Monday, 30 July 2012

Ringing swifts

On Friday, Doug, the warden of Fowlmere nature reserve, was ringing some swift nestlings from nests in a barn near his office, and had invited some staff from RSPB HQ at Sandy to come and get some experience.  They had all done a bit of ringing before, but not of swifts, so this was a perfect opportunity.  Jenny and I went along just to watch.

It was really interesting to watch, for a bit, but actually, once you've seen a few birds being ringed and measured, it quickly loses its edge, so after they'd done a couple of nests, we came away.  Sadly, I didn't check the photographs I'd taken immediately, something I almost always do, and when I came to download them onto the PC, I found them rather disappointing.  This is the least bad of them.

I did expect them to be carrying a parasite load, but had no idea that the lousefly is so big - it's easily 5mm long, and each bird can carry several of them.  Revolting!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Excellent service from John Lewis, Cambridge

15 years ago, I bought a nice office chair from John Lewis at a very reasonable price and I was delighted, the following year, when I slipped my disc, to find that it was still comfortable despite the injury.  From then on, I never had a comfortable office chair anywhere I worked, and I struggled until I finally retired a couple of years ago.  Nevertheless, the office chair at home remained comfy and I could sit in it for hours on end with nary a twinge.

A few days ago it suddenly started to feel strange in the seat department, and closer inspection revealed that the foam insert in the seat had cracked right across.  I was curious that there didn't seem to be anything supporting the foam underneath, but assumed it must be some special foam.

I called a supplier in a nearby town and discussed it with him, agreeing that I'd dismantle the chair and take the foam over for him to look at. But when I did, I found that the foam insert had been moulded around a metal frame, and a quick phone call confirmed that he'd not be able to do anything to help me.

Then I phoned John Lewis, without hope, but not wanting to leave any avenue unexplored.  The girl listened to my sorry tale, took the details and said she'd ask the furniture repair people to ring me.

I've just had a lovely phone conversation with a woman there, suggesting this, offering that, saying she'd speak to people in the furniture department to see if anyone has any ideas about how to get spares for Kebe (Denmark) chairs, etc.  I really felt as though nothing would be too much trouble for her, and it really reinforced my bias in favour of shopping at John Lewis whenever possible. Lovely!


On Friday we had the inaugural meeting of the Romer's Gap Project team, and it was really exciting to actually meet (almost) everyone involved.  The Principal Investigators met slightly earlier, then the rest of us turned up, the others of 'the rest' being what's called Project Partners.

So the saga behind that is that the PI's get funding from the NERC grant, which means they can take on PhD students and hire Post-doctoral Research Associates to help them with their individual projects, while the Project Partners don't get funding, so can't hire extra staff, but still collaborate - they're interested in the field, this is quite a prestigious project, the results seem almost bound to be revolutionary and there's a good chance they'll get their names on some of the papers that we expect will be published.

I knew Jenny wanted to create a website for the project, but didn't know any details.  Turns out the British Geological Survey will host the site, but I should be involved in its creation.  We'll be using Wordpress Content Management software, which I gather means that once we've created the skeleton of the site, the other scientists involved can post their own text and pictures.  I only know Wordpress as blogging software, but apparently it looks and feels the same when you use it for CM, so that sounds pretty good to me.

There will also be a blog, and a twitter feed, but I'm so far behind the times I know nothing about tweeting.  I did hope I could have a panel on the website Home Page where tweets could be displayed live, as I swear I saw something like that on the BBC news website last week, but it's not there this week, so I might have dreamed it.  No doubt all will become clear with time.

So then we cracked open a few bottles, ate some nibbles and nattered for a bit before melting away into the night.  Jenny and I melted via a new Iranian restaurant in Cambridge which served us delicious food but had a bemusingly brief wine list, consisting of the words Red Wine £x.  Turned out to be quite a nice Australian shiraz.  Only later did I cotton on to the fact that the guys are almost certainly all muslim, so don't drink alcohol and really don't understand those of us that do.  Particularly not when we've had a few!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A joke to share with you

I got this from the Week magazine, which presumably means it was previously published elsewhere.  If you've seen it before, I apologise.

A Higgs boson walks into a Catholic church.
"What are you doing here" asks the priest.
"Well, you can't have mass without me" says the Higgs.

Doesn't look too bad, does it?

So the damage to the bumper, grill, spoiler and fog lamp are obvious, but they actually only amount to a small part of the cost of the repair.  The real damage is invisible - three radiators behind the bumper - air con, intercooler (turbo) and engine.

The car is at the menders now, and I'm driving  a small, bright red balloon called a Citroen C1.  Fortunately, I'm not expecting to do any real mileage this week, and I should get my own car back on Friday.  Please.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Another eventful week

On Wednesday we went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company Globe Theatre's production of Hamlet in the King's College Fellows' Garden.  To our amazement, it didn't rain and we enjoyed a terrific performance.  Well, you expect the RSC to be brilliant, and they were. We picknicked on the grass, of course.

On Thursday it was the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition.  Well, it's a 2-day event and we went on Thursday.  Cambridge fellows hire a coach to take us there and back, but it doesn't leave until five, so you don't get enough time to go around all the exhibits.  This year, Jenny and I dumped the car at the park and ride and caught a train to London, arriving at lunchtime.

I've not seen the new Kings Cross concourse since it was finished, and I was really impressed.  Well up to continental standards!  We went up onto the balcony and found somewhere nice for lunch, then went to the Royal Society and left our posh frocks in the Fellows' Room before visiting the Royal Academy to see their Summer Exhibition.  As before, we saw a handful of things we liked and a lot we can I put this tactfully?...not to our taste!

Back at the Royal Society we didn't rush to get to the exhibits, wanting time for our feet to recover, but then, to our distress, we discovered that everything shuts down between five and seven, so our effort to see all the exhibits was wasted.  Bugger!  Well, next year we'll probably not bother with the RA and just do the RS earlier.  It's a bit of a pain that you then have to waste two hours waiting for it all to start up again.

The dinner that is laid on for fellows and their guests was nice, as ever, so we were well fed up and agreeably drunk, to quote Gerard Hoffnung.  I had to take it easy, of course, as I would be driving home from the park and ride.

The coach taking us back to Cambridge was a little late, but we got to the park and ride around midnight, which was not far off what we'd expected.  The drive home was enlivened somewhat when a muntjac crossed the road about 10 metres in front of us.  I had no time to react at all, didn't even touch the brakes, but hit him square on with a loud bang.  He went under the car.

Back home it was too dark to see what damage had been done, but I knew I'd need a new front bumper.  After Spanish on Friday morning, I set about putting the repairs in train, starting with having someone remove the bits of spoiler which were dragging on the ground.  It's definitely an insurance job, this one.  Front bumper, grill, right hand fog light, spoiler, right front wheelarch liner, aircon radiator, intercooler (turbo) radiator.  Probably a couple of grand just for the parts.  I tell you, muntjac are solid little beasties!

Oh, and the repair man said they'd steam clean the underneath of the car, which I'd not have thought of, but is rather obvious!

Monday, 2 July 2012

A most obliging bird!

This is actually in reverse chronological order, but that's how I feel like writing it!

I was on Fowlmere nature reserve this afternoon and as I walked away from the main hide I was watching a bunch of about 20 swifts, circling high up, when I was distracted by a hobby passing by.  Once that had flown out of sight I turned back to the swifts, only to find their numbers had swelled to about 75!  That was very satisfying, as there seem to be rather few about, and that was the most I've seen together for some years.

But before that, sitting in the hide, I heard a linnet singing, so crept over to his side of the hide and to my delight, saw him not three metres away.  I took several photographs, regretting slightly that he was facing away from me, when a gust of wind upset his balance and when he re-settled, he'd turned around.  Perfect!  More photographs, then I pressed the Record button, and got this short clip of him, which I'm pretty pleased with.  I hope you can play it.