Last night we went down to Verulamium Park to watch bats. That's the big park in St Albans with river, lake, trees, Roman ruins etc. It was also a marvellous opportunity to refresh ourselves with the occasional ale from different pubs along the way, but that's by the by.

At half eight we emerged from the Fighting Cocks (a contender for Britain's oldest pub, though a weak one I think) and sure enough we were surrounded by swooping bats by the edge of the lake, emerging from the trees. It was pretty dark, but you could just about see them silhouetted against the dim sky. There were a fair few of them, and sometimes just passing by your face, apparently oblivious to our presence.

VerulamiumBat

I took my camera, knowing that it was rather optimistic. I set to ISO 1600 (or 3200, or even higher at times) and f2.8 using a 105mm lens and quickly discovered that flash was an absolute necessity, not surprisingly. The on-camera flash (I don't have an external unit) allowed me to keep the shutter speed around 1/200s but still at super-high ISO. However I had to fix the focus manually at a distance about 4 yards ahead and aim extremely approximately with the camera away from my eye. It was quite impossible to see and track anything through the viewfinder, so it really was pot luck firing into the gloom as I saw one pass by. Most shots were of blank, black sky. A few included a small blob, blurry from both motion and incorrect focus. However I did luck out and get one shot that was head and shoulders above the rest. It's clearly a bat, though you can't say much more than that. You should have seen the rejects.

For a while now, classical music has filled the small ground level part of Kentish Town tube station in the evenings. Maybe it’s more than just the evenings but that’s when I tend to notice it.

I imagine this is intended to be calming to the frustrated and weary traveller, perhaps reducing the amount of aggro the staff get. I’ve heard of similar schemes used elsewhere. If nothing else I imagine it keeps the staff amused seeing as they have to stand in that small hall all day. Personally I only wish they’d turn the volume up!

Update (26th Aug 2009): It does now seem to be working and I've successfully ordered my copy. In fact it tried to order me 4 copies, apparently having remembered my previous failed attempts.

I recently bought a new Mac so I qualify to get Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) super-cheap as part of Apple's Up-To-Date program. Unfortunately, the online up-to-date system doesn't seem to be working, for the UK at least. Here's my transcript of live chat with the Apple rep, where they state that indeed it's not working and they know it.

  • You are chatting with Danielle C, an Apple Expert

  • Hi, my name is Danielle C. Welcome to Apple!

  • Hello – I'm struggling to use the Snow Leopard Up to date program.

  • Good evening

  • You are trying to register for it online?

  • I click through, fill in details, it says my computer is qualifying, but then it says "There are no items in your basket"

  • yes – using website

  • I apologize for the inconvenience.

  • I'm clicking through from http://www.apple.com/uk/macosx/uptodate/index.html

  • Unfortunately there is a glitch in the site, you can still order via post or fax in your order form.

  • :-/

  • I've been trying for days.

  • Using different browsers, assuming the problem might be my fault.

  • The site is not working for most people trying to order it unfortunately.

  • You would have to fax or send in your order form.

  • How about putting something up on the page to say so, to save all those people's time?

  • I am very sorry about the inconvenience.

  • How do I email in an order?

  • You cannot email it in, it has to be Fax or Post.

  • I bet a lot of people will stump up the full amount, to get past the inconvenience.

  • Which might be why nobody's fixing it or even putting up a sign saying it's broken. But that's the cynic in me.

  • Do you know when it might be fixed? I'll wait if it's fairly soon.

  • Unfortunately I would not have that information.

  • Do you mind if I post this transcript on my blog?

  • Thanks for waiting. I'll be right with you.

  • Sure.

I happened across a Speckled Wood butterfly on our apple tree, that apparently didn't mind me shoving an iPhone about two inches from its delicate self. It was well into a sunny day so I didn't expect it to be so docile.

SpeckledWoodButterfly

It also made for an interesting test of iPhone macro camera capability. The results in this picture are fair, though it has smeared the subtle feathery detail in the wing quite badly. I suppose that's to be expected from such a tiny sensor, with lots of anti-noise processing to compensate. The biggest difficulty I found was getting it to reliably focus on the point I was interested in, resulting in lots of shots of an in-focus leaf and a blurry butterfly. Theoretically you can tap the screen to indicate the point for focussing and metering, but I didn't find that to work particularly well. Worst of all it doesn't give any obvious positive or negative feedback on whether it thinks it has successfully locked on or not. I'd like it to flash a green square when it's got a good AF lock, and maybe a red disintegrating one if it has failed.

Note that this is a crop from the original. Click for higher res. Another major annoyance of the iPhone's Camera app is that when viewing the photos, it shows a low-res blurry version when zoomed in, leading you to think that the camera is significantly worse than it is, and making is very difficult to check focus. I really can't understand why they'd do this!

I was pleasantly surprised when I went to pay my most recent credit card bill. Not only was it relatively small for a change, but the BarclayCard website has been revamped, with that most unusual of results: a markedly better user experience!

They now show a coloured bar meter indicating your total credit limit (the whole length of the bar) with your last statement and current total outstanding clearly marked as coloured portions of it. It's a really great way to graphically show the balance. They've clearly paid attention to every aspect of user interaction, with the flow being very straightforward and very clearly guided at all times, but not onerous.

Perhaps the very best change is the return of the option to pay off your last statement in full. For the last year or so they had things set up so the options when paying were: minimum amount, whole balance (including new transactions since last statement) or custom amount. To pay off your last statement in full you had to manually read off the amount and type it into the custom field. This was very cheeky of them, clearly trying to steer the punters into taking less advantage of the free credit grace period (by paying more than their last statement amount) or paying less than their last statement amount and so accruing expensive interest. I'm glad to see this cynical move has been reversed.

A good few weeks back now, we visited Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill – a National Trust property near Cambridge. As usual no photos of the house (it's not allowed) so you'll have to take it on trust that it was an enchanting time-warp covering the last several centuries, with a warm, lived-in feeling.

The gardens were large and diverse, with natural woodland, formal gardens, meadows and everything in-between. There was a strong emphasis on nature, with many habitats set up to encourage wildlife. In one corner runs the river smothered in lily pads, to Lode Mill – an interesting building in its own right, but sadly the gear wasn't working when we were there. Moorhen chicks ran across the leafy surface of the river seldom touching the water and Banded Demoiselle damselflies glinted in the sun.

Onto the pictures! First, a rather fun door in the middle of the woods, followed by a Painted Lady butterfly at the edge of the dew pond.

AngleseyAbbey 4

AngleseyAbbey 3

A quick glance of the house itself, with the corner of a formal rose garden, then a nice carved post head – literally.

AngleseyAbbey 5

AngleseyAbbey 2

Finally, the approach to Lode Mill, which I absolutely loved, being a sumptuous watery green pathway.

AngleseyAbbey 1

When is a Dishwasher door not a dishwasher door? When it's a jar.

That's a joke by the way. It's especially a joke if you have a Siemens dishwasher who's door is not designed to be left ajar. You can have it fully open, or fully closed, but it won't rest in any position in-between unless you prop it open, e.g. with a cork or other handy item that you may have to hand, as per my picture below.

Why would I want to prop it open? Because after it's finished, if you open the door for 15 minutes then the residual heat dries the contents just nicely, as long as the steam can escape. If you don't open the door, you can look forward to plates and glasses that still need the attention of a tea towel, even several hours after the machine finishes its cycle. Leaving the door fully open is asking for a kitchen accident of course, so that's not really an option. This door ajar approach is standard practice with any dishwasher, no? Maybe I'm alone in this, but every other dishwasher I've come across neatly sits open a few inches to facilitate my whim, and it's got to be trivially easy to manufacture into the door mechanism. Certainly my posh Siemens dishwasher would look a lot better without the cork.

DishwasherCork

A mobile beer review today! Who says variety is dead?

Here we see pictured the can of Arkell's 3B that quenched my frazzled business brain after a hard day out of the office a month or so ago. This was on a train back from Swindon to London to be precise, and I have to say that the availability of a half decent drop of bitter on the train was a pleasant surprise. Arkell's is actually a Swindon based brewery too, so it's nice to see the big nasty train company keeping the food miles down and offering local producers.

It's got a decent colour to it, and the well rounded maltiness you'd hope to find from that colour. At 4% the weight is just about right for the circumstances. All in all it was very welcome and dare I say even recommended if you find yourself near Swindon on a train, even out of a small plastic cup!

Arkells3B