29 October 2010

A duck goes into a bar...

A duck waddles into a bar and hops on a stool. The bartender snarls, "What'll you have?"
The duck says, "Got any grapes?"
The bartender spits and says "We don't have grapes here, we serve drinks, now get out!"
The duck hops off the stool and waddles out.
The next day, the same duck waddles into the same bar, hops on a stool, looks the bartender in the eye and asks, "Got any grapes?"
The bartender, irritated, says, "I told you yesterday we don't serve grapes here, we serve drinks, now GET OUT!"
The duck hops off the stool and waddles out.
The next day, the same duck waddles into the same bar and hops on a stool, looks at the bartender, and asks, "Got any grapes?"
The bartender, infuriated, pounds his fist on the bar and yells at the duck, "I told you two times we don't serve grapes here, we serve drinks! If you ask me that ONE MORE TIME I'm going to nail your beak to the bar! NOW GET OUT!"
With that, the duck shrugged, hopped off the stool and waddled out.
The next day, the same duck waddled into the same bar, hopped on a stool, looked the bartender in the eye and asked, "Got any nails?"
The bartender, puzzled, said no.
The duck then looked him square in the eye and said, "Got any grapes?"

28 October 2010

Accretionary Wedge #28

Accretionary Wedge #28 at Research at a snails pace is a about desk crops and since it is October there is supposed to be a scary theme.

The four bivalves in this picture were collected on a beach in the Gulf Coast of Florida in 2005. I am a sedimentologist but had taken time out from the Mesozoic to study some modern systems, particularly modern beach ridges for a project that was coincidently just published in last months Journal of the Geological Society of London.

I have always believed that sedimentology is easy because if you are struggling to understand the rocks, then all you have to do is go and look at the modern and the answer is there for you. So when the seismic data from the North Sea was ambiguous it seemed obvious that we should take a trip to Florida. There are definitely worse ways to spend your field grant than travelling around the beaches of the SE USA.

So I collected these bivales, not for any scientific reason but simply because they looked nice. They now live on a shelf in my bathroom (does that count as a desk crop?). I am not a palaeontologist and famously "don't do dead things" but I think these are "marsh clams". If somebody wants to correct me and tell me the proper species name, I would be very happy to hear.

So what is scary about the picture? At first glance it seems to be 4 bivalves arranged in order of size. But if you look more closely you will see that in addition to getting larger towards the right, they also get more haggered. The small left hand one is pure white and pristine. A perfect body that radiates a combination of innocence and optimism - the world is his oyster (or marsh clam). Moving toward the right the amount of discolouration increases as does the amount of worm borings, until the one on the right looks like it has definitly had a hard life! He is big and tough, stained and scared by his environment, like a middle aged boxer. It is an insight into what the others have to look forward to.

But then we must remember that they are all in fact dead. The left hand one will never get to grow old. It's youthful beauty preserved by an early death.

The more you think about it, the more disturbing it all becomes.

26 October 2010

From the sublime to the celebral

Two very contrasting ones for this week.
First the very celebral RSA animate talking about education. Very clever. It's here. Check out there other stuff as well.

On the other end of the spectrum check out the technoviking. Don't mess with him, he is apparently an internet hero. The original is here but you need to click on the red speech bubble on the bottom right to remove the red layer (it will make sense when you get there)


It snowed in October and for a few days last week Bergen was white. It was most strange to see snow on the ground while there are still leaves on the trees. The long range forecast suggests another hard winter which would be good.

Had a great weekend with Katharine in Bergen. She arrived Friday night and we spent Saturday getting lots of niggling jobs done. She is looking seriously pregnant and the monster is really starting to kick now. Its all getting more and more real by the day. Still feel pretty relaxed about it all though.

We watched the excellent "Prestige" on saturday night. I was really taken with this film and I thought it was really clever that the set the battle between two magicians against the backdrop of the true life battle between Tesla and Edison. As with that real life tale, the flash, showy one prevailed almost until the end, when quality shown through.

Sunday we went for a longish walk on Fløyen with Arne and Vibeke. We went up Fløyen, then across to Rundamen and back. There was a fair bit on snow and lots of ice up there and I was suprised not to see anyone on skies. Eirik L was out near Gullfjell carving fresh lines in October, which is pretty wild. No skiing for use, we just walked and the pregnant ladies did fine. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and exercise.

Sunday evening we were sitting in the lounge when Lola came in with a live mouse. I grabbed her but the mouse got away. I manged to catch it but just before I got to the door to throw it outside it bit me - hard! I held on for a while but when I couldn't get the door opened I dropped it. Much hilarity ensued as we chased the mouse around the living room. Ended up having to move all the furniture and found another dead mouse under the coffee table. This one was stiff as a board and had obviously been there for a while. Nice.

Eventually caught the lucky bugger and let him go. Still have two vampire like holes in my thumb. I guess one dead and one alive means the score is still level!

Lots going on at work and the moment and still feeling a bit under the weather. Just booked a last minute "cheap" holiday to the Malidives which I am seriously looking forward. Will be our last proper holiday together for a while so it will be good to go somewhere sunny, surf, dive and relax.

25 October 2010

A rugby player on a bike

Jim is a big lad, in a rugby front-row forward sort of way. We shared a house in Birmingham for a while back in 1989.

One evening Jim says I am off to the chippee do you want anything? I decline so he hops on his bicycle and heads down the road.

20 minutes later he is back, pushing the bike that has a buckled front wheel, he has a cut on his leg and generally looks a bit disheveled.

On his way down the road somebody has turned right into their driveway straight in front of him. He went over the bonnet and his rather large arse went straight through the windscreen.

The hapless and somewhat surprised owner of the car was very apologetic and took full responsibility. He told Jim to come back the next day and he would reimburse him for the damage to the bike.

When Jim went back, the guy gave him £50 for his wheel and forks and then told him that he was less worried about paying that, than the £1500 worth of damage Jim had done to the car. The wing, bonnet and windscreen where all destroyed. Jim I – Volvo 0

And the moral of the story, beyond look where you are going, must be, don’t mess with a rugby player on a bike!

22 October 2010

A piece of string

A piece of string walks into a bar. He hops up onto a stool and yells to the bartender, "Hey! Gimme a drink!"
The bartender picks up the string and throws it into the street saying "we don't serve string in here, clear off!"
The string thinks, "I'll show 'im." So the string contorts its body into a whole different shape, and frizzes its hair ala a'fro. It goes back in, hops onto the stool and asks for a drink.
The bartender says, "Are you a piece of string"

The string answers, "No. I'm a frayed knot."

21 October 2010

The Stones Man, the Stones!

It was 1992 and I had just spent almost a month travelling through France and northern Spain on my bike. I had travelled down through France with some other friends on bikes and crossed the Pyrenees several times, visiting old Spanish friends and seeing new sights. When my bike buddies had returned to the UK I had meet up with other friends to climb in the Picos de Europa. Now I was heading back alone.

I have always loved the rough honesty of Spain and much prefer it to the pseudo sophisticated pretension of France. So when it came time to head home I stayed in Spain as long as possible and then blasted north. Five hundred miles is a lot in a day on an old bike with no faring and I did two of those, back to back sleeping in a field somewhere in the middle.

By the time I arrived at the ferry in Cherborg I was feeling pretty knackered. My chain was virtually shot and once in the queue I got out my tools to tweek it again, trying to eek the last few hundred miles out of it to get me back to Liverpool.

I overheard some guy say “that blokes had a hard ride”. Less charitable people noticably avoided me. I looked at myself in the wing mirror – and yep I looked like shit. A month of sleeping rough and then two days of solid riding do that to you. I didn’t care it felt good to going home at the end of such a great trip. Just what I had need to clear my head after 9 months of solid Phd writting.

It was dark in Portsmouth as I rode off the ferry and headed north. It was midnight when the chain finally snapped. No damage was done to the bike but I wasn’t going anywhere until I got it replaced and that wasn’t going to be until the next day. I contemplated trying to find a field to doss in when I remembered the good ole RAC. I hadn’t been able to afford Eurocover but I had cover in the UK and they could take me home, for free.

So I called them and said the chain is broken don’t bother sending a patrol man, just send the relay truck. So I waited an hour and the patrolman turned up and it toke him 30 seconds to figure out he couldn’t fix it and I would need to be relayed home. So he left me to wait for another hour.

It was a warm evening and while I was waiting I got the sense something was going on. Lots of battered hippy type cars went by with load dance music booming. A dutch car screeched to a halt and a pretty, short haired girl bounced over and asked me “do you know where the festival was?” Then it all made sense, this was right in the middle of the summer of love, we had been at Castle Morton just before I had left on the trip and now it was pretty much mid-summers eve. It was a whole summer of crusties in knackered old bus convoys and ravers people driving blindly around the countryside looking for “the party”. We chatted and I said that I had been out the country for a month so I had no idea where tonight’s party was in Dorset or anywhere else. A little while later she coyly asked if I wanted to leave the bike and go with her to look for it anyway. It would be fun she promised and I was sure it would. I was tempted but I had to decline since I had a date with an RAC wagon.

She left and 10 minutes later a bike pulled up. The guy asked if I knew where the festival was and I said no. Then the pillion, who was slumped against the rider woke up and said “the Stones; the Stones man; we need to find the Stones man”. I figured it was Stonehenge he was talking about not the Rolling Stones, but I was not able to help. I just laughed at them and they rider laughed at his passenger who slipped back into his substance induced coma and then they sped off. At least I wasn’t getting lonely.

Eventually the relay guy turned up and immediately started ranting about fuckin hippies and ravers. I knew I didn’t like him but at least he was going to take me home. I climbed into the back of his cab and immediately fell into a long deep sleep, waking up on the M62 just outside of Liverpool as the sun was rising. Home!

If the American states were countries

The USA is an aglomeration of states which have fairly distinct cultures and indentities. If they were broken up into countries how would they fare?
One way to look at this is to consider their GDP, which has been done in this map where the individual states are replaced by countries with similiar GDP.

California is the largest (similiar to France, #8 in the World)

Wyoming is the poorest and compares to Uzbekistan (#101 in the World)

My adopted home of Norway is the same as #28 Minnesota

The UK is #7 in the World and marginally bigger than California

Interestingly the GDP of the whole of Europe is almost idenitical to the USA ($13.7 vs $13.2 billion).

The map is from the excellent StrangeMaps and can be found here.

20 October 2010

Back in the day

I was chatting to one of the young guys in work today about getting started in the industry and it occurred to me that it was a long long time ago and things were different to today.

Back in 1988 when I finished my degree I had planned to go offshore mud logging but then Piper Alpha slowed down recruitment and oil at less than $12 per barrel pretty much killed it. I had a 2.1 degree and a plan to do a PhD the following year, but I was also very skint and needed money now. I worked briefly as a landscape gardener in Cardiff before heading back to North Wales. I arrived home to a letter from a friend who sent me some job adverts. I called them up and had an interview the next day in London with a small company called GAPS.

I drove down to the smog and found their office. It was a converted house in Putney. I later found out that it had been converted by a 60 year old Polish exile in his spare time – it looked like it! The interview went fine despite me telling them I only wanted the job for a year and they offered me the position on £7500 per year. It sounded ok and I knew it would be good experience.

So I moved down with all my possessions load in my car (a £100 mazda) and started work. The job was ok, the people friendly and I was on a steep learning curve. Three summers of working in a car show room washing the same cars everyday had long taught me that the best way to get through the day is to be busy. Siphius knew what he was doing. So I threw myself into it and tried to get as much out of it as possible.

At first I stayed with my cousins in Orpington (1.5 hours away) away but they justifiably got bored of me after about 4 weeks so I moved out. At this point I realized that £7500 was not enough to live on in London when especially when you already have significant debt. So for the next 5 months I slept on peoples floors, sofas and very rarely spare rooms. The people I was dosing with generally didn’t have much more money than me so they didn’t have large flats with lots of space, but they were hospitable, generally for about 4 weeks before the subtle hints would start and it was time to move on. Eventually my girlfriend got a flat and for my last month we had a home, but we were so skint, its hard to imagine it now. Still we managed to party and climbed at the free wall in Imperial College and on the crappy southern sandstone.

The people I worked with were a motley crew but a good bunch. They appreciated that I was keen to learn and gave me interesting jobs that allowed me to develop. There was fundamental Christian who would describe rocks as Jurassic but refused to believe they were older than 6000 years; a big Welshman who was trying hard to be a father, his wife would call up and he would rush home at lunch time to do the business, then come back to work and laugh about it; there was one of the owners who worked in the lab downstairs and used to tip mercury down the toilet and used HF with no gloves – HSE in the workplace! There was a couple of other young guys who partied hard, their exploits are beyond this post and, there was some good geologists trying hard to do a good job. Many of them are still active in the business and I still run into them from time to time.

By February of my year in Industry I was bankrupt and the bank was not interested in my pleas. I got an opportunity to start a PhD in Birmingham immediately. The project came through a contact I had made from the Company and was highly relevant to my future career so I jumped at it. The money was even worse (£1850 year) but at least I could live like a student again and more importantly the bank got off my back for a few more years.

I could say I had “done industry” and also that I had lived in London. I was only there for 7 months but that was long enough to say “that was fun but never again!”

Wednesday Movie

Insightful news story on Americans and exercise here
Not suprisingly youtube is full of further evidence, so click here to get started and just watch what ever else takes your fancy from the links bar

16 October 2010

Bungy Jumping at Victoria Falls

It's 1997 and I am doing fieldwork in northern Namibia with Nige. I have decided to take a few days off in the middle of the work period and head to Victoria Falls for some sightseeing and to raft the Zambezi. Nige doesn't want to go because he was there last year with his girlfriend so I leave him well stocked up and drive across northern Namibia, along the Caprivi strip, into Botswana and then Zimbawa. The journey takes a couple of days and is another tale.

I arrive in Vic falls in the evening and quickly sign up for a raft trip the next day just as the shop is shutting. It's already dark so I head to a campsite.

The next days rafting is epic, huge volumes of water, massive rapids, crocodiles in the pools, a single capsize. Exactly what I had come for, I was a very happy bunny. That evening I sat in a bar with the 4 gap year kids who I had shared a raft with for the day. They were a bit younger than me, on a white mans tour with Daddies visa card but they were good company especially after so long in the desert. We are having fun.
"So guys what's next?"
"Vic falls bungy jump tomorrow, 100 m, it's the biggest in the World - you wanna join us?"
I have been a climber long enough to know that falling isn't really fun and I am also short on cash, I think it will be a bit contrived and lame so I decline in a shower of accusations about my courage, my manhood and my right to hang out with them. It's all good natured though and after about three more beers I agree that I will join them. If you are ever going to do a bungy jump, I guess Vic Falls is a better backdrop than going off a crane in an Asda car park back home.

The next day we go to see the Falls and they are, without doubt very impressive. Millions of gallons of water, tumbling into a gash in the otherwise flat basalt plateau. The noise is immense and the mist and steam do indeed look like smoke. The locals who showed it Livingston called it the smoke that roars". That seemed pretty accurate to me. We also see the bridge and look down to the river below. One hundred metres is a bloody long way.

Our jump time comes so we cross customs (the bridge is the boarder between Zimbawa and Zambia) and walk out on the bridge. A small, sinister looking street kid looks me in the eyes and draws his finger across his throat in a threatening jesture. This is unusual because the kids are normally happy and laughing. I hope it isn't an omen.

We get to the middle of the bridge and the obligatory Kiwi bungy master greets us. He explains that we will jump in order of size and after each person has finished they will lower someone down off the lower deck and haul us up. Easy as that. The mood is light hearterd but there are hints of nervousness amongst the boys. I feel like I am pretty relaxed.

Matt is up first, he is a big guy and he has done jumps before. He is trying very hard to be cool and ignores most of the Bungy masters banter and some of his instruction. When he jumps it is half hearted and he tumbles, uncomfortably into space. I make a conscious decision to listen to the instructor and do what ever he tells me. I rationalise that they do this 50 times a day - if you do what they say nothing can go wrong, can it?

Then there is a load bang from beneath us and the Bungy master winces and says "that one will have hurt". I ask what he is taking about and he explains that big guys will often have enough momentium to come back up and hit the underside of the brdige if they jump badly. This is serious, Matt is a big guy but not that much bigger than me. I make another "note to self" to listen carfeul to the instructions. I have to drive half way across Africa later in the day. I have fieldwork to do. I can't afford an injury now.

So the Bungy master straps a towel around my legs, then he wraps a climbing sling around that in a larks foot and clips it into the rope and the safety harness. He instructs me, best to dive, jump as far out as you can and keep your body straight. At the bottom, you can extend your arms out to the side, that will slow you down on the rebound. Flapping can slow you down further, stop you hitting the underside of the bridge. I listen intently taking it all in and visualizing the process.

I shuffle to the edge of the platform and look down. It's a fuckin long way but I feel calm. I don't give myself too much time to think, just bend my legs and push off hard, accompanied by a loud yell. Arms extended I execute a perfect swallow dive and accelerate downwards. An old climbing adage is, if you remember falling then its a long one". I definitely remember falling and seeing the river accelerate towards me. Just as I reach the water I am catapulted upwards. This is awesome! What a buzz! Then as I hurtle upwards I remember the underside of the bridge and extend my arms, frantically flapping. I am very happy when I avoid the impact and drop down again.

I bounce around for a while before the man on the cable comes a clips into my harness and slowly pulls me back up. He is happy and smiling a lot. I guess he sees a lot of adrenaline charged westerners.

At the top I catch up with Matt and we compare notes. I ask him if hitting the bridge hurt. He denies it happened but I am adamant. Maybe he was so psyched he didn't notice? He looks at me as if I am a bit daft and we head back to the edge of the gorge to watch the others.

The bungy company shot video and sell it to the jumpers. I am keen to watch Matt's and prove to him that he did in fact hit the bridge. We sit in the little cabin as they show the jumpers in order. As we watch Matt go, we see his terrible, half stumbling jump as plummets straight down, everyone is laughing. Then as he rebounds he accelerates upwards but then stops, he is 20 or 30 m short of the underside of the bridge. I am momentarily confused and then there is a dawning realisation...

I have been had! Big Time!

My video is up next and I almost can't watch. I see myself perform a perfect swallow dive on the way down and then morph into an idiot frantically flapping my arms on the way back up. Everyone cheers! I have to laugh - I have been had, hook line and sinker.

I get partial revenge by refusing to buy the video. Its all very good natured, but I have to admit I fell for it well and truly. Just follow whatever the instructor says. What could possibly go wrong?

Friday Joke on Saturday

Just heading back from a rather busy few days in Calgary, so the Friday joke is a bit late...
(and they don't improve with age!)
A clown walks into a bar. The bartender says, "You better not try anything funny in here"

A default sans serif font walks into a bar. The bartender says "Sorry we don't serve your type here"

Shakespeare walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'Oi, you can't come in 'ere! You're bard!'

Helium walks into a bar. Bartender says "We don't take kindly to your kind here." Helium doesn't react.

A snake slithers into a bar and the bartender says, "I'm sorry but I can't serve you." "Why not?" asks the snake. The bartender says, "Because you can't hold your liquor."

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar.
One says, 'I think I've lost an electron.'
The other says 'Are you sure?'
The first says, 'Yes, I'm positive.'

Two cartons of yogurt walk into a bar. The bartender, a tub of cottage chesse, says to them, "We don't serve your kind in here."
One of the yogurt cartons says back to him, "Why not? We're cultured individuals."

A kangaroo walks into a bar and orders a martini. The bartender figures that a kangaroo probably isn't very economically aware, and charges him $50. The marsupial orders a beer next time, and is charged $60. Finally, the bartender's curiosity gets the better of him. He casually remarks, "You know, we don't get too many kangaroos in here."
The kangaroo replies, "At these prices, I am not surpised."

12 October 2010

Bit of news - an update

Things in Bergen plod along as normal. Winter is coming although there has been some fine Autumn days. I will never get bored of waking up and seeing the view from my bedroom window across the fjord, even when the weather is crappy, but especially when the whole thing is bathed in a warm orange glow of the morning sun and steam devils are dancing across the water.

Not too much fun stuff going on at the mo, just lots of work, although I have been out climbing a couple of times which is always a treat. Hard to beat climbing sea-cliffs in the evening.

Was in Aberdeen for the weekend. We finally got the keys to Cowieswells and entered the house for the first time. It was nowhere near as bleak or derelict as we had imagined, although still pretty much uninhabitable. We also meet, Brian the farmer who has bought the surrounding land. He was a really nice guy and told us a lot of background to the place, including the fact that the previous owner had died in the house - nice! And that all the money had gone to charity - which is also nice but it a less sarcastic way. It was good to meet him and know that we could at least communicate with our neighbours.

Visited the place a couple of times over the weekend, the second time with Aid and Elian. It's very encouraging to see how many friends are really inspired by the place. It helps us believe that we havn't made a huge mistake. After visiting the farm we had lunch with them in Stonehaven which is also growing on me as a palce. I had originally thought it was just a dormitory town to Aberdeen but it isn't. Lots of history, a picturesque harbour, good pubs and an excellent fish n chip shop. Look forward to exploring it more.

Monday we had the second scan for the baby. Katharine is doing great and making the whole pregnancy thing look like a breeze. Hard to imagine that at 21 weeks we are now past half way already. The first scan at 12 weeks down in Edinburgh had been amazing and I was really looking forward to this one.

Unfortunatly it was in Aberdeen and they have a policy of not revealing the sex of the baby to the parents. In fact they go out of their way to avoid showing you. The story goes that some dickhead sued them after he painted his nursary pink and then had a boy, although I am not sure if that is true. If it is then he should be shot for being the type of self entitled scum that ruin it for everyone and Aberdeen health trust should be ashamed of themselves for taking the easy route.

The women running the scanner was a dour east coast grandmother who, while not unpleasant was not interested in engaging with us at all. She just ignored any questions or comments and whizzed around the baby, making the necassary measurements and getting us out as quickly as possible. It was all very deflating.

The afternoon improved greatly with a visit to architect who will work with us on the house. I had not met him before and he was great. Really seemed to know what he was talking about, lots of ideas and just a really inspriring guy. An hour and a half with him cheered us up no end.

Now in Skipole and on my way to Calgary for 4 days - Rock n roll!

07 October 2010

Tiger Mike Memos

Tiger Mike Davies was an old school oil industry boss.
His office memos can be found here.
They are well worth reading - interestingly his oil company went bust, so maybe treating your staff like crap isn't such a great idea

06 October 2010

All Blacks

The Rugby season is coming and as the game goes the All Blacks are pretty damn good
Check out this for some training tricks

There is also an Aussie version here which explains a lot

The Kiwis as famous for the Haka, but if you want to see how the game has progressed check out this from the 1920's this from the 1970's and this from now. The second one is comical

No real link but here is some Welsh magic on the field

03 October 2010

The Party Season

Autumn is definitly here. After an amazing week of perfect sunshine in which I actually managed to get out climbing a couple of times, the weather has finally crapped out this weekend. Autumn is the worst time of the year in western Norway. Its getting rapidly darker by the day and it generally rains, a lot! There is not much to do except go for walks in the rain and wait for the ski season to start in December. Becuase of this the "party season" was born.

Its easy to say that you don't need a particular season to go partying and that is true, providing that you have nothing else to do. If however you want to make the most of life which includes boarding and ice climbing through the winter; skiing, boarding, and top touring in the Spring; climbing, kayaking and a bit of biking through the summer; then you probably don't want to spend most of your precious weekends getting mindless drunk until 6am and then nursing a hang-over all through the day. So the party season was great because it allowed unrestricted socializing and helped to get through those grim autumn weekends when you didn't mind being hungover because there was not much else to do anyway.

When I first arrived in Bergen it was hardcore. For the first couple of years there was about 8 weekends of serious partying which always ended with the annual ski trip to Hemsedal on the second week of December. In recent years everyone seems to have moved on or calmed down or both. I guess everyone is getting older and the arrival of numerous babies is definitly a factor, so I was slightly suprised when I went out for a quite beer on Friday night and managed to get rather trashed. It was the first time in ages that I had had a proper night out at the weekend in Bergen and it was fun. So much so I went out again on Saturday for Sandy birthday. Maybe I am not so old, or maybe the thought of impending fatherhood is driving me to one last pulse of adolesence.