Saturday, June 25, 2011

Glastonbury not three men do something boaty

You have to play the hand that life deals you, whether good or bad.

Taru - or Reds as we now must call her - quite rightly and passionately blogged on the need to follow ones dreams. But sometime Life with a capital L gets in the way.

So this weekend as have noted am not doing the Round the Island or indeed getting afloat in any way, and early next week will have the funeral of close family member followed by the grind of discussions with lawyers and accountants. This weekend is therefore a time for preparation and a quiet night in.

I'm really enjoying watching on the Beeb this year's Glastonbury, where the rains have eased off, skies are blue and the mud is beginning to dry under the golden evening sunshine. We've already seen excellent sets by U2 and Tinie Tempah, and there's a long long list of good bands to come.

One thing I definitely haven't been watching is the latest in the series in which three men do something on the water involving Gryff Rys Jones and the other two. Seriously, enough guys! This is one viewer on strike.

But then again if you can get the BBC to pay you to potter around on classic boats, well you can see why they might say yes.

If you get a good hand you might as well play it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winning ticket - sailing

The Olympics 2012 ticketing process is grinding forward with relentlessness of a glacier rather than speed of a 100m sprinter.

The latest for those of us that a) applied for tickets and b) saw something get debited from our accounts, is that we now know exactly what we're going to see in just over a years time.

And there's no kayaking for me as it's sailing all the way, with one official ticket for Weymouth from the UK authority and not one but two more from a web site across the water in Germany.

Nothing yet for any of the sports hosted on the main Olympic site here in London, which is a bit of a shame. But then again our sailing team has a good track record in winning medals.

Go Team GB!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Iain M. Banks and the search for Utopia

After yesterday's theremin themed post a brief word on the rest of the British Library's Out of this World exhibition.

To be honest I was disappointed: it was trying too hard to show that there is a long tradition in what we now call science fiction and that even "serious" writers dabble in it. That for me is not the point, which is it is a medium that allows the writer to explore ideas. The exhibition did acknowledge that, but without going into depth as to the details of these conflicting ideas and overlooked some of the most important SF books.

It could also be argued that many "serious" writers make a mess of SF as they don't understand the genre, but there is of course the counter example of Iain Banks - or rather his alter-ego, Iain M. Banks, a disguise almost as effective as Clark Kent's.

His utopian Culture series of SF novels are a favourite of mine, and the disappointment of the exhibition was countered by a very interesting discussion on the concept of Utopia between Banks and Gregory Claeys, author of Searching for Utopia.

Claeys gave a rather academic (read mind expanding) summary of his thesis, which was that utopias were really about hope rather than religion, politics etc. I got the feeling the attention of audience, heavily biased towards fans of The Culture, slipped a bit at this point.

But Banks did not disappoint, jumping like one of his stories from idea to idea, not always in a linear way (again like his stories) but always entertaining.

The session was chaired by Francis Spufford who wrote the totally wonderful "The Backroom Boys: the return of the British Boffin" (hurrah huzzah!).

There was a lively discussion, to which yours truly contributed the thesis that there are inevitably disagreements about what would be ideal and the concept of utopia is useful therefore as a mechanism to debate their merits.

Anyhow, a fascinating evening that made up for a mediocre exhibition. There are other talks in the series and the program can be downloaded in PDF form here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The theremin, the swan and the gig at the British Library

A diversion from all things watery to post about an evening spent with things silvery, namely an event at the British Library part of their SF themed Out of this World exhibition. I say event as that's what it was described as though to be honest wasn't sure what to expect, and came in good time straight from work thinking it would be a bit like a concert, sitting down in silence. Wrong, wrong, wrong....

The first sign was the costumes - tin foil and Star Wars helmets came into it, plus there were some performance artists from the Immaculative Extremists who did it professionally. Then no one really sat down - ok there weren't that many seats, but there was lots of mingling, chatting even, trips to the bar and it was all held in the British Library's main antrium, which is a pretty impressive space.

The program can be seen below.

Apart from two DJ sets the first of the two main events was the Radio Science Orchestra playing a number of well known themes (think Doctor Who) plus versions of classics like The Swan by Saint-Saens played upon a theremin.

What's that you might ask? Well you can see it in action above played by Charlie Draper who basically waves his hands in the air very carefully (shaking definitely not a good idea) in a way that alters the radio system's resonant frequency via his capacitance - full and more accurate description on Wikipedia here. Note the use of that great word "heterodyne" which I first read in those classic pulp SF books by E.E. "Doc" Smith.

Anyhow, bravo to Charlie!

More here and they have an album on iTunes so click here for an uncut version.

After a break and another DJ it was on to the second part, the return of the legendary Global Communication, the ambient music group from the 1990s, performing their classic 76:14, one of the Guardian top 1,000 albums. Hmmm.... not exactly a short list, but then again it is a laid back piece.... a very laid back piece.

It did eventually get going and people started dancing.

I get the feeling that would never have happened in the old British Library reading room. Maybe things would have been better if they had - Karl Marx so busy dancing with George Eliot he never gets round to writing his up his big idea (what is known to SF buffs as an alternative history).

An enjoyable evening; all very cutting edge in a retro way.

Two big thumbs up - or should that be six waving tentacles up?

Updated: at the request of the Radio Science Orchestra have taken down the video - sorry!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Round the Island Tide Simulations

The annual Round the Island race is coming up (this coming weekend indeed) though alas I'm not taking part. It was always going to be difficult to plan ahead when a family member is seriously ill, but no doubt the Isle of Wight will still be there next year.

With nearly 2,000 yachts sailing altogether it is one of Britain's biggest sporting events and so its not surprising its cropping up more and more in the papers and conversations. There was this interesting piece recently in the Telegraph and at the lunch after the memorial service last week I had several sailing relating chats, one ending up with a call for "good luck in the race".

Over on the YW site I was most impressed by some brilliant simulations of the tide conditions that competitors will experience from TideTech, which sort of blows my rarely used copy of Winning Tides out the water.

Of course it begs the question how accurate simulations can be compared - say - to local knowledge? Coincidently had a similar discussion today with an Australian client who was seeing big differences between measurements and results generated using one of our competitor's simulation tool. I ran a simulation using our tool with inputs 10 times higher resolution and got close to the measurements (yeh!) - so yes, I think with the right data it can be.

As well as sailing faster these simulations should make for safer sailing: in the video above of the Needles Channel you can see how there's a strong flow that could drag boats dangerously onto the Shingles banks.

And with the sad news over the weekend safety should be on everyone's mind.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pics of Lyme Regis

Those eagle eyed will have spotted that the video posted earlier was titled Lyme Regis. At the time we were all in a bit of state of shock and I ended up leaving my proper camera at home so was reliant on the iPhone.

Anyhow, here are a couple of photos from that picturesque little port, made regal back in 1284 by King Edward (later to be known as King Edward the First).

Since then its played its part in many a book and film, most notably Jane Austin's Persuasion. The steps above, apparently called Granny's Teeth, is where some say Louisa fell down: a good story not helped by the fact that they weren't there in Austin's day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The best way to see the world is from a boat

It's a showery Saturday here in London and so the BBQ on Whitstable beach I was going to has been called off. Probably just as well as it's been rather a hectic week that including more or less crashing a memorial service packed with real Lords and Ladies where one of the readings was given by none other than the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable George Osborne, MP (long story).

So it was quite nice to have a lazy day reading the papers and there was a good crop of sailing related articles. First up was The Independent's "My Life in Travel" with TV presenter Dan Snow in which he declared that "the best way to see the world is from a boat".

Very true, though he might well have been put off sailing due to a nasty early experience. Apparently his first holiday memory was sailing with his father Peter Snow (also a TV presenter) in which he was literally tied down to the boat when it encountered a south westerly gale in the Solent.

Then on to the FT which had a special how to spend it boating edition (not available online). Mostly this is an eye opening insight into the upper price bracket's options, where entry level means a 30m waterline and the only thing in my budget were cuff links at £185 (but no, not tempted).

However there was an interesting article on the British Olympic sailing team, and the attention grabbing statistic that the UK's 2,100 sailing clubs are more than the whole of Western Europe. Go team GB!!

Finally in the main FT there was an article on role of the tactician. This being the FT the example they give is the Olympic sailor hired by the owner of the 29m Wally yacht Magic Carpet2 (above) - but even he started in an Optimist.

Apparently 85% of Olympic sailors started on Optimists, but impressive though that is, and while they are in my budget, alas think I've got big for them in too many ways.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The risks of kayaking

I once read a rather sombre book called "Total Loss" which was packed with accounts of the events that led to a yacht going down. It was, however, a useful read in warning of the dangers of going to sea and hopefully will encourage better practice.

Today I skimmed through a similar document: the MCA's 2010 Canoe and Kayak Incident Annual Report, available from here. It categories incidents into Rescued, Abandoned, FAWGI (which means false alarm with good intent), fatality and other.

Alas there were in total 9 canoe and kayaker deaths during the year, 4 of which were in April, when people are tempted out onto the waters still cold from winter. Two got trapped in rushing rivers while another two were adverse conditions in coastal waters.

But two might have been avoided as one involved drinks and drugs, while another apparently was in the Aberffraw Estuary in challenging conditions without a life jacket or buoyancy aid. Its hard to know what to say; those are two definite no-nos, as was the hoax.

Quite a few stories of members of the public misinterpreting capsize drills and also a lot of abandoned kayaks, plus some intriguing human interest like this one:

"St Austell Coastguards were called to a report of MALE in a Kayak overdue between Lostwithiel and Golant, by his wife. Unit stood down when missing MALE called his wife from Fowey."

I wonder what was said on his return - but what an appropriate place to get lost in.

Let's be careful out there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Buff Staysail - the truth

Today this blog is forced to run an important official announcement on behalf of Buff Staysail:

G'day all! Buff Staysail here - Buff by name and Buff by nature!

There's been all sorts of gossip going around recently that I just had to come out and clear things up. All this talk about me really being a Syrian lesbian is complete and utter B- ..... er, I mean, complete rubbish.

This is Buff Staysail you are talking about! I am a well known and respected sailing journo and also CEO, Chairman and founder of that ground breaking and potential Tech Crunch winning company, Buff Enterprises!!

Lets keep the gap between fact and fiction clear, ok?

This is Buff Staysail, for real, over and out!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The return of the Great Stink

I didn't need the BBC to tell me what had happened. My nose knew straight away as the smell was just awful, terrible.

The Thames was full of shit again.

Apparently last week after heavy rain 450,000 tonnes of sewage overflowed into the river, returning the upper reaches of the Thames to the "Great Stink" days of Victorian England.

In 1858 the smell was so bad that Parliament decided that something had to be done, and after much deliberation by men with impressive whiskers chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette set to work building a sewer network for central London.

He and his team did a very good job, but since then London has grown quite a bit and the system can't cope with intense rain. Hence the plan for a Super Sewer, as described here by an article on a very good local canoe club, a member of which described recent events as if "some monster had had a problem with diarrhoea, and even I didn’t roll that night".

Indeed it was so bad that there were not one but two Thames Water's Bubblers (above) out patrolling the river by Putney pumping life restoring oxygen into the waters. Such a flotilla was a sight I hadn't seen before and reminded me of some lines of Macbeth:

Double, double toil and trouble 
Fire burn and cauldron bubble

Hopefully soon this blog will return to more reader friendly topics. In the mean time I will quite understand if you leave suddenly for other sites with posts of bikinis and crystal clear Caribbean waters.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life and death

The last 10 days have been tough at JP HQ as a close family member died. This is a boating blog - at least in theory - and not a confessional, so that's as much as I feel like posting.

But life must go on and its not all grim as another close family member got a gong which we are all very pleased and proud about.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Buff's Brilliant Buoys (TM)

G'day all! Buff Staysail here - Buff by name and Buff by nature!

My eye was recently caught by this beaut idea, namely an amphibian ice cream van. So there you are, kayaking down the Thames, roasting in this ripper of a pommie summer, mouth all parched like, then what would be better than a nice cooling ice cream! Ok, a nice cool beer, but you get my drift.

Of course this is all some sort of PR stunt, and it wouldn't be practical in reality, what with the high price of labour and diesel in the UK. But, thinks I, what if you could automate it all? You could instead of an amphibian van have a vending machine on a buoy!!

Just imagine - you're out in a Laser regatta or kayaking with mates when all of a sudden you realise you've left your sun cream and hat behind and your head is beginning to glow. No worries - just sail up to the Buff's Brilliant Buoy (TM) moored just by the windward mark, push a couple of buttons and you're sorted.

Now at this point JP started muttering about how he leaves his wallet at home when out on the water - typical downer. Think lateral, says I, we'll sell pre-paid Buff's Brilliant Buoy's (TM) charge cards!!!

So you just buy them onshore (with £5 or $5 non-refundable deposit and if you drop it over-board don't blame us, so what if the water-proof coating is a bit slippy???) and woosh, there you go, easy access to that chilled Mars bar, just when you need it.

Buff Enterprises is also planning an offshore version, which will stock nicely chilled white wine for the yachting community and offer telecom services including wifi hotspot to download GRIBs.


So boating bloggers and readers, time for a little customer survey - what do you want to see in your Buff's Brilliant Buoy (TM)?

This is Buff Staysail, over and out!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Olympics Ticket Lottery

Those of us who applied for tickets to the London 2012 Olympic Games found out today whether we'd been allocated any - but not, it must be emphasised, exactly which sports and which days. All you actually know is the amount of money that has been taken from your credit card, for even though the games are still over a year away you must cough up now.

It's fair to say there's been quite a bit of grumbling all the way up to the Mayor of London, Boris, who made a big point of announcing how he's won none (ignoring the fact that as host Mayor he's guaranteed a ring side seat).

Of the 6 tickets I applied for I've won just the one, which judging from the price could be either kayaking or sailing. The popular events of opening / closing ceremonies and 100, 200 and 400 m finals were hugely oversubscribed, though there is the story on the BBC of someone that only applied for 4 tickets to the 100 m final and got them. But that's a story because it is rare .... very, very rare.

To get an idea of the scale that some were prepared to go, one man put in an application for over £ 36,000 pounds worth of tickets, and ended up with a bill for £ 11,000 - but still doesn't know what's he's won.

The way it worked was that over a set time period you could enter your application for tickets to the events you wanted to go to. For those that were oversubscribed - such as the 100 m final, for which a million applications were received - there was a lottery. As most applications were for popular events (er.... ) the result was much disappointment, and as mentioned, a fair amount of grumbling.

Some complained about the complexity - though having some experience in what auction design economists can come up with my feeling is it could have been a lot worse - but where I would agree is that you should be told straight away what you've been allocated. After all it must be the case that some big Olympics 2012 computer does know who has what.

The organisers are playing it slow, saying there'll be a second phase in the weeks ahead which will be first come first serve for the unallocated tickets, so there's no rush. But they are wrong.

What they forget is this thing called the web and another thing called the European Single Market. You'd have thought someone would have told them about it, because there are other sources of tickets other than the UK 2012 Olympics organisation, and anyone with a credit card can go to their web site and because of the European Single Market they can not refuse your business.

While you won't find tickets to the 100m final (alas) you can pick up many other tickets. It would be a lot easier if I knew exactly what I'd won and which day, but given this is a once in a lifetime event its worth having a plan B.

Interestingly my gut feeling on hearing I'd won either sailing or kayaking tickets was to hope its sailing (sorry Bonnie) so just to be on the safe side I got two more tickets to Weymouth. I might even have another look when the second tranche are made available.

The only thing better than having a plan A plus plan B is to have plans A, B and C!