Mysterious objects

On saturday I went to The Great Wetherby Racecourse Antiques Fair with some friends. It was the first time I’d been and had a brilliant time browsing amongst all the fabulous things.

We were mooching around one of the stalls when we happened across this rather splendid object.

Mysterious object

The stall-holder wandered over.
“No one knows what it is. I’ll do you a discount if you can tell me!”

It was marked up at £55.
We pondered over what it could be for some time. The glass prism rotated by means of the circular brass knobs, and was attached to a brass tube about an inch across. There were a couple of what appeared to be lens holders which could be swung into position in front of the prism, and the bottom of the brass tube had two little spikes, as if on a gun sight.

The circular bit you can see at the top right is a tiny little bubble spirit level, and underneath, the three legs had a circular groove cut into them.

It was clear then, that this thing sat atop something else, something circular, that had to be level. We pondered some more. Some kind of navigation device, perhaps? We retired for tea and a delicious sausage butty in the catering tent, before continuing our wandering around the fair.

Now, me, I like a challenge. I fired up Google on my phone, and tried various searches. “Brass tube prism” suggested a spectrograph, but on further research it wasn’t that. I tried a few more things – navigation, sun, prism, all to no avail.

We found ourselves back at the stall. The chap was quite amused to see that we were still so intrigued.

“Could I interest you at the right price?” he enquired, hopefully.

Sadly, he was mistaking our interest – we were fascinated by the thing itself, fascinated by the mystery of what it was. It was a lovely object, but I was well aware that I had no need for it, I had nowhere to put it, and (most importantly)I didn’t have £55 to spend on it!
Finally I noticed that it had a brass plate on the front:

Kelvin, Bottomley & Baird, Patent numbers 9514-1905, 20185-1908, No. 17360, Glasgow, London, Basingstoke

aha! Something to work from. Kelvin, Bottomley & Baird, according to Google, were scientific instrument makers from 1913 to 1941. It was the patent number which uncovered the mystery though!

It’s a Sir W Thompson patent azimuth mirror, used for navigation. Sir W. Thompson went on to become Lord Kelvin, the first UK scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords and famous for his work in thermodynamics.

An azimuth mirror is fitted on top of a ship’s compass, which is mounted on gimbals, hence the bubble spirit level, and is used to taking bearings. Full instructions are here, on the Harvard University website, if you can make head or tail of them! Fascinating stuff.

An Apple a day

glowing apple logo on the back of a Macbook Pro laptop
glowing apple logo on the back of a Macbook Pro laptop

Sadly not my shiny. Working on some cunning ideas for a new project in a coffee shop (naturally). I was going old-school with notebook[1] and pen[2] vs a MacBook Pro. I’d made my notes and shot this photo, tweaked and uploaded it by the time my co-conspirator had fired the machine up!

[1] ok, ok, it was a Moleskine. I’m a hipster at heart.
[2] a Staedtler Stick 430M, for those into such things.

Cheetahs on the edge

This is absolutely stunning. I love slo-mo video at the best of times, and this is a fantastic example. Make sure HD is turned on, whack it up to fullscreen and sit back and enjoy.

Cheetahs on the Edge–Director’s Cut from Gregory Wilson on Vimeo.

Cheetahs are the fastest runners on the planet. Combining the resources of National Geographic and the Cincinnati Zoo, and drawing on the skills of a Hollywood action movie crew, we documented these amazing cats in a way that’s never been done before.

Using a Phantom camera filming at 1200 frames per second while zooming beside a sprinting cheetah, the team captured every nuance of the cat’s movement as it reached top speeds of 60+ miles per hour.

The extraordinary footage that follows is a compilation of multiple runs by five cheetahs during three days of filming.

For more information about cheetah conservation, visit


I was sent a pack of sugru to review the other day. It’s pretty funky stuff – out of the packet it’s soft & pliable and feels a bit like blu-tack. You’ve got about 30 minutes to use it out of the pack and it cures in 24 hours, bonds to pretty much anything and turns into a flexible silicone rubber which is waterproof, heatproof (from -50°C to + 180°C) and really very strong.

The pack I got contained 8 mini foil packs of black sugru – according to the instructions it’ll last for six months at room temperature, longer if you keep it in the fridge). Cost via the website: £11 + shipping, or £1.37 per pack. You can get it in smaller packs too. The sugru store is here:

I decided to make some custom-fit earbuds, using my very cheap Philips earbuds – they were less than a tenner and a replacement for my beloved Shure SE115s until I can afford a decent replacement set. The Philips ones sound ok, but let outside noise in really badly (unlike the Shure buds).

The fix was pretty easy to do – roll back the outer rubber bit of the earbud, pop a bit of sugru behind, fold the rubber bit back over then stick the earbuds in your ear. Give it a wiggle to get a good fit, take the earbuds out and leave the sugru to set.

There’s a video on the Sugru website:

Tried them this morning, and whilst it’s not a perfect fit, it cuts out a significant amount of background noise, giving a much clearer sound. I might have another go and use a bit more sugru – I was a bit sparing with it, but the little individual packs hold a decent amount. 5g of sugru goes a long way!

I had some left over from the earbud fix, so decided to see what else I could use it for.

The locking ring on my Opinel pocketknife is metal, and can be pretty slippery if you’re trying to open the blade in the wet. I put a small band of sugru around the metal collar and used the back of a key to give it some ridges for extra grip.

Opinel penknife plus Sugru hack

Bonus is there’s now an extra grippy bit when you’re using the knife!

And one final hack using the last bit of the pack (and remember, this is all from one 5g packet), I added a little lump of sugru to the volume dial on my desktop PC speakers. The dial is black, with a tiny black dot indicating the volume you’ve got it set at. Pretty hard to tell how loud you’ve got it set.

Now it’s got a lump where the dot is (should have taken a photo really!) so I can see at a glance how loud the kids have turned up the speakers!
So, all in all, it’s pretty versatile stuff. I’m already looking at other things I can use it for around the house and garden, and the sugru site has some great hacks which I’ll be checking out.

reblogged: I would not believe it unless I’d seen it

I can watch Danny MacAskill do amazing things on bikes all day. Never seen someone do the same sort of things on a ten grand racing bike though…

I would not believe it unless I’d seen it.


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