June 16, 2006

My first mini–cross–country

Well it's been a good 3 weeks since my last exam and I'm now completely back into relaxed student mode. After working almost solidly from 10 to 10 every day for three weeks it was a little bit of shock to suddenly have nothing to do.

The solution to my bordem has mostly been to go flying every single Wednesday and Sunday, especially now that the weather is so nice. I had a few good flights and some bad ones by myself but last sunday the weather was a little worse so I couldn't fly on my own without being checked by an instructor first. Since I'd then have to waste £8 on a check flight first and as I wasn't actually feeling too great I decided not to bother. However, at the end of the day I did take a flight and managed to grab a chance at flying the £80k 'Duo Discus', the club's most fancy glider they use as a two–seater cross country trainer.

We had a really crap launch (trainee winch driver I think) so almost immeadiately got into circuit ready to land again. At about 600' the instructor turned off circuit into a thermal and managed to climb up to about 1700'. It was actually quite nice to be able to just sit there and look out the window for a little while but then I took control and continued the climb up to about 2500'.

With plenty of height, plenty of time and a very shiny glider I decided to see how far I could get. We wandered out a few miles to the motorway and came back, did some more thermalling and headed down a nice street of clouds the sky had provided for us. Somehow, even at 17:00 there was enough lift under it for us to get all the way down to Daventry (about 10 miles away) and back and only lose a few hundred feet.

Back at the airfield again we were still quite high so I took the opportunity to see how it handles and throw it around at 100knts (about 110 mph). It's nice to just mess around and have some fun with the planes sometimes, especially when they cost £80k! Then the instructor took over again, did a 130mph pass on the clubhouse (though at about 400', since it's been banned todo it any lower and he didn't want to get in trouble) and landed. So we got back an hour and 11 minutes after we left, by which time everyone had packed up and gone home or into the clubhouse, including the bloke who we had asked to go and wait for us in the retrieve buggy a few minutes after we left, oops.

The whole flight was only about 35miles which isn't a lot by gliding standards but it was my first taste of a cross–country flight since it was the first time I've ever flown out of visual range of the airfield. Also, there's something really nice about flying in the late evening as it's cooling off. It's so calm and peacefull up there. After a few weeks of just doing very intense short flights by myself, trying deperately to stay up it was nice to remember how soaring is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, I don't have a fancy GPS recorder but the rough route is here: http://files.oliford.co.uk/duo-flight-11-06-06.jpg

April 30, 2006

What is the union doing about Resnet?

Yet again our on–campus residential Internet connection, Resnet, is in an abysmal state. This is nothing particularly new though, as it has had bad periods all year. What is annoying me at present is that there doesn't seem to be any official pressure on the University to sort it out.

The infrastructure was set up a few years ago by an external company contracted by the University to provide network access to the residences. While it worked reasonably well for the first few years it apparently began to suffer significant problems last year and finally the university terminated the contract at the beginning of this academic year. ITS immediately had to take over running the network which by this time was in a pretty sorry state.

Another factor comes in to play here. In past years file sharing had been going on inside the campus network by means of an internal only system (I'll leave out the details but I think everyone knows them). A few people downloaded the large files from outside the campus network and then propagated them internally putting little strain on the link to the outside world. At some point before or at the beginning of this academic year the University (not ITS) took the decision to outlaw the use of this particular system and ITS accordingly set about brining down any of these 'hubs' that appeared. The result, rather predictably, is that everyone now uses systems to download from off–campus such as BitTorrent, which puts an absolutely huge strain on the external link and cannot so easily been shut down. The original contractors had set up a network that simply is not capable of withstanding this sort of load but, up until the University's P2P ban, this had not been a problem. Whatever your opinion on the University’s decision politically, they did rather shoot themselves in the foot.

This is what ITS have to deal with and I really don't blame them for failing to begin with because they simply weren't prepared for it. However, it is now 6 months down the line and the situation is no better. ITS clearly don’t have the resources to cope with running both Resnet and the main campus network, including all its associated problems like security incidents and the E–mail system and so the university should have done something to sort it out by now. Simply putting pressure on ITS to deal with it isn't going to help so really they ought to be providing the resources to help them do their job or maybe even recontracting Resnet out to a more competent, established company and not just the cheapest deal this time!

The students union, while happy to campaign on various things that have little or no bearing on students here at Warwick, seem to be completely absent from this issue which definitely is affecting real students right here and now. There was a brief intervention by the Students Union in the form of a motion demanding compensation from Warwick Accommodation for a group of students who were without a connection for some time but I don't feel this was particularly useful for anyone except those directly involved. What I'd like to see is the students union demanding that the university get the situation sorted out as soon as possible. While Resnet is not officially part of our contract with Warwick Accommodation, the university continue to publicise our 'always on high speed internet connection' to prospective students and this is now just an out right lie. I'd like to see the union threaten the university with making it clear to these prospective students that this simply isn't true. Hopefully it won't come to that but something has to be done to make the university take this problem seriously.

Thinking about it, the union should demand that the provision of internet become part of the contracts with Warwick Accomodation so that any signifcant failures next year can be dealt with properly.

April 21, 2006

Soggy Exam and Campus Landscaping

We had the first of our 4th year exams today: "Relativity and Electrodynamics".

The exam itself was ok, not particularly easy but it had the scope for being spectacularly difficult and wasn't so not too bad in that respect. The conditions were not so great though. It was raining when we left Redfern and the exam was in the Westwood games hall. By the time we got half way it was a torrential down pour. My trousers were thin and take up water very easily and my shoes are like sponges. I managed to keep them at least from filling with water by jumping puddles until we got to the entrance to the hall to find a 3m long 3" deep lake with a sheer wall and fence either side… damn. So most of us sat there for 3 hours completely and totally drenched and the games hall is not the warmest palce in the world. Still, sht happens…

Also, I noticed on the way that the only part of campus suffering from flash floods was the brand new shiny landscaped bit on the way up to university house. The ornamental 'rivers' (of mud) were over their banks, the grass area had turned back into the paddy-fields it seemed to be during construction, and the road where the large speed bump thing is had filled to a good 5" deep. Excellent design effort there, really a job well done!

April 19, 2006

Onwards and… Which way?

I was reading on Wikipedia the other day about someone called Peter Singer. Among various other things was his belief about the poorest people in the world. His argument goes along the lines of: It's immoral for us to go out and buy expensive unnecessary things and generally live life like we do when we know of the suffering due to poverty that is going on and could give some of that money to them.

In general, I completely agree with this principal. I hate the way half our world is in such a bad state when we quite evidently have the technology and ability to deal with it. It's pretty despicable the way we look on 'ourselves' as just those in our country or culture and consider people suffering around the world to be alien to that and not our responsibility.

Of course, it's a nice idea, but am I going to suddenly abandon my life and dissappear off around the world to help them? No, probably not. I can't pretend to be able to justify this but I can say I believe I can make a bigger difference in the long run doing research, especially in fusion. Now that brings me around to another point: if the most advanced countries stopping advancing and spent their time bringing the rest of the world up to our level we wouldn't be moving the human race on as a whole, in understanding and in technology etc. I was talking about this with someone the other day and their response to this was to question whether advancing in technology and knowledge is neccessarily 'forwards' for the human race. With all the stresses and troubles of our modern and supposedly more comfortable lives, are we really better off than those who spend their lives with nothing to worry about but finding dinner?

Personally I've always believed it's important to improve our understanding of the world around us and this is probably what's taking me into physics. This also isn't likely to change but I've never given it a second thought before and now find myself wondering exactly why I believe this. I guess its natural to want your life to be about something, to have some point and maybe this is just the best way I have of getting there given that I have no religious beliefs and don't believe in any form of afterlife. However, I did spend a brief period in the middle of the Exmoor forest when I was little just fishing and helping my dad recover firewood to heat his little cottage and I can see the appeal of that kind of lifestyle. Also I think part of why I enjoy gliding is that it gets me away from computers and all the associated hassle. On the other hand I wouldn't have the experience of and ability to fly if it weren't for the (1920s) technology of the gliding itself.

Are we better off with advancing technology and so called 'quality of life' or would we be better off if everyone was happy just living?

April 10, 2006

Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plans

Writing about Why H5N1 isn't to be taken so lightly from From tractors to reactors

This has been covered elsewhere on the blogs, so I won't repeat it all here but this comment was getting too long, so it's now a trackback.

I've just scanned through the Health Department's Flu Pandemic Contingency Plan . While it does seem they are aware of the issue there are some worrying things in there. Firstly, there doesn't seem to be any description of what will actually be done. There is a whole page of actual plan which is entirely devoted to convening comitees, reviewing proceedures, forming sub-groups and sending information around. This is all for after the WHO announces a 'Phase 5' pandemic alert, which basically translates to 'Holy shit, here it comes, we're all gonna die' and doesn't stike me as the time to be turning into Vogons.

Also, they say this:

In the event of a novel influenza virus causing significant outbreaks of
human illness elsewhere in the world, it is unlikely that the UK could
prevent importation (except by closing all borders); even a 99.9%
restriction of travel into the country would only be expected to delay
importation of the virus by up to two months.

They've written the "except by closing all borders" in brackets as if it's an absolutely proposterous idea. Is it? Am I the only one who thinks that an international pandemic with a possible fatality rate of as much as 50% is not a good enough reason to shut down all travel in and out of the country? Even if it only holds it off for a few months, as they point out futher up in the report this is about the time it takes to start producing a vaccine which otherwise wouldn't be ready until well after the first wave has been and gone. Civil liberties are a great thing, but you can't use them if you're dead.

Also as far as I can tell, thought I haven't read it properly, they are working on a 0.37% predicted fatality rate, with the maximum they even considered being about 2.5%. The New Scientist articles seem think that it could be anywhere between 0 and 50%.

April 06, 2006


Well that was annoying.

I have been tryng to sort out this PhD at JET recently. Yesterday morning I had an email basically saying I was being offered the place I want as it had been agreed by the university and just needed the paperwork going through. I also got an E-mail from Warwick asking if I could come to an interview today.

Obviously I didn't really want to get grilled in an interview if I was being offered the JET PhD which I really wanted so I asked if it was being offered for certain. Imperial said they wouldn't say for definate until some time this afternoon, so I went to the warwick interview anyway. It wasn't too bad. The first question was to write down Maxwell's equations which is really easy. They then asked me to derive the wave equations from them, which was tricker but I remebered it more or less.

As I left I wandered into the computer room, checked my e-mail and found the message from Imperial with the official JET offer. Later this afternoon I got an offer from Warwick. So I now have a choice of PhDs – nice, but rather pointless.

The Sky is Falling

A week of sitting indoors revising while the skys out my window have been glorious bright blue with just the right amount and type of little fluffy clouds has driven me nuts, but yesterday I gave in and went gliding again.

A few weeks ago we had our weeklong Easter Course, during which I was cleared for 'Check 1', which means that on nice days (like this week) I can fly without having to find an instructor to come with me on a check flight first. At about 14:00 I grabbed a free single-seat glider and pulled it onto the winch queue. It's quite daunting flying up the winch on your own without any practice for a few weeks. You have all of about 3.5 seconds to reaquaint yourself with this whole flying thing, the winch process and the particular aircraft you're flying before you're doing 70mph pointing 45' at the sky. So after a quick mental run through I had the cable attached and disappeared skyward.

I was hoping there would be lots of lift around (air going upwards) since everyone else was dissappearing for ages but all I could find for the first two flights was endless sink (air going down). This, in gliding, is what we call… crap, basically.

For the third go I decided to pull back on the winch a bit more, it makes it a little more difficult to deal with if something goes wrong but does help get a higher launch and sure enough I got up to about 1200'. I thought I'd wander off in the opposite direction and this time found a nice strong thermal. Circling in this for a while, occasionally losing it and finding it again got me up to 2300', a significant climb off the winch for a pilot like me.

After about 20 minutes I was getting rather thristy and hot and wandering down wind from the airfield a bit. I hadn't really prepared myself to stay up for an hour or so and figured it'd take me 10 mins to get down from this height so that'd make my 30 mins flight which I've been trying to get from the winch for a while. Unfortunately, wanding back got me into the hurrendous sink again and after a circuit a little on the low side, I was on the ground in about 3 minutes. So only 23 minutes, which is good for a winch, but not so good when you consider I'd got to 2300'.

Nevermind, there's always next time…

March 04, 2006

Serenity, the film, and not so much in my life.

Just finished watching Serenity. Damn good film. Watch it, that's all I'm going to say on the matter.

This week is not going to be nice. Final year full project report is due in on Thursday so I'm bascially going to be sitting here writing until then. I guess I should be working now rather than watching films, but I've written enough today and can't log into anything in the CSC building so there is no hope of any work for a few days at least.

Last week on the other hand was brilliant. Wednesday I went down to London for a PhD interview at Imperial. It turned out to be not much of an interview and I just ended up wandering around the group talking to the various academics but that's fine with me since they're paying the train fair. Afterwards I had an hour or so to kill before meeting up with a friend so I took the underground to Westminster and looked at the Houses of Parliment, Big Ben and the London Eye like a proper lost tourist. After that we came back up here, met up with someone else and went to the Real Ale festival.

Thursday I did a little work, dropped the first friend off at the station and met up with a few more to go back to Real Ale on that night. This was great fun, slightly less cider to work my way through but singing along to the great over-patriotic songs played by the Brass Band was excellent. We all had plenty to drink though and there was a little rolling around in the snow afterwards.

Friday morning had a lecture but then returned and cooked a huge fry-up for everyone that was still here. Unfortunately this means I have no decent food as I used all the nice bacon and sausages and the last of the spuds. I do have the really really nice Stilton left though….mmmm…cheese.

Generally, a very hectic week but that's quite good occasionally. After having all these people staying on my floor and around all day and a lot going on, its a bit too quiet in the flat now but that's probably best since I've got so much work todo. Yea… work…

Also, I have no money. I really really have no money now. £100 over my overdraft limit. oops.

February 17, 2006


Why is it so impossible to just buy a simple cup of nice coffee. You bascially have a choice between stock Nescafe instant stuff out of a machine which takes absolutely awful, or a rather confusing choice of 15 fancy things with all sort of muck in them.

I have eventually ascertained that a 'latte' is about the nearest thing and so I have bought these from both 'Roccoco' and 'Cafe Library' or whatever they are called now. Don't get me wrong, in both cases the coffee itself was very nice but you have to fight your way through the froffy milk on top before you can get to it. This also means that for £1.15 or whatever, the coffee reaches only just past the half way mark, the rest is milk and air.

I just want a cup of coffee with a splash of milk in it, does everything have to be so damn trendy???

February 01, 2006

The Boar: ITS, ID and Investment banking.

For some reason I decided against going to my lecture this morning despite getting up in order to do so. Instead I have been reading this week's Boar. I have to say I disagreed with most of what I read. A short run down:

  • ITS - 3 articles on how incompetent they think ITS are, including one double page spread. While the occasional point is valid they again seem to merge a veriety of different problems all into one. See my IT Services and Resnet entry for my views on ITS bashing.
  • "Darwin versus God": While the article manages to keep fairly neutral, I do dislike anything which tries to give credibility to the idea of Intelligent Design being, in any way, a scientific theory. It may well be right and evolution wrong for all we know but evolution is a debated and tested theory now fairly well supported with evidence. I.D. is not testable and has no evidence (And no, you can't count not being able to explain things in any other way as evidence. Should we count the unknown acceleration of the Pioneer space probe as some divine creator blowing on them for amusement?). Evolution is a scientific theory, I.D is not, end of story.
  • "Invested Interest" – An article about the Careers Service being almost entirely devoted to financial companies. Mostly I agree with this one, the careers service seem to basically only give us the things that turn up on their doorstep – i.e the financial companies that directly push for warwick graduates. Surely the job of the Careers Service is to get out there, find other companies and encourage them to come here so we get a wide choice of graduate employeers?

Morning winge over. I shall try to make my next lecture and will have to be late for the Resnet focus group meeting. Incidently, this week's focus group meeting is at 12.30pm in Room H355, Humanities Building. If you have anything useful to say about resnet please turn up, they need as much feedback as possible at the moment, apart from being made aware that the Boar don't like them. Does the Boar like anyone these day?

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