Tuesday 7 October 2014

Gig poster revival in Ely Creative

Am I showing my age? I remember the glory days of band posters and record covers, way back in the last century. Well, after a period of decline, gig posters are back. In this digital era, fans are looking for physical memorabilia - and printed T-Shirts and signed limited edition art posters fit the bill.

Tonight's Ely Creative (http://www.meetup.com/Creative-Ely/) meeting featured Alex and Chris White of the award winning design company We Three Club http://www.wethreeclub.com/about/. Both had found their interest in music leading to a creative outlet in designing gig posters. And incidentally found each other, professionally and passionately!

Their brash, often two tone posters shouted at us from around the room. My eye was particularly taken by the cheeky, provocative poster for Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.

The rough, lively style is achieved through silk screen printing, where colors are applied individually by hand and using stencils. The print runs range from fifty to five hundred, ideal for a limited run product.

Rather than working in isolation, the duo joined with other gig poster artists. First in exhibitions, such as Poster Roast, then by creating the UK Poster Association http://ukposterart.com.

It was an interesting introduction to another successful creative business here in Ely.

Monday 29 September 2014

Food, glorious superfoods, at the CETC September seminar

It was a positive delight to attend the September seminar by the Cambridge Enterprise and Technology Club, at the St John’s innovation Centre last week. We were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of talks at the cutting edge of super foods research. Three speakers introduced us to novel ways of producing three types of nutrients: long chain fatty acids, anthocyanins and Quorn.

Getting to the heart of the matter – the Ahi flower

When the agricultural revolution began some 7 ½ thousand years BC in the fertile crescent, it led to the gradual spread of cereals as a food source throughout Europe, finally reaching the UK around 5000 years BC. And with those cereals came a weed that would turn out to be an alternative source of the long chain fatty acids that we currently get in fish oils.

Dr Lydia Smith from NIAB introduced us to Buglossoides arvensis, now known under the more memorable name of the Ahiflower. The original plant produced reasonable levels of SDA (or steridonic acid), a nutrient that can be processed by the body into beneficial long chain fatty acids. The latter have been linked with a reduction in death from coronary heart disease.

But how do you turn a weed into a useful crop? Well, you have to learn how to consistently grow it and propagate it from year to year, producing enough of the valuable oils to be commercially viable. Only then can you get the farmers interested.

Lydia took us through some of the highs and lows that her team work through from the early years in 2004 to the present. It meant finding and identifying different Ahi flower varieties and crossbreeding to get the first commercially viable products. 10 years is a remarkably short timescale in agriculture. The use of modern molecular technology to characterise and identify the different varieties was of great assistance.

And as part of that work, we gained a glimpse of what might have happened, how the unassuming Ahi flower was brought to the UK during the past agricultural revolution, the spread of cereals in neolithic times.

Your five fruit for the day packed into one

It is said that the beneficial effects of drinking red wine are due to the high levels of anthocyanins, those purple pigments that give the wine its rich warm colour. You can find those same anthocyanins in many red and purple fruits, including the brambles in our hedgerows.

Dr Eugenio Butelli, JIC looked for a suitable existing crop plant that might be transformed to produce more of these anthocyanins. His choice was the tomato.

Yet rather surprisingly, the red colour in tomatoes is created by a totally different compound, also beneficial, lycopene. Eugenio took a combined approach of introducing additional enzymes into the tomato plants and finding tomato variants with altered biochemical pathways.
The result was a visual feast of colours from golden yellows through to the deepest purples. Tomato fruits could be produced enriched in a variety of beneficial compounds; from anthocyanins, isoflavones and phyto-oestrogens.

In fact, one JIC tomato could produce levels of anthocyanins equivalent to 50 bottles of red wine, but without the hangover. Indeed the levels are so high, that the tomatoes are more ideally suited to processing and extraction to extract the beneficial nutrients for use in other foods.

Trials are currently underway to ensure the plants overcome the necessary regulatory hurdles and safety checks.

Tasty protein without the guilt

As the world’s nations become increasingly affluent, aspirational diners are turning to protein. But most of this protein is in the form of meat, from cattle, pigs to chicken. Diet conscious Westerners have also been turning to protein as a way to control weight, for example with the Atkins diet.

Animal protein requires a lot of agricultural land, an increasingly valuable resource in a world with an expected population of 9 billion.

Yet for decades there has been an alternative solution, Quorn.

As Dr Tim Finnigan, Quorn Foods, ruefully quotes, Quorn is a 50-year-old overnight sensation!

What I hadn’t realised was, that the discovery of the filamentous fungus that is the basis of Quorn was driven by the foresight of Lord Rank in the 1960s. 

At that time there was already serious concern about protein shortages in the future. Lord Rank of Rank Hovis McDougall, initiated an in-house research programme. The aim was to find an organism that can convert the waste from cereal manufacture into a protein rich food. The fusarium fungus was found in 1967 and Quorn entered the UK market in 1993.

It is the filamentous nature of the fungus that makes it such a good protein substitute for meat; it can reproduce the texture and bite that the diner expects. And there are other benefits too, for example a much lower fat content.

Tim didn’t just want us to digest his talk mentally! He brought with him a whole buffet of tasty bites which were the signal for the networking part of the evening to begin.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK

We are a consumer society and that brings with it waste. On average, a ton of waste is collected from every household every year. And that’s already an improvement! Once we’ve thrown things into our bins, they become out of sight and out of mind. Unless of course the necessary processing, recycling or landfill site is threatened to arrive in our neighbourhood.

As a member of the team accompanying the Green Ventures Mission to the UK from Germany, it was a real opportunity to look behind the scenes of two totally different recycling plants.

The incinerator at the Eco-Park Edmonton

You certainly can’t get more emotive than an incinerator. Especially when it’s one of the largest in Europe and is situated within the M25 corridor.

The reality is that even with the ever increasing separation of waste into recyclables, there is still going to be a residue of black bin waste that is either destined for landfill or incineration.

Wearing a yellow high visibility jackets and facemasks, we followed our guide on the tour. Waste lorries were arriving at regular intervals, weighed as they went in and weighed as they went out. We began to appreciate why this flow required a facility of Brobdingnagian proportions.

After climbing flights of stairs, we could look down into a gigantic hall with cavernous bays that dwarfed the vehicles beneath. Further on, giant claws grasped ton quantities of waste out of immense storage pits. They manoeuvred over concrete funnels and dropped the load that would then be fed via conveyer belts into the incinerator. Coming to a platform several levels above the floor, you could feel the residual heat escaping behind us through the walls from the furnaces as we peered down into the turbine hall. A row of brightly red painted turbines, each capable of generating more than 12 MW of power, seemed small compared to the hall, yet would easily dwarf a man.

At first, entering the control room seemed like a time warp, the original 1970s control cabinets still in place. But when you got to the control centre, the 21st century with its flat screens and digital controls was apparent.

We learnt that whilst the plant might look like a dinosaur, it had been refurbished and brought up to the highest specification. It would not only incinerate the waste, but also cool and scrub the fiery exhaust to remove the major remaining pollutants. The final gases released were predominantly water vapour and CO2. Built to last, this plant could continue till the mid 2020s.

We could very clearly see the set emission limits and monitor the real-time levels of emissions from the furnace prior to scrubbing. The plant was working well within its limits.

There were plans in place to link the waste heat to a new nearby development, to provide heating and hot water.

The residue after incineration was a granular ash, a significantly smaller and sterilised bulk compared to the odious waste that had been the starting material.

I left the facility deeply impressed.

AmeyCespa East

The delegation also visited the AmeyCespa East site, north of Cambridge. It used to be a purely landfill site. Now, landfill is just a small proportion of the waste handling facility. 200,000 tonnes of Cambridgeshire’s waste is handled at the facility. In the past decade there has been a considerable effort by the county council to introduce waste sorting into appropriate bins to enable recycling.

Our household in Milton for example has three bins, green for garden and food waste, blue for metals, plastics, cardboard and other packaging, with a separate tray for quality paper, and a black bin for the remainder.

During our visit we gained a glimpse of the sorting process where the relatively clean recyclables from the blue bins were divided and bailed in the different categories. The bête noires of recycling came in three categories:

1. Items too bulky to pass along the conveyor belts of the sorting system.

2. Old VHS tapes that unravel and tie up the cogs in the system.

3. Plastic bags. The thin, low grade plastic made them unattractive economically. Bales made from the millions of plastic bags in everyday use accumulated in a corner of the hall.

I’ve previously seen the composting of the organic waste from the green bins, which generates a high quality compost that can be collected free by local residents or that is passed on to farmers. The whole process is self-sterilising and green. There was not enough time to visit that part of the site.

As with London, the remaining issue is the black bin waste. Potentially hazardous, containing items such as bags of dog muck or rotting food in packages, this waste had to be handled carefully and away from human contact.

Instead of incineration, this waste was treated by “composting”. The waste was delivered at one end of a closed and environmentally controlled hall, away from human contact. The decay and fermentation of the organic materials within the waste raised the temperature of the material. Over a matter of weeks, the waste was moved gradually from one end of the giant wall to the other, becoming sterilised in the process. By the time it reached the other end of the hall it was also dried out. What remained was dramatically reduced in bulk and could be sorted to some degree. However the value of metals and plastics derived from this dirty source was much lower than that from the clean material recycling. Any residue left over was passed on to landfill.

The impact of environmental legislation and the rising costs of landfill have brought about a sea change in the UK in attitudes towards waste, recycling and recovery. The two facilities we visited were particularly good examples of recycling a significant proportion of domestic waste.

Within the UK, over 40% of household waste is recycled, meeting the EU targets that are becoming ever more stringent. The sites we visited had a much better rate. However, nationally we lag behind the best performers such as Germany (62% recycled), Austria (63%), Belgium (58 %), the Netherlands (51 %) and Switzerland (51 %).

With education and changing attitudes, we can look forward a continuation of the dramatic change attitudes in the UK. The key switch will be when the majority don’t see waste, they see material to be recycled and recovered.

Related links to articles, photo albums and videos:

Day 1 – London: Green Ventured Mission to the UK.
Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Unternehmerdelegation nach Großbritannien: Neue Märkte erkunden. Beispiel Potsdam Green Ventures.
Online Photoalbum of Green Ventures – Mission to the UK
Interviews with delegates and helpers at Green Ventures – Mission to the UK

The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK

See the delegates themselves, in short video interviews, by clicking on their names in the article below:

Bringing a delegation to the UK requires a considerable amount of work and effort. It began with the Potsdam IHK looking for suitable companies. Torsten Stehr and Olivia Liebert from the IHK and Green Ventures were the drivers for the event. Project delivery was handled in the UK by Mark Dodsworth and Petra Riemenschneider of Europartnerships, supported by their team Nora and Christina.

I (Chris Thomas) was brought in for the language assistance and peer support for some of the companies during their stay.

The delegates themselves came from a wide variety of different companies. Many of them were the CEOs, directors or managers, others were the sales managers. I’ll try and give a flavour of the people and their businesses, in almost alphabetical order!

Antje Vargas & Marius Vargas were from GeoClimaDesign. Their products were novel blue mats made with capillary tubing. Due to their high surface area, these are able to facilitate either heating or cooling, whether they are used in flooring on the walls and ceilings suited to a new generation of heat exchangers as energy-efficient heating systems.

Fritz Reusswig was the Deputy Head of Department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). In conversation I discovered, that his interest in climate change was looking at the effects in quite localised environments, big cities. His colleagues are researchers from all over the world who work closely together to study global change and its impacts on ecological, economic and social systems.

Fritz Pressel represented the German Association for Waste Management (DGAW), an association with 380 members which represents the interests of the German waste management sector. DGAW wants to promote discourse and cooperation between representatives from local enterprises, not just in the waste management sector, but also in the water, commodities and energy industries.

Jens Bahnemann & Nico Rothaeuser, Richter Recycling. Their company needed bins, big bins, as Jens jokingly told me. The company deals with the collection and recycling of waste over an area that covers Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg, Thuringia and Hamburg.

Lutz Grundmann represented Callparts, The company dismantles test cars and sells packages of used spare parts from VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Opel. We had some lively discussions about Vauxhall and Opel and General Motors!

Michael P, i-save energy, specialized in the engineering and manufacturing of eco-friendly and highly efficient LED technology for industrial and commercial applications.

Peter & Simone Heydenbluth’s company ERV had moved on from conventional recycling to looking at the treatment of greywater waste from restaurants and other catering establishments. Their end products were clean water and oil and fatty wastes suitable for refineries producing lubricants.

Roman Dinslage, Intecus appeared to be the quiet one in the group. However, wherever we went, he would be the last to leave; immersed in discussion with a local expert or representative about the particular details of the plant or business we were visiting. Itecus provides consultancy services ranging from renewables and alternative energy sources. It’s project management extends from finding funding through to operation management on new projects.

Tristan Kretschmer, McPhy, was an enthusiastic proponent of using hydrogen as an alternative fuel store. The company provides solutions where excess energy is used to hydrolyse water. The hydrogen emitted can then be stored safely in a metal hydride matrix. The company even has its own superhero - Hydro-boy!

Every delegation has its own distinctive character. This one was characterised by an open-minded, relaxed and friendly approach to each other, the companies they talked to and the IHK/Europartnerships team that I was a part of. Their expectations were realistic and they saw the mission as an initial step to find out more about the UK market, making the first contacts.

I really enjoyed my time with this group!

Related links to articles, photo albums and videos:

Day 1 – London: Green Ventured Mission to the UK.
Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Unternehmerdelegation nach Großbritannien: Neue Märkte erkunden. Beispiel Potsdam Green Ventures.
Online Photoalbum of Green Ventures – Mission to the UK
Interviews with delegates and helpers at Green Ventures – Mission to the UK

Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK

Everyone was counted aboard the bus and we set off for Birmingham, only to realise within five minutes of our journey that we left one delegate behind. We picked up the lost soul outside the hotel and were soon onto the A14 for the two-hour journey to the National Exhibition Centre.

Whilst everyone else got out at the NEC, I stayed on the bus with Lutz Grundmann of Callparts. We were off to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare! Sadly, our destination was on the outskirts.

The 40 minute drive gave me a chance to learn about another fascinating reuse and recycling industry. As Lutz explained, the automotive industry generates a number of test and trial series of cars. Not just one or two models, but runs that can go into the hundreds if not thousands. Rather than being scrapped, they now have to be painstakingly taken apart. The only things that are destroyed are the outer shell and any top-secret parts in testing. The remainder is effectively a car in a box.

Callparts specialism was to do this deconstruction on a grand scale, providing dismantled vehicles to interested buyers on demand. And the benefit? Apart from avoiding waste, buyers could obtain parts from cars that, although regarded as used, were substantially equivalent to new.

After one meeting that appeared to generate some interest, we hopped onto the bus and travel to the north of Birmingham for another. Here we learnt some useful business insights and contacts to take us further.

It was 3 PM when we finally made our way back to the NEC. We were met by Mark Dodsworth and taken to the meeting rooms hired within the NEC. We dived for the remaining sandwiches and drinks.

Our delegates were wondering in and out of the rooms as we had tables where they could meet with UK visitors if they wanted to. Alternatively, people could have meetings at the stands within the exhibitions at the energy event.

I pulled out the trusted videocam, grabbed the remaining delegates that I haven’t interviewed individually and found a good well lit spot for our talks. See the bottom of this article for links.

By 5:30pm, most of the delegates were finished with the talks, apart from a hard-core sitting around one table, including Peter Heydenbluth. Eventually, as all were boarding the bus, I said my farewells. They were looking forward to an evening meal in the Cafe Opus in Birmingham, with perhaps a sightseeing walk.

I look forward to a three hour train journey back home via London!

The next day the delegates boarded the bus for the last time, to return to London Southend airport. They had had three days, three very full days with little sleep and must surely have looked forward to being able to relax and thoroughly digest the sights, sounds and information that they had seen on a short trip to the UK!

Related links to articles, photo albums and videos:

Day 1 – London: Green Ventured Mission to the UK.
Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Unternehmerdelegation nach Großbritannien: Neue Märkte erkunden. Beispiel Potsdam Green Ventures.
Online Photoalbum of Green Ventures – Mission to the UK
Interviews with delegates and helpers at Green Ventures – Mission to the UK

Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK

Fog and the London rush-hour delayed the bus with the German delegation. That plus a minor detour! But finally they arrived at Cambridge Cleantech. Hugh Parnell and his team had already set out the room and were welcoming the UK companies who had come to chat with potential German partners. Mingling with the delegates, some of whom had to get away early, I was able to prime a few quick connections between Brits and Germans over the welcoming tea and coffee.

I’ve personally been a member of Cambridge Cleantech for several years. It has grown from an initial core of business sponsors to a membership organisation of nearly 1000 companies. They are an ideal partner for Green Ventures, and Martin Garrett, CEO and director of the organisation was at hand to chair today’s talks.

There was an opportunity for Peter Heydenbluth to give a short presentation. Or rather, after our great partnership the day before, I was nominated to stand by him and give the short talk. We then made our way to a numbered table to await our meetings. By this time we were getting a clear picture of the UK legislative and environmental background.

After a buffet lunch, we wandered over to the SmartLife Centre to look at the training facilities for students from the nearby Regional College. Trainee plumbers, electricians, heating and solar power installers would get their first practical glance at the rapidly expanding field of cleantech and recycling here.

The next stop was AmeyCespa’s recycling plant just north of Cambridge. It was interesting to see a different type of facility dealing with municipal waste. It had grown and developed quite considerably since I had first been on the tour there over a decade ago. There are still fossil ammonites in my desk drawer from a walk across the clay underlying the site. For more info on the recycling facility see the relevant link below this article.

I re-joined the delegation after they had checked in at their hotel and we walked into groups into the centre of Cambridge to meet up with representatives from Visit England and Conference Cambridge. They had arranged a tour guide to take us on a walk through Cambridge on a balmy autumn evening.

I’d brought my videocam along and conducted some spontaneous interviews as the walk progressed. Again, check the relevant link below.

Winding our way through Cambridge’s streets, we passed into St John’s College and wandered through, admiring the ancient college buildings. We emerged close to the St John’s Chophouse pub, where we were hosted to an excellent dinner by Visit England.

It was 11pm when I took a group of early leavers from the revelry back to their hotel. Having missed the last bus back to Milton, I was glad I had my cycle to wend my way home. It was going to be another early day tomorrow.

Related links to articles, photo albums and videos:

Day 1 – London: Green Ventured Mission to the UK.
Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Unternehmerdelegation nach Großbritannien: Neue Märkte erkunden. Beispiel Potsdam Green Ventures.
Online Photoalbum of Green Ventures – Mission to the UK
Interviews with delegates and helpers at Green Ventures – Mission to the UK

Day 1 – London: Green Ventures Mission to the UK

What does a company delegate need when visiting on a Mission to the UK with Green Ventures? Well, stamina, a modicum of English and an ability to network in business meetings and socially. Matchsticks to keep the eyes open at the end of the day are a useful accessory.

On a September Monday morning, I used my sustainable transport (company bicycle) to ride to the station at Waterbeach. My green credentials were suitably watered by the rain that waited till I was past the point of no return along the peaceful river Cam. Fortunately, I’d dried out by the time I arrived in London just before 10am, at Europe House in Smith Square. The delegates had been travelling since the early hours of the morning from Leipzig airport and arrived soon after – at least they brought the sun with them! British companies interested in talking with the delegates were also present.

I chaired the first part of the morning session with the aim of winning back some precious minutes in the program. After a welcome by the German Embassy, we had talks by UK experts such as Sven Riemann of the AHK, Mike Woollacott, GreenWatt and then by six members of the delegation. By midday, the first of the one to one meetings began.

My role turned to being language facilitator for the business couple Peter and Simone Heydenbluth of ERV. An entrepreneur, Peter had surfed the initial wave of waste recycling and then, once it had matured, he moved on to a new area, grey-water. Fortunately, his concept was simplicity itself, merely requiring some legislation, a collection area covering a major metropolis and a way to make liquid gold out of waste.

Since 1999, German restaurants and other catering establishments had been required to collect their grey-water and allow it to settle in tanks in their basements. This prevented residual solid wastes rich in fats and oils from entering the drainage systems and gradually clogging them up. More recent legislation then stipulated that rather than residues being simply thrown away, efforts should be made to recover useful products.

Peter instigated a major collection service for this sludge for a significant proportion of Berlin. The waste was separated into water sufficiently pure for cleaning vehicles and irrigation. The remainder , enriched in organics, was then sold to refineries to be fractionated into oils and lubricants for the motor industry.

After a welcome lunch break, we were herded onto a bus to set off for the EcoPark in Edmonton. With a little prompting, our young bus driver gave a running commentary on the sights and history en route. It turned out that after having spurned history at school, he had developed a deep interest in the subject and thus helped us pass the time.

We had a fascinating talk and tour of the EcoPark, which dealt primarily with the domestic waste from North London. The material was sorted, graded and then only the residue was incinerated in a hi-tech facility, where even the combustion gases were scrubbed. See the separate article listed below.

It was gone 6pm when the bus made its way back toward London for the hotel and an evening reception. Another UK delegate and I were dropped off on the way near Regent’s Park to catch our respective underground and trains home.

By 9pm, I was back on my bike, cycling in the peaceful darkness along the river Cam to my home.

Related links to articles, photo albums and videos:

Day 1 – London: Green Ventured Mission to the UK.
Day 2 – Cambridge: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Day 3 – Birmingham: Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
The Delegation - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Recycling waste in the UK - Green Ventures Mission to the UK.
Unternehmerdelegation nach Großbritannien: Neue Märkte erkunden. Beispiel Potsdam Green Ventures.
Online Photoalbum of Green Ventures – Mission to the UK
Interviews with delegates and helpers at Green Ventures – Mission to the UK

Thursday 4 September 2014

The value of my career break

Guest Blog by Lorraine Dyer

I recently returned to the ‘world of work’ after a year off for maternity leave. Instead of returning to my previous paid employed position, I took the brave decision to be self-employed. I started my own business as a HR Consultant and Trainer.

Recently I was asked how things were going with my new venture and my response was “really good.” This prompted a conversation about what was different or what were the challenges about returning to work.

What skills or attributes have I gained whilst on maternity leave and how do these enable me to be more effective in the work place?

Calm under pressure

I have learnt to be calmer in a crisis. When problems arise I am able to take a step back and look at the solutions before taking decisive action. When you find yourself entirely responsible for a baby, you cannot ignore problems and hope they go away. With a child this ultimately could mean life or death! You have to remain calm, find a solution and respond. So in the workplace I am better equipped to put problems into perspective and calm my colleague or client so they are confident we can solve the crisis together.


When you have a one year old who repeatedly hangs on the blinds, pulls the entire contents out of the kitchen cupboards or climbs up the furniture, you learn patience! This has given me more patience for colleagues and their problems. I now take more time to explain things, understanding that we can see things from a different perspective and recognising that clients may need more time to make a decision.

Asking for Help

Before my son arrived I read numerous baby books, joined websites and baby forums, but I learnt very quickly that, however much you think you know about raising a child, you need to ask for help. So I have learnt that it is always okay to ask for help. Even as an HR expert, laws and practices change. You are more effective if you look up an answer or speak to a colleague to then give the best customer service to a client.


I have gained more confidence when meeting new people. When you have a baby, a whole new world of playgroups, ‘rhyme-time’ and ‘clap and sing with baby’ sessions open up to you! I would meet several new mums (and dads) with babies every week. This helped me to be proactive with new people and has given me more confidence to network and meet new clients for the first time.


Overall, my experience of maternity leave has given me more personal confidence and a self-belief that I can achieve. If you can raise a child (when you have no idea if you are doing it right!), then you can achieve what you set your mind to. If you don’t succeed, the worse that can happen is that you learn from the experience and try again.

In summary, from my time away from work on maternity leave, some of the skills and attributes I have gained are: being calmer in a crisis; patience; to ask for help; confidence in meeting new people; and, in general, greater personal confidence and self-belief.

For personal development I can recommend maternity or paternity leave (with the change in the law men should take this as a positive opportunity for personal growth). Alternatively, take a career break to go travelling or take time off for volunteer work.

Companies will see the added value this personal development brings to their business when the employee returns to the work place.

Call Lorraine Dyer for your Human Resources & Training solutions, T: 07855 852218

Lorraine Dyer
HR Consultant & Trainer
Mobile: 07855 852218
Email: Lorraine_dyer@hotmail.co.uk
Twitter: @LorraineDyer14
Linkedin: Lorraine Dyer

Monday 1 September 2014

The video suite on understanding and using the light microscope

I've used light microscopes for more than 40 years. Professionally, as a life science researcher at the cutting edge of plant molecular biology, as a microscopist in my spare time and as an artist specialising in photography through the microscope.

Rock sample using crossed polarisation filters.
So the following video suite is part of my practical answer for those who do need and want to use a compound light microscope effectively.

The microscope “driving lessons”

Practical, immediate assistance and instruction is given in the first three videos:

By following these three videos, you will feel competent enough to handle working on a compound light microscope using visible light, over the objective range from 10×to 40x (100x to 400x magnification). Then, if you need a quick reminder, simply watch the video 04.

Some background microscope “mechanics”

If the curiosity overcomes you and you want to understand more about using the microscope, then watch videos 05 through to 09 at your leisure.

If there is one painful realisation, it is that most people who need to use a compound light microscope do so without realising its full potential. It is simply assumed that any life science graduate or post-doc knows how to use a microscope properly. In most cases we weren't shown how or the memory lies forgotten in the distant past.

However, most people do not want to know all the ins and outs, the complex theory and optics underlying microscopy. We simply want to use it properly. Like driving a car, we want use it and are not immediately interested in the mechanics of the internal combustion engine behind it.

So, fellow microscopist and author, Lewis Woolnough and I set out to make these videos – with Louise as our test subject. We had no script as such, just bullet points, studio, camera and a desire to get our message across simply to Louise in instruction and conversation.

Our apologies if we occasionally lapsed into microscope expert speak!

These videos accompany and complement our book nearing completion, “Understanding and Using the Light Microscope”, which will be available in printed and digital form soon.

If you have any feedback – please write to me, Chris, chris@miltoncontact.com.

Thursday 17 July 2014

The land of classic cars by Mercedes and Porsche - Baden-Württemberg

Guest blog by Tomas Blaese, (roughly translated by Chris Thomas)

I don’t think there has been a Mercedes made since 1935 that I have not driven in, even if just as a passenger. You could say that petrol flows in my veins. Because I’m a native of Baden-Württemberg, the federal state in Germany in which the car was invented; where Ferdinand Porsche envisaged the Volkswagen; where great marques such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and last but not least Audi have their factories. Not to mention the important suppliers to the automobile industry, such as Bosch, Mahle, Varta and many more.

The region of greater Stuttgart is one of the most important in the world. It is been shaped by the car and its inhabitants are proud of their products. The Industrial Revolution and then the car were catalysts of a rapid development. In 1850 the region was still bitterly poor and the population was subject to the limitations of the state and a state-supporting church. Today, the German ”Mittelstand” stands strong in the region, in Germany and in the world. And that is just as it should be!

Classic cars are my great passion. As a child of the post-war years I experienced a unique period, which of course included cars. We still saw prewar vehicles on the roads, then the ambitiously developed modern cars, which are together the cultural witnesses of the age. American cars were admired - yes they were dream cars. On holiday in other European countries, you also saw other marques. The variety was particularly rich in Switzerland. Your eyes couldn't get enough of the many British makes, the French or the Italian. Making a really good vehicle, whether in style or technology, used to be the pride of every single car producer.

Mercedes is my favourite brand. The product mirrors our inventive industrious mentality so precisely, here in Baden-Württemberg. Every Mercedes, subjected since 1935 to the challenges made by the then new autobahns, is ambitiously developed, thought through, carefully constructed, user-friendly, comfortable, sustainable - according to the current state of the art - and holds its value. It doesn't matter whether you’re driving a 500K from 1935, a 170V from 1949, a 280 SE from 1972 or an S class from 2014, you immediately feel at one with the car. I personally own a 300 TD from 1992. It gives me great pleasure every single day - and I have to say that my passion does not diminish with time. A Mercedes is like a quality tailored suit, you always create a great impression.

Porsche is on cloud nine. And it has much in common with Mercedes: for example, every car has the ability to become an (everyday) classic. Those truly smiled on by Fortune have both marques in their garage. The Mercedes is great for the long tours and special occasions; the Porsche suits the weekend. Ferrari might make fascinating sports cars but Porsche creates perfection.

If you ask after my real interests, then classic cars are my specialty. “Unfortunately” I only became a lawyer and a salesman. Beautifully preserved cars are indeed a multifaceted subject that should not be underestimated. God didn't just create Sunday, he also created the classic car. 

The unique art of restoration can be seen today in the preservation of the patina, something that has developed and matured over the course of human lives. It is no surprise to me, that my son Marc (with his partner Rouven and is brilliant team of experts) is following in the footsteps of his father’s passion (www.mythosschmiede.com). 

Without doubt, when it comes to the subject of “classic cars”, I happily provide firm  - support to those true enthusiasts and owners of Mercedes and Porsche that are in need of loving restoration.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Ela storms through Germany causing extensive damage

Volunteer firefighters Essen. Photo Ulrich Heker
“Haven’t you heard? We’ve had horrific storms with hurricane force winds!” My friend Ulrich from Essen was astonished. Severe storm cells had moved through North Rhine Westphalia on the evening of 9 June to 10 June. There was a trail of devastation that reached from Cologne in the south up to Essen and beyond in the North of the German federal state. Even now, a week later, there is the incessant sound of chainsaws as the clearance continues.

Germany had been suffering under a high pressure area with temperatures rocketing to 38°C. This was met by an incoming call low pressure area over the Channel. Extremely large and active thunderstorms developed along the front, with the one hitting North Rhine Westphalia and becoming the granddaddy of all storms. Its code name was Ela.

I heard from other contact of the initial hailstorms down in Bonn, with hailstones the size of marbles damaging vehicles and property. Making his way Düsseldorf for a meeting, he turned round in Cologne and made his way back. Just in time before the whole rail network in the state was brought to a halt.

Family and friends just north of Düsseldorf, on the west bank of the Rhine, were treated to a fantastic light show of thunder and lightning and torrential rain. But it was Ulrich in Essen who found himself in the centre of the storm. Wind speeds of up to 147 km/h stripped south facing roofs of their solar panels and brought trees crashing down throughout the city. With the incredible volume of rain falling in a short period of time, the underground system became flooded. Moving around the city became nigh on impossible.

“We rushed to close the window in our utility room. The rain was coming in horizontally and shooting into the washing machine at the far end the room.”

Overall six people were killed, 30 seriously injured and 37 received minor injuries.

Looking out of the window from a third floor family apartment the next day, Ulrich could see the orange jackets of the volunteer firefighters and clearance crews as they made their way down the street.

Spectators at the road clearance. photo Ulrich Heker

Fallen branches and entire plane trees seem to be a particular problem. The plane has long been a favourite tree for city planting, because of its ability to withstand pollution. The plane trees can grow to tremendous heights and provide welcome shade. However, they are also suffering from the spread of a fungal illness, Massaria, which weakens branches. The combination of height, full leaf and infection lead to numerous tree fellings.

Wear it with pride! Volunteer firefighter. photo Ulrich Heker
The volunteer firefighters from Essen were part of a greater communal effort throughout the state.  They worked tirelessly, day and night, to clear their cities, towns, villages, streets, roads and railways so that everyday life could resume again.

Ulrich was able to get back to work in his practice after a day or two. It took several more days for the state's rail system and the Essen underground to get into action again. The state of North Rhine Westphalia will still be counting the economic cost of this night storms for months to come.

Monday 26 May 2014

A test of Vivitar extension tubes for macro photography with a Nikon d5200

The following test was conducted to familiarise myself with the Vivitar extension tube set when used on my Nikon d5200. I thought the results might be useful for you too. The Vivitar macro extension tube set contains three elements, giving an extension of 12 mm, 20 mm and 36 mm. They can be used in combination to give a maximum extension tube length of 68 mm. they have electrical connections which allowed me to use my Nikkor 18 to 55 mm and 55 to 200 mm lenses, theoretically allowing autofocus and aperture control.

I used a Daisy as the test subject and the one I chose was 20 mm in diameter across the flower. The camera was mounted on a tripod and I used the extension rings in increasing lengths through the series: no extension tube, 12 mm, 20 mm, 32 mm, 36 mm, 48 mm, 56 mm, 68 mm.

I set the camera to fixed aperture control at F5 .6. and deliberately focused the lenses manually. Several pictures (between three and 20) were taken to capture the focus of the flower from the closest to the furthest distance from the camera.

I captured raw images, optimised for contrast and produced JPEGs. In the first series of images in this article, I combined all the different focus shots into a focus stack using Helicon Focus Pro software. In the second series of images in this article, I chose an image with one point of focus on the flower and cropped it so that you can see the change in depth of field (depth of focus) with increasing extension tube length.

All images are also available to view in larger format at https://picasaweb.google.com/107595387761034666575/TestOfExtensionTubesWithNikonCameraMagnificationAndFocalDepth

Stacked focus images with increasing tube length.

Nikkor 18mm – 55mm lens, set at 55 mm:

hand held, in field, no extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, no extension tube = 1x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 12mm extension tube = 1.8x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 20mm extension tube = 2.2x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 32mm extension tube = 3.2x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 36mm extension tube = 3.4x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 48mm extension tube = 4.3x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 56mm extension tube = 4.8x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 68mm extension tube = 5.9x

Nikkor 55mm – 200mm lens, set at 200 mm:

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, no extension tube = 1x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 11mm extension tube = 1.3x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 20mm extension tube = 1.5x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 32mm extension tube = 1.9x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 36mm extension tube = 2.0x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 48mm extension tube = 2.4x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 56mm extension tube = 2.5x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 68mm extension tube = 2.8x

Without an extension tube, the Daisy head fills about one third of the screen width with the 18 to 55 mm lens. With the 20 mm extension tube, the Daisy is magnified two times and fills the height of the picture. The final magnification achieved at 68 mm extension tube is nearly sixfold. Theoretically you could reach even higher magnifications by using a shorter focal length. However the subject is then so close to the lens that it is shaded and difficult to illuminate with natural lighting.

For the 200 mm lens, the Daisy fills about 1/5 of the image width without any extension tubes and the image is magnified to a maximum of 2.8 times by the time you use the 68 mm extension tube. Here you can increase the magnification by decreasing the focal length down to the minimum of 55 mm or anywhere inbetween.

Single focus images with increasing tube length.

Nikkor 18mm – 55mm lens, set at 55 mm:

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, no extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 12mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 20mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 32mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 36mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 48mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 56mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 68mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm – 200mm lens, set at 200 mm:

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, no extension tube (camera shake!)

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 11mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 20mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 32mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 36mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 48mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 56mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 68mm extension tube

These image series clearly demonstrate how your depth of field (depth of focus) decreases with increasing image size. This holds true if you start with the smallest image taken with the 200 mm lens through to the largest image taken with the 55 mm lens plus extension tubes.

The heights difference between the base of the Daisy in the top is about 3 mm. With the 55 lens, you just about have everything still in focus with the 12 mm extension tube if you set the focus point about halfway between top and bottom. With wider extension tubes you then have to think about choosing what you would like to have in focus or photographing a series of focus slices that could be combined in focus stack. With standard pictures, changing aperture size down to f11 or further does give you a greater depth of field. However the effect is minimal when you are photographing so close to the subject, so it’s better to keep the aperture open and let more light in.

If you need to take a picture quickly, with a high degree of focal depth, I recommend using a compact camera on its macro setting. As you can see below, you can achieve good results this way too.

Daisy taken with macro setting on Olympus fe compact camera


I found the Vivitar extension tubes easy to use. For really close macro work, I recommend using a tripod and taking pictures at different focus through the subject. If you have an external release cable, use that to avoid camera shake. Otherwise, either use the timer control or the timed multiple exposure setting, taking a series of pictures at about three second intervals, which allows you to manually adjust the focus in steps.

Out in the field, I’d probably use the 55mm-200 mm lens for handheld shots at intermediate focal lengths. From past experience, I would use a fixed focus and take multiple exposures.

For quick photography where a high depth of field is required, I would use my compact camera instead.

Reference: for Depth of Field technical calculations: