London – Robot exhibition at the Science Museum

My back was still not right, but I managed a 6 mile local walk the day before so I thought I would go a bit further a field, but I was not up to the Ridgeway. Scanning the what’s on on London sites I was reminded of the robot special exhibition at the Science Museum, so I booked myself an 11:00 ticket, giving me plenty of flexibility on time. If things went to plan I would get the tube there then walk back through the London parks back to Euston on the return journey.

I was up early, and managed to get the 08:06, but no coffee as the station cafe is shut on a Sunday. I grabbed the Victoria line to Green park then the Piccadilly to South Kensington. I got out of the pedestrian tunnel early in favour of fresh air and as luck would have I exited right opposite a Le Pain Quotidian where I grabbed an excellent coffee and even better Raisin Danish, which was essentially a Pain Au Raisin but twisted not twirled. I was a bit early and there was just one person and child outside the entrance, I joined them and therefore started a queue, which by 10:00 was a few hundred yards long.

Being the second person in the place meant that I could have a few sections of the museum to my self. I headed straight down to the far end of the ground floor, where there was a section about machine learning. One machine took my photo then deduced I was happy (smiling) and estimated to be 50, I was happy to take that. Next I headed up to the top floor where there are some aircraft and a load of aircraft engines through history, something I was not aware of despite previous visits. I worked my way down to the first floor stopping off to look at some of the stuff, my favourite bits are the mechanical simulation machines, the economy, tides etc. The Robots special exhibition was good and not too crowded, it marked the history of the development of robots, from automata through to the latest ones made by Honda, Toyota etc. Some of them you could interact with.

I had planned to walk back to Euston via Foyles. In Hyde Park I chanced upon some american expats plying baseball in the corner of a field. I got chatting to an older guy who explained that they were not all from the embassy some were bankers and other business people. He asked if I played, I was able to explain that I had when I was young played in the little league. I had to turn down the offer of a game because of my back, which was a shame.

I headed to Buckingham palace via Wellington Arch and Constitution Hill, then down to The Mall, to Admiralty Arch when I took a couple of pictures of one of the Seven Noses of Soho , which are brasses noses on several buildings placed by an artist making a point about the prevalence of CCTV in the city. Next was Trafalgar square where I was starting to flag, my back was hurting. I was amused by a Chinese lady shouting at a group of Chinese children having their picture taken on the steps to the National Gallery. The children wee very polite and obedient I think the lady was just power crazy. I am not sure who they all were but the adults in the group had DSLR’s and a 4k professional video camera.

I jumped on a 29 bus for a couple of stops, and had a look around Foyles computing section, but was not in the mood for buying. It is a short walk to Tottenham Court station and grabbed to the Northern line to Euston. I grabbed a sandwich, then waited for the train to be given a platform. The train was delayed because they were waiting for the police to take a person who had assaulted the guard to be taken away.


Ricoh Theta, Google photospheres and Pannellum

I have a new Gadget a Ricoh Theta it is capable of taking full 360 degree panorama with one shot. It does this by have two lenses pointing in opposite directions, each one with a slightly more than 180 degrees view. The camera then stitches the two pictures together in the camera. The resolution is not great at 3584 x 1792 but they are good enough to publish on web pages as you can see from the example below. The camera have been out for over a year but have they are quite a niche thing and not that easy to get hold of. You can get them new on Amazon and eBay for about £320, they come from Japan, but I spotted a second hand one of eBay I put in a bid for just over half the new price and forgot about it. Next thing I know I have won the auction and a proud owner of a Ricoh Theta. I checked out the images on the camera when I got it and get the impression that the person that had it before had not used it much there were a dozen photos on it starting with some test ones I’m guessing it probably only ever took the 12.

I have been carrying it about for a few weeks now in an attempt to get get a feel for what pictures work and what does not. You need to be a bit careful with which way you point it because you can end up with side dark and one light, so I try to keep the sun to the side so that each camera get the same amount of light. Another issue is that it is impossible to take a picture that does not include your arm, hand and thumb on the camera button, but there are a couple of solutions to these issues, the first is to get a selfie camara holder basically a telescopic stick with a tripod mount on the end, this puts you further away from the camera so taking up less room in the picture, the other method is to use the phone app to take pictures remotely using wifi.

I have an Android phone and there is an app in the Play store for the Theta, which appears to be pretty robust. The Ricoh Theta has built in wifo and acts as an access point, which you pair with your phone then you can access the theta to download and share your photo’s. You can also take pictures remotely, and have a choice of Auto mode, Shutter priority and ISO priority and you can adjust the exposure -2.0 to +2.0EV in 1/3EV Steps. You can also do interval shooting which would be useful for timelapse or hyperlapse sequences. As I said the resolution is not great especially when you view the images full screen but it is really convenient and I and sure to have some fun with it, and the price was good.

I also create panorama pictures by stitching together photo’s using a product called PTGui, my strategy is to take three sets of photos, 6 around at 60 degree intervals and then one up (the zenith shot) and one down (the nadir shot), the sets are at different exposures -2.0EV 0EV and +2.0EV then the software stitches them and uses the exposures to produce an HDR image. The best way is to take the pictures using a tripod and a special bracket which allows the lens to be rotated around the Nodal point of the lens, which avoids parallax issues. However carrying around a tripod is a pain so I also carry a plumb bob and use that to get as close as possible. I have the Pro version of the software so I am able to make corrections for the view point of the camera, which is needed for the plumb bob method as well as the  Nadir shot of the tripod method if you want to avoid having the tripod in shot. The brackets can be expensive circa £250 but I managed to make a reasonable one from an ABS pipe coupling, and a tripod and a quick release adapter.

Finally I needed a way to be able to easily display the panorama in all their glory on my site. You may have noticed that in a previous post http://neilbaldwin.nettarka-trail-bike-ride/ I had embedded some photospheres from Google which had contributed to Google Street view, I did not like the way that they were presented and they don’t always work on iPads etc. I have been looking for a pure HTML 5 solution for a while now. There are quite a few commercial packages with lots of features but I just wanted a simple solution, and the other day I found one it is called Pannellum it is open source and free of charge and does the job nicely. It took me a while to get it sorted working out what should go where and the best size for the images. One thing that threw me was that images on flickr threw an error but it turns out that Flickr is the one at fault because they return a strange thing in the get requests which makes the browser complain about a cross site scripting error. Anyway it turns out that images on Google work fine and I publish  my photospheres there any how.

My next project will be to create a PHP function to use the code so that I can publish my collection of Church photospheres on a dedicated website. I want to store the the details in a searchable database so that people can search for churches and then see the inside of them. you will need to watch this space for news of that project, but in the mean time you can see the waiting images on my Google plus site here enjoy.

My week commuting to London

Euston Station with Learning Tree building

This week I am commuting to London for four straight days to attend a course in London a at the Learning Tree training centre just outside Euston, which means the travel should be really easy. I purchased 4 return tickets but latest wondered if it might have been cheaper to get a 7 day season ticket, which I’d what I did for the parking. Registration for the course on the first day was between 0800 and 0845 so I aimed for the 0728 train from Tring which takes 37 minutes. There were plenty of parking spaces, I was unsure what to do about displaying a parking ticket, the booking said they recognised.number plates but to be on the safe side I left the receipt on the dash board. I was disappointed I could not get a paper at the station, there’s an opportunity of someone there. The train arrived on time and pretty empty, I find my style a window seat. What is the course you ask? The title is something like SQL server business intelligence, it covers the use of SQL in a BI and the user of all the things that come worth it that have confusing acronyms, such as SSAS, MDX, SSRS etc etc.

The train arrived on time I bought a paper and took the short walk to the training centre. Registration was easy I was given a name tag and a folded cards with my name on it for the desk. Next stop was the code lounge for a leisurely coffee. They have fancy machines capable of doing most things a barista could dream up, I chose the latte machiato.

The course stayed slowly by explaining all the usual house keeping stiff and a summary of what the whole course would be about, then we got into the nitty gritty, which for me was covering some old ground but it was a good importantly to cover all the terms involved. Later on there were practical exercises convert the stuff we had covered. Breaks and lunch we followed by more of the same. Timing was very precise and I was able to get away at the scheduled 1630, my train was at 1654, so I hung around and dealt with some emails. I got a window on the train and selected in once it left on time.

Speedtest at train station

I was home before 1800 and had found the commute quite relaxing. OK it was a longer than normal day (2hrs longer) but I had had an opportunity to read the paper, and listened to some podcasts. So first impressions are I would much rather have a local job but if it came to it it would not be the end of the world. Lets see what tomorrow has to bring.

Day two I left a little later before leaving the house, through Tring a passed a fellow commuter on his Brompton folding bicycle. I had noticed him the day before on the platform folding his bike like he had done it a thousand times before, today I thought maybe he was leaving it a bit too late. He arrived on the station platform 5 with coffee in hand about 30 seconds before the train, just enough time to do the folding routine. I am actually surprised at the number of people turning up on the train in bicycle gear sometimes with and sometimes without a bike. Clearly many of them park a bike at Euston and use it for the transit from the station to the office.

I thought I would try out the wifi hot spot features of my HTC Desire X, and was pleasantly surprised. You just select the program set the SSID name and a password then start the hotspot. As I write I have uploaded this post to the server. A speedtest from the moving train revealed 1.23Mb down but 0 up i will do some more testing throughout the day and share the results. I will need to keep an eye on the battery usage, as yesterday I had run out of batteries by the time I got to Tring. Last night I uninstalled a data monitor program that had used 20% of the battery power that day, I want to check my data usage but not at the price of battery, had it been in the 1-2% range then fair enough. I also invested in one of those battery packs that allow you to charge your phone a few times, I think it will come in really useful. It is a far better idea to get one of those than extended batteries to fit a phone because one they will charge any device and two they hold far more juice Han an extended battery the one I chose was an 8000mAh which is over four times the power of my phones battery.

Arrived in London on time and headed over to the training centre. I was there by 0810 which gave me plenety of time to sit around and drink coffee and chat with the other students on the course.

Day three weather much warmer the snow that had been lying around is melting. Got the usual 0728 from Tring my timing was better this morning only a five minute wait, I guess you get better the more you do it. I imagine that it is quite a popular rain as it is quick 37 minutes, and it is not crowded, I have only seen the odd individual having to stand, that is odd as in number not odd as in peculiar. The course got far more difficult today we were doing MDX queries and KPIs which involve more than just dragging and dropping stuff about, it is a bit like SQL queries but different and it takes a while to get your head round it all.

Japanese Ramen Neil style

I have learnt the hard way that when you commute you need to have everything you need with you when you leave the house, this morning I had a flat phone because the charger has failed, so I put a USB lead in my bag an would grab the charger bit on the way out, but forgot. I had to buy a charger at Euston at £14.99, and charge when I could out in the coffee area. I also managed to forget half my lunch, if it was at the office I could have just popped home and sorted it out but today I will just have to have more biscuits to keep me going!

I managed to get on the 1634 again, the course usually finishes with a practical exercise and if you get it right first time you can get away a couple of minutes before 1630, then you have about 6 minutes to get to platform 7, for the train. I must say that the trains are as smooth as you would want, but the seats are a bit squashed up, if you have someone sat next to you, but the journey is at most 40 minutes so not such a hardship.

I have been inspired by our trip to Japan, and have regularly been making bowls of Japanese noodles. They are really quick to make, just boil some water and chop up some vegetables. Then fry the vegetables as you cook the noodles (5 minutes one noodle wrap per person) add in some Japanese sauces and some chilli. I optionally add reconstituted mushrooms and some prawns. Once the noodles are cooked add some Miso to the water and pour into the bowls, top off with the vegetables, mushrooms, prawns, and some sliced spring onions. It takes all of 15 minutes to make, but is a bit messy as you have to do it all quick, so the clearing out takes a bit longer than normal.

Day four and final day, got up a little later and left the house just a smidgen later, but still had a 10 minute wait before the train arrived. I think the ideal would be to get there after the 0722 and before the 0728. Today we finish the course by covering off odd topics that do not fit in to the other main topics so far covered, such as data mining forecasting, tabular models, etc. At 1500 we review and then there is an opportunity to take a multiple choice question exam, they call it free but you essentially pay for it when you pay for the course. With any luck I will be away early enough to get the train before the 1634.

The course was all done by 1500 a couple who were not taking the exam left, we had a quick break before the exam. There were three different exams handed out to stop cheating, and the answers were filled in on a sheet, which had blobs to fill in like on a lottery card. It is a very American thing I believe, when I was at a school with a American curriculum I remember having to fill out similar forms for what. I think they we’re describes as SAT tests, and when we got the results they were compared to the whole of the USA, I would love to know how I faired, perhaps my parents still have the results in a box in the attic?

The exam was quite tough, because it expected to answer quite a few questions asking for very specific technical terms, rather than testing your judgement about what we had learnt. Back in the office if i did not know the technical name for something I would just google it, does to matter that I don’t know the name for something the important thing is that I know that a feature exists and that I can use it. I got through the 40 questions fairly quickly, but not as fast as some I guess I was average. There was then nothing else to do than get the train, I managed to get the 1524 to Milton Keynes, which was a fairly fast one calling at no stations before Watford junction, so I would be home before 1700, which would be a bonus as I have some more travelling to do later.

Raspberry PI wifi with static IP address

I have been tinkering with Raspberry Pi’s for some time now, and after finding uses for two I order a couple more. I thought I would have a more methodical approach to setting up the next one. I needed a platform to experiment with to me number one is a static IP for the network interfaces. There is plently of documentation out there to explain how to set a static IP for the Ethernet adapter but I struggled to find instructions to do the same for a wifi adapter. My aim is to have a PI that boots up and always has the same IP addresses on the wired and wireless adapters.

Firstly lets get the static IP on the wired interface. You need to edit the file /etc/network/interfaces find the reference to eth0 then edit it to set the static IP network mask and default gateway.

iface eth0 inet static

Once you have made the changes reboot the PI and check that the settings have stuck. Alternatively you can use the commands ifup and ifdown. so to close down the eth0 interface issue the command sudo ifdown etho then use sudo ifup etho will bring it back up again. Clearly if you have ssh’d into the PI you will lose your connection so you will have to reboot the PI anyway. Use ifconfig to check the status of the ports.

Now for the more complicated bits. To get the wifi up and running. First you need to update the files referenced from the interfaces config file /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf this contains the configuration of the wifi interface and how it connects to access points. Find the section like the ones below and add in the details of the access points you want to connect to. I have 2 access points which I have called home1 and home2 (see “id_str=”). The details there tell the system how to connect to the access point i.e. what the name is and what the preshared key is.



Next you need to update /etc/network/interfaces to set the details of the wifi access points and how they should be dealt with. See below I needed to to do the same as I did for the etho inerface but I reference the access points using the names I used in the id_str settings from above.

iface wlan0 inet manual
wpa-roam /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf

iface home1 inet static

iface home2 inet static

I used a few websites to figure all this here are some of the more useful ones :

Keeping it local

Green and verdant view of Dancersend NR

After a very busy weekend last weekend we are having a quiet one. The plan get up not too early have some breakfast (reading the paper?), a bit of a tinker with the blog, a short local walk, then see if we can catch the Queens Jubilee fly past over Halton, finally cook pasta for Helen’s parents, and watch the Chelsea v Munich match.

Things got off to a great start, Helen was up first and then as I came down stairs at about 08:00 she was walking in the door with the papers. I usually have toast and expresso for breakfast at the weekend, and save my home made muesli for weekdays. Today was not exception I finished off the Bonne Maman cherry jam I have been working my way through for some weeks.

The record shot of the fly pass

I have tweaked the blog a bit, by moving all the panoramas about as the menu they were on is getting a bit long. I also noticed that was getting more Google juice than the blog, even though it is more or less just a holding page for a Drupal site. So I fixed it once and for all, it now redirects to the blog address at so that will fix that small issue. I think as the blog is the site than changes the most  will not keep the two domains separate, and if I do want a content sites then I will just create sub-domains for them which should keep things much simpler.

The fly past was due soon after 12:30 so we headed about of the house at about 10:30, and drove up to the BBOWT reserve at Dancersend which is in the hills sort of between Tring and Aston Clinton. It is between two valleys and can be a really nice place to just sit, relax and take everything in, as the hills shelter it from noise apart from the odd aircraft.

The local squirrel

There were plenty of birds singing when we got there, the usual suspects Tits and Chaffinch but also a couple of Warblers we thought most likely Blackcaps from the song. It was a bit early for orchids but there were a few early Butterfly Orchids just starting to bloom, and the usual Pyramid orchids could be identified by their black spotted leaves. We wandered around and Helen took control of the camera with the big lens and I scouted round from some bugs and plants to photo with the LX3. We heard some tawny owl calls in the distance.

WARNING RANT — As we entered the reserve from the “pond on the bend entrance” we noticed that there was a lot of dog shit on the path in, it was pretty obvious that one dog was regularly walked up the path and the owner could not be bothered to clear up after their dog or make sure the dog did it business away from the path. Helen described it as “playing dog shit hopscotch”. Helen and discussed putting up a “there is not such thing as a dog poo fairy poster” next time we go up there. — RANT OVER

At about 12:10 we headed back down to the village park to watch the fly past. Basically as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration today was the armed forces day to show off, and a fly past of about 60 aircraft had been arranged to fly over Windsor park and as is usual when these things happen many of the aircraft get routed to and from the event over RAF airfields. Halton being fairly close to London often gets a fly past, today was no exception.

Max the cat from next door

Down at the park there were other people who had obviously come to see the spectacle, as well as Helen’s uncle who turned up soon after we did. We did not have to wait long after 12:30 for the flypast, in all probably about 15-20 planes passed over. At first we thought we were at the wrong end of the air field as we say some jets pass over the other end in the distance, but they were followed by three groups of fight looking jets, blue in colour. I had the setting on my lens not quite appropriate for the shot so did not get any decent pictures but I have included the one you can see here, as you can tell the light was pretty crap and it was very hazy.

After it was obvious that the rest of the fly past was not coming we wished Helen’s uncle farewell and headed home for a light lunch. I spent the rest of the after noon tinkering with Bigshot VR which I have not given up on yet, but which I sill can’t get to the panorama thing. I can get it to display basic Deep Zoom format pictures, but that is about it. I also took some pictures of the wildlife in the garden.

Later on we will be preparing pasta and garlic bread to eat before the football. I’ll spare you the details and end the blog post here.



A productive if wet weekend at home

Vegetable korma 4 portions

Luton Airport Monday 07:50 it must be EZY181 to Belfast, and just because it has become a tradition here is a blog post.

The weekend was a real wash out, but we did manage to get some stuff done round the house.

We went to the pictures on Friday to see Salmon fishing in the Yemen, which was not a cinematic great but an excellent film with a great story line, well worth watching. On the way home we went to Tesco for the ingredients for a Korma curry paste.

On Saturday I was up early and gave the kitchen a quick wipe, then once helen was up I put up two roller blinds, one at top of stairs the other in the back bedroom. Two more windows and we will be 100% blinds.

Then it was off to Wendover for me to get a haircut and Helen some shopping therapy. Luckily for the bank balance there was no queue at the barbers so Helen’s spend time was kept to a minimum. It was still lashing down with rain.

Once home I got out my laptop with the aim of finding a way to present my panorama tours on the web. The method needed to have an HTML5 option as I want it to work on ipads and iphones. I found a project on google code called Bigshot it looked promising. It used the Microsoft deepzoom format, but also came with a wrapper that allowed the directory structure to be stored in a single file with a php script to serve the images out on demand. It was interesting to see such an approach.

Tried as I might I could not get the thing to work, my javascript knowledge is just not good enough, I did however learn a lot about debugging js using chrome and firefox, so the hours were not wasted. In the end I have reverted back to using the utility that comes with ptgui produces a set of images and page with html5 and flash options, it is also gyro scope aware which means you can move around with a device and the panorama moves with you. My plan is to develop a php script to display a panorama directory based on parameters passed to it. As for Bigshot I might have to revisit it someday.

Helen made the most of the day by putting the stuff in the garage that belonged in the dining room back where it belonged, and sorting out a couple of the kitchen draws that have become draws of small stuff we can’t be bothered to put away in the right place. Later in the after noon I made the curry paste, a massive two large Bonne Maman jam jars full. I got the recipe from Jamie Olivers website but used it as a guide. So in summary despite the continuous torrential rain we got quite a lot done.

We watched a film whilst eating home made Pizza, which this time we left to rise rolled out for a more puffed up base, it was called The Ides of March staring George Clooney. We were not very impressed, the story was a bit difficult to follow and I think you needed to have an interest in American politics.

On Sunday we had booked up for dawn chorus walk at Dancersend NR, but the organiser phoned up the Saturday evening and cancelled, the reason was weather and the slight risk of falling branches, but the main thing was that we would not really be able to hear anything with the appalling weather.

Cholesbury church

I dropped Helen and Gladys off at church then continued with the panorama project. The rest of the day was spent at home relaxing, and making tea for a couple of visitors. Abida (arriving with an excellent homemade banana cake)reported that there were trees down all over the place as she tried to get to Tring station but ended up at Berkhamsted.

Later I made a vegetable korma with the paste I made the night before. I used Cauliflower and baby aubergines as a base, and included green beans and peas at the end. It turned out really well which is good because of the amount of paste I now have! I made enough for 4 portions to be frozen.

The great fibre swindle

Listening to the guardian technology podcast yesterday I learnt that BT has a competitve advantage in the fibre broadband market, it comes about because BT only have to £20 per km of fibre where as their competitors have to pay £2,000 per km then £20 per home connected.
This means that BT is going to be in no rush to roll out fibre, because no one else can compete with them. How can this be the case? Well it is complicated in that it is somehow tied up in business rates, and although it seems unfair no politician wants to touch the law because business rates are complex and no one wants to open the can of worms.
You can read more about the issue on the Guardian website here I for one will be writing to my MP urging him to do something about it.

The devils pinch part deux


You may have read my blog post about the devuils pinch? Well it seems you don;t need to do much to get up high in the google ranking. After the post there was an entry in google 8th in the list. SO my theory goes that if I do another post I should go up the list, hence this post.

Google white out!

I hope you have all been using Google’s instant search features. Just to remind yiu you need to be logged in to Google and go to the google page to do your search, searching from the browser search or address bar does not do it. When you search Google presnts the search results as you typen not just the old suggested stuff that appears in the search box but the full results for what you have typed.
Any way it turns out that there are some words that that cause the search results to “white out”. It seems that iif you type a rude or offensive word as you type Google the ajax code somehow is triggered to white the page out. This will open up some interesting stuff.
If it happens you kind of wonder what you have done to cause it. Have you searched for something you shouldn’t or just made a typing error? You can imagine that if you notice someone on google and you see the screen blank, you will wonder what they had done, it is sort of an invasion of privacy.
This also has some implications for some people and companies, as some will fall foul of the trigger words. For example Bitch Magazine, Scunthorpe Council, a Russian name that start Urinea!
Google also get a lot of statistics about how we search and type. The search feature waits for pauses in your typing before presenting in the results, this means they get a real insight into the way you search, do you type the whole lot, or just a word then add more words until you find what you want?
Only time will tell what the trigger word are, how they will deal ith peoples name clashes.