One of the reasons I haven’t been posting in a while…

… I was in New York.

(Well, only for three days. And they do have the internet over there these days, in fact. So I guess it’s not much of an excuse for not posting).

Day 1

I was flying direct from Edinburgh to Newark which was very nice as faffing around changing planes at Heathrow or somewhere always makes journeys feel twice as long. As usual the one person on the flight who insists on having their seat tilted right back for the entire time had gone straight for the seat in front of me. But I amused myself by watching Office Space (I would estimate that I now understand about 43% more of what my old office mate used to come out with… though I suspect I still need to watch the Big Lebowski before the rest of his quotes make any sense), watching Mission Impossible 3, and reading most of the Hunger Games.

The flight seemed nice and short compared to my Tokyo trip 18 months ago, and immigration was quick this time too. After reading in my Rough Guide about the apparent minefield that is taxis, including how to avoid the dodgy ones, how much the legitimate ones would charge, extra charges for going through the tolled tunnels and how much I would be expected to tip if the driver did or didn’t touch my suitcase, I decided it was all far too complicated and I should get the bus instead. So I did. Soon I was in Midtown West, Manhattan, with an hour or two to kill before I could check into my hotel. I wandered around Times Square area and took way too many photos.

All the sky scrapers and electronic signs reminded me a lot of Tokyo, but the general feel of the place was not so manic… more like London. I didn’t feel particularly jetlagged, but I did get very hungry even though it wasn’t close to a meal time, so I ended up going to Burger King, then to the hotel. Just as I was checking in, my colleague (who’d come by a different route) stepped out of the lift. So we went off for more sightseeing and nice pasta dinner, then a break for important stuff like getting online, followed by a couple of drinks down in The Village. I really wanted to go to bed by this time, but it seemed a better idea to try and get my body clock into New York time as soon as possible… certainly didn’t want a repeat of the jetlag nightmares of the Japan trip.

Day 2

City University of New York kindly sent out a minibus to pick us up from our hotel and take us to the workshop, so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and negotiate the public transport system in rush hour after all.

They also kindly elevated me to the status of “Dr Perry”. I probably should have corrected them, but meh. You get used to it when you work in a field where “Doctor” is the default title in drop-down menus, followed by “Professor”, with “Mr” and “Ms” buried way down near the bottom somewhere.

The CUNY campus on Staten Island was nice, with lots of green space, big avenues of trees joining the buildings, and fountains and sculptures dotted around the place. The talks were interesting and lunch was good… I also found myself coming up with lots of ideas for my own creative projects. Being away from home seems to be good for me that way. In the afternoon I sort of zoned out a bit as jetlag caught up with me, and the workshop topic was financial applications. (Information about finance and economics just stubbornly refuses to stay in my head, which seems a bit strange for someone who gets fascinated by various other subjects involving lots of numbers… no matter how much I tried to listen, it went straight in one ear and out the other). On the plus side I’d found out how to get on the wi-fi so I was able to annoy everyone back home with the first batch of my photos.

Evening was a dinner cruise, and a very posh one at that (at least by my usual standards [not that I’m the sort of person who has “usual standards” for dinner cruises, really]). I had salad with blue cheese, steak with purple potatoes, and chocolate cake, all washed down by American beer. I spent as much time as possible on the deck, fiddling with my camera settings to try and get decent pictures of Manhattan, the bridges and the Statue of Liberty in the failing light, and as little time as possible in the toilets due to the “helpful” attendants in there who would hand out towels and expect a tip. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad in a big posh toilet in a building, but in a boat-sized toilet it was all a bit claustrophobic for my liking.

To be continued…

It’s Pi-day :D

GCat’s adventures with a credit card-sized computer.

It’s months now since I blogged about the Raspberry Pi. At the time I said I was getting really excited about it. Well, my excitement did start to wane a bit after getting up at 5.45am on the release day (February 29th) only to find the level of interest had practically melted the servers of both supplying companies and there was very little chance of getting hold of one any time soon. I was still intending to buy one when some of the mayhem had died down, but I hadn’t given it so much thought lately. Then suddenly yesterday one of my colleagues walked into my office without any warning and handed one to me!

I couldn’t wait to give it a try. Unfortunately I didn’t have a screen in the office that it could hook up to immediately (it needs HDMI or composite, VGA or DVI monitor plugs are no use) so all I could do was download the software ready to try it out (it needs a custom version of Linux on an SD card) while casting occasional excited glances at the box. But luckily there’s a nice HDMI TV in my living room…

My first reaction was: wow, this thing really is tiny! I mean, I knew it was credit card-sized and all, but even so, it’s still hard to believe just how small it is until you see one in the flesh, so to speak. I was even more amazed by the size of the main processor (the black square chip just by my fingernail in the photo and about the same size!).

Hooking everything up to it reminded me of connecting up one of our old computers and brought back happy memories of geekily spent Christmases and so on. In the picture, the power is coming from my HTC phone charger and going into the micro USB connector on the lower left corner. The SD card with the Linux OS is the blue thing protruding out from underneath the board just by the power connector. The grey plug going into the near side is the HDMI cable to my television. The green cable coiling round the whole thing is ethernet to connect it to the internet (it doesn’t have built in wifi so it needs either a cable connection or an external USB wifi dongle). Finally, the two black plugs next to the ethernet are my ordinary USB keyboard and mouse.

With trepidation, I double checked all the connections and then turned the power on. Would it work? I’d seen reports that certain SD cards wouldn’t work properly so I knew there was a chance I’d got a bad one or that I’d messed up the OS install.

Success! I could see the raspberry logo on the screen and the Linux boot messages scrolling past (looking very tiny in full 1080p resolution). Soon I had the desktop environment running and was verifying that it was indeed capable of viewing pointless web pages.

It was pretty easy to get up and running by following the quick-start instructions on the Raspberry Pi website. It was a little bit sluggish for browsing the net, but that’s to be expected with such a low-powered machine with a chip designed for mobile phones but running a full desktop system. Apparently this will get better once X Windows (the software that provides the graphical user interface on Linux) is using the Raspberry Pi’s rather capable GPU to do most of the drawing instead of doing everything on the main processor as it is at present.

But nice though it was to see my blog on the big screen courtesy of the Pi, I was more interested in getting some of my own code up and running on it. After a quick break to redo the partitioning on the SD card (so that I could use the full 16GB of space rather than the default less than 2) and install my favourite geeky text editor, it was time to delve into the code examples.

As the Raspberry Pi is intended for teaching programming, it comes with some nice example programs showing how to make it do various things (play video, play sound, display 3D graphics, etc.). I’d decided for my first project I was going to try and get one of my emulators up and running on it; the architecture is actually very similar to my phone’s so even though the emulators contain quite a lot of assembly language code that would have no chance of working on a normal PC, they should work on the Pi without too much trouble. I decided to start with the Master System one as it’s a bit simpler than the others.

After an hour or two of hacking, I had something working.

As expected I didn’t need to change very much in the code. I just replaced the “top layer” that previously communicated with the Android operating system with a new bit of code to send the graphics to the Raspberry Pi GPU via OpenGL ES. (Although that’s mainly for 3D graphics, you can do some nice 2D graphics on it too if you more or less just ignore the third dimension).

The emulator isn’t fully working yet… there’s no sound (I need to look at the sound example that came with the Pi but it shouldn’t be too hard), no way to actually control it (that screenshot is just showing the demo running on its own – I need to figure out how to get key presses in the right form), and there are a few other glitches (the graphics seem to extend slightly off the edges of the screen and the timing is a bit off). But overall I’m reasonably pleased with my first few hours with a Pi 🙂

Update: the Master System emulator is now closer to being finished and you can download it from here.

Projects, projects, projects…

This is heavily inspired by (read “ripped off from” 😉 ) a post on my brother’s blog.

I also have a bunch of creative projects on the go. Well actually, a lot of them are not quite so on-the-go as I would like, in fact some seem to be terminally stuck not going anywhere. Maybe talking about them a bit more publicly will inspire me to get them going again.

I’ve always been like this, I think. Ever since I was quite small I would come home from school and spend most of my free time writing stories, messing around making things on the computer, drawing maps of places I found interesting, or learning new music on the piano. I never saw the appeal of spending hours in front of the TV (I still don’t), and although I did play a lot of computer games, I must have spent at least as much time designing and writing my own as I did playing other people’s.

Now that I’ve got a full time job it’s a bit harder to find the time to do all that kind of stuff. But because it’s important to me, I still try. I’ve already blogged from time to time about my Android app making, my bandour film group, (on my other blog) one of my home-made computer games, and piano playing. To try and organise things a bit better and prioritise the stuff that’s really important to me, I decided to make a list and give them all codenames like Alex did in his blog. Here is the list, along with a little symbol of some kind for each one. Some of these overlap with Alex’s ones because they’re group projects of some kind – they have the same names that he gave them. Some of them are slightly ill-defined and are really catch-alls for a whole possibly area of creativity that I might be interested in experimenting with later on. Some are much more specific. OK, on with the list!

Project Bubble – this is the codename for our next Sonic Triangle EP, which has been in production for quite a while now. Alex already wrote a whole post about it so I won’t say much here.

 

Project Hohoho – the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar! Alex and I have both already written whole posts about this so again I won’t say much here.

 

Project Everything – this is really Alex’s project and I don’t know if he wants to reveal what it is yet, so I won’t.

 

 

Project Chippy – Alex’s web series!

 

 

Project Noah – this is actually a work (as in paid work) project. I need to find out whether I’m allowed to blog about it or not. I probably will be able to, and I hope I am, because I think it’s really interesting.

 

Project Bits – this one’s computer related and probably way over-ambitious, but at least I’ve been managing to make some progress on it lately.

 

Project Buster – one of the sort of vague, catch-all ones.

 

 

Project IOM – this one has been coming along quite nicely, before I even decided to make it a Project with a defined end goal. It’s nice because unlike most of the others it involves leaving the house quite a lot.

 

Project X-ray – another of the vague, catch-all ones… including ideas that are probably also way over-ambitious, but might be fun to play around with anyway.

 

Project Megadroid – if you’ve paid attention to my previous blog posts you can probably work out exactly what this one is just from its symbol and name. But anyway… it’s one of the few that’s (a) got a well defined goal, and (b) probably isn’t too far from reaching it… yay! It’s been taking a bit of a hiatus recently but thinking about it is starting to tickle my interest again, so maybe I’ll finally get it finished (and release it on here).

Project History – this one is journaling-related. It probably deserves its own post at some point.

 

 

Project Classical – another one that’s probably quite obvious from the name and pic.

 

 

Project New Leaf – a nice, hopefully quick and simple but very rewarding little Project that will help with some of the others once it’s done. I won’t say more than that because I’m saving it for its own blog post.

 

Project Tridextrous – ambitious, probably slightly insane, may never happen.

 

 

Project Fantasy World – very broad, catch-all project… no definite plans in it yet but an area I’m still interested in returning to.

 

 

Project Bonkers – … um, yeah.

 

 

So that’s them. Some of them will hopefully get their own posts soon and hopefully having a place to write about progress will inspire me to actually make some progress to write about.

 

End of January update

Well, we’re already into the second month of 2012, and once again I can’t believe how fast it’s going :O

I’m going to try and regularly track my progress on my vague-sort-of-resolutions that I made earlier.

Goal setting: has been going ok. I’ve been setting myself weekly and monthly ones and mostly been keeping to them. I am generally much more organised and on top of things than I used to be even a few months ago. Maybe I’ll write about the things that helped me get here sometime. (I’m still a bit worried that my goals are a bit aimless and not really leading up to anything coherent, but I have some longer term ideas forming in my mind. Maybe I need to give them a bit more time to form).

Meditation: good, have been doing it a few times a week, will hopefully gradually increase it over time. Some days it really does seem to help.

Weight loss: not good… still slowly gaining 🙁 but I feel it’s low-ish on my priorities right now. I guess January is the best time of year for getting exercise if you prefer outdoor activities (which I do).

Concentrate on the people who are worth it: check 🙂

Piano playing: very pleased with this. It’s going better than it has in ages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can play the Fugue in A Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 reasonably well now, which I always thought would be beyond me. Also started on something else, but it maybe deserves its own post in a bit. And I have an interesting idea for a piano-computer hybrid project which I might get onto soon.

Dancing: another positive thing. Been back to dance class not once, not twice, but three times so far in 2012. Have also booked myself on two weekends away with the dance society, both in the next few weeks. So that’s something to look forward to.

Walking and photography: it’s not really the best time of year for it at the moment. But we did have our Stirling weekend, and planning a Glasgow museum visit tomorrow.

Creativity: paid work projects are going pretty well (though very busy – I now have 3 separate things to work on, where I previously had only one. It’s lucky the two new ones are both things I can get really excited about). Spare time programming projects are going ok, though I’ve possibly bitten off more than I can chew with the latest one. On the minus side I haven’t written as much (or as interesting) stuff as I wanted on here. I do have a list of ideas though, so maybe I’ll get round to putting up something more substantial soon.

Gigs: got two gigs booked so far (Fascinating Aida and Derren Brown) and about to book another one (Ross Noble, without a doubt my favourite stand-up comedian of all time). Still want to do a festival this year as well.

Other stuff: I’ve been cooking a lot more food from scratch, partly thanks to being in a relationship with someone who does it all the time, partly thanks to the lovely recipe books I got for my last birthday and Christmas from several people, and partly just because I’ve been meaning to for ages. I’m not sure it’s actually any cheaper or healthier than my previous diet, but it’s certainly more fun and tastes a lot nicer.

(On the subject of new year and resolutions and all that, I found this post on one of the blogs I like to read very inspiring. Plus I can always get behind anything that encourages me to act like a big kid 😉 ).

Raspberry Pi!

I have to admit I’m getting really excited waiting for this to be released…

This pic from the official site, not taken or owned by me... if there's a problem with me using it, let me know and I'll take it down!

It’s a tiny little credit card sized computer, designed for teaching kids programming. Despite not being a kid (well, not physically anyway) and already knowing how to program, I want one.

Or several… they’re only going to cost 25USD for the basic Model A or 35USD for the slightly more powerful Model B. But despite the ridiculously small size and price they are capable of playing full HD video, which is more than my netbook can manage. This is made possible by the fact that the Raspberry Pi is using a mobile phone processor rather than a normal PC processor. (The main processor core, an ARM11, is very similar to the chip in my HTC Wildfire, but the one in the Pi runs a bit faster and is coupled with a very powerful graphics processor to handle video decoding and 3D acceleration).

The idea of it, a simple little machine that plugs into a TV and is easy to write your own programs for, takes me back to the old home computers of the 80s and early 90s that I first learned to code on. I did most of my learning on a ZX Spectrum +3, which is probably still in the wardrobe somewhere along with a BBC Micro Model B+ that I acquired a bit later. They were laughably primitive machines by any sort of modern standard, but I miss the simplicity and accessibility of them. You could turn them on and immediately start writing a program, and if you were curious there was plenty of information out there that would let you learn how the machine worked inside out.

The Raspberry Pi won’t be quite the same as that. It will still run a modern operating system (some form of Linux; Windows won’t play well on hardware like this) and elements of it, especially the graphics chip, will be too complex for most people to learn fully. But it seems like it will be a fairly large step in that direction. The Model A and Model B naming, in fact, is a nod to the first two versions of the old BBC Micro.

Normally when I want something like this, I’d probably buy one eventually, but have nagging doubts at the back of my mind. “You’re already working with computers all day”, they would say. “Why do you want to spend your free time hunched in front of a screen playing with code as well when you could be enjoying so many of life’s other rich pleasures instead?”. “But I want toooo… it’s fuuuun….”, another voice would argue back in the tone of a whining five-year-old.

This time, though, I’ve neatly side-stepped that whole dilemma by offering to supervise a project at work involving Raspberry Pis. So I can legitimately play with, um, create something valuable and useful with them in work time and even get paid to do it. Yay!

Can’t wait for the release date… which is hopefully January 2012 :). Next problem is how to actually get hold of one… seems I’m far from the only person to be disproportionately excited about this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first batch sells out pretty quickly.

Moscow: day 3

Despite (or maybe because of?) the excess vodka, I slept much better and woke up feeling refreshed this morning. Though because of the dehydration I had to take another £8 bottle of water from the mini-bar. I hope this project has a good travel budget.

Today we had a short day, just a few hours of talks in the morning, along with a tour of the computer room at the institute, where we got to see their new supercomputer. These days supercomputers are getting more and more like a load of normal computers stuck together, but even so it was weird to see the unused colour-coded surround sound jacks on the back of each board. (A lot of people, including some of my colleagues, would probably take issue with that statement, and of course it is a big oversimplification… it matters a lot that you have the right kind of computers and that you stick them together in the right way, and even then they’re very difficult to program… but the fact is, the components of supercomputers are much more similar to ordinary PCs than they used to be a few years ago).

After the final talks and the signing of the contract, they took us for a tour of the Keldysh museum, where we got to see the former study of Mstislav Keldysh. Apparently not many Westerners have seen it yet. No pictures I’m afraid… I left my camera outside as I wasn’t sure they’d want people taking photos, but other people were happily snapping away on their phones and the staff didn’t seem to mind so it probably would have been fine after all. It was pretty interesting… though as a pacifist I don’t entirely approve of Keldysh’s missile work, it was kind of fascinating to see the office of a genuine Cold War-era Soviet scientist, complete with hotline to the Kremlin and many amazing gifts from other scientists and politicians (including a brandy dispenser built into a miniature electric rocket, and the most beautiful collection of minerals I’ve ever seen).

In early afternoon, after only a day and a half, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and be on our way. They presented all of us with lovely 2012 Moscow calendars that were so big they hardly fitted in our luggage, and then we were off back to the airport. We weren’t keen to repeat Monday’s taxi ride so we got the train this time. It was cheap enough that we were allowed to go first class and I made full use of the extra leg room and free high speed internet.

The journey home was mostly uneventful, which is generally what you want from air travel as “events” tend to be bad news. They had a weird body scanner thing at the airport security but thankfully it wasn’t one of the X-ray “nude” ones there’s been all the fuss about (thankfully because I didn’t have to be dosed with carcinogenic radiation, and the poor airport staff didn’t have to look at a nude image of me). But beyond security was even weirder… the terminal was very nice but seemed to be only half finished. There were acres of empty space and very little else.

And no restaurants.

We were all quite hungry and had kind of assumed we’d be able to get a meal before the flight, but as it was we had to settle for a snack in a coffee shop. (At least they had decent, if weirdly named, sandwiches… instead of being labelled “Chicken” or “Tuna” they were “With the chicken” and “With the tuna”. I think one of the Friends writers may have a new job designing packaging for sandwiches in Russia). This wouldn’t have been so bad, but then the advertised “meal” on our main flight never materialised either so I was pretty hungry by the time I got home.

(One thing I’ll never understand about airports: WHY, on proper airlines with seat numbers already allocated, does everyone get up and rush to queue up at the gate the moment it opens? It seems utterly pointless to me, they just end up having to stand for ages in the queue, then once they get to their seat they’ll get disturbed by all the people behind trying to get in. Besides, why does anyone want to spend any longer than necessary in an aeroplane seat? I just don’t get it).

Moscow: Day 2

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very much sleep. Moscow is only 3 hours ahead of Edinburgh so I wasn’t anywhere near as jetlagged as I was in Japan… but it was enough to make a bit of a difference, coupled with being unsettled by being in such strange and unusually grand surroundings. So I dosed myself up with coffee in my room and at breakfast, then we headed for the metro station, thankfully guided by a native.

It was cold and a bit wet outside, colder than Edinburgh had been when we left anyway. It was at this point I realised that in my semi-conscious daze yesterday morning I’d brought the wrong shoes with me. Instead of the new ones I had the ones with several small holes in and the heels worn down to a funny angle… bah. Apart from the small number of ticket machines and kiosks resulting in big queues, the metro wasn’t really any scarier or busier than the London or Paris ones… in fact it was a good deal more civil than the Underground when it came to people shoving you out of the way. And was much posher looking.

Soon we arrived at the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics for our meeting. By this point I had already been appointed unofficial-official-photographer for the trip, by virtue of having brought the best camera (though admittedly not necessarily knowing how to use it properly).

Once inside, while my colleagues got on with business networking and preparing their talks, I got out my netbook and turned to the important task of finding a way to get online. My internet fix is nearly as important as my caffeine fix in keeping my brain from melting down. The meeting venue didn’t seem to provide wireless networking like some do, but that didn’t stop me for long. I discovered a free public wi-fi network (let’s call it WaspLine_Free, I’ve changed the provider name to avoid them embarrassment), but it was very slow and unreliable… frustrating. Then, purely by accident, I discovered that if you disconnect from the free version of the network and immediately connect to the standard one (WaspLine, much faster but you’re supposed to have to pay for it) you’re still recognised and can surf on the fast network for free! w00t! (Cue lots of comments about Ubuntu being a dodgy hacker tool when other people found out what I was doing).

The meeting passed quite quickly as the talks were interesting. We had a lunch break during which we walked to a nice restaurant nearby, and another session of talks in the afternoon. Then it was time for the Moscow walking tour.

We got some nice views of the river and of the Kremlin, though didn’t go very close to it. We also marvelled at the traffic again, it was like some sort of carefully choreographed daredevil show with cars continually coming within a hair’s breadth of crashing but never actually crashing. (Maybe it actually WAS a carefully choreographed daredevil show. Maybe someone told them we were coming).

Then there was this marvellous example of corporate sponsorship being sensitive to its surroundings:

(Though I wasn’t impressed that the one item of Bench clothing I own started falling apart after only a few months. I hope the Bench benches are more hardwearing than my jumper turned out to be).

Then we had a tour of the art gallery. Despite knowing next to nothing about art, I always like art galleries, and I really wanted to listen to the guide. But I kept getting distracted by how tired I was after not much sleep and how my feet were killing me after walking around for hours in those substandard shoes, and as we reached the last few galleries I became more interested in looking for a vacant chair than in looking at the paintings.

Finally, there was dinner. We returned to the restaurant near the institute and tucked into the generous buffet that was set out for us. I was just starting to feel pleasantly full and there was still piles of food left when I overheard someone saying the main course was on its way! It wasn’t just the food they were generous with… every time I turned round to talk to someone I would turn back to find my glass had been topped up with vodka (I forget which kind of vodka but it was nicer than the kind I usually find the remains of in my kitchen the morning after a party), or with red wine, which I switched to later on in an increasingly futile seeming attempt to remain conscious.

Moscow: Day 1

When work first asked me to go to a meeting in Moscow, I’d assumed it would be similar to when I’d visited places in Eastern Europe… when I went to Prague and Belgrade (both lovely cities incidentally, you should visit if you haven’t already) it was just a case of wandering off the plane, showing your passport and in you went. But not Russia. Turns out it’s more of a need-a-visa-and-4-vaccinations-don’t-drink-the-water-OMGG-home-office-terror-alerts!!1! sort of place.

Still. I don’t like to be put off by trifling things like that… if someone else is paying for me to go somewhere exciting, I’m never one to turn them down. So I got on with the visa application which turned out to be a pretty smooth process (only slight hitch was that they completely replaced the visa form website without any warning in the middle of my application, making me think I’d gone insane until one of my colleagues mentioned that it had changed for them as well), and getting my first injections since high school (less scary than I remember them being).

Our flight out wasn’t even too obscenely early in the morning, which is always a plus.

(I like taking photos from planes. I was very pleased with this one I took over Siberia on the way back from Japan last year…

… even though it was taken with my phone camera. It’s just a shame you can’t take them during take off and landing due to the electronic devices rule, since that’s when it’s normally most interesting. Maybe if you had a fully mechanical film camera you’d be allowed to). The flights all went smoothly. So did getting through passport control (though my colleague’s passport seemed to be causing some amusement among the immigration officers. I’m not sure it’s good when immigration officers laugh at you, but it’s better than some of the things they could do, at least). Then came the taxi ride from Sheremetyevo airport to our hotel.

They say you’re more likely to die on your way to or from the airport than you are on the flight. Today, I had no difficulty whatsoever believing that.

It was just as well my seat (with no seatbelt that I could find, incidentally) was facing backwards. A few times I tried turning round to see what was going on in front, but quickly decided I’d rather not know and went back to just watching my forward-facing colleagues getting whiter and whiter instead. (What was going on when I looked was our taxi hammering it down the wrong side of the 2-lane road, overtaking everything including ambulances with their blue lights on, and swerving back in with inches to spare whenever something came the other way. Meanwhile the driver’s idea of a satnav seemed to be squinting at a map on the tiny screen of his mobile phone held in one hand as he drove with the other).

As we entered Moscow itself our first impression was that it reminded us of Glasgow… a huge wide motorway ploughing right into the city with plenty of high rise blocks and McDonalds alongside. (Though you probably wouldn’t get away with parking in any spare space you found on the M8 sliproads in Glasgow as people seemed to have done here). Our second impression as we neared the centre was: oh god, I’ll NEVER complain about the traffic in Britain ever again.

I’d never seen anything like it before. Just a huge mass of cars, seemingly never-ending… about 5 lanes were marked out on the road but people acted as if there were at least two more than that. At the front of the queue, a few cars were managing to trickle through the traffic lights on each cycle, that is if the junction wasn’t completely blocked by cars turning across the other way and not having anywhere to go, which it usually was, in which case everyone just leaned on their horns and tried to barge into any little gap they could see, causing the other mass of car drivers to lean on their horns as well. Amazingly considering the number of near-misses, we didn’t see any actual accidents and the cars mostly didn’t look particularly dented. I guess you must get used to that style of driving after a while, though I’m not sure I’d ever want to. It took a full two hours to get from the airport to our hotel, much longer than we’d expected.

The hotel was worth seeing though.

Moscow Hilton, in one of the Seven Sisters of Moscow. From the outside it was certainly the grandest looking hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

Inside was pretty nice as well.

My room was quite small but very comfortable.

I soon managed to flood the bathroom by doing exactly the same thing that resulted in me flooding a hotel bathroom last time I was abroad with work… namely, putting the shower on to warm up and then leaving it unattended for a few minutes and coming back to find it had escaped from its cubicle. Oops. Lucky they left so many nice absorbent fluffy towels in there.

After a meal and a few drinks downstairs, we were all ready for bed. I felt thirsty as it was quite warm in the room so, remembering the warnings not to drink the tap water, I raided the mini-bar. The bottled water in there was 420 Roubles for a litre (about £8!!!). Oh well. I was way too tired to go and find anywhere cheaper and anyway, work finance department probably won’t notice what it is on the receipt. As long as I don’t draw their attention to it by doing something stupid like mentioning it in a public blog p… ah, too late :(.