Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The lost years

My trip to Beijing back in the late 90s was a very memorable experience but one thing i remember most about it was not remembering something. I don't remember several hours of my life (alcohol assisted in this i believe) one night when i was there. One moment i was in a bar and the next i was waking up at my friend's apartment. What happened in those hours between? Apparently nothing but to this day its a total blank. As someone who likes to be in control of his life i find these blank hours a bit unsettling.

However another total blank is even more unsettling, at the weekend i was looking through my junk room at home when i found a couple of Ladytron CDs. When did i buy these? Obviously it must have been in the late 90s or early 00s but i had no recollection of it. In fact much of the period from 1998 to about 2002 is quite vague. I seemed to have dropped out of the world.

News stories of the Balkan wars such as the recent arrest of Mladic seem strange to me as i don't remember the wars at all, now these days i am always very wired into whats going on in the world (i predicted food prices would see some states topple about 6 months before the Arab Spring began for example) but in the late 90s i appear to have tuned out for awhile and didn't keep up with... well anything much. Even TV is vague from those times, i sometimes catch great shows i missed on first time around from those years.

So what was i doing? No i wasn't in prison or on drugs. I think i was lost in the online world, as i might be from time to time now, but at least i still read the news nowadays. To be truthful i don't really know what i was doing during those years and that is probably the most unsettling fact of all.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fairey Battle completed

The latest model project, the Fairey Battle, has been completed. Or will be once the varnish dries. Not a bad job, not 100% happy with the canopy but other than that nothing really that glaringly wrong which for me is quite rare! Don't forget you can track all my projects on my model kits page.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Antique photographs... or are they?

I recently found this photograph in an old family archive which depicts the M6 way back in 1884. Of course the motorway was very different back then, only horse drawn carts were allowed after the ox-cart disaster of 1881...
Actually no of course this is a manipulated photo from a slightly more recent 2009, though the photo is a scanned 110 film photograph i took with my Kodak Instamatic so is rather retro anyway. I manipulated it using an interesting app i've just got called VintageScene which is well worth a play with. The original of this photo can be seen here, it shows the M6 alongside the Tame Valley Canal.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New model kit page

As you may (or may not) have noticed at the top of this blog there is a new tab. This is a page listing all of my model kit projects pending, under construction and completed. Its to help me keep track more than anything as i've done so many now i can't keep all the completed projects in the same place, and also its a handy way of listing what was completed and when. So take a look.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I love Stratford-upon-Avon, i went there last year for a work away day, the first time i had been there for years and loved it so much i returned a few months later for a weekend. And today i return again for just a day this time. As always i took some photographs and you can see them here. Will i live here one day? Why not, its a dream and it costs nothing to have it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Busy day off!

I have had today and tomorrow off work, well i get a lot of leave you see as i work for a university and i haven't taken a great deal yet and as the end of next month is the mid-point of the year i thought i had better take some time off! In the end it was quite a busy day, as will tomorrow as i am going to Stratford.

Anyway today i bought some new bedding and towels and also went and watched some cricket (Warwickshire vs Durham). I took my Kindle with me to both read while i waited for play to start and also to see if Edgbaston Cricket Ground has any free wi-fi. Interestingly they have 3 separate wi-fi networks but unfortunately all password protected...

In between all this i also potted some of my tomato plants which are starting to outgrow the nursery tray and had time to visit my Mum too. I shall return to work on Thursday and have a nice rest.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fairey Battle

My latest aircraft model project is a Fairey Battle, a rather unsuccessful British light bomber from early in WW2. Its one of the biggest aircraft i have built to date, only the Buccaneer is bigger than it. As i'm already running out of shelf space for my "fleet" where i am going to put the Battle when it is completed is an interesting question. Its about half done now, it looks more in this photo but the underneath hasn't been painted yet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foodtography project completed

When i photographed my dinner earlier it completed a week long foodtography project i have been running where i photographed and uploaded every breakfast, lunch and dinner i had since Monday morning. I actually surprised myself in not forgetting to photo a meal, in fact i did not even come close to forgetting which just shows you that when i have a bit of mental discipline i can achieve anything. The results of my experiment can be seen in this Flickr set.
One thing to notice is that i seem to eat a lot of fish! I had fish and chips no fewer than 3 times including Friday night's lemon sole as shown above and fried mackerel once. However this was slightly unusual, usually it would be no more than fish once or twice. I might run this project again next year and see if my diet has changed over the time period.

Land of my Mothers

I visited Shard End in Eastern Birmingham today. It was the first place i ever lived (though as i was a baby at the time i don't remember much about it... though apparently i lived next door to Roger Taylor). My Nan lived there and its where my Mum grew up so i spent a lot of time there until my Nan passed away in the mid-90s. It was a genuine second home to me up until then.

Nowadays I don't visit Shard End very often though the last time i went i was struck by how run down and decrepit the place had become. However today i was glad to see a major regeneration project is in progress. It will look great when its all finished.
Afterwards i wandered away from the centre of Shard End and came across Kingfisher Country Park. Actually this is quite a large park that stretches through a number of districts and had the river Cole running through it. Somewhere to visit again thats for sure. I took some photos at the park which you can see here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Help the Aston Manor Road Transport Museum!

The Aston Manor Road Transport Museum is a great place which i have visited quite a lot over the years. It is under serious threat of closure though! Have a look at their website where they explain the situation and show we can help. Lets hope they can survive because their collection is awesome and we live in BIRMINGHAM so our road transport heritage should be something we surely should protect?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giving Chrome a go

I've been a Firefox user ever since the Firebird days but recently Firefox 4 has tested my patience by crashing so often. I should add that this only occurs on my work PC and FF4 remains rock solid at home on my Mac. I tried to use Safari at work but it just has too many flaws for me.

I decided to try Chrome instead and so far i am impressed. I had to spoof the User Agent to get around some problems with our Content Management System (and this in turn messes up loading Gmail) but other than that its working really well and hasn't crashed all day! The lack of a status bar still annoys me though, i am just too used to it and feel naked without it! I managed to get around this with FF4 but as yet have not found a way to restore something like a status bar to Chrome. Though i might get used to it eventually.

I'm sticking to Firefox at home but who knows if Chrome continues to improve...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The end of Teletext

I've always been a big fan of viewdata, i even created a train timetable viewdata system for my final project when i did my Computer Science GCSE. When my parents finally got a TV with teletext capability  i quickly became an avid user of Ceefax and Oracle the BBC's and ITV's viewdata systems. Over the years i have committed key page numbers to memory and even possess 3 CDs of testcard music which often accompanied "Pages From Ceefax" where the BBC would show a scroll of teletext pages for those without the capability to view them normally accompanied by stirring music by the likes of the Ralph Boston Sound Orchestra...

However that is soon to change. The central TV area is switching off the analogue signal in September and i will no longer be able to access Ceefax (the ITV teletext has already long gone). There is some sort of teletext system on digital but its quite frankly rubbish and totally misses the point about why analogue teletext was such a great information system.

Thats because, if you memorised some key index pages, incredibly fast and powerful. Say for example you wanted the latest Warwickshire cricket score. After awhile you would know that the cricket index on Ceefax was 340 so you key that in and in a few seconds you could see the page number for the score you want and key that in. I'd say it was usually faster than looking up the information online especially if your computer wasn't to hand. The lack of high resolution graphics also made the pages simple with information paramount, though the often bizarre graphics that people attempted using teletext sometimes could distract from the information but usually gave the teletext experience an odd lo-fi charm.

On digital teletext you have to navigate by moving the focus cursor, akin to surfing the web using Lynx. Video and higher resolution graphics also just slow it down. The available information on digital is also, bizarrely, less than on analogue.

So after September i will no longer be able to access Ceefax, though i admit that these days i mainly only read the letters page on 145. It might not be the complete end, London keeps analogue until next year so in theory i could read teletext on my sister-in-law's TV but its unlikely i will. No teletext dies for me in September.

Or does it? Well maybe not. The first app i bought for the iPad when i got one last Christmas was a... teletext viewer. I will be able to continue to get my viewdata fix for the foreseeable future even if most of the available systems are non-English. It won't be the same though of course, a great technology will pass from use with no replacement. Like the passing of Concorde the demise of analogue teletext will leave the world a poorer and less informed place.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A week of foodtography

I am going to conduct an experiment over the next week, i am going to photograph everything i eat. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner will be documented (and of course i'd better not screw this up and forget any meals or i will look a right Charlie!) Foodtography is quite popular online now though i am mainly doing it so i can see at a glance what i eat in a week which hopefully will scare me into sticking to my diet! I will post my pictures to this set on Flickr.
Foodtography - Sun 15 May 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

10 fascinating facts about Erdington

I am thinking about doing an Erdington history blog, while i decide here is a little list of 10 fascinating facts, which may or may not be true, about this awesome village i live in.
  1. Chester Road probably predates the Romans and as you can thus imagine is one of the oldest roads in the area. Between Kenilworth and Brownhills the road follows the route of the ancient Welsh Road.
  2. The Dwarf Holes were mysterious artificial caves, which were lost due to the construction of the Gravelly Hill Interchange. They may have dated from the Stone Age. They were mentioned in deeds dating from the 15th century in any case.
  3. The brick factory on Holly Lane supplied the bricks for many of Erdington's houses up until WW2. Twenty million bricks were used to build Fort Dunlop.
  4. Fort Dunlop was at one time the largest tyre factory in the British Commonwealth, it was built where it was because of the ready supply of water from the River Tame and surrounding fields.
  5. The murder of Mary Ashford in Erdington in 1817 and the resulting trial ended up with the British legal system being changed after the defendant Abraham Thornton challenged his accuser (Mary's younger brother) to a duel who, as he was just a young lad, declined thus forcing the case to be dismissed. News of this case travelled far and wide, when Thornton tried to emigrate to the US he had a lot of trouble trying to get a ship in Liverpool as the fellow passengers did not want to share the same boat as a "murderer".
  6. Number 2 Fern Road was the last house with a thatched roof in Birmingham though it's roof was replaced in 1944 due to the fire risk.
  7. Six Ways is reputed to be the oldest traffic roundabout in the UK.
  8. In the 1900s Birmingham Council planned to build a gas works on the Glenthorne estate, luckily they built the Birches Green housing estate instead.
  9. The Acorn Hotel was located on the High Street on the junction of Church Road up until the Second World War, a pub called The Acorn occupies part of the same site.
  10. Two companies bid for the railway line from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield, the winning company building what is now the Cross City Line. The alternative plan envisaged a rail route to Erdington that would have gone along the Tyburn Road and Wood End Lane with stations on Mason Road and Orphanage Road.
Arkinstall M & Baird P (1976), 'Erdington Past & Present', Birmingham Public Libraries
Baxter M & Drake P (1995), 'Erdington', Tempus
Baxter M & Drake P (2003), 'Erdington Vol 2', Tempus
Maxam A (2008), 'Vintage Images of Erdington Birmingham', Adlard


I have had a busy week. For a start there has been a huge amount of TV that i have struggled to keep up with. Two episodes of The Apprentice and two Eurovision semi-finals ate up a lot of my evenings. I have more or less caught up now with everything anyway.

To add to my busyness i have been on a Adobe Flash training course the last couple of days at the NTI. Its been a long time coming, i think i first asked about being allowed to go on such a course 3 or 4 years ago. Better late than never though of course there is a lot of noise about Flash being old skool and HTML5 taking over. Well that won't happen for some time yet and the installed base for Flash is huge so i suspect i will have the chance to try out my newly learned skills. Flash isn't quite as old as COBOL and thats still going around, i can write in that too incidentally.

Its nice to get out of the office and learn something new. To be honest this is probably the first formal computer training i've had since i graduated in Software Engineering 15 years ago! Since then i've had to learn a lot of new stuff but its always been on the job, its good to learn something new without the pressure of deadlines and impending death if i fail.

NTI is a great venue, their coffee is a lot better than the stuff we have in the office too though urine from the last leper in Hell probably is better as well to be honest.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nocturnal activities

Last night they thoughtfully decided to do roadworks outside my bedroom between 11pm and 2am! Well i guess they have to do it sometime and as i live on a busy road this time would be the best one to do it. Though i wish they wouldn't make quite as much noise, i also wish they'd turn their roaring machines off as they stood around for half an hour having a chat! Anyway i took the opportunity to take some photographs, i didn't take a photo when one of the workmen had a pee into a bottle outside my house though but at least he didn't use my front garden!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

When happens when a lorry breaks down?

While i am actually getting a bit sick of living on a main road it does provide for free entertainment now and then. Just yesterday a lorry broke down outside my house and eventually a tow truck arrived to take it away. As you might imagine it is quite an involved process hitching up a juggernaut to a tow truck so these photos i took might be of interest.

The little tree which grew

Many years ago, when exactly i cannot recall exactly now but it must have been sometime in the early-mid 1980s, my Nan had a tiny little real Xmas tree for Xmas (natch). The tree was a live one in a pot and after the Pagan festivities had ended she gave me the tree (which was around 30cm tall) which i planted in the little plot in my parents' garden which i had been given.

For years the tree hardly grew, it didn't seem in danger of dying but just didn't change a great deal, someone told me the tree had been sprayed to stop the pine needles from coming out. Which is actually a good idea, my parents once had a real Xmas tree that hadn't been sprayed and we were still finding needles in the carpet a good 10 years later.

Then slowly, maybe as the effects of the spray wore off, the tree began to grow. Well as you can see from this picture it has grown quite a bit. I am pretty sure it is now taller than the house and so huge its roots have begun to destroy the garden path. Whilst not an expert on Xmas trees i suspect it is now more or less at full size. An interesting addition to Erdington flora.

This second photo is dated (or was printed anyway) in July 1991 as can be seen the tree was still rather small. So much so i have had to add an arrow so you can see where it is!

Planting trees is an interesting exercise in long-term planning (or the lack of in this case). I should have planted it in a more central location in the garden as its spread makes traversing down the garden path troublesome and the root damage has already been mentioned.

But then again i guess many little trees are planted and never really amount to much. One at least has been allowed to reach for the skies.

Friday, May 6, 2011

AppleCrate II

Now this is properly awesome, Michael Mahon has built a parallel computer out of 17 Apple IIe motherboards! That is the kind of Apple / Microcomputer hackery geekfest i can only applaud and wish i had the mad skillz to emulate. Mind you i have had my moments playing around with retro tech but this is truly the super league.

I do have an Apple IIe in fact along with a //c but its motherboard is staying in its case! The latter does work the one time i did boot it up though unsure about the IIe. It probably does work though even though its been gathering dust for decades. I must do a blog post about my Apple and microcomputer collection soon...

Not good enough

Well the AV vote has failed but that was kind of expected anyway because the Yes campaign was so poor and the No campaign effective but negative... but at least visible.

In the light of regional elections Labour has to be rather disappointed i would have thought. I certainly am. OK we win Wales but Scotland is lost and as for winning English councils, well Labour did that throughout the 1980s for all the good it did. The Tories actually won some councils in any case.

The government is unpopular, the Tories have been successful in setting up their Lib Dem coalition partners to be the fall guys but even so, the Tories should have taken a hit so why haven't they?

Granted the effect of their cuts has yet to be felt but much of the publicity has been negative. However there has been little positive narrative from the other side for people to grasp onto. What do Labour actually stand for? I don't know and neither do the party to be honest. People afraid or distrustful of one side will stay with the Devil they know if there is no perceptible alternative. It is that alternative that Labour has to provide and fast.

The party has to come up with a vision, an alternative. The election was lost a year ago yet still Labour are trying to defend their record. No one cares. The Tories and their media lapdogs will attack anyway. Labour needs to set out its vision for rule, a positive vision in tune with the times. A vision that fills the void of hope, that can bring about a fairer society yet one that doesn't punish people just for existing.

So hurry up Ed, the speed at which the Lib Dems are imploding you might need to be coming up with a general election manifesto sooner than you imagined.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

To AV or not to AV

Its referendum day, a rare event in England, in fact the last time they held a referendum nationwide (which was for entry into the EEC) i think i was only just out of nappies. The referendum is to decide if we want to change our voting system from the current First Past The Post to Alternative Vote.

I've always been a fan of fairer voting and proportional representation though AV, where we would list the candidates in order of preference, would not give us that. It would be a tentative step on a road to fairer politics and true democracy though. The majority of parliamentary seats in the UK are safe seats which means that the incumbant does not have to try very hard to get re-elected in most occaisions.

I live in a very safe Labour seat for example, which is fine for me because i am a Labour party member, but there is little chance that voters for other parties will ever be able to have their say. A fairer proportional voting system where their votes count, where all votes count, can only be a good thing surely?

The AV campaign has been poor though on both sides, the No argument seems to have largely been that Britain is broke/crap and its population are idiots so we had best keep FPTP. The Yes campaign has been hardly noticable, in fact i do not recall seeing much from them about it at all.

I voted this morning and voted yes. If you have not voted yet why not vote yes to AV too? Has the current system really served us that well, it seems to give us dictatorial government (of both sides) that lasts for years fuelled by a minority of votes. Maybe AV is not perfect but it is a start and it is something different. Lets not be afraid of change, if it doesn't work we can always try something else but until we try how will we ever know?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gloster Gladiator done!

I have completed my latest kit, a Gloster Gladiator which i have completed in mid-1930s RAF trim. Like the DH Comet i did earlier in the year its not the best kit Airfix have ever done but has come together well and is my first biplane for some time. The colour scheme isn't strictly correct but i have a large number of paints already so am trying to use them up before buying any new ones.
Gloster Gladiator

10 years at BCU

Today marks my 10th anniversary as an employee of Birmingham City University, or UCE as it was when i started. I started the day after May bank holiday in 2001, in fact it was May 8th when i started but as that is a Sunday this year i thought it would be better to celebrate it today!

I remember my first day quite well. When i arrived at Leyland House everything was locked up and i couldn't get in! Nobody started until 9am back then (in fact i started the 8am trend) and i arrived for work quite early, as you always do on your first day, so i had to wait. Luckily it was a lovely sunny day like today!

My desk at the start was in the office the Press Team is now on, actually i was sat where Vicky who runs @mybcu now sits. The Marketing department was very different then though, much smaller for a start. We only occupied half of Leyland House as the International Office had the rest. Nowadays Leyland House is bursting at the seams with the Marketing department alone though there is talk we will move to Edge building at some stage though probably not this year.

My first task as a BCU employee was to change the logo on the website as the logo had just changed (to the one where UCE has "Birmingham" underneath it in smaller letters). I think my next task was to add a few press releases to the website. In the afternoon i had a meeting with the head of ICT though the afternoon now seems a bit of a blur. I still came back the next day though and 10 years later i am still here, and working on the website.

Luckily now there is a CMS and other people working on the site too. However i've never been busier than i am now. Technology was supposed to make our working lives easier eh?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Let the cricket season begin!

I currently have a lobster face for the first time this year after watching some cricket at Edgbaston cricket ground, the home of Warwickshire. In case you don't know, and as i have yet to mention cricket on this blog yet its quite likely you don't, i am a life-long supporter of the club and a member (though thats only the last 5 years or so).

Although the season started a few weeks ago today's game - a CB40 game against Leicestershire was the first home game and also the first chance i have to see the new pavilion.

It looks fabulous, though its not quite finished yet. They aim to finish it by June i think, it looks nearly there anyway. The new permanent floodlights look amazing and rather off-worldly too.

As to the game itself well i only stayed for the Warwickshire innings, actually i never stay longer than an innings or session due to my incredibly short attention span, but it was great entertainment. The Bears scored heavily with plenty of DLF Maximums or 6s if you prefer. I am now following the conclusion of the game on Cricinfo. Sometimes that is the best way to watch cricket. You are less likely to get sunburn anyway. Photos from the Warwickshire innings are here.

This is a really poor country

You know its funny, according to the Prime Minister this country is so poor we can't even afford a fairer voting system like AV! However we can afford dropping bombs on Libya and a massive Royal pageant, its a funny old world isn't it?