Saturday, 27 November 2010

LarKC, The Movie

On a number of occasions I've tried to explain to people what it is that I do for a living. Telling people that I'm a University Researcher working in Computer Science gives most people all the information they need -- in other words they are bored already! Some people, however, make the fatal mistake of asking questions such as so what do you actually do? what is your research about? This post is for those people.

One of the projects I'm currently working on is called LarKC, which stands for the Large Knowledge Collider. As part of the dissemination activities the project funded a short movie to try and explain what we are doing. So heat up the popcorn, turn down the lights and enjoy "LarKC, The Movie"!

So now you know. Although I'm not entirely sure that will have cleared things up for anyone outside the semantic web community.

The LarKC platform can be used for many different, large scale processing tasks. I'm working on one of the use cases along with people from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Specifically, we are looking into ways of using previous biomedical publications to improve the efficiency (and hence save money) of genome wide association studies.

I bet you wish you'd never asked!

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Great Wall Of China

When I initially found out that there was going to be a project meeting in Beijing I knew that I wanted to go and experience such a different culture. When I found out that there was going to be a trip to the Great Wall I knew that I'd make sure I got to go!

Whilst the idea that the wall can be seen from space, and even the moon, is nothing more than a myth (seeing the wall from the moon would be the same as seeing a human hair at a distance of two miles), it is a wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In other words, it is well worth visiting!

If you visit the wall from Beijing then it is more than likely that you will be taken to Badaling. In many places the Great Wall has disappeared or is badly in need of restoration, at Badaling, however, it has undergone substantial restoration and is well maintained over a very long distance. The wall follows the natural landscape in order to increase it's defensive capabilities and at Badaling this involves going steeply up the hillside on either side of the valley, giving visitors fantastic views of a long stretch of the wall.

The downside to building up valley sides is that walking along the wall can be very difficult. Some of the sections are exceedingly steep. Some bits are stepped and some are just ramps at about 40 degrees. My calf muscles certainly knew I'd been walking along the wall by the time I returned to the bus!

Apparently there is a Chinese saying which translates as; He who doesn’t reach the Great Wall is not a true man. Having now stood on the wall I guess I'm a true man!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Additional Material

I saw this on the back of a book I read whilst in Beijing and I'm a little confused. I'm guessing my questions is: compared with what?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Air Quality: Crazy Bad

I wasn't originally intending to do a whole post about the air quality in Beijing (it is bad) but I just read a news article that I thought worth sharing. Apparently the US embassy in Beijing monitors the air quality as they believe that the Chinese government always under-reports the problem. Last Friday, the day I left Beijing, the air quality index hit 500 and the embassy initially reported this as "crazy bad"! I'm not entirely sure which index this is measured against (each country seems to have their own way of measuring), but if we assume this is against the Chinese metric, then according to Wikipedia, severely polluted is anything above 300 which is described as: Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities.

I don't have any photos from Friday, so I'm illustrating this post with one from Thursday when the pollution wasn't quite as bad. Here you can see the view from Tian'an Men looking across the road into the square. On a clear day you would be able to see other buildings through the smog in the background.

When we left on Friday morning and headed to the airport the pollution was so bad that you couldn't see from one side of the expressway (eight lanes in total) to the other, and we didn't even have to go through the centre of the city.

I haven't suffered from asthma for over a decade now but walking around central Beijing on Thursday (more on this in a later post) I could have done with an inhaler to help my lungs work better. I'm still coughing and finding it difficult to breath properly and I've been back in the UK for three days. Hopefully my trip hasn't reduced my life expectancy by more than a few days, but I'm surprised that anyone can live for any length of time in Beijing.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Fresh Food

I'm usually quite happy to try new food, but I draw the line at food that is still moving. In all fairness they would have cooked the scorpions had I wanted to buy a kebab (cooking renders the sting ineffective) but the fact that they were still wriggling kind of put me off. I suppose at least you could guarantee that the food was fresh!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Vibrating Luggage

Well I'm now safely back in the UK (actually arrived back last night but have need to catch up on sleep). I'll post more about my time in China later but I just wanted to say a quick thank you to Lufthansa for not destroying my luggage.

I checked my suitcase in Beijing for the two flights to Manchester via Frankfurt. About 10 minutes before boarding the plane in Frankfurt I was called to the desk. When I went over I was asked to accompany one of the staff as my luggage was vibrating and they were not willing to put it on the plane until I'd satisfied them there was no security problem. As soon as she said it was vibrating I knew exactly what the problem was; my electric razor. It's not the first time it has accidentally turned on in my luggage but it's definitely the first time it's had airport security worried. So I followed the member of staff into a secure area where my suitcase was sat at the bottom of a set of steps being watched from a distance by a member of the ground crew. I unlocked and opened my suitcase, found the razor and turned it off, which satisfied everyone concerned.

I'm sure if this had happened in the UK the case would have been torn into or blown up just to be on the safe side. So my thanks go to the sensible staff in Frankfurt!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tian'an Men Square

So after feasting on duck we were taken on a brief walk aorund the area near Tian'an Men Square. The guide started by walking us down Qian Men Dajie (Emperor's Avenue). I'm not sure what this street was like before the Olympics were held in Beijing, but it is now a soulless shopping street. Everything had been torn down and re-built for the Olympics -- the architecture was different but not particularly interesting.

For me, The highlight of the walk was my first glimpse of the (in)famous Tian'an Men Square,.
Unfortunately it is closed at night so we had to make do with simply looking in across the barrier. Apparently the square is closed at night because it costs too much to police it to the level the state requires.

What you can see in the photo is actually just the south end of the square. On the left is Zhengyang Men whilst on the right is Mao's Mausoleum. The famous Tian'an Men ('men' means gate) from which Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic, and from which the square takes it's name, is actually at the north end of the square. Unfortunately it wasn't lit up and so I didn't manage to get any good photos.

The project meeting I'm in Beijing for actually finished at lunch time and I don't fly home until Friday (it was cheaper to stay longer than to take an earlier flight) so I'm hoping to do quite a lot of exploring in the two days I have left. Tomorrow there is an organized tour to see the Great Wall, and on Thursday I intend to try and visit the Forbidden City and Tian'an Men square during daylight. Hopefully this will give me lots more to blog about.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Local Delicacy: Peking Duck

So did anyone have a guess as to where I am this week? I'll give you a hint: Peking Duck is the local delicacy. Yes I'm spending the week in Beijing, China.

Last night was the social meal and we went out for proper Peking Duck! We went to the famous Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant in the center of Beijing and had a fantastic meal.

I'm not exactly sure what all of the things I ate were, but I can recognise roast duck pancakes and (as our waitress named them) "Beijing Hamburgers". I did photograph my attempts at making pancakes  but the photo in this post shows the better examples the waitress made up to show us how, which included rolling the pancake using chopsticks (I rolled mine by hand). Incredible Dexterity!

As well as serving fabulous food the restaurant was interesting in a number of other ways. There are lots of photos of famous politicians who have dined there when visiting Beijing, including George Bush (the first one), Nixon and Ted Heath. But more interestingly was the size of the restaurant. We were served in room 502. Just like a hotel the first number dictated the floor we were on. It really was huge.

To walk of a little of dinner we then had a short guided walk around the area near Tian'an Men Square, but more on that in a later post.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3. Hopefully you can all hear me?

I'm away with work this week and I've had to jump through some hoops in order to access my blog. I think everything should work but I thought it wise to check before I wrote a long post only to find I couldn't publish.

So where am I you ask? I'll get to that in a later post but for now see if you can at least work out the country given the labeling on the coke can.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Last Sunday I spent a very cold one hour forty minutes waiting for a tin bath to appear! The Tin Bath "Extra" steam service was due to pass through Penistone station at approximately 14:45. This is the same steam excursion that I missed seeing last year. So I was out on the side of the railway for about 14:30 waiting for it to pass. I had my little camera and the gorillapod set up on the fence to record video as it went by and me main camera at the ready.

The first sign of a problem was a guy passing on a bike who said that he had heard that it had been delayed by about 10 minutes. Then they let the normal service from Penistone to Sheffield leave at 14:50 blocking the single track section to Barnsley meaning the earliest it could arrive would be about 15:30. So I decided to wait.

It then became apparent from talking to other people that it had been seriously delayed in the morning due to the derailment of another train. And that it hadn't even left Sheffield yet. There was also a rumour that they may send it by a different line to try and make up time.

When they let the service train leave for Sheffield at 15:55 I decided to give it up as a bad job and go home. The only photo I'd taken was the test shot to check I could shoot over the fence.

By the time I'd walked back to the house I was frozen and the light was starting to go. It wasn't long before it got dark and I assumed that it must have gone a different way. Then at 16:50 I heard the unmistakable sound of a steam train. Of course all I could see was smoke rising up from behind the trees at the back of the garden -- exactly the same as last year. I'm assuming the people on the train were annoyed as well as they wouldn't have had much of a view in the dark.

Ah well maybe next year it will be third time lucky and I'll finally get to see more than just the smoke as a steam train passes through Penistone.