Bomb Sight: explore London during the Blitz

For the past few months I've been part of a team working on a project that's helping make available information about where bombs fell in London during the period of World War II known as The Blitz.

Secret until 1972Records and maps from the WWII Bomb Census survey 1940-1945 have been available at the National Archives in Kew since they were declassified in 1972. The public has been able to access the original records there if they knew what they were looking for, and can get to Kew to visit the archives (something that's well worth doing, if you get a chance) but the maps hadn't been available online... until today.

Bomb SightThe Bomb Sight website launched today to make this information more accessible to the public. Covering the period between 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941, you can find out where bombs fell during the Blitz and also access photos and stories that relate to that area during the war.

The project was funded as part of the JISC Content Programme to digitise a subset of the maps and make them available online - in both raster and vector forms - and provide a mobile augmented reality interface to explore where bombs fell in the area around you.

The main bomb damage map is the place to start exploring. Zoom out to get an idea of how badly hit each and every part of London was, or zoom in to an area (e.g. bombs falling near Tower Bridge) to see more detail.

You may want to use the layers menu to switch from the modern map to the original maps used to record bomb locations.

You can click through to see a little more information about each bomb (e.g. these two east and west of Tower Bridge) and see related information about the area.

You can also explore statistics for all areas of London down to a borough (e.g. Southwark) and ward level (e.g. Riverside, Southwark).

Keep an eye out for the Android app I'm working on for the project, which will be coming soon. In the mean time, you can already explore an area using your phone, simply by visiting bombsight.org in your browser.

If you're interested in the work we've been doing with the project, follow us on Twitter @BombSightUK, and please help spread the word to others who may be interested in exploring London's past. You can also read some more information about the work over the past year in the project blog.

The annoyance of 'FCC only' & Britain's train ticketing

I travelled down to Brighton today for a day of Drupal goodness at the Brighton Area Drupal Camp (#BADCampUK). Living close to London Bridge station, it's a relatively short journey and cheap as well - as long as you know to press that obscure 'FCC only' on the self-service ticket machines.

If you know what you're doing, you can get a day return for £10. If you don't, they'll happily offer you a ticket for almost £25.

For those of you who don't know - and frankly, why should you - FCC is short for First Capital Connect, the name of the train operating company that runs the line from Bedford to Brighton. The other company that offers a service to Brighton is Southern, who don't even offer a direct service to Brighton from London Bridge (as far as I can see from traintimes.org.uk).

If you turn up to a station for a day trip to somewhere, should you really need to understand the complexities of the British railway system just to enable you to buy the best value ticket for your journey? Should you be expected to know what 'FCC only' means so that you know to select that?

My view is that you should you be able to say 'I want to go to Brighton for a day, give me the best price ticket from this station'. You would expect that service from the staff at the ticket counter, so why do they not offer you the same level of service at the machine that's meant to make everyone's life easier?

Presumably there are plenty more examples like this across the British rail network, I just decided to pick on this one because it winds me up each time I travel to Brighton.

On moving from iPhone photography back to DSLR photography

In recent years my photography habits have changed, from mostly using my Canon EOS 400D digital SLR camera, to simply using the excellent and handy camera in my mobile phone (currently an iPhone 4S). With a high quality, highly mobile, camera in my pocket all day every day, it became much easier to use the iPhone 4S for taking everyday photos than having to carry around my digital SLR camera all the time. The change from a dedicated camera to my iPhone camera also seemed to have the effect of making me take fewer photos, and go out on fewer specific photo walks around the city.

At 10.1-megapixels the EOS 400D has only a slightly better sensor than the 8-megapixel iPhone, but it is less practical to carry around, and it doesn't automatically geotag my photos and it doesn't let me post them instantly to online services like Flickr, Twitter or Facebook (depending on what the photo is). For posting photos online, you often can't tell the difference between the two cameras, though there is a noticeable difference if you ever look at the full size versions, or want to print out larger copies.

One advantage the DSLR has is that it can zoom in further on details (the iPhone doesn't have an optical zoom, so any zooming means poorer quality photos), and I can switch to a dedicated zoom lens to go even further, though that obviously means carrying more kit around. In 2010 I was organising a mapping party on the Isle of Man and needed to be able to take photos quickly - with a good zoom to be able to pick up street signs and other details - so I started using a point-and-shoot camera (Fujifilm FinePix JZ510) which was small enough to carry around every day, had a great zoom on it, and produced good enough quality images. Little did I know at the time, but I hardly used my DSLR again after that, and having switched to using a combination of the new smaller camera and the iPhone.

Fast forward a year and a half and I have decided to move back to using a DSLR again. I realised that for it to be worth the effort of carrying around a bigger camera again, the difference in quality between the iPhone and the DSLR would have to be significant. With that in mind, I upgraded from the 400D to the new 18-megapixel, touch-screen, video-capable Canon EOS 650D.

On a recent trip to Germany, I got a chance to test it out. I enjoyed re-learning how to use an SLR (I still need to remind myself somewhat more!), and used it quite a bit while I was away exploring the beautiful Allgaü region of Bavaria. I found the 650D to be great, but I still found myself switching between the 650D and the iPhone in some situations, such as when I wanted to use the iPhone's HDR facility to keep the detail in both dark and light extremes of a photo, or when I wanted to be able to post the photo somewhere online that same day.

The photos below show a similar scene (from slightly different angles, and with slightly different lighting conditions) to give a quick comparison of the two cameras.

Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke, taken with iPhone 4S camera
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke, taken with Canon EOS 650D camera

Could you tell them apart at that size? For online use, they're both perfectly fine, but if you take a look at the original version of both (iPhone and 650D) there's quite a difference in the quality of the photo, the iPhone version being much grainier and smaller in terms of pixels (3264x2448 vs 5184x3456). The focus on the 650D version of the photo doesn't look perfect, but that's probably my fault ;)

Keep an eye on my Flickr stream to see more photos from the 650D, and no doubt the iPhone and compact JZ510 cameras, depending on which ones I have with me when the perfect photo opportunities arise.

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