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|Sunday, December 1st, 2013|
|Greetings from Texas
Lsat Tuesday my manager asked whether I wanted to come along to the project start-up meetings this week. I thought this would be a very good idea to try to get properly acquainted with the shape of the project; the start-up meetings are at ARM's Austin office, so on Saturday I spent twenty-one hours travelling, and have two days to recover in Austin before the meetings start.
It's a Texas winter's day, which reads to me as a balmy UK spring; I'm slightly too warm in cord trousers and a light jumper. At 7:30 on a Sunday you could film a zombie movie downtown without any of the normal issues with blocking off streets, but everything has livened up by about nine.
The first thing that struck me was the birds; there is a common long-tailed crow-shaped bird, slightly glossy if you see it close up, with a loud voice that it's fond of using and a habit of perching somewhere visible, and vocalisations including the classic movie door-squeaks-open sound. There are large white herons. In one of the parking lots I saw a bluejay, which is a distinctly surprising bird to a Briton. In the lake in the middle of town there are wild turtles; I'll admit I stood on the bridge looking down at them with a big smile on my face.
I walked across to the temple of commerce that is the first Whole Foods store, expecting that it might serve breakfast. I suppose British and American retail traditions have had a long time to diverge, but it was a weird place combining absolute absurd abundance with a sort of open-plan arrangement in which you couldn't readily find anything. It didn't serve breakfast; I ended up walking a bit round the lake and eating in a creperie where the language of the staff and the kitchen was French.
I found the fabled bat-roosting bridge, but most of the bats go to Mexico for the winter and come back in March; there was a little of the high-pitched squeaking that suggests the presence of bats on gnat-ridden summer evenings by the Cam. I will be in Mexico in March, but by then the bats will be back in Texas.
I will probably go up and see if I can go on a tour of the Capitol this afternoon; its brown granite was quite impressive in the early morning sunshine. If anyone reading this knows Austin and can think of fun places to eat tonight and interesting things to do tomorrow, please let me know.
|Sunday, November 10th, 2013|
You need: 300g shortcrust pastry (the kind sold in the freezer in Budgens is fine), 250g of chicken breasts, a red pepper, a leek, some green thai curry paste, 150g of coconut cream, and some sort of starchy porous roast vegetable - I happened to have been roasting a butternut squash, but I think potato would work as well.
I am sure somebody somewhere in south-east Asia has eaten this, and I couldn't face not using the name, but the curry paste is clearly the only Thai thing about it.
Take a fairly small, deep pie dish (mine is 6cm deep and 16cm across at the top); line it with 2/3 of the shortcrust pastry rolled fairly thick. Chop the chicken breasts into medium-sized pieces, cook in hot oil until just browning on the outside and put into the pie case. Take the seeds out of the red pepper and discard; cut the rest into medium-sized pieces. Also chop the leek into fairly small pieces.
In a saucepan, heat up a tablespoon or so of Thai Green Curry mix with about 150ml of coconut cream, until it bubbles, and cook the red pepper in the mix for about five minutes; separately, in the frying pan you used for the chicken, fry the leek until fairly thoroughly fried. Put the frying-pan's contents into the pie case; pour over the contents of the saucepan - if it still looks dry, heat up a bit more coconut cream with a bit more green curry mix and add. Fill any spare space in the pie case with bits of roast vegetable; roll out the rest of the pastry and put it on top. Pinch round the edge, because that's half the fun of pie-making.
Bake gas mark six for about 45 minutes, until the shortcrust pastry has gone golden brown. Eat hot. A pie without spare space in is delightful after the commercial kind which are full of air, and the spiced coconut cream soaks marvellously into the pastry.
|Sunday, October 13th, 2013|
|Foolish purchases of the age
A little while ago, I bought a thermal-infra-red camera
. It was quite expensive, and I was not entirely sure what to do with it.
I was able to take surprisingly unflattering pictures of my friends, some of whom had cold fingers, were handling oddly-shaped insulating objects, or were drinking cold cider:
Normal spectacle lenses are good mirrors for thermal-IR, so everyone appears to be wearing Latin-American-dictator sunglasses indoors.
I could determine the existence of the moon, that my bicycle had not been stolen, and that the houses opposite had had their roofs insulated:
I could observe that black clothes left to dry in an unventilated conservatory in midsummer get really quite hot, that the hot-water pump in my airing-cupboard was connected to a well-insulated tank by poorly-insulated piping, that the microwave melted chocolate very irregularly, and that the USB-to-ethernet chip on my ODROID-X devboard was getting rather hot (see the PCB shot in visible light
In addition, I could determine where on the rug I had been standing, deduce that at some point in the night my garden contained at least one cat, and conclude that the ventilator in the corner of my living room was letting cold air in.
You can also deduce by looking at the video feed from the camera that glass windows and shiny metal objects are reflective in the infra-red, but it's a bit hard to take a photo to show that.
I would really appreciate interesting ideas of other things to photograph in the ten-micron band; my house doesn't seem to have any particularly exciting opportunities for insulation, but if anyone has a dwelling with inexplicable cold spots or a machine with inexplicable hot spots, I can at least document them in exchange for a small amount of polite conversation. I'm wondering whether there is interest to be had in the depths of the Fens on a cold November night, but would rather not do that alone.
I am not entirely sure how happy this device is to be taken across international borders - it's the 9Hz version, so was exportable from the US to the EU and is happy within the EU, but I suspect taking it to India or China would attract quite the wrong kind of attention from customs.
|Saturday, September 21st, 2013|
|An archdiocesan outing
Neither pseudomonas —
nor I had been to Canterbury before, and it's a fairly easy journey on HS1; so, today, off we went.
The convenient station is Canterbury West and the cathedral is on the east side of town, so you start by walking down the high street and through the west gate. This was built in 1370, along with a substantial city wall, as the town feared invasion by the French; two stocky round towers in solid grey limestone with a cars-width gap between them and plenty of loopholes through which to fire on Frenchmen with newly-invented guns.
The high street has a very odd mix of shops, half Whitby (tourist traps, tattoo places and purveyors of Miscellaneous Gothicana) and half Bath (tea shops and highish-end retail), in a wide assortment of styles from authentic Tudor to spectacularly-mock Stuart.
Lunch at Canteen Fresh, purveyors of tasty assorted wraps, and over to the Cathedral Close. It's £9.50 to get in, but worth it. You enter under a statue of the Great Green Christ, and proceed through a portico adorned with what I assume are Victorian replicas of the original statues, to a nave which soars to infinity.
The suggested route takes you up the north side of the nave, and straight into the heart of the late Victorian era; the wall is covered in plaques commemorating the dead of various actions of Empire. Then you reach the site of the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket, with a modern monument of jagged bloody swords, and descend a few steps into the ancient, unadorned, slightly damp-smelling undercroft. Parts of this are as Low Church as it gets, wooden chairs in a circle around an undecorated altar-table, with a statue of welded nails hung above you.
You go out into the cloisters, to a not particularly exciting herb-garden, and come back in up the Dean's Steps - stone steps, worn away in the middle by myriads of feet over centuries and then recently built back up in contrasting-coloured and rather coarse concrete - to the area where the great shrine to St Thomas à Becket was. Here there is original stained glass all around you.
As you leave the shrine area you get to the south-east transept. As we were there the sun was shining full on the 1959 Bossanyi stained-glass windows, and the splendour of colour was quite singular and completely unphotographable - a spectacular suffusion of scarlet. The line might not be so great - those faces feel as if they owe a lot to Disney - but the impact of the colour is staggering.
Then we wandered around the close again and found the main cloisters. The ceiling is decorated with a coat-of-arms on every boss, and I didn't manage to find any repeats.
Off the cloister is the chapter house, which is another spectacularly big space; this time the roof is in two parts of different slopes, and the ceiling vault is painted with suns and stars
|Tuesday, July 16th, 2013|
The Frauenkirche dates from the late fifteenth century - it was planned to have an elaborate openwork spire, but they ran out of money and put the pepperpots on in 1525; the Neues Rathaus dates from 1909 but was clearly designed to fit in with the late fifteenth century.
| Double-action steam engine, Deutsches Museum, Munich
One of the things I like about working with computers is that you almost never have to oil them
|Sunday, July 14th, 2013|
I'm back in England now, and so there is no longer an obvious point each evening to upload photos. But there are lots of photos left; I'll start with this nice iridescent dragonfly that I found in the grounds of Schloss Schleißheim ten miles outside Munich
And, since you probably haven't heard of Schloss Schleißheim, I'd better post a picture.
The palace was built in 1701-04 by the Elector of Bavaria on a Versailles scale and with spectacular gardens equipped with fountains; this is a shot with a long lens from the end of the formal gardens a quarter-mile away. He was expecting to become Holy Roman Emperor, at which point the palace might well have been as famous as Versailles, but didn't. I was in Schleißheim to see the aircraft collection of the Deutsches Museum, and the Schloss happens to be between the S-bahn station and the museum; it came as a complete and very pleasant surprise.
The aircraft collection had some obvious and impressive things
And some smaller and less bombastic things
The plaque is readable in the original with a bit of processing, and says 'Zur Erinnerung aus meine Landung ohne Räder aus LVUL II.197: Schwerind 19-3-1917'; the clock is clearly mounted on the remains of the propeller hub after that wheels-up landing.
|Saturday, July 6th, 2013|
|Lovely meal yesterday
Before the Bavarian Anti-Defamation League hunt me down and I find an angry Wolperting in my hostel bed, I should say that there is at least one really good restaurant here. It's at the Chinesische Turm in the Englischer Garten to the north-east of the city centre
and you are admittedly serenaded with oompah music of the most oompahorrific kind
but the menu is reasonably interesting and very pleasant. Goat's-cheese creme brûlée with a spiced crunchy apple mash and a fresh salad, served with an interesting rosé
fillet of local fish on a bed of spinach with finely-sliced radish bits in, in a fish broth with tasty tomato chunks, served with a vigorous white wine
and a trio of successfully weird puddings: chocolate brownie with apricot, tiramisu made with weißbier rather than the usual espresso soaked sponges, and gorgeous strawberry ice cream rolled in crispy rocket pieces and Szechuan pepper, served with a double espresso.
|Traditional Bavarian ferret holster
From the Jagd- und Fischereimuseum on the main street through central Munich. This is an absurd museum, containing not only a fine collection of crossbows, not only a baronial hall lined with carefully-labelled antlers,
not only a set of stuffed exemplars of the fauna of Bavaria down to the Feldhamster and a pair of feral guinea-pigs that someone found living in a rabbit burrow, but an entire fifteen-metre-long side-gallery devoted to taxidermists' jokes with laborious multi-paragraph articles about the habitats and behaviours of the Wolpertinger depicted.
|Across the Alps
On Thursday I took the six-hour, three-country train trip from Ljubljana to Munich.
There is an awful lot of blather written about the British Discovery of the Alps, mostly along the lines of
ELIZABETH Howard, do not these mountains bear an aspect most unlike the pastoral climes of Gloucestershire?
HOWARD Indeed my dear: nor do the meadows reflect the most refined agricultural practices than my uncle Lord Townshend is pioneering in Surrey
ELIZABETH Do not the skies lower most greyly? Might one not feel a certain almost pleasurable anticipation of Peril?
HOWARD Indeed my dear one might. Is it not fortunate that this train is provided with the finest precautions that Man can contrive against such happenstance!
(an AVALANCHE sweeps train, Howard and Elizabeth away)
|A thoroughly German approach
To further reduce the already well-contained risk of pig deficiency, you will observe that they have put little shreds of bacon into the sauerkraut itself
The role of the green thing remains unclear; it may be a tribute to the unBavarian culinary tradition of the 'vegetable'. The wise diner would discard it at once.
|Thursday, July 4th, 2013|
|Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013|
|Ljubljana in a few pictures
Decided to stop off here to add another country to the list. It's a medium-sized (300k) town with proportionally rather more university than Oxford: it has a river,
and a maker of whimsical handbags
|Monday, July 1st, 2013|
|Delights of Zagreb
I have mostly heard Zagreb described unkindly, and I don't think it deserves that at all. It looks like a slightly more experimental version of Vienna, and I suspect that's mostly by direct decree of Franz Josef I: there is Secession-style everywhere, including the truly spectacular reading-room of the National Archives. This is decorated with brass plaques depicting babies doing things with folios that would horrify any parent or librarian; falling in neither category, I thought they were cute.
The fish plate pictured previously turned out to be poisonous and laid me out for twelve hours starting at 11pm Saturday; then I took the bus up to Zagreb. This starts off in spectacular limestone hills, with the sort of stunt autobahn construction in which the tunnels attach directly to the viaducts; having a motorway switchback up a mountain was the best bit. It then turns into rolling hills full of farmhouses in a sort of Alpine-meadows way: as if the tunnel led from very-east Italy to very-south Bavaria.
I made it to the EU welcome ceremony on Sunday night: short speeches from EU highest-officials and the Croat president, lots of folk-dancing, a particularly ostentatious cello duet, and at the end fireworks (invisible from the square) and the Ode to Joy belted out by two sopranos and a bass choir.
Today I've been museum-hopping, since the EU accession was celebrated by opening museums on Monday (unprecedented) and making admission free. Croatia's been a great place to live and trade for long enough that the Archaeological Museum was excellent, and the Pavilion containing a museum of the restoration of the Pavilion and an exhibition of noted exhibitions that had taken place in the Pavilion could not easily have been more self-referential. The Design Museum was good fun; but in three museums I don't think I saw a memorable Croat painting.
(there will be pictures later, but I have misplaced the blivet for getting them directly from camera to iPad)
|Saturday, June 29th, 2013|
|Greetings from Split
After less time, though more faff, than the train from Cambridge to Plymouth, I found myself by the seaside in Split.
This is a glorious place; I knew it had well-preserved Roman walls, but not that it retained a fair amount of 3rd-century Roman architecture and a car-free medieval street layout, and while I'd looked at a contour map I hadn't realised how impressively the hills loomed behind it.
The guide tells me that this is definitely not a twenty-foot-high statue of Gandalf with a big toe burnished gold by residents touching it for good luck, but I'm sure she's in on the conspiracy
A plate of locally-caught fried seafood sufficient to comfort a moderately glum walrus cost £6.75 or so
|Sunday, June 2nd, 2013|
|Friday, May 17th, 2013|
|Balancing a herd of elephants
Suppose that you are in charge of the tightrope crossing a great ravine somewhere excitingly elephant-haunted.
Off the tightrope is hung a pair of rather large platforms, capable of holding eight elephants each; it is obviously vitally important that the weights placed on the two platforms balance perfectly, before sliding the platforms down the tightrope and sending the elephants to the other side. The weights of the platforms have, naturally, been adjusted to be exactly equal. Your job therefore generally involves the stewardship of an enormous number of bags of sand to be used as counterweights.
Elephants are of normally-distributed mass with a mean of four tonnes and a standard deviation of half a tonne; they come in herds consisting of sixteen independently identically distributed elephants.
You are paid ten pounds for every herd of elephants that successfully crosses the ravine, and must pay a thousand pounds to any herder whose elephants you cannot balance. One day you discover that some miscreant has thrown almost all your sand into the ravine, and you have only two kilograms of counterweight left. Can you still make a profit on average?( mathsCollapse )