Sunday, 26 October 2008

Breakfast in Seattle

Day one of the Seattle experience. Here's Alex eating a typical Seattle breakfast:


Basically, that's the complete opposite of the Amtrak breakfast as (a) it isn't fried in fat and (b) there's enough fibre in there to make the backside of an elephant explode.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Monterey aquarium

With IL2008 over, and it being good to have the first presentation of this trip done, this morning I hit the world-famous aquarium in Monterey with a couple of other delegates. I'd heard a lot about this place, to the extent I was getting a bit fed up with it, but as I have most of a day before my train to Seattle it seems a logical place to check out.


The admission fee isn't cheap - $24.95 - which is blimey UK prices. But, after a few hours of wandering around, looking at the substantial collection of sea thingies, stroking a blue ray, and watching sharks, otters and fish being fed, it's been a pretty enjoyable time. 


There's also an otter tank with feeding times, but as I have otters at the bottom of my garden back home, it was no big thing:


It was noticeable in the cafe/restaurant that people generally avoided the "Sustainable Seafood" option and went for beef or chicken instead...


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Virtual World Watch launched today

Even though today is the official start date, the Virtual World Watch website has been going for a few weeks now. In a nutshell, the project will be looking at the serious application of virtual worlds (not just Second Life but some of the others) to Higher and Further Education in the UK.


Why Virtual Worlds? I'll write a longer graph on this later, but essentially:

They're getting used a lot in UK universities for teaching, learning, communication, meetings, distance learning, design and a whole range of other education uses.

  • The snapshot surveys which foredated VWW show this use to be increasing. Nearly all UK universities have some kind of virtual world-based activity. Some, such as the Open University, are using it in the teaching of students.

  • The 'perfect storm' of:

    1. Better equipment (higher spec PCs and the like).

    2. Broadband becoming ubiquitous.

    3. Virtual worlds becoming more savvy and better designed.

    ...will result in more uses of this form of online communication.

  • Education is for life (Lifelong Learning), and so it's something that doesn't just happen at school but increasingly wherever you are on the grid.

  • The conventional form of school-based education can't fund itself. Whether you look at California, or the Outer Hebrides, you see school-based education in fiscal trouble pretty much throughout the western world. In some circumstances, virtual worlds can and will provide alternative methods of learning stuff.


The development and use of virtual worlds is going to be a long-term thing. Some, such as Second Life, have already been around for a few years, while this year (like Web 2.0 apps) has seen many emerge (most to falter, a few to go on). It'll be interesting to see which "stay the distance" and how they adapt and are used across the education sector.

And, as is becoming a habit when I start something new, I'm off to California. Next stop, my favourite city in the world: Los Angeles.

Hampton Ferry

I quite like Calmac ferries; they're big, comfortable, stable in even rougher weather and many do a good curry and chips.

However Calmac ferries aren't a patch on the best ferry in the world, which can be found at Hampton in Evesham. There's no lifeboats here, no safety advice over the tannoy. You pile on, and sit on the bench (only on one side, so the ferry tends to lean). Dogs can either join you or swim alongside. There's no vending machines or cafe, it's 50p and there's no RET reduction.


There's no bridges for some distance in each direction, so the ferry provides a useful shortcut between the town and the village of Hampton. It also provides a quick way for people staying in caravans on the west bank to get over to the parks and town on the east. It's open from March to October, so I was able to take this during one of the last crossings of this year:


How it works is simple. There's a chain across the river that goes through two loops attached to the ferry. The ferryman pulls on the chain; the boat moves acrosss the river.

The only problem are boats approaching in either directions. They can either wait for the ferry to get across and the ferryman to hand-crank the chain till it's well under the water line. Or, for the rowers who zip up and down the river, you can just go under it:


I like the Hampton ferry. It's only concession to the 'modern age' is that it has a website; apart from that and a few changes of staff, it's as it was when I used it for the first time um nearly four decades ago. Long may it continue.


The village I grew up in, in the Vale of Evesham. It has a mixture of houses, from council to posh bungalow to semi's to thatched cottages:


There's still orchards, but the village isn't surrounded by them as it was when I were a lad:


Historians really like the village church, as it has lots of significant detail, especially for such a small village.


One of the items in there is the flagstone of Penelope Washington, a close relative of George Washington (the family inter-married with the main family in the village in the 1600's):


At the top you can see the Washington arms. Looks kinda familiar, the stars above the stripes? Yep...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A Harris beach for next summer

A picture of a beach by Fiona Cownie I still haven't visited, despite living not too far away for four years and visiting the archipelago for several years before that:
the most beautiful beach in britain
That's Hushinish (there are several variations on the spelling) in Harris. Looking out of the window here at the weather, and how early it gets dark, that's one for next summer.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Pictures on the Berneray calendar

I've mentioned (okay, plugged!) the Isle of Berneray 2009 calendar before. These have been purchased by people in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China and a few other countries (though only two so far in Scotland).

Calendar sales are appreciated, as the couple of US dollars royalty we get from each one (Cafepress get the rest) go towards the hosting and domain costs of the Berneray website.

A few questions have come in, which are answered here:

1. Why is there a scarecrow on top of a hill?

That's the June picture:


That's the one Duncan from the Post Office put atop Sandhill. It's there because lambs were being born and taken literally straight away by large birds. (Yes, not all of nature is pretty).

2. Who took the pictures?

Ruth - Scotproof on Flickr - took all of them. You can find most of them in her set of Berneray pictures (there's currently 302 in there) on Flickr.

3. Where is the beach?

That's the February picture. It's the west beach of Berneray:


The picture was taken on February 13th - so, you can get good beach walking weather and scenery all year round.

4. Can I alter the events on the calendar?

Afraid not. Cafepress, the US-based Print On Demand shop who sell these online, hard print in the events; we can't edit them. Christmas, New Year's Eve and others will be familiar to many, but think of it as an education, finding out (if you don't know already) on what dates Chanukah and Kwanzaa fall on.

5. Whos is that jumping on the last picture, and where is it?

On the December picture, that's our neighbour Eilidh Carr who was recently 16:


She's jumping on top of Borve Hill, Berneray. That's Harris in the background that she appears to be jumping over. This picture also featured on the BBC website earlier in 2008.

Most of the pictures from the calendar are also on other products in the Berneray online shop, such as t-shirts, mugs, greetings cards and postcards. As with the calendar, every sale contributes a US dollar or two towards keeping the Berneray website going; thanks.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Birthday weekend on Berneray

Yesterday was a double birthday on Berneray, with Cassandra and her first cousin Eilidh both sharing a birthday. Here's Eilidh, who was 16:


... and here's one of the many fireworks launched that evening:


On monday Olan is also 16. This flurry of birthdays alters the demographics of Berneray slightly; as of monday, out of a permanent resident population of 126, 12 will be under 16 years of age. There'll be some more Berneray demographic statistics around the end of this year.