A Driving Instructor's Blog


I saw this on the news this morning. Zoo keepers – sorry, “officials” – shot dead a gorilla in a zoo in Cincinnati, after a four-year-old boy climbed through a barrier and fell into a moat.Harambe - shot dead "just in case" in USA

The gorilla made no threatening moves towards the boy, and was shot as a precaution (hey, this is America, right?) The gorilla, who was named Harambe, was a western lowland gorilla – a critically-endangered species.

No mention is made of the boy’s parents, who really are the ones who should have been in the guns’ sights. What the hell were they doing letting a four-year-old run loose and allowing him do something so ridiculously stupid? And what does it say about the job they’ve done of bringing him up if he was dumb enough to behave this way?

When I was four I wouldn’t have been allowed to run around like that, and especially not in a zoo. And since I can remember when I was four, I wouldn’t have tried to climb into an animal enclosure – my parents would have told me not to, and I would have listened.

Buy hey! This IS America, right?

And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks the child’s parents need a damned good talking to.


I was doing a bit of online research for some recipes for a slow cooker I just purchased. One recipe called for coconut milk, and I noticed one of the comments underneath:

I forgot coconut milk, will it still work with passata?? HELP PLS

This is what coconut milk looks like compared to passata. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk is the one on the left.Coconut Milk vs Passata

Furthermore, coconut milk tends to come from something called a “coconut”, like this.A coconut

Passata, on the other hand, is commonly made from things called “tomatoes”, which look like this.Tomatoes

This gives rise to a distinct difference in the colour region when you compare coconut milk alongside passata. There are also a few notable differences between the plants which produce them. Coconut Palm vs Tomato Vine

Coconuts grow somewhere between 15 and 30 metres in the air at the top of palm trees in various tropical and subtropical locations around the world (if you’re still stuck, coconut palms are the ones on the left). Each coconut – once it is removed from its tough outer casing – is hard and woody, and weighs nearly 1.5kg, and each palm can produce fruit for 70 years or more. On the other hand, tomatoes grow pretty much anywhere you want them on bushes usually no more than about 1-2 metres off the ground. A tomato plant can live for a few years, though they’re mostly treated as annuals and new ones planted each year. A typical tomato is soft and squishy and weighs in at around 100 grams. Every 100 grams of coconut contains about 6g of sugar and over 30 grams of fat, compared with about 2.5 grams of sugar and virtually no fat in the same amount of tomato. There are a lot of other nutritional differences.

I wonder if the person who asked that question ever tried the recipe using passata instead of coconut milk?


I’m still making the most of the clear weather, which is forecast to come to an end this weekend. The moon is almost at its third quarter and the angle of the sun is showing just how uneven the earth-facing side really is.The moon as it appeared on 3 October 2015

I bought a new tripod, and this one is much more solid and easy to adjust than the super-cheap one I was using.

I should point out that I’m only doing this because I was surprised at how much detail I could get when I when I did that test photo last week (before the eclipse). So I thought I’d experiment.

The picture below shows the same area of the moon (two craters, in particular) as they appeared at full moon last Sunday and subsequently up until tonight.Crater sequence

At full moon, the two craters I have outlined are barely discernible as the sun’s light falls directly on to them. As the sun’s position changes, the craters become progressively more visible as shadows are cast by their walls. The edge of what I think is the Mare Imbrium is also more sharply defined, and craters which weren’t even visible to begin with suddenly appear.


Having seen the effect of the sun casting shadows across the face of the moon I took the opportunity to catch the latest phase tonight. The moon rises later each night, and it is quite low on the horizon – which led to this lucky shot.The tree got there first

Anyway, after moving away from the Silver Birch tree, this is the detail visible tonight.Moon as it appeared on 2 October 2015

I was brought up to believe that although there were craters on the moon, much of it – and certainly the front – was like a big dusty desert. Apollo mission photos did a lot to create this impression.Apollo 15 moon surface photo

When I was a child I used to have a telescope, but it wasn’t very powerful – as I’ve discovered the last week or so, much less powerful than the telephoto lens on my camera. With my telescope, you could just make out mountain ranges at the edge of the sun’s coverage, but little else. How times change.

The areas on the moon you think of as being quite featureless show up as being pocked by craters.The top part of the moon

Even the edges of the “seas” (or maria) are seen to cast shadows, suggestive of steep sides.The bottom part of the moon


It’s a clear night and I couldn’t resist getting a few more snaps of the moon now that it is waning. It’s amazing how much extra detail you get when the sun starts casting shadows instead of just hitting square on, as it does when the moon is full.The moon on 1st October 2015

This one shows the top corner.Moon - top corner

This is the top middle corner.Moon - top middle

Here’s the lower middle.Moon - lower middle

And finally, the bottom.Moon - bottom corner

At this rate, I’ll need to grow a beard and buy some horn-rimmed glasses.


I stayed up late last night to watch the eclipse. Here are some of the photos I took. First of all, the moon at around 10.30pm Sunday (before anything had started):Moon - 27/9/2015 approx 10.30pm

Now, the moon at about 1.20-am Monday morning. There was a hint of something in the top left, though it isn’t easily seen in the photo:Moon - about 1.20am Monday morning

This next one is at around 1.40am. Definitely something happening now but still not easily discernible on the photo:Moon - about 1.40am Monday morning

Now, the appearance at about 2.10am Monday. Absolutely no mistaking it now:Moon - approximately 2.10am Monday

This one is from around 2.30am:Moon - around 2.30am Monday morning

This is at 2.55am. I’d left it a bit long and it had progressed further than I expected:Moon - around 2.55am Monday morning

I noticed that although the reddish tinge was visible to the naked eye, I was focusing on the lit part of the moon so was getting quite a fast exposure – meaning that the red part wasn’t showing up. This next image is from the same time (2.55am), but with my focus on the darker part. The lit part is over-exposed slightly as a result:Moon - approx 2.55am Monday morning, different exposure

By now, it had almost reached totality and over-exposure wasn’t as much of a problem. This is from around 3.15am.Moon - around 3.15am Monday morning

Here’s another from the same time, with the focus shifted slightly:Moon - approx 3.15am Monday morning, different exposure

And finally around 3.40am. I couldn’t stay up any longer as I had to go to work in the morning (note that exposure time was so long you can even see a couple of stars just to the right):Moon - approximately 3.40am Monday Morning

And another different exposure from the same time:Moon - around 3.40am Monday morning, different exposure

If I ever do anything like this again, I’ll check to make sure forecast times are in BST and not GMT – everything was an hour later than I’d expected!


Anyone who is interested in this sort of thing will already know that Sunday night/Monday morning there will be a total lunar eclipse which coincides with a “supermoon” (where the moon is as close to the Earth as it gets, therefore at its largest). It’s quite a rare event, and another one isn’t due until 2033. The UK is also being dominated by high pressure at the moment, which promises clear skies.The moon as it appeared on 25 September

I’m planning to take some pictures of it, and if we DO get a clear sky then they should look like the one above. I took this tonight using a tripod and remote control shutter release with my Panasonic Lumix FZ200. You get an idea of how good this camera is for the price when you zoom in on the image a little.The lower left - showing Tycho, I think

If all goes to plan, I should be able to get a good set of images covering the eclipse.


Chile’s Atacama Desert is widely considered to be the driest place on earth. Some weather stations in the area have never recorded any rainfall at all, and others go for four years or more without recording any. It is believed that the region has been like this for at least 3 million years.

This story has been in the media before, but I was interested to see this BBC article which explains how they are using fine nets as fog traps to catch water from the regular fogs which roll in from the South Pacific. When I looked into it a little more, I found these two videos on YouTube.


Apparently, they can average 15,000 litres of water a day (I assume that is for each bank of nets). In the first video, local farmers are using the water to irrigate Aloe Vera crops. The second video shows them using the method to provide water to the city of Tacna, Peru, which has grown significantly in recent years. It’s weird seeing vegetables growing in desert sand.

It’s a great story.


It’s been a while since any new rat stories cropped up, but the original article I wrote about giant rats remains popular. So this latest item on the BBC website made me smile.

It talks of a race of super-rats which once lived in the Caribbean…

…some of which grew to the size of cats.

I think they must have forgotten about the ones in Bradford, which were – according to the natives – the size of a Fiat 500. The Caribbean ones were mere mice by comparison.


I saw a handful of palaeontology stories on the BBC website this week that made me smile. The first one informed us that Archeopteryx “wore feather trousers for display”.Archaeopteryx

I love the way that they can confidently deduce the entire colour scheme on the right from the fossil on the left. And I’m also amazed that anyone could make a living out of mocking up these creatures (if you look closely in the link, the feathered one on the right is a collection of bits of modern birds glued on to a model).

The second story concerned the “largest flying bird” ever.The largest flying bird ever

This time, we get an artist’s impression rather than an actual model – look closely at the beak region and marvel at what appears to be an Albatross with teeth added.

The third story – and this link is not on the BBC, though that’s where I first saw it – provides a video showing how a 440 million year old spider would have walked.

The amusing thing about this is that the video gives the impression of a creature the size of a small dog, when in actual fact the spider in question was only a few millimetres long. I can’t imagine an arachnid that small moving in a similar manner to an elephant!

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that the steps involved in creating a mock-up of anything that’s extinct are as follows:

  • select a modern animal to compare against
  • change the environmental context as necessary
  • pick the most bizarre colour palette you can find in Photoshop
  • add some teeth

You will note how I have demonstrated this using a cuddly Toucan. In its normal setting, it looks just like a Toucan should.A Toucan

However, by applying the above steps, you can see how a prehistoric version – toucanosaurus – would have looked if it had walked into New York (it couldn’t have flown, as it would obviously have been flightless back then). This is a definite likeness of such a prehistoric Toucan if one ever existed, by the way.Toucanosaurus

I mean, who can prove otherwise?