Niagara Falls

I spent last week in Niagara at the International Association of Hydrogeologists Congress. We arrived pretty late at night and looking out of my hotel window at some unearthly hour in the morning I could see a huge dinosaur, a ferris wheel and a steaming volcano; I thought I was in Las Vegas. Thankfully when Sunday dawned, the view from my window made it clear that I was definitely in Niagara Falls.

Falls from my hotel window

The week was filled pretty much with work non-stop. We were either working on the BGS stand showing off our 3D geological modelling software, meeting with colleagues, attending sessions or networking.


Nevertheless we found the time to take in the sights, both by day…

Falls from the top

and by night…

Niagara by night

We even got the opportunity to go on a day trip to see both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The picture is at Lake Erie, where we were told about the water quality problems in the lake.

Day trip to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario (Photo courtesy of Mr. Kessler)

As you can imagine, we found time to have fun too and on the Thursday night we had a buffet supper in a restaurant overlooking the falls.

Abi and I

Free gear and TV fame!

A few days ago I had an email forwarded from my running club inviting me to be an extra in the filming of an ad for a local business. The New Balance running shoe factory at Flimby, West Cumbria, is right on the coast, with great views to Scotland in good weather. When the weather is more inclement, on the other hand, the factory is exposed to icy blasts coming off the sea. A few miles inland there was snow so I suppose the only reason we had rain rather than snow was the salt in the local microclimate.

Looking over the Solway to Scotland

We assembled in the staff canteen which, after several hours with 100 or so people crowded in there, developed an interesting aromatic fug.

In the canteen - for many hours, ironically without food!

There was plenty of time to chat because we arrived for 9 am and did not actually do any filming for nearly three hours. To my surprise, although there were some local runners present, a lot of people were neither local nor runners. However, they all looked the part once kitted out. We had been told to turn up in running clothes without logos – a much harder task than first appears: how many items of “gear” do we own that don’t have a logo? Not many! Since we were all given New Balance gear this turned out not to matter. I was attired in a singlet (purple – hurrah!) and compression capris (don’t leave much to the imagination :(, but surprisingly comfortable once I got used to them 🙂 ) and new trainers, when I was one of ten chosen to go outside to run up and down a stretch of grass being filmed. It was f****ing freezing and by the time we had done this half a dozen times my hands were totally numb. I was very glad to get back into the factory.

Hardly anyone was at work today - I was told that they can choose their own hours on a Friday

Initially I had been given some purple and white trainers and as you can imagine was very pleased – until I discovered they did not fit, and they were replaced with ORANGE ones 🙁 🙁 🙁

Orange shoes - not my first choice of colour 🙁

Before long I was extremely happy they were orange: some time was spent with one group running from the outdoors into the factory, and the other group running from the factory out to the yard. Between takes we had to hang about at our respective starting points, and very fortunately the orange-shoed group were the group who started indoors – result! 🙂 🙂

We were all starving and thirsty by this time – it was after 2pm – and finally we were fed, plenty of buffet and cake and surprisingly good coffee. Then it was a change into different gear, in my case a long sleeved fluoro pink top (I “acquired” a jacket too but it was so big I gave it to Andy – a friend from my running club and not the Andy who usually appears in this blog) and back outside where, although frozen to the bone again I was at least sprinting backwards and forwards. Twenty unlucky people had to stand still in a line and watch the rest of us – as some of these were attired in as little as short shorts and singlets, I am astonished that none of them was overcome by hypothermia.

Back inside again and by now it was 4.30 pm. We had been told that the session would finish between 3 and 4 pm so there was a bit of muttering in the ranks when an announcement was made that we would be required for another 50 minutes. Andy and I were a bit loath to leave before getting paid, but when it was announced that the media company’s cheque book had been “forgotten”, and we would have to email invoices to the office, we suddenly remembered that we had children to collect and could not stay any longer. (Well, Andy has three children so I reckoned I could borrow one temporarily for this purpose.)

It was almost dark by the time we left!

From the factory car park at 4.45 pm

It was a novel way of spending a Friday. Even if we don’t get paid (and this has happened to me in the past when a film company went bust) at least we have lots of unexpected free gear. Oh, and of course a moment of fame. I was briefly on BBC Look North this evening, being interviewed on the strength of my being both local and a runner. Sadly I failed to take the opportunity of plugging my running club. The ad will be out in March I understand – blink and you’ll probably miss me!

Olympic Torch

Olympic Logo

I’m working at Lloyds Banking Group at the moment, and as they are sponsors of next year’s Olympics they had the Olympic torch on display in the office last week. Thought I’d join in the fun and have my photo taken.

Apparently, there isn’t one torch, there’s one flame. This is one of 9 gold plated torches, but next year there will be a couple of thousand.

The 8000 drilled holes represent the 8000 torch bearers. Hopefully we’ll get to see the torch when it comes to Bowness next year.

Different Shades of Grey

Well the blue skies have been absent for the last couple of weeks, and we have had complete cloud cover, all day and all night. Of course as it never gets dark its just grey the whole time. The temperatures have dropped to a steady -5 but when we get any sort of breeze, it’s pretty cold.

The poor visibility has wreaked havoc with the running program……… with no contrast it is impossible to see where you’re feet are going and the perimeter track varies from hard, rutted ice to ankle deep soft mush. Not so good, and last Monday I finished 4 laps (20kms) with quite sore ankles. I’ve been running with Deano as he has been thinking of doing the Halley Marathon , a run of 8 ½ laps (26 miles and a bit) for charity. All the events (Quiz, pool comp etc) have been for the 2 charities.

Details can be found at:

On Wednesday I managed another 20kms and today I’ve done 5 laps (25kms), so I might do the marathon myself. It will be a slow time given the condition of the participant, not the course!

Work continues

On the work side of things, the modules are gradually coming together, and the first 2 (the science modules) will be towed to the Halley 6 site in a weeks time. (15kms away). Not too much else to report on the work front except that we nearly lost one of the modules to a fire on the loading bay. This was caused by the smokers having one of their many breaks and not putting the tab out properly. Smoking is now banned anywhere on site and only allowed outside the accommodation………… productivity has gone up!!

Scene of the fire

We have had a visit from a twin otter plane, to collect post, but more importantly to find a NASA weather satellite that crashed about 100km away. They have found it and the yanks are coming on Tuesday to pick up the bits.

A Twin Otter flies over
Twin Otter on the runway

Still on the weather, this morning I did the weather balloon launch. As the build is going on there isn’t too much science happening at the base, there is usually a dozen scientists carrying out all types of tests and experiments, but the weather monitoring and the monitoring of the ozone hole have continued.

Launching the weather balloon
The weather balloon sender unit

The weather balloon is launched full of helium and measures the temperature, humidity and has a GPS to give altitude and position. It gets up to about 24 kms and expands to size of a double decker bus. Today, with the low clouds (2000 ft) it was gone in seconds.

Curling in Edinburgh

Last night we went Curling.

The stone!

As many of you know, I’ve been working in Edinburgh for the last few months. As a team, we try to go out regularly, but that usually involves lots to drink. We decided to organise an alternative but still traditional Scottish pastime – Curling. There were very strict rules on the website: no drunks and very clean shoes, no exceptions. We thought we could cope with that. I even asked Pete to join us.

The team is a mix of Scottish and English, but only one of us had curled before, and that was 10 years ago, so we arranged to have an instructor. We had two “sheets” (lanes) booked and we split into 4 teams.

After an initial 30 minutes of instruction and practice, the games began.

The aim, as you may already know, is to get the stone onto the “house” (circular target). We had 2 stones each for each “end” (round). The team with the stone closest to the centre of the house wins the end.

Did you know…?

  • The sheets (lanes) are just over 45m long and 5m wide.
  • The surface of the sheet is a little rough, it has frozen “pebbles” (droplets of water), so it’s isn’t too slippy.
  • The stones are about 20 kilos each, but you don’t lift them!
  • The stones are traditionally made of either Blue Hone granite which has low water absorption, which prevents the action of freezing and melting water from eroding the stone; or Ailsa Craig Common Green. Both are from Aisla Craig, an island off the Ayrshire coast.
  • Kays of Scotland have exclusive rights to Ailsa Craig granite. They have been the exclusive manufacturer of curling stones for the Olympics.
  • There is a quarry in North Wales that supplies Trefor granite to Canada for their stones.
  • The stones “curl” (curve) if you add a spin to them.
  • Stones must land between the “hog line” (11m from the end of the ice) and the “back line” (just behind the rings) to be in play, else it is “hogged” (removed).

Using a “hack” (a starting block), you “deliver” (shove) the stones down the ice and watch them glide toward the house. It’s not easy to judge how hard you should release the stone and the “sweepers” frantically brush the ice in front of the stone if they feel it needs to go faster.

It wasn’t exactly a high scoring event. We managed to get a few stones in to the house; we managed to get more hogged. I have no idea who won, but there were theatrical sighs as stones would slide out of play, or come short of being in play, and great cheering as stones stopped in the house or where the other team’s stones were knocked out of the house. At least, on the whole, we managed to stay within our own sheets and didn’t disrupt the games of the other, more experienced players on the ice.

A good evening was had by all and it’s definitely one to be recommended.

Brian and Bill brushing with Adrian watching how it's done
Pete delivering the stone
Andrew releasing the stone...
Andrew on the ice!
The Team

A Cough, Work, and a Bad Choice Stops Play?

The past few weekends have been shockingly adventure-free! What has happened? Well, we’ve been suffering from three woes – Laetitia has a cough (probably Swine Flu 😉 ), work, and a poor choice…

  • The cough (a cold or flu) is kind of normal at this time of year I guess. So even though it’s bloody annoying, there isn’t a lot we can do about it! 🙁 At least it isn’t me with the illness, as we all know man-flu is often fatal! 😆
  • Working away from home in Edinburgh sucks! :angry: Even though I’m earning lots of Marriott reward points which should, one day, provide a free luxury holiday somewhere, it’s still the case that after a full week of working long hours (not to mention late evenings editing the new Tremadog guidebook) the last thing I feel like doing at the weekend is getting up early. 🙁
  • As for our bad choice, that’s just bad luck. 😳 We simply didn’t think we’d get such an amazing period of great winter conditions back in Britain, so we left our ice tools and crampons in France. Why? Simply to save on the extra costs budget airlines pile on for non-carry-on luggage. The seat is often cheaper than the baggage! 😈

So our sporting diet these past few weekends has been a mix of back-to-back episodes of 24 (very addictive) and a few trips to Kendal’s indoor climbing wall. I get bored at the indoor wall too easily, which means we haven’t even done that half as often as I’d like. 😐 Oh well, the days are getting longer again and it’ll soon be spring, the best time of year for rock climbing…

What has everyone else been up to but not reported?

Everything is at risk!

Yesterday we had an impossibly pedantic meeting at work where a “security expert” explained what testing needed to be completed to gain a given level of accreditation. Basically, what he said was that no matter what we did to ring-fence any aspect of the system, everything that could be accessed via the network needed to be tested to the same degree. And even then we might miss something so consequently it still couldn’t be accredited.

Then one of the team found this Dilbert that made us laugh, I thought it was worth sharing…

It seems that the “security expert” was correct?! :mrgreen: Not sure the non-IT people will get it, but sometimes it is possible to go just too far! Sure, if we were building a system that handled ultra-sensitive or mega-valuable data, but we are not – it’s just a pretty ordinary call centre solution.