Saturday 19 May 2012

Cleaning windows gets hi-tech

A chance remark about the self cleaning glass in the roof of St Pancras station during the visit to London on Wednesday (see article on Aurasma visit) came back to me. I was chatting to Jamie Bartlett of My Little Cleaning Company, who takes on the window cleaning side of the business.

It turns out that self cleaning glass exists in several forms – it still does need the occasional clean but not as frequently as normal glass. A bit of internet research this evening revealed the principles.

I was already familiar with one form of treatment, silanisation, which makes glass non-stick and therefore water and dirt repellent. This was in the days when we made our own DNA sequencing gels in the lab (nowadays things are very different! See article on DNA sequencing). This method can be used to coat windows and even car windscreens.

The glass used for St Pancras is the opposite, it is water loving. An ultra-thin layer of titanium oxide is bonded with the glass surface during manufacture using a patented process. Small particles of organic dirt initially bind to the glass. Natural UV light and a catalytic action of the coating break down the organic dirt. Mineral dirt still sticks – until it rains. When rain hits the glass it spreads over it due to the water loving nature of the glass. The excess water then flows down the glass, taking the remaining dirt with it, off the glass.

Yet at some point, the windows will still need to be cleaned, even if at a much lower frequency per year – preferably by an equally hi-tech window cleaner.

What surprised me further was that Jamie uses the purest water possible, and no detergents, to clean the glass. In his van, the water for washing is first filtered, passed over activated charcoal, pushed though a reverse osmosis column and then de-ionised – very pure water indeed. When used with soft mono-filament brushes, the dirt is removed and the window rinsed, it can be left to dry without leaving any trace.

Furthermore, by using carbon fibre poles, it is possible to clean windows to a height of up to 20m, safely from the ground! No ladders or scaffolding required. This is crucial as ladder based accidents are serious – often fatal or debilitating – and are subject to financial penalties for both the window cleaner and the client.

All this technology is a far cry from the conventional image of window cleaners and I left the conversation with Jamie suitably impressed and better informed.

Jamie Bartlett of My Little Cleaning Company is based in the beautiful market town of St Ives, Cambridgeshire. Visit for more information.

Friday 18 May 2012

The dramatic effect of projecting patterns onto a model

Projection onto a body or face for photography has been something I've been wanting to do since having the idea last year.

The trip by the Milton Photographic Club to Marty Rayner's “The Works Studio” near Croxton offered a great opportunity to give this a try. A particular help was the professionalism of the model Amber Tutton who was there for us that evening; she took to the idea with enthusiasm.

I selected a range of images taken through the microscope. They have relatively simple patterns and a limited colour range and were used in a slide show. The projector at the studio was available and was placed about two to three meters from the model.

A major worry was the intensity of the projector light as it appeared as a brilliant and constant point source of light . Placing myself in the full glare of the projector on its normal setting made my eyes stream. We therefore reduced the brightness considerably.

The reduced light meant that we were using exposures of between 1/10s to 1/4s at ISO400 or about 1/40s to 1/25s on ISO1600. A tripod was essential. Amber was also brilliant at moving into a pose and then freezing briefly for the shot. Nevertheless, of the total of 171 pictures a large number were blurred.

Where the photography worked, the results were fascinating. On the one hand, Amber's face and body moulded the projected patterns as I had hoped. The contrast was the effect of pattern variation in breaking up the face and creating unusual effects. A critical feature was to ensure that the eyes remained recognisable as they provide the visual cue for the viewer's eye and brain to seek out the rest of the structure.

Another useful prop was the mirror placed behind the projector, so that Amber could see the result of a pose and the impact of a pattern on her face and body, bringing out her creative streak through feedback.

This was successful beyond my expectations. The projected patterns could enhance, obscure or break up features. Colour also impacted – just look at the bruise like effect around the mouth and eye with the Arachnoidiscus image.

One of more of the images will be making their way into my Cambridge Open Studios exhibition on the second and third weekends this July!

Thursday 17 May 2012

Aurasma visit for Augmented Reality

Would you like your brochure or banner to come alive like the animated newspapers, paintings and posters in the Harry Potter films? It is a prospect that has generated a flurry of interest at the Huntingdonshire Business Network, ever since Mervyn Foster demonstrated the effect first to networkers using a £10 note and the Aurasma Lite app on his mobile phone.

Since then, I have delved deeper and begun to successfully create not only my own “Auras” as these animations are called, but several for HBNers. As with any new idea, more questions are generated than answered at first, so I organised the HBN outing to visit Aurasma’s offices in London. Our delegation comprised:

  • Dr Chris Thomas (Milton Contact Ltd) - creative visual applications & international business support
  • Gareth Howell (Business Continuity) – Strategic Company & Project Planning
  • Mervyn Foster (HBN Chairperson, Nordic Walking Cambridgeshire) – Business networking
  • Richard Wishart (Delivery Management) – International postal and logistic tracking technologies

Our host at Aurasma was Jake Grave, Sales & Marketing. The genteel surroundings of the offices in St James’ Square provided a counterpoint to the deceptively simple, visual technology of Aurasma’s Auras.

The technology is deceptively simple in principle, requiring four things:

  1. A trigger image that will be present in print form
  2. An overlay. This is a video is designed fit over part or all of the trigger image
  3. A smart phone. Currently i-phones and Android based phones can be used, though the latter appear to have more limited functionality.
  4. The Aurasma Lite app, available from, iphone and play store

The designer uses Aurasma hosted software to link the trigger image with the overlay video to create an Aura. Auras are managed in “channels”.

The user downloads the Aurasma Lite app onto their smartphone. Once the app is opened, the user can immediately use the smartphone to view so-called “Super Auras”. Super Auras are demonstration projects, often with large organisations – such as Top Gear magazine and several bank notes. You can test the Aurasma Lite using images at

Note: some of these will only work in certain countries – so look out for your country’s flag in the corner of each image. This is what happens on my phone – see video at top of page.

Currently Aurasma decides which Auras will be Super Auras.

For most other Auras, the user will need to search for and subscribe to (free) a channel containing Auras from a particular source. For example, I created the channels Milton Contact, HBN Huntingdonshire Business Network and Delivery Management. You can try out some of the images here (stop the slideshow at a convenient image:

Smartphone users can themselves generate Auras on their phones. These can be shared by sending friends a link. Mervyn was the first to generate an Aura in this way at HBN.

We had wide ranging discussions with Jake, about Aurasma’s strategy, what sort of marketing models and applications that we could envisage and how HBN and Aurasma could help each other. The ability to generate your own app incorporating Aurasma function and/or skinning the app (branding it as your own) gave us moe food for thought.

We left Aurasma brimming with ideas. To round off the day, three of us continued to the Natural History Museum to visit the “Animal Inside Out” exhibition.

Perhaps ironic that we had gone from looking at taking static images and bringing them to life – to go to an exhibition where formerly living organisms had been transformed into static (but equally wonderful) exhibits. We should state that no creature was deliberately harmed for the process.

If you want to know more about HBN and how we are looking at taking Auras further, come and join us. If you would like help in the creation of your own company or personal Aura – get in touch with me, Chris.

Looking back on Ecobuild 2012

This year’s visit to Ecobuild in March on behalf of Tollé Green Architecture extended to two days due to the size of the exhibition and the interesting talks and seminars. A few personal impressions and images above follow.

The dramatic increase in popularity of Ecobuild 2012 was immediately apparent in the increasing crush on the Light Dockland’s Railway leading to Excel, where the event was taking place. Now the largest “green” exhibition in the world, Ecobuild 2012 filled both the exhibition halls of the venue.

Ecobuild has matured over the years with larger international companies like Balfour Beatty and Schueko featuring as well as the venerable BRE. Renewable systems such as photovoltaics were very well represented. Water management was particularly relevant as the current drought is still extant despite the heavy rainfall. LED energy efficient lighting is also coming of age with larger LEDs offering alternatives to using groups or strips of smaller LEDs behind diffusers.

Energy management in domestic and commercial properties appears to be entering a second generation phase. The obvious choices of double glazing, better roof insulation and cavity wall filling are now well into maturity and acceptance in the UK. The the next big challenge will be the “Hard to treat” properties. The majority comprise solid wall buildings from some of the oldest housing stock, where external or internal insulation is the only solution.

More intelligent energy management both in construction, in day to day use and during the lifetime of the building was another item of future importance. Useful piece of information gained – the average pupil generates 65W energy just by sitting in a classroom!

Green roofing caught my attention for two reasons. First was the rationale for its use. I had originally thought that green roofing provided additional insulation, but apparently wet soil negates the beneficial effect of any additional layers on a roof. The true benefit lies in the provision of replacement or additional green environments or niches that would otherwise have been lost under the footprint of the building. Second was the sophistication of the layering and patterning of subsoil drainage onto which the green roofs were established.

Following on from the Exhibition there are three threads that I have been more aware of:

  1. More sophisticated green solutions are available in a mature market
  2. Looking out for the impact of the Green Deal over the coming year
  3. The increasing use of BIM (Buildings Information Modelling) in building construction and lifetime management.
Tollé Green Architecture is interested in ethical and environmentally responsible UK partners for construction, housing projects and retrofitting. Contact Chris.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Baked Altenburger Ziegenkäse

Andreas Ebert, a friend and business colleague from Germany sent me this recipe to translate and we thought we could share this further.


  • 250g Altenburger Ziegenkäse (you can use Camembert if pushed)
  • 1 peeled garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh Thyme
  • Honey (ca. 25g)
  • 1 small baguette
  • Coarse sea-salt

Preheat oven to 200°C. Remove the Altenburger Ziegenkäse from the packaging and place in the centre of an A4 sized sheet of aluminium foil. Wrap the aluminium foil around the Altenburger Ziegenkäse to create a small bowl that supports the cheese in the oven. Place the foil bowl with the Altenburger Ziegenäse on a baking tray and then put in the centre of the preheated oven to bake for 5-7 minutes. Whilst the Altenburger Ziegenkäse is baking, peel the garlic clove, wash with the thyme and chop finely.

Cut the cheese surface crosswise and fold the corners outwards.

Place the chopped garlic and thyme on the cheese surface and sprinkle with the coarse sea-salt. Place back in the oven and bake for a further 8-10 minutes. When the surface of the cheese turns slightly brown, remove the cheese from the oven and place on a plate. Add some white bread and honey to the plate and enjoy.

Bon appètit!

For more information about Altenburger Ziegenkäse, contact Andreas Ebert
Feinkäserei Zimmermann GmbH
Karl-Marx-Straße 90  
04808 Falkenhain (Sachsen)        
Telephone:  +49 3 42 62 47 10       

Sunday 6 May 2012

Follow on tips from HBN Social Networking Workshop

The key elements introduced by Richard Wishart (Delivery Management) and myself at the HBN Social Networking Workshop last Friday included Richard Wishart giving a demonstration of using a preprepared blog article involving:

  • Preparing a shortlink to the blog using
  • Broadcasting the shortlink to the blog on LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Creating a discussion on in a Group on LinkedIn referring to the blog article

I showed my main routes  for information flow in social media via the illustration above.  They are:

  • Incorporating photographs and videos into my blog articles where possible
  • I have three different blogs for different interest areas (general, QR Codes, German business)
  • The article is then broadcast mainly via Twitter
  • Selective articles are passed on to LinkedIn, e-mail newsletters or Facebook

How you use social media to spread the word of interesting content will be your personal choice. Things to avoid are:

  • Just advertising yourself
  • Saturating the SAME content over ALL your social media

The practical part of the workshop involved:

  • Each member of the audience finding Richard's blog, tweet or LinkedIn post
  • Liking, retweeting or forwarding the item through their social media

In the discussion following the workshop, the key elements for using Social Networking effectively were:

  • Being aware that social networking is tightly linked to you as an individual
  • Broadcast selectively to your different interest groups
  • Your contacts retweeting or forwarding your news
  • Being Social – retweeting or forwarding useful information and conversations from your contacts to others
  • Measuring the impact of your social networking.

Following on after the workshop, here are some further tips in brief on linking a blog post with other social media

  • Use the blog software to automatically place a new post on a social medium of your choice
  • Incorporate like icons and/or social media icons that allow visitors to post your item on their social media with the click of a button
  • Link your blog to an automated e-newsletter.

For example, Ann Hawkins uses the plugin Livefyre on blog comments. People who comment are thn notified by e-mail of new comments since theirs, enabling a forum like discussion. Ann is also trialling s2Member to allow people join her group.

I have opt-in mailing systems that will send e-mails of the newest blog posts to subscribers. The blog's URL is collected by an online service called Feedburner. This gives me an RSS feed for the blog which I can link into my mailing system, Aweber.

To follow other peoples blogs at one single location, I used Google Reader, sadly this does not exist any more. However there are other RSS readers available and thank you to Community Manager Tom Howard for giving the recommendation in September 2018.

What solutions can you recommend?