Allow me to wax philosphical for a moment with an observation about where computers and their operating systems are heading.

In the world of software development CQRS = Command Query Responsibility Segregation, which in its simplest sense recognises that it's sometimes better to use a different mechanism for reading data than it is for writing it. See Martin Fowler's exposition of the concept if you want to know more, but this post isn't actually about software development at all!

I reckon that we're at a critical juncture in the evolution of personal computing devices and that the CQRS principle is necessarily coming to the fore to save the human race.

Tablet computers are taking the world by storm, in case you hadn't noticed. Apple could barely make enough iPad Minis for me to be able to get my wife one for Xmas, though I did manage it at the very last minute, and shortly thereafter bagged one for myself too. Frankly it's bloody brilliant, but I use it predominantly for consuming rather than creating and I'm far from alone. This is partly because the human populace is inexorably dumbing down towards being fat blobs with brains wired directly into the 'net, consuming inane banter, amusing picture of cats and the latest celebrity news, 140 characters at a time. But that aside, it's just not very pleasant to write large quantities of text, manipulate images or perform other expansive creative works by prodding a tiny screen. Or even a big screen.

To write software, construct lengthy blog posts (ahem), edit movies, sequence the human genome or design great buildings requires a proper computer! On that basis I posit that there will always be a place for desktops and laptops, or indeed whatever replaces them but which necessarily has a non-trivial input mechanism. I genuinely worry that the market for serious computers will be increasingly neglected by the manufacturers, refocussing as they are on the mass consumer market, inevitably leading to the downfall of humankind. Perhaps I exaggerate – at least I hope so.

Now I've never used Windows 8, indeed I shudder at having to use Windows 7 on a daily basis at work, but I understand it represents something of a chimera. It is best known for its shiny, touchy, slidey 'Metro' UI, beckoning your greasy fingers to caress its tiles. However it also allows you to fall back into the more staid world of traditional Windows where presumably you can get some proper work done, as long as you have a keyboard and a pointing device other than your finger. I understand critics are conflicted about this hybrid approach, but it's CQRS writ large and may therefore be the way forwards. One way or another, at least some people will need to create great works. I do hope to be one of them, and to have the equipment to be able to do it.

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.


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.

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.

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

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

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A classic car seen at a steam rally in St Albans. But what is it? Answers on a postcard please.

We recently spent a very nice 24 hours in Helsinki, Finland before crossing the strait to Tallinn, Estonia. Helsinki is quite a modern city and its delights are subtle. We very nearly didn't go to the Church in the Rock, having failed to realise that it's one of the top tourist attractions. You wouldn't know it from the humble location in the middle of a rather nondescript residential area.


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Built in the late 1960s the church is sunk into the bedrock with just a domed roof poking above the natural lie of the land. It's really not much to look at from the outside, but internally it's a symphony of modernist concrete, rough-hewn stone, glass, wood and polished copper. It really speaks craftsmanship and slightly old fashioned Scandinavian design. It also has fantastic acoustics – there was a woman playing a grand piano as we wandered around, which just set it all off perfectly.


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Over the last ten years or so I've increasingly been drawn to conclude that 1973 was a cracking year for music, and much underrated by the establishment. Here's why (and of course many of these artists released whole albums full of their best works):
  • David Bowie – Life on Mars
  • Elton John – Crocodile Rock
  • Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly With His Song
  • Carly Simon - You're So Vain
  • Bobby "Boris" Pickett – Monster Mash 
  • Wings – Live and Let Die 
  • Stevie Wonder – Superstition
  • Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side
  • Paul Simon – Kodachrome 
  • Eric Weissburg & Steve Mandell - Duelling Banjos
  • Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running 
  • Stealers Wheel – Stuck In The Middle With You
  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Alice Cooper – No More Mr Nice Guy 
  • The Who - Quadrophenia

It seems that I'm not the only one to think this mind you, with plenty of posts in forums out there arguing the same point. 1977 and 1971 are also very popular years from the 1970s. I should point out that I wasn't even born in those years, so I'm not simply harking back to my formative years! 

The dome of the Stephansdom cathedral in Vienna is a cracking example of baroque excellence. Here is the view straight up. Right in the very centre of the ceiling of the lantern is a dove.

This dove in the very centre, on the ceiling of the lantern above is very similar to that at the pinnacle of Karlsdom below, but we were able to get within a few feet of the Karlsdom version courtesy of the slightly rickety scaffold reaching up all the way into the heavens.

I recently bought a proper 'not tied for you in the factory' bow tie. Just a strip of wavy fabric to be assembled about my own neck! I figured I'd look (even more) dashing with the genuine article, tied just imperfectly enough to make it clear that it's the real deal. The instructions on the back of the box were frankly useless so I turned to Google and after a few pictorial, textual and video tutorials I got the hang of it:


It's not easy, and definitely requires a decent understanding of what you're supposed to do, then some practise until you can actually do it, followed by more practice to fettle it into looking half decent. It's worth being familiar enough with the procedure to be able to replicate it as necessary, since you may find some joker pulling yours undone at the ball! But my friends would never do that. And I had a backup pre-tied one in my pocket just in case.

My Marks and Sparks version came with an adjustable clasp in the middle, which is very useful to fit it to the neck properly and allows your hard fought bow creation to be saved for next time.

So, where are my instructions on how to do it? I shall cheekily defer to those that have gone before me, but humbly suggest that the easiest to follow description, and certainly the one that really sorted me out, can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJv4Qh7zR3E

Of course the very best thing about a real bow tie is that you can do the 'just heading back to the yacht in Monaco harbour for a night cap' look:


I've just spent a pleasant long weekend in Vienna, Austria. A scenic detour through Belgium was required, to get us back to Blighty, EasyJet having forsaken us, but we did manage to get back whilst there's still some snow on the ground. I'm still going through the photographs (which are generally disappointing frankly) but I thought I'd stick this one up as a comedy teaser.

This shop's much bigger than it looks you know…


Look at this little fella – isn't he cute! Taken this morning amid preparations for wassailing in the orchard.

I tried my luck standing in plain sight only 3 metres from the feeder, with honking great 400mm lens, and after about ten minutes stood motionless, the braver birds starter coming back. It's particularly nice to see long-tailed tits because they're so small and neat.


I also saw this less welcome visitor, on the ground underneath: