Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

June 9th, 2009

As some of you may have guessed from the lack of updates – I have been on (a much needed) vacation for the last week or so.  Along with my wife and a couple of friends, I went to a lovely little seaside village called Portreath in Cornwall and discovered that it is indeed possible to spend a happy week without the Internet.

We stayed in a a cottage called Gull’s Roost (highly recommended by the way) and the weather was absolutely glorious.  While swimming in the clear azure sea with the sun beating down, I felt more like I was in the south of France or Italy rather than in the UK.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in the area is The Eden Project (click here for the wikipedia page) and we spent a wonderful day there.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it, The Eden Project is essentially a couple of very big greenhouses but that’s a bit like saying that the pyramids are big piles of rock in a triangular formation.  The greenhouses are in the form of massive geodesic domes (referred to as biomes within the site) large enough to accommodate entire rain-forest trees (and they contain several).  Some of my photos are below.

Pictures from the Eden Project

The variety of plant life there was truly astonishing and I imagine that if I had visited the site when I was younger then I would easily have been convinced that a degree in botany, rather than theoretical physics, was in my future.  The so called sensitive plant for instance which quickly responds to touch was very cool.

The site has plenty of mathematics as well though if you know where to look.  The geometry of the biomes themselves is interesting enough but there is another building there called The Core whose architecure is based around the Fibonacci numbers.

Another visitor attraction I highly recommend is the Camel Valley Vineyard.  I only recently discovered the fact that there were good quality vineyards in the UK thanks to a TV series and it turns out that some of them (such as Camel Valley) are world class.   We had a tour of the vineyard along with a tasting and everyone loved it.

So, I’m back and have a lot of things planned for Walking Randomly over the next couple of months including

  • Book Reviews
  • SAGE tutorials
  • Mathematica tutorials and tricks
  • MATLAB tips and tricks
  • A more in-depth look at Maple 13
  • New Wolfram Demonstrations written by me
  • More Python/NAG

and a lot more besides.  If you have a maths related news-item that you would like me to publicise or just an idea for an article that you would like written then feel free to drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll see what I can do.

August 22nd, 2008

I spend a good proportion of my life commuting to and from work on the train, about 10 hours a week in fact, and so it follows that I spend a lot of time at train stations. I also have a coffee habit and will spend at least 2 pounds a day on my morning latte. This can rise to 5 pounds if I am in need of comfort food such as a sausage sandwich or chocolate croissant (usually on Monday mornings). So, I spend a reasonable amount of dosh at train station cafe’s. In particular I spend most of it at Pumpkin near platform 8 of Sheffield train station.

One day, the nice lady who served me told me that I could get 20% off everything I buy at that cafe by simply signing up for a BiTE card. I am naturally suspicious of such claims and was about to politely ignore her but the guy behind me in the queue said “it’s true – I’ve got one…Look!” and proceeded to get 20% off his breakfast.

It turned out that it was my lucky day because the lady behind him said “I’ve got a spare one – you can have it if you like” and she handed it to me. It was too late for me to get a discount on that morning’s coffee but I have been getting 20% off everything there ever since and that soon adds up to a significant amount of cash.

So if you are like me and spend a lot of money at the cafe in the train station ask them if they offer a discount on presentation of a BiTE card. If they do then sign up for one here –

Reminder: This applies to the UK only.

Disclaimer:As mentioned above – I didn’t need to sign up as I was handed a card by a friendly fellow commuter so I have no idea how much email / snail mail you will receive from them as a result.

July 29th, 2008

I know this is completely off topic for this blog but I need to vent – so I apologize.

I love my home town of Sheffield but work in Manchester and so I, like many others, face a daily commute by train. The journey is only around 50 minutes to an hour long and it is usually very pleasant, complete with views of the beautiful Pennines and the chance to relax with a book, DVD or however else you might choose to idle away an hour or so.

Sometimes though, it goes horribly wrong. The train company may spontaneously decide to half the number of carriages at peak time for example which results in everyone getting very up close and personal with one another. Standing up for an hour with your nose in someone’s armpit after a full days work is not the nicest start to your evening and should really never happen, especially when you consider the fact that the ticket is so expensive.

It really is expensive too, a sizeable proportion of my salary in fact, so the last time this happened I had the temerity to complain to the guard (a very un-british thing to do but I had had a BAD day). I was paying an obscene amount of money for the pleasure of having my nose in someone’s armpit and could I have the address of the train’s complaint department please? I was informed that my money only actually bought me the right of carriage, not the right to a seat.

That’s right ladies and gentleman – almost 3000 pounds a year for the right to stand on a train. Well if that’s the case then why are they pretending? Why bother with seats at all? They would save even more money (and fuel I guess) by ripping out all of the seats and just being done with it. At least then I wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of seats because I would never expect there to be any.

Furthermore they could spend the saved money on more people to check that I actually have a ticket because they obviously don’t do that enough. On a bad day my ticket can be checked by 8 different people – once at Sheffield station, twice on the train itself and once as I attempt to leave Manchester station and then the same again in the opposite direction. To be fair it’s more usual to only have it checked 4 or 5 times but it still seems like overkill to me.

Unfortunately I have no choice if I don’t want to leave my life and home in Sheffield (or my job in Manchester). I have to commute and, since I don’t know how to drive, the train is my only option. So I pay and suffer (and occasionally complain of course).

A final note – it turns out that UK commuters have it worse than cattle. Figures!

May 22nd, 2008

I will be attending the 9th International Mathematica Symposium (IMS) next month in Maastricht and wondered if any readers of this blog would be there. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you are and would like to meet up. If you don’t want your comment published just say so and I will withold it after getting your email address.

May 12th, 2008

In case you were wondering where I have been – I have just come back from a wonderful week long break in Sorrento, Italy. Although I got married about 14 months ago we could not afford a proper honeymoon so we saved like crazy and had it last week instead – and it was well worth the wait.

We stopped at a fabulous 5 star place called The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria which is easily the best hotel I have ever stayed in (although, in all honesty, I usually stay in very cheap hotels so this is not a difficult accolade to achieve). It was cripplingly expensive for a poor University worker like me but worth every penny as we were pampered beyond belief and had an amazing time.

Every night, before going to bed, we would sit on the hotel’s terrace and have a cool glass of Prosecco while listening to the tinkle of the grand piano in the background. It was sheer perfection. The fact that we were faced with the view below made it even more wonderful – I have never been so relaxed in my entire life.

On the faint off chance that she is reading these words, I would like to thank one of the hotel’s receptionists, Marianna, for all of the help and advice she gave us during our stay. All of the hotel’s staff were very helpful but she really stood out for us.

So, if you ever find yourself in Sorrento you might be wondering where to eat and drink (two of my favourite activities). There are many, MANY different places you could go to but the quality varies wildly and we would have been lost without our guide book. Speaking of guidebooks, we used the “Time Out” Naples guide (below) and found it invaluable – clicking on the image will take you directly to the Amazon page where you can buy it.

Of the restaurants we visited we would recommend the following:

Caruso Museum Restaurant – The best food we had all week with an excellent (and large) wine list. We both had the meat based set menus which cost 50 euros each but there were also fish-centric and veg-centric alternatives if you prefer. Of course you could go the more expensive route and eat a la carte. The desserts were so fantastic that we got a little carried away and started taking photos of them – completely ruining the illusion that we were sophisticated diners who were used to this kind of quality.

The Garden Restaurant and Wine Bar – The best wine we had all week. We stumbled across the wine bar section of this establishment while on a random walk of Sorrento and discovered that you could buy great wines by the glass. We both love good wine but don’t know too much about it. The owner’s wife, Rosaria (I hope I have her name right – I was a little tipsy when I wrote it down), really knew her stuff and gave us a guided tour of Italian red wines – our own private, impromptu little wine tasting session. Rosaria was fantastic company and each glass of wine was accompanied by some sort of nibbles such as cheese, olives, nuts etc. By the time we left, several hours later, we were walking a lot more randomly then we were before but had had a great time. The restaurant also does great food and we had lunch there twice.

La Fenice – The first restaurant we visited in Sorrento where we had some amazing fresh fish. Definitely recommended.

Ristoirante Alberto – We went here for lunch while on a day trip to the island of Ischia. The location is wonderful – a platform that juts out into the sea so you get some truly amazing views from your table. Friendly service, great seafood, amazing view..what more can you ask for? I didn’t realise it at the time but it turns out that this restaurant has been visited by some very famous guests including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Kate Moss! Well Alberto, feel free to add Mr and Mrs Croucher to that list if you think we are famous enough ;)