Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Utah – Swimming in the Subway

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

I blogged about The Subway a little while ago. One of my friend Sarah video-ed me swimming through one of the pot holes using her iPhone. So here it is.

Utah – Day 3 – Rest day

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

The day after tackling The Subway was a rest day. This particular rest day started with an really early start with me driving Joyce to the Zion National Park visitor centre at 03:00 in the morning. This was so we could make sure we actually had back country passes for Mystery Canyon which was the following day’s hike and has a limit of 12 canyoneerers per day.

We arrived at the centre and Joyce ran off to find the place to queue. I must have dropped straight off to sleep because the next thing I knew was I was being woken up at 05:20 ish by Joyce knocking on the car window. Sarah and Zoë were there and queuing so Joyce drove us back to the Hotel and I went back to bed. We won the permits.

We all got together again later in the day and after looking around the town drove over to Tom Jones’ place. Tom was fantastic to us. He’d already lent ropes and now he was lending us all full length wetsuits. We all had our own shorty suits but apparently a couple of the canyons had very cold water and the last thing you want is hyperthermia half way down a canyon. So I’m going to plug some of Tom’s wares on his behalf.

Tom has written the bible on canyoneering in Zion. Zion: Canyoneering – Tom Jones is a great book which describes and advises on all on-train and off-trail hikes, and technical canyons in and around Zion National Park. He is the expert on activities in the area. He used to work as a designer for Black Diamond but now he runs his own company designing and selling canyoneering equipment some of which is specifically designed for Zion. So if you’re a canyoneer and need equipment please visit Imlay Canyon Gear.

Pine Creek Canyon

On the way back to Springdale we stopped off to look at the entrance to Pine Creek. This was to be Monday’s canyon. The rest of the day was spend in the hot tub, swimming in the pool, and having dinner.

Utah – Day 2 – The Subway

Monday, July 6th, 2009

On Day 2 we rose early since we were going to attempt The Subway. This required us to drive through the park then leave one car at the exit point and continue on to the start with the other car. The Subway is a hike combined with a technical canyon. It is described as hardcode by some not because of its technically difficult but because it is grueling. The Subway canyon itself is about a mile long but the entire route is 9 miles. There is a point of no return too unless you’re a good climber. Basically once past that point you can’t go back and have to go on.

The route starts with a relatively leisurely walk through trees and on soil but soon you come on bare rock. I think its sand stone and its quite grippy, especially if you wear canyoneering shoes which have stick soles. However some of the slopes are quite steep and you have to weave to get down them safely. You actually end up going up and down a couple of times on this section. It ends with a 300 foot down climb and scramble in to the canyon approach.

Once you’re in the canyon approach you can only go on. Proceeding is a combination of walking, a little boldering, abseiling, swimming and wading. At one point I had to abseil in to deepish water where I took my backpack off (which floated thanks to the air in the dry bag inside) and then swim pushing it in front through several pot holes. At one point I just fitted through which is why I took the pack off. This is not underground otherwise I would not be doing it.

In the subway

Finally you reach the subway proper. I suggest you look at the full sized photos on my gallery as the colours are amazing and it seems the gallery software dulls them when producing preview images. There are great photos on this guide to The Subway. The Subway was beautiful. It is called The Subway because of the shape of the walls and because fractures in the rock floor form parallel lines that appear like train tracks.

Eventually you emerge from The Subway and follow the river for several miles through the rest of the canyon. This requires some more boldering, walking the river bed and walking trails beside the river. It is extremely tiring. Also I should have cut my toe nails before the hike because all the banging they got caused blisters to develop under each nail.

Everyone was running out of water and Sarah was also worried about light too since we’d been covering less than a mile an hour. The others went a head and Zoë, who had slipped and hurt herself a bit, stayed with me and helped get me to the out climb. Slowly and steadily was the order of the day. Finally we got to the out climb. Where I discovered my water bladder had some water in that had been eluding me when I used the pipe and drank that, and Zoë cooked up a boil in the bag meal for us both. She was a complete star.

Once somewhat re-hydrated and refueled we started the climb. It is 500 feet weaving straight up the side of the canyon. Its a scramble route and really hard work. We found out that the others had completely run out of water and in the heat were dehydrated and starting to see things. Since we were in better shape, much to my surprise, we got up the cliff side in far quicker time. I would set myself intermediate targets. For example get to 25% up before the first rest, then 50%, and so on. Some kind people also on the way up gave me a little water half way up that kept me going. Everyone looks after each other out here. It is technically a desert.

Finally we reached the top. The walk to the car seemed easy in comparison to what had come before. Sarah appeared with a bottle of drink on the route which was a blessing. The second car had been retrieved by the time I had arrived at the parking lot and six very tired people headed back to Springdale, the hot tub, and food.

I am really impressed with myself. This is something I just could not have done even last year. My fitness levels have come on so much in the last three years. It was surprisingly good fun too.

Utah – Day 1 – Arrival and Hidden Canyon

Monday, July 6th, 2009

After spending the weekend in San Francisco and The Bay some friends and I all met up, packed cars and headed off to REI to purchase items required for the Zion trip. Apart from getting a bit stressed because it appears only thin people do outdoorsy type activities we got everything we needed and weren’t going to buy in Utah. Then we got in the cars and drove to Las Vegas, Nevada and then on to Springdale, Utah.

Driving to Vegas. It sounds so simple. Actually it was. 30 odd miles on the 101 to Gilroy then across 40 miles across to I5. Down the I5 for 125 miles before cutting across to CA99 and then Bakersfield (another 45 miles). At Bakersfield its on to CA58 for 125 miles before reaching Barstow (Be careful its bat country here!). At Barstow you join I15 and its just 200 miles to Vegas. So its not a difficult route but it is 525 miles. We took turns driving and just stopping for gas. At one point the outside temperature was a warm 42C.

We got to Vegas quite late and weren’t staying anywhere near the strip. The following day was a relatively early start to drive the final three hours to Springdale Utah, clipping the corner of Arizona on the way, and stopping briefly in St George for more things namely tops for me that I couldn’t buy in REI.

We got to Springdale mid morning. Springdale is a pretty little town right next to Zion National Park. We have two rooms in The Pioneer Lodge in the centre of the town. There is a very regular free shuttle bus that takes you to the park and then the park has its own very regular shuttle bus that will take you up and down the canyon. The Zion Canyon is the second largest Canyon after The Grand Canyon. It is amazing here. The mountains are thousands of feet high. The high plane is at 10,000 feet.

Zion Canyon

The hotel wasn’t ready for us so we left our stuff. Took our backpacks and headed to Hidden Canyon.

The hike is quite steep. The guide suggests you do it mid morning. We started around mid-day. It was quite warm, something like 35C. I started fine but at about 600 feet I had a funny turn. I felt unwell and wobbly on my feet. There is a part of the Hidden Canyon hike which requires you to walk across a small ledge with just a chain to stop you falling several hundred feet to your death. The chain is on the inside of the ledge. I freaked and decided to go no further.

I sat and chilled, watched the world, while the others carried on to Hidden Canyon and practiced abseiling. Eventually they came back and we all walked back to the shuttle and headed back to the hotel to check in. The day was ended with a well earned soak in the hot tub and some pizza.

San Francisco Pride 2009

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I am currently back in the US but this time I am on vacation. To start with I spent a few days in the Bay. I spent some time with SonyaLynn and on Sunday both went to San Francisco to meet with the Chasing Amy Social Club women and march in San Francisco Pride. The club is a social club for bi-women and their supportive female friends serving the Bay area. I’ve met up with them before when I’ve been in the US. They’re a great group.

The club’s theme this year was a send up of the ex Miss California, Carrie Prejean, who spoke against same sex marriage. We all went as beauty queens and I went as Miss Begotten.

Miss Begotten

Our group was based around a Mustang Convertible with three of the women sitting on the back and one of the male partners dressed in the tradition clone outfit, including a leather cap, driving. The car had large speakers attached to it and was playing dance music. The rest of us surrounded the car waving and dancing along to the music.

The weather for the march was warm but not too hot. We marched the traditional route up Market Street in San Francisco whilst being watched and cheered by thousands of happy people. It’s one of the best parties ever.

Last year I was in London Pride. This year it’s San Francisco. I feel this is rather apt for a jet setting software engineer. And how do they compare? Both are fun however I feel San Francisco just has the edge on friendliness and party atmosphere. Appropriate for the city that started Pride parades.

Away, Back, Away, Back (Part 1)

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Well the last few weeks have been busy and traveling lots. This has partly been work and partly been vacation. The work project has been reaching an important milestone so in April, just before the Easter weekend, I returned to San Jose, California.

I arrived on the Wednesday, dropped my cases off at the hotel, this time the Marriott Residences in Campbell, and then headed off to Planet Granite, the climbing centre in Sunnyvale, in order to surprised my friends who regularly climb there. It had the desired effect and my very long day was finished off with a curry at a restaurant in Sunnyvale.

The Birthday GirlI worked both the Friday before the weekend and the Monday afterwards, which although they are public holidays in the UK, they are not in the US. My friend Sonya came over to visit on the Friday evening and my American friends organised a great birthday meal and get together on the Saturday. One very very generously paid for the entire thing. This was followed by an evening of Rockband at one of their homes.

CampbellSunday was a ‘personal’ day. I just needed some space to my self. I decided to go for a tour of Campbell on foot. I needed a couple of electronics items to planned a nice walk from my hotel, up to the local Fry’s, from there to The Pruneyard and Wholefoods for lunch and supplies, then back to the hotel. It actually turned out to be almost a 6 mile walk but it cleaned the cobwebs out. I completely failed with respect to Frys though as it was Easter Sunday and they were closed.

Monday was back to work. Wednesday was climbing night again. This time I went prepared to climb. This may not have been sensible. The day before I flew to the US I had had the cast removed from the wrist I’d broken in February. Climbing so soon afterwards was not really sensible. I managed half way up on a couple of climbs before giving up. I didn’t completely waste the evening as I used the gym instead.

Thursday evening was ‘Miracle Fruit’ night. A whole bunch of us got together, took a Miraculin tablet, then tried different sour foods to see what the effect was like. The weirdest were liquid sour drops, a confectionery which was designed to taste very sour, tasted really quite sweet. Sweet pickles were another interesting taste. Friday Sonya came around again and I cooked for her.

Saturday Sonya and I headed up to San Francisco where we played laser tag. After that it was off to the Hotel Utah Saloon where we watched several live bands including Headshear which were very very good. Sunday I flew home but not before a nice lunch and cuddle in Baylands Park with Joyce.

Tuesday it was back in the office in the UK and some hard work meeting the milestone.

An adventure in technology

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

ShevekThe day after the PHP UK Conference 2009 was Techadventure in Bristol. This was the second one held, the first being last year, and is the brain child of Shevek. It was held in The Trinity Centre.

Autosentry vs spyder botThe idea behind it is to have a celebration of technology. A chance for engineers, technologist, crafts people and artists to show off their latest technology projects or works based on technology. There were many classic computers from the eight bit era. All of which were modified or expanded to support modern technologies such as MMC. There was a 3D table carving balsa wood. The was a laser guided autosentry robot that fired plastic pellets and a hexapod robot.

It wasn’t just technology though. There was also art based around technology. There was a reading of technology inspired poems. There were two musical performances. One piece was composed and performed by a Professor of Music from Boston and the other by DJ Lee Chaos. A large number of puzzle games had been brought for people to play with.

Classic computingWe arrived around midday during a talk about performance in computer systems and the best architectures for high speed computing. I had hoped to be able to demonstrate my BBC ethernet board but due to my broken wrist could not build it before the event. I did prepare slides but didn’t get time to give a talk. The idea was to make a talk along the 20 slides in 20 seconds theme. The slides are available online. We all announced what we were doing to the rest of the attendees and I was surprised by the interest in the ethernet board. It was great to talk to other demonstrators about their projects and exchange ideas. I am definitely going to make myself one of those hexapod ‘bots.

After the event some of us were invited to Shevek’s place for a meal and a chat. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and I can’t wait for the next one.

Popping my conference cherry (Part #2)

Thursday, March 12th, 2009


Lunch really wasn’t bad at all. There was some carefully rationing on the part of the servers but I suppose it would be better to have too much at the end than to run out.

Living with Frameworks

I had wanted to see this talk on frameworks because of my common code background and love of frameworks in any development environment. Alas it seems that nearly everyone else wanted to see it too and because it was in the smaller of the two rooms it was over subscribed. So I took time out and nattered with other conference attendees and visited some of the exhibitors. I had a long play with the interactive table the Microsoft guys brought and perused the books on the O’Reily stand. I’ll catch the talk online.

Dave comforts Ellie after the PHP Women's ElePHPant goes missingIt was also around now that we discovered that someone had stolen the PHP Women’s ElePHPant from the stand. The little blue ‘pants are rare anyway but this one was wearing a hand crocheted PHP Women’s top. We are all supposedly like minded individuals. It upsets me that someone would even consider the theft. Despite all announcements and appeals over twitter she never turned up.

Flex and AIR for PHP programmers

This talk by Adobe’s Mihai Corlan should have been interesting. Instead it was both controversial and boring. The idea of writing platform agnostic clients that would run both in a browser and stand-a-lone appealed so I wanted to see this talk. At first it was interesting covering FLEX, AIR and the open source tools you can use to develop apps. But then he decided to show what the technologies were capable of with a demonstration of "Desktop Keeley" (Who ever she is), an application developed for the Sun Newspaper’s web site.

To say the Sun is not the most politically correct publication is an understatement. The application seemed to comprise of a scantily clad young woman in heels who comes on and presents a pop-up displaying some tit-bit of news from the Sun’s website. I feel this is entirely inappropriate for a professional conference. At best its immature and schoolboy-ish and at worst its misogynistic. I wasn’t the only one who felt this. A straw poll found that many, regardless of gender, were uncomfortable with it. Mihai Corlan’s comment in reply to this post by Jaime Hemmett suggests he just doesn’t get it. Surely he could have found an example which wasn’t degrading. It doesn’t matter why he used the application, he shouldn’t have used it.

So now I was annoyed. Then his talk finished with some ‘extreme programming’. Watching someone typing is not the most exciting content for a talk. If I wanted to do that I could watch the guy who sits opposite me in the office. Anyway I was tired now and just wanted the talk to finish so I snoozed.

Security-Centered Design – exploring the impact of human behavior

Chris Shiflett gave a great talk to finish off the conference. He spoke about how, in order to be more secure, we need to understand how people think. Informative and amusing it appealed very much to the amateur psychologist in me. He covered change blindness and ambient signifiers. I loved the Derren Brown videos. It made me think a lot and was useful not just for web developers but developers in general.

Then the conference was wrapped up and we all headed back to the Brook Green Hotel for more socialising, a buffet, and finally goodbyes. Kat and I returned to the Hilton Euston for another night as on the Saturday we were off to Bristol and Techadventure but that’s another post.


Would I go again? Yes! It was enjoyable and informative and great getting together with like minded people. Can’t wait for the next one.

Popping my conference cherry (Part #1)

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Friday 27 February was PHP UK Conference 2009. I’m doing more and more PHP and other web oriented coding as a change from my day to day work which is debugging low level linux code. A conference seemed the best way to find out more about the language and technologies so, with some encouragement from friends, I decided to go. I used some Hilton Honors points to get a couple of nights at the Hilton Euston in London and drove down there on the Thursday.

Usually I catch the train to London but as I was heading to Bristol from London on the Saturday I drove. Also normally when I drive I leave the car in outer London and catch the tube but a combination of lack of time and Barnet Council making all street parking short term meters or residents only I found it was easier to drive all the way in and leave the car in some free over night parking by the hotel. This worked well the first night because I entered the area after the end of congestion charging.

The Social

The PHP WomenThursday night was the social at The Brook Green Hotel on Shepherd’s Bush Road near to Olympia, which is where the conference was held. After a quick check in I changed and caught the tube to the Hotel. At the hotel I met up with my roomie for the two days, Kat, Lornajane, Derick and Sara. I also met a load of new people and put faces to the PHP Women I knew from online. I also drank rather a lot of vodka!

Sara poses for the cameraThe social was organised by PHP London as a special one of their usual nights held at the hotel. There were two talks made during the evening. Derick made the first one on using DBUS with PHP. It was interesting . By the time of Sara’s talk I was both tired and quite drunk so I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention. Although I did get an awesome photo of her.

A round midnight Kat and I started to wend our way back to the hotel. Once we got there Kat had a few transfers to apply to t-shirts for the “Booth Babes”. Then we set the alarm for 6.30 am and went to sleep.

The Conference

The morning started far too early with the alarm going off at 6.30 am but after waking up I was quite excited as this was my first ever conference of this kind. I’ve attended shows and expos before and even given talks in front of lots of people but never attended a ‘proper’ conference. Since I had to find parking for the car it seemed easiest to drive across town and leave it in the horendously expensive Olympia car park. Like Thursday night I was driving against the traffic and so it was a pain free trip.

Chatting between talksKat and I arrived at the Conference Centre around 8.30 am. We registered, grabbed tea and coffee and helped set up the PHP Women’s stand. The key note was due to start at 9.30 but due to registration issues it didn’t start until 9.45. This meant we could natter longer between ourselves.

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

Aral Balkan gave the key note speech and what a speech to be introduced to conferences with. Aral is a flash developer. Quite trendy he is a sociable guy and we talked both at the social and at the after conference party. His talk was not just relevant to PHP developers or even Web 2.0 developers but all developers of any software that has an end user. And he’s absolutely right. What is the point of having the most perfectly architected piece of software which follows more computer science patterns that you can shake a stick at if you completely miss the boat, which in most cases is the market. Sometimes you do just have to code and refactor later. He talked about commodity hardware and commodity software, great new tools and technologies, and was totally inspiring. An excellent way to start the day.

What’s new in PHP 5.3

The talk on the new features of the PHP language by Scott MacVicar was, in some respects, the complete opposite of Aral’s talk. It was totally technically and just described each of the new features in PHP 5.3, just as it said on the tin. For someone still learning this was extremely useful.

Of lambda functions, closures and traits

The final talk of the morning I attended was another technical one which explained some of the upcoming facilities in PHP 5.4. It described how to define lambda functions and closured (quick throw away functions useful as callbacks and so on). And the upcoming traits mechanism that introduces a level of multiple inheritance to PHP classes whilst avoiding the diamond pattern issue and duplicating Java’s interface mechanism.

Then it was lunch.


On The Shropshire Union Canal (Part #2)

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Better late than never, here’s the report of the rest of the canal trip. Select photos are now available on line at my gallery.

The morning of day two we awoke to a frozen canal. This branch of the Shropshire Union canal had little traffic as it was the route between the main part of the Shropshire Union and the Trent and Mersey canal. You only use it if you want to get from one to the other. But this cold morning we were not the first people moving and another boat kindly broke the ice for us. Called “The Original Fudge Boat” it also had “Sanity?” written on the back. I have to admit agreed with the question given the weather.


Eventually, after a hearty breakfast, we go going ourselves. Steering a boat through the ice isn’t easy. The ice wants to push the boat in all sorts of directions. This is especially true for the large sheets which hadn’t broken up as they would bounce back off of the river back and knock the boat. The cold winter scenery though was truly beautiful.


We continued on the branch of the Shropshire Union before passing through the final lock and small bridge that put us on to the Trent and Mersey at Middlewich. At Middlewich we stopped in to The Kings Locks pub and grabbed a great pub lunch and a couple of pints which set us up nicely for the rest of the day. From Middlewich we headed north towards Northwich stopping when it got dark.

The following day we continued up around Northwich to see the Anderton Boat Lift. This is a fantastic Victorian contrivance which was built to raise and lower canal boats between the Trent and Mersey canal and the Weaver Navigation, some 50 feet below. It has two huge troughs each of which can carry two boats. These troughs, complete with water, transfer the boats between the two water ways. Originally it used hydrolic pistons to raise and lower the troughs but it was converted to cable hoists a while after construction. We didn’t get to see it working unfortunately but it looked fantastic.


As I was leaving the boat the following lunch time we finished heading north at this point and turned around. We grabbed another pub lunch on route hitting Middlewich at dusk and as there was no where to stop we were a little naughty and got through the final locks and back on to the Shropshire Union in the dark.

The following morning, as I had done the day before, I got the boat going while the others stayed in bed. It was very relaxing to potter along the canals with no one else around. Over the few days my boat handling skills came back and I was quite happy, for example, to go reclaim the boat and collect the others from the canal side at by the pub. Finally around 2pm we got back to the boat yard where I left the others. They continued on and I drove home some what chilled out.