Saturday, January 31, 2009

Monte Pindo redux

This week has just been a little too busy for my liking, though with a visit from a researcher from Madrid who is working in a very similar area, it has been pretty productive too. I've only made it to the library at night a couple of times and next week I head off to a meeting in Gijon, so my schedule is going to have to be on hold until I return, at which point I hope that the pile of papers waiting to be read won't have multiplied too many times.

Anyway, I just got an e-mail from a Couchsurfing friend to say that the video he made on the day that a dozen of us went for a walk up Monte Pindo, on the stunning Galician coastline, has just been uploaded to youtube. The video captures beautifully the serenity of the scenes (though it misses our frantic scramble down in the dark!) - it also has a rather tranquil scene of me in photography mode creating this panorama (although I may simply be the greatest blot on the landscape in my movie history). Anyway, with many thanks to Voyta for these great memories of a day when we managed to get away from it all!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy New Year!

New Year in China is a surreal experience. I look forward to the next time I can be there for this amazing event. In the mean time, thanks to Meiadeleite, I found this video which is the only one I've seen which comes close to showing what a large Chinese city is like at New Year. It really is the closest thing that most people will see to a war zone. The first year I was in Beijing was the first time people had been allowed fireworks in some 13 years, the display lastest almost non-stop for two weeks and the pollution levels went through the roof. You had to be careful walking anywhere you went because people stand in the middle of the street and let them off left, right and centre. Anyway, Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Through my window...

...looking at a rainy Sunday afternoon.

bubbles drops and bokeh

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday loose ends

Santiago is still standing after the storm yesterday which caused a couple of blackouts through the night (link from here).

I fear that this means that my code which was running overnight will not have been saved, so I'll have to go back and restart that some time this weekend.

In the meantime I've been trying out a new piece of software: Mnemosyne, which is similar to the interval learning software, Genius, which I wrote about some time back. The benefit of Mnemosyne is mostly that there are plenty of ready made word lists in Spanish and Chinese (amongst many other languages). The interface takes a little more time to get comfortable with, mostly due to its simplicity, but it seems like another good system for interval learning. (NB. See also Kevin's page with some great links to more Chinese files for Genius)

This morning I also found a series of lectures at the Perimeter Institute (as I followed a link from Bee's blog) which look excellent. In particular, this course from Alex Buchel which is an ongoing course on String theory promises to be a valuable resource for those starting off in this subject without any other directed learning. Also check out the extensive course on Quantum field theory.

(Random, no context link to a multigigapixel panorama from the Online Photographer. I shan't be processing anything like this any time soon!)

Anyway, another busy weekend beckons including the promise of plenty of good Chinese and Korean food tonight with a Korean birthday to go to. Kimchi supplied by yours truly.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Record low pressure is predicted, the rain is building and the wind is whistling. Schools are closed and classes canceled in the university today (though we're all still here, listening to any word from the Galician weather services working down the corridor). It could turn out to be nothing but the promised storm may be a biggie. I'll keep you up to date.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the shoulders of...

I have a little while before I head off through the currently lashing rain to do my now routine few hours in the library, which I'm currently thoroughly enjoying, and certainly getting a decent amount done in the wee hours of the morning.

I wanted to post a quotation, which made me chuckle, which I came across last weekend while reading Steven Pinker's book 'The stuff of thought' (authors@Google talk on this book),  a study on how we can learn a great deal about the way we think through the way we speak and pick up language. I've never been disappointed by a Pinker book yet, and generally close the last page with a thoroughly altered perception of the world from that which I started with.

In a chapter focusing on the inateness of language, Pinker choses to discuss the extreme possibilites, starting with the ideas of Jerry Fodor, who believes that we are born with around 50,000 concepts which are pinned with their corresponding vocabulary when we come across the words which fit the concept. Though Pinker clearly has some fondness for Jerry, he does dress him up as the joker and discusses the straw man concept specifically to build him up and knock him down. Pinker clearly isn't alone in his dismissal of Jerry's ideas. The quotation below, more humorous than insightful into the world of neurolinguistics, comes from Dan Dennet (see here for a great TED talk on dangerous memes), whose writing I enjoy very much:

Most philosophers are like old beds: you jump on them and sink deep into qualifications, revisions, addenda. But Fodor is like a trampoline: you jump on him and he springs back, presenting claims twice as trenchant and outrageous. If some of us can see further, it's from jumping on Jerry.

Incidentally, the argument and mockery is not unidirectional, with Fodor arguing against Dennet's very machinery of philosophy - see Fodor's wikipedia article for details.

On a similar note, after being rather disappointed with Maryanne Wolfe's first couple of chapters of Proust and the Squid: The story and science of the reading brain I was extremely pleased that it picked up considerably and though there were occasionally too many unnecessary details on the neurophysiology behind her ideas, the sections on dyslexia, especially with respect to the condition in different languages, was fascinating.

Anyway, about time for me to brave the weather, plenty of papers to read through tonight...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's been a strange old day...

Nothing of any particular note, just one of those strangely shaped days which you don't quite know where to place.

I woke this morning with a sore throat, feeling generally shivery after entertaining for 12 last night (seven from Korean, one from China, whose birthday we were celebrating in my flat, one Austrian, a German/Macedonian a Gallego and myself). The wind and rain this morning where rattling my windows and the thought of going to work in such conditions rather filled me with dread...I pulled the covers up and hoped that either the Galician weather or my throbbing throat would disappear quickly...neither of which happened before 6. I spent the day watching some video lectures and catching up with admin, certainly nothing terribly noteworthy, on this, the most depressing day of the year.

Anyway, by 7 I was feeling sufficiently fed up of being unproductive that I headed into the department and printed off some papers before heading into the library around 10. I'd never been to the main campus library and it was a rather nice surprise. I met with a friend who is revising for some Spanish exams and finds, as I do, that her concentration is honed at night when there are few distractions. We headed down to the basement level, packed with students cramming for their exams and sat at one of the banks of well lit tables next to the Japanese-styled indoor garden with a small stream running through it and paving surrounded by lush vegetation. Reminiscing of my productive days in Kyoto I can think of nothing better than this setting, away from the distraction of the world above yet in an idyllic setting with the bonus of being surrounded by books!

Anyway, it was a very useful few hours and coming home at 2 this morning I've certainly got a lot more done tonight that in the same amount of time for quite a while. I fear that my hours may just have to shift to take advantage of this tranquility, but I'll definitely give it a go. A few hours in the office in the day, a break in the afternoon and a few hours at night with nothing but pencil and paper and the sounds of a gently flowing stream to accompany me sounds like something I could make a habit of.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Running away from us

I thought this was a particularly startling look at how fast we are accelerating technologically. A big lesson we can learn from the past is that we have virtually no idea what the future will look like!


I need another week between now and the weekend to get half the things done that I was hoping. Still, it's been reasonably productive so far. Tomorrow we'll hopefully finish off a review and then I have to get back to the four hottest projects on the fire.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Full moon over Santiago (largest full moon of 2009)

I set my alarm this morning for 5.30am, because only at this time can I view the moon at perigee from the comfort of my living room, with the tripod set up, and without freezing to death while setting up the shot (the window stays open for only a little longer than the 1/800th of a second it took to get this shot). Of course you get less contrast in a full moon than a crescent moon, but it's still a lot of fun to play around with the new zoom. I still yearn for liveview!

full moon
Click for larger.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Linky goodness catch up

It's really good to settle back down to a normal routine here in Santiago, however busy that may be. I was greeted with friendly smiles in the cafe that I hang out at every weekend and it's always a good chance to get on with some random bits and pieces of research/Spanish/Chinese and other miscellania. Work picked up straight away and it's going to be a hectic few months. My first trip will hopefully be to a workshop in Gijon where I'll be presenting a talk on transport coefficients in holography, as in Madrid last month.

As a random Saturday sample I thought I'd catch up with a few of the links that I've clicked on over the last few weeks in my feedreader. I'm simply going to post them in rough date order, so have a browse through and see what you find interesting.

Sir Ken Robinson's new book, The Element. If his TED talk (School kills creativity) is anything to go by, this should be a fascinating and very well written look into finding one's passion in life, including case studies of artists, physicists and movie stars.

Scott Aaranson points to Freeman Dyson's article discussing P versus NP. This article doesn't go into the complications and details of this famous theorem, but it's a good starting place to start rummaging through Scott's many excellent posts on computer science and mathematics. In particular, I thought that the following sentence stood out as an important point to take from one of the most slippery concepts in mathematics:

P versus NP is the example par excellence of a mathematical mystery that human beings lacked the language even to express until very recently in our history.
Martin at Khymos discusses a recent culinary trip and a miscellany of interesting points from molecular gastronomy. I link to this in part because it includes a note on Peter Barham, who taught me thermodynamics at Bristol University and happens to hold the world record for the shortest time to make ice cream (demonstrated in a memorable class with his world-famous liquid nitrogen technique).

On the gastronomy front I'm planning on making a trip down to Extremadura one weekend to go and sample the morally acceptable fois gras, as discussed in this TED talk by Dan Barber.

Following the discussion by Phil Plait's (who is in the popular running for the next NASA administrator) some time ago that we may be in the sights of a potential gamma ray burster in our back yard, it seems that we should be in the all-clear given some new results on the orientation of the binary system, from Universe Today.

Blake Stacey has a sci-fi novel out which looks like a lot of fun, and includes String Theory in it's keywords! If his fictional writing is as good a read as his blogging then this should be a lot of fun. I'll be sure to pick up on any AdS/CFT anomalies however ;-)  (Until Earthset)

Dimitry at NEQNET points to a set of lectures by Leonard Susskind on quantum entanglement which I've started watching and are rather good. With 15 hours of online lectures, that's going to need another day in the week for now though. NEQNET has a lot of thought provoking posts, including a recent couple on AdS/QCD from guest-blogger Josh Erlich.

If you haven't already read The man who loved only numbers, I would highly recommend it as a look into the mind of one of mathematics' most prodigous and intriguing characters, Paul Erdos. All of his papers are now available online (from God Plays Dice).

Again from Universe Today, not content with simply finding extrasolar planets, astronomers are now looking for moons around extrasolar planets (exomoons). One of the reasons for looking at this is that we may be able to find Earth-like moons circling larger planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars. It seems that the techniques works by looking for the wobble in the wobble of the star.

A meeting of skeptical minds par excellence, Dawkins interviews Derren Brown on the art of stage psychics.

Going back some considerable time now, Boingboing links to Malcolm Gladwell's article detailing the importance and difficulties in finding good teachers. Seems obvious, but as always Gladwell makes you realise how much more there is to such a situation. Gladwell added some of his additional thoughts on his blog.

Toomanytribbles continues a fine stream of interesting links on atheism, skepticism, photography, fun and wonder, interposed with wonderful photos. One of my recent favourites from her photostream.

Atoptics continues to provide excellent information on atmospheric phenomena and was the main source for my colloquium on the subject back in December. The recent Wendelstein halo was a stunner.

That'll do for now as a gentle brush at the surface of webby goodness.

On a side note and to make up for the time spent catching up on the above links, I've found a solution for my inability to stay away from e-mail for more than a few minutes. It may seem a bit much, but I know this is a problem that I'm not alone in having and this technique works for me. If you're suffering from the same modern addiction, try setting an alarm clock on your computer to go off at designated times (mine goes off five times a day), and only then check your e-mail. It's sad, but I personally need this self-imposed constraint and the time I save is worth the humiliation of admitting to such a foible. Personally I use this one, but whatever works for you

Anyway, now to catch up on some papers from last week.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Back to Spain

Update: Safely back in Santiago after a very long night with an hour sleep split between the coach, the airport departure lounge and the airplane seat. Not in a fit state for clear thought right now but will have a good night's sleep tonight and hopefully get back into the swing of things tomorrow.


Tonight I'll be making my way back home to Santiago. The journey is a long and tedious one as I have to get to a rather awkwardly placed airport for an 8am flight. I'll be leaving home at 12.30 tonight for a 1am bus which will get me to the airport at 4, where I'll hang around until the two hour flight back home at 8. The journey door to door is roughly the same as door to door Oxford to Beijing, but I am looking forward to settling back into 'normality'.

Getting back to Santiago I have a couple of big projects to get on with, including arranging a long program for 2010 and three papers which are, as normal, in the pipeline.

For now I'll get on with packing up for the journey tonight and will get back to you when I'm settled back into Santiago.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Moon over Oxford

I still have a long way to go with getting a feel for the new lens, but the moon was looking too good to miss last night. A slight mist meant that the focus isn't perfect, but it's come out quite well (thanks to Toomanytribbles for the idea to turn off image stabilisation when using a tripod). I applied a little tone mapping to bring out the areas which were very bright so that there was a little more texture and I'll be keeping an eye out for the full moon in a few days. I'll keep you posted.

The moon from Oxford
I had a look last night but was rather too early to see the quadrantid meteor shower. Did anyone else see them early this morning?

Notice by the way that Neptune is close to Venus at the moment and at magnitude 7.9 it's spottable with a pair of binoculars or a camera. I'll see if I can get a shot of it in the next few days. Mercury should also be visible with the naked eye just after sunset.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My guide to (mostly) SLR photography

Part 1/n (where n may be 1): Exposure

I've been wanting to write something like this for a long time. I've had the opportunity to share what I've learnt about the technicalities of SLR photography with a fair few interested people over the last six months or so, and while they seem to leave fairly happy, I know from experience that it takes a while to become confident about whether the bigger numbers mean more light, or less light, or deeper or shallower depth of focus etc, and what's really most effective for each situation. So I thought I'd try and write up a little guide that I can point people to when they're unsure. The answer is that it's very easy, but it does take a while to become somewhat natural.

Note that I still have a long way to improve, but on the technical side I think that I at least understand what's going on, even if I can't always put it into effect as I might like every time. This is also not solely for people with SLRs although some things may sway more towards digital than film, simply because that's what I'm used to. Many point and shoots these days allow good control over the variables that I will be describing here.

This guide is also to be used in addition to the manual of your camera. The controls used in order to change the variables I will talk about here will vary from camera to camera and you'll need to look this up yourself if you don't know already. This should be pretty easy! 

The Variables

Essentially in what I'm going to talk about there are three variables to play with. These are: Shutter speed, aperture and ISO, or film sensitivity. Changing these variables will alter in turn, how much motion is stopped or blurred, how deep your depth of field is, and how grainy your photography is (note that all of these can be good or bad, depending on what you're aiming for). In addition they will also affect the amount of light hitting your sensor. The game is to get the correct depth of focus and motion stop or blur, while tuning the variables to get the right exposure. It's a science which is relatively simple, but when you're out there with only a moment to get the shot, it turns into an art.

I won't talk too much about the controls on the camera, which will vary from make to make but there are some things which are relatively general. Many cameras have not only a manual setting, which allows you to change all of these three variables independently, but also an AV and a TV setting which allow you to vary the aperture and the timing respectively, letting the camera work out the optimum conjugate variable. I would advise starting with the AV and TV settings simply because it gives you less to think about and allows you good control in many situations. I'll talk about this more at the end. However, first I'll explain ISO, because this is relatively simple and is needed for all non-automatic settings. You can generally control the ISO whether you're in manual, AV or TV.

ISO in a nutshell

The ISO dictates how much light needs to fall on a given patch of the sensor for it to record a signal. The lower the ISO the less sensitive. However, in order to increase the sensitivity of the sensor (by using higher ISO), it means that the area for each 'grain' of the photo is larger, so that less light needs to be falling on the whole sensor for a given grain to trigger. What this means is that if you want a clearer image, with less grains, then ideally you want a low ISO, and if you want a grainy image you want a high ISO. However, sometimes you have to go to high ISO even if you would really prefer a less grainy image. The reason is that because of the other settings you have chosen, not much light is getting onto the sensor.


  • Low ISO = lower light sensitivity (often good for bright conditions), and less grainy pictures.
  • High ISO = higher light sensitivity (often needed in dark settings), and more grainy pictures.
I took the following photo at ISO 1600, which will always give you graininess (though I've reduced that a little with noise reduction software). I would never usually use such a large ISO unless the lighting was very low and I couldn't put the camera on a tripod. From the plane that I was sitting in, this was not an option. Noctilucent clouds over Mongolia:
Noctilucent clouds
This was taken with a low ISO, as the subject was bright - I didn't need a sensitive sensor algorithm to get a correct exposure as there was already lots of light falling on it. There is less grain in this photo. Cloud shadows over Seoul:
cloud shadow

So, having understand that we have control over the sensitivity through the ISO control we move on to aperture and shutter speed. Each of these alters the amount of light hitting the sensor but also alters the picture in other ways. We'll deal with aperture first:


The aperture dictates how wide the diaphragm of the lens is. The smaller the aperture, the less light is getting to the sensor and the larger the aperture, the more light gets in. The other, important effect of aperture is that it changes the depth of field of your photo. A larger aperture will give you a shallow depth of field, whereas a smaller aperture will give you a deep depth of field. Depth of field really means how much of your picture is in focus. In fact it's only possible to get a single distance in perfect focus (without very fancy optics) but how quickly the other distances become more blurred (the falloff in focus) is known as the depth of field. It might initially seem like it would be best to get everything in focus, but in fact for many opportunities this is not the case. Portraits are the perfect example of occasions where you really want only a certain area of the picture in focus.

Here is an example of a photo I took in Lijiang. This was taken with a lens with a large maximum aperture (I'll come onto the numbers soon):
You can see that the blurring of the background gives a good contrast and makes the face stand out much more than if you had been distracted by the areas of the picture which are not important for this subject. Of course with this large aperture you are also letting in more light and so can afford to use a low ISO (you don't need a large sensitivity if you're letting in a lot of light already).

In contrast, this photo is taken with a very very small aperture, meaning that there is a huge distance in relatively good focus:
art museum black and white

However, because there was so little light getting through the very small aperture and because I didn't want a grainy image, I had to take a longer exposure to let enough light onto the sensor to give a well exposed image. I rested it on the floor to stabilise the camera. I'll come onto the shutter speed in the next section.

The measure of aperture is f-stop, and there is a great deal to understand about how much you will change the light entering the camera when you change the f-stop by a certain amount, and how you need to change the ISO or the timing to counter this, but I would recommend not worrying about this too much at first, but simply playing around. What is important to know is that a large aperture is given by a small f-stop. The man in Lijiang above was taken at f/1.4, whereas the reflection in the museum was taken at f/29. For a normal landscape I would usually use something like an f/9 or thereabouts, all things being equal, but it depends on the lighting conditions and how much I want in the good focus. In fact the crispness of an image will also be affected by the f-stop because each lens really has an ideal aperture for the sharpest image possible.

  • Large aperture = small f-stop (f/n where n is small) gives you a shallow depth of field but lets in more light
  • Small aperture = large f-stop (f/n where n is large) gives you a deeper depth of field and lets in less light
And the third variable you have control over is.

Shutter Speed

This is pretty clear. The slower the shutter speed the more light you will have hitting your sensor, and the more motion you can capture. Depending on whether you want to freeze a moment or capture the blur of motion you will want to alter the shutter speed to a slower or faster setting.

The following is a ten second exposure of the sea in Corsica. The long exposure gives a silky look to the water:
beach at dusk
However, in order not to let in too much light it was important that I had a low sensitivity (low ISO) and a narrow aperture.

This lucky shot was taken at 1/400th of a second (actually I took it over my shoulder as the pigeon flew past):
pigeon capture

Stable images:

One thing to watch out for is that even with image stabilisation (and depending on the magnification of your zoom) you are unlikely to be able to hand hold a shot for more than about 0.2-0.3 seconds without it being shakey. Any more than this and you will need a tripod or something to balance the camera on. At large zoom, the time you can hand-hold will drop significantly. For 300mm even a 1/100th second shot will come out blurred if I'm not very very careful.

In many situations a tripod is essential for getting the shot. This ten second shot of the first bridge over the Yangtze river in Wuhan for instance. This was taken at ISO 400 which means that there's a bit of graininess. If I had lowered the ISO however I would have needed to increase the time of the shot and because my tripod isn't great, you would probably have been able to see the wobble. It's a compromise.
The first bridge over the Yangtzi, Wuhan

The balancing act

The art then is to be able to get the three variables right so that you have:
  • The depth of focus that you want (do you want all the picture or just a little in focus)
  • The timing you want (do you want to stop the motion, or capture the blur)
  • With the correct exposure (you usually want to be able to get the lighting which picks out the detail that you want without saturating anything).
The correct exposure itself is subjective and it's often the case that when one thing is correctly lit, something else in the frame will be too dark or too light - this is where HDR comes into its own but I'm not going to go there now.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the settings Manual, AV and TV. Manual means that you control both the aperture and the timing. You have full control over the exposure. Generally in your viewfinder you will have a marker which tells you whether your image will be correctly exposed. The light meter is looking at the image and telling you whether, in a certain area of the frame, there is too much or too little light.

In AV and TV you set the aperture and timing respectively. Use these when all that is important to you is to get either the correct depth of focus or the correct speed of shot respectively and you are not worried about the other variable. You can generally tell the camera how you would like the photo exposed and it will calculate for you the correct value for the conjugate variable to get the desired exposure.

Anyway, anyone who has played around with their settings for a while will probably know all the above and more, but I've met many people who have lovely DSLR cameras and haven't had a chance to work out how to control the settings for the best shots in each situation. I hope that this will be a useful guide and will show you that there's nothing scary with the controls which you have at your fingertips.

If you've read this I would appreciate the following:
  1. If there was something which was particularly unclear then please tell me and I'll do my best to elucidate.
  2. If it wasn't useful at all, then don't be afraid to tell me (unless it just wasn't useful because you already knew it).
  3. If I've made any mistakes then do pipe up.
  4. If you've read through it and it has been useful then please give a link to any photos that you've been particularly pleased with.
  5. If you have any extra bits that you'd like me to explain then tell me and I'll do my best.
  6. Have fun with your cameras!

Christmas, New Year and a look back

I'm back in Oxford, sitting in the Summertown Wine Bar with glorious sunshine pouring in through the windows in the roof. It's freezing out but a lovely, crisp day nonetheless.

I have just a couple of days left in England before heading back to Spain. It's been great seeing friends and family, but I'm also looking forward to getting back home and getting back into work which I've been itching to do ever since I realised that a vital file which I thought I'd bought with me was safely and uniquely stored on my computer in the office. Still, I've been able to scribble a few calculations down in the meantime and have plenty to get on with as soon as I touch down.

So, I thought I'd update the last couple of weeks with some photos.

Just after Christmas three of my Korean friends from Santiago turned up in Oxford and so I took them round the city, to see some of the views and the colleges. They were rather disappointed not to bump into Harry Potter in Christchurch but I think that in all they were rather impressed with my hometown. I took them to the top of St Marys on the High Street which offers one of the best views over the city. The sun was low and cast a rather beautiful light over the stone buildings surrounding us, including the Radcliffe Camera:

Radcliffe Camera
and the High Street and hills in the distance:
View over Oxford2.jpg
After a home-cooked Indian meal I saw them back on the bus to London and I had some time to spend with my uncle and aunt and cousins, catching up after many months without seeing them. I have to bite my tongue not to comment how much my cousins have grown (I didn't appreciate it much when I was in their shoes).

Anyway, with skateboards, juggling equipment and puppets in tow we made our way around various parks around Oxford, including a trip to Blenheim Palace which was great to walk around, having not been there for perhaps 15 years:
After saying goodbye I headed off to London to meet up with friends, staying in Mortlake, and Dulwich.

Sitting in a traditional London pub with an open fire and warming up over good conversation and good drink was truly a lovely way to wind down after the normal Christmas chaos. It's great to see friends all doing extremely well in their various endeavors.

On the 30th I made my way into central London to walk along the South Bank to the Tate Modern to see what was showing and get a view over the city (great view of St Pauls from the top floor). The city was bustling with shoppers looking for a bargain and the museums were similarly heaving with tourists. The crowds offered a great chance to try out the new lens which I'd picked up for a ridiculously cheap price on ebay just before leaving.

It seems that Parcour is the new Skateboarding, as this time there were more people jumping from bollard to bollard than there were falling off planks of wood:
With a 70-300mm lens I could get shots like this from a distance without feeling intrusive. Similarly from afar I could catch the tourists pouring over Westminster bridge:
Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament
Getting to the Tate Modern I wasn't in a Rothko mood and although I like his work, the idea of seeing it with a room packed from wall to wall with other people somehow detracts from the calmness, so I forwent that for the Cildo Meireles exhibit which I enjoyed a great deal. Rather fun was the room filled with hanging tape measures, with clocks covering the walls. Interestingly the room as a reference frame was never mentioned:
Reference Frame
New Year's Eve was spent with friends in and around Farringdon, at a bar which had been hired out for the evening. Nothing huge, but a great chance to talk with people I haven't spent enough time with over the last few years. We headed back at three, feeling that that was pretty respectable though remembering the days we would have kept going through to the next day with no problem at all.

With a chill in the air on New Year's day we went to Richmond park, London's largest park with its local population of deer and parakeets. The park was full of families enjoying the crisp winter's day, people running off their hangovers and amateur photographers seeing what the first day of the New Year had to offer. I was lucky enough to spot my first Kingfisher, sitting by the stream and diving into the water to catch fish. Sadly I never managed a shot as it dove in, but did get a few perching shots.
I still have to get used to this lens, as it's clear that on an overcast day I do need a tripod for a steady shot at 300mm. The parakeets were also out, flashing their colours and squawking away incesantly:
Parakeets in Richmond
After the walk I made my way back to Oxford where I've continued to gorge on Christmas food and spent lot of the rest of my time in cafes finishing as many Christmas books as possible. Proust and the Squid on the go now, which I'll talk about later, I hope.

Dreaming in Code was a fun, if somewhat quixotic look at the world of software design. The author spent several years following a company in Silicon Valley which was trying to design and build a large piece of software. It's simply the tale of how difficult it is to coordinate a large team of people to write good code and the frustrations which go along with it are clearly immense. In fact I was attracted to the book by the title, a state that I've got myself into on many enjoyable occasions where a problem won't leave you, even when you're asleep. These tend to be the occasions where I have the most breakthroughs in a problem and it can make you feel hugely focused, if exhausted!

Anyway, I'm going to leave it at that for the moment, but I wish you all a very happy New Year!