Stonehenge and Salisbury


Stonehenge is probably one of those places that don't need much introduction. There has been a lot of speculation as to the meaning and original use of the site. Personally, I find it unlikely that we will ever discover ultimate answers to those questions. And perhaps that's exactly what makes up the magic of the place and draws so many people from all over the world to this small spot in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.

I visited Stonehenge on June 9th. A selection of the photos I took can be found in this photoset. At some point I'll have to return at the time of sunrise or sunset. The magic of the stones only truly unfolds with the right lighting.

Salisbury, on the other hand, is probably less well known. And if it hadn't been for a nice lady on the train from Cardiff to Salisbury who recommended seeing Salisbury Cathedral I might actually have missed this outstanding gem of English Gothic architecture.


The cynic in me says "Wherever I go the scaffolding is already there", but once again I'll just take that as a reason to pay another visit to Salisbury. The atmosphere inside Salisbury Cathedral was remarkable. It was overall darker than Bath Abbey, but that allowed the various light spots and candles to work their magic.


Catching Up

A lot has happened since my last entry. I visited Salisbury and Stonehenge, my Erasmus stay in Cardiff officially ended, I went back home via London on a flight that felt like magic due to the sun setting while we were above the clouds, and last but not least I'm in the early stages with another robotics project at my home university in Bremen.

Unfortunately getting the latter started didn't leave much time for anything else, but things are looking promising now, so I'm taking a bit of a break tagging and uploading photos and should have some slightly more detailed blog entries ready soon.

An Afternoon in Roath Park


Tempus fugit. Or so they say. My Erasmus stay here in Cardiff is about to end and, between preparing for my departure and planning all the stuff I'll need to do once I'm back home, I'm traveling around a bit to see places I haven't been to yet.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon in Roath Park, a Victorian style park in the north of Cardiff featuring a large artificial lake with many swans and all sorts of other birds, as well as botanical and rose gardens. I found it to be a great place to relax. Some impressions are below, have a look at the complete photo set for more.








Taking a Deep Breath

Between this semester's second last and last exams I had almost a week of time, so I took a Saturday afternoon off and went to Barry Island again. Barry Island is just a 30 minutes train ride from Cardiff, so this is a great way of escaping the city.


One of the main Barry Island attractions is Barry Island Pleasure Park with all sorts of fun rides.


The reason why I went there, however, was the beach and the sea. It was a rather grey and windy day, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Note the sand "flying" over the beach.


While climbing alonside the cliffs I noticed a number of tiny but beautiful flowers that I wouldn't have expected in such a location.


Watching the waves crash onto the rocks had a very relaxing and refreshing effect. Refreshing in more than one way... I got slightly wet right after the following shot.


I then went on to the pebbles beach of Cold Knap. I don't know whether these pebbles occur there naturally, but it gave the place an interesting atmosphere. Unfortunaly, the photos don't do the brilliant light justice...


I had originally planned to stay there and wait for the sunset, but the high tide had blocked the way I got there (along the beach). Not knowing how long it would take me to find an alternative route I decided to go back early. I still saw the sun approach the horizon over Barry Island Pleasure Park


and the actual sunset later over Barry which marked the end of a wonderful day.


Back in Cardiff


I arrived back in Cardiff for the final stint of my Erasmus stay at Cardiff University last weekend. The journey was uneventful and I even had a bit of time in London for another brief visit to Buckingham Palace. If you are wondering about the barriers in some of the photos, those were for the London Marathon which took place the following day.


I also managed to make it inside Cardiff Castle this week! It only took me some 7 months ;) Personally, I liked the Norman Keep best (see the photo below), but the castle is also interesting if you're into gold covered rooms and all sorts of other luxuries.


London in March


Back in December we spent a weekend in London. On my way home from Cardiff last Saturday, I took the chance to visit central London again. In only about 2.5 hours, I managed to see Victoria Train Station, the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, the Victoria Memorial, the gate to Green Park, parts of St. James's Park, Parliament Square with its statues, Big Ben and Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament) from Parliament Square and from the south bank of the River Thames, the London Eye, St. Margaret's Church, and Westminster Abbey. The weather was somewhat mixed with high winds, rain, snow, and sunshine. The best part of the trip was clearly the walk along the south bank of the River Thames in the sun.

I will definitely be back, with a tripod, a wide angle lens and more time at hand. In particular I'd like to take more night shots and go inside Westminster Abbey.

Random Efficiency Tips


You probably know the feeling when software you use daily gets in your way rather than assisting you. To me Emacs has been such an offender for a long time - in that it creates backup and semantic.cache files in every directory you edit files in. Obviously, this makes it often impossible to find the file you are looking for in a directory listing.

Last week I had enough and searched for a solution. I found one to the backup files problem in Xah Lee's Advanced Emacs Tips and got rid of semantic.cache by following a suggestion in the ECB FAQ to set semanticdb-default-save-directory. In both cases the functionality in question is not disabled, but the corresponding files are created in a directory somewhere in ~/.emacs.d/ which makes me a happy Emacs user again.

Another huge annoyance is the long time it takes current Linux distributions to boot. I remember how my old 350MHz Pentium II with its by today's standards dead slow harddisks booted in about 20 seconds from the Lilo prompt to the KDM/GDM login screen. Out of the box the Debian installation on my 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo workstation with its 7200RPM disks needs about twice as much time to get me to a graphical (GDM) login. After getting rid of a bunch of unnecessary init scripts I got that figure down to slightly less than 30 seconds. So, it's definitely worth the effort to review what init scripts are run and whether you really need them. I still don't find the result very satisfactory though.

Last but not least I'd like to recommend the tips over at Even if you don't have a recent enough kernel and userspace to benefit from CONFIG_NO_HZ etc. it's worth going through their Tips & Tricks section and looking for potential power savings. Personally, I found the suggestion to mount filesystems with the noatime option enabled very useful, not necessarily because it saves power, but because it significantly speeds up things like apt-cache search, access to the dpkg database, and loading all the .desktop files.

Bath Trip


We visited Bath on March 1st. It was a really beautiful day with lots of sunshine and therefore many opportunities to take pictures. The brilliant light created a very special atmosphere inside Bath Abbey which is hard to capture, but the photo below may give you a rough idea of it. If you get a chance, Bath Abbey is a must visit and I recommend you allow plenty of time to really enjoy the experience - there is so much to discover inside.


The Roman Baths were somewhat disappointing. From an archeological point of view the presentation of the historic site had a rather unprofessional feel to it - many interesting bits were not explained at all or only via an electronic "audio guide" which I found extremely tiresome to listen to. The Hypocaust (underfloor heating system) is probably among the most noteworthy of ancient Roman engineering feats, yet I couldn't find any diagram explaining how it worked or even a mention of it in the "audio guide". It was certainly fun to see pilae stacks (part of a Hypocaust) live, but only because I knew what I was looking at - people around me gave me a rather funny look wondering why I was so excited over a couple of bricks until I explained it all.


From a photographer's point of view, the scaffolding that was basically everywhere was a bit of a show stopper (as can be seen above). Given the hefty admission fee, I believe a warning notice at the entrance would have been the least the museum should have done. On the flip side, it makes for a good reason to visit Bath again and re-do the affected shots.


Just in time before the weather changed (for the worse) we also managed to pay shorts visits to The Circus (pictured above) and the Royal Crescent (below). I particularly liked the trees in the middle of The Circus.


And finally, I love seagulls.


Going Live


My little blog engine/compiler is approaching feature completeness and I think what it generates is ready for public consumption, so I've switched the front page of over to it now. There is no non-blog content yet, but that is going to change over the course of the next few weeks.


Atom Feed, New Design, and Old Posts

Since my last post, I've added code to generate an Atom feed using Paul R. Brown's excellent Atom Haskell library. Now go and subscribe to it!

I've also switched the CSS to that from K2 and added a header image based on a photo I took on a trip to Barry Island a few weeks ago. I love watching waves crash onto the beach, so I guess it fits well.

Finally, I've imported old posts from Advogato and my blog on the university webserver (which I had almost forgotten about). The latter will soon be removed because I don't want to keep maintaining the pyblosxom installation behind it. Importing the Advogato posts was rather painful, as they were missing all the closing HTML tags although I'm sure I entered them. tidy fixed up most issues but I still had to correct some stuff manually.