Monthly Archives: December, 2015

Needles in a haystack

I needed some staples.

I went to my stationery cupboard.

I discover that, in the past, I used to get everything from the same bricks and mortar stationery store, so everything in there is labelled ‘Staples’.

Most confusing.

Like the Christmas windows at Harrods

Jessamy Caulkin interviewed David Attenborough for the Telegraph Magazine.

At one point, he talks about scuba diving, which has long a favourite hobby of mine, but Attenborough, of course, explains its appeal much better than I can.

‘People say, “What was the most magical moment in your career as a naturalist?” and I always reply, “The first time I put on a mask and went below the surface and moved in three dimensions with just the flick of a fin, and suddenly saw all these amazing multi-coloured things living in communities right there.”‘

His initiation into scuba diving, he tells me, is indelibly printed on his mind. ‘You suddenly realise you can move in any direction. You’re not harnessed by gravity any more. You’re free. It’s bliss. An extraordinary experience, like going into space. There’s no equivalent anywhere else in the natural world of such splendour: all of these things moving through an architecture of coral.’ ‘You never know what you’re going to see when you turn the corner – it’s far more obviously exciting and visually thrilling than, say, the tropical rainforest, which is the nearest biological parallel. In the rainforest they’re all hiding, so you have to be quite a good naturalist to really see what splendours are there. But on the reef they’re all on display. It’s like the Christmas windows at Harrods.’

Some years ago, by a happy coincidence of flight timings, I spent my 40th birthday on the Barrier Reef. I didn’t have quite the same photographic capabilities with me as Sir David, alas!

Star Wars as a Ken Burns documentary

A very nice short video from the Washington Post.


(Scroll down linked page for video)

A new day dawning


Grantchester Meadows this morning

Time travel

My friend Mike Flynn has been working for some years on very fast routing algorithms — routing as in maps, that is — and his primary demonstration of this is TimeToAnywhere – a system which can work out how long it takes to drive from one location to everywhere else on the map.

So you can say, for example, “There’s been an accident here. Which ambulances could reach it in less than 15 mins?” Or, “I work in Dry Drayton. Where could I live, and still have less than a half-hour commute?”


Each coloured boundary represents 10 minutes’ driving.

This is pretty, but those of you with a computing background may also realise that, using most of the standard algorithms, this is also a very time-consuming problem when you try do it across this number of points. Mike, however, measures the time taken by his system in microseconds.

He’s recently set up a demo server which, if it doesn’t get too swamped, is fun to play with to get a feel for the speed! You can find it at, and if you want to know how to get the most out of it, watch Mike’s short video.

End o’ the Defender


An early Land Rover in Singapore

Jaguar Land Rover have announced that production of the Defender, first produced in 1948, will be ceasing next year. This is not surprising and makes perfect sense. What Car? magazine are quoted in this Guardian article:

“Off-road, very little can touch it. On-road, there’s very little to recommend it.”

Still, after nearly 60 years, it’s hard not to think of it as the sad demise of a classic British icon.

I have a soft spot for them, even though I’ve very seldom been in one in the last few decades, and I’ve never owned one, despite trying to think of a good excuse! At the time I was born, though, my parents were working in northern Kenya, and I apparently spent much of my time, both before and after my birth, riding around in one, so perhaps I have early imprinted memories. They certainly tend to feature in lots of family photographs.

Land Rover estimate that about two-thirds of all the Land Rover Defenders ever built are still in operation.

The people who walked in darkness


I seem to be doing a lot of this at present. This was sunset over Fenstanton as I was setting out for the Sunday afternoon dog-walk. These days I regularly find myself in a pitch-black wood looking for a pitch-black dog, but it’s usually a wood I know well. This, on the other hand, became a longish walk in a pitch-black wood that I’d never visited before.

Seemed quite nice, though. Must go back in daylight sometime and see what it actually looks like.

Giving in to peer pressure?

Today I was composing a tweet. I hit the 140-character limit and started that editing process with which we’ve all become familiar. You know, where you gradually omit and abbreviate words, one by one, while still hoping to convey the spirit of the original meaning…

And then I thought, “Why bother?”, and just posted to Facebook instead.

I never thought it would come to this. I really dislike so much about Facebook. But it’s a place for discussion, where Twitter, though it occasionally carries occasional useful bits of news, is more a place for sporadic broadcasts and emotional outbursts.

I’ve been tweeting for nearly 8 years, but overall it seems less and less useful to me, and I wonder if I’ll still bother by the end of 2016. We’ll see…

We’ve just passed the outer marker

One of the good things about being in December is that we’ve now broken through the Mince Pie Horizon. I’m sure you know about this: supermarkets start stocking mince pies… well… sometime in the spring, I think… but you know you aren’t really allowed them yet. They’re just there to tempt you, until that special time – and every man must go on a spirit quest to discover this time for himself – when you’re close enough to Christmas to enjoy them with a clear conscience but not so close that you don’t have time to try out several different varieties and work out who’s making the best ones this year.

Then there’s a time when you pass the inner mince pie marker, which orbits at a distance of about two weeks from Christmas. Once within its sphere, you are allowed to warm them in the microwave and add brandy butter. That’s somewhere I will boldly go very soon.

When you think about this, though, I’m sure you’ll agree that mince pies hold an important symbolic meaning. I think there’s a kind of John the Baptist thing going on here. A voice calling in the early December wilderness….

There was a pudding, sent from Waitrose, whose name was Mince Pie. It was not the Christmas Pudding, but it came to bear witness to the Christmas Pudding. This is the true Pudding, which gives sustenance to every man who cometh into the world….

The next step?

If I had the money (which I don’t), don’t you think I should get one of these as my next bit of electrically-powered transport?


More info, including videos, here. I think a boathouse on the shores of Lake Como, with solar panels on the roof, don’t you?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser