We went to Sweden for Midsummer this year.

Let’s see… completely deserted cities – check. Maypole dancing – check. Consumption of very strong local alcohol – check. Outdoor swimming – check. Sauna – missed that one. Find love – no need ;).

The trip was off to a good start (well, apart from having to get up at 4am) when I realised that, unexpectedly, I actually like Ryanair. Their seats don’t recline!! I would actually pay extra for this, seriously. I can never sleep on planes anyway so the reclining isn’t any good to me, and I always seem to end up behind someone who pushes their seat right back in my face straight away, so it was really nice to find that for once they couldn’t. (On the negative side, my hand luggage was so close to the weight limit that Game of Thrones would have pushed it over if I hadn’t been able to jam it into my pocket instead. I’m starting to see the attraction of a Kindle, though can’t really justify buying any more gadgets right now. Besides, Game of Thrones is so dense that one gets the feeling loading it onto a Kindle might make the Kindle gain a kilo or two).

I may have been surprised to find I liked Ryanair, but I wasn’t surprised that I liked Sweden. Everything seemed clean, efficient, safe and friendly. I like that they’re more socialist than Britain and have actually made it work. (When we have the Scottish independence referendum, can we have an option to split off from the UK and join Scandinavia instead? Pleeeease? 🙂 ).

Anyway… the YouTube video above really wasn’t kidding about the cities being deserted. Wandering through the completely empty streets of Malmo was quite eerie, like exploring a ghost town. My friend’s house when we got there, on the other hand… not so deserted! Inside the front door we were greeted by a sea of discarded shoes in the front hall. Even allowing for the fact that there were probably at least two shoes per person, there were still a LOT of people in there.

Lots of people is good, though, for midsummer celebrations. Once the rain cleared up slightly, we had food followed by drink. We hadn’t managed to buy any drink on account of all the shops being shut for Midsummer by the time we arrived, but that didn’t matter… the traditional strong Swedish spirits were flowing (as well as some strong German spirits) and shots of them could be earned by joining in with the folk singing. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many shots in one sitting before… I’m amazed I managed to stand up and even manage the subsequent Maypole dancing without crashing into anything important.

After a night on the floor, we awoke to even better weather, so it was beach time. For the first time since school I played a rounders-type game (brannbol I think it was called) and actually enjoyed it this time. Though I still wasn’t any good at it – when I did finally manage to catch the ball, I was so stunned that I threw it on about twice as hard as I meant to and it went sailing right over Laura’s head. Oh well. Then it was time for a dip in the sea. The water was cold at first but not as cold as in Scotland, and by the time I’d waded out far enough for it to reach my waist, I was quite used to it. Afterwards I didn’t even need to dry myself, just lie there a while and let the sun do it for me.

Unfortunately I managed to fall down a hole by a child’s sandcastle and injured my ankle. I hope they were proud of their very effective defences. The stick throwing game was making it worse so I had to give up on that, but thankfully I was better later on for barbecue, card games, four player Snake, and piano playing. (I’d forgotten how nice it is to play a real piano rather than a keyboard).

Our last day was spent looking round a slightly less ghost-town-like, but still just as wet, Malmo and then chilling out again back at the house. Enough people had left that we managed to claim an actual not-quite-double-but-bigger-than-single bed, but I actually slept worse than I had on the floor, having been too hot and worried about falling off the edge.

It was an awesome little holiday :). Afterwards I had all of one day back home before I was off to Berlin… which is where I am now, but that’s for another post (probably).


Three generations of HTC smartphones:

On the left is the trusty HTC Wildfire I’ve been using since I finally entered the world of contracts and smartphones nearly two years ago. In the middle is Laura’s HTC Sensation. And on the right is the new *switches to dramatic deep, echoey voice* HTC One X.

I just upgraded from one of the least powerful Android phones available to one of the most. The Wildfire served me well, but it was getting very slow, or maybe it was always slow and I just didn’t notice before. Sending or receiving a text would freeze the whole phone up for several seconds, sometimes longer. I was starting to dread adding new music or installing new apps as it would mean deleting something else to make room for them. And various popular apps wouldn’t even install, either because of the low screen resolution (I’m looking at you, Skype… why the hell do you need a big screen anyway?) or the old processor (528MHz ARMv6). The battery also wasn’t lasting as long as it used to. But anyway… I was sufficiently impressed with HTC to want another one of theirs. (I also very much approve of their policy of making it easy to install whatever operating system you want on their phones, and felt like I should support them even if I don’t end up taking advantage of that myself).

The One X is an impressive little device, and when I logged onto Orange and found I could upgrade to one straight away for only a slightly increased monthly payment, I ordered it immediately before they changed their mind. It has a quad core 1GHz processor and NVIDIA GPU – more powerful than my netbook, and capable of emulating not just old 8-bit systems, but even PlayStations and older PCs. The screen resolution (1280×720) is massive for a phone, and actually the same as the 32 inch widescreen TV in our living room!

Things I like about it (so far): it’s blazingly fast compared to my old one, as it should be. Apps install in seconds rather than minutes. Things like sending texts happen instantaneously. Transferring my number from the old sim to the new one was a piece of cake. A couple of clicks on the Orange website and it was done. The screen is really nice – photos and videos look great on it. Most apps seem to adapt to the much higher resolution fine, although one of the ones I tried looked a bit small.

I’m enjoying being able to install as many apps as I want without worrying about space. I was also pleasantly surprised that even though I’ve jumped a number of Android versions (2.2 to 4.0.3), all the apps I use work exactly the same, including the ones I wrote. The Google store remembered which apps I’d paid for (more accurately, which app I’d paid for) and let me reinstall them (it) without having to pay again. Oh, and Dropbox gave me an extra 25GB of space just for getting this phone! (Though I’m afraid to use it because it will expire at some point or I’ll have to start paying for it).

Things I have reservations about: it’s very iPhone-esque in some ways, and not all of them are good ways. There’s no SD card slot so I’m stuck with the storage that’s built into it (though it has 32GB built in which was the size of the largest SD card I could put in the old one anyway, so it should be fine as long as I keep my music collection sufficiently tamed). It’s also not possible to easily take the battery out and replace it, so I’ll just have to hope it lasts. (Reviews seem mixed about battery life on this phone – some say it’s terrible, some say it’s quite good… I haven’t had it long enough to tell yet). It only takes micro SIM cards so I can’t put my old T-Mobile SIM in for going abroad like I did with the Wildfire (though I’m assuming the One is locked to Orange anyway).

The “menu” and “search” buttons that previous HTCs had have gone and are replaced with a “recent apps” button. I hardly ever used the search button, but I miss the menu button, even though it appears on-screen when it’s needed. I also slightly miss the optical trackball that the Wildfire had, it was handy for moving the cursor around in text, but I’m getting used to dragging the bobble thing that appears on the screen around instead.

Verdict: pretty impressed so far 🙂


New York, New York…

… so good he wrote blog entries about it twice (as the song goes… or something) :).

Day 3

Today was the day of my talk! I also, somewhat unexpectedly, ended up on the panel for a discussion afterwards. I’m glad this was unexpected, if I’d known it was coming I would have dreaded it and probably ended up sitting there rooted to the spot and saying nothing, whereas I actually did manage to contribute something this way. It all seemed to go well and get some interest from the audience. But of course the most important thing was the gifts afterwards!

I couldn’t work out what on earth the blue thing was at first. I thought maybe a doorstop, but it seemed too flimsy for that. When I showed it to Laura back home she suggested maybe it was a phone holder. It turns out the blue stuff does indeed have a weird texture that makes things stick on it rather than falling down. Anyway, whatever it’s supposed to be, it makes a great Raspberry Pi stand.

(Unfortunately when the cables are plugged in they tend to pull it off the stand again).

The afternoon sessions were about biology, and I found two of them really fascinating, particularly the one about emulating a fruit fly’s brain including how it processes vision (really!). I’m interested by how many parallels there seem to be between computing and biology, and how nature seems to do a lot better than us at some of them. It’s an area I’d like to learn more about, though realistically I’ll probably never find the time. I also managed to finally fit in a Skype call back home (which was more difficult than it should have been, thanks to Virgin Media having managed to completely balls up our internet connection and Laura not being able to get a data signal, so I ended up having to buy Skype credit and call the landline instead).

Our evening consisted of a trip on the Staten Island Ferry (cue yet more photos)…

… followed by a nice, very duck-centric Chinese meal in Chinatown. It was interesting to see that even in Chinatown there was at least one McDonalds, with the sign written in Chinese no less, though I still preferred the very sparkly one that looked like a Broadway theatre by Times Square. It was also interesting to see that some things are the same all over the world. BMW drivers, for example. Most drivers were resigned to sitting in the big queue that stretched off round the corner and waiting for it to move. Not so BMW guy… he came haring up to the end of the queue, slammed on his brakes, leaned on the horn for a good ten seconds solid, and finally proceeded to get out of his car and nearly have a fist fight with someone who’d been walking past and took exception to the noise.

After the meal some people went off to find a pub, but tiredness had caught up with me again so I got the subway back to the hotel, wanting to leave some energy for…

Day 4


It was a nice day for it too. I’d already decided I wanted to see Central Park so after checking out of my hotel I set off up there.

It was even bigger than it had looked on the map. I found my first ever international geocache (leaving a travel bug that was on its way to Canada), and saw some of the locations from Home Alone 2. After that I did a bit of souvinir buying for people back home, then wondered what else to do. It seemed a shame to spend too long indoors on a day like this. But after flicking through my guidebook I found this…

… the High Line. An old elevated railway line that had been converted into a sort of linear park and walkway. I really liked it up there and walked further than I’d intended to. Lots of other people were out and about enjoying the sun and it was a nice atmosphere. After walking in the heat for a while I felt tired and thirsty and retired to an Irish bar to spend my last hour in New York reading the start of Game of Thrones.

So yeah… I liked New York, probably more than I expected to. I have Sweden and Berlin coming up in the next few weeks, so seems like I’m hardly going to be in the country this month!

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…