Archive for December 2007

Reporting from No-Man’s Land

Posted by on December 29th 2007 in Rambling on...

Here we are, in that period of calm between the Christmas festivities and the New Year revelry. Just time for an update before the mania starts again!

Santa and his helpers were kind to us again; we must have been good peeps this year, because we all got everything we asked for, and a few surprises thrown in too. Folks have been very kind to us all.

My haul included a new trainer-kite (a 2m Ozone Imp) which was taken out for testing a couple of days ago when the wind picked up a bit. For such a small kite, it's got a lot of oomph, more than enough to lift me off the ground and scare me witless. Great stuff! Oh, and the yellow and grey colour-scheme is exactly the same as my now-defunct Wild Country Supernova tent, so that brings back good memories. I'll be taking this up a few mountains next year, I reckon it'll be fun.

I've just about finished reading a superb book by one of my all-time heroes, Gene Kranz, former Flight Director at NASA. "Failure is Not an Option" is his compelling and informative account of his involvement in America's space program. His account goes way deeper than the details reported by the media at the time, covering much more than the key events that hit the headlines. OK, so I'm biased (being a born-in-the-sixties lad), but I reckon this is a great book.

I'll not bore you any further by listing every single gift, but I'll express my gratitude for each and every one that was received, and hope that folks are happy with what they received from me.

Now, back to the blog. Stat-whores may have noticed that it went past a minor milestone earlier today...



AktoMan brought a curious little blog-ranking points-thingy to our attention. Egosurf. It's one of those things that I can't resist. I'll put a counter-badge in the sidebar in a while, so that you can see my poor score.

I finished a review of 2007 and set the post to auto-publish at the turn of the year, then went to John's blog and found that he had stolen my thunder. Undeterred, my version of events will be published as per my plan, now that I've reformatted it.

Right, that's all for now. I'll see you next year. Have a good time!

Do they know it’s Christmas?

Posted by on December 23rd 2007 in On the box, Video (YouTube, Vimeo etc.)

We do! The Beeb confirmed that festivities have begun in earnest when, this afternoon/evening, it screened "The Great Escape".

For the few who've never seen this Great British Christmas Institution, here's the classic bike scene:

OK, the movie's probably not that "PC" these days, but the Beeb had no qualms about showing it... again.

Top stuff!

A cheap Christmas pressie for all you commentators

Posted by on December 21st 2007 in Plugins, Site update

Because you've all been behaving nicely, I've decided to cut you some slack and let you edit your own comments. The recently-installed plugin allows you to make edits during the first five minutes after submitting your comment, you should see a timer telling you how much time you have left to make your edit.

Abuse of this facility will lead to it being confisticated and put on a high shelf, visible but just out of reach, and I'll probably dock your pocket-money as well. :grin:

Comments plotted

Posted by on December 18th 2007 in Just for fun, Projects, Rambling on...

Just for the hell of it, I decided to follow up on my idle threat to delve deeper into the comments to see what I could find.

Here are a few graphs, deduce from them whatever you want.

The total number of comments was 183, left by 37 readers.





The red mist descends once more

Posted by on December 16th 2007 in A bit of a rant

Looky here what the postie delivered yesterday:



Double vision? Hardly. More like double trouble. Two unsolicited mailshots from a company whose representative said:

"I would like to confirm that the following have been closed and or deleted: Both your accounts, goldcard and your on-line account. Once again I would like to apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused."


"... you have been removed from our general mailing lists... "

Looks like that was utter drivel, eh?

I refer the honourable reader to a previous blog entry regarding f***d & t**k (

I wonder what cock-and-bull story I'll get this time.

Looks like I'll be making good use of the link that AktoMan included his comment on this other blog entry: (

In from the cold

Posted by on December 15th 2007 in Astrostuff, Great Escapes, Pics

The Thursday night / Friday morning skies did indeed stay clear, so a session watching the Geminids was on. The car was de-iced, packed and soon I was at the chosen venue. The temperature had dropped to -2 by then, so I donned a fair amount of insulation. There's something weird about dressing like the Michelin Man, complete with buff and balaclava, then walking through a very posh neighbourhood at 11:30 p.m. while carrying a small pack and a reclining chair. It certainly earned me a more than fleeting glance from a couple of car-cops.

I was set up within 20 minutes and soon I was snapping away with the camera. Sitting back while the D50 did its work, I could see that catching these meteors on camera was going to be difficult. There was no shortage of them, indeed for some periods they were showing at a rate of about 50 per hour within my field of view. The problem was that most of them were too fast and they weren't leaving bright trails like the Perseids tend to. I know that I caught at least 50 of them on camera, but, aside from one that left a bright trail, no amount of post-processing of the raw "NEF" files was going to bring out enough detail to make satisfactory images.

I stayed until 02:30, by which time the temperature had dropped to -6 and the camera was frosting up too much to take decent pics (note to self: buy a lens heater-band).

So, here are a few of the resulting images, in sets of three (final, "as shot" and annotated). Click on any one of them for access to the full-res version. There's plenty of room for improvement, I reckon.

Orion and neighbours

 Faint trail in Ursa Major (at the top left, you may need to click the pic to see it on the larger version)

Clear skies tomorrow night

Posted by on December 12th 2007 in Astrostuff, Weather

Well, that's the weather forecast for here. Couple that with an ideal phase of the moon, and we have good conditions for standing outside, freezing our nuts off, looking for Geminid meteors. Let's hope that the weather holds for this shower... last month it was looking good for observing the Leonid shower until a front moved in and gave us 48 hours of 8/8 cloud-cover and heavy rain.

Here's an extract from the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar 2007:

One of the finest, and probably the most reliable, of the major annual showers presently observable. This year, the waxing crescent Moon will set by mid-evening across the globe on December 14 (the actual moonset timing is progressively later the further south you are), giving mostly dark skies for all observers, especially those in the northern hemisphere. The Geminid radiant culminates around 2h local time, but well north of the equator it rises around sunset, and is at a usable elevation from the local evening hours onwards, while in the southern hemisphere, the radiant appears only around local midnight or so. Even from more southerly sites, this is a splendid stream of often bright, medium-speed meteors, a rewarding sight for all watchers, whatever method they employ.

Here's some good advice from NASA for those hardy souls who intend to venture forth to see the lightshow:

  • Geminids meteors can be seen anytime after 10 p.m. local time, when the constellation Gemini is well above the horizon, but the best time to look is during the early morning hours between about 2 a.m. and dawn. That's when the local sky is pointing directly into the Geminid meteor stream.
  • The radiant of the Geminid shower is located near Castor, one of the two bright stars in Gemini (the other bright star is Pollux). To find the constellation at 2:00 a.m., go outside and face south. Castor and Pollux will appear approximately 45 degrees* above the horizon. Earlier in the evening, from 10:00 p.m. until midnight, Gemini will be about 30 degrees* above the horizon in the southeast.
  • You won't need binoculars or a telescope, the naked eye is usually best for seeing meteors which often streak more than 45 degrees across the sky. The field of view of most binoculars and telescopes is simply too narrow for good meteor observations.
  • Experienced meteor observers suggest the following viewing strategy: Dress warmly, as the mid-December nights are likely to be cold in the Northern hemisphere. Bring a reclining chair, or spread a thick blanket over a flat spot of ground. Lie down and look up somewhat toward the south. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, although their trails will tend to point back toward the radiant.

(* this depends on your latitude)

Theoretically, the peak rate (ZHR) is predicted to be 120 meteors per hour, so it should be a good show.

Hopefully I'll be allowed out to catch some of the display on camera.

Wahey! I won a prize from Bob!

Posted by on December 12th 2007 in Thanks

What, with all the fuss about the Bloggers' Panto and with a few other things going on, I forgot to mention that Podcast Bob sent me an email the other day telling me that I had won a copy of Paddy Dillon's new book, The National Trails: The National Trails of England, Scotland and Wales.

I can't comment on the book yet, as I've yet to receive it. Maybe Bob's holding it back to save on postage in case I win the latest prize on offer (a Lightwave S42 Rucksack)? Anyway, if the book's as informative as Paddy's live talks, it'll be a good read.

If you're feeling lucky, get yourself over to Bob's Outdoors Station right now. There's a new competition every week, and there's no registration or entry fee required. Oh, and don't forget the podcasts and other goodies there.

Many thanks, Bob. Merry Christmas!

The Bottle Pod arrives

Posted by on December 11th 2007 in Camera kit, Shiny new kit

Well, the Bottle Pod thing might look like it's a bit of cheap plastic, but it works surprisingly well.

It's marketed for fitting compact cameras and the like to bottles and car-windows, so I overloaded it with my Nikon D50 + 70-300mm zoom, and clamped it to the head of one of my DMM Cirque axes. I had expected the lever-locked plastic ball-head to be a bit naff, but it held the unbalanced camera set-up firmly enough, with no slow forwards-creep. I wouldn't like to load it up too much, though, as the connector might part company from the ball. Still, for short-lens work and compacts, I reckon it'll do a fine job. Time will tell if the plastics used are up to being used in cold conditions... if it breaks, I'll let you know. It weighs in at just 28g.

Don't ask me to test it on one of those festrous walking-poles; I don't own any, and that's the way it's gonna stay.

Scotland 20, Rest of the World 5

Posted by on December 9th 2007 in Just for fun, Rambling on..., Thanks

I'm not much of a stats-whore, but I do like to use such data to see if there are any trends and/or patterns hiding in the figures.

Here is the latest curiosity:

Of the 25 most recent comments left by visitors to this blog, 20 have been left by Scots.

Further analysis reveals that all of the most recent ten comments left by visitors to this blog have been left by Scots.

Now, for every statistical oddity there's usually a rational explanation, so they say. The trouble is, I'm having a hard job finding the correct reason for such a statistical pattern. So far, I've come up with the following possibilities:

  1. Scots have far too much free time on their hands, and they spend too much of it on the internet;
  2. Scots are more sociable than other folk, hence they are better at inter-personal communication;
  3. Scots are highly opinionated and talk too much;
  4. I write good stuff that only Scots appreciate, stuff that's just goes over the heads of other folk;
  5. I write drivel that's ignored by all except Scots, who find it to their taste;
  6. I live in the wrong country.

Looking at the comment-stats in a more local geo-frame, here's the score on a UK basis:

  • Scotland 20
  • England 5
  • Rest of the UK 0

Please feel free to comment on these stats, regardless of your nationality. Maybe you could suggest other reasons?

Anyway, thanks to all who have already left their mark here.

I'm off to delve a bit deeper, to see if the trend goes further back.

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