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June 27, 2013

Office for iPhone

I subscribed to Office 365 as the cost seemed reasonable to maintain Office on 5 computers and included Outlook. When I heard that it was now available for iPhone I downloaded the app to see if it would be much use, which I doubted given the small viewing area. It was worse than I expected. I downloaded a Word template from the cloud and opened it in the iPhone Word editor. All I can see at once corresponds to one corner of the document at quite a large size. This viewport can be scrolled around but that is awkward while typing with a large part of the screen occupied by the virtual keyboard.

I was surprised to find that I cannot zoom in or out for a better view. Changing font size is possible whilst editing but I cannot tell what size I will get when viewed on a desktop PC.


compared with the full document as seen by a web browser in the cloud


Of course, this is version 1.0 so one can hope for improvements...

July 18, 2012

Keep taking the tablets

Follow-up to Another tablet from Snap!

I've been looking for the ideal tablet (for my needs) for some time and written previously about my experiences with two 10" tablets (the original iPad and the Acer W500 Windows tablet). These tend to be heavy and cannot be read for more than a few seconds holding them by a corner.

So I have also been looking at 7" tablets such as Kindles. I've had the Kindle Keyboard, then the Kindle Touch and finally a Kindle Fire. The slim grey plastic Kindles with eInk screens do what it says on the tin. They are light weight and excellent readers. They have an experimental web browser which is quite slow and clunky, so they should not be viewed as anything more than a very good reader.

The Kindle Fire is an Amazonised Android tablet with an excellent LCD screen, so more of an iPad competitor. As a Kindle it is fine, though with a backlit screen it has both advantages and disadvantages over the other Kindles. Its battery gets eaten up quickly and the screen is harder to read in strong ambient light. As an Android tablet, it is crippled at the moment by the lack of UK support. You can find ways to install Android apps, e.g. initially using a Dropbox account, so the Opera browser provides an alternative to the built in Android browser. Kindle is a pretty good PDF reader so for my purposes, once set up the Kindle Fire is an alternative to an iPad which is easier to carry around and use on the go.

Just under a week ago I received an early delivery of a 16GB Google Nexus 7 from eBuyer. It seems they jumped the gun, but I'm not complaining :)

It is slightly lighter than the Fire, similar form factor and a backlit LCD screen which looks to my eyes slightly less saturated than the Fire and paradoxically, since it has higher resoultion (1280x800 versus 1024x600), sometimes less sharp. I don't do video or games so the more powerful processor in the Nexus is not really noticeable, but the integration with Google Play makes kitting the Nexus out with apps more straight forward.

However, running Android 4.1, the Nexus is beyond Adobe's cutoff point for Flash, so there is no Android browser and currently no iPlayer. Instead there is the Chrome browser installed. Which is fine. Presumably websites which accommodate the other non-Flash tablet will also do so with the Nexus. Then I can watch the BBC News again.

The Android email client works well with my different accounts.

Android is as deficient as iOS in not having a TeX installation. I can use cloud TeX services just as on the iPad. But if I need offline access to a TeX installation then it has to be a laptop or the Acer W500 tablet which has TeXLive installed. This is, of course, also the heaviest of the lot.

Leaving aside compiling TeX on the go, then the three 7" tablets I currently use (Touch, Fire, Nexus) all have plusses and minusses. Probably the one which will get squeezed out is the Fire. The Touch is far and away the lightest and has great battery life. The limitations on what I can currently install on the Fire means the Nexus will have the edge in software. With UK support for the Fire the gap would be much less. The iPad trails in last.

May 16, 2012

Balloon ride

Hanne received a present of a voucher for a hot air balloon ride for two. We tried to use it last year on holiday in the West Country but the weather was not suitable so we transferred to Warwickshire. The weather has to be just right (calm with low wind speed, in the right direction, high enough cloud base) and each time we booked a date we had to phone the night before to see if the forecast was good for the following day. At our third attempt the message was that the flight was on and would start from Stratford-upon-Avon race course on May 6th, 2012. With a light wind from the East this flight would take us towards Worcestershire.

In the morning the temperature was around 5C with high cloud clearing slowly. Assembly time at the race course was 6:30am and we arrived slightly early so the crew were just unpacking the balloon and wicker basket.


We were given a safety briefing mostly concerned with the brace position for landing, no smoking, no mobile phones, no loose items. I'd done some browsing on the internet so I was expecting all this and had decided just to take my small pair of binoculars (RSPB Rambler 8x25) and my point and shoot camera (Lumix TZ7), wear a fleece and a down jacket, and hiking boots as the ground at take-off and landing were both wet.

We had a full load of passengers (12) and a pilot in the basket. The latter is divided into 5 compartments, a central one for the pilot and the gas cylinders, and 2 smaller compartments at each end, each holding 3 people snugly. The basket comes up to chest height and has padding and ropes to grip for the landing. There's no possibility of moving round so once in the basket you see whatever is visible from where you are. The pilot can swing the balloon around using vents in the balloon so it is not really limiting.

Although there is no physical steering gear on the balloon, the wind tends to be in different directions at different altitudes so there is some degree of control possible. On the day we flew, ascending took us to the south west and descending to the west. This meant our trajectory on landing would be a curve rather than a straight line. I was impressed by the skills of the pilot.

After stretching out the balloon, attaching it to the basket, and attaching the basket to a Landy, the inflation of the balloon began using two large fans and cold air.


Once the balloon had expanded enough that the burner could be turned on without danger to the fabric (a large commercial balloon costs well into 5 figures) then the burner was lit and the inflation went rapidly until the basket was pulled upright.




We then divided into our threes and climbed in. More gas and we were quickly airborn and being carried by the wind; the chill factor then disappears as we picked up speed.


We headed away from Stratford and a second balloon which took off at the same time climbed a little higher so was carried away from us due to the different wind direction.


We eventually climbed to over 1,000 feet so had a good view over the surrounding countryside without things being too small. Here's Bidford on the river Avon.


and some crops in the fields. I wasn't easy to see what was growing except for the wide expanses of yellow rape flowers.


Most of the time we were airborn we were under cloud but could see the edge of the cloud to the west. Just before we landed we came out from under the edge.


The pilot had identified a campsite as a good landing point, but it was next to a hill and this caused the wind direction to change carrying us over a field of crops so we ascended again until we spotted an empty paddock (with a power line in front of it). So we flew over the cables and then came down in the paddock and made the gentlest landing imaginable despite all being braced for a heavy landing. The basket stayed upright and two passengers got out and took a halyard attached to the top of the balloon out to the far side of the paddock to pull the balloon down as the top was opened to let out the remaining hot air.


When the balloon had collapsed it was detached from the basket. The crew who had assembled the balloon had stayed in radio contact and followed us in convoy With the families of the passengers who had come along. They arrived after about 20 minutes and helped us finish packing up the balloon whilst one of them went to look for the owner of the paddock to check it was OK to take a Landy in to pick up the basket and balloon. They were agreeable so everything was packed up and we were driven back to Stratford to our waiting cars.





There was a camera rig hanging from the balloon which was used to take a group photo during the flight (and we will get prints in due course), but apart from that most of the pictures whilst in flight are those taken from the balloon so there are no other pictures of us in the balloon or our balloon ride in flight. To fully document a balloon ride, I suppose we should have had someone on the ground to follow us.


Balloon ride over Warwickshire and Worcestershire

But I would rather be in the balloon.

We were impressed by the good organisation of the whole experience. Our experienced pilot, John, was knowledgeable and and kept up an entertaining commentary. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The company we booked with was Wicker's Worldand the balloon was supplied by Heart of England Balloons.

January 06, 2012

Things were going well…

Writing about web page http://www.eavb.co.uk/lp/1pd24.html

… until I reached the iTunes contribution.

Whilst deleting unwanted old 128 kbps DRM'ed tracks from my iTunes library -- the ones Apple hasn't updated in the iTunes Plus service even though many are available from the iTunes Store at 256kbps -- I kept checking for the corresponding CDs on Amazon so I could rip my own Apple Lossless versions. Searching for some Scarlatti sonatas by Andreas Staier I was offered instead a CD I have hoped would someday be published.

At home I have a vinyl record collection dating back to the early '60s and in aprticular a rather obscure 10" mono single-sided Decca recording of George Malcolm playing Bach's Italian Concerto and Chromatic Fantasia on a Goff harpsichord.

So what is the big deal? It was my first purchase of classical music. Up until then I was a jazz fan and in particular I liked piano trios. Bill Grundy of Scene at 6-Thirty on Granada TV also liked piano trios and would often have one play on his current affairs programme. One such trio was that of Jacques Loussier who played jazzed up Bach (you have probably heard his music as the theme behind the Hamlet cigar adverts on TV). I particularly enjoyed the jazz versions of both of the above Bach pieces.

One day in 1966, by accident, I tuned to the Third Programme and heard the straight Bach version played by George Malcolm and was hooked and have been ever since.

I have looked in the past for digital versions of recordings by George Malcolm without success (maybe searching was less efficient then) and here was the ultimate just popping up unbidden. So I pushed the Amazon 1-click button yesterday afternoon around 3pm, and got an email from DPD this morning saying it would be delivered between 10:31 and 11:31. It arrived at 10:40 and is now in my iTunes library.

Except iTunes pulls in no information whatever about the recording so I have to type everything in by hand even though it is available in the iTunes Store for download.

I wonder if some of the other performances by Malcolm will appear? He teamed up with David Munrow to play jazz on shawm and harpsichord as well as the flight of the bumblebee.

December 13, 2011

ADSL speeds

I don't understand what is the primary problem which leads to the steadily falling average ADSL broadband speeds I am experiencing over a long period of time.

When we were originally cabled I took all the fibre services on offer, phone, tv and broadband. But the broadband never worked reliably, often leaving us disconnected for weeks at a time. Booking an NTL engineer usually had one of two outcomes: either he did not turn up, or he came during one of the rare windows when the service was working and then the tests showed no problems. In the end I terminated the NTL broadband service and later also dropped the TV which was playing up in favour of a cheaper and more reliable Sky satellite dish. Since then Virgin has taken over so maybe things would be better now?

Anyway I decided to switch to ADSL for broadband and chose Zen as the provider as they had a good reputation. Tests showed the line capable of 6Mbps out of the 8Mbps maximum available at the time and we got this speed at least some of the time. When the exchange was upgraded to 20Mbps we took that service and got a slight increase in throuput, at least for a while. Then the service went into steady decline over a couple of years until the throughput was rarely exceeding 1Mbps. When I queried this Zen said the problem was due to the line quality and I should complain to BT. BT said there was nothing wrong with line quality and the line was capable of 14Mbps according to their tests. So I terminated the Zen service.

I decided to try O2 who had a good reputation for delivering an uncapped high speed service. When initially connected to their service a couple of years ago, I got speeds between 10 and 12Mbps, so I have no idea why Zen could only deliver 1Mbps through the same line. But it did not last long. The speed reported by the O2 box, both at peak times and off-peak is steadily falling. It dropped to around 8Mbps then to around 5-6Mbps and recently it has held steady at around 4-5Mbps which is what it is doing this morning.

I can live with 4Mbps though the higher speed the line is capable of would be nice, but not if it falls as low as 1Mbps. I went back to BT's line tester and today it is reporting the line as 16Mbps capable. I also checked BT and the Kenilworth exchange is ready for the fibre to the cabinet service. However, if I check our line all I get is a negative and a long list of reasons why we might not be able to have the Infinity service without an indication of the actual reason.

I realise that line capability and actual delivery are two different things. But the line is capable of 12Mbps as it was delivered by O2 for a period of time. So why the downward trend? Using a BT line and a separate ISP means they can blame each other. I am reluctant to drop O2 as they have actually delivered higher speeds reliably over a long period of time where neither NTL nor Zen managed to achieved that. And O2's speed is still usable.

December 02, 2011

Another tablet

Follow-up to iPad from Snap!

Some time ago I wrote about my experiences with an iPad from the point of view of a travelling mathematician. Like most iOS and Android devices it provides email and web access through wifi (and 3G if they use the mobile phone networks).

But I want to be able to write mathematics conveniently and whilst there are editors for LaTeX source files on both iOS and Android, processing of the source files to PDF output has to be by a remote TeX installation. Whilst such services exist they need a live internet connection to use and my experience with 3G and hotspots is very poor. Hotels frequently charge a fortune to use their wifi services, and 3G dongles often cannot get enough signal to be used reliably.

It would be much nicer to have a self-contained system. E.g. an installation of TeXLive on the machine. These exist for Mac OSX, Linux and Windows. But not for iOS or Android. There's no Apple tablet besides the iPad and Linux tablets seem hard to obtain in the UK whereas there are Windows tablets.

I decided the only thing to do was buy one and see if I could get it set up to work like my MacBook Pro or my netbook which is set up to run SLED 11. Both the latter have TeXLive 2011 installed which provides the TeXWorks editor and previewer, and both connect to my Subversion server using public key authentication so that it does not matter which machine I work on, I have access to the same files.

I bought an Acer Iconia W500 (list price £449) which comes with a 32GB SSD and 2GB of RAM, 1280x800 screen, AMD dual core processor, dual web cams, SD slot, wifi and bluetooth. It weighs 960gms and is 16mm thick. The operating system is 32 bit Windows 7 Home Premium plus some touch screen software which I don't use. Like the iPad it starts to feel heavy fairly quickly if you try to hold it in one hand and operate it with the other.

I had read reviews of Windows 7 based touch screen systems so I was prepared for a terrible experience. But it wasn't. I haven't yet mastered bringing up the virtual keyboard exactly where and when I want it, but most of the time things work fine. There are two USB ports so I can plug in a wired mouse and keyboard if I want and it also supports use of bluetooth peripherals which connected without problem when I tried generic devices.

I used the smaller MiKTeX distribution for LaTeX rather than the full TeXLive as the 32GB SSD will soon fill up. No problems installing it and running TeXWorks. The MiKTeX package manager added a few extras the first time I processed one of my papers and I expect this will happen less and less over time as it builds up the set of packages I use frequently.

Then I tackled getting SVN to work. I downloaded TortoiseSVN and installed it, created an SVN directory and then created directories for the papers I am working on and my CV. You then right-click on a directory and add the information needed to checkout the files from the SVN server. I use the svn+ssh protocol so ended up entering my password for the server many times for each checkout. That encouraged me to seek a public key solution which is to install the PuTTY suite of applications, set up the public/private key pair, copy the public key to the server and install the private key in Pageant. Then tell Tortoise to communicate with Pageant for authentication. That worked fine except you need to install the private key into Pageant on every boot. There are instructions on the net for editing the Registry to get around this but I worked out a different solution. I created a link to Pageant, got its properties and edited the command to be run to include the full path to the PuTTY private key file. After clicking Apply, I moved the link into my Startup items folder so that when I log in to my Windows account, Pageant gets loaded with the key for accessing my svn server. You can protect access the server by setting a passphrase for the private key which will be asked for just the once when Pageant loads the key instead of being asked for the server password many times per transaction.

I am pleased with this setup. The 32GB SSD is not large but large enough for my purposes and can be backed up onto a 32GB SD card, and another SD card (or more) can provide additional storage space.

August 27, 2010


Writing about web page http://www.apple.com/uk/ipad/

I have been trying out a wifi only iPad. My agenda is whether it makes a good tool for a travelling academic. By this I mean it should be easy to connect to wifi networks, be able to check and write (long) emails, take notes, make PDF based presentations (and edit them to correct typos, etc) and, for a mathematician, have some support for LaTeX editing and compiling.

The hardware is good. The screen is excellent for viewing and the touch screen very responsive The on-screen keyboard is fine and the larger screen means you can see more text whilst typing than on an iPod Touch. But it feels heavy. Perhaps not on first picking it up, but if you have to use it standing it quickly gets too heavy to hold conveniently. If you want to be able to put it down you probably want a case which can hold it at a convenient angle for typing and stop it sliding around.

There is a physical Apple keyboard available which connects via the docking port. This means the keyboard can only be used in portrait mode but otherwise works well. However to counterbalance the weight of the iPad the keyboard is heavy and not very compact so maybe not right for travelling.

The software is disappointing. In some cases software which I have liked on the iPod Touch, such as TweetDeck, is a poor relation on the iPad, missing features such as column syncing and Facebook support. At least I could not get them working.

I also hate the implementation of Apple Mail for iPad. Much worse than the iPod Touch, you have little control over what is shown on screen. The current message is always displayed as you navigate the list of messages. This could be embarrassing if someone was looking over your shoulder and saw confidential information. I always set my mail clients to only display subject lines until I double click a message to open it for reading. The iPad does not allow that.

There is a VGA adapter and there are plenty of PDF readers, some of which recognise the VGA port when present and allow PDFs to be displayed via a data projector. I have not tried Apple's Keynote for iPad as I mostly prepare papers for presentations via pdflatex so everything is PDF based.

Can one edit and compile LaTeX files? Well TeX is a programming language and Apple (until now) are blocking all but their own development tools on the iPad so there is no TeX compiler on the iPad. There is a way around this which involves a remote TeX compile system (auto-compiler) and some way to move files to and from the iPad. One such system is TeX Touchwhich is a LaTeX editor for the iPad and which is paired with TeX Timer running on a Mac. Files are moved most simply using DropBox which should be installed on the remote Mac and is supported directly by TeX Touch. TeX Timer watches as specified DropBox folder and whenever a .tex file is added to or changed in this folder then it runs PDFLaTeX on the file to produce a PDF file. It can be set to run in batch-mode and to run twice to resolve .aux files. In my tests it worked well although the editor is still in beta so lacks features such as context colouring.

Much iPod software marked as iPad compatible has not been updated for the larger iPad screen. Where there are separate iPad apps they are generally more expensive than their iPod counterparts and the price structure is such that they often cost several times more, even though the functionality may be less. Good iPad software is appearing only slowly which I find a bit surprising. But I'm in a niche market in looking for academic tools.

At the moment I give my iPad experience 6 out of 10.

March 08, 2010

New netbook

Follow-up to Installing Windows 7 from Snap!

In a previous blog I described installing Windows 7 Pro, the commercial release on my Acer Aspire One. The latter came with Linux but using that was too unpleasant an experience so I put Windows 7 RC on it which was a fairly problem-free experience and made the netbook a pleasure to use.  The commercial release was a less easy install but eventually I had it set up the way I wanted.

Then it broke.

It refused to boot, neither from the hard disk, nor from the Windows install DVD. It would begin to boot, then stall after a few seconds. I decided to abandon the Aspire One, which I had bought at a cut price from Tesco, thinking that it was probably the hard disk and get a second generation netbook, one with Windows 7 drivers, good screen, good keyboard, good battery life.

After reading lots of reviews, I settled on a Toshiba NB200. Toshiba had learnt from their first netbook, the NB100, and produced a 10" netbook with a nearly full size keyboard, a 1024x600 LED backlit screen and a 9 hour battery in a 1.3kilo package. Not the most compact of machines, but very usable and it feels quality. I got it for £245 from Amazon with XP installed. There's no built-in bluetooth but there's a software stack so adding a miniature USB dongle fixes that.

I then wanted to install Windows 7 which I had already activated on the Aspire One. I emailed Microsoft who reset the activation on the old machine and set up activating Windows over the phone -- I keyed in to the phone a 60 digit number generated by my NB200 and was given a 48 digit number in exchange to activate the software.

Now I can get round to installing the application software I need such as Photoshop Elements and a LaTeX distribution, Office, Acronis for backups and AVG Free for antivirus.

Devices and Printers was still showing an issue even though Device Manager was not showing any missing drivers. In the end I turned on automatic updates and told Windows to troubleshoot the issue. Which it did, found a driver, installed it, issue resolved. But it never told me what driver...

Nice feature: one of the USB ports can supply power even when the netbook is sleeping or switched off. That was not working until the mysterious issue was fixed even though I had installed Toshiba's software. Twice. This means I can charge devices from the large NB200 battery when travelling so long as they have the ability to charge from USB.

January 13, 2010

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle in the snow

Still snowing…

Snowman outside Zeeman Building

October 21, 2009

Installing Windows 7

I've been running Windows 7 RC on my Aspire One netbook without problems. 

Tonight I installed the newly arrived Windows 7 Professional. Since it could not upgrade the Ultimate RC version, the old system was placed in a Windows.old directory and a new copy installed. The install involved quite a few restarts, but went fairly fast until it got to the finishing stage and that took much longer than all the rest put together.

What I finally got was Windows 7 with US settings and IE installed and no option to install other browsers. Switching to UK settings was easy.

I then tried to customise the install as I don't like blue. But I kept running into missing files and bad URLs on the Microsoft website.

I also made the mistake of trying to delete the Windows.old directory. First the system counted the files and moaned about some names being too long for the Recycle Bin. Then it started to delete them, about 110,000 files and 6.5GB. Half an hour later it is still deleting them. Not much disk activity and no indication how far it has got...

So far it has been a much less pleasant experience than installing the RC.

Added following a tweet from Steve Rumsby: I'd recommend anyone about to upgrade to read this report from the BBC's Tim Webber first.

October 12, 2009

Keeping up to date

I've come to the conclusion that I have too many gadgets. Why? Because I spend all my time installing updates.

I run 2 versions of Windows (XP and 7), 5 versions of MacOS (8.6, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, 10.6) and every time I switch one of the machines on which I haven't used in a while, I spend an age waiting for it to download and install updates for the system, virus software and finally, application software.

So I tend often not to get around to updating software on phones, GPS, cameras. And when I do, there is the problem of finding an OS version compatible with the firmware updater.

Tonight I wanted to see if my GPS (Oregon 300) could take advantage of the new European satellites. I discovered the firmware was way behind, so set out to update.

I tried the web updater using my Snow Leopard laptop but it kept declaring the downloaded firmware to be corrupt.

I tried the web updater under XP but first XP complained about not having the necessary USB drivers installed (despite the fact that I used my MacBook running XP to install the software on the GPS in the first place). So I installed/updated the drivers and tried again. Web updater offers to send a crash log to Garmin every time it is launched.

Not really expecting anything to work I installed the drivers on my netbook running Windows 7, connected the GPS and ran the updater. It worked flawlessly.

With that sort of rigmarole to go through whenever I need to install an update, it's not surprising I skip versions and lag behind.

And no, I don't know if the GPS is more accurate. I'm too tired now to go out and test...

July 03, 2009

Back to Africa

Follow-up to Spotted game (September 14th, Hanyini Research Station, Caprivi) from Snap!

I am putting the final touches to preparations for a 3 week trip to Africa. To the same area as last year, the Mamili swamp in the Caprivi strip and on the same scientific study of human-predator conflict.

Again the jumping off point for the expedition is Livingstone in Zambia and I'll stay a few extra days in the area to do a bit of tourism in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Apparently there is a railway museum in Livingstone and a steam train ride which goes as far as the Zambezi bridge from the Zambian side.

At the moment I am working through my checklist of things which need doing. I heard yesterday that a medical kit from Nomad Travel is on its way. Although the camp has medical equipment and can treat even minor wounds, we are all asked to bring dressings, needles and some antibiotics which I'll leave behind. All my jabs were up to date including rabies so I didn't have to worry about any of those and I have bought my Lariam anti-malarials.

I am trying to take only equipment using one size of battery, AA, as last time I had a mixture and that meant carrying more. I'll take a mixture of rechargeables and Energizer Ultimate Lithium cells (my GPS runs better on these), and my 12 watt solar panel. Last time I only took the adapter for the solar panel for my own mobile phone, but other people wanted theirs charging too, so I'll take a set of tips this time.

There are still mundane things to do like booking a bus to Heathrow. It is an evening departure to Jo'burg so I'll book the bus and decide at the last minute based on traffic reports whether to take the bus or go by train.

June 24, 2009

Size matters?

The one time magnificent fountain in front of the Maths Building has lost its oomph...

Not exactly a fountain to rival Trevi...

The fountain as it was in 2004

The fountain as it first was when inaugurated.

April 22, 2009

Amazon unboxing

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.co.uk

How exciting, a box from Amazon (with 12" ruler for scale)

Amazon box unopened

They certainly don't want the contents to get damaged... and what are they?

Amazon box opened

A lens cap to replace the one I lost.

April 04, 2009

Don't bother

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/newsandevents/intnews2/vcaprilmessage

One thing mystifies me about the recently announced cutbacks in the letter from the VC. Merit pay awards and professorial increases have been cancelled – it's money that hasn't yet been spent so gives an immediate boost to the total, a bit like a big donation at the start of red nose day.

I can understand cancelling the professorial salary review as professors are expensive and now that RAE is over, if they don't like it we don't mind if they go somewhere else and they can be replaced by cheaper staff.

But merit pay awards recognise staff putting in an extra effort for their department and the University. I know a third of a point may be peanuts (almost literally as it will just about get you a bag of peanuts a week) but it shows that your efforts are appreciated. Cancelling merit pay has sent a clear message to Warwick staff:-

  Don't bother putting in any extra effort, it won't be appreciated.

February 10, 2009

A very, very nice man

Kenilworth ford in floodKenilworth ford was flooded this morning (and still flooded this evening) which added considerably to the bus journey time from the Clock to the University.

When I passed on my way to catch the number 12 a very, very nice man from the AA was trying to rescue a car which had discovered that the ford really is IMPASSABLE. Except it was very passable for trucks and he had to keep jumping on the bonnet to avoid the bow wave filling his boots with very, very cold water.

February 05, 2009


Kenilworth Castle in the snow, Feb 5, 2009

The castle was closed due to the weather...

January 24, 2009


128k Macintosh

The 128k Macintosh went on sale 25 years ago today.

September 24, 2008

Spotted game (September 14th, Hanyini Research Station, Caprivi)

Writing about web page http://www.biosphere-expeditions.com/caprivi

The Land Rover pickup ready to go on predator capture.Having loaded the Land Rover pickup with capture gear, food, vehicle recovery equipment, overnight gear and ourselves (Francois the scientist, Edmore the vet, Martyn and myself the guest research assistants) we set off into Mamili National Park to look for animals on our list of study species (lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild dog) and to try and dart one or more to fit radio collars. This was the first night of the second week of our slot in the expedition and so far these forays by other team members have not born fruit. We should have gone out last week, but that was the day the pickup was needed to rescue all the other cars each of which had independently become bogged down or developed flat tyres.

Buffalo herd of around 300.But things are calmer now that Matthias has left and our turn is rolled over to the start of the second week so we are determined to give it our best shot. Normally there would be three guest researchers in the car and a park ranger, but the rangers' car also got terminally stuck at the end of last week and one of them has gone to Windhoek to fetch a new car leaving them short handed. So tonight there are just four of us.

We soon come across a large herd of around 300 buffalo which would no doubt attract the attention of the local lions so we cast around looking for lion spoor and soon come across tracks of a pride of Lion spoor not far from the buffalo herd. We follow the spoor for a coiuple of hours but eventually lose them. A large male, two females, and a juvenile.four heading in the general direction of the herd. A passing troop of baboons is also quite excited about something so we feel we are getting close. But we lose them in the growing gloom. We then set about systematically quartering the area, stopping only for a quick dinner and to fire up the spotlight when it got dark. We go on for several hours finding a number of small cats (wild cat and serval). Then Martyn finds the eyes of another cat with the spotlight which we think is another serval, but Francois spots its tail which gives it away. It is a small leopard, a juvenile and because it is not so clued up it sits and watches us. Edmore and Francois prepare the dart gun and discuss how to get closer. There is so much thick undergrowth including mopane which we cannot drive through.

Sunset in Mamili brings an end to the spoor tracking and we switch to using a spotlight to search for eyes. We see lots of crocodiles, small cats, antelope, buffalo but no lions. We do find a leopard.Edmore does the driving whilst Francois tries to line up a clear shot and Martyn operates the spotlight. In the light of an almost full moon I can see the leopard clearly using my binoculars and much better than with the Russian night sight we have brought along. Francois tries a shot but it misses and the leopard runs behind a nearby tree. I can see it looking round the tree and curiosity gets the better of it and it comes round to sit in front of the tree to watch us. We work closer whilst I monitor the leopard with binoculars Francois reloads the dart gun. This time the dart finds its mark in the shoulder and the leopard is startled and runs. It takes us a heart stopping 30 minutes to find it driving up and down the area dodging thorn bushes and mopane groves. Francois spots her by a termite mound and she is still partly alert so he prepares another dart and approaches on foot to fire it from close range. But it bounces off bone and does not inject. No more darts.

The muzzle spot pattern is a unique identifier analogous to human finger prints.Edmore prepares a syringe with a top-up dose and asks us to wave torches around in front to distract her whilst he goes round behind to administer the immobiliser drug manually. Francois thinks the leopard is young enough to still be with its mother and he is nervous she may be nearby so he sends me back to the Land Rover to turn the spotlight on and search the area. There are eyes approaching from the direction we drove up so I wave the light around in front to discourage their owner from coming closer while we wait for the drug to take effect and bring the leopard over to the car.

We put her on the tailgate of the pickup and Edmore checks her over, and declares her old enough to collar (but the collar will need changing in around 3 months). So we start taking and writing down her vital statistics. Overall length is 166cm (which in the excitement is written down as 66cm, oops). I use my camera to take photos of her spot patterns (for leopards a uniquer identifier like human fingerprints or retinal patterns) and dentition (she has a full set of teeth), and Francois fits the collar. She is named FLE1 (female leopard number one). My pocket camera (a Lumix TZ4) does the job for recording the data such as dentition (she has perfect teeth). She also has lice and mange at approximately 12 months.Edmore notes that she has lice and finds evidence of mange on her ears. He takes blood samples. She is already showing signs of the drug wearing off so we check we have all the data sheet filled in, take the final photos of her with the team members and leave her on the ground, pack up the equipment and withdraw a short distance to give her protection from other predators as she recovers. The eyes are still watching us from 50 meters and the outline of a larger leopard is clearly visible.

Francois has recovered two of the used darts so we contemplate also darting the mother. But she is much less naive than the cub and every move we make to get within range she counters and retreats deeper into the bush, always just out of shot. We think she is only hanging around because of the cub, who is now back on its feet and recovered. After a while we decide to give up and let her go this time. With her cub collared she will be easier to find another time using telemetry and hopefully on better ground.

Success! Francois, the chief scientist, and Edmore, the vet, shake hands on completion of the first successful capture and radio collaring of a predator by our expedition. Now we retire a short distance and wait for her to recover so as not to risk her being attacked by other predators. All the time her mother watches... It is around 2:30 am and we are all elated at what we achieved so when Francois asks what we want to do we decide sleep is out of the question, so let's go find those lions. It is now quite chilly on the back of the pickup and I am shivering but we carry on searching, only turning the car towards home around 4 am, but searching all the way back.

Around 6:30, just after dawn, we come across a small elephant family and try to drive across their path to reach the camp. The matriarch doesn't like that and immediately starts to charge. Francois spins the car around drives flat out back the way we came. She chases us for what seems like an age before deciding we've learnt our lesson. We turn back and head towards camp again, this time without incident and check back in just after 7 am.

A busy 15 hours. Our leader Peter complains because we didn't phone ahead to announce our success.

After many fruitless hours searching for lions, we stop for a cold dinner without making camp, then resume and near to midnight we find a leopard which doesn’t run away. We eventually get close enough to dart her. She is a juvenile, and the mother leopard is sitting watching from not very far away…The next day Edmore, when checking the data sheet, notices that the body length is anomalous at 66cm. The tail is 69cm long and the body length is from nose to tip of the tail! Fortunately we have a photo of the leopard on the tailgate and there are protective strips of metal at regular intervals, so I can lay out a piece of string on the tailgate where she lay to create a virtual leopard and measure that. It comes to 166cm.

A crew-cut stranger is now in the camp. Francois has shaved his hair and beard off now he has successfully collared the first predator in the study area.

Francois and Edmore are dedicated professionals. Martyn and I didn't have the same stamina and the cold got to us both towards the end of the night. It was a privilege to have been with them and to have assisted where we could.

And I won't ever forget the feel of that warm soft fur as I put my hands under her tummy to help lift her down onto the ground.

Click on a thumbnail for a larger picture. More pictures in the Hanyini gallery.