chickenfeet: (referee)
 So Wales won and deservedly so.  But decidedly not in a very Welsh way.  They proved what everyone knows but historically Wales have usually tried to kick against.  Water tight defence trumps offensive flair every time.  Wales conceded fewer point and fewer tries than anyone else in the competition by a margin; 65 to England's 101.  They were the joint lowest try scorers (with Italy) at 10 though their total points count was a respectable 114.  So 60% or so of Wales' points came from the boot; another indication of a conservative approach.  By contrast England scored 24 tries accounting for 65% of their points.

On another note, despite Scotland's heroics yesterday surely the issue of some form of promotion and relegation needs to come into play.  It's absurd that a team like Georgia doesn't have any way of challenging for a place in the northern hemisphere's premier tournament.

This is even more the case for the women's game.  It's frankly ridiculous that teams qualify for the tournament based on the fact that their men do.  It's silly, unfair and dangerous to see the entirely professional England squad beat a bunch of Scottish schoolgirls to pulp and Wales and Ireland aren't much better.  Replacing those teams with the US, Canada and Spain would make for a much better tournament.  Or if the PtB insist on the Celts competing maybe the rules should be changed to force the respective unions to treat the women's game with a bit of respect.  Like paying their players.

Last night

Mar. 7th, 2019 03:44 pm
chickenfeet: (Default)
I went to the opening of a new production of Kiss of the Spider Woman last night. It was notable for me in many ways:
  • It was at the Don Gaol.  This is a very scary place.  Much of it is now offices for the adjacent hospital but quite a bit has been preserved.  It was an actual gaol from 1864 until the 1980s and people were hanged there until 1962.
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman is a musical and I don't usually do musicals.  I knew no-one there which is pretty much unheard of for a first night in my usual bubble.
  • The average age of the audience was about half that of a typical opera audience (and even that is way lower than, say, Tafelmusik) and much more "fashionable" in a sleb sort of way.
  • Also the "money" is much more obviously nouveau riche than at the opera.
It was interesting though and I did get a chance to have an interesting chat with one of the Daniels clan at the after party.

chickenfeet: (Default)
I guess it's really great, if expensive, if you are the kind of person who likes swanky resorts and canned day trips to do things like tubing and zip-lining. If you are more into cultural tourism and the odd day at the beach I think there are better, cheaper, alternatives. Yucatan, for instance, would offer as much in the way of beaches and Mayan ruins but be much cheaper and just as easy to get to. That might be even more true of southern Guatemala though that might involve roughing it a bit more.

If I did Belize again I'd probably stick in one centre; either San Ignacio or Belmopan, and do day trips. I'd probably use the local buses more to keep down costs. The buses are a bittricky as, unsurprisingly, they are set up to serve the locals rather than tourists but Belmopan seems like a reasonable "hub" for most of the country. It is, after all, the capital.

The only other more or less adventurous destinations I've been to are Peru and Thailand. I think I'd go back to either before I went to Belize again. Both have more to offer in the way of attractions and are much cheaper, despite it being a more expensive flight.

In Hopkins

Feb. 19th, 2019 04:15 pm
chickenfeet: (Default)
We spent our first full day in Hopkins futzing around trying to figure the place out. Basically, beach aside there isn't anything much so we decided to splash out on a day snorkelling and fishing.

So next day we went out with a boat and crew to do just that. We snorkelled on the reef at Bread and Butter Caye; about 25 minutes by boat from Hopkins. It's pretty spectacular. now that the Ozzies have trashed their reef this may be just about the best one around. Then we went fishing. We tried bottom fishing (leger rig) in a couple of spots and caught a fair few snapper, porgy grunt etc. Then we did some trolling and I caught a barracuda; definitely the best catch of the day. We had lunch at the caye; snapper and barracuda fried up with tomatoes and spices and served with coconut rice. Very nice!

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When we got back Mel invited to join a cultural/educational event the next day. After learning some Garifuna history we got to cook the Garifuna signature dish, hudut, from scratch. First step was husking, cracking and grating coconut to make coconut milk. The milk was cooked with herbs from the property and salted fish head/bones to make a broth. Then we made a plantain paste. Unripe and ripe plantains are boiled then the unrip ones are pounded in a pestle and mortar. This has to be done until they take on the consistency of a sticky dough. Then the ripe plantains are incorporated in the mix. The fillets of the fish were highly seasoned and deep fried. One gets a bowl of broth and a second bowl of plantain paste. One takes some fish and plantain between ones fingers, dips it in the broth and eats. It's good but one of those dishes that isn't really worth the prep time/effort. It would be a bit like making one's own haggis from scratch. As far as I can see most Garifuna food is like that. The process for making cassava bread (a bit like dessicated cardboard) is similarly involved. No wonder it keeps for ten years. Nobody will eat it!

Later we headed into Hopkins to check in for our flight out and to eat some very good pizza and fish and chips at the Driftwood Bar. This turned out to be pointless as Belize airport won't accept electronic boarding passes and we had to check in manually anyway.


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chickenfeet: (Default)
After ATM we decided it made sense to head for the beach. On balance I'm not sure that this was a smart move as I definitely prefer San Ignacio to the coast but the lure of swimming in the Caribbean was too strong. We had trouble finding available, affordable accommodation and ended up at the Palmento Cultural Centre. This was certainly interesting but not the most comfortable of choices. It's located at the north end of Hopkins just across the river. It's off grid. Electricity (generator) is only available a few hours a day and the well water is sulphur laden. Also the variable water pressure makes getting a shower pretty hit and miss. Still the cabin was comfortable and Mel, who owns the place, is lovely. It's a longish walk into the village but that's the least of it. getting across the river involves kayaking. We got the hang of this soon enough but not before the lemur had managed to capsize the boat in the dark dumping me in the river. Fortunately we didn't see any crocodiles.

Hopkins is a Garifuna village though it's now increasingly taken over by resorts and businesses catering to tourists. It has a lovely beach but facilities are basic. There are plenty of restaurants and bars including Tina's which is pretty good for local specialties. The Chinese run supermarkets are pretty basic. There's one ATM which has lovely air conditioning and fine mahogany panelling but doesn't actually seem to dispense cash. It's here that you realise there are no cheap options on the coast (which is where most tourists go). Accommodation and food is much more expensive than in San Ignacio and doing anything costs wads of cash. Still, ocean.


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Breakfast at Tina's; fry jack with stew beans, salsa and fried fish.  Totally delicious but, oddly, fish is the most expensive choice.  It always is for some reason in Belize (ok specialties like lobster, conch and game meats are more expensive but fish costs more than chicken, pork or beef... even on the coast)
chickenfeet: (death)
Actun Tunichil Muknal may have been the highlight of the trip.  It's a cave system that was used for various Maya ritual activities.  Admission is restricted to guided parties but I'd say it's still too busy and there has been some damage to the site as a result.  Guiding licences are now grandfathered in an attempt to slowly run down the number of visitors.

It's quite an excursion as the approach hike involves crossing the river three times including at one place where swimming is required.  Inside the cave both climbing and swimming are required.  It's not too hard but definitely not wheelchair accessible!  We were the first party in that day and there was just myself, the lemur and our excellent guide, Braynard (most parties are much bigger). We had about an hour at the business end of the cave before the large groups started arriving.  I think that made all the difference because it's a weird and eerie place.  There are interesting rock formations but the main interest is a whole series of calcified remains of various ritual offerings including human sacrifices; some of which must have been pretty brutal judging by the state of the remains.

The generally accepted view is that the cave came into use as a ritual site as the rains began to fail at the end of the "Classic" period.  The cave was seen as a gateway to the parallel underworld where the gods lived and so an attempt to summon the rain god back to the upper world.

No photographs as photography is forbidden.  If you ever go to Belize I'd say this is the one "must" provided you are up for the physical aspects.
chickenfeet: (Default)
Needing a break after the exertions of Tikal we took a "lazy day" in San Ignacio. We spent the morning at the Iguana sanctuary and rum tasting. Iguanas are cute and Belizean rum is pretty good. I'd go with the Travellers Five Barrel for optimum value though the higher end stuff is interesting. Lunch was at a local restaurant noted for local specialties. I had fried fish with a tamale like object made from grated green bananas and a creole sauce. This was where we discovered that "fried fish" in Belize usually means a whole fish semi-deep fried. Very tasty but lots of bones! The lemur had a lobster curry.

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Tikal

Feb. 19th, 2019 07:39 am
chickenfeet: (bull)
 Sunday we went to Tikal.  This is a massively important Mayan site over the border in Guatemala.  The arrangements included being driven to the border and shepherded through immigration to meet a guide on the Guatemalan side.  There's a border dispute between Belize and Guatemala so there's about 200m of no man's land (overseen by the OAS) between the border posts.  It was all a bit weird and reminiscent of Checkpoint Charlie.

Tikal is amazing.  It's not even been completely excavated but there are five major step pyramids plus seven pairs of minor ones, an astronomical observatory, a living complex for the elite, a necropolis, several ball courts and more.  The lesser structures occupied by the middle classes have not even been excavated,  The scale can only really be understood from the top of one of the pyramids or the observatory.  It's huge and most of it is still buried in the jungle.  The population may have been as high as 200,000 at its peak.

Seeing it involves a lot of walking and even more step climbing.  Expect very sore muscles unless you are super fit.  "Experts" suggest one needs three days to fully explore the site but one can see a lot in a packed half day.  Of course it's only one of many major Mayan sites (albeit a very important one) that's been discovered.  Corocal and Chichen Itza are on a similar scale and nobody really knows what may be hidden in the jungles of southern Belize or the more remote parts of the Guatemalan highlands.

And there were coatis; Central America's trash pandas.

Our tour deal included a meal on the way back.  Definitely gringo food!  The tamales we had for breakfast were much better.

Click link for photos.

www.flickr.com/photos/chickenfeet1/sets/72157706795936345
chickenfeet: (Default)
 I think our plane arrived just after about five others.  The line up for immigration was out of the terminal building onto the tarmac and it was hot.  It took maybe an hour to clear immigration.  Our prearranged driver was there and took us to the zoo on the way to San Ignacio.  It;s a great little zoo with many kinds of wild cat; puma, jaguar and smaller ones, plus coatis, crocodiles, monkeys and more.  We had our first meal of rice and beans with chicken; the Kriol staple dish.

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Our hotel was pleasant.  It was about 15 minutes walk from the town centre (San Ignacio is the district capital and the second largest town in Belize).  It was clean, had AC, the plumbing worked and there was wi-fi.  And dogs.  And a cat.  We checked out the town centre and bought tacos from a street stall.  Street food is cheap in Belize.  It's about the only cheap way to eat.  The town itself is neat and tidy for the most part with a bunch of Chinese owned stores and plenty of restaurants and bars.  There's a sort of mini "Khao San Road" with hostels and tour oprators and bars and stuff but it's pretty low key.  Bought some of the local (Belikin) beers.  The stout is much better than the the "beer" and the lager is best not mentioned.

The next day was Saturday, market day, so we headed in to town for breakfast.  The market has a bit of everything; clothing, electrical goods, produce, prepared food etc.  We had a pleasant breakfast of tamales and pupusas.  I learned a few things at this point.  Everything tortilla based is made straight from dough spread on the comale.  No tortilla presses here and anyway the dough is much too sticky.  One is expected to pimp up the food with pickled cabbage and hot sauce.  Things like tacos and burritos are kind of skinny by TexMex standards so this really is necessary.  The food stands are all run by women from the countryside (probably Mayan) who don't speak any English.  Their kids do though and each stand has a bright eyed kid who deals with the gringos and tots up the bill.

We spent most of the morning at the local Mayan site of Cahal Pech.  This isn't one of the great city sites.  Likely it was the centre of power for a minor local ruler/landowner so sort of the equivalent of a castle in medieval England.  It's not a fortified site though.  There are a couple of step pyramid temples, living quarters and a ball court.  It's a good way to get a sense of the componentry of Mayan architecture.  Obligatory Cancon; part of the excavation was done by Trent University.Untitled

Lunch was back at the market.  The lemur had a quesadilla while I tried the caldo; a veggie filled broth with some beef in it.  I chickened out of the calf's foot version.  Pimped up with hot sauce and orange juice it was pretty good.  We pretty much slothed the rest of the day!
chickenfeet: (Default)
 Just back from ten days in Belize.  I'll write up the details of the trip in a series of posts but first overall impressions.  Belize is an odd country in many ways.  It's very small.  One can drive across it in a few hours and the population is only just over 300,000.  For such a small place it's incredibly diverse.  There are seven languages spoken; English, Spanish, Kriol, Garifuna and three different Mayan dialects.  Maybe one should add Plattdeutsch as there are a non trivial number of Mennonites and at least one Chinese dialect as the retail sector is entirely Chinese dominated.  It now has a pretty decent universal education system so all the kids and young people speak English but that's by no means true of their parents.  Everybody seems to get on though and racism didn't appear to be a problem.  At least that's how it looks to an outsider.

It wears its history as a former British colony lightly.  It's the only former British colony in the region where they don't play cricket!  The police wear fatigues and carry automatic weapons.  In some ways it feels very central American but at least there have been no massacres of native people in modern times unlike neighbouring Guatemala and Mexico.  That said, there are no specific rights enshrined in law for indigenous land rights or languages.

It's an interesting place to vacation.  The country is definitely set up for tourism.  They have made smart decisions to prioritise environmental and cultural protection over exploitative industries which means that there are lots of well preserved archaeological sites, jungle preserves etc.  They pay for this by making tourists pay for it.  Fair enough but it makes it an expensive vacation destination.  It's possible to cut corners but, in general, one is spending a closer to first world rates than one would in, say, Mexico or Thailand.

There are Mayan remains everywhere.  It's estimated that the population of what is now Belize was three to six times what it is today at the peak of the Mayan era.  The jungle reclaimed everything and only a minute fraction has been excavated or even mapped.
chickenfeet: (penguin)
 Sanjay Manjrekar on Cricinfo today:

"History and team results in cricket have shown us that picking six specialist batsmen, four specialist bowlers, and the best keeper in the country in the playing XI is a winning combination. When you select bits-and-pieces players, success also comes in bits and pieces."

I remember reading that in the "Ladybird Book of Cricket" about 55 years ago.  It's still true.  Someone should buy the England selectors a copy.

chickenfeet: (Default)
 So the lemur was telling me about number synesthesia, where people apparently see numbers as colours.  I knew about music syesthesia but this number thing was new to me.  So, being what I am I immediately starting asking whether they saw rational numbers in different colours to irrational ones?  What about complex numbers?  And so on.  Sadly it seems that it's numerals not numbers that people associate colours with.  Boring.
chickenfeet: (thatcher)
Why not?

How old are you?
Older than the hills.  In my sixties. 

Tattoos?
One.  Two wolves encircling (almost) my left wrist.

Ever hit a deer?
No, Ran over a pheasant once.

Ridden in an ambulance?
Yes.  More than once.  Worst was after an accident on the A12 which was followed by 24 stitches in my face.

Sang karaoke?
A few times.

Ice skated?
Yes, but not well and not recently. 

Ridden a motorcycle?
Many times.

Stayed in hospital?
Twice as a child; tonsils and adenoids.

Skipped school?
Nope.

Last phone call?
With an outplacement firm a few days ago.

Last text from?
A security code from the bank.

Watched someone die?
I don't think so.  I have held two dying cats though.

Pepsi or Coke?
Coke Zero once in a while.

Favorite pie?
3.142....

Favorite pizza?
This really depends.  If I had to pick just one it would likely be anchovies and olives.

Favourite season?
Fall.  Especially up north.

Broken bones?
Only other peoples though I have had numerous sprains and a nasty AC searation..

Received a ticket?
All the time.  The local music organisations are kind that way. 

Favourite color?
I wear black a lot but "favourite" I dunno.

Sunset or sunrise?
Sunrise. 
chickenfeet: (Default)
 I guess we've had the Instantpot now for about four months which is long enough to figure out how to use at last the basic features.  I think it gets used more than any other electrical/electronic gadget in the kitchen bar the microwave, toaster and electric kettle.  I love it.  It's versatile, convenient and energy efficient.  It will do in 45 minutes what would take hours on the stove or in the oven and there's very little mess or clean up.  Tonight's dinner is a case in point.  I cooked a pork shoulder with seasonings in about an hour, including initial browning to the point where it's ready to be finished under the grill for carnitas.  Beans to accompany will take slightly less time and that without pre-soaking.

So far it's worked just fine for pot roast, beef daube, ragu bolognese, harira, beans and rices of various kinds, osso bucco, braised beef cheeks, "BBQ" brisket, carnitas, posole and a bunch of other things.  The main thing I've had to learn is that since there's virtually no moisture loss, somewhat less liquid is required for most dishes.

Definitely a win.

Brexit

Jan. 16th, 2019 02:04 pm
chickenfeet: (thatcher)
 For all Theresa May's talk of the "national interest" it's now appallingly clear that that takes a distant back seat to maintaining some sort of unity in the Conservative party.  It looks as though there is a majority in the Commons for a Brexit based on a customs union with the EU.  She could build the bridges necessary to get that through but she won't because in the process she'd split the Conservative party.  So one of two things is going to happen.  Either she caves to the ultras and allows a hard Brexit or she keeps coming back to the Commons with the same deal with minor cosmetic changes until fatigue sets in and it passes.

Oddly, this whole scenario seems to be an unintended consequence of the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  Prior to that date a defeat like last night's must have brought down the government.  Now government MPs are, in effect, allowed to obstruct government legislation with more or less complete impunity.  Ironically, an act that was supposed to put an end to a particular kind of political opportunism has actually left party leaders in hock to their own extremists.
chickenfeet: (Default)
 Given that I started my career in manufacturing in the UK it's not surprising that many of the places I worked no longer exist.  In fact it's more surprising to find one that does.  Anyway I was pleased to discover that not only is International Paints in Felling still there but it's still the HQ of International Marine Coatings; the world's leading supplier of paint for ships.  When I worked there in 1977 it was owned by Courtaulds but it was sold to Akzo-Nobel some time in the 1980s.  I never worked at the current Canadian operation in Dorval but I did have a hand in its design c. 1985.

Felling... https://www.google.com/maps/place/Stoneygate+Ln,+Gateshead,+UK/@54.9587824,-1.5588109,292m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x487e707ef4b5d7fb:0xd878fbfdd088cada!8m2!3d54.9552086!4d-1.56003
chickenfeet: (Default)
 I'm a fairly digital person.  I've been using computers pretty much all my working life.  I first used a portable computer in the early 1980s and I had Internet access before Mosaic was developed.  But, one non-digital habit has persisted.  I make hand written notes in notebooks.  I must have filled hundreds of them over the years.  I'm now starting to change that.  I'm finally teaching myself to use OneNote for essentially all the stuff I used to do with a pen.  I think the tipping point is having an actually light laptop that isn't a pain to schlep around and also being able to access the notes on my phone.
chickenfeet: (cute)
I don't read many novels these days but I couldn't really pass on one written by someone I've known for 43 years! Anyway it's called "Inscription" and it's by Christine Whittemore. It's the story of a rediscovered very early codex written by a British female scribe serving a Roman lady during the reign of Domitian. Here's what I said in my Amazon review:

Ok I'm not exactly unbiased. I first met the author when we were first year undergrads a very long time ago. That said this is a beautifully crafted novel. Some of the themes are really important to me and that probably colours my judgement too. The nature of both books and memory; in the sense of what survives from the past and what doesn't. being an exile and the impossibility of returning to a time and place that no longer exist. The way the grey sea shapes one's sense of being English and how that's sharpened by being away from it. So, it's one of those novels that mixes narrative; quite a compelling one, with a lot of interesting ideas in a seamless way. What I can say? That's my kind of novel.


Like me Christine moved to North America and lived for many years in NYC and Pennsylvania. Unlike me, she moved back to Gloucestershire eventually which is, I think, kind of crucial.

Let me add two little anecdotes; one from reading the book and one from long ago.

There are two passages close together in the book.  One describes the blue tattoo that almost encircles Marina's (the scribe) left wrist.  The second discusses the virtues of the codex relative to a scroll.  I read this passage on my Kindle holding it in my left hand with the blue tattoo that almost encircles my left wrist clearly visible.

And long ago, September 1975 to be exact, an 18 year old girl moving into the room next to mine at Collingwood, having looked suspiciously at the name plate on the door with the ominous word "Mathematics" on it came in to introduce herself. Perusing my rather less than entirely mathematical bookshelf she looked at me and said "Oh! You read books!"
chickenfeet: (Default)
 Finally got around to checking out The Chef's House, the restaurant where George Brown College chef students get their practical experience.  They do a $25 prix fixe at lunchtime.  It was very good value for money if not quite perfect.

Starters:  My fishcake was pleasantly smokey and the shrimp; likely grilled in its shell before peeling, delicious.  It blended nicely with the sweetness of the beet purée and little pieces of purple and golden beet that completed the plate.  K's Barley and sunchoke salad was a bit of a mixed bag.  The roasted sunchoke was delicious.  The inside was sweet and creamy and the outside was that texture that has been likened unto biting a nipple.  The greens and toasted pine nuts worked well.  The barley was kind of bland, as was the glop that surrounded it.  Could have used more acidity and/or more greens.

Mains:  My miso glazed cod was a well cooked tasty piece of fish sitting on (rather too many) slightly bland lentils.  The miniture veg were delicious, especially the charred Brussels sprouts.  The two little blobs of avocado purée were pointless.  K's mushroom tortellini were one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had.  The tortellini had real mushroom flavour, the kale was a nice contrast and the burn butter sage sauce was delicious.

Puddings: K's wine poached pear sat on an intense raspberry coulis and was topped with a deep fried quenelle of some sort of cream.  The elements were OK but I'm not sure the dish made sense.  My chocolate cake was in two layers with meh icing on top.  There was a small scoop of very good chocolate gelato on the side and a few dots of apricot purée.  This dish badly needed more apricot.  More purée would have helped or maybe the two layers of the cake could have sandwiched some good apricot jam?

Our bottle of Hungarian Riesling was dry and appley and very nice.  The espresso was excellent.  Service was good if occasionally a bit rough around the edges.

So, two three course meals, a bottle of wine and two coffees came with tax and tip to $125 which seems most reasonable for the standard of the food and wine.

Learning

Sep. 20th, 2018 08:16 am
chickenfeet: (cute)
 So on top of my two jobs I'm currently taking an on-line course taught by the Sloane School at MIT (or at least that's the branding, all the work seems to be done in India).  It's on "Digital Transformation" and it's interesting but in some ways frustrating.

It's quite hard to relate what Amazon or Uber do to a government funded not for profit for obvious reasons including that it's not in the organization's DNA to constantly flirt with boundaries of legality!

I'm also noticing that thing I've seen in a lot of business teaching and writing; the notion that life goes on in a linear fashion.  So the forces that make Amazon's business model successful today will continue to operate as they do now into an indefinite future.  This is particularly ironic when one is looking at "disruptors" in sectors with low barriers to entry.  Quite a small shift in the environment could easily make a company like Uber worthless.  Nobody seems to factor that into their market cap predictions.

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