Keeping an eye on a cruise ship

Sometimes just being able to do certain things in 2018 seems remarkable.

So, the parents-in-law are off on a cruise this week, and after a few clicks on a website I get this view of one small part of the world bristling with ships going about their business. And in amongst there is the cruise ship they’re on.

Not sure which bits about this are so remarkable. The fact that a ship can be tracked at all. Or that this information is publicly available, so quickly, so easily, so cheaply. Or a reminder of the scale of activity that is out there at any one time (here it’s shipping, but it could be air traffic, road traffic, rail traffic or so much more). Or the fact that we can take this for granted and just get to assume that accessing this sky high view of our world is now normal. Wow.

Anyway – enjoy the cruise. And everyone else on all those ships on this image – have a safe trip.

Norwich bus swallowed by road 30 years ago

You know you’re getting old when an incident you remember from whilst at university gets back onto the BBC news to commemorate its 30th anniversary!

Whilst in my final year at university we got news of a double decker bus being swallowed by the road near to where my student digs were.  It was well worth a watch at the time.  Sinkholes were not a thing then, it was long before the Internet  existed to keep us amused, and it was probably the most exciting thing in Norwich that month.

And now the BBC tells me it was 30 years ago!

Hull City of Culture 2017 – just the beginning?

Kingston-upon-Hull has a reputation. The only thing is, what is that reputation? I’m not from Hull, but it’s now on my doorstep and I’m essentially a tourist here. I’ve heard many reputations over the years – some brave (its role during WWII), some inspirational (as a thriving port in the past), some fresh and innovative (Siemens is here now as a centrepiece of the offshore windfarm industry), but much of it is negative and overrides pretty much everything else. Hull at the bottom of every sort of social league table you can think of. But now Hull is UK City of Culture 2017 and it looks to me like it might gain a new reputation.

The promotion is everywhere – and I don’t just mean locally – national media covers Hull in a positive light now. The city is filled with people like never before. We have city urban landscaping underway, new arts and culture venues and a packed cultural programme. I’m only just starting to experience it all and it’s great! We’re only three months into twelve busy months and it’s now about working out how often to get to Hull.

So what will happen to Hull’s reputation? There’s positivity all round at the moment (and Hull seems to have got the City of Culture programme nailed – well done organisers). But, when it’s over what will be the legacy? There will still be buildings and structures, but what will be the reputational legacy? Will it help Hull longer term? (What was the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics for that matter?). This will be one I’m going to be interested in for a good few years to come.

And if you can make it – come to Hull. Have you heard? It’s City of Culture this year…

JRF and removing Poverty in the UK

Some issues are just so important that you need to give them your attention.  Recently I spotted an article on the Joseph Rowntree Association (JRF) website which caught my attention about tackling poverty in the UK, but today this has been brought more keenly into focus by a report issued by the National Audit Office highlighting the failure of the benefit sanctions system in the UK.  The failure of sanctions is not exactly surprising, but the affirmation through the NAO report highlights again the need to tackle poverty in the UK head on.  It’s shameful that a developed nation such as the UK in the 21st century should even have an issue around poverty, so the work from the JRF recorded in their report – “We can solve poverty in the UK” – is worth a lot of attention.  It’s my #longread for the week.

Starting up Facebook Workplace

We’ve dipped our first toes in the water this week with the new Facebook Workplace. A private, group based, Facebook provided online space which we’re going to use as our company staff communication tool.

Up to now we’ve been using private, P2/O2 themed WordPress sites that I’ve built and managed for the past few years, but which have seen reducing connections with staff as our workforce evolves.

There have always been other options – Yammer and Slack being two more specific one’s I’ve played with. But this new Facebook product seems to be the closest to what we need.

So after it being launched in the UK, I requested our site and it’s now live and operational. First staff on board and first conversations taking place. We’ll see how it proceeds…


Personally I’m quite a hater of Facebook and the negative influence it has on society, but after investigation, this – quite separate – tool seems to have the right approach for what we need. There are some challenges – no way to embed a Google calendar or create ‘pages’ of information for example, but the positive benefits of me not having to build or maintain the staff website specifically will hopefully outway the niggles. Anyway, watch this space for further feedback and progress as we play with the new tool.


Been back to building a set of maps for a new project.  And two of my recommended tools are:

Google MyMaps (powerful but with an annoying limit of 10 layers which means me needing to split maps unnecessarily)
and the excellent tool from MySociety (open sourced society!) called MapIT. A great source of UK map data – especially KML versions of authority boundaries which was what I was after!

If you’re mapping, take a look at these tools.


how to: make one page into two…

Problem: With a one page poster I wanted to print two copies (approx A5) per A4 page to save paper. Now normally you could do this with a print driver at the point of printing. But wanted to save/send this image to someone else, and tried to do it all from an iPad/iOS.

Solution: Working from an image in Photos (app) convert to a one page .pdf via PDF Converter (app). Use PDF Expert (app) to duplicate that page. Now print the two page .pdf via PDF printer (app). Rather than print to a physical printer, print to a PDF printer which allows you to specify two pages per sheet, scaled to fit. Save the resulting .pdf which now has two copies on one sheet for future use.
This is a general process to get used to on iPad’s which seems complex but in reality is straightforward if you have the right apps and the right approach. Many iPad/iOS users I find think in single steps rather than multiple. But if you can think through multiple steps this makes more possible.
Postscript: might be interesting to automate something like this using Workflow (app) or similar, but I’m not sure how possible that might be. …off to investigate…

how to: extract text

Problem: needed to reproduce a document that we only had a scan of (without retyping it). Needed to find a way to extract the text.
Solution: essentially needed a tool to do OCR on the scan/photo to give us the raw text to recreate the document quickly.  OneNote to the rescue. Add the image/photo into a OneNote, right click, “copy text from image”, then paste as text. Bingo. OCR built into OneNote worked a treat.  Need to remember this solution for next time!

1 Billion Stars

NASA released a photo of 1 billion stars in the Milky Way courtesy of Gaia. Quite an achievement. It’s the scale that’s staggering. The billion stars is probably far less than 1% of the stars in our own Galaxy. Which is one galaxy of billions in the universe. (One universe of many?). The universe is a big place.

That we can even study this or comprehend it is impressive. We can do the science, do the maths, do the engineering and test ideas. Inspiring and worthwhile to keep a perspective on things…

Hello Canva

I just made a poster using Canva.  Took no time at all and I’m very happy with the result.  Rather recommend Canva and looks like I’ll be using it quite a lot from now on…