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Posts about bunnies (old posts, page 21)

Amazing journey

I just had (an hour of) the most amazingly good journey of my life, taking the train from Glasgow to Birmingham. I took notes as I went, and filled them in later. Later edit: ok, only the first 90 minutes were great. The rest was just normal train stuff.

It snowed about 2cm the night before -- not enough to make anything difficult, but enough to make everything look beautiful. It also improved the footing; walking on snow is much, much easier than walking on ice. The snow did cause some transportation problems. Other trains (even on the same route!) were delayed and even cancelled. So when I left home for the 45 minute walk to the station, I didn't know if I'd be going or not.

I didn't care, though, because it was a fantastic walk. The trees looked great with the snow, the riverside walk was quiet and away from traffic, there was fresh snow on the trees, crunching the fresh powder underfoot was fun, and did I mention the pretty snow-covered trees?

The train station was above the ground floor, which surprised me. It was quite open and well-organized, though. Part of me wants to say "Victorian", but only because I associate trains with that era. Definitely picturesque. It also had more coffee shops per capita than downtown Vancouver. There were a few police offers around, but it defintely felt like a transportation place rather than a prison / secrity-place (i.e. an airport).

The train left 11 mintues late; no big deal. My coach (1 of 3 normal coaches; there was a separate first-class coach) was about 30% full? It was way less than I expected, especially given the earlier cancellations. Everybody in my side of the coach had a pair of seats to themselves... there were two seats on either side of the aisle. I couldn't see if it was more packed in the other coaches, but I doubt it.

The train itself was smooth, not significantly noisy, had bigger seats than an airplane, way bigger washrooms, power sockets for all pairs of seats, and OMG why do people put up with planes for travel inside a country? I mean, seriously. You're not treated like a criminal before you get to the vehicle, you can just walk up to it without arriving hours early to wait in a series of lineups... it's a totally different way to travel.

Scenery: omg omg omg. The 2cm of snow was the most significant precipitation we've had in 2 or 3 weeks, but MAO was it well-timed. Snow on trees? Fields of smooth, untouched powder?!?! There's something about untouched powder that makes me go "rowr". Also, small creeks meandering through white fields. Mao, now I want to go skiing.

Hills: looking gorgeous. I want to go hiking. I'm aware of safety, though, so I'm not over-keen to go by myself. Maybe when somebody from Vancouver comes to visit, we could go north for a bit and find some hiking trails?

Trees: the sudden treelines would normally look ridiculous, but in the snowy landscape they somehow work. Maybe because everything looks toylike, so a computer-game-type "block of field, block of trees, block of field" fits with the toy theme?

Pictures: given my experience with previous cell phone pictures, I'm not keen to try more. Also, the windows seem to reflect inside light, so the pictures would probably be even worse than they would otherwise be.

I saw some sheep... I think they were sheep. Various livestock, at least.

We went through a patch of thick fog rising from a snowy field, obscuring distant hills or forest or roads -- I could only see unbroken snow powder merging with fog/cloud/steam a few hundred meters away. Beautiful. Only lasted about 5 minutes, but wow.

After an hour, it wasn't as impressive. Less snow, less hills. Probably in England instead of Scotland. :)
(after a quick check with fellow passengers, we're still in Scotland, although we're getting close to Carlisle, which is the first stop in England. We haven't had any stops so far, BTW.

After an hour and twenty minutes, we arrived in Carlisle and picked up more passengers. Including somebody with the seat next to me, to my annoyance. The scenery wasn't as nice, either -- light industrial areas, warehouses, a few houses, motorways, etc. Flat.

I definitely like Scotland more. (well, to be fair, more than that part of England)

The two hour mark had us in an area with low hills; maybe the lake district?

We had more and more stops in England, picking up more and more passengers until we go to Crewe. This part of the journey wasn't amazing at all; it was almost like a bus ride. We stopped every 15-20 minutes to pick up or drop off passengers. We arrived in Birmingham 30 minutes behind schedule, but everything else was behind schedule as well due to the panic over a centimeter or two of snow. (wusses!)

Brimingham New Street Station was a bit confusing; there were 12 platforms, some of which with an "a" and "b" side. Much worse was that there were no trains going to Worcester! I mean, not just "I missed my train and must wait 2 hours", but there just didn't seem to any such trains!

After wandering around for a bit, I asked a station attendant, who directed me to another attendant, who told me I wanted the train to... Hereford, I think? I honestly can't remember the name, and that was only 15 minutes ago. In any case, it was platform 12b, which had a train leaving in 10 minutes. Either it's a common run, or the earlier train was delayed, or I just totally lucked out.

It would have been nice if my tickets -- or at least iternary -- had specified that I wanted the train going to XYZ, rather than simply telling me the station I wanted to get off at. Grr. Oh well, at least I know for next time.

Overall, I'm inspired to leave my lab routine. Travel by train was easy, not all that expensive if you book a month or two in advance, and there's some spectacular scenery in Scotland.

Getting out and seeing the city? Bleh. Clubs, shopping, "city" things: bleh, not interested. Art museums: sorry, but also bleh. Architecture: ok, not entirely bleh here, but not enough to make me go significantly out of my way. But nature? Not bleh. The hills look good, although of course they're nothing compared to the Rockies (a mountain range in Western canada). I want to go north and see the Highlands.

The above was true of my time in Singapore -- I was never inspired to go downtown, and in the few times that I did, I didn't find anything particularly interesting. But I loved looking at the plants (often the "normal" plants growning at the side of the road -- special plants in a zoo or whatnot are supposed to be special; I liked the exotic plants in "normal" places) and animals.

It took over 2 hours to write this post, because I kept on stopping to stare at the scenery in Scotland.

Slippery city

We still have ice here from the snow a few weeks -- and not just a thin layer of black ice; this is ice compacted from a few centimeters of snow. Even worse, the temperature has been slightly above freezing during the day. A little bit of ice melts, turns into water and levels out the surface, then freezes overnight. Very slippery conditions.

I always used to complain that shovelling snow -- if it was a little bit, like 5cm -- was counter-productive. I mean, most snow is just fine for walking on. Even if it partially melts + freezes again, you just have a crunchy layer at the top of the snow, but the rest is pretty un-slippery. The really dangerous part was the ice that you get on the almost-bare surfaces.

Now that I've experienced truly well-trodden snow, I have to admit that my parents were right to make me shovel the sidewalk. In some parts of my daily commute, there's two centimeters of ice on the sidewalk. Apparently it's not a legal requirement here to clear the sidewalks... or maybe that law just isn't enforced. There's one short stretch of sidewalk which the city put sand on, but the rest is all bare ice. In any case, I've never seen walking conditions this bad for this long.

I don't think my lack of proper winter boots is a problem, though. If this ice was more jagged, having proper treads would help, but I haven't found many pieces of jagged ice due to all the thawing-freezing cycles. Oh well; I'm getting good practice for my balance and reflexes.

I admit that I fell once, but that was due to the law of universal comedy. I was leaving the flat of one of the professors after a Christmas dinner. His wife called out "be careful, it's slippery!". I half turned to wave and said "oh, I'll be fine" -- with the last word being affected by a Doppler shift as the sound source suddenly dropped a meter. Fortunately, the angle of my half-turn protected the chocolates I was given, and I got my other hand beneath me to cushion the fall.

In related news, it's "that time of the year" again, when I need to take special measures to control the bleeding. As usual, I left it a bit too late, but I'm ok now.

... I'm referring to my hands. When it's cold, my skin gets very dry, cracks, and blood oozes out. Particularly from the knuckles. A few days ago, I had to be careful when folding my laundry to avoid getting blood on my clothes.

After a few days of gingerly washing my fingertips (to avoid getting the back of my hands wet, since that makes the dryness worse when it evaporates), I finally went of to Boots to get some cream. It worked amazingly well; I've only put it on twice, and my hands are almost back to normal. My bedroom now smells like skiing, but oh well. It fits the season, I guess!

(cream -> smells a bit like sunscreen -> I only use sunscreen when skiing -> room smells like skiing)

In yet more mundane news, I'm really making myself comfortable in the lab. I have a desk drawer with a dozen cans of diet coke (it's much cheaper than buying from the vending machine!), about twenty of those delicious chocolate-mint-wafer no-name biscuits from Sainsbury's, some Christmas chocolates, and two pairs of socks (in case my feet get wet on the way to university). I also brought my dressing gown (it's made from thick fluff material, like a towel -- this isn't a flimsy girly negligee!), which I leave on my chair when I'm not wearing it.

I swapped violin cases with the other violin (it only has three strings, and the bow has a ton of electronics taped onto it; nobody's going to miss that case!), so now my shoulder rest fits in the violin case. I found some music stands in a corner of the lab, and took one back to my desk, where it holds the Bach violin partita no. 2. I'm even working on the Chaconne!

New Year's Eve was a non-event for me; I woke up at 8pm, and went about my normal business. While I was writing a reply email to my mother about the 19 equal-temperament clarinet, I heard some firecrackers outside, and muttered to myself about young hooligans. When I reached the end of the reply, I saw that she'd wished me happy new year, and I realized that the firecrackers had been set off at midnight.

I'm now seriously working on setting up my software on windows. As I've said a few times in the past, I used cross-platform libraries, so in theory it should be easy to get it working on windows... but it's proving extremely difficult to install software on windows.

I've installed cygwin, but that doesn't have all the libraries I need. I installed python, but that requires manually adding /cygdrive/c/Python/include to CFLAGS and ../lib to LDFLAGS. I have windows git installed, but the command-line that this gives me is different from the command-line that cygwin gives me, which is also different from the command-line that windows comes with. Copying to and from the cygwin windows is a completely byzantine process. Libraries like libsndfile get installed to Program Files/Mega-Nerd/libsndfile, which requires yet more manual CFLAGS and LDFLAGS.

Ye flipping mao, hasn't anybody heard of a shared location for include files and libraries?! How on earth do people get anything done on windows?! I've spent ten hours, and will probably spend at least another ten, trying to replicate what, on my linux machine, would be a one-line command:

aptitude install libsndfile-dev libsamplerate-dev libaubio-dev libfftw3-dev qt4-dev-tools python-dev

And if you think the above command is confusing, that's just because I'm posting it as text -- I use a graphical tool to look at all the available programs, click on the ones I want, and then click an "install" button. The operating system then downloads the programs, installs them, configures them, and I'm good to go. It takes approximately 10 mouse clicks and maybe 15 minutes (mainly spent downloading). I can write emails or have tea while it's taking the 15 minutes, though.

A tale of Ice and Fire

Snowies! It finally snowed here! Snow makes everything so pretty... and also reverts me to a mental age of 9 or so, when everybody would rush to the windows whenever somebody said the magic word and watch the swirling flakes with awe. I was actually jumping up and down in the lab this afternoon. Fortunately, the lab was empty, so nobody knows my deeply embarrassing secret.

Sadly, the snowfall only lasted about 20 minutes, and began to melt immediately. I went food shopping 3 hours later, and the snow was almost all gone -- replaced with ice. It melted, but then froze. There was a fairly substantial amount of black ice around... not the most I've ever seen, but definitely noticeable. Especially in my running shoes, which turned out to be quite flat. I hadn't noticed it before, but they're really not intended for slippery conditions.

On the heat front, it's still working. But the (deliberate) heating times are inconvenient to say the least -- the residence only turns on the heat for one hour in the morning, and from 18:30 to 23:30 at night. If you come home at 17:00, you'd better be prepared to leave your jacket on!

At first I thought the "heating times" were a quaint British custom (like high prices and football violence), but when I mentioned it to a labmate he was shocked. Apparently it's just one more instance of the university accommodation sucking.

Real work was delayed for another week: I've gotten involved in the programming for the bow sensor project. This is real EE&E programming -- it's on a PIC microcontroller (smaller than any of my fingernails). We need to pore over the datasheet, figure out that if we put 0x50 into register TXRDYSND.H and 0x01 into TXRDYSND.L, then we can put the value we want to send into the TXTRMT.H / TXTRMT.L register pair. Different registers have different functions depending on what you've put into other registers previously. Fun!

I'm really enjoy this stuff. This microcontroller in particular is collecting data from 4 or 5 different sensors, then sending it all over a bluetooth chip. We have another bluetooth chip on the other end, hooked up to a RS-232 port. The undergraduate is quite good at hardware, and it's all his own design. So we do a combination of programming, looking at the output on a scope, and sometimes even sticking a multimeter on the wires or copper to check if any of the etched tracings are accidentally touching. We think that happened once; after he carefully scraped away a few places that were suspicious, the output looked much better.

In case you're wondering, the bow sensor is a long-term project in the lab (somebody's going to have to work on it in the future, and having somebody with a passing knowledge of the system is will definitely make that easier), and I checked with my supervisor before getting involved. The guy's project is almost entirely the hardware, and in industry they'd have a hardware+software guy working on it, so my involvement isn't going to be a problem for his grade.

Apparently it's Christmas soon. Feels like early Nov to me, but oh well... I bought a pair of slippers for the lab. No, they're not the wonderfully girly fuzzy slippers I got for home; there are "manly house-wear", as the undergraduate put it. Dark blue, not fuzzy, etc. I change into them as soon as I get to university.

I also finally bought a violin shoulder rest, and started practicing Bach. No, I'm not going to say something horrible like "it eases my loneliless". Nor am I going to say something even more horrible like "playing Bach makes me realize that we're all together in a cosmic sense". No, I'm practicing Bach (the second solo violin sonata or partita, whichever was easier. It's the one that's all fairly easy, until the last movement which is impossible) because it's an appropriate level for me, and I need to get better before I can start playing in public with other people. If I'd started earlier, then I'd be seriously looking at joining an orchestra in the new year, but I doubt that I'll be good enough. Also, having a £50 violin doesn't precisely help. Not that I'm complaining -- a poor craftsman blames his tools. A good musician should sound decent on any instrument; a poor tone quality doesn't exist bad intonation or lack of bow control!

Buying that shoulder rest has caused me to re-evaluate my research direction. The current plan was to a year really nailing the rhythms -- how do musicians perceive them, how can a computer grade like that, analyzing music to automatically create meaningful rhythmic patterns, etc. I still think that's not a bad idea.

However, there's nothing for me personally in it. Oh, I'm really looking forward to doing the rhythmic analysis and whatnot... but I don't need to practice rhythms. Violin intonation, on the other hand, I really do need to practice. But in my original plan, I wouldn't even start that for another year.

Now, I'm not thinking about abandoning rhythms -- I'm just musing with the idea of banging out a quickie. Slap together a python application for testing violin scales. Nothing fancy... no finger patterns, no arpegios (although those wouldn't be hard to add), no grading mechanism supported by extensive surveys of muscians, and no fancy graphics or animations. Just an objective listener that gives me a score. Something that stops me from blasting through stuff and saying "meh, close enough".

It should only take a day or two... hey, that would make a nice Christmas present for myself. "Merry Christmas, now start practicing your scales seriously".

Last night (Saturday), I tried to do laundry three times, but there were no free washers at 21:30, 22:30, and 23:45. This morning (Sunday), I went there at 11:00 -- completely empty. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.