Photos from Oxford & Edinburgh

Belatedly following Alec, I’ve posted some of my photos from my recent trip to the UK. There are rather a lot of “views from a train window” which capture an utterly typical (but not particularly photogenic) view of England. Oh, well. I particularly enjoy the shots I took in the Covered Market in Oxford with Alec, such as:
Alec's choice
Feathers too
Oxford itself was as photogenic as ever, e.g.
Timeless style
And finally, here are my mother and Alec in conversation:
Lorna Alec

A very long day

I’m back in Seattle after a long day’s travel. Door-to-door (i.e. Edinburgh hotel to my apartment) it took 22 hours 30 minutes. Segment by segment:

  • The taxi to Edinburgh airport was wonderful. The driver was a great character: something of a social philosopher, with a wicked sense of humour.
  • EDI-LHR on a British Midland A320, BD53: a classic business-person’s shuttle flight. Most people were clearly going to London for the day: suits were immaculate, briefcases full of the right papers. The striking thing was the depth of the cloud bank over the northern UK: we climbed out of EDI, entered cloud at about 400 ft. AGL, and didn’t break out into sunshine until 30 minutes later at about FL320. Of course due to the new British rules (“only one piece of carry-on baggage, INCLUDING laptops, handbags, purses, etc.”) I had to check my case. Inevitably it was one of the last ones off the carousel at LHR. I retrieved it, and headed over to Terminal 3.
  • United occupies the remotest spot in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, and it’s always a hassle to get there. When I did, the self-checkin machine refused to check me in and told me to see a human. (I could have predicted this, since I’d been blocked at the same point during online checkin.) There was one person handling “Special needs”, and 30 people ahead of me in line. All of a sudden, my 2 hour connection time started to look awfully inadequate. Eventually I got checked in and headed upstairs. It was now 11. I was herded into a line, six people wide, running the length of the terminal building, just to get into the security area. 30 minutes later I reached the head of this line, showed my boarding card, and entered the serpentine queue for the X-ray/metal detector/pat-down screening. When I did reach the X-rays, I was pulled out for a thorough pat-down by a pimply youth who examined me as thoroughly as it’s possible to do without actually removing clothing. I smiled politely, retrieved my shoes, jacket, laptop and case, and headed for the gate. I arrived at 12:05pm; the plane was due to depart at 12:20pm. That is closer than I ever want to be on an international connection.
  • The flight itself (LHR-ORD, UA949, 777, seat 22J in Economy Plus) was completely uneventful. We took a northerly route, just skimming the southern tip of Greenland, and things went very smoothly. There were a few noisy kids around, but I plugged in my noise-cancelling headphones and listened to channel 9. (During the oceanic segment, I dug out my iPod and chose two albums: the new Love mash-up of Beatles’ classics, and No Roots by Faithless. Both highly recommended.)
  • ORD was efficient, in a kind of robotic way. After clearing Immigration and Customs and schlepping over to Terminal 1 [What idiot decided to have both terminals and concourses? I was departing from gate B5, which meant the B Concourse, which corresponded to Terminal 1. Stupid.], I got through security (third time of the day) hit the RCC and grabbed a gin-and-tonic before logging in to check email. Bad plan: I should have eaten.
  • The final flight was UA949, ORD-SEA, B757, seat 12F in Economy Plus. I keep forgetting that row 12 is bad, because it doesn’t have a window. Never mind, it was dark, and I was tired. 12E was empty, so I spread out, kicked back, plugged into channel 9, and went to sleep. This meant that I missed the stupid “snack box” food for sale thing. I went back to sleep, as best I could, but it was a miserably bumpy flight: 170 kt. headwinds, continuous light chop to moderate turbulence, all aircraft hunting vainly for clean air. With that kind of weather we inevitably missed our 8:05pm arrival time, but it was OK: I’d carried on my bags, and so I was able to catch the 8:54pm bus (Route 174) and get home by 9:30pm.

No predictions for how I’m going to get through tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow, Seattle is due for the same kind of weather as Edinburgh: blustery rain, with sustained gale force winds. Meanwhile the East Coast is basking in unseasonably warm weather……
But overall it was a really delightful trip. It was great to be with my mother for her 91st birthday, good to see my brother and get into Oxford, and a wonderful bonus to spend time with Alec. The Amazon Development Centre team in Scotland blew me away; I hope I don’t offend anyone in Seattle when I say that ADC includes some of the most imaginative engineers that I’ve met at Amazon. They’re a really cool team, and I learned a lot from them. (And special thanks to Joan L. for handling the logistics – it all went flawlessly!)

South Queensferry

I’ve just finished a most enjoyable day of meetings here at the Amazon development centre in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh. It’s been very windy and (mostly) wet here, so I wasn’t able to get out at lunch to take any photographs. Also, the window of opportunity is small: at this latitude, this close to the solstice, there isn’t much daylight: sunrise is at 8:34am and sunset at 3:39pm.

Time to head back to the hotel (just the other side of a very busy roundabout, with lots of bridge traffic). I do have an umbrella, but from the howling wind I don’t think I ought to use it.

Blogging on the train

Did you miss me?

At this moment I’m sitting in seat 21A, coach L of the 11:45am train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh. It’s 2:57pm, and we’re just pulling out of Durham, so there’s still nearly two hours to go. Fortunately the train has free WiFi and there’s a decent meal service: I have a nice bottle of Lebanese red wine to go with the various snacks that keep appearing.

The flight from Seattle to Heathrow was delightfully uneventful; the Economy Plus section of the B777 on the ORD-LHR leg was almost empty. (Good for me, bad for United.) In a first for me I was carrying on all my bags, so I sailed through customs at Heathrow, caught the bus to Oxford, and made it there before sun-up.

I had a most enjoyable Thursday and Friday with my mother and brother in Oxford. (Friday was Lorna’s 91st birthday.) On Saturday, Alec Muffett came up and he and I spent a delightful time in Oxford. Covered Market, lunch at the King’s Arms, self-indulgence at Blackwell’s, dessert at the wonderful patisserie Maison Blanc, some shopping, and then back to Lorna’s.

This morning I set out to Edinburgh. I was booked on the 9:38 train from Oxford to Paddington, and some deep-seated skepticism made me catch an earlier bus and get to the station just after 9. At 9:15 they announced that the 9:38 train was cancelled. Almost immediately, they informed us that the train at Platform 3 was the 9:05(!) to London. There was a moment of chaos as all of the passengers who were booked on the 9:38 (including yours truly) dashed towards the 9:05….. Fortunately I arrived at Paddington in plenty of time to catch a Circle Line train to King’s Cross and I boarded the 11:45 train to Edinburgh at 11:30.
GNER train

We’ve just arrived at Newcastle station. I haven’t been here since 1976. Back in the 1970s I was a post-grad student at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and between 1973 and 1976 I would regularly travel between Newcastle and London. Since then I’ve never returned; even today, I’m only passing through. How strange.

pecunium on torture

Must-read: Terry, on Torture, and what it is. Remember: Terry knows what he’s talking about. He understands interrogation in the way that no politician or pundit can. He’s a professional.

Padilla’s treatment is an outrage. Not just that it happened (secret prisons aren’t really that hard to make, nor even to keep secret) but that when the details come out, no one seems to care.

Freeman Dyson

I just got back from the Freeman Dyson talk at the Town Hall. I’ve always liked his writing – I thought Infinite In All Directions was wonderful – but I’ve been concerned with his wobbly thinking after the Templeton Prize. See Edge #180 for Dawkins’ scathing comments about Dyson’s Templeton piece. Like Dawkins, I don’t know what to make of stuff like:

I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. So I am thinking that atoms and humans and God may have minds that differ in degree but not in kind.

Since I’m one of those people who think that “minds are what brains do”, this is completely incoherent.
Anyway, the talk began with a very entertaining introduction by George Dyson, Freeman’s son, which included the clip from ST:NG where Picard speculates that an object that the Enterprise has discovered might be “a Dyson sphere”! As Freeman Dyson later commented, everybody completely misunderstood him: he always meant “biosphere”, specifically a loose assemblage of inhabited objects orbiting at the right distance from a star. A rigid sphere would be mechanically impossible.
Freeman Dyson’s talk was actually on biotechnology. It’s taken people less than 50 years to go from the first computers to a total addition to pervasive computer technology. He expects the same thing to happen to biotech over the next 50 years – complete domestication. He got a bit mystical over evolution – in the beginning everything shared genetic information horizontally – “open source biology”; then some organisms got selfish and Darwinian evolution kicked in; now humans are ushering in a new era of genetic sharing, marking the end of the “Darwinian interlude”. A rather blinkered view, IMHO. There was stuff about creating plants with silicon leaves to boost energy capture from 1% to 10%, and an impassioned plea for scientific freedom from political interference. And er… that’s it.
The questions were mostly softballs about energy futures, and the wonder of mathematics, and so forth. And then someone asked him about science and religion, and Dyson got all hot and bothered and ranted about Dawkins for a bit, and then realized that he was getting over the top, and backed off. And then I left. I hope many of the audience (200+) bought his new book; since I’ve already read most of the essays (reviews from the NYT, NYRB, etc.), I didn’t bother.
PS It was odd to be back at the Town Hall for the third night in a row – two Tallis Scholars concerts, now this lecture.

Site update

Hard on the heels of the DDoS attack on Saturday, this site was inaccessible for much of Sunday. (In fact I still can’t get to it from my Mac back in my apartment.) Put it all down to planned work, bad luck on Steve’s part, and bad planning on mine.

For a variety of reasons, Steve decided to move grommit to a new co-location center. The move was scheduled for Sunday afternoon (PST), and we all had plenty of time to prepare for it. As Steve describes in his blog, the move itself went OK, but he was caught out by a couple of bad Solaris patches that he decided to install. However by about 9 o’clock everything was up and running.

Everything except

I’d forgotten that our DNS address would be changing, and at 9 o’clock I was enjoying the Tallis Scholars‘ concert at the Town Hall when I received an email from Steve reminding me to update my DNS configuration. After the concert, I headed home, worrying as I went about whether I could remember my login for (and hoping that my on-file email address wasn’t the one – or, even worse, my old Sun address!). Fortunately I was able to log in and make the changes without any difficulties.

So how come I still can’t access from home? Put it down to lack of foresight on my part. The DNS “A” (address) record for, the bit that tells other computers what my IP address is, has a TTL (time to live) of 86400. That’s 24 hours, expressed as seconds. So any DNS server that retrieved my address less than 24 hours before I made the change is perfectly entitled to use that copy until the TTL expires. This means that everybody should get the new address in about 14 hours from now. If I’d been thinking ahead, I would have logged in to everydns a couple of days ago and adjusted the TTL down to, say 3600 (one hour). That way, when I actually changed the address, I could be sure that the stale information would be gone within an hour.

Next time, next time.

If you've been having difficulty reaching this site….

This is why:

OpenDNS, the San Francisco security startup that runs the PhishTank anti-phishing initiative, has been hit by a massive DDoS (distributed denial-of-service attack).
The 400mbps botnet attack did not affect the company’s core recursive DNS resolution service. The home page and corporate blog were crippled for about 90 minutes on Dec. 1.
The attack appears to be targeting EveryDNS, a sibling business owned and operated by OpenDNS CEO David Ulevitch. OpenDNS uses services from EveryDNS.

I actually got hit from two directions. First, I use EveryDNS as the DNS authority for Second, it turns out that one of EveryDNS’s servers was located in the same physical rack as grommit (the system that hosts, so the attack consumed most of the bandwidth into our (shared) switch.

This is unusual

I arrived at the Town Hall at 6:30 for the pre-concert talk before the Tallis Scholars recital…. only to find out that the consort is delayed en route. It’s now 8:30, the organizers have arranged an impromptu buffet reception, and if we’re lucky the concert will get underway by 9 or 9:30. But everyone seems cool, no-one is demanding their money back, everybody is just getting to know each other. I just phoned Chris, and he reported that their performance in Berkeley last night was excellent. They’re supposed to be doing the same setlist.

We just got an announcement; they are “passing Safeco Field”, so they should be here soon.

This feels very different from Boston….

UPDATE: The concert started at 9; it’s now the intermission. Apparently the delay was due to a 5-hour repair to the plane in Oakland – and then when they tried to push back, the jetway jammed!

But enough irrelevancy. The Tye Missa Western Wynde was just glorious. Well worth waiting for.

That's more like it…

From the BBC:

SECOND TEST, DAY TWO, ADELAIDE: Australia 8-1 v England 551-6 dec
Paul Collingwood became just the third England batsman to score a double century in Australia as the tourists took charge of the second Ashes Test.
He and Kevin Pietersen shared a record fourth-wicket stand, worth 310 when Collingwood fell for 206 on day two.
Pietersen was run out for 158 but Andrew Flintoff helped England reach 551-6, declaring with 10 overs left.
Flintoff then had Justin Langer caught at slip for four in the second over of Australia’s reply in Adelaide.

UPDATE: But… good grief! How could such a wonderful start have led to this debacle???

SECOND TEST, ADELAIDE, DAY FIVE: Australia 513 & 168-4 beat England 551-6 dec & 129 by six wickets
Warne took two wickets and helped in a run out in the morning
Australia won the second Ashes Test by six wickets and went 2-0 up in the series after bowling England out for 129 on day five in Adelaide.

Unprecedented? Absolutely: “No team in history has lost after declaring on a higher total than England’s 551-6 batting first in a Test.”
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…..