Sunday, December 30, 2007

Let there be heat

This week I've been surviving without heating or hot water. As an early Christmas present my parent's boiler broke down leaving us shivering and smelly for the rest of the week. To wash we've reverted to more primitive methods of boiling up water on the stove in a big pan and taking it to the bathroom to splash over us - it's not quite a communal tub in the kitchen, but almost. We've also gathered together all our electric heaters and have had them on constantly. Luckily this week hasn't been anywhere near as cold as last week. My parents plan is now to get a completely new boiler as their current one is getting on a bit, so hopefully next time I'm back things will be toasty warm.

Today I get to have a much needed proper shower as I'm heading back to Glasgow!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cut it out

Just in case you're someone that reads this blog and aren't one of my friends who've already posted the link on their own site, go here to sign a petition about the snafu at STFC. In the words of the petition creator:

"Due to cost overruns the UK's funding agency for particle physics and astronomy, STFC, is recouping £80M with deep cuts to UK physics operations in these areas. These include ending the UK's involvement in the International Linear Collider - the next generation of particle physics experiment. This risks relegating the UK to second tier involvement in future research and critically damaging the country's standing within the community. Furthermore UK Astronomy will be seriously hit with up to a 25% cut in grants. This is incompatible with the government's stated aim of making Britain a world leader in science. A review of this decision has recently been announced and we urge the Prime Minister to press for another solution to this problem before UK physics is set back by decades."

I won't add my own thoughts on this as the internet is already awash with opinion.

[Update - it seems things aren't all a bed of roses in the US either!]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Meetings end

It's the last day of GWDAW12 and I think everyone's fairly drained after a long week of talks, networking, and the odd drink or two - especially those of us who've been in meetings since Monday. It's been a good meeting and there have been some very interesting talks. The best talks have been those from people outside my collaboration (the LSC) and the general gravitational wave community. The main reason for this isn't that the gravitational wave stuff isn't interesting, it's just that I've heard the same stuff ad nauseum at meeting after meeting. The more astronomy related stuff just brings in something a bit fresher. I think this view is held by the majority of the gravitational wave people here. Chris Stubbs gave a very enthusiastic talk about how future astronomy all-sky surveys (e.g. Pan-STARRS, LSST) could give a large number of astronomical triggers for gravitational wave observations. He was even saying there are many current searches for optical/IR variables and transients which we should be aware of and make use of. It was very good to see an astronomer who really wanted to interact with the gravitational wave community, which can only be good news for the future. Jim Cordes gave a nice talk about general pulsar astronomy and looking for radio transients, which could again be used as a gravitational wave trigger. Andrea Lommen's talk on using pulsar timing measurements as a gravitational wave detector, generally for a low frequency stochastic background, was also good and related to some recent work that I've been doing. Andrea also mentioned that they're trying to host GWDAW13 at the Arecibo radio telescope, which I'm all for - Puerto Rico would be quite a nice place to go for the winter :)

Also of note about this meeting has been the quality of the lunches. I've been very impressed with the meals, which have been varied, tasty and generally quite healthy. Unfortunately we don't get given any lunch today and will have to find our own source of food.

Now I just have to hope that the Boston weather doesn't prevent me from getting home what with all the snow and ice storm that is forecast.

Friday, December 14, 2007

At the toad

Last night a few of us braved the arctic conditions to go and see a gig at a bar in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not Cambridgeshire) called Toad. We went to see a man called Ed Hamell, who had been described (by John) as a shouty man with an acoustic guitar. On arriving at Toad, which was rather smaller than our expectations had lead us to believe, we received a long, cold stare from the locals. We didn't allow this to scare us away and made our move to the bar before settling ourselves inches from the stage. The gig, which was a much a comedy set as a music set (in fact it's described as "... a one-man theatrical show which combines story telling, comedy and songs into a brilliantly outrageous theatrical event." on his website), was great (and free!) It kicked off a bit later than expected, due to a difference of opinion with some local frat-boy types, but when it started Hamell put in a lot of energy. This energy level, and friendly, fun atmosphere, just built up even more as the crowd grew on him and he grew on the crowd, and there was some general banter later on. He did fast paced songs mainly about politics and his family life and background. These spilled over, or built, naturally into his comedy. He was really good both musically and comedically. Apparently he's going to be doing some gigs in London early next year, so if you see Hamell on Trial advertised anywhere I'd definitely recommend going to see him.

Let it snow

I'm in the North East of the US and it's winter, so unsurprisingly there's been snow. Yesterday it snowed for a good 10 hours and unlike any attempts at snow that the weather makes in the UK it settled and left a good foot on the ground. It was pretty exciting for us snow starved Brits. Did I make a snow angel? Of course. Did I get snow in my shoes, up my trousers and down my back, and consequently feel rather cold and damp? Why yes, I did that to. Unfortunately the snow was too light and fluffy to hold together as a good snowball, so no snowball fights were possible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cause and effects

Today I got round to figuring out how to get beryl to work on my Linux partition - I had tried before, but without any sucess. Beryl basically gives you lots of swish desktop effects familiar to Mac OS X users (and now in Windows Vista). So now I have a fancy desktop cube that I can spin around; my windows wobble and warp; and all sorts of other transparency, water drop, fire effects. Does it make using my computer any easier or productive? Well, probably not. In fact I'll probably just spend more time going "Ooooh! Aaah!" as my desktop spins around, but it doesn't half look good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Notice anything annoying?

My first post from my latest trip to the US (yes, I'm out here again at another meeting) is going to be a bit of a moan (can a free trip out to Boston satisfy me, hell no!) On looking at the BBC news website out here some rather large banner adverts appeared saying "Notice anything different?". "Why yes" I thought, "There are some excessively annoying banner adverts filling up large chunks of my screen.". It turns out that the BBC have decided that they need to generate some extra revenue and when viewing their websites from outside the UK you'll have to put up with the adverts. I could get round this by viewing the site through a UK web proxy, but I don't think I should have to. I suppose I'll just have to get used to them until I get home again.

On other notes it's bloody freezing out here, but I think it should be a fun meeting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Minibus master

Today I took my minibus test and you'll be pleased (I hope) to know that I passed. I managed to stall the bus a few times (and it was a diesel which are generally far harder to stall than petrol engines), but got round the test route without any major disasters. I'll need to try and get a drive of the bus as often as possible for GUCC trips to get used to it though.

Making up for past mistakes

Last night myself and a few friends went to see the comedian Daniel Kitson at The Stand. I've written before about how good I think Kitson is, but my plans to see him earlier this year didn't work out. His gig at the Glasgow Comedy Festival got waylaid by a work trip. My plan to then go and see him in Edinburgh over the summer was then scuppered by me taking too long to buy tickets and then them all being sold out. But I got a nice surprise a few weeks back when The Stand emailed me to say that Kitson would be doing a late gig of new material. This time I jumped on the chance at getting the tickets straight away. I reality the gig wasn't anywhere near sold out, due to it being not very widely advertised an on at 11pm on a Monday night. Kitson was testing out new material for his show next year, trying to whittle down his currently vague ideas from his quarter full notebook. Often when comedians are trying out new material there can be quite a large miss-to-hit ratio, but this wasn't the case here. It was pretty much quality stuff throughout the one and a half hour set - definitely worth the £5 entry. He says that his show will be very different from the stuff he performed last night, so I'll be looking forward to it and won't repeat my mistakes from earlier this year.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Home and dry

As you'll no doubt gather from the fact that this post exists I've returned from my trip to Macrihanish with the canoe club alive and well. This is mainly due to me not actually going in the sea at all! I saw the sea, and got reasonably close to it, but it wasn't exactly inviting me in with open arms. It was generally thrashing about looking intimidating. On Saturday no-one actually went in as it was far too windy and the waves were looking pretty dangerous. But on Sunday at lot of people got suited up and went for a paddle, whilst I stood on the beach and shivered. I think that with my very much novice status it was probably the best plan as I reckon if I'd gone in I'd have spent the majority of the time drowning. It wasn't a wasted weekend though as I had a good time and was able to join in fully with the drinking aspects of the trip.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wet and wild

This (cold, rainy, windy, late November) weekend I'm heading off to Macrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre for some sea based activities with the canoe club. The plan is to get some kayaks in the water and also attempt some surfing, but I think drinking is at the top of most people's priorities. As the weather's supposed to be atrocious tomorrow it'll be interesting to see if anyone ventures into the water. Providing I don't get hyperthermia or washed out to sea I'll probably say a bit about the trip when I get back.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're shit and we know we are!

It's not the worst England performance I've ever seen, but...

Well before last weekend everyone thought England were beyond hope of qualifying for Euro2008. We'd got used to the fact, but then we were thrown a lifeline. All we had to do was draw against Croatia at home - and Croatia had already qualified, so they didn't have anything to play for. What did we do with this lifeline? We pissed all over it is what! We took the lovely present we'd been offered and then jumped up and down on it, set fire to it and threw it out the window.

From this you might guess that England lost their crucial qualifying game against Croatia. Croatia played very well, but that can't excuse the dismal England performance. Our defense was crap, but then so was our midfield, and as we only started with Crouch up front there wasn't much he could do as a lone striker. After going 2-0 down early in the first half, from a dreadful goalkeeping error and then some poor defending, we decided the best way to respond was to not bother playing. In the second half, after a couple of substitutions, we started trying (a bit) and managed to pull the game back to 2-2, but then forgot we were in an important game and let things slip again. There were major tactical errors by the manager Steve McClaren and there was also a complete lack of passion and belief by the players. If you contrast how we played today to how Scotland played against Italy at the weekend there's a marked contrast. After Scotland conceded a poor goal and then got back into the game they knew the importance of the game and upped their performance (despite still having a fairly ropey defense.) The England players deserve a large dose of the blame for our failure, but McClaren's job as England manager is now untenable. His poor squad selection and changes in formation have confused and unstableised things in the team throughout the campaign.

We're now left with a European Championship next year with no home nations. I'd like to say I'll be as excited about it as if there was England, or even any home nation, playing, but I doubt I will. Well there's the World Cup qualification to look forward to at the end of the week!

Monday, November 19, 2007

New look, new sound

Since the final gig of Look up for Danger back in September the two remaining members (ellielabelle and myself) have been on a bit of a hiatus. There's been some song writing going on (and it's already produced a hit of pure genius), but we've not had a practice due to a lack of having a full band. However today we emerged from our downtime and resumed practicing with two brand new members. The Look up for Danger moniker will go, but in it's place will come a new sound including a keyboard and aforementioned original material. We had a pretty damn successful first practice and our new bassist/guitarist seems almost over qualified for us (he can even play drums, so I'll need to up my form.) The keyboard also added a new dimension to the songs and I think we'll be up to speed on a good selection of our old covers quickly. Here's hoping this new line-up can keep together.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Out and (maybe) in

Yesterday, after five years is Scotland, I really got behind the Scottish football team for the first time. Up until then I'd been rather indifferent when it came to Scotland's results with a "nice if they win, but it doesn't really affect me if they don't" attitude. But watching the game against Italy yesterday it was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere and disappointing to see them lose. Obviously I couldn't bring myself to get fully worked up about it (and it would have seemed a bit disingenuous if I had), but my throat was still fairly raw from shouting at the screen trying to urge the team forward. It would have been really good for Scotland to be Euro 2008, but I don't think what they could do there (unless they got to the final) would have matched the atmosphere around the country before yesterday's game.

I had the consolation of the fortuitous results for England. Israel did England a huge favour by beating Russia, although it was a very tense second half with Russia pushing forward and threatening the Israeli goal constantly. I, and all other England fans, had written us off after the loss to Russia the other month, but this has given us the lifeline of having our fate back in our own hands. We now need a draw against Croatia on Wednesday to go through.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The wheels on the bus

Today I signed up to take a test to enable me to drive the Glasgow University Sports Association minibus. This is to enable me to drive people around for the canoe club (although I've still not officially joined that yet - I probably should) when we go on trips to rivers and the like - which I've also not done yet. The requirements for taking the minibus test are being over 21 (check), having a clean driving license (check), and having had a license for over 3 years (also check). What they don't require is for you to have actually driven recently, which is fortunate as my last bit of driving was in February and that wasn't entirely successful. Anyway I've got a couple of weeks to at least put driving back in my mind and the test's more of a 15 minute instruction course on how to drive the minibus, so hopefully I'll pass!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pig's revenge

Last night I stupidly failed to cook a piece of gammon steak properly and since then I've been suffering the consequences. Unsurprisingly I didn't get much sleep and have spent most of today in bed being vomity, achy and feverish. Hopefully the nasty bugs will be purged from my system by tomorrow and I'll be able to eat something again. Let that be a lesson to me though.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The dreaming void

Last week I finished reading a new novel (of the pulp sci-fi space opera kind) called The Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton. The book is set in the same universe as Hamilton's last two books that formed the Commonwealth Saga and is the start of a new trilogy. To start with if you are going to read this book then you pretty much need to have read the Commonwealth Saga books beforehand. There are several of the same characters involved (despite being set 1500 years later) and many events that are referred to, so I think you'd be quite confused if you didn't have the background from the previous books. Like Hamilton's other major sagas the story has many threads that are jumped between at quite a pace, which takes a bit of getting used to as you try to absorb all the characters and events. There are a couple of threads which seem to flow better and held my focus far more than other areas, but none of it is high literature. The reason I enjoy reading Hamilton's stuff as that it's generally pure pulp fun. There's enough action and high-technology stuff going on to keep you going through the less absorbing parts of the story. One thing that does start to grate, as in previous books, is Hamilton's sex scenes. He does like his sex scenes and almost all the people in his books are outrageously attractive and randy, but largely they'll just make you cringe. It's not that I'm prudish about literary sex, it's just that he can't write it without it coming across a bit pubescent-teenage-boy-style. There's one particular scene that almost made me stop reading the book completely! If I disregard certain scenes though I did enjoy the book. It's not as good as parts of the Nights Dawn trilogy, which provided some great moments of pure space opera fun, but it seems on a level with the Commonwealth Saga. I'll keep on with it as it has left me wanting to know what happens next.

The Pitkin of Free Enterprise

A few weeks back I decided that I'd join a university club of some sort, so that I'd have something extra to do of a week. A friend had recently joined the university surfing club, and a water-based sport sounded quite appealing, so I went for the canoe club. The canoe club has sessions in the university swimming pool on Thursday's where you get to practice your paddling skills and learn new techniques and so far I've been along to two of these. Despite the name of the club it's actually kayaking (rather than canoing) that they do, and it's far harder than I'd thought it would be. Last week I think I managed to capsize a record number of times, and when not having my head under the water I was generally going in circles (when I was really wanted to go straight.) The number of capsizes was helped by the fact that my kayak was filling with more and more water and therefore sat far lower in the water. I'm hoping that my ability to stay upright, and go in the direction I want to, will improve when I get more time in a boat. Next weekend I want to get out on one of the clubs trips to a proper river, where I'll get to spend far more time in a boat and can start picking up some proper control.

Despite my current lack of prowess in the kayak-stakes I can probably get up to speed on the drinking side of university sports club life more quickly - although probably should take that a bit slower. How better a way to get to know a new bunch of people than getting unintentionally pissed with them and singing karaoke? I can't think of one!

The visitors

At the request of a friend who, along with some others, visited Glasgow last weekend to see me I've decided to right a quick post on what we did - hope this makes you happy Claire! This post will probably be fairly dull and should be ignored by most unless you want to read a list of pubs and restaurants in Glasgow.

For the duration of their stay my four visitors rented out a swanky flat in the centre of Glasgow - my flat isn't quite big enough to cope with that many guests. I was, however, required to show my friends around Glasgow. On our first night we started off at a bar called the Butterfly and Pig, where we saw a rather good cover band. We followed this with dinner at a Spanish Tapas restaurant called La Tasca - this is part of a small chain of restaurants, but does decent food for a very affordable price. After dinner we went on to Firewater on Sauchiehall Street, where after being asked for £5 entry fee, which we thought was a bit steep, and starting to walk away we were let in for free. We were all pretty knackered by this time, so we didn't get out clubbing and just went back to the rented flat for a couple of more relaxing drinks.

On the following night we decided to go out in the West End of Glasgow. My friends came by my flat to check it out briefly and then we walked down to Byres Road. Our first drink was in the Oran Mor, which is a bar/restaurant/club/theatre in a converted church at the top of Byres Road. My friends were pretty impressed by this place so we stayed for a couple. Next came the problem of finding a restaurant on a Saturday evening in a popular part of town without having a table prebooked. We tried the Salon, Bar Budha and Mimmos, before finding a table in the Ubiquitous Chip. However it wasn't until we got seated and given a menu that we realised how much a meal was, in any case we decided it was beyond our budget and quickly made our excuses to the waitress and left. Further down Byres Road we tried a few more restaurants, all in vain, until we eventually got ourselves a table in the Japanese noodle bar Ichiban. Following dinner we headed back up to Aston Lane where we had a pint in the Loft, but moved on fairly quickly as it was a bit to busy. We decided to have a final couple of quiet drinks back a the Oran Mor, before heading home for the night.

It was a fairly sedate visit, in that we didn't have any wild nights clubbing or drinking huge amounts, but we all had a good time and hopefully I was a decent guide to Glasgow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

(Almost) down and out in Moscow

Today possibly saw the England football team missing out on the qualification for Euro2008. We lost to 2-1 to Russia in Moscow leaving us needing to win our final game against Croatia and relying on Russia losing some points in their next two games against Andorra (unlikely) and Israel (possible, but I wouldn't bank on it). There was a great goal in the first half putting England ahead (Owen flicked a nifty header on to Rooney who scored a great volley). But, agony in the second half when we had a bad penalty decision given against us (to be fair Rooney was rather reckless in pulling a Russian player back near the penalty area, although the foul was actually outside the area), and then conceded a further goal. There were a couple of chances that England should have taken to level it, but to no avail. We can only rue those dropped points against Macedonia at home (what the fuck were we doing there!) and Israel away, and keep our fingers crossed that other results will go our way.

Scotland also lost today 2-0 to Georgia. It obviously wasn't the result they wanted after their fantastic recent run that left them top of their qualifying group. I couldn't actually watch the game as I was still reeling from the England defeat. I do however envy the Scot's position over England as qualifying is still in their hands if they can beat Italy at home in their final game. They don't have to rely on other results going their way. With England looking very unlikely to be their it would be nice to have at least one home nation in the finals next year - that said I'm sure they'd rub my English face in it if Scotland got through and England didn't. I'll just have to hope the rugby result goes England's way at the weekend!

Monday, October 15, 2007

No mercy for Ming

Well it's been coming for the last couple of weeks, but Sir Menzies Campbell has given in to all the recent talk and quit as Liberal Democrat leader. Was it just an age thing, or was there pressure from inside the party? Well I think Ming just realised that he wouldn't be able to sustain another couple of years as leader of the Lib Dems before the next election, especially if his age kept coming up as a media issue. There's obviously been a lot of pressure on the party since the high profile that the main two political parties have come out with from their party conferences and the fight back that the Conservatives have made in the polls. Labour have a newish leader and Cameron has got a bit of a new lease of life. The probably was a lot of talk amongst the higher ranking Lib Dem MPs that Ming should go, but I don't think anyone out and out pushed him - although that said there was one quote on Newsnight last night, from a Lib Dem MP, saying that they thought the people talking against Ming were a "shower of shites"! I think getting a new leader will actually help the party in that a leadership election will keep them on the news agenda. I don't really have a clue who'll become the next leader, in fact there are several people who's names I don't recognise at all that have been speculated about, but it might provide a bit of excitement. Maybe they'll get Charlie back :)

Friday, October 12, 2007


After last months fairly regular postings you've had to deal with a rather sparse period devoid of my opinion. I expect you were wanting to hear what I though of various new US TV shows like Bionic Woman and Life, or maybe just the scientific impact of the recent Nobel Prize Laureates, but have only been disappointed! Well you might hear about these things in due course, but I've just not been in the mood to talk about them. One distressing thing that I will mention though is the fact that the band I'm in has come to a crux. After just getting over the fact that our guitarist (and founder member) Chris was leaving us, we've been dropped with the bombshell that our new bassist is quitting the group! This leaves a two piece, and we're really not ready to start a White Stripes style thing going on (well we have done a White Stripes cover before, but that don't mean a thing.) Also this has occurred just after I've started to become a lyrical maestro by, so far, writing two masterpieces (they're not ready to air just yet!) To allow us to fulfill our promise as an ace rock band I now appeal to the good bassists/guitarists of Glasgow to join us. Only you can help us reach our destiny.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Returning heroes

What do I make of the first episode of series two of Heroes? (No major spoilers) Well, it carried on pretty much as it left off (albeit 4 Months Later.) We're reintroduced to the majority of the previous characters and what's happened in their life since we last saw them (there's a lot of dialogue devoted to the standard exposition of what's gone on), with a couple of new faces put in there (in what'll probably be the new Nikki Sanders-type story.) Due to the who'll catchup nature of it there's a lot packed into the episode. But, I think the show has kept its style and pace really well. The opening episode has certainly asked a whole heap of new questions, some of which seem glaringly obvious, but others are more intriging. I certainly really enjoyed it and am now eagerly anticipating the second episode.

I've also watched the first episode of series four of House (Spoiler for end of series three if you've not seen it yet). I'm not quite sure why I persist with watching House, as, in classic medical drama style (well even more so in this case), it repeats very similar stories over and over. You'd think I'd be bored of it ny now. I think I just enjoy watching Hugh Laurie play House, while the same predictable things happen around him and his work colleagues seem duller and more annoying. At the end of the last series House's three employees either resigned or were sacked (and don't appear in this episode despite all the actors names being in the opening credits) and here we see him trying to solve a case himself without the help of his team. The whole point of the episode (as Cuddy and Wilson keep telling him in ever more irritating ways) is that he'd do better with I team and he should employ some people, but I didn't really get why as he solves the case perfectly well on his own (the main point of the entire show being that he's really bloody good at what he does.) I'll keep with the series, as I do perversely enjoy it still, until the supporting characters really do drive me insane.

There are a long list of other shows that I have in the pipeline to watch (some of which wee-n-sarcastic mentioned) including: Reaper, Bionic Woman, Life and of course, in the hopefully not too distance future, BSG. I'll review these as I get round to watching them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quote of the week

"... once you have tenure its all edible panties, firearms and blow." from Mark at CV.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is it coincidence?

For those interested in gravitational wave detection you may be excited to note that as of this morning at 00:28 UTC the three LIGO detectors have taken one years worth of triple coincidence data. What this means is that there is now one years worth of overlapping data from all three detectors. Overlapping data is essential when hunting for unmodelled short duration bursts of gravitational waves (e.g. from a supernova or GRB), as seeing an event in multiple detectors gives you confidence that the event is real (one detector would never be enough for you to rule out that an event wasn't just some random instrumental glitch, or environmental contamination) and allows you to get some positional information about the event. The current LIGO science run (S5 - meaning the fifth run of data taking) had this one year target as its main goal, also the detectors have generally been at their design sensitivities, meaning there's lots of nice high quality data for us to search through.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stick breakin, hard rockin

Just a quick post to say that yesterday's gig went very well. There were a few vocal level worries when we were soundchecking, due to our incomplete knowledge of the mixing desk we were using, but they got sorted out. The crowd mainly consisted of our mates, but they provided a decent turnout, and many were even wearing their official Look Up for Danger t-shirts.

I was a bit overenthusiastic for the first few songs, but calmed down to a better tempo for the remainder of the gig. I didn't take it that easy though, as I managed to snap two drumsticks (taking the total of stick I've broken this week, including during rehearsals, up to 5, after going a year and a half without breaking any.) I also had to finish one song with just one stick after dropping, and not being able to recover, two others, but it was fine. All the other band members played very well and it was great fun to play together, but sad to know that our guitarist (and founder) was playing with us for his last time. We did end on a high though, as at Chris's request we performed a footstomping, handclapping, barnstorming version of We Will Rock You with the full on Brian-May-style guitar solo ending. Marvellous! For those that have rocked, we salute you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The final countdown

Only 10 hours to go before the final Look Up for Danger gig (well depending if we decide to keep the name or not after today.) This time round we've got a set of 19 songs which will hopefully all rock! We just have to collect equipment (aka the drum kit), take it to the venue, have our final rehearsal, get some food, set up, sound check and then have a pint before it starts. Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Top table

I've been lax in not commenting on this sooner, but last weekend Watford went top of the league! Yes, with a mighty 12 points (from a potential 15) we took top spot in the Championship. Unfortunately, due to my slowness in reporting this news, we've now slipped down to second behind Bristol City following their 0-0 draw with West Brom last night. Never mind though as they are only ahead on goal difference and we have a game in hand. However, with a win or draw (preferably a win, obviously) in tonight's game against Cardiff we can reclaim our rightful spot at the zenith of the table.

[Update: We did it, we beat Cardiff 2-1 and went back to top of the table. Come on you mighty Hornets!]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Six from two

After the recently rare decent performance from the weekend England have managed to reproduce it with another very good win - this time against the tougher opponents of Russia. We started off the game very well, holding on to the ball and putting together precise forward looking passes which ending up with three goals. Gareth Barry again had a really good game and Michael Owen showed his quality with some class finishing on a brace of goals. We were a tad lucky in the first half when we were 1-0 up and the Russians had a goal disallowed for a dubious handball decision - well it wasn't a handball, but from the angle I first saw it, and from where the ref was, it did look like one. But other than that we did deserve to win, despite being a bit lacklustre for large parts of the second half - Shaun Wright-Phillips was looking very lethargic after his feisty performance on Saturday. Now we're second in the qualifying group. Croatia look like staying on top, but provided we can keep up the decent performances we have every chance of going through in second...

I should also give out a big congratulations to Scotland who beat France in Paris to go top of their group. It was a really good performance and despite being put under a lot of pressure from the French the Scottish defence held up brilliantly. It does now look like, of the home nations, only Scotland and England have chances of going through to Euro2008. Hopefully both of us can make it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

183 days later

Last week, after about six months of reading, I finally finished Neal Stephenson's trilogy of books The Baroque Cycle. This consists of three rather chunky (just under 900 page each) volumes: Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. The books are kind of a follow on from Stephenson's previous novel Crytonomicon which is a very good book itself, and highly recommended by me to be read before or after these books.

You can read the wikipedia entries for a description of the stories' main plots and characters and I can't be bothered repeating them, but very briefly it's set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, mainly in Western Europe, and follows the lives of several people mixed up in Natural Philosophy and the politics of the time, and includes many real historical figures. From here I'll just give my opinion on the books. Firstly if you're interested in the history of how much of modern science started (like the formation of the Royal Society), of English and Western European monarchy and politics, and of modern economics, then these books are great (especially the first one Quicksilver.) All these topics are covered as integral parts of the diverse storylines and are handled excellently. I'm not sure how accurate the historical accounts are, and there's obviously a fair bit of artistic license with real historical figures characterisations, but it all appears very well researched and timelined. You feel that your learning a lot and it makes you interested in finding out much more about the period. The two main storylines of the first book, that split into several others during the later books, before converging towards the end, are both equally interesting and well written so that you generally don't get disappointed when there's a switch between the two. Stephonson is prone to giving very long descriptions of things (hence the length of the books), but for the most part this enhances your enjoyment, however in the final book The System of the World these descriptions can seem overly long.

I really enjoyed the books and would recommend them to anyone who has half a year to spare (I can be a fairly slow reader, but they're going to take a while for anyone to get through.) I'd probably say that Quicksilver was my favourite, and that I was slightly disappointed by The System of the World. Quicksilver interest entirely throughout and didn't dragged at all, but The System of the World, despite probably being the fastest paced with regards to things happening over the shortest timescale, just had moments that I felt did drag and could have been left out or got through with fewer words.

I'll be looked forward to more or Stephenson's work in the future, but I've currently got three more books to keep me occupied.


In a major turn-up for the books yesterday's England v Israel Euro2008 qualifier was actually a decent game - for the English team at least. It was always thought that the Israeli team would be very defensive in this game (even more so than in their home leg in Tel Aviv), and in that they didn't disappoint - they only mustered a couple of meaningful attacks in the whole game - but that meant that England would have to keep up tempo and take the game forward. That's not been England's forte recently and things could have carried on in the same vein, but fortunately the team decided to play. There were a couple of interesting decisions in the squad forced by various injuries, like having Emile Heskey (who's not played for England for three years) and Gareth Barry (who's not played for England in over four years) in it, but their inclusions seems to have been one of Steve McClaren's best decisions since becoming England manager. Heskey was very impressive, and strong, in holding up the ball and knocking it on, and there wasn't a sign of his old trick of falling over at the slightest touch - he did however have a chance on goal that he should have done better with. Also very impressive was little Shaun Wright-Phillips who scored the first goal and had so much pace and energy during the game (we really don't need Beckham back down the right, he's just not got the pace or ability to run at and frighten defenders), unfortunately we didn't get to see Ian Wright's reaction to the goal up in the BBC pundits box. Deserving a mention are the performances of Joe Cole, Micah Richards (who scored and is looking like he'll be a regular at right back and probably push Gary Neville out the squad) and Michael Owen who scored one of his best ever England goals. The game was good because we took it to the Israeli's and didn't just sit back. Even when we'd scored a couple of goals we saw the opportunity to score more and kept things going. We should in fact have had more goals as on several occasions some great build up play was let down by poor finishing. Hopefully this will set us up well for Wednesday's game against Russia, although they'll likely be tougher opponents than Israel and will attempt a more attacking game.

After the football I watched the England v USA rugby game (our first game in the Rugby World Cup). Despite England winning (which they were expected to do easily against a team like USA) we played really poorly. It was a really dull performance that didn't show any real passion to win. It's not the most promising of starts given the performances of teams like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in their opening matches.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Beyond funding

I've just got this news via cosmicvariance. The US National Academy of Science has just released its recommendations to NASA and the DoE for the Beyond Einstein program - see here for the press release. The basic conclusion they came to is that a Joint Dark Energy Mission should be first off, given that it will be using pretty much proven technologies and a mission could be easily put together, whereas the space-based gravitational wave detector LISA requires more technological testing before they could place it top of the list for recommending. It does, however say that LISA should become the flagship mission in the future. What all this means in practical terms for the US side of LISA funding I'm not sure? LISA has been pushed back with regards to a potential launch date due to technological and funding issues for ages, but this could lead to yet more delays (although not entirely unexpected.) This is obviously a bit of a disappointment for a gravitational wave researcher like me, and I honestly think that the science return from LISA would be more than one of the JDEM missions could give - I mean they're only trying to understand what potentially makes up 70% of the universe, so who cares about that? ;) But seriously LISA has the potential to do very good cosmology as well as provide loads of other fundamental astrophysics with possible completely new discoveries being made - it just has a little bit more risk attached to pull off the mission, but many people are working very hard to make it as sound as possible. As Sean at cv notes maybe ESA should consider finding a more reliable partner for LISA - China, Japan, India what are your thoughts?

[Update: Apparently, according to my boss, the US recommendations are pretty much a match for the timescale that ESA was planning for LISA anyway, so they shouldn't really cause any significant extra delays. Not so bad really then.]

Chili time

I've not written down a recipe for a while, so here's a new one for the chili con carne I made today (it's a fairly standard recipe, but it did come entirely out of my head and it did taste very good, and is in fact the first chili I've ever made from scratch!)


  • 750g lean beef mince
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic segment things
  • 2 peppers (one green and one red for more colour variety
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 1 small tin of kidney beans
  • 1 small tin of sweetcorn
  • 4 closed cup mushrooms
  • 1 beef oxo cube
  • 2 tablespoons of hot chili powder (you should probably use real chili's, but I didn't get any!)
  • half tablespoon of cumin
  • half tablespoon of paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • splash of lemon juice

Chop up the garlic and onion and fry it up with a bit of oil in a large saucepan until golden. Add the mince beef and fry until brown. Add the oxo cube, spices, lemon juice and seasoning. Add the tomato, sweetcorn, kidney beans and chopped mushrooms and stir it all together. Put a lid on the pan and simmer it for about 20 mins. Serve with rice, a jacket potato, tortias or whatever you want. This recipe should make enough for about three fairly substantial portions (I've have quite a bit left!)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pubbing dangerously

After living in the Maryhill area of Glasgow for the last year and a half I've finally visited one of my local pubs - don't worry I've not gone into Framptons or the Viking as I'm not that willing to die (they haven't got the most favourable of reputations, especially considering I'm a fairly middle-class Englishman, and haven't got a pitbull or a Glasgow smile!) The pub in particular, called Crosslands, is actually slightly famous having featured in the film Trainspotting! You know the scene where Begbie chucks the pint glass off the balcony in the pub and it glasses the person below - well it's that pub! I'd been informed by a friend that despite its look from the outside, and believe me it doesn't look the most inviting of places, it's fine when you go in (and to be fair there are reviews that say it's a very friendly place). So after band practice today we took the plunge and went for a pint there. You'll be (hopefully) pleased to know that none of us got glassed, or otherwise roughed-up, and in fact we had a pleasant couple of drinks. The place was mostly empty, so it would have been hard for us to antagonise anyone, but it wasn't at all intimidating. Maybe it'll become a regular band haunt... or maybe not!

Moores law

In another very brief astronomy related post the head of the Astronomy & Astrophysics group at Glasgow Prof. John Brown and my friend Fiona were on the Sky at Night last night. I've not watched it yet, but will try and catch the repeat or download it. From what I've heard it mainly consisted of John doing magic tricks - he links in astronomy with his magic as part of public outreach - but I'm intrigued to see how it comes across on the TV.

Do you feel lucky

I'm not quite sure why it was BBC website front page news (although I'm glad it was and is pretty cool especially if you're astronomiclly inclined), but there's an interesting story about a couple of research groups produing high resolution images from ground based telescopes. The reason that this is cool is that normally from the ground the resolution of the images you can produce (i.e. the ability the distinguish between separate objects - like stars - or pick out detail) is limit by the turbulent motions of the atmosphere. Patches of air with different denisties along the line of sight to the object will bend (refract) the light (like light passing through a glass prism) by different amount leading to the image at the telescope jittering around and varying in intensity (basically the same as the twinkling of stars when you look at them with you eye). To image faint objects you need fairly long camera exposure times; these variations in the atmosphere happen on far shorter timescales, so the jittering/brightness variations of the source will smear it out on the final image. In general there's a rule which says that the bigger a telescope you have the better resolution you can get, so an 8.2m telescope like one of those at the VLT should be able to tell two objects seperated by ~0.02 arcseconds apart (i.e. two objects seperated by about 30 metre on the moon), but is in practice limited to a resolution of ~0.5 acrseonds by the atmosphere - that doesn't mean that bigger telescopes on the ground aren't better than smaller ones as they still collect more light and can therefore see fainter objects.) To get round the effects of the atmosphere the Hubble Space Telescope was built, which was able to achieve its full theoretical resolution of ~0.5 acrseonds with its 2.4m mirror, however Hubble was very expensive and is hard to maintain - being in space and all - so people have been trying to think of way to get around the atmospheric effect with ground based telescopes.

The article above talks of two ways of doing this, which have both seperately been around for a few years (the adaptive optics idea for longer), but seem to have finally been used together. The first idea is that of adaptive optics, which basically monitor the effect of the atmospheric distortions on the image and then corrects for these by applying and opposite distortion to one of the secondary mirrors in the telescope thereby correcting for the atmospheric effects. The monitoring and corrections have to be performed on a millisecond timescale. The second idea, which is now also making use of very efficient CCD cameras, is Lucky imaging. This basically comprises of taking lots and lots of photos of the object with short exposure times (hence the need for the very efficient cameras, so as to catch as much light as possible in a short time.) Some of these lucky images will have been taken when the atmospheric distotions were small, so you keep these and thow away the bad ones. You can then stack up the lucky images to help build up a stronger image. It's actually rather simple!

Anyway that was a rather unexpected astronomy post and the main reason I started it was so that I could show this cool movie of the Crab pulsar (which I do research on) taken using Lucky Imaging - you can see the flashing star with a bright pulse and then a fainter interpulse as radiation beamed from the star's poles intercept Earth once per rotation - the image is slowed down from the actual rotation rate of 30 times per second.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cameron's big ideas

Last night on Newsnight the Conservative leader David Cameron was being quizzed on his views and Conservative Party policy. Frankly it was a bit embarrassing to watch, even by the normally very poor performance standards of politicians in interviews. Now I've never been a Tory supporter, but when Cameron was chosen as their new leader it did seem a like a bit of a nice change from the previous couple of leaders (probably not as much of a change as if Kenneth Clarke had got in, but some change at least) with the prospect of a decent opposition party - ok, so Cameron was totally playing the Blair card, but he was trying to sound a bit caring. However, after having a bit of a battering in the last few months, and with Brown actually seeming to be quite popular, he's done the old appeal-to-the-Daily-Mail-reader change of heart by showing he is tough (and Tory) on crime, immigration and family breakdown - there's "anarchy on the streets of the UK" apparently! In the interview he was maintaining that his views have been consistent over his 18-19 months as leader, but even if they've not actually changed that much he's certainly changed emphasis a lot! His talk of having the most disadvantaged people as his main priority were particularly exposed when he was questioned about the Tories insistence on sorting out inheritance tax as a first goal, which would help the middle /upper classes most, so I wont complain, but would be of very little practical help to the poorest families. His talk of having £20 a week of extra benefits for married couples was also quite laughable - as if that's going to be an incentive for people to stay in broken relationships or encourage unmarried couples to wed! Then his talk of the Tories idea for green taxes was just stupid - he complained that under Labour such taxes would be implemented as stealth taxes, but the Conservatives would impose green taxes (e.g. an extra few quid on air travel) by dropping taxes in other areas i.e. you end up paying the same amount of taxes, but it is just shifted in name - is that really a disincentive to flying!?

My main thought was that David needs to do a hell of a lot better, especially if Brown calls a general election in the next couple of months.

Second time around

It's been public via the medium of facebook for about a week now, but I should let my loyal blog readers know that the band I'm in will be performing its second (third if you count our Australia tour, but I prefer not to!) gig next month. This time around we're going solely under the name of Look Up for Danger with a new bassist in our line-up. We are again going to be playing at the Glasgow University Research Club on Thursday 20th Sept, because the venue is so good not because we couldn't think of anywhere else to play. We'll be playing a new set of great covers, so everyone should come along and enjoy the evening. If you are around Glasgow University look our for some of our posters.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kitted out

I got a second step on the way to building up a proper drum kit today. I went and bought myself a snare drum (a black and chrome pdp 805 series - it's one of the cheapest snares, but the guy in the shop said it was decent), along with a stand and case. Using it at home might not be that regular an occurrence as my flatmate might not be too appreciative of it, but hopefully when I do get to practice it'll help improve my skills - one of the main reasons for getting it is that the electric kit I've got doesn't have the response of a real drum skin, so it's hard to practice things like a drum roll.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A night on the cobbles

Last week for my birthday a few of us went through to Edinburgh for a bit of a live comedy fix. All-in-all we had a very good time and went to see an interesting combination of shows.

First up wee-n-sarcastic and I went to see a comedy sketch show called Two Left Hands - we were just hanging sround the Pleasance courtyard trying to decide what to see and the person flyering for this show was the only one who made a decent effort to tempt us. The show was a series of English-seaside-town/seaside-holiday-based sketches written and performed by "Smack the Pony" writer Leila Hackett and random television presenter Charlotte Hudson, and was being shown in the tiny hut that was the Baby Grand at the Plesance. The show started off with a rather poor sketch about the two girls trying to perform a burlesque style dance routine, but things did generally improve after that. A lot of the sketches were quite predictable once you saw the opening premise, but that didn't stop them containing some funny material. One of the main pieces running through the show was based on Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson in which Barbara had fallen on hard times. wee-n-sarcastic loved this having been forced to listen to "I Know Him So Well" many times as a small child. It was a reasonably funny set of sketches, but I suspect many people might not have had that much of a clue who the two people were - the main thing I knew about Elaine Paige was that she went to secretatial college with my mum. Overall it was a fairly enjoyable show and amusing enough that we didn't feel robbed of our entry fee.

Next up was the main event that we'd come to see and had pre-booked tickets for - Stewart Lee in his show "41st Best Stand Up Ever" - performing in the big upturned inflatable purple cow that is the Udderbelly. A couple of years before some of us had gone to see his show "90s Comedian" (and in fact we feature in the DVD of that show, which he was trying to flog during the course of this show!) and it was very good, so we were expecting something of similar quality from him. Before the show Lee wandered around outside the venue with his backpack, occainsionally on his phone, and generally looking confused - or maybe he was trying to size up his audience (consisting, as well as us, of such comedy luminaries as Mel and Sue and Armando Iannucci.) The show's main theme was an attack on TV and how Lee is now officially, actually, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% proven to be, undeniably, the 41st best stand-up ever! I don't think there was actually that much material in the show, but it was all delivered really well in classic Stewart Lee style (that's about as good a description as I can come up with - it was done in the style of himself - inciteful I know!) For some reason when doing an impression of his own mum it came across very much as if she was in fact Richard Herring. I don't know if Richard Herring bases his performance on Stewart's mum or vice versa, but it was very funny none-the-less. Overall a very good set, with some properly hilarious parts, from someone who's still pretty high (41st best) in their game.

Finally, at the request of ellielabelle, adren-junk and wee-n-sarcastic, and somewhat trepidatiously on my part, we went to see Eurobeat in the rather large venue of the Grand at the Pleasance. As the name suggests this is a spoof of Eurovision. My trepidation proved ill-founded, because after a couple of minutes of the show (and after an introduction by none other than Terry Wogan himself) a smile formed on my face that stayed there for about one and a half hours. In terms of a spectacle the shows production values were really high. The style of the event, the costumes and the choreography were all excellently done. But what made it were the songs and the performers. For true bizarreness and camp kitschiness you can't beat the real Eurovision itself, but the Eurobeat songs really did capture the Eurovision feel without feeling too forced or derivative (obviously they were quite derivative, but when done so well it was still very impressive). There was even an inteactive element to the show with everyone being given a country to support at the start and a text vote for the winner at the end. It did have some comedy moments, but in genaral was just great fun with the whole audience getting into the spirit of it. Very enjoyable even for a non-gay like me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hair today

I've cut my own hair in the past, I even have a decent pair of hair clippers for such things, and the results have generally been reasonable, but today I went slightly further than normal. My hair was getting to the stage that would require some sort of gel to keep it in check, so I decided to use my clippers and rear it in a bit. The shortest I've gone before is a number 2 (about 10mm in length) and that was the plan again. I shaved it down to that level, but then was struck by an adventurous idea that I could probably pull off a number one (about 5mm). So I carried on whittling away. I also have quite an unruly bunch of hair on the back of my neck which I wanted tidying up. This is quite hard to do when cutting your own hair, especially when you've not got an extra mirror to see what you're doing. I basically attempted this tidy up (using the bare clippers set to their shortest setting) by relying on a bit of blind hope that it would be ok - in the past this has been an area where I've brought in outside help. After this I had pretty short hair anyway, but I wanted to know what the back of my neck looked like, so I used my digital camera to check it out (again I have no spare hand held mirror to help). The result of my efforts was to have produced a neck line that was as ragged as the Scandanavian coastline. There were two options: 1) ask my flatmate to straighten it up, or 2) shave off all my hair. I went for option 2.

I think the overall effect isn't too bad, but I've had a mixed reaction from my friends. When I say mixed I mean a generally shocked and horrified reaction, but at least I know I'm probably that slight bit safer when walking through the dodgyer areas of Glasgow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Code masters

Now I like coding as much as the next man - the next man being someone who quite likes his coding - but there's one aspect that can be especially infuriating: debugging.

Writing a nice piece of software from scratch can be quite enjoyable and even a creative process (programming is an art form!). You think about what you want the program to do and work out how to best split the task into seperate managable functions and structures; then you let the creativity flow down your fingertips, through the keyboards and onto the text editor of choice (I use kwrite, which many might think is a bit of a soft option and I should instead be using something more hardcore like emacs, xemacs or vim instead, but I like kwrite goddamn it) adding your own style and artistic flourishes to your work. If you're programming in C this artistic process includes blindly declaring pointers, chanting some voodoo incantations, and hoping the thing compiles (or at least that's how I deal with them!)

Now once your coding materpiece has been completed the man steps in with his rules and regulations trying to make you conform. He throws about syntax error's here and request for member `X' in something not a structure or union's there. Sometimes your most bold and inspired brush strokes are just too far out there for the current establishment to deal with. However you deal with his requests grudgingly, but never let you artistic integrity slip. Often you find that the man's requests make you see more beauty in your work and make you appreciate certain parts of it more. This is the easy part of debugging.

Then you try and run your code - my arty analogy kind of breaks down slightly here as I've not heard of people trying to run a sculpture or painting. Segmentation fault it says. Or the output some indecipherable goobledegook, or just plain smack-me-in-the-face stupid. You respond with a swift "Bugger!" knowing that somewhere your magnum opus (arty again) is trying to access a bit of memory that's not been allocated, or is plucking random numbers out of thin air (aka somewhere in the computer's RAM). This is followed by adding printf statesments just about everywhere to work out where the program's falling down. When this doesn't highlight the problem and you can't see anything at all that looks wrong you start banging your head against a brick wall for several hours/days/weeks/months getting more and more irrate and frustrated! Your urge to kill will rise to quite extreme levels (did you know that there is a large statistical blip in the murder rates around Redmond, WA!) More often that not after an undefined period you realise that you've been excessively stupid, fix a minor unseen, but blindingly-obvious-when-you-spot-it, problem, and everything works out well. Although sometimes codes are just tempermental beasts that work one day, but not the next!

Anyway I suppose it's best that a piece of software falls down completely at the start rather than working properly, producing reasonable results, and looking hunky-dory, for ages before you realise that there's a mistake. But that never happens now does it...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Seasons greetings

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, but now the new football season's started I've become reinvigorated to write something.

Firstly I have to congratulate Watford on a fantastic start to the new season with a 2-1 win against Wolves (note that the BBC website doesn't really write as much about Championship games as they do for Premiership matches.) Apparently we played pretty badly in the first half at least, but if we can still play badly and manage to get a win that's the main thing - it's what champions do :)

The Watford game was actually being shown on Sky Sports, but I doubted that any pub would be showing it when there was the Aston Villa vs. Liverpool game on (and the England vs. France rugby match on), so I watched that instead. It was a 2-1 win for Liverpool, with a fantastic free kick from Steven Gerrard. The game wasn't that enthralling until the last 20 mins when things got far more exciting. As ever I can see a lot of Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent down the pub over the next 9 months (although after that there's the European Championship to look forward to).

The new season has also bought back some televisual delights in the form over Football Focus, and tonight sees the return of Adrian Chiles in MOTD2. My Saturday lunchtimes and Sunday evenings are complete again.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A film at its Prime

If you want to see a film that revels in just being a big fun, cheesy, actionfest then you can do far worse than going to see Transformers. I went to see it at the weekend and really enjoyed the whole thing. The movie kind of feels like two different films with a definite change when the Transformers start talking. The Transformers (at least the Autobots), when first introduced, seem to be aimed at children (which is fair enough as they are childrens toys) which is slightly out of place from the lead up that's been given, but you deal with it by the general coolness of the CGI. There was a completely superfluous subplot with the NSA signal analysts, which could easily have been cut without really affecting the films overall plot, but it was harmless enough having it in there. Some of the battle scenes between the Autobots and Decepticons are pretty hard to follow as they're really fast paced with so much going on. They definitely require being watched on a huge cinema screen. I was surprised that there was a quite a large comedy element to the film, which actually worked really well. You'll be unsurprised that like with most recent blockbusters they've set themselves up for the sequel, but I'll be looking forward to it - maybe they'll even get Leonard Nimoy back as a Transformer (it might be pushing it to have Orson Welles again though).

As you'd expect you've got to suspend the thinking part of your brain for the film, but in general I sat through the film with a big smile on my face thinking "Woah, that's cool".

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On top of the world

After a few fairly uneventful flights I'm back among the northern-hemispherians - oh, Polaris how I've missed thee. The main event being that I managed to spill a glass of orange juice down my trousers as I was setting off from Brisbane airport, so spent the rest of the trip with a vague orangey stain on my upper right leg. There were also a few issues with Qantas's inflight entertainment system, but these were resolved which allowed me to watch the last five minutes of Zodiac from where I'd previously been cut-off. There'll likely be some photos of my travels going online soon, so keep your peepers peeled.

My general impression of Australia was that it was a great place (even potentially liveable in), so I'm going to make efforts to go there again - now when's the next conference there...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fraser and Dave

First things first - I've not read Harry Potter nor will I for the forseeable future.

I'm now back in Brisbane for my last night in Australia. I'm again in the hostel Bunk at which it seems that Sunday night is the pumping party night, so rather than partying I've decided to plonk myself infront of a computer - I'll go for a beer or two later.

My stay in Bunk earlier in the week was pretty good. I was sharing a room with seven Irish folk who were traveling together. I went with them to a local pub where we indulged in two of my favourite passtimes - drinking and karaoke. We did attempt to go clubbing in town, but encountered a queue that appeared to be glacial in its progress. The next moring, after being incredibly quite so as not to wake my room mates, I left for the bus station to catch the Greyhound to Hervey Bay. I'd heard some bad things about Greyhound coaches and I feared the worsed when I encoutered a crazy person trying to check in for the coach. Luckily he wasn't getting on my coach (in fact I think he'd just randomly wandering in off the street and wasn't after any bus) and when I boarded I was pleasantly surprised - there were only about 10 of us on the coach and there was tonnes of leg room. The coach trip was unevenful and I arrived at Hervey Bay on time.

In Hervey Bay I was staying at the Koala Resort hostel. This seemed nice enough, but the rickety shacks that made it up were later shown to be inadequate insulation for the bloody freezing night that was to come. The problem with Hervey Bay is that it's dull as fuck. It's basically a stop off point for people heading to Fraser Island, but they haven't thought to give it any sort of nightlife. My hostel had a nightclub, but they didn't even bother opening it cos no bugger was around! I was reduced to sitting in the TV room for a while watching a show where the Aussie tennis player Mark Phillipousis had to pick a girl from a variety of desperate women.

After a very unevenful night I headed off to the one and only reason for being in Hervey Bay, Fraser Island. We were met on the Island by our tour guide called Dave. Dave was apparently one of the tour companies most experienced guides, but by all accounts there most mental - he knew his stuff, but liked to talk (mainly using inappropriate comments) and laugh (mainly at his own jokes, or even just at random sentences/words)non-stop. Fraser Island, as I may have said in previous posts, is the largest almost entirely sand island in the world and home to a large amount of dingos. We saw a dingo pretty much straight after we set off in our 4x4 bus. The first day involved part trekking through the forest and part driving places in the bus - Fraser Island's is big although not huge, but when you have to drive everywhere through sand it can still take a while. We visited Basin lake and later in went to the major attraction that is Lake MacKenzie. As there was water there I had to go for a swim, which was pretty nice although I was still the only one in my group who braved the water. At Lake MacKenzie I met back up with some of the guys from my Contiki tour group who were also on the island. That evening we were staying in some lodges on a nice Fraser Island resort called the Kingfisher Resort. These lodges had heating, which was a great advantage over most of the people who visit the island and have to camp. Watching the sunset that evening from the island was really nice. Food on the island was also really good. We finshed off the evening with a large amount of drinks from the resort bar. Maybe I'll recount some of Dave's pearls of wisdom some day.

The next day was an early start (I'd got used to these) and we set off to drive up the beach. The beach drive would have been something I'd have loved to be able to do myself, but it was still fun being driven by someone else. This day was pretty windy which meant that when out of the bus we were generally being sand blasted (you've got to expect that on a sand island) and the sea was pretty choppy. We visited thhe wreck of a ship called the Moheno and then carried on up the island to the Champange pools - these were a couple of rock pools on the beach with the surf breaking into them. As ever I was the only one to go for a swim. We then headed to Indian Head, rocky outcrop which gave great view over the island and sea - there was the possibility to see whales, but as the water was so choppy you wouldn't have been able to make anything out. There were a few more sights seen, but that evening I headed back to Hervey Bay - again it was dull.

Today was back on the Greyhound to Brisbane. During the trip we had a minor breakdown, but it didn't hold us up too much. Now I think I'll go for my last couple of Aussie beers. Next post from back in the UK.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brisbane backpacker

I'm now in Brisbane where I left the tour group I was with to be a proper backpacker - they all wept as I waved them goodbye ;) I'm staying in a hostel and everything - it's called Bunk and is actually pretty nice from what I've seen so far. I'll give it a review when I've tried it's full range of services. I now just have to think up something to do tonight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Duuude... wipeout

This morning went surfing for the first time (a group of us on my tour had a learn-to-surf lesson). When I say surfing what I really mean is flailing about in the water sometimes while holding on to a surf board. Staying on the board while lying on your stomach is hard enough and the waves we had were babies (six foot babies) according to our instructors, so I can imagine how much more difficult it would be in proper surf. It was good fun and pretty knackering, but I think it'll be a while before I'll be riding the waves like a pro. Anyway it's a glorious day so I should get back to the beach rather than spending time in an internet cafe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

East is east

I'm now further up the east coast of Oz in "the sunshine state" of Queensland. The current stop in Surfers Paradise where I'll be spending the whole day tomorrow - I'll be surfing as it seems to be the appropriate thing to do here.

I joined up with my tour group in Sydney early yesterday morning. We did a very brief trip up to Mrs Macquarie's chair which overlooks the Opera House and Harbour Bridge where we were obliged to get a group photo. We the raced out of Sydney and headed to the wine region Hunter Valley. There we sampled quite a large selection of wines including a rather bizarre sparkling red. The wines were ok, but I was expecting some slightly nicer ones, although maybe my wine tasting palate wasn't quite ready at 11am. We then drove on to Coff's Harbour (home of the big banana) where we spent the night. It was a fairly quiet one as most people were pretty knackered, plus the bar closed at 9.30pm. Today we set of for Byron Bay (just past the big prawn). We went to the lighthouse on Byron Point, which is the most easterly tip of Australia - the views were amazing from this headland, and we got to see a pod of Humpback whales migrating. In Byron Bay itself we went for lunch and I headed straight for the lovely beach. The town's really nice and it would have been great to stay for longer than the two hours we had. I did get to swim in the sea though and sampled the local fish and chips. The water was fine for someone from the UK and was about as warm as it ever gets back home. Following this we went to a wildlife park and saw the normal selection of Aussie wildlife - I didn't get my picture taken cuddling a koala, but many people did. We've now arrived at Surfers Paradise and I think I'll be heading for some food and drink pretty soon.

On a general note the tour group I'm with seems pretty cool (I have to say this as some might read it later ;)). The majority of them are heading all the way up to Cairns, but I leave them at Brisbane.

p.s. I'm going to say nothing about the gig we did other than don't mention "the Reaper".

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's on!

Australia is still treating me well despite a few days of cold rain - well I am British so I should be able to deal with that! The conference has been pretty interesting so far and has given me some things to think about. I've even had some interest in the poster I presented. We have this afternoon off, but there are now other things to plan. Myself and two of my bandmates are over here and have managed to organise a gig at an open mike night tomorrow night. Unfortunately they don't supply any percussion, so I'm off to buy something to bang or shake. We've already found a musical instrument shop, but I've got to decide on what I'm willing to spend for a one off performance. I think the gig might set a new world record in being the largest gathering of gravitational wave physicists at a musical performance as quite a few people at the conference have said they're coming - we'll see how many actually turn up.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"In Australia..."

So after being swept up by a tornado (i.e. Qantas airplane) I've been safely deposited in the wonderful land of Oz (i.e. Oz). The flight was far less of an ordeal than I thought it would be. There was a wide range of on-demand in flight entertainment options and the food was decent. The Aussie customs folk were pretty cheery and even smiled, which is a far better reception than you get entering the US. The first impression of Australia is that it's kind of familar. It doesn't smell different from the UK and you feel far more relaxed than you'd expect from being in a country on the other side of the world. It's homely, but with an odd twist.

Yesterday I got the real feeling that I was in Sydney when I went off to meet up with my Aunt. For a mid-winter day the weather was fantastic. It was (to start with bright and sunny, with only a few small clouds in the sky. I was meeting my Aunt in Circular Quay and on walking there the Harbour Bridge hove into view. A little further on the Opera House came into sight. There's nothing that lets you know your in Sydney more than seeing these sight. It really is very impressive and the whole harbour area looks great. From Cicular Quay we went on the ferry to Manly at the opening of the harbour. Here I saw people surfing adding another piece to the Oz experience.

I need to leave the internet cafe where I'm writing this, but they'll probably be another update soon. The work side of this trip wil actually be starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

To the far side of the Earth

In not many hours time I'm going to be heading to Australia. It really is quite a bizarre concept that you can get on a plane and a day later be on the other side of the globe. This may sound rather old fashioned considering the ability to do these things has been around since well before I was born, but I'm still pretty impressed. That said the prospect of long-haul flying doesn't fill me with much enthusiasm. As I've noted before I'm very bad at sleeping on flights, so I'm just having to hope I can keep myself entertained for long enough - I'll have my iPod fully charged, a couple of books (one of which weighs in at a hefty 900 pages), a large set of crossword and Sudoko's, and even some scientific papers. I seem to remember having an ok time the last time I took such a long flight, but that was when I was four years old, was more excited by flying and had more ability to sleep through anything.

One thing that I won't be taking on this trip is my laptop. I'll be going nearly a full three weeks without it! Don't worry though, they'll be other opportunities for me to access the internet and update you with what I'm up to. You may even here of the fabled Corpse Full of Bees Australian tour...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Get a room

Yesterday I went for a swim in the Glasgow Uni pool, but I'm not going to bore you with how many laps I did, or my supreme mastery of the breast stroke, I'm just writing to express my annoyance at some couples who were in the pool. Now back in the day, i.e. the 80s, public swimming pools would prominently display posters with lists of forbidden activities, including the likes of bombing, ducking and petting. There're no such posters in the Glasgow Uni pool, but I'd have thought that the no petting rule would be fairly common knowledge and just general courteous behaviour. However the way two couples were carrying on was just not proper for a swimming pool environment. It just made the people near them, i.e. me, rather uncomfortable. I now sound like some sort of prude, but I think I'm in the right - there's a time a place with the pool just not being one of them. I propose a ban on couples having any sort of contact when in a swimming pool, with the penalty being a week under an icey cold shower. It may sound draconian, and some might say it's a step too far, but we must protect our right to not be slightly sickened by peoples poolside gropings.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oh the Terror!

Today some angry chaps took it upon themselves to crash a flaming car into Glasgow Airport (the same types who also tried to explode some Mercedes in central London). This is a jolly unsporting thing to do and has inconvenienced a great many people - luckily some valiant British bobby's were on hand to apprehend the rogues, who appeared to have mistakenly set themselves alight! It really is below the belt stuff and just not British! Well I for one wont stand for such actions. I think the perpetrators should be given a jolly good talking to and maybe a light caning. That should show them the error of their ways and set them back on the straight and narrow. There are many angry people out there, but not all of them feel the need to express it by exploding this, or crashing into that. They should express their anger in a more British way like repressing their feelings, going on a brisk walk, or at most writing a stern, yet polite, letter.

Year half empty, or year half full

Can that really be half a year gone already!? I doesn't half go by quickly these days.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Number 4

Tomorrow it all changes! Will Britain fall to ruin? Will nightmares from our worst imaginings blight the world? Will the very fabric of the universe tear itself assunder?

These are all possibilites of what'll happen as Tony Blair resigns as Prime Minister, but I may be being a bit on the alarmist side. The only real short term change will be that we'll have to remember to say Gordon rather than Tony when refering to the PM.

At the age of 26 it is quite strange to note that Tony's only the third PM I've experienced during my lifetime. First there were the horrors of Thatcher stealing our school milk (well that was actually back in 1971 when she was Education Secretary and she was actually against the move, but still, grrrrr!) - damn her big eighties hair for all eternity. Then there were the grey pants years of Major - such a nice guy now what with his love of cricket and all. Followed by 10 smiley, enthusiatic and earnest, but somewhat shallow years with Blair (or Big Tone as I like to call him). What will I have to expect from my number 4 Gordy B? Only time will tell, but he better not mess with no school milk!

Monday, June 25, 2007


The other day I got stung by a bee on my left foot - I think the bee had decided to take up residence in the bottom of my trouser leg and got stuck. This is only interesting (well interesting to me at least) in that I now know that I'm not highly allergic to bee stings. I've managed to avoid ever being stung by either a bee or a wasp (or hornet, jellyfish, scorpion, etc), so after this sting I had a few moment of wondering just whether anaphylactic shock would set in. My skin didn't begin to swell up nor did my throat close up, it just stung a lot. I think the bee got off worst cos it died - helped on its way by a swift swat with a magazine. I now just have a very itchy patch on my foot where the sting was - nothing a bit of scratching doesn't momentarily relieve.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Giving in to killer TV

For the last few months my flatmate has been bugging me to watch the TV show Dexter, which he'd started watching last year and really liked. I finally gave in to his nagging and have so far watched the first two episodes. The show, the first series of which finished last November when screened in the US, is based around the character Dexter Morgan. As far as antiheroes go this guy goes right into top spot. He's a serial killer. He's also a forensic scientist working for the police. The show has a dark humour about it, which it gets away with despite the very grisly situations that are presented. You kind of like the character of Dexter for the reason, I think, that the whole thing is presented from his perspective (with an overlying narration by him) allowing the viewer to connected with him if not really understanding and certainly not condoning what he does - or maybe just I think the character has a likability a everyone else thinks psycho! Like I said I've only watched the first two episodes, so will need to watch some more to form a more full opinion, but so far I'm liking it. I'd recommend it to people so long as you're not too squeamish about mutilated bodies - there're a lot of them!

Travels down-under

Next month I'm heading of to the Amaldi conference, which is a major gravitational wave conference held every two years. This year it just so happens to be in Sydney and I couldn't really pass up the opportunity of a trip to Australia. I am having to do work for the conference, with a poster presentation to produce and a paper to plan/write with some other people whilst I'm there, but I can't complain about this.

What with flying half way around the world I couldn't go without taking a bit of a holiday whilst I'm out there, so I've tacked another week onto the trip after the conference is over. And I'm fair packing in the activities that week. As the conference is based in Sydney I figured that I'd get to see a fair bit of it during my stay there. I therefore decided to book my flight home from Brisbane rather than Sydney, so I'd have to do some traveling to make the flight. Only having a week to travel I decided that there wasn't much point in aimlessly wandering about bits of Australia, so I went to STA Travel to book something more organised. After a fair while spent checking out the various options my itenerary has finalised on this: A Contiki coach trip from Sydney to Brisbane, which goes via Hunter Vally (vineyards and wine tasting), Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Currumbin (to go to a wildlife sanctuary), Surfers Paradise (for some beaches, casinos and general partying), and finally on to Brisbane. That's not the end of it though! After a night in Brisbane I'm going to be heading up to Hervey Bay (average temperatures of 23 C in the winter!) for the evening before going on a tour of Fraser Island (the world largest sand island). After this it's back to Brisbane for the night before catching my flight home. Should be knackering, but also great fun. I've got the long plane journey back on which to rest, so I need to make the most of my time there.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Island life

Yesterday we returned from our camping trip to Gigha generally unharmed, but with a large selection of Midge bites and bizarre experiences.

On Friday we loaded up the cars for our trip and set off at about 12.45. We were aiming for the 4pm CalMac ferry from Tayinloan, so would have to make good going if we were to make it in time. We just missed this ferry by a few minutes and watched it sail off without us, but there was a bus stop for us to huddle under - and we had to huddle as the weather was a bit blustery to say the least. Whilst waiting for the ferry our first bit of weirdness was encountered - another car pulled up and out got some guys. We got talking about why they were going to Gigha and found out that they were a Senegalese dance band, and they were playing at the village hall that evening! "Are you going to go?" they asked. "Of course!" we answered, because you can't turn down an invitation to a Senegalese dance band as they don't come round that often - especially when they're on Hebridean islands.

When we got to the island, after the approximately twenty minute boat trip, we quickly set up camp. The rain wasn't too heavy, so we managed to get the tents up without too much trouble and minimal dampness. Hunger set in, so we got the BBQs out and began cooking up some meat. The one and only island pub was our next destination where we met some unfortunate microlight pilots who'd been stuck on the island for three days due to the bad weather. After some drinks it was off to the village hall for the band. adren-junk, our guide to the island, showed us the way to the hall by leading us into a wood reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project. Luckily we didn't get killed in some bizarre island ritual (I'm thinking The Wicker Man here) and made it to the hall for the evenings entertainment. It was 10.30pm but all the island's people seemed to be there, from the small kids to pensioners. It was pretty strange, but we had a good time dancing away and keeping the party going.

Saturday started off with the rain still coming down. The weather didn't stop some of the group from going for a swim in the sea - they endured the cold, but did manage a variety of interesting screams when the cold water encountered various parts of their bodies. The rain eventually stopped sometime mid-afternoon and things began to dry off. Dinner that evening was at the pub/hotel/restaurant where the haddock and chips went down a storm. We then went off to collect firewood. This led us back to the wood from last night where we hoped some dry wood would be available. At the wood we were pounced on by all the midges on the island, and had to make a hasty retreat before we could gather up much wood. However, with some blooed still remaining in our bodies, we scavenged around other less dangerous locations which provided us with enough wood (including an abandoned fence post) to make a go at a fire. We scrambled over some rocks around the coast from our camp to a more secluded location to set up our fire. The fire we raised was very good although wasn't the largest that's been seen. It provided a good focus around which to drink and sing, and somehow didn't arouse a load of angry islanders from there sleep.

On Sunday we awoke to a glorious day, with the sun shining and the island taking on a whole new look. Encouraged by this we all entered to water for a swim. It wasn't the warmest water that I've swam in, but after the initial shock it became pleasant (well bearable) and we spent a good 15 minutes splashing around. After breakfast/lunch and showers, to recover a decent core temperature, we drove up to the north end of the island to a larger beach than the incredibly tiny one by our campsite. With the sun, white beaches, clear water and brilliant views we felt like we could be in the Caribbean. Sprint races, frisbeeing and pirating were all activities that we did. Unfortunately we soon had to leave to pack up our tents and catch the last ferry off the island.

There was a lot more to the weekend than I've been able to briefly document above, but it was all excellent fun. I highly recommend Gigha to people thinking of visiting a small Scottish island (they don't seem to produce their own whisky though.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Survival of the fittest

A while back a few of my colleagues planned a summer trip to Iceland. We'd drive up somewhere really far north from where we could then get a boat to the land of glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, hot bubbling mud, and Bjork, where we'd experience all the geothermal magnificence first hand. This would even have included a few days knocking about on the renowned tourist mecca that is the Faroe Islands, where we'd have no doubt done some exciting things involving pyramids and embalming... or maybe it's not that type of Pharaoh - it actually means sheep island! Anyway that was the plan until ellielabelle looked into it in more detail and we realised it might all be a bit pricey (Iceland's bloody expensive don't you know), and the Faroes might not quite have the entertainment to sustain us for a few days.

So we've now gone for the next best option which is a weekend camping trip to Gigha (pronounced gee'a)! "Where, and what, the fuck's Gigha?" you might be asking, and indeed I was asking myself until a few hours ago when I set out to search for it on google maps. Well it's here. It's small island off the west coast of Scotland, just off the Kintyre penisula peninsula, and it even has it's own wikipedia page! The reason that we're going here is that adren-junk used to visit family there as a child (one of whom is, I think, the Willie McSporran - yes it's a real name - quoted in the wikipedia article), and was pretty enthusiastic about it. It's not got quite the same attractions as Iceland (in fact other than a pub, a shop and a road I don't know what it has at all - may be there are some geysers!), but I'm sure we can managed to have some fun and we've only got to survive their for two days. I just need to pack all my camping gear, which will likely include a couple of jumpers, and a good coat, if the weather stays as it has today - if only it were like last weekend.

It will be very good for me to travel out of Glasgow a bit and see some of the west coast. It's supposed to be great scenery and in my almost 5 years in Glasgow I've not managed to make it further than Loch Lomond.