30 May

May!!

I have been ill most of May. Just as I was celebrating my birthday and Ann’s new amateur career as a thespian, I got a virus that was to my mind a proper ‘flu and that took 2 weeks out, as well as stopping me going to chair a big conference I had helped organise in Brussels 🙁

Then I got myself together well enough to go and do my duty at a project event in Cyprus and just as I was about to go back I got a cold that has progressively attacked my chest until now I have a chest infection and am on antibiotics.

It’s true to say that I have also tried to keep up with family commitments and visits, and that probably hasn’t helped my immune system in fighting the bugs buy hey ho, you can’t just give in, can you?

So what did I manage to do? Well I had 3 lovely days in Cyprus before the 2nd bug got me. I got to run a starter game of D&D for a family friend, their son and my grandson, at the end which the virus decided to take away my voice for 4-5 days.. Olly, Amy and Mike came and stayed. We played Obama Llama and Machi Koro. Steve and Tree came and we drank beer.

Ann as Mrs Northrop in "When We Are Married"

Ann as Mrs Northrop in “When We Are Married”

We saw Matt in his home in Cambridge and caught up with him and Alaa and met his chums at his place of work, a lovely Italian café.

But now, all I want to do is take my antibiotics, ease back into mainstream work, and REST..

 

27 Oct

Hello Old Fiends

Been a while hasn’t it? Welll I am still here, plugging away at the PhD thesis, although many other tasks and reports and proposals have bumped into the way.
On the PhD front I am now at Chapter 8, maybe 33% finished, and I hope to have it nailed by mid November.
Then Chapter 9, Reflections, or as I like to think of it “Now I read it again, how would I have done it properly”..
Then Chapter 10, which in truth I hope will write itself.
I want a bound softcopy for the supervisors in their hands before the Christmas vacation..
Other things we/I did:
Went to Thailand for the International City Logistics Conference: freightandlogisticsnews.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-10th-international-conference-on.html
Went on a cruise to Norway and it was rainy: www.facebook.com/tom.zunder/media_set?set=a.10154918642471453&type=3
Seen my lovely grandson Ollie Bear less than I would like 🙁
Ann retired..
The CHARM project ended, and probably so did any further work with the EU.. 🙁
Shacon 2017 was great. Furnace 2017 was hohum for me.
BREXIT rumbles on like a senile blue colossus, whilst everyone with any sense just looks on, including me, sorry to say.
Ah well. No wonder I feel down..
But life is good, Ollie Bear is lovely, Matthew has come home and completed his Masters, and is living in Cambridge with Alaa and applying for graduate schemes. Ann is fit and healthy (well apart from her foot) and despite putting on kilos of weight, and grinding my teeth and suffering from rolling cluster headaches.. so am I…. am I?
Tom

15 Mar

Update

Ann poorly Monday. Not much achieved. I had terrible back, neck and head pains.

Tuesday I had a CILT Railfreight Forum workshop which we hosted at the University. Very pleased with it, and great to see the group meeting outside of London. Scotland next, I believe! Enjoyable group, old friends and new faces. Head and neck pains very bad, resorted to codeine.

Wednesday, started to get back into groove but needed to pop to hospital, and then had Hedley’s round to look at guttering to consider replacing it all. Had a good chat with Bruce C re urban logistics.

Not much progress made.

 

07 Oct

Day Two in Long Beach, the Day of Thens!

Well I had brekkie, porridge, poached eggs on a english muffin with bacon and sausage and blackberries.
Then 45 minutes in gym in shoes that the hotel lend you (plus a tee and shorts and a free pair of socks), 30 on treadmill and 15 on cross trainers, then little swim. hotel lends you trainers, shorts, tee shirt, all for $5, it's to promote the shoe brand I am sure, actually I didn't like them at all, too tight and broke my big toe nail, bastards.

Then in convertible with top down and drove to Santa Monica on the huge freeway for 30 minutes, and spent a pleasant 30 minutes with gamers in hobby shop before visiting Santa Monica Pier and Beach and cruising down along Ocean Drive.

Queen Mary Queen Mary

Then off and away back to Long Beach to another hobby shop, different location but same fat gamers playing Pathfinder and boxes and boxes of old games and dusty miniatures. After a scary drive through the scary part of Long Beach (about 8 blocks back from the expensive bit) I decided to go see the Queen Mary, and before I knew it I was exploring the sun deck and then had dinner in the Seafood and Chowder Lounge as the sun set. I had Maryland Crab Cakes with  grated cabbage and then grilled mahi-mahi with a small mound of rice and some broccoli. Queen Mary nice, see pictures, but not THAT great. Avoided dreadful sycophantic St. Diana of the Underpass exhibition and possibly better "Legends and Ghost Stories of the Queen Mary" which is clearly their Halloween fun fair come ghost story thing. It's also a hotel, and pleased to have gone. Came back and crashed at 9pm.

Long Beach - 394Long Beach - 395

06 Oct

Tom’s trip to Long Beach

Set off from Heaton at 10.30 in taxi, flight from Newcastle to London delayed 30 minutes but not a problem since loads of transfer time in terminal 5. Had salad and quiche at BA lounge, confirmed that my Silver card will last until the end of November, cried a little inside that I won't be Silver anymore and then settled down to my new book 1491: The Americas before Columbus

Our flight to LAX was delayed, until 17:05 and in satellite C. So I left lounge at 16:25 and HORROR, the transit trains stopped running for a security check. I stayed calm. But when I got to the plane at 16:55, I appeared to be the last.. I need not have worried, many more were even later. But it did mean that when they puzzled and tore up my ticket and gave me a new one I didn't even look at it until I was at the plane and realising I had been upgraded to Club World. Oh happy days!

The flight was fine. I read my new book, watched episode 1 of House of Cards (USA), devoured 8 episodes of 30 Rock, and had a 4 hour kip towards the end.
One of the episodes of 30 Rock was about when Liz and Chris  go to IKEA, very funny, couples exploding in rancour over chairs and tables, creepy pale attendants watching with ghoulish glee as romances die on the floor of planet IKEA. The food choice seemed hard but I kinda think I got it right, a salad with some ham, a fig and some bread at the start; then a big salad with roast vegetables and plain chicken, no carbs; then some blue cheese on ultra thin crackers; but did then eat a teeny tiny piece of chocolate.
Breakfast was a cream tea, oddly, so I had the goats cheese and olive salad rather than little white sandwiches; and then a tiny scone with cream, no jam. I ignored the plate of 4 ultra delicious petit fois, grrrrrr. Drank water the whole way.
An Airbus A380 is just so huge you don't even feel your're in an aeroplane, it's more like a small hotel that you stay in for 12 hours. Very nicely done but functionally the same as the previous planes we did Club World in. Whilst I read I listened to the soundtrack to Lawless, which I have to say I loved, reminded me how much I like EmmyLou Harris.
I got off the plane fast and was early to Immigration which went quite fast, just a chapter of my book waiting, and then to baggage reclaim which was slow, and then customs which was a nod through whilst all the Asians from Philippines and China has their entire luggage inspected and stripped of food, well actually just some of the food and the people manning the scanners and inspection desks knew their stuff and had some friendly banter going on, not like the Aussies on that awful customs programme that I keep turning off on the telly. Then bus to Alamo lot and no queues and OF COURSE, I upgraded to a convertible.
So, after I asked, in a terribly British way, how to actually get the top down, I drove the I-405 to Long Beach with my Garmin GPS and with not too much fuss checked in. Yes.. valet parking, just 3 dollars a day extra. The hotel is very tall, quite like a refined Vega scale thing but refined, I said REFINED! Nice room, good bed, usual silly tiny USA bath, reasonable wifi and a nice coffee machine that I have just made a cup of joe with.
So, now it's 7.45, I think I'll read some more of 1491, then down to the restaurant for a light breakfast (that'll be VERY hard) and then probably a quick gym before going off and exploring the marina, look at the Queen Mary and generally relax.
29 Jan

Washington DC continued

Well, I came back from Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 90 (TRB) and we watched Black Swan with Natalie Portman. Very intense film, quite scary and very good. Upset both of us quite  bit and we had a long and good talk about sad things, sometimes you just need to have sad moments and reaffirm our mutual love and care for each other and the kids, both with us and gone.

Wednesday. Another day at TRB, and the snow starting to fall, although preceded by rain, which has a role to play later. Dewan and I did our poster session, and I had some good chats with other researchers, most of whom were also posters! TRB is very odd about presentations and posters. At most scientific and engineering conferences being a poster means you’re not quite as good as a conference presentation. TRB has a different criteria. At TRB presentations are for topical issues, and usually don’t have an academic peer reviewed journal associated with them (as I can confirm having spent quite a while on the TRB site trying to find them); poster sessions are for complex pieces of research that are better suited for one-to-one explanation. Most of the peer reviewed papers for publication in the Transportation Research Record come from the poster sessions, not the conference sessions. I got this from several senior members of various committees, one of whom at a get together shortly afterwards..

As we did the poster and I was talking to a lovely lady from IFSTTAR about research consortia and Talleyrand I noticed that the rain had become heavy snow. I got a text from Ann saying that "all sorts of snow and gridlock had broken out in the centre of Downtown" and she’d not be joining me for dinner. I then went to a session on City Logistics where the delightful Laetitia DaBlanc and the charming Robert Govaers were presenting, along with a guy from Chicago whose name I’ve forgotten since the record here only shows the first author, but I enjoyed the presentation and the use of SODA etc. [Ok, this is a reminder for me..] Then I left and discovered that D.C. is even more susceptible to snow than the UK! Ok.. it was quite a bit of snow.. but it was melting even as it fell, but in short, the buses stopped at 9pm, I ended waiting for a train for 45 minutes, 400,000 people lost their power, and the next day no-one came to work, the buses were on weekend schedules and everyone you talked to said how awful it had been. Now what do I know? What it reminded me of was the hysteria in the UK when some serious big cold snow came and we stopped as we tried to cope. This was slushy and not very deep snow, and the world ended. I am not criticising the DC people/systems.. just reminding UK people that lots of other countries have problems when it snows as well!

Ignoring all this I went the Lebanese Taverna and had a very pleasant hour and a bit chatting with Roberta W and 4 of her friends (most senior TRB people) about this and that and the other, especially to Mary from Canada about all and everything. Then off home through the world-ending snowstorm (pah!)..

Thursday was Washington Monument and Vietnam War memorial day. Washington Monument is a 500ft obelisk in the centre of the National Mall. Slowly built to honour George Washington, interrupted by the Civil War, it’s a perfectly fine piece of pointy phallic Egyptian like construction. The views, however, are excellent, the city is laid out perfectly at your feet. It’s free and I have to say is compulsory to my mind, maybe after you’ve seen the rest from the ground or maybe before, it works both ways in my mind. The Vietnam War memorial is the long black wall with every dead or missing combatant engraved on it. It’s understated, poignant and again carefully aligned with the Washington Monument. There are also 2 bronze statues, one to the soliders and one to the women who served. Then off to Union Stations which is a great shopping place as well as the terminus/hub for Amtrak. Nice food at Thunder grill and a great chair massage later.

Friday we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History and did the Americans at War exhibition which was well done, interactive for kids, quite even handed and used up all our time. We Brits got a fair hearing in the War of Independence, and 1812 War. The Civil War section was very good, as was the WW2 one and the Vietnam one. The genocidal wars against the Native Americans were not detailed, altho they did talk of the Trail of Tears when the USA ethnically cleansed the Cherokee people from their lands in the East and the Spanish-American Wars were missing. Vietnam was done well, but no mention of the Vietnamese view of things, and Iraq and Afghanistan were tokenistic.. but since they’re not really history yet it’d be difficult to do much more at this stage. Didn’t really do the rest of the Museum so can’t comment. That night we went to Ollies Trolley which is a greasy burger joint full of old fairground antiques/junk that makes wonderful burgers and we enjoyed a guilty feast. Read lots more of Life by Keith Richards on the Kindle and slept like a log.. Ann slept badly. I dreamt I was in some kind of Midsomer Murder thing set in semi-rural Yorkshire with rain and grime and abandoned houses, with Mick Jagger as the detective.. useless I might add.. Huge laugh.

Now we are going to have a late breakfast, pack and fly home.. ooh goodie.. Club World again..

 

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

25 Jan

Washington DC 2011

Travelled to Heathrow Friday, flew Club World to Washington Dulles. Wow, wow, personal cubicle with seat/bed and wonderful service:- awesome. We booked economy and then blew all of Ann’s BA miles accumulated over the years to upgrade to Club World. Spoilt me forever, how could I fly long haul in a normal seat now? Well, given the price I’ll have to somehow!

Arrived and after the usual interminable wait for US Immigration (hey we only need 2 people working, just wait), travelled to Hamilton (Crowne Plaza) hotel on 14th and K and crashed out and slept our way thru’ the time difference quite well. Large room, nicely appointed but basic amenities all 1960s in origin, e.g. air con, bath, shower. Obviously very modern furniture, beds, carpets etc., but like in many US cities they’re slightly behind the current level of EU hotels which have been built or refurbished more recently. (I exclude London and Paris which are also often also a little tired)

On Saturday got up. Gosh it’s cold, very cold, around -6 deg Celcius, with wind chill coming in around -12 C. But it’s got space, the blocks are small, the streets are very very wide, but also there is a huge expanse of open parkland in the centre of the city next to the Potomac river. This is the National Mall and full of museums (and gosh there’s a lot of really impressive Smithsonian museums), memorials and at one end Capitol Hill and the White House off to one side. As we find the double decker bus we usually use the acquaint ourselves with cities we realise that even with thermal underwear we are not really equipped for the cold and wind. The bus is not heated and so we freeze whether on the bus or on the ground. [We therefore suggest that if you come here that you consider Tourmobile tours which have heated buses, or Gray Line or the Trolley bus tours, the converted London double deckers don’t work in this weather.]

As we tour I begin to understand this crucial capitol of the USA, of the walkable distances between the White House (which is charming and understated), the different federal buildings, Congress and also the cultural highpoints and symbols of the development of this young nation. We get out and visit the Jefferson Memorial, my favourite founding father, the Lincoln Memorial, the Great Emacipator, the Korean, and WW2 memorial. Ann is so cold that she gets a very bad headache and we retire hurt but having seen a lot.

On Sunday we have a great run of synchronicity. We walk to the bus stop near the White House and the correct route bus arrives. We arrive at the Arlington National Cemetery, and immediately board a Tourmobile bus that take around the cemetery and drops us at the Kennedy graves, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and back at the Visitors Centre just in time to immediately board our (cold) bus and move onto the shopping centre at Pentagon City, having just passed the Pentagon. I didn’t realise that the Pentagon is just over the river from DC, the White House and Capitol Hill are a heart beat away from there by plane.. suddenly I realise just how shocked the government in DC must have been on 9/11.. the plan that hit the Pentagon was seconds from taking out the legislature or executive of the USA. New York was the shocker but the hit in DC must have really been as shocking in implication for the country. My understanding of Virginia, Maryland and DC geography has improved in leaps and bounds and the cultural impact of that as well.

Shopping was fun, but the mall was smaller than Meadowhall in Sheffield or the Metro Centre in Tyne and Wear or Brent Cross in London. Again the impression I got was how much Europe has caught up with the USA in much that we view as essentially North American. We take the Metro Rail back to the hotel, and here the USA has leapfrogged the UK, having built this underground light rail so much later than ours it’s head and shoulders above London or Paris, with fast wide trains running with a pace as good as the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in Germany. Drivers need to go easy on the brakes tho’, they’ll be breaking some elderly bones if they keep jolting the trains as they decelerate. Noticeably the fare structure is unnecessarily complex, but most US government systems and tariffs seem to be so. It’s a very good metro light rail system tho’

Monday I turn up at the Transportation Research Board nice and early using the Metro Rail. It’s different than the events I am used to. It’s bigger, and very disciplined with regard to start times, speaker durations and general event etiquette. It’s also hands off with regard to food, drink, wifi, etc. Essentially if you want a drink you buy it, if you want to eat you can buy a sandwich or pay for a full meal, but it’s down to you. There is no conference organised wifi, you can use the hotel wireless in the lobby for free (as can anyone.. it’s quite poor) or if you have a room then you can use the wireless in the event rooms. It’s typical of the hands off, make your own choices mindset that applies here. I don’t mind, but it is slightly impersonal and unwelcoming, and I know it’d go down like a lead balloon at the events I organise in the EU…

The talks and presentations are good, my interest rises, I meet some old friends and colleagues (Laetitia D, Robert G, Mike B etc.). I decide that Tuesday will be a full day and go back the hotel and go out for a great meal on the Waterfront where the cold is so sharp that the fountains have become giant slushie machines full of ice mountains and yet still pumping more water around to freeze some more. I wish I understood thermodynamics, does a spray make the water freeze faster? The food is good, I have a steak so good that I suspect that I’ll have to have another before I go home.

Tuesday. Up early since I have a full schedule of sessions to attend. Starts well with a session that consists of US and international people reviewing the EU freight policies. Eerie feeling as you hear how others see us. Robert Govaers and I compare notes about how the US and EU differ, both charmed and puzzled alternately. I meet my friend Roberta W whose husband has recently passed on, she’s very upbeat and busy, but I feel deeply sad.

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

19 Sep

We’re having a weekend in Berlin, prior to the big INNOTRANS trade show I am attending this week (NewRail has a big trade stand) and it’s Ann’s birthday today.

I got her a Kindle and it’s awesome and I amd just going to have one for Xmas.

She has a bad cold now.. Matt has had it for a week and it’s a bad one, so that’s not nice for her.

My HTC Hero is in the dog kennel after the 2.1 upgrade rendered it useless at making phone calls, so it’s a total reinstall for it when I can calm my temper, and if it doesn’t behave it’s going on ebay and I may well go ultra old school and just have a "phone" for a while.

The OpenQuest game is going well.. I think. It’s curing me of any nostalgia for old skool adventures, I am yearning for some talkie-talkie bits, and the fragility of d100 characters in a D&D setting is appalling.. if it weren’t for hero points everyone would be on their 4-5th character. And hero points are frankly a huge fudge. Not that that means that BRP is duff.. but it’s not built for the very old skool dungeons in the first half of Savage North. Mind you, it gets a lot more roleplaying based after the first arc..

We’ve lost Paul M but we have gained an old friend of Jag’s called RIchard who is lovely and definitely a great new addition to the group (he also wargames and is a great modeller.. we must keep him..). We need more bodies tho’ to balance the ebb and flow we all have.

The big scary news is that we have put the house on the market, we have a "For Sale" sign and all that. The fact that I can barely face leaving my house, that the sheer costs of moving are crippling, and that I am torn apart at the thought of leaving all my friends is giving me nightmares. However I have to be able to manage my research team as it grows to 5-7 people, I need to integrate into the Tyne and Wear region and I need to free myself up write papers rather than project manage. If the house sells soon we’ll be in rented accomodation by Christmas, if not then we may take it off the market again in Nov and start again next April-May.

15 Mar

Gardening, Reading, Gaming,

Branch with catkins in early spring

Image via Wikipedia

Last week was 3 days at home working hard, with a seminar at Sheffield Hallam University by the CILT on the recession (but as usual became a row about bus regulation), then 2 days in Newcastle at the Industrial Research Strategy Group presenting on freight modal shift and it’s decline as crown on EU freight transport policy.
Then Saturday I was up at 7.30 and did some full on gardening, tipping and sorting my compost bins, some great compost from there, and all from teabags and vegetable clippings and cardboard! Beds nicely rejuvenated after I discarded the broad beans that had died of chocolate spot and the cauliflowers that had frankly been frozen and thawed so many times that all but 3 were rotten. Colected my parcels from the Post Office, 2 nice new pairs of trousers, a copy of a Zombies: A Field Guide, and True20: Revised Edition. Sunday was an aching day for me, but we got our act together and went and bought a Pussy Willow tree, a Virgina creeper and a sieve to sieve the remaining compost of the not-quite ready bits of cardboard.. Then a good shop at Asda and home. We’ve been watching Sopranos quite intensively. We finished Season 3 last week and started Season 4 this weekend.

I have been reading Games of Thrones by George RR Martin and (despite the fact that everyone else read it 14 years ago) have really got into it. Will not buy into the current rpg, but I so would like to play it at a con or locally.. hint hint. I have been reading OpenQuest, which  is a very nice lighter (it’s not LITE) version of the RuneQuest I played for so many years. I running adventures set in the Savage North at Cons all year, and I am looking forward to it. I also bought and read the Dungeon of the Bear, the classic T&T dungeon from the mists of time.. Wow! What an amazing artefact of it’s time. Traps, puzzles, swinging doors, utterly inexplicable locked rooms containing 3 orcs who must somehow be in suspended animation to have survived in there. I’ve never run T&T as a GMed game, so I have madly offered it as a game for the March21st TomCon, with Savage North as the alternative. I suspect I may need to re-acquaint myself with the rules. True20 calls me as ever, offering the lost hope of a class/level/d20 rpg that is playable, flexible and doesn’t set my hackles up.. I have already bought more rpgs this year than I will run in 5, so nothing new there, but I hope to sell on quite a few at the Con-Quest bring and buy stall, or ebay if needed.

The weather improves, I have trays of seedlings popping up all over a table in Matt’s room, and having cleared the back bed the weekend before last all look good for the spring garden. It’ll be time to brush off the Leica and Canon and get out for some photography.

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