Sunday, July 31, 2011

July in 31 snaps

At the beginning of July i decided to take a photograph every day using my camera phone and post them to a dedicated Flickr group to give me a photo survey of the month. Well its been a long month, i managed to avoid not missing any of the days though some of the days did require a bit of a stretch to find something worth photographing.

I decided early on that each photograph would have to be different so i couldn't take 31 photos of the canal. Here you can see all 31 photographs or in the slideshow below. I guess what it says about my life is that i visit canals quite a lot and drink a lot of coffee.

Fairey Fulmar

Been a bit quiet on the model front lately, i took a couple of weeks off after the completion of the Spitfire Ia but this week started Project 020 which is a Fairey Fulmar. This is the naval version (or derivation more correctly) of the Fairey Battle i did earlier in the Summer so that will be an interesting thing to compare the two when i have completed the Fulmar. Construction was finished last night and i started painting this morning.
Fairey Fulmar
Yesterday i bought 3 more kits to build up my stocks (though already had 3 kits in my pending list). Interesting all 3 kits are biplanes! Biplanes i have always struggled with a bit so i decided the best way to improve was shock therapy! It might be though these kits might end up being completed next year as my building season usually ends around the end of September.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Amazon widgets

You may have noticed i have removed the Amazon widget from the sidebar of this blog (and on my music blog too), this is because basically it just hadn't worked! For months i've had these sales widgets on my blogs and despite having thousands of visits to the blogs only a handful have ever clicked anything in the widgets (in July i believe i had a total of 8 clicks) and none have bought anything.

So i have removed the widgets, no doubt this will speed up the loading of the blogs a bit. I'll keep them on my History and Canal blogs for now though. The widgets haven't been totally useless of course, they have served to show off my excellent taste in books, movies and music...

Hatton Locks

When i went to Leamington Spa on the train earlier in the month i noticed how close the canal is to Hatton station on the same line. In fact most stations along the Chiltern Line seem to track the Grand Union Canal (at least as far as Leamington anyway). Today i visited Hatton and had a nice canal walk up to Hatton Locks which is quite an attraction. The locks are very interesting with double boat locks, waterfalls, service bridges the works!

I shall be visiting here again soon i suspect, i had to make my visit fairly brief as i had a train to catch (though it was late anyway). I took a lot of photos today, along the canal and of the Warwickshire countryside, you can see the set here or in the slideshow below if you have Flash installed.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Warks vs MCC Universities SEC

With my car needing to go to the garage for its MOT i have had the day off today and this morning i went along to Edgbaston to catch the morning session of day 3 of the Second Eleven Championship game between the Warwickshire 2nd XI and MCC Universities. Of course there is another cricket match going on somewhere but this was more fun. I took my camera along and took a few photos which you can see in the slideshow or you can view the full set here.

Afterwards in town i had another lovely coffee at 6/8 Kafé which has become my favourite coffee shop in the whole world already.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A load of old junk... or an 8-bit treasure trove?

Last night i finally got around to photographing as many of the old computers and calculators i have in my loft as i could. In the loft i have some old Apple computers (a couple of Apple 2s and some early Macintoshes), a few old PCs, old game consoles and a collection of 70s and early 80s calculators. In the early 2000s i went through a phase of collecting these old calculators, that was before it became fashionable and prices on Ebay soared by about 1000% of course.

Have a look at the photos in the slideshow below or check out the Flickr set. So an 8-bit retro computing treasure trove or a load of old junk that should have been chucked in a skip decades ago? Well you decide but i know my answer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Strategies for Flickr hits

Lately i have been putting some effort into getting more visitors to my Flickr photostream and have come up with a strategy akin to Twenty20 cricket. In that fast form of the game the key to getting a good score is sustained and measured aggression, and thus so it is the same with Flickr. What do I mean well basically :
  • Take a lot of photos obviously (though try not to take dozens of photos of the same tree as i used to do)
  • Make sure everything is labelled, geotagged, put in a set et cetera
  • Put your images in groups, and don't be afraid to put them in a lot of groups. There are many groups on Flickr, often for the same subject and you don't know which one a potential viewer will use so put your image in all of them. 
  • But don't put everything in a group all at once. Some groups don't have daily limits and you could of course put 50 photos of weeds in there, but your photos will get lost in the mix. A better strategy is to put 5-6 photos of in that group day after day.
  • If you do put your images in multiple groups try and vary the images. If someone typically visits 3 bus groups for example, if you put the same 6 photos in all 3 groups then the visitor is unlikely to visit your photos more than once. So mix it up a bit. Of course this can be difficult to organise sometimes.
  • Comment on other people's photos. If someone else has put a good photo then say so, and maybe then they will visit your photostream too and laugh at your efforts... i mean appreciate your work.
  • Embed your Flickr images in blog posts, this provides a handy link to your photostream (like below!) 
Any more useful strategies? Let me know!
London P7160203

Lion talk

I upgraded the operating system on my Macbook to Lion yesterday (or 10.7 if you prefer numbers). It was fairly painless and cheap, being done all online, i just had a 3+ GB download to do first. There are apparently over 250 new features i can now play with.

Many of these new features i am not that interested in though such as Launchpad (Applications from the menu does the same thing already) but the overall look and feel of Lion is nice and it seems to run pretty swiftly too. I have yet to take advantage of some of the more interesting new features like Auto Save and revisions but hopefully my apps will catch up with the OS.

I think this will be an upgrade that will take some time to be fully appreciated but i'll let y'all know if i have any problems or otherwise.

New game : ID the flowers

Here is an exciting new online game, ID these flowers! They are in my garden and have grown from some seeds i sown. The seeds were from a 99p shop and were just labelled something like "wild flower meadow" (and i don't have the box any more). So what are these lovely flowers?
Nice flowers

Monday, July 25, 2011

Micro Life (2) : Commodore VIC-20

The ZX-80 was fine but i didn't do a great deal with it, i needed something with more oomph in order to fully be able to explore the world of computing and be able to properly interact with this exciting new paradigm... in other words i needed something that had decent computer games. So our second microcomputer was the Commodore VIC-20.

Technology wise it was quite a leap from the Sinclair, having a whole 5K of RAM (which was later expanded by 16K!) and more importantly colour! It also had a proper keyboard as opposed to the awful membrane keyboard on the Sinclair. Software was loaded from cassette as with the Sinclair though there was also an extension socket to load games and other software from cartridges. I got a few games on cartridge and my Dad tried his hand at a bit of assembly language programming. Actually my Dad was a keen programmer in the 8-bit days but i don't think thats why i became a programmer myself later on, i think it is just because its one of the few things i am any good at.
Me on the VIC in 1983, see the cartridges and other paraphernalia.

The VIC-20 gave us several years of trouble free and largely enjoyable computing and for me that meant a lot of gaming. I can remember some of the games i played on it, vaguely, though not their names. My favourite was one where you flew a Harrier jump jet and had to shoot down MiGs, though running out of fuel was always a problem and when you landed for refuelling the MiGs would always come out of nowhere and blow you up!

I used to play videogames quite a lot back then, not that i have been ever any good at them. Nowadays i barely play any apart from a small number of games which really grab my attention like Wolfenstein-3D or Toy Commander which i then play until the media wears out.

After a few years the VIC was becoming a bit obsolete and my Dad wanted something with more expandability potential so he could experiment with computing and his HAM radio so the next computer in our house was the BBC Micro but that is a story for another day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

TOTP (08/07/1976)

Top Of The Pops is on Wednesday on BBC4 for a few weeks, which means it won't get bumped by the Sky At Night. Tony Blackboard is here to bring us the pick of the pops in early July 1976...

Sutherland Brothers & Quiver - when the train comes
This week's non-chart song which Tony likes. Its a nice inoffensive slice of 70s boogie rock and even a bit funky but ultimately just not quite good enough to break the band through into the 1st division. They would make the top 40 later in the year but that was more or less it. Decent music but lacking that star quality...

Candi Staton - young hearts run free
Candi has star quality however, she oozes it. On a stage somewhere she belts out this great disco tinged #2 hit. Many young (and old) male hearts fluttering as she does so.

Ruby Flipper are in the Blue Peter garden dancing to some horror from the Tubular Bells album. The theme seems to be some kind of ancient Greek Dionysian orgy (albeit watered down a lot for a pre-watershed BBC audience) though one of the dancers is wearing a shiek outfit which seems to ruin the effect a bit.

Billy Ocean - love on delivery
Billy nearly swallows his microphone which is the highlight of this rather generic bit of 70s soul.

Elton John & Kiki Dee - don't go breaking my heart
Elton and Kiki frolic in a recording studio somewhere. Elton, wearing a very tasteful suit with large blue checks, kisses the front of Kiki's dungarees.

Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Boston tea party
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the British kicking the Americans out of the empire Alex Harvey returns with this weird dirge. There is a cannon onstage and Alex is dressed as an extra from the Alamo film.

Dorothy Moore - misty blue
In what looks to be film from the states... recorded in about 1956... Dorothy sings this retro song in front of Liberace's dressing table.

5000 Volts - Dr kiss kiss
Just so you get the "Doctor" bit the bass guitar has a stethoscope hanging from it. Its an OK song, novelty pop but nothing more than passable. The singer looks like the female Holly from Red Dwarf.

Tony meets a non-entity who is the new member of the Bay City Rollers, they will release a new record soon, yay.

The Real Thing - you to me are everything
They are still at #1 and still very deserved if much of the rest of the show is anything to go by.

The new pavilion

I went and watched some of the last day of the match between Warwickshire & Sussex in the county championship today (which the Bears won not long after lunch). It was my first trip to Edgbaston since the opening of the new pavilion (though that was only Wednesday i believe). Very impressive it is too!
The old pavilion had been a crumbling disgrace to be honest so the amazing new facility just looks like it has come out of a new dimension. I really like the walkway under the pavilion which you travel through to get to your seat, its very futuristic and sci-fi like. Hey well i have an overactive imagination.

Whats happening on the pitch is very impressive too as Warwickshire racked up another win, they are in with a shout of the county championship which will be a great way to top off one of the most important years in the club's history.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Micro Life (1) : Sinclair ZX-80

Sinclair ZX-80This new series will describe my progression through the world of personal computing to the present day (perhaps, it might be too boring to describe what i am using now, White Macbook in case you are wondering).

It all started back in the very early 1980s with the Sinclair ZX-80! My Dad bought one in either 1980 or 1981 (most likely the latter) and it was the first computer i ever used or even touched! My primary school did not have a computer at the time though i believe they did get one just as i was leaving a couple of years later.

Although the ZX-80 was the first computer i ever used i did have a pong console already so was familiar with the mysterious world of pixels moving around the screen. The ZX-80 was a primitive computer of course, even by the standards of the day it was quite low-end. It had 1K of RAM and a 3.5MHz 8-bit processor (in comparison my current "low-end" computer has 2GB of RAM and a 2.1 GHz dual core processor). Programs had to be loaded via cassette tape and it was all very awkward. You had to listen to the tape and try various screechy noises until you found the right one. Alternatively you could type programs in and i did this with a couple of programs as provided in the user manual. One program i typed in a couple of times was Cheese Nibbler, a fun little game written in several hundred lines of Sinclair BASIC. I remember the second time i tried to type it in i got mixed up with all the PRINT A$ and PRINT B$ statements and messed it all up.

I have thus always been an average programmer, in mitigation i should say that editing on the ZX-80 was rubbish with a very awkward cursor. The screen also flashed every time it needed to change (i.e. every time you pressed one of the keys on the one piece membrane keyboard). Typing was miserable on it and this prejudiced me against this kind of keyboard for the next few decades, it even put me off the iPad until i finally got one and realised technology had progressed a little over the years.

The ZX-80's heyday soon passed and i got a VIC-20 next as shall be described in the next part of this series. I do still have the ZX-80 though, my Dad never threw it away and it passed over to me. Its still in the original box and did still work the last time i tried it a couple of years ago. I'm not going to sell it though!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Open University new fees

As you may know i am an Open University student having completed a BA in History with them last year and am preparing to start a Masters in October. Today the Open University have announced their new fees from 2012 as part of the big shake-up of university funding and like everywhere prices are going up. "Full time" undergraduate degree fees will now be £5000 a year. That is for 120 points which is the most you can study in a year with the OU. Most people tend to do no more than 60 points a year, from 2012 they will be paying £2500 a year for a 60 point module. For comparison over the 6 years of my degree i paid somewhere between £600 to £700 a year.

Obviously this is a big increase and i fear for the OU's future a bit. A lot of people choose OU degrees for interest not career reasons and they will likely be put off by these fees, i might well have been if i was looking to start in 2012 though a History degree was always my dream.

Although student loans will be available that does not apply to everyone. Value for money will also become a much bigger issue. Although i think the OU is great (obviously) £2500 a year for a few books, a dozen tutorials and an exam seems a lot steeper than a few hundred pounds. "Normal" universities might be still a lot more expensive but you do get the day-to-day university experience as part of that. Working at a university myself i know where the money has to go to pay all the other costs involved in running a university but these are not so apparent or even relevant to your average student.

The Open University is still a great option though but i think they may need to up their game a bit. At where i work i have noticed students becoming much more concerned with value for money and have a much higher expectation from their career mortgage investment (which is what your student fees and loans are) so the same will be true at the OU.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some new look

You may have noticed that i have made some tweaks to this blog's look and feel, the biggest change being moving the side bar from the left to the right. Usability wise this is supposed to be the best way to go though i've always felt the content should be paramount but anyway we'll see how it goes. its very easy to switch back! (Update @22:09 - changed it back already, just couldn't stand it!)

I've also changed the rest of the blog's text to Copse web font (some web browsers may not support this), i really like the Copse font though it may be a case of being too much of a good thing by having it used for everything on the blog. As a serif font it should be better for readability. Anyway lets give it a try...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Along the Thames

After the IWM i headed off to find the river Thames. For once i did not get lost and i then walked along the South Bank for awhile taking lots of photos of boats! Flickr Groups really do seem to have an influence on my photography these days, i see something like a bridge or a bus and the first thing i think is "I can add that to XX group" not whether its a good photo or not! Anyway despite heavy rain and wind (taking photos with one hand while trying to stop your umbrella blowing away with the other isn't that easy) some of the photos turned out pretty well...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Imperial War Museum

I just spent an enjoyable (but wet) weekend in London, mind you i think most places in England have been pretty damp this weekend. Yesterday i visited the Imperial War Museum and later on went for a walk along the South Bank of the Thames. Here you can see my IWM photographs. Its interesting to see the likes of the Spitfire Ia which i built myself just a short while ago in kit form of course.

Friday, July 15, 2011

TOTP (24/06/1976)

Tonight's Top Of The Pops is hosted by David Hamilton who makes some lame joke about having a fan club as various humanoids fan him. But fear not as The Wurzels are no longer at #1!

Pilot - canada
I like some of Pilot's earlier stuff, i've not heard this song before though mostly because it didn't really chart much like everything they did after the mid-70s. Its a typical piece of late 70s soft pop rock : long hair, sweet harmonies and dodgy rhyming.

Bryan Ferry - lets stick together
Bryan is back on stage, back in his white suit and back delivering a performance of pure SEX.

Back in the BBC studio Ruby Flipper perform some nonsense to "The Flasher". Its a bit like drunken dancing improv in whatever outfits they could find. Someone is dressed as a lion, someone dressed like Snow White. Overall its like a drug induced nightmare. As usual then.

Demis Roussos - forever and ever
A large man dressed in a white tent, with sparkly accessories, warbles on a stage that looks like it could be a Butlins somewhere. This apparently made the top 10, amazing. At times Demis looks like Brian Blessed when he opens his mouth wide, he does have a beard you could lose a badger in.

The New Seekers - its so nice
They are back. Yay. Oh dear this is so bland, and it feels like it lasts forever. Even in 1976 this song seems way out of date.

Osibisa - dance the body music
A repeat of their performance from a few weeks ago i think, still funky and very 70s, a bit shapeless but genuinely fun.

Art Garfunkel - i believe when i fall in love
According to Wikipedia this single failed to chart in 1975, maybe it was reissued in 1976 and failed again. In any case Art proves he doesn't need Paul Simon to produce a good song. An odd lifeless performance on stage though.

The Real Thing - you to me are everything
Thank goodness the Wurzels have been deposed. If you remember it was JJ Barrie before them so this is the first proper song at #1 since ABBA. And a great song it is too, very worthy of being the best song in the pop universe in late June 1976.

Three Spitfires

With the completion of Project 018 i now have 3 Spitfire models which interesting feature the type throughout its whole service life! Project 018 is a Spitfire Ia so depicts the type at the start of the war, Project 010 is a Mark IXc so shows the type in mid-war configuration and Project 005 is a PR19 showing the type as it was post-war at the end of its RAF career in the 1950s.
3 Spitfires
I have a Spitfire Vb to build before the end of the year but until then here is an excellent photo opportunity!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


After the madness and noise of T20 last night today i saw some more cricket but this time a Second Eleven Trophy match, sightly more sedate and definitely a lot quieter. The match between Warwickshire and Derbyshire took place at Walmley Cricket Club which is the closest ground to where i live, so close in fact i actually walked there. Only took 40 minutes though was uphill, returning did push my legs a bit even though that was mostly downhill of course!

It was a different competition, format, even team but the end result was the same, another win for the Bears.

Google Plus

Google Plus (or Google+) is the new social network from Google (natch) which is Google's attempt to dethrone Facebook. Its currently in a closed beta and you have to be invited to be able to participate... well i got my invite today and now i have an account on there. This is my profile page, i think it is publicly viewable if you don't have a Google+ account but if not let me know. Very early days of course but i like what i see. It works really well and doesn't have some the crap thats beginning to accumulate with Facebook.

Of course the clincher when deciding to change social networks is where are your friends so Facebook isn't dead yet but people thought the same about Myspace once...

Talking of Facebook this is a great site which collects some of the saddest moments in humanity's interaction with the social networking Goliath.

Monday, July 11, 2011


It seems ages since i was last at the cricket, in fact it appears it was May 24. I went to see the Bears take on Durham in a T20 game this evening (by a co-incidence the last game i went to was against Durham as well!)

Oddly enough its only the second ever T20 match i've been to. We won too, was a last ball thriller. Sky televised the game, its been a long time since i've been at a televised game too. In fact i'm not sure i've been at a televised domestic game before, i've been to a couple of tests that were televised obviously. It was interesting to see just how many cameras Sky bought to the ground, a number nearly doubled by the fact they also filmed the game in 3D.

Birmingham Main Line & Soho Loop

Another day off another canal walk. Today i walked along the Birmingham Main Line from Brindley Place up to Rotton Park Junction (i have walked this before) but at the junction i then headed off down virgin territory in the shape of the Soho Loop. Some grim examples of Britain's rusting industrial past exist down this loop and i was also surprised to come across HMP Winson Green! Luckily there were no escaped convicts on the towpath. Here are the photos i took.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Spitfire painting completed

My latest kit is a Spitfire Ia and the painting is now completed, i just need to apply decals and varnish and we have another finished kit! This is my third Spitfire but as all 3 depict different eras in the type's life i must do a photo of them all lined up after this one is completed.

Update : and i have finished the plane this evening. Here you can see the completed Project 018. Next up is likely to be a Grumman Gosling, though i probably won't start it for a week or so.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Look Sir, Droids!

Years ago when i worked at Tw2 we had a great laugh about this amazing bit of stop-motion animation showing breakdancing stormtroopers. Glad to see the Suck Lord has put it on Youtube nowadays. Currently on a bit of a Star Wars high, reading my first novel on the Kindle and watching the films again. They never grow old. Except Jar Jar maybe.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Believing the HTML5 Hype

I bought Hype yesterday, and i believe it (bad joke). Hype is similiar to Flash in that you can create animations and interactive websites though it uses HTML5 and CSS instead of its own propriety file format which requires a plugin (and doesn't work on non-Flash supported devices anyway... like my iPad).

Having had Flash training a few months ago i found understanding Hype's timeline based interface quite simple (though its a lot less developed than Flash obviously which has been around for many years). It works pretty well though noticed some font differences between Mac and PC/iPad. Here is one of my test examples i created yesterday.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Grand Union in Leamington

I like Leamington Spa, went last year and today i went again! I wanted to explore more of the Grand Union canal which flows through the town so i headed off in the London direction for an hour or so until i was out in the countryside, the Warwickshire countryside of course which is the best! Next time i'll go the other direction and maybe walk to Warwick. Anyway you can see the photos here. Afterwards i went into the town centre itself, they have a nice shopping mall there which played Camera Obscura over the sound system, now that instantly makes the place a million times better than the Bull Ring!

Friday, July 1, 2011

July in 31 snaps

I am going to take a photograph every day during July and collect them in a set on Flickr. Why? Because. I think i'll restrict it to photos taken using my phone so it will help (hopefully) to build an impression of the sort of crazy sights (and vice versa) i might come across during the month.

The first image is this rather lovely Mini.