Friday, May 31, 2013

A826 progress w/c 27/05/13

Now i'm up and running with the dissertation part of my masters degree (A826 in Open University code) i thought i would do a weekly progress report, detailing what i have been doing this week and maybe some thoughts on how my project is progressing. And if i haven't done anything in a week hopefully this record can shame me to get my finger out!

Anyway this week i initiated contact with my tutor and we discussed some aspects of my project. My project of course is looking at the economic effect of new transport links on Stratford in the early 19th century. I've decided to narrow the project down a bit and only look at the effect of the Stratford & Moreton Tramway as it was thought that covering the tramway and canal might have led to trouble later on.

Today i went to Stratford's archives for the first time this year. I didn't look at any primary sources but instead read the Victoria County Histories and some other articles for information. A bit of background information. While i was in Stratford i took a few photographs naturally.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Aurornis xui beats Archaeopteryx as earliest bird?

The discovery of a fossil of Archaeopteryx in 1861 was one of the greatest fossil discoveries ever. The fossil showed the earliest known (at the time) bird and also a transitionary stage in the evolution of a branch of reptiles into birds, helping illustrate Darwin's theory of evolution too. Now finally an earlier stage in that evolution has been found.

Aurornis xui predates Archaeopteryx by 10 million years in the Jurassic period (about 150 million years ago). It shares many of the other early bird's features such as a long tail but is considered more primitive and the most primitive avian yet discovered. The fossil has preserved the outline of feathers along the body and tail though Aurornis was unlikely to have been able to fly.

Some scientists are not convinced Aurornis should be classified as a "bird" but rather was still a reptile but all agree it provides an important step in the evolution of the birds. Interestingly the discovery of Aurornis helps re-establish Archaeopteryx in the bird family tree after some scientists relegated it to a class of winged dinosaurs.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy birthday Gravelly Hill Interchange

On the 24th of May 1972 the Gravelly Hill Interchange was officially opened, this motorway junction is more commonly known as the Spaghetti Junction of course. The name was originally coined by the journalist Roy Jones in 1965 when he said plans for the proposed junction, which connects the M6 motorway to the Aston Expressway A38(M) as well as local roads like the A38, looked like a plate of spaghetti!

I've lived close to the junction most of my life and over the years have also walked underneath it along the Tame Valley Canal and some of the service areas. You can see some of my photos here, here and here. Paradise Circus also comment on the interchange's birthday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Original toy?

Dinky toys can be very valuable these days though i suspect my beat-up Police Mini would not be worth a great deal. Sentimentally it is worth a lot though, i've had it pretty much all of my life. My Nan bought it for me when i was a baby so was one of my original toys. I must have hammered it when i was a toddler because i can only ever remember the car in this condition! I found it in a drawer recently and decided it would be better to have it on display.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The changes to Flickr

Flickr is my favourite social media site (though i think it firstly as a photo archiving and sharing site) so obviously the major redesign as unveiled yesterday was of interest. The changes have not gone down with long-time users of the site with thousands registering their dismay of the changes on the official forum (the news media didn't bother checking this on the whole, they just regurgitated the Yahoo press release about it being "awesome").

I don't like the changes that much but will adapt, hopefully feedback will be listened to and the changes can be tweaked though i do not expect there to be too much in the way of change. The main thing would be a bit more white space restored, the overall feel of the site is a bit oppressive and heavy now. I suspect the vision Yahoo have for Flickr differs somewhat from that of long-time users and pro users (the pro accounts are being phased out in any event).

No Flickr is not aimed at the pro anymore but will become yet another social photography sharing site. That is a shame as many users (including myself) have invested a lot of time and effort cataloging and curating our photography collections, sorting them into sets and collections, geotagging and labelling them. The new user interface either hides or does away with much of this organisation.

I guess this could be another step in the dumbing down of the internet and life in general. Organisation and choice lost and replaced by something glitzy you can't customise. Care and effort lost to be replaced by passive consumption. What i will probably do is make greater use of blogs to organise images and use Flickr more a repository. Of course that means one is relying on one's blog platform not disappearing, but maybe its time to explore a few other platforms to hedge one's bets...

Return to the Regent's Canal

The Regent's Canal is a branch of the Grand Union that runs across North and East London from Paddington to Limehouse. Last month i walked along it from Kings Cross to the Islington Tunnel. Last weekend i picked up from where i left off and walked the canal up to Victoria Park, in doing so crossing Islington, Shoreditch, Hoxton and a few other hipster areas. The walk was one of great contrasts, swanky new developments alongside crumbling remnants of an earlier industrial age. Lots of joggers and cyclists too, its a very busy canal indeed! Here you can see my photos on Flickr.

Maybe later in the year i will walk the final leg to Limehouse. Interestingly about 1/4 of the way through my walk the battery on my venerable old Olympus compact camera run out so i continued using my iPhone, to be honest i think the iPhone photos are better in many ways (what do you think, the last of the 4 below is with the compact, the others iPhone). Maybe its time to retire the compact and just stick to my DSLR and the phone...

Monday, May 20, 2013

St Katherine Docks

Another weekend in London and more photographs of boats...

First of all the Thames around Tower Bridge (actually we were there really to meet my nephew and brother-in-law to be honest, but while we were waiting...) This culminated in a visit to St Katherine Docks which is pretty wonderful, as the website says "one of the best kept secrets in Central [London]". You can see the photographs i took here. That was just the start of the weekend's boat photography fest though...

Thursday, May 16, 2013


My latest model kit project is Project 045 HMS Tiger. Tiger was one of the last gun cruisers in the Royal Navy though its final years as service in the 1970s saw it serve as a helicopter cruiser. My Tiger is now pretty much done, just decals and varnish need to be done really.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Out into the big bad world

The major success of the 2013 growing season so far are my peas which have progressed brilliantly in their nursery trough. Its finally time to transplant them into the garden, unfortunately just as the weather has changed for the worse, snow even fell yesterday in some parts of the Midlands! Hopefully it will warm up again soon. Also hopefully my pea plot will prove fertile, though i worry there is too much grass under the soil, ash and compost layer. Time will tell of course, hopefully in a couple of months i will have some home grown peas to go with my chips...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Broken crockery

While digging a hole in the garden earlier today (to fill another hole with soil... which is where the soil for my raised bed came from - there is a method to this madness) i found a few pieces of broken crockery. Its funny how you always find these little bits of broken cups and plates if you dig deep enough. I wondered why this was so.

Did people in the past often drop cups and plates in their gardens and then leave the shards in the garden? I'm not the only person to ponder this, and their thought that maybe these shards were put in the bottom of pots and over time ended up in the soil seems feasible. Anyway the pea plot is now more or less ready, the cane frame went up today and soon i shall translate the pea plants in my nursery to the big bad world outside.

As well as these pieces of crockery i also found a large rusty metal bolt. Maybe it fell off a Spitfire... well as i live opposite the Castle Bromwich Jaguar factory which in the war made Spitfires perhaps that isn't quite as far fetched as it might seem. Probably more likely off an old lawn mower or something though!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

1927 London in colour

Pioneering British film maker Claude Frisse-Greene made a number of silent films showing life in the UK in the 1920s, one of which in London was filmed using the colour film he and his father William developed called the Friese-Greene Natural Colour process. Claude hoped the film could help publicise the process to Hollywood though in the end Technicolor won that battle. The British Film Institute have now released this film online, after performing computer enhancement to reduce flickering.

The film shows a fascinating insight into normal everyday life in the capital. Buses, boats and lots of men in hats! The skyline of London is very different to today though at times the scene hardly seems to have changed that much at all.

London in 1927 from Tim Sparke on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The regeneration of Shard End

The first place i ever lived (i.e. home from the hospital) was Shard End in Eastern Birmingham, which is where my Mum grew up and where my Nan lived. It was my second home too as i was growing up, visiting my Nan's at least once a week. Since she died in the early 1990s i have not visited the area very often though in May 2010 i took the following photographs.

Everything was derelict and ready for demolition. Today i went there again and was surprised at the new buildings. Although i knew the roads around the church well it seemed totally different now that the old buildings have gone and new build is ongoing.
Shard End Library was very important to be as i was growing up, i visited every week and read so many science fiction books from there. In 2010 that had been boarded up too but now has been replaced by a funky new building. I didn't have time to check if the new library has any books too but you never know...



Tuesday, May 7, 2013


With the Sun shining and not many clouds in the sky i thought i would indulge in my periodic hobby of taking photographs of the planes flying over my house as they fly into Birmingham Airport. I've pretty much always lived under the flightpath (my parents' house is pretty much on the same path, just about a mile further out) and i love it even if the planes mostly fall into a small set of types.

Occasionally you get to see something different, such as an RAF C-17. I remember when i was at primary school Concorde came to visit Birmingham and we waited in the playground for it to fly overhead. If only i'd have had a camera back then...

A common Euro-Asian language?

The idea of all languages having a common forebear is not a new idea (the Tower of Babel for example and has been considered by linguistic researchers for decades) but new research suggests that many languages spoken by people in Europe, Asia and America descend from a common language spoken during the Ice Ages 15,000 years ago.

Researchers have long used cognates (words that have a common etymological origin) as a kind of lingustic "DNA" to reconstruct ancient proto-words and have traced some common words back as far as 9000 years ago. This ancient Indo-European language later gave rise to languages like English, French, Hindi and Russian.

This is pretty much accepted, what is more controversial is tracing language back further. Some say this is too far back to meaningfully trace language roots as too many words would have changed over time. However researchers at Reading University have used statistical modelling to identify very common words have survived for thousands of years and which are shared across a number of ancient proto-languages across Europe and Asia linking Indo-European to other language groups like Altaic and Inuit-Yupik. Words which have survived include "I" and "We" (which might be no surprise) but also common are words like "bark" and "ashes". This is more surprising but then we should consider the cultural importance of such words to humans in the Stone Age.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A visitor

It is a nice day here today so i am doing some gardening. As i was doing so one of the neighbours' cats decided to pay me a visit. Unfortunately she was unable to help with any weeding.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The 6th Spitfire

My latest model project, a Supermarine Spitfire F22, has now been completed and very nice it looks too. As its the 6th Spitfire i've done to date i thought i would photo them all together.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spitfire F22

Project 044 is my latest model kit project, and its another Spitfire. This variant, which i believe is the 6th Spitfire i have done to date, is a Mark F22 which was one of the last variants of the iconic fighter. Painting is nearly finished, and since the photo was taken i have attached the canopy and prop.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The voice of Alexander Graham Bell heard at last

Despite the fact his inventions like the telephone have helped billions of people hear other voices (and record voices and sounds) no one knew what Alexander Graham Bell's own voice sounded like (apart from people who knew him of course).

Now one of the earliest wax disc recordings from 1885, which comes complete with a written transcript by Bell, has been scanned using a non-invasive optical sound recovery process and audio extracted by calculating how a stylus would move through the grooves of the disc.

More details of the optical scanning can be seen here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Peas (and other vegetables)

My pea crop is doing well, they have shot up really quickly. At current rate i might have to start thinking about planting them in the garden in a week or so. I am still preparing the plot they will be in. The soil for the raised bed was dug up from an adjacent plot leaving a trench. I have put grass cuttings in the trench and intend to top it with compost and potash. That should be fairly fertile ground then. As well as the peas i have tomato and radish germination too.