Hi! I'm Nick Murdoch. Most people come here for the tiffin recipe. I can't blame them.

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  • Midnight Sun 2019: Part 1

    Wed, 30 Oct 2019 21:26:01 GMT

    I spent a week and a half in June within the arctic circle, staying with Emily on the island of Tromsø, Norway. I saw the sun at midnight, and climbed many beautiful hills.


    Tromsøya is the principal island of Tromsø, with a bridge and tunnel connecting it to Norway's mainland. Emily's place, like most of the areas on the island, is part-way up a hill, giving it fantastic views of the fjords and mountains behind it, with the occasional ship passing under the long high bridge.

    Thursday - Sørtinden (Kvaløya)

    I arrived at Tromsø airport at nearly ten in the evening, not that you would be able to tell from the sun, given that almost everywhere above the arctic circle was enjoying midnight sun this week - I had arrived the day before the summer solstice.

    We went for a short hike so I could see the sun at midnight, picking Sørtinden on the island of Kvaløya. There was still snow on the ground from the last snowfall earlier in the year, and there was beautiful golden light everywhere.

    It was a very worthwhile hike as it turned out, as the clouds came in the next day and rather stuck around, so the remaining nights were all grey, which was probably a good thing for my sleep patterns!

    Friday - a beach on Kvaløya

    I was working remotely during the day, so after Emily got back from work we drove over to Kvaløya again to pick some flowers for midsummer's day.

    I saw some reindeer in a field today, some of the only wildlife that happened to be around. There are often moose around as well, but I wasn't lucky enough for that – though I'd seen wild moose during my last trip to the arctic when I visited Kiruna in Sweden.

    I didn't make a note of which beach we ended up stopping in, but it's likely the northernmost point I've been to (Svalbard is now On The List) and it had some pretty flowers growing alongside it.

    Saturday - Nattmålsfjellet (Kvaløya)

    Kvaløya again (it's a big island!) and this time to Nattmålsfjellet, a peak with a short walk up from a road that gets closed during winter.

    It was a slightly damp day but the view from the top was still pretty nice!

    There were also some pretty flowers and everywhere was pretty lush for the height of summer.

    Sunday - Sommarøy and Hillesøya

    I like the name "Hillesøya", literally "hill island". It's a hill… on an island. It's not the tallest peak around, but it was a heck of a climb, even with the thick rope that extended down most of the southern side. On the way down we took the more leisurely northern route, which had stunning views of the emerald sea below.

    Hillesøya is on the far side of neighbouring island Sommarøy, which the area is usually referred to by. On the way we climbed Ørnfløya which gave a great view of Sommarøy and Hillesøya.

    In the distance, rising from the water, is the jagged mountain island Håja, which inspired the design of the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø.

    On the drive back it was very still, and I got this rather lovely photo of a set of houses on the fjord:

    Monday - Brosmetinden (Kvaløya)

    For some reason I don't have any photos of today; I imagine I probably forgot my camera or something equally silly. Brosmetinden was a reasonably straightforward hike from a small carpark at the end of a narrow track, across a flat bit of what would probably be incredibly marshy land in spring, and up the side of a hill that turned into something of a ridge. Plenty of photo opportunities for people daft enough to sit onthe edge – we only saw one person doing this! (Then again, we only saw one group, making the daft rate pretty high.)

    Tuesday - Fløya (Fastlandet)

    On Tuesday after work we drove to the mainland, in part via one of the several tunnels running under Tromsøya's hilltops, including one containing two roundabouts, which was quite a novelty for me!

    On Tromsø mainland (fastlandet) is Sherpatrappa, a stone staircase up the side of Fløya, laid by Nepalese workers to prevent erosion of the popular route. There is also a cable car up the side, but Sherpatrappa goes through some lovely wooded areas and then out above the tree line almost immediately into snow and great views.

    Getting to the peak was also pretty snowy in places, but at this point the snow was pretty well compressed so it wasn't too arduous, especially compared to the steep climb up the steps!

    We took a different, more gentle route down, which went alongside some beautiful brooks and through more lush woodland.

    No hike on Wedsnesday, just a nice evening in, with some oven pizza if I recall correctly!

    Thursday - Åsfjellet (Fastlandet)

    Another hike on the mainland, this time to Åsfjellet, on what I think was the most beautiful walk of the trip.

    Some idiot had been trying to take photos from a moving car in a tunnel and had turned the ISO of the camera up to 12800 (that's twelve thousand eight hundred) and forgotten to reset it afterwards, so, well done me. We'll call it an inadvertant instagram filter!

    Next post: Treriksrøysa and a return to Kiruna!

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  • June 2019

    Thu, 01 Aug 2019 18:24:24 GMT

    Before heading off to Tromsø at the end of the month (which I think deserves its own post(s)) I managed to do a few things, largely courtesy of the University of Nottingham who hosted a luminarium by Architects of Air and a free science lecture by Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff. I also did a bit of DIY; call me your qualified curtain rail fitter.

    Architects of Air: Daedalum luminarium

    It was a pleasant surprise after attending a luminarium for the first time a month ago in London, and thoroughly enjoying it, that Nottingham Uni popped up as hosting a different one in a Nottingham events guide after I moved in.

    This one was by Architects of Air and was called Daedalum. It was bigger than the one I did in London, and had more variety of colours, though fewer places that felt as physically saturated with colour as the London one.

    However, the artwork was a lot better, with a large chamber of geometric patterns (apparently inspired by the Pantheon), and a section called The Tree, which looked like coloured bubbles inside coloured bubbles.

    I forgot to bring my main camera, but my phone did a surprisingly good job with it. I even got complimented by one of the staff who was struggling with their own camera settings to accurately capture it!

    After leaving the real world seemed quite muted, but there were geese and goslings out around the lake, so I sat and read a bit while enjoying them walking about.

    Science lecture

    As part of a general outreach open day, University of Nottingham had a lecture by one of their professors, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, who has somethig of an internet prescence on the YouTube channel Periodic Videos. People were indeed asking for autographs, and the lecture hall was full so it was just as well I got there early.

    The lecture itself was very good; it was demonstration-heavy, including one showing how liquid oxygen is paramagnetic, lots of UV fluorescence, and the barking dog reaction. At the end they tipped out all their liquid oxygen (a couple of thermos flasks worth) and it was surprising how much it cooled down the room.

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  • May 2019

    Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:35:16 GMT

    I had a busy month of May! There were two weekend conferences in London, and I made the most of the trips there: visiting a luminarium, taking a sleeper train, and volunteering for the second conference! My house move finally completed and by the end of the month I was fully moved into my new place in Nottingham.

    Boring Conference 2019

    Boring Conference is a one-day set of talks in London on the most interesting aspects of otherwise overlooked ("boring") everyday things.

    The day started off with a tongue-in-cheek diatribe against tomato ketchup, which included its history and how Heinz has slowly changed how we imagine ketchup to be; other stand-out talks I remember included one by a collector of shipping box test stamps, another who passed around some freshly washed socks as an aid to their talk on the smells of freshness, and one about the development of blue pigment.

    The Colourscape Luminarium

    I stayed overnight in London after Boring Conference in order to visit a luminarium called Colourscape at Wembley Park the next morning.

    Luminaria are, as I've experienced them, huge inflated mazes of tents that use coloured fabric to let in sunlight in various different colours. Both the ones I've been to have also had ethereal music piped into them as well; in this case it was by a group performing live in one of the chambers.

    I was glad I'd got there in time to account for queuing; I arrived about half an hour before opening time and my allocated slot was already 1h40m after the first people were admitted. By the time I got in at 10:40 people were being turned away for the entire rest of the day!

    It was worth the wait though; upon entering I was given a coloured poncho to put on (a clever head-count mechanism, though I'm glad not too many people had worn it before me!) and left my shoes at the entrance. Inside, I was stunned at the intensity of the light; primary colours in full saturation felt like they were enveloping me.

    My favourite areas were the red sections where the light felt almost tangible, though the partitions between the areas were also striking.

    In the centre (I think) was a white area with the musicians performing and a couple of dancers doing a yoga-like routine.

    Kirkaldy Testing Museum

    After the luminarium, I visited the Kirkaldy Testing Museum near London Bridge station, which I'd never got around to visiting while I lived in London. It was the workshop of a Victorian material tester, with machine for testing strength and other properties of construction material. The main thing it boasts is a machine that can test the stretching strength of large pieces of metal.

    The tour was a little frustrating as one elderly man seemed to think it was okay to just keep on interrupting the guide to voice his assumptions on how things must have been (and largely being corrected by the guide), and the demonstration of the big machine was a little anticlimactic. Still, it was good to visit; it was something I'd been curious about for quite some time.

    Sleeper train

    The next weekend was BarCamp London XI; more on that in a moment. On what would turn out to be my last trip out of Devon before moving, I'd decided to try taking the GWR Night Riviera sleeper train up to London to see how I got on with it.

    On the ticket, rather than a Coach and Seat number, there was a Coach and Berth number instead. I travelled from Newton Abbot, the stop before my usual station of Exeter St Davids, on the basis that it gave me fifteen minutes more sleep; in retrospect I should have travelled a little further down the line in the evening and picked up an earlier station, for two reasons.

    The first was that while the train departs at 00:36 from Newton Abbott, the waiting rooms and toilets close quite a bit beforehand, so I was just sitting out on the platform while I waited. Having given myself enough time for a second taxi should the first one not turn up (it happens in Devon) this meant I was somewhat uncomfortable for a while. An earlier station might not have had this issue. A guard at Newton Abbott was surprisingly helpful though, and offered to let me travel up and down the line on an upcoming service in order that I should be out of the cold. I declined, as I didn't want to chance the train being delayed and missing my connection!

    The second was that, while you don't need to alight the train at Paddington until 06:45 (it arrives at the platform at 05:23), the latest the wake-up call, which comes with breakfast, is at 05:45. I'd been planning to roll out of bed at 06:30 or so and use the complementary showers at Paddington to get ready in. Combined with the time taken on boarding, where a conductor ticks off your name, shows you to your room, gives you the keycard, and takes your breakfast order, this meant I got less than five hours sleep which is nowhere near enough for me – I did, however, sleep like a log. I made it through the rest of the day on caffeine and adrenaline, which fortunately worked out well enough this time!

    The berths themselves are extremely nice, with either a single bed or double bunk (down to chance if you're a solo traveller), a desk that opens up to become a wash basin, and convenient plug sockets. There seemed to be an adequate number of loos at the end of each carriage. With a keycard for your door, it felt more like a tiny hotel room than being on board a train.

    In the morning, a crew member comes knocking with your breakfast, which for me was a pack of granola, milk, and some tea.

    After that, time to have a wash and brush my teeth in the basin!

    I alighted the train, leaving the keycard in the room, but decided against additionally using the Paddington showers, which I'd heard mixed reviews of.

    Barcamp London XI

    I decided to stop off at St James' Park since I had nearly three hours before BarCamp started, and met an inquisitive squirrel that probably thought I had food.

    I have fond memories of St James' Park and it was relaxing to sit there in the comparative quiet, first thing on a Saturday morning. After a while, I sent the BarCamp organisers a message on Twitter asking if they needed a hand setting up, and to my surprise, they did!

    It's great to see behind the scenes at these things. I'd been to the previous BarCamp London, five years ago, when it was a weekend-long event, but this time it was just one day and at a new location. I enjoyed helping out, getting supplies from the nearby local supermarket and putting up information signs before things started.

    Complete with my luminous pink staff t-shirt, I still had the time to do the talk I'd planned, on advocating for proportional representation and which, given the attendees and talks were considerably more tech-based this time than last, I was happy with the turnout for.

    Merely coming up with a talk idea (or two, after my idea of demoing how to make seitan fell through,) was a nice exercise for me, as I can sometimes have difficulty working out what subjects I'm knowledgeable enough to do a talk on.

    Here's the final Grid (click to enlarge)

    Oh my god I'm covered in Beeston

    My house purchase completed midway through the month which timed nicely with the end of tenancy in Devon in the end; I moved my belongings out of self-storage the next weekend. So I'm now living in Nottingham – Beeston to be precise. The remainder of the month was a bit of a blur!

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  • Temporarily down while HOUSE MOVE OH GOD CONFIG BUH