Monday, July 28, 2014

[jules' pics] Londinium

We used to tell our Japanese friends that certain things were Better in Britain. One such myth we accidentally perpetuated was the value of stricter planning regulations. Japanese cities are, on the whole, an awful jumble of buildings. Not so in the UK, we told our friends. We clearly misunderstood completely. During our decade long sojourn overseas, Londinium has been reinventing itself as a poor replica of some chaotic south east asian mega-city.
On the other hand, one myth the British choose to believe is that working conditions in places like Tokyo are undesirable. And yet here you can see all the little Londoners toiling away in their open plan glass skyscrapers. hmmm...
This one is perhaps not quite as bad on the eye, but still, it could be anywhere... I don't see the point of all the planning people, if the result is just a boring version of one of the less exciting bits of Yokohama.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 7/28/2014 01:16:00 PM

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let's Gardening

This week it is the RHS show at Tatton Park in Cheshire. Cheshire is where the rich people who are socially blighted by northern accents have to go and live. I don't know how the show compares to the real one in London, but it was fun enough for us, and cost a fraction of a ticket to something called The Open (which seems to be some kind of sporting event, not far away). 

There were a lot of little show gardens. The gardening style is quite different from Japan, with a lot less vegetative taxidermy and a lot more grass and colourful flowers on long stalks, which can look a bit scruffy if not carefully done. Here are a couple of the good ones.

It is important to get there early as it just gets busier through the day.
10am - There were almost as many Pimms & Champagne tents as there were show gardens. However, this ready access to alcohol turned out to be very useful in the early afternoon when we got a phone call from our solicitor to say we have exchanged contracts on the house we are hoping to buy in Settle! Hurrah - a home for BlueSkiesResearch is on the horizon!
By early afternoon the tents were starting to fill up.
By mid-afternoon it was warm and busy.
This was the best display I saw from a shop. 

And this is surely the best gizmo - the iMow! Uncle In Law definitely needs one of these.
There was even fashion - because it was "Ladies Day". There was also a competition for the best frocked lady. This was done, I suppose, so that they could get an even greater of a percentage of the Cheshire Wives to attend.

Posted by jules (accidentally logged in to Blogger as James! wups.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More than you ever wanted to know about penguins....

I hear there is a TV program on BBC2 at 8pm tonight, featuring some feathered creatures....

And my sister, who was base leader last season at Port Lockroy. It will no doubt be available on iPlayer for some time after, for those who miss it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

BlueSkiesResearch: Le Tour du Sud

Posted: 19 Jul 2014 11:33 AM PDT
While the main event was going on oop north, we had an appointment in the south – seminars at Reading University’s new Paleoclimate Centre. Like most centres in the UK, this one mostly isn’t centralised, but more a collection of parts of people from different departments. This does not always work very well – people sign up and then do nothing – but it is potentially a good idea for a topic that supposed to span existing interests. We have found that the wider the interests of the audience, the more interesting and thought provoking their questions, so were glad to have experts from meteorology, climate modelling, paleo-data and archaeology attend our seminars.

We are really enjoying the change from Japan, where we had the guilt-ridden stress of having more money than we could possibly spend, to now, having to budget and think of ways to be more efficient. With the seminar booked for Wednesday afternoon, we thought we should arrange a few other entertainments to make it worthwhile.

We headed down south on Friday, to stay with my uncle-in-law, who lives near Reading. After catching a startlingly good concert in a local church that evening, and cutting up some logs on Saturday, on Sunday we headed to Bristol to meet with Lan Smith, an old friend and colleague from Japan, who was visiting the UK to attend the ecosystem modelling conference in Plymouth. Paul Valdes, who visited us last year in Japan, was kind enough to put us up for the night and with a tandem secreted in our van we were able to cycle into Bristol university with him and spend most of the day with him and other collaborators in the Geography department. We were back at Uncle-in-Law’s that evening.

Tuesday was spent at Reading University where we discussed a plethora of interesting topics with Sandy Harrison, the captain of the new paleo centre. The next day we decided to cycle the 12 miles from Uncle-in-Law to the university. We got lost many times in both directions and I was a bit disappointed that the roads for cycling on mostly were not roads at all, but actually dirt tracks, and so very slow. There is an awful lot of car traffic down south, so the main roads were also not at all appealing. We made it, but have subsequently been disappointed to discover that Reading University do not have an expenses rate for bicycle travel! Not very green! On Wednesday morning we met with people in the Meterology department. Everyone was interesting, but the best discussion was actually a surprise meeting with my school A-level (i.e. when we were age 16-18) physics buddy , Maya Balasubramanyam, who is just polishing off a MSc. I hope she carries on to great things – when we were young we had plans to solve all the outstanding physics problems, and as I have made so little progress, the responsibility must, I fear, fall to her.

On Thursday we got the train to Londinium, to visit Steve Jewson at a company called RMS. Acronyms remain epidemic in the UK, but this company does also have a real name – Risk Management Solutions. Their job is to write software to predict the probability, geospatially of bad things happening due to natural causes, in the next 12 months. They then sell the software to insurance companies. In their California offices they study earthquakes, and in London they do storms, both tropical and extra-tropical. I’ve been worried for a while about how many phd students and postdocs that British universities create – many times too many to replace retiring lecturers. Now I realise that some of them go on to have more useful lives. RMS is full of them. Having said that, the management structure also seems pretty flat at RMS, and not too enticing. Steve seemed to have about 30 people working for him in cubicles, but his “office” was really only a cubicle with walls a door – but no window! And the Brits have the cheek to pretend that they couldn’t abide Japanese working conditions! Nic Lewis visited RMS the same day, and after our seminars at lunchtime, James had an excellent fight with him and Steve about something called “objective probability”. … clearly, to anyone even half-Bayesian there is no such thing, but they seemed to want to cling to the idea nevertheless – apparently because they can sell it!  

The weeks’s work over, that evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a Malaysian restaurant near Paddington station in Londinium, that we used to visit in the olden days, on the way to Heathrow. We later visited another school friend of mine, and explored the exotic Thames Valley – it’s a whole other world – before heading back oop north on Sunday.

The Thames Valley

Friday, July 04, 2014

[jules' pics] Feeding the birds #2

The question of exactly what is being fed by our garden bird feeders remains as much a live topic as ever.
The squirrel school is going very well. They have trained James to make gradually more difficult puzzles. Each new one can be completed after about a day of hard thought. Then James has to think up a new, more difficult challenge for them. This step by step progression is ideal for honing the problem solving abilities of both James and the squirrels.
And here's WOL, sat waiting by the possibly squirrel proof suet ball feeder. Do WOLs eat blue tits? Alternatively he or she might have been hoping to catch the mousey thing that we have seen burrowing under the house.
Either way, I was astonished to see a wild owl only about 2 metres away (through the window).

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 6/11/2014 07:56:00 PM

Thursday, July 03, 2014

[jules' pics] The Holy Church of St Bicycles

A new religion has taken hold of the town of Skipton. It is the yellow faith of St Bicycles.
St Bicycles-1
But - could it be that one or two remain skeptical - both to the power of St Kickball and St Bicycles?!
St Bicycles-2
Despite being quite religious ourselves - we sit upon 2 unicycles, 4 single bicycles and 3 tandems - we have somehow managed to be away for the big event and tomorrow we will be heading down to the grim south, to give seminars in Reading and London!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 7/03/2014 08:38:00 PM

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chris Johnson and the case of the amazing disappearing post

As if this blog wasn't quiet enough, someone has been trying to reduce the post count even further. Reader may recall a brief blogstorm concerning a so-called journalist Christopher Johnson, who was unceremoniously refused entry to Japan when he did not have a valid working visa. Unfortunately, many of the original articles written by Johnson have been deleted, but you can get the gist of it (including the evidence of him covering his tracks) from the various links in the two posts I made previously.

Anyway, time passed....and then without any warning or explanation, the second blog post vanished. However, this only happened on the .ca domain which I just linked to there (ca means Canada, where Johnson appears to be a citizen and resident). Amusingly, I wouldn't have even noticed this had it not been for Johnson emailing me a few weeks ago to crow about it, as the post is still visible on the jp, uk and com domains which I tend to use.

The link from the deleted page to chillingeffects was not informative when I first looked at it - saying merely that the document was not available yet - so I wrote to them to ask about it. As if by magic, a letter from one Chris Johnson came on-line a few days later. I've got no idea when the page deletion happened, but the letter itself is dated Sept 2012, so it might have been almost 2 years ago. His letter refers to a number of pages, some of which (youtube videos) have vanished and others ( which have not. Canada is reputed to be one of the most obliging jurisdictions for defamation cases (along with the UK), but according to wikipedia, it is established in Canadian law that publishing links even to defamatory material is not itself defamatory, so I think he'll have a tough time arguing for this post to be deleted.

I'm not sure whether or how this is related to the "right to be forgotten" in which Google has agreed to requests to wipe results from its search engine (e.g. see this Guardian article today). Johnson's letter as printed does not actually ask for any specific action, but it does refer to google search results. However, rather than merely censoring search results, Blogger (which is of course part of Google) has just deleted my page without warning or explanation. But in both cases, it seems that the Streisand effect may well come into play...

[jules' pics] ocean


Went to the seaside for the wedding anniversary. It would have been very nice had not the sellers of the house we are trying to buy pulled out of the sale the day before. The sale is, apparently, now back on again, although actually no progress at all has been made for the last month or so. Buying houses is rubbish, at least it is the way it is done in England. At the PMIP meeting I asked a few of my friends how it is done in foreign. Somehow they all seemed better than the English system where no commitment is made for months after the price is agreed. In France you have to sign a contract to agree to the sale (subject to caveats like not getting a mortgage) when the price is agreed; in Japan there are no teams of solicitors on each side - the estate agent does the whole thing; in Sydney you usually buy instantly at auction. Not sure the last one is very sensible (buy in haste repent at leisure comes to mind), but at least it is over quickly!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 7/02/2014 02:46:00 PM