Monday 22 November 2010

Electric tweet shows power of social marketing

From Wordle-images
How an electric tweet showed me the power of social networks!

I needed to my laptop and projector PAT tested for  a presentation. The venue, a school, made this a requirement for the use of any equipment. I had only till the end of the week to get this done and was wondering how to proceed.

My first action was to send out a tweet:
"I need my Projector to be PAT tested in /nr Cambridge before next weekend. Any suggestions plse e-mail #in Thanks!"

Within one minute, yes one minute, I had an e-mail from Kelly Anstee, recommending Liam Clift, Cambridge PAT Testing.

I visited Liam, who was actually having a day off, who expertly and quickly conducted thorough PAT tests on my equipment and issued the necessary labels.

Naturally we also had a chat and found other interests in common. For example, the presentation was going to be at the Cambridge Open Studios EGM. Liam, turns out to be an art collector with his own collection and gallery exhibiting contemporary art from around the world. He had some vibrant pieces from brazil on display.

My eye drifted to his book collection, to find we had a very similar taste in the quality Science Fiction authors, from Arthur C Clarke to Peter Hamilton.

I left Liam with not only my equipment but with another book to read and another insight to the multifacetted nature of businesses in our area.

If you need electrical testing done in the Cambridge UK area, you can contact Liam Clift on 07709432805,
Kelly Anstee is a helpful accountant at

Saturday 20 November 2010

Hair raising book to leaf through online

I blame my wife! She came home with the comment " Someone sent a digital document to us today at work that you could leaf through like a book on screen. I though it might be an idea for you". Not just for me - HBN members might like to give it a try!

Cue detailed internet search, which finally hit gold when I found It is the equivalent of You Tube, but for publishers of books, magazines and catalogues.

  • You design your document in Word or as a PDF
  • Upload the document to Issuu
  • They convert it and store the document online
  • You can make the document public or privat
  • Embed the document to your site, blog and Facebook
  • You can e-mail a link to contacts
  • Specify whether visitors can download a PDF or not.

I prepared the photobook above that evening to test out the system and was impressed!
Below is a book version of the brochure I made for the German delegation mentioned in an earlier blog article.

If you have or are preparing a new brochure, book or catalogue - consider creating a Issuu version. Registration for the basic service is free - check it out at

Friday 19 November 2010

Using the LCD screen of your monitor or laptop for photography with polarised light

I was stunned. Duncan flipped open his netbook, placed a plastic set square on it and held a polarisation filter in between screen and eye and voila! Technicolour against a black background!

The Milton Photographic Club had a ball for the rest of the evening with plastic cutlery, cups and petri dishes.

It is so obvious an effect that photographers have rediscovered the fact that LCD provide polarised light and used it for the fantastic colour effects over the past years. Here's one good reference.

This doesn't take away the delight at having a go as you can see from the slideshow above. Here's the challenge though, try finding other subjects than set squares.

The method is simple:
  • Open a blank document on your laptop to get a white screen.
  • Place a polarising filter on your camera (I taped a square of polarising plastic to the front of mine)
  • Hold a plastic object in front of the white screen and observe the colour effects
Rotating the filter on the camera changes the appearance of brightness of the screen, from white through to black, depending on orientation.

Note: we had laptops where the screen could be folded almost horizontal, so you lay subjects on the screen. TAKE CARE if you do this! I will not accept responsibility for broken screens.

If you want a coloured background
  • find a sheet of thin plastic, like cling film or large transparent plastic bags.
  • place over the LCD screen - its worth playing with layers at slightly different angles
  • Check the colours through a polarising filter
  • Rotate the orientation of the plastic and/or the filter to get a desired coloured background.
  • Then place your subject on top of that and try photographing
Where do I get a cheap polarising filter from?
  • Your camera supplier will certainly offer one for your camera lens for midrange and SLR cameras that can take screw or clip on filters
  • Or look for polarising sheets, 5cm x 5cm are standard sizes, available for £5 to £10 and affix temporarily with blutack or tape
  • Extract a lens from polarising sunglasses and use
  • Use one of the lenses from your Real3D glasses from your last 3D cinema visit. 
NOTE: with the Real3D lenses, it matters which face faces the screen. Try looking through at an LCD screen whilst rotating the lens. If the LCD screen turns black, OK. If not, flip the lens and look from through the other side, it should now turn the screen black when rotated.

Go and play! I promise you, the colours can be gorgeous.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Hereford Town Hall, a photographic tour

Slightly at the edge of the historic centre of the City of Hereford stands the New Town Hall, completed in 1906. Civic pride and necessity had led to its design and it was built within a remarkably short 6 years.

I was attracted by the imposing fa├žade. On impulse I went in to ask whether I could come in and photograph the Assembly Room and Council Chamber.

The warm and open yes by Cathy, the receptionist on duty (“It's a public building, though you would have to come when the rooms are not in use”) actually caught me off guard.

The Council Chamber was empty that afternoon, so I came back with camera and tripod. Climbing the curved main stairs, with the warm late Victorian tiling and the semicircular stained glass light above, I found the chamber located right at the top.

I was planning where to set the camera when a surprise visitor came in. The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Hereford, Councillor Anna Toon had dropped by. When asked about the correct form of address, she laughed and said “It's Madam Mayor”. She then took the time to tell me more about the history adorning the Council Chamber.

Whilst the Mayor was not in her ceremonial robes, she was wearing her badge of office on the mayoral chain. The individual links all depict some aspect or connection with the city – have a look at how many you can identify in the photo. Amongst others you can find agricultural and military links.

Back on my own with the room, I spent a couple of hours taking pictures.

Having just accompanied a delegation of Restoration specialists, it was the detail found in different parts of the room that spoke of the pride and attention to quality. From the fine wood carving, via the precisely moulded stucco to the stained glass.

The next day I returned to photograph the Assembly Room. Here the space and the architecture itself were the main features. The Virtues in Stained Glass were obvious subjects but it took my wife to notice the subtler details in the designs below. Look at the three small roses in the different panes.

Three hats and robes discarded on a table added a human touch to the room.

If Stained glass keeps cropping up in this article, it is because there is a resonance with earlier articles about eight of the stained glass windows of Hereford Cathedral. Some of the key ones were installed at the same time as the glass in the Town Hall.

Of course there is more history to the building and the Mayorality of Hereford. You can find it all in the leaflets at the reception in Hereford Town Hall.

Whilst you are there, you might as well have a look around the building for your self.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Can German Craftsmen give UK's Heritage a facelift?

When the London hotel your delegation is going to stay at suffers a fire a couple of days before a trip, it's unfortunate. When their arrival coincides with a 24h tube strike, you might think fate was conspiring against you! Instead we had an unflappable group of heritage and conservation experts, who took changes in their stride and actually arrived early for their event.

I was the facilitator for the group of 14 artisans from North Rhine Westphalia and beyond in Germany. The trip had been organised by Marie-Theres Luetje of the Handwerkskammer in Duesseldorf and was supported by NRW International. My colleague Mark Dodsworth of Europartnerships Ltd had coordinated the planning of talks, trips and meetings in the UK. Our London base were the meeting rooms and library of the hospitable Canning House of No2, Belgrave Square.

The companies were here for an intensive two day program, to learn how conservation and restoration work was done in the UK. They also wanted to know how craftsman were chosen for projects and whether there were opportunities for them in the UK. (Companies taking part and the program of events here).

The delegates had come with the impression that there was a tremendous latitude for poor workmanship in an unregulated market in the UK. In contrast to Germany, where there is a formal structure of apprentices, journeymen and Masters in the crafts. Did reality match the preconceptions? Here are some of my impressions

Britain's heritage is regulated, for example by the listing of buildings or parts of buildings. We learnt how one architects firm proceeded with documentation and restoration on the prestigious Regent's Street; from facades to recovering Art Deco interiors.

We had the privelege of a guided tour of Wimpole Hall with the House's resident expert and East of Englands key National Trust officers. There was loving attention to detail, with a balance between using traditional materials and techniques where possible and appropriate modern substitutes where necessary.

A visit to an end-of-terrace Victorian interior renovation clearly showed three things.
  1. Determined architects could find the best of British craftsmanship and 
  2. Modern features could be sympathetically introduced to the highest standard whilst retaining the Victorian character of the property.
  3. The lady of the house could have a floor to ceiling designer shoe cupboard
As the delegates lost their reserve and expert questions crept in, the buzz of conversation rose during the two days. At times the interest was so intense that keeping to the tight schedule was like herding cats.

Three lessons emerged from the visit
  1. A high standard of craftsmanship was demanded and could be delivered in the UK
  2. There was a definite interest in and need for the skills of the visiting German craftsmen
  3. Architects and trusts looked for companies that could deliver the standards required.
Time and again, it emerged that, in the absence of a regulated training framework, it took a lot of effort to find trusted quality craftsmen. Once such companies are identified they become preferred providers. We met German craftsmen and architects who had successfully transferred to the UK

So what is the way forward for the German companies?
  1. The craftsmen need a detailed portfolio demonstrating their skills. Existing UK experience helps!
  2. The texts must be in English
  3. The craftsmen need to be proactive in making key organisations aware of their skills
As those who know my belief in the benefit of companies collaborating for mutual benefit will guess, there are two further personal recommendations:
  1. Either find an existing craftsman or company in the UK in an area complementary to yours and see if you can work together, and/or
  2. Team up with other German craftsmen with different skills to be a stronger, larger group seeking to enter the UK market, with a range of services.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Quekex 2010 - at the National History Museum

After the long tunnel from South Kensington tube station, you emerge into the light to see the glory of the Natural History Museum (NHM) - and the queues to the entrance! So we continued along Exhibition Rd to use the Geological Museum Entrance and walked straight in.

The minerals and rocks. The glittering jewels in the displays. The moon rock embedded in its transparent glass pyramid. These set the tone for what struck me at the Quekex; the Annual Exhibition of the Quekett Microscopical Club.

To get there we emerged fom the fossils of the Geological museum into a part of the NHMs bird display. Past the glittering feathers of hummingbirds, and the haughty gaze of the Dodo. We then turned right into the Quekex.

The Quekett horn was sounded. It pre-dates the glorious Victorian NHM, with its Dinosaur hall overlooked by the bearded Darwin. Milling around, bumping into old friends, here was also a chance to peer down microscopes and even take pictures.

Primed by the Geological Museum, I was attracted to the Allende Meteorite sample in Dennis Fullwood's display. The occasional glowing crystal in crossed polars as iridescent as opal.

The apparently grey ash from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano was a contrasting sample brought by Pam Hamer. Under crossed polars it revealed a scattering of glowing crystals amongst the remaining debris. It all looked so harmless now. Yet its abrasive nature to planes travelling at high speed had grounded flights in Europe at the peak of the volcano's activity.

Maurice Moss was showing slimemoulds, of which I have fond memories as a student. We had to keep one alive in a Petri dish. Unfortunately mine died when I overfed it on a cornflake. During their reproductive phase they produce fruiting bodies. Those of Physarum virescens reminded me of the Globular aggregates of mordenite, seen earlier in a basalt cavity.

What was particularly good about Maurice's exhibit was showing his copy of the book by Arthur Lister. It had the stunning illustrations of exactly the same slime mould fruiting bodies. These were drawn by his daughter and co-author, Guilema Lister, at the beginning of the 20th Century.

At the end of the day it was out through the grand front door of the NHM, under the watchful eye of a carved Pterodactyl gazing down from one of the window bays.