Monthly Archives: July, 2009

En Provence

It’s tough here.


Yesterday afternoon in Cambridge I had my headlights and wipers on. It’s amazing what a couple of hours in a plane can do.

My other car’s a jet…

This is great:

(Click to find out what’s going on…)

Many thanks to Ian Yorston for the link.

The joy of vortex

Know what a vortex cannon is? I didn’t, but it sounded interesting when my friend @Phil_Boswell mentioned it on Twitter.

So I did a search and found this on YouTube:

Fun, eh? But…call that a cannon? This is a cannon:


This is nice:

Search Google for ‘recursion’

(and check the ‘Did you mean…’ option)

Thanks to Neil Davidson for the retweet. More info here.

Strange goings-on in the supermarket

Supermarkets are strange places. Sometimes they have bizarre ideas about how to make your life easier. And a couple of years ago I reported on how my local Waitrose had an area entirely free from long-life milk.

But just this last week I discovered a new product trend of which I was not previously aware:

Seasonal toilet rolls

I confess to having used the same kind of toilet roll all year round in the past. Perhaps certain types only grow at certain times of the year, though, and mine were being flown in from Portugal in the winter?

Or perhaps it’s a fashion statement, and visitors have been whispering behind my back that my loo rolls are so last-season…

Science education and critical thinking

I’ve just been watching this great panel discussion with Richard Dawkins, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and Victor Stenger. It’s about the value of critical thinking and the challenges that religions cause for science teaching. It takes a few minutes to warm up but is well worth watching. It’s an hour long.

I hadn’t seen Neil DeGrasse Tyson before – what a great speaker!

Found on

Step in time

Just come across this – very nice demo.

Pugwash RIP

Sad to hear that my cousin, John Ryan, has died aged 88. John was the creator of Captain Pugwash, Mary Mungo & Midge, and other BBC children’s favourites from the 70s.

For a bit of nostalgia for those of a certain age – here’s a clip on one of my previous posts.

And here’s the announcement on the BBC website.

The finger is mightier than the brush

Quentin Stafford-Fraser by Simon FraserMy brother Simon is an artist. Well, he’s a doctor, actually, but the two are not mutually exclusive, and he studied art up to A-level.

A couple of nights ago he and I were playing with the now-famous Brushes app on the iPhone/iTouch. I tried to draw a picture of him, he drew one of me. Suffice it to say that my one of him is not worthy to be reproduced even in this humble journal. His one of me, on the other hand, is really rather good. I am, of course, pictured looking down at my iPhone…

What particularly impresses me about this is that Simon had very limited experience with Brushes beforehand, and hadn’t discovered that you could zoom in and out. So this is done almost entirely at 1:1 scale on an iTouch screen with a blunt finger.

It may not be too flattering, but I really like it. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the first portrait anybody has created of me should have been drawn on an iPod.

Behind bars?

Overheard the other day: “How come your phone gets 5 bars here and mine only gets 3? We’re on the same network!” It made me smile: as far as I know, there is no standard for the number of bars displayed vs. signal strength, even across different phones, let alone across different manufacturers. Perhaps there should be.

iPhone users who want to know a bit more can dial *3001#12345#* on the numeric keypad and press Call, which will bring up Field Test Mode. The bars in the top left will be replaced with a signal strength in dBm – a negative number where the less negative it is, the stronger the signal – and there’s a whole menu of other diagnostic information whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate.

iPhone Field Test mode

Incidentally, there are some discussion threads out there talking about signal strength problems that people have seen after upgrading their iPhone, or after installing the 3.0 software, or if you hold the phone the wrong way… While I’m sure some people do have real problems, I’ve just come from a Nokia E71, which was also an excellent phone, and about which people have exactly the same discussions.

I, for one, am loving my iPhone 3GS…

Pointing the way


Cambridge was a seething, bubbling broth of tourists and language students today – more than I can remember in a long time. They were trying to go in all of these directions. At once. I had to push my bike along a few streets because it was pointless trying to ride it.

Normally I know better than to go into town on a sunny Saturday morning, but I had promised myself a new camera lens. Very pleased with it so far…

On and off


What colour is a light switch?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser