Saturday, March 27, 2010


Rather than waiting 5 months before writing about it, I may as well mention I was out in Los Angeles (Arcadia again) just over a week ago for Yet Another Collaboration Meeting. Nothing major of note about it (spending all day in windowless rooms listening to talks, networking, discussing science, and then drinking at the complementary bar in the evenings), but I will just say that if you're flying to LA from London (or Aukland) I would recommend flying with AIr New Zealand. They gave me one of my most pleasant flights out to the US, they didn't lose my bags, and they were actually the cheapest flight on offer!

During the trip I got to see my LA-based friends Ben and Erin, who treated me to a screening of the classic film Birdemic - it's a masterpiece - and some very good pizza. Unfortunately as I was struggling with jetlag I don't think I appreciated the true brilliance of the film.

Like last year I had another celebrity spot in Heathrow on this trip - another footballer to. I struggled to recognise who the guy was at first (in fact it took me about a week until I figured it out) and initially thought it was someone like Ray Winstone, but knew it wasn't him. It was in fact none other than Neil "Razor" Ruddock.

The late, late travel show

My reason for having to pay $5 per year is that I've finally got round to uploading my photos from Vancouver and I needed the extra space. My trip to Vancouver was in October last year! I'm not too quick.

At the time I didn't write up anything about the trip other than mentioning I was going, so I'll write a brief (excessively late) report now. The trip was just after my time SciMon-ing at the LIGO Hanford site in Washington state. As I was up in the Pacific North West, and had never been to Canada before, I thought I do a quick weekend road trip across the border before driving back down to Seattle for my flight home. On finishing my final SciMon shift at 4pm on Saturday 24th October I drove to Pasco Airport to exchange one hire car (paid for by work) with another (paid for by me) for the drive. Then followed an uneventful 6 hour drive up to Vancouver, which surprised me only for the fact that I actually didn't feel too tired during it.

I only had two whole days there, so on the first I decided to just explore the city via a standard bus tour and get my bearings. Unfortunately it pissed down the whole day and I had a stinking cold, but I forced myself to stay out wandering the city and not just retreat back into bed at the hostel I was staying (I'd booked a private room, so that I wouldn't have to share with the more scummy backpackers). Despite the rain the city did seem to have a lot to offer and I tried to walk round as much of the centre as I could. It was a real shame that I was feeling so shit as I think I could have seen and done a lot more.

The next day I decided to head out to Vancouver Island. I was feeling marginally better and the weather had improved a lot. I managed to miss the ferry I was originally intending to get and had to hang around at the ferry port for an extra 2 hours before the next sail. This left me with very little time to see anything. On arriving on the island I got a bus straight to the state capitol Victoria. In the approximately 2 hours I had there I was able to walk round the state government building and see a small bit of the city - many totem poles and Orcas. I also went in a Scottish pub for a drink. I also got to bask in the sun a bit, which was a great treat following the previous days weather.

That was about it for my trip (there was a bit more to the trip, but seeing as this account is so late it's probably not worth recounting in detail). I wish I'd been able to see more of the area and Vancouver's nightlife, especially if I'd had some company there and wasn't ill.

Paying the man

After several years of using a variety of google products (Gmail, google calendar, picasa, blogger and of course their search engine) I finally started giving them money directly. Despite my Gmail account having an ever increasing storage capacity (nearing 8Gb now) the picasa account only has fixed 1Gb of space. I filled that up a while ago and finally decided that I needed more space. Frustrating you can't share all the free space you have in Gmail amongst other google sites, so my only option if I wanted to continue uploading to picasa was to pay up for more space (I also have a flikr account, which I could just upload to, but I like having all the photos in one place). I now give a massive $5 per year for 20Gb of space. Now to upload some more photos...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Boarding In Glencoe: the Return

What a difference a year, and a decent level of snowfall, makes. After a rather cold and damp trip up to Glencoe to go snowboarding last year I (and a few other Glasgow astronomy folk, and one sibling of astronomy folk) returned there yesterday. This winter's seen Scotland getting it's best snowfall in probably at least a couple of decades and the ski centres have been doing very well from it. This combined with the rather nice weather over the last few days meant taking a trip up to the slopes seemed like a very good idea - and so it proved to be. The one downside to this trip was the early start, but we got over this quite quickly. On the way to Glencoe there was slight confusion between our convoy of two cars over a stop at the Green Welly - the car I was in ended up stopping there for about 25 mins waiting for the others, when in fact they'd already reach the ski centre - but this didn't hold us up for too long, and we were probably up the chair lift and on the slopes by just after 10am.

The contrast with the previous year was pretty staggering - it was dry, there was barely any wind, you could (kind of) see the Sun, and most importantly there was a lot of proper snow rather than mounds of slush, with patches of mud poking through. My ability to use the Poma tow was also greatly improved, and I got up the slope first time (and only fell off once thereafter)! We all started off with a few runs down the main beginner slope to reacquaint ourselves with boarding (and skiing), although the two Swiss in our group were quick to head off to the more challenging slopes up the top of the mountain. We soon moved on to a slightly more difficult run, up the top of a small chair lift, and stayed on this until lunch. I think it was just prior to lunch that I peaked in my ability, and was being pretty competent at heading downhill, turning and reaching reasonable speeds, all whilst not falling over!

After a lunch of roll and sausage and chips (following on from my pig in bread-based breakfast of a bacon roll at the Green Welly), and a needed rest, we headed back up to the slopes for about three hours more. Our Swiss contingent, who'd been on all the blue, red, and even (accidentally) black runs, up the top of the hill, suggested we be more adventurous and head up there too. This required negotiating the first tow, the chair lift, and a rather painful T-bar lift (these really aren't recommended if you're on a snowboard). It was worth it for the view that you got of the surrounding Glens from the top, and I managed to cheat my way to bagging a Munro (some might say it doesn't count though) by walking to the peak. After taking in the view we had to make it down the mountain though. We took what looked like the easiest of the blue runs and tentatively made it down. In the end it turned out to not be a particularly tricky run, but being as it was the first time the non-Swiss of us had run it (and given that we'd tired ourselves out in the morning) it proved a bit troublesome and more intimidating than it should be. If we'd gone up earlier in the day and tackled it a few times I think the knowledge of the route (and that we wouldn't die by falling off the edge of the mountain) would have made it more fun. We also didn't help ourselves by discussing the recent avalanches that there had been on the slopes right by where we were.

We finished the day by taking a few more runs down the easy slopes, although by this time people were aching and levels of boarding/skiing ability were diminishing rapidly. Still Marina, Hugh and myself decided that rather than take the chair lift back down to the car park we would board our way down to the bottom (Marina and Hugh had done this prior to lunch too, but we decided to take a different, less scary, route this time). There were a couple of runs down to the bottom marked on the map, but these weren't very easy to spot when you tried to go down them. There were a few other people doing the same thing, so we tried following them, but soon had to make our own route. The initial part of the run was very nice, and there were some areas of untouched powder that were great fun to board through, but nearer the bottom things got a lot bumpier and icier. For the second half of the run Hugh and I were generally traveling about 10 metres maximum before falling on our arses. Needless to say that part took a bit longer than planned and I, at least, was completely knackered and drenched in sweat.

In all it was a great day and a proper treat to see such good snow conditions in Scotland. Hopefully we can have some more seasons like that in the years to come (although I've not been a freezing weather that has lead to these good conditions).

[I forgot to mention that on the way back we saw some runners with a torch. We thought this might be the Olympic torch (a bit early I know, but who else runs with a torch?), but going passed them we saw it was the World Harmony Run. This is apparently an organisation that runs in an attempt to promote world harmony - they aren't trying to raise money, just be more harmonious. A bold and noble aim, but I'm not sure how much more at harmony with the world I was after seeing them. Maybe you have to run and hold the torch to feel the harmony.]