TED and TEDx things that interest me

I’ve been the TEDxExeter Storyteller since the beginning, mainly blogging articles inspired by each year’s theme, and then live-blogging from the back of the theatre during the event itself. In 2016 I started a new series of things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be my responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on…

  1. Five go to the voting booth
    Brexit and young people and how to get them to vote.
  2. Watching TED talks to know you’re not alone
    There are myriads of reasons why people watch TED and TEDx talks, and myriads of outcomes.
  3. Giving TED talks to know you’re not alone
    The benefits of collecting so many statistics on the number of times a talk is viewed and the related web pages are accessed

We’ve sold out young people, but not in the way you think

So, in the fall-out from the EU Referendum, here’s the much-shown graph of how three-quarters of young people polled said they would vote Remain, and how they were sold out by older people voting Leave.

EURef - Voting

But wait a minute… Sky’s final poll says only about a third of people aged 18-24 may have voted.

EURef - Turnout

So the votes for Remain as a percentage of eligible voters could actually have been the lowest in the 18-24 age group.

EURef - Adjusted

Why was turnout so low? I don’t know. Maybe it always has been. But I suggest our young people are so disengaged now because we sold them out a long time ago. What do we do about it?

And why were there no exit polls, which would give us better information?

Data sources

  Turnout Remain Leave
18-24 36% 73% 27%
25-34 58% 62% 38%
35-44 72% 52% 48%
45-54 75% 44% 56%
55-64 81% 43% 57%
65+ 83% 40% 60%

Projected voting adjusted for projected turnout

  Remain Did not vote Leave
18-24 26% 64% 10%
25-34 36% 42% 22%
35-44 37% 28% 35%
45-54 33% 25% 42%
55-64 35% 19% 46%
65+ 33% 17% 50%

God’s eye view

I’ve been working on a set of 21 images of flood risk around the south coast of England, from Sussex to Bristol. That sounds so prosaic. What has emerged is a beautiful forest of sometimes fragile, sometimes twisted trees. I’ve called the series Green|Blue, and you can see more on my website. It channels my enjoyment of playing with data, my wonder at the beauty that can be found in unexpected places, and my concern for the environment and the way we see our place within it:

The view from above has become normalised. Google Maps and OS Maps, city centre plans and ‘you are here’ stickers on the boards at local nature reserves, give the impression of omniscience and omnipotence. The very notion of ‘flood risk’ calls both our knowledge and power into question in the face of uncertainty and the force of nature.

What seems to be the most solid and robust is in reality the most fragile and vulnerable. Changing the perspective, looking slant, confers a new understanding and humility.

Exe-productIf you are interested, I’m producing the images as archive quality prints and greetings cards. I was honoured that TEDxExeter thanked their speakers with gifts of prints and supporters with greetings cards, both of the Exe. I think they make great gifts… although I might not be impartial!

Here are also a few related links that I like:


Whatever dieting works for you

When one hits mid-life, one is obligated to have a crisis, right? For me, I thought it was time to take a bit of interest in looking after my body, beyond just being vaguely conscious that cycling as my main mode of transport and eating whatever in moderation aren’t particularly bad lifestyle choices. It’s time to ward off the risk of spread and get into shape.

I’ve never tried this dieting lark before. Of course, one hears things about Atkins, not mixing food groups, 5:2, or whatever is today’s money-spinning fad. What little I’ve seen in print is generally along the lines of how hard it is to keep the mental discipline, and what a chore it is to keep track of calories. So typically for me, as a dieting newbie it’s time for some research.

One of my first major research findings was that there is lots of potential out there for lots of lovely numbers. Another was that I need to think about exercise as well as my diet, so that’s twice as many lovely numbers. And then there are lots of websites offering lots of lovely calculators to complete.

I typed my height and weight into one website calculator that gave me my BMI. But I’ve read that most of the England rugby team would be obese if measured by BMI, so clearly fat and muscle percentages are important too. In the absence of a skin-fold caliper (“Can you pinch an inch?” is one of those annoying ad campaigns that have bored into my brain and laid maggot eggs that hatched into meme weevils and now feed off any intellectual capacity I might once have had), I fed a body fat calculator my height, neck, waist and hips measurements… which happily also provided my waist to hip ratio. So now I know that my BMI is OK if towards the top of the green range; my fat percentage is probably too high (although the story I’m sticking to is that the measurement is too coarse); and my waist to hips ratio is ideal :-).

It’s important to be realistic about my aims, and knowing my frame size and body typewill help. So into another calculator I type my wrist circumference, and find out my frame is small. On the other hand, my elbow breadth indicates that my frame is large. This is going well. Let’s instead look at some photos of famous ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs so I know which celebrities I wannabe. Or probably the most useful suggestions were to look in the mirror periodically to check on my physique, and to take various body measurements at fortnightly intervals and be heartened if they go in the right direction.

But how to set about going in that direction? Typing my height and weight and target weight into another website gave me targets for daily calorie intake and calories expended on exercise, and hence a likely date for meeting that weight.

Time to start a spreadsheet.

I set up my sheet of fortnightly body measurements, and my sheet of daily calories and exercise. Then I set up a sheet for my first day of counting those calories.

Again, the most useful online hints are along the lines of: what are the best foodstuffs; to occasionally go over the daily intake target to keep the body guessing; to eat little and often to keep the metabolic rate up; when to exercise after eating; what to eat after exercising.

I don’t buy into the mega-bucks diet food processing industry. I don’t think of myself as a foodie, and I’m quite happy with a fairly unvarying diet, but I’m also pretty good at eating well – whole grains, fresh fruit and veg, largely home-made and very little processed food. I actually find the sight of low-calorie artificial ready meals and cakes on supermarket shelves to be pretty nauseating, wondering what processing has substituted what manufactured chemicals for what natural foodstuffs.

Hooray for food labelling! Websites and packaging give me the calories per weight of pretty much all foodstuffs, except the mystery chutney in my cupboard. My frequently used munchies are all itemised in my spreadsheet. I can calculate calories in my various stock homemade stews. All my recipes are itemised too. I can give you daily numbers for my little-and-often intakes at breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, dinner, and supper.

What about the lovely exercise numbers?

I don’t have a blood pressure monitor, but the last time the doc measured it it was pretty good. I found a phone app for measuring my heart rate, which is easier than taking my pulse and correlates to it well enough. From that, a heart rate calculator can tell me my maximum heart rate and my training zones for fat burning and cardio exercise.

Another website or dozen provide calculators of how many calories various activities burn. Their best advice? Do things that you enjoy and will keep up.

I’m never going to keep up going to a gym, partly because I’d have to cycle there, and partly because of the music. I like the outdoors, and would be happy to get most of my exercise from walking or at a Green Gym. I’m less interested in being rained upon in winter, or in joining the ranks of runners in public view. So, to supplement the cycling as favoured mode of transport, I decide to buy a fold-up nordic walker machine with electronic gizmo. It sits in my guest room most of the time, and I put my exercise clothes in there too. I have my playlist of mostly Mozart on my mobile. It’s easy just to step in, get changed, and go.

The electronic gizmo has a heart rate monitor, which I check against my pulse. It seems pretty accurate at rest. In flow it might be a bit less accurate, but I’ll go with it as a measurement of whether my exercise is moderate or vigorous. The gizmo also tells me how many calories I’d be burning… were I a 185lb man. Note to manufacturer guys – let’s be a little less sexist in our assumptions, hey, and provide a way of inputing minor details like, oh I don’t know, weight? I suppose I could factor it down, but instead I use a website calculation of calories based on my age, weight, number of minutes, and the moderate/vigorous axis.

As for my cycling, Cycle Streets tells me how many calories I burn for each bike journey. I have to assume a cruising speed, but the timings suggested are pretty close to my out-turn and take account of incline, so I’ll go with their suggestions too and ignore the inevitable discrepancy with other websites.

Then I might add in a bit of walking, resistance workout, housework, concert singing, gardening, and other significant activities. All the numbers for calories burnt per minute are available online. The variety is good, to prevent the body from getting used to a routine. There are even side-benefits; the hated-but-now-more-desirable lawnmowing is particularly good exercise, and my garden is looking more kempt than usual.

I added a graph to that sheet of daily calories and exercise, and hey presto! Here it is.


The point of all of this is that it’s important for each person to find out what really works for them. I have found out what works for me, and because I’m a data geek, what works for me are data collection and spreadsheets. I enjoy weighing and calculating, typing the data in, and planning how to massage my meals and exercise the rest of the day to meet my targets. When I think about food now, I think less of its epicurean desirability than how it will affect the figures on my spreadsheet. As a result, except when I’m out and it would be socially frowned upon to whip out the kitchen scales, it’s been pretty easy to regulate my calorie intake. Exercise is a bit harder, because it requires finding the time, but the numbers have helped my motivation there too.

I’m never going to, say, sign up to Weight Watchers. But I know that other people will find it easier if they have someone they have to share numbers with, who will keep them on the straight-waisted and narrow-hipped. It might be helpful to keep going in a group with mutual support, or not helpful if they see that group as sitting in judgement on their progress or lack of it. You may be able to tell I’ve never been to Weight Watchers and have no idea how it is organised!

What works for a person just might not be that obvious. It might not be widely pushed by the media (graphs don’t sell magazines quite as well as slebs). Maybe a song-writer could get into exercise by writing songs with beats to target heart rates or stride frequency and testing them. I bet those Weight Watcher devotees who moan about calorie counting would find it hard to imagine my approach. But take another look at my graph; you can just about see that I’ve had to change my daily exercise target as my weight has gone down. And my fortnightly body measurements tell me my hips have shrunk two inches. I may have stumbled upon my approach, but it’s looking good so far!


Should I do the ironing?

MonitorAbout a year ago, I borrowed an electricity monitor back from a friend, and have just got round to installing it again.

The monitor usefully shows how much electricity I’m using, without me having to dig out the key in order to read the outdoor meter. I also want to know how I best I can use my lovely solar electricity, but I have also lost my list of electricity consumption by gadget so need to work it all out again.

First up, I’m making some bread, so may as well check out the figure in the bread machine manual. It says it uses 505-550 W. I have very little else on, but the monitor reads anything between 1500 W and 2400 W. Maybe it’s the fridge-freezer cutting in and out. I wait until the bread is done and turn the fridge off. The monitor jumps from 750 W to over 1000 W to 2600 W!

And then I twig, the monitor doesn’t care whether the electricity is flowing one way or the other. It is simply measuring electricity. When the sun is out, I’m generating more than I’m using, so the monitor is telling me that I’m exporting – 2600 W, or 1900 W as I’m writing this. The monitor is still positive when a cloud comes over, but now I’m less sure whether I’m consuming or exporting.

So a bit of guesswork is needed to work this out, combining the instantaneous electricity monitoring with the 15-minute solar panel monitoring, and I still need to find out how much electricity my various gadgets use, but maybe the electricity monitor is even more useful than I thought. At the moment I know I have 1900 W to play with, which is probably enough to do the ironing… except that the sun has gone in, so maybe I’ll read a book instead.


#turnedoutgreyagain, a Twoem

What is this big shiny ball in the sky? Will it be my friend?
Blackbird perched precariously in pyracantha,
picking at plentiful berries. #ventriloquismforbeginners
I forgot I’d moved the snowdrops last spring. #februaryjoys
Municipal planting of quince flowering strongly.
Leaves on their way.
Two goldfinches breakfasting on the niger seed.
Gonna have to dig out that hot water bottle again. #springfail

Sun shining. In the garden planting potatoes.
Rain spattering against the windows…
Now it’s hailing. #typicalbritishspring
Two herring gulls harrying a buzzard.
Year’s first lawn mow, and sad farewell to celandine and speedwell.
You don’t know what you’ve got till you’re wantonly destroying it.
Grey and dreich outside. Tea and crumpets inside. #slowstartonsaturday

Happy to see shadows when I opened my curtains this mornings. #sunstarved
Two buzzards wheeling in the blue sky directly over my house.
Unusual, not least the blue sky.
Spur of the moment train to Exmouth to catch the evening sunshine. #bigskies
Glorious blues and yellows walking east,
and west with the sun in my eyes listening to the rush of surf…

First hawthorn, blossom and leaves.
Blackthorn blossom about to burst. #springsigns
A day of goldfinch and skylarks, colour and song.
Sunshine and warmth, swallows and unfurling cowslips.
Pussy willow swirling in the wind like enthusiastic orcs at a music and movement class.
Reed mace standing to attention,
bending from the base before the wind like arthritic emaciated Guards.
Peewits crying in the night.

And so it ends. By turns irritating, digressive, long-winded, scintillating. #lesmis


[Twoem: a poem on Twitter. This isn’t a Twoem. It is a poem crafted from earlier tweets. But what should it be termed?]



Surname migration

The Great Britain Family Names website allows you to find out where your surname comes from, and how many people share it. Bryden isn’t that common, but what interests me is the geographical spread. Even though the last century has been one of unprecedented mobility, there is still a clear concentration around southwest Scotland. My family and I are all diaspora, south of the Watford Gap.


Interestingly, Brydon is concentrated in southeast Scotland. The suffixes have different origins:

  • DEN at the end of the place name is usually derived from denn, which meant pasture, usually for pigs.
  • DON is usually derived from the word ‘dun’, which meant hill. The South Downs were the South Duns.

Heavitree quarries

I went back to Quarry Lane to photograph the cliff – its stone, reinforcements and tenacious plants.

Photos from 13 and 16 July

But when did it stop being worked? I need to investigate the history, but in the meantime the old maps provide some evidence:

  • 1801 OS Drawing – there is a Stone Quarry annotated and drawn either side of Quarry Lane; a possible quarry south of Quarry Lane rejoining Sidmouth Road, but it’s not annotated; no quarry off Woodwater Lane
  • 1832 Boundary Commission Report – a Stone Quarry annotated between Quarry Lane and Woodwater Lane, outside the Exeter boundary
  • 1868 Boundary Commission Report – quarries not marked
  • 1932 OS (surveyed 1887) – Heavitree Quarry annotated and drawn to the north of Quarry Lane, Old Quarry to the south; also another Quarry south of Quarry Lane rejoining Sidmouth Road; also Pine’s Garden and Old Quarry north of Woodwater Lane
  • 1938 Land Utilisation Survey – no annotation, shaded purple/white horizontal stripes of unknown meaning
  • 1945 OS – quarries not marked, but funny cliff markings at location of Old Quarry north of Woodwater Lane
  • 1957 OS – quarries not marked

I also googled Heavitree Quarry, and found that the Britten Drive playing field site is a County Geological Site and educational spot, and that there is a lot more information on Devon geology on the Devon County Council website.



I suddenly remembered seeing a very old OS map of Exeter in the Treasures of the British Library exhibition. Now through the miracle of Google, I know that it was the Drawing for the first edition Ordnance Survey map of Exeter. 1801 Maps OSD 40.(3)

But even more miraculously, the BL has a georeferencing project, to place OS drawings “that portray the lanscape [sic] of England and Wales before the onslaught of industrialisation made its mark” over the current landscape.

Exeter 1801 was one of the pilot maps, and it is available overlaying Google Earth, with the ability to zoom in and out and change the transparency. For example, I can easily compare the old quarry with the roads and houses that are off Quarry Lane. REALLY cool, and very excited!

And there’s another great site showing what maps are available on Visions of Britain, though without the overlay facility. Search on Exeter.


From wood to water

Yesterday, cycling down a section of Woodwater Lane, I noticed a corn cockle in the bank. It struck me that I have cycled down the lane many a time, walked down it occasionally, picked blackberries at that time of year, but I have never really paid attention to it. So today I chose to walk to the Love Local Food van in Pynes Hill, and had a bit of a closer look.

Of course, I forgot to take my camera, so here is a Google Streetview image. The banks are a mix of native trees and wildflowers, and garden escapees. Among the trees are alder buckthorn (I think), ash, birch, fruiting cherry, hawthorn, hazel, holly with and without berries, and wych elm. There are plenty of brambles, nettles and dogrose. As well as the corn cockle, I could make out cuckoo pint, dead nettle, garlic mustard seed pods, hawkweed,herb robert, another cranesbill with smaller pink flower and less-cut leaves, ragwort, some sort of comfrey / forget-me-not / borage / lungwort that I should know, and a capsule fruit with four lobes that I feel I should know too.

2012 Google streetview Woodwater LaneOne thing led to another, as tends to happen on the interweb-thingy. The Vision of Britain website has loads of old maps, and I found the map covering Exeter in the Ordnance Survey First Series 1805-69, scale 1:63360. It shows a lane running from Salter’s Road to Old Rydon Lane, highlighted it in yellow below. I don’t know whether Woodwater was the whole lane, but it’s a reasonable conjecture until I have more time to research.

1805-69 OS First Series Woodwater LaneThe name of the lane reflects the rural nature of the area in times past, and even today under tarmac it looks like an old holloway. The ‘water’ is probably the Ludwell, which it crosses at the northwest end. The map from Vision of Britain of the Land Utilisation Survey of Britain 1925-48 shows how the railway cut off the southeastern end of the lane – the original route in blue and altered route in pink below – but also a small patch of green woodland where it originally joined Old Rydon Lane. Wood at one end, water at the other.

1925-48 GPL Land Woodwater LaneNowadays, the expansion of Exeter has changed the lane even more. At the far northwest, it no longer joins Salter’s Road, but a new crescent. The section to the left of the Rydon Lane ring road still exists, but has been blocked to cars at the beginning of the green section. The green is where I walked today, and the Streetview is from the northwest. Beyond that, the red sections still exist as roads, lanes, footpaths or bridges. But the blue sections have been obliterated: the first is now a retail park, and the southeast section a hedge.

2012 Google map Woodwater LaneI now feel the inclination to walk the whole 1800s route, maybe with a wildflower expert, and research a bit more of the history of the place I inhabit.