Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Rather a good day!

We had several things go right for us yesterday, so I'll gloat about them in chronological order.

First, my old boss from my last job has asked me to create User and Installation manuals for a new product they're just starting to produce, so I get a week's work, which will bring in some useful cash, and also forces me to practise various Adobe products like Photoshop, which I rarely use and consequently, forget the tricks.

In the afternoon I went into Jenny's department in Cambridge to help her fit a new cutting wire to her diamond wire saw.  This is a machine with a grooved spool around which about 10m of very fine, diamond-impregnated steel wire is wound.  It loops around a lower pulley and back up onto the original, and you (gently) press your fossil against the front run of wire while the machine pulls it first one way, then the other.  It can take days to cut through large specimens, or ones in particularly hard rock, but it works.  It was a prototype when they bought it about 20 years ago, and for all we know, was the only one ever made by this firm.  There is no official documentation, and we rather suspect it was designed by guesswork.  It certainly has a Heath Robinson feel to it.
Changing the wire is another of those things that happens once in a blue moon, and in fact, it's 10 years this month since Jenny last had to change it.  I've never been involved, but am moderately handy, so thought I might be able to help.  Jenny's old preparator, Sarah Finney, also came, but neither she nor Jenny could actually remember what to do.  

Fortunately, there were some notes to help, so we slowly picked our way through.   To start with, we used some leftover wire on an old spool, just to try it out, but thinking there wouldn't be enough on the spool for a complete winding.  Rather to our amazement, there was enough, but it took two attempts to actually get it working properly.  One of my tasks for today is to write down what we did, so as to supplement the notes we were working from.  A bonus is that we realise it takes less wire at any one time, so the supply we have could last another 30 or 40 years, by which time most of the rest of the machine will have broken, I suspect.

I came home as soon as that was finished, so missed the biggest event of the day.  An email from Jenny was awaiting me when I got home.  Getting on six months ago, Jenny applied for a major grant to fund the next big piece of research she wants to carry out.  This is a collaborative venture with the National Museum of Scotland and the universities of Cambridge, Leicester, Southampton and Bristol, with additional links to the University of Uppsala in Sweden and a group of researchers in Nova Scotia.  It's by far the biggest project Jenny has ever been involved in, and will take her through to retirement in four years time.  If it yields the results we hope for, it will have a major impact on our understanding of the early evolution of tetrapods and how they invaded the land.

Yesterday's big news was that the Natural Environment Research Council have agreed to fund the project, so we were drinking Nyetimber sparkling white last night, over the road with Lorna and Richard, in celebration!  To put it in perspective a bit, your project can have a triple A rating and still not get NERC funding, the competition is that intense.

And then finally, my younger brother sent me links to some home movies which he has had digitised.  These are bits of 8mm home movie made by our maternal grandfather in the 1950's, which have been languishing for decades.   I had become concerned that they would degrade to the point of being irrecoverable, but magically, Ned has managed to get at least some of them digitised.

It has to be said that my grandfather was not great with the cine camera, though to be fair, he didn't have a little screen on which he could play back what he'd just shot, as we do today.  He had to finish the reel, then send it off to Kodak for processing and some weeks later would get it back.

There are lots of classic home movie errors - jerky movements, panning too fast, including too much bright sky, so the lower half of the shot is underexposed, or the reverse, so the sky is overexposed.  I doubt if I could have done any better!  But what's fabulous about it is seeing ourselves all those years ago, mostly in Cape Town, as far as I can tell.  I've only watched two of the seven files so far (incredibly slow to download!), but I'm really enjoying it.

1 comment:

ArcticFox said...

Fabulous - I love a good news story!!

Sounds like everything's coming up roses..... I'd have liked to see a picture of this amazing saw machine though!!