Experiments With Light Painting

Early experiments:

I adore lights – everything from twinkly stars in the sky, street lights, neon signs, to colourful fairy lights. I’ve had a camera since I was ten years old, and I always hoped to be able to recreate some of the wonderful night photos I’d seen in books, especially those with wonderful bokeh and the good old light trails from cars in city scenes.

I was considerably older by the time I had a tripod and by then had lost confidence in the idea of taking camera equipment out on my own at night. So I’ve never actually tried the obvious set up a tripod on a road bridge to take a picture of light trails (a few years ago in the UK photographers seemed to get into trouble for taking photos of roads and that didn’t help). I’m happy enough though to pull out a camera and play about on the move if I see some pretty lights though.


This picture was taken near the centre of Milton Keynes with a phone camera. It’s quite difficult to persuade phone cameras to not focus on anything, so I was quite pleased to get this for the colourful bokeh.


One of my main strategies was to take pictures as I walked in the dark and just move the camera around and see what I get. I like the shape of the trails in this one and the way that the ground and scene is lit by the foreground street lamp. I find damp conditions help because you get reflections to play with as well.


This image was captured indoors – this was a pretty chandelier light inside a museum and I got this just moving the camera around randomly with a low shutter speed.


I really wanted to be able to try and find a way of capturing the light without needing to go outside, so I started experimenting with various ways of creating and capturing different kinds of light. This is the first attempt. I created the drawing using metallic pencil on black card and then punched holes using a needle for the leaves. The lighting is actually my computer screen behind the card – very sophisticated! I chose a pink background to create the colour.


I wasn’t entirely happy with the result and wanted to experiment some more, so had a play with a Pixelstick. This is a device that has 200 colour modifiable LEDs arranged in a line. There are some preset patterns, but you can also use your own images, and these change the colour of the pixels over time (and so it is also capable of doing animations). Using a slow shutter speed, you move the stick in front of the camera and the changes in colour are captured across the frame. It’s fun to play with. As an electronic battery operated tool it’s quite sensitive to moisture – a little unfortunate – ideally you want dark conditions, so best in winter if you don’t want to be out late at night. It would probably also be easier with a two-man team. For these reasons, my experiments so far have been indoors, but I would like to take my Pixelstick out for a walk one day!

Light painting experiments

This is an example of one of the preset patterns in the Pixelstick. As I’ve walked through the frame I have rotated the Pixelstick to create the light trails here. If I walked in a straight line the image would be straight bars of colour across the frame.

Light painting experiments

This is one of the more traditional uses of Pixelstick – generating an image around an object. This is a fire pattern built into the Pixelstick. I’ve walked around the guitar holding the Pixelstick straight as I do – although you can see not perfectly! The Pixelstick is long and it takes some practice to hold it steady as you walk and get the timings and movement right.
Light painting and a crystal ball

An ideal space for this would be a large empty space with black walls floor and ceiling – unlike my living room so I had a go with a crystal ball to reduce the space needs.

Light painting and a crystal ball

This is a built-in pattern on the Pixelstick, walking behind the crystal ball. I like this one and I think it shows there is some potential to do some interesting things with other images on the Pixelstick.

Pin-point lighting:


I decided to have another go with playing with the pin-point light. Including lighting with different sources – in this case a white LED. You may be able to tell that the centre of the snowflake is brighter than the outside.

Doodle light painting

And I still used a computer screen to generate different colours!


I also began playing with spirograph for the first time in decades!




Although I quite liked the pin-point pictures, they were a bit static, so I decided to try and add some movement by moving the camera when I took the picture with a slow shutter speed. This was all very experimental – move the camera around a bit and see what happens!


These images are all from the same source. A drawing of three flowers done on scraper foil type card (the multi-colour variety rather than the silver or gold) for the petals with pin holes for the centre of each flower. The card was backlit with a computer screen and the camera moved around randomly with a slow shutter speed (in the dark obviously). You can see that the movement of the camera is what creates the final shapes and trails.


The base image for this one is the same as the image at the top of the page – but with random motion instead of purely circular motion. The hexagons have different numbers of points and create different effects. The ones only on the edges are more subtle.

Butterfly butterfly

This is probably my favourite, the base image is a butterfly, again drawn using the colour scraper foil card with pin-point holes all around the edge of the drawing, but not on the wing details. The card is backlit with a multicoloured image and the camera movement is very subtle – keeping the shape of the butterfly undistorted.

Experimenting again!

In this image the camera is static (I use a rig designed for animation/macro photography, but a tripod that allows the camera to point down would work fine). The card is on a cheap rotating cake turntable (lazy susan) that is then rotated as the shutter is pressed. I used an iPad for backlighting.


The same method is used for this one. It can be fun to try out different speeds of spinning, but do be warned your materials (iPad included) will fly off if you get too vigorous!

Backlighting and paper cutting:

I wanted to try something a little different and wanted to try backlighting with larger holes. Initially I got bigger needles, but found larger pins holes to be less effective than smaller points. So I thought I’d try a little bit of paper cutting to see what I could come up with.


The base image for this is a snowflake pattern cut out of black card. It is backlit with a white LED and a piece of coloured paper to shield the light and also provide the colour. I tried a variety of different materials behind the card to see the effects they had including vellum, cellophane and coloured tracing paper. My favourites were the coloured tracing paper and thin coloured paper.


This one has the same approach – a unicorn pattern cut into card with white paper backlit this time with an iPad and then spun whilst captured with a low shutter speed to create the movement.


This one uses a variety of materials behind the card to generate colour. The points of the snowflake is a thin paper, whilst the yellow and red centre parts are cellophane. Cellophane works OK with a solid backlight, giving some good colour, but if you use a point light source you can usually see the light through the cellophane.


This set of images was produced from the snowflake shown above. Some interesting effects can be developed by moving the camera around – including in and out. More controlled effects could of course be achieved using a tripod and zooming in and out or moving the lens in a specific direction.


One of the fun parts of playing with a directional light source is the creation of shadows that can be fun to capture just as much as the lights. You can project them onto a surface and change the shape of the surface and move it around to create some fun effects.


One of the great things about paper cutting is you can create anything you want and make it as simple or complex as you like. This is a valentines day inspired design and shows the difference between a solid and point light source. I think for this subject the point light source is more intimate and effective.

Painting with a light source:


Of course, light painting is meant to be able painting with the light source directly, so I also wanted to try out techniques for this. Although you can get light brushes and other specialist tools such as Pixelstick designed for photography, you can also do it with some basic tools such as LED mini-torches or in this case a colour-changing LED candle. The camera is static and I moved the candle around in a spiral to generate the light trail.


This one shows the colour change in progress. Multiple light sources could also be used at the same time if you have enough hands!

Making progress

You can be more ambitious with your shape making, but it’s quite difficult and the results are a little blobby!


One way to combat the blobbyness and to get more refined results is to use a smaller light source. I tried the LED candle with a piece of black card over the LED with a pin-point hole, but the light was also duller, so the results were not so good. In this image I instead used a smaller Chibtronics LED light sticker. These are finer and brighter than the candle and come in white or colour versions. For anyone interested in playing with user-friendly electronics, the Chibtronics kits are excellent and fun. I really recommend the Chibtronics Sketchbook starter kit!

Light-painting Geek Style!
The results from the candle and the stand-alone LED were OK, but not as effective as I hoped and it was very difficult to ‘draw’ something very accurately, so I decided I needed a more technical solution to the problem!

Firstly I wanted a nice strong but smaller light source to control. I also wanted to be able to choose the colour of the light. I also needed to be able to turn the light on and off for drawing complex shapes. The final thing I needed to do was to be able to draw more accurately.

Homemade Gadget for Light Painting

So this is my rather hacky homemade solution! A pantograph is used to improve the accuracy of drawing. Attached to this are a variety of electronic components. Firstly an RGB Neopixel provides the light source. This LED produces a very bright light and can be programmed to be any colour you want. This is connected to an Adafruit Flora. This is an Arduino-based programmable electronic device that is designed to be used to create wearable electronics. This is where the program resides that sends signals to the Neopixel. Connected to this is a button that tells the Flora whether to turn the light on or off. Also connected to the Flora is an Adafruit Bluefruit LE module. This module communicates with Bluetooth and enables me to use an App on my phone to control the colour of the LED. I can set up the LED with the colour I want before pressing the shutter, but can also change it mid-shot. So in all it allows me to do what I want – to move a pixel around in a relatively controlled manner, switch it on and off and change the colour to any I desire.

Light-painting is difficult!

Who doesn’t start with their name. It’s a little shaky – getting used to the pantograph and drawing completely in the dark! Switching on and off works.


Drawing isn’t too bad, and it has a colour change mid-frame.


It’s difficult to match up two ends of a picture accurately. Also the pantograph tends to shift whilst you are using it!


Colour change, and getting a little complicated.


Still a bit wobbly, but you get the idea.


Multiple colour changes and complexity! This one is a composite of a couple of attempts – speed, accuracy and trying to operate a phone app at the same time is very tricky!

Although my hacky light painting tool does what I want it to, there are challenges. The results are not perfect. The wobbly drawings could probably be improved with more practice, but my current feeling is I could draw something better looking in a graphics program and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference! More experimentation needed!


On being an evolutionary dead-end

Life is about replication. Don’t replicate and you’re out of life’s future man. Pass along your dna and there will be a little part of you running around in future generations. A biological history with your name on it written in every cell.

I am an evolutionary dead-end. A failure at replication. My dna is not being passed along and there will never be any little “me”s running around. My unique molecular fingerprint erased from existence.

Meh, so what? There’s no guarantee that your children would have children, and their children would have children, and so on and so forth. And anyway, your genetic material gets spliced and mixed and sooner or later it isn’t recognisable anyway. It isn’t long before future generations don’t tell stories about you any more. Everyone gets forgotten. Well, yes and no. Lets take a meandering path through genetic testing, genealogy, and contemporary human behaviour to examine those ideas.

I recently had my genes tested with 23andme. I wanted to know whether I had any genetic health time bombs in my future and I was also curious about the ancestry side. Heck, I’m a big fan of all science that explains the what and the how of the universe. I want to know how I got here!



My ancestry analysis was rather interesting and different than I expected. Above is a speculative ancestry composition, suggesting that many of my ancestors were from elsewhere in Europe. Curiosity (and possibly Brexit) made me wonder whether I could identify any of these other European ancestors in my family tree.  I also noticed that of my nearly 700 dna matches on 23andme, many of the closest ones appeared to have a Romany connection and must therefore relate to my maternal grandmother. To increase my chances of finding other matches I uploaded my raw dna results to a service called Gedmatch. I also started to construct a family tree working from a very limited knowledge about my family history.

Using Gedmatch has been very interesting, and with help from some of my new-found distant cousins I’ve been able to fill gaps in my tree that I would never have been able to without that genetic knowledge. Of my top 20 matches there, almost all relate to my extensive Romany ancestors and I match hundreds more Romany descendants! In fact thus far, I’ve only identified two other relatives who relate to a different ancestor, my maternal grandfather. On another site my closest match is Swedish with a Danish family  history. I have no idea how this fits in – her family is very well-to-do, whereas my family history is not at all!

And that leads me nicely on to some thoughts about personal legacy stemming from my explorations of genetics and genealogy. I have thousands of legitimate dna matches from all across the world. I’ve conversed with some of them, many of whom are searching for the answers to “who am I”? Especially those who have been adopted, but also those looking to research ancestors and document cousins whether for their own curiosity or perhaps a sense of duty. I’m a member of a Facebook group of over 150 individuals who are related through dna and helping each other to work out their complex trees. The idea of your genes living on after you have died is quite powerful when you see all those matches. Go far enough back in time and our ancestors share grandparents. And you can see in the genes the segments we match. Compare a group and see bigger and smaller pieces of the same chromosome shared. This piece of chromosome must have come from this ancestor, and here’s where it diverged. Complex but fascinating. Thousands of lives sharing bits of a single ancestor.

I’d never really thought about it before, but once I started to put together my family tree I began to appreciate the number of ancestors it took to make me. It’s obvious that there would be thousands upon thousands of ancestors, but rarely do we think about family beyond those we have known or heard about. My dna comes from thousands of ancestors. Tiny bits. All of them replicators, but probably all of those bits existing in other people out there. I doubt my uniqueness in that regard. So passing on my dna? Well, I don’t need to, it’s already out there somewhere.

So what about memory? I remember some of my ancestors. Those I knew well, most of my grandparents. Another who died before I was born, and was almost never mentioned. Occasional mentions of my maternal grandmother’s family, my great grandmother had a bad time (with many consequences for future generations) and was a feisty woman, and we visited a sibling or two when I was small, but I don’t really remember them.  I really know nothing of the others, I don’t even know if I met them. Doing the tree has been interesting to find out more. Where they came from, what occupations they had, and the size and shape of the families. I have over 650 people in my tree, with the majority being direct ancestors I have found. It’s a great puzzle, far from complete. In some places I have been able to go back (tentatively) to as far as 1500 and 16 generations, and in another line just 2 with an unknown father for my paternal grandmother.

There are problems, beyond the brick walls and the lack of records, it becomes such that you are recording just names and dates. When they were born, when they died. The census records between 1841 and 1911 are the most valuable things out there telling you at least where they lived and what occupations they held. To get some understanding of who they were. Other records such as newspapers and prison records seem to capture the wealthy and the criminal, but not the ordinary. Parish records are great for those who were pious and present – those that stayed in the same place for generations. Great for an eye on the large clans and witness to the tragedy of infant mortality and death in childbirth, where legions of children and young people die way before their time and their chance to replicate. We are bits of those who survived harsher times long enough to replicate.

Our memory for our ancestors is not strong. Reliance on these black and white snapshot records with tiny amounts of information and no personality. Maybe this is just the ordinary folk. I note the family tree of my Swedish match has wonderful photographs and portraits of these land-owning people of means and details of these means.  Maybe Scandinavian records are better or maybe poorer folk aren’t recorded in history. I’d love to know my link to this family, but I can’t help thinking that some kind of scandal must be involved! Interestingly the records with more colour about my ancestors and their families can be found for those who were on the fringes of society, those who engaged in deviant behaviour for survival. Some imprisoned for vagrancy, theft, fraud, smuggling, deported for murder, and others hanged as highwaymen.


Some lines are more complete than others. I think a certain amount of shared memory comes into play with the genealogy tools now being smarter and being able to identify matches between different family trees and the existing records. I think genealogy has potential for massive growth, especially now that dna tests are becoming cheaper and more accessible. Perhaps all those hidden family documents, photographs, pictures and memories will become available as people share them on sites such as ancestry and myHeritage together with the dna records.

Although new records are being found and transcribed, and over time census information will become available, much of the information about our ancestors is lost to time. Where no records were created, no evidence can be found. I’m not sure there is any science of ancestor archaeology to fill in the gaps for the many rather than the few. Their legacy is in the genes and the names and dates in the records, and before that, nothing really remains.

For the future things will clearly be different. There are many more records as our lives are captured on paper, on disk and in numbers. Is anyone keeping this information for posterity? Will you ancestors be able to look up what you bought on a particular day or how much electricity you used at a point in time? What you had in your bank account and what you really wanted from Amazon but never got around to buying? Your medical records and your flights abroad? What else?

Of course, social media allows us to create our own history that can be viewed by everyone now, and presumably your descendants in the future. Your friends, your dumb drunken antics, your pictures, your videos, your bad hair day, and your triumphs. How long does this stuff stay out there anyway?

What bothers me is what makes headlines right now. How people are using social media and virality (is that a word?) to create their legacy. There are some who take adversity or tragedy and use it to do good things – raise money for charity or bring media attention to an important cause to end suffering or make the world a better place. Those who work hard to achieve a significant goal. But the good and the bad get equal weighting in history, and there seem to be many people willing to do terrible things to get their fame and place in history. Modern media makes it oh so easy for someone to become the headline with minimal or accidental effort. Social media is also famously full of cheats and people creating fantastical fictional lives for themselves to appeal to an audience or to create some fancy legacy. This isn’t anything new, I’ve got ancestors who went to America and created for themselves a fancy back-story, published in a book, about a grandfather who was a Lord some-such of somewhere who lived in a castle and had lands and servants. Distant cousins apparently still come to England to visit the castle!

If I had descendants would they like me to be important and live in a Castle? Perhaps – I’m quite amused that my ancestors thought that way and made up a story. Am I disappointed my ancestors were normal people? Not at all. Will anyone in the future give two hoots what I do with my life? Absolutely not.

There is something though about legacy, memory, and being a replicator. I have to admit in my own tree for being mostly interested in my own direct descendants and not so interested in their siblings. Certainly unless there is an interesting story to tell or in order to identify the link between two trees for DNA matches. In the case of tree matching, both parties are obviously replicators, and I doubt there is much interest in the non-replicator components unless there is an interesting story or scandal to go along with it.

So, what do I leave the world when I’m gone as a non-replicator? Interesting question.




My experiences with a Minor Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Concussion Syndrome

In June I flipped my bicycle doing 30km/hour during a time-trial and landed on my head, giving myself a severe concussion. For the majority of people the symptoms of concussion lasts a couple of weeks, for some people the symptoms can continue for months and even years after the injury – known as Post Concussion Syndrome. Although my symptoms have certainly  improved over the last several months, I am still having some problems as a result of the injury. I started writing this post about 6 months ago – I wanted to capture the various symptoms that I had because I was fascinated by it all – but it’s taken such a long time because writing something coherent is apparently quite complicated for a bruised brain. As I said at the time and many times since – “You don’t realise how much the brain does until it stops doing it.” Here are some of my experiences of MTBI and PCS.

What happened?


I was attempting to change my hand position from the top of the handlebars into the drops to enable me to be more aerodynamic and also to put out more power. I had done this before but only at lower speeds.  Very carefully I tried to move my left hand from the top of the handlebars to the drop position. I didn’t manage to get it there, so decided to abandon the move and put my hand back up on the top. The decision to abandon the move turned out to be my undoing. In making the decision to abandon I apparently sat up before getting the hand back on the handlebar. The result of sitting up was that my right arm straightened causing the bike to steer hard left. At 30km per hour this caused the bike to flip, catapulting me over the top still travelling at speed. It probably would have looked impressive to see, but fortunately no-one else was on that stretch of road to see it or get collected in my accident. Fortunately I was actually going a fair bit slower than I could have been – I slowed down a bit because I was uncertain about the move and I also had a problem with my gears (got to have a silver lining).

I landed on the right hand side of my head and then scraped along the road taking quite a lot of skin off my right shoulder, arm, side, leg, and off the fingers on both hands. I was aware of and remember all the details of the crash – although I was bleeding and in pain from the road rash, I was aware I had hit my head and this was my primary concern. Also I was quite angry at my bike for throwing me off for the second time in a week!

Initial symptoms

The initial dizziness and sight problems meant my 1.5km trek back to civilisation was rather indirect as can be seen by the GPS trace from Strava below, which also shows some other interesting aspects of my journey. I sat by the road for a little while, but decided I needed to get back to civilisation and not interfere with anyone else’s race – a hit on the head and adrenalin from a crash don’t make  for ‘sensible’ thinking! I could walk, although I was having some trouble bending my knee and obviously my newly removed skin was quite painful. I walked next to the road for a while, but I was feeling dizzy and had started to develop quite a headache at the back of my head. I soon began to feel very dizzy and thought I might pass out, so stopped again, although the Strava trace indicates I stopped for 90 seconds or so which I didn’t remember doing – so it might be I passed out briefly. The trace shows my heart-rate, speed, cadence and power with the heart-rate and the GPS trail particularly interesting post-crash. The green trail is the route of the time-trail (and also shows Phil cycling past me  –  I did see him at the time but obviously he didn’t see me!)


Sometime after I started walking back I became aware I couldn’t see properly. Previously I had an awareness that I could see ‘the texture of the helmet’ (I drew the image below a couple of days after the crash to try and capture the pattern I saw and the effect it had on my vision below), but it only became apparent to me whilst walking back that actually this pattern was very much a part of my vision and obscuring my view. I was also finding it difficult to work out which building I needed to head towards – I could see various buildings but not really distinguish them, and the reflections on the cars in the car park, but I couldn’t visualise which area I needed to get to – hence the not very direct route I took back.

Concussion doodle

The distinct pattern had gone by the time I got back, but I got a new visual distortion in the car on the way back home from the time trail (after being cleaned up a bit by some worried club-mates). Blue glass like prisms formed at the top of my vision creating an interesting pattern between the sky and the trees and seemed to be some artefact of the scene that I was looking at. I could clearly see the pretty prisms even with my eyes closed. These also faded after a few minutes. I’ve tried drawing them but I’ve not been able to represent them satisfactorily! Subsequently I realised these were probably caused by my brain having difficulty processing the high contrast between the dark trees and the brighter sky.

The second visual disturbance together with dizziness and a growing headache made it very clear that all was not well and a trip to A&E was going to be necessary.


The trip to A&E was a good thing – without the advice I received I would have done everything wrong. I saw a consultant who was a sports specialist who dispensed some pain killers, bandages, and some good advice. It was borderline whether I was going to be put in an MRI machine – but the opinion of a committee of consultants was that it was unlikely I had a bleed in the brain because the helmet was intact. I would still need close observation for 48 hours for symptoms that would indicate a bleed. Also it was clear I was going to be doing nothing very much for a while – at least a couple of weeks – in particular I would not be attending my PhD viva scheduled for less than 48 hours later. Oops! But I was also told not to use my phone, not to work, not to watch the TV, and to stop immediately doing anything that made my symptoms worse or made me feel tired. I should do ‘whatever I do on holiday to relax’.

Interestingly when we got back from the hospital the general symptoms were worse, and I found it difficult to look at objects and the normal clutter of a room – I found my eyes drifting to empty areas of wall. In the morning things were much worse. I couldn’t look at anything, especially anything that high contrast contrast colours or a busy pattern – and I spent the first day alternating between sleeping a looking at a pale yellow piece of cardboard! I was also very sensitive to sound. I also had some strange issues with colours – a kind of spatial synaesthesia and a feeling that I couldn’t name colours.

Symptoms following the concussion: Physical symptoms

I was warned by the consultant in A&E that I would have a really bad headache for quite a while – I did have a bad headache for a few months but it wasn’t debilitating. Much more of a problem has been the constant dizziness. The dizziness brings with it a feeling of lack of stability and wooziness. It was constant to begin with but after a few months it started to get better or worse depending on what I did. For example, walking around a lot, going in the car, doing too much cognitively, or going into a busy or noisy environment made me very dizzy – which then lasts until the next morning (or longer if I really overdid it).

I’m still having some issues with dizziness. Most of the time I don’t have it now unless I get cognitively overloaded – doing something complex  or being in a busy environment. Doing complicated work (especially if it involves planning and visualisation) and contributing in meetings (tracking and making sense of conversation, having ideas and expressing them verbally) are still difficult and make me feel dizzy.

Symptoms following the concussion: vision and sound

In the first couple of days it became apparent that I had significant problems with visual processing and perception – difficulty looking at and interpreting things – especially those that were high contrast, patterned, moving, or complicated. I also had problems filtering out sound – I could hear everything and was very sensitive to loud and complicated (layered) sounds.

Taking the advice of the consultant I thought I would try to colouring in a colouring book – something I had found relaxing for decades, but I couldn’t do it at all. I could hardly look at the design, when I coloured I struggled to put the colour between the lines and I just couldn’t do more than one colour. It was also incredibly fatiguing  – I couldn’t even attempt to do anything for more than a couple of minutes without getting very tired. For the first few days just sitting in the garden watching the leaves was about the limit of what I could do!

Because I was having so much trouble with seeing, I actually found myself relying a great deal on touch. I was using feel to understand things I was looking at or as a check for what I was seeing. I was a little frustrated at not being able to do ‘simple’ things like colouring in or reading, so I was extremely happy when I realised that I was able to build Lego! Building a couple of little buildings with Lego felt like a major accomplishment.



It was a couple of weeks before I was even able to be in the same room as the television and it was a few days before I was able to look at it directly and tolerate the sound. I had particular problems for many weeks after with movement, fast editing, layered sound and strange angles or viewpoints – particularly from above.

The visual processing was improving slowly, and the reading a little, but I was still unable to do colouring. I did, however, have a compulsion to draw. When I closed my eyes I got a constant stream of patterns and ‘visions’ in my mind and I wanted to try and capture these, but also I became aware that I couldn’t ‘visualise’ any more. I could ‘see’ in my mind places and things from my personal memories, but I couldn’t picture anything from my semantic memory. For example, I could describe an elephant, draw an elephant, but I couldn’t picture an elephant. I’ll talk more about visualisation in the ‘higher functions symptoms’ section below – being able to picture things in the mind has a surprising amount of impact on ‘thinking’.

In the real world I couldn’t ‘take in’ the whole scene. I found I was constantly locking on to one object in the view as I was walking along and would find myself continuing to stare at it as I walked past it. Along with the dizziness it made it so I couldn’t walk on my own in the outside world at all for a few weeks.

I have continued to have problems with sound and vision in ‘busy’ environments – those that are noisy or visually complex. A lot of environments are both. For example, I’ve had big problems in supermarkets. These are often busy with people moving around and noise, but also awful lighting and most significantly the patterns of products all lined up on the shelves.  Even after I thought that some of my symptoms had subsided at home they would come straight back again in a supermarket (especially dizziness but also slowed thinking and speech). My reflex for visual complexity was to cover my eyes (or just one) and take everything much more slowly – I was walking very very slowly around the supermarket holding onto the shelves!

Tracking movement has been a fascinating area for symptoms. For quite a while I couldn’t look at anything that was moving – for example the moving pictures on the television or cars. But there were also more dramatic effects. The most interesting was if something is moving very fast or complicated like a spinning wheel or reflections on the lake – my vision freezes – so I see the object as stationary or fragments of the scene as frozen!).  When I looked at a bicycle wheel instead of a blur I could see the spokes properly – like a frozen frame on a paused video. I also couldn’t watch ripples in the water of a lake and instead saw parts of the scene as frozen fragments – a bit like when a digital video feed breaks up because of a poor signal. The visual problems are some of the most interesting but most difficult to describe because they are so ‘abnormal’.

More recently (having gotten out and about a bit more) I’ve discovered the brain also apparently tracks people moving around and this is quite a cognitive challenge – it makes me dizzy being on a university campus or high street because of this!

Symptoms following the concussion: speech, reading, and writing

I’ve had quite a lot of problems related to speech, reading and writing. Although these are significantly better, I am still having some problems.

Understanding speech is one of the most basic areas of function where I have had problems. Initially with my visual problems I had to close my eyes in order to understand spoken words that were  even slightly complex. Following speech and making sense of words has become much better, but I’ve still had problems more recently with tracking conversation with multiple participants and understanding new information and concepts. I’ve also had problems with my own speech – including difficulty finding words and constructing sentences – symptoms that have been worse under higher cognitive load. Interestingly once I have ‘found’ a word once then I have no difficulty finding it again.

Reading has been quite a significant problem and I’ve still got some problems now. Initially I could barely look at writing because of the visual complexity.  I could recognise the individual words – but if it was not simple language or a simple topic I was not able to process the meaning and would have to stop looking at it.  With relatively simple text I could understand the meaning of a few words together, but I couldn’t read and make sense of sentences. Even when the writing was improving, anything that was badly written, poetry or complex was impossible to read. I still find it difficult to make sense of content that is badly written or complex and get dizzy if I read for long.

I also had some problems with writing. Apart from being much more verbose than normal (common with a hit on the front of the head apparently), I’ve had some problems with mixing up words when typing – usually typing a different word that sounds similar to the intended word – but not directly homonyms. For example, typing ‘surface’ when thinking ‘service’. Another thing I have experienced, which is apparently common with a hit to the right side, is making and being amused by word puns – this is quite out of the ordinary for me (and can be annoying for everyone else) but fortunately only lasted for a couple of weeks.

Symptoms following the concussion: Memory, higher functions, and emotional processing

Apart from a brief period just after the accident (where I don’t remember stopping for as long as the GPS said), I don’t think that I have ‘forgotten’ anything as such. For a couple of months I did have what I called a ‘random flashback memory’ where I would have intrusive memories pop into my mind randomly and unrelated to my activities at the time. These were typically memories of  particular places and times from my biographic memory and sometimes accompanied by images. Although I don’t think that I have lost any of my biographic memory I do seem to have lost some memory of places in terms of navigation. I can’t remember how to get between places that I know and that previously I knew how to get from one to the other – but this may be more related to visualisation than memory as mentioned below.

As a visual thinker this ability to be able to picture things is very important. I was aware of how important this way of thinking is to me – but I hadn’t appreciated how significant it is – I’ve realised that visualisation plays a an important role in a number of activities for me. Without the ability to visualise I have difficult understanding new information – I picture things visually to make sense of them. I have found I find it difficult to understand new concepts without someone drawing out a picture for me now – and abstract ideas are particularly difficult. I’ve also found planning and navigation to be difficult as a result of not being able to visualise – when doing tasks I find it difficult to know where to start and just have to jump in and work it out as I go along – certainly not my ‘normal’ approach. I’ve adopted a ‘jump in’ and ‘big bang’ approach to things. I start cobbling stuff together – see how it fits better and then dismantle the bits that are wrong and but them back together better. And the same with navigation – I can’t plan routes or picture where I need to be going, so I just have to start walking and hope that I recognise where to go next based on memory or with the aid of GPS.



I’ve also had some issues with emotional processing – I was not sure if was to do with ‘self monitoring’  or some other intermediate processing, but the effect was lacking awareness of an emotion but still reacting to it anyway. I know I am experiencing an emotion by my reaction, not by any conscious awareness. For example, if someone says something that annoys me, I know I’m annoyed because I’m telling them off, or I’m upset because I’m crying, I’m happy because I’m smiling! This is very difficult to explain – but before I’d feel the emotion, consciously process it, and then react to it – but after hitting my head the processing part seemed to be missing! My emotions were a little bit odd from the day following the accident – I have been extremely calm about the accident – not at all upset – in fact slightly amused by the whole thing for months afterwards.  I felt I was making a conscious decision not to process emotional information, but later on after I realised I might not actually be able to process the emotions in some way. The A&E consultant warned me that I was likely to feel very irritated as part of the concussion symptoms, but fortunately I didn’t have that, and was actually quite jolly for the most part!

How are things now?

One thing I’ve learnt from all this brain stuff is that quite a lot of ‘disability’ is your own perception of what you can do. I know I’m not able to do everything I could right now and I still get dizzy when I overdo things – but I’m not anxious about it. Things are getting better slowly even though sometimes they get worse.

It bothers me most that I am still unable to visualise, and I can’t hold more than a fleeting picture of anything in my mind. The lack of visualisation does have a big impact as mentioned, but I’ve still got the compulsion to draw and I hope that I can use that compulsion and creativity to help ‘fix’ the visualisation in the long term.

Oh, and do wear a helmet guys – without it I might not be here!

Like Ash and Pikachu


I close my eyes and I can see the day we met,
Just one moment and I knew:
You’re my best friend, do anything for you.

We’ve gone so far and done so much
And I feel like we’ve always been together.
Right by my side through thick and thin,
You’re the part of my life I’ll always remember.

The time has come,
It’s for the best, I know it.
Who could have guessed that you and I –
Somehow, someday, we’d have to say goodbye.

You’ve helped me find the strength inside
And the courage to make my dreams come true.
How will I find another friend like you?

Two of a kind, that’s what we are,
And it seems like we were always winning.
But as our team is torn apart,
I wish we could go back to the beginning.

The time has come,
It’s for the best, I know it.
Who could have guessed that you and I –
Somehow, someway, we’d have to say goodbye.

Fun with an internet story generator

Whilst pondering what title to give my PhD thesis, I had a play with a couple of online name generators, which quickly lead me to a plot generator. The plot generator gets you to add a variety of words and then writes you a little story. I added some words based on my thesis topic. I found the results quite amusing. Context is everything!

Cerys, the Researcher
A Fantasy Novel
by Lucinda Saturn Seratron
In a laboratory there lived an ordered, standardised researcher named Cerys. Not an interesting, colourful, accurate laboratory, filled with tablets and a scientific smell, nor yet an effective, useful, easy laboratory with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a researcher-laboratory, and that means security.

One day, after a troubling visit from the user Jeremy, Cerys leaves her laboratory and sets out in search of three difficult instruments. A quest undertaken in the company of supervisors, students and doubtful collaborators.

In the search for the user-guarded instruments, Cerys surprises even herself with her organisation and skill as a curator.

During her travels, Cerys rescues a notebook, an heirloom belonging to Jeremy. But when Jeremy refuses to try curating, their friendship is over.

However, Jeremy is wounded at the Battle of locating the information and the two reconcile just before Cerys engages in some serious curating.

Cerys accepts one of the three difficult instruments and returns home to her laboratory a very wealthy researcher.

If Blogging existed in the 80s: The Normans

The Normans

When King Edward was dying he said that Earl Harold should be the new King of England. Two other men wanted to be king. One was King of Norway. One was Duke William of Normandy. They both sent armies to England to fight Harold. The King of Norway was killed at a battle near York. Then Harold had to rush back with his army to fight William. William and his army had come from France and landed in Sussex. There was a battle at Hastings in 1066. Harold was killed when an arrow went into his eye and William became King of England.

William the Conqueror 1066

In France a tapestry picture was made of the story. It is the Bayeux Tapestry.


The Norman soldiers wore a coat of chain mail called a hauberk. It was a leather jacket with iron rings sewn on it. At the bottom was a slit so that he could easily ride. His cloth stockings had leather cross garters. They carried swords, battle axes and lances. Their shields were kite shaped and carried on the left arm. They had cone shaped helmets with a metal piece to protect the nose and face.


Norman castles
William was afraid the Saxons might give trouble, so he built castles outside the Saxon villages. Inside the fence on top of a mound there is a fence and in the fence the keep. All the first Norman castles were made of wood.
Later stone castles were made. They were very strong castles. They also had some very go (?) places in them. In the keep there was battlements, dormitories, great-hall, guards room, and dungeon.



After the Normans came towns grew bigger. Round each town was a thick wall and often a moat with a drawbridge. The town gates were locked every night. The houses were built close together and the streets were very narrow. People through all the rubbish into the streets so towns were very smelly.

Shops had no glass windows. They were just a front room of a house open to the street. Each shop had a sign outside to show what it sold.


William Rufus

William the second
He had a red head
One day to the forest
His huntsmen he led
A fellow called Tyrell
An arrow let loose
And William fell dead
As a Michaelmas goose
And nobody knows
If the fellow called Tyrell
Took William’s red head