Star Wars, Aliens, Zombies. Cinema firsts.

I’m not much of a film buff. I am occasionally persuaded to go to the cinema by my better half and even though I tend to gripe somewhat a lot beforehand, I usually enjoy the experience. However, I can only remember one time where I’ve visited a cinema alone – which was to see The Damned United. I even own a copy on DVD, but I don’t tend to watch it that often as it makes me cry. This is because I don’t expect to see Derby County win anything again in my lifetime, let alone The Premiership.

Anyway, the latest and 107th suggestion from Post40Bloggers is to write about your first cinema experience. As always, I’m going to bend the rules (what rules?) slightly and talk about my first three cinematic firsts instead.

My first ever trip to the cinema was with my brother to see Star Wars in 1977. My mother took us, under protest, to the long-demolished Ladbroke Film Centre in Chaddesden. Even as a mere thirteen year old I could tell that the place had seen better days. What had once been a glorious single screen Art Deco cinema had been turned into a failing bingo hall with two small upstairs screens where the balcony had once been. I remember the carpet being sticky with popcorn and something that was too orangey for crows. Star Wars seemed exciting enough at the time, but you have to remember that I didn’t have anything to compare it with. I haven’t watched Star Wars, or any of the many sequels / prequels since and I don’t feel as if I’ve missed out on life.

The second experience I’ve decided to recall is the first X certificate film I saw. I can date this precisely, to the Saturday afternoon of 24th November 1979. This was the day that the then European Cup holders lost to the mighty Rams 4-1. I know this to be the case as when I was traveling home on the 102 bus there were several people reading “the green ‘un” football special which had the glorious news splashed all over it. The joy was short-lived – Derby were relegated at the end of the season.

The film I saw? Alien. I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver, but not with the film. I’ve tried to watch it again a number of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through to the end.

My third cinematic first is from the summer of 1980. This was the first time I took a girl on a date to the cinema. To watch Zombies – Dawn of the dead. The one set in a shopping mall. With lots of gore and violence. Not exactly romantic. With hindsight, it perhaps wasn’t the best choice of film. Somewhere towards the end, there’s a particularly gruesome scene involving a helicopter. It certainly disturbed my companion, as she drove her very sharp nails deeply into the back of my hand. I still carry some tiny white scars from that evening today. The relationship didn’t last.

As I wrote at the start, I’m not a film buff. At all. But given my early experiences of the cinema, is it any real wonder?

Lymphoma: facing change

Last night I was on a flight from Rome to London. A couple of hours into the flight I was bored and distractedly looking at photographs on my tablet. I came across a selfie I’d taken in May 2015. I’ve no idea why I took it (I suspect that I hadn’t realised that I’d taken it), but it reminded me how much the left side of my face and neck has changed since my lymphoma diagnosis.

Here’s the photograph I found from May 2015 …

May 2015 selfie… and here’s the one I took last night somewhere over the English Channel.

January 2017 selfieI’m pleased to see that my eyebrows remain as wild and as out of control as ever. But those lumps. Crumbs. That’s some progression. It’s a good job I’ve never been vain about my astoundingly handsome looks. (I did however have to put the camera into ‘beauty face’ mode, so as not to scare the young and impressionable).

The good news is that chemotherapy will reduce the size of the lumps if it’s successful. The bad news is, well, chemotherapy. At the moment I’m happier without it given the general outcomes for MCL treatment, as the longer I can safely put treatment off the longer I’m likely to live.

I’d still got my tablet out as we were coming into land and was treated to some lovely views over London as the night was clear. I was over the wing, so my view was restricted, but here’s the most in-focus shot I managed, to distract you from gazing on my lovely countenance. Canary Wharf is in the centre, with the Millennium Dome (or whatever it’s called now) on the right. London is so much more attractive from 4,000m than at ground level.

London from the air, 14-01-2017

Inspired by the 48th post40bloggers writing prompt: Sit in front of a mirror and write about your face.

Open University enrolments fell again in 2015/16

It’s the time of year when HESA – The Higher Education Statistics Agency – issue their statistical first release covering student enrolments and qualifications obtained. Against a background of a small annual rise in all enrolments at UK HE providers (up 1%) and a slight fall in part-time ones (down 1%) on the previous year, Open University enrolments fell a little over 4% (*). This marks the sixth straight year of decline from a peak of 209,705 in 2009/10 to 126,620 in 2015/16. Postgraduate enrolments are around half of what they used to be.

Part-timers now account for 24% of undergraduate and postgraduate students. In the years preceding significant changes to HE finances (the abolition of ELQ funding under Labour and the tuition fee reforms under the coalition) this figure was closer to 40%.

Open University enrolments 2008/09 to 2015/16 However, the drop is nothing like as dramatic as in previous years. As a graduate of the OU, I hope that this signals it has managed to identify a new ‘core’ market and has a sustainable future. After all, in an increasingly competitive and uncertain world, top class HE providers offering accessible second chances will become ever more important.

 

 

(*) Source: Table 3 of the SFR. Numbers obtained by adding together the total number of undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments at the Open University in England (which includes overseas domiciled students), Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Raspberry Pi motion sensitive camera

Other than messing around with a few FORTRAN benchmarks and learning how to code using Python, I haven’t really used my Raspberry Pi computers for very much that’s been practical. However, having bought a Raspberry Pi camera to play with over Christmas, I decided to have a go at building a motion sensitive camera for the garage. It’s cheap and easy to find passive infrared detectors these days, so I acquired three for the princely sum of £5.

The passive infrared detector
PIR detector

The first challenge was working out the function of the three pins in the foreground. A little bit of searching led me to the conclusion that the top pin is the ground, the bottom pin the 5v supply, with the middle being the status pin. If the middle pin goes high, it means that motion has been detected. The sensitivity of the device, and the length of time the status pin stays high for, can be adjusted using the two potentiometers.

I connected the power pins to a couple of the available 5v supply and ground pins on a Raspberry Pi 2. I used physical pin 26 (GPIO pin 7) to connect up to the status pin.

The code

The next challenge was writing some code to detect changes in the status pin and take a photograph when motion is detected. Fortunately, there are plenty of code snippets available that made this task relatively straightforward. The current version of my code is below.

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
import time
from picamera import PiCamera
 
# Initialise the camera settings
camera=PiCamera()
camera.resolution=(1024,768)
camera.rotation=(180)
camera.meter_mode=('backlit')
 
# Use GPIO pin 7 (physical pin 26) for the PIR detector
GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)
GPIO_PIR=7
GPIO.setup(GPIO_PIR,GPIO.IN)
 
# Variables used to determine when a picture should be taken.
# GPIO pin 7 => high (ts==1) from low (qs==0) 
# triggers the camera.
ts=0
qs=0
 
try:
 
  # Wait until PIR GPIO pin is low (0)  
  print "Waiting ..."
  while GPIO.input(GPIO_PIR)==1:
    ts=0    
  print "... detector is ready"     
 
  # Loop until quit signal
  while 1:
 
    # Read PIR state
    ts=GPIO.input(GPIO_PIR)
    # DEBUG print ts
    if ts==1 and qs==0:
      # Create unique filename with timestamp and set qs high
      t=time.localtime()
      timestamp=time.strftime('%Y%m%d-%H%M%S',t)
      filename=("img" + timestamp + ".jpg")
      camera.capture(filename)
      print "Movement detected - ",filename," created"
      qs=1
    elif ts==0 and qs==1:
      # GPIO pin 7 has returned to low, therefore set qs low
      qs=0
 
    # Wait for a second
    time.sleep(1)      
 
except KeyboardInterrupt:
 
  # Cleanup GPIO
  GPIO.cleanup()
  print "PIR-PiCamera program terminated"
The results

My Raspberry Pi 2 is now set up in the garage with the motion detector and camera. At the moment it’s simply saving the images onto a drive available to my home network, but I’m probably going to experiment with sending email alerts as well.

Raspberry Pi motion sensitive cameraI’m pleased to report my motion sensitive camera has already caught an intruder …

C7 thief!

Lovely, lovely grudges

I hold many grudges. Truly, I do. There’s the grudge that I hold from way back in infant school, where a teacher falsely accused me of the crime of walking on the newly planted flower beds. She moved to South Africa a few weeks after the incident. (The incident that didn’t happen, except in her mind, I hasten to add). I still held onto that grudge even as she was weeping her goodbyes at a school assembly. And guess what? I started to hold a grudge against South Africa – just because they were letting her move there. I haven’t revisited that particular grudge recently, but I suspect that it’s still there, fueled by their many recent cricketing victories over England.

I hold grudges against people who I’ve never met and don’t know. For example, there’s the one that I hold against the English O level examiner who had the temerity to ‘only’ award me a grade B. The aftermath caused me immense pain, both at school and at home. The confidence I lost in my academic abilities on that fateful winter morning as I was handed the results slip has taken me the best part of a lifetime to recover from. Well, not really, but I’m not going to let a nebulous concept like “truth” get in the way of me and my grudges.

However important these issues may have seemed to me at the time, neither could be said to have had any lasting impact on my objective well-being. Yet the hair still stands up on my neck when I think about them and the blood courses furiously in my veins.

So just imagine for a moment the strength of the grudge I hold for the dissembling politicians who lied and conned the country into supporting a vote to leave the EU. It’s almost as strong as the one that I now hold for the politicians who half-heartedly supported remaining, but who are now doing everything in their power to make sure that we leave on any terms – good or bad. However, I definitely don’t hold a grudge towards the growing number of leave voters who feel (rightly) that they were duped by these folk. I’m looking forward to seeing them punish this “elite” at the ballot box for many years to come as their lies are exposed.

But perhaps these feelings about the liars for leave aren’t really grudges. For me, a grudge that I can brood over and milk for years has to be completely irrational and relate to circumstances that I can do nothing about. A bit like the feud in Romeo and Juliet between the Montague and Capulet families perhaps. That’s a proper, irrational grudge that none of the protagonists understand the origins of or can fix unilaterally. But, I am, at last, starting to do something positive in politics again, to try to change things. It’s been a few leaflets here and there in 2016, but now the MSc is out-of-the-way and provided my health holds out, I hereby resolve to become rather more active in 2017.

 

This rant was brought to you courtesy of the 105th Post 40 Bloggers writing prompt. Please don’t hold it against them.

Choosing your tribe – them and us

“In Ireland you must choose your tribe. Reason has nothing to do with it.” 

 

So wrote J.G. Farrell in his 1970 novel Troubles. While much of what has happened politically in 2016 has felt both tribal and irrational to me, psychology suggests that we don’t even need big issues to persuade us to pick our tribe. Developed at much the same time that Farrell published his novel, Henri Tajfel’s minimal group experiments show how easy – how frighteningly easy – it is for us to do this.

Minimal groups can be formed using arbitrary criteria.  A coin toss can be used to divide people randomly into two groups. A simple task, such as distributing small amounts of money, results in people favouring members of their own group. This happens even when there is no objective difference between group members and the distribution is performed anonymously.

This result led Tajfel with others including John Turner, to develop Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT can be used as a way of explaining the minimal group results, but more importantly, can perhaps shed light on what happens in everyday life outside of laboratory experiments.

SIT argues that we categorise ourselves and others into different groups. A process of social identification occurs over time, where we decide which groups we identify with. Our decisions on group membership are influenced by others already in a particular group whose attitudes and beliefs we wish to emulate. Finally, our self-esteem is boosted by positive comparisons of our own group against others. It can also be damaged if other groups are held in higher regard by society than ours.

The need to pick our tribe, regardless of how rational or irrational that choice may seem to others, would therefore seem to be an inbuilt characteristic of humanity. Which of the tribes that we belong to is most important to us at any point in time depends on how salient the social identity it embodies becomes. If that identity feels threatened, then we often cling to it even harder.

It would seem to me that the events of the last week demonstrate that the most salient political identity in the UK at the moment is how pro-EU (or anti-EU) we feel. How else would you explain the truly wonderful result for Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election if that was not the case? How else would you explain the willingness of many people to work across traditional party political divides to make sure that we don’t drive our economy off a cliff? Or how else would you explain a large slice of the electorate still voting for the ‘independent’ ex-incumbent anyway?

Long may the country’s new-found passion for the EU continue. I have chosen my tribe and for the first time in some years, I feel rather good about being a member.

My response to the recent Post40Bloggers writing prompt number 104: “Them and Us“.

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