30 August 2011

Yosemite Video

Yosemite Valley was made famous by Ansel Adams with his iconic black and white photographs. As well as tourists it is also a mecca for climbers. I visited it twice back in the mid-90's, the second time was on a 3 month climbing road trip around the western US. I was climbing well with a very strong partner and we climbed some amazing routes.

I found this video about life as a climbing photographer in the valley. The narration is a bit annoying but the sceanry and cinamatography are fantastic. The camp 4 collective have some other pretty cool stuff on their vimeo site.

28 August 2011


I have always been rather good at leaving things until the last minute and scraping through. It didn't matter if things didn't work out exactly because I am normally at my most creative when things arn't going quite to plan. Logistics for entire field campaigns have been mapped out on paper napkins in diners on the first day of the field season.

It was in that vain that I approached my departure from Norway. A bit of planning and then make the rest up as I go along... However, this year though things have proved a bit tougher than anticipated.

First up, I thought I had a robust plan for what would happen in work when I went on paternity leave after Sophie was born. But no, the woman who was supposed to cover for me while I was away randomly quit and I had to come back early. Then to add to work chaos another senior guy also quit and that sealed it. Instead of the easy(ish) year I had planned for it turned into doing three jobs, no paternity leave, no honeymoon and no summer holiday! Good job my wife is so understanding.

Meanwhile at the house, I spent all of my spare time over the summer getting it ready to sell, building steps, painting, fixing stuff with a plan to put it on the market it August. That's a great time to sell a house like the lair, after the holidays but before the autumn sets in.  Then, two weeks before it was due to go on the market the water tank and pump stopped working. Now, to cut a long story short I have to get put on to mains water which being Norway takes at least a month and costs a kings ransom. So the house sale is delayed.

Last weekend I spent all saturday cleaning up the boat to put it in the water to sell this weekend. When we went to launch it the engine started fine but the steering seized. Off to the boat shop for at least a week which means I will miss the selling it this year window. Bugger.

Then the tumble dryer stopped working and the hot tub controlling went dicky. Both of these are being sold with the house and have been running fine for the last five years. If they had waited a month then it would not have been my problem - grrr!

So is it bad planning or is it my fault because I am trying to do everything at the last minute? Just when I think "its going to be tight but I think we can get all this done" then something else fucks up. I don't think you could have predicted all these things going wrong but building a bit more contingency into the planning would have made it all a lot easier...

...but then again where's the fun in that?

26 August 2011

Monkey See Monkey Do

A monkey one day managed to break free from the laboratory where he had been born and brought up. As he scurried away from the fencing of the compound, he felt grass under his little feet and saw the dawn breaking for the first time in his life.
"Wow, this is great," he thought. It wasn't long before he came to a hedge and after squeezing under it he saw a wonderful sight.
Lots of other monkeys, all free and nibbling on bananas. "Hey," he called. "I'm a monkey from the laboratory and I've just escaped. Are you wild monkeys?"
"Yes. Come and join us," they cried.
Our friend trotted over to them and started eating the bananas. It tasted so good. "What else do you wild monkeys do?" he asked. "Well," one of them said. "You see that field there? It's got carrots growing in it. We dig them up and eat them." This, he couldn't resist and he spent the next hour eating the most succulent carrots. They were wonderful.
Later, he asked them again, "What else do you do?"
"You see that tree there? It's got papayas growing in it. We eat that as well."
The papayas tasted just as good and he returned a while later completely full. "It's fantastic out here in the world" he told them. "So are you going to live with us then?" one of them asked.
"I'm sorry, I had a great time but I can't." The wild monkeys all stared at him, a bit surprised.
"Why? We thought you liked it here."
"I do," our friend replied. "But I must get back to the lab. I'm dying for a cigarette."
Meanwhile in West Africa

24 August 2011

22 August 2011

The Russ - From intrepid explorers to drunk students

The westwards exploratory journeys of the Vikings are well known. From their base in Scandinavian they raid, traded and eventually conquered most of the UK, the Faroe Isles, Iceland, Greenland. They even reached NE America (Vinland) 500 years before Columbus.

Their eastern travels are equally as impressive although less well popularized. Vikings from the Roslagen region of eastern Sweden headed east, through the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland, entering the continent by the modern day St Petersburg. Then via a series of rivers, lakes and overland hauls they reached the Volga River which flows south to the Caspian Sea. From there they managed to reach Persia and Bagdad. A second group headed south westwards to the Black Sea and into Turkey. Once the routes were established they routinely traded with Islamic and Turkish merchants.
As they trading routes become more used some of the Vikings stayed behind to settle riverside trading towns, they interbred with the local Slavic peoples. It has been suggested that these people gave their name “Rus” to the modern day region we call Russia.

Fast forward 700 years to the 18th Century and Norwegian students arriving in Danish universities (Norway was ruled by Denmark and had no universities of its own) were humiliated by the more sophisticated locals and made to endure an initiation ceremony. Part of this involved them being called Russ which came from the Danish word Rus for yokel.

Fast forward another 200 years and Norwegian high school students spend the last 17 days of their school career dressed in red overalls getting very drunk and pulling “wacky” stunts. From the start of May to the 17th, distinctive looking gangs maraud around the town centre, drinking and misbehaving. The majority of this is very good natured and no shops are burnt or looted. While the sensibilites of the older generation are occasionally upset everyone sees it as a harmless tradition.

It’s an interesting cultural lineage from warrior-explorers who named a nation to drunk kids flashing their boobs and shouting a lot.

(To learn more about the Volga Vikings I suggest listening to this podcast from the BBC. It’s fascinating.)

21 August 2011

Life with Sophie

Sophie came in to our lives 6 months. It's incredible how such a small person can have such an impact. Her arrival changed pretty much every aspect of how we live. While we have lost a lot of the freedom that we once cherished we have gained something much better.

Watching her grow up is fascinating. For the first three months, she simply fed and slept with the occasional a bit of crying thrown in for good measure. Heather, an old friend told me that human babies are born 3 months too early, because of the head size. That actually they are not ready for the world until they are three months old. I am not sure if that is based on any scientific study but it’s a good observation. It also helped us get through that initial period.

After three months things really started to get interesting. First she smiled when she saw us, that smile is incredibly rewarding because it’s the first time you know that they are really aware of you. Then she started to reach for things and pretty soon anything she could get hold of went straight into her mouth. Next she could pass things from one hand to the other, increasing dexterity and awerness. Two weeks ago she managed to roll over for the first time. Katharine can in from the kitchen and there she was, lying on her front looking very pleased with herself. Previous to that she had been happy to lie on her back and kick like crazy while we sang “the grand ole duke of york”.

Last week she learnt to wave and she has also discovered her reflection. She spent a 5 hour car journey waving at the baby in the mirror and chuckling when she waved back. Everyday she becomes less of a helpless baby and more of a little person.

I could never have imagined, before she arrived, how much it’s possible to love one little person. We are blessed to have a happy little girl and she already gives us more than we could have hoped for. Katharine has risen to the challenge and is an awesome Mum, repeatedly getting up through the night, figuring out when she can start on solid food and learning all this stuff that is so new to us. Soon she goes back to work and its my turn, although I suspect she has done the tough bit. I am really looking forward to it.

(Photo by Mike Sivyer, check out his awesome website at http://www.mikesivyer.co.uk/ )

Evil Lair before and after photos

Last week we had the photographer around to take photos of the house for selling.
With the place being clean and tidy I took the opportunity to dig out some old photos that were taken before the place was renovated and to try and recreate the same field of view...

Some of the results are shown below - I can't believe how bad it actually was when I moved in, especially the downstairs which was squalid.

Rather nostalgic...

19 August 2011

Friday Joke... Academic perception

More of an observation really.
Its a perception matrix that shows how different people in the academic food chain see one another...
I hope my favorite Technician Jonny Kav is reading this...

Have a nice weekend

17 August 2011

Wednesday Movie - the Nuclear Age

Amazing movie showing all of the nuclear bomb tests since 1945. The movie is 14 mins long but strangely compelling.
Courtesy of Gonzalo

14 August 2011

Friday Joke on Sunday

English is no longer just the language spokne by people in England. It is now also the global, universal language, much as Latin was in the middle ages.

But there is so much more to language than just the basic words, just as there is more to a cathedral than a pile of bricks. Much is lost in the subtlety of the phrase. The following translation from British English to Euro English is an excellent example of this.
Courtesy of Ola  

11 August 2011

Riots in the UK

There is not too much to say that hasn't already been said really.
A bunch of feral scum trashing their own communities and as soon as they are given a platform they immediately blame it on everyone except themselves. These two girls are particularly vacuous and unpleasant, while this guy clearly has a huge chip on his shoulder (its worth fast fwd to 1.30).

Meanwhile the long suffering Police are encumbered by ridiculous HSE rules and are highly demoralized by a government that doesn’t give a shit. I most certainly do not want to live in a police state and I don’t want a return to the corruption and thuggary that led to the Toxteth riots of the early 1980s. I would like a police force that doesn't shot random Brazilians in tube stations or knock over middle aged men who are on the way home and then lie about it when they later die.  BUT at the same time when a scally, hiding behind a face mask runs at the police with an iron bar, I would like to see the police kick seven shades of crap out of him. There is a very big difference between herding peacefully protesting school kids into alleyways for 6 hours and giving a thug the hiding he clearly deserves. I would like to the police arresting chav scum that burns down shops because they want a pair of trainers and I would like see that police force backed up by the people and the gutless bunch of old Etonians that run the country.

Meanwhile the government bluster and posture and basically prove how truly out of touch with everyone they really are. Interestingly, before the election Clegg predicted riots if the Tories got in, and then, rather bizarrely, he then put them in power. Maybe he wanted the riots? Also interest to see in that clip is to listen to that utter wanker, Cameron saying that the country understands we need the cuts and no one will protest. Well he was wrong about that as well then wasn’t he.

And then he has the nerve to stand up in parliament the very next day and say that cutting 16000 police is still on the cards – what an utter dickhead. Well the police are starting to track down the offenders and they could do a lot worse than start in the house of parliament which contains a 650 offenders who routinely lie and just last year were finally caught swindling tax payers out of thousands of pounds.

So once again we see how close to the edge society really is. These “protesters” are not politically motivated; they are just opportunistic shitheads with no sense of society. But how do people end up like that? How did we get to the point that such people exist? Is it due to a liberal society that gives them too much leading to a bizarre, misplaced sense of entitlement or is it due to a society that feeds on consumerism while simultaneously abandoning significant portion of its members.

I don’t have an answer, neither do I have any faith that the current government can sort it out

Wednesday Movie

This is rather cool and very short
Courtesy of Chris D

Svalbard Tragedy

On the 6th August on the arctic island of Svlabard a 17 year old British school boy named Horatio Chappie was mauled to death by a polar bear. Two other boys sharing the tent were badly injured as was a trip leader who tried to shot the bear. This is clearly a tragedy for all concerned, not least the boy and his family. Polar bears are serious shit! They are the only mammal that routinely hunt humans. The world get a whole lot scarier when you are not at the top of the food chain and there is a hungry, skillful 300 kg predator out to get you.

Chappie was on a British Schools Exploring Society expedition. BSES is a charity that aims to get young adults out on adventures in remote parts of the World. That is something I am fully in favour of. Its clearly better that smashing up your community and looting a flat screen TV and a pair of trainers. I even have a couple of friends who went on BSES trips and have nothing but good things to say about the society and the trip they went on.

However, I was talking to a Norwegian friend today who has spent a lot of time in Svalbard and knows a thing or two about avoid and dealing with polar bears. He was rather scathing about the BSES organization and from what he said I have to agree that this tragedy would appear to have been avoidable. He made the following points

1. The group appears to have only had one rifle. This is not enough for any group, there is no redundancy in the system and if the rifle fails, as appears to have done four times here then the entire group is defenseless. Everyone in Svalbard carried a rifle. When Hilary Clinton visited the CIA demanded that the Governor of Svalbard disarm all the people wandering through town with guns. He laughed at them

2. When camping in a small group people set out trip wires attached to flairs to scare the bears and alert the campers. With a larger group such as this one it is normal to post a guard with people taking two hours shifts. This appears not to have been done, despite the group being large enough for everyone to take a turn and still get some sleep. Why?

3. The trip wire system appears not to have worked. Why?

4. They were also carrying a flair gun that didn’t work. Its not looking very good guys

Lots of questions and none of them bring back the dead boy or diminish the impact of the tragedy. There have been several incidents in the last few years and it appears that the shrinking ice coverage means that the bears are unable to catch seals and are getting more and more desperate as they become more hungry. What ever the cause I hope that the BSES tighten up their act but I also hope that they don’t stop taking kids on wild adventures in very remote places.

04 August 2011

Obama gives in to the loony right - America is toast

So a minority group of gun totting, christian fundamentalists have hijacked America's democracy and held the country and indeed the World's economy to ransom. It's very depressing.

There is an interesting article in yesterday's Guardian highlighting that the vast majority of the Tea Party voters will not benefit in an any way from all the tax and spending cuts. Only the ultra-rich will. This is why they fund these campaigns. So the propoganda machine that is Fox news somehow manages to convince a bunch of very stupid people that "Christian values" mean not helping the sick and the poor but supporting the ultra-rich. If it wasn't so scary it would be funny.

Read the article and also take a look at these graphs below which come from an independant, bipartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (courtesy of Roy Fitz).


02 August 2011

Roy and Viktorija's wedding in Vilnius

We spent a very pleasant long weekend in Vilnius for Roy and Viktorija's wedding.  She is Lithuanian, he is half Welsh and half Finish and they both live in Norway. There was a lot of people who didn't really understand each other. And it didn't matter at all because everyone had a great time. There was much drinking and some very silly dancing that transcended language.

I have wanted to visit the Baltic States since they first appeared on a map in my 4th year history lesson (I was 14) and I thought "wow 3 European countries I have never heard of". That was 1981 and since then I heard a lot about them and there has been huge changes, but I have never quite made it out there. So this was the perfect oportunity.

And it was great, Vilnius is a small city with lots of amazing history and some really good bars and restuarants. The wedding was everything a wedding should be. Excellently planned with lots of nice details. Good to see Roy so happy and nice to catch up with some old friends.

All in all a top weeekend and Sophie has now visited more countries in her first six months than I managed by the age of 20.

 Interesting statues and churches in Vilnius
 The Happy Couple
 Newly wed couples lock an engraved padlock to a bridge and throw the key in the river
 Lighting lanterns at midnight
 The day after
All in all a rather nice city