Monday, August 31, 2009

Wallabies and wake

Yesterday saw my first kayaking trip since the Etive weekend in May. We only had a few people out and had to make do with a flat water paddle on Loch Lomond. This was my second time out on the loch, although this time starting out from Luss on the west side, rather than near Balmaha on the east side. It was a fairly sedate paddle as the loch was calm and the only thing really disturbing it was the wake from the many boats and jet skis that were out there as well. Our main destination that we paddled out to was Wallaby Island where we went exploring to see the soon-to-be-culled Wallabies - we managed to see at least 3 individuals. It should be noted (unsurprisingly) that kayaking gear is not the best clothing to go scrambling round an island in - you get a bit too hot. On returning to our get in point we played around a bit practicing deep water rescues and rolling - being able to roll in a river boat (rather than the polo boats we use in the pool), with a buoyancy aid and helmet on, and in cold water is something that's useful when it comes to going down a river. It wasn't the most exciting of paddles, but it was good to get a bit of practice in again before things kick off properly with the new university term starting in two weeks.

Youtube sensation

Every summer the LIGO Lab at Caltech takes on a load of undergraduate SURF students to do research. This year some of those students have put together (for outreach purposes I think) a medley of various California-based songs with a re-worked gravitational wave/LIGO theme.
It's a fun video, but also quite excruciatingly embarrassing to watch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We urned it!

I'm mainly writing this post so I could use that lovely pun as a title, but well done to the England Cricket team for taking back the Ashes. We just have to try and go over there and win it some time! As ever there ends my expert cricket analysis.

Edinburgh festival highlights

Last Sunday (my birthday!) and Wednesday I had trips through to Edinburgh to take in some comedy. Last year I didn't get to see anything in Edinburgh as I was in Germany (my trip through two years ago is detailed here), and March's Glasgow Comedy Festival didn't have much that appealed (I think the only thing saw was Richard Herring's Headmasters Son), so it had been a while since I'd seen any stand-up.

On the Sunday we had one show booked, which was Stewart Lee's If you prefer a milder comedian, please ask for one playing at the Stand. But, we'd gone through earlier in the day to try and find something else to see. After a while of sitting around by the Udderbelly (in Bristo Square) and managing to come to no decision as to what to see, we decided we might have better luck at the Pleasance. As at every venue we were approached by many enthusiastic flierers, but nothing particularly tempted us until a very polite young English man (probably fresh from completing his A-levels) convinced us to go and see Two episodes of Mash (by this point we really just wanted to see anything). It was a decent sketch-based set that has some very funny moments, and in general kept up a good pace - the show, at just under an hour, went by pretty quickly and there weren't any times when it seemed to lag (I'd say the two stars that Chortle gave it in the last link was a tad unfair). After that it was pretty much time to get up to the Stand. The Stand in Edinburgh is a cosy venue (slightly smaller and a quite different layout to the one in Glasgow) a we were sat right up front - pretty much on Stewart Lee's lap. It was a very good show (I'm sure Stewart Lee would rate my ability to craft a review up there with the works of Dan Brown). I was actually a bit surprised at the pace of the jokes - Lee can often spend ages on a sentence or two, but it was a lot faster than I expected (there was still his standard repetition of key themes, but not so long seemed to be taken over them) - this was probably due to the fact that he had a lot to cram in in the one hour set. His stuff about a certain pear cider advert is particularly good, as is his surprising song at the end (the guitar on stage for the whole set was reasonably confusing up until the very end).

On Wednesday we decided to take a day off work and again head over to Edinburgh. We mainly, somewhat unintentionally, were stalking Richard Herring for the day. First off was a trip to the Underbelly (in an extremely hot cave-like venue) to see a live recording of the Collings and Herrin Podcast - they were doing five consecutive days of live podcasts and we went to the first day. They've done three live podcasts previously and I've generally not found them to be as good as the regular podcast, but I really enjoyed this one - maybe being in the audience helped! After that, at the behest of Herring, there was a lunch outing to the Tempting Tattie for one of their tasty, and good value, baked potatoes (there weren't as many of us as at yesterdays gathering).

After that we went down to the half price ticket hut to try and look for a random show before the two pre-booked shows we were seeing in the evening. We settled on going to see Jason Cook with his show Fear. For a mid-afternoon show on a Wednesday it was rather surprisingly sold out, but this could maybe be explained by the good reviews the show has been getting. And it was a nice show by a very likeable comedian. The premise of the show - peoples fears - kind of disappeared about halfway through, but that wasn't really to the detriment of the performance. Cook did leave the audience very intrigued though, by mentioning the three months he spent in a maximum security prison in Libya on charges of piracy (it would have been interesting to hear more, but apparently it would induce a panic attack in Cook if he thought about it too much).

The next show was back seeing Herring again for his show Hitler Moustache. This was again in another roasting venue in the Underbelly. As someone who follows Herring's work via his blog and the podcasts I'd read/heard the inception and growth of the vast majority of the stuff in the show, so there wasn't really anything that came as a surprise. It was still a good show, and well polished, but I think I'd slightly self-spoilered it (I did have the thrill of seeing my name in the program though).

The final show of the night was a midnight performance by Daniel Kitson (who I've seen several times before) at the Stand (which as it happened Andrew Collins and Richard Herring were also at). We were again down the front right by the stage. Kitson has been the comedian against who I gauge all others as he's been unswervingly excellent whenever I've seen him. He was again very good, but my enjoyment was slightly dampened by a couple of things. The heat of the venue (a recurring theme it seems) and the time and length of the gig meant I was rather too tired, and flagged a lot for the last half hour or so of the our hour forty minute performance. I think the show could do with cutting down a bit (that said I've seen Kitson do a three hours set that was really good for the whole thing!), but I may have found it better if it had been at an earlier time, or I'd not had such a long day.

That's probably my fill of stand-up for a bit, but expect I'll see some more come next March's Glasgow Comedy Festival.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Installing chrome

[Update: there is now an easier, more hassle free, way to install Chrome, which can be found here.]

This post comes to you courtesy of the web browser Google Chrome. In fact so did the last post, but that was from my Mac laptop, whereas this is from my office desktop which runs Ubuntu. Installing this development version of Chrome has been a bit more trouble on my office machine than on my Mac, so I thought I'd document how I did it. The first thing to do is to download the .deb package from here (I've got the version for 32-bit systems) - this is a development version, so be warned that it could be buggy. This should then be relatively easy to install, i.e. I should just be able to type: dpkg -i google-chrome-unstable_current_i386.deb and away it goes, but unfortunately it defaults to trying to create, and then install stuff into, the /opt/google directory and for me, even with sudo, I can't write to that directory as it's not local to my machine - I get an error stating:
dpkg: error processing google-chrome-unstable_current_i386.deb (--install):
error creating directory `./opt/google': No such file or directory
Errors were encountered while processing:

However, much searching has led me to find a solution to this (mainly from this page) that enabled me to install chrome in the directory of my choosing. Here's how it goes:-
Say you've downloaded the above .deb file to ~/Desktop, then create a directory to unpack it into:
mkdir ~/Desktop/chrome; cd ~/Desktop/chrome
then unpack the .deb file
ar -x ~/Desktop/google-chrome-unstable_current_i386.deb
Now uncompress the lzma file
lzma -d data.tar.lzma

Next you want to figure out where to install Chrome (i.e. somewhere that your permissions allow you to write to). I, for example, created a directory called /data/matthew/chrome. cd into that directory and then run
sudo tar xf ~/Desktop/chrome/data.tar
(If you're just writing to somewhere that your normal permissions allow you to write to then you don't even have to run sudo.) This will add opt, etc and usr directories to the directory you are in, with the main stuff for Chrome being in opt/google/chrome. I can therefore run Chrome with the command
You can then just remove all the files you downloaded in ~/Desktop.

You can now also use flash with the development version of Chrome (as shown here), so it's all working pretty nicely now! [But, hey, Flash "...who uses that"!]

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Highlands and Islands

Yesterday saw only my second trip to a Scottish island (the other being the now legendary trip to Gigha) - this is a rather paltry number of islands for having lived in Scotland for seven years. The new island I went to was Arran, which is one of the closest and most accesible from Glasgow.

To get there you can take the CalMac ferry from Ardrossan. We got the first train from Glasgow to Ardrossan that supposedly connected up with the 9.45am ferry. However, on arrival we found a massive queue that meant there was no chance of getting on the ferry we'd planned. There were at least 300 slightly annoyed people left with us at the ferry terminal, at which we weren't allowed to use the waiting room, and so had to brave the elements outside. Because there was a Highland Games in Brodick (one of the main villages on Arran) there were a few extra ferries on, so we waited for the 11.30am crossing. Again this was filled before we made it on (in fact it was mainly filled with pre-booked car passengers, so hardly anyone from the queue got on). After this we had to make the decision as to whether to bother waiting for the 12.30 crossing (it was to be the big 600 seater ferry) and thought that given we'd already waited 2 hours we may as well sit it out for another hour. We did however get given a boarding card for the ferry that we were told would guarantee us a place on it, and were allowed to actually wait inside in the waiting room (in which, for some reason, they'd decided to not open their cafe despite apparently being their busiest day of the year). When the ferry arrived everyone rushed to get on, but we thought we'd let the queue diminish a bit before we attempted boarding, safe in the knowledge that we had our "guaranteed" boarding card. However, on getting to the gang plank the CalMac employee who had guaranteed our place on the ship and told us we could go off and wait inside decided he'd refuse us boarding and told us we should have been there earlier (we'd been waiting for 3 hours by then, so I don't think we could really have been any earlier!). We started arguing our case and fortunately the guy from on the boat decided to let us on. Needless to say the first few hours of our trip did not give me a good impression of CalMac, especially as while we were queueing we were given no information about what was going on and just had to rely on hearsay and chinese whispers from other, equally irate, people in the queue.

Anyway, we did eventually make it out to Brodick by about 1.30pm. Our main plan was to climb Goat Fell and this is exactly what we did. We walked passed the Highland Games site, most of which had taken part in the morning and we'd therefore missed. The base of Goat Fell (and Brodick) was alternatively sunny and overcast, but the summit was completely hidden in a cloud, which we hoped would clear by the time we reached it. It didn't clear. Due to the cloud we had no idea of how far it would be to the top (our visibility was about 20-30m, which enabled us to see the path, but not much else), but had many false dawns when we thought we spotted the peak only to find it to be nothing of the sort. We passed one group who were on the way down and asked them how much further it would be and they looked quite dejected and said it just kept going on and on - I didn't believe them, but they proved to be right. Despite this it was still a fun climb though and we made the top in just over two hours - there was obviously no view! They way down was a less dispiriting experience, but was quite harsh on the legs and knees. It only took about an hour and a half to get down and it was glorious to get out of the cloud and see Brodick harbour again.

The other plan we had, being on Arran, was to have some Arran Blonde beer. We didn't want to miss our only chance of a ferry home (the last one being at 7.15pm), so instead of heading straight to the pub we dragged ourselves, on tired legs, to the ferry terminal to check on the length of the queue. It wasn't too large, so we risked a brief trip to the pub. Around this time there were a few pipe bands marching down the main street who'd been there for the games. After our pint we went back to the ferry terminal where all the pipe bands had gathered and were playing for the queueing crowds. Now I don't mind the odd lone piper, but I didn't find that the pipe bands sounded very pleasant. That's maybe just because I'm English, or it could be just that the pipe bands I heard weren't very good, or were drunk (I think a lot of the pipers had been drinking most of the day), but really it wasn't something that could be listened to for any great length of time - unfortunately we did have to listen to it for a considerable length of time as they all boarded the ferry and continued playing (there are also only so many times you can hear Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland!)

As we crossed the sea and made it back to Ardrossan the sun came out and everything looked lovely. It was good to get out for the day and was a fun walk, but I hope my next trip to an island goes slightly more smoothly.