Tuesday 16 October 2012

Cambridge - King's Parade

Many consider Cambridge as being a beautiful unspoilt small town with old buildings unsullied by the worst ravages of commercial excess. It is a view that I find myself expressing as I casually talk to people around the country. It is a viewpoint based upon what I see as I travel to and from work everyday not one from old photos or Disney-like recollections from visits long ago. Here is a photo that I took about two years ago of a portion of Downing Street just a few hundred metres from where I work. The view can hardly have changed in a hundred years. There are no satellite dishes, aerials, advertising posters or even graffiti - no plastic, no bollards, no sleeping policemen or helpful signs telling you something that you don't need to know. This is the view of Cambridge that is all too easy to lodge in one's consciousness - it is after all a view that is repeated in hundreds of locations around Cambridge. But, look more closely and there are signs of progress. There are lines on the road, there is tarmac and electric lights too and the stone work is mostly rather too clean. But, these are details that we filter out rather easily they are such an obvious part of normal life that they no longer warrant any attention.
There is something very privileged about cycling past King's College Chapel early on a Saturday morning when the students are still tucked-up in bed and tourists are breakfasting in their hotels. King's Parade is tidy, devoid of litter with green neat grass and clean stone buildings. From the vantage point of a twenty-first century cyclist, off to do a parkrun on a weekend, it looks splendid and well preserved - a town and University unchanged. A town very similar to that captured in this picture from June 1940 taken by my wife's uncle (Donald Smith) of his sister and mother walking down King's Parade. Of course war-time Britain was not entirely representative of the mid-twentieth century - there was much happening that made towns and villages look and feel much older and quieter than they had been only a few years before. In many old photos wartime austerity throws the scenery back decades or centuries to a simpler less clustered time.

On seeing the photo it stuck me that the scene must look almost unchanged today and I set out on a Friday afternoon to try and stand exactly where Don had and take a photo of the scene 70 years later. The 1940 photo was taken somewhere near midday as the shadows are pointing north and by the look of the length of the shadows, if the photo was taken in June, it must have been very early June. So, my photo late afternoon in October, 2012 was going to look slightly different. But, I didn't expect it to look quite so different.
 I have left the photo in colour and I have not cropped it to match the 1940 photo. It was taken from one of the entrances to the Cambridge Chop House looking towards Senate House. Looking at it, I think Don was a bit taller than I am or he was standing on something to get a better view of the buildings behind. The streets were no busier on the day I took my photo but the view is not as good. I need to retake the photo with the sun from behind as in Don's version. The tree is obviously much larger now and obscures the western frontage of Senate House and the street hoardings, advertising boards and outside tables clutter the view. The old lamposts in Don's photo hardly intruded on the scene, but the modern poles in my photo dominate. The car with its highly reflective paintwork demands attention - a very different effect from the matt sheen of the 1940s model reflecting off the elegant wheel arch. The hi-vis jacket of a workman presents an equal visual distraction as do the chrome reflections from the chairs. In Don's photo the reflection from the window  folds the image back on to its self framing the composition. In mine the reflections are hardly visible against the well illuminated interior. The change seems to be embodied by a rather gaudy 'look at me' mentality a presumption that more is better - more visibility and more shine. Perhaps this is the result of improved manufacturing and reduced costs making shine and attractiveness easier to obtain in individual items. Or, maybe it is the result of competition for visibility and custom such that mere functionality is no longer sufficient. Either way, from an aesthetic view it is hard to sustain the argument that individual advances in technology, communication, planning and commerce have been able to maintain let alone improve one of Cambridge's iconic views. But, maybe it doesn't really matter since these things only become apparent when faced with a direct comparison between old and new. To the hundreds of tourists who wander up and down King's Parade each day it is still a 'chocolate box' view.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The relationship between speed and heart rate on a run

Miles per gallon - or an equivalent?

We are all use to heart beats per minute, but it is not necessarily the best measure to use when looking at running data. In this post I will explain how speed and heart rate are related and why heart beats per km is a much better measure to use.