Friday, March 30, 2007

Foodie Notes

Had dinner last night with Jon and B at a new place in Cardiff's Brewery Quarter, Coal Grill and Bar. We only picked it because it features in the Invitation Book’s list of restaurants. And we will certainly be going back too.

The food was good – steaks, pizzas and pasta – and the service was terrific too. At full price it would have been good value, but with a 25% discount from the Invitation Book it was a steal.

Cricket Notes

The cricket World Cup has just started to warm up now that the final eight are in place. The first round produced a few upsets and a surprise last eight team in Ireland, but the majority of minnows looked well out of their depth.

Highlight thus far has been Matthew Hayden (pictured) launching the ball to all parts of some small Caribbean grounds.

Of course, the whole event has been shrouded by the death of Bob Woolmer in very suspicious circumstances.

Also in cricket news, to mark the launch of the 2007 edition of Wisden, a player of the year has been picked for every year since 1900. The list is on The Times’ website. The earliest of these I saw in person was Mike Proctor (1971), the Gloucestershire all-rounder who used to look as though he bowled off the wrong foot.

Glamorgan have announced that Matthew Elliot will return for the beginning of the season. He will be around until the middle of May when Jimmy Maher arrives.

Astonomy Notes

It’s a disaster. Due to small class sizes, our weekly astronomy class on Wednesday evenings has been cancelled. The EU funding has been pulled and our stargazing has been stopped in its prime. Just as I was getting the hang of astral photography, too.

Last Wednesday Alan took the class to Cefn Eglwysilan mountain up above the Pontypridd. From there the sky was a lot clearer than down in the valley with all its pollution and light pollution. This is a picture I took that day.

We’ll now have to make do with the monthly public lectures, although Cath is going to attend another of the University of Glamorgan’s community outreach courses that is held on Monday afternoons.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Squash Notes

My move to Pontypridd from Ebbw Vale meant that playing squash at Ebbw Vale Leisure Centre had to be curtailed. That has meant a layoff from squash for 18 months.

I’ve just found a new squash partner though, in the form of Dave from work. We’ve recently started playing at Cardiff University’s squash courts, just across the road from work.

Managed to win both times thus far, despite giving away a big advantage in terms of age and weight! Last night it was 9-2, 9-6, 8-10, 9-5. It won't last.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fantasy Baseball

Its fantasy baseball time of year, so I’ve been busy picking my team. I play a free fantasy baseball league on Yahoo! Here’s a link to the league.

My team looks like a pretty good offence, but the pitching may be a bit ropey. Of course I’ll have to trade Derek Jeter; can’t be having a Yankee on the team.

C Víctor Martínez (Cle)
1B Albert Pujols (StL)
2B Brandon Phillips (Cin)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (Was)
SS Derek Jeter (NYY)
OF Grady Sizemore (Cle)
OF Jermaine Dye (CWS)
OF Mike Cameron (SD)
Util Carlos Guillén (Det) or Mike Piazza (Oak)

Matt Cain (SF), Derek Lowe (LAD), Dave Bush (Mil)
Brett Myers (Phi), Rich Harden (Oak) & Randy Johnson (Ari)
Joe Borowski (Cle - RP) & Solomon Torres (Pit)

Rugby Notes

I didn't make it to Dave Parade for the Gwent derby on Saturday. By all accounts I didn't miss much.

N**port beat Ebbw Vale 22 - 11 and with this loss went an realistic chance of winning the Premiership title. The report on the Ebbw Vale RFC website is that the game could have gone either way as late as the 75th minute. There were plenty of mistakes which and not much quality attacking rugby.

Ebbw's best move: hooker Mathew Williams made one of his trademark breaks and found Andrew Bevan outside him, who had Neil Edwards on his shoulder. Unfortunately Nelly was tackled just short of the line and the chance had gone.

In the second half, Ebbw pressure paid off as Daniel Phillips sliced through the middle and passed to Andrew Bevan who powered through several tacklers to score. But that was all she wrote, and Newport's late try gave a flattering look to the scoreline.

Scorers: Try for Andrew Bevan and two penalties for Sam Mills

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Astronomy Notes

This is a photo taken earlier this evening from the University of Glamorgan. It’s the moon.

Frankly, with the amount of light pollution in the area (see Allan Trow’s rant on the CASE blog site), we were lucky to see anything else.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Krakow Notes

1. On the way out, Bristol airport was full of rugby fans flying out for Wales’ game in Rome and stag parties heading for Krakow. With lashings of lager and full English breakfasts at 6 in the morning, it looked like the bar from Star Wars.

2. We stayed at the Hotel Chopin. It was one of Dai’s better hotel picks in recent years. The hotel in Berlin last year was very strange – reception was on the third floor of an East German apartment block and completely deserted when we arrived. The only downside to the Hotel Chopin that we could see was that it was a little out of the city centre. With trams running from the hotel for just 3zl (about 50p), this wasn’t exactly a problem.

3. There are lots of wonderful sights in Krakow. The Market Square is a natural tourist draw, with its medieval buildings and basilica mixed with outdoor cafes. Along with the royal castle, it’s the main centre of tourist life.

4. Lots of bars, many of them located down in the cellars of the old town. This meant lots of steps for John and his newly reconstructed knee. Never mind, the booze at less than £1 a pint eased the pain.

5. Food in general was ridiculously cheap, with a full three-course meal costing around £5. Lots of borsch, goulash and cabbage on the menus. Good wholesome food.

6. does the best bagels in Krakow, which is allegedly the home of the bagel. Located next to a synagogue in the heart of the Jewish quarter, they indeed lived up to expectations.

7. Saturday saw a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The trip down the mine goes almost 1000 feet underground, and starts with a wooden staircase. A long staircase. 54 flights of stairs, to be precise. Thankfully there was a lift back up though. The tour takes in mineshafts and underground lakes, as well as a huge cathedral carved out of the salt. And yes, you can lick the walls and they taste salty!

8. Sunday was an early start for a day trip to Auschwitz. Not exactly somewhere you want to go, but rather somewhere that you feel that you have to go. A very sombre experience. Our Polish guide explained in graphic detail the atrocities that were carried out there during World War II. The sheer scale of it is almost impossible to comprehend: at one point 10,000 people were being killed there every day. In total, it’s estimated that around 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered there before the liberation in 1945.

9. The final night away involved far too much to drink. Ridley had an idea for a round a tequila to go with the local Zywiec lager. One round turned into many more. The only bit of the end of the night that I can remember is falling out of a taxi outside the hotel! The airport was very quiet as we all waited for the flight home the next morning; everyone nursed their headaches. A subdued end to a great trip.

Rugby notes

1. It’s an unfair advantage to know exactly how many points you have to score to win the Six Nations.

2. What exactly is the role of the Television Match Official? The ref in the France/Scotland game said “it’s a try unless you can see anything to rule it out”! At this rate, the game will be entirely refereed by the TMO.

3. Twice France robbed Ireland. First it was in the last minute of their game at Croke Park and again in the last minute of their Scotland game. If games were 79 minutes long, Ireland would have won the Championship and the Grand Slam.

4. Shane Williams again looked too greedy. He needs to be a team player and have an awareness of who is around him. Headless chicken is not a good look at international level.

5. Ryan Jones had his best game of the series.

6. So did James Hook. The number 10 debate is now officially over.

7. Alfie’s coasting gave Harry Ellis his try. He should have played for the bounce. Ellis did. Thomas didn’t.

8. As long as wee beat the English, everything in the Welsh rugby garden is fine. And therein lies the problem.

9. Quote of the weekend from Brain Moore, one of the better commentators simply because he actually has an opinion. “You can’t let the ball bounce. It could go anywhere. And it did.”

10. My team of the Six Nations Championship:

15. Morgan (Wales)
14. Patterson (Scotland)
13. D’Arcy (Ireland)
12. O’Driscoll (Ireland)
11. Robinson (England)
10. Skrela (France)
9. Ellis (England)
1. Lo Cicero (Italy)
2. Ibanez (France)
3. Hayes (Ireland)
4. O’Connell (Ireland)
5. Thion (France)
6. Bergamasco (Italy)
8. Parisse (Italy)
7. Wallace (Ireland)

That’s one each from Wales and Scotland, two Englishmen, three each from France and Italy, and five Irishmen. Seems about right. The pack may be a little biased in favour of Italy, but they were a tower of strength in the tournament.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I’m back

Apologies for the break in transmission, I’ve been away on a long weekend with the lads to Krakow. The combination of cheap beer & Dai pushing the pace meant that a monumental hangover was inevitable. More on the trip in due course, but here’s a sneak photo preview.

So that means no 6 Nations review this week – which is probably just as well for all concerned.

Get ready to vote

The third elections for the National Assembly for Wales are due to be held on Thursday 3 May 2007. If you’re not registered to vote or need to arrange a postal vote (if say, for example, you are away on honeymoon that day), then you need to get yourself organised. The website to help is About My Vote.

Rugby Notes

Things are starting to go pear-shaped for Ebbw Vale. They went down 27-22 to Alex Powell and the other 14 Cardiff players on Wednesday night.

With just 4 games left, Ebbw holds a 4 point lead over Pontypridd. But they have 2 games in hand. So our fate is no longer in our own hands. We need some favourable results elsewhere, as well as winning our own games, if we are to win the Principality Welsh Premiership. Need to cheer on Bedwas and Llanelli tonight.

Ebbw didn’t show well on Wednesday in a game where the better play all came from the Blues 2nds. International Alex Powell was everywhere and their half backs dominated. Ebbw had only an interception try from Simon Hunt and two tries late on when Powell was sin-binned to show for their efforts. It would have been robbery if we’d pinched the game at the death, but hey, we’ve been robbed in the past.

Scorers: Tries for Simon Hunt, Craig Blunsden and a penalty try. One conversion and a penalty for Sam Mills, and a conversion for Dai Langdon.

Highlights: Ebbw stuck at it and came back into the game late on. Kristian Owen had his best game of the season and MacLaughlan looked dangerous every time he had the ball.

Lowlights: Matt Griffin dislocated his ankle at a line out in the first five minutes. Looks like he will be out for the rest of the season. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

WRU promotion criteria

The news has dribbled out from the WRU that one Premiership club has failed to pass the minimum standard of facilities set by the WRU. Bedwas have failed the assessment and are now favourites to be relegated at the end of the season.

However, it appears that they will only be relegated if a first division club finishes in a promotion spot and passes this assessment, and allegedly only four have passed: Carmarthen Quins and Narberth in the West and Newbridge and Pontypool in the East. So it may be no change at the end of the season.

New coach for Ebbw

The Ebbw Vale RFC website gives details of the new coach for next season. Patrick Horgan, an assistant this year, will take over from Alex Codling. The assistant coach role will be filled by Will Thomas, who returns to Ebbw Vale after a 3 year spell at Cross Keys.

Link of the Week

George Lange is a famous US photographer, and this video flipbook has a great collection of cool photos. Well worth 5 minutes of your time.

Famous Veale

Bob Veale was a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in the 1960s and early 1970s. Here are his stats.

With Pittsburgh he won the World Series in 1971, and the same year was part of the first all-black Major League Baseball line-up.

Brynmawr radio

OK, it’s a niche, but Brynmawr radio is going back on the airwaves 24/7. BRfm has got a licence to broadcast to Brynmawr and north Gwent, and it’s even available online. Here’s the link

Monday, March 05, 2007

Total eclipse of the moon

We witnessed a fabulous total eclipse of the Moon on Saturday night. As we walked out of the Wales Millennium Centre we looked up to see the start of the eclipse. Hot-footing it to the University of Glamorgan we joined Allan Trow who was manning his telescope in the university’s observatory.

There we saw the eclipse reach totality and were able to take a few pictures too, once Allan had been prized away from the viewfinder.

The weather held sufficiently for Allan to get a huge pile of photographs, and allegedly better ones than his colleague Martin Griffiths was able to take in Cardiff. I hope to get the one I took up on the blog in the next couple of days.

The BBC has some good pictures, but many of them aren’t as good as the ones we took in Treforest. The University’s Difference Engine blog has more, including this photo.

Opera Notes

OK, this is a very occasional series of notes. Cath and I went to the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday night to see the Welsh National Opera perform Madame Butterfly.

The show itself was wonderful. The staging and lighting was very simple and yet very effective. It was strange to see Welsh actors playing the part of Japanese and Americans, all the while singing in Italian. A truly multicultural event, with surtitles in Welsh and English. It was all accompanied by the sound of sobbing from large parts of the audience!

One anachronistic error in the production was pointed out by a neighbour at the theatre. The villain of the piece, Lt Pinkerton, had a camera. Now the opera is set in 1889 and yet the box brownie didn’t even start to go on sale until 1900.

Rugby Notes

We wuz robbed. Ebbw Vale lost 31-22 at Pontypridd on Saturday.

It all turned on an Ebbw kick that went into touch as we were defending a 22-17 lead. Pontypridd took a quick lineout and scored under the posts. The TV footage on Scrum V raises two questions about the validity of the try.

It looked as though the ball was grounded on the dead ball line – therefore no try. My replays were inconclusive.

And, even more obviously, when the ball was kicked into touch a member of the crowd clearly batted the ball back to the Ponty winger to take the lineout. Under these circumstances no quick throw is allowed. Both referee and touch judge failed to spot this and allowed Ponty to play on.

In Scrum V’s analysis they said… Oh, actually they didn’t bother to comment on the game at all.

I wouldn’t complain if we’d lost fair and square because I didn’t think we were the better team. Their backs looked far more menancing in attack, and in centre Dafydd Lockyer they had the best player on the field.

That said, there were some excellent performances from Ebbw Vale, including the usual magnificent lineout show from Neil Edwards and a huge game from prop Ian George.

A summary and links to various reviews are on the Ebbw Vale RFC website.

In a recent survey, Ebbw’s website was found to the 19th most visited rugby site in the UK, and the 3rd most visited in Wales, beating out even the Dragons and the Scarlets. Congratulations to Ebbw’s webmaster.

Scorers: Interception try for Kristian Owen, conversion and five penalties for Sam Mills.

Highlights: The best game of the season. Excellent atmosphere from two sets of fans who actually made some noise. Often at away games the travelling Ebbw Vale support outnumbers the home fans – not at Sardis Road. Impressive work rate amongst the forwards, who had excellent games in the scrum and lineout. Tacking was good,

Lowlights: The maul has been a strength all season yet was used far too sparingly. Kicking out of hand was often aimless and we gave Ponty far too much opportunity to run it back at us. If we’re pinching lots of their ball, why not kick into touch?

Famous Veale

First in an occasional series about other Veales.

Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio has a Veale connection. Tinkham Veale II (great name, eh?) who is a wealthy Cleveland businessman who founded many businesses in the USA, including Ikon.

He donated a small fortune to the University to help construction of the Veale Centre. It houses four multi-purpose courts (for activities such as basketball, tennis, soccer and volleyball), a six-lane indoor track, a workout room, a weight room, nine racquetball courts, two squash courts, and a rock climbing wall. Not too shabby.

TV Notes

Here’s my quick take on TV worth watching at the moment. One thing they have in common is that they are buried in the TV listings on obscure channels. No prime time soaps or reality TV here, thankfully.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is the only news satire programme out there. It’s on More 4 weekdays at 8:30.

Friday Night Lights is the new US drama on ITV4 (I didn’t know they had four channels either). It’s based on the award-winning book by H.G. Bissinger about high school football in the small town of Odessa, Texas. Wednesdays at 8pm.

William Shatner is the star turn of the required viewing that is Boston Legal on Living TV. The second series is on Thursdays at 10pm.

This clip continues the William Shatner link. It goes back to the 1978 and is his bizarre version of Elton John’s Rocket Man. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Welsh Cavalry

The Queen’s Dragoon Guards were given the freedom of the city of Cardiff in 1985. To mark the 21st anniversary, there was a parade around the city on Friday. They would have done it last year but they were otherwise tied up with an ongoing spat in Iraq.

As well as three divisions of the regiment, there were scimitar tanks and the regimental band in the march through the city. A flypast was perfectly timed to coincide with the Mayor’s inspection of the troops.

The regiment is also known as the Welsh Cavalry, although the horses have long since been replaced by tanks. One spectator told me that her 18-year-old grandson was on of the regiment’s tank drivers who saw active service in Iraq. At 18, I’m not sure they should have a licence to drive cars, let alone blooming huge tanks. Apparently he gets paid just £12,000 for the chance to lose his life in battle.

Signs that spring is here

St David’s Day came and went with barely a mention. BBC Breakfast spent 5 seconds on the fact that 1 March was St David’s Day and 10 minutes on the fact that it was World Book Day. The campaign to have the day marked as national holiday in Wales (er, a Principality holiday, surely?) garnered just 11,000 names and sort shrift from the UK government.

(By contrast, the petition on road charging collected 1.8 million names, but that campaign didn’t get anywhere either.)

The best sign that Spring is here? Baseball’s spring training is underway. As well as my usual TV fill on NASN, I’m hoping to get to see a couple of games out on the West Coast during our honeymoon trip to California.


Google Maps Mania is a blog which has a bunch of links to Google Maps applications. Very interesting.

Where did it all go wrong?

A quick comparison of British and foreign footballers.

Ten years ago Tottenham Hotspur had two goalkeepers, Ian Walker and Espen Baardsen.

Walker in those days said his greatest ambition was “to be marooned on a desert island with an endless supply of lager, women and Sky TV”. Ian recently checked into Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance Clinic suffering from depression, after a spell in Las Vegas. He visited there on a property investment trip but instead met and shacked up with an exotic dancer, without telling his wife and children.

While at Spurs, American-born Norwegian Baardsen took an Open University degree in social sciences and economics. He retired aged 25, saying he had lost his passion for the game and spent a year travelling the world. Baardsen now works for London based asset management firm Eclectica as an analyst, after training at a Hedge Fund. He says his preferred reading is Milton Friedman and Immanuel Kant.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sidereus Nuncius

There’s a lunar eclipse this Saturday night. It starts around 9:30pm and lasts until past 1am, by which time I will be tucked up in bed.

The total eclipse bit of the eclipse thingy (stop me if I get too technical) is from 22:45 to 1:10. There’s a public lecture at the University of Glamorgan on Saturday evening for those interested in astronomising, followed by a chance to see the event unfold through telescopes and binoculars.

The picture shows the various stages of the total lunar eclipse that was visible over Europe on the night of 4 May 2004. It’s taken from Earth Science Picture of the Day website.

You learn the most amazing things at the University of Glamorgan’s astronomy classes. Fact of the week - there are hundreds of moons in the solar system (160 or so according to Wikipedia and this number is probably rising as we speak). Four of them are bigger than our Moon (Ganymede, Titan, Callisto and Io).

By the way, Sidereus Nuncius is the name of Galileo’s treatise published in 1610 which contained his observations of the Moon and even the moons of Jupiter. It translates as “Starry Messenger”.


All my arguments as to why soccer is crap were proved right on Sunday, when the Snarling Cup final was fought out between Arsenal and Chelski.

Chelski won 2-1, and after the winner it all kicked off. Niggling and lots of falling down like they’ve been shot is a permanent feature of soccer nowadays, but the sustained bout of handbags was a new low. Three red cards and two yellow cards were handed out.

And another thing. Why can’t they have proper timekeeping? Can someone please explain why in this day and age, the rolling clock has not been embraced, so that we all know exactly how long there is to go in a match? It took rugby union long enough to learn this from rugby league, but that's no excuse for football to be so far behind the times.

While we’re on a rant, how come players get to question the ref’s parentage, and worse, and yet seem to get away scot-free? And stand five yards away from a free kick? And pick the ball up after they’ve committed a foul and walk off with it?

And that’s what I learned from watching the last 10 minutes (or 22 if you include “time added on”). And that’s why I won’t be watching much more.