Sunday, January 31, 2010

How not to photograph the moon

My2Fish was kind enough to credit me with the previous picture of the moon, which alas came from Wikipedia.

He wasn't wrong though in imagining I'd try, which I did, but unfortunately my effort was less than inspiring, as can be seen above.

Despite using a tripod, time exposure, fiddling with ISO settings and a 300mm zoom lens, even with photo editing software no details could be seen. The problem is clearly over-exposure and if I'd had a bit more time would have had another go but the phone rang and then the moon went out of sight.

There are very good instructions here as to how to do it, so next time will hopefully be more successful.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Tonight the sky over London is clear, and Selene is gracing us with her silver image.

For high and bright in the sky is the moon, large and full. We are seeing our companion close up, and she is looking beautiful.

Friday, January 29, 2010

It's the peroxide tide!!

Oops, my bad, that should be proxigean tide (thanks Bonnie).

Basically it means the tide when the moon is full and near the Earth so its especially high or low. And guess what we see for the tide prediction for London Bridge:

Look! Zero height above chart datum, the so-called Lowest Astronomical Tide (LAT)

A good time for mudlarks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPhone App Review: Harbour Master

On the day that the iPad is finally launched what better than an iPhone App review, in this case its a game called Harbour Master.

Basic idea is pretty simple: to guide boats to port so their cargos can be unloaded in a way that avoids collision (see screen shot above). You direct the boats by drawing with your finger the line it must take to the dock of your choice, and then it chugs away complete with sounds effects and cheery music.

Complications arise when there are more boats than berths ('t was ever thus), boats can only dock in certain berths (ditto), pirates attack (er...), and tornado storms whirl boats around and around (happens all the time).

It's all good fun and enjoyable and there are 6 different maps with selection of charts and complications to work away at.

The only downside is after doing all six a couple of times there's a feeling of "what next?" and it becomes a bit repetitive.

But it doesn't cost that much so worth a punt.

Monday, January 25, 2010

SOS for Lifeboats

Save our Slogans!

Seriously this is all for a good cause, namely the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) which is a must support charity for sailors in the UK. It receives no government funding and is staffed by volunteers who risk their life to save others.

Even here in London - the busiest of all their stations is right here on the Thames. Last year the Tower Bridge site was launched 380 times and rescued 148 people.

This Friday they are having a monster fund raiser and they have a widget on their web site that generates three letter acronyms (TLAs), all variations on SOS to be themes for an event. Mostly they make sense, such as Sponsor Our Staff or Sugar Or Spice, but have just spun Shakespeare Over Seconds, which doesn't (to me).

Have fun but give these guys your support.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mystery of the Eels

What is happening to the eels? Once a staple diet in London their numbers in the river Thames has crashed a whopping 98% over the last five years.

I was just reading in the Wandle Valley Trail guide how there "are large numbers of eels" in the lower reaches of that river near where it meets the Thames when the BBC reported the opposite.

Or maybe the Wandle did have a large number, but for some reason they have gone.

It's a bit of a mystery. There are so few eel fishermen that its hard to blame them, but then what?

One problem is that the eel is still little understood. There has been a project to track its migration across the Atlantic the the supposed spawning grounds of the Sargasso Sea, but they have been tracked "only" 1,300 km of the 5,o00 km journey.

It's an animal that has puzzled scientists way back to the days of Aristotle. There was another program on the BBC about him which asked why he fell from favour and the answer was the eel (its been quite a week for the eel).

Aristotle tried to understand the wildlife on the island of Lesbos and undertook a series of dissections which he then documented in a very vigorous way. It was to be one of the cornerstones of our understanding of the biological world.

But he was confused about the humble eel as he couldn't find any reproductive organs. It wasn't his fault - they only grow on the long migration to the spawning ground. But he was left scrambling for notions of the their origin and came up with some bizarre concept involving self generation from mud.

It was, with the benefit of 21st Century hind-sight, complete nonsense, and for that reason he became scarred as the man that got eels wrong. But he got a huge lot right, and as can be seen the eel is still causing the scientists to wonder and theorise. I was certainly impressed by how he moved the science forward, transforming how we look at the world, and can forgive him this blip given the swamp of ignorance he was trying to escape from.

There was a final eel reference this week in that most modern of tv channels, YouTube, when keep turning left's Dylan Winter's got to Arthur Ransome's Secret Water hide-out Witch's Quay.

As Nancy Blacket would put it, Great Congers!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alinghi to use Apple Tablet?

Howdy folks, Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature.

Well I was down the pub drowning a few cold ones with my mates from San Fran (O'Docker you know who we mean) when I heard about Tillerman's scoop about Lady Gaga. Now that was a bit of news or what.

However the chap who was sitting next to me by the bar (and frankly a bit worse for wear) said he had something to top even that. What is it you might ask? Well hold on to your hats, for here goes something that will BLOW your socks off.

It turns out the much rumoured Apple Tablet or Slate is part and parcel of Alinghi America's Cup campaign!

Surprised? Well I was!

But it makes perfect sense. The iSlate is being announced Wednesday 27th January, just 10 days before the America's Cup kicks off, too late even for Oracle to fight back, challenge it in the courts or make its own tactical tablet. Its form factor is just right for busy crew with its touch sensitive screen and no need for pen or keyboard.

The final evidence is the photo above that when zoomed up shows a tablet being held by one of the crew members.

So remember folks, you read it here first.

Lets iSlate that one to the power of the blogger!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Discovering the trade winds

When were the trade winds discovered?

I always had this hope that it was my alleged relation, William Dampier, who documented his experiences in his book with the snappy title of "A discourse of trade winds, breezes, storms, seasons of the year and currents of the torrid zone throughout the world".

But it seems he was pipped by the much earlier and humbler Arctic Tern whose annual migration is shown in the figure above. What struck me straight away is how they follow the route of the round the world yacht races, but then of course the trade winds help both sailors and birds.

Setting aside the long distance and resilience required for an animal weighing around 100g to travel a round trip of 70,000km from pole to pole and back, there is a question of how does it navigate its route?

I can see how such a behaviour can come about: if in the depths of time the birds flew at random the ones that picked up the trade winds would get there quicker using less energy and hence be more effective in evolutionary sense. And once learnt the following generations could follow the lead of its parents.

But maybe we underestimate them as we do so often, overconfident in our superiority over mere birds. Rooks in particular have been shown to be tool using animals.

Anyhow more on this story here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

London Boat Show 2010

Another year, another London Boat Show, but did this one have something special, the magic X-Factor?

Well in a literal way yes, because one of the "stars" was someone called Olly Murs who I'd never heard of but apparently was runner up in the TV show the X-Factor. He sang something, not sure what as headed off in the opposite direction but I noted a number of young women hurrying towards the stage so maybe he is an acquired taste.

On another stand where they were trying to sell very expensive Italian speed boats there was another show, this time models and lingerie. Why no photos the blokes out there will ask? Well partly it seemed rather sad in the huge aircraft hanger of ExCel but also because the models were just inhumanly skinny. Someone give them all a square meal please.

A more acceptable form of entertainment was on the Princess stand where there was this DJ and saxophone player:

It seemed much quieter than normal. One stand I talked said it had been dead in the first few days blaming (quite understandably) the snow and difficult travel conditions.

I dropped in as I always do to the On Deck stand where I have an annual will I do Antigua week discussion with Simon "oh hello, I recognise you" but this year it was all over as apparently they are already full. BVI is an alternative and in this month's Yachting World as being fab sailing but that would involve getting organised and so to be honest less likely. But they are talking of hot boats for Cowes week so will keep an eye on my inbox (now its working).

Then went off to Neilson and SunSail to ask some questions for my nephew who's got to the age when he's thinking of summer jobs (they grow up so fast) before getting to the book shops and authors doing a meet and greet.

Always like this bit and could say hello to Lisa Copeland again. I met her at the show last year just before went off to Venezuela which she had sailed so had an interesting chat and this year got another of her books, this time Comfortable Cruising.

While I'm sure it will be a wonderful winter escape to warming waters was a bit sorry as felt, in these credit crunch times, unwilling to expand my reading to a second book and so turned down the tempting sounding "Ice Bears & Kotick: Rowing at the top of the World".

This tells the story of how Peter Webb and friend decided to row around Spitzerbergen in a 17 foot classic wooden boat:

Clearly this was an act of insanity, particularly when the local wild life decided to say hello, poking its nose through their tent:

But its on my list and definitely looks like a good read.

Dropped in on the Navionics stand to ask for VMG and proper waypoints and apparently they're in the plan but not considered urgent as the chart app for iPhone is considered a "social tool". Hmm... not my view of what navigations all about but then it does have a facebook feed so maybe I've judged it wrongly.

And that was pretty much it.

I do enjoy a wander round but there was less buzz than many previous years. If however you had money and an idea what to spend it on I'm sure you'd get an absolute bargin from vendors desperate to sale.

Me, I even said no to a second book!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Racing across London

Yesterday went to the London Boat Show (full post to come) as Thursday is late opening so can squeeze a visit into an already busy week.

The problem is that the exhibition centre ExCel is completely the wrong side of London from Putney and on a work night did not want to stay out too late.

But was rather surprised when, having run for trains, jumped on tubes as the doors were closing, managed to do the trip in "just" an hour. It reminded me of that Top Gear cross London race in which the bike won (though that journey was in the opposite direction).

However later measured the distance on Google Earth and calculated that works out as an average speed of 10 miles per hour.

Not sure that is much better than a hundred years ago!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Greg, Kris and the Duke's Head

It was a cold and snowy evening when caught up with Greg and Kris at Adam's favourite pub, namely the Duke's Head on Putney embankment (above) .

I was a bit worried about the length of the walk there but felt the atmosphere, food and view of the river from this great pub would make up for it. However they wisely took a cab back which magically appeared just as they were waiting.

And a very nice evening it was too - so thanks to Greg and Kris for giving up some of their busy schedule!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You've Got Spam

There was rejoicing in the JP HQ last night as at last the Compuserve / AOL Webmail finally decided to play ball and the 16 days of "temporary maintenance" (oh the irony) came to an end.

And was it worth it?

Well there was hundreds of offers for 80% off pharmaceuticals - probably made worse by some form of duplication, triplication or worse of messages when repairing the mailbox.

Then there were status update messages from the likes of eBay, Amazon, Facebook and two of the clubs I'm members of.

Then there were a couple of emails I'd heard about from other means, an email from Greg (but had posted a message on his blog anyhow).

And after that?


Oh yes, there were the test messages I sent myself to see if would get any warning messages.

So alas no messages from a Shopgirl :(

Monday, January 11, 2010

You've Not Got Mail - Day 16

Yes, its the latest blockbuster from Compuserve / AOL's WebMail, namely "You've NOT got mail", staring JP and from what can gather from Google it seems no one else.

Day 16 and the script is still stuck on "Mailbox not available due to temporary maintenance"


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ice Skating at Somerset House

Its great when things go wrong in a way that makes things right.

Take today - I heard there was a nephews and nieces trip to go ice skating at Somerset House. Fab, except they have a timed ticket system and but when I got to the web site the time my brother had chosen was all sold out.

Oh bother. But decided might as well go for the previous slot as that way a) get a skate and b) get to see them in the handover.

Then my brother mysteriously discovered he had one spare ticket, so was able to head right back out onto the ice.

And why was this a particularly good thing? Well to be honest hadn't been on skates for a period of time measurable in decades so the first few minutes the first time round were to say the least wobbly.

But by the second go when the youngsters got out there their uncle was able to skate behind them, in front of them, give a steadying hand, race them, watch out for them and pick them up after the inevitable tumbles.

Then it was time for a quick mulled wine before heading off to our separate corners of London.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Britain under snow

This great satellite photo is Britain under a covering of snow that really seems to go from coast to coast.

Today I don't think even London was above freezing all day on top of which there is a viscous wind chill from the North East.

But I don't mind any of that as much as my frozen email!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Frozen Email Disaster

I have a number of email accounts - too many really. So there's one for work, another for this blog, a Google one for travelling and so on.

But my main home account I've had for about 20 years from is from Compuserve, now part of AOL, and its been frozen for the last two weeks. The story that the "mailbox not available due to temporary maintenance" is plausible for an hour or two, not for a day or two let alone a week.

What started off as annoying is becoming incredibly frustrating. This was made worse by there being no obvious way to get in touch to say something was wrong. In the end it was the much aligned Twitter service that got the wheels in motion. Apparently AOL's webmail development team is on the case but to date no joy.

Hence this post to anyone who is wondering why I've not replied to their messages.

Normal service will be resumed when normal service is restored.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Review: Three ways to capsize a boat

When its cold nothing quite beats sticking indoors with the heating on and a good book - hibernating in all but name. And preferably the books should remind one of warmer days in the sun, such as sailing in the Med.

And that is just what this book does, or at least the first half. The author Chris Stewart has a couple of claims to fame: firstly he was the original drummer in the band Genesis, but that was a long time ago before Phil Collins came along and they became successful.

He then went off to Andalusia to buy a small holding which he wrote about in a series of autobiographical books which I described over xmas as "you know, those lemon books". Fortunately my host had a better memory than me and had actually read them so was able to work out I was trying to remember "Driving over lemons".

This book is not about lemons or classic rock bands but about how Chris ended up spending one summer in the Greek islands sailing a Cornish Crabber for its well off lady owner. There was just one problem - he didn't know how to sail.

So cue some amusing confusion of learning with inevitable mistakes then trouble learning the ways of the Greek islands. Its all rather pleasant and easy to consume, like a cold beer on a hot day or glass of mulled wine on a chilly one.

In the second half he then joins a crew sailing a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter in the all together more serious task of following the ancient Vikings in crossing from Norway to Vinland. This is colder, rougher, tougher and more dramatic.

Over all a pleasant read but it left afterwards only the slightest of impressions - but then so does many a good holiday.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

London becomes Narnia

I must rush to defend Blighty from attack. Over on the Bursledon Blog Tillerman says that the US is better than the UK at:

a) baseball
b) fast food
c) coping with a few inches of snow.

Right, here we go, over the top, into battle:

a) So? we've grown ups and no longer need to play rounders let along watch it
b) Huh! I've never had on the other side of the pond kebabs charcoal grilled, hand ground burgers or pizza with real Italian base like we get here (hurrah for the foodie revolution)
c) bother! In the timeless words of Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Run away!!!

For alas Mr T might have a point. It is truly ridiculous that about a cm of snow could grind the capital to a near halt.

Having said that that the coating has made London stunningly beautiful, suburbs turned to white crystal as if Narnia has jumped through the wardrobe into our city.

Of course Narnia has the wicked White Witch to worry about. And here too there is a jingling coming towards us all, an ancient enemy that brings woe where ever it goes.

Yes its the tax man, distributing notices reminding us about online filing and payment deadlines.

And not even some Turkish Delight to soften the blow!

Monday, January 04, 2010


Tillerman's post on his decade prompted me to remember this from W. H. Davies:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Having said that as posted earlier, it is ever harder to squeeze in work, family, friends, sailing, kayaking, blogging, writing, walking, running, and all the rest of a busy life into the 24 hours of a day.

But you don't need long to stand and stare. I remember when at the Tsminda Sameba Church my guide was suggesting it was time to return to Tbilisi but I asked for another 5 minutes.

Ok it was more like 10, but that was enough to engrave that moment, that place, that feeling into my memory.

More standing, more staring. An unconventional resolution but maybe it would be a good one.

But harder to stick to when work is such an important part of our culture, and so financially necessary!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Angry sailor gets lazy

The last two New Years has seen the BBC broadcast programs with a vaguely nautical theme with a name like Three Men in a Boat do Something involving Griff Rhys Jones and two of his friends.

Back in 2008 it was to race Griff Rhys Jones's classic yacht at Cowes, where he memorably got very angry. Last year it was to get to the Scilly Isles by a range of different types of boat. This year it was a gentle potter through Ireland.

And I mean really gentle. Less sedentary and more like brain dead. There was a strong feeling of the end of a line for a weak idea. It was so bad that I turned over to something else and I can't remember what. It was therefore less interesting than a totally forgettable program.

It wasn't the only script that could do with a bit of tightening. As might have mentioned it was the last Doctor Who with David Tennant, which if you follow these things you'll know was the end of an era.

But the I'm-about-to-regenerate scene went on like a death bed aria in an Italian opera.

If I had a hand in the script I would have made the Doctor have to make one last choice - who to see in the last minutes before he transforms. That would have made the emotional connection stronger and snappier.

And there can have been only one answer: not a character from any of the irritating spin-offs, not the grating on the nerves Catherine Tate, but surely it would be the national sweet heart that is Rose Tyler as played by Billy Piper.

I mean look at that warm smile as the snow softly falls:

Apart from that was it pretty good with at its heart a moving moral dilemma for the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins acting his socks off at age 81, lip wobbling with emotion.

Apologies to those that don't understand any of this. To those that do, can simply add:





Saturday, January 02, 2010

Work, Life, Clubs and Blogging

Along with looking back at the top posts of 2009, New Year's are also a time to look forward, hence the tradition of Resolutions.

Bonnie in the comments section mentioned one of hers is to get the work/life balance sorted while Tillerman is joining another club, this time to do some running.

Heck, I can't keep up with the clubs I'm a member of already. One problem with my work is it is rather unpredictable: this makes planning holidays hard as there is always the fear that something unexpected and urgent will turn up.

In theory having no constraints mean could take any time off but in practice that actually makes doing so harder. My brother with young family is limited by the school holidays, but that means he has no choice and so books far in advance.

So the one and only fixed water related activity for 2010 presently involves him - but it should be a grand bit of "messing about" so looking forward to that.

I'm impressed by those that are dedicated to one activity, whether kayaking, sailing or rowing, and do it week in week out, even through the colder months like now, but not enough to follow their example.

In fact the nearest thing to a resolution is to do some more writing, not blogging related.

It could get to be a busy year.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

Welcome one and all to 2010.

Now that's a year that rolls off the tongue well. I wonder what it will bring?

Anyone with interesting New Year Resolutions out there?