Watch the birdie

This amazing art was created by 2012 body painting world champion Johannes Stötter

It took me at least five minutes to spot that this is actually a woman in bodypaint. His work features a number of themes including animals, fruits and stunning photos of men and women blending in with beautiful landscapes. Most of his pictures are done by hiding humans within his paintings to fool the eye.


The Autotrophs began to drool

At the behest of my friends who recently came to stay, I have started watching The Big Bang Theory. To be honest, I’d tended to avoid the show, largely because I couldn’t stand the whiny American accent of the Bernadette character. Further, I instinctively dislike comedy shows with laughter tracks. Obnoxious and over the top laughter tracks are intrusive and unnecessary in my opinion.

Having said all that, the show is unique in celebrating intellectual characters and in portraying people who fall outside of the social norm – often derisively labelled as ‘geeks or nerds’ as likeable people. It’s also quite clever and funny in places.

Anyway, the discussion point of this post actually revolves around the lyrics to the theme tune at the beginning of each episode. Here are the lyrics in full:

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

A friend pointed out that he had ‘Googled’ the lyrics to check that they were sung as ’14 billion years ago’ and not ’14 million’, which would be incorrect – unless you’re a crazy Creationist.

OK, so at the time, I may have mocked this particular acquaintance and rudely equated him with the Sheldon Cooper character in the series. But then I started to listen to the lyrics, and one particular part just didn’t sound right. That sentence is that ‘the Autotrophs began to drool’.


An Autotroph creates its own food supply…

Now, I’ll be honest here. I had to use Wikipedia to remember exactly what an Autotroph was. My Wife was right, they are basically plants – organisms that use light or chemicals to ‘feed’. You can read a more complete explanation by visiting Wikipedia yourself.

So, how does a plant drool exactly? Well, I’ve read a couple of explanations – the best of which highlights that the key-word in the lyrics is ‘began’. This lyric refers to the evolution of an Autotroph into a Heterotroph (a consumer of Autotrophs – like you and me). This explanation can be attributed to The Skeptical Samuri, who writes that

The Big Bang Theory” intro is paying tribute to the specific line of autotrophs that branched off and evolved into the 1st heterotrophs.  Now it should be noted that the 1st heterotrophs would not have drooled, as they would not have even had what we would describe as a mouth to drool from, but seeing as we have a modern/popular/hit show promoting evolution and science, I think that we can let that slide!


As a cynic, I might point out that ‘drool’ happens to rhyme with ‘cool’, but perhaps the composers knew that Autotrophs don’t drool and the song is making a joke here? after all, it is a comedy.

Either way, by researching such trivial ephemera, I’ve learnt something.  In a world full of Creationists, Climate-change deniers and people who think that beliefs trump facts, it’s nice to watch a series with characters who value logic and science.




Unkown Captain

Check out this complex structure photographed by Troy Alexander in Peru. It’s not yet known what creature creates this elaborate construct. You can learn more and see further images by following this discussion on his facebook page.

My guess is it’s some sort of spider-made object. Why the crazy maypole design though? It’s really quite intricate, with those whispy guy -ropes and that picket-fence like structure. Maybe there’s an egg in the center or something?


fungus? cocoon? egg sack? nest?

Religion does not require a God

Louisa Hodkin has won a landmark legal case that allows her to get married in a Scientology ‘church’. In summing up, the Judge said that such marriages should be allowed in order to avoid discrimination and that “Religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity.”

I think that statement is quite amazing, that Religion doesn’t need a God to worship. I’d argue that Scientology is a cult, or corporation and not a religion. But setting that aside, it’s interesting to note that Lutheranism was regarded as a cult. Even the Christian Church was viewed with disdain by the Jewish faith for centuries, so perhaps I shouldn’t rush to ridicule the Judges’ decision.


Marriage…’s a trap!

But you’ve got to wonder where the line is drawn. During the census of 2001, 390,127 people declared that they stated that their religion was ‘Jedi’. This would make the order of the Jedi Knights the fourth largest religious group in the UK! Perhaps one day we’ll witness marriages orchestrated in the temples of the Jedi? Then again, that would be completely mental, much like devoutly following the beliefs of a Science Fiction writer, who once wrote that “The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion.”

This is 40 film review

untitledI got this film in the Blockbuster closing down sale for a couple of quid thinking that it’d be a suitable film to watch with the wife. It purports to be a comedy on the strained relationship between a couple approaching 40.

As we watched it, we realised that our own lives were being wasted watching this terrible movie. Yes, I turned it off after about 40 minutes, it was that bad. Normally when I invest that much time in a movie, I watch the rest of the film later, like with the first Twilight movie.

This is 40 plays out like a poor sitcom, with little structure or plot. Rather it’s a collection of unfocused ideas with unlikable privileged middle class characters. Here we have a couple living in a glorious mansion, with i-phones and BMW’s everywhere, and we are supposed to feel sorry for them? The characters bleat about mid-life flabbiness, but both actors are ridiculously good-looking. The film is essentially a long wail about reaching 40 and is full of characters wallowing in self-pity. This is pretentious, self-indulgent twaddle that few will enjoy.

Rating: 0/10

Where have all the posts gone?

Well, I’ve been pretty busy lately, and just haven’t had time to update the blog. As it’s mostly family and friends that visit the blog, brace yourself for a ‘diary’ style entry. I’ve recently been to the Caribbean island of St Lucia for a relaxing holiday with the wife. Photos here, for anyone interested. Below is one of the spectacular Pitons. These are volcanic plugs, formed by magma hardening within a vent on a volcano. When the surrounding rock has been eroded away, you’re left with the lump of hard magma.


On the flickr site, you can see that I experimented with some underwater photography using a cheap Chinese camera from ebay called the SJ1000. It’s an amazing little thing that only costs around £50, yet it’s full HD, waterproof and comes with all the mounting options that you could ever want. For sure, the Hero HD cameras will get better results, but who has a spare £400 lying around?

I’ve also been away laser scanning complex plant in Wales, which was particularly hot and unpleasant work, since then work has kept me busy on other projects. I have had some free time to resume a hobby of mine, which is learning how to model and render in the free Blender software. Below is an animation of a fire simulation that I created. It’s a work in (very slow) progress, but quite fun to learn. The YouTube compression has reduced the quality quite a bit as well…

I’ve seen a ton of films recently, so expect some riveting reviews shortly 😉


Usually, I don’t blog much about work or serious topics in general. However, there are some really interesting developments taking place in the survey world at the moment and after all, there’s nothing cooler than playing with lasers, just ask any Bond baddie.

PrometheusIn the Ridley Scott movie Prometheus a group of scientists discover an ancient alien planet and they map a network of underground tunnels using floating laser scanners. The scanners float like small hovering balls and then fly off whilst laser scanning the passages. They then send back scan data to the crew on the space ship allowing them to view the 3-D data in real-time.

slide1The truth is that the technology seen in the movie isn’t all that far away from reality. In Morocco, I used a vehicle mounted laser scanner called a Dynascan to drive around stockpiles of phosphate in order to carry out volume calculations.

The Dynascan LiDAR system contains an integrated Inertial Navigation System (INS), Real Time Kinetic Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and a high-speed, lightweight and portable laser scanner. Just like in the movie, we can see the data being collected in real-time.
But now there is the scan-copter –  a quad-copter drone strong enough to lift the 10kg scanner plus the INS and GNSS equipment. A total station and prism are used for tracking the unit in a continuous topo mode so that the scan data can be processed to an acceptable accuracy. If you didn’t follow that last sentence, never mind, what it means is that so long as you have a line of sight to the copter then you can use the data. Sadly this means that it can’t fly off on its own (out of sight) to collect data, so it’s not quite as cool as in the movie.

It’s early days for the technology, accuracy is in the 2-3cm range and a second version is being developed. Now if someone would just invent that hover-car that we all dream of when we are stuck in traffic jams….


Visit to see a video of the scanner in use…

When technology goes backwards

The retirement of Concorde, ten years ago today, might just represent the largest technological leap backwards since the retirement of the space shuttle. Concorde was a source of National pride, we could cross the Atlantic at supersonic speeds and (for those who could afford it), arrive in New York in just under three hours. Today, that trip would take around nine hours – three times as long.


20 Concorde planes were built in an Anglo-French collaboration.

There is a great story of how two SR71 Blackbird fighter pilots were advised to make way for Concorde. Sitting there in their space-suits, they would have seen the remarkable and distinctive plane coming past them, full of passengers, flying comfortably at altitudes normally reserved for top-secret aircraft.

Following the tragic crash at Paris in 2000, low passenger numbers and the high cost of maintenance saw the Concorde plane retired and with it the dream of supersonic air travel. It is unlikely that the plane will ever fly again due to safety concerns, also there are very few pilots who have the necessary skills to pilot the plane.


Cloud Atlas: film review

cloud_atlasNormally with a review, I like to start with a potted summary of the film. Cloud Atlas though, is not an easy film reduce to a few pithy lines, but here goes…

The film follows a number of ‘souls’ through the ages in a series of linked vignettes. As the film progresses, we see how the characters souls evolve and how humanity will strive to overcome the threat of tyranny and oppression.

I watched Cloud Atlas with a large group of friends on a pretty small TV. That was shame because the special effects in the movie are really beautiful and deserve to be seen on a big screen. Watching with a group was interesting, we all liked the film, but many people commented afterwards that they hadn’t a clue what it was about and would have to watch it again.

cloud atlas

a bridge too far?

At three hours long, Cloud Atlas already demands a huge chunk of your time and for me, it wasn’t great enough for me to watch over just to fill in some of the blanks. As I mentioned in the summary, the film follows a number of souls as they are reincarnated through the ages. The narrative structure is very clever as we see how events in the past mirror (and influence) those in the future. Some may find the device of using the same actors in different eras to be distracting, but I found that the performances were so good that this aspect worked well.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant. That’s an impressive list of A-list talent and all deliver notable performances, especially Tom Hanks who demonstrates an excellent range.

The decision by the Wachowskis (who directed The Matrix movies) to alter the novel’s structure, which presented the story in a conventional chronological order does demand much of the audience. The  jumping back and forth in time element of the movie leads to a certain choppiness, but I commend the film-makers for not pandering to convention.

Honestly, this is the first film in ages where I have spent a while thinking about it afterwards. It is a little pretentious, especially towards the end, where I felt that the film-makers were being deliberately opaque whilst telling us that we were listening to something important. Essentially, the theme is that souls can evolve and maybe change over time, and having the same actors playing different characters in different time periods is how this is expressed on-screen.

cloud atlas2

Halle Berry, Halle Berry & Halle Berry
Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks & Tom Hanks

Cloud Atlas is a passionate and ambitious film, with a huge and sprawling scope. It does smack rather of a giant folly, some had claimed that the novel was un-filmable. Cloud Atlas does not pander to its audience, nor compromise in its story telling by dumbing down and for that, we should be grateful. However, I think that to fully appreciate the movie, one has to have read the book on which it is based (which I have not). For this reason alone, the film will lose some of its audience. It is worth noting that David Mitchell who wrote the book has praised the film in interviews, describing it as “magnificent”.

rating: 7/10