Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brass monkeys

Today four of us went on a non-official-club trip up to the Etive (by far my most kayaked river) where we were thinking of joining up with the Glasgow Caledonian University Kayak Club who had been wig-wamming up that way for the weekend. The day started off bloody freezing and didn't really improve temperature-wise. When we arrived at the Etive it seemed that half of the kayakers in Scotland were also there (however the Caly crew weren't actually there yet). It required quite a bit of will power to actually strip off and put on our kayaking gear, which wasn't helped by the very bracing wind racing through Glen Etive. By the time the Caly group arrived we were ready to go, and seeing as they had a big group and we wanted to do the river at a reasonable pace we decided to just go down as a four (the other reason we headed on was that we thought some other guys we knew who where also on the river [current and ex-GUCC members] would be giving us a shuttle back to our car from the get-out, but they were a bit too quick for us!).

This was the first time I'd done the river in such a small group, and as such we didn't set up safety (people with throw lines) on the banks at each fall, but just went down them. We didn't even get out to take a look at the drops before we did them, and put our trust in Chris that it would be fine. For me all the drops went pretty well, and I stayed upright and put in a couple of decent braces when needed, up until Right Angle. On the fall there I had a quite scary swim, as I capsized, got pushed against the wall on the side I was trying to roll up on, and then in the panic couldn't find the release handle on my spray deck - I found it in the end and was fine, but it shock me a little bit, and I was more timid with my paddling from then on (although it was reasonably near the get out anyway.) I was slightly wobbly going through a couple of the rock fields after that, but stayed upright until the very last rapid, when I hit a rock, got spun around and went over - I almost righted myself a couple of times using braces and the rocks near me, but in the end I succumbed and swam. In general though, despite the swims, I think I did some of my best paddling on this trip, and I was manoeuvring myself far more confidently than I have before.

Even with the swim before the get out I'd warmed up well during the paddle, but the weather didn't want to keep things that way, because as soon as we stopped it decided to start raining - and not just regular rain, but ice. There was a van to shelter behind when getting changed, which protected us from the elements a bit, but it would be nice for all rivers to be equipped with dry, warm changing rooms. Fortunately it wasn't as cold as this trip though - there was no ice forming on us. In the end it was probably for the best that we didn't wait for Caly, as they were only about half way along when we drove past on our way home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The company I keep

This afternoon I'm giving a talk in the Physics Department at Queen Mary, University of London (I used to know it as Queen Mary and Westfield College, but I don't know why they dropped the Westfield!) Looking at the other people giving departmental seminars this semester I seem to be in good company - three FRS's, a dame, an OBE, the Lucasian Professor, and mainly Professors (not lowly Post-docs!) I hope my talk on gravitational waves doesn't disappoint.

Low tummel

I will follow in the grand tradition of very late posts about my kayaking trips by only just getting round to telling you about my trip from just over a week ago. A small group of six of us went to the River Tummel, which was a new river for me. It had been raining reasonably hard the week prior to the trip (nowhere near as hard as the past week though) and as we drove up most rivers seemed to have a good amount of water in them. But, the lower Tummel is a dam release river and when we got there it was very low due to there having been no recent release. This meant there were going to be large sections of the river that were quite scrapey. Once we were on the river it wasn't too bad, although for the first half of the river there wasn't much to do except dodging rocks. The second half of the river had the majority of the falls and rapids and things picked up well when we got to these. On one of the first drops (probably the easiest) I managed to get myself stuck against the rock at the top, and due to not leaning into the rock I capsized and went down the drop on my head, and eventually had to swim. However that was the only swim of the trip (we had been hoping to have none). Further down the river we stopped to play at the bottom of a rapid by dipping our kaykak's noses into the water and popping out - I only tried this once as I got flipped - I had a couple of attempts at rolling (the second of which almost worked), but had to be T-rescued this time. There were some good fun drops. We all negotiated S (or Z) falls without any problems. The final fall was the Linn of Tummel, which is a grade 4 or 5 depending on the water level - due to the low levels it was probably a 4 when we did it, but it did mean that to the left of the second drop there was a nasty rock shelf that was exposed. After quite a bit of scouting out the line to take and setting up safety, we all decided to go for it. Everyone made it down without any mishaps, and we all avoided the rocks (after this I heard a story of someone breaking their arm when the hit those same rocks). Despite the low water levels, and my one swim, it was a really fun trip - small trips seem to work quite well. I should be out again next Sunday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Handling things

The events in Paris last night (for those who've not seen the news this refers to the World Cup qualifying play-off game, involving France and Ireland, in which Thierry Henry performed one of the most blatant handballs ever seen, leading directly to a goal that in the end knocked Ireland out) have lead to the inevitable calls for a rethink over whether we have video referees in football, especially for decisions such as this. I have mixed views on video referees in football. On the one hand I like the fact that in real time during a game controversial refereeing decisions will get made and are allowed to stand, because I think it adds something to the game as a form of entertainment - basically it gives people something to discuss/rant/argue/complain about during and after the game, which a lot of people get enjoyment out of, even if it's a strange perverse masochistic enjoyment when bad decisions go against your team. It would be nice to just discuss a game with regards to the actual football that was played, but to be honest a lot of the time refereeing decisions have far more mileage, especially in often otherwise dull games.

But that said, when refereeing decisions do go against your team it can be really infuriating when you know that a quick replay of the event by the fourth official, and a word in the refs ear, would have easily set things right. You generally have to hope that such decisions even themselves out over the course of a game/season/tournament. Last night's event was slightly different in that it was a one off (over two legs of course) knockout play-off game, so one bad decision against you could be, and was, disastrous. When huge amounts of money are involved in the outcome of a game, or it involves missing out, or not progressing in, a major tournament, I can see that video refereeing may be very welcome.

But, I'm still not entirely swayed back to the arguments for video refereeing. I'd like to see something else first, although it may be far harder to implement than video reffing, and that's trying to make the players more honest! This again is something that's been bandied about in football discussions for quite a while, whether it's been trying to stop player diving, or trying to stop them abusing referees. Often the argument goes "Rugby [or insert your idea of the most honest and respectable sport here] players don't fake injuries (hehe), or abuse the ref, so why can't footballers be more honourable in their conduct?", and I still don't see why this idea of trying to make footballer's less inclined to cheat can't be encouraged more. This has started to some extent, via some disincentivisation, in that footballers who are caught diving after the event can face game bans and fines. But for things like blatant handballs that the referees/linesmen don't spot, how about having the players own up to these infringements straight away, and if they don't, and this is spotted afterwards, then they suffer similar consequence. To get more honesty it might just be a case that refs should start questioning players more when something untoward is noticed by opposition players. For example last night Shay Given was telling the ref that he'd seen a handball, so had the ref asked Henry what happened maybe be would have admitted it (as he did after the game!) - whether a player would admit it is why you'd have sanctions in place for dishonesty. It was interesting to read some of Trapattoni's comments after last night's game, when he said just that
"The referee had time to ask the linesman and then after to ask Henry... It would not have been the first time a player would have asked and it would not have been out of turn."
so maybe the onus should lie more with the referee than the player.

To be clichéd and just go back to the well trod "XXX players are more honest than footballers" argument that I mentioned, I'd just like to say that in some sports (e.g. snooker [some might argue it's not really a sport, and more a game, hobby or past-time, but in my eye's it has balls and they're being hit with something, so it counts as sport!]) players are expected to indicate whether they've committed a foul, and as long as you have mutual honesty from both sides things work out fine. I don't expect football players to now start confessing their every onfield indiscretion to the ref, but for certain things if the ref asks them what happened I'd hope they could be honest about it.

At the start of the post I said that one of my dislikes of video refereeing was that it might makes games less exciting to discuss by taking away the controversy. I think my idea could well make thing's even more dull, but at least it'll be honest! ;)