Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More model railway musings

Last night i took a break from study and (as well as watching Masterchef) i had a look at a book i have bought recently on the railway from Birmingham to Stratford (and from Hatton too). Some of the old GWR stations on the route have given me some inspiration for what my new model layout could be like if i do restart this hobby next year.

Claverdon station in fact looks like it could be a perfect starting point for my project. The station is very reduced now with just a single track and platform, back in the 1930s it wasn't that much bigger but it had a second track and platform for goods. Such a simple layout could fit in very well with my plans. My major problem at the moment is where to put the layout. The loft is an option of course but i don't really want to have to go up there all the time to play if i can avoid it. I found in the past that locations like that are fine in the Summer but too cold in the Winter (when you are more likely to have time for hobbies!) I must visit Claverdon next year and get a feel for the place, ironically its one of the new stations in South Warwickshire i haven't been to yet...

Yesterday i had a look on the Hornby site to get some measurements of stock. Ideally i want a station that can have 2-3 coach trains. I worked out that roughly a 3 coach train and a small loco is about 920mm long so that can be my guide for how much space i need...


I am currently in the final stages of A825, part 1 of my MA History course with the Open University. Yesterday i registered for part 2 of the course (A826). The deadline for registrations is the end of January but i thought i would do it now and get it out the way, as i'd probably forget all about it otherwise and end up in a mad rush!

A826 is a shorter course which i think runs from May 2013 to January 2014. The purpose of the course is quite simple, in it i have to write a dissertation of 15,000 words. Now the subject of that dissertation i have to define in my final assessment of A825. I have to come up with a full dissertation proposal as well as a 3000 word research essay based on the subject area by early January.

Both are in hand, i am going down to the archives in Stratford again on Saturday where i can hopefully complete the research i need to do for my essay. I sent my tutor a second draft of my dissertation proposal on Monday though have yet to have any feedback from it though i am more confident with it, i think i am getting closer to my final topic which i have discussed here on this blog already though the proof will be in the pudding as they say (whatever that actually means).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Return to rail?

One of my major hobbies when i was a child was my model railway. I had one from about the age of 5 or 6 when i was bought a trainset for the first time (Hornby Royal Mail set with a BR blue class 37 locomotive). Until my late teens i continued with the hobby with layouts first in my parent's garage and later in my bedroom. You can see a photo of the early garage layout here.

I stuck with OO gauge most of the time though did experiment with N gauge at one stage. I lost interest in my late teens and needed the space for other things anyway. My rolling stock, buildings and track were packed away in boxes... and remain there to this day! When i got my own house i did start thinking of restarting the hobby though never quite got around to it. Well now i am thinking about it again!

While my later layouts focussed on contemporary British Rail i am now thinking of going back in time and travelling the popular track of an interwar GWR branch line. I might even do a small layout based on the line down to Stratford. I got an excellent book on this line a few weeks ago and its given me a bit of inspiration to consider recreating Wilmcote station circa 1934 for example.

In the meantime the Perry Barr turntable is still in existance, hidden away behind a fence. This is one of the last remnants of a live steam layout that once ran on the sports field next to where i worked. I've never actually seen the trains running on there but they did up until the mid-2000s i think. The track indeed was only lifted in around 2006 or 2007. I don't have any photos of the track in existence but these photos from 2008 clearly show the trackbed (this photo i took in 2004 for a Quicktime VR does show the track - just about). You can compare the turntable with the photo below (one of the two turntables was destroyed of the layout was destroyed).

Early microcomputer nostalgia

The appearance of some of the earliest (if not earliest) known Apple computer photographs on-line has sparked some early microcomputer nostalgia for me. If you haven't seen this article about the Apple I then its well worth a read, especially some of the comments below the article.

I'd love to have an Apple I though i am content to own a pair of Apple ][s! The mid-70s were the true genesis of the personal computer revolution though my own story started in the early 80s when my Dad bought a Sinclair ZX-80 and i started to program.

The original Apple I was a kit as were many microcomputers in the mid-70s, in fact the ZX-80 also came in kit form. My Uncle bought and built the kit, i don't know whatever happened to his one though.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Proposal version 2

Sometimes its best just to start again as i did this evening with my dissertation proposal. I indeed wrote the whole thing again too and sent it to my tutor for comments. I like my second version a lot better, the structure is more logical, the questions my dissertation will seek to answer are clearer and i've packed in more sources. Well i like it anyway, hopefully my tutor will too!

I've requested Stratford archives dust off some more old ledgers for me on Saturday, though i saw on the TV today that there had been flooding in Stratford! The archives are quite some way uphill though from the river bank, if they ever got flooded it would probably be on Noah's comeback tour.

Another animal

This year's Christmas decoration theme appears to be fabric especially if fashioned into an animal. Fresh from buying Maggie the mouse and Rodney the reindeer last week now i also have a moose which i have named Morrissey, natch. To complete the theme i also bought a felt wreath to put on the door. We'll augment these with other decorations next weekend probably.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


This house is an Apple shop, indeed at times it can look like an Apple Store that has been left forgotten in a decaying mall. Thats before we get to the Apple Museum currently housed in my loft. However i have an interest in technology in general and when my Mum chose a Chromebook* as her laptop ahead of a tablet or other device i was secretly delighted as i was interested in what the Google powered laptop would be like...

The Chromebook (an Acer one) replaces a Dell desktop monster that has Vista on it, it takes so long to boot up ice ages come and go before you can get anywhere. Thankfully the Chromebook is very fast to boot up. Indeed if you wanted to check something online you could boot up, check it out, read a few other things and then shutdown before the Dell monster had even got to the desktop stage.

The Chromebook is basically a stripped down subnotebook that uses a restricted version of Linux and the Chrome web browser as its interface. It works really well too. The trackpad is maybe a bit annoying but i am comparing that against my new Macbook Pro (which costs a lot more, indeed you could buy 5 Chromebooks for the price of my Macbook!) The screen is also no more than adequate compared to retina displays and the like but the speed and functionality is fine. I set up a few sites for my Mum including BBC iPlayer and full-screen video playback was fine. It may struggle to do much more than web surfing and email but if thats all you do on a computer then the Chromebook will be fine for your needs. I like the Chromebook a lot, do i prefer it to my (first generation) iPad? I think they are on a par though newer iPads would leave the Chromebook behind a bit (but cost a lot more). Of course you get a proper keyboard with the Chromebook... though its not the best i've ever used on a notebook, but still better than virtual keyboards which i've never got the hang of.

It all depends on what you need out of a computer of course but its hard not to recommend the Chromebook.

* She chose it without any prompting by me, she went purely on price.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas decorations 2012

I have bought a couple of Christmas decorations, this year my theme appears to be knitted or cloth animals. I have bought a little reindeer and a huge mouse with an advent calendar apron (as you do). This really is the kind of thing i like, or retro 70s tinsel. Very little in the middle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

One step back or one step forward?

I went to Stratford today to consult some archives and try and get more of an idea of how my dissertation proposal and research essay might progress. I checked out some sales ledgers and accounts from a timber merchant in the mid-1800s and a mysterious world they belong to indeed...

Unfortunately i do not think my research essay idea is that feasible after having a look at these sources so i am back to square one in thinking up a topic... which has to be researched and written up by the end of the year. No pressure then!

However it isn't all bad, the sources will be useful for my dissertation next year and may have given me an idea for a research topic anyway. I just need to try and interpret my notes over the weekend. While in Stratford i took some photos of course as well as some of the Birmingham German Market which was very impressive and makes Stratford's Xmas decorations look a bit weak!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Losing (a bit of) faith

The score for my final TMA was not as high as my other ones, though to be honest it was still a decent score and i am confortably over the 40% needed for that part of the assessment to pass the A825 course by some margin. It was still a bit of a disappointment though but not totally unexpected. I did not engage with the TMA question as much as i would have liked, to be honest i did not like the question that much but it was the least worst of the three options...

Onwards and upwards, now i am awaiting feedback from my first draft of my dissertation proposal. The lower TMA score has knocked my confidence slightly and i am feeling a bit disillusioned but its a bit late to stop now! I have booked some sources out of the Stratford archive on Friday so will hope to do the bulk of the primary source research i need to do for my final EMA and proposal for further study. I just want to get it out of the way and get writing to be honest.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Awaiting feedback

I've sent a draft of my dissertation proposal to my tutor and now i am awaiting feedback. I can't really proceed with anything until i get that feedback and an initial "yay or nay" which is a bit frustrating but thats the way it is. Time is short but then again i do have two months more or less before the final deadline. Christmas (which you may have heard of) unfortunately looms at the end of that so in reality my deadline is about 6 weeks.

In that time i have to refine and complete my proposal and write a research essay (and of course do some research for it!) However i think thats all in hand, as long as i can get to the archives this month then i can write it all up in early December.

I think my research essay (which has to be related to the dissertation proposal) will be along the lines on assessing whether trade directories can be used to track economic change. Well thats the idea anyway. Lets see if thats a goer or not...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tom and Jerry Annuals 1973 & 1979

Two more reviews of Tom & Jerry comic annuals.

Tom & Jerry Annual 1973

We approach the mid-70s and the Tom & Jerry cartoon has all gone a bit hippie. Tom is no longer trying to catch the mice but instead is drinking tea with them, that soon changes however but even then when he is catching them its because of some ulterior motive (i.e. money) than anything else.

Tom also tries his hand at a bit of sculpture and building a pirate ship. He does such a good job of the latter you wonder if his talents are being a bit wasted.

The stories in this annual are a lovely variety indeed including a Mouse Musketeers story supposedly set in pre-revolution France where Tom becomes a "pooseycat"!

Tom & Jerry Annual 1979

This annual includes some later artwork and the drawings arn't quite as good as before. The stories are up to spec though and include a memorable one where Tom becomes an ice skating waiter at a mountain top cafe in Switzerland.

In nearly all of the stories Tom is no longer chasing the mice but instead being menaced by ghosts or trying to become a TV advert star.

The best story however is a little more traditional (and has the classic era artwork natch). In one of my favourite Tom & Jerry stories Tom takes up knitting and confused by this change of behaviour Jerry and Tuffy begin a scientific study of the cat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here she is

As  i said in an earlier blog post i thought it was time i bought a new computer and yesterday i did just that when my shiny new Macbook Pro arrived! My old Macbook has served me well but after 3 and a half years is starting to slow a bit especially on the likes of Photoshop, software bloat drives forward computer sales like nothing else after all...

It took me a few hours to get everything transferred across and the applications i needed installed but everything seems up and fine now. Hopefully in another three and a bit years we'll be doing the same dance (i buy these computers in installments over 36 months hence the 3 year and a bit upgrade cycle) again. I suspect the next one won't have an optical drive (few computers in the Apple line-up do these days though my new one does) which is a shame as i found burning a DVD on the old one the best way to transfer files as the over-the-internet migration tool didn't work... oh well they have 3 years to get it right!