Biodegradable Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: November 2008

November was an interesting month. I got home from being best man at a wedding, made an exhibition of myself, rushed all round the country, did most of the Christmas shopping, and took lots of photos.

And I still found time to write a 50,000 word novel!


December is just around the corner, and another year draws to a close. I have mixed feelings about winter. The cold and the dark have a melancholic effect on me, making me want to curl up and hibernate until the evenings get longer again - I hate setting off for work and arriving home in the dark, and there are days when I don't see natural sunlight at all; horrible. But I love the sort of weather that winter brings, with falling snow and enveloping mists both offering interesting opportunities for the photography junkie that I am. There's not been more than a scattering of snowflakes here so far this season, but this weekend arrived in a cloak of fog and I was out and about in it as soon as I could manage:


I love the Canon EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM lens I got a couple of weeks ago. The exaggeration of perspective gives such a dynamic feel but without the cliche of the fisheye's circular image. I did a fair bit of photoshopping on the images from yesterday, though. Taking a lot of pictures at F22 and higher showed up exactly how much dirt had accumulated on my camera's sensor. I need to buy a new bottle of cleaning fluid and wipe the thing down. On the other hand, I've taken well over 9,000 shots with it. Maybe next year will be the time when I upgrade to an EOS50D or something similar; I like the sound of automatic sensor cleaning almost as much as I do the idea of 15 megapixel images and an ISO sensitivity jacked up to 12800. I'll spend less time removing those dark spots from my pictures, too.

As the new month starts tomorrow, I'e decided I'll clamber up in the loft and get the Christmas decorations down. With the tree up, and a few more lights in the living room, maybe I can stave off the urge to hibernate for a while longer.


Yes, I've done it - since the first of this month, I've written a novel from scratch. And I managed to hit the 50,000 word mark two days early. It's been hard work, but I feel quite proud of myself. Now I need to get on and do all the housework that hasn't been touched for the last four weeks and tidy the place up a bit!


I don't own a Mini; I never have. However, my brother, mother and aunt all drove original versions back in the days before the company was taken over by BMW. The Mini Mark I was a great little car that was really fun to drive. The new ones are too big, too fat and too heavy and according to folks I know who have to run one, their gas mileage sucks. But, as some photos rattling round the internet show at the moment (thanks, heavyboots), they're also built like tanks.


In an age where the world has been thoroughly surveyed and photographed, there are no longer areas of the map that bear the legend "here be dragons." It's tempting to think that there are no longer any more surprises waiting for us out there, and that to be surprised by the physical world we need to head into outer space. Yet much of the Earth's surface is still physically inaccessible. Away from the coastlines of the continents, human population densities can still drop away to almost nothing. Who knows what creatures might still be sharing space with our more isolated brethren? Turn round and head back to the coasts again, and keep going out into the water. There, the mystery remains.

The claim is often made that we know more about deep space than the deep ocean and even with the discovery of such strange things as black smokers and colossal squid it's one that still sounds plausible. Every now and again, someone is lucky enough to catch a glimpse of something exotic, like the Bigfin squid or magnapinna that was caught on video a year ago by a deep-sea submersible operated by Shell, the oil company. The footage is quite extraordinary, and gives us a glimpse of a life previously undisturbed by any human presence. National Geographic magazine has just published the video and as a result, the web has been asking one question this week: who knew that squids have elbows?


Yes, I've been away again. First stop on my most recent travels was North Wales: she'll no doubt give me flak for posting a picture of her on the blog, but well done to Ruth, who picked up her scholarship award at a ceremony at Bangor University last week. We're very proud of her!

Award!  Award!

It was the first time I've managed to catch up with her since she started life at university, and it seems to be doing her good. Bangor has a nice, small-town feel to it and it's right smack bang in the middle of some of the most wonderful scenery. It was a shame we got there as it went dark, as I could have wandered around taking lots of photographs. I'll have to go back there in the summer when the light and the weather are more favourable.


After Wales I headed over to East Anglia again, and spent a couple of days with my parents. They're both getting rather frail so I spent my time raking up leaves in the garden, putting stuff in the loft and cooking. However, I did get down to the beach at Salthouse. The shingle bank continues to collapse and it's now only possible to get about half a dozen cars in the car park. However I managed to find a spce and went for a brisk walk in the afternoon sunshine on Thursday. It was cold, and the wind was coming from the north; as the sun sets there by about 3:50 in the afternoon I didn't stay too long, but there were plenty of birds about, including a flock of snow buntings (a regular sight there at this time of year) and even a whimbrel.

On Friday I ended up cutting my stay short because of the deteriorating weather - it snowed off and on throughout the day, and in the evening things were getting distinctly unpleasant on the roads so I hit the road before things got any worse. It was amazing how fast things improved once I got a few miles further inland, though. By the time I'd reached Swaffham, the roads were dry and it clearly hadn't even rained there. Talking to Mum and Dad just now it sounds like I made the right decision: North Norfolk has had snow on the ground all weekend.


I was up at four this morning. It was so cold it woke me up, so I went downstairs to put the central heating on. When I looked out of the front window it was trying to snow. Sadly, by the following morning the snow had disappeared, but it's still very wintry out there. By the looks of things, the rest of the country has actually seen some proper winter weather.


Yes, I know - it's been a while since I updated the blog. I've been busy doing all sorts of stuff and I'm still hard at work writing a 50,000 word novel that has to be completed by midnight on the 30th of this month. I'm taking a quick break from writing (and wrapping a pile of Christmas presents) to bring you up to date with what I've been up to.

The best way is to split stuff up into chunks, so read on...


I've bought a Mac. Cheers, Linsey!

I'll tell you what, my Sony TV makes a very nice monitor.


Down in Gosport for another exhibition and conference. It was a long day, particularly as I had to bring pretty much the entire stand back with me in the car!

Stayed overnight last night at the Alverbank Hotel, which by a strange coincidence had Doom Bar on draught in the bar. The place is right down on the south coast, although I didn't really have time to check out the sea air. It's not a bad little place to stay, provided you're not in a hurry; I had to wait 40 minutes for my breakfast...


I was down in Bristol today giving a presentation at an event run by the British Institute of Learning and Development. My talk - it looked at what effects technologies after web 2.0 would have on learning design - seemed to go down well. I enjoyed the day a lot; it's been nice to get out and do this sort of stuff.


This morning Becs and I headed over to the Merry Hill Shopping Centre to make a start on the Christmas shopping. Considering everyone refers to the place as Merry Hell it wasn't as bad as I was expecting and I got most of my present buying done. By half past one I was flagging a bit, and the place was getting busier and busier. With the car boot pretty much full we headed off for a pint at the Coach and Horses Inn in Alvechurch. I tried some Doom Bar, from Sharp's Brewery in Cornwall; a very nice pint indeed. Combined with a ham and onion roll it was just what I needed.

In the evening we went along to a surprise 50th birthday party that was great fun. But I must remember not to drink coffee after teatime, because my heart was racing along all night.


On display

Yes, that's a picture of mine, currently on display in the window of the Theory Cafe at @Bristol.


If ever there was a word that is ugly and overused in the english language, it has to be "ongoing." No matter where I travel in the UK, when the traffic report comes on the radio the word will be used at least once. It sounds so contrived when it's applied to people digging holes in the road, and it sets my teeth on edge when I hear it used in this way. What's wrong with saying that roadworks continue, or that they are still in place?

Meanwhile, work on this month's novel is still in progress. I'm now over a fifth of the way through, and things are beginning to get interesting. I'm still not sure where I'm going to end up, but I feel more positive about finishing things this year.


I recently moved a couple of lights around in the living room, and in doing so I've managed to stop the annoying but intermittent dropouts that I've been experiencing with my router. It looks like a light I bought at Ikea many years ago was upsetting the ADSL connection and after moving it to an outlet on the other side of the room, my broadband connection has been as solid as a rock. It's funny how you don't notice that there's a problem until it goes away - although it's been happening for a while, I only connected the symptoms with the living room lights coming on this afternoon. I shall spend the rest of the evening feeling very pleased with myself.


Channel Four ran a series this week called Dead Set, written by Charlie Brooker. The basic plot was simple: Big Brother with zombies. I didn't watch it, but it sounds like they played a bit too fast and loose with the whole walking dead thing. People were upset, including Simon Pegg - who tells it like it is: "You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can't fly; zombies do not run. It's a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster." Well said!


As you can see from the graphic at the top of the page, it's NaNoWriMo time - National Novel Writing Month - once again. The target is a pretty ambitious one: you have to get fifty thousand words written by midnight on November the 30th. I'm already several thousand words in to this year's novel. I went the distance in 2006 and reached the target before the deadline, but last year I'd abandoned work way before the finish.

It's early days yet, but this year things seem to be going better. I'm hoping I can build on that feeling over the next four weeks. Wish me luck!


The last two years of intensive press coverage, fundraising and posturing comes to an end tomorrow as America goes to the polls. If you've got a vote, please use it: general consensus seems to be that this could be the most important election Americans have conducted for over a century.

It will be very interesting to see how things pan out. I particularly liked Dan Roam's election forecast map. In all seriousness, foreign opinion of the election candidates is somewhat enlightening. For example, Gallup's Foreign Policy site shows what people think based on polls in 70 countries around the world between May and September this year. McCain supporters might not want to look though, as there isn't that much of a departure from Roam's map.

Of course, we all saw what happened in recent elections. It won't be over until the fat lady's hanging chads have been counted.


Many congratulations to Mike and Rosie, who got married on Friday.

Mr and Mrs Stevenson

As you can see the weather stayed fine for the big day. I was honoured to act as their best man, too - Mike and Rosie might have taken everything in their stride but I've been a nervous wreck for most of the last week! In the end, everything went really well: the wedding ceremony was lovely and the two of them had a wonderful day. As for me, I got the groom to the ceremony on time, I didn't lose the rings, and I survived giving my speech. Result! Mike asked me to bring my camera along, too and I ended up taking about two hundred and fifty photos. I'll be collating other photos from the day and putting together a book using Blurb once again - it makes a rather nice memento.

I drove back from Suffolk yesterday. I came cross country and found myself driving through Milton Keynes, where I used to live. I was toying with the idea of stopping, wandering around and taking some pictures of the place, but the weather changed my mind. The day was a stark contrast to Friday: dull, grey and drizzling. As I headed into town I also noticed how much busier the roads in MK were compared to when I lived there. In the end I decided to head straight home and I was back in the house with the kettle on by two o'clock in the afternoon.