Monday, December 15, 2008

Parsnip and carrot soup

Just thought I'd make a quick note of my simple recipe for carrot & parsnip soup (it really is that simple that I should be able to remember it and anyone else would quite adequately be able to invent their own recipe, but what is the internet for if not for pointless information - plus I've posted soup recipes before, so why not continue with it - plus, plus I don't need to justify myself to myself on my own blog!)

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 parsnips
  • half onion
  • 1 clove of garic
  • fresh stem ginger
  • 250 ml stock (I used chicken, but you could use different stock if you want)
  • 125 ml single cream
  • nutmeg
  • lemon juice (a bit!)
  • salt + pepper
Peel carrots and parsnips and chop into small pieces. Finely chop garlic, ginger and onion and put in saucepan. Sweat off onion, garlic and ginger in a little oil. Add carrots, parsnips and stock, and as much lemon juice, nutmeg and seasoning as your tastes require. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 mins(ish). Take of the hob, stir in the cream and then puree with one of those electric spinny-bladey things. Pour into bowl and eat.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The party meeting

This week sees the Christmas season really kick off with a host of festive work dos. I had my first Chrimbo party a week and a half ago with the canoe club (we went vaguely Italian with dinner at Di Maggios), but they'll be coming quick and fast over the next five days. Tuesday sees research group Xmas lunch number 1, with the IGR Spanish tapas-based bash at Cafe Andaluz. Then Thursday has an Australio-East Asian fusion style yuletide lunch at North of Bondi with the A&A group. Finally the week is rounded off with the traditional (traditionally rather poor that is - unless you really like Coronation Chicken and Caramel Shortcake) Physics and Astronomy Department party on Friday afternoon. I'm sure the meals will all be nice, but I've been slightly put out by the lack of a traditional turkey-based meal as an option at any of these events, but I'll just have to make up for that by eating as much turkey/stuffing/roast spuds/cranberry sauce/roast parsnips/pigs in blankets/etc the following week.

All that merriment is not to say no work will get done as I'm having to give a couple of talks during the week. Both of these are for our collaboration meeting which is in Maryland this week, but as you may have guessed I'm not going to be there in person (otherwise it would be rather hard to attend the lunches/parties), so these will be given by the magic of the phone (or the internet via EVO if it's being reliable enough). The main annoyance being that the talk on Wednesday will probably be at around 9.30-10.00pm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Band attempt V

Following this post, in which I tried out with a band who I never heard back from, I (and others) have been making efforts to form a new band using members of the canoe club (which has quite a few very musical members). Four of us had our first experimental (in terms of testing out the whole band idea, rather than our musical style) jam session on Tuesday. We went to A-Side studios, which is the place that my former band(s) Corpse Full of Bees/Look Up for Danger practiced at, albeit with a name change from Practice Pad, which has been very slightly done up with the best new feature being wireless internet. Instrument-wise we had drums (obviously!), a couple of guitars, a bass, a sax and a tin-whistle (essential for all bands apparently), but with only four of us these couldn't all be played simultaneously. The session didn't have that much direction and we mainly just pissed around playing random stuff, but it was very good fun and gave us the motivation to try and continue things - we've got a version of a popular Disney cartoon theme tune that needs to be honed. The main problem for me was that of the four of us there is another Matt who is a considerably better drummer than me (and by considerably I mean at huge, fuck off, gaping chasm, better than me - he's very good and I am pretty shit), so I felt kind of intimidated and over shadowed by this, but it'll either spur me on to improve (for which I suppose I should put in a bit more practice time), or lead me into a fit of despondency. However, as one of the band's primary instigators I think I can make sure that I stay on in the role of drummer even if we could have someone far better - the other Matt also plays guitar very well, so he'd still be there. We're now just trying to recruit more of canoe club into the band, but I think it'll probably be the new year before we get another practice session in.

The decline and fall of the rolling empire

Yesterday was the last pool session of the year for the canoe club and I got to spend my usual 10-15 mins in a boat paddling around. My general paddling skills are now reasonable, but for the last couple of months my ability to roll has declined considerably. At the start of the new term I could upright myself the vast majority of times when I capsized (generally on purpose), but yesterday I managed a meager one roll for three attempts, which has been the norm for the last few weeks. I think I started to get a bit complacent and have been relying on pulling down on the paddle as leverage too much rather than using a nice strong hip-flick. This will need to be remedied come the new year

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Second post...

...again by email (can you spot the theme).

I've have followed Iain in quickly setting up an account on posterous - where indeed this post can originally be found. This seems like a pretty cool site that you can, for example, submit posts by email, or text message (well if you're in the US you can, they haven't got it sorted for other countries yet), or post pretty much any other kind of online media in a very simple way. It can also automatically cross post anything on your other blogs/facebook/twitter/flikr/etc (and this post is also a kind of experiment to see if, and how quickly, the cross posting works). There's no real point in me having this new site as it'll probably just provide additional duplication of the shit I'd put online anyway - but it could provide useful for posting things on occasions when having blogger open in a browser would be frowned upon.

[Update: It worked very quickly, but the post had lots of carriage returns in it that I had to edit out manually]

Posted via email from Matt's posterous

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Carling Cup exit

Watford's one chance at glory (well the FA Cup is still to come, but our league chances are shot) this season - the Carling Cup - has got away from us after losing 1-2 to Tottenham this evening. Apparently it was a reasonable performance from us and maybe something new boss Brendan "Buck" Rodgers (I'd never heard of him before - well I'd never heard of Aidy before he joined us - but apparently he was Chelsea reserve team coach) can build on.

Back on the (fake) piste

This evening I went snowboarding for the first time in just under two years. I went for a session at the indoor ski slope at SNO!zone (that's how they spell it, it's not me!) at the Xscape complex in Braehead. I wasn't particularly convinced that I'd remember how to do it and had planned to book a refresher lesson due to the standards ("You must be able to use the lifts, control your speed/direction, perform controlled linked turns and ensure your boots fit correctly") that SNO!zone expect you to be at to go on their main slope - I was particularly worried that I wouldn't be able to use the lifts (you can read about my first particularly atrocious attempts here), which would show me up as completely unsuited to the main slope straight away. But unfortunately there were no space left for a lesson, so I had no choice except to throw myself onto the mercy of the big slope. Things in fact turned out perfectly fine. The tow lifts were far easier to use that I remembered, other than being particularly uncomfortable and crotch-crushing - I didn't fall off the lift at all. On going down the slope, which was actually rather tame compared to all of the real slopes I'd been on, I still remembered how to turn from one edge to the other, control my speed and stop - so I met all the requirements with no problem! I did fall over once, but it was a minor topple. It was very good to go and remind myself how to snowboard and I'll probably go back a few times before hopefully embarking on an actual trip to some mountains early next year.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

As cold as ice

Today, despite the temperature never getting above freezing, we went out on a kayak trip to the river Teith. This was a pretty tame river with no real large rapids, but given the temperature that was fine with me as it lessened the chance of me capsizing and going into the water. Getting changed into our kayaking kit and onto the river required a fair bit of will power, but we managed it. Paddling kept most of me nice and warm, but my hands were bloody freezing. All of us had ice forming on our helmets and paddles. My hands managed to get some warmth and blood back into them after about 15 minutes of paddling. We paddled for about an hour until the get out. It was a real relief to get out and warm up, but overall I had quite a fun paddle - it is nicer when it's a bit warmer though.

[PS - I apologise for the dullness of this post]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Candle in the wind

After the loss of our manager earlier in the week it seems that Watford have also lost our lifetime president Elton John. He'd previously voiced concerns over the running of the club and mismanagement of the clubs finances and I think his leaving is a reaction to that. It's a shame to see an end to Sir Elton official association with the club as he's had good run being chairman and owner on a couple of occasions. I'm not building too good an impression of current club chairman Graham Simpson at the moment.

We've now got former player Malky MacKay as our caretaker manager, so we'll see how he does today in the game against Swansea.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bye by-election

Following all the US election excitement of earlier in the week I thought I'd live blog the Glenrothes by-election result as it comes in - can you just feel the tension and excitement of such a historic world event! Then I thought "Nah, don't be stupid". However the current state of play looks like Labour have held the seat after earlier predictions of an SNP win. It looks like Gordon's back on the up.

[Update: I said I wouldn't live blog but I'm still up and the result is in: Labour have won with a total of 19946 votes, beating the SNP by over 6000 votes. Turnout was 52% which is down by 4% from the last general election (so the excitement over the US elections hasn't really turned around voter apathy over here then.) It was a very poor show for the Conservative and Lib Dem with only 1381 and 947 votes respectively - that really is impressively bad going, although I don't really know if either party's been campaigning very hard for this one.]

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


After reading this CV post the other day I decided to get into the whole virtual world thing by signing up to Second Life. I have no idea what to use it for at the moment, but someday these kind of virtual worlds may become the normal way to access material and communicate online, so I may as well start now and get to grips with it. So far I've had a very quick walk, and fly, around the island you find yourself on when you sign up, but probably the most important thing I've done is making the jeans my avatar's wearing a little baggier. I have no idea how to use, or do, anything in the Second Life world yet, so I'll need to do a lot of exploring and testing. I won't give away my avatar's name (which is one think that you don't have complete freedom to chose) just yet as I'm not sure if I'll keep it, but when I'm comfortable with a name I'll let you know. Any other Second Lifers out there let me know.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Headless hornets

Shock news just in! Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd has left the club after three and a half year in charge (they say by mutual consent, but I expect there was a bit of pushing from the board). He's done very well for us in his time, taking us to the Premiership two seasons ago and leading us to a couple of decent cup runs, but recent form has been his downfall. Last season we were doing very well for the first half, leading the table for a while, but fell away completely at the end to only just finish in the last play-off spot. This season we've been managing to score quite a few goals, but unfortunately we've been conceding even more leaving us sitting in 21st position just above the relegation spot (although the mid-table is still pretty tightly packed, so it's not a disastrous place to be). It is, however, quite telling that we've only won 12 out of 48 league matches since last November! There's probably not much more that Aidy could do for the club, so now might well be the right time for him to move on. A new manager could give the team a bit more impetus like Tottenham over the last week (although there's an equal probability that it could fail miserably). But Aidy deserves a lot of praise for what he's done for us, so he will be missed. [It should be noted that my views may not reflect the beliefs of proper Watford supporters who follow the club more avidly than my weekly check of their results on the internet.]

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Worst dressed

Last night saw one of my poorest efforts at a halloween costume. In the last few years I've put in the token effort of being a zombie/person who's been brutally attacked/someone with a case of mild radiation poisoning - this generally involved ripping up old clothes and adding fake blood and bruises. However this year, the halloween party I was going to involved a more specific theme than just your regular halloweenyness - it was a distopian future, sci-fi, cyber-noir party. Thinking up a costume required a bit more effort and couldn't really just involve ripping up some clothes. In the end I turned up to the party in what I'd been wearing for the rest of the day (see I said it was a poor, indeed non-existant, effort), but I did have some make-up. My one idea from earlier in the week had been to go as HAL 9000 (the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey), so with my make up kit I went about trying to transform myself. I added a large red HAL-style eye to my forehead. I leave it to others to assess the effectiveness of this make-up and whether I convinced them that I was a psychotic computer, or whether I just looked like I had a very large spot on my face.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's in his kit (that's where it is)

A couple of weeks ago saw me get behind a proper drum kit for the first time since leaving my own, beloved, drum kit in Germany. A friend of mine from canoe club and his flatmates wanted to get together for a bit of a jam session and I agreed to step in for as the session drummer (well maybe I'm over-inflating my role!) It was very good fun to play with others again and they were rather more professional than me - they had their own songs and everything. I was also rather impressed by the drum kit itself - I don't want to badmouth my aforementioned German drum kit, but after playing a proper kit again I now realise how shit it (and the cymbals it came with) actually was. I'm not sure whether I'll be playing with this group again, but I would like to get back with a decent kit again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big water

On Sunday I went out kayaking on my fourth river (I didn't post about my trip to the Clyde [a bit further upstream than the part that flows through Glasgow] a couple of weeks ago. It was a fairly tame bit of river, but that was fine as a way to ease back into river paddling after a summer away and even with the water being pretty flat I managed to swim!). The trip was meant to be a beginners trip (which I pretty much still consider myself as) and the plan was to go to the River Tummel. This was always going to be a more challenging river than the bit of the Clyde we'd done, but we didn't quite realise quite what the conditions were like until we arrived at the river. It was BIG. Not that surprising given the amount of rain there'd been and the fact the they were letting a lot water out the dam further up stream. It was decided that us beginners might risk dying if we paddled the Tummel, so a new plan was formulated. We back-tracked down to the Tay by Stanley where it was thought that things might be more manageable. There were loads of kayakers and canoers (spelling?) about on this bit of river - partly due to a canoe show being on in Perth, and partly down, presumably, to everywhere else being a bit to dangerous to do. The Tay was still pretty swollen, high, choppy and fast moving, but there were no major obstacles on it that were particularly hazardous, so we decided to go in. I'm still pretty unstable in a river kayak, so managed to capsize almost a soon as I got in the water, but someone was there straight away to right me again. After a bit of getting the feel of the boat and paddling around in an eddy I was more confident that things would be fine - although I still looked quite unstable. The largest thing to get over once we started downstream was a weir after which there were large waves for another fifty metres or so. I managed to negotiate all this fine and actually it's rather fun going through big waves - as long as you don't panic you can just ride the waves nice and easily. There were further bits of river with large waves, but I made it all the way to the get out without going over. It was definitely a far more fun paddle than the Clyde had been and was a good river to get some confidence up on. At some point I'll need to go on an intermediate trip, but at least one more beginnery one might still be what I'd prefer.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It's in the limbs

On watching the highlights of last night's US presidential debate one thing stood out above all others. That thing was the length of John McCain's arms! They're tiny! To hold the microphone near enough to his mouth his elbows had to be almost at shoulder level. His legs aren't much better either. When he was perched on the stool the dangled off it like a ventriloquist's dummy's legs. I'll be looking out for more disproportionate body parts next time I see him.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

University for life

Two days ago saw the anniversary of me starting university, but this year is special in that it's been a whole 10 years since I entered the university system. And as you can see I've still not left. Can it really have been that long? Yes, is the answer, it really can. No wonder I feel so old compared to the fresh-faced, bright-eyed young students that I see milling around the university. But, hey, I plan to spend much longer in the loving arms of lady academia, so I'd better get used to it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We wos robbed

This weekend saw Watford fall foul of an extremely bizarre refereeing decision. The final result of our game against Reading was 2-2, but the controversy surrounds Reading's first "goal" (and the quotation marks are very justified). Occasionally there will be times when the ball crosses the goal line, but the referee (or linesman) rules that it didn't and therefore doesn't give the goal. Sometimes the opposite happens and a ball that hasn't entirely crossed the line will be given as a goal. The common thing about both these kind of errors though is that the ball is in the mouth of the goal. What happened in the Watford game was a different kettle of fish. The ball did cross the line, but not didn't cross the line nor was it even within the goal mouth, and was in fact kept in by a Reading player, yet it was given as a goal by the linesman! There was some call for the game to be replayed, but that isn't going to happen. The only amusement I've got out of this situation is from a comments by Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd. When saying that he didn't blame Reading players for doing nothing to object to the goal he said "If someone stops you in a car park and gives you a present you don't say no do you?" Now I'd have to disagree with Aidy there. If a stranger came up to me in a car park, or most venues for that matter, and gave me a present I'd be very suspicious and rather unlikely to accept it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hitchhiking for cash

I just read how Eoin Colfer (the author of a series of children's books about a guy called Artemis Fowl) has been commissioned to write a new Hitchhiker's book. Now like many people the Hitchhiker's series holds a special place in my heart (to varying degrees depending on the book) and I'm not really sure that it should be added to by anyone other than Adams - and since he's dead, and a very strong atheist (so if he was in an afterlife he'd probably be a bit too embarrassed to send us back a manuscript for a new book), that doesn't seem a very likely possibility. Then again even if Adams was still around I'm not sure that even he should have carried on with the writing books in that series. Colfer himself said "My first reaction was semi-outrage that anyone should be allowed to tamper with this incredible series,". My main problem is that I just don't see the point (other than a money making ploy by the publishing company, which obviously is the main point) with someone else trying to get more out of the characters and Hitchhiker's universe. I really enjoyed the Hitchhiker's books, but I didn't continue reading them because I had a special fondness for the characters and just had to find out what happened to them next! I just liked the whole bizarre concept and thought it was very funny. Maybe I'm wrong and everyone else has a real need to know what these characters are doing now, but I don't think I do. Also as an author (which I'm patently not) I'm sure I'd rather be creating my own whole new vision, without the pressure and baggage of living up to some past expectation that carrying on a pre-established series would entail.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Conflicting information

Tomorrow I'm planning on taking a trip to Hamburg seeing as I've not been out of Hannover during my 3 months here in Germany. I wanted to see what there was to do in Hamburg, so googled "tourist information Hamburg" and on the first page of results was the Visit Sweden site! I don't know how they've managed to get their site such a high rating on a search for information about a city in an entirely different country! Anyway that site didn't really help me decide what I'm going to do, so I might just go on this bus tour instead.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One win does not a good team make

It seems like it's time for England fans to get over excited about a single good result. Yesterday we managed a rather good 4-1 win away against Croatia in the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign. I only got to see the second half, but was actually rather impressed by our performance and the player's commitment. But, and there has to be a but here, let's not get ahead of ourselves. This results doesn't now mean that we'll walk the group and be shoe ins for qualifying. We've always known that we've got the players to do very well, but one game hasn't convinced me that they can actually keep up the team ethic that they really need to progress beyond their current level. Let's just hope that Capello can keep it up though. That said if we do make it through to the World Cup in South Africa it's going to be way to hot for us to play at all anyway!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My LHC worries

I'm concerned about the LHC? "Why?" you ask, "it's not going to destroy world." I know that, but that's not what I'm worried about. What concerns me is this photo I saw from the CERN control room. Do you see? Do you see? Their control room computers are running Windows! These people should be dab hands at using Linux and writing custom control software for it, so why have they chosen Microsoft?

But, on a more serious note well done to all the people that got the LHC up and running today. Let's hope it all carries on without any hiccups and we get the first collisions soon.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Beam me up

The LHC turns on tomorrow for its first major test run with proton's circling around one of the two rings. As there's only going to be one beam there should be actually be no collisions just yet. This is still quite exciting as it should test out a lot of the systems needed to ramp the whole thing up to a proper operational level. I don't want to pander to the sensationalist media that seems to have been getting the public unduly concerned about it destroying us all, but I do want to add another word or two as to why it won't do that - particle physicists are not maniacal Bond villians! They do not want to destroy the world or participate in its destruction through anything they do. They really like living (and skiing - CERN is pretty near the Alps you see), and anyway discovering something cool and new really isn't worth shit if you've not there to see that you've discovered it (or if you can't go skiing anymore!) If they (the thousands of physicists who've worked on the project, and even more of their colleagues at universities and labs around the world) thought there was any chance of the LHC doing anything bad then they wouldn't do it. So let me reiterate the LHC is perfectly safe and there is no chance at all of it so much as harming a fly (well a fly could get irradiated if it was stupid enough to go near the beam tube or one of the detectors while it running, but then it would be its own darn fault).

The main thing I'm worried about tomorrow is if something technical goes wrong like some of the superconducting magnets failing as that could set things back a while, and we've already been waiting ages for it to come online. But while your waiting to see if these first tests are successful and things are running smoothly you can go and play at being a particle physicist yourself here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hip hop don't stop

[Disclaimer: If you are offended by a fairly middle-class white man talking about breakdancing and repeatedly using the words crews (although not spelling it with a u ) and skillz then you may wish to avoid this post.]

Last night a little piece of 1980s New York came to Hannover in the form of a breakdancing competition (or battle). Not wanting to miss out probably my only chance to see Germany's top B-boy crews in action myself and a few friends went along to see it. The competition was to see who would qualify for the international Battle of the Year final to be held next month (you can also currently see a recording of the whole of last night's event at that website). Before going along we were a bit dubious about that quality of dancing that we'd be seeing (we had pictures in mind of fairly stereotypical German youth's trying in vain to spin on their heads) and also whether we'd stick out as obviously not from the German hip hop scene. Both these worries were fortunately not born out and when we arrived there was a diverse enough crowd for us to not look out of place (although jakeybob bringing along some garlic in his bag was considered a bit strange!)

The competition consisted of 12 competing crews from around the country with names like Big Bang (the local Hannoverian crew, who got a huge reception from the home crowd), Incredible Syndicate, Street Beatz, etc, each of which performed a 10 minute choreographed performance. These ranged in quality, but each crew had something original to show and generally had at least a couple of star performers who could pull off the biggest power moves. One of the most audacious moves was from one of the Berlin crews (Street Beatz I think) which had an under-10 years old looking boy who they used as a kind of skipping rope! Some teams tried to have a bit of a story in there routines, some had a few props, whilst others just tried to showcase individual skills. The teams who fared worst generally were a bit younger and didn't have anyone strong enough to pull off the major moves.

After each crew had show their skillz four semi-finalists were chosen. The semi-finals were in a proper crew face-off battle like you'd see on the mean streets of the Bronx (or in the Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins It's Like That video). This gave each crew member the chance to show off what they could do, but also gave the whole team a chance to show of some big preprepared set pieces (for example forming your crew into a cock and jizzing silly string onto the others!), with the difficultly level of the moves, and the good natured antagonism between the crews, building as the battle progressed. These were when some of the most impressive moves came out. The team that won overall were TNT who did seem to have some of the best skills, including a guy who span around on the palms of his hands (which caused something of a mini pitch/dance floor invasion from certain parts of the crowd), but were a bit too arrogant and twatish to be actually likable.

One of the most difficult things about the whole night was trying to stop myself from attempting some dancing. When the vibe's in the air it's hard not want to break into a bit of body-popping (of which there was disappointingly little from the crews) or spinning around on the floor.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


A rather bizarre paper was posted on the astro-ph arXiv today. In it (well from the abstract that I've read) the authors propose that a sufficiently advance civilisation could have the means and desire to add phase modulations to Cepheid variable stars as a way of broadcasting signals over a large distance. They suggest that we should therefore try looking for such non-natural modulations in the large collection of Cepheid observations that have been made over the past 100 years. Now I don't want to suggest that this is a silly idea, but the reason I point out this article is because I like the termed they've coined for such a civilisation of Cepheid manipulators - they call them the "star-ticklers".

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The bells, the bells

If I were to blast cacophonous music at excessively high volume from my flat, so that it disturbed my whole neighbourhood, then a) I'd be a twat, and b) I'd have my neighbours complaining and the police coming round pretty sharpish. Yet every Sunday morning at about 8.45 I have to put up with just that and there's nothing much I can do about it (other than try and bury my head under my bed covers), because the perpetrators are the local church. They have bells peeling for a good fifteen minutes every hour from 8.45 onwards. They don't even play a catchy tune, it's just random bell ringing, and it's very loud and very annoying. I think church bell ringing (other than on special occasions like weddings and such) is supposed to be a call to pray, but can't the faithful just get themselves alarm clocks so the rest of us can live, and sleep, in peace!?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There's been a murder!

[The title of this post should be read in the style of top Maryhill detective Taggart, with emphasis on both the r's in murder (see youtube for various crap examples).]

In the newly gentrified, up-and-coming, area of Glasgow called Ruchill (it's pretty much part of the west end now don't you know) a flavour it's past infamy still lives on in the form of murder most horrid (although in the past it was mainly car theft and petty vandalism apparently.) The reason that this is of note to me is that it happened on the street where I live, but being out of the country I've not had to deal with it first hand. This happened in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon to, which makes it slightly more disturbing. Hopefully it'll be a one off occurrence and the area will be back to it's less murderous ways by the time I return next month.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Extracting blood from an airline

I eventually got round to contacting BA again about my compensation claim. I again received a very prompt reply saying that they've reviewed my situation, and are very sorry and all about what happened, but they're "unable to increase our offer to you". Well currently what they are offering me by way of compensation is nothing, so suggesting that they can't make an increase on nothing is a rather bizarre way of saying that they don't think I deserve anything! I'm not sure whether to continue pursuing this or not, but they're continued line that they hope that this decision "will not deter you from flying with us in the future" gets more annoying.


Yesterday was the second time I've celebrated my birthday in Hannover. The first time was back in 2003 when I was coming to a collaboration meeting here. That day involved such fun birthday activities as traveling through Heathrow airport, where I had a birthday pint and bought myself a digital camera as a birthday present, and spending the evening alone in a hotel room. So I had slightly higher hopes for yesterday's Hannoverian birthday experience, although being the ripe old age of 28 I didn't really expect it to be a major event. A large portion of my day was spent trying to stream Olympic coverage from the BBC website. Another chunk of time was spent in the gym. Both of these eclipsed the previous airport experience, so anything else was bonus. In the evening a select few of us went for dinner at the Bavarium Bavarian-style restaurant in town (I'd visited it several years before for its infamous "Mountain of meat" dish, which was indeed exactly what it said it was). Their kitchen was under renovation, so they had a smaller menu than usual that unfortunately didn't include any meat mountains. It was a nice place, with a pleasant beer garden, some rather camp waiters, and tasty food, but after being served we noticed other tables were getting given far larger plates of food that didn't seem to have been on our menus! I think that the locals were a bit more in the know about what to ask for, or else we'd just been shafted! This was followed by a drink in the old part of town, where we managed to take in some belly dancing and also stumbled across a whole square filled with people doing the tango. The night was finished off by the Earth, Sun and Moon getting into alignment and providing me with a partial lunar eclipse - they really shouldn't have, I mean it's just too much effort to go to for little-old-me's birthday.

If you want to be a record breaker

[I planned to post this last night, but didn't have an internet connection. It seems today even more medals have been forthcoming!]

I just saw a replay of the mens 100m final and was, along with everyone else I assume, blown away by Usain Bolt's performance. He just made it look so easy and got himself a new world record to boot. As soon as he got his head up from after the start he powered away from the rest of the field and looked so relaxed. He knew he'd won from about 40m into the race. It was an sublime performance to do so well whilst also making it look so natural, reminiscent of how Michael Johnson always seemed when he ran. He's also a relative novice 100m sprinter compared to the rest as this was only his ninth competitive 100m he'd run and he's only 21! Another thing about Bolt is that he seems like a nice guy compared to the general arrogance of most sprinters. Contrasting to Bolt was Asafa Powell who did what he has continually done in major finals, which is choke. He should have been pressing Bolt for the gold, but in the end didn't even medal.

As long as I'm talking Olympics I should mention the British team's excellent performance today. Firstly Rebecca Adlington in the pool has done us proud. Our mens rowing fours has kept up the almost impossibly high expectation that Redgrave and Pinsent have generated in the event by winning gold in an exciting race that required a very strong last few hundred metres to fight back against the Australians. In the velodrome Wiggins and Hoy also kept up the great form to give us a couple of golds. I think this weekend could be a good medal haul for us, but this is unlikely to continue through the week as our general Athletics team is still pretty weak.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One week in

I managed to miss the fact that the Championship season started last week, so only today did I find out the result of Watford's first game - a surely thrilling 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace. This started us off in 15th position on the table, which will hopefully be the lowest we get this season. Today sees us up against Charlton, who recently acquired former Watford winger Bouazza on loan from Fulham.

[Update: We beat Charlton 1-0 to take us to 9th in the table.]

The league that does start today is the Premier League, which also means the return of my favourite Saturday midday and Sunday night TV pleasures of Football Focus and MOTD2. I'll just have to see if I can watch these on iPlayer until I return from Germany as I need to get my fix of Chiles, Lawro, Dixon, Peacock, et al and hear their words of wisdom (although I think Chiles may be in Beijing for the Olympic coverage, so I might have to wait a bit for to hear his cheerful Brummie voice). I'll also need to check out any local Hannoverian pubs that show Premier League games, although I'm fairly sure that one of the Irish pubs in town will do.

Still on a football note I saw the start of the Bundesliga last night. The opening match was FC Bayern Munich vs Hamburger SV. This featured two former Tottenham favourites in the form of the teams managers - Jürgen Klinsmann for Bayern and Martin Jol for Hamburg. It seemed to be quite a lively game in the first half and finished with a 2-2 draw. The strangest thing about the whole thing though was that the opening ceremony featured a performance from former Britain's Got Talent winner Paul "not Pol Pot" Potts! Very bizarre!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Get me a Go Fast boat

Last night I watched the DVD of the Michael Mann film adaptation of Miami Vice, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. After watching it and mulling over its finer points I think it deserves a review, so here goes: Utter shit! That's about it really. It's got some nice night shots of speed boats (or "Go fast boats" as they seem to be known in the vice trade!) and cars, but the rest is pure drivel, and only semi-understandable drivel at that. Oh, the soundtrack is actually half-decent, but that's not generally what you'll go to see a film for. If you want to watch a Michael Mann thriller/action film watch Collateral instead, which I though was a lot better, or maybe Heat, which is supposed to be very good, but I've not seen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Newsletter of the week

Don't ask me how I found this, but here's an amusingly (or rather grossly) titled, and pictured, December newsletter for the The Australian Society For Parasitology. They're a funny bunch of guys those Aussie parasitologists ;)

Seek and you will find

Before getting up this morning I was all ready to write a scathing post about the person who cleaned my room in my flat in Hannover. Yesterday after noticing how clean and tidy my room was following a visit from the cleaner I was looking around for the white plastic bag that I've been putting my dirty laundry in. That morning it had been sitting in the corner of my room covered by a t-shirt, but in my new tidy room it was nowhere to be found. I searched far a wide, in cupboards, under beds, behind chairs, even in other rooms in the flat, but still nothing. My only reasonable assumption left was that the cleaner had thought that this bag of clothes was rubbish and had thrown it out (or taken them away to be washed, but I thought that a bit far-fetched) as the bag was one of the bin bags from the kitchen - although clearly wasn't being used as a bin. In my opinion it was a bit overzealous and an assumption too far to throw out someone else clothes, so I was rather annoyed. Today I thought I'd have to go and talk to the guy I'm renting the flat from and let him know what happened, but something stopped me. That something was opening my curtains this morning and finding my bag of dirty clothes sitting on the windowsill. I probably even closed the curtains over them myself. The lesson is that even when you think you've searched everywhere there's probably somewhere obvious that you've not looked.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Better than the rest

A recent study (via the BBC) has revealed something that all drummers already know - that we're super fit athletes with huge levels of stamina and energy (the study says on a level equivalent to top athletes, but it's bound to really be at a higher level.) There's none of this standing around lazily strumming a guitar, prodding keys on a keyboard, or speaking into a microphone that the rest of a band does. The drummer is giving it their all constantly in a frenzy of arm and leg movement that would make an octopus feel inadequate. You only have to look at the fact the drummers will often wear cut-off t-shirts, or no t-shirt at all, will sweat profusely, and need a steady supply of liquid (beer-based preferably) to see the supreme level of hard word that they put in. Anyway all I'm saying is that drummer's are ace - oh, and everyone else is just a lazy, unfit loser ;)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seven of one and half a dozen (plus one) of the other

Today I went to watch some Rugby Sevens at the AWD-Arena in Hannover. Now rugby isn't a sport I'd expected to see when I came out to Germany, but when I saw that they were hosting the final leg of the European Rugby Sevens Championship I thought why not go along. The event was over two days, but I only went for the final phase games today. It was a good afternoons worth of rugby and I probably saw about 12 games over four and a half hours. There were some pretty bad matches (the poor Belgian's could score a single point,) but also some decent ones, with the Georgians, the Spanish and the Russians all putting on decent shows. The atmosphere in the stadium definitely became livelier when Germany were playing and they did reasonably well. The generally well established rugby nations of Wales and Ireland, despite getting to the highest Cup stage of the competition today, both looked distinctly poor. The one problem that does come with Sevens matches is that they only last 14 mins, so each game doesn't really have time get a character of its own. You don't get the ups and downs, and major incidents, that come with a full length game.

All-in-all I enjoyed the afternoon as I haven't been to see any live sport in ages (I think the last time was a Scotland vs. England six nation match three or four years ago!) I think a few of us might consider going along to the AWD-Arena again to catch a Hannover 96 Bundesliga game - their first home game is over the weekend of 22-24th August again FC Energie Cottbus (which just leaves me to say, in a Scouse accent, "FC Energie Cottbus! Who are they!?", "Exactly".)

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Some of you may remember that on my trip to Los Angeles a few months ago my luggage went missing (you may not know that on my return flight the stuff I'd had to buy in the US also went missing for a couple of days due to the Heathrow Terminal 5 debacle.) My luggage (from the outbound flight) was never recovered, so on returning I made a claim on my travel insurance for the cost of everything I'd lost. I received this payment a couple of weeks ago, which was nice as I've had to buy quite a few new clothes to replace everything I lost. However, there was still the cost of things I had to buy while I was out in the US to keep me clothed, and not to pungent, through the two weeks I was there, and I want this reimbursed. To this end I've written a strong, but not impolite letter to British Airways (who I flew with) asking them to cover these costs (which is their policy) and giving them a couple of tips on how to deal with lost luggage in the future. I've only waited this long to do it, because they wanted my insurers claim reference number which I only just got given. In the letter I have suggested that when someones luggage goes missing they contact all the airports that that luggage has been through on it's journey in case it is stuck at one. Apparently this isn't what is currently done, because I was informed that the only airport that knew my luggage was missing was Los Angeles, and neither Glasgow or Heathrow airports, through which I'd travelled, had any idea to look for it. I was also told, by the BA lost luggage phone operatives, that they couldn't phone any of the airports as they didn't have the phone numbers. I think it's a bit strange for an airline to not supply their people who deal with lost luggage phone numbers that might allow them to find out where it is. They did, however, say that they could Telex the airports - now I'm not sure what century BA are living in, but Telex doesn't seem the best option to me. The other thing I discovered, which I've informed BA about, was that my lost luggage wasn't considered urgent priority until 10 days after it went missing, and only then because I asked them to try a bit harder to find it - what, in reality, making it urgent priority meant I don't know, but I don't imagine it was anything more than something to placate me. However, I'd have liked to think that they considered it urgent right from day one. At the time when I talked to any of the BA customer relations people on the phone I was always polite, as I really don't like shouting at people down the phone, especially when I don't think it'll do any good, but I'm hoping my letter (which I'm sending both by email and regular post) will have the desired effect i.e. get me some compensation money.

[Update - I got a very prompt reply from BA basically saying that they were very sorry for losing my luggage twice, but they wouldn't be giving me any compensation seeing as I'd already made an insurance claim. Oh, and they did hope I would still continue to fly with them. Now I'm not too concerned about getting money out of them as I have received my insurance payout, but I would like some form of compensation other than a letter of apology, because as it is they have got away scot free from the whole affair. It's only the insurance company that have had to pay anything. Needless to say I'll be writing back to them to extract something.]

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A day at the fair

Yesterday a few of us visited the Schützenfest to check out the festivities. We were surprised at the lack of actual shooting (where all the Schützen were we didn't know) as the main festival area is just a big fairground. Despite the disappointment at not seeing anything getting shot at we decided to explore the fairground. It had all the rides you'd expect from your general fun fair in the UK (bumper cars, ghost trains, fun houses, roller coasters, ferris wheels, and every kind of spinning machine you care to mention) along with a good selection of more German-style-fayre in the form of sausage vendors and beer tents. I went on all the rides I could find that had "Star" in the title. The first of which, Star flyer, was your general spiny-round swings on chains set up, but then elevated a good 30 metres or so into the air. It gave a good view of the surrounding and was a rather relaxing ride. The other ride I went on was the Star gate (you know, like from the film and TV series) except it wasn't a worm-hole that you could step through to other far flung parts of the universe, it just spun you round in different directions and at various angles to the horizontal. Perhaps the strangest thing we saw was a tent in which a man was trying to get members of the public to take part in what I can only assume was an illegal, unlicenced, boxing match. He paired up the punters with his own fighters and then took them into the tent followed by a crowd of the public who were baying for blood (well not really, but some of them might have been.) We could only assume that some kind of bare-knuckle fight-to-the-death style action went on. The fest is on for the whole week, so at some point we're going to have to find out where the shooting's at.

Ain't talkin' 'bout dub

Getting to see an English language film shown in it's original form without it being dubbed into German is apparently quite a rare thing in Hannover (I suppose for the obvious reason that it's in Germany and generally people are statistically more likely to speak and understand German.) So when a film is being shown in English here it can be a big event for those that can understand it and prefer to see the unadulterated version of the film - you get to hear the actual actors who were paid to star in the film rather than their, not-necessarily similar sounding, German counterparts. I'm giving this set up to lead into a cinema outing that a group of about 25 or more of us (who work at the AEI) went on on Friday evening. Someone had heard that the new Will Smith movie Hancock was being shown (for one showing only) in English, so despite it not being at the top of many people's lists of films to see (I'd heard only bad reviews) we all jumped at the chance of going. Having now watched the film I have to say that I quite enjoyed it. It wasn't great, but it was a decent action movie with good effects and a story that had its funny moments and didn't drag. The film is probably saved by only being about one and a half hours long and if they'd tried to keep it up for longer it would have started grating, although the shortness did mean a lot of stuff had to be left unexplained. I also enjoyed the fact that I could buy a beer in a big multiplex cinema and take it into the screen with me, but that's not really to do with the film.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Shooting up the place

Today sees the start of the world largest Schützenfest, or German markmens festival, in Hannover. The main thing I've noticed for this is a large fun fair in town, but apparently (according to wikipedia) there's going to be of order 5000 marksmens trying to become Schützenkönig by shooting at, amoung other things, wooden eagles! In addition to this there're beer tents (obviously) and a very long parade. It runs all week, so I should have some more to say about it when I go along to some of the events.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Politcal correctness gone mad!

Here's a funny story (via Pharyngula) about how the right-wing American Family Association's news aggregation site over zealously (well not really just over zealously, but just plain stupidly) used an automatic auto-correct on the news stories it received to correct the word "gay" to "homosexual" - heaven forbid the good, god-fearing folk, of America's perceptions should be sullied by the word gay being used to mean homosexuality! A screen cap of the particular news story, which has now been corrected, can be found here. Scroll down that link to see some of the previous headlines that the auto-correct has produced - a particular favourite, although they're all good, is "Close call: Homosexual barely averts major flop in 100".

Monday, June 30, 2008

The horn of loss

Last night a few of us went to the football stadium in Hannover, outside which they'd erected a big screen, to watch the Euro2008 final between Germany and Spain. There was a pretty big crowd of people there (you could hear the general crowd hum from several hundred metres away), a lot of German flags being waved and also painted on peoples faces, and a reasonable, but not that excessive, amount of noise being made. For the first half of the match the crowd were fairly subdued, with one or two groups of people occasionally trying half-heartedly to start a chant of "Super, super Deutchland". In terms of the football the German's got off to a fast paced start in the first 10 minutes, but that was about it from them as Spain took over the match and scored towards the end of the half. The crowd picked up a bit in the second half (maybe created by the DJ during half time trying to gee the fans up a bit with some tunes) despite being a goal down. There was a bit more of a buzz in the air, and hope that Germany could pull it back. However it didn't translate to the match as Spain continued to dominate and quickly closed down any German plays when they were on the ball. Spain were the deserved winners in the end, but surprisingly it didn't put that much of a dampener on the German fan's spirits around Hannover. In fact they seemed more animated and rowdy now that the game was over and they'd lost. On the streets every car was going by with people leaning out the window's waving German flags and beeping their horns. It's quite different to how a similar event (if we ever make a final that is) would be back in England, which would have involved a properly ludicrous level of chanting, singing, shouts of support/abuse/derision during the match, but then a very sober silence when we lost as everyone headed home faces held in hands.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stretching the skins

One of the selling points for me coming out to Hannover for the summer was that our former Corpse Full of Bees/Look Up for Danger guitarist was here and we planned to start up a band again. However this did mean that I needed some drums. So this week I bought myself an actual real-life drumkit on ebay, unlike the electronic kit that I already own. After a bit of searching on ebay I found a German seller (o-trading-company) who offered various instruments, generally pictured being held by naked women, at very reasonable prices. The kit I bought was dirt cheap at a whole £115(!), so as you can imagine it's not the highest quality (the single snare I bought last year cost around the same amount) and could well have been put together by small children in a Chinese sweat-shop. That said after putting the drums together yesterday and having a bit of a play I've been pleasantly surprised with their sound quality. The different drums seem to make the sounds that they're supposed to - you know, a kind of "boom boom" sound of various pitch depending on the drum size. The main problem, and an unsurprising one given the price I paid, is that the cymbals (a high-hat and small crash) aren't all that great - they're fairly thin and after just the one practice I've put some major dents in them. Now that I have the kit, and we have a room to practice in (next to the Atlas computer cluster that the AEI have just put together), I'll just have to get good at playing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It was a dark and windswept night

This article's a few days old (seen via BA), but I think it deserves some more recognition in honour of it containing the best picture ever! (You could read the article, but it will only make you feel slightly sullied as it is from the Mail.)

But what could have spooked that helicopter so much (despite the notoriously jumpy sheep seeming as relaxed as ever)? Apparently it was some lanterns.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A game of four quarters

You may have noticed a lack of posts from me about Euro2008 (other than the initial one from just before the tournament started) and assumed that this was down me being completely disinterested by the whole thing because England aren't in it. Well if you did assume that then you'd be wrong as I've been avidly watching as many games as possible (probably about 85% of games so far.) It's been quite relaxing to not have to worry about when England were going to let me down, so I've been getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of just watching games for the football's sake.

So far the tournament's been pretty good, although the quarter finals have shown how variable in quality the games can be. The Portugal vs. Germany game started off the quarters quite well with an open game, a good number of goals and an exciting finish, but Portugal definitely weren't the team they'd been in the group stages and Germany's full backs were still as motionless and drab as before. The Croatia vs. Turkey games was a dull, uninspiring affair for a good 115 mins of regular and then extra time. It was only saved by the shear craziness and excitement of the last few minutes, with Croatia looking all but through with their late goal and then conceding an equiliser with literally the final kick of the game. This produced the lottery (yeah it's a cliché, but what you gonna do) of a penalty shoot-out, with Turkey coming out victorious. This now lines up what will hopefully be a tasty encounter between Germany and Turkey, which should be rather interesting to watch here in Hannover with its large Turkish community.

In the other half of the draw we started off with an interesting and good watch in the Netherlands vs. Russia game. The Dutch never seemed to really get going into a flowing style and the Russian's just outplayed them with pace and tenacity. I think that the young (he's only 21 you know, as the German commentators were very fond of pointing out) Russian Arshavin (and yes I had the same thoughts about his name as Andrew Collins) will be snapped up by some big side during the summer. In contrast to that game we had a very lacklustre show for Spain vs. Italy. Neither team seemed to want to go at the game and win it, with lots of slow, dull build ups leading to nothing. To be fair Italy hadn't shown signs of wanting to play in the previous games, but I'd expected more from Spain. In the end a penalty shoot-out was probably the best option, as neither team deserved to win from what they'd shown in the previous, tedious, 120 mins, and it at least gave us viewers some tension and excitement.

One major disappointment about the quarter finals is that they've not been kind on my fantasy football team. I had no Russian or Turkish players, as I'd stuck with the more conventional teams. Now I just have to decide whether to go all out crazy and compose my team of players from the two teams that I think are going to win the semis, or have a general selection from the 4 teams left.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

World music

Hannover was abuzz with music yesterday as they were hosting a Fête de la Musique. This involved putting up a load of stages at various places around the centre of the city, each having bands with a certain musical style e.g. there was a pop stage, a jazz stage, a rock stage, etc. On wandering through the city with jakeybob for a bit of a look around we saw various of these stages. We didn't stay in any one place very long and didn't hear anything particularly great, but there was a generally happy atmosphere about the place which was nice - it was a really nice day to, so that might have added to the feeling of pleasantness. Other than the music festival our best discovery was that at the reservoir in the town (the Maschsee) you can hire sail boats, row boats, or pedalos. This has now been put at high priority on the things to do while here list.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Een nieuwe start

Unsurprisingly Steve McClaren's had to move away from England for his next football management job (he's gone to FC Twente, a Dutch top flight team, with a prospect of qualifying for the Champions League.) Also, unsurprisingly a large proportion of his new team's fans aren't best pleased - "Ninety per cent of fans think why him? But he is used to working with top players," said club chairman Joop Munsterman!

Changing priorities

A while back I briefly posted about the release of STFC's programmatic review in which it ranked the priorities of varies particle physics and astronomy research projects (much, much more can be found all over the internet e.g. here and here.) The programmatic review was based on the advice of the Physics, Astronomy & Nuclear Physics Science Committee (PPAN) which was made up of a relatively small group of physicists and astronomers. This process was highly criticised by the wider UK physics and astronomy community for not being informed by a much broader consultation of experts. So for the last few months the priorities have been reassessed by a variety of ad hoc panels with the aim of giving a more truthful representation of where the community believes the UK's priorities should lie (although even this process has not been entirely well received, due to it's untimely and hurried nature.) Obviously it would be nice, and most profitable scientifically, to see everything being given a high priority, but with the current climate some hard choices have to be made. For the projects receiving high to medium priorities I think things should be reasonably safe funding-wise at least until the government's next comprehensive spending review, however it does leaves the projects with the lowest priority facing the very harsh reality of having funding completely pulled. The reason I'm writing this post is that yesterday the reports from these ad hoc consultation panels were released. I've not read all of them, but from this BBC article it's seems that things are in pretty similar shape priority-wise to how they were after the programmatic review. However, various things like eMerlin and some solar projects seem to have been slightly bumped up the list (although I think it's mainly a result of another tier being added to the bottom of the priority scale and they've been moved off the bottom one.) The one report I have looked at is that for Astro-particle physics, in which gravitational wave research lives, and it seems to have been kept at the highest level of prioritisation. According to the report there had been some grumbling from the wider community that there were too many high-to-medium priority gravitational wave projects in the list, but I think the report answers the that criticism well. For the relatively small level of funding that we (the UK) put into gravitational wave research (a few million pounds) we get a disproportionately large amount back i.e. we have access to all the data from the current GEO600, LIGO (a billion dollar scale project!) and Virgo detectors, as well as that which will come from the next generation of detectors. Also the potential reward for being the gravitational wave game is very high. People may well disagree and cite the fact that nothing's been detected yet, but I think these are very valid reasons to keep up the funding of these projects. Of course I would say this as it's my field of research. These reports aren't yet the final outcome though and we'll have to wait until 8th July until the final version of the programmatic review is published.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Not the 9 o'clock news

In my apartment in Hannover I have access to a variety of TV channels (I don't know if it's satellite or just plain digital TV) in which I have two English language news networks: CNN and Sky News. In the past I've occasionally flicked past Sky News, but I've never really watched it for an extended period. Until now. It really is bad, despite proclaiming itself "News Channel of the Year". It's like the Sun, but on TV - even having right-wing pundit, Sun columnist and talk radio host Jon "Gaunty" Gaunt doing its newspaper review. This probably isn't surprising given it's ownership by Rupert Murdoch's News International, but it is slightly disappointing (I at least want BBC World and even that's pretty shit.) It's only saving grace is that it has that nice Eamonn Holmes presenting its breakfast show.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Germary, Germany over all!

So long UK, guten tag Deutschland. In a work-motivated move I have come out to the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover to experience how working life is out here and hopefully get lots of important stuff done (a paper here, an analysis there, etc.) This is going to be an extended visit lasting until late September (when a trip to Munich for a certain event know as Octoberfest might be happening.) I arrived today, after a being delayed a day due to a plane cancellation, and since then things have gone smoothly - that's your typical German efficiency in action. With the help of a couple of ex-Glasgow colleagues I was escorted from the train station, taken to lunch, shown were my apartment was, and given a tour of the institute. I've taken up residence in a office and been given a key and security entrance key-fob thing. Now all that remains for the day is to sample some beer and sausage.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

C'est trop cher

One of the things you notice when staying in central Paris is how expensive it is to buy drinks. I think this is especially the case in the more touristy areas, in one of which my hotel happens to be. Now drinks in London are generally considered to be pricey by UK standards, but they're nothing compared to the cost over here. For example last night I paid €8.50 for a half litre of Heineken - at current exchange rates that's £6.72, and it's not even quite a whole pint!

Your goose is cooked

After the other days culinary adventures I had another first last night. I ate some, most likely inhumanely (or ingoosely) produced, foie gras. It was very nice and I would recommend force-feeding grain to a goose and eating its distended liver to anyone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When in France... eat weird shit

Just to give a context I am at the moment in Paris (at the Universite Paris-Sud) at a collaboration meeting. Last night going out for dinner allowed me to try a couple of dishes that I'd normally wouldn't expect to eat (and no, it wasn't frogs legs and snails - don't stereotype.) A friend of mine ordered Os a moelle not knowing what it actually was (well none of us really had an idea until it arrived and we remembered what the word os meant - bone. It was a plate of bone marrow served from some nice bits of femur by the look of it - it looked like something you might put on the floor for a dog to gnaw on. I ventured to try a bit of marrow (which I suggested might have been better off being used to cure a poor calf with leukemia) and have to say it wasn't bad - it's pretty slimy, but is fairly tasteless and just kind of like eating fat (which I'm not averse to.) The other dish I tried was again sampled from another friend order, which was Steak tartare. This was essentially a quarter pound of raw beef patty. It was also quite good and nicely seasoned with herbs, but you couldn't get over the fact that you were eat raw meat. These are both things I'm glad I tried, but I'm also glad I didn't order them myself and had more conventional food choices. Maybe I'll have the snails and frogs legs tonight!

[Update: I actually did have a frog's leg on my last night in Paris. It was tasty, but lacking in quantity of meat.]

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weekend break

After heading out to kayak on Loch Lomond a couple of weeks back last weekend I got out on a river for the second time. About a dozen of us from the canoe club went for a weekend of camping and kayaking on the Etive (near Glencoe.) We drove upon Friday night, with me again taking the wheel of the minibus (a different one than the previous week) - there were still quite a few stalls, but in general my driving got more confident over the weekend and I managed to get by without any crashes or scrapes and I am now reasonably proficient at performing three-point turns on country roads. We camped on some ground behind the Kings House hotel, which is semi-officially a campsite - at least it seems to be quite well used. The campsite sits near the head of the Etive and from looking at the level of that, and due to it having been pretty dry during the week, we knew that the water levels for our kayaking were going to be pretty low. Heading out to the river the next day confirmed this, with our main view of the river being stone dry rocks. However, we headed to a section called triple falls (a series of three small waterfalls unsurprisingly) where there was enough water to go down. Despite the falls looking quite daunting from above, especially for a relative beginner like me, they were reasonably tame to go off. Later on we headed to another waterfall called Right Angle, which was quite a bit higher than any of the drops at triple (about 20 feet.) As I'd been down the earlier falls I decided to give this one a go as well. Even quite a few of the experienced guys going over the falls were capsising at the bottom (although they were all able to roll themselves back up.) The three times I went off I also capsised, almost managing to roll on the first time, but then having to swim. The following day we again went to triple falls and right angle and also attempted to kayak between the to. This mainly involved scraping the bottom of our boats over rocks, but there were a couple of other good falls along the way. Overall the trip was really good and great experience for a beginner like me. I'm pretty eager to get out again, but will have to wait for Autumn when the university starts back up. Hopefully next time I'm out they'll be a bit more water and fewer midges.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Tomorrow (or today as it's past midnight) the European Championships start. This fact would be slightly more exciting if a home nations team were in it [I would have been supporting Scotland if they'd got through and England hadn't cos I'm above petty national rivalries ;)], but I'll have to cope without a local team to cheer on - at least there won't be the huge disappointment, frustration and pain of watching England fuck things up. During the competition I am mainly going to be in countries with teams involved as I'm in France next week and will be heading to Germany the following week. This could add to the excitement, although I'll have to deal with foreign commentators (at least that means I'll avoid Motty.) Other than that I'll have to add to the excitement by hoping my work sweepstake (there's a huge prize of £16 up for stake) team of the Netherlands (I know they're in the group of death and they notoriously managed to implode with internal squabbles during major tournaments, but its not the worse draw - I could have got one of the hosts!) and my fantasy football team do well. I may comment more on the tournament as it progresses.

Eyes to the right

After a bit of a boozing session last night I suffered today, not from the regular hangover experience of a headache and general lethargy, but rather from an eye related disorder. I've had this problem before in that a night on the piss leaves me with degraded eyesight the next day, but from last night it was more acute - my right eye just couldn't focus at all. This lasted a good 10 hours from when I got up, initially starting with my right eye being all but useless as an optical device, to earlier this evening when it was just giving me a bit of double vision. I'd prefer a regular hangover than this style of alcohol infliction, but maybe it was just what I was drinking that caused the problem - for the time being I'll lay off the £1-a-can Red Stripes.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Budgetary constraints

Way back at the end of 2006 I wrote about a project I'd been working on about searching for gravitational waves from the Crab pulsar (see that post here for more links and details) and how that work had lead to an exciting new result i.e. that we beat pre-existing limits on the amount of energy that could be released via gravitational radiation from the Crab pulsar as it's rotation slows down. Since then we've added more to the search and firmed up the result and I (and others) have presented it at several meetings (e.g. at the AAS) , but we now finally have the paper submitted to the pre-print arXiv (you won't be able to see it until Sunday evening unless you have the secret password.) In my previous post I wasn't able to say what the result was (we'd embargoed the exact numbers until our collaborations internal review process was finished), but now I can reveal them. The main result is that we can say that less than 4% of the energy available from the slowing down of the Crab pulsar is radiated away via gravitational waves. This is a result that it's not currently possible to get via methods other than direct gravitational wave observations, because electromagnetic observations and models of the Crab pulsar and it's surrounding nebula (which is powered by the pulsar's slow-down) are full of too many uncertainties and assumptions that they can't give a good constraint on the energy budget i.e. you can't accurately add up all the possible mechanisms which could contribute to the Crab pulsar slowing down. There should be a press release about this on Monday, so keep your eyes peeled.

[Update: The University of Glasgow's press release can be found here.]

[More updates: The paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, which is pretty prestigious :)]

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mac life

Last week I crossed over from a loyal PC person to being a Mac user! I needed a new work laptop as my previous Dell was getting on a bit and not quite able to hack the fast pace of life as we live it today. Seeing as several of my friends and colleagues (not to mention all the new research students in my group) have gone the way of the Mac, and were generally very happy with them, I thought I'd join them. So now I have a swish new Macbook Pro (although I was told that a newer version was being released in June I couldn't wait.) So far I've been very impressed. I've had some issues with the keyboard not being as I'm used to ("@" and "~" are in a different place for a start, there's no "Home", "End" of "Delete" keys [although via a bit of googling I've found replacement for these - Ctrl a, Ctrl e, and Fn backspace respectively]), but other than that it's all been good. I'm sure I'll find more annoyances in the future, but at the moment I'm just liking the way it's Linuxy but with everything still working straight off.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Do you remember the first time

Just for the historical record I should note that last week I bought and ate my first ever donner kebab - well maybe it's not noteworthy, but I'm going to write about it anyway! I generally shun the donner in favour of a more healthy, from the look of it at least, shish kebab - shish's also consist of an identifiable meat. This is mainly to make me feel superior to the far more numerous donner eating hordes. However, I put my hands up, I have eaten donner meat in the past, but only small morsels picked off from other peoples kebabs/donner meat and chip combos (people I knew that is, not randoms or from discarded polystyrene trays off the street.) So it was about time that I lowered myself to the level of the ordinary man and got one for myself (plus it was late at night, I'd not eaten dinner and it was one of the cheapest things on the menu in the take-away.) I was reasonably impressed with my first donner. One of the main things to note about donner meat, other than its hideous appearance, is that it has very little taste. There's only the vague notion that it's some form of meat and the fact that it's lamb can barely be discerned. But, you see, the lack of taste really doesn't matter, because the whole point of a donner is to smother it in hot chilli sauce. So when I say I was reasonably impressed what I mean is that they did a good chilli sauce, supplemented well by some tasteless, greyish-brown, greasy slithers of meat, and some not-yet wilted salad. I'm not going to be adding donner's to my regular menu, and I'll probably more often stick to the shish kebab when I next visit a kebab shop, but I definitely won't be as disdainful of them as I've been in the past and, you never know, the feeling for one could grab me again in the future.

The bonnie banks

Yesterday I had my second ever kayaking trip out on actual open water (the first one was a couple of months back on a river called the Orchy, where we went down the relatively easy lower section [it was a beginners trip], but I neglected to blog about it.) The plan had originally been to get on a river and see some white water, but due to safety constraints we ended up on the rather more sedate waters of Loch Lomond. The trip was also my first time driving the GUSA minibus since taking the test at the end of last year. During my test I managed to stall the bus a considerable number of times and getting going yesterday was a similar experience with multiple stalls just reversing out of the parking space. After getting out on the open road I did improve and the stalls became far rarer as I gained a bit more control and experience of the clutch (although when they did happen it was generally only when I had a police car sitting behind me!)

The kayaking was enjoyable and we just paddled round the Loch for a few hours, stopping off for lunch on a beach, and generally enjoying the nice weather. It was occasionally a bit gusty and choppy out in the middle of the loch, but for the most part it was warm and calm. It wasn't the most taxing or exciting of paddles, but was still good experience of being out in a boat for an extended period. I ended up in the water a couple of times: the first time after my boat filled up with water and sank when we were playing a game involving two people swapping kayaks; and the second after I capsized when practising a high brace and couldn't manage to roll myself upright (this was just after I'd purposely done a roll and managed it fine.) The water was pretty chilly, but was bearable for a shortish period. I just have to live down the fact that I swam on flat water!

Next weekend we'll be out on another trip with me driving again - this time camping for the entire weekend and going on a river (the Etive). I expect I'll be in the water far more when there.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Staying put

It's been a few days since the sad events happened and maybe it's taken a while to sink in, but it's true... Watford will be staying put in the Championship next season. The play-offs against Hull didn't start off particularly well with us losing 2-0 at home, although we apparently didn't play too badly and were unlucky to have an opening goal disallowed and our captain sent off. Things went from bad to worse in the second leg with us being thrashed 4-1 - we started off fast and managed to pull a goal back early on, but obviously that was not enough. We've only ourselves to blame for the position we were in due to our very poor form towards the end of (well for most of the second half of) this season. If we'd kept going how we started we'd have walked it into top spot in the league, but I think our brand of dull, long ball football (the true lower league mainstay of how to play the beautiful game) wasn't something that we could keep doing and still guaranteeing decent results*.

I'm sure all the Premiership clubs are bitterly disappointed that they won't be able to pit themselves against the might Hornets, but they'll just have to wait another season! However, if Hull do go up it could see a bit of a blast for the past for the Premiership what with Nicky Barmby and Dean Windass in their side - that is if they're not sold/retire over the summer.

* My views are in no way based on informed opinion as I've not seen a single game this season, but are only speculation from the few things I've read/heard about our games.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

To boldly go where no name has gone before

Get NASA to send your name to the moon (courtesy of some memory storage device on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.) It's ultimately a pointless exercise, but could generate a small frisson of excitement in you dull, workaday life - you get a certificate you can print off to!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Scraping into the play-offs

The Championship season's ended and Watford have just about managed to scrape through with the final play-off spot. We were saved from being in the dreaded seventh position in the table by virtue of having a goal difference one goal better than Wolves! After spending large chunks of the season in an automatic promotion place with the potential of winning the league we somehow managed to let it all slip away (by playing shit) in the last couple of months! The play-offs are a complete lottery, so who knows what will happen, but I do remember when we previously went up it was after finishing sixth.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Terror in the Arctic

Due to having being lax on the blogging front last month I'll begin with a post I meant to write a while back, but obviously didn't. It's a brief review of the last book I read called The Terror by Dan Simmons. In my opinion The Terror is a return to form for Dan Simmons after his last couple of books, Illium and Olympos, which tried to cover too much and ended up being rather convoluted and disappointing. The Terror is based on the the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the north-west passage (a sea route through the Arctic between the Atlantic and Pacific) - the expedition consisting of two ships: The Erebus and The Terror. The fate of the ships' crews, and the ships themselves, was never discovered, making the story rife for fictionalisation. The book is presented as a horror book, with one of the main premises being of something in the Arctic night picking off the crew (you get this from the blurb of the book, so it's no spoiler), but don't let this fool you as the book a mainly a brilliantly researched and realised account of 19th Century Arctic expeditions, survival and maritime history. Simmons has done a great job in getting across the atrocious conditions that the expedition would have gone through. His characterisation of the large cast of people is also done excellently, obviously with some literary license, but also with a great deal of historical research. It's very easy to feel empathy with the characters and develop an attachment to them early on, meaning you care about their fate despite knowing that the expedition doesn't end well. The book is undeniably very, very bleak and this potentially could get too oppressive throughout a nearly 1000 page book, but it's so engrossing and interesting that you want to keep going. The end of the book does diverge substantially from the rest and I wasn't satisfied with it (except for the very end), but was obviously done to give the monster a meaningful background and again was very well researched. I would really recommend this book, but far more as a historical fictionalisation than for it's horror aspects.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Live from NAM

There are always a never-ending procession of meetings to attend and following the collaboration meeting I was at a couple of weeks back I'm now at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) at Queens University Belfast. I don't think I'll be blogging about it that much, but for news from the meeting you can visit the official NAM blog. Now back to the talks...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Road trippin'

After the meeting at Caltech myself and three other gravitational wavers have headed on a bit of a road trip around parts of California. We've done too much in the last few days for me to give you a full update on them all just now, but here's a list of most of it. Last Thursday we drove up to Mount Wilson Observatory, where Hubble made his observations that showed the expansion of the universe - it was very impressive. That evening we made the long drive out to Death Valley national park, where we spent the night (sleeping in the boot of our hire car) under the light of the full moon at the lowest point in the western hemisphere (Badwater Creek.) On Friday we drove back to LA, via quite a few other sights in Death Valley including Artists Rocks and Darwins Falls, and had a night in a motel in Hollywood. Saturday started off with breakfast in West Hollywood (home of many a star) before continuing the drive up the coast to Santa Barbara. That evening we went to a Saul Williams gig in a small bar called Velvet Jones. The gig was brilliant! The next day we woke up slightly worse for wear, but had a whale watching cruise to go on to get us through the hangover. We saw several Grey whales, dolphins playing around our boat, and leaping sea lions - amazing stuff. After that we hit the road (route 1) and drove around the very windy, but stunning, highway along the Big Sur coast. We spent the night in a cabin overlooking the pacific and took in a brilliant sunset. This morning we spotted another whale while having breakfast. Today we driven along more awesome coastal road to Monterey, where we took in the aquarium, and Santa Cruz. We are currently in the hippy-est hostel in the world in Berkeley. Basically so far the trip has been fantastic (I need more adjectives to say how good it's been.) When I get more time I'll probably write a bit more about some of these events and add in some detail. Hope you're not too jealous ;)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My god, it's full of stars

At the ripe old age of 90 Sir Arthur C Clarke has died. It's something I'd been expecting for a while (he was getting on a bit), so doesn't come as much of a shock, but is a pretty big deal to the sci-fi world. My formative science fiction experiences were certainly dominated by Arthur C. My dad had a reasonably extensive collection of his books and as a teenager I read them all, from the really early stuff like Childhoods End (which I actually did an English essay on at school) to the more recent collaborative Rama sequels. They formed my baseline for good science fiction and led to it being the almost exclusive genre that I now read (although I occasionally branch out into more mainstream fiction.) Some of my favourites books include the above mentioned Childhoods End, 2001 (obviously, although I read 2010 first for some unfathomable reason!), Fountains of Paradise and Rendezvous with Rama, although I can't say that there are any that I've read that I've not enjoyed in some way. He was also a master at short stories to and I've not found anyone that can match him in that area. I'll miss the fact that they'll be no more output from Clarke, but I think he's made big enough contribution and I'll be sure to return to some of his work in the future.

Relieving the boredom

Have you ever wondered what it sounds like if you strap eight guitars together and then hit them with a big stick? Well I can't say I had, but yesterday I found out when I went to see a band called Boredoms at The Music Box on Hollywood Boulevard. The band is Japanese and (currently) consists of three drummers and a guy who shouts, screams, jumps about, does various electronic effects and hits the eight-guitar-thing with sticks. The gig was pretty good, although rather intense and unrelenting, as you might expect from a band with three drum kits. There wasn't much in the way of subtlety or variation in any of the songs, which meant that it did get a bit samey at times. There were times when you'd expect a song to have a lull and then build up, but they didn't really bother with the lull... or the build up - it was all full tilt. At their best, when some tune started coming through in the music and their electronic effects were used effectively, they were very good - they sounded quite like Orbital, but with more drums. And in general the drumming was impressive, especially the tempo that they managed to keep up. I was knackered before it started and felt even more drained after watching and listening to it. Oh, in case you were wondering the eight-guitar-thing sounded good and looked cool, although it did require an extra roadie person to constantly tune and replace strings on each guitar.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Travelling light

I'm currently in Pasadena (part of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles) at Caltech attending the LSC-Virgo meeting (one of our fairly regular collaboration meetings.) Unfortunately the majority of my clothes are not also attending the meeting. I arrived here last Thursday (13th March) evening, but my baggage apparently didn't get the same flight as me and has so far failed to arrive. Due to increasing feelings of skankyness from wearing the same clothes for several days I yesterday did a bit of a clothes shop, but have the feeling I'll be having to add to my new wardrobe in the next couple of days.

Complaining about my lack of luggage aside I have to say that I've been really impressed by Pasadena and the Caltech campus. It's really, really nice. And I definitely can't complain about the weather!