Financial pandemic

During the most dramatic paroxysms of the banking sector last autumn, they kept saying, in the media, that this was the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But I think a lot of people (like me, initially) heard that as: the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And the thing is, they were using the terminology correctly. It was a very serious crisis of the financial system — that is, a banking crisis. And it was the worst one since the Depression. But it was not then and is still not (yet) the worst economic crisis since the Depression. So, assuming I was not the only one who misunderstood, there was a disconnect between what they were saying and what their audience were hearing.


I think the same thing is going on with the swine flu. The WHO have just raised the alert level to five on their scaring-the-shit-out-of-everyone scale, meaning that they fear a pandemic is ‘imminent’. The trouble is that when I hear the word ‘pandemic’ I think ‘Spanish Flu!’ or indeed ‘Black Death!!’. Death and devastation on a vast scale. Tens of millions dead.

Whereas what the WHO means by pandemic is something like ‘international outbreak of serious infectious disease’. A major public health event, but not necessarily with quite the overtones of The End Of Days. For example, I was surprised to learn that there have been two serious flu pandemics since 1918 — the Asian flu in 1957-8 and the Hong Kong flu in 1968-9. They both killed about a million people, so I don’t want to downplay them too much, but it’s not exactly the Black Death. Apparently something like 34,000 die from flu in the US in a normal year, and the Hong Kong flu killed about 34,000, so it was effectively an extra flu season.

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Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Your Inner Fish is a book which uses comparisons between human anatomy and the anatomy of other animals, living or extinct, to show how evolution helps explain the way we are and the way our bodies develop. Shubin is the palaeontologist who discovered Tiktaalik, one of the key fossils in understanding the fish/tetrapod transition, so that features somewhat, but he also draws on a wide range of examples from other species. tiktaalik

So for example, he traces the evolution of fin into hand over evolutionary history, but also examines how the growing embryo creates a hand (or a fin) from a blob of undifferentiated cells. He uses the evolutionary relationship between the structure of the human head and the gill arches of a shark to explain why the nerves of the head have such a peculiar relationship, how hiccuping is related to our amphibian ancestry, and so on.

Most of this material is rather technical and many of the examples were somewhat familiar to me, so the book could easily have been either impenetrable or just dull. In fact I found it worked very well; even when I had encountered some of the examples before, having them all put together into one book was very helpful. I really did feel after reading it that I was more in touch with my inner fish (and inner wormy thing, for that matter).

And it’s well written, as well. There was a rather clumsy bit in one the first chapter where he attempts to explain cladistics via a visit to the zoo, which had me worried that the book was going to be aimed at eleven-year-olds, but fortunately it turned out to be a blip. Generally the book seems well-pitched for intelligent adults who are curious about biology.

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Wolf flu

The swine flu outbreak had me thinking: presumably the very nature of infectious diseases means that, if you want to beat them, you have to act fast and take large-scale measures. You have to act, every time, as though this one is The Big One because if it is, then time is of the essence.

But of course it means the authorities are open to accusations of needless alarmism and crying wolf. This is the third ‘pandemic’ this decade, after SARS and bird flu; how many times can we have these alerts before people stop taking them seriously?

Although as long as governments keep taking them seriously, perhaps it would be no bad thing if the media treated them more as routine news stories and less like the first horseman of the apocalypse had just appeared.

I’m assuming, btw, that the swine flu is not going to be the pandemic that kills us all. I hope I’m not tempting fate.

» The photo is ‘Padrecito Posero’, © Eneas De Troya and used under a CC attribution licence.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Or strictly speaking, since it’s a graphic novel: words by Alan Moore, pictures by Dave Gibbons. but I think in this case it’s the writing which makes the book interesting.

I was curious to read Watchmen because after the movie came out I read and heard various people make quite grand claims for its importance. Just to pick one, one of the blurbs on this copy points out that it was ‘one of Time Magazine’s 100 best English-language novels since 1923’. And another blurb quotes ‘Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof’ as saying it is ‘the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced’.*

I like the fact that it’s firmly within the comic-book tradition in style and subject matter; it is an attempt to make a superhero comic which is a serious work of art. Whether or not you think it succeeds, I think that’s a more interesting project than something like Persepolis, which is the presentation of an obviously worthy, serious subject in a cartoon format.

I did enjoy it; overall it works and I can see why it has a following. If I’m judging it by the standards of the great novels of the C20th, though… maybe not. I think the best thing about it is probably the characterisation. Only one of the heroes actually has superpowers; the rest are just vigilantes, and I think Moore does a good job of creating a bunch of characters who seem neurotic and broken enough to dress in spandex and go and beat up criminals. Some of the psychological explanations of why they are like that seem a bit facile, mind you. And I like some of the political themes that run through it; the fact, for example, that the heroes are generally reactionary defenders of the status quo.

On the other hand, some of the dialogue seemed a bit clunky. And when it really reached for Big Themes, especially at the end, it lost me rather. It seemed like the kind of thing that would be, like, really profound after several spliffs.

So, you know, I did like it, but I didn’t think it was one of the great novels of our time. It’s possible I’m letting my biases show.

* Time was started in 1923, which is the reason for that arbitrary cut-off; the Lindelof quote is also kind of intriguing, though, because I have no idea what he counts as popular fiction: presumably it includes Stephen King and Zane Grey, but does it include Tolkien? Dickens?

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is an autobiography about growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. It’s about growing up in a war — Fuller was only eleven at the time of independence — and about the last throes of white colonialism and a dying way of life.

Her parents had been living in Kenya, but after Mau Mau they moved to Rhodesia, where Ian Douglas Smith had declared that there would never be majority rule, and fought to keep at least one part of Africa under white rule. Then after Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and their farm was taken by the new government, they moved first to Malawi and then to Zambia. It reminded me of travelling in Zimbabwe nearly twenty years ago, and meeting these white people from South Africa and Zimbabwe and Zambia who seemed to have a shared identity as white Africans that had no real connection with national borders. It’s not just whites in Africa who often have an ethnic identity which doesn’t fully coincide with their nationality, of course.

You don’t have to have any sympathy with the ideal of white rule in Africa to find something melancholy in a story of people being left stranded by the tide of history, their way of life disappearing around them, and this is rather a sad book; as well as the war and the politics, the family suffer more personal losses, with several children dying young and the mother turning more and more to alcohol. But there’s a lot of humour and colour along with the gloom.

She writes well. She has a good ear for dialogue, an eye for the absurd, and her portrayal of her parents’ attitudes to race (and indeed her own childhood attitudes) is unsparing but nuanced. She doesn’t whitewash anything but she’s not interested in demonising her family either.

Here’s a little fairly randomly chosen extract:

We stop at the SPCA in Umtali and collect a host of huge dogs, and then we collect dogs abandoned by civil-war fleeing farmers. These dogs are found tied to trees or staring hopefully down flat driveways, waiting for their nonreturning owners. their owners have gone in the middle of the night to South Africa, Australia, Canada, England. We call it the chicken run. Or we say they gapped it. But they gapped it without their pets.

One day Dad says to Mum, ‘Either I go, or some of those bloody dogs have to go.’
‘But they don’t have anywhere to go.’

Dad is in a rage. He aims a kick at a cluster of dogs, who cheerfully return his gesture with jump-up licking let’s-playfulness.

Mum says, ‘See? How sweet.’
‘I mean it, Nicola.’

So the dogs stay with us until untimely death does them part.

The life expectancy of a dog  on our farm is not great. The dogs are killed by baboons, wild pigs, snakes, wire snares and each other. A few eat the poison blocks left out in the barns for rats. Or they eat cow shit on which dip for killing ticks has splattered and they dissolve in frothy-mouthed fits. They get tick fever and their hearts fail from the heat. More dogs come to take the place of those whose graves are wept-upon humps in the fields below the house.

We buy a 1967 mineproofed Land Rover, complete with siren, and call her Lucy. Lucy, for Luck.

‘Why do we have the bee-ba?’
‘To scare terrorists.’

But Mum and Dad don’t use the siren except to announce their arrival at parties.

I read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight as my book from Zimbabwe for the Read the World challenge. As it turns out, although Alexandra Fuller’s parents spent pretty much their whole lives in Africa and she was conceived in Rhodesia, she was born during about the only two year period when they were living in England… but I’m going to count it anyway.

» The photo, ‘Ritsa and Baobab Tree, Rhodesia, 1973‘, has no direct connection to the book, except that it’s a picture I found on Flickr taken in the 70s in Rhodesia. It is © Robert Wallace and used under a CC by-nc-nd licence.

Lovely Richmond

I said in my last Thames Path post that, if you wanted to go a for a walk in that part of west London, you’d be better off going to Kew Gardens. Well, I can now add: you’d be better off going to Richmond Park, as well. I can’t quite believe I’ve never been there before.


Not only is it green enough to feel like a bit of a break from the city, it actually feels significantly wilder than most of the actual countryside in the south-east of England. Having been enclosed as a royal deer park in the mid 17th century, it has just been grazed by deer for 350 years and has the distinctive feel of a really well-established ecosystem that hasn’t been messed around with too much. There are loads of mature trees — apparently including 1200 ancient trees, mainly gnarly pollard oaks — and some fenced-off areas to allow patches of woodland with more undergrowth, ponds, bits of gorse. On a sunny day it was absolutely lovely. And in the Isabella Plantation, which is an area of ornamental garden, the rhododendrons and azaleas were looking amazing, and the bluebells were just opening — they’re going to look spectacular in about a week — and it was a pleasure to be there.


Plus whitethroat, blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff, skylark, stock dove, jackdaw, kestrel and so on. And two Egyptian geese with goslings, so that’s another exotic species to go with the parakeets that are all over the place. Apparently they have reed buntings, which I didn’t see, and lesser-spotted woodpecker, which I haven’t seen for years, so that’s two more reasons to go back some time.


Oh, and slightly outside the park, the view from the top of Richmond Hill across the Thames is fabulous.

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The Thames Path, Kew to Teddington

I know it has been nearly a year since I last did a section of the Thames Path, but I always intended to do at least one more bit, and I finally got round to it. Incidentally, here’s a trivia question for you: there are four World Heritage Sites in London, all visible from the Thames Path. What are they? Answers in a footnote.*


The first notable thing to be seen on this part of the walk — apart from a boat with a Grace Jones figurehead — is an island called Brentford Ait. Apparently ‘ait’ or ‘eyot’ is a word used for an island in a river, particularly the Thames. No, I didn’t know that either.

Anyway, the reason it is interesting, to me, is that it has a large heronry on it. The only heronry I knew about it London was the one in Regent’s Park. They obviously fly quite a long way looking for food, because you see herons all over London wherever there’s a patch of water, including my garden pond, but they congregate in nesting colonies and build big nests in trees. Something you can’t see very well in this rubbish picture, because the nests were too far away; I’ve cropped the picture down significantly but you still can’t see much.


There were some more herons nesting further upriver, as well, on some small islands at Richmond.

The path then goes around the back of Kew Gardens. The path is raised up with some kind of drainage ditch on the other side from the river, so it would be quite difficult to sneak over the fence, but you can see a little bit of the gardens from the path. Meanwhile on the north bank of the river is Syon Park. So it all feels quite rural, and the flowers were out and the birds were singing — lots of wrens, particularly, when I was there — and it’s all pleasant enough, although I’d say that if you’re in that part of London and want to go for a walk: pay the entrance fee and walk in Kew Gardens itself.

This is the back of Syon House, built in the mid-C16th by the Duke of Somerset:


After Kew Gardens the path goes past the Royal Mid Surrey Golf Club, and over the river there’s another tree-covered island, Isleworth Ait, to help keep up the rural feel. The drainage ditch, if that’s what it is, widens out here into a respectable looking stream which seems to be quite thoughtfully managed for wildlife. By which I mean that it has been allowed to get a bit untidy and overgrown, with willow trees growing in the water, but there are clear signs of maintenance, so it’s not just neglected. I heard blackcap and willow warbler and saw a sedge warbler singing in the undergrowth, so that was quite encouraging — although at this time of the year they may just be passing through on their way to somewhere else. There were also quite a lot of butterflies, particularly one of my favourites, the orange tip.


The next stage really is Richmond, with more herons, lots of generally expensive looking people and some places to stop for lunch. And what might be a Canada Goose × Bar-headed Goose hybrid. It was with a group of Canada Geese and one Bar-headed Goose, so it’s I think it’s a reasonable guess. Neither species is native here, and they don’t occur wild together — the Bar-headed Goose is from Central Asia and the Canada Goose from North America — but waterfowl hybridise fairly freely.

EDIT: the nice people at the Flickr Hybrid birds group seem to think it might be Canada Goose × Greylag/domestic goose.

Anyway after Richmond, it’s more of the same — leafy towpath — until Teddington Lock where I crossed the footbridge and caught a train at Teddington. Pleasant enough but not very interesting. Although Teddington Lock was where the Monty Python fish-slapping dance was filmed, which is kind of mildly neat.

Incidentally, at Teddington I had a little lesson in why it might not be a good idea to rely too heavily on Google Maps. This is my iPhone’s advice on the best route to the station from where I was on the other side of the river:


Which would seem pretty reasonable if I wasn’t standing right next to a footbridge at the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant having magical maps in your pocket the whole time; I’m just glad I consulted the A-Z before leaving the house.

» You can see more of my photos from this section of the walk on Flickr. You can even see them on a map although some of the locations are approximate.

* Those World Heritage Sites are, in the order you pass them walking upstream:

  1. Maritime Greenwich, i.e. the Queen’s House designed by Inigo Jones, the Royal Naval College designed by Christopher Wren, the Observatory designed by Wren and Robert Hooke, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St Alphege’s church, Greenwich Park and so on.
  2. The Tower of London. Pretty self-explanatory, I think. Notably, of course, the Tower is not just a historically important medieval castle; it’s unusually early, since a lot of it dates back to the C11th.
  3. Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster (i.e. the parliament buildings) and St Margaret’s Church. In some ways the Abbey and the houses of parliament could almost be two separate World Heritage Sites, being both very important in their own right and separated by several centuries chronologically, but the whole complex of buildings is interconnected so I guess it makes sense.
  4. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Which is why I got started on the subject now. Kew Gardens are important to the history of science and of landscape gardening. And indeed it’s still an important scientific institution.

All very fair choices, I think. The most obvious gap in the list would be St Paul’s Cathedral, I guess. Or since they don’t mind lumping a few buildings together to make one WHS, how about ‘St Paul’s Cathedral and the city churches’ to take in all those Wren and Hawksmoor churches built after the Great Fire. Buckingham Palace is an obvious possibility, perhaps, except that I don’t think anyone claims that it’s particularly architecturally interesting.

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Barnes birding

Had a nice day’s birding at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust place at Barnes. Didn’t manage to see or hear the Lesser Whitethroat which was apparently there this morning, but I did see Little Ringed Plover, which scratches one more species off my ’embarrassing gaps’ list: i.e. birds I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen.

Other mildly notable sightings include Buzzard, which is common as muck over most of the country but not in the south east of England, loads of chirruping Sand Martins (i.e. what Americans call ‘Bank Swallows’), Lapwings making those extraordinary noises they make. And nice views of Reed Bunting:


Not a great photo, I know, but I’m just amazed I managed to get anything at all by holding the camera of my iPhone up to the telescope eyepiece.

Full bird list after the jump, (unless I’ve forgotten something; wasn’t taking notes).


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel* about growing up in Iran. I think it might be the first graphic novel I’ve read — certainly the first critically acclaimed one. So I’ve sort of been wondering what it does or doesn’t gain from being drawn as well as written… and haven’t really reached a conclusion.

So first things first: it certainly does work. It’s a vivid portrayal of day-to-day experience, initially under the Shah but mainly after the Islamic revolution, and including a period of living away from her family in Europe. Politics and religion are inescapable and a constant presence, but it is full of the intimate details of everyday life: the music, the clothes, family, flirtation, and all the little ways that they try to accommodate or avoid the regime. The narrative is unsurprisingly full of tragic events, but it is also funny and honest.


But what the format brings to it; well, this book has a kind of directness. The pictures are very simple, cartoonish rather than any attempt at visual realism, and the quantity of text is relatively limited compared to what you would have in a prose memoir. So the overall effect is a very direct, stripped-down quality. I guess you might call it a naive style. Of course, that’s a quality of this book in particular rather than due to the graphic format.

Anyway, well worth reading.

* i.e. it’s an autobiography in comic strip form. I suppose by the logic of the terminology, that makes it a graphic autobiography. But that sounds confusing as well. *shrug*

Why I tend to believe that #amazonfail was a cock-up rather than anything more sinister

Well, firstly because the explanation as laid out here and here seems fairly plausible to me.

But mainly because I just don’t think that Amazon are that stupid. They sell an enormous amount of material which is liable to offend *somebody*: they sell books about being a gay parent and books about curing homosexuality through God. They sell books by young-earth creationists and books by angry atheists. They sell box sets of hardcore porn DVDs. They sell books by holocaust deniers.

The last thing they want is to be seen as endorsing any of those things. It is completely in their interest to be perceived as a non-judgemental buyer and seller of goods; the people who will sell anything, as long as its legal. The moment they are seen as exercising some kind of editorial control on the basis of a moral or political agenda, they lay themselves open to having to defend every product they sell.

They cannot be seen to be taking sides. And I think they know that.

The Ross/Brand incident and its aftermath

Yeah, I know, not exactly topical. But David Mitchell wrote a good article about it in the Guardian today and it seemed like a suitable moment to add my halfpennyworth.

It seems to me that the phone calls to Andrew Sachs were a special case. It bothered a lot of people who are not easily offended. I know that the outrage was orchestrated by the Daily Mail, but even so, I don’t think they would have been able to generate so many complaints if it hadn’t touched a nerve with a lot of people.

Leaving a message on someone’s answering machine making a joke about having slept with their granddaughter is just a dick thing to do. It would be a mean-spirited and distasteful thing to do even if you didn’t broadcast the message on national radio. It is in a sense as much bad manners as it is bad taste. And it was aimed directly at an individual who had done nothing to provoke or deserve it. If someone did it who wasn’t on the radio, just because they thought it was funny, it would be understood as harassment.

As you can tell, I think Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand crossed a line. I didn’t complain myself, but I can understand why people did, and an apology and some kind of disciplinary action was appropriate.

But that doesn’t mean that I support some kind of generalised campaign against bad taste at the BBC. An example: in the weeks after this happened, in the general climate of BBC self-flagellation, Frank Skinner made a little current affairs programme investigating the issue of bad language on television and particularly in comedy. To me, that’s a completely separate issue. I don’t care about bad language; sure, keep it off Blue Peter, but in an appropriate slot in the schedules I just don’t care. There is literally no amount of swearing you could fit into half an hour of television that I would find offensive. I might find it boring and unnecessary, but I am not going to be offended by it.

Or take the incontinent old women in Little Britain:

Now people might or might not find that kind of thing funny. They might well find it distasteful, in which case they can choose not watch it. They might even feel that there’s a serious social issue about the portrayal of the elderly, or the issue of incontinence, and that the show is actively harmful for that reason. But even if you find it offensive, it’s something which is performed by actors, which you have chosen to watch and which you can turn off. It is not the same as the BBC ringing your house and personally offending you, which is what they did to Andrew Sachs and the reason why so many people were angry.

It would be a tragedy for British popular culture if the BBC only ever made programmes which were completely inoffensive. The message I would want the BBC to take away from Sachsgate is not ‘don’t produce any material that might possibly offend people’. It’s ‘don’t call up individual members of the public and go out of your way to offend them personally’. Its the difference between a stand-up who makes fun of religion in a comedy club, and one who marches into a church on a Sunday morning and delivers the same material to the congregation halfway through the service.


More on iPhone field guides

This was originally posted in response to a comment from Rik, but I decided to bump it up into a separate post because it got quite long. He said, in response to my post about the iPhone guide to British & Irish butterflies:

So in an ideal world you’d be able to take a photo of butterfly X, touch the screen of the photo to help the software identify where the butterfly is, then get it to phone up a butterfly database which could then send back details to the app of the most likely candidates so you can quickly read up about it.

And I replied:

Your point about ‘where the butterfly is’ is an interesting one: since the iPhone has GPS and knows what time of year it is, I suppose it could theoretically use that information to quickly suggest a list of the most likely species for that area at that time of year. Which would be neat.

There’s a kind of trade-off for field guides between quantity of information and ease of use, so a beginner is often better off with a guide that has fewer species and less information. Otherwise they spend a lot of time looking at species that are extremely unlikely and the process becomes needlessly difficult. Meanwhile the expert who has enough knowledge to sort through the information appreciates having all the detail and the obscure species.

If anything the iPhone potentially exaggerates the problem of having too much information because while there’s the possibility of including more information andmore pictures than in a traditional guide, it’s more difficult to skim through the possibilities than it would be in a book. So finding ways of narrowing down people’s choices, of guiding them through the data, may be one of the key challenges for field guide designers on mobile platforms.

To go back to the GPS example, just being able to quickly eliminate all the species that are not normally found within 100 miles of where you are would be a good start, so if you’re in Kent you’re not looking at species found only in the Scottish highlands. And that would be even more true for a guide that covered a larger area like Europe or the US: imagine how great it would be to have a guide that showed you Spanish butterflies when you were in Spain and Swedish butterflies when you were in Sweden.

‘Butterflies of Britain and Ireland’ on the iPhone

Having written a whole post the other day about how much I wanted field guides on the iPhone and was willing to pay good money for them, I was pleased to hear that a new field guide was available in the App Store: Butterflies of Britain and Ireland (iTunes store link).

It’s an interesting reflection on how much I expect to pay for iPhone apps that a price of £9.99 seemed quite a lot, especially since I just paid £13.49 for a field guide to the butterflies of Europe that I’ll probably use about twice a year at most. Perhaps it’s because I just ordered that book (which hasn’t arrived yet) that I slightly balked at buying another field guide to butterflies. They’re not my main interest, after all. Still, by any reasonable standards a tenner isn’t a lot of money.

I haven’t actually used it in the field yet, but here are my immediate impressions. On the positive side, the content is excellent: high quality and comprehensive. My slight reservations are to do with the app’s usability as a field guide. I’ll give you a quick tour of the way the guide works and then explain what I mean.

It opens with a list of butterflies, which can be sorted either taxonomically or alphabetically:


This list doesn’t scroll quite as smoothly as it might, btw, but that’s a fairly trivial point. When you select a species, you get a screen like this:


As well as illustrations of the adult butterflies, it also includes the eggs, caterpillars and cocoons, plus a selection of photographs, a distribution map, a calendar, and a text description for each species. Te arrows in the top-right corner move between species.

The illustrations are by the excellent Richard Lewington.


You can flick from one picture to the next within a species, and zoom in on the illustrations or turn the phone to see them larger in landscape mode. In fact it behaves pretty much like the iPhone’s built-in Photos app, which is effectively what it is.

There are illustrations of male, female, upperside and underside, and sometimes variant forms. And here’s an example of a map:


The text is also very thorough:


As you can see, the content is really impressive: detailed, comprehensive and of high quality. I don’t have the expertise to judge the accuracy of the details, but it all appears to be very professional. Incidentally, I suppose one advantage of an electronic guide is that if people do spot any inaccuracies, they can be corrected via a software update.

But as I say, I don’t know how easy it would be to use as a field guide. If you were on a walk in the country, saw a butterfly and wanted to know what it was, it wouldn’t be that easy to quickly see what the possibilities are. There’s no easy way to compare the illustrations or information between two different species. Certainly you don’t have several illustrations on the same page in the way you would with a paper field guide, but also there’s no easy way to flick quickly back and forward between two or three species. You can’t skim through the information.

I don’t want to sound too negative: part of the problem is the fundamental limitations of the technology, particularly the size and resolution of the screen. And it’s still early days; I’m quite sure that over time developers will work out ways to make these apps more usable. The kind of key which is sometimes used for wildflowers, which uses a series of questions to help find the right species (is the stem smooth or hairy? are the leaves in pairs along the stem or alternating?) seems well suited to the iPhone, for example.

For this particular app I would ideally try to make the main screen for each species more informative at a glance: perhaps with a kind of summary screen showing two or three pictures of the adult butterflies — male and female or whatever is appropriate for that species — and a very rough distribution map. It would be a bit crowded and the pictures wouldn’t be very big, but it would be just enough information so you could quickly see whether you wanted to look in more detail or move on to another species. Then you could swipe the screen left to reveal the species screen as it is now, and drill down to find all the juicy details.

So the main species screen could look something like this (apologies for the clumsy mock-up):


And then you swipe across, or hit a button or whatever, to get the species screen as it is now, with all the more detailed information.

Anyway, I don’t mean to be too picky; as much as anything I’m just thinking out loud because I find it interesting. And despite the pickyness, I’m really pleased to see a British field guide in the App Store, and pleased that it has such high quality content. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

Hmmm. Decisions decisions.

I finally got a new lens for my camera yesterday — I say finally because for various reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve been waiting for one for months now — and I’m now not sure about it.

It’s a wider-angle lens (28mm, so equivalent to about 45mm on a film camera) and it’s not as fast as my old lens (f2.8 compared to f1.8). Of course I knew it wasn’t as fast when I bought it, but it was still a bit of a shock: it was really struggling yesterday in the gloomy conditions and I actually started to wonder whether I’d got a bad copy of the lens: I took about 60 test shots and none of them was really sharp.

Well, in today’s glorious sunshine it’s working much better, so I no longer think there’s actually anything wrong with it. But still, having a lens which is dodgy in low light conditions might be all very well in California, but it’s less wonderful in the UK, where the poor light often lasts from about September to April. I was really hoping to use it as a standard lens to just carry around with me, but if it only works when the sun’s out…

So I was considering returning it. On the other hand the only real alternative for a faster lens is the 35mm f2.0, which isn’t really that much wider than my old 50mm; unless I’m going to spend a lot more money. Which I don’t particularly want to do.

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