Friday, March 30, 2007

From bad to worse

I chose not to write anything after England's dismal performance against Israel last Saturday in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. This was partly due to being inadequately able to express my contempt at the team and partly in the hope that we'd show some sort of improvement in form in Wednesdays match against the mighty Andorra. We won this game, but in a thoroughly unconvincing style considering the quality of our opposition. Now to many people a win might be enough and they'd settle for the much needed three points, but not for the England fan (or fans from quite a few other countries I expect). What we really wanted to see was the players give it some - I mean playing with some passion and looking like a team that's working well together - but this sort of spirit was clearly lacking (I only saw of the highlights of the Andorra game, but I did sit through the entire Israel game, and that was pretty depressing). We need the team to show these responses as it generally picks them up and makes them play better, it also gives us fans belief that the team want to win, rather than just turn up and jog around a field for 90 minutes. It's going to be a bit of a struggle, but we'll need to inject some spirit into the players (who constantly say that they're trying their hardest, but it definitely fails to show through in their game) if we're to progress to the finals next year. I should have heart though as Beckham still believes we can make it! I'll leave all the McClaren bashing to others!

A great results for Northern Ireland though, beating Sweden and going to top their group. If they can keep it up there might be a lot of England fans who become Northern Irish for a few weeks next summer!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Land down under

Not content with my trips to Italy and the US over the last couple of weeks, or my upcoming trip to Florida for the APS meeting in a couple of weeks time, I've gone and registered myself for an uber-trip all the way to the Amaldi/GRG18 meeting in Sydney in July. For these flights I may use the air miles I've accrued over the last few years to get an upgrade to business class, as I don't fancy flying all that way in economy. I now just need to do the work for the poster I think I intend to submit - this is subject to change though, and I've got a month before I have to actually submit the abstract.

Introducing the band

It's been a long while coming, but our band has finally got round to organising a gig. Now I've not said much about the band recently, in fact I don't think I've even told anyone our name (those that aren't in the know already that is), but as we approach the gig I'll probably write more.

So what are we called? Well in fact we are two bands, the second formed due to the very much lamented loss of our bassist, scri-minus, to the land of Brum. The original band (including scri-minus, but after our first line-up change with the loss of the Mole) kind of settled on the name Look up for danger for reasons too obscure to bother to mention for those who don't already know. This amazing four piece sailed the seas of rock for many months, but without ever recording our unique sound, or airing it to the general public (i.e. our mates). The second, three piece, band, is currently, somewhat unaptly named Corpse Full of Bees. We are dark!

When and where is this gig then? Well, we thought we'd start off somewhere smallish, and not try to play the Glasgow SECC just yet, so we're playing in the slightly more intimate venue of upstairs at the Research Club. The date is Friday 11th May, so put that in your diaries all you music fans. The gig will be Corpse Full of Bees featuring Look up for danger (due to the triumphant return of scri-minus for one-night-only), and possible support acts from... well we've not quite thought of that yet.

Right, so now I just have to go and actually get good at playing the drums...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wonder drug

Now I know aspirin has many thing going for it, but I don't know about the claim in today's Daily Express headline "Aspirin cuts risk of death by 25%" (I should just clarify that I'm not an Express reader, but just saw the headline on a newspaper when I was buying my lunch.) I can only assume that the rest of the story's a little more down-to-earth with its claims, but I didn't deem it worth reading since the headline was so patently absurd. Then again I'm sick and tired of these 100% death rates we seem to be prepared to live with! Doctors should be doing more to reduce that tragic figure and if aspirin can help 25% less people from dying then more research should be done to improve it's immortality rating. And any dangerous drug testing should be done on peadophiles and asylum seekers!

Sorry, I think I just got taken over by the spirit of an Express reader. The story is given a slightly more sober treatment by BBC news here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

It's here

I've been quick out of the blocks and have already downloaded the last episode of BSG. Too bad I've got to go to work. I'll have to build up that anticipation level some more and watch it later.

[Update: so I watched BSG last night and without giving anything away I can only say "guuh hhuuhhh whhaa baah... what the fuck!" I also now reckon that I'm probably a Cylon (just noticed that you can't write Cylon without the word looking like it should be the name for a washing detergent). It's the only thing that makes sense.]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In the (British) summertime

In a fairly pointless post I just thought I'd bid farewell to Greenwich Mean Time and welcome in the glorious British Summer Time. If only it didn't mean that we lose an hour that can't be clawed back for another six months. If I hadn't been travelling so much in the last couple of weeks the change in time might ever-so-slightly confuse me, but as it is I think I'll take it in my stride. Now, to change all my clocks...

Friday, March 23, 2007


Yesterday/today/last night/this morning/whenever(!) I flew back from the US after my whirlwind tour of two different meetings. As ever it was lovely seeing Britain hove into view from the plane window, causing me to sing myself a slightly altered version of Gerry and the Pacemaker's Ferry cross the Mersey, substituting "Ferry" for "plane" and "Mersey" for "Atlantic" obviously. An amazing thing happened on this flight. I actually managed to get some sleep! It wasn't the longest of snoozes, for sure, but it was probably a good two or so hours of fairly uninterrupted kip. How did I achieve this when previous attempts at airborne sonambulence have failed? Well I'm not quite sure, as I've been just as sleepy on previous flights, but it mainly involved contorting myself into every possible position that can be achieved in an airline window seat until I settled into the closest thing to comfort that the location would allow, and covering my head in a blanket - much like you might cover a bird cage with a blanket to get a bird to sleep.

Good as it was to get some sleep on the plane, I still had to have a few hours nap when I got home.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Man who?

So it looks like we'll be playing Man Utd in the FA Cup semi-final. Bring 'em on!

TV times

To update you on my present location I did finally arrive in Baton Rouge for my meeting on Saturday evening, after having no further flight complications. This meant I only missed a day despite all my travel problems!

There's been one slight advantage to being in the US in that I got to watch BSG live. I got to see it a full, probably, 16 or so hours before I'd have seen it, after downloading, in the UK. That said, I had to put up with the endless bloody adverts - I far prefer watching the torrent, in which people have kindly edited these annoyances out. With last night's episode being the penultimate one of the season it's getting pretty good again and ramping up the action. Can I wait till next week for the final episode? - I just don't know if I can, I'm that excited! The problem with the season ending is that it will be the first time I've had to wait all those months before getting a new series to watch. I think I'll have to find another show to fill the time.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tell me WHY I don't like airports...

The reason is that they are the work of Satan himself. They are hellish places when you just have to spend the merest of timespans in them, but when you have to spend entire days, or more, of you precious life in them they become all the more unbearable and maddening. This rant is courtesy of a rather large amount of icey weather in the North East of America, and the general astounding lack of preparedness by the staff of Continental Airlines (as may have been picked up from my last post - BTW I'm now approaching 36 hours of sleep deprivation). The reason these things have effected me is that I had to leave the gorgeousness of the Moriond meeting in La Thuile to attend the rather less attractive prospect of the LSC (my collaboration) meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So let me take you back two days...

A slightly hungover me leaves the Moriond to travel the much trod road to Geneva. This all goes well (apart from having a large - yet reclaimable - amount of money extracted from my wallet by a greedy coachman). After about 40 mins semi-random wandering I find my hostelry, where I will rest before my early flight the next morning. I partake in victuals at a local eatery, dispatch myself to a pubbe to quaff ale and watch borish sporting endeavours, and then drink with a local comely wench - sorry Helen ;) - forgive my olde worlde tone in the last sentences for I have mostly been reading a lot of Quicksilver in the last day, which is set, for a large part, in 17th Century England.

This flight was directly from Geneva to Newark Airport, for which I arose at the ungodly hour 5.30 am (cue the start of my sleep deprivation). The flight was as pleasant as any long hall trip can be, but the pilot said there might be some light snow in New York. No-one's too worried as there was no word of delays. We get to Newark and it's fairly snow laden all around, with snowplows whizzing around the tarmac a breakneck speed to clear the snowy slush, but the planes seem to be moving ok. Little did we realise that this movement was a rouse. The planes are leaving gates and new ones are arriving, but barely any are actually taking off. Various people are sitting on their planes on the runways for several hours before being recalled. This seems an obvious point for the local airport staff to start preparing people for the fact that their flights are rather unlikely to take off, and maybe diverting some of the incoming flights to more hospitable airports. However this isn't what happens. They just keep putting back and back the departure times of all the aircraft, with more and more people arriving all the time. When the staff do eventually bow to the inevitable there are thousands of people with cancelled connections all wanting the same thing and with very few points of call to get it. The connections desks develop huge queues, which move at a snails pace and snake around with many hours waiting time. No-one really knows if any flights will be able to take of the next day either, so people just have to hope that a connection can be found. Continental, who were the only people I dealt with, as they control pretty all Terminal C of Newark, where I had landed, gave out a phone number to ring to get a connecting flight, but this was inundated by half the North East of America, so became practically useless - which I found out after many failed attempts at getting through, including a brain sapping, 2 hour 10 min stint, which almost LEFt mE InnSAyNE! I hadn't done the clever thing if just brazening out one of the check in queues from the start (which would have been at least a six hour wait), but had assumed things the numbers of people would dwindle as the night progressed - the only dwindling of people was from the check in staff though, slowing progress even further. This meant that, after a few aborted attempts to sleep in variuos parts of the terminal building, I had to try to rejoin a queue in the morning check in, which would start at 4am we were assured. At 4.40am the check in staff finally arrived. This time I stuck out the line (to use an Americanism), before being told that I wouldn't be able to get a flight to my destination until Monday. The attendant I had spoken to didn't seem to have tried particularly hard to find alternative routes, but I accepted things (in most situations a couple of free days in New York would have been great, but my mood was rather strained at this point) and said to just book me the earliest flight back to Glasgow - I just wanted to go home and sleep - but again this wouldn't be until Monday evening. I walked off to collect my baggage, which had spent the night all comfy in the hold of its plane, feeling distinctly emotionally drained. There was so much stress and high tension in the air from the mass of pissed off and tired people that it just got into you.

Now I don't blame (most of) the check in staff for the situation, or the weather for that matter. What I blame is just piss poor management and planning. Snow and cold weather aren't exactly uncommon phenomena in the northerly parts of America. Indeed it's pretty much expected during the winter, so these situations must occur at least yearly. However there seemed to be no contingency for it at all, with people having a very poor idea of what should have been done and when. The fact that planes weren't going to be flying should, and could, have been spotted earlier. This would have allowed people to arrange their connecting flights as they arrived, which would have been in a more orderly manner with a far smaller flow of people to deal with. Flights that could have been diverted, should have been, so that so many people wouldn't have been stuck in the one place. The phone system should have been more helpful, and at least given an updated message of how long it would be for a call to be answered. I just don't know whether any of this will be done, and it's certainly taken the sheen off what before was one of my least hated airports.

However my luck did change. When attempting to arrange for Continental to at least put me up in a hotel for the next couple nights I came across a rather more competent and professional set of check staff, the very people who I should have gone to in the first place. In their room, which was tucked away at the far end of the main terminal, past the luggage carousels, the atmosphere was a lot calmer. This eased me and when I got to the desk I asked whether a more concerted attempt could be made to get me to Baton Rouge. After a short while it was found that this was indeed possible, and all that had to happen was that I went via Memphis, rather than the original route via Houston. So now after about 26 hours in Newark I'm nearing my flight time. I've still not slept, so no doubt soon my normal sleep deprived experience or audio hallucination's is just around the corner, but hopefully I'm actually on my way somewhere. In fact at this point I don't care where, I just want to be moving and get out of this BLOODY AIRPORT!!!

From the sublime to the ridiculous

I'll regale you with the full story when I'm more compos mentis, but I'm currently sitting on the floor of the concourse of Newark Liberty International Airport feeling shagged as fucker after having spent a night queuing, attempting to sleep on the floor, being on hold on a telephone for over two hours, and then queuing some more this morning. It's not been a fun trip out to the US so far. I can only hope things improve and I reach my destination this evening. I don't hold out great hope, but things could take a turn for the better. The events that have left me semi-stranded have completely buggered scri_minus's travel plans though, although right now I'd far prefer to be at home. Thanks a bunch Continental! (oh, and the weather in the North-East of America.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007


This post is brought to you courtesy of the free wireless of a McDonalds in Chamonix (yes I'm in France now) as I sit outside it in the sun. I just paid the extortionate sum of 140 euros (modern keyboards need a euros key) to get a taxi here from La Thuile, and in half an hour I get a bus to Geneva. But whilst waiting I thought I'd take the opportunity to download a bit of the last Battlestar Galactica episode.

That is all...

Missing all the fun

The only disappointment about being at this meeting (well other than the fact that I have to leave it today and head to a proper meeting where there aren't any ski breaks) is that I missed seeing Daniel Kitson last night at the Glasgow Comedy Festival. I organised for a load of people to go to the gig before I realised I was going to be away. From a very preliminary report I hear that it was amazing, so I can only hope that he'll be in Edinburgh during the summer and I can get to see the show. Whilst not watching Daniel Kitson I was mainly dancing like a man possessed to Eurodisco classics in a videodiscopub (yes that's what it was called) and drinking copious amounts of Leffe (thanks Christian!). I now don't feel to hot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hard at work

This conference lark is grueling stuff I can tell you! Here at the Moriond meeting we start at 8.30am in the morning and things don't finish until 8.00pm at night. So what have I been doing during this taxing schedule? Well snowboarding mostly, as there's a specific skiing related break in the conference for 4-5 hours every day. This has provided ample time for me to brush up on my snowboard skills and look pretty damn cool in my gear (I went shopping at the weekend to buy some salopettes, i.e. waterproof skiing trousers, and some ski gloves, and despite the salopettes being half price they still cost £50!) My fellow conference attendees, Christian and Alastair, have also been improving their skiing. My ability has improved quite a lot and I can, most of the time, go back and forth from either edge of the board at will. I've spent considerably less time on my arse, and am far less bruised and battered, than my first time. Here in La Thuile there are no green/beginners runs, although there are several pretty easy blue runs. These are all rather nice to go down, and they aren't too busy so there's plenty of space to move. However, I'm not limited to the blue runs and have attempted, along with Christian and Alastair, a couple of red runs. Let me tell you these can be steep and pretty scary at points. We may not have been the most graceful looking people descending down the slopes, but we survived which is the most important thing. I can't believe I originally didn't want to come to this conference.

On an actual work note I did have to give a presentation which seemed to go well. I also got quite an interesting comment, well worth following up, from a certain Jim Faller (who some people know quite well).

Oh, and did I mention that the weather has been amazing!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Telephone exchange

At the weekend I finally did something I've been meaning to do for sometime. It really needed doing as it had been causing me immense amounts of frustration and occasional bouts of rage. I got rid of my Sony Ericsson piece of crap - with its shitty, unresponsive, or sometimes just plain random, joystick. I've traded it in for a much sleeker phone - the Nokia 6300. This phone is rather nice with attractive metal looks and an ultra thin (without being too small) body. It's got a very decent screen and all the main features you expect from a modern phone i.e. digital camera, radio, music player, etc. I have noticed, however, how similar everything on it is to the general Sony Ericsson layout. I assume that Nokia decided that the easiest thing to do was copy all the features that the Ericsson had, but remove a lot of the annoyances - maybe they were trying to tempt back people who'd previously moved over from Nokia (which used to be the dominant phone a few years back) to an Ericsson. I know this has made the switch easier for me.

Wembley, here we come (almost)!

As I was travelling to Italy I missed Watford's FA Cup quarter final tie against Plymouth Argyle, but on checking the results via the internet today I'm very happy to see we progressed. It seems, from the reports, that our success had a lot to do with our excellent keeper, Ben Foster, being on top form. In the semi-final we face the winner of the replay between Manchester United and Middlesbrough - this could see Foster up against the team who actually own him (Man U). We're only one step away from the final at Wembley now, let's hope we can do it. I think the FA Cup would be at least some consolation for the fact that we're going to be relegated.

Meet me in the mountains

After a couple of weeks of rushing around and giving talks in Brighton and Nottingham I've gone slightly more exotic and am in La Thuile in Italy. I'm here for the Moriond meeting, which is a scientific meeting come ski trip - the skiing is a major part of the meeting I'm told. In fact they have a four hour break in the middle of the days schedule for hitting the slopes. For this reason this will be a short post as I've got to get lunch before grabbing my snowboard and getting on the piste.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Steal from the rich...

...and present to the poor.

Today I'm in Nottingham, home of Robin Hood and rampant gun crime, to give a talk to the Astronomy group at the University of Nottingham. It's been a fairly busy day of getting up early and then spending most of the time travelling and writing the talk I'm to give, but the event is now just minutes away. Bring on the seminar!

Friday, March 02, 2007

In the land of the one screened computer...

...the two screened computer is king.

I am now basking in the glow of two computer screens - ok, I'm only basking in the glow of one as the other ones not been set up properly yet, but I still have the extra screen on my office desk. I can now view two desktops at once, oh yes! I can code and check the web at the same time! It's going to open up virtually limitless prospects for looking at more than one thing at once! Does it mean I'll be twice as propductive though? Probably not.