Wednesday, 23 January 2013

TW:eed Project website

I've created a new website for Jenny's consortium project and it's recently gone live.  There were lots of infuriating delays, but at least it's finally there!  If you're interested you can see what we're up to at or or you can just click the flag logo.  I'm not sure why we've got two domains that point to the same site.

TW:eed stands for Tetrapod World: Early Evolution and Diversification.

The colours in the flag logo are based on those used in the Geological Survey maps of the area.  The pink colour is from the Devonian Old Red Sandstones, the darker blue is the Ballagan Formation which is the bit we're interested in and the paler blue at the top is the Fell Sandstones, by which time all the interesting stuff had already happened!

The animal bottom left is a life reconstruction of the Devonian Acanthostega gunnari which Jenny has worked on for the past 20 years, while the one upper right is the mid-Carboniferous Eucritta melanolimnetes which came from a quarry near Edinburgh.  When Jenny described the new species, she had a laugh, because the name means "early creature (eu, critter) from the black (melano) lagoon (limnetes)".  She did think she was lucky to get away with "critta" as it's neither Greek nor Latin, which is generally what's expected.

The bony hand is a composite which Jenny drew especially for the logo.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snow woman!

We had several inches of snow last night, good, sticky snowballing snow, so of course, I had to build a snowman.  Well, snow woman, actually!

I'm quite pleased with her, though I had to stop before she was perfect.  I was adding snow to her left arm, but as I pushed it on, she cracked right across, quite low down, so that was pretty much it.  I managed to shove her back a bit, but I don't think she'll stay upright for very long.

Various passers-by have been quite complimentary, which is nice.  As this is the fourth time I've done this, some of the locals have come to expect something to appear when it snows, so I try to oblige.

Friday, 18 January 2013


As I take part in the BTO Garden Birdwatch, every now and then I look out of one of the back windows to see what I can see.  A few moments ago, through the light snow, I spotted a male sparrowhawk sitting in the apple tree at the other end of our garden.  I got a great view.  Then he took off and flew diagonally across the garden towards me, but as he passed out of my sight (the house is L-shaped and I was in the foot of the L) there was the typical 'bonk' of a large bird hitting a window.

"Oh bugger, I hope he's OK" I thought as I rushed through to the appropriate bedroom. 

I'm delighted to say it was not the sparrowhawk that hit the window, but a pigeon, who was still standing on the flat roof of our utility room, looking rather dazed.  It flew off a few minutes later, so it was obviously OK, too.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New boiler

About six years ago I replaced our central heating boiler, but the guy who did it was useless, despite coming recommended. The worst of his mistakes took us a while to cotton on to.  We noticed that when it was really cold outside, parts of the house were chilly, too, to the point that eventually we would shut down the guest bedroom in really cold weather - turn the radiator off and shut the door - but that's not really an acceptable solution.  For a start, some of Jenny's clothes are in there, and then we also use it to dry our washing.

Eventually we realised the installation engineer had looked at the old boiler, which had a range of power settings, ignored what it had actually been set to and just chose the lowest setting, and installed the equivalent, which was an 18kW boiler.  When I calculated the power requirements using a couple of online calculators, I reckoned we needed a 24kW boiler, so no wonder we were cold.

We  now have a pet plumber and central heating engineer whom we trust, and when I spoke to him about it, we also decided to install new radiators in the attic, hopefully making that into a room we can comfortably use in the winter, so overkill is good and the new boiler will be 30kW.

He did the first few days before Christmas, but left decommissioning the old boiler until now, and he's here now.  The old boiler is in the garage and he's connecting up the new.  We'll be without heat tonight, but hopefully it will be up and running tomorrow.  Well, or Thursday, I guess.  Fortunately the outside air temperature is 10°C, so a fan heater should be enough.

So if you know anyone near Royston who needs a Vaillant ecoTEC Plus 618 boiler they can have it for a couple of hundred quid or so.

Friday, 4 January 2013


On New Year's Eve a group of friends came around to our house to see in the new year.  There were, if I recall correctly, 11 of us.  We'd decided to watch a movie, so most of them turned up around 9, though we'd not added up the numbers carefully enough and actually, it was a bit cosy.  We can comfortably accommodate 9, so a couple of folks had to sit on the floor.

As is usual for these occasions, we provided popcorn, kettle chips, nuts, etc, and folks brought a bottle.

Lorna and Richard brought Lorna's mother who was staying with them for the holiday period, and Julie, who had lent us Sleeping with the Enemy for the occasion, decided that the start was probably a bit raunchy for someone in her eighties.  I've never seen it, so have no opinion.  So we watched Dirty Dancing instead, and had a thoroughly good time.  Of course, you have to suspend disbelief quite a lot, but hey, it's the Winter Festivities, so we can manage that!

Not so in the movie we went to see last night.  We went to see what I think was the last night of The Hobbit at Letchworth Broadway.  We usually go there as it's easy to park and there's an Indian restaurant just across the car park.  And we usually try to go in the last week of showing, when that cinema is often empty. 

What a waste of time!  We didn't notice the controversial 48fps that people have been making such a fuss about.  The 3D was OK, but after a while you stop noticing it.  Their computer generated flying animals - eagles, small birds, butterflies, are simply rubbish.  No anatomist was involved in the making of those images. Ptchah!  Makes me cross.  They put so much effort into so many details in these movies, but they can't be bothered to make the things that fly look like real animals.

But worst of all was that it was mostly goodies versus orc battle scenes, endless bloody (actually no blood at all that I saw) battle scenes.  Pretty much all the orcs look identical, I think they only had one model in the computer, and they're all complete lightweights, judging by how easily the good guys brushed them aside without suffering the least injury.

Thirteen dwarves and Bilbo must have dealt with thousands of orcs and there was only one injury, and that at the very end.  It put me most in mind of a computer game, though to be truthful, I never play that sort of computer game, so have only the haziest notion of what they're really like.  You occasionally see a clip on the telly, and that's what this made me think of.

And the ridiculous underground suspended walkways, bits of old rope and planks hanging across chasms.  Give me a break!

And the way the anyone could somehow fall hundreds of feet, bouncing off the walls of the chasm and then just get up at the bottom, brush off the dust and start again.  Oh, come on!

I went in expecting a decent movie, but by about an hour in I was starting to feel restless, and I just got more bored and cynical as the evening progressed.  Talk about milking it!

There was the odd decent bit, but not much. I don't think I'll bother seeing the other two episodes, though Jenny might want to go.

Might read the book again, mind.