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Despite leaving Seattle twenty minutes early, my flight got stacked at Heathrow and ended up arriving 20 minutes or so late. The process of going through electronic passport control was pretty painless — less so for non-EU nations, where the process was manual — and I picked up my bag and got through customs quickly enough to make it to the lift to the station with one of the crew from my flight.

Attempting to buy a ticket for the journey to Paddington, I noticed that all the most prominent options were for the Heathrow Express. Initially I accidentally selected one but I realised my mistake when I saw the eye-watering price of 23 pounds for a bare 15 minute journey — surely only someone with serious jet lag and a complete lack of knowledge of the value of the pound would opt for such a thing! Hunting around, I found the Heathrow Connect option which, at a merely wince-inducing 10 pounds for 25 minutes, represents considerably better value for money. Even more so because, when I got to the platform, I found that the next Connect was in three minutes and next Express was due in 10, completely nullifying the difference in journey time.

Getting to Paddington at around 12:30, I decided not to wait until two for the train I'd booked a seat on and instead I hopped on the next one bound for the westcountry. After what seemed a very short journey — it took me almost exactly the same time to get to Exeter as it took me to get from Redmond to SeaTac — I was back at St Davids and it was just 25 minute walk — albeit uphill and 20kg of baggage — home. Fortunately, the weather was dry, it was definitely warmer than Seattle, and after spending the last 22 hours in transit, I felt like I needed a chance to stretch my legs.

So that's it: home safe after a fun but ultimately pretty uneventful trip. Now all I have to do is resync my body clock, currently 8 hours out of alignment, with British Summer Time...
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With a day of inactivity and travel ahead of me, I went out for one last run around Redmond, using it as an opportunity to check out the location of Bear Creek P&R — the starting point of the 545 Sound Transit bus to Seattle. Once I'd done that, I looped through Marymoor Park, out along the Sammamish River Trail, back though the old town and finally along Redmond Way to the hotel. I was impressed by quite how busy the Family Pancake House was; I guess this might be down to Mother's Day, but it was almost as busy yesterday, so I'm forced to conclude that I missed a trick by not going there!

After one last quick shop, I disposed of a few things I didn't want to take back with me, including my 3 year-old ASICS which were in the process of going into holes and had been brought precisely because they could be safely chucked at the end of the trip. I'd already managed to re-gift various parts of the conference goodie bag by returning them to the CUG Office — the mini power strip that when from a single US-style socket to two USBs and, less helpfully to me, two more US sockets — putting my return baggage weight in line with my departure weight.

(On the way out, as I was checking my hold baggage, the person at the desk noticed that my bag came it at around 7kg and congratulated me for travelling light. I replied that I didn't think I was and that I'd come to suspect my hand baggage, which contained both my camera and my brick of a laptop along with sundry other bits of lighter gadgetry, was actually heavier!)

The journey to SeaTac via public transport was actually pretty smooth. I checked out, walked the kilometre or so to Bear Creak bus stop, and caught the bus sometime after midday. Able to sit by a window, I watched with interest as 545 wound its way through Redmond and then on to the 520 and across Lake Washington to the city. Having scoped out the journey beforehand — thanks to T for making me aware of Rome2Rio — I stayed on the bus as it made its way along Stewart, I got off at 5th and Pine, turned left and found myself outside Westlake Station.

Westlake was something of a surprise: I bought a ticket for the Link and descended to the platforms, only to discover a bus waiting there. I thought somehow I'd gone to the wrong place, but the presence of rails and Link timetable reassured me. Not long after, a tram pulled in to the northbound platform, finally convincing me that I was in the right place. (A subsequent check on wikipedia confirmed that the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is used by two different types of public transport!)

The train arrived and, after a number of close stops in downtown, sped up as it went south past the stadiums and SoDo, west past Boeing Field, and through Tukwila — I think Intel have only just killed off Itanium! — and on to SeaTac, arriving with a hour in hand to check in. All in, I think the journey took a little over two hours and was as smooth as I could have wanted. I'm glad I didn't try and use public transport on the way out because I'm not sure I could've spared the time, but considering the difference in cost — it was a tenth of the price of a taxi! — it was well worth using for the return journey.

After spending a few hours at the airport, I made it through to my gate and we boarded dead-on 5pm. Despite the presence of a group of nerds clearly travelling back from Microsoft Build 2017, flight was nothing like full — they announced they had 184 passengers, well under the 300-odd capacity of the 787 — so we had plenty of room to spread out for the night.
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It being a Saturday, I felt more than a little guilty at missing parkrun so I went out for an extra long morning run. I didn't quite make it to Chateau Sainte Michelle, but I was pretty close by the time I turned back to return to Redmond. During the run I saw a bald eagle flying fairly low over the river. I wasn't entirely surprised — I'd seen something that looked like an awful lot like an eyrie on one of the power pylons — but it was still a pretty damn awesome thing to see!

After spending the morning exploring Redmond Old Town and the Saturday Market — conveniently located in the same place as the mini version staged for CUG — I decided to walk the four or so miles to the local branch of Vertical World. Despite getting mildly lost on the way — I turned right instead of left and found myself at the start of the powerline trail which I'd run a few days ago — I located the centre in an industrial building tucked away at the back.

After signing in — a guy sitting on a bench by entry said, "After going through all that, you ought to have clearance to meet the president!" — I hired some rather slippy shoes — this is not to dis Vertical World: using someone else's shoes is always a bad experience — and got on with some bouldering. After going through a warm-up, which was enough to persuade me I needed a chalk bag — which they lent me for free! — I worked up to the point where I crushed a bunch of their V5s. I'm not entirely surprised because it matches comfort zone, but you never know how one centre's grading is going to carry over to another and if you're not familiar with the house style, it sometimes takes a while to get to the point where you can send stuff with confidence.

I didn't try any routes because I didn't notice that they had auto-belays until I'd signed in for bouldering. But when I checked the grades and attempting a quick conversion from YDS to French grades, I decided I probably wasn't missing anything and stuck with my original plan. After putting a few hours, I started to feel tired. Acutely aware of the walk home — which, coming on top of the morning's run, was definitely a contributing factor to the tiredness — I called it a day and headed back to the hotel where I started repacking my stuff for the return to the UK.
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After salving my conscience with a little bit of work — and, in all honesty, waiting for the rush hour traffic to diminish — I walked to the centre of Redmond to catch the bus to Seattle. On the way, I bumped into TK from NERSC, who was on the way to visit friends at the University of Washington on his way to the airport.

After an extremely efficient bus journey, found myself in Seattle where I set about indulging in various acts of tourism. My first task was to go up the Space Needle because, well, I was in Seattle, it's an iconic building, and it was starting to rain!

Luckily, the truly torrential rain only kicked in once I was in under the roof that sheltered the queue of people waiting for their turn at the top of the tower. The wait, which I didn't mind because (a) out of the rain and (b) English, was enlivened by some interesting details about the construction of the tower, none of which had really occurred to me before.

The view from the top are well worth the wait and the panoramic view of Seattle really puts the city in perspective. Here's a rather murky view of downtown from the Needle:

In the distance are CenturyField and Safeco Stadiums. With weather like this, it's easy to see why they decided to put that massive, retractable roof on Safeco...

Once the rain abated and gorping at the view started to get old, I returned to ground level and walked my way around Seattle. After exploring the park around the Needle I went through Belltown to Pike Place Market, which the guys from EC had told me to check out. It was epically touristy but fun for all that, with a big queue outside the original Starbucks — actually wikipedia says they moved there in 1976 but at that point they only had the one branch, so I guess it counts?

I spent the rest of the day wandering around downtown and the down to the waterfront and back northwards. Along the way, I managed to take a nice photo of the great wheel with storm clouds and view across the Sound to the Olympic mountains to the west:

Deciding that the time had come to return to Redmond, I realised I had only the haziest of ideas where to catch the bus from. I wandered back towards where I'd got on and eventually remembered that the 545 stopped at 4th Ave and University. Fortunately, I soon stumbled across a series of buss shelters and, within minutes of finding the place, my bus showed up. It was empty enough at University that I was able to get a seat but things changed as soon as we reached Pike Street, where so many people got on that it took the driver a couple of goes to get everyone to pack themselves far enough down the bus to allow everyone to get on. After a squashed voyage as far as — I think — Overlake Transit Centre where lots of people got off, the bus looped north around Redmond and I, like a fool, got off at the TC instead of riding all the way to NE 76 and 177th which was much closer to the Redmond Inn.

Still I figure the walk did me good: my Garmin tells me I managed just under 30km today and although some of that includes my morning run, it still means I did an awful lot of walking today!
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The first part of the final day was not terribly edifying: a panel on data analytics and HPC; a combination about which I find myself somewhat sceptical. The morning sessions featured a presentation on Caribou by Craig Flaskerud followed by a presentation on encouraging users to tune their codes for Knight's Landing on Cori at NERSC. I can't remember which talk I went to third: it obviously didn't create a great deal of impact!

After a quick lunch, TL took himself off to the airport, reverse his journey on public transport. Meanwhile the guys from EC hung around until mid-afternoon before hopping in a taxi to take them to SeaTac.

With people starting to thin out, I went to an interesting set of sessions on system regression testing. In the first case, this involved using Jenkins to drive a series of test of jobs. In the second, it involved a custom Python framework developed by CSCS and, again, deployed through Jenkins to allow them to confirm the correctness and performance of their systems both routinely and after system maintenance.

In the second session of the afternoon, I followed the IO track, and attended an extremely interesting talk on tuning HDF5 IO based on the number of tasks writing to each file. The second talk was about simulating the IO patterns of an application which contained sensitive elements which prevented it from being used by external benchmarkers. The third session was an intriguing piece of blue-skies thinking from Cray about the future of file systems; the gist of which seemed to be that a great deal of our current performance problems come from the need to support a strict POSIX interface.

With that done, there was time for a short talk from someone from Shared Services Canada — the Canadian government's IT department! — before the close of the conference and the distribution of various bits and pieces that the organises claimed they didn't want to take home with them! With the day at an end, I got talking to the SSC person about experiences with Cray and with the Power 7 — they're just in the process of migrating off their IBM. I also discovered that he hadn't been able to confirm his travel until a few days before and been forced to find a hotel some distance from the Marriott, with the consequence that he'd been accumulating taxi fees of around $50 a day. Ouch!
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Another early morning run, but this time I started by heading down to Marymoor Park and following some of the paths there. I ran through the nature reserve, going all the way to the landing stage that looks out onto the north end of Lake Sammamish — there were people pottering around in boats even as early as six in the morning and I'm pretty sure I saw GB of NSCA flash past me heading the other way along the trail. Having done a big circuit of the park, I hit the river trail and put in enough distance to make it into a worthwhile run before heading back to the Redmond Inn and breakfast.

Despite settling in with the intention of enjoying Arno's keynote, I managed to get distracted by crisis back home: a cosmetic change I'd left for someone else to implement had revealed an underlying bug in PBS. After digging through back traces, I located a getattr() which attempted to access a resource which ought to have existed but which, for reasons that were completely unclear, did not exist in some cases. I scraped enough together to allow the site people to raise a bug and went for a short walk with what remained of the time before lunch.

Redmond's Central Street Plaza is rather attractive but it's obviously still in the process of populating itself. There were a few candle shops, some food outlets, a couple of lingerie stores, and an extremely impressive and shiny Ducati dealership. Fortunately I was able to restrain myself!

The afternoon featured my contribution to the conference. I skimmed my powerpoint presentation for the first time in a month and a half in the break before the session and found myself frantically trying to remember what I was going to say and cursing myself for not practising beforehand to get the timing right. In the end I needn't have worried: the presentation was very smooth — although I spent more time look at my laptop screen for prompts than I did gazing into the audience! — and I came in almost precisely on time. I got thumbs up from both SS and TL in the audience, and a solid set of questions which showed that the audience had been listening to what I'd been saying and hadn't completely misunderstood my first point.

The session was followed by a BoF on Caribou, Cray's Lustre analytics package. There was a demonstration using CSCS's test machine which showed the basic functionality of the package but it is clear that a number of features still need to be developed — in fairness, the contributors were open about it being barely out of alpha — and the inability to use proper job information seems like a fundamental flaw when you've got more than one cluster attached to the same Lustre appliance. Still, it's early days and it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Without time to take my bag back to my hotel, T put it in his room for safe keeping while we went for the traditional CUG night out at Chateau Ste. Michelle a few miles downriver. The evening was rather nice: we were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine and various plates of nibbles — once again, mostly meat and Dungeness crab cakes! — followed by a sit-down meal in a nicely done dining room. Randomness meant I ended sitting next to Andrew Barry and a Finn who'd asked some very perceptive questions at the end of my session, while everyone on the table was fine company — one of the others said he recognised me from my morning runs, because he'd been out cycling the trails most days at around the same sort of time.

The evening passed pleasantly but it was a little embarrassing, when you don't drink, to have the wait staff come round to pour out a different wine with every course. But at least I wasn't the only one: CW said much the same thing and I'm pretty sure that a couple of people had opted out entirely on the grounds that they didn't drink. I imagine, as not drinking becomes more common, that big events like this will become a bit more sensitive to the fact, but at the moment it reminds me of what it used to feel like to be a vegetarian...
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Having made it back to the Marriott with my camera, I jumped on one of the buses and found myself whisked off to Seattle. On the journey out I found myself sitting next to Arno Kolster who, until very recently had worked for a well-known payment company, working on low-latency methods of fraud detection. He was politely interested in what I had to say — I lapsed into my usual spiel mode — and when I gave him a chance to get a word in edgewise, he had interesting perpectives on how enterprise computing copes with its needs both for high availability and rapid data analysis. He's giving what sounds like it's going to be an interesting keynote tomorrow.

After half an hour or so — including a very scenic trip across Lake Washington, complete with a regatta of small to moderate sized yachts — the bus took us past the impressive sight of Safeco Field and it's enormous retractable roof — currently open — and down 1st Ave South to the Living Computer Museum in SoDo.

The ground floor — first, if you're American — contained a small, ersatz bar and a series of interesting exhibits on robotics and the history of computing. As with Sunday's event, I spent most of the first part of the evening fending off offers of meaty snacks and endless Dungeness crab cakes — a name which confused me no end until I discovered Dungeness, WA was a distinct and different place from Dungeness in Kent!

Suitably plied with drinks and snacks, we then gathered round the far end of the floor to listen to museum directory Lath Carlson talk about the place's history and to reveil some new exhibits. The first was the Cray 1 which had until recently been on display at Cray's offices in St Paul and which had now been placed on permanent exhibition at the museum:

Unfortunately the machine has had too many parts removed to allow it to be restored, but it's still an imposing and beautiful piece of equipment.

The second addition of the night was just as exciting: a complete Cray 2. Introducing the machine, Carlson said, "The machine is complete and we hope to get it up and running as a living machine. But we're going to need to upgrade the building's power supply first... Which I guess is fairly common, because I'm hearing a lot of knowing laughter out there..."

Upstairs, in the lab area, were a superb series of vintage computers. Although to my mind, as an HPC version, the Crays are the most iconic machines in the collection, the IBM S/360 looks more like the classic 1960s notion of a computer:

But the really big beast of the museum has got to be the CDC 6600 — the first true supercomputer, also partly the brainchild of Seymour Cray in his Control Data days.

The curator responsible for doing maintenance on the machine showed us a module from the 6600 and described the process of disassembling it to access and replace some of the transistors — yes, you read that right: transistors! — used by the machine. (ETA: Back in the UK, I discussed this with MI who worked for CDC in Canada and he said, "Yeah, back in those days you needed real skill to be a hardware engineer...")

As the evening wore on, we headed back downstairs for a buffet which, although meat-and-fish heavy, featured a superb range of local cheeses. A few of us got talking to one of the curators about the museum's outreach program and discussed the problem of the lack of women in STEM.

The curator pointed out that things hadn't always been quite so imbalanced: the museum had a display of early Barbies sets which showed the iconic doll working with a series of computers with, in each case, the set paired up with the actual machine Barbie was using.

They also noted that in their robotics outreach programs, although the kids' initial responses were in-line with gender stereotypes: they split into groups, with boys wanting to do something completely impossible like make the robot fly, the girls were initially more sceptical until they understood the purpose of the exercise, at which point they'd usually solve the problem — unlike they boys who'd become dejected when they couldn't achieve their unrealistic goal — and then, on the second day of the event, the gender boundaries would dissolve and the girls and boys would be more likely to work together to finish their assigned project.

At the end of the evening, after picking up a rather nice commemorative t-shirt, we got back on the buses and made the return trip to Redmond.
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Last night's change in the weather was still making itself felt this morning: the temperature had dropped dramatically overnight and there was thick mist all along the river trail. Not that it was enough to put people off: in addition to the usual cyclists and joggers, I passed a group kayaking their way downstream to Lake Washington.

Today's conference opener was a plenary session from Douglas Kothe of Oak Ridge, which managed to cover all the usual bases of a high performance computing conference. For these things have an established form: a discussion of why we need N-scale computing, where N has shifted over the years from tera- to peta- to exa- with the relentless advance of Moore's Law; a skim over a series of classic physics problems, all of which will benefit from improved computing resolution, many of which seem to involve fission and fusion reaction models, and most of which are being worked on by colleagues of the speaker; and finally a call for more money for N-scale computing and an endorsement of why Vendor X is perfectly placed to do it. Regardless of my slightly cynical take on things, Kothe was a good speaker and his talk was engaging and important for someone to stand up and really sell the benefits of faster, bigger, and better computing.

The rest of the morning was taken up by a Cray corporate update. The less said about that, the better.

The afternoon was a bit more promising with a decent technical session covering everything from remote support to Thomas' paper on using XDMoD to run accounting analytics — an interesting bit of work, even though I say so myself. I then went to a session on Spack — a package manager about which I knew precisely nothing — a good presentation on system regression testing at KAUST, and something on tracing python usage at Blue Waters to determine who was using what and how heavily.

I skipped the BoFs — choices included programming environments, burst buffers, XC system management, or a discussion with the CUG Board — in favour of walking back to the hotel to drop off my laptop and pick up my camera ahead of the evening event at the Living Computer Museum — something so awesome it deserves its own post.
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Woke up at around 4am and pottered around for a little while waiting for the sun to rise before taking myself out running. I ran a slightly uncertain route to downtown Redmond — my Garmin shows a very wiggly track — before reaching the Sammamish River Trail. I struck out down the trail — a lovely, flat route where I encountered a number of early joggers and few eager cyclists making their way to work. On the way back, I saw a tall, fast, Viking figure powering towards me. Naturally, it was TL out for his morning run; but unlike me, he'd come directly from the Marriott whereas I had an extra couple of kilometres to get back to the Redmond Inn.

Meeting CW for breakfast in our hotel, we walked to the conference and settled in for the morning sessions. Having attended the CLE6 tutorials last year and doubting whether there was likely to be anything new, I instead opted for NERSC's shifter session. The technology was interesting, not least because it solves many of the python performance problems seen on Lustre systems, and there were some interesting tricks to allow the containers to make use of hardware specific libraries on Aries systems.

The afternoon was taken up with a tutorial session on analytics and machine learning. The analytics part involved a series of sessions using Apache Spark on Cori with a range of different language bindings. There was an interesting mention of using conda to manage python installations and a session on R — Cray have added version enhanced to use their tuned versions of the BLAS libraries to their libsci bundle — followed by an overview of Cray Graph Engine which, while no doubt deeply fascinating, was rendered almost entirely incomprehensible by an abrupt attack of jet lag. The rest of the afternoon is so shrouded in exhaustion that I can't remember a thing about the rest of the session.

The evening's event was a version of Redmond's Saturday Market complete with food stands, a band — Acoustic Transitions — and an ice cream stand. As the night wore on, I had reason to regret my decision to wear a t-shirt: the wind grew increasingly cutting and I was eventually forced to cuddled up with one of the patio heaters to avoid freezing.
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Up early for breakfast before J gave me a lift to Paddington, following a back route that took us through St John's Wood, past the crowds waiting to see England against Ireland at Lord's, and through Little Venice. From Paddington I caught the Heathrow Connect — somewhere around half the price of the Heathrow Express — arriving at the terminal in plenty of time to get checked in.

Reaching departures with plenty of time to spare, I was struck by an attack of battery anxiety and bought myself a copy of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants. By the time I'd got to my gate, I'd already blitzed through a sizeable portion of the book; and, despite sleeping for the first part of the flight, I'd finished it by the time we reached the half-way point. I'll probably write more extensively about it later, but I enjoyed it immensely and it really is as good as everyone says it is.

During the remainder of the flight, I polished off Brian Staveley's Skullsworn, which I also enjoyed and whose last twists surprised me. I really must go back and read Staveley's earlier novels: I've had a copy of The Emperor's Blades, which I got free at Bristolcon, sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read for at least the last 18 months.

The flight passed uneventfully and we arrived at Seattle-Tacoma Airport after an 10 hour flight and a mere two hours — local time — later than when we left London. Passport checks and customs were extremely efficient — there was an absolutely adorable beagle checking the luggage for contraband foods — and I got out quite quickly. Knowing that I needed to get to Redmond and get checked in ahead of a social event at six, and being unwilling to attempt to navigate public transport after what had been a very long day, I bit the bullet and got a taxi to take me to my hotel. It was expensive but worth it: I later discovered that TL had used public transport and, although Sound Transit makes it pretty easy, it took him the best part of two hours to get from SeaTac to Redmond.

Dropping off my stuff, I headed to the conference hotel — naturally, I was staying somewhere much cheaper but within walking distance — to get registered in time for the meet-and-greet evening.

After getting some directions from the woman on reception, I followed Redmond Way until I saw the Marriott sign and used that to navigate my way closer. When I signed in, one of the events staff recognised me from last year — I'm always surprised when people recognise me because, in my head at least, I think of my appearance as terribly anonymous — and said that she knew that at least one other Brit would be there when she saw my name on the list.

The evening event kicked off at six — 2am British Summer Time — and consisted of a free bar and some snack food — the lone vegetarian item being creamed corn croquettes. I bumped into someone from Altair at I arrived and, not long afterwards, TL arrived in concert with a couple of people from the European Centre — one of whom was staying in the same hotel as me and had had a day to acquaint himself with the route back from the Marriott. We stayed until around half-eight, at which point everyone agreed that honour had been satisfied and that the jealous gods of jet lag could not be put off any longer.
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After scrubbing off the parkrun mud, I spent the morning picking up the last few essentials ahead of my trip. With everything packed, I set off for the station in good time to get the train to Paddington. The journey was smooth, I arrived on time, and caught the tube to Chalk Farm arriving at my uncle's in time for tea.

We went out to Jamon Jamon in Belsize Park, where the food was as excellent as ever. The only minor mishap was their inability to apply a 20 per cent discount card after the bill had been printed. The waiter explained at some length that, thanks to a till upgrade, they were now only able to apply discounts before they finalised the bill. In the end, I think this may have been a blessing in disguise: far better to apply the discount to a larger meal — one, say, involving my parents and their heroic capacity for food — than dinner for two.
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Up well before dawn to catch a taxi to Exeter airport in time to fly up to Edinburgh for today's meeting. Arriving at the airport too early to get through security — something I only discovered after I'd reached the front of the queue — I hung around in the lobby and waited for my flight to be called. I eventually gave up on the expected announcement and checked the screens which told me to departures. After standing around in the massive queue of people waiting to go to Alicante, I realised I was going to miss my plane if I waited for the queue to go through. I dodged through the fast-lane and made it to the gate just as the boarding shuttle bus was about to depart.

After a short and uneventful journey, which I spent catching up on some much-needed sleep, I found myself in Manchester. I quickly located the gate for my onward connection to Edinburgh and joined the boarding queue at the gate. As I was waiting, I noticed DJ further down the line; perhaps I was in the right place at the right time on the right day after all. Despite living in Wigan, DJ had had only just made it: something had happened on the motorway and, ten minutes from the airport, his taxi ground to a halt and sat in traffic as the minutes ticked away.

After another uneventful flight, we found in Edinburgh where we met up with one of the Exeter Crayons — who'd flown up from Bristol — and their colleague from Reading. We located a large taxi and headed out to the university Bush Estate campus, where the others pieced together a series of half-remembered landmarks in an attempt to get us closer to our destination. After a certain amount of random route testing — DJ remembered that the building was on its own somewhere and might have been close to the veterinary school, while PC said that he hadn't been since they replaced the single track road — we eventually spotted an extremely discreet sign announcing the name of the building.

An anonymous research facility somewhere in Scotland...

The meeting was good with some interesting presentations and a good discussion in the afternoon. During the lunchbreak we took a tour around the computer suite — very impressive, especially the elegant plant room which came complete with a viewing window — which our hosts proudly told us was one was extremely energy efficient thanks to the use of free cooling.

Given that we could see the remnants of snow from the conference room, I wasn't particularly surprised that they were able to use ambient cooling for most of the year.

The break area had a series of components from retired systems, including a very familiar piece of a equipment indeed: a node board from a liquid-cooled Cray T3E-900. They even had a selection of promotional mugs and what I assume is a bottle of fluorinert.

It's amazing how quickly things have changed: in 1997 a board like this would have contained a single DEC Alpha processor and a few hundred megabytes — if you were lucky; I seem to remember the limit was a couple of gigabytes, whereas we were limited to 128MB on the T3E-900 and 256MB on the 1200E — whereas a modern broadwell node on the XC40 has 36 physical cores and 128GB of memory.

With the day wrapped up, I hopped in a taxi with DJ, the Crayons, and colleagues from Reading and headed to the airport, having failed to see anything more of Edinburgh than the bypass and the research lab. We arrived much to early — DJ was flying to Bristol an hour before the rest of us — and settled down at a cafe in departures while we waited to be called to the gate. WE went our separate ways — the Reading group to fly to Heathrow, my colleague from the South West to fly to Bristol, while I went back to Manchester.

A Flybe Dash 8 waiting to take me back to Manchester. Despite MB's pronouncements of gloom — he's always keen to point up how prone the Dash is to landing gear failure — I made it to Manchester without incident.

Despite a minor delay to the flight, I arrived with almost thirty minutes to spare and walked to my gate. After catching up on the messages that had appeared while I was offline, I boarded my last flight of the day where the person in the next seat recognised me from this morning! Nothing interesting happened on the way back, although the wind got up noticeably once we reached Exeter, making for a bumpy landing and a rather chilly homecoming. Needless to say my taxi booking hadn't been successful, so I asked the rep to put a journey on account. Annoyingly, although not particularly surprisingly — there is some sort of complicated tax ruling involved — the taxi could only take me to the office and I ended up springing for the rest of the journey myself.

I arrived home, around 17 hours after I'd left, after spending well over 10 hours in transit...
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After raining all night, it was still raining this morning when I left for the station. Running slightly late, I rushed down to St Davids and arrived very wet but just in time to catch my train. The rain kept up as we headed north-east and the low-lying land around the train was starting to edge under water. It was much better in Bristol and by the time I'd reached the Midlands, the stations had warnings up about wet floors and slip hazards.

Arriving in a lull, I walked the short distance to my sister's without getting too wet, and she gave me a lift in the car. The rest of the afternoon was astonishingly wet — I think the rain band must have followed me — and from the news I learnt of narrow escape: the rail lines to Taunton and Yeovil closed; Bristol Temple Meads temporarily closed due to overcrowding; and minor flooding in Exeter.
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Still running on Greek time, I woke up extremely early despite yesterday's late night, and pottered around in the morning talking to J. Opting for an early train, J dropped me at Paddington and I caught the next train to Penzance. On the journey back, I sat behind a couple of composers who seemed to be on their way to the West Country and who spent their time nattering about the contemporary music scene.

ETA: with a bit of google-fu, I've worked out that one of my fellow travelling companions was the Swiss composer Helena Winkelman.

Arriving home, I went for a quick shop to stock up and settled down to sort through my photos of Greece. Rather annoyingly, my iMac kept on shutting down partway through its boot sequeunce with no clear indications of an error. When I put it into verbose mode, I discovered a message indicating that it couldn't fsck the file system and that instead of doing something to fix the problem or to alert me, it was simply shutting itself down. Bringing the system up in single-user, I fsck-ed the file system with various fix options and brought rebooted, at which point the machine came back up.

After a happy afternoon of trawling through my stuff, I went to bed at around eight o'clock, exhausted, and not anticipating getting much done at work tomorrow...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Up early to sort out my packing, I had a shower and finally managed to get out early enough to take a pre-dawn shot of Telendos — something Izzy had been wanting to do all week. The weather was clear enough to give a good view of Leros to the north and to give a hint of something else — surely not Patmos? — in the very far distance.

Returning to the hotel, I went down to breakfast with the others where we settled up our breakfast bills and I arranged for a taxi to take my to Kalymnos airport. While we were waiting around, Tom came by to pick up Andrew for a morning of climbing, bringing the news that Gav had crashed his scooter the previous night, picking up some nasty road rash in the process. Sure enough the man himself arrived a little later, looking suitably banged up, to take Izzy up to Iliada for a final attempt on Lucky Luca.

The taxi arrived at around nine and Eve and I got in. The taxi dropped Eve in Myrties, where she was going to meet up with Hayley with the idea of spending the morning in Pothia ahead of the ferry, and then continued on up the mountain to the airport. It was very cold and windy when we arrived and the taxi driver gave me his card, telling me to give him a ring if my flight was cancelled and I needed a lift to the ferry port; something, he warned me, that had happened before.

The small terminal building was surprisingly busy, with a large extended Greek-Australian family, some locals, and a few Americans, all waiting for our plane to land. Around 40 minutes before the plane was due to depart, it became clear that conditions were too windy for a landing and were all being re-routed via Kos. I got my ticket changed, jumped in a taxi with the Americans, and was soon at Pothia ferry port. There I bumped into Gaz Parry, who pointed me to the ferry kiosk where I bought a ticket — the man behind the counter wasn't fooled by my bad greek for a second!

Once the ferry started boarding, I went and sat in the cabin where I got talking to one of the Australians. She said they'd been in Kalymnos to visit her mother-in-law's grave and they were supposed to be heading to Kalamata for a wedding. They'd tried to leave on yesterday's flight, only to be stopped by the wind, and they'd decided that it was better to go from Kos than to risk being stuck in Kalynos for another day. As we were talking, I got a surprise when Hayley wandered through the cabin. It turned out that she and Eve and Andrew, who'd stormed his climbs this morning, were all up on the top deck. I went up and joined them for the rest of the journey, catching a final shot of the island as we were leaving.

Arriving in Masticheri on Kos, where the wind was strong enough to throw spray over the breakwater, we joined forces with Gaz and one of his group to share taxis to the airport. Once their, the girls soon disappeared off for their flight, leaving the three of us to await our five o'clock flight to Athens.

Once check-in was open, we went through the process of getting our bags through and our seats allocated. Andrew and Gaz, who were catching their scheduled flight, breezed through with no trouble. Whereas I, when I tried, got told to go to the Aegean Airlines desk to get my ticket fixed. On initially presenting my ticket, the woman on the counter told me I needed to go to check-in. Once I convinced her I wasn't in the wrong place, she made a few phone calls, told me everything was fine and sent me back to the desk. Bypassing the queue, I tried again, only to discover that there was still a problem. There then followed a few frenzied bouts of typing by the women on the desk, following by one of them going over to the Aegean desk, followed by more typing and lots of rapid phone calls in Greek. After half an hour or forty minutes of this, during which I'd been blocking the check-in queue, they finally fixed the problem, slapped a quick transfer tag on my bag and pushed me through into departures where I met up with a very baffled Andrew.

The flight was very smooth and we arrived in Athens in well under an hour. We made it through the airport in good time to get to the departure gate for the flight to Heathrow and we left around twenty minutes behind schedule. After a fairly smooth flight with only minor turbulence, we arrived in London at around 9pm local time where, much to my surprise, I found my bag waiting for me on the carousel.

I said my goodbyes to Andrew, who was off to catch the bus to Woking, and caught the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square where I changed to get myself to Chalk Farm. I arrived at my uncle's an hour and a half later, tired but extremely pleased to have made it back to England — there were moments during the afternoon when I doubted I'd ever get back.


Sep. 23rd, 2016 11:54 pm
sawyl: (A self portrait)
With the wind blowing strongly on our last day, we walked up to Poets to try some of the routes there. Eve and I, given the goal of putting in some mileage, started the day with Demeter which, at 4c, was a total cakewalk. The others tried harder routes — I think Izzy climbed Ganymede — but we quickly decided to move round to the main area.

As we were packing up, I got talking to Gav about his bag — a now-discontinued Quechua rucksack with all sorts of climbing-specific features. As he was going through it, giving us the grand tour, he spotted what looked like an extremely mouldy banana in a plastic bag and promptly freaked out. Closer examination proved that the object was not a banana but a severed goat's foot which Tom had found lying and around and had stashed in Gav's bag!

As we were leaving we a goat's skull and, unable to resist temptation, Izzy and I set about taking some photos. Firstly with the skull balanced on top of a nearby rickety gate:

And then with it hung off a piece of rebar attached to the gate. Unable to reach from the ground, it was clear that one of us had to pick the other up. As I was still wearing my harness, I got to be the one to pick Izzy up on my shoulders and while I may not be able to one-handed pull-ups, I was able to lift her up with no trouble at all. And once we had the skull positioned, the resulting photos more than justified our efforts:

At the main area we split up, with Tom, Hayley, Andrew and Izzy going round the corner to Couer D'Armeos work some harder stuff, while Eve, Gav and I stayed to rack up some mileage. Here's the main wall from the approach, with Gavin at the base of the crag giving an idea of the scale:

This shot of Eve on Sapfo might just be my favourite shot of the week — I especially like the depth of field and the way you can see the next four quickdraws:

We finished the day with Mustass, which featured a nice slabby start with tufas at the top. I climbed first and Gav, who was super-psyched, stormed up to stripped the route:

With the day complete and the week's climbing done, the three of us went down the hill for showers and a rest before meeting the others at the cocktail bar ahead of our final dinner at the Ageaen. Eve and I hit the bar, where we spent a while drinking tea, before deciding heading back to the hotel to change into long sleaves. On the way we met Gavin and we stood about debating the situation for a while. Just as we'd decided to go to the restaurant, the others arrived and we all walked down together, pausing briefly to allow them to buy tickets on the ferry to Kos for tomorrow.

Sat indoors, out of the wind but with big windows giving us a fantastic panoramic view of Telendos and the bay, we were amused to see Gaz Parry's group sitting not too far away — we think they might be stalking us, because they were also at Prego yeseterday. I had the same mixed Greek vegetarian dish as before while the others all had seafood, with everyone but Eve, who had red snapper, opting for a tuna stake.

Towards the end of dinner, Gav and Tom decided to do a bit of coaching. They decided to make a paper fortune teller — I'm sure I remember these being called chickens when I was at school &mdsah; to help them identify our weaknesses. With Andrew's help, we soon had a fortune teller made from a paper place mat which identified everyone's areas for improvement with uncanny accuracy. We concluded that the thing was clearly inhabited by a great spirit and should be destroyed at the first possible opportunity, least it fall into the wrong hands.

After supper we adjourned to the cocktail bar were we again met up with Gaz, now without his group, and we settled down for some proper coaching and some homework. Tom, a primary school teacher by profession, made up a grid and got us to write down the things we thought we'd done well at this week, our areas for improvement, and our goals for the future. Once we'd done this, they turned the piece of paper over and compared what they'd said with what we'd said and assigned us some things to concentrate on to help us improve.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
After a slightly slow start this morning — some people were clearly still recoverying from the excesses of yesterday's cocktails! — we scootered out to the crag, skipping the usual supermarket stop on the way.

Once up there, Izzy and I were planning to warm up on Mikrotera Kalamarakia but ended doing Haryvdi because it was free. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a total nightmare. Izzy took two goes to get up to the second clip after having serious worries about just how polished the bottom part of the route was. I seconded and confirmed her opinion: the bottom was like glass and without good feet, the second clip felt very exposed.

After the horrors of that, I belayed her on Haryvdi and went off to lead Nausicaa Nausicaa. The long slab route was really charming and enjoyable with good feet and some non-obvious hands. Partway up I encountered someone climbing Mon Amour who seemed to be in a bad position: off her route, without an obvious bolt to clip to, and with a big fall looming if she feel off. It turned out that the person who put the draws in the route had skipped a bolt and she'd got lost as a result, so I clipped her into one of my bolts until she lowered to a safe point, unclipped her, and carried on with my route.

Eve on Nausicaa Nausicaa:

The main aim for the day was to allow Hayley to take a crack at The Beast, which she'd stormed on top rope last year. She warmed up with Imia:

And because the route shares an anchor with The Beast, she was able to put quickdraws in the harder route on her way down. With everything set, she then began her assault on the 7b:

After Hayley redpointed it, Andrew decided to give it a go too:

While this was going on, I seconded a short, very boulder 6b+ with some serious coaching from Tom. The route featured a couple of crossover moves in the middle, which involved shifting from one layback position to another, with a powerful move through a big tufa formation in the middle. It took me a few goes to get, but once I'd cracked the crux, I stormed the last section. Later in the day I was gratified to see a couple of Australians climbing it and making a horrible mess of it — certainly my Newberry-assisted beta was far more elegant — and basically thrashing their way up.

Once I'd finished the 6b+, I gave Imia a crack, making it a fair way up the route before running out of beans. I ended the afternoon with Odisseo, which I quite enjoyed, even though I didn't quite top it but instead interrupted Gav's conversation with Hayley about falling by chucking myself off.

We finished the day in Marci Marc cave, with Izzy almost topping Lucky Luca. She panicked when her feet were in the wrong position on the very last move and failed to clip the anchor, but the other moves looked super smooth. Andrew powered up Amphora, finishing it with an amazingly slick bit of clipping: he popped a quickdraw off his harness, clipped it to the anchor, clipped the rope, clipped the rope into the anchor, unclipped the rope from the QD, unclipped the draw and had it back on his gear loop in one completely seemless movement; it was pure poetry in motion.

After finishing up, we went back down for showers before heading to Prego for dinner. I went for a really good pappardella alla norma made with local Kalymnian goat cheese. I'm pretty sure that Andrew went for pasta and I have a feeling Izzy went for some sort of seafood, but I can't really remember what the others went for.

Rest day

Sep. 21st, 2016 11:24 pm
sawyl: (A self portrait)
With a day off from climbing, Izzy and I decided to do a cycling and swimming tour of Kalymnos. After Izzy bought a mask and snorkel, we hired a couple of bikes and set out early with the idea of powering off to Emporios before the sun got too hot. The journey was actually much easier than I thought and we reached our destination in next to no time.

We spent a while swimming around the bay in Emporios, checking out the fish in the clear, deep water close into the shore. Having worked up an appetite we went for lunch at the Dreamcatcher taverna, where we both had spectacularly good vegetarian gemistas, and where I was extremely impressed by the quality of the loos — far above and beyond anything I've ever seen in a taverna before.

Leaving at around two, we went round to the next beach, only to discover a couple of little tavernas, including one where the staff were dressed as pirates. The water was clear and the wildlife was interesting, but we eventually decided to continue our way back, stopping at Skalia and Arginonta for more swimming and drink at the last taverna before town.

Back at the hotel, we got changed and messed around with the camera, trying to get some good shots of the sunset. Here's my silhouette shot of the trees and chimneys:

And here's one of Izzy's pictures of the cacti on the terrace:

We eventually located the others at a cocktail bar on the edge of town, where they didn't so much measure out spirits by the shot as by the glass. By the time we arrived, the others were feeling the effects after one mohito while Eve was completely smashed on a single white russian.

When Tom and Gav returned from Skikati Cave we helped Eve walk to the same taverna as Monday. Here I had an excellent briam, while some of the others had the chicken kiev that Gav had had earlier in the week, and Tom had the chicken pasta on the grounds that it was the most filling.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Out for my usual early morning walk, I got as far as Myrties before I decided to return to the hotel. Inevitably this was the point at which the heavens decided to open and I found myself pretty soaked by the time I got home. Fortunately, the temperature was already in the high twenties and I was dry before I knew it.

After breakfast, we hopped on the scooters and made our way to Grande Grotta.

Neither Izzy nor I enjoyed our warm up on happy girlfriend — a slab route with some easy tufa climbing that neither of us particularly enjoyed. I tried to lead monahiki elia, had an attack of nerves, came down to allow Izzy to lead it, and then powered up it on top rope.

Hayley stormed up taz, climbing head to head with someone else working their way up monahiki elia:

Moving round the corner to Afternoon, we did l'amico ralph, blu, kalo taxidi and l'uomo che non credeva. Here's Gav on the 6b:

Hayley and Andrew finished the day with clare, a tough 6c, and called it a day — although I think Izzy may have been jonesing for one last climb.

We went to Prego, the restaurant directly below the hotel, for supper. The food was very good and the portions large enough that Tom was able to forego his usual post-supper gyros. I had the vegan special, falafel with hummus and pita bread, while Izzy had seafood pasta, Hayley had a seafood platter, Andrew had chicken pasta, and Tom had a giant plate of cutlets.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Up to Iliada first thing to climb some of the routes before they caught the sun.

I managed to take my first fall high on one of the routes. I fell quite a distance — Gav though I was reaching for the next clip, so he had plenty of slack out — but there was no damage and it massively boosted my leading confidence. I climbed a nice tufa route to finish before we followed the shade round the corner to Odyssey, stopping at X to allow the others to have a go at dolonas, a roof route in the cave.

Tom made pretty easy work of it...

...while Andrew made a pretty good attempt to lead it, even if he didn't quite manage to stick the dyno on this attempt...

...Izzy seconded the route, getting close to the final clip...

...while Tom, belaying her, hung around in space...

At Odyssey, I did a couple of easy slabs, Andrew and Hayley went round off to on-sight some hard stuff, while Izzy and Gav went round to work lucky luca in Marci Marc cave. I made my way through the crux on penelope only to come off on the next move. After finishing the route, Eve hopped on and seconded the first part before asking Tom for beta on the second part as he stripped the route.

Retreating from the sun once again, we all moved round to the cave were we found Izzy still working lucky luca. Having finally tired herself out, she came down and Andrew gave it a try, flashing it on his last climb of the day! Tom ran up amphora, Hayley gave it a try, and we called it a day and returned to town just as the first signs of a change in the weather — clouds over the island of Telendos — started to make themselves known.

Off to the taverna for supper, where I had vegetarian mousaka — very nice indeed — Izzy had the meat version, Gav had chicken kiev and, I think, Eve had roast chicken.


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