Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… 'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Poem by the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kayaking on the tidal River Thames

Excellent article on kayaking on the Thames in central London on Canoe London.

Good stuff about not stopping by the MI6 building as they get twitchy (alas I already did that when hunting for rowing pictures) and not going out when its been pouring with rain (like, er, yesterday and overnight) for reasons best left unsaid (search for the bubbler).

The photo above is from earlier this year when the weather was much, much nicer!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What's your background picture?

I, like so many, spend far too long in front of a computer screen.

No longer do we need screen savers to protect our bulky CRT but virtual desktops can easily be customised with a background picture.

Mine is shown above, a golden sunset over the east coast of Greenland. If you look closely you can see icebergs floating down from the north.

So what is your background picture? Is it a favourite view? A beloved boat?

Post and tell!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Christmas Bear Speaks


All I wanted was a bit of time off, some quiet, to catch up on my sleep, but no such luck.

No, that Hare would only go and wake me up. And why? To see a tree with a couple of lights on it.

Seriously? Is that it?

I've spent years travelling the wild forest; endless, countless green trees reaching up to a moonlit sky, with the flames of the aurora flashing across the sky. Now that is a sight worth seeing.

"Well now you're up" said the Hare. "You can help out."

So I wrote what felt like hundreds of cards, wrapped dozens of presents, cleaned and pealed the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts, put the stuffing in the Turkey (poor bastard), basted the roast, prepared the onion sauce.....

Then there was the moment for the Christmas Spirit to bring in the presents, which I'd imagine I'd do rather well, but the Hare said it was speciest for the Bear to play that part so the Hare did it while I brought in more firewood.

After dinner the Hare went off for a snooze but I had to entertain the smaller animals, which left my fur sticky and smelling funny.

Then the Hare came back refreshed with a new list of tasks to do.

I could see outside the sky crisp with stars, one of those magical nights promising shooting stars, and I wished I was out there. Or asleep.

Preferably asleep.

But no.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Thames, then and now

I'm always fascinated to see how the Thames has changed over the years.

Recently I've been reading about one of Britain's great merchant liner fleets and it was shocking how rapid it declined and then was absorbed by another after the container revolution.

But you can see what it would have been like in Docklands in this lovely little video from the BFI taken back in 1935 - and there are others too, such as this one from 1959 (notice the buildings bombed out between these two videos) and this from 1963 (complete with visit to The Dove pub).

And you can return to the some of the same locations in the comfort of your own easy chair using Google maps which has recently photographed the Thames:
Using a camera on one of the PLA boats it captured the Thames from Richmond down to Woolwich.

Jump aboard by clicking here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The ice returns

I've been keeping an eye out on the ice charts published by Norway here which show that most of the east coat of Greenland north of Tasiilaq has now been locked in.

Any boats still in Scorsby Sound or the amazing Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord won't be going anywhere for a couple of months.

And maybe longer than they planned - for apparently the northern ice sheets have bounced back with an average 50% more cubic kilometers of ice in October than the low in 2012.

Sounds good news doesn't it? Well it depends which year you compare the ice levels to.

If you use the 1980s as the baseline then ice levels have fallen a whopping 55% to 9,000 cubic km, just 45% of the 20,000 cubic km it used to be.

It will be worth keeping an eye on those ice sheets in 2014 to see whether this year is indeed a good news blip or a pause on a long term bad news trend.

And if you are iced in Scorsby Sound or Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord, hope you are snug and warm because it looks like you're going to have to be patient...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pippa sails with Sir Ben

Hi Guys,

OMG!! I am like soooooo jealous. Ok Pippa is like my BFF since waaayyy back but life is soooo unfair!

She's only gone out sailing with the winner of the America's Cup (Ed: er, Sassi, you might want to tone that down a notch) and best sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie.

Ok maybe Pippa has sailed the Atlantic or something but duh! was she BBC presenter for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or on Team JP for the Olympics? I don't think so!!

So Ben how about going off sailing with your's truly? YOLO!!!

Luv yah (Ben that is not Pippa (*))

Sassi xxx

(*) only kidding Pippa - that ski trip is sooo on and you can tell me all about it then.

Updated: Well Ben did pretty well on SPOTY last night. Given its sailing and Brits like their ball games he wasn't going to win but he managed to nearly tie with none other than Mo Farah to come 5th overall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How to get the Nexus 5 battery to last 3 to 4 days

I month or so ago I upgraded to a Nexus 5. While there is much to like about this phone there is one thing that is really bad - the battery life. Let's be honest, the Nexus 5 battery is too small.

Initially it struggled to survive a single day and it was only after a lot of Apollo 13 style "Shut it all down!" that I managed to get a more reasonable 3 to 4 days until reaching 15% left.

As part of this blog's public service tech support, here's how:

1. Turn the screen brightness down. The screen might be lovely but it eats a lot of juice so set the brightness at a minimum (Settings->Display)

2. Turn off Google Play updates. You don't need the latest app update immediately, and you don't even need to know that an update is available. So save yourself a lot of power and only update when you have both wifi and shore power (Google Play->Settings)

3. Switch off Google Now. I was preparing to leave to meet a friend for lunch when I got an alert saying it was time to go (which I obviously knew already). It was pretty smart and accurate but then I didn't need that message and to generate it there must have been all sorts of processing including requesting travel times off London Transport and location fixes which drains the battery. Clever but not worth risking an empty battery for

4. Switch off location services. GPS really does take a lot of power and you know where you are (its called "here"). If you are really lost (i.e. don't know where "here" is) then at that point switch in on but until then save the battery for when you really need it (Settings->Location)

5. Switch off Auto-Sync. Do you really need to know right now that an email is waiting for you? Surely its better to take control of your inbox and check it at a time that suits you rather than being a slave to the notification flashing light and save battery at the same time (Settings->Data Usage->Settings menu->Auto-Sync data)

6. Switch off various apps sync features such as, for example, Facebook updates. I'm pretty sure that photo of a baby with a cat can wait to be seen (Facebook->App->update)

7. Don't play graphics intensive games or watch videos. Yes I know the Nexus 5 can double up as a games console and video player but the battery simply isn't sized for those applications.

If you want the phone to still be working after a few days then "only" do the standard email / web / news / camera / photos / travel / weather / facebook / twitter / texts / phone calls / evernotes / ebooks (limited) / wikipedia / music player (downloaded not streaming) / alarm clock / solitaire / calculator / contacts / calendar etc.

You could also reboot to make sure all those settings are fixed and clear out any unwanted processes.

It probably helped that I live & work in areas with good LTE signal as the battery dropped a lot when I took the tube a couple of times. If you do that a lot it could be worth considering:

8. Switch airplane mode on when you go on the tube to stop it using a lot of power trying to keep the connection even when deep underground.

I don't think the answer is replaceable batteries as who wants to spent their time carrying spare batteries? The answer must for handset manufacturers to install larger batteries - at least 50% bigger than the one in the Nexus 5 and preferably twice the size.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Foggy Thames, misty Mars

The last few mornings London has been covered with a thick blanket of fog, causing the Thames Clipper to sound its horn as it felt its way carefully up or down the river.
And it appears that the Earth is not the only planet to suffer from the seasonal vapours as can be seen by this photo from Mars which show the canyons covered in mist:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sunday, December 08, 2013

London's Flood Risk

Last week a storm together with high tides drove seas up the funnel of the Thames Estury to threaten London with devastating floods.

Fortunately London was ready, and the Thames Barrier was raised in time to protect the capital.

But what if it hadn't been there? How bad could it have been?

Well the answer is pretty bad as can be seen by the image above released by the Environment Agency which shows how most of Docklands and huge swathes of East London would have been under water.

The headlines could have been so different, with less talk about Christmas Dolphins, and more about disasters and devastation.

Updated: Google thinks that this picture needs snowflakes:
Err.....Mr Google.... are you sure that's a good idea?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Porpoises spotted in the Thames

Hi Guys,

OMG!! Don't you just lurrrve dolphins! They are the cutest and have this great smile and just muck around all day with none of that boring work!!

I mean take JP: he was at this meeting in central London and there were these five dolphins (Ed: Sassi, I think you'll find they were porpoises) swimming up the Thames just outside and he didn't even look!!! (Ed: unfair - I looked all the time!).

Now they've reportedly gone further upriver to Battersea!! They could be going to Putney!! What are you doing in the office!! (Ed: actually Sassi I think you might have a point).

What's your porpoise in life?? Geddit???

Luv ya

Sassi xxx

Updated: yesterday those tough guys at the Marine Policing Unit showed they had a soft spot for our five friends from the sea with this tweet: "another day shift to news that the #christmasdolphins were spotted in the Putney area overnight". Alas no news since then...

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Shipwrecks 1, Dimbleby 0

I was planning on blogging Dimbleby's Britain and the Sea earlier but something more interesting came up.

I can't remember exactly what it was - maybe washing, or was it cooking? - for the problem is there isn't really enough meat in Dimbleby's show to keep one's attention focussed on whatever it is meant to be about.

I remember reading a review of the show asking what was the point? Or, to be a bit more accurate, "where is it going?", as the key thing about a TV documentary is to identify what it was meant to achieve.

Keep the focus must be a good message, as can be seen in another BBC documentary which is also about Britain and the sea though with a tighter remit.

In a program with a title like Shipwrecked: Britain's Sunken History you won't head off on tangents (such as Dimbleby's tours of an old castle's surprisingly boutique bathroom) but can expect some good stuff about the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare's Tempest, the castaway Selkirk and how a staggering one in five ships in the great age of explorers never came back.

A definite high spot was "Navigator and maritime adventurer" (what a great intro) Tristan Gooley showing how to measure your speed with knots and the latitude with a backstaff:
Definitely worth coming back for more in the weeks to come: