Thoughts of a geek

17 January 2016

Christmas and New Year

Filed under: Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 5:13 pm

I spent Christmas in London this year, so it was pretty quiet. I still find Christmas in winter weird, it’s all cold and miserable, and I find London winters hard. The afternoon of Christmas Day I went over to my friend Matthew’s place for Christmas dinner, which was nice. His parents and some of his siblings were visiting from Paris (they are originally from NZ, more or less), and there were a few other kiwis too.

I took the 3 days between Christmas and New Year off, and the Monday after New Year, and went away for just over a week to Bratislava, Vienna and Brno. The main point of the trip was to go to the Vienna Folk Marathon, but the flights worked out cheaper (and I thought it would be interesting to visit a couple of new cities) to fly into Bratislava on the Monday morning, spend the afternoon exploring the city, and catch the bus to Vienna that night. In Vienna I stayed with Thi, a university friend from Wellington who now lives there with her boyfriend, which was nice as I hadn’t seen her in ages. After the Folk Marathon I caught a train to Brno on the Sunday afternoon and spent a day and a half sightseeing there (and touring the cafes as it was too cold outside, -7°C with snow and wind most of the time) before flying back to London on the Monday night. My flight back was delayed almost an hour for de-icing, which meant I finally arrived home at about 1:00 am Tuesday morning.

On the whole it was a good trip, but cold. I caught one cold just before Christmas, which I was just getting over as I arrived in Vienna, then caught a second cold towards the end of the Folk Marathon, which made everything less fun. The other annoying thing was that it is still legal to smoke in bars and so on in Austria, and although most of the venues were supposed to be smoke-free for our events, there were still people smoking in almost all of them, which several times forced me to leave. I’d like to go back to Brno sometime warmer, as there was more to see which I didn’t because I was too cold and couldn’t stay outside any longer.

For more, see the photos: Bratislava, Vienna and Brno.

14 November 2014

Much dancing

Filed under: Me, Photos — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 5:23 am

I spent two recent weekends at two quite different folk dance festivals, neither of which I had been to before.

The first was Dance Around the World at Cecil Sharp House in London, and was quite varied. It ran all day Saturday and Sunday, with three streams of workshops plus one of performances during the day, and dances in the evening. It attracted mostly an older crowd, though a bunch of young people too, varying a lot from workshop to workshop. Some had 8 people, some 50. A few friends (including Jenny) also attended some or all of it. Highlights of the workshops for me were Irish Set, English Clog, Latvian and Greek, though the others were interesting too. (I also did the Polish, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Bolivian, Tango, French, Caribbean Quadrille, Nineteenth Century Quadrille and Jamaican Quadrille workshops.)

Saturday evening there was a French (Balfolk) dance night which was excellent. Two great bands, lots of cool people, lots of great dances. Sunday evening there was an ‘Anglo-International Barn Dance’ which turned out not to be very interesting, and a swing dance night hosted by Swing Patrol which was alright, though there were not that many people. It was nice to have plenty of space and a nice floor though, and I did get some good dances.

The following weekend was Skint, which was excellent. It runs annually in a parish hall in Ashover, a bit south of Sheffield, and is limited to around 100 people. Tickets sell out in minutes. The name apparently refers both to ‘Scandinavian and International dance’ and the fact that it is really cheap (£45 for the whole thing Friday–Monday including meals and accommodation? Woah!) Dances are primarily Balfolk (French, which I really enjoy) and Scandinavian (which are also interesting, though not so much my thing), though with a mix of other styles as well. Workshops were all taught by volunteers; there were three at once during the day, usually one dance, one music, and the third either another dance or something different. We all took turns to cook and clean and ate all meals together. Each evening the main organised dance ran until around midnight, then there was midnight cheese (an excellent idea!) then more dancing in a smaller room with any musicians who wanted to join in playing whatever they felt like. Probably half the people there played at least one instrument, so there were never any shortage, and often the musicians outnumbered the dancers at the late night sessions. Dancing in the middle surrounded on all sides by a circle of 20 musicians playing all sorts of instruments was magical. There were a lot of great dancers as well, and I had a bunch of switch dances (mostly French schottisches and mazurkas) which was cool, trying to spread the idea. I ended up dancing until about 2:30 am on Friday night and 3:30 am the following two nights, so really did not get enough sleep, but it was worth it.

I took a few photos (also on Facebook) but Ben and David posted some much better photos.

On Saturday I did the Fandango, Contra, Polska, Irregular Waltzes and Sønderhoning workshops. On Sunday I did Playford, the first half of the Swedish waltz workshop, found I was not getting it so gave up and went to try singing Sacred Harp instead, “Out of Body Dancing” (which was a fun experimental workshop about connection and musicality, sort of) and Wallonian / Flemish. Monday did not have any workshops, sadly, mostly just cleaning up. All in all, an excellent weekend, and lots of new friends! I highly recommend it, and will be going back next year.

Skint 2014: Fiddlers in the sun

Now to decide whether to try Copenhagen Folk Marathon, and perhaps some Balfolk events further afield next year…

23 March 2013

NZ visit and miscellany

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , , — qwandor @ 8:54 am

Firstly, for those of you in NZ who do not pay attention to Facebook, I am going back for a visit in a few weeks. I fly out of London on 14th April and arrive in Wellington at 2:45 pm on Tuesday 16th April, and stay until Monday 6th May. I plan to spend most of my time in Wellington, other than a trip up to Palmerston North for a few days at some point. If you are keen to catch up, let me know and we can organise a time! I am keen to organise a few picnics (weather permitting), walks, dinner parties and so on, as well as dragging people out dancing. I should probably get on with that soon, I have just been too busy with other things.

In the meantime, I have a friend coming to stay next week, which I am looking forward to, and then am off to Marseille (and hopefully some of the surrounding countryside and towns) for 4 nights over Easter, flying out there on Easter Saturday and then back to London on Wednesday 3rd April.

At the start of this year I decided to make an effort to have people over for dinner more often, and that has been working out so far. I have had lots of different groups of people over for dinner over the last few months, and Rachel and Matthew have returned the favour several times to have me over for dinner at theirs. I think I have averaged about one night a week (or perhaps even a bit more) of either having people over to my place for dinner or visiting others. So definitely a success so far! Lots of tasty food, interesting conversations, some music, dancing in kitchens, and all sorts of fun.

On the topic of dancing and fun, I went up to IVFDF in Sheffield a few weeks ago, which was good fun. Learnt some new dances (there were an enormous range of workshops), got to see what folk dancers make of blues, heard lots of great music, and did not sleep or eat all that much. Definitely well worth it.

9 February 2013

2012 in review

Filed under: Lists, Me — Tags: , , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:47 am

At the start of last year I wrote out some objectives for the year. This is a bit late being February already, but now that it is 2013 it is time to review how they worked out over the year. So going through the list from that post:

  • See some more of the world: I did see some more of the world. I did the east coast trip, and caught up with Teresa, Jordan and Kirsten. Unfortunately I did not manage to see Dave or Carlton, or various other people further away. It was enjoyable, I saw some new things (Niagara Falls, museums in DC, Boston…), met some new people, and had some fun dances. I went to Poland and Hungary, which ticks off the two more European countries. Though I think my intent with this was to take two trips, so I did not quite do that. I toured around Scotland for 9 days with my parents, which was excellent (apart from the rain), and we saw lots of beautiful scenery and castles. The only new place I went in the UK other than that was down to the Isle of Wight with some interns and other Googlers, which was pleasant enough.
    • Visit the east coast of the US / Canada, and see at least 3 of the 5 friends I know over that way: 0.9
    • Visit at least 2 more European countries: 0.8
    • Visit Scotland: 1.0
    • Visit 2 more places in the UK: 0.5

    Overall: 0.8

  • Improve my dancing (and enjoy it): Dance-wise, I did a couple of workshops and a few classes in Balboa, but then did not keep it up or get practice much. I have not really done any in the last six months or so. I have done a fair bit of Lindy and blues though, including going to several weekend festivals (Blues Shakedown, Berlin Blues Explosion, Blues Baby Blues). I went to LSF again as well, though did not find it as good as 2011. I did a bit of Lindy in Wellington while I was back, and it made it along to one night of NZX up in Auckland as well. Getting friends along proved a bit more difficult. Oh, and I managed to find some Lindy or blues in Toronto, Krakow, and of course New York City when I was there (which were variable, but interesting nonetheless), plus a great contra in Princeton.
    • Learn at least one new dance this year (probably Balboa): 0.3
    • Go out for social swing (Lindy Hop) dancing regularly: 1.0
    • Take some classes / workshops to improve my blues: 1.0
    • Do some swing and/or blues with friends while I am back in NZ visiting: 0.8
    • Go to the London Swing Festival again: 1.0

    Overall: 0.8

  • Work out where I stand with God, and what that means: No progress on this one really.
    • Discuss more with some friends. Not sure exactly what: 0.2
    • Finish reading some of the books that are on my shelf, and write up some responses to them: 0.1

    Overall: 0.1

  • Improve my social life, and build and maintain a good group of friends with whom I regularly do things: I had a people over for a barbecue for my birthday. I cannot remember what else, maybe that was all?
    • Host at least 3 social gatherings (parties / dinners / whatever) at my flat: 0.3
    • Any other ideas I come up with: 0.0

    Overall: 0.2

  • Improve how I dress: I bought a suit to wear to Daniel and Sharon’s wedding, and have not worn it since. It felt awkward. Otherwise no improvements to my fashion sense or wardrobe.
    • Buy a suit, or at least something a bit more formal, for the odd occasion when that might be necessary: 0.8
    • Find other ways to improve in general: 0.0

    Overall: 0.4

  • Maintain other hobbies: I did some baking, but do not think I made stuff for other people as often as once a month sadly. I did not do any work on theQuotebook, Fridge or anything else, nor any further electronics projects.
    • Bake something for other people at least once a month, preferably more often: 0.4
    • Do some work on my existing programming projects such as theQuotebook and Fridge: 0.0
    • Do some work on electronics projects, such as the paper keyboard I started on last year, some kind of floor instrument, or something else based on the Teensy: 0.0

    Overall: 0.1

I have some ideas for this year as well (and have even started on one of them), but I will leave that for another post, and I think I will organise them differently.

30 December 2012

4 months

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 3:29 am

It has been ages since I last posted, so I guess it is high time I wrote something again. A have done a fair bit in the mean time:

The weekend after my trip to Amsterdam was Blues Shakedown, a blues dance exchange in London with 8 different bands plus plenty of DJs playing for lots of dancing all weekend. I was a little apprehensive as it was the first such event I had been to, but it was great fun and I was very glad I went. I definitely plan to go again next year assuming I am still around by then.

My parents came to visit in September. On first arriving in the country they spent a week by themselves in a cottage in the Lakes District, then I met them up in Glasgow and we spent a week driving around Scotland, visiting Glasgow, Oban, Skye, Inverness, Pitlochry and Edinburgh. Scotland is pretty, and it was nice to see some hills again; London is much too flat for my taste. The west coast of Scotland has particularly nice scenery, and reminded me a lot of parts of New Zealand. We saw lots of castles, lots of rain, and a fair few lochs and hills. There are plenty of photos in the usual place.

From Glasgow

They then spent another week by themselves in the Peaks District before continuing on down to London to stay with me for a week. It was nice to finally be able to show them around some of the city I have been living in for more than two and a half years now, and we went out to see a musical and a play as well (Singing in the Rain, and One Man, Two Guvnors; both were good). They then spent another week enjoying the warm weather in Greece before heading home via Singapore.

Shortly after my parents left London I headed to Berlin for Berlin Blues Explosion, the first weekend in October. It was also good fun, if rather exhausting. I met some nice new people there too.

On 20th–26th October my friend Chris Wood came to stay and see a bit of London. He was over from NZ for work, so stayed on a little as a tourist while he was over this side of the world.

Warsaw: With Andrzej and Małgorzata

I then flew to Warsaw the night of the 26th, to spend 9 days travelling around Poland and Hungary, catching up with a few friends and seeing some new places. I stayed with Agnieszka (who had been an intern at Google London) in Warsaw, and also caught up with Małgorzata and Andrzej, whom I met through Charlotte in Uppsala last year. Apparently it had been around 20°C the week before I arrived, but when I got there it was below 0, and it was snowing much of the time I was there, which made sightseeing less pleasant. Nonetheless it was interesting to see Warsaw, and I had a really good hot chocolate (with ginger and orange) at a nice café there. On Sunday we took a daytrip to Lublin, and then on Tuesday night flew down to Budapest where we stayed a couple of nights with a friend of Agnieszka’s.

From Budapest: Looking out from Gellért Hill

Budapest was beautiful, though unfortunately quite rainy. Not as cold as Warsaw at least, though. The photos tell most of the story. On Thursday evening we flew up to Krakow and I stayed 3 nights there in a backpackers’ hostel, but unfortunately Agnieszka was not feeling well and had to go home early. Along with the usual sightseeing and a couple of guided walking tours of the city, I met up with Nina (whom I had met at the aforementioned Berlin Blues Explosion a few weeks earlier) and some of her friends. She happened to have a friend in town for the weekend as well, so the 3 of us plus another of her friends did a bit of sightseeing together, which was nice. It also happened that the friend, Jordan, was planning a visit to London later in the year, which worked out well as I was then able to show her around London.

Back in London, the London Jazz Festival was on so I went to a couple of different free gigs as part of that: on Saturday 10th November there were 3 different bands playing at the Royal Festival Hall, and on Sunday there were 4 bands, all from Finland, playing at the Barbican. Unfortunately there were big gaps inbetween their sets, so I left after the first couple, but they were all good music.

The following weekend was time for yet more blues dancing, with Blues Baby Blues happening in London. I really enjoyed it, learnt quite a bit I think, and again made some new friends.

I had been thinking for some time lately about changing churches, for a number of reasons, and so in November I decided to check out All Souls Langham Place again. It is a large central London church, near Oxford Circus, and some of you may know it as the church where John Stott was rector for some time, and closely associated with until his death. I had been to All Souls a few times in the past, and was always impressed with the quality of the preaching and depth of thought that seems to go into everything, but this time I also found it to be quite friendly, more so than I had noticed in the past. So I went along to an open evening to learn a bit more about the church, and have now started attending regularly. It seems like a really good church so far, so if any of you reading this are in London, you should come along with me to a service there some time!

I had three different American Thanksgiving meals this year. There was a Thanksgiving themed lunch at work on Thursday 22nd November, which was alright. That evening an American couple I am friends with, Sean and Sarah, had invited me to a Thanskgiving dinner at their place with about 12 or so people. Sarah and a friend of hers had cooked an amazing meal, and the company was good too. Then on the following Saturday another American friend (Jennifer) hosted a pot-luck Thanksgiving meal at her flat, which was also full of tasty food. There was just so much of it! At first there was a reasonable amount of food, but then people kept arriving with more and more pies and cakes, and despite all eating too much there was still heaps left over.

The next weekend Jordan (the friend of Nina’s whom I met in Krakow) was in town. She is from Texas but spending the year working in a small town in Poland, and trying to travel around Europe as much as she can. She arrived late Friday night and left Sunday morning, so only had the Saturday to see London, but we managed to fit a lot in: starting at Baker Street we walked through Regent’s Park, up Primrose Hill, along Regent’s Canal to Camden Lock, then spent a while wandering through much of the Camden markets. We then took the Tube down to Leicester Square for a quick around there, Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, along The Mall for a brief glance at Buckingham Palace, back through St. James’s Park, past the Horse Guards, along Whitehall, Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey, Dean’s Yard, then across Westminster Bridge. We walked all along the Southbank, with a brief walk through the Tate Modern, a detour through Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral, then across Tower Bridge for a look around the Tower of London. We discovered a little church there which I had noticed before, which had a small free museum in its crypt, featuring among other things some original Roman tilework. We then walked past St. Paul’s Cathedral to poke our heads in, by which point it was getting dark already, so we just had a quick look at some of the remnants of London Wall around the Barbican before heading home. Not bad for a day’s looking around though! I think that may well have been the most of London I have managed to show someone in a single day.

In December we had two work Christmas parties, one just for engineering at the Natural History Museum Earth Hall, and one for all London Googlers at some big club on the Southbank. The latter was extremely crowded much of the time, but the snowball fight was fun.

Christmas itself was pretty low-key. All my flatmates except for Steph were away with their families in various different places, and Steph had her sister and father visiting. Unfortunately her father only speaks German, and I only speak English, which made conversation rather limited. On Christmas Day itself I just went to church in the morning, then went to visit a friend for a bit in the afternoon, for some tasty lasagne. Boxing day was even less eventful. Work has been pretty quiet all this week, especially on Monday, but hopefully more people will be back next week.

Well I guess that is all my news for now. Next up, what to do this year… any suggestions?

7 January 2012

Objectives and Key Results

Filed under: Christianity, Me, Travel — Tags: , , , — qwandor @ 8:23 am

At work we plan each quarter by writing Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs for short. The idea is that there are a number of broad objectives, then specific quantifiable and measurable key results that achieve them. So I thought I would try writing some personal OKRs here, though for the year rather than just a quarter. These are more a draft than anything fixed, so I would much appreciate any advice about how to achieve them, what else I should try to do, or anything else.

It is a bit late, this already being 2012, but that is like work too. The top level points are the objectives, the second level are the key results.

  • See some more of the world.
    • Visit the east coast of the US / Canada, and see at least 3 of the 5 friends I know over that way.
    • Visit at least 2 more European countries.
    • Visit Scotland.
    • Visit 2 more places in the UK
  • Improve my dancing (and enjoy it)
    • Learn at least one new dance this year (probably Balboa)
    • Go out for social swing (Lindy Hop) dancing regularly
    • Take some classes / workshops to improve my blues
    • Do some swing and/or blues with friends while I am back in NZ visiting
    • Go to the London Swing Festival again
  • Work out where I stand with God, and what that means.
    • Discuss more with some friends. Not sure exactly what.
    • Finish reading some of the books that are on my shelf, and write up some responses to them.
    • Any other advice?
  • Improve my social life, and build and maintain a good group of friends with whom I regularly do things
    • Host at least 3 social gatherings (parties / dinners / whatever) at my flat
    • Hmm, not sure what else to do towards this, any suggestions?
  • Improve how I dress
    • Buy a suit, or at least something a bit more formal, for the odd occasion when that might be necessary
    • Hmm, not sure about this one either, any advice?
  • Maintain other hobbies
    • Bake something for other people at least once a month, preferably more often.
    • Do some work on my existing programming projects such as theQuotebook and Fridge.
    • Do some work on electronics projects, such as the paper keyboard I started on last year, some kind of floor instrument, or something else based on the Teensy.

Well, does anyone have any suggestions about how to achieve some of these, or other things I should aim for?

21 January 2011

Winter bits and pieces

Filed under: Me — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 10:54 am

Hello readers!

I figured it was time for another post of various bits and pieces about what I have been up to lately. No big trips this time, but I am sure there has been some stuff happening since my last post, let me see…

I spent Christmas in Billesdon, Leicestershire. Caroline and Kelvin, a couple I know from church back in Wellington, were over here for a while and staying at Caroline’s parents’ house, and invited me to spend Christmas with them, which was nice. They used to live in Nottingham but moved to Wellington about 18 months ago. I went up after work on Christmas Eve, stayed the weekend, and caught the train back down on the Monday. The train back was very crowded, especially towards the end of the journey when it ended up packed full of people all down the aisle with crowds of people at the stations unable to get on. It was also delayed by about an hour due to some overrun maintenance work on the track, so we had to wait at various points in and out of stations. I must say that it did not feel all that much like Christmas, despite the tree and such. I guess it was due partly to the lack of much buildup beforehand, the cold wintry weather, and not being with my family. It was not actually snowing during the Christmas weekend, but there was a fair bit of snow on the ground up in Leicestershire It was a nice weekend though, and I was very grateful to have people to spend it with rather than being all by myself, which had been looking likely earlier.

I went to the fireworks on New Year’s Eve with a few other people, and frankly would not recommend it. I left my flat at 6:30 pm, met a couple of people at Waterloo Station at 7:00 pm, and we crossed over the river and found ourselves a decent spot, not too far away from the front of the crowd, by about 7:30 pm. We then waited as the crowd got more and more crowded, to the point where we could not move anywhere at all, as half a million or so people gathered to get a view. There was some mediocre music until the fireworks started at midnight. The fireworks themselves were very good, and we had a decent view, but the hours of waiting hardly seemed worthwhile for 10 minutes of fireworks. We then slowly made our way back the way we had come, getting stuck in the massive crowds and various road closures, and I had to get back to my bike. Unfortunately the area where I had left it by the station had been closed off behind police barriers, so after finally making it around the long way I had to ask one of the policemen to let me through the barrier to get it and come back out, which fortunately he let me do. After wheeling it through all the broken class and rubbish on the street and then making my way home, I finally got back to my flat sometime around 2:00 am. All in all, over 7 hours for a 10 minute show.

The New Year’s Day parade was much better, both less crowded and more interesting. The only downside was the weather, which was cold and at times rainy. I took a few photos, but have not yet got around to organising and captioning them all to upload. The front of the parade reached our viewing spot partway along the route at about 12:15 pm, and it kept on going past for just over 3 hours with only a few gaps. It included, among other things, various dignitaries and societies, floats from some of the London boroughs (although quite a few of them never showed up, despite being on the programme!), vintage cars, Minis, motorbikes, giant inflatable cartoon characters, cheerleaders, morris dancers, miniature steam engines, clowns, buses, an excellent country dance group from Texas, and — for some reason — 23 different marching bands from various high schools across the USA. All in all quite a show, though unfortunately many of them did not stop in front of where we were watching. I really should get around to sorting out those photos sometime soon.

Other than that, I guess I have just had my usual routine of life and work and everything. I have been going to swing dancing classes on Wednesday nights, which have been fun and interesting. I recommend it! If you are in London, check out Swing Patrol (I go to the Camberwell class), otherwise I am sure you can find somewhere nearby. I am still going to a few ceilidhs too, which can be fun sometimes. The hiking Meetup group I have been hiking with a few times are having their first hike of the year this Saturday, which I am looking forward too.

I am moving flats at the end of February, moving into a room in a place in Balham. It is just across the road from Tooting Bec Common, which could be nice. It seems like a nice house. I will be living with 3 other people there, all in their late 20s or early 30: one American woman who just started working at Google and two policemen. The two I have met so far both seem nice. Unfortunately the flat is a bit more than twice as far from work as my current flat, which is a pity. I imagine it will take me about half an hour to bike to and from work each day. It is also a fair bit further away from my church. Such is life, London is a big place. The other issue is that what will be my bedroom is significantly smaller than my current one and (like all furnished flats here, apparently) has a (small) double bed, so I will not be able to fit a desk or table to work at. Hopefully that will not be too much of a problem. It does not seem like it should be too noisy a flat.

Well that is all I can think of for now… comment and tell me what else you want to hear about!

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