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.