Sunday, 31 May 2009

Disaster Strikes!

I've run out of instant coffee! This is a disaster! I've no idea how it happened but this is the first time in my life I've run out of coffee.

Ah well I'll just have to make do with fresh coffee for the rest of today until I can get to a supermarket tomorrow -- how will I cope!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Fast Food, Italian Style

On the way back from Milan I ended up at the airport around lunch time and so decided to grab some fast food before the flight.

Usually airports are peppered with the standard mixture of fast food joints often with pride of place given over to McDonald's -- this is certainly the case in Frankfurt. In Milan though things are a little different.

There are quite a few fast food outlets at Milan airport but they tend to focus on fresh sandwiches or pizza. No surprise then that I went for pizza.

The pizza was fantastic (better than Probably the Best Pizza in Milan) and the stall was quite cool too. Unfortunately my camera was packed so all I had was the VGA quality camera (although calling it a camera is stretching the definition a little far) on my mobile phone. Anyway you get the idea -- it looks like any other fast food counter with pictures of the meal variations but unlike most other fast food restaurants serves fantastic food. I know where I'm eating if I'm ever in Milan airport again!

Monday, 25 May 2009


We went to the wedding of some close friends at the weekend. I'm sure that once I've sorted through the over 600 photos we took I'll blog about men in suits and women in pretty dresses but for now you will have to make do with a post on the topic of toilets.

Over the years I've used quite a few portable toilets and mostly they have been experiences I would like to forget. The toilets on Saturday were a much grander affair than your average portaloo.

The toilets were provided by the cleverly named Excloosive. I didn't get a chance to photograph the toilets so you will have to make do with a picture from the companies website. Looking at the website I believe we were treated to the luxuries of The Berkeley toilet which is apparently suitable for up to 250 guests.

I have to say I was impressed, I've been in posh restaurants with worse toilets.

Friday, 22 May 2009

I Do Know Somethings About Art, Honest!

After admitting my ignorance of the location of Da Vinci's Last Supper in a recent post I thought I should try and show that I'm not totally uncultured and do know something about art.

So here is a piece of art that I do know something about and that I'm sure most of you will have seen before. If you've ever visited an English Heritage shop then you will have probably seen it on sale on a coaster, or possible a plate, cushion or thimble! Or if you have ever watched any of the Harry Potter films then you should recognise it from the countless shots of the Gryffindor common room. So many of you will have seen it before but do you know what it is and where it currently resides?

The image is actually a tapestry called À Mon Seul Désir, or in English to my only desire, and is one of six tapestries in a set known as La Dame à la licorne, or for those of us who don't know any French, The Lady and the Unicorn. These tapestries are often considered one of the greatest works of art to have emerged from Europe during the Middle Ages and were woven in Flanders of wool and silk from designs drawn in Paris during the late fifteenth century.

All six tapestries are housed at the Musée de Cluny, officially known as Musée National du Moyen Âge (National Museum of the Middle Ages in English), in Paris. We weren't allowed to take photos when we visited but someone obviously did as they posted the accompanying photo on Wikipedia. The museum website has a section devoted to describing the tapestries which is worth a read. Having been to the museum and seen the tapestries I can easily state that it is worth a visit if you are ever in Paris. The museum also houses a number of fantastic medieval illustrated manuscripts which I could easily look at for hours on end.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

I've Now Got Thumbnails!

No I'm not talking about the keratin based thumbnails that most of us have two of -- I'm talking about thumbnails for my blog posts.

Ever since I first saw my blog in a blog list on another blog I was annoyed by the fact that it was the only one in the list that didn't have thumbnails. Even though I publish this blog using Blogger, because I don't host on their server they don't generate thumbnails within the RSS feeds -- why I don't know. Anyway they add thumbnails to the feeds using the Yahoo! Media RSS Module specification.

As of the post on Coffee in Breakfast the feeds from this blog now have thumbnails. I wrote a small application, RSSThumbs, which updates an existing feed (RSS or Atom) with thumbnails generated from the first image in each new post. The software is currently limited to only adding thumbnails from the Media RSS specification but this may change in the future.

If you have a feed which doesn't include thumbnails then you can download RSSThumbs and update your own feeds.

v0.2.0 - 22/05/2009: Updated to ensure that we don't create invalid feeds if we try and update a feed that is also being updated by another process.

v0.1.0 - 21/05/2009: The first release.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


This afternoon I had a break from working and went into the centre of Milan to visit the Duomo (and to eat ice cream!).

Having read my guide book I already knew that the Duomo is the world's third largest church, behind St. Peter's and Seville Cathedral, but having never visited either of these larger churches I had no idea quite how big the Duomo would be. It is HUGE!

From the outside it is very big, but you get a real sense of just how big when you enter it's cavernous interior. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside but they wouldn't have conveyed the sheer size of the place anyway.

Although I'm not a religious person I do quite enjoy walking around churches and cathedrals, partly due to the sense of calm and tranquillity the hushed atmosphere tends to instil in me but also as they tend to be very interesting buildings and the Duomo was no exception. Of course, the fact that churches tend to be quite cool also meant that it offered a most pleasant rest from the 38C conditions outside!

Probably The Best Pizza In Milan

I had pizza for dinner last night (my first real Italian pizza) so I don't know if the restaurants boast of making probably the best pizza in Milan is accurate or not but it was very nice. The picture is actually the back of the restaurants card. I couldn't be bothered trying to photograph the front as well (I don't carry a scanner with me on foreign trips) but the restaurant was called Sabatini and you can find out more at their website.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Coffee in Breakfast

Whilst I like a proper full English for breakfast I'm also quite happy with a continental breakfast as long as it is accompanied by copious amounts of strong black coffee.

This morning though I got coffee both with and in my breakfast! The drink was better than the food but as yet another source of caffeine I can't complain.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Last Supper

How could I not know that Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was in Milan? I knew it was painted on a refectory wall and that it isn't a true fresco (it wasn't painted onto wet plaster) but if I'd been asked where it was I would probably have said Rome.

At this point you might well be asking yourself why my ignorance is at all important or relevant. Well I'll tell you why -- I'm going to be in Milan next week attending a project meeting. I only found out where the Last Supper was when flicking through the guidebook I bought on Thursday evening. I would have liked to have gone and seen such a well known work of art but unfortunately you have to book tickets weeks if not months in advance (the next date you can get a ticket for is the 7th of July).

Due to a change in the agenda for the meeting I have actually ended up with almost a full day in Milan without any work to do so will try and see some of the other main sites including the Duomo. If you have been to Milan before and have suggestions for things I should definitely make the time to see then leave me a comment.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


Before you get confused this posting isn't about the weather -- it's wet in Sheffield but it's not cold enough to be icy!

Since I started this blog I've posted quite a few large panorama photos (17 posts if I labelled them all correctly). I've mentioned before how I make the photos viewable on the blog but I've never talked about how I create the large images in the first place. Most of the panorama's were stitched together using a combination of AutoPano (to workout how the photos overlap) Panorama Tools (to actually overlap the photos) and finally SmartBlend (to blend overlapping photos to create a seamless image). All of these are command line tools and so to make life easy I've used PTAssembler to automate the whole process. This has worked well so far (hopefully you've enjoyed the photos) but is difficult to recommend to other people as PTAssembler, which makes the process fairly painless, isn't free.

The panoramas of Thornton Abbey were produced differently than usual and with a free tool called ICE, or to give it it's full name Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Here is a screenshot of it being used to stitch together the view from our hotel window at the Reeds Hotel. While it doesn't give you full control over every aspect of the stitching and blending process it gives you enough control to be able to produce most panoramas and the fact that it is easier to use and free means I can recommend it to everyone else. It's a research project from Microsoft which means it might not be available forever but the download doesn't seem to be time limited in anyway so once you have downloaded it I think you will be able to continue using it as long as you like.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Thornton Abbey

I've already shown you the gatehouse (from both the inside and outside) at Thornton Abbey but here is a photo of the remains of the abbey.

In comparison to the gatehouse there is very little of the abbey still remaining other then the foundation walls. In fact all that is left is a couple of sides of the chapter house.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Buying a House

I was going to blog about how we have now bought a house and will get the keys on the 26th of June. Unfortunately, Bryony beat me to it by posting on her new blog. So if you want the details (and to see a photo) have a look at this post on Whispers from the Hedgerow.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Thornton Abbey: The Gatehouse seen from Inside

Continuing on from yesterday's post here is a view of the gatehouse at Thornton Abbey as seen from inside the monastic enclosure.

Definitely not as ornate as the outside. There are quite a few archways in the wall, apparently these were not meant to be functionally but are included simply to reduce the amount of brick needed to build the curtain wall.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Thornton Abbey: The Gatehouse

On Monday we drove the short distance from the Reeds Hotel to the nearby Thornton Abbey. I'll probably do a few posts on the abbey and it's grounds but I'll start with the gatehouse.

According to English Heritage:
The enormous and ornate fortified gatehouse of Thornton Abbey is the largest and among the finest of all English monastic gatehouses. An early example of brick building in England, it proclaimed the wool trade based prosperity of one of the wealthiest English Augustinian monasteries, for centuries a focus of spiritual and economic influence. Begun in the 1360s, the gatehouse was enlarged and fortified with battlements after the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, presumably as insurance against further trouble. Standing some 21 metres (69 feet) high and resembling a castle keep gatehouse, it may have protected the abbey's treasures, as well as providing spacious lodgings for the abbot and his guests.
The photo is a large panorama so you can get a feel of just how ornate sections of the gatehouse really are by clicking on it and then zooming in and having a really close look.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Don't Get Too Close!

Don't get too close! is good advice when taking photos like this one. I don't know if it was inhabited or not but given that it could contain quite a few wasps I wasn't going to get too close to it.

To be on the safe side we even sat at the other end of the hide to the nest. When it comes to flying insects that can sting I don't think you can be too careful!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Freshwater Fish

I'm not really a fish person, unless it comes battered with a generous portion of chips but I saw some interesting fish yesterday.

We are currently on holiday at the Reeds Hotel (some of you may remember that we also stayed here last year) on the south bank of the Humber right near the Humber Bridge. Yesterday morning we went for a walk around the Far Ings nature reserve that the hotel sits in the middle of. We were walking along the edge of the Hotel Pit and had almost reached the end furthest from the hotel (if that sounds confusing then there is a reserve map you can look at) when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was the tail of a bird that had just dived, then on closer inspection I realised it was a fin! Once we realised there were fish in the water you could actually see quite a few -- nine was the most we could see at one time. Now usually when I've seen fish they have been quite small but these were all well over a foot in length, most of them were probably around 15 inches or so with some even bigger.

Now as I said at the beginning unless the fish is battered and served with chips then I know nothing about fish. So here are the best photos I managed to take given the light.

Anyone fancy at guess at the species of fish?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Old Kit Put To Good Use

Only one word can describe that: genius!

I don't think there is much more to say but for completeness the genius behind that video added this information when uploading it to YouTube:
No effects or sampling were used. What you see is what you hear (does that even make sense?):
  • Atari 800XL was used for the lead piano/organ sound
  • Texas Instruments TI-99/4a as lead guitar
  • 8 Inch Floppy Disk as Bass
  • 3.5 inch Hard Drive as the gong
  • HP ScanJet 3C was used for all vocals
Please note I had to record the HP scanner 4 separate times for each voice. I wanted to buy 4 HP scanners but for some reason sellers on E-Bay expect you to pay $80-$100, I got mine for $30. I keep hearing parts of the song are out of tune. Keep in mind the scanner and floppy drive are not musical instruments. These are mechanical devices whose motors tend to drift and can cause some notes to be out of tune.