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The Blog of Life

Before the Off - My Mini Void Moment [@HellointernetFM]

If you've not yet discovered the wonderful podcast Hello Internet, then please let me recommend that to you. I love it. I have (well, had) no idea who CPG Grey or Brady Haran are, but their opposing characters are a source of such insight into the human condition that makes every episode enjoyable. Just two guys talking; well worth a listen. Recently they've brought up the notion of 'the void' - those times when people on a ship late at night feel drawn to jump into it for no good reason. A more everyday scenario they came up with was the posting of a letter. More specifically that moment just as your fingers are about to let go of the envelope into the post box. As it dangles there on the threshold there is that small voice saying 'do it, drop it in' which is countered by a nagging doubt that you've incorrectly addressed the envelope.

My void-esc moment comes when I turn the TV off (technically my Toppy PVR). There is a moment after you hit the button in which the TV remains on for a small period of time as if nothing has happened before the inevitable does happen. It strikes an odd chord with me, as if I feel some sadness that the TV is about to die, its fate is set, but not yet realized.

If I wanted to ponder deeper I'd bring up the documentary "Choosing to Die" that Terry Pratchett made a couple of years ago about Dignitas and assisted dying. That film really struck some part of me, not because I want to die (quite literally the opposite), but for that moment portrayed after the chap took the poison in which the inevitable is inevitable but before that inevitable had happened. Further back there was a Tomorrow World I remember which covered an Australian computer-assisted suicide (recently appears on QI). I can't think of the word to describe it, but both these states have the same flavour - that lingering moment of continuum before the change. Perhaps even the changeing of the seasons can exhibit the same temporal conditions. It's not quite 'the void' as such, but seems to me somehow related.

widescreen CRT with dust pattern. © Nick Bailey
my old wide-screen CRT with exciting dust attraction quality


100 Years (Not Quite). #silence

Silence at 11 am on the 11th of the 11th (or the 11th of the 11th if you are American). Hard to believe that 100 years ago there was still 4 years of war still to play out. Many dead, many not from my nation, many from the "enemy". War should cease, but I fear fighting never will, it seems so much an integral part of life. Sadly we are just exceptionally good at it.


Dodgy Cup Game on the South Bank of the Thames near London Bridge opposite HMS Belfast. #avoid

Back in the summer we were in London visiting a friend for the day. We met at London Bridge for an explore of Borough Market, which turned out to be quite marvelous (in particular the Hampshire cider man at the back). The weather was a little off and on, but pleasant enough to make for a fine day. One thing stood out in our wondering - coming across what is often called "the cup game" on the bank of the Thames. None of us had seen this before and frankly were a little intrigued, so we gathered around one of the two gaggles of tourists to take a closer look. One person lost a couple of tenners and I was shocked that anyone would bet even ten pounds on some silly little game (even if the odds looked good - one in three base chance and sometimes 50:50 after the first reveal) - but I suspect this shows more about my upbringing and tradition in the value I attribute to money*.

Next up this woman started to bet, £10, £20, £40... loosing each time and each time being given the option to double or nothing. We soon realized that she was with her daughter and the daughter was getting twitchy. £80 went down - she literally handed him another £40 - my hands went sweaty. She picked a cup, the guy revealed one of the others - she was down to 50:50, then bang. Lost. At this point her daughter started to drag her away. The guy offered again to double or nothing but thankfully the daughter won this round and dragger her mum away. We walked away, stunned, past a second cup game set.

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
First game with the unlucky mum on the right

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
50:50 - good odds

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
shocked onlooker

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
some tentative interest on the second mat

As we walked we chatted, and as we chatted we realized it must be a scam. We discussed and worked out how the betting must work: the game runner only ever risks the equivalent of the first bet put down, as from then on in the cupist's money all comes from the better except that initial fraction. So even if he makes a mistake at some stage into the game and looses a bet, his loss is negligible. And once a player is in, all their money is invested and the desire to get that back is strong. So all that is needed is a punter. How to get one of those? Stooges. We walked back along the footpath from having a look at The Shard and were surprised to see the guys still there, still playing. Yet this time there was a large crowd formed:

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
a large crowd and some punters playing

But this time we were not only aware of the scam, we were familiar with the players. Look again at the man and woman betting in this game - they're the same people from the first games. This time we noticed how these stooges were playing and loosing small bets of ten or twenty pounds in order to entice real players. Thankfully they were not being successful despite their insistent fakery.

Being me I started to join the crowd and loudly start telling people how the whole show is a scam and that the two playing were fakes. I walked behind the cuppist and proclaimed the nature of this game and how they can not loose. One stooge tried to pretend to loose to show that it is a real game. But then in a flash the little carpet was gone, the cups were stacked and the ball disappeared. One guy collected all the ingredients into his rucksack and everyone dispersed to the wall.

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
what cup game? We're just tourists...

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
discussing their options

Below are some close ups of the people I could tell were involved. If you see these people in London please do not be tempted to give them any money - you will loose. I would suggest that you call the police, but quite frankly I doubt they will do anything. The best you can do is to inform anyone in the area that it is a scam, get your camera out to take evidence and watch as they disappear like smoke.

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
shocked lady not very good at acting a mix of expressions

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
camp smoking man, a bit like a dodgy Mr Bean

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
which cup, guess a cup, fifty fifty, loose it all

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
texting woman, standby stooge

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
who I originally thought was the godfather

Dodgy cup game on London Southbank. © Nick Bailey
the scout and possibly the ring leader

In other news I came across exactly the same game in a park in Budapest recently. Was I walked past yet again there was someone already playing the game and winning as I was invited to play. I immediately told them I new it was fake and got my camera out. As I continued through the park I came across their lookout who frankly scared me and tried to shut me up. When you next see this game make a noise and look out for all the various members of the gang.

* probably a subject for another time.


Doge Review - The New Gmail App for Android

It was all going so well, I was really liking the gmail app. It was functional, usable, almost pretty, I even liked the grey - and that's something I usually complain about, but it made the small coloured labels really stand out and yet still somewhat subtle.

Now there is a mass of colour at the top of the screen which bleaches out my color receptors making the colour that I put there less visible. Those labels now obscure the email content preview for no reason leaving massive white space between emails. That space between the emails is delineated by such a thin pale line as to be almost invisible. All this means there are fewer emails visible on screen at any time.

doge gmail app review. © Nick Bailey
Doge Gmail App Review - make my feeling fresh

Amusingly none of the issues I had with the old design have been addressed. There are no new features other than the round "new email" button. The side menu is still less than useful and the settings are non existent. I thought technology was supposed to adapt to us (or at least enable us to adapt it). Not any more.

Contrast? Anyone? Anyone? Google? Anyone?

I've also reviewed the settings page in a similar manner:

doge gmail app settings review. © Nick Bailey
Doge Gmail App Settings Page Review - such space


The Blog of Photos - past 30 days

Blue Flowers on the Slopes of a Jeju Volcano.

This glorious bright blue flower (some type of daisy or calendula?) was on the Korean island of Jeju, which is a volcanic playgroud. Something like 130 volanoe cones in an island not much bigger than the Isle of Wight. A fabulous place to visit, also for the tasty and cheap satsumas that grow there and the island culture which is quite different from mainland Korea.

. © Nick Bailey
blue daisy on a volcano on Jeju Island in Korea

. © Nick Bailey
at least I think it's some sort of daisy (or perhaps calendar)

. © Nick Bailey
Jeju Island is littered with extinct cones, a geographers playground


Two photos from Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire [@AngleseyAbbeyNT]

Here are just two photos I came across on my photographic ramble recently. Both taken in the National Trust garden at Anglesey Abbey on the outskirts of Cambridge in the village of Lode. Well worth a visit if you're passing though. This dogwood looked resplendent in the glorious winter garden. Visit between Dec and Feb to catch its peak, while at other times of the year the wonder is surprisingly dull (not in a bad way, just comparatively).

Anglesey Abbey dogwood. © Nick Bailey
bright yellow dogwood at Anglesey Abbey

Anglesey Abbey ladybird. © Nick Bailey
ladybird on an Autumnal ramble


Clematis on a Pallet Fence

I found this image recently on my ramble through the archives. It was a clematis that I set loose on the pallet fence back in Kitchener. The last time I stopped by to visit it was still growing so one day I hope it will have become a lovely hedge.

. © Nick Bailey
clematis joy


A Spot of Astrophotography

I saw an advert in the paper this week for tips on astrophotography brought to you by Cannon. So I took my Nikon (ha! take that advertising) out into the evening chill and snapped a few shots of the sky. The darkness wasn't incredible and the haze was building, but it was good enough. Actually what first got me outside was the terrific sound of some military jets flying around. I thought for a moment it was the Avro Vulcan which I once saw fly over Southampton, this had the same gravity, but by the time I was outside the lights were on the horizon. But looking up I noticed the Pleiades glowing attractively in the early darkness so I popped back to get my camera for a few test shots.

Some experimentations this time - high ISO, shooting RAW and Kelvin rated white balance. The high ISO ~1250 was recommended in the advert, but having read some astro photo websites such as Deep Sky Stacker [thanks to @cawhitworth] their conclusion is that high ISO doesn't help more light enter the lens so it a false economy. However, this time I wasn't going to be taking multiple identical shots to superimpose - might try that at the New Moon this weekend. The Kelvin white-balance was a discovery I made in Croatia this September and is a much more sturdy way to get the colours closer to what you see than any of the pre-sets with their +/- offsets. I have found that working around the 6000K level gives the best night-time recreation of the colour. As for shooting RAW - my aging 4-year-old MacBook Air can't really handle such mega files. To be fair it does do rather well, especially since the replacement of the SSD with a higher speed and capacity one shipped from OWC. But I can't afford 0.5 GB per mini shoot of only 20 files.

Wide Field Pleiades. © Nick Bailey
wide view East towards the Pleiades : 18 mm | f5.6 | ISO 140 | 30 sec

Pleiades. © Nick Bailey
Pleiades comparison : 70 mm | f7.1 | ISO 1250 | [L:5 R:2.5] sec

Pleiades. © Nick Bailey
Pleiades comparison : 70 mm | f7.1 | ISO 1250 | [L:10 R:5] sec

Pleiades. © Nick Bailey
Pleiades comparison : 70 mm | f5.6 | ISO [L:1250 R:100] | 30 sec

Pleiades. © Nick Bailey
Pleiades comparison : 29 mm | f7.1 | ISO [L:1250 R:500] | 10 sec

Capella. © Nick Bailey
Capella with shorter exposure and low ISO : 70 mm | f7.1 | ISO 100 | 10 sec

Capella. © Nick Bailey
Capella with longer exposure and high ISO : 70 mm | f5.6 | ISO 1250 | 30 sec


I'm Fine for Ducks

Ducks are one animal I think I have enough photographs of now. I've been browsing back through my photo catalog recently, now that all 14 years of digital photography are on my one MacBook Air, and at various times I've photographed ducks in varying surroundings but not with varying degrees of success. None of the photos of ducks looks anything special. I think I might be fed up of trying to make ducks look interesting in photographs. So I'm done with ducks. Sheep and swans also.

ducks like all other ducks. © Nick Bailey
an example disappointing duck photo


Chesterton Tower Cherry Tree Blossom, Cambridge

Part of my recent photographic exploration I found this set of images from spring a few of years ago. We watched this cherry tree explode into a riot of shocking pink like I've never seen. One evening the light was just right after a Sunday of rain and so I popped out to shoot these. The photograph of the bike leaning against Chesterton Tower is my favorite and very Cambridge.

cherry pink. © Nick Bailey
cherry blossom explosion

cherry pink. © Nick Bailey
shocking hot pink

cherry tree with green. © Nick Bailey
the low light beautifully illuminated the fresh green leaves

cherry tree with background light. © Nick Bailey
background lit blossom

cherry tree, bicycle, Chesterton Tower. © Nick Bailey
a classic Cambridge sight


5-Day Proved Bread, Tastes Like a French Baguette @realbread

This was utter magic. A mix of error, indolence and forgetfulness on my part resulted in a half kneaded dough sitting in the fridge since last Tuesday. I knocked it up after having cooked a rather delicious lasagna (actually, make that two, something deep within me is unable to cook in small amounts). My aim was to make the most of the oven while it was on but it got late and I couldn't be bothered. So it was popped in the fridge over night.

Finally, today, Dr K took it upon herself to sort out my mess. Adding a little more flour and giving it a rise in the warmth, it began to look a little more like a workable dough, if a little loose. A single rise the a prove on the tray before being popped in the oven along with a water tray at ~220 degrees. We sat down to watch Transcendence on the recommendation of the other Dr K and rather enjoyed it. Afterwards we checked on the cooling loaves which had a good squeeze to them. Slicing in with the knife revealed a surprising holey texture surrounded by a tough but stretchy shell. We tasted. A look of shock was apparently visible on my face - we had not only rescued a loaf from the brink of failure, but created something quite special and the closest to our Valhalla - a French baguette - than ever before. Literally delicious with a crunch chewy texture.

't really do recipes.

  • 1 kg flour mixed 7 to 3 white to brown (all strong from Daily Bread and Arjuna)
  • 600ish ml water (slightly warm I recall)
  • <20ish g sea salt
  • >10 g yeast fresh from Arjuna
  • mixed & left, then half kneaded and left in the fridge
  • leave for 5 days
  • add in a bit more flour
  • rise
  • shape and prove
  • bake for ~10 mins at ~220 degrees then lower for longer

real bread. © Nick Bailey

real bread. © Nick Bailey

real bread. © Nick Bailey
glorious bread


6-Day Proved Bread, Tastest like French Baguete

. © Nick Bailey

. © Nick Bailey

. © Nick Bailey
glorious bread


Trees on the Roman Road at Wandlebury, Cambridge

I too the opportunity of a warm sunny evening to explore somewhere that I had been alerted to on Twitter. The prospect of finding actual trees in Cambridgeshire was too strong to resist. Plus in the ludicrous Autumn warmth we're experiencing I would have been silly not to. I was pleasantly surprised by the Roman Road along the back edge of the Wandlebury manor (which itself looked worth a look had the sun not set). I nipped home via Waitrose, so good times all round.

Roman Road Wandlebury Cambridge. © Nick Bailey
tree lined avenue with delicious hints of autumn

Roman Road Wandlebury Cambridge. © Nick Bailey
as you might expect, it's quite a straight path

Roman Road Wandlebury Cambridge. © Nick Bailey
certainly one of the more attractive parts of Cambridgeshire

Wandlebury Cambridge. © Nick Bailey
Wandlebury at sunset


Dahlia, Cosmos and Kale

Until recently this was the lovely display of autumn flower power that came together rather unexpectedly this year. I'm especially pleased with the purple kale which works really well with the purple hues of the dahlias and cosmos. Plus we'll get to eat it all winter in (no so) green smoothies.

dahlia cosmos and kale. © Nick Bailey
autumn display of defiant colour


Forget the Balsamic

This combination is almost divine - light soy and sesame oil. Wrap rice and some raw vegetables (ideally include picked radish) in seaweed leavers and then dip it in this and enjoy. Mouth joy. Note that the sesame oil should be good quality - not the typical rubbish you find in the Amoy range at Sainsburys - just like with olive oil, the oil quality is paramount.

sesame oil and soy. © Nick Bailey
oil and soy - the Asian equivalent of balsamic vinegar and olive oil


A Bright Orange Cosmos

Cosmos. © Nick Bailey
I believe I collected this seed from Hanggang in Seoul last year.


Rev. Ernie Clarke

Today I heard the sad news that our beloved family friend who married me died this morning. He was my minister when I grew up in Cheltenham and I shall always remember him for his Christmas services which included a magic trick which sometimes went drastically wrong. He was a wonderful man and I was so lucky to have him preside over my wedding service.

Rev. Ernest Clarke. © Nick Bailey


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