Sunday, August 11, 2013

Photoblog: The Raptor Foundation

Finally I have managed to scrape together enough internets to get some photos uploaded and now I can write a post about my visit to Cambridgeshire's Raptor Foundation a couple of weeks ago.

Please don't expect me to remember ornithological details and names beyond "owl". Feel free to comment with interesting info about the birds you see if you know more than I do, though.
Raptors are birds of prey* including owls, eagles, hawks, harriers, buzzards, kites and vultures, and the Raptor Foundation provides medical care and rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured raptors as well as conducting research into conservation and related environmental matters.

Who you lookin' at?
The Foundation is open to the public (it costs £5 per adult to get in), and the birds can be seen at fairly close-quarters, tethered to stakes or secured in their enclosures. There are 2 to 3 flying displays throughout the day hosted by a team demonstrators who have a clearly identifiable passion for the creatures they work with.
Neil doing what Neil does.

They also have other events throughout the year, some of which happen at set times such as the twilight displays (I'd love to go to one of those) and others that can be booked in advance.

Being much more of a proactive photographer than I am, my good buddy Neil booked him, me and a bunch of folks he talks to on a photography website onto a photographic day. This costs more than a standard visit to the Foundation** and includes not only time to wander around the bird enclosures and watch the displays, but also some up-close-and-personal time with a selection of raptors in some nice, photogenic settings***. During the standard displays we were encouraged to position ourselves in non-standard positions, such as under the flightpaths of the birds, in order to get the most out of the experience as photographers.

At one point I completely failed to get an awesome shot as I was vaguely concerned that the enormous owl coming straight at me was about to carry me off into the trees where it could eat bits of me at leisure.

I think this goes some way towards showing just how up-close-and-personal we could get with these majestic creatures.
Whilst the birds themselves were fascinating, as usual I tried to push myself in a direction inspired by another friend's photography**** and include some candid shots of people doing people things.

Here are some of the shots I'm most proud of from the day. As usual, the only post-processing is cropping and a little bit of colour and brightness correction (largely done automatically by Picasa):

This kind of looks like a studio background, but it isn't, honest!


Watching, waiting.

Watching me like a... well, like an owl.

This guy was a poser and a half.


I love this shot, but can't quite articulate why.

It proved tricky getting good in-flight shots - I had similar problems to the ones at Waddington (though not quite so comical)

Some of the up-close shots of the raptors getting their rewards were... disgusting.

Lift off!

We all had a chance to act as perch for these beautiful owls.

This is not a raptor.

Neither are these, though they remind me of someone...

Framed by foliage

As usual there are more shots over on my Flickr account. Please have a look and let me know which shots are your favourites, and why! It'll help me to become a better photographer.

* Not, as I'd hoped, particularly cunning and vicious pack-hunting dinosaurs.
** I can't remember how much as Neil very kindly paid for me as a birthday present!
*** Trees.
**** Carlos, of Oblique Exposure.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Waddington Air Show 2013

It's that time of year again - that time when my old uni buddy Neil and I high-tail it to RAF Waddington for their annual air show to geek-out with 'planes and 'tography.

Surely these guys need no introduction?
For a number of reasons I haven't really played with my D60 since October. Consequently, Sunday's visit to RAF Waddington was the first opportunity I've had to put my new lens through its paces. The lack of practise is one thing I'm blaming the quality* of these photos on. Another is the general shoddiness of the air quality: the hottest day of the year produced significant heat haze on top of an already hazy sky.

A ghostly Battle of Britain memorial flight.
Another issue that seriously affected the quality of my shots was luck. Or, rather, my habitual lack of it. As may be seen in these four snaps...
Hide & Seek & Destroy!
Look out for the- !
This isn't just sky: look carefully...

Although amongst the accidentals, I was quite pleased when I noticed my traitorous shutter-button finger had managed to catch the one below:

Now try to get this one on purpose.
I almost forgot another complaint: the runway and airspace within which the aerial displays happen at Waddington lies unfortunately between the public areas and the sun which, on a day as painfully bright as Sunday, makes for a stack of photos that are little more than silhouettes. Unfortunately there weren't many that I could pass off as being artsy.

This one would have been great had the sun occupied a more thoughtful location.
Thankfully Lanc-y and the boys looped round for another pass, and managed to get the sun on their good side.
Here are a handful of miscellaneous shots that I'm fairly happy with:

Bend over, let me see ya shake a tail feather.
It's a chinook, but you can pretend it's part of some steampunk-y spaceship if you wish. I am.
I'm always struck by how pleased this plane looks to see me.
Penultimately, here are a couple of nutters:

Rather then than me.
And to finish with, a photo that's just dying for a caption competition:

Seriously, when I finally get around to writing Tom's Illustrated Compendium of Things You Probably Shouldn't Do, this is going on the cover.
You can see the other photos I deemed worthy of uploading on my Flickr photostream.

* Or lack thereof.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Resisting the urge to talk
about nibbling Amy.
It was my birthday a mere eight months ago, but I haven't seen Emma since before then, so I got my present(s) when we met up yesterday to go and see Iron Man 3*****.

One of my presents was a box of cupcakes with a Whoish theme, but it's not those that I want to talk about here (even though they look awesome and taste delicious).

Another one of my presents was a set of limited edition 3D cinema glasses in the style of Anakin Skywalker's podracing goggles, presented in a TARDIS pencil case. Whilst simultaneously cool, surreal, and multu-fandom, I haven't posted in order to talk about those, either.

Here's what I have posted for:

Hello, sweetie.
I've seen various versions of River Song's time-diary****, first encountered (by us) in Tennant-Era Who two-parter Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, available for purchase. Some are mass-produced clean-paged notebooks on the inside (I bought one as a Christmas present for someone who really didn't deserve it); some are one-off fan-made affairs available through sites such as Etsy.

This particular one is a bespoke offering made by Emma in conjunction with somebody really quite famous indeed. I carefully slid the "Warning; Spoilers" label off (it's sealed with a wax stamp on the reverse*) and opened the book, expecting to see blank notebook pages, but instead saw this:

That's space stuff, that is.

Yes. Information about space. Not the scrawlings of a time traveller, but properly published space info. Or spacefo, if you prefer. Freeing the book of its custom dust jacket, I saw this and, if I was capable of doing such a thing, I would have squeed:

This, as anybody who has precisely the same set of interests as me** will know is a beautifully pocket-sized book published in 1962 for the discerning and budding astronomer by one Patrick Moore***. I knew this just by looking at the cover because - and this is weird for a book that was released twenty years before I was born - I already have one. Or, rather, my dad has one and it lives on one of the bookshelves in my house because I... liberated it. It's one of those books that you expect to find notes written in. My dad's copy has the cryptic "Library No. 1" and a circled "2" in the front, with a "1" and "May 21st 1966" written at the back. My new River Song-ed copy has "Care of K. Lewis" handwritten on the contents page.

Even without the very cool custom dust jacket, it is a very good little book, and scores over older, more pedestrian works in two important respects: First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "THE OBSERVER'S BOOK OF ASTRONOMY" inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

* The stamp itself is from the Harry Potter franchise - Emma has no qualms about mixing universes. If we all end in a big, swirly paradox, you know who to blame.
** At present, the total count is five, with two currently incarcerated for the protection of themselves and others, one recently escaped, and a toy badger.
*** If you don't know who Patrick Moore is, then... how did you get here? I mean, how did you arrive at this page? I'm not casting aspersions on your ability to accurately click links, but... I bet you watch Eastenders, don't you?
**** Whilst checking this post for glaring errors it occurs to me that all diaries are time-diaries, really.
***** And this bit sounds a bit like a primary school child's "what I did on my holidays" work on the first day back in the classroom.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Coffee? A Social Experiment

Eagle- eyed readers will probably have failed to notice a new link in the bar under the header of this page: Coffee?

Allow me to explain.

I want to meet new people. The way that most people do this, so I'm told, is by going to places where people are and saying hello to them. I struggle with this immensely, in the same way that a toddler may struggle with proving PoincarĂ©'s conjecture. I can turn up to places where there are people and stay there for any length of time without talking to anyone. This, I have been told, makes me look unsociable (in some cases), aloof (in others) and "oh, were you there too?" (in most).

Playing my part in a funny-face slam. With a 4 year old friend.
The truth is that I try to talk to people. I try very hard. Unfortunately, when I try to talk to people in social situations most of my mind appears to occupy itself with imagining gerbils tumbling over one another. The harder I try to talk to people, the more gerbils there are. The rest of my mind goes all... well, if you're a Red Dwarf fan, you'll know what I'm talking about if I reference Lister's Paranoia. Why would they want to talk to you?

Just to clarify: this isn't about girls, or dating, it's just about people. There has to be someone out there I can talk to*, and that's what this is about.

If you find yourself here, at this blog, liking something that you read, and thinking "hey, this is a frood I could really have coffee with**," then click the link, fill in the form and let me know. Of course, 'coffee' is an umbrella term that I have chosen to stand in for any kind of activity which involves two or more people getting together and finding out more about each other than they previously knew. So actually drinking coffee would be a good example, but I'm also open to a nice beer, pizza, walking around nice places, visiting museums, using trigonometry to discover the heights of national monuments, learning to ride a unicycle, visiting bookshops, or... anything at all, really. In fact, if it gives me something to write about on this blog, all the better. If you just want to chat online, then you're welcome to get in touch any way you see fit. A good place to start would be here.

After a face-painting activity.
With aforementioned 4 year old friend.
I don't care where you are: if you're nearby (by which I mean anywhere around Milton Keynes or Kettering)  then great, that's easy. But if you're further afield (by which I mean Portsmouth, Edinborough***, the Himalayas or the ISS) then don't let that put you off because I might find myself there at some point (my job has me travelling around the country a bit, or you might just convince me to come and visit for a day) and there's no reason why we can't talk online anyway.

I don't care who you are. As I've said, this is not a dating profile, so you can be male or female, tall or short, black, white, purple or green, and into all sorts of stuff. If you're into the same things as me, then great. If you're interested in different stuff, then awesome: I like new stuff.

Lastly, I'm all for paradoxes, so if you're reading this thinking "there's no way he'd want to talk to me," then you're most likely someone I'd want to talk to. I don't expect a flood of responses from this, but if I meet just one more person I click with then it's all been worth it, hasn't it?

* I need to clarify, in the spirit of not offending anyone who doesn't deserve it, that I do know a handful of people I can talk to, and are great fun and fantastically interesting in incredibly diverse ways. I've been thinking of running a series of posts about each one and why you should browse their stuff. But there's always room for one more, right?
** If you want to know more about me and what I'm into, check out the labels in the sidebar of this blog, have a click around this page, or find me on twitter or G+.
*** Chrome's spell checker is desperate for me to change 'Edinborough' to 'Gainsborough', rather than 'Edinburgh' as, of course, it should be. I have nothing against Gainsborough, but a better handle on where Edinburgh is.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chipper Skiffer Chiffer Sculpture (Or: Alan Turing's Likeness)

In Bletchley Park's museum stands (or sits, rather pensively hunched over an Enigma machine) this slate sculpture of mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Lots is written about Alan Turing, his life, achievements and his apalling treatment at the hands of the British judiciary system, and I'm not here to repeat all of that.
Taken by me.
I'm here to relate a startling but ultimately meaningless coincidence that I picked up during a conversation with one of BP's resident bombe team. It goes like this:

The Swedish word for "slate" is "skiffer". Go here and click the relevant button to hear how that's pronounced.

There's another Swedish word that's pretty similar when written down, but, when spoken, almost indistinguishable to my unpracticed ears*: "chiffer".

And what does that mean, boys and girls?
"Cipher". Go here and press the appropriate button to hear them both spoken in quick succession, then come back and agree with me.
* I think the difference is mainly in the intonation and/or emphasis than the actual sounds used, although I'm fairly sure I'm feeling a slightly harsher sound at the beinning of "skiffer" compared with the beginning of "chiffer".

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My First Particle Accelerator

No, this isn't a sneak-peak at this year's Christmas must-have on the toy shelves*: I'm talking about my first visit to a particle accelerator.

My new job role** has seen me doing some interesting things that I simply didn't get the opportunity to even think about as a teacher. This evening I headed over to Diamond Light Source in Didcot, Oxfordshire, as they were hosting a STEM ambassador networking event. It was an excellent opportunity to meet professionals and educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and I feel I've made some connections that could grow into mutually useful relationships. But that's not the point of this post...

Diamond Light Source is the UK's only synchrotron science facility. In short they Do Science by way of accelerating electrons to relativistic speeds, using the resultant beams of light (at wavelengths from infrared to X-ray) to conduct various academic and industrial research projects. If you're not sure what that all means, it's a big silver doughnut visible from the A34:

View Larger Map

At the end of the networking event we were given the opportunity to be taken on a tour of the facility. After hesitating for approximately no fractions of a second I tore myself away from the possibility of spending my evening doing nothing at all and leapt with childish glee (in my mind, at least) after our tour guide, the knowledgeable and engaging Laura Holland.

Standing on top of the Diamond Synchrotron, the yellow line on the floor traces the path that electrons follow below,
kept on the right track by powerful electromagnets
The tour was great: I've never visited a particle accelerator before, so it was all I could do to stop myself running around like a small child in a sweet shop. Even though you can't see the actual particle acceleratory stuff, there's a lot to be said for standing in a building that's humming with the promise of science happening all around you. The tour takes in the synchrotron itself, plus examples of the kind of things that are down below doing the business, including electromagnet setups, which I forgot to take photos of because my brain was geeksploding. There are whistlestops at computer banks, spare sections of particle track, and machines that run tests on the results of experiments, all interspersed with facts, figures and comments on the general running of the establishment.

If you're at all enticed by the thought of the things I'm saying, go.

This is a nitrogen outlet. Or a spaceship exhaust: you choose.
Laura is also Diamond Light Source's Public Engagement Manager, which means she's the one to chat to if you want to visit, or if you want her to visit you (she does Outreach stuff too). Her details are on the Education part of their site. If you're a school and you're interested in visiting, there's a page for Post-16 Open Days, and Open Days for the public are detailed right here. I may have to sign up so I can take my proper camera along!

* Though, thinking about it, wouldn't that be cool...?
** I'll write a post about my new job at some point.