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.