Other Bits

The wrong St Davids: Ordnance Survey grants city status to small Scottish village

I've written before about the wealth of free information that is Ordnance Survey OpenData. Recently I've been poking about with it some more, and I made the map below, showing railway lines, stations, motorways, cities and towns. I generated it using Python and Ordnance Survey's Meridian 2 data set, and their 1:50000 Scale Gazetteer, which lists place names and geographical features along with their location, type of feature (town, city, farm, etc) and other information.

Click for bigger. Railway lines are brown, stations are white dots, and motorways are blue. Small red dots represent towns, and large red dots represent cities. Source: OS OpenData 1:50000 Scale Gazetteer and Meridian 2. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012.

When I generated the above map, it struck me as unusual that there was a city in the middle of nowhere up in Scotland, not connected with any railway line or motorway. Now, there are a few of these "joke cities" around, such as Ripon and Wells, that were granted city status centuries ago and haven't grown in population as much as other settlements. But I was curious about this one - I didn't know there were any examples in Scotland.

It turns out that the isolated red blob in Scotland represents the tiny village of St David's, about ten miles west of Perth. You may be surprised to discover that this unlikely-looking settlement is listed by Ordnance Survey as a city.

Now, the question "what is the smallest city in the United Kingdom" is a pub quiz favourite, and some of you may know that the answer is indeed St Davids, with a population of around 2,000. The problem is, the city of St Davids is in Wales.

So you've got the city called St Davids in Wales, and the little village called St David's in Scotland. According to their Gazetteer, Ordnance Survey has for the last 19 years bestowed city status upon the wrong one.

205716NN9420St David's720500294500PKPth & KinPerth and KinrossC01-MAR-1993I
205717SM7525St Davids / Tyddewi225500175500PBPembPembrokeshireO13-APR-2012U
The relevant entries in the Gazetteer, with some irrelevant fields removed. The field F_CODE (feature code) is the important one: C means city, and O means "other settlement". E_DATE shows when the record was last updated.

The Gazetteer is used by services that provide a search facility over place names in the UK. For example, the mistake appears on the Explore Britain website, which uses Ordnance Survey data. Compare the "OS Classification" fields in the entries for St David's, Perth and Kinross, Scotland and St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

I've informed Ordnance Survey of the problem. I expect they'll get back to me next week, but in the meantime, I encourage the dozen or so residents of St David's in Scotland to enjoy their city status and try to avoid the 2,000 disgruntled citizens of St Davids in Wales knocking on the door asking for their city back.

Silly excuse of the day...

Windsor Castle has banned children under 11 from climbing its Round Tower, because it was felt young children might be too short to reach the handrail.

1. Why is this an age limit, rather than a height limit?

2. Why don't they just install a lower handrail?

This was a triumph.

Apparently I now hold the record for the highest debut score on Countdown for someone who didn't get the conundrum.


"So, Nick, what have we learned today?"


"That's right. If you position yourself as the only party standing up for students and young people, going as far as signing a pledge saying you'll vote against any increase in tuition fees in the next parliament, get them all to vote for you, then less than a year into the next parliament vote in favour of trebling tuition fees, they're not going to be very happy with you, are they?"


"How many of those people do you think are going to vote for you again?"


"I know you're a beginner at this "having power" thing, but you really ought to have known that was a schoolboy error."

"But the other two bigger boys treat young people like dirt all the time, and nobody cares! How come I can't?"

"Because they are a large part of your voter base. Well, were."


"Now run along. Mr Cameron's tea isn't going to make itself."

Shopping: you're doing it wrong.

"Retail guru" Mary Portas details the ten worst customer service crimes. I can see where she's coming from on the first nine points, but on point ten she commits one of the most annoying and baffling acts a customer can do in a shop.

"I popped into Superdrug to get some hair ties for my daughter but the rack was empty. So I went up to this assistant to ask, and sure enough, she went, "If it's not out on the floor, we haven't got it." I think they’re lying and just can’t be bothered to look."

Aaaaaaaaargh! The instant you ask the question "do you have any more of the thing that isn't on the shelf?" you're doing it wrong. What you're effectively asking is, "Hello, I see the shelf has run out of hair ties, but do you have any more? Perhaps behind the counter there's a gateway to another dimension in which resides a magic stockroom of infinite everything? Failing that, maybe you're trying a radical new retail technique whereby instead of putting stock out on the shelf, where it can be sold and from which you can turn a profit, you've hidden it somewhere out of the customer's view to keep sales down?"

Perhaps, in some fleeting moment of hideously misplaced optimism, she expects the sales assistant to reply "Aha! Well done! We hid all our stock to discourage people from buying it, but now you've asked for it you've passed our little test!" before turning a key underneath the counter to activate a hitherto unnoticed glittering podium that slowly rises up through the floor in a cloud of dry ice and flashing lights, upon which is a velvet cushion with a single hair tie on it. "Congratulations, you've won tonight's star prize!" says the store manager over a backdrop of game-show music.

That in itself is bad enough. But worse, even worse, is that when the assistant, contrary to the customer's expectations, doesn't do any of the above, but instead patiently explains, "look, if we had any of it, it would be on the shelf, that being where we keep the things that are for sale", the customer complains and writes a whiny article in the paper like it's the shop staff who are in the wrong.

I'll make it very clear, and hopefully customers like this will read this article and help make shopping a marginally less unpleasant experience for everyone.

If you want to buy a particular item, and you can't see that item anywhere in the shop, that means they're not selling it. This could be for two reasons; either they don't sell it, or they normally do sell it but they've run out. You can normally tell which by the presence or absence of an empty shelf with the name of the thing you're looking for on it.

As ever, there are a few exceptions which really ought to be obvious and go without saying. One is Argos. Yes, all their stock is hidden, but they get around the problem by publishing a clearly categorised and indexed catalogue of all the things they sell, and putting little keypads in the stores so you can check yourself if they've got any without having to queue and ask someone. Even so, one wonders if there are still die-hards who ask the sales staff things like "I know engine oil isn't in your catalogue, but do you sell any?" or "your electronic stock system says you've run out of Nintendo Wiis, but can you have a look?" then get annoyed when they're referred back to the catalogue or stock system that's there for the purpose.

The second exception is if you're looking for one of a very limited set of products that can't legally be put on the shelf for you to take, such as fireworks or cigarettes. If so, then fine, ask away. But things like bread, milk and hair ties aren't going to magically appear just because you spoke to someone. And if for some reason they really are indulging in the idiotic pastime of hiding the stock somewhere until you ask for it, then just go to another, less moronic, shop. Their loss.


Last year I bought this:

Celestron NexStar 130SLT

This week I bought this:

Celestron NexImage Camera

Tonight it was sufficiently cloudless that I could take these:

They're both Jupiter. You can just make out one of the large cloud bands running round its middle. You make them by taking a video with the webcam and using stacking software to align the frames and average them all together to make one image, so all the random noise disappears. The one on the left was taken with the webcam's shutter speed slightly faster than the one on the right. So it's a bit less blurry than the one on the right but also looks a bit less Jupitery. These probably aren't technical terms.

Better astrophotography

We like tha moon!

Even bigger

Taken with a camera looking through the new telescope, then loaded into the GIMP for contrast and brightness manipulation to bring out the features better. A scaled version of the original is here.

Shiny new toy

Latest purchase is this.

The Celestron NexStar 130 SLT, a 5" reflector telescope with a computer control thing on it. Align it up with two stars, tell it where you are and what the time is, then you tell it what to point at and it does it. Even better, the hand control can be connected to a computer, and Celestron even publish a document detailing how to interface with it and what commands you can send to it, which is a refreshing change from the usual relentless locking-down of consumer electronics. I expect my next hacky electronics project will be something related to this.

Bad Astrophotography

These photos were taken by holding a digital camera up to the lens without any sort of steadying device or filter. This should be evident from the quality of the pictures.

The moon, almost in focus properly.

An unidentifiable blob which you'll have to take on faith is Jupiter. Visible through the eyepiece, but not in the photograph, are Jupiter's cloud bands and its four Galilean moons.

That time of year again

Men's 100m Olympic gold medallists' times since 1896

This graph reignites that age-old debate... is running getting easier?

Watson, someone has stolen our tent

Have a star map generating thing.

Over Easter, Spark asked if I'd write a program to generate an accurate skybox texture of the night sky for the Grit game engine. I did that, then I thought I'd develop the idea a bit further.

I used the starbox generator along with ImageMagick to make various animations like this one showing Orion being whirled around by his belt.

What if we could draw it like it was projected onto the inside of a sphere rather than on the faces of a cube? Then we could have an animation like this one, an animation of what the west of the sky looks like between 7pm and 7am on the night of 15th April.

Animation of the night sky
Animation of the night sky

Incidentally, these whirling globes look like what might be produced if a galaxy-wide broadcaster (which Jeremy suggested might be called the Beeblebrox Broadcasting Corporation) wanted to introduce a news programme. Of course, it couldn't work, because by the time a news report managed to travel at the speed of light to every part of the galaxy, the news would be tens of thousands of years old. So obviously you'd need regional news branding, like this one from a totally insignificant little blue-green planet...

Anyway. Silly animations aside, the point is I've made a star map generator. Give it your postcode and it shows you what all those bright twinkly bits in the night sky are.

The view out of my window last night.
Go to the star map generator

I've been adding things to it over the last few days, like the star and Messier object search feature, but for now I'm declaring it done. Of enormous help was the freely-available HYG star catalogue, the libnova C library and the Ordnance Survey postcode position data, CodePoint Open.