Category Archives: Location

Picnics in the rain

In Oman you can wait 6+ months for rain.

So when it does rain, people jump out of their cars to take photographs, students beg for class to be cancelled, and families picnic under the downpour.

Seems mad to me, living in the UK. In London it rains on 44% of days. Everything is seen differently by different people.

A friend’s dad told him:

Son, not everyone’s going to like you – that’s just how it is. Everyone sees you differently.

I found out last week that my friend had died. So this one’s for him.

Rest in peace mate x


Links: Rain stats, Oman blog and photo.

Initial idea came from From Our Own Correspondent, but I can’t recall which episode.

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Leaving West Ealing

Balcony view over Drayton Green… *sigh*…

The bare-chested hooligan next to me threw a water bottle filled with suspiciously yellow fluid towards the stage, so I decided to squeeze away from him. Oasis, live at Wembley Stadium, 22 July 2010.

The next day I was at the Ealing Blues Festival. Elderly patrons bopped behind us while families picnicked and middle-aged rockers nodded sagely to the beat. Less than ten miles away in the same city, but the two gigs were a world apart.

Ealing is a village surrounded by a city. London keeps its distance. Since moving here four years ago, my wife and I have settled happily into life in West Ealing, and now that we’re moving out we have created a lengthy Bucket List of places to revisit: Santa Maria, The Red Lion, Crispins, Mamas, Brent Lodge Park (where we got engaged, at the heart of the maze), The Village Inn, the canal walk and the Osterley Locks. If the list looks a little pub-heavy… well, that’s because we made it at The Drayton Court, our second living room.

Now we’re moving up to Hertfordshire, driven out (like so many young couples) by the British urge to buy and the difficulty of finding somewhere affordably spacious in Ealing. We always knew that we wouldn’t be able to buy here, yet we stayed because we fell in love with the community feeling we sensed on that July day back in 2010. We’ve been fortunate to make local friends, and through them we’ve developed a sense of belonging that most people miss when they move to London after finishing university. I’ve spent many years living in west London; Ealing is the first place I’ve ever bumped into someone I know in the street.

Now it’s time to buy, and it’s time to go. To some friends it seems that the south-east is divided into two halves: there’s London, and there’s outside London – so it’s a big thing when we tell them we’re going to move out. But for us, we left London four years ago. Ealing is a village surrounded by a city. And we can’t wait for this year’s Blues Festival.


This post originally appeared in Ealing Today.

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Data mapping for the ancient world

Dr. David Kilcullen makes really useful maps.

He and his team have worked with communities around the world, using Google Maps to help improve lives. One map made by a group of Libyan schoolgirls pinpointed local sniper positions to help their classmates navigate a route to school.

Last week’s Fast Company article about Kilcullen really intrigued me.

At its core it’s about how simple, free, online tools can be used to bring disparate data sets together and make them available for everyone to access. And it’s about making that data visual, enabling us to see patterns that are hard to see when looking at a list or a block of text.

These core ideas can be applied to any subject matter.

So last night I made the map at the start of this post – a map showing the birthplaces of the Later Roman emperors from Diocletian (r.284-305) to Valentinian III (r.424-455).

Google Maps launched in February 2005, while I was studying for my Masters in Ancient History. I wish I had realised its potential back then!

Maps like this would have been incredibly helpful – this one shows very clearly that there was a concentration of emperors’ births in the central European provinces, especially in the region that is now Serbia. That’s largely because in this period most emperors were either raised up by the army or came from military families, and this region was home to some of the strongest army units of the age.

And note that only one emperor in that entire period was born in Rome.

There’s a cool Roman mapping project called Orbis, which calculates how fast and at what cost one could travel around the Roman Empire. Example: travelling from Verulamium (now St Albans, my home town) to Rome in July in c.200AD would take 51 days and cost 1,553 denarii per passenger.

And I can think of about 20 other maps that would be super-useful for Roman history students of today, and for which the data is available on Wikipedia:

  • Roman provincial capitals
  • Emperors’ accession places
  • Emperors’ death places
  • Emperors’ burial places
  • Empresses’ birth / death / burial places
  • The borders of the Empire
  • Imperial mints
  • Roman aqueducts
  • Imperially-named cities
  • Provinces, dioceses, praetorian prefectures
  • Finds of Chinese / Russian / etc coinage within the Empire
  • Battles
  • Triumphal arches
  • Ancient monuments in Rome / Constantinople / etc
  • Roman villas in England / etc
  • Public baths
  • Canals
  • Dams and reservoirs
  • Victory monuments
  • Domes

Some of these maps exist in paper form, but they cost an awful lot to produce and are usually buried in books that are either expensive, inaccessible, or both. I think Wikipedia has shown that there’s no need for basic knowledge like this to be hidden, and that collaboration can open up arcane information. And data visualisation is revealing patterns that would otherwise not be apparent.

Using tools like Google Maps to solve these problems would be helpful, close to free, and (if created collaboratively) should improve over time + stay up to date with the latest finds.

Nor is any of this restricted to Roman history. Exactly the same approach would work for other historical periods, in other places – all you need is the data and people willing to make the maps.

You could also make particularly good use of the annotation functions in Google Maps – each pin can be tagged with links to relevant info and links to articles / photos / video / other maps.

I’m thinking of putting together a simple site for a handful of Roman maps, in order to gauge the level of interest. This could be a fun project. Give me a shout (details on the About page) if you want to get involved.



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Ronald Reagan and the year(s) of mobile

Facebook declared 2011 their year of mobile. More importantly (for me), my girlfriend tells me that one of the big trends in marketing for 2012 will be mobile.

I discovered the other day – much to my surprise – that we have former US President Ronald Reagan to thank for GPS, the technology powering all this mobile stuff.

In 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets over the Sea of Japan. It was en route from New York to Seoul when it accidentally strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace.

Reagan ordered the US military to make GPS available for civilian use. 29 years later, here we are!

Ronald Reagan on location (bom-bom!)