Wednesday 31 May 2017

Shining Star Gloria Loring - Una Estrella Brillante

Sculptress, artist, writer. Fearless in the face of technology. these are just some of the things I've learnt about Gloria Loring in our collaboration over the past few years. It all began with her first mystical children's book, Shiny Star Leonora which is now available in Spanish for her friends, family and wider audience in Spain as La Estrella Brillante Leonora ( It is actually her fourth book, part of a series. Not content to rest on her laurels, we are currently working on realising her fifth, and a sixth is flowing from her pen and paintbrush.

The Spanish edition brought us back to re-membering and re-discovering the beautiful paintings that illustrated Shiny Star Leonora. When we first broached the subject of illustrations for her book, Gloria blithely said that she would paint them, what did we need? I was not prepared for photographs of the partially impasto acrylic paintings that evoked the worlds she was describing in her words.

Gloria has created an evolving series in which Star spirits look down from the heavens with innocence and longing to the beautiful garden that is our world. Visiting our world they learn more about what is important for them to develop emotionally and spiritually by experiencing life as living beings, from butterflies, birds to peacocks and dogs. Their lives might be short or long. Death is simply a metamorphic stage through which they regain their spirit existences, a little wiser, yet yearning to return and live amongst us again.

Gloria describes herself "Now, in my silver years, I can enjoy life to the full and follow inspiration when it comes!" I think she is the embodiment of her work - Shining Star Gloria - Una Estrella Brillante.

You can find out more at
Gloria Loring, Author

Thursday 25 May 2017

Getting a book you have produced published

My own Kindle ebook
I received a letter from an author who had produced a poetry book and had it printed themselves. They asked how they could get it published. 

Here's my response, at the time of publishing on this blog

It is relevant for the UK and most types of book, but readers elsewhere might find it useful too:

Dear C,

Apologies for not getting back to you sooner about your poetry book!

You have a completed formatted book, which you have effectively printed and published yourself. Congratulations!

If you wanted it to be registered as a book listed on book catalogues and also be archived with the copyright libraries, you would need to reprint it with its own ISBN and register it as the author/publisher with the UK copyright agency, Nielsen.

The issue with any book is not so much its registration, it is getting it sold. This either means marketing it yourself or finding a publishing house that will do the selling and marketing for you.

I think you have six options:

  1. Register with Nielsen yourself as a publisher and buy a single ISBN. Get the book reprinted with the barcode. Promote it yourself. You fulfil your ISBN responsibilities
  2. You pay us to register the book with an ISBN number, for you to market yourself. We become your publisher. You retain copyright (see below) Cost £xxx
    1. We provide you with the information to go on an imprint page in the book or the inside of the front cover. (This will include a copyright phrase stating that you have copyright)
    2. We provide you with a barcode with one of our allocated ISBNs to go on the back cover (this makes us your publisher)
    3. You include these items in a new reprint you arrange with your printer
    4. We can recommend other printers
    5. You set the price (I recommend a RRP of 4 x the print cost per book. This accounts for the print cost and you can give bookshops or resellers a discount, yet still earn on book sales)
    6. You send us a good quality photo of the cover
    7. We register the book title with the ISBN
    8. We receive 8 free archival copies
      1. We send one copy to the British library (legal requirement)
      2. We send 5 copies to the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries (they are legally entitled to ask for them within a year, we now send them as a matter of course)
      3. We retain 2 archival copies for Milton Contact Ltd.
    9. We pass on any book orders to you by email that come through Nielsen (You fulfil orders)
    10. We also prepare a page on our website for your book with a link back to you, so people can buy from you direct. (You fulfil orders)
    11. You can talk with us about advice on further ways to promote your book
  3. Physical book on Amazon. You can be a seller on Amazon for your book, but it does need to have an ISBN.
    1. They deduct a nominal charge for each sale
    2. They do factor in postage costs.
  4. Physical book published via Amazon/CreateSpace/Lulu.
    1. You can do print on demand
    2. They become the publishers and assign an ISBN
    3. Check out their requirements (format for submissions/book sizes)
    4. Check out the charges they have for producing your book
    5. Check the charges they have for printing and  mailing the book to buyers
    6. Check out how much you actually earn per copy in %. 
  5. eBook on Amazon: You register with Amazon as an author and upload your book as a kindle edition in your name.
    1. You do this yourself
    2. You do not need an ISBN
    3. We can help you do this, We can do this with or without an ISBN. Cost £xxx
  6. You find a publisher that will produce and market the book for you.
    1. You have to approach large publishers through an Agent
    2. You can find Literary Agents online or in the Writers & Artists Yearbook 2017, the library should have a copy
    3. If your book is accepted, you receive royalties. And possibly an advance fee.
    4. You may be expected to help run promotional events for the book

I hope that this helps!

Best wishes,


Dr Chris Thomas,
Publisher, Milton Contact Ltd

This information is provided to the best of my knowledge - please do check things out yourself for services other than those with Milton Contact Ltd

Sunday 21 May 2017

Don't Push Me! Flesh fly chases off greenbottles

Flesh fly chasing off greenbottles

Today I saw a large chequered flesh fly (Sarcophaga spp. on a dead chick being irritated by, and chasing off the more numerous greenbottles (Lucilia caesar) that were also trying to get to the feast. The video above shows the live action over a continuous recording stretch of 2 minutes or so with several battles being fought. The video below shows the actual fight clips at 1/10th speed (slow motion).

The attacks by the flesh fly were quite selective, with some greenbottles being attacked whilst others were not. The main response was to a greenbottle moving along, which would first attract the flesh fly's attention and with further movement, stimulate an attack,

The attacks appeared to be pushing off the greenbottle into the grass, where the victim froze and the flesh fly returned to its feeding patch. I'm not sure, but it looks as if in one or two clips the greenbottles were in turn buzzing the flesh fly.

However other greenbottles appeared to be able to feed quite close to the flesh fly without arising its ire.

The behaviour would suggest that this is a male flesh fly, as these are known to display territorial behaviour towards other male flesh flies and other species of fly. See, and source reference Paquette et al., 2008

Thursday 18 May 2017

One Legged Ducks DON'T Swim in Circles

Today, Wales mourns the passing of Rhodri Morgan, who was the first First Minister of Wales ( Rhodri was famed for some of his more colourful descriptions, including the rhetorical "Do one-legged ducks swim in a circle?" in a Jeremy Paxman interview (

As author Brenda-Gillian enthused in a discussion yesterday, the English language is a delightful thing and the saying 'Do one legged ducks swim in a circle' is a colloquialism that has long been used as a positive response to a question with an obvious answer.

As a biologist, I was intrigued. Was this actually true? Fortunately not! The best evidence I can find of one legged ducks swimming with perfect ease in the directions they want can be seen in just three videos of no doubt many more - see below:

The last link shows a model that demonstrates how it is possible for a duck to swim with one leg.

Thinking about it, this is of course obvious. A one legged duck that can't swim in water is, well, a sitting duck, to coin another phrase, and liable to swift natural selection. The human Paralympics show that we too can adapt and perform very well despite the absence of a limb.

So, should we look for more accurate alternatives? Is the pope catholic?!?

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Skeleton investigated in Brampton

Bone under the microscope using polarised light. photo chris thomas
David responded with professional aplomb after seeing my primary reason for a first consultation in the New Heights Wellness Family Chiropractic Centre.

"And what reasons other than Curiosity might you have for seeing a chiropractor?"

Well, my curiosity had been aroused by our HBN Out and About visit to the practice last week. It was a fantastic location and airy building for the practice and we had an open, welcoming and informative talk and tour by two professionals, owners and Doctors David Coombs and Lianna Saltys. It was this that led me to take up their offer of an initial consultation for a variety of other reasons.

Ever since early humans came out of the trees and adapted from walking on four limbs to bipedalism, the human skeleton has had to adapt dramatically. Initially a body slung under a suspension bridge of a spine supported by four pillars/legs, the whole emphasis changed to maintaining a centre of gravity in a straight line through the body from the top of the skull down to the hips or feet. The last sentences on Wikipedia dryly summarise the current status of human bipedal evolution:

"Even with much modification, some features of the human skeleton remain poorly adapted to bipedalism, leading to negative implications prevalent in humans today. The lower back and knee joints are plagued by osteological malfunction, lower back pain being a leading cause of lost working days, because the joints support more weight. Arthritis has been a problem since hominids became bipedal: scientists have discovered its traces in the vertebrae of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Physical constraints have made it difficult to modify the joints for further stability while maintaining efficiency of locomotion."

One can therefore imagine that some of the very first common phrases used by early humans after a hard day's work gathering or hunting food was "Ooh! My back hurts". Shoulder and neck ache were probably second on the list as the human brain and skull grew to their current enormous size over the last half a million years. (Unless of course, you were a woman giving birth, where there was an even more painful consequence).

Therefore, when I answered David's question, being male, the first and second options were obviously affecting me in my approaching dotage, as well as chronic migraine for the past 45 years that had defeated all previous attempts to prevent it.

What followed was an hours intensive investigation. starting with questions relating to lifestyle and general health. It continued with looking at posture, balance and muscle strength as well as reflexes in places I hadn't been previously aware I had them. The session finished with a series of X-rays of pelvic, spine and neck areas. Always curious, I'd checked online, before the session, about potential radiation dosages and found that this was probably equivalent to several weeks of natural background radiation in the UK, or a week's holiday in Cornwall, so was comfortable with that.

Chiropractic has received a mixed response, with a very critical opinion from parts of the mainstream medical profession. However, it is accepted in the UK as a treatment option, certainly for back and neck pain, with positive results. It is one of the only two alternative medical practices that comes under statutory regulation in the UK (osteopathy is the other), and practitioners have to be registered with the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), which has a code of practice that requires them to:

  • respect patients' dignity, individuality and privacy
  • respect patients' rights to be involved in decisions about their treatment and healthcare
  • justify public trust and confidence by being honest and trustworthy
  • provide a good standard of practice and care
  • protect patients and colleagues from risk of harm
  • cooperate with colleagues from their own and other professions

More information regulation and safety can be found here:

I left David and Lianna's practice feeling that I had been in the hands of a professional interested in my health and care. I look forward with interest to see what the report will raise in the coming weeks when I return for the results!

Monday 8 May 2017

Alfie Bear Goes to Work

What do you do when you become a Big Boy at 4 years old? Alfie Bear wanted to become a farmer! Our very own 'Crazy Grandma' Brenda-Gillian, author of 'Maiseerola and The Purple Sweets' has teamed up again with another of her grandchildren, Alfie Bear himself, to produce her second richly illustrated book for parents, grandparents and carers of all young children to read out aloud - 'Alfie Bear Goes to Work'.

It turns out that helping on the farm can be jolly hard work, with the farmer setting 10 tasks for Alfie to do; from ploughing the field, battling with recalcitrant goats, making friends with Mr James the very helpful sheepdog, and meeting some of the other farmyard animals too. Alfie's Blue Rabbit is his faithful companion throughout.

This time, both Brenda and Alfie collaborated on the colourful, full-page paintings which accompany the text. They bring the story to life and include many elements within them that allow the reader and the listener to interact as they explore. Colours and names also abound and are highlighted in different font and colours, meaning that someone just learning to read can discover particular words and perhaps interact with the book as the story progresses.

This is definitely an enjoyable book to read and reread with a child, and we at Milton Contact Ltd are proud to have been part of it!

You can find out how to order the book here

Sunday 7 May 2017

Photographing impasto and textured paintings

Chris's Reflection examples: Left- highly textured paint and Right canvas thinly painted, giving unwanted reflections
I was delighted to receive a complimentary email by artist and photographer Matthew Lee (see his beautiful landscape paintings here, commenting on my Kindle book 'Photographing your own artwork', a simple guide for artists on how to photograph 2D, 3D and reflective art, without much photographic experience. 

Matthew then went on to tell me of his frustration of photographing textured paintings, such as impasto oil or acrylic artwork. This rang a bell with me as I'd just done some museum records where I had the same problem. The picture above shows two examples in limited areas of two paintings. I'm fully in agreement with him that often the best option is to photograph in diffuse bright shade. You get an even illumination of of your picture without directional light highlighting certain strokes. If the painting is small, you could even try a light tent. But sometimes you cannot practically do this, or it still doesn't work to bring out the best in your picture. In this case. the general recommendation is to use linear polarised filters on the lights and a circular polarising filter on the camera. 

An aside on the circular polarising filters used for cameras. They are actually linear polarising filters on the front (the filter face closest to the subject) with a circular polarising filter or waveplate on the back (the camera facing side). This construction is essential for the camera to be able to autofocus and judge exposures. For the photography itself, they act as linear polarising filters. There is a great explanation by Bob Atkins here:

Basically, linear polarisation filters are placed over the lights, such that only polarised light is passed through, that is in the same plane as the picture. When the circular polarisation filter on the camera is rotated, a point will be reached where any reflected light/glare is extinguished and the picture becomes much clearer. A full explanation is given in the Cultural Heritage Science Open Source article here:

Note: If you are going to use polarisation filter, you also need to recalibrate your white balance for the new conditions (filters on lamps and camera).

However, as Matthew commented to me, this can actually result in your image looking more contrasted (ie punchier) that the real life original, presumably because you also remove the faint reflections on the rest of the painting! 

The image can also lose its impact and appear flat, precisely because you have reduced those reflections that give it it's dimensionality and depth. You can address this by slightly adjusting the rotation of the filter on the camera, such that you get just a bit of light from the reflective surfaces come through - something I do occasionally when using polarised light and photographing through the microscope.

It is at this point that we have hit the usual problems that we photographers experience with any photography and reproduction, :
  • What you see is different to what the camera sees/records.
  • What is displayed on your screen is dependent on your device and will be different to what the camera records.
  • What you have printed will differ from what is displayed on your screen.
You can try to minimise these issues by:
  • Including a standard colour scale or similar with the painting when you photograph it.
  • Calibrating monitors and printers (or having detailed conversations with your professional printer with the original present).
  • Gentle editing in photo software to at least try and match the digital or printed copy with the original as best possible.
But ultimately, it comes down to your judgement on how close your edited digital or printed copy looks like the original! I think that if you look at Matthew's pictures, he's done a pretty good job!

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Cambs Mayor candidates talk business to HBN and online audience

Peter Dawe and Rod Cantrill talk business and ambitions for Cambridgeshire Mayor post to HBN and an online audience.

Video and podcast recording of Friday's HBN Mayoral Hustings in Alconbury Weald.

All seven candidates had been invited. Three agreed to come, Kevin Price (Labour), Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrats) and Peter Dawe (Independent). On the day, only Peter and Rod appeared. Both actually had real business experience in the past.

Richard Wishart conducted the live broadcast from his phone on Twitter. I also used my H1 microphone to record a separate audio track for a podcast.

Video broadcast:
Actual event starts at about 3 mins 30 seconds into recording.

Podcast (better audio):

Event held by the Huntingdonshire Business Network on Friday 28th April at Alconbury Weald with an audience of 15 local businesses in the room and 90+ viewers on a live Twitter video broadcast.

Timed notes of Questions and responses in Podcast (add about 3 minutes 30 seconds for corresponding video timings)

  • 25s Richard Wishart introduces live streaming 
  • 1m 45s Dr Chris Thomas, Chair -  Introduction 
  • 2m 40s Audience introduce themselves 
  • 5m 15s Chris Introduces speakers 
  • 5m 40s Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrat) introduces himself. Concerns about transport and affordable housing. Worry about Brexit; Experience and ambitions as Mayor. 
  • 11m 0s Peter Dawe (Independent) introduces himself as an entrepreneur. Lists achievements in Business, Social Enterprise activity, County Council and EEDA. Application to being mayor. 
  • 16m 40s first question: What two things would you do to make things happy in Cambridgeshire. Peter Dawe – reducing misery (housing, commuting). Rod Cantrill – making sustainable caring communities. 
  • 19m 45s second question. What sort of powers will mayor actually have? Peter Dawe – Councillors regaining role as leaders of communities rather than blocking them. Finding resources within the community, Mini-mayors. Rod Cantrill – devolution should empower people. Complexity levels of councils, LEP etc. Therefore rationalise layers to Unitary Authority, plus Combined Authority Plus Mayor. Components of influence – financial £170m to encourage right decisions with local development; as an influencer/voice. Peter Dawe – focussed on more current situations. 
  • 26m 0s Business related, What are you doing for local businesses – ambition to get 100,000 businesses in region, currently have 79,000. 
  • 28m 0s Restatement of question – What are your visions for attracting small businesses and more businesses.  Rod Cantrill, creating opportunities for jobs in this region. E.g. small industrial units as set up around Cambridge. Broadband is an issue that needs to be expanded. Ensuring that employees have the right skills. Peter Dawe – We do not have a job shortage, we have an employee shortage. Why attract more people to use up resources? Need proper balanced planning re housing etc for new influx. Recommendation to government, stop trying to help small businesses, you don’t know what you are doing. Also stop supporting big businesses as they come in and trump the small businesses. Can increase value of jobs – e.g. very good ambition for Fenland.  
  • 32m 35s Rod Cantrill. Continued issue in Fenland re number of jobs and re quality of jobs £10,000 lower than Cambridge. Mayor has to influence at many levels. 
  • 33m 40s Response from LEP Fiona McGonigle – Education in region getting worse. Biggest issue skills, need to  make sectors interesting for students to go into. What would you do to address issues.  Rod Cantrill – Issue of work related colleges being concentrated in certain sites, yet buses not available or support withdrawn –so students in outlying villages having to make life choices on this issue. Peter Dawe – technology can provide solutions. Do not need to just concentrate on one site –could follow Open University model with local tutors, learning on the job and delivering education through internet. Fiona – challenges in that this requires a lot of self motivation, most of education system does not result in Students self motivated enough for this solution. Peter Dawe emphasises need to embrace new change. 
  • 38m 40s Chair - But we need good internet access – audience poll who suffers from internet connection problems, most of audience. Richard Wishart – about BT’s test of 1Gb connection trialed and then withdrawn in Huntingdonshire. Rod Cantrill – reiterates that personal contact still important and comes back to lack of infrastructure and decent bus connections and bus fares for the young and the elderly.  
  • 41m 55s –Audience comment about retirees – having bus passes that they hardly use but could pass on. Living in village and wanting to downsize but cannot because moving from large house to village to small house in town impossible due to costs. 
  • 43m 00 Audience comment on houses being built which people can move into and live in, freeing up  housing stock for small families. Response Peter Dawe, currently have a total broken market, though bad planning – example Alconbury Weald – very car based. What people want is a dense service rich environment. Instead we build garden cities without a centre or with facilities remote from living areas. Construction is pandering to village councillors. Under his mayorship he will redress. 
  • 46m 40s – Question – Majority of businesses (more than 90% ) are sole traders or micro-businesses – how are you going to help them? Rod Cantrill – building stable sustainable communities – create market for your services. Peter Dawe – Councils say no to new ideas and businesses. Gives 2 examples. Need councils to be proactive with business development 
  • 50m 45s Audience Question – what powers does Mayor over council and housing projects? Rod Cantrill – Finance given to Mayor – to exert persuasion to councils. Mayor can set up development corporation. Ex Mayor of London took control of Olympic Park. Associated problems – bringing public along. 
  • 52m 35 – Another audience not connect or alienated is microbusinesses – Local business support has disappeared – questions audience where is your work – most of businesses work in the wider region and nationally and internationally. Rod Cantrill understands but also notes that there are many local businesses and shops. Again emphasises building and being part of a local community.  
  • 54m 34s Do mayors  have influence on business rates or businesses coming into a region? Peter Dawe says no, city centres turning into leisure destinations, not shopping destinations. People buy on brand and that this will challenge small businesses – this is beyond reach of mayor. Rod Cantrill –it is critical that we DO have small independent retailers, effect of local communities. Back to ability to localise business rates. Consultation has been set back due to General election. Raises issue of social care – the reduction of the Block grant to local authorties from £84n to zero. 
  • 58m 0s – Companies and organisations in Alconbury and wider region not advertising and employing small and micro businesses. Peter Dawe, the fact that the small businesses exist suggests that they are getting business. Mayor will support using local resources and capacity. Gives bad examples of past actions.  
  • 1h 00m 5s Question about future of Fenland. Rod Cantrill returns to previous question – again would support smart finding of building and other businesses locally. 
  • 1h 1m 55s Invitation to 2 candidates to give their conclusions in 1 m  Peter Dawe – the failure and lack of respect for local government. He believes root and branch reform needed. Through leadership he can make local government work for the region. Rod Cantrill – role of the mayor needs to be voice for everyone in the Region. Returns to comment on Fenland – progress there in the Mayors term will be a measure of achievement. 
  • 1h 4m 20s Concluding remarks and thanks by chair and audience. 
  • 1h 5m 30s close of formal business 
  • 1h 5m 55s – some important last questions

Mammoth Tusk at the Porch Museum and video interviews

Archive picture of mother and mammoth
Jane and I visited the Porch Museum in Godmanchester yesterday to see a beautiful young juvenile Woolly mammoth tusk. Curator Kate Hadley of the Porch museum had alerted me to the fact that the lucky finder was bringing it along again with her proud children. The Norris Museum was visiting the Porch museum with many displays and activities for the day, so it was a lively event.

I'd seen this tusk over a year ago and so it was great to be able to get a second chance to look at this beautiful tusk, kept by the finder family. The tusk is about 60 cm long and has an intact root, which is the quarter or more of the tusk within the jaw of the animal and the end at which growth occurs. With mammoths, growth of the tusk was between 2.5 cm to 17 cm per year, suggesting that the tusk from this individual was about 4 years old. Looking along the curve, you could see the gentle tendency to spiral so typical for Mammoths. Examining the layers of dentine at the root end, some were thick enough to see the criss-crossing pattern in cross-section, called 'engine turning'. In this tusk, the pattern had the more acute angle typical of mammoth ivory, compared to elephant ivory, as I was able to demonstrate to the Mayor of Godmanchester. This being the second time we had met within a week as he also stopped to chat with us at the HBN stand at the Wood Green business fair last Wednesday.

I filmed an impromptu interview of Hannah from the Norris and also videod curator Kate plus two volunteers from the Porch Museum. The edited recordings can be found in the on YouTube in my new playlist, Museum Talks

Alternatively, here are the individual links:

Hannah & the Norris Museum:

Kate Hadley and volunteers at the Porch Museum

Apologies for the background noise - people were having fun, and we would rather have it like this in our museums.