one of my previous blog posts.

Last Saturday was the 140th Penistone Agricultural Show and while taking the scenic route from our house to the show ground, along the old railway line, we passed a large group of willowherb plants which were covered in Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars; so of course I stopped to take lots of photos.

Unlike many moths the Elephant Hawk Moth gets it's name from the caterpillar instead of the adult moth. This photo doesn't show the elephants trunk particularly well but you can see that the caterpillar has a pointy nose (bottom of the photo) which supposedly resembles an elephants trunk. When threatened the caterpillar retracts the trunk like portion into it's body which apparently makes it look like a snake with a large head and four eyes; the one at the back is in this pose.

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Single Scotch

As well as drinking a far amount of single malt Scotch Whiskey while on Skye (Laphroaig Quater Cask if you're interested) we also saw another form of Scotch; a single specimen of a Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops) butterfly.

This is only the second time I've ever seen a Scotch Argus even though I've had a number of holidays throughout Scotland over the years. I almost didn't recognize it as this specimen is very brown compared to the ones I've seen before which were almost black. This one was sunning itself just outside Portree, while I've previously seen them under Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Known Unknowns

It's been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the last week or so as we've been away on holiday, visting friends who own a house on Skye (I've blogged about previous holiday's to Skye before). Holidays always produce lots of fodder for blog posts and this one was no different.

I still have to sort through all the photos, but I'll start with two caterpillars and to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there is a known known and a known unknown.

Lets start with the known known. I believe that the photo on the left shows a Knot Grass (Acronicta rumicis) caterpillar, although if you think I'm wrong please feel free to correct me. The photo on the right, however, is a known unknown. In other words I have no idea what it is and any suggestions would be more than welcome.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Crocallis Elinguaria

I don't tend to go out looking for moths at night, not because I wouldn't enjoy it but because it would probably not go down well with Bryony who really doesn't like moths at all. This means that I really don't know how many different species we get in the garden but this Scalloped Oak (Crocallis Elinguaria) that was hiding by the bins the other week is one I haven't seen in the garden before.

Having done a little gardening yesterday I can also say with some confidence that we will again have lots of Cinnabar moths next year as there are very hungry caterpillars everywhere.

By the way I'm not sure why I started using the Latin names of the moths for the post titles but if it is annoying people let me know and I'll switch back to their more common names.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

3D Printing

Last Friday I set you all a mystery object quiz and today is the big reveal. So what was the object?

The object was a 4mm to the foot scale model of a spark arrestor for a steam engine. Now some of you may be wondering why I blogged about this here rather than on my other more relevant blog. Well firstly, blogging it here meant you didn't really get any clues as to what it was (which seemed fairer/meaner to me -- delete as you think appropriate), but even if you aren't interested in trains I thought you might be interested in knowing how it was produced: 3D Printing.

I'm not going to go into the full details of it's production here, I've blogged about it in excruciating detail in a more appropriate place, suffice it to say that I simply designed the model on my computer (using Blender), uploaded it to Shapeways, paid for it to be printed and then waited for it to arrive. I then painted it to match the model it was designed for (not very well I admit).

It was a fairly painless process (3D geometry can give you a cracking headache) and I'm happy with the result. There is no way I could have produced the model in any other way due to the fine detail it contains. While the process is still fairly expensive (although for small models the postage cost is the annoying factor) I think as the technology improves and the price drops 3D printing will eventually become something we all take for granted and use on a regular basis. I know I'll certainly be printing more things in the future -- I'm already in the process of modelling a couple of other small items.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Jessica's Postbox

So as I'm sure everyone in the UK knows by now, Royal Mail are painting one of their postboxes gold for each gold medal Team GB win at this summers Olympics. I've no idea where most of them are, but I knew that I had a good chance of seeing at least one, as Jessica Ennis is from Sheffield and was expected to get gold in the heptathlon.

She delivered a stunning performance to take gold and so Royal Mail duly painted a postbox gold. I'm not sure how they chose which Sheffield postbox to paint, but on my way to work the other day I couldn't fail to spot it. The crowd of people taking a picture of it was huge!. If you are in Sheffield and haven't seen it yet then it's in Barkers Pool just to the left of City Hall.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

She Wears A Black Cap

Since we bought our house we've seen quite a few interesting birds in the garden some of which I've blogged about (try here and here) and Bullfinches are now so common as to not be something out of the ordinary. Recently though we have had a new interesting visitor to the garden; a female Blackcap.

Apologies for the state of the photo but it was shot on full auto, at the limit of the camera, through a window that needs cleaning, and without the help of a tripod; i.e. not ideal shooting conditions. Anyway at least it helps record the fact that a female Blackcap was eating the tayberries (incidentally I've now picked over 6lbs and turned 3lbs into jam). This was actually the second time I'd seen the female, but we definately have a pair in the area as the first bird I saw eating the tayberries was the slightly easier to identify male.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Mystery Object Of The Week

So a quick quiz to start the weekend. Name the mystery object. The answer will be revealed sometime next week. Feel free to leave a guess in the comments.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

John, Paul, George, or Ringo?

During a rare dry spell we did some gardening this afternoon. There were a lot of butterflies around (Gatekeepers, Small Tortoiseshells, and Ringlets) but there was also a beetle.

Now I'm not very good at identifying beetles, but I thought given the iridescent purple strip down either side of it's body and the iridescent blue markings on it's head that for once I would have no problem finding out what it was. Unfortunately I can't seem to identify it from any of the books we own or the internet.

Anyone have any ideas what it is?

Monday, 23 July 2012

They're Doing It Wrong!

I read this BBC News article the other day and my first, and lasting, impression was simply: if taking your kids out for the day costs £80 then you're doing it wrong!

Now I know that if you factor in travel and entry costs to a theme park or taking the family to the cinema with popcorn etc. then you might well be able to spend £80 on a day out but that doesn't mean you have to, or that all days out should be like that.

When I was growing up, my Mum (while Dad was at work) made sure my brother and I didn't just sit around the house or mope around the housing estate during the summer. We had lots of days out and I doubt that any of them came anywhere near to costing the equivalent of £80. On many of the days the only cost would have been transport, and that was taken care of with a Family Day Rover -- a relatively cheap ticket that was valid on all buses and trains within West Yorkshire for a single day. We took sandwiches and drinks with us (which weren't an extra cost as we would have eaten if we had been at home) and we explored the countryside, villages we had never been to before, and museums; many of which were free to enter (more and more museums seem not to charge an entry fee now, so this is an even wider choice than when I was a child). There were days when money was spent on tickets, ice creams or a sticky bun, but these were the exception making them all the more enjoyable and not something that was simply expected. There were also days when we went further afield; I remember one summer when Dad was off work, we all went to Scarborough for the day, but again we took lunch with us and played on the beach, no expensive entry tickets etc.

I guess my point is that claiming you can't afford £80 to give your kids a day out suggests to me that you are too lazy to think up an interesting day out and would rather pay for someone/something else to provide the entertainment. Jump on a bus and explore the countryside, it won't cost you £80 and maybe the whole family will get some fresh air and learn to enjoy both the outdoors and each others company.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

4lbs and Counting

In common with the rest of the country Penistone, has so far, had a rather wet summer. Unfortunately this has limited somewhat the amount of gardening we have been able to do; even when the sun is shining the ground is so water laden as to be impossible to work with. This means there is a lot of weeding to do, but it also means that the actual plants in the garden have been kept well watered.

One plant that seems exceptionally happy is the tayberry. We only planted this last year and while it grew quite a bit during the summer it's gone crazy this year. It's obviously happy given the amount of fruit it's producing. So far I've picked just over 4lbs of fruit and there appears to be no end in sight. I'm not quite sure what we are going to do with it all yet; they've been washed, dried and frozen.

Tayberries, for those who don't know, are a cross between blackberries and raspberries and so I'm thinking jam might be a good way to go.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Cautionary Tale No. 4472 [Part V]

If you've been following Cautionary Tale No. 4472 through parts I to IV (which you can read here, here, here, and here) then you might want to head on over to my new blog to read (the probably final) Part V of this fascinating tale.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

UPS Masters Time Travel

It would appear that UPS have mastered time travel (click the image for a larger version if you can't read the small text).

I'm guessing that actually they simply recycle their old tracking IDs, but you would think they would clear out the old information before hand. The status of my parcel has now changed from "Delivered" to "In Transit", although the shippment progress section still shows the delivery to Croydon. Hopefully it will actually arrive in Penistone on the 11th as promised, otherwise finding it could be a tad tricky!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Phragmatobia Fuliginosa

Another day, another Latin post title! We spent an hour or so in the garden yesterday afternoon during the only time of the loooong weekend when it wasn't raining. Given that we weren't out for very long we actually got quite a bit done.

While gardening we saw at least three more Cinnabar moths and I also saw a species of moth, Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia Fuliginosa), that I don't think I've ever seen before, and is certainly a new species for the garden.

As you can see from the photo on the left it was sunning itself on the lawn. While I could see that there was definitely a bright red underwing it wasn't until I tried to move it off the lawn (so as not to accidentally stand on it) that I saw just how red it's body is. Unfortunately I didn't get to see it fly or open it's wings, maybe next time.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Seven of Fifty-One

I am Seven of Fifty-One. I know it doesn't sound quite as good as Seven of Nine, but allow me to explain.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that part of the work I've been doing over the last few years has been related to cancer studies (I've blogged about it here, here, here, and here). Specifically I've been involved with trying to reduce the cost of performing Genome Wide Association Studies, by reducing the number of samples required. We have been doing this by mining the published literature to try and determine the prior probability that a specific single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) will be related to specific cancers.

Essentially the idea boils down to this (although I have to admit in advance that neither the genetics or the statistics are my strong points). If a SNP occurs near a gene that has been shown to be involved in either the specific cancer under investigation or in the healthy functioning of the organ/tissue that the cancer affects then it is more likely that this SNP might be the cause of the cancer than if it occurs somewhere else in the genome. We calculate the probability that this is the case by mining the published literature and when these priors are combined with results from both healthy controls and diseased patients the statistical power of the tests are improved. As the power of the test is improved we can determine that a SNP is related to a cancer using less samples than previously. While this will save money it is especially important when investigating rare forms of cancer where it might be difficult or impossible to ever assemble the required number of patients for testing using the standard approach.

We'd previously shown that the approach worked, but only by going back and reproducing previous results using less data. Now, however, we've used the same approach to find a new cause for cancer! The results have just been published in the journal PLoS ONE: Using Prior Information from the Medical Literature in GWAS of Oral Cancer Identifies Novel Susceptibility Variant on Chromosome 4 - the AdAPT Method. PLoS ONE is an open access journal so you can all go and read the article if you want to!

By this point you might be wondering what this all has to do with the title and opening paragraph (and I can't say I'd blame you). Well I'm author number seven of fifty-one.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Tyria Jacobaeae

Some of you may remember that last year I blogged about the very hungry caterpillars which were taking over the garden. They were the caterpillars of the Cinnabar or Tyria Jacobaeae moth. Last year I only saw one moth throughout the whole summer, but my assumption was, given the number of caterpillars, that this year I would see more. Being day flying moths they are much easier to spot and identify than many other moths and so far in six days I've seen five moths flitting around the garden.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Insect Cases

When I blogged about my moth and butterfly collection, Helen noticed that there were some strange insect cases in one of the boxes that I hadn't mentioned. I can't remember what they are and there isn't a label in the box. Here is a better picture so that hopefully someone can help identify them for us.

I think they were collected from a rocky riverbank on a hot sunny day at Linton in the Yorkshire Dales, but that's quite a hazy memory so could be wrong!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Raspberry Pi: Small Computer, Big Ideas

When I was growing up, computers were only just starting to make inroads into schools and homes, mostly via affordable (not to everyone true, but to a large slice of the population than previously) machines such as the BBC Micro, and the ZX Spectrum. As I've mentioned before my first serious forays into computer programming where actually with an Acorn Electron (a cut down, and hence cheaper, version of the BBC Micro). While these machines were often used as glorified typewriters or for playing games they were also easy to programme. When you turned them on they didn't boot straight into some complex graphical operating system, but to a simple prompt. You could enter commands that would load programmes, or you could enter simple commands that would make the computer do something. If you messed up you just turned the machine off and then on again. There was no danger of you messing the machine up in any way that would stop it working perfectly next time you turned it on. Combined these two things led to a generation of kids who messed around programming computers and who have grown up and become software engineers.

Unfortunately as computers have become more complex, the ability to experiment with programming has reduced. Also it is much easier to mess up a modern computer so that it requires a complete re-install rather than just a quick on-off of the power switch. Together this things seem to have led to a severe drop in the number of kids who are learning to programme. Of course they aren't helped by the focus of IT lessons in schools towards knowing how to use office software rather than teaching computing skills.

Having been involved in university lab classes and marking assignments over the last decade, it is clear even to me that most students arriving for an undergraduate course in computing have very few existing skills. Unfortunately they tend to graduate without learning too many more. Yes they can knock up a programme to solve a particular assignment, but often they pay no attention to details such as maintainability or efficiency (time or space). Let's just say that if I had to build up a team of programmers I doubt I'd be willing to hire most current computer science graduates, given the level of programming ability I've seen. Now I'm not really in a position to affect more than a few students by giving constructive feedback on assignments etc. Fortunately there are plenty of other people in the UK who agree that the level of computing knowledge among today's kids has fallen so far that we are in danger of not producing enough qualified graduates. Their solution to the problem is the Raspberry Pi.

I've been following the Raspberry Pi project for a while, and when they went on sale at the end of February I got my order in at the first possible moment. Due to the overwhelming demand in the device the websites of the two distributors were almost brought down. Anyway I must have been one of the earliest through the ordering process because my Raspberry Pi was one of just 2,000 that have currently been sent out to customers. So what exactly is a Raspberry Pi?

Put simply a Raspberry Pi is a fully fledged computer. It has all the same fundamental components as any regular desktop computer but costs, wait for it, just $35 and is the size of a credit card! The idea being that it is as cheap to kit out an entire class with a Raspberry Pi each as it would be with a textbook each. The computer has 256MB of RAM (not all of it is available as some is used by the GPU), uses a 700MHz ARM CPU (similar to that which you'd find in a smartphone), and an SD card for storage. All you need to do is add a keyboard (and mouse if you are using a GUI), a display, and then power it using a mobile phone charger. For a display you can use either HDMI or composite which allows you to plug it into old and modern TV's as well as modern computer monitors (via a HDMI to DVI-D cable). The SD card contains the whole operating system and is easy to re-image (i.e. recreate) if it gets messed up (it took about 30 seconds for me to set up my card using the default Debian distribution).

The idea then is to get these into schools were kids can learn to programme and about how computers work without worrying about messing up a family PC, or a PC required for standard ICT lessons etc. Currently though most of the Raspberry Pi's will have been bought by people like me who are interested in technology and grew up programming simpler machines than we commonly use today. We will iron out any bugs in the hardware, and write software for the device, so that when, later in the year, a cased version is launched for schools there will be teaching material and applications available. I'll certainly try and help the community in anyway I can and for the first time in over a decade I have hope that maybe the level of computing skills I see in undergraduates might actually go up rather than down!

Oh and from a quick play this afternoon, it can run GATE! (For those who don't know GATE is how I earn my living).

Raspberry Pi

Now I know that I don't usually blog about computing things on this blog as I know the posts tend to bore a lot of you. I am, however, going to do a number of posts about the Raspberry Pi.

There are currently only about 2,000 of these things in the wild and mine arrived this morning. More details on what exactly this little thing is and why it's got me excited in later posts once I've had chance to have a play with it.

Friday, 13 April 2012

I Collected Dead Things

In August last year I blogged about some pictures I'd seen in a hotel room that were made from moth and butterfly wings. In the comments to that post I mentioned that as a child I used to collect moths and butterflies and that they were pinned and labelled in old soap boxes in my parents house. I also promised that at some point I'd do a post about the collection.

Now I can't remember when I first started the collection, although I do know the lid decoration came quite a bit later when I used the collection to gain my Collectors badge in the Cub Scouts.

Now the lid should help explain the title of this post; I only ever collected specimens which I found dead. I would never have (and still wouldn't) consider killing a moth or a butterfly to add it to a collection. Not that I've add to the collection in a number of years, mostly as the boxes have been in my parents loft as Bryony won't let me have them in the house (she likes butterflies but hates moths, even if they are dead), but also as it's a long time since I've actually seen a dead moth or butterfly.

Now I know there are plenty more people, like Bryony, that don't like moths and/or butterflies so for the first time on this blog I'm going to make you click through to the rest of this post so you only see the photos if you want to (although if you are reading this on the post page then the link will be missing and that whole sentence won't make much sense, but nevermind).

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Where Shall We Play Today?

While Where Shall We Play Today? by Gilly Meredith isn't a book I remember from my childhood (unlike Bryony), but I'm fairly certain that both Hedgehog and Mouse would have known that an abandoned iron works wasn't a safe place to play. Unfortunately I'm neither a mouse or a hedgehog, so I thought it was a splendid idea, especially at night!

Last week I was in Duisburg (it's a ten minute train journey from Düsseldorf airport) to attend a Khresmoi project meeting. We had the usual project dinner on the Tuesday evening (excellent food and wine), but on the Monday night one of the local organizers (thanks Sascha) had organized a sightseeing trip to Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.

I hadn't looked at the park's website so I didn't really know what we were going to see. The only hint I'd had was someone mentioning that it was built on an old industrial complex. We arrived at the park around 8pm as the sun was beginning to set and it was clear that this wasn't a flat and green park land, but rather the remains of a substantial factory complex -- in fact an iron works.

By the time we had found our guide for the evening it was getting very dark. Fortunately the buildings are lit up at night in a multi-coloured light-show so in most places (but definitely not all) you can at least see where you are putting your feet. We started with a general introduction to the park, where we found out that the iron works closed 27 years ago and that the park officially opened in 1994 and now contains one of the biggest indoor scuba diving centres in the old gas storage tank. Of course diving wouldn't be fun without things to explore so there is a ship wreck and a crashed airplane, a few cars and an artificial reef! Leaving the tank behind we headed further into the works.

The first thing to notice once you head into the works is that a park such as this would never be allowed in the UK. Given that we seem to need Health and Safety signs for almost everything (including exposed tree roots in a forest) I'm sure an abandoned iron works being made open to the public would be completely out of the question. There are plenty of places to trip, fall and bang your head, especially at night and yet the park is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Even access to almost the top of one of the blast furnaces isn't restricted (it's a good couple of hundred feet up in the air). The stairs are steep and exposed, and when you do eventually make it to the top there is just a simple rail around the platform (which seems to be a favorite place for teenagers to gather for a quiet beer). Don't get me wrong I thought it was wonderful, I'm just surprised there aren't more accidents.

As I've already mentioned the buildings themselves are lit up at night to form a large artwork that can be seen for miles around, but some of the buildings are also used for temporary art displays, including what our guide referred to as the floating shower caps!

We spent around over two hours exploring the park and it was a really good evening. I didn't think I'd ever better my night time wonder around Berlin for project meeting entertainment, but this was better. I think this was partly because you never quite knew what to expect around the next corner, while in Berlin you have a good idea of the sites you will visit. I'll finish with one last photo showing the majority of the factory (including the crocodile crane). If you look at the large version then you can see the steps up the side of the blast furnace which gives you some idea of how exposed it was and how high we ended up.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Confused By The Weather

Along with most of the UK we have been having a rather mild couple of weeks. So mild in fact that I've already seen a butterfly!

I'm not sure where it had been over wintering but on the 24th of February my attention was distracted by a Speckled Wood sunning itself on the inside of my study window. It was a warm enough day to have the window open but I wouldn't have thought it was late enough in the year for butterflies. Unfortunately I have a number of plants on my windowsill which got in the way of a decent photo (every time I tried to move one of them it upset the butterfly so it didn't seem worth trying too hard). After about twenty minutes it eventually flew out of the open window.

I've no idea if it will have survived the cooler temperatures overnight, but there is definitely something weird going on with the seasons this year. There was blossom on a cherry tree nearby just after Christmas and now a butterfly in February!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Dragon Shaped Meeple

I've blogged about meeples before, but it turns out that as well as people shaped meeples you can get dragon shaped meeples! The dragon comes as part of an expansion to the Carcassonne game where I first discovered meeples.

It turns out that there are quite a few expansions to the basic game, most of which can all be played together, and so I can now look forward to other shaped meeples including builders, pigs, mayors, barns, waggons and even ghosts! Many of the board games we have bought over the years haven't been played much after the initial novelty has worn off, but we keep going back to Carcassonne and the expansiosn certainly help to keep it interesting, even if a dragon removes it from reality somewhat!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Foldable Plug

Whilst I try and keep up with the latest technology ideas I don't tend to actually buy a lot of new "must have" gadgets. For example, my mobile phone is still just that: it's mobile and it makes phone calls, but it doesn't do much else. Now and again, however, I see a new piece of technology that I know I must have. Over the last decade that has probably happened just three times. The first was when I knew I had to get a Nintendo Wii (and I did spend a few cold mornings waiting for the shops to open to see if they had any new stock). I've also pre-ordered a Raspberry Pi having followed it's development over the last few years (I ordered one within about 40 minutes of them going on sale at 6am, although I don't know how long I'll have to wait for it to actually arrive). But this post is about the second time this has happened, and it all started a couple of years ago when I saw this video.
When I travel I get really annoyed by UK plugs. They are really bulky and if I'm trying to get away with just cabin luggage when flying I've often ended up damaging books when trying to cram everything into a small bag. One of the things I try and do is avoid buying anything that I would want to travel with that can't be charged from a USB socket. This way I take my netbook (which is tiny), it's charger (which is basically an over sized plug) and a few USB cables so that I can then charge my phone, my iPod, GPS track logger, and Bryony's Kindle as well as being able to access the photos on my cameras whilst only packing a single UK plug. Whilst this works well it does mean that I have to have my computer on to charge anything. So I'd be quite happy to add a small flat plug to my luggage if it meant I could charge my devices easier when traveling.

So when I saw that the designer had finally turned the concept into a saleable product I pre-ordered what is now called the Mu USB Adapter. They went on sale last Tuesday and mine turned up on Thursday. The packaging is very Apple like (white and well designed) as you can see from this nice unboxing sequence.

The design has changed slightly since the original concept (most notable the foldable sections now fold forwards in the opposite direction) but as you can see from this short, badly shot, video, it still works well and most importantly folds down really small.

I haven't had the chance to use it in anger yet (I was actually away with work when it arrived), but I'm already convinced that it's going to make my life so much easier when I'm trying to travel light. If you travel a lot and have a number of USB powered devices (I'm sure most of us do) then I'd certainly recommend you think about buying one.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Last 8 Seconds

Last Sunday Bryony and I spent an hour counting the birds visiting our garden as part of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. This is something we've done a number of times before and this year we saw the usual suspects; Robin, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Starling, Sparrow. We also had more interesting birds such as Goldfinches, Long Tailed Tits, Bullfinches, and a Siskin (which interestingly we've never seen before in this garden although we have seen during a Big Garden Birdwatch at our previous house). We also had a Sparrowhawk make a passing appearance. Unfortunately the Sparrowhawk decided to reduce our Bullfinch count by one! These two photos were, according to the camera, taken just eight seconds apart.

Now firstly from these photos it is clear that I need to clean the windows and use a faster shutter speed, but just after I'd taken the first photo the Bullfinch went right, straight into the path of the Sparrowhawk and became lunch. Now I have no problem with the Sparrowhawk needing to eat but why couldn't it have gone for one of the more numerous species? A Sparrow maybe? I'm sure they would taste roughly the same!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Happy New Year!

So far I've failed miserably to do any posts about Christmas and New year, even though I do have a few in mind. So having missed blogging about New Year, I decided I had to blog about Chinese New Year, especially as I realised that a post I intended to write back when I visited Beijing in 2010 would be perfect response to this blog post from my father-in-law.

After eating Peking Duck we were taken on a short walk around the edges of Tian'an Men Square and down Qian Men Dajie (Emperor's Avenue) which I described as "a soulless shopping street". One shop did, however, attract my interest: Yunhong Chopsticks Shop. I only had time for a quick glance through the window, but I was determined that if I had time then I'd go back and take a proper look. Fortunately on the last day I was in Beijing I had time and was in the area.

My picture doesn't really do a good job of showing you what the inside looked like. The best I can do is suggest you imagine what Ollivander's Wand Shop from Harry Potter would like like if it was modernized and sold chopsticks instead of wands. Every conceivable wall space and counter was covered in small boxes. Every draw or cupboard opened to revel more boxes. The sales assistants were very friendly and would ask if you knew roughly what you were interested in and would then buzz around the shop collecting boxes from which they then suggested you try the feel of a pair of chopsticks. It was a fun experience and I spent about half an hour choosing what I wanted to buy.

By this point you might well be thinking, what does this all have to do with Chinese New Year? The answer; I bought Bryony and I each a set of good luck chopsticks engraved with our Chinese birth sign. I'm a goat/sheep and Bryony is a horse. They are apparently made of ebony and silver with the Chinese birth symbol as part of the engraving on the silver (sorry about the image quality but I was in a bit of a rush to get the post out today and I forgot to take the photos while there was daylight).

As a bonus, because we are now in the year of the dragon, here is another photo I took whilst in Beijng of the Nine Dragon Wall in the Forbidden City. You can zoom right into the image although the quality of the photo isn't great. For once it wasn't a problem with the photographer or camera but the level of air pollution I was shooting through.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Fotoshop by Adobé

Some of you might have seen this already, but if not enjoy what is probably one of the best parody adverts ever: Jesse Rosten's Fotoshop by Adobé.