January 29, 2006

Quadbikes, Curry, Stratford and lots of flying.

Well that was an interesting weekend…

Saturday was a big gliding club day, we had arranged for a few graduated exec members to back for a day at the airfield and then we'd all go out for a curry in Leamington. We tied this in with the club by making an official trip aswell and then making the curry an official social. In the last couple of days a few of the graduates pulled out, only two people signed up for the day trip and no one expressed any interest in the social. So I went along saturday morning not feeling particularly hopeful for the day. One of the two members didn't turn up before we left so it turned out to just be the graduates, me and one extra.

By about lunchtime I was severly annoyed, the organisation at the airfield was for some reason particularly lacking. It took until about 5 hours after we arrived before the one new person got any flights and even then it was only two not very great winch flights. We had also booked the quad-biking centre, which runs from the bottom of the airfield but I was flying by the time the booked time came so didn't go and those who did go didn't get to fly because we'd packed up the flying by the time they finished. In the whole day the site managed 25 flights on a reasonble day (it wasn't great weather, but flyable) when we normally get through about 60.

Needless to say this left me a bit annoyed with The Soaring Centre. The thing is when I get annoyed I tend not to shout at people or anything, I just grumble and then inadvertently sort of make things happen. I was grumbling something about looking at other airfields, to see if they do any better and because there was a bloke there we were talking to who normally flies at Stratford upon Avon GC we decided we would take a look down there one day.

Saturday night we went to the social. Due to the people who pulled out Chris (one of the graduates) had brought along some of his mates to fill the quad-biking places and so we invited them to the social as well to make up the numbers as I wasn't expecting any of the members to turn up. As it happened we had 3 UWGC members turn up so we actually had 12 people at the curry place in the end. Us actual gliding people moved onto weatherspoons afterwards and had a few drinks and loads of random conversations. About 1:30 we left the pub and before we all disbanded we decided that since we were all around we could check out Stratford in the morning (sunday).

I woke up about 11:00 this morning and had in my own mind decided that visiting Stratford wouldn't be all that great an idea at midday. The others turned up at noon and everyone seemed to think that just popping down to see what facilities they had wouldn't be such a bad idea. So at about 13:00 we turned up at Stratford GC, explained who we were, that we normally fly at HusBos and just wanted to see how they did things. As it happens they were all very enthusiastic and three of the four of us all got to fly. Because it's a smaller club with only a winch engine and no planes for towing they run a much more efficient operation. I really liked the friendly small-club atmosphere there and their system and general organistion skills put the relative big buisness operation of The Soaring Centre to shame.

It was really interesting to fly at a different airfield and in a totally different type of glider and it was a really nice and interesting day. We could never totally switch the warwick club to use Stratford as they just don't have the avaliable facilities of Hus Bos and probably would struggle to cope with us in the first term when we take about 10 new people each week. It does however seem sensible to somehow have it as an option for small trips when the weather doesn't look so good, since it is practically right next door.

All in all a good weekend and a good bit of flying.


January 27, 2006

Symantec Antivirus (and Jetico personal firewall)

Symantec antivirus… Don't install this. Ever. Even at gun point.
(and yes, this is the AV software recommended to you by ITS)

I have tried to avoid heavily computing based blog entries so far but this has annoyed me enough to write something public on it. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a reviews section for software.

I have just installed it, and very rapidly decided to uninstall it. My reasons for hating it were:

  1. It doesnt ask you where to install it, it just puts in in 'Program Files' which is on the wrong drive on my system.
  2. It installs 7 services, all for virus protection, 2 is excessive for any one piece of software.
  3. It makes the system horrifically slow. This is usual for Anti-virus programs with resident protection mechanisms but in this case it was unusable even with everything disabled.
  4. It crashes if the firewall denies it internet access after saying 'your network is not correctly configured'.
  5. 5 of the 7 processes remained running after disabling everything, and were in the top 7 in the list processes sorted by CPU usage.
  6. It keeps givnig those stupid baloon pop-ups which irritate me. Especially when it is just to say "you have just disabled resident protection" YES I KNOW, I JUST CLICKED IT.
  7. Having decided within a few minutes to uninstall it, it took me a good ten minutes to regain enough control of my system (which has been stable for 2 years now) to remove it.
  8. When you uninstall it, it doesnt actually uninstall everything, you have to go and clean up after it (Find LiveUpdate and remove)

ITS used to use and give a license for Kaspersky AV, which is must better though still not perfect. I wish they still did.

Rant ends.

To balance this out, if you know what you're doing and you want a firewall program get Jetico Personal Firewall . This is the most rigidly and sensibly built piece of software I've seen in ages. It has every feature you could possibly want in a firewall and is infinitely configurable, it is just out right brilliance, a credit to Jetico and to the computing industry as a whole.


January 26, 2006

Nuclear fusion and the energy debate

I was reading through bits of the BBC News site this morning as I do these days and found a short (video) report in the Sci-Tech section about the government launching a 3-month public debate about our future energy supplies. The general impression I get is that the government wants to re-invest in the nuclear power program (nuclear fission). I was slightly disconcerted that the BBC News' coverage and also the DTIs report on the subject contains no information about nuclear fusion. I've noticed in general that the vast majority of people have no idea what nuclear fusion is, which is slightly worrying considering the fact that the energy supplies and CO2 emissions debates have become important matters in the past few years.

The DTIs energy review does make one single reference to it:

The following pages provide an overview of those technologies that have a proven capability to generate significant amounts of electricity. It does not include technologies that are still in the early stages of Research and Development, such as nuclear fusion.

While it is a valid point that commerical production of electricity by nuclear fusion is a long way off, I wouldn't say it's "in the early stages of R&D". It's been in R&D since before 1950 and construction is about to begin on the latest large-scale experimental reactor . While I understand that it isn't going to be a direct factor anytime soon and cannot be entirely relied upon to save us from our energy problems, it will almost certainly have a huge impact on descisions made about the long term of energy production for the entire planet so people should at least be aware of it.

The currently known uranium fuel supplies for nuclear fission will only last about 50 years (DTI report) which leads to the reasonable argument that we perhaps shouldn't be building a host of new fission power plants when in half a centuary we will have the same problem all over again and have to start looking to more sustainable sources. Why not just build hundreds of wind turbines and such right now? Well, if fusion will be viable in 50 years time (ok, that's a bit of a stretch, 80 is more likely), in order to take over from fission, using all of our uranium supplies doesn't seem such bad idea. In fact, using all the uranium is surely a good idea since it will become increasing more sensible and economically preferable to use uranium for power rather than for nuclear weapons. In fact the DTI report does suggest that the fuels in old plants and bombs could increase the fission fuel supplies by up to 30 years.

So why does no one know anything about fusion? It's possible that I'm just mistaken and that they really do but just arn't interested. It's a shame really because energy and emmissions are likely to be two of our generation's greatest problems and nuclear fusion, given enough funding and help will be an almost certain and complete end to both for the imaginable future.


January 25, 2006

IT Services and Resnet

There seems to be a great deal of moaning and winges about IT services recently, both on here and in general around campus, especially with regard to ResNet.

I have just come from the Resnet focus group meeting, to which all students who wish to express problems with resnet are invited. This week there were two of us students there, and four people from ITS. If you really have something to say, come to the meetings.

For example, they've made some changes to the traffic shaping systems recently, and need some feedback about how the network was performing last weekend. Fortunately for me, I was away from the curse of technology on the weekend and so couldn't help. The other student reported that it wasn't any worse than before the changes and so we've all assumed that it's at least bearable at the moment. If you don't agree or you'd actually like to talk to ITS about their level of service rather than sitting around winging or throwing abuse at them, then come and actually do something useful about it.

Before anyone moans about the 'incident' on the weekend, I'd like to point out that I believe they did the right thing – initially at least. They very quickly dealt with a situation where everyones accounts were at risk. You may moan about having to change your passwords but how would you like to have all of your work deleted by someone whos broken into your account? Also, it should be pointed out that the usual method of dealing with an incident of that sort, in the short term, is to take the entire system offline, how would you have liked that?

I can't pretend that I don't think they made any mistakes though, particularly with regard to the handling of communication of the login grace period. I think they now realise that communication of the 2 login grace period to people using the web-based single sign-on system or the accursed Groupwise webmail system would have saved them the few thousand helpdesk calls and massive queues outside the computing centre on Monday. The two of us that did turn up to the resnet meeting have suggested some ways we think they can improve this and deal with it in a much better way if it ever happens again, but this is just our opinion, how are they supposed to ever improve anything is all they get is abuse and winging from people that don't even have anything constructive to say??

With regard to Novell Groupwise, everyone is fully aware of its complete inability to cope with the university's email and ITS are working to migrate everyone over to the new system. Please abuse Groupwise itself as much as you like, hopefully anything written on here about it will eventually come up in search engine queries for 'Groupwise', as it is one of the most useless and unstable systems I've ever had the displeasure to use.


January 15, 2006

Christmas

Well, christmas was reasonably entertaining. I managed to entirely finish my interim report before I went down to Devon, so I didn't have to worry about it while down there. It's hard to get any work done when you don't have a bedroom or anything to work with.

Not much to say really because I basically did very little. Went up to see my nan in Southampton and helped cook a big family christmas dinner.

Much fun was had on new years eve as I went to the local surfy village Croyde with a few old friends. Managed to have just the right amount of alcohol and even find a taxi back. It was beggining to look like we'd have to walk the 3 miles back in the freezing cold at 2am.

I also spent a lot of the interviening time playing The Dyson Telescope Game . It really is quite addictive, and doing the levels to par is incredibly difficult. Don't look at it if you have work to do though, as you'll never finish it.


December 15, 2005

London, Imperial and a nice day out.

Well, yesterday I went to Imperial college's postgraduate open day.

Got up at 8, drove to coventry station. That's lazy I know, I should've cycled but I thought I'd probably be too tired when I got back to coventry to cycle back to campus. Once I discovered the parking fee for £6 for the day I decided to definately cycle in future.

I acually got there early. My train was at 10:20 but I managed to catch the late 9:50 one at 9:58. Arrived in London Euston at about 11:30. Wandered off the platform and wandered around for a few minutes trying to work out where the entrance to the underground bit of euston was. I found it, worked out how the underground system worked and jumped on to a tube train to Green Park. Changed there and got on another for South Kensington. Got off, wandered around outside the station looking for street signs, failed to find any. I had a map but couldn't work out the orientation so gave up in the end, found the sun, noted it was almost excatly mid-day and walked in the opposite direction – North. This lead me to the university, very quickly. It's quite worrying that I still use this method of naviagtion, it does work though.

The uni is ok, much like warwick would be if its campus was merged with a city. There are some building sites, some old buildings (not the really old fancy kind, but the old decripid metal kind) and some shiny new buildings. The actual open day wasn't all that much help. The main part was well organised but just the same as you'd expect to be said at any open day. The physics part was fairly unorganised, the same as here. It was just a small room with some posters with a few people from each group standing around talking to people. This is what I wanted but there was only one bloke from the plasma group there, who was helpful, but a theorist and not really who I needed to see. It turns out they have a group open day in feburary so I shall goto that aswell. In fact, when I first got there, there was only one person at the table. She turned out to be waiting for the quantum optics group so we talked until the proper people turned up and turfed her off the plasma table.

At 14:20 I decided I ought to start heading back. The ticket I had wasn't valid between 15:00 and 18:00 so I had a choice between hurrying back or waiting around until 18:00. Next time I probably will wait and have a look around London, since I havn't been in a good many years.

Entered South Kensington station at ~ 14:35 and arrived at coventry at about 16:25.

So really the day was fairly unsuccessful in terms of PhD aquiring, but was a nice day out.

My thoughts on train and tube journeys later…


Excellent random blog entry of the week award

If you are reading this and haven't read that, then read it! It's superb!

December 13, 2005

PhDs

It's a week and a bit into the holiday's and I've done more work in that time than in whole term beforehand. The Interim report is coming on well, despite hitting the word limit after only writing 1/3 of what needs to be put into it.

It is rather annoying though, learning all this stuff about particle physics when I intend todo a PhD in plasma physics. On that note, I have been sort of offered something from JET, where I worked over the summer holidays. It's a computational project, which isn't quite perfect since I really wanted todo something experimental. However, I am generally better at the computational stuff and it does sound quite interesting. Also, its rather difficult to say no to a PhD at a place I really liked working.

I am also applying to Imperial College, as a backup plan and I'm going to their open day tomorow. This will involve my first train journey in a few years, so should be interesting.


December 05, 2005

Procrastination, Cider and Self–raising Ballistics.

It's now the christmas 'holidays' and I have my final year project Interim Report to write and so I thought I'd update my blog instead. I'll get around to starting eventually… probabaly.

Since I last posted, a lot's happened. A few weeks ago a lot of people I knew who grauated last year and the year before came up for a big reunion sort of thing. I met them at 14:00 with the intention of moving into the Graduate for the night at 17:00. As it turned out the graduate didn't open until 19:00, apparently they were understaffed or something. Then we discover that the School Days event that night is including the graduate, which was annoying since I thought the whole point is to keep the Graduate seperate for people who don't want to go to the big events. As it happened we found a way to stay there after it got included and so unintentionally I was in school days. I had no interest in going to it what so ever and it amused me that while I don't go to the union at all really this year I was in the only event that half my other friends, who do go a lot wanted to go to but couldn't get it. Hah!

Anyway, a few pints of Strongbow and quite a few pints of Old Rosie (the scrumpy cider they serve up there) later and I have to say I was really quite pissed. It is 7.4% or something stupid and I hadn't really drunk much since the end of september. Well, it was a good night had by all of us, also helped by the fact that the single graduate bar man was my housemate from last year and owes me some money, always good when you don't want to queue up for a drink!

Two weeks later we held the Gliding Club's first ever inter-university competition. It basically involved dropping packs of flour out of a open cockpit glider onto a target on the airfield. Sounds easy enough until you consider the glider is 300' in the air doing 101mph. It was supposed to be us against Loughborough and Coventry but Cov didn't turn up so was just us and Loughborough. It was a a really fun day and certinaly somethig a little different.

One of our members has been nice enough to write out a proper report for our website: Bombing Report and also a short video I put together of all the footage can be seen here: Bombing Video

He has also written up the september course, where we made the big gliding video this year and was generally hilarious throughout: September Course

Right… work.


November 08, 2005

Rainstorms, virtual crashes and a great concert.

Well last weekend's gliding trip wasn't such a great success. I decided to take a trip on saturday rather than my usual sunday as the forecast didn't look very good for the latter. A whole two people signed up for the saturday trip and by friday the forecast for that looked awful aswell so I e-mailed the two members and asked if they really wanted to bother. Niether did and so the trip was cancelled. Of course, saturday's weather was actually quite good so I became annoyed and decided to ask Chris (another gliding club trip leader) if he wanted to make an unofficial trip on the sunday. So he stayed here on saturday night with the intention of us both actually getting to fly on sunday. We woke up at 07:40 in the middle of a storm so went back to sleep… and woke up at 12:00. Ooops. Even so, nothing much missed as the weather was still awful and so we didn't bother.

Instead we played around on a gliding simulator I've found. After he left I tried out some of those things I'd never dare todo in real life. There are some bizarre screenshots of my virtual antics here: http://gliding.oliford.co.uk/simulator.

The rest of the week has been much the same as usual except that, on monday night I went to see the Brass Band and Wind Orchestra's concert in the Arts Centre. Now, you must understand I have absolutely no musical ability myself and don't usually listen to such music but I was convinced (extremely easily mind you, I quite fancied something different) by Andy Ingles and Chris Jackson. I have to say it was excellent and well worth the minescule £3 to get in. I especially liked, I think it was: 'The Gael' by the brass band and the last pieces: 'Windows of the World' by the wind orchestra. It was also great to see Andy conducting. Since I know him mostly from lab last year which is never a place to bring out one's enthusiasm it was different to see him up there obviously enjoying himself (and without any tea!).

Also Gareth and Steph should be mentioned aswell, since I've know them from physics for a few years and didn't even realise they were in the orchestra.


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