Disc Golf

After moving to Earth, one of the things I thought might be fun was to use the excuse of being in a new place to try out some new things. A quick Google around the area uncovered OxDisc, the local Disc Golf society, who meet once or twice a week in a park less than half an hour’s walk from my house. Given that all I knew about disc golf I learned from the summary at the top of the Wikipedia page for the sport, I knew… well, basically nothing except that it was like golf, only with a frisbee and target rather than a ball and cup.

Accompanied by Ruth and JTA, who I’d somehow persuaded to join me, I set out to try to meet some strangers in a park. Having only spoken to anybody associated with the group online (all of whom subsequently turned out to be on holiday or otherwise unavailable), all we knew was vaguely where we were headed and that we were looking for a guy called George: sure, no problem – how hard can that be?

JTA stands well out of the way as Ruth makes a throw

Luckily, it turned out to be reasonably easy to find our contact: once we were in the vicinity, all we had to do was look for the guy carrying a bag full of frisbees. Here came my first surprise: players don’t use just one disc. Three is pretty much a minimum – a long-range, high-speed “driver”, an easier to control but still pretty fast “approach disc” (or “mid-range”), and a slow “putter”. Only the putter looked like any kind of frisbee I’d ever thrown before: the others looked more like a rubber discus that had been given a lip to make it throwable in the same way as a frisbee is. George lent us each a set of three discs, explaining some of the differences between them. Professional players can be found carrying a variety of different drivers with different weights (and weight distributions) to make them tend towards understability or overstability or be more or less suitable for hyzer, anhyzer, forehand, elevator, and other varieties of throw. Yes, they have their own lingo: and I thought that this would be like throwing a frisbee around a park.

My "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill parkMy "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill park

We teed off on the first hole of one of the courses that the group sometimes take around the park: markers like a protruding tree root or a gap between a path and a tree marked the tees, and the targets were all particular trees. Some of the courses were set up such that it was actually impossible to see the target from the tee as a result of the intervening trees, and so – without a profound knowledge of the course nor the sport – I had to fall back on a strategy of “throwing it sort-of in the right direction” as best I could and hoping.

Hunting for a lost disc

Needless to say, my very first throw was a disaster. Unfamiliar with the unusual weight balance of the faster discs (some of which were “overbalanced”; that is, if you throw backhand using your right arm, as most people normally throw a frisbee, it will tend towards the left given an even spin and a level takeoff… are you following all of this? I certainly wasn’t), I was doomed to balls up my first throw… it rocketed forwards and then suddenly flew off to the left, diving deep into a forest of waist-high nettles. About 30 seconds later, I began to really regret choosing to wear shorts for this particular adventure, as my lower legs were rapidly becoming a mass of nettle stings.

Fore! Frisbee away!

Some of the other folks were obviously far, far more accomplished than any of us. Several times, we saw frisbees thrown end-on, like darts, flicked into the air where somehow they’d magically stabilise at exactly the right height to clear a particular obstacle. On a few occasions, the other players would fling their discs in physics-bending ways, turning right to avoid an obstacle then slowing down and turning left to clear the other side of it. Once, I even got to watch a guy deliberately throw his frisbee upside-down in order to “skim” it under a bush and right up to the target tree!

I was pleased with myself that by the end, I could generally throw the mid-range approach disc in a vaguely straight line, some of the time, and that once, I managed to pull off a hook shot up and over (and around) an inconveniently-placed copse, landing the frisbee almost exactly where I wanted it. But just the once, mind.

JTA launches a frisbee from the rut in which it had landed

JTA seemed to pick up the sport pretty quickly, and on the long straight sections easily outperformed me (although I think I had more accurate “putting” ability). Ruth had somewhat more difficulty: the difficulties with her wrists left her unable to “snap” the disc out of her hand, which resulted in far slower throws. Nonetheless, we all had a good time and we’re talking about going along again… right as soon as we’ve had the chance to get a bit of practice in, so we don’t look like quite such wallies!

At the end of the evening, we were surprisingly more well-exercised than we expected (considering that it’s a sport of 5% throwing, 95% walking), and enjoyed the opportunity to calorie-up on ale and crisps at a nearby pub before making the trek home in the sticky warmth of the low sun.

× JTA stands well out of the way as Ruth makes a throw× My "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill parkMy "driver", nestled in the short tufty grass of Headington Hill park× Hunting for a lost disc× Fore! Frisbee away!× JTA launches a frisbee from the rut in which it had landed×

There’s Somebody At The Door

I was hacking away towards a deadline, this afternoon, when I heard a knock at the door. It’s not so unusual at the moment – we’ve had a lot of packages delivered to our new house over the last week or so – but what was a little strange was that today’s visitor was a County Court bailiff here on behalf of Her Majesty (okay, not her personally, I assume, but her courts at least).

Thankfully, it didn’t take much persuasion to get him to see that I wasn’t Mr. Parakesh, and he went on his merry way. And so, we learn a little more about the last occupiers of this house.

Weddings and Secret Gardens

Ruth, JTA and I – later joined by Matt P – went to Jen & Nick’s wedding over in Belfast this weekend, and it was awesome. They’re an amazing couple and it was great to get to be part of their celebrations, to meet the fabulous folks they’re related to, and to drink ourselves under the table. Ruth has already written a little about it, so I’ll just point you in the direction of her blog.

Jen & Nick's Wonderful Wedding Cake - each of the four layers is a different cake, including a layer that's gluten-free and a layer that's suitable for vegans. The sunflower theme was carried through the entire wedding.

In other news, I’ve been exploring OS maps and it turns out that the garden here on Earth is actually about 20-24 feet longer than we’d previously believed! There’s a fence at the “end” of our garden with a concealed mystery gate, behind which is land overgrown and bramble-filled… but a little research indicates that this, too, is our garden, and we’re now preparing to mount an expedition (with machetes!) to explore and conquer this new land. And then turn it into a vegetable plot.

The end of our garden, inset with some of the annoted maps I've been using to find the boundries of the property.

Right: time for lunch and to register with a local GP.

× ×

The Shark

This morning, I left Earth to go to nearby Headington. This trip was primarily to put money into the back, register with a GP, and get some keys cut for the new lock in the garage door. However, I also took the excuse to re-assemble my bike since the move and get out and about because it occured to me that, through working from home (as I now do), I hadn’t actually been outside at all in several days, and I’d be at risk of some kind of cabin fever if I didn’t get some sunlight once in a while.

Headington’s perfectly nice, and an easy 10-minute cycle away from Earth: there’s an uphill section which I was ashamed to see other cyclists pushing their bikes up, but having spent the last ten years in a hilly Welsh town, there was no such nonesense from me. It’s nice to be living somewhere with cycle lanes pretty much everywhere, and motorists who pay attention to the bicycles that weave amongst them: having cycled along the unlit A44 at night and narrowly avoided being cut down by the speeding lorries that frequent that road, it’s a relief to be somewhere where cyclists are better-protected.

While running my various errands, I also took the time to visit the Headington Shark.

Yes, I now live a short walk away from one of Britain’s most unusual art pieces: a 25-foot fibreglass shark stuck head-first through the roof of a small terraced house in Oxfordshire. It’s supposed to be some kind of protest against nuclear proliferation, and it first appeared on the 41st anniversary of the atomic boming of Nagasaki, but I’m not sure that I “get it”. It is kind-of awesome, though.

In other news: this weekend Ruth, JTA and I will attempt to go to Jen & Nick’s wedding, in Belfast. I say “attempt” because we’ve not had a lot of luck with weddings, recently. Last year, Ruth managed to upset the bride at a wedding that she and I went to. Then, this year, the three of us failed to get to Andy & Siân‘s wedding when we had a series of car-related problems, and then the bride and groom didn’t make it to Adam & Emma’s wedding reception, after they got stuck in the USA when an inconsiderate volcano caused their flight to be cancelled. We’re hopeful that we’re not going to bring our string of bad luck to this wedding, too!


Saying Goodbye

Just thought I’d briefly share all of the different ways I’ve been saying goodbye to Aberystwyth and the people there, along with some photos:

Goodbye Friends

I’d hoped to make a proper blog post about the barbecue/bonfire we’d had to “see of” JTA and I (and later Paul, who’s leaving later this year, and sort-of Ruth, who’ll now be visiting far less-frequently), but I decided to wait until Rory got around to uploading the photos he’d taken. He still hadn’t done so by the time I left town, so, you’re stuck with the handful of pictures that I took.

Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire
Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire

You can even see Rory on the right of that first photo, taking pictures, the swine. As usual for our beach barbecues there was no shortage of food nor booze, and a copious quantity of firewood. Also a huge amount of paper and cardboard which needed disposing of before the move, which lead to one of the most violently spectacular beach fires we’ve ever had – perhaps second only to the time that Kit, Claire and I found large parts of a bar (as in, one that you serve drinks over at a pub) and ignited it , many years ago.

Satoko and Paul
Satoko and Paul

As the light grew dim I recited a poem that I’d thrown together earlier that evening, for the occasion, expressing my fondness for this place where I’ve spent the last decade or so. I’d promised that I’d put it online, so here it is:


In nineteen hundred and eighty five,
When I was – ooh – nay high. [with gesture sadly absent when recited over Internet]
I first set eyes on this Welsh town,
It’s mountains, sea and sky.

And beach (sans sand) and shops
(now closed), and pier (missing an end).
And thought myself, “This place, perhaps,
Could someday be my friend.”

Thirteen years passed – lucky for some –
And found me here again
In search of a place to come and learn
[I had a line here about how long it takes to get here by train, but I’ve lost it!]

My open day was sunny (aren’t they all?
how do they make it so?)
As I visited the campus and
The quaint town down below

That day, as I sat on that hill, [again with the gestures! – this was Consti, of course] looked down,
And saw a pair of dolphins play
I realised I’d found a friend: this town
And loved her, in a way.

My love and I were something sweet.
My friends; they envied me,
As she and I would come back, merry,
With a traffic cone or three.

Ten years I gave her of my life,
And treasure every one.
A decade’s love and hope and dreams under
Wales’ (intermittent) sun.

But this was young love: first love, p’rhaps
And wasn’t built to last,
And so the time draws swiftly near
That it becomes: the past.

The friend I’ll think of, as I chew
A slice of Bara Brith
She’ll always be here, in my heart,
Beautiful Aberystwyth.

In other news, you have no idea how hard it is to find fitting rhymes for “Aberystwyth”.


Goodbye Samaritans

Of course, I’d hoped to say goodbye to the Samaritans branch where I’d volunteered for the last few years, and I’d hoped to do so at an upcoming curry night that had been organised at the branch. Little did I know that more than just an excuse to say goodbye, this little party had been geared up almost entirely to see off Ruth, JTA and I. There were tears in our eyes as we saw some of the adaptations to the training room.

The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans
The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans

The meal was spectacular, the beer and wine flowed freely, and we each left with a special gift showing how much the branch cared for each of us. I still have no idea how they managed to orchestrate so much of this without any of us having a clue that we were letting ourselves in for more than just a curry and a pint or two.

As I left the branch for the last time, I passed the reminder sign that reads “Have you signed up for your next shift?” and thought, with a little sadness – no, no I haven’t.

Goodbye SmartData

As if there weren’t enough curry in my diet, the lads from SmartData and I went out to the Light of Asia for a meal and a few drinks (during, before, and after) to “see me off”. This felt strange, because I’m not leaving SmartData – at least not for the foreseeable future – but continuing to work for them remotely in my office on Earth that I’ve taken to calling “SmartData’s Oxford branch”. But this does mark the end of me seeing them (at least in person) on a day-to-day basis, and it was also an excuse to catch up with former co-worker Gareth, who came along too.

I should have thought to take a picture.

Goodbye Claire

I couldn’t have felt like I’d said goodbye to my life in Aberystwyth without saying goodbye to Claire, who’s been a huge part of it for, well, almost eight years. She and I got together one evening in my final week, there, to break apart the QFrames (the picture frames full of mementoes from QParty). It was a somewhat emotionally heavy time, but – I suppose – an important part of getting some closure on our break-up, last year: if there was ever going to be a part of me that was perpetually tied to Aberystwyth, it’d be the half-dozen picture frames full of photos and letters and gifts that represented “us” that I was lugging around. Now, I’ve got to find something new with which to furnish the walls of Earth, and my housemates seem keen to help with this mission.

It’s been a long process – saying goodbye to everybody – but at least that’s the Aberystwyth chapter complete. Right: what’s next?

Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire× Satoko and Paul× JTA× The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans×

All Along The Watchtower

Ruth, JTA, and I have found our way to Earth – our new home, in Oxford – after the most exhausting house move I’ve ever done. Particular challenges in getting things to Earth included:

  • My mountainous quantities of stuff, and in particular the things that I own that are of awkward shapes for packing into a van, such as my bike, collection of wheelie-chairs, and the more-challenging bits of furniture I own.
  • All the subsequent cleaning, tidying, repainting etc. that was required at The Cottage, most of which couldn’t be done until the van was loaded up. Huge thanks to everybody who helped out with this monumental task.
  • The fact that we were also moving most of Paul’s stuff. In order to minimise the number of van rentals we collectively need, we rented a large van and tightly packed into it as much as possible of Paul‘s posessions, too. Which, of course, meant more to load, unload, and fit in, as well as the logistical challenges of picking up things from two different locations and still packing things in a logical (big heavy things at the bottom, fragile things in tight spaces, etc.) manner.
A Very Full Van
  • The journey: wow, it’s a long way from Aberystwyth to Oxford (or, in fact, from Aberystwyth to just about anywhere). Conveniently, it can be just a case of getting on the A44 and heading East until you get there, as Earth is only a stone’s throw away from the “other” end of the A44, but it’s still a trip that drags on and on.
  • That I kept standing on sharp things: while loading the van (without shoes: there was my mistake) I managed to tread on a drawing pin which went right into the muscle at the ball of my foot. While unloading at the other end, I managed to stand on an upturned nail which was longer than the drawing pin by just sufficient to counteract the thickness of my sole, puncturing my other foot, too. I’m now limping.

But that’s only the beginning of the problems.

Paul's room here on Earth looks just like his flat in Aberystwyth used to: full of boxes!

My Sister’s Mystery Illness

Arriving in Oxford, we were all exhausted, so Ruth, JTA and I worked on unloading the minimum possible amount from the van (enough that I’d have bedding to sleep on and that the computers could be stored safely indoors) while my dad and Jenny – who’d been driving the van – went to check into their nearby B&B. Having reached our goal, Ruth, JTA and I sat out in the garden of our new house with a beer each and, exhausted, congratulated ourselves on a succesful day. Unloading the rest of the van could wait until the morning.

That’s when my dad reappeared on our doorstep, looking flustered. He’d just received work that my sister, Sarah, had just been rushed into hospital with excrutiating abdominal pains, and he needed the van back to get up to her in Preston ASAP. Quickly we formed a bucket chain and rapidly unloaded the entire van, without regard to where anything belonged, into the garage, freeing up the van.

So, yeah: the garage is a little full, now.

Oh, and JTA stabbed me in the hand with a penknife. In order to remove those things which were roped-in to the van as quickly as possible, he began slicing through them with his swiss army knife, and, in a moment of ill communication about which of the ropes that I was holding needed cutting, he ended up gouging a big hole in my thumb. Which goes nicely with my punctured feet, making me look like the result of the least-effective case of crucifixion ever.

My dad got away, and my sister seems stable and safe, by the way, although the hospital still aren’t sure what’s wrong with her.

Network Issues

An important part of my unpacking plan was to get my study set up so that I’d be able to get back to my day job – which I’m working at remotely – as soon on Monday morning as possible. It was during this set-up that I discovered that I was completely unable to connect any VPN connections. This later turns out to be a fault in the latest firmware of the ISP-supplied router. For those of you not fluent in Geek: the magic Internet-box we were delivered wasn’t very good, and needs downgrading to make it useful.

Not a problem, I think: I’ll just plug in my old router and configure it to work, instead. Great plan, sure, but unfortunately JTA’s desktop PC didn’t want to play nice with my old router, and took some kicking to get working. Meanwhile, I’d started experimenting on getting the new router working, and before you know it, we’ve had half a dozen different (but similarly-named) wireless networks floating about, all with different passwords and settings, and nobody has a clue what’s going on.

Magic Internet-box one, bottom right, hates me. Magic Internet-box two, on top of it, hates JTA. And yes, that phone does look familiar, doesn't it.

Eventually, we got together an Internet connection that not only works for everybody but follows all of the standards we care about, and not just some of them, but it was one more challenge than I’d have liked when I’d hoped to do a house move without taking any time off work. Which is in itself, it turns out, a silly idea. Next time I undergo this mayhem, I’m taking at least a long-weekend to do it.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to say, but I’d better get back to work! The short of it is: I’m on Earth, and it’s mayhem.

× × × ×

A Primer Puzzle

There’s a film that I’m a huge fan of, called Primer. Since I first discovered it I’ve insisted on showing it at least twice at Troma Night (the second time just for the benefit of everybody who didn’t “get it” – i.e. everybody – the first time). If you haven’t already seen it, this post might be a little spoilery, so instead of reading it, you should warm up your time machine, go and watch the film, turn off the time machine, get into the time machine, come out again right now, and then read its Wikipedia page until you understand it. Then come back.

Time Travel in Primer. Click to embiggen.

Still with me? Right.

Why Primer is awesome, and why you should care

In Primer, the protagonists accidentally stumble across the secret of time travel and use it to cheat the stock market. The film isn’t actually about time travel or science-fiction: it’s actually about the breakdown in the relationship between the protagonists, but it’s got some pretty awesome science-fiction in it, too, and that’s what I’d like to talk about. The mechanism of time travel in Primer, for example, is quite fascinating: the traveler turns on the machine using a timer switch (turning it on in person risks the possibility of meeting a future version of themselves coming out of the machine). They then wait for a set amount of time, then they turn off the machine, get into it, wait for the same amount of time again, and emerge from the time machine at the moment that it was turned on.

This is a lot weaker than many of the time travel devices featured in popular science fiction literature, films, and television. It’s not possible to travel forwards in time (except in the usual way with which we’re familiar). Travelling backwards in time takes as long as it took the machine to travel forwards through the same period, making long journeys impossible. The machine has to be strategically turned on at the point at which you want to travel back to, reducing spontaneity, and it can’t be used again in the meantime without resetting it. Oh, and the machine is dangerous and causes long-term damage to humans travelling in it, but that’s rather ancillary.

There’s a certain believability to the time travel mechanic in Primer that gives it a real charm. As far as it is explored in the film, it permits a deterministic universe (so long as one is willing to be reasonably unconventional with one’s interpretation of the linearity of time, as shown in the diagram above), provides severe limits to early time travel (which are great for post-film debate), and doesn’t resort to anything so tacky as, for example, Marty McFly gradually “fading out” after he inadvertently prevented his parents from getting together in Back to the Future.

Marty begins to disappear. I love this film, too, but not even slightly for the same reasons.

Experiments in the Primer universe

I’ve recently been thinking about some of the experiments that I would be performing it I had been the inventor of the Primer time machine.

First and foremost, I’d build a second, smaller time machine of the same design. We know this to be possible because the first machine built by the protagonists is smaller than the ones they later construct. I want to be able to put one time machine inside another. Yes, yes, I know that this is what the protagonists do in the movie, but mine has a difference: mine is capable of being operated (power supply only needs to be a few car batteries, as we discover in the film) within the larger time machine. That’s right, I’m building a time machine inside my time machine.

  • Experiment One attempts to explore the relativism of time. Start the larger time machine and warm it up. Stop the larger time machine. Start the smaller time machine. Get into the larger time machine, carrying the smaller time machine, and travel back. Once back, turn off the larger time machine. Experiment with sending things forwards in time using the second time machine (which has traveled backwards in time but while running, from our frame of reference). If objects inserted into it come out in the future, before it is picked up, this implies that there might be a fixed frame of reference to chronology. It also indicates that it is possible to build a machine for the purpose of traveling forwards in time, too, although only – for now – at the usual rate.
  • Experiment Two attempts to accelerate the rate at which a traveler can move forwards or backwards through time. Based on the explanation given in the movie, the contents of the time machine oscillate backwards and forwards through the period of time between their being turned on and being turned off, for a number of repetitions, before settling. If we are able to synchronise the oscillations of two time machines, one inside the other (by turning them on and off simultaneously, using timers attached to each and their own distinct, internal, power supplies), might we be able to set up a scenario that, in X minutes, switches off, and we can get inside the inner machine and travel back to the switch-on time in X/2 minutes? If so, what happens if we send such a two-machine construction back in time as in Experiment One – do we then have a “time accelerator”?
  • Experiment Three takes advantage of the fact that for an object within the field, an extended period of time has passed (during the oscillations), while from the reference point of an external observer, a far shorter period of time has passed. Experiment with the use of an oscillating time period field to accelerate slow processes. Obvious ones to start with are the production of biologically-produced chemicals, as is done in the film (imagine being able to brew a 10-year-old whiskey in a day!), but there are more options. Processing time on complex computer tasks could be dramatically reduced, for example. Build a large enough time machine and put a particle accelerator in it, and you can bring masses up to relativistic speeds in milliseconds.
  • Experiment Four is on the implications on spacetime of sending mass back in time. As we know, flinging mass in a direction of space produces an equal and opposite acceleration in the opposite direction, as demonstrated by… well, everything, but let’s say “a rocket” and be done with it. Does flinging mass backwards through time produce an acceleration forwards through time? This could be tested by sending back a mass and a highly-accurate timepiece, removing the mass in the past, and letting the timepiece travel back to the future. The timepiece is checked when the experiment starts, when the mass is removed, and when the experiment ends. If the time taken for the second half of the experiment, from the perspective of the timepiece, is longer than the time taken for the first half, then this implies that Newtonian motion, or something equivalent, can be approximated to apply over time as well as space. If so, then one could perhaps build an inertia-generating drive for a vehicle by repeatedly taking a mass out of one end of a time machine, transporting it to the other, and sending it back in time to when you first picked it up.

The scientific possibilities for such a (theoretical) device are limitless.

But yeah, I’d probably just cheat the stock market, too. At least to begin with.

× ×

Dan Q found GL3X4Q1E Windows in the West

This checkin to GL3X4Q1E Windows in the West reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

I got a call from reaperfish this evening, who had come out looking for this cache but had some problems finding it. We worked together: me from my desk with maps, photos, and the cache description, and him in the field (literally) to find this cache, and he insisted that he be allowed to write my username in the log, too. So here I am. Not sure I deserve the credit for this, but TFTC: I hope to see it “in person” someday (after all, I now know the area like the back of reaperfish’s hand)!

Leave Me

Just wanted to share with you all a short film I discovered today, Leave Me, in which a recent widower deals with his grief through his wife’s broken digital camera. It’s only about five minutes long, but it’s absolutely breathtaking.

And… I think there’s something in my eye, or something. Where are those tissues? /sniff/