Jan 062011
home-made Christmas tree ornaments

Our Christmas tree was a small live sapling in a pot, and we hope to be able to use it again next year.

In our in our house we’ve decided to start a tradition of leaving Christmas decorations up till January 5, which means that we can continue to enjoy them throughout the “12 days of Christmas” (yes, the traditional period of “Christmastide” only begins on December 25).  Appreciating this duration in our season of Christmas might even help avoid the commercial and materialistic extremes of what Bill Bailey has called the “primary gifting period”.

This all means that we took down our tree last night, which is the reason for writing about Christmas ornaments now even though its too late.  Things like this could work really well for Easter too, so publishing it now gives you all time to have a go yourself. Continue reading »

Nov 082009

Since beginning my participation in BOINC volunteer computing back in August, I’ve had processes running on my computer most of the time that it’s been sitting idle. It seems that I’ve been accumulating credit at a faster rate than many others, as my “rank” has steadily increased. As of today, I have accumulated more credit than 75% of all BOINC users – which places me in the top quarter!

Boinc Stats - over 75%

Unlike the “live” stats image back in my first boinc post, this one is static as a celebration of this milestone. If you’re interested, you can read a much more comprehensive summary of my activity over at BoincStats.

Aug 282009

About a fortnight ago Clansi drew my attention to a Sydney Morning Herald article about volunteer computing with BOINC. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) allows research teams to set up projects where anyone can get their computer to help with number-crunching. One of the most famous projects is SETI@Home (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).

The BOINC client gets computational jobs to do from the project server, and works on them when it notices that you are not using your computer. Participants all over the world create an giant distributed “super-computer”, and idle computers do something useful.

I decided to try it out, and installed the client on my laptop about a week ago. I’ve been very impressed with the way that it does its stuff in the background, and have not had it interfere with any of my computer usage. It’s even smart enough to know not to run when I’m operating on battery power!

I’m participating in the Spinhenge@home project, which is researching “nano-magnetic molecules”. This field is somewhat related to my own research.

Here is a snapshot of my statistics so far:

My BOINC statistics

Aug 192008

I have discovered 2 very cool things this week which indicate just how mature and mainstream OpenStreetMap has become. The first is an OSM routing service demonstration that seems to work well and gives beautiful output. A nice touch is being able to export the route as a gpx track that can be uploaded to a GPS device.

The second thing is a fantastic example of what OSM has to offer. Flickr, the amazingly popular photo-sharing site, has wonderful tools for geo-tagging photos and then browsing interesting photos by their position on a map. A week ago, coinciding with the start of the Olympic Games, Flickr introduced OpenStreetMap coverage of Beijing to their geotagging map. This was not just done for fun; the fact is that the OpenStreetMap of Beijing is far more complete than the Yahoo map (which is used by Flickr for the rest of the world).

Interestingly, this reveals a remarkable symbiosis between OSM and Yahoo. A while ago Yahoo agreed to let OSM contributors freely use their aerial imagery to trace features. This enabled people to contribute significantly to the OSM project even without a GPS device, and a lot of OSM data has been obtained this way. Now Yahoo (who own Flickr) are able to use the OSM dataset to enhance the geotagging service that they provide. Yet another example of how opening up access to information invariably leads to win-win outcomes.

Mar 202008

I was about to head over to the Physics building this morning when I noticed snow flakes billowing outside my window. It didn’t last long, but the flakes were huge and swirled beautifully. There was just enough to dust everything gently, but it melted away fairly quickly after it stopped falling.

After starting so closed in, the weather cleared up dramatically by the middle of the day (although it remained very cold). This afternoon I caught the S-Bahn into the city to sort out some train tickets and have a quick look around; I wanted to see what the city of Stuttgart actually looked like after being here for a week and a half. Continue reading »

Nov 232007

I’ve decided to build a bicycle trailer, and the first step that I usually make in such a project is to explore the work that has already been done in the field. A cursory glance is enough to indicate that bicycle trailers can be divided in to two categories: single wheel and multi-wheel. Continue reading »

Jul 202006

Two baffles were added to the distillation column, and the few leaks in the condenser were fixed. The two litres which had been distilled off previously were returned to the vessel, so that there was again 10 L of 10% ethanol. This was distilled, and density measurements were made for the first 250 mL, the first 850 mL, and the first 500 mL of the second litre.

The first litre distilled had a higher ethanol concentration than the first litre distilled in the previous run. This could indicate that the baffles help raise output concentration. The density measurements seem to be a reasonable way to estimate the ethanol percentage.

More baffles should be added to the column to see if this further increases the quality of the yield.

Bioethanol distilleryBioethanol distillery