Saturday, 14 July 2007

Asturias Report

Right, folks. Finally, having finished my week-long battle with a manuscript, I can finally report on my trip to Asturias. I should start by thanking Alfredo, Cano and David for their hospitality: the food and drink was excellent, as was the conversation. Especially the tail of the vegetarian dog (short version: owner claims dog is vegetarian. Dog disproves this, using neighbour's rabbit).

My purpose was to try and teach Bayesian inference to the biologists there. I don't want to report on that, other than to point out my new variant on the Monty Hall problem:

In my variant, you don't want to win the car. Actually, you're not too keen on winning the bull either. In fact, it looks like loosing is a decent option.

The only other things worth pointing out about the actual course are the exhibit downstairs:
(which is just an excuse to link to a well known science blog). The other point is the view from the window of the room I was teaching in:
Yes, hills! Scenery! I suspect I'd really enjoy the weather in Asturias: I can enjoy the rainy, overcast weather when it looks really dramatic. I think it's something about being English. And we did have quite a bit of sun, although overall the weather was changeable (and only foggy on Saturday).

As to Asturias itself, I was teaching in Oviedo, which is the capital of Asturias. It has historical bits, it has modern bits, it has everything you expect from a town. It also has strange statues - most of which would shock the sensitive. Hence, no photos.

The kingdom of Asturias was founded by King Pelayo in the 8th century. To do this he had to beat off the Moors, who were intent on taking over the whole of Spain and installing wallpaper patterns in their palaces. Pelayo found an effective strategy to combat them: one used by the Scottish previously against the Romans. His simply made sure that the weather was awful enough that the Moors wouldn't want to invade. Hence he is honoured in Gijon with a statue of him, looking out to sea with an early anenometer:
The Asturians also honour him in their drinking traditions. They pour their cider from a great height, enabling them to judge the wind speed and direction (and its strength, when they drink it, tells them how hard it's raining):
This, incidentally is a real cider: for those who haven't tasted it, it's like a good English scrumpy. Which means it taste nothing like a commercial cider. This stuff has had apples in it!

On the Wednesday, Cano took me to Gijon for the afternoon. Gijon is his home town, and it more working class (read: could do with some paint in places). But it is on the coast, and ahs a nice beach, and some decent touristy bits. This is Cano:
and these are his feet:
Cano had to go for a swim in the Atlantic: I think he was forgetting what waves are like, as Finland doesn't have waves, only wakes. After Cano had had enough of waving his feet at us, we went for a walk around the town, and came across this curious sight:
Apparently when they were building the quay, the townsfolk got up one morning after a spring tide and found that an English captain had berthed his ship on top of the building site. Rather than remove the ship, they decided to build the rest of the quay over the top, and just fill in with concrete. The captain went down with his ship.

After that story, there was only one thing to do: go for a drink. So we retired to a bar and had some cider:

North by north-west, force 6.

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Wednesday, 11 July 2007

This is what I should look like

I had been intending to post some photos from my Asturias tip, and a couple of other things. But I've been fighting a manuscript all week. In the mean time, as everyone else has been doing it, here is my Simpsons avatar:
Apart from the problem cause by a shortage of beards, I think it wasn't too bad.

Get yours from the Simpsons' movie page. Read more!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

The Travails of Travel

Phew, I finally got back from Spain. Air travel horror stories are hardly rare, and I'm sure this one deserves the response "so, what's all the fuss about?". To which I can only reply "but it's my story".

The plan was to take a taxi from the hotel in Oveido to Asturias airport, and make sure they give me a factura (sorry, not much use if you don't speak Spanish). This bit went off fine, I have the receipt and during the trip I was afforded magnificent views of the Asturian landscape, with the low-hanging cloud, and mist (I'm not being sarcastic - I actually like the scenery like this).

My original flight plan was Oveido - Barcelona - Frankfurt - Helsinki. When I got to the airport, I was told that the flight to Barcelona was delayed by two hours, because of the fog, so I was switched to a flight to Madrid, and after that to Frankfurt then the same flight to Helsinki. Great I thought (and sometimes I am sarcastic). I hate Madrid airport - after sitting around in it for a couple of hours, you realise that there is a real difference between bland and soullessness. Anyway, I checked myself and my luggage in and waited to be told we could go through the security gate. But then... the flight was cancelled. The plane from Madrid had been diverted to an alternative destination - Madrid. Poor passengers.

So, I had to get a new flight. The Spannair ladies were doing a magnificent job - once the cancellation was announced, I went to their desk (again), and found that they were already finding me a new route. They sorted that out, got my luggage back, and explained to the Iberia check-in staff what was going on. My new route was (and get your maps out for this, folks) Asturias - Paris (Orly) - Nice - Helsinki, getting into Helsinki at about midnight. Well, OK. If that's what it takes.

The good news is that this time the flight took off (despite the observation at check-in that they would tell us the gate later - if they could get us a plane), and got to Orly with no problems. I managed to get checked in and onto the flight to Nice with not much more than the occasional piece of Parisian impoliteness. I had been given a window seat, so I had the opportunity to watch the ground crew doing their stuff preparing the plane: refuelling, loading the luggage, and driving away from the plane. With my bag.

It's difficult to know how to respond to this. Leaping out of my seat shouting "Come back with my bag!" would hardly be effective. The British thing to do would be to ring the bell for the flight attendant to ask them if they could possibly tell the ground crew, that the bag they were driving away should be on the plane. And could they, if it wasn't too much trouble, bring it back and put it in the hold. But it was obvious that this wouldn't have any effect - I'm sure it would have taken too long to sort out, and instead nothing would be done - and this is probably the right reaction, otherwise the plane would have been horribly delayed. So, instead I did the other British thing - once we were in the air, I ordered a beer.

nice airport is quite Nice, even if I couldn't find any biscuits for sale. I managed to get checked in (again), and the lady was very sympathetic about my worries over my bag. Waiting for this last flight took me back into the Finnish sphere of influence - I guess I've been here long enough, so it's comforting to hear Finnish spoken, even if I don't have a clue what they're saying. This was a Blue 1 flight, which means you have to buy your own food and drink. Obviously, the prices are sky high (Laugh at that. Please) but equally obviously there are great profits to be made from keeping 200 Finns stuck in a metal box for 3 hours and selling them alcohol. Looking back, it is clear that there are some aspects of Finnish character that I have absorbed.

We touched down in Helsinki on time (i.e. midnight), and I had the odd experience of waiting for my luggage that I knew wasn't going to turn up. I think I had to do this - if I had just gone to report it missing, I'm sure I would have been asked how I could be so sure. Once my had luggage failed to turn up, I went to the desk to complain about this. The lady was very helpful, and discovered that it had been kept in Orly, and that apparently they didn't know what to do with it (it seems that it's not possible for luggage to travel from Paris, Orly to Paris, Charles de Gaulle), so they sent it to Nice. I wonder what the Nice people will think of this - the next direct flight is on Monday. So either they have to sort out its re-routing, or my baggage will be waiting for an extra day on the Cote d'Azur. I hope it doesn't get sun-burnt sitting on the beach all day.

All of this is a long-winded way of explaining why I haven't put up a load of photos of Oviedo and Gigon. Because you can guess where my camera is. Well, actually I'm not even sure you'll be able to do that. Read more!