Too soon.

Yesterday I read the news that Iain Banks wasn’t doing too badly all considered. This lunchtime I heard via Twitter that Iain had died.  Fuck Cancer.

I first discovered Banks’ writing via the internet, a recommendation in a long forgotten place lead me to a copy of The Use of Weapons and a whole universe of dubious ethics and arrogant, playful super intelligences. Now the last word in that universe has been written, while there are still tales to tell.

Not only have we lost two of the best authors to have come from Scotland, on a more selfish note, we’ve lost a whole universe (or two, or three) and any number of fucked-up domestic tales.

Fuck Cancer.


The Shard

At 309.6 meters high, The Shard dwarfs other London high-rises, and seems to curiously move around the London sky-line – never quite being where you expect it when viewed from afar.

The Shard

When it’s officially open to the public on Feb 1st, access to the viewing platforms on the 69th and 72nd floors will cost £25 per person, but for a short soft-opening / shakedown / preview time, free tickets were available to residents of Southwark. I got to visit today with one of said residents.

The entrance for the viewing platform is located on Joiner Street, away from the main entrances to the shops and offices sections of the building. The displays and ticket scanners in the reception area were misbehaving when we arrived, but look promising for the public opening. There is airport-style metal detectors and x-rays to negotiate before you get access to the lifts to the top.

The journey to the top is by two lifts, each rising 30+ floors in a little over 20 seconds, a peak speed of 6 m/s. There is no sudden lurch of acceleration either going up or down, these are very well engineered machines. From the second lift there is a small flight of stairs to climb to the enclosed viewing platform (the disabled lift was out of action), and a further set of stairs takes you to the open air platform.
The view from The Shard - The open viewing platform

Everything is below you. Even the tall buildings are below you. Helicopters are below you. Airplanes and several more floors of the building are the only things above you. Tower-42 and the Gherkin on the north side of the Thames are the only building that even look high from The Shard, but you can quite clearly see the tops of their roofs.

The view from The Shard - everything is below us.

The glass windows will take a lot of cleaning, everywhere you look people are reaching out to touch the glass before stepping closer to the edge – to reassure themselves there is something between them and oblivion. Even with filters and some careful positioning it’s hard to avoid window reflections on photographs.

The view from The Shard

The gift shops are well stocked with fridge magnets, tea-towels and stuffed foxes. Prices are not low, £3 for a small magnet, £8 for a box of Tea and £15+ for a fox, considering you’ve already spent £25 to get here.


The views really are amazing, but not £25 of amazing. If the price included a drink, or snack or something else then I’d feel the price was justified, I think perhaps £10 would be a more visitor-friendly admission charge.

Worth a visit – see if you can get a cheap deal. Here’s the rest of my Shard photos.

Game of life

Conway’s Game of Life is a mathematics puzzle / toy / serious bit of research that I mess with from time to time; usually when I get a new computer and want to see how fast it is compared to older ones. I wrote a basic GoL simulation for the Sinclair Spectrum back in the early 90s.

In the last few days there have been a smattering of posts on Twitter that have sparked my interest in the GoL again. First was Charles Stross linking to a GoL simulation simulated in Gol, which amazed me. I knew that type of simulation in GoL would be possible, because GoL is a Universal Turing Machine, I’d just never seen anything that complicated done in GoL.

The second spark was a post by Mark VandeWettering with a FFT based GoL simulation. His post includes example code, so I gave it a try. The output is a bunch of PGM image files, to convert these to video to see how the simulation progressed I used ImageMagick and ffmpeg.

#First off, convert the pgm files to something ffmpeg can handle
$ for f in *pgm ; do convert -quality 100 $f `basename $f ppm`.png; done

#Then set ffmpeg loose on the new images to make a video
$ ffmpeg -r 10 -b 1800 -i frame.%04d.pgm.png out.mp4

This is the resulting video – it wasn’t a particularly interesting output from the sim. If I keep playing with GoL I may post something more appealing.

Fire comes to Dagenham

As part of the Dagenham Town Show parade, the [REDACTED] torch, outriders, runners, police and sponsors came to town. Other boroughs get the torch on midweek mornings, we got to incorporate the visit into the annual carnival parade.

Unfortunately, I’ve no idea of the identity of the chap carrying the touch, if you know drop me a comment.