Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Loch Coruisk

So having past the dolphins and the seals on the boat trip from Elgol on Skye we eventually disembarked from the boat and made the short walk to Loch Coruisk, which was perfectly timed for us to eat our lunch, and what a place to have lunch!

Getting to Loch Coruisk on foot would require a serious walk and while I'm sure that would have been much better exercise I wouldn't have got to see the dolphins so I think we definitely chose the better option!

So I've now done three blog posts covering just one day of the holiday. It was a very good day but there were certainly other blog worthy moments during the week so I'll try and pull at least a couple more posts together for you all to enjoy.

Monday, 15 September 2014


When we came back from our recent trip to Skye I really did intend to try and get blog posts up quickly, given how few I've written for this blog this year. Alas, I seem to have failed alread as it's now over a fortnight since we got home and so far you've had one post, albeit with a video of Dolphins. So here we are with a second post ... all about seals.

So having seen the dolphins playing right up against the boat, we eventually headed back towards the short and Loch Coruisk. The harbour entrance is protected from the worst of the weather by a number of small rocky outcrops and this, on a good day at least, is where the seals bask in the sun.

The boat did a number of turns around the rocks to make sure we all got a really good view, before heading into the harbour so we could disembark and visit the loch, but that will be for the next post, which hopefully won't take another two weeks to appear!

Saturday, 6 September 2014


So in the previous post I blogged about a wonderful weekend in Inverness at a family wedding. Now driving to Inverness, or anywhere else in the north of Scotland, takes quite a while. It's made worse by the fact that I don't drive so Bryony did all the driving; approximately ten hours each way. You would think this would rather limit our trips to Scotland, and it does, yet just two weeks after the weeding we were in the car heading north, this time to stay with friends on Skye. Fortunately my mother-in-law was joining us as well so there were two people to do the driving. There will probably be a number of posts about the holiday as we had a great time, but I thought I'd start with the dolphins.

Ever since we first visited Skye back in 2009 (you can see all my previous Skye posts here) our friends have suggested we take a boat trip from Elgol to Loch Coruisk which is right in the heart of the Cuillins. Unfortunately either the weather hasn't been great or we've visited too late in the year and the boat trips haven't been running. This year we were there at the right time and had glorious weather (for the first three days anyway) and so over dinner on the first night while planning the week the boat trip finally made it onto the schedule.

There are a number of companies that run boat trips from Elgol but we went with Misty Isle Boat Trips; this is the company our friends always use when taking visitors out to Loch Coruisk and as everyone involved is so friendly they've never seen any reason to try any of the others. One of the reasons for the trip, other than to see Loch Coruisk, is that you can be pretty much guaranteed a close up encounter with seals which bask on the rocks on the entry to the harbour where you disembark for the short walk to the loch. Of course it is likely that you will get to see other wildlife as well (we got a golden eagle soaring over our heads as we re-boarded the boat) but there is obviously no guarantee. Fortunately we were lucky and had a pod of dolphins playing around the boat on the way out.

Apologies for the quality of the video. Firstly this is straight from the camera with no sensible editing and secondly for some reason it looks horribly blocky once uploaded to YouTube. I'm not sure what the problem is but I'm guessing it's down to a reduction in file size to make the streaming possible on "normal" internet connections. Anyway... this should at least give you an idea of the experience we had which was best described as magical, and that was before we got to the seals or to see Loch Coruisk, which will be the subject of future posts.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Perfect Weather for a Wedding

The weather last weekend, throughout most of the UK, was appalling thanks to the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. Fortunately we managed to find a nice dry and sunny spot to spend Saturday; Achnagairn Castle just outside Inverness. A trip to Inverness for the weekend isn't something we would normally do, the ten hours it takes to drive there usually rules it out, but on this occasion, even a full on hurricane wouldn't have stopped us from getting there as we were attending a family wedding.

When we got up on the Saturday morning we couldn't believe the weather as it was wonderfully warm and sunny, although the forecast was still suggesting rain for the afternoon. By the time everyone started to assemble there was still no sign of the rain. At this point I should probably introduce the happy couple; Gareth (Bryony's cousin) and his wife Carol.

Having been to a number of weddings in recent years I find this photo extremely interesting. At every wedding I've ever been too, I've either not seen the register being signed (this happens with church weddings when the bride and groom wonder off to sign the register), or have been explicitly told that photography during the signing is prohibited (some legal reason that I've never understood). Yes you'll have seen plenty of photos of people signing the register at their wedding, but they are all staged with a blank register, not the actual one. It appears, however, that in Scotland the laws are different. This is the first civil wedding I've been to in Scotland (we went to a church wedding in St. Andrews a few years ago) so the signing took place in front of us, but this time we were actively encouraged to take photos.

Anyway it wouldn't be a Scottish wedding without lots of men in kilts, including the groom and his father.

Given the long trip home, we called it a night at around midnight by which point it still hadn't rained and everyone seemed to have had a fantastic day. I've lots more photos to sort through so there might be another post, but I'll end this post by saying congratulations again to Gareth and Carol and thanks for inviting us.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Large Skipper

Last year we were fortunate to see a Dingy Skipper butterfly in the garden. On Saturday we had the much more common variety, a Large Skipper, visit the garden. It seemed to really enjoy sunning itself on some bricks we've been using to mark out sections of the garden as we continue to work on adding borders.

I thought we had seen one in the garden before, but there is nothing written in my butterfly book, so it might be a new species for the garden. Either way it was a nice diversion from working in the garden!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Garden Bunting

While the garden is beginning to look really good after the hard work we've put into it this year, we aren't about to start hanging out the bunting. That doesn't stop a bunting enjoying the garden though. Specifically a Yellowhammer visited this evening. Sorry about the rather poor photo, but it was taken hand held in poor light (we lose direct sunlight to the garden by about 4 o'clock due to the railway and trees) and through the kitchen window which is definitely in need of a clean.

I haven't heard it sing the traditional "little bit of bread and no cheese" song yet, but I'm assuming it is primarily the male that sings, and this would be a female. Either way a nice new addition to the species list for the garden.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

No Post On Sundays?

It would appear that, at least in the UK, Amazon are now using owls to make their deliveries. I ordered a small item from Amazon late on Friday and didn't pay any attention to the expected delivery date, I just assumed that, as I have Amazon Prime, it would arrive on Monday.

When I got up this morning I had an e-mail which said that my parcel was out for delivery today, i.e. Sunday. My initial thought was that it was a glitch in their system, and that it had actually only been dispatched today and would be delivered tomorrow.

Given that the weather today has been great, we spent the afternoon in the garden working, but I did keep an ear out for a delivery vehicle just in case. When it got to 6pm I decided that it really was just a glitch in Amazon's system as who would expect a delivery after 6pm on any day let alone a Sunday. So imagine my surprise when at 7:10pm there was a knock on the door and my parcel was delivered!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Keeping The Milk In

The fridge in the kitchen is old. I don't know quite how old, but we've been using it for over 10 years and before that it was in my Mother-in-law's kitchen. However old it is it still works and we'll keep using it at least until we redecorate the kitchen. For the last year or so there has though been a small niggling little problem. Periodically you would open the fridge only for the milk to go flying across the kitchen, usually leaking everywhere in the process. The problem was that one of the brackets holding the shelf edge on was broken.

I initially fixed the bracket by super-gluing the retaining pins back on, and while this works for a short while it will let go again after a few months. I also tried numerous varieties of tape to keep things together but this was worse than gluing; I'm guessing due to the cold temperature and moisture. Just after lunch last Friday I opened the fridge and yet again the milk went flying. This time it had been less than a day since I'd tapped the shelf edge in place and I'd had enough. Given how old the fridge was I didn't hold out much hope of being able to just buy a replacement part, and sure enough a quick web search didn't turn up anything helpful, so I set about creating a replacement part instead.

Long term readers of this blog may remember that almost two years ago I experimented with 3D printing for the first time. Since then I've designed and printed quite a few model railway items and even opened a shop on Shapeways. Given how easy simple geometric shapes are to model and print, I decided that it would be eminently feasible to design and print a replacement bracket.

It took me about half an hour to model the bracket in Blender using a set of digital callipers to measure the matching unbroken bracket. The part was quick to model as I focused on function rather than form (the model consists of just four cubes, a cylinder, and few mirror and boolean modifiers); it certainly isn't going to win any design awards!

After creating the model it was simple to upload it to Shapeways and less than 45 minutes after deciding to 3D print the replacement part I had one on order in the white strong and flexible material. Yesterday, just four working days after placing the order, the printed part arrived. A quick comparison with the original and it looked as if I'd got the measurements right, and indeed it fits perfectly, so now I can open the fridge without worrying about the milk going flying across the kitchen!

Whilst I really enjoy using 3D printing for producing small models, I think using the process to produce replacement parts is even more useful, especially when there is no other way to source the parts you need. Having proved how well it worked in this case, I'm sure this will be my first choice for any similar situation in the future.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

I Know Where The Bodies Are Buried

On a recent work trip to Kaiserslautern in Germany we had a guided tour of some of the old remains in the city centre. This photo shows where a number of old graves were discovered during previous archeological excavations just outside the modern town hall.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


I'm sure many of you use the Firefox browser for surfing the web, but I'm guessing that many will also have never seen a real firefox before.

We recently had a weekend staying with friends near Oxford, and one of the things we did was a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park which have a pair of Red Pandas; otherwise known as a firefox.

Now before you all shout that the icon for Firefox doesn't look like a Red Panada it isn't intended to as the designer actually modelled the icon on a Japanese drawing of a fox!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Beef From The Orchard

Last year I was invited to join Tesco's new product testing site The Orchard. Essential what happens is that Tesco run some form of promotion, they send me a voucher so I can try the promotion free or for less than full price and then I give them feedback, as well as publicising the promotion in some way (like this post). Given that I do almost all my food shopping at Tesco (they are the main supermarket in Penistone) it seems like a good deal to me, and hopefully you won't be too annoyed by the occasional blog post.

So the first promotion I was asked to participate in was for uncooked fresh meat from the Tesco finest* range and I was sent a £5 off voucher at the beginning of December. Unfortunately due to being away for Christmas and my local store not always stocking the full range (it's not a huge store) I've only recently used the voucher. The wait was, however, worthwhile. In the end I bought 2 fillet steaks which I served with a Greek inspired bubble and squeak. As I wasn't serving a sauce with the steaks I wanted to make sure they were really nice and succulent so I soaked them in 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar for about 10 hours in the fridge before I cooked them. A simple but effective way of preparing the steaks especially as they turned out to be possible the best steak I've ever eaten; they really were unbelievably good. I'm sure a lot of that was down to the quality of the meat, but I'll take some of the credit for the marinading!

All in all, an excellent meal, and I'd be more than happy to recommend the Tesco finest* meats. I've already enrolled in the next promotion which is all about potatoes!

I'm Torn

If you live in the UK then in among the junk mail that your postman kindly delivers in order to ensure your waste paper bin gets fed you will probably have had a leaflet from the NHS entitled "Better information means better care". Essentially this is about the pooling of medical records in order to improve care; or at least that is what the leaflet suggests. The problem is that this sharing of data isn't about ensuring that you get better care as your medical details are already shared between your GP, hospitals, etc. to provide you with the best care. In fact, as far as I can tell, no one who would ever treat you would ever have direct access to this shared data. So if it isn't about treating you better what is it about?

The real aim of pooling the data together is for strategic planning and research. Now given that I work as a researcher I understand that in most instances the more data you have the better your results will be. While I'm not a medical researcher I have, over the last few years, been involved in a number of large projects which have involved limited access to medical records of individual patients. So in theory, I should, eventually, benefit from this programme as there will be more data available not just to medical researchers but to people like me (for those who don't know I'm a Natural Language Processing researcher) who can also help society; just a few of the projects I've worked on, or know about, have ensured that prescription information is accurately recorded, have helped to find a new cause for cancer, and have built a system that can predict suicide attempts from medical notes. In all cases access to the medical records have been strictly controlled (the number of hoops you have to jump through can be insane) and for good reason. These documents contain a large amount of very personal information. All the data I have seen has either been from patients who have opted-in to a study (like the cancer work) or has been used on a purely non-commercial basis.

I certainly have no problem with opt-in medical studies and research within a hospital to improve patient care seems a worthwhile use of data. Selling data to outside companies, however, seems to cross a line. I'm sure that large pharmaceutical companies have strict controls in place over data, but the wider you share things the harder it is to control. And anyway, why should the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC -- the people who will collect and hold the data) be allowed to make money by selling your data? If you asked HSCIC they will of course tell you that in most cases the data they release or sell will be fully annonymized.

I certainly have no problem with releasing population statistics like the percentage of the country who suffered from flu last year. I can see that that is useful information and can in no way lead back to me, if I had flu or not. The problem with handling individual medical records is that they are often very private, and the details have been shared knowing that they are treated confidentially. By the time I see a medical record when doing research, they should have been annoymized (like the majority of HSCIC releases will be) to ensure that I can't work out who the patient is. This usually involves removing name, date of birth, address, etc. Unfortunately there are two problems with this. Firstly no matter how hard you try to annoymize a data set, it is often possible to reverse this and to uncover the people involved; two large examples of this are the AOL search dataset, and the Netflix Prize dataset. The more important problem though is that large scale annoymization is usually done automatically, and like any automatic system it will fail and some of the worst instances of this I have seen were actually in medical records. The worst case I ever saw was a large set of notes in which the names of the patients had been correctly removed throughout. Unfortunately these were letters and notes regarding social care and in many cases the names of other family members, including the patients spouse, had not been removed.

So, as the title of this post suggests, I'm torn. On one side I know from first hand experience that the data the HSCIC wants to collect can be extremely useful, while on the other hand I know that keeping it secure can be very difficult. Added to this, while I might be happy for the NHS to internally use this data for research I'm not convinced it should be sold to commercial third parties, however strict the conditions on its use might be. For example, are we talking about selling to pharmaceutical companies for research or advertising?

I've still not made a final decision on what to do about my own records, but I thought some of you might find this post an interesting reflection from both sides of the fence. Unfortunately the leaflet that was sent out didn't actually include an opt-out form. If you do decide you want to opt-out then you don't need to make a GP appointment (that would be a serious waste of the GPs time), all you need to do is send them a letter explaining that you don't want your records included, and there even a couple of websites (here and here) that have form letters you can use to make the process easy.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Proofreader's Day Off

Among the many excellent presents I got for Christmas (thanks everyone) I got a copy of the brilliant 1986 film Space Camp. The DVD release has been available since 2008 yet it has a glaring error on the front. Can anyone spot it?

Yep, they have managed to mis-align the names and faces of the cast. The actress on the far right is actually Kate Capshaw, while Kelly Preston is the actress labelled as Kate Capshaw second from the left. I can't believe this was missed when the cover was originally produced in 2008, but what I don't understand is why it hasn't been corrected in all that time?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Last Year's Loose Ends

So the world has moved on into 2014, and yet since August I've managed just a single post on this blog. It isn't that I haven't done anything interesting since August, but for some reason I've just never got around to blogging about what I have done. I suppose at least part of the problem is having multiple blogs, and now a twitter account as well, which means that when I do have something to share this blog isn't always the most appropriate place. So to make up for the lack of posts I'm going to do one long(ish) post that will hopefully bring me up to date.

After my trip to Gent in August the rest of the summer was fairly quiet; no work or personal trips and nothing particularly interesting to report from the garden either. Things started to pick up in mid-September when we had visitors to stay for the weekend of the Penistone agricultural show, for which the weather behaved. If the summer had been quite though, I made up for that in October.

First up was a trip to Thessaloniki in Greece for a ForgetIT project meeting. This was my first trip to Greece and it was definitely an interesting place to visit even if I did keep getting mixed up with the different alphabets (note to self: write things down for taxi drivers in the local alphabet). Half the fun of these work trips is the socializing with other participants and this time was no different; the photo shows some of us watching the fish in an unbelievably clear ocean on the first evening before dinner (thanks to Søren Schaffstein for the photo, especially as I didn't take any of any interest). As usual I didn't have that much time in which to explore, but I did experience a magnitude 4.5 earthquake on the final morning; I was in a rather decrepit lift at the time which certainly added to the experience!

Given my schedlue for October it was unfortunate that I managed to pick up some form of throat infection while in Greece that left me barely able to talk. I was fine when I boarded the place home in Thessaloniki but by the time I arrived in Munich I could hardly talk at all, even copious volumes of weissbier while waiting for the plane to Manchester failed to improve things.

Five days after getting back from Greece, and with a throat that still didn't want me to speak, I headed to London to take part in the BBC #newsHACK event at Shoreditch Town Hall. I've already blogged about this event over on one of my other blogs, so I won't bore you with the technical details, but I will point you at our hack/demo and possibly more interestingly show you the video of the pitch session: If you don't want to watch all 27 demos, you can skip to around 55 minutes to see our presentation; including hearing how bad my voice was when I tried to answer a question.

I ended October with a visit to the National Railway Museum in York for a one in a lifetime chance to see the six remaining A4 steam locomotives together (two of them are usually to be found in North America). As with the #newsHACK event I blogged about this trip elsewhere, so I'll just include the obligatory photo at this point.

October also saw me being paid for the very first time for the 3D models I have on sale via Shapeways; my first sale was back in January 2013, but they only pay out when you've made at least $30. I won't claim this as profit, as I spent more than I've made on test prints, but it's a very good start! In fact someone ordered another model this morning so hopefully 2014 will be profitable.

November was again mostly taken up with work, but we did take a few days off to have a long weekend in Warwickshire so we could attend both days of the National Poultry Show at Stoneleigh Park. I always thought that it was interesting looking at marque worth of chickens at the Penistone show, but I think I was all poultried out by around lunchtime on the first day. I'm not entirely sure how many chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys we looked at but according to the programme there were nearly 7000 entires plus 500 sale pens, and as some of those will have contained more than one bird you can begin to imagine just how much there was to see. The hope was that by the end of the weekend we would have a much better idea of which breed(s) of chickens we would like to keep once we have sorted out the garden, but if anything I think it just gave us more options! Still it was a fun weekend.

December mostly saw us getting ready for Christmas and visiting relatives, and strangely I haven't taken many (if any) photos so there isn't really much to show for our travels. Anyway that brings the blog nicely up to date ready for whatever 2014 may throw at me. I hope you've all had a great holiday and wish you all the best for the new year!