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.