Easter

Apr. 14th, 2009 08:34 am
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Had a great Easter weekend involving no (count it) no work, and lots of relaxing. We had friends over for most of the weekend which was fun.

We did a pseudo-BBQ on Saturday (cooked indoors, eaten outdoors to ensure that Janet didn't get any undercooked meat) which was lovely. We did some potato and tomato 'curry' as a side dish which in no sense is a curry involving only some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions fried with mustard seeds, turmeric and coriander. Very nice, very mild.

Then on Sunday the sky was blue and the sun was hot so we pottered around the garden fixing and weeding things while Janet's brother carved a new paddle for his canoe. The cats helped, of course. Here's Charcoal helping:



More helping here. Pixie helped too, but in a more sedentary way.

On Saturday night we watched Doctor Who (what I thought), which included a nice shout out to Tom Baker's first story 'Robot', but was otherwise slightly dull.

On Sunday we also watched Skellig on Sky, in which John Simm continued to be as great as he is in everything not called Doctor Who. I was expecting something slightly twee and cosy, which it was in places, but mostly it was surprisingly honest, real and edgy for a kids drama. A bit low key and moody, but otherwise quite interesting. It's possible that the moral is to talk to scabby-looking strangers, but I'll let that pass...

It's a good job we had the nice weekend because the weather has been relentlessly foggy ever since. Yesterday with sea fret (but we had a nice pub lunch anyway). Today with full-on fog and low cloud extending well inland. Chilly, dank, and gloomy. But at least we had a lovely Easter.

Londinium

Mar. 8th, 2009 10:37 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
This weekend we went on a flying visit to London, mainly to see the Babylon exhibit at the British Museum before it closed, but also to cram in a few other things along the way.

We had a chilly but beautiful night time walk around the embankment via the London Eye and Big Ben, a pleasant meal and a glass of Hoegaarden in the White Hart, and Janet got to buy half the stock of Falkiners a lovely little shop selling hand-made paper and bookbinding supplies.

The Babylon exhibit itself was an unusual blend of fact and mythology, including the many artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, but despite a couple of beautiful items it didn't inspire me in the same way that last year's Terracotta Army exhibition did.

If anything we enjoyed the new Egyptian room at the Museum more. The room contains items from the Tomb of Nebamun, including some fantastic and lively wall paintings. This image of a cat is excellent and surprisingly naturalistic.

And of course Janet got to commune with the Rosetta Stone again.

We also booked to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum (the Darwin exhibition was sadly sold out) which showcased some stunning photography that was only enhanced by being displayed on vivid high definition screens rather than prints. Despite allowing people into the exhibition in booked slots it got rather crowded, particularly in the corners, but it was well worth it. Then I queued for 30 minutes to get a cup of coffee while my legs begged for mercy.

The Natural History Museum is one of those places that's always fantastic to visit. The building itelf is so lovely, like a secular cathedral, and is stuffed full of wondrous things. I'd have loved to have stayed longer but the urgent need to fall over won out.

I'm absolutely knackered, but it was a good trip. Photos can be found on my Facebook here.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Space Age! Our old hot water tankI do love our old Space Age hot water tank shorn of its cladding. Very steampunk.

We're having our central heating system completely replaced with a new boiler and all new radiators, which involves three days of British Gas engineers under the floor and in and around the house. I've taken holiday and am house-sitting, but unfortunately I'm also having to work. I spent most of yesterday holed up in the bedroom shortlisting CVs for an upcoming vacancy. (I was even in work for ten minutes first thing this morning.) This is becoming increasingly impractical since the engineers are flitting from radiator to radiator and no room in the house is safe! I can't get moved.

They even needed the power off earlier. No computer! I know.

The cats don't know what to make of it. It turns out that once you pull up some floor boards there's a dusty crawl space at least a metre deep under our ground floor, and the idea of one of the cats slithering under there doesn't bear thinking about. They'd never be seen again. Or if they were, I can only imagine the cobweb-strewn Poe-like apparition that would claw its way back into the light.

Yesterday we locked them out of the house, which was fine until it started to drizzle. When the Ringtons tea salesman came to the door Pixie seized the opportunity to dash inside like an indignant bullet train. Naturally she made a bee line for the hole in the floor, and only the presence of a man working inside said hole prevented disaster. Many annoyed mrr-OWWg noises when I scooped her up.

Today we've got them both shut in the bedroom. Unlike Pixie, for whom all this is just a terrible affront to her sovereign feline rights, Charcoal is actively terrified of the engineers and either slinks into a corner with her head near the floor or panics and dashes frantically from room to room (often back and forth between the same two rooms repeatedly) seeking an escape. Poor thing.

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You're looking at the inside of the bird box in our garden. The so far uninhabited bird box in our garden, but we're coming up on that time of year when a young bird's thoughts turn to twigs and trying to impress Bill Oddie, so fingers crossed.

Here's the outside:
We invested in a bird box with camera and attached it to the side of our garage, and then I painstakingly laid the cable (just visible on the photo). The set up was very easy - plug and play, essentially. There are audio, video and power leads coming off the camera unit (which can be disconnected at the box end mercifully), and thankfully all three cables (bound with a single coating) run the whole 30 metres so the power can be supplied from within the house. The cable snakes along the garage, around the kitchen, into the house next to our patio doors, and around the wall to our DVD recorder.

(Or nearly all the way to our DVD recorder. The 30m cable sounded like a lot, but when you're hugging the contours of a house it gets eaten up pretty rapidly. At present it has to take a slightly more direct route under our armchair rather than hugging the wall all the way, but I'm sure I can get a bit of extension cable. We thought about wireless ones but internet consensus seems to be that the wireless bird box cams can be a bit flaky, and despite a bit of faffing the only real difficulty I had with this one was getting the cable through the wall and into the house.)

We're really happy with it. We now have a bird box with a live feed that we can watch on the TV and record from. The camera seems to be in focus, shoots colour in the day and infrared when light levels are too low, and has a built-in microphone which has already picked up bird song and the sound of birds hopping around the exterior of the box looking for insects.

We've been meaning to do this for years. We get hordes of birds in our garden and we know they nest all around us in the trees, and even in our rafters. You already get a fantastic view of them feeding from our kitchen window, from where the outside of the new bird box is clearly visible. We just want to go that one step further1.

On the downside it cost us a fair chunk of money. It's this one as endorsed by Simon King. There are many cheaper ones on the market it has to be said! Ultimately we decided that we may as well buy a decent one rather than risk it being poor quality. It also comes with a bird feeder that the camera can slot into if the little buggers persistently refuse to nest...

*waits expectantly for birds to move in*

*drums fingers*

To be honest we've had three sparrow boxes up on the back of the house for over a year now without any sign of habitation, so I have no illusions about how quickly we might get a lodger. On the other hand the new box is well away from the house and several blue tits and coal tits have shown an interest already while foraging, so I'm quite hopeful. Possibly a "room to let" sign next to the bird table might help.

Progress reports will follow as and when we, y'know, have any progress.

--
1 Also it gives the cats something to watch on TV. You should have seen Pixie's ears perk up when the sound of twittering started coming from the speakers.

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We're having a bit of a minor flurry of DIY at the moment (for some unknown reason...), getting things done around the house we've been meaning to finish for ages. And by ages I mean years.

One is this little bit of wall tiling in the kitchen. Very modest by most standards, but I'm really pleased with the results. The tiles have a lovely rustic feel, complement the terracotta wall colours in the kitchen perfectly, and (crucially) make the area next to the bin and the cat litter tray a lot more resilient/waterproof. Also this is my first foray into tiling, and it's gone pretty well. They're Elios 'Cotto' tiles, for what it's worth.



Also in the above left pic you can see our swanky new spice rack. Made (you may gasp) by sticking three spice racks together and screwing them to the wall. This really is incredibly convenient. These days we use quite a few herbs and spices, and now they're readily to hand rather than stuffed into any and every bit of space on the window ledge.

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Our newts are still here. Hurray! The pond froze over very convincingly several times over the last couple of months and I'd begun to fear the worst, but today Janet began cleaning out plants and gunge and general detritus and found both an adult newt and a baby newtlet1.



The little one still has gills but is much bigger than the last ones we saw back in September - at least an inch long now. The older one looks like a Palmate newt, which is the kind we thought we had last year. If it's been in the pond all winter it must be very good at holding its breath and own a thick woolen scarf. Maybe it hid in our woodpile and has just decided to pop into the pond for a quick bath. Who knows.

Janet is extremely pleased. Newts are one of the main reasons we built the pond.
--
1 Technical term.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Christmas)
By popular request (okay, [livejournal.com profile] ajp): our Christmas tree, looking rather more magenta than usual due to a new set of fairy lights this year. As usual it's a smörgåsbord of elements randomly flung together in the hopes that it will all look beautiful in the end. It's nothing special, but I love having all the lights off and just a Christmas tree for illumination.



While I'm at it, here's a picture of our garden taken in the hard frost just before last week's snow. Everything was white, wintry and crisp with several days' worth of frost. This windfallen apple had been feeding the birds for weeks.



Bigger versions behind the click.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Yesterday and today.



We went for another walk in our local park this morning, timed cunningly to fall between our early morning snow shower and the inevitable thaw. Although it's fair to say we wuz robbed in the snow department, it still felt marvellously wintery and that's good enough for me. The crows seemed to agree.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Halloween)
It's that time of year again. Honestly, we have so much fun on Halloween we should be burned as witches1.

Janet's not feeling too grand today and can't leap up and down from the sofa very easily, so I'm taking the lion's share of the callers. The ratio of cute-kids-who-are-really-into-it to sullen-teenagers-in-scream-masks is so far not ideal, but we'll see how things go. The freezing drizzle we've had on and off all day has at least let up, which increases the chances of getting a good range of trick or treaters.

We've nothing to rival Janet's 133t carving skills on last year's pumpkin but the porch is still decked out in an array of pumpkins and scary Halloween tat. This year we've put one of our strange glowy rock things inside the pumpkin, giving it an exciting range of both red *and* green glows. For added scariness. And not having to replace the candle.



There's just about nothing on TV tonight that qualifies as Halloween fare until after midnight, at least not on any channel I could find without an understanding of astronomically large numbers, or a willingness to watch Most Haunted. The mainstream TV channels just don't seem to have caught on to the blatant commercialisation of this festival in recent years. Which is strangely unlike them. I've therefore downloaded obtained via ouija board from the spirit world Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, a TV play I've always had a hankering to see and which is out of print so costs slightly more to buy than a large high street bank.

--
1 Except, not really.2
2 I'd be a Warlock for a start.3
3 Yes, just like Julian Sands. Seriously, you remember that movie?4
4 Okay, I kinda liked it too but that's not the point. What was the point?5
5 Oh yes, in summary, not to burn us as witches and/or warlocks.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Dalek Fandom)
Continuing my attempts to make myself look prehistoric by wallowing in Doctor Who nostalgia from the 1970s, here's a fantastic little tin that my Mum brought over recently (in her continued attempts to rid the house of all our old tat...)



Click for bigger versions and just admire the time and care that's gone into crafting this jewel in the crown of merchandising. I'm thinking the illustration alone must have demanded at least half an hour and a tube of Pritt Stick.

Here's the bit they would look at on Antiques Roadshow to confirm its provenance:


Apparently BBC Enterprises took the bold decision not to disown it. I do have a nostalgic fondness for the old girl, though.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
It had been a while since we'd seen any newts in our pond, having at one stage counted nine newts swimming around simultaneously. We'd more or less decided that the newts had left the pond, as newts are (so they tell me) wont to do.

Then, on the very day my wife declared that if we didn't see a newt she'd give up, we found the tiniest of tiny baby newts (okay, larvae). And then two more. These really are small: only just over a centimetre long, about the size of a 1p coin. They have little gills and four tiny legs. Awww.



I've no idea how many others there may be lurking in the depths of our small pond, or what the chances of them surviving are, but this is a very cool discovery.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My wife just made some books. Actual books. To me, this is a little bit as if she built a new television set. It's sort of like magic.



Essentially the magicprocess goes as follows. The paper is folded, then hand-stitched into groups of pages called signatures.



These separately stitched signatures are bound into essentially the inside of a book.



Then there's a cardboard cover, in three parts so as to give it a flexible spine.



This is rounded to make a proper book shape. Here are three raw books.



Then the whole assemblage is glued together. Extra sheets link the cover to the inner pages, the cover is coated in book cloth/paper, and a cover design paper is glued over the top. Et voila! Three finished books



The end result is a little blank notebook that, frankly, I'd have a hard time telling apart from one bought in a shop. And all this from nothing but paper, cardboard, fabric and glue. How cool is that?



EDIT: And here's an open book, so to speak.

Pond Life

Aug. 2nd, 2008 08:49 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Last year we built a pond. The construction process was fairly arduous for a soft northern shite like my good self. (There are various other pictures from the construction process here.)

One year on, I'm really pleased with the way it's naturalised in, something that owes a great deal to my wife planting lots of things, and very little to me watching her plant lots of things.

Pond pictures )

Best of all it's full of wildlife, something we only faintly dreamed of one year ago. I'm genuinely amazed at how quickly the local fauna have moved in. They include various frogs and newts, about a million snails, some strange wormy things, and enough insect larvae to stage a 1950s B Movie. Today we encountered this lovely frog which poked its head above water between torrential showers, and obligingly posed for me:



There's another picture of it here.

We also went out for our regular Newt Watch the other night and discovered a hedgehog quietly snaffling all the dried meal worms we'd put out for the birds. Awwww. Being very soft, we're now putting out meal worms every night for the hedgehog. EDIT: And it was there tonight.

EDIT2: Huh. The pictures weren't working with 'new' Facebook links, but it's all fixed now.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My wife's been busy making crafty things again. As you know she's a tireless explorer of different craft projects and gets through more in one weekend than I get done in your average month. This time around she's turning her hand to wire bracelet making, and as usual she's invested in a range of books, equipment and tools. She's only made a few so far, but this is the one she's most pleased with:



This one is copper wire shaped around a wooden mandrel, bound at intervals, with beads threaded on to make the pattern. As usual I'm very impressed. The other fruits of her labours can be seen here. She's already taken an order from someone at work to do some more! I think Janet pretty much has a good time with everything she tries, but she's particularly enjoying the bracelet making at the moment.

For those of you not interested in craftwork, here is a cute snoring three-legged cat:


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Inspired by ajr and my need to impose order on our sprawling Heap o' Books, as previously detailed here, we went out this week and bought the tallest bookshelves IKEA had to offer, then bought the extra bits that made them taller, then bought extra shelves for them.

This weekend we de-stacked all the books, dismantled the old bookcases, assembled the new ones and (a first for me) attached them to the wall so they can't fall over and crush us.

Before )

Behold the power of our fully operational bookcase:

After )

And we still have books left over. I've deliberately left some gaps to accommodate my wife's book habit, but the other Heap o' Books in the bedroom already needs thinning out so I don't think this pristine tidiness will last long before the horizontal stacking returns to haunt us.

Oh, and don't worry, although we have indeed walled-in half the cupboard, we can still just about get to the light switch...

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As if by magic, a frog appeared!

Further to my last post about wildlife, I just snapped this extremely obliging frog by our pond this evening:



It hung around briefly posing for the camera while I snapped a few shots ("Give me more froggishness") then leapt under the surface in a single bound.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Lots of wildlife in our garden still. Here are a few pictures (which also link to bigger versions on my Facebook.)

Swift


Our Swift is nesting again in the eaves of our house, or at least has been making exploratory visits. The entrance to the nest is the tiny black square just to the right of the red lintel over the window. I snapped this picture quickly so it's a little blurry but I'm quite pleased with it. Its black belly marks it out as a Swift rather than a House Martin.

Newt )

Blackbird )

Starlings )

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My wife has been crafting again. This time it's one of her long-running projects that she's finally finished in a sudden turn of speed, plus some glass jewellery.

She's been making a few sets of wooden drawers for a while now, and this is the original practice piece made from pine which after many, many hours of sanding now opens and closes without sticking. At one stage I did wonder whether Janet's hand would fall off before the box was completed. With a little Danish Oil it looks lovely. She wasn't going to bother finishing this because it was just a test piece and she's not overly fond of pine as a material, but I think it's turned out really well.



Glass Jewellery too )

The Birds

May. 22nd, 2008 10:11 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Our garden has been invaded by Starlings. More precisely, several local Starlings seem to have done very well this year and had large broods, so the Dawn Chorus has been transformed into the Dawn Squawk, and our garden is full of fledgling Starlings eagerly fluttering their wings and being busily attended to by their parents. It's very sweet, but also makes it difficult to sleep once the sun comes up. We have three coconuts full of bird fat-feeder: every day Janet fills them to the brim, and every day we get home to find them pecked bare.

Sadly today we found the half-eaten remains of one fledgling in the middle of the lawn. Since we lock our cats in during the day, and our two felines have yet to work out that if you successfully kill a bird it turns out to be full of cat-food, this can only have been the work of one of the local Toms. Sad, but the Starlings are doing fantastically well and I'm sure their gains are far exceeding their losses.

We also have a Blackbird nesting on the side of our garage, underneath a big trailing clematis. It's managed to have at least two chicks despite being right next to our garden gate, and frequently spotted by the cats who sit nearby staring at it greedily. At one point Pixie even clambered up the wire mesh frame that the clematis has been trained up, and wound up sitting in the nest. Thankfully the chicks hadn't hatched at this point, but with Pixie incubating them it's a wonder they hatched at all.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
A day of excitement, thrills, gardening and wildlife.

Today was the annual ceremony of the removal of bubble-wrap from Janet's greenhouse. We use the bubble-wrap as added insulation when there's a threat of frost, but the greenhouse is a much lighter, airier place once it's gone. It takes quite a long time because everything in the greenhouse including all of Janet's carnivorous plants and the aluminium staging have to be moved onto the lawn, then moved back in again. Naturally we had cat help.

At lunchtime I was startled by a noise - let's call it a squeal of terror - from upstairs. Janet had been sitting on the toilet when a large black spider had crawled over the top of her bare leg. When I got there she was in some post-traumatic stress, not least because she could no longer see the spider. I eventually located it by turning her trousers inside out in the bath. It was fairly juicy-looking. You can only imagine what would have happened if she'd put them back on without checking. :-)

Later on this afternoon we were standing on our patio when a bird crashed very inelegantly into the top of the huge Leilandii tree next door. The tree is home to vast numbers of birds so we assumed that an enforcer for the local Pigeon Mafia had fumbled its approach, but then a bird of prey launched back out of the tree and flew right over our heads. It was speckled on its belly like a thrush, and about pigeon-sized. We reckon it must have been a Kestrel or a Sparrowhawk. It's really good to know that there's one patrolling somewhere near our house. Janet was so pleased about this it nearly made up for the Spider of Doom earlier. However she wishes me to be clear that nothing could ever make up for the HORROR.

We also found a couple of frogs in our pond a few nights ago. The newts are still there -- we've counted at least three of them anyway -- but we had a fine pair of yellow-brown frogs lurking under the surface. We've seen them a couple of times since then, always at night. I love the fact that we live in a suburban semi-detached house and yet we can see newts, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, bats, birds of prey, spiders and a wide variety of garden birds.

Newts!

Apr. 27th, 2008 09:03 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We have frogspawn in our garden pond! Not much, but it's there. More importantly, we were examining the pond today and saw not one but two newts swimming around in it... which may expain why the frogspawn is dwindling. Ahem.

Janet is over the moon. Getting either newts or frogs into the pond was one of the main reasons we built it. We knew we'd had newts in the garden at various points before installing the pond, but the pond has only been there since the middle of last year which is not long for it to naturalise in. Now not only are there the small snails we introduced but an entirely different species of snail, various insects, at least one itinerant frog who left the frogpsawn, and the newts we saw today.

CRAZY WIFE UPDATE: At Janet's insistence we just went out in a thunder storm with a torch to check on our newfound newts, and there were at least six in the pond, which has to be a thriving colony by anyone's standards. This is a rubbish photo of one. Then again it was dark, raining, thundering and lightning at the time.

We're very pleased.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Pixie in the Snow)
Yay! Snow!



Fairly shabby snow it has to be said, but living right near the coast as we do that's actually as much snow as we've seen all winter. I do pine for a nice bit of snow. I've been looking at everyone else's snow pictures and feeling a bit short-changed. At least this stuff is lying.

We had a lovely visit from my parents on Easter Sunday in which I daringly cooked Sunday lunch. Not only did it all get mostly cooked, mostly at the same time, but it was ready exactly as they arrived. I couldn't do that again if I tried. We then tried to convert my parents to the wonders of Wii bowling and Wii boxing, the latter of which is amazingly knackering.

Other than that we've had a strange weekend of occasional fine and sunny weather, occasional snow flurries that have melted as they touch the ground, and some amazing gales on Friday that actually blew one of our recycle bins off the patio and right down to the foot of the garden under the bench. I don't know what's been going on with the weather since December but we've had some really fierce gales on a regular basis.

We also managed to get a swift nest box and a sparrow nest box attached to the house (courtesy of yours truly, a very tall ladder and a hammer-action drill, a combination not recommended to settle your nerves), which feels very satisfying. Now if I only knew how to get birds to nest in them. Maybe a "Rooms To Let" sign near the bird table. We already have swifts nesting in the eaves above our bedroom window so I'm cautiously optimistic.

And lastly we've been watching the unexpectedly not-crap adaptation of The Colour of Magic. Okay, it wasn't fine art, but it did at least make me laugh and the actors were better cast than I'd originally feared, particularly David Jason. From what I saw of Hogfather this one felt a lot less stilted.

EDIT: Oh and I, er, may have eaten some chocolate. A bit.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My wife is one of those people who always has some hobby or other on the go. I may have mentioned this before. I may also have mentioned that she tends to jump in with both feet, and that the results are often highly impressive.

Recently she signed up for a silver art course at the National Glass Centre. The course was a mixture of traditional silver working, and silver art clay. The clay is a suspension of pure silver in clay that can be moulded and then fired, burning away the clay to leave just fine silver (99.9% pure in fact; purer than sterling silver.) Obviously the materials are quite expensive but Janet being Janet she now has a fair bit of silver clay, several tools, a number of books on the subject, and a butane-powered mini-blow torch. Oh yes.

She's not much on wearing earrings but she does wear necklaces and bracelets so made a number of items of jewellery along those lines.

I think the pendants are fantastic. All the pendants were done with silver art clay; the leaf design was her own and the piece has been oxidised and then polished to give the antique, slightly coppery look with the polished silver showing through on the highlights. The other pendants are unoxidised silver with a lot of polishing. The gems are synthetic.



More pendant pictures )

She also did a bit of conventional silver working on a ring and a bracelet. The ring probably doesn't look like much but when you've seen it as a wonky and rather dejected-looking bit of metal and then suddenly it looks like a machine-worked ring you have to be slightly impressed. The bracelet was apparently much simpler to create than it looks, and turned out so well she's been wearing it to work!

Bracelet and Ring pictures )

Janet's very critical of all of these, naturally, and sees only the flaws in them, but I'm genuinely impressed with the results. I know I always say this, but it's true!

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Saturn and rings)
This is very nice indeed. Actual movie footage of the Earth 'setting' behind the moon taken from Japan's new Selene probe which has been imaging the moon in High Definition. Amazingly smooth video (the Realplayer version worked for me). There are more images and videos at the main site, although the videos are extremely poorly indexed.

Or if you prefer your views of the Earth from a greater distance, how about a photo of the Earth and moon taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars.

(Or if that's still too close I previously posted a photo of the Earth and Moon from the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn.)



Lastly, there are some unusually dynamic images of avalanches in progress on Mars:


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We got home today and decided to let our forlorn and head-coned cat out for a walk in the garden (having just learned from the vet that she can't have the cone off until next Monday. Por cat).

There in the garden, however, we were immediately distracted by the big heap of glass next to the greenhouse. Oh yes.



Cut for more photos and dubious forensic investigation )

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We spent a nice day ferrying my brother-in-law up to Kielder Water in Northumberland. He works up there teaching outdoor pursuits, and it very slightly beats-the-hell out of my office as a workplace. Photos on our website here.

Kielder is a large reservoir surrounded by dense forest. Although it's man-made, you'd be hard-pressed to tell once you get away from the dam itself (and the really quite science-fictional looking observation tower that pokes out of the water nearby). There's some ongoing erosion around the shoreline as everything naturalises in, but otherwise it would sit comfortably on the outskirts of the Lake District. It's bloody cold at this time of year, so we didn't wander around for too long (plenty of frost in the shadows and actual ice along the high water mark) but we're lucky to have beautiful countryside like this only about 90 minutes away.

Janet actually stood on the floor of what is now the Reservoir, at the foot of the observation tower, when she was a child (thanks to her Dad who was servicing some of the machinery in use on the site). I think that's pretty cool. Looking at wiki it was finished around 1982.

It was nice to get out. Janet was ill with a nasty cold and cough for the best part of last week, but struggled diligently into work throughout -- apart from last Monday when it became clear that even crawling out of bed was beyond her best efforts. I persuaded her to see sense and take the day off sick. As a result we haven't done a great deal other than sit in the warmth for the last couple of weeks.

I have however purchased a lovely Ipod Classic 80GB in black, and the atrociously-named Jivebox from Logic3, a fine ipod speaker dock with a really solid and satisfying sound. I nearly bought several other ipod speakers from the thousands on offer, but a few good reviews (including a Gadget Show recommendation) convinced me and I'm pleased they did. I'm now um-ing and ah-ing about the in-car listening arrangement. At present I've got a lash-up that feeds the ipod headphone socket into the RCA cables at the back of our stereo. This works fine but I could do with a proper dock that holds the ipod in a convenient place and charges the ipod while we listen. This is the front-runner at present (the 2008 version, which may not be available 'til next month).

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Christmas)
Had a fantastic trip back home to Yorkshire on Saturday and Sunday. We had a fine pub meal, chatted lots, and then went for a country walk on the Sunday. Said walk turned out to be considerably longer and colder than anticipated, especially when the low sun didn't reach our little valley and a freezing fog descended, but we did survive long enough to reach the cars. It did afford an opportunity to see some beautiful frosty scenery, take endless photos, and feel Christmassy. Some pictures via my facebook here.

This was nothing compared to my brother-in-law John's canoeing trip down the River Tweed on Saturday, however, which looks more or less like he was ice-breaking through the Northwest Passage. He's posted some spectacular icy photos here.

All of which does make me feel slightly better about the lack of snow for the festive season.

Last night we boozed and played the not-at-all-festive Unreal Tournament 3 with John and another friend of ours, and today we cooked our finest Christmas meal to date, i.e. nothing went disastrously wrong and it was all more or less ready and warm at the same time. I was given plenty of cool presents including a big trilobyte fossil, Absolute Sandman Vol 2, and a Wii light sabre. More importantly I got to watch everyone else open cool presents too.

Now we're Wii bowling the afternoon way before Doctor Who, and feeling slightly too full of food, chocolate, wine and coffee.

Burp.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Waaay back in July we had our kitchen redone, something that had been a very long time coming even then.

We were pretty delighted with the results and have been cooking our hearts out (not literally) ever since, but the floor has still been bare all this time. This is partly down to my having a few nightmare months at work which left no time for anything else, but partly it's just seemed impossible to find a bloody tiler! At one stage I rang four local tilers in one day, and not a single one answered the phone or returned my answerphone messages. (I was using the safetrade website as I didn't just want to randomly pluck someone from the yellow pages without a recommendation). Finally one guy sent someone out to take a look, and promised us an estimate. Two weeks later we hadn't received it so I rang to chase it and was promised it in the post that day. Two weeks after that we still hadn't received it and gave up. We were beginning to wonder if we'd have the thing done in time for Christmas.

However after much ado we finally found someone who came in and did the work today. I can now introduce to you our fully armed and operational kitchen. With floor. Drum roll please.

Pictures )

It's taken months, but we got there in the end.

Free Rice

Nov. 10th, 2007 01:01 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I'm finding the Free Rice word game strangely compulsive. It's a multi-choice word definition game that adjusts to your vocabulary level so it's always just on the cusp of knowledge and instinct. I can reach a vocab level of 45 47 briefly, but tend to lose it with wrong answers. The game seems to be a very effective fundraising tool.

While I'm here, this is a lengthy but satisfyingly logical dissection of why homeopathy shouldn't be excluded from normal standards of evidence. [Via badscience.net]

And if that's too heavy for you then--look! Cute cat! Sadly, most of the time she looks more like this.

Beauty

Nov. 3rd, 2007 12:22 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Saturn and rings)
There are eleven stunning images of the Earth from space collected on deputy-dog.com. My favourite is this photo of the aurora borealis taken from space shuttle Atlantis, which now graces my desktop.



(Found via the meticulously rightheaded badscience.net.)

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Halloween)
It's begun. We've had six trick-or-treaters already. Four of the uninspiring '12-year-old boys in tracksuits with Scream masks' variety, and two of the 'painfully cute little girls in witches' costume' variety. One was a man selling double-glazing, but we won't talk about him.

As always our porch is bedecked with Halloween decorations in a way which would make any self-respecting house-holder cry with shame, and us glow with pride. Janet took the pumpkin carving one step further this year with a fantastic spider-web design she found online. I'm so impressed. I played it safe.



I realise that huge numbers of people lock the doors, hide behind the sofa, go out, or otherwise take out restraining orders on anyone under 20. Others say it's tantamount to begging, or extortion. Some grumble it's American culture subsuming our own. Even the police are talking tough. Frankly we have no complaints. We get all treats, no tricks. The worst I can say is that some of the kids don't put much effort in, but many do, and many are accompanied by responsible parents. A significant portion are so sweet and so sincere you could die from cuteness on the spot. Especially when they squee with excitement as they leave with the bag of treats. Above all, and despite the recent commercialisation, it's about kids being kids and having fun, not about anything antisocial. It's cool.

EDIT: Sample grumpy news story.

EDIT2: All went very well, although we got through less bags of sweets than usual. I think some of the kids have grown out of it (we had a large group of older teenagers dressed as office zombies last year who said it was their final trick-or-treat). Plus we always get fewer when Halloween is mid week.

To cap it off I've managed to crack my head off the door post while taking down the decorations. Hard. Right on the outside edge of my eye socket. Ouch. There's a tiny gash and some swelling, but despite Janet trying to cajole me into a trip to Casualty there are no signs of concussion. Just soreness!

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Oui, c'est vrai. Our kitchen is very nearly finished.

Okay, there's still the floor tiles and the wall paint which we haven't even chosen yet. We're trying to decide whether vivid walls or nice bland warm walls are the way to go. The floor will probably be some kind of grey slate or slate-effect tiles.

Leaving that aside, the granite is fitted, the hob works, and we can taste the delights of not-microwaved vegetables for the first time in two weeks. It's a nice place to be, and we're really happy with the way it looks.

Yet more pictures... )

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We have this week off on holiday. That's good.

So far we've spent it in backbreaking labour. That's bad.

The backbreaking labour is Janet's new Greenhouse. That's good.

We rewarded ourselves last night with our first fast food order of the year. That's double plus good. Janet had Chinese. I had Pizza Hut. It was great. The best thing is we have no need to feel guilty because it was low in sugar for Janet, and the fat's irrelevant due to the aforementioned backbreaking labour.

The greenhouse itself is Janet's new pride and joy. She already had a 6 foot x 8 foot one, but her carnivorous plants were beginning to complain about the lack of space. By "complain" I mean that several of them were quite grumpy and more than a few were developing into hunchbacks. The danger of them running amok and taking over the City was ever on our minds. Well, it was on my mind. Janet seems very blasé about the idea of her plants 'pulling a Wyndham', as it's almost certainly known.

Getting back to the story: plants big--greenhouse small. Janet's foolish husband suggested that we could make room in the garden for a bigger greenhouse, and suddenly there was a Janet-shaped cloud of dust dissipating beside him as she rushed to the internets. She ended up ordering a 6 foot x 14 foot one - nearly twice as long, and also the "High Eaves" version (meaning that the walls are taller before the roof starts).

We spent Sunday taking the old greenhouse down, two VERY long days on Monday and Tuesday assembling the new one, and today fitting all the staging and moving the plants back in from the porch (where they were, quite frankly, unnerving the postie). Thankfully the rain mostly held off despite the odd bit of drizzle, and we've even had some warm sun for part of it.

We had Janet's Mum and Dad helping us to put the greenhouse up, for which we can't thank them enough. Without them whole eons could have passed before we got the darn thing assembled. It's a lot trickier than it looks, even having built one a few years back.

Inevitably there are pictures, as with all our projects. Look, just be thankful you don't have before and after photos of me composing this journal entry...

Pictures... )

Oh, and we had Cat Help, but naturally Pixie was forced to retreat to shelter in the face of a light drizzle:

Gratuitously cute cat picture )

Of course we now ache in places that are only found in medical textbooks, but Janet's really happy with the greenhouse which makes it all worthwhile.

To cap it all, work starts on our fitted kitchen next week so we need to chisel up the kitchen floor tiles before the end of the week. Sob.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
When last we left our struggling hero he was attempting to build a pond. Thwarted at every turn by the evils of pond liner, water, and pretty much all the other things you need to make a pond, not to mention gravity, it would be fair to say that he was making a bit of a meal of it.

Now read on...

So over the last couple of weekends we've continued pottering with the pond, on and off. It's still not finished but now looks a lot more complete.

I must confess there was a stage after I'd done most of the rocks that I felt pretty fed up with it. We don't have the budget or heavy lifting equipment to throw great slabs of rock into the ground as if a mountain spring had coincidentally thrust its way out of the earth in the corner of our garden. As a result it's fairly small and stylised, and has an awful lot of cobbles and small rocks in heaps. However since Janet put some plants in I'm feeling much more positive. It looks like what it is: a nice, small garden pond. It's certainly tranquil.

Pics )

We've still got lots more plants to come, and a pump so that we can get the stream running. Hopefully some wildlife may move in. I found two more newts in the garden today (Palmate Newts I think), one tiny and one pretty sizeable (about three inches long) so you never know. Sadly I didn't think to get a photo, but if they do move in I'll take a few close-ups. Janet's got some pond snails in the water already who seem to be thriving and/or getting amorous, and the oxygenating plants are in, so we may yet have a semi-wildlife pond.

I'm quite pleased.

Pond life

Jun. 3rd, 2007 07:34 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
As mentioned we're creating a pond at the moment, turning a patch of scrubby garden non-entity into a nice little water feature and, potentially, home to the occasional newts and frogs that visit our garden. So far it's occupied the best part of the last two weekends and it feels like it's taking a very long time to come together. There are a number of learning points emerging from this exercise:

1) Pond liner is composed of purest evil and refuses to lie snugly in a hole no matter which way you fold it.

2) Swearing at pond liner accomplishes little but feels good.

3) Pebbles may lie there blinking sweetly at you in a Miyazaki-type way, but no matter how many times you wash them they'll still turn your water a muddy brown colour.

4) My back still hasn't recovered from going "oh bugger-aieee-twang!" last year.

5) Water simply can't take a hint, even when you patiently explain where you need it to go.

6) Ow, my back. This one is worth mentioning twice.

Pictures... )

During construction we've discovered a couple of newts snuggling under nearby stones and we're hoping that they may decide to move in, once the oxygenating plants are properly established. The only downside is that the pond wasn't really designed for wildlife so we'll need to make sure that the pump isn't going to suck in the poor little things. At the moment the plan is to cover the pump with an upturned aquatic plant pot with a mesh small enough to stop a hapless newt from being pulled to its newty doom.

More pictures as and when we get the thing finished.

Nostalgia

Nov. 14th, 2006 05:46 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Serenity)
This is both nerdy and cool at the same time, but I decided that the cool outweighed the nerdy. I have that capacity for self-deception.

If, like me, you were once a fan of Star Trek but drifted away as the modern spin-offs became ever more derivative, you may share some of my nostalgia for the original 1960s show. The recent Hi-Def remastering has certainly reawakened some of my fondness, so I went 'a browsing on the internet (as we nerds do), and happened across these fascinating behind the scenes shots of the original Enterprise model. I had no idea that stuff like this existed from the 1960s.



The above shot (bizarrely juxtaposing the Enterprise and sixties cars) is from this page but there are a great many more pictures over at startrekhistory.com, including on-set shots of the cast, many of which seem to have undergone painstaking restoration work. That's the photos, not William Shatner.

Time Team

Jul. 9th, 2005 03:21 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Archaeology)
Well, there's a distinct possibility that I may be talking to Tony Robinson on Time Team tonight. :-)

We entered their photo competition, and I was woken from my hangover this morning by someone calling to say that we might have won and would I mind talking on the phone during the show. Our pic is of Hardknott Roman Fort, halfway up Hardknott Pass in the Lake District. It can be seen as one of their many banners on the Big Roman Dig website. It's not the greatest photo evah, so I can only assume they didn't have a lot of entries. It's a crop of a photo taken around the same time as this one. The picture had to be a very specific size, but I think the severe cropping actually helped the composition:



So assuming that the broadcast isn't the usual chaos, that they manage to get around to me, and that Tony Robinson (or whoever) actually listens to a word I say, I might well be on the phone to them during the show tonight some time EDIT: around 8.20 to 8.30ish. Cor.

I think this is a good thing. A much better thing is the rather nice camera which is the prize. :-)

EDIT: I survived! After all my fretting beforehand they hardly gave me a chance to say much, but it wasn't too scary. It's weird - they ring you a few minutes beforehand and then basically put you on hold, listening to the TV but about 5 seconds ahead of where the broadcast is up to.

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