Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Template Science Blog

A nice meta-posting on the Lay Scientist Blog by Martin Robbins, hosted by the Guardian (NB: not as compelling as Bad Science, but still pretty good...)  It even made the paper edition today.  Note the meta-comments and the Rickroll...

And of course...

... the reason why a couple of the recent pomes were in French was the strange desire that came over me while we were down on the Loire to start reading French poetry.  And I just happened to have a book with me (an historical anthology of French poems). 

However there was the immense barrier of my poor French to overcome (a weak 'O' level long  ago). 

So I had ...  to ... translate ... every ... word ... with ... a ... dictionary ... in ... my ... hand.  And then try to work out the colloquial meaning.  I'm sure it was good for me.  And it doubtless explains oddities in some of the translations this month.

Southern Cheeses

While we were in France, we had to try some cheese, of course.  Canonically, we had some Boursin and Roquefort, but this irressistable mound on a market stall was of local French farmers' cheeses.  Strongly flavoured and delicious.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Down South: I

Following the wedding trip to Wales, we headed for France - for just a few days.
We took a ferry from Dover...

... and spent the first evening in a damp EuroCamp just outside Calais (Camping la Bien Assise near Gulnes).  It wasn't unpleasant, but it clearly catered for the large number of families (like us) who were on their way elsewhere else and just stopping for the single night.  Even the booking arrangements on the Web site allowed for this (and most EuroCamps don't).
After a long drive the next day (during which just for a change we failed to get lost in the road system around Rouen), we got down to the Loire. Another EuroCamp place, the Camping Parc de Fierbois, just a little south of Tours near Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois.  The latter is a stop on the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  There, that should place it.
Fierbois is like many other European campsites, or at least those we've been to, with (not-so-)mobile homes, and tent pitches, with swimming pools, entertainments, and a bar.  Holiday campish.  The real attraction of Fierbois is the lake in the forest.
This has fishing, swimming and a zip wire/tree walkway.  The owners have tried to develop it further in recent years with some rather spectacular lakeside cabins...

We spent a fair amount of time around the lake and trees...
(Note the misteltoe in the last picture). 
Although this scene looks kind-of low-key idyllic-y, the beach umbrellas are actually concrete mockups, and rather less pleasant up close.  The sand was real, however.

Last Poem: Why Ernest Dowson?

The last Poem of the Week was chosen not only because it was an attempt to echo Verlaine in English - a pastiche, if you like, of the previous POTW.

Ernest Dowson was born locally (Lee) and is best remembered for phrases like "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Gone with the Wind."   He's buried in Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, and a few weeks back there was a small ceremony by his restored grave (see Brockley Central).


A few days ago in the Guardian crossword,the answer to a clue (about 'No wizards with face and legs jumbled' was 'Muggles'.  So it's a real word at last - or at least as far as Paul is concerned....

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Poem of the Week

After Paul Verlaine-I
Ernest Dowson

Tears fall within mine heart,
As rain upon the town:
Whence does this languor start,
Possessing all mine heart?

O sweet fall of the rain
Upon the earth and roofs!
Unto an heart in pain,
O music of the rain!

Tears that have no reason
Fall in my sorry heart:
What! there was no treason?
This grief hath no reason.

Nay! the more desolate,
Because, I know not why,
(Neither for love nor hate)
Mine heart is desolate.


Terry Jones appears to be one of those people destined for National Treasurehood.  I've been reading Barbarians, in which he notes that Roman thoroughfares (stone, wide, straight) are called roads, but the Celtic equivalent (wooden, wide, straight) are mere trackways.

Which got me thinking.  When did the word 'Lane' - a (usually narrow) way between hedges, etc - become re-used to refer to one band of a major road or motorway (as in 'passing lane' or 'inside lane')?  We've gotten used to it, and it feels 'natural' now, but I have no real idea how old the usage is.  Any thoughts?


Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assetion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted.  But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud.  And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that utering declarative statements whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggressive under any circumstances.
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, p.649

Monday, 13 September 2010

Modern Major Google

OK. So Google have launched Google Instant - that prompts you with results as you type - and promoted it using Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" music video.  Very nice if you like that sort of thing.

However, a far superior use of the technology has just been pointed out to me:

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Poem of the Week

Mon Rêve Familier
Paul Verlaine

Je fais souvent ce rêve étrange et pénétrant
D'une femme inconnue, et que j'aime, et qui m'aime,
Et qui n'est, chaque fois, ni tout à fait la même
Ni tout à fait une autre, et m'aime et me comprend.
Car elle me comprend, et mon coeur transparent
Pour elle seule, hélas! cesse d'être un problème
Pour elle seule, et les moiteurs de mon front blême,
Elle seule les sait rafraîchir, en pleurant.

Est-elle brune, blonde ou rousse? Je l'ignore.
Son nom? Je me souviens qu'il est doux et sonore,
Comme ceux des aimés que la vie exila.
Son regard est pareil au regard des statues,
Et, pour sa voix, lointaine, et calme, et grave, elle a
L'inflexion des voix chères qui se sont tues.

(Broad translation:
I often have this strange and penetrating dream
Of an unknown woman, whom I love and who loves me,
and who, each time, is never quite the same
nor completely another, and who loves and understands me.

For she understands me; my heart, transparent
to her alone, alas, is no longer a problem,
at least not to her; and when my pale brow is clammy
she alone knows how to refresh it, with her tears.

Is she brunette, blonde or redheaded? I don't know.
Her name? I recall that it's sweet and sonorous
like the names of lovers whom Life sent into exile.
Her gaze is like the gaze of a statue,
and her voice,  distant, calm and deep ,
has the inflection of beloved voices that have died).

Out West

So we went to Wales for Martin's wedding to Viva-Mari; lots of people played music and we stayed on a marvellous organic farm in a yurt.

I really should end this post there,which sums it all up nicely, but here at least are a few pictures:
Martin is an ex-Durham physicist who would appreciate my comments about Prof Wolfendale earlier. The weather was very good for Wales:
We partied into the night...
... and then headed for the yurt:-
 As you can see, it was canvas-covered rather than traditional carpets and stuff (much more sensible in damp Wales):
Come the morning it looked quite good:

The yurt was proper civilised, with a cooker (which we couldn't work out how to light and were afraid of burning down the yurt with - hence the camping Gaz), beds and matresses.  It was luxury for the four of us - it could easily have served for 6 or 7. 
We hung around for the next day or so in the Welsh hills and enjoyed the views...
That night we had another bonfire (which we all enjoyed: it felt wild and exciting, although it doesn't really look it here...)
And then we left. 
On the way home, we saw this (hopefully a good harbinger for Martin and Vivi-Mari...):-

Sunday, 5 September 2010


A huge, beautiful, alien sunflower sitting in our garden.  Quite scary.

Up East

We decided, a few weeks ago, as I was not working, to take a trip to the North East.  So we did.
This shows the best way to arrive in Durham - which we didn't use.  The Viaduct is Grade II* listed and easily provides the best view of the City as a whole.  Certainly I fell in love with Durham when I first saw it from the train.

Instead the whole trip was going to be fairly long, and we had tents and stuff.  So we used the car.

One of the attractive things about Durham and other university towns out of term, is that they often run the colleges (or halls of residence I guess) as B&Bs.  So we stayed in Durham Castle; during term this is  University College although no-one ever calls it that. 

This was the view from our window:
Our room was up a spiralish staircase:
 - in one small part of the Castle:
I spent a lot of time on pictures of Durham and the Cathedral the last time we were here, just over two years ago.  So I won't duplicate that post.

This trip was intended to cover some of the universities that oldest is considering.  So we spent much of the time wandering around looking at the studenty bits.

For example, the collapsed cardboard box that is the students' union:
- as seen from Kingsgate Bridge:
The New Inn (one of many fine hostelries in the city, many of which I appear to have discussed at length - exclaiming wildly - as we first drove into the place.  Sigh.  Or so oldest says, at least).  Anyway this is the nearest pub to the science site; it has no other merit I can recall:
When I was failing to become a physicist at Durham, I developed a special place in my heart for one of our lecturers.  He was very clever indeed, and made several remarkable discoveries and went on to become the Astronomer Royal for a time.  However, back in the '70s we felt he was somewhat less gifted as a lecturer.  Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover that a new teaching complex on the science site contains this:
Those who were there when I was will understand just how deeply those words strike...

Actually, we came across several other lecture theatres named after academics who were around 30 years or so ago.  Rosemary Cramp springs to mind.  I'm not sure if there is a strange periodicitiy (if you can stick to it for that long and are quite good at what you do then they will eventually name summat after you if the building and refurbishment cycles fit in appropriately),  or whether I was just noticing the names I recognised.

Anyway, outside the new building looks quite attractive:
We visited the CS department for the prearranged Visit Day and had chats, lectures, nibbles and coffee.  The academics had turned up in force to meet the possible applicants and promote Durham, so there was a lot to find out.  We also took ourselves off on a mini-tour of the colleges.  Trevs were very friendly despite major refurbishments.

And then we left, heading North.
We whizzed past the Angel of the North:
- and after coffee in Berwick Upon Tweed, we reached Scotland. 

One of most obvious landmarks on the A1 North of the border  is of course Torness nuclear power station:
- which didn't melt down or blow up as we went past it, thankfully.  The building is a huge blot on a beautiful coastline - uglifying the landscape in a way that windfarms don't.

The rest of Scotland was fine, if a little damp.  We spent two nights with Doug Gray and family (one in a tent in their garden, including spotting a shooting star - this was during the busy time for the Perseid shower, so perhaps unremarkable - and an overinquisitive cat, the other night much drier, crashed on the floor of their lounge) and investigated St Andrew's.

I'd never been there before, so Doug took the lead as an alumni.  The town was smaller than I had expected, with ruined cathedral and castle and a long groyne/cob stretching out into the North Sea.  I gather the university is quite small too - although everone we asked assured us it was very 'full on'.  I was surprised to discover everyone wears gowns around the place (Doug explained how you can tell the year of the student from how the gown is worn).  A really pleasant and helpful postgrad showed us around the CS department, when we turned up on spec, and we also had a quick look at the Famous Golf Place thingy.  Altogther a good day out.  The only issue was I didn't take the camera out of the car with me - so no pictures of St Andrew's.

In the car on the way back, however, we saw this:

- which famously leads to this:

The Forth Rail bridge (as seen from the Road bridge).

After a late night playing games, we headed off the next morning for York.  Again the decisions regarding what we would photograph turned out to be a little random. 

Here is the A66:
Andy & Caroline were super, putting us up in York.  Andy took us around York university and the CS department - which was in the process of packing up ready to move into their new building.  So a little chaotic, but the York campus was great - and quite close to the main city.

And finally, a long, long evening drive home...   Thanks to all who accommodated us and showed us stuff!