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Plas Menai Sea Kayaking course 09-13 Sept 2013
A few pictures of the course
Having 'flu last December really knocked me down. I spent most of the first quarter of the year not riding the bike, and on the occasions I did I was reduced to a wheezing cranky wreck by asthma. My sister has always had asthma, but I missed that particular genetic defect, so it was a surprise to be suddenly, appallingly breathless. Walk upstairs = breathless. Cycle to work = gulping like a landed fish. One morning in April I left my inhaler at home by accident, cycled in for the early shift and thought I was going to die. Wheeze, wheeze, gasp, tunnel vision. Not a good morning.

It's better than it was - at least I no longer need the inhaler if I cycle to work - but the knock-on effects of having lost fitness and gained weight are still with me. I've been ramping up the riding through the summer, but my mileage this year will be substantially lower than usual.

It also means I hadn't been out in the kayak all year, and like all physical skills 'if you don't use it, you lose it'. I decided to remedy that, and since Plas Menai happened to be running a sea kayaking course the same week I was thinking of taking leave, it had to be done. Nick doesn't kayak, so he found something more interesting to do with his first week of leave, and I pootled off by train to Bangor with a rucksack full of stuff for a five-day stint with some strangers on the water. Being on the train, I didn't take my own boat. Kayaking, yay! Strangers, boo!

Plas Menai is the National Watersports centre, and is right on the Menai Straits, just north of Caernarfon. Many courses are advertised as non-residential, but for convenience one can opt to stay on-site. The morning of day one was pool-based, checking that everyone was familiar and happy with capsize drills and wet exits. In the afternoon, we went up to Llyn Padarn at Llanberis to try out the sea boats.

The first one I sat in was a rotomoulded Valley Avocet - this might be a fantastic boat, but I never found out on the grounds that I'm such a lardarse I couldn't get in the damn cockpit without the coaming digging into my hips. The alternative was to try out a rotomoulded P&H Delphin 150, and at first I thought I had the same problem, but then I realised that the Delphin is fitted out like a whitewater boat. Once I'd removed the hip pads from the seat, I could sit in this one without feeling as though it would cut me in half.

Paddling the Delphin around Llyn Padarn it was interesting to compare its handling with my own P&H boat which is a rotomoulded Capella 160 (the mark II with round hatches). The Capella is a nice safe-feeling bus in which I have some confidence, but the Delphin was skittish and wayward in ways I wasn't expecting. The design ethic seems to be to make a boat which is much more manoeuvrable, playful even. I found the Delphin needed skeg when I wouldn't have used it in the Capella - so much so that it was down more or less permanently, regardless of wind direction. I also found it less stable (primary stability) and I was less confident of its secondary stability. Some of this could simply be lack of use/lack of familiarity on my part so, for those who happen across this via a search engine, don't dismiss the Delphin just because I wasn't particularly comfortable with it. The other thing about the Delphin is that the bow seems very high out of the water. This means it catches the wind a lot, and when paddling through swell it tends to rise up and then slap down.

After the first day of just getting familiar with our mounts, spending day two travelling up the Menai Straits and back seemed a little ambitious to me. The tide and weather was favourable, but my concern was my lack of experience on moving water. The Menai undergoes a number of odd shifts in current due to tidal flow, and there are sections which are notorious for giving boaters trouble, what with whirlpools and overfalls. The first flow of the rising tide comes in from the southwest near Caernarfon, but later this is opposed by the flow coming in from the northeast, and the result is 'the Slack', which occurs about 1.5 hours before high water. This varies in position but is roughly between the two bridges, and the smooth pools of oily-looking surface water give little indication of the turbulence in the Swellies. Apparently Nelson once said that if you can sail the Menai, you can sail anywhere in the world. Kayaks have no problems with draught, but tidal currents and eddies can be tricky.

Heading north in the morning, the southern section past Y Felinheli and thence to Plas Newydd wasn't too bad. Getting the confidence to get out into the main northward flow of the tide was the first achievement. Close to the banks the flow is slow, but the central section can flow at up to 8 knots on spring tides. We were mid-way between springs and neaps so it wasn't anything like so fast, but with something of a northerly breeze there was a little chop on the surface, and I spent the morning trying to concentrate on getting a good forward paddling rhythm. We had a brief pause at Plas Newydd, before heading on and under the Britannia bridge, with Ben the instructor giving us pointers to what areas to avoid. The eddies around the bridge's piers are something to be seen, and I wasn't previously aware of being in dread of large engineering. I've crossed the Britannia bridge many, many times, and I've walked under it and seen the Trafalgar lions which guard it, but this is the first time I can remember being nervous about it. The sense of being very small and ineffectual was strong, as was the realisation (never far away when I'm kayaking) that a cockup could mean a real crimp in the day.

Between the bridges we passed Gorad Goch and the cardinal mark of Swellies rock on the mainland side, with eerie 'boiling' waters and twitchy currents, watching a much more advanced group playing in the tidal flows, then headed more to the western side to pass under the Anglesey end of the Menai Suspension bridge - we travelled in more or less a straight line, it's the strait that bends at this point. We stopped to have lunch once we'd reached the slip at Porthaethwy (Menai bridge town).

The return trip was looking like a simple reverse of the morning, but a couple of things made it very different. The first was the change of tide, now running back to the southwest. We passed under the suspension bridge and this time stayed on the Anglesey side, hardly needing to paddle at all, and upon reaching Gorad Goch we practiced breaking out of the main flow and pausing near the old fish trap, then ferry gliding back to our original route downstream. Throughout the day up to this point, those of us in Delphins had been having some some discussion with Ben about the handling, and just before we headed back under the Britannia bridge we eddied out and pulled up on a little stony beach. Ben wanted to try us out with a little more weight up front to see if that cured the waywardness we were reporting, so he stuck a few rocks in the front hatches of the Delphins to give us some ballast. When we returned to the water and started to head back into the flow I suddenly realised what a mistake this was. I missed the line into the flow and ended back in the eddy. The first time, I thought it was just me. The second time, I was seriously disturbed - the group were nearly through the bridge now, and I called out to make sure they knew I was separated - the current is strong enough that that one small error opened a gap of 100m or so before I got my next go. On the third go, I found myself once more pointing at the shore, and this time my brain kicked me, and I hit the 'commit' button to land the boat. On landing, I was shaking so badly that I seriously thought I might be walking back to Plas Menai. Ben put the rest of the group into the quiet bay near the statue of Nelson, and came back to help me out. I ditched the rocks - they may not have been the cause, but my sense of the boat was so disturbed that all the 'feel' for the handling that I had learned in the last day or so had evaporated. I was also less than sanguine about my abilities in the Menai. Talking through it with Ben took some of the edge off, and I could then get back into the main flow, under the bridge and back to the rest of the group. He thought I was being quite hard on myself, but it's tricky to judge when you're on the inside looking out.

We carried on back down to Plas Menai without any further weirdness, although the others also took the ballast out of their boats, having come to similar conclusions about the effect of the extra weight on the handling. Moral: Don't make sudden changes without due consideration!
14 June 2013 @ 02:17 pm
Been away for a long time. Stuff happens.

So, Superman VI Superman Returns II Man of Steel.


Short version: A curate's egg - good in parts.

Russell Crowe stands around looking solid and convincing, which is pretty good for a hologram of a dead guy. Henry Cavill looks like Superman - but not as much like him as Christopher Reeve did, except in one shot, where I was jolted out of my noise-induced catatonia. Michael Shannon carries Zod well. I still prefer Terence Stamp, but that's because of the louche delivery and humour of the writing. There's not much humour in this film, and the one good line is nihilistic to a fault. Amy Adams' character is inconsequential which is a shame, because Lois is really meant to be feisty and independent. Back in 1978, Margot Kidder nailed it, but again I think the writing was better. Kevin Costner is actually very good.

Bangs and crashes a-plenty, but by the third Kryptonian-Juggernaut-smashes-through-building scene you start to look at your watch. Then there's another. And another after that. And - O rly? Again? Geewhiz, I've never seen that before. Say, isn't that what the Hulk does?

Anyone with World Trade Centre PTSD, or tornado trauma or similar should go and look at something else for 2-anna-half hours. Flowers perhaps, or something a bit quieter. No I'm not joking - there are one or two shots in the film that really reminded me of that, particularly if you remember the footage of the people filming on the street who were caught in the dust cloud.

Did I mention it was LOUD? When Zod lost his visor, I knew exactly how he felt. It's not exactly helped by Hans Zimmer trying for the World Record for how many crescendos he can fit into the loudest piece of music ever played. The themes around Krypton at the start are Stygian, and they get deeper and louder the further into the film we go.

Avoiding spoilers is easy - I guess most people know that Jor-El dies fairly early on, and that Pa Kent doesn't make it either - but the details are a little different from what we've seen before, as are the reasons for Krypton's demise and the relationship between Zod and Jor-El. The story itself isn't that bad, and the idea behind Zod's single-mindedness understandable. It's always going to be difficult to divorce Superman from a Christ myth, but this is a reasonable attempt - and the Zod-Superman showdown puts an interesting (and very human) slant on the "What would $MESSIAH Do?" question.
23 October 2011 @ 12:27 pm
I changed jobs a month ago, and immediately crashed into shitstorm of upgrade-need. It's like moving from just-bang-the-rocks-together-guys to Star Trek. I have a (for broadcast) huge network to understand which includes systems integration with broadcast kit, and therefore is an horrific combination of IT infrastructure (underpinned by Cisco and Spanning Tree), Avid Unity ISIS, Avid Interplay, Capture, Command, IsoSync et al on the one hand, and broadcast network infrastructure HD-SDI routing using Probel Aurora, Snell & Wilcox Sirius 800, Axon Synapse and Cortex, and Miranda Kaleido on the other. To say this is brain-fry time would be understatement on the order of calling the Zombie Apocalypse a crimp in your day.

I needed a brain extension / expansion, and clearly we still haven't got the organic USB/SD ports that we were all hoping would be here by now, so I bought a tablet.

I've been saying for a few years now that they were a solution looking for a problem - but now I've found the problem which, for me at any rate, they solve.

I have about 800 diagrams and schedules to learn at least have more than a passing familiarity with. There are crates of manual DVDs, as well as actual paper manuals. It's all newly-built and been working for nine months, although the 'official' engineering handover isn't until this week, and we're still adapting/modifying it as we go. ::-)

So, what I can acutally do is:
Wander around doing my job carrying a pad no worse|bigger|heavier than an A4 or A5 notebook - which is what most of us have been doing up to now.
Upload diagrams to use with AutoCAD WS (there may be an argument about whether it's ok to pass this stuff through Autodesk's servers, but I'm not the only person to do this, and the company can provide no alternative method). New editions of diagrams simply overwrite the old ones.
Carry .pdf versions of all the manuals. I could have put these on my Kindle, but its handling of .pdf is limited, and the tablet a) has a larger screen to start with and b) manages the zoom much better.
Make notes of faults and solutions pretty much as quickly as I can with my notebook and pen, with the added benefit of the notes being keyword searchable after the fact.

All the usual useful stuff you get with a laptop or notebook pc (like copy and paste for searches or updating fault tracking software like Remedy*) is there, but it feels a damn sight more convenient than carrying a notebook, netbook or laptop around with me. Plus it's solid state, and so far seems to survive travelling by bike.

I have a feeling I'm a convert. However, in the interests of balance, I should perhaps point out that it's a Motorola Xoom, not an iPad.

*I know, I know, don't get me started.
Current Mood: Enthused
My brother phoned. The phone says this was at 1914 on Saturday. We were still parked at the pub, watching people arriving for their evening out. Read more...Collapse )
We returned to Lymm using the reverse of my route to Knutsford, and the improved weather meant a quick stop to remove my more-or-less useless jacket. Not knowing the roads meant I didn't recognise, and thus missed the turning down Rectory Lane which would have avoided the descent right into Lymm centre, but the rise out of the village was managed, and aside from another quick diversion into Standish Lane, which more or less set the tone for the rest of the ride, we were back onto the CTC route again. Warburton Bridge leads to the A57, and a 300m reminder of why A-roads can be a bad idea sometimes. Left into Hollins Green and thence to Glazebrook took us back to the kind of roads which were more friendly towards us.
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Long day's journey into night

Andy Gates, a solo rider making the journey from Land's End to John'o'Groats
Kim, an engineer with a tendency to fettle
Charlotte, cake hunter and eater of lemon tarts
redshift, a commuter with an angry streak and a flaky phone
The story so far:
A solo LEJoG rider, Andy Gates, is heading for the halfway stage on his epic once-in-a-lifetime journey. Braving hostile headwinds and combat-hardened tent-busting slugs, he is joined by Kim, and later Charlotte, for a couple of days in the strange world of The North West of England. From Crewe they take a scientific detour to visit Jodrell Bank.
Meanwhile, redshift and partner Nick are arranging for a stopover at a camp site near Preston, after which shifty will head South to meet the intrepid trio.

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17 February 2011 @ 10:34 pm
Wing mirros. Next time some tit in a Mercedes slaps you with his wing mirror, rip the thing off and stick it down his throat.

Happened today, and I just went 'meh. Drivers.' Clearly I should have felt something other than apathy, but hey...
13 July 2010 @ 10:56 am
A friend of mine brought me an exploding guitar, and asked if I could do anything with it. It's a 30-year old Ibanez classical, and the bridge had finally given up the ghost. It appears that when the bridge was originally drilled for the strings, the drill went off line and caused a burr to lift the wood on the underside of the bridge. Thus when the bridge was glued, only half of it was actually attached to the soundboard. The first pic shows that only about half the bridge was glued - you can see that the wood fibres haven't adhered properly:


After a bit of fiddling about with hide glue and clamping cauls:


The bridge saddle was never found, so I had to make a new one from a bone blank - I've left it a tiny bit high and flat, so that Steve can play for a while and then decide just what action he wants, but here it is, finished:


I'm not a classical guitar afficionado, but it seems to play reasonably well.
Current Mood: accomplished
16 June 2010 @ 10:04 pm
I've signed on to do the Manchester to Blackpool ride in July - riding to raise money for The Christie Hospital, which is Manchester's specialist cancer hospital and research centre. Their charity site is here.

Dad had radiotherapy there last year, and after a relapse, he's been in there for just over a week now, and is recovering from major surgery - and when I say major I mean ten-hours-on-the-table major. They're good people, so I'm going to spend a little energy supporting them, in a 'thank-you' kind of way. Donations via my JustGiving page would be welcome.
17 April 2010 @ 02:23 pm
ITV hosted the first ever live UK political party leaders' debate for this year's election. I was one of the studio engineers charged with getting the thing on air, in both standard and high definition systems. This involved an awful lot of wires. Click to link through to the photobucket shots.