Alton Towers

Went to Alton Towers on Friday for the first time in years, along with Ruth, Annie, JTA, and his sister Harriet. Highlights include:

Actually wandering around the towers, as opposed to just spending time on the rollercoasters. Who knew there was a ruin in the middle of the theme park (yes, I know, we all knew, but who actually bothered to look before now).

Getting straight to the front of every single queue. I’ll tell you what; if you ever go to a busy theme park, take a friend in a wheelchair. It doesn’t actually matter whether or not there’s any reason for them to be in a wheelchair (so long as they’re able to move around enough to get in and out of rides), because – at Alton Towers, at least – they didn’t even bother to look at the medical notes we’d brought; they just had bits of paper to sign and then we all got “helper” armbands.

And you know what’s great about those armbands? They mean you can wheel your friend in through the exit of pretty much any ride you like, and skip the queue. With busy rides like Nemesis (still perhaps the best-designed rollercoaster I’ve ever been on, overall) and Air, it’ll save you hours of your day to never have to queue, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying those controversial “queue jump” passes. I suppose that’s probably how we found the free time to tour the towers.

We squeezed in all of the water rides early on, because we didn’t know if it was eventually going to rain or not (it didn’t), and if it didn’t, we wanted the maximum possible amount of time to dry off afterwards. Which would have worked as a plan, if it weren’t for the fact that Harriet, Annie and I had to board the log flume at a special “maintenance” station (where they were able to park the wheelchair), and because they didn’t put our boat back into the maintenance station on our way back, we ended up going around twice (much to the confusion of Ruth and JTA, who’d just de-boated and were waiting near the bottom of the big drop at the end to see us splash down and get off ourselves).

Shweet ickwe baybey gooshes!!! Yeah. And here’s a picture of a confused-looking mummy goose. Later, we encouraged kids to throw bits of their overpriced hot dogs to the (huge) carp in the lake so we could watch them fight over it with the ducks. It’s easy to find entertainment in just about anything when all the rides are closing down for the night.

The relatively new aquarium/”Sea life centre” thingy, which actually turns out to be really, really, quite spectacularly good. They’ve got a petting zoo where you can play with hermit crabs and shrimp and things; stingrays and sharks that they have a “feeding time” for, and lots and lots of glass (including an underwater tunnel through which you can walk. Of course, being Alton Towers, they’re not going to let the fact that what you’re at is an aquarium stop them from selling you a ride photo, so they take a picture of you on the way in, as shown above. If we look confused in the picture, it’s because we didn’t know we were about to have our photo taken until literally a split second beforehand – we thought that we were being told where to stand in order to put us “out of the way” while they made provision for getting the wheelchair into the building.

And finally (simply because I didn’t get a picture – the one above is Creative Commons – thanks, alundavey!), I suppose I ought to mention the awesomeness that is the new ride, Rita – Queen Of Speed (stupid name, though). This hydraulic launch (though it looks like a LIM-launched one, and certainly uses magnetic braking: wonder why they didn’t go the whole hog…) rollercoaster really does have a fabulous feeling of acceleration: jumping from a standing start to 100km/h in barely over 2 seconds is quite spectacularly eye-watering.

Also, I think Ruth is in love with that rollercoaster. She sighs whenever I mention the name, Rita.

So, a rich, full weekend, between that and all the other bits and pieces I got up to. From tomorrow I’m up in Preston for a few days, then off up to Scotland for a week or so. I’ll blog on the move if I can.

There Is Such A Thing As Working Too Hard

And while I’ve failed at hitting it, having scooped up my laptop and gone down to the beach only to have to turn around and come back when the sun disappeared behind thick, dark clouds, Ruth seems to have grasped the concept quite well. She’s reading papers in anticipation of her final ever exam tomorrow, and, well…

Ruth falls asleep in her work



I saw XKCD #584 – “Unsatisfied” – this morning. In the comic (in a slightly Sliding Doors way), a man chooses between one of two lovers, and spends the rest of his life thinking about the other one in a “what if” kind-of way, leaving him ultimately unsatisfied with his life, regardless of which he chooses.

Go read the comic if you haven’t yet.

I had a slightly smug moment, and ‘shopped this together:

Digital Sounds For Quiet Cars – I Totally Predicted This

The Economist has a story about a bill going through US Congress about the noise (or lack thereof) made by electric and some hybrid cars. For years, I’ve pretty much predicted this development. Only I meant it in a tongue-in-cheek way.

“Cars are getting quieter and quieter,” I’ve been heard to say, “And electric and hybrid cars promise to be quieter still. I’ll bet that someday, people will realise that these quiet cars are actually more dangerous than traditional, noisy cars with internal combustion engines, and at that point laws will be passed requiring cars to make a noise.”

“There’s already legislation that requires indicators to make a ‘tick-tock’ sound, since we did away with the relays that used to make the sound we associate with indicators. Cheap cars tend to make a shitty-sounding, very-obviously-synthesised sound. So, we can assume that cheap cars in the future will make the cheapest-sounding ‘engine’ sounds. You’ll hear them coming with a uniform ‘brum-brum-brum-brum-brum’ sound, or a grating ‘bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’.”

“But cars are more than a means of transport; they’re a status symbol, and we already see people tricking out their wheels with glowy lights and things that make their exhaust pipes louder and fake spoilers. And as time goes on, the technology to make higher-quality synthesised sounds will make it into the cheap, chavvy cars. And what’ll happen when the cheap, chavvy cars get sold, with sophisticated built-in synthesisers? The same thing that happened when the cheap mobile phones became capable of playing sophisticated audio formats: custom ringtones.”

“Someday, within my lifetime, somebody will be run over by a car that sounds like Crazy Frog. And it will be both sad and hilarious in equal measure.”

Something we didn’t see coming a decade ago.

What’s A Cripple Been Up To?

I’m sick of hobbling round on a crutch. Sure, it was an interesting novelty for the first couple of days, even despite the fact that I got almost no sympathy from folks (and, to be fair, I deserved none – what kind of idiot cripples himself while chasing after cake?). But now I’m just sick of it. Today, two weeks after my tumble, is the first day that I’m walking around outdoors without a crutch (and without being in pain). I still need a little bit of help from one when going up or down slopes (but not stairs), so I’m still carrying my happy little aluminium pole around with me, but I’m able to support my entire weight with either foot once more, so that’s a big step forward.

Helped out with Aberystwyth Samaritans fundraising event at Varsity, although as I wasn’t quite up to walking around on my bad foot I wasn’t able to go around shaking buckets, but I did end up with “24:7” face-painted on my forehead, and apparently a decent sum of money was raised by the event, so not all bad.

I bought myself an EeePC 1000 this last week, too. I’ve never had a very good relationship with laptops, but I felt that it was probably time to give one another go, and in particular I wanted something small, light, cool, and quiet, with a fabulous battery life, so the Eee 1000 it had to be. I’ve been really very, very impressed with it so far (at least, having stripped off the silly OS that came on it and replaced it with Eeebuntu). I’ll try to find time to write more about it in due course.

The only other little bit of excitement for me, apart from being nicknamed “Hobbles” by just about everybody down here, was seeing the new Star Trek film at the Commodore last night. And while I thought the story was compelling and well-written and that the film was pitched right for a new generation of Star Trek fans, I can’t help but take issue at the artistic choices made by the director and by the special effects team. For example, whose clever idea was it that to show the vast, empty, hostility of space, the best way to shoot was entirely in close-ups? I’m pretty sure the only wide shot in the entire film is of the Academy! And what’s with all the lens effects? Barely a scene goes by without some digitally-added bloom or glare or lens flare. They were cute to begin with, when we’re panning across the bridge of the Enterprise in all it’s “this is what the inside of your iMac looks like” glory, but by the seventh or eighth time, it’s easy to get sick of. All in all, it’s a mediocre to good Star Trek film, not worthy in my mind of all the hype it’s attracting.

Beth Sends Her Love, Aberites

While I was out having lunch at SALT with Ruth, JTA, and Claire, I missed a message from Beth, who’s currently out in Indonesia. She writes (or click the piccy, above, which also includes a great photo showing exactly what she seems to want to say to us all):


you’ve left yourself signed in and buggered off I guess. Well, love to all Aberites xx

So, there we are, Aberites: I’ve passed on Beth’s love to you all. Never say I don’t give you anything.


BiCon 2009 Registration Is Open!

It’s that time of year again: registration for BiCon 2009 is now open! Claire and I will be going, as usual (and, in accordance with the tradition, as this’ll be our third year on the trot, it’ll become tradition that we go), and you’re welcome to come, too! Yes, you!

Rather than re-hash an old post, I’ll just link to some of the things I’ve said before about how great it is, and why you should come along. If you’re interested, leave a comment or get in touch with me privately and I’ll make sure you get to come along (or, of course, you could just turn up, but this way you’re more likely to get to share a flat with us for the weekend).

Prices this year start at £97 – for three nights regular accomodation plus event passes for Thursday afternoon, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning plus the inevitable post-conference faffing – and it’s 20th-23rd August 2009, at the University of Worcester, so nice and central and not too much of a trek whether you’re hitching a ride with us from Aberystwyth or making your own way there.

Here’s me telling you why you should come along, if you’re not convinced:

If you’re not persuaded to come, but you think you’d like to be, get in touch!

Promised I’d Share A Photo

So here’s my foot, this morning. 92 hours after the injury, this morning it seems to have turned a deep purple. I’m quite impressed with the bruise on the toes, which never actually sustained any injury directly.

Having gone from a light blue to a dark blue through to purple, I’m hoping that it’s going to heal before it pushes any further through the electromagnetic spectrum and starts producing X-rays.