Category Archives: Geekery

Rough Shudder

I won 3 mini bottles of wine for reciting pi to 52 decimal places. Geekiest thing I've ever done?
I won 3 mini bottles of wine for reciting pi to 52 decimal places. Geekiest thing I’ve ever done?

The last month has been an interesting one. Certainly a lot has happened over Easter that has got me thinking about my long-term career prospects and even short-term goals.

To start with, the University has started an ‘Operational Review’ seemingly in an attempt to stifle research efforts and reduce the student experience all in the name of short-term cost-savings. My two cents is that the university should be investing in better marketing to entice new undergraduate students to Surrey instead of the other top universities with with we now compete due to increased entry requirements. But what do I know, every time students are ‘spoken down to’ regarding the changes, dumbing down information with meaningless metaphors and simply saying ‘don’t worry your little heads about it, let the adults work it out’. Frankly, it’s pathetic.

The food at vegfest this year was really good. I'm still not convinced about the whole "meat-free meat" thing though.
The food at vegfest this year was really good. I’m still not convinced about the whole “meat-free meat” thing though.

Moving on to something more exciting and positive, Emily and I went on a boating weekend in March. Just the two of us in the fresh midlands countryside gave us time to relax and get away from all the stress of operational reviews, thesis reports and conference deadlines. Life in the slow lane for 48 hours. It was bliss. To say I’m looking forward to this summer’s marathon boat trip to Bristol would be an understatement.

Back to PhD life again, and it was time for my thesis review at the end of March. This is a new report you have to write for your 2-year milestone. It caused much argument and debate between my supervisor and I for a good many weeks, resulting in a stale-mate where neither of us are happy with the outcome. I’m still unsure about what to do about this, but thankfully the head of department has been very helpful in moving things along, albeit with me still carrying more than a teaspoon full of scepticism. Alas.

carrying these back from the Boat Race on packed public transport was totally worth it.
Carrying these back from the Boat Race on packed public transport was totally worth it.

I’ve been taking more of an interest in my personal fitness again. Stuart and I are still going climbing on a weekly basis and hoping to transcend to new heights by taking our skills outdoors very soon. I’ve been keenly going to weekly Roller Derby sessions, and went to cheer on the girls team in a game in Coventry a few weeks back.

By far my biggest achievement recently has been playing in my first Roller Derby game! It was a men’s rookie game made up of guys from various teams around the country. Playing with people I’d never met before in front of a crowd (containing my parents!) could be described as being “thown in at the deep end”, but Emily had made me a sign saying “BRING THE POWER” and I managed to score 14 points for my team! It was a great learning experience and I’m now eagerly awaiting my next chance to play.

If that wasn’t enough fitness news, I’m attempting Tough Mudder on Saturday. I say attempting because it’s a 12-mile military-style obstacle course and I’ve done next to no training. Should be a laugh. I might die.


Surrey’s New 5G Building Progress

Two years ago, just before the widespread launch of 4G, the University of Surrey announced plans to become home to the world’s first, dedicated, 5G research centre. 5G is set to become the next standard in mobile data communications, succeeding 3G and 4G. It might seem weird that work is already underway to replace a standard that has only just come to market, but historically that’s how it’s done – 4G was being worked on in the US way before 3G was even a thing.

And now the UK and European governments understand the economical importance of being in the research race to develop the next global mobile communication standard, there is a huge emphasis on getting ahead of the game before some else (read: the US) gets there first and steals all the patent and royalty goodies.

Over £40m of funding from industry partners and funding councils will be used to create a new building on the University’s main campus. I say it will… but it’s actually already half finished!

I’m quite excited about this new research centre, not only because Surrey will be showing off its research muscles, but also because it’s an exciting addition to a campus that I’ve seen change so much over my last seven years here. However, unlike the other changes – such as the new LRC block built a few years ago – I want to document this one a bit.

So, I’ve been taking photos of the development as it’s progressed, and now present to you the construction progress so far…

27 January 2014 – Site is clear and a big hole in the ground is emerging (Also, January rain mists up the viewing window)
21 February 2014 – The hole in the ground looks pretty much as finished as a hole in the ground can, maybe we’ll see some concrete go in soon…
17 March 2014 – Indeed, thefoundations have taken shape
24 March 2014 – The front wall of the building is starting to appear
3 April 2014 – The basement level has a roof. When it is finished, the basement level will house a large seminar room and a spectacular sloped entrance from the east side of the building.
10 April 2014 – More work happening on the ground floor
10 April 2014 – A giant crane appears on-site to help with the construction on the next floors
29 April 2014 – The walls have become opaque and level 1 is reached
21 May 2014 – View across PATS field, which is getting slightly smaller to accommodate the new building. The 5G centre is largely placed on the old bowls green, which I can’t imagine many students are going to miss.
5 June 2014 – Another floor has taken shape as the building continues to rise…
26 June 2014 – Looks like we’re up to the final height of the building. Ground, 1st and 2nd floor in, as well as the basement.
22 July 2014 – The glass panelling on the façade has started going in!

The 5G Innovation Centre is scheduled for completion in early 2015, and I can’t wait to get inside and have a look around! Until then, I’ll keep snapping away and keep you up-to-date on progress when something exciting happens!

If you want to see the full plans and mock-ups of the final exterior of the building, then you can see the full planning application by searching for “13/P/01052” on the Guildford Borough Planning and Building Control website. The application is titled “Construction of a new academic building (5G centre) …” and the document called “plans.pdf” is well worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing. I would post a direct link, but it doesn’t seem to work.

until next Thursday x

Twitter Mood

Happy New Year!

Despite the hours of programming I do for my PhD research, I also like to dabble in my spare time with more Web 2.0 things. The main reason I can think for doing this is because it’s something quite simple in comparison to my day-to-day work, and often nicely self-contained.

Recently I wrote a small web script that can determine how positive or negative someone is on Twitter by analysing their individual tweets using a technique known as sentiment analysis.I used a company called Alchemy API that tells you how positive or negative a sentence is using sentiment analysis.

My little program basically tells you how positive or negative any Twitter user is just by analysing their recent tweets.  Check out how positive your twitter feed is and post your results in the comments! It also ranks the tweets in order of positivity, so you can see where you might be most negative or positive.

Have a go using Twitter Mood!

As a starting point, you can try it on my Twitter screen name “cgrayscale”. Or try BarackObama, David_Cameron or shitlondon‎.

Twitter Mood
click on the image above to try Twitter Mood for yourself


It’s only designed as a bit of fun for now, just a little side project.

I am still working on my horror short by the way, but the last couple months of 2013 seemed to run away from me a bit! It’s still going to happen though so watch this space!


Never get the lyrics wrong to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky ever again with just a few lines of code…

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
int main()
   string pronoun[3] = { "She's", "I'm", "We're" };
   string endline[4] = { "'til the sun", "to get some", "for good fun", "to get lucky" };

   for(int i = 0; i < 12; i++)
      cout << pronoun[i < 4 ? i % 2 : 2] << " up all night " << endline[i < 8 ? i % 4 : 3] << endl;
      if(i % 4 == 3) cout << endl;

ERROR 404: File Not Found

While I was preparing my computer for installing Windows 7 on it, I managed to delete everything on one of my hard drives. This included the following, precious memories:

  • All church videos, pictures, posters and PowerPoint’s I’d ever made
  • The video from when I went to China in 2007
  • The videos from various other holidays on the boat, to Mallorca and others
  • All my school work from secondary school
  • Presentations made for my parents 50th parties and my brothers graduation
  • and a lot more…

As you can imagine this was pretty distressing (to paraphrase). It was almost worse to know that all the files were still there, on the disk, but couldn’t be read because the table telling the computer where all the files where had been wiped. Its like having put all your most valuable memories in a safe, and then forgetting the combination to the safe: its all still there, you just can’t get it.

So, continuing with the safe analogy, I set about finding a tool that could break open the case without the combination. I tried a program that I had used before (Recover Files), but that found nothing.

Then I tried a program called Pandora Recovery, that said that it could get back most of the files, but none of the videos. Oh, and anything it got back would not have a name or the folder structure. Essentially, I would get a single huge folder with thousands of files with random names.

I looked for a better solution. I came across a program that cost £70, but would do a scan for free (I know, sounds dodgy). That actually managed to find a lot of files and videos, but still didn’t have file names or folders. It also cut up the videos into little 10 second bits; not good when most of the videos were supposed to be over 1 hour long.

After 24 hours of trying to get these files back and failing, it didn’t look hopeful. The best outcome seemed to be being able to get back some files, but then having to spend the rest of my life sorting through the mess. There had to be a better way. I looked in dedicated forums for this sort of thing and kept finding people recommending this free program called Recuva. Nothing to loose…

After taking 5 hours to scan the hard drive (no exaggeration) it came back with the results. It had found files, lots of files, with names, and folders, lots of folders, with names. Videos, full and uncut. Wow!

I managed to get about 90% of my files back. It wasn’t perfect, some files were named wrong, like: “000000235$NOTES~1.DOC” which should have been: “Notes.doc”, but that was easily changed. I lost a few things: receipts for computers I’d built for people, some old emails, a few old programs and the odd word document here and there. But considering I’d managed to format my hard drive, all the important stuff was recovered.

So what can be learned from this experience:

  • If you ever find yourself having done something stupid and deleted something you want, DON’T PANIC! It can probably be recovered
  • If you want to sell an old hard drive, thoroughly wipe the drive several times to ensure the buyer won’t be able to see your files. This can be done to military standard using DBAN
  • Don’t ever pay for software! You can always find cheaper, and better, alternatives (well, kinda)
  • Always keep a backup! Seriously, do! No really, hard drives are so cheap nowadays you have no excuse, except stupidity.

So there you have it. I tell you this so you can be aware, but also because its therapeutic for me :)

Quote of the day: Designer Vagina!

(Don’t ask because you’re not going to like the answer!)

The Consumer Electronics Show

So I have been following the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas since Wednesday afternoon. Its been very good so far so I thought I’d give you a few of my highlights:

  • Windows 7: This is the news that Microsoft are today (Friday) releasing a free public test version of there new version of windows, the successor to Windows Vista, Windows 7. To be honest, this news came as no surprise, but it means I will finally get a chance to try out Windows 7 for myself.

  • Sony 27” OLED TV: Sony have on display a 27” OLED TV. This is amazing for a few reasons:
    • Firstly, the technology makes colours on TV’s so much clearer and sharper with a 1 million to 1 contrast ratio. It is also ultra thin, less than 10mm. And it requires much less power to run than existing plasmas or LCD TV’s.
    • The second reason its so amazing is that the only OLED TV you can buy today is an 11” model (from Sonly), so to jump to 27” in only 1 year is pretty huge.
    • The third reason is that its just so shiny!

  • The new Palm smart phone: So this was the big news of yesterday, that Palm have announced the latest version of their phone operating system and the first phone to run it, the “Pre”. It’s supposedly going to bring Palm back into the smart phone space. Looks good, certainly better than their current, dated interface. It also does everything that people want nowadays: camera, touch-screen, music, etc.

  • Panasonic 3D HD Home Theatre: OK, so this ones just a cool concept. Its 3D. Its HD. It… still requires you to wear those funky glasses, but hey! It’s still really cool!

Alright. That just about wraps this up for now. That’s just a small look at some of the cool stuff I’ve found so far at this years CES.

Check back with you all soon.

Note: If you’re getting this post via Email then you won’t be able to see any of the videos I put in it. If you want to check them out, just head on over to