Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And this is how the A826 saga ends

Yesterday i made a couple of final tweaks then assembled a final master document and took it down to Staples to get it printed and bound! So thats it, my thesis. Officially about 9 months work though quite a lot of research and preparation work dates from the Summer of 2012. 14044 words on 19th century Stratford economics and tramway operation.

To be honest its all a bit rushed at the end. Ironically despite having all the time in the world for most of 2014 i start a new job in Worcester on Thursday and so would be unlikely to have the time to get it printed after that (it had to be at the OU by the middle of January anyway).

So i decided to tweak no more and commit. To be honest i'm not 100% happy with it but i don't know if thats just because i've been working on this so long i've just become too hyper-critical. I did notice one web reference was lacking an accessed date but hopefully thats the only MHRA faux pas. The arguments have been clearly presented, i managed to avoid repetition and my research has been deep so hopefully its enough. Staples did a lovely job with the printing and did it while i waited, it looks pretty good anyway.

When its sent in a few days my academic career with the OU which began back in 2005 will come to an end.. for now anyway. I would like to do a PhD or at least learn a language but these may have to wait for another time...

Friday, December 27, 2013

A826 w/c 23/12/13

Not a great deal to report this week. I printed off my final draft and i will have a final go through the dissertation before getting it printed and bound next week.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and all that, how better to illustrate that than a photo of my beloved old Christmas tree? It might be old and be tatty tinsel but it makes up for it in nostalgia. It was originally bought from Woolworths in 1974 and was the tree every year when I was growing up.

Eventually in the early 80s my parents started buying new trees (including a real tree one year, the next 10 years were spent finding pine needles in the carpet) but I kept the old one and I've been putting it up ever since! It shares the limelight with a modern fibre optic tree that lights up but sooner or later that one will break but the old tinsel tree will be going on and on...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Erdington's Christmas tree

I took a photo of this Christmas tree on Erdington High Street last week. It looks a bit sparse but i guess if you added anything else to it it would just get nicked anyway! A friend asked if the barriers were to keep people out or keep the tree in.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sucking in the 70s

I am obsessed with the 1970s. It is the decade i find most interesting in history, maybe it is because i was born near the start of it. Although i lived through most of the events that occurred in the decade i was more interested in toys and the like of course and so had little knowledge or interest in what was happening at the time. Now i can look back and help contextualise what i do remember. Like the power cuts, the living room lit with candles and my mum making toast using a fork and the gas fire!

For a while i have thought about having a blog or website on the 70s, one idea was to have a month by month review of the events of that decade. Ideally i should have started this back in 2010 so i could have recounted events from 40 years before...

I could still do this now of course, just starting at 1974. I could work my way through the rest of the decade (and in 6 years maybe return to 1970). Now my academic history career is coming to an end (at least for now) i need to think how i will continue to explore history and use my skills (ha) in this area. I have a few days at least to make up my mind anyway.

2013 in review : Music

With a lot less money available to buy music i found there was masses of free indie pop out there anyway. As usual for my indie music blog i do an end of year A-Z playlist of some of the bands i liked most in the year, and here it is.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A826 w/c 16/12/13

We are almost there. My original plan to print and bind the dissertation myself did not work though. My test run earlier in the week was a bit of a disaster. The printer is fine but the binder is... lets say less than optimal. After a lot of wasted print and misaligned holes i managed to get one barely passable copy of my dissertation as the draft. I will get it professionally printed now instead but my draft has been useful for reviewing and editing.

I aim to finish the dissertation this coming weekend, print out the final draft then sit on it until after Christmas before having a final read through / check and then will get it printed out on the 30th or 31st.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Bitstrips is the latest thing, its an app where you create comic strips including a cartoon avatar designed by yourself and supposedly modelled on yourself. Actually my avatar is female but has similar hair to me and green eyes so there some resemblance...

DNA analysis of ancient humans poses more questions than answers

DNA analysis of 400,000 year old bones found in Spain, the oldest known human remains, has yielded more questions than answers. The human family tree is now thought to have had many more branches than previously thought after the analysis which was the first time scientists could gain data from this period.

Originally it was thought the bones may have been Neanderthal but instead the bones have a closer relationship to Denisovans, a distinct human sub-species who lived in Siberia. The Denisovans interbred with the Neanderthals and Modern Humans, bones from the other human species found alongside their's, and traces of their DNA remains in humans today. Around 6% of the DNA in Melanesian people (living in places like Papua New Guinea) is shared with the Denisovans. Indeed around 4% of the DNA in non-Africans is Neanderthal.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas TV in 1978

Nothing is as good as it used to be including nostalgia. The glories of the past are often also overblown. However the Guardian maybe are onto something when they compare the variety and scope of the 1978 TV schedules with that of today. TV is much more limited now than it used to be despite the apparent "choice" of the digital TV era. In reality most of the extra channels do not offer anything other than the illusion of choice and instead allow media companies to be lazy and target tiny segments of the market instead of having to show a bit more effort and try and appeal to a wider audience.

That isn't to say that TV today is worthless, far from it, but the talent and budgets are spread more thinly now. There are some excellent programmes still, the documentaries on Pilgrimage for example and most of BBC4. However finding the gems is harder now. Its easy to lose them amid the deluge of bilge.

Or maybe its not, i grew up with 70s TV after all, maybe the younger generations think it was far too slow and dull compared to now...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Binary maths in Polynesia

Binary, the base 2 number system, is how numbers are described and maths are carried out by computers. Gottfried Leibniz first described binary in 1703 but the people of the island of Mangareva in French Polynesia may have used binary long before that. Researchers believe they have discovered that the people used a mixture of base 10 and 2.

Different number bases in use by other cultures is nothing new, the Babylonians used base 60 and some Australian Aborigines use base 5 for example (personally i've always loved octal base 8). The people of Mangareva originally used base 10 like other Polynesians (and most other humans) but added binary to their counting.

The circle has turned full circle and the people of Mangareva now use base 10 only as a result of Western influences. Researchers have traced the use of binary through analysis of the language. Unfortunately no one on Mangareva still uses the binary system (except in their computers of course).

Interesting Mangareva is the way travellers can get to Pitcairn Island, the most remote of all British colonies. After flying to Mangareva from Tahiti Pitcairn Island is then reachable by boat, its a 32 hour journey though!

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 in review : Waterways

Naturally i spent a good deal of this year walking various inland waterways and taking hundreds of photographs, many in the Midlands but i also investigated London's canals quite intensely. I walked most of the Regent's Canal as well as completing the short Limehouse Cut and Hertford Union Canals.

In the Midlands i visited Stratford of course and also returned to Brindley Place and the Digbeth Branch. New ground was covered on the Stratford Canal near Wootton Wawen, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Alvechurch and the Oxford Canal in Banbury. Probably the nicest place visited though was Aberystwyth and its jolly little harbour.

All in all some good milage was made. I still have a list of places to visit, we'll just have to see how 2014 pans out. My Inland Waterways blog is a good place to visit if you are interested in my travels.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A826 w/c 09/12/13

Continuing to bring my dissertation together, i have written a grand total of 13730 words so far but will have about 500 more with the abstract and various front pages yet to be added. Its all coming together which is good, though the conclusion needs quite a bit of work yet.

My binder came today so some time next week i will do a test run, printing out everything and then binding it to see if it all works OK.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013 in review : Model making

As with the gardening model making was something else which i should have had a lot more time to do this year but in the event i only completed 10 kits this year compared to 16 last year. I admit some of this was down to a bit of "Airfix fatigue" as i found it harder to get kits that inspired me but also my model railway (of which more below) took up a lot of my time too.

Two models stood out for me this year, the SPAD XIII and HMS Tiger, both came out really well as did my Eurofighter Typhoon. I have plenty of kits stored up for the 2014 season which will resume in the early Spring.
After a gap of nearly 20 years i returned to the world of model railways. Project Eskalon is a still developing model railway loosely based on the modern Austrian narrow gauge scene. There is a lot of overlap between the worlds of model kits and model railways of course. One of the kits i did complete this year was a doctor's surgery...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eastenders - the Waterways edition

This year i have carried out a number of canal walks across London, covering most of the Regent's Canal and also the Limehouse Cut Canal. Yesterday i continued this theme walking several of the waterways of the East End.

The River Lee up from Bow Lock (where i ended last time, i wasn't in earshot of "Bow Bells" but within sight of Bow Lock!) to where it joins the Hertford Union Canal (passing the Olympic Stadium in doing so). Then along all of this short branch of the Grand Union Canal to where it joins the Regents. You can see the River Lee photos here and the Hertford Union Canal here.

It was a nice walk, the strong and low Winter Sun was a bit of a problem but highly preferable to the heavy rain on my last walk!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2013 in review : Gardening

In theory i had a lot more free time this year so the garden must have looked wonderful? In truth i did do quite a bit in April and May including building a proper raised bed for the veg plot but once the masters got going properly and (probably more relevant) the Ashes began i spent less and less time in the garden.

Having said that i had a decent crop of peas and tomatoes (far too many of them to be honest). For a change i did manage to use some in cooking. I also planted some flowers which grew like crazy and took over half the garden.

So as usual the gardening season began with promise and ended in an overgrown mess. Roll on 2014 for more of the same most likely.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A826 w/c 02/12/13

Right into the final full month of the MA, the business end as you might say. I'm started the conclusion and also have begun going over the earlier chapters tying them together tighter. The amount of re-writing i've done for Chapter 1 (plus the number of mistakes i found - this was submitted as a TMA!) was astounding. Maybe even disturbing.

Reviewing my work i seem to channel my inner Starky a bit too much by overusing the word "indeed". Indeed so i need to add a bit of variety.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Black Oxen

The Alice in Wonderland movie made me think about silent movies which are available online, a fair number of films are out of copyright now and so are freely available on Youtube or on DVD-Rs. Here is an example, 1924's Black Oxen which includes my favourite silent movie actress Clara Bow in one of her early roles.

More information about the movie can be seen here. Quite a few other silent movies are available online, of course the majority of films are lost forever. An art form quite different in some ways from the "talkies" that were to follow and with many stars who never managed to jump across the sound divide (as the wonderful film The Artist portrays). A great history of silent movies is Peter Kobel's "Silent Movies" which i recommend.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Alice in Wonderland 1903

Here is a lovely thing, the first ever film version of Lewis Carroll's famous story. Recorded only 37 years after the story was published infact. The last surviving print of this early British film was heavily damaged but has been restored into a watchable (and indeed captivating) state by the BFI.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Digbeth Branch Canal

It seems ages since i've walked a canal in the Birmingham Canal Navigations area (a proper full-on canal walk that is and not a few snaps from one location). Indeed the last time was back in April when i visited Brindley Place.

Today i walked the entirety of the Digbeth Branch Canal. Its not a long canal, it links the Birmingham & Fazeley at Aston to the Grand Union at Warwick Bar but in that short length it includes quite a few locks and two tunnels. It also includes plenty of places that smell of wee. Here you can see the photos which thankfully do not smell of anything! 

Incidentally it was 2009 the last time i've visited the canal, some of the buildings alongside have changed in that time.

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 in review : Study

In previous years at this time on this blog i have reviewed the year month by month. I am not going to do that this year as most of the year has been spent a) doing my dissertation b) unemployed. Thankfully both are now coming to an end but they have dominated the year so instead i will do a shorter series of "review posts" focussing on different aspects of my year.

This first post will review my studies this year which is apt because this year has been all about learning i guess. Last January i submitted my dissertation proposal (luckily spotting at the last moment i had spelt the word "history" wrong on it - kind of embarrassing on a history course) and it was accepted so i could continue to part 2 of the Open University's MA History. Since late April i have been working on my dissertation, up to 15000 words on Stratford-upon-Avon's economy in the early nineteenth century and the effect of transport systems on it especially the horse-drawn tramway.

That is now coming to an end, i have written three chapters which all sell pretty good (the tutor agrees with my self-assessment thankfully!) and are backed up with a lot of research (i've been to the National Archives 4 or 5 times alone). I started the conclusion today and will begin bringing the thesis together later in the month. It needs to be submitted in mid-January 2014. A week-by-week diary of my progress on the course can be seen here.

Once the dissertation is submitted and assuming it passes then that is that for my academic journey for now at least. I would like to do a PhD but not for the foreseeable future unless circumstances change. I also would like to learn Welsh, now the OU do a beginners course...

The Masters was not the only course i have done this year. A couple of months ago i took a teacher training course (PTLLS) and I have discovered the joys of Lynda online IT training and have also joined a MOOC which is ongoing and is very interesting.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A826 w/c 25/11/13

We are now in the final run-in. The dissertation must be handed in in mid-January so in effect that means it must be largely completed by Christmas Eve! That is all on track, the three chapters are all in a good state and i have started working on the conclusion which i will begin writing next week.

Attention is now on how i will get it printed and bound. I looked at a few places and raised my eyebrows at the quotes for printing and spiral binding the dissertation. In the end i have decided to do it myself (or try anyway). I've ordered a laser printer and will get a binder too. Together they come to about the same as the quote to get it printed elsewhere but it will also give me the flexibility and safety margin of being in control of production.

This is something producing the EMA for A825 warned me about last year. I had it all printed, checked dozens of times, about to put into the envelope to send to the Open University when i noticed on one of the references i had spelt "history" wrong! Luckily i was able to reprint that offending page.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

From some angles...

My model railway project Eskalon is progressing well but has a long way to go before it can anything like considered finished (if any model railway can truly be finished?) From some angles though, carefully chosen naturally, photographs of the layout can look pretty good.

Lets get the Christmas started

Its still a bit early i know but i've made a start with some Christmas decorations. To be honest i have a few "Christmas-y" animals up all year round anyway so any bad luck had no doubt already befallen me. I have just put up a few animals in the porch so far, there will be more to come.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A826 w/c 18/11/13

I spoke to my tutor at the start of the week and everything seems to be going well. I've just noticed that i now have less than 2 months before i need to submit my dissertation however, what seemed so so far away now seems too close! Luckily i am well progressed with the writing with just the conclusion to write.

I went to Stratford's archives yesterday to check up on a few things, i think thats all the research done now. Just got some writing to do.

Another trip up the Stratford canal

Yesterday saw another trip to Stratford's archives, maybe the last i'll need to make for awhile. Afterwards i had my first walk up the canal from Stratford itself for awhile. Its a stretch i've walked a few times before but it always welcome. You can see my photos here.

As you may have noticed the photos are all square, all photos i take with my iPhone are square now, i find the iOS 7 camera interface works better that way. I like square photos anyway.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bringing the model making season to a close

I've finally finished my final two model projects of the 2013 season, Project #051 is a Boeing 737 and Project #049 HMS Kipling. Neither are my finest hour model making wise to be honest, the decals on the airliner were a nightmare but all done now (apart from a coat of varnish). Unfortunately before i put my glue away i need to do some repairs to HMS Suffolk (the first model of the year) which received damage to its masts from some toilet rolls (don't ask!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A826 w/c 11/11/13

Last week i continued work on chapter 3 and sent to my tutor who gave me some good feedback. I also spoke to him yesterday and he gave me some good advice now we are approaching the end game.

Before i start chapter 4, the final conclusions, i think i need to first review the previous 3 chapters, tidy them up and get them consistent in tone. That shouldn't take too long though, everything seems to be under control...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Freight train

Another video from my developing model railway layout, here D16 takes time out from her usual passenger haulage duties to take on some waggons.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A826 w/c 04/11/13

The week ended with another visit to the National Archives, just to check up a few things in a couple of the resources there. I don't think i need to do much more archive work, maybe check a few things out in Stratford.

I continued to work on chapter 3, its gone well but i'm having difficulties ending the chapter. Hopefully a few days break can give me inspiration.

Doing the Limehouse Cut

I went down to London again last weekend, firstly to visit the National Archives again and check up on a few things, and after the work... the play.

Play meaning canal walking of course. The Limehouse Cut is a short canal that runs from Limehouse Basin (the terminus of the Regent's Canal) up to the River Lea near Stratford. In terrible weather (you can see the rain in the photos!) i walked this canal on Saturday and here you can see the photos. Its an interesting little canal that i'll revisit one day (when its not raining!) Here are my photographs.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I've always found alternate or alternative history fascinating. What this is is a literary genre where changes in the historical timeline are explored (hopefully with good research put in to make the new timeline plausible). Good alternate history timelines are a great way to explore historical concepts and the reasons behind historical processes. The most popular subject for alternate histories is what would have happened if Hitler won World War 2, there are a number of interesting books i have read over the years covering this and other alternate timelines.

One book i read years ago (unfortunately i can't remember the author or title) was set in the "present day" but in a very different world where the Turks had overrun Western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Maya had not been defeated, and indeed were by now travelling around in steam drive carts.

I found this website a while ago, in its fora are a number of great alternate timelines (as well as some nonsense to be fair). No sign yet though of the ultimate alternate history scenario, what if Ringo had been a really good drummer?

Friday, November 1, 2013

A826 w/c 28/10/13

After being busy writing last week this week i did less on chapter 3 but did apply some polish. I also totalled up all 3 chapters i have written to date (which are in separate files) and i have written 11, 309 words to date. The word limit is between 13 and 15, 000 i believe so i should make that easily with just the conclusion to write.

I need to visit the National Archives one more time so will do that soon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A new era for Asterix

I received the long-awaited new Asterix book this morning, the release of this album is an important event in the history of European comics. This new Asterix adventure is the first which the original creators of the indomitable Gaul (Goscinny and Uderzo) did not have a hand in (though Uderzo did help draw the cover i think).

The Asterix saga is at a major turning point therefore. The creators were either too old to continue or had already passed away, the only way the franchise could continue was with new blood at the helm. You can imagine the team of Ferri and Conrad, who created this story, felt a huge amount of pressure when they were putting Asterix and the Picts together...

NuAsterix (a term i invented, feel free to borrow) could well live or die on how good this story is. If it was bad then there might not be much chance to keep the characters going much longer. Luckily Asterix and the Picts is actually pretty good.

I wouldn't say its the best Asterix book but it is definitely the best for some time, and certainly better than most of the ones Uderzo wrote and drew on his own after the passing of Goscinny. Not that i am as down on Uderzo's version of Asterix as some are, the books are still OK but lacking the subtlety and warmth of the older books.

Asterix and the Picts takes a bit of a middle ground, it still has some of the more slap stick graphically heavy humour of Uderzo's Asterix but more of the word play and puns of the original version. The story gets off to a bit of a clumsy start but then starts to find its feet and includes a few genuine laugh out loud jokes. In truth the book is a bit safe and maybe lacks a clear identity but you can understand that because of what is riding on it. I suspect NuAsterix is now safe for awhile at least and hopefully subsequent books will begin to establish more of the new identity of this third wave of Asterix. By Belanos what a relief!

Now the big question is, can the success of a NuAsterix one day spawn a NuTintin too?

Friday, October 25, 2013

A826 w/c 20/10/13

I started Chapter 3 of my thesis this week, this one is on the Stratford tramway itself - why it was built, how it was operated, how well it did et cetera. I've made good progress through the week and got up to a couple of thousand words already.

One thing i did do this week is upgrade my word processor (Apple Pages) from 09 to the latest version. I really shouldn't have done that. Endnote no longer works properly, luckily i only use the Pages integration as a short-cut to search for references so i can do this directly from the client, its no more than an inconvenience. Some of the other changes to Pages are a bit annoying, such as the word count is no longer in the status bar but has to be floating over the page. No matter where you put it it will get in the way at some stage!

Hint for future thesis writers, DO NOT change your word processor half-way through.

Starting my MOOC

I started my first MOOC today (Massive Open Online Course), which is the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam's Future of Storytelling course. The first set of video lectures were interesting and i hope the rest of the course over the next few weeks follows suit. I am interested in this course both for my own creative projects and also as it could be useful for possible future jobs, you never know.

Although not directly relevant to a web developer job (for example) there will likely be elements of the course that are helpful just as my History courses proved in areas like research skills and writing. Of course an outsider (such as a manager...) might not be able to appreciate how it could be relevant but things you learn and skills you develop can have beneficial side-effects elsewhere in unexpected ways.

I also completed my latest Lynda course on jQuery anyway. Its been a multi-disciplinary day!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Train video

I took a couple of videos of my model railway Project Eskalon yesterday. This ones shows that by using one of the industrial wagons as a match wagon little No.17 can work with my Liliput wagon. This is the Eskalon engineering train, rushing ballast to where it is needed.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dipping a toe in the MOOC waters

MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are pretty big now. They are university courses offered free to everyone with an internet connection. A few friends have taken such courses and i thought it was time i tried one too so i have enrolled on the very interesting sounding Future of Storytelling Course offered by the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences via iversity.

It lasts for a few weeks but shouldn't get in the way of the "day job" academic wise (i have plenty of free time at the moment anyway!) This course isn't related to my masters in any way but may be useful for career purposes and general interest as i do quite a lot of writing online. If the course works out there are a few others starting in early 2014 i have also got my eye on.

If thats not enough i've got a free trial on the Lynda software training site too and i'm trying to get the most out of that improving my career focussed skills as they are lagging badly in many areas. Seems a better way to spend my time during the Winter months than on Facebook anyway.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A826 w/c 14/10/13

A quiet week due to being away for much of it but i did get feedback on my second chapter from my tutor and it was largely favourable which was a relief. I had feared i had gone off in totally the wrong direction but it seems not and most comments were about the formatting not the actual content which is a lot easier to fix.

I think i'll revise chapter 2 (and 1) before i go ahead with chapter 3, i have that planned though.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eskalon gains a loco

Full coverage on the dedicated blog to the Eskalon model railway project of course but Eskalon has now gained its second locomotive (and 10 more wagons). Now all we need is a station...

Back to Aberystwyth

We enjoyed Aberystwyth so much last year we returned this year. In fact my wife treated me for my birthday and we had a great time, the weather was a bit variable but when it was good it was good (better than August 2012 in-fact). A lot of stuff was closed or restricted as it was out of season but we went up the hill overlooking the town on the cliff railway (something we never got around to doing last time). What a great view from up there! Here you can see the photos i took.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A826 w/c 07/10/13

Chapter 2 is with my tutor so now i am working on chapter 3 of my thesis which will concentrate on the Stratford tramway. As before i am starting to sort my various notes and references and putting post-its onto various sheets of paper. I might start writing at the end of the next week.

As i mentioned earlier in the week i visited Birmingham's new library and looked up a few sources. I'm not sure i need to look up much else now, just a case of trying to sort it out and getting something written down!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kipling and a 737

One thing i thought i would do a lot more of this year, due to circumstances, was build more models than in previous years. In the event i'm still well short of 2012's 16 completed projects. I'm now up to 10 with Project 049 a British WW2 destroyer (HMS Kipling in fact) now being painted while Project 051 is a Boeing 737. With the Winter chill now starting to be being felt i'm not sure there may be many more completed this year. Maybe 2012 was just a blip?

Monday, October 7, 2013

The new Library of Birmingham

The new Library of Birmingham actually has been open for a few weeks but i decided to wait until today to visit as i did not want to wait in any queues. I was a bit worried about the library if i am to be honest with you as all the press coverage mentioned the building, performance spaces, multimedia and so forth but no one mentioned any books...

I need not have worried, there are plenty of books too! I was really impressed with the new library and visited the local history section where i was glad to see all the resources i was familiar with were there in place. I did manage to look up a few things for my masters.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A826 w/c 30/09/13

Hard yakka as they say. I've been working hard on my second chapter this week, aiming to get it ready to send to my tutor this weekend (or maybe Monday). I went to Stratford archives on Friday to check up on some sources which i first looked at last year. I thought it would be a good idea to look at them again. Usefully too as i think i may have made some mistakes with my interpretations of the sources last year (nothing major but something to reassess).

My PTLLS course ended this week, i hope to do an A1 Assessor course later in the year but for now its A826 all the way!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


The culmination of my PTLLS (Preparation for Teaching in the Life Long Sector) course is a micro-teach. A 20 minute long mini-teaching session that has to be properly planned and assessed. This morning i did my micro-teach to an audience of 16 people, the subject of which ties into my Masters as i did it on searching historical archives and handling primary sources.

A fairly dry subject for the layman perhaps but i wanted to do something like that instead of making up something funky. Maybe i'll be a history teacher one day, you never know. Anyway my micro-teach went fine, i was a little nervous but didn't fall apart and improved as the session went on. There are aspects i need to improve on but overall i was satisfied.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A826 w/c 23/09/13

My tutor sent me an email this week saying i should be on chapter 2 of my thesis, well of course i have started it. The chapter is taking shape and will describe changes in Stratford's economy via a number of case studies on a number of trades. I need to go to Stratford at the end of next week to check up a few references (note to anyone preparing to do A826, ALWAYS write down the page numbers of any sources you use!)

I think i need a bit more research for the chapter, i've got good data on how some trades changes but not anything much on the prosperity of the town itself, though maybe an analysis of retail or luxury goods merchants could be an indicator there.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Preparing for a micro-teach

I have my time and date now for my micro-teach, next Wednesday morning. The micro-teach is a 20 minute teaching session and is the culmination of my PTLLS course. I am going to do it on searching historic archives, something i have done quite a bit of over the last few months.

According to my session plan i am going to do a presentation for 6 minutes or so, unfortunately when i did my first run through the presentation the timer i had set went off long before i reached the end. I have amended my presentation now and have put in a group activity (for kinaesthetic learners natch) which can be a bit flexible time wise.

Now all i need to do is practice practice practice, my wife is so going to enjoy the weekend.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lets make some relish

Tomatoes are the success story of this year's gardening season. Somehow, despite doing hardly any gardening for the last couple of months, i've got a bumper harvest though most are yet to ripen. Perhaps the tomatoes have done so well because i haven't been messing with them. Some of the ripe tomatoes are huge, my neighbour is really jealous to be honest.

One problem is i don't like raw tomatoes at all, so i have made my first ripe batch into some relish. I had to adapt a recipe i found online a bit as i didn't have all the ingredients but the result was pretty good even if i say so myself.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A826 w/c 16/09/13

After months of research, planning and pondering today i finally started writing something. Of course chapter 1 had to be done earlier in the year but chapter 2 is the real meat of the thesis and covers changes in Stratford's economy. I wrote about 1500 words which was a good start though i need to write about 5000 so its just a start thats all.

Thats not to say research isn't something which needs to continue though i don't think i need to visit any more archives for the moment.

The doctor's surgery

Although its for my model railway layout as its a model kit it still counts as Project 050. Dr Lang's surgery and very nice it is too. I've also begun a warship kit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


You can see more on my model railway blog but i have finally begun the landscape and scenery on my model railway project Eskalon. Using gravel and grass mats i am starting to build up the landscape, using trees and bushes to hide the joins! Its starting to look pretty good too but i am intending a layered approach and will continue to refine whats there over the coming months and years.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Completing the Regent's Canal

At the weekend i had a trip to London and went on a canal walk, i completed a trilogy of walks along the Regent's Canal over the Summer which means i have walked it now from Islington to where it meets the Thames at Limehouse.

One day i'll have to go back and cover the only bit of the canal i haven't visited yet from the Maida Vale tunnel to Kings Cross but thats for another day... first i want to explore the Limehouse Cut and Hertford Union Canals which i touched on briefly as part of my Regent's walk. You can see the photos i took here, and my other Regent's photoshoots are here, here and here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A826 w/c 09/09/13

The week ended with another trip to the National Archives at Kew, earlier in the week I did some consolidation work on the data I am starting to amass. I am trying to identify any gaps in the data but also gaps in contextual knowledge.

An example of this is from the trade directory business data I have been gathering, one business type is described as brazier but what is that? To me a brazier is something men in donkey jackets stood around while on strike in the 1970s but in fact in the trade directory context I think it means brass worker.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another course!

Not content with a Masters degree i have also started another course! This is not an Open University one however and is much more career focussed, in fact potentially career changing. I have begun a PTLLS course which at the end in a few weeks (if i pass) will qualify me to teach post 16 students such as adult learners or in company training schemes for example.

Staff training was a small part of my previous job and part i quite enjoyed, mostly i was teaching people how to use the university's content management system but also how to use social media. Maybe i shall teach people web design or IT in future. Hopefully it will not clash with my masters though one potential confusion is that the PTLLS course uses Harvard referencing and i use MHRA on my masters. Don't really want to get those two mixed up...

Friday, September 6, 2013

A826 progress w/c 02/09/13

Much more progress this week (which wouldn't be hard as i did nothing last week!) Maybe it was the onset of September that gave me a better sense of urgency. Well this week I went to the Stratford archives as already mentioned. I have also begun trying to tie all the data i have been gathering up to form the narrative i will be constructing when i write the thesis (writing will begin in early October i think).

I have recreated the trade maps i experimented with a few weeks ago, this time i have focussed more on the core area of the town the mapped coal and malter locations from 5 decades (data gleaned from trade directories). That has helped show me that the economy of Stratford did indeed see plenty of changes especially in terms of the coal merchant business. By 1850 the town had a similar number of merchants to the much larger Warwick which indicates (especially as the town's population did not increase much between 1820-60) that much of this coal business was for elsewhere. The transport links therefore did have an effect.

Well thats my idea anyway, now i am going to add to my weight of evidence. More archive trips are planned for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More archive research

I'm trying to ramp up my archive research now so that towards the end of the month i am ready to start writing my thesis. Today i visited Stratford's archives and had a look at 3 documents which may or may not have been of any use (one definitely wasn't) plus gleaned some more data from trade directories.

After that i had a nice walk along the river, plenty of boats out on the Avon on this lovely day.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Floodlit club cricket

Unusually for me i haven't seen any live cricket so far this year yet (though gorged myself on televised cricket during the Ashes). Usually by now i would have seen at least some Warwickshire 2nd XI action but circumstances and bad luck meant i had missed out. That changed last night when i went and watched some club sides in a floodlit tournament at the local Walmley CC ground (nearest ground to me).

It was good fun though the floodlights did not seem to illuminate the gloom that much, maybe it was better out in the middle? The tournament is on all week is free to enter, so why not give it a try? You can see the photos i took last night. Real ale on tap too...

Friday, August 30, 2013

A826 progress w/c 26/08/13

I'll admit it, i didn't do anything this week. We all need a break now and then, back on the wagon next week!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Is ostrich egg globe oldest known map of New World?

A 509 year old ostrich egg which has a map drawn on it is thought to be the oldest known depiction of the New World. The ostrich egg map, made from two lower-halves joined together in fact, is thought to pre-date the Hunt-Lenox Globe and may have been used as a model for the copper globe.

On the ostrich egg map is an unnamed island to the far north of the western hemisphere, this is thought to be depict Newfoundland or parts of Canada. The ostrich egg globe has been tested and verified as being from the 16th century. An image of a ship on the globe is thought to link it to Portugese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real who is thought to have reached Canada's Atlantic coast in 1501.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A826 progress w/c 19/08/13

An uneven week, i was unmotivated at the start of the week but the end of the week saw my first visit to the National Archives at Kew in West London. Now i have been to archives and record offices before of course (Stratford mainly but also Warwick and Birmingham) but Kew is a whole other kettle of fish (whatever that means?)

I was a little bewildered on Thursday evening when i got my reader ticket, Kew's system is a lot more advanced and complicated than the other offices i have been to, but this morning i started to get the hang of it and had a look at some of the records and accounts from the Stratford & Moreton Railway Company (central to my thesis). Some useful stuff but i need to process it to get the full value.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sirius object of worship in oldest known temple?

Its thought the oldest known temple in Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey, may have been dedicated to the Dog Star (Sirius). The site is 11,000 years old and consists of 20 enclosures though only a few have yet been excavated. Each enclosure is circular and surrounded by stone pillars on which are carved animals.

If the pillars were arranged as an astronomical observatory like Stonehenge may have been then by simulating the position of the stars at the time the temple was being used then Sirius may have been the object of worship. It is one of the brightest stars in the sky and would have started appearing on the horizon after 9300 BCE. Archaeoastronomer Giulio Magli believes the appearance of this new bright star may have sparked a new religion which the temple was built to serve.

The site in southern Turkey is also fascinating for how it goes against the idea of agriculture sparking human settlements and civilisation. There is no evidence of contemporary agriculture meaning the temple could have come first.

Travelling the Grand Union Canal in the 1930s

An amazing video following showing canal boats travelling from London up to Birmingham. Showing inland waterway traffic on the Thames, Regent's Canal and Grand Union Canal. Some of the places shown like Hatton Locks i have visited myself over the last couple of years, some things of course look very different now but some things are unchanged, though you may need to look closely sometimes!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Walsall trolleybuses

A lovely film showing footage of Walsall's trolleybuses in the late 1960s in the last few years of their service before finally being withdrawn in 1970. It was one of the last UK trolleybus networks to be closed and i've never seen a working one in this country (i have seen one in Spain).

Of course in hindsight losing such a network (and the tram networks) was a mistake which is slowly being rectified via various costly new tram schemes... Anyway apart from the vehicles themselves it is an interesting look at Walsall the place too.

AMRTM used to have one of these trolleybuses (they may still do but haven't been to the museum for awhile).

A826 progress w/c 12/08/13

A quieter week, the end has been lightened by the return of my thesis sample chapter and the feedback was generally good and encouraging.

I haven't done too much in the way of new research this week, what i have been doing is collating the research i have made (including from last year when i was seeing how feasible my thesis idea was) to see whats i've got and where there are gaps. One gap for example i identified was that i was recording the number of "malters" in Stratford but wasn't 100% sure what they were and what they did. A couple of journal articles later i am slightly clearer.

Next week should see my first trip to the National Archives at Kew, exciting!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Crypta Balbi

An interesting video on the Crypta Balbi in Rome. A site in the centre of the old city whose purpose changed many times throughout the history of Rome, from community centre to even a glass furnace. Perhaps it can give us an idea of the everyday Rome of the normal citizen.

A level result day

A level result day (a.k.a. girls being photographed jumping in the air day), and on this day i always remember when i got my results. This was back in 1990 which was about 5 ice ages ago in the early Holocene. I turned up at my awful 6th form college (since closed down) to confirm what i already expected that i had failed my Maths and Physics A levels. I got U and N respectively.

More importantly however was my Computer Studies A Level. I needed an E to get into Birmingham Polytechnic to start a HND in Computer Science, in the end i got a D and my polytechnic/university career began at the end of the next month. In hindsight i could have got straight onto a degree course if i had gone through clearing but i always prefer to stick to plan A and that was to do the HND first then do a degree, and 5 years later i had achieved both.

Midlands Today filmed a report from my college though i was not asked by the reporter (David Davies in fact in his pre-FA days) about my results probably because i was not blonde or female. However it probably would have been a bit embarrassing to tell the nation (or the West Midlands at least) how my results read D U N. Incidentally one of my friends got E N D which was mildly amusing.

That was 23 years ago, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. 18 years working in web development and a second academic career with the Open University. Actually thinking about it i should have chosen history for my A levels all of those years ago, i probably would have got to university to study history back in 1990. I could have my own Channel 5 or BBC4 TV career by now...

What's killing the world's amphibians?

A third of all known amphibian species are threatened with extinction, why is this? This well-made video explains why and what can be done to help.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A826 progress w/c 05/08/13

August has to be archive month when i do the bulk of my primary source research, a visit to Kew is planned for later in the month but on Wednesday i went to Stratford's archives as i have already mentioned.

I'm starting to amass some economic data on the town's economy in the 19th century but how to visualise it? One thing i have tried is to create a map of the town using a lovely little app called MapEditor and then (in Photoshop) populating the map with industries to see how the town's economy changed between 1830 and 1850 using lists of trades in the Pigot's 1830 and White's 1850 trade directoies. Below is something i created yesterday (yes i know about the spelling mistake!)

I'm not necessarily going to include this in my thesis but its useful to help interpret the data, notice the much greater number of coal merchants in 1850.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Back to the archives!

August has to be archives month, i need to get my primary source research done this month as much as i can. Later in the month i plan to visit the National Archives in London but today i returned to Stratford's archives to do some deep analysis of trade directories. I am using this as a main data source to see how the economy in the town changed from 1820 to 1860 and have got some good finding now. Coal merchants doubled between 1830 and 1840 for example. I need to expand on this and try and find out why of course.

While i was in the town i took some photos of course (which you can see on my Flickr), i even saw Rosie and Jim...

Monday, August 5, 2013

The milk revolution

An interesting article in Nature magazine on how Europeans around 7500 years ago developed a mutation that allowed them to drink milk and consume other dairy produce including early cheese, evidence of cheese making has been found in fragments of pottery with tiny holes in it. The ability to drink milk up until then was lost in adulthood and lactose intolerance remains true for many people around the world.

Early farmers learnt how to reduce the lactose in dairy produce so it was not hazardous to adult health but the main breakthrough came when a genetic mutation called LP allele allowed adults to drink milk without ill-effect. The mutation is thought to have happened around 7500 years ago in what is now Hungary.

Those with the mutation had an advantage over those who remained intolerant, milk was a vital source of nutrition when harvests were poor. Those with the mutation were also more fertile. Most people who can drink milk now can trace their ancestry to Europe though in a few other areas similar mutations occurred such as in West Africa.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shakespeare lived here n.b. horse and cart to let

While researching Stratford-upon-Avon's economy for my thesis i did a search of the British Library's 19th Century Newspaper Archive and came up with some interesting matches, plus a rather amusing snippet from the Morning Post of Thursday November 6th 1821.

We are told that the house Shakespeare lived in, in Stratford (perhaps the birthplace?) is currently owned by a butcher. The owner has put a sign up on the house over the door that says
"Shakepear lived here
N.B. horse and cart to let"

Friday, August 2, 2013

A826 progress w/c 29/07/13

A week spent mostly writing. I had to submit my sample chapter this week so i did that on Wednesday. I'm not that happy with it to be honest but it will likely change quite a bit once the rest of the thesis slots into place. The sample chapter is submitted as a TMA (though its doesn't count towards my final marks) and will likely be the last TMA i do as an Open University student (which i have been since 2005).

Next step might be a PhD... or i might learn a language... but lets get this thesis done first. August will be spent with primary sources.

Tucano done

The latest model project, a Shorts Tucano, has now finally been completed (apart from a varnishing). Its taken longer than usual to complete this one, mostly due to the heat! I wonder if i should have found a better and less temperature vulnerable place to build my models...

Monday, July 29, 2013

We have tomatoes

We have tomato fruits, to add to the other bounty of my veg plot this year. Actually i have only put out 9 tomato plants this year and 7 have survived (another one lives but it rather stunted). A number of my tomato plants now have fruit.


There hasn't been much model making news for awhile. Actually i had a short break after the last project but started a new one a week or so ago, Project #048 is a Shorts Tucano and is progressing nicely though was a bit slow at the start. The room where i make my models is unheated and also very well glazed thus extremes of temperature make it rather uncomfortable. Its a nice little kit which should be finished by the end of the week.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A826 progress w/c 22/07/13

A week dedicated to writing mostly though i did review a couple of other texts. I need to submit my sample chapter next week and thats going well. One problem though is knowing exactly how many words to write!

On all TMAs up until now i have had a set word limit, however the sample chapter can be whatever i want it to be within reason (the dissertation as a whole is limited to about 15000 words). My sample chapter is the introduction and general review and i don't want to eat up too many words as i want to dedicate around 5000 each to the two major areas of the project. Thus i think 2-3000 words is a good limit, it can always be revised later anyway.

Friday, July 19, 2013


A couple of weeks ago i installed an app on my iPad that had changed my life... Well a little bit anyway, its the Flightradar24 app which allows you to track flights and find information out about them. I live under one of the flightpaths for Birmingham Airport and so get a lot of aircraft flying overhead. Others fly (at a higher altitude) bound for the likes of Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle and ...er... Southend.

The information gleaned from the app has helped me recognise whats flying overhead. When i was younger i was a huge plane spotter and could tell every type apart, its harder in the modern era where the basic template of a metal tube with an engine under each wing has been used for the majority of airliners these days. However thanks to the app i am starting to tell my 757s apart from my A321s...

The variety of what flies overhead surprised me a bit actually. I knew there were a lot of 737s and A320s but the number of 757s was a surprise, plus the odd A310 and 777. High up has been even more of a surprise, i often assumed the faint specks that fly high overhead were all big transatlantic jets but although i have seen a few 747s and an A380 many of the specks are smaller planes flying from the likes of Edinburgh and Shannon to airports in the South.

Great app anyway, i always have it open if i've got the iPad in the garden. Its just a shame not every plane shows up on it. You can see some photographs i've taken of planes flying over my house over the years here.
Easyjet 737

A826 progress w/c 15/07/13

A combination of the hot weather and other things i needed to get done this week meant that it hasn't been the busiest one for awhile. I did start writing my sample chapter this morning though and have over 1000 words in the can. My sample chapter will be the first one and will set the scene for the rest of the project.

I haven't done much research this week, most time has been spent preparing for the writing, however i have checked out the Vision of Britain website and the census and occupation data on Stratford could be very useful indeed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The endless heat

Britain continues to swelter under the Summer heatwave.

Actually i don't mind the heat that much but the continuous heat wave which now looks like it will continue into August is getting a bit much. The problem with my house is it takes a long time to heat up but when it does... boy it gets hot! Thus the house is pretty much sweltering and short of investing money i don't have in air conditioners there probably isn't a great deal i can do...

It could be worse, i could be in an office i suppose. However the heat isn't making my study very easy but i have started bringing together my research ready to begin writing the first chapter of my dissertation at the weekend.

I was trying to think back to the last heatwave, the one in the late 70s is often mentioned though i was very young at the time of it and do not remember anything about it apart from perhaps the odd vague memory (which might be media constructs anyway).

Friday, July 12, 2013

A826 progress w/c 08/07/13

Battling against heat-induced laziness i continued my trawl through secondary sources earlier in the week, something which will continue throughout the project i am sure. The big event of the week though was my first visit to Warwick archives. Although Stratford is likely to be where i will be mostly there are also some useful sources at Warwick.

These being 2 trade directories, i will be using this source to try and determine the economic development of Stratford in the early 19th century. Unexpectedly the directories were available on microfiche and so i didn't have to nervously handle a couple of centuries old books. Its the first time i've used a microfiche since i was about 15 or 16 and a school visit to Birmingham Central Library!

Now i am preparing to actually write something, i have to submit a sample chapter in early August so will begin preparing for that next week.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A garden in bloom

My nasturums (or whatever they are called) are finally starting to bloom! The flowers have grown astonishingly well from seed though i was wondering if these wannabe-triffids were actually going to flower. In a day or two i could have a real riot of colour. As i haven't mowed the lawn for a few weeks (to try and get some new grass seed to germinate) i also have plenty of wild flowers on the lawn...