28 September 2015

Learning Scottish History at Stirling Castle

I got up a wee bit late this morning after an incredible night staring at Earth's shadow on the moon.  Some time opened for me near the end of my work day, so I thought I'd update my sabbatical journal.

My family toured Stirling this past Saturday (26 September).  We could definitely understand how the city is known as the gateway to the Highlands.  I took the image below, which shows mountains in the background, including the National Wallace Monument to the left, and a statute of Robert the Bruce in the foreground (click on the image for a larger view).
Weather was perfect as we explored Stirling Castle.  There were many neat rooms to investiage, and the castle grounds were a lot of fun to walk.  I snapped the photo below of the Forework (click on the image for a larger view).
We were treated to a fascinating history lesson on the Jacobite rising of 1715, also known as Lord Mar's Revolt.  The castle hosts were in full costume, and they even taught us to rev up the fighters in preparation for battle.  Check out the YouTube video below.
We learned some very interesting Scottish history during our time in Stirling.  I've always thoroughly enjoyed learning history.  Being where history was made makes learning so much more enjoyable.

27 September 2015

Giddy over the lunar eclipse!

When the moon is at perigee, meaning closest approach to Earth, it looks big and is sometimes called a "supermoon."  That term originates in the codswallop known as astrology, but it's still a cool term.  If you were lucky enough to have clear skies today, you could see a total lunar eclipse.  It was amazing to behold!  I only wish I owned a camera capable of taking quality photographs at night.  The images below show the progression of the eclipse to near totality (click on the image for a larger view).
Being in Sheffield, England made me a tad nervous tonight because it's not unusual to have clouds in the skies over England.  But I got lucky and had nothing but clear skies all night.  It was amazing seeing all the stars near the moon that one never sees during a full moon.

I wrote recently about the awe I felt while witnessing a rainbow, and the joy I have studying the natural causes of such phenomenon.  Tonight's total lunar eclipse made me just as giddy.  Imagining Earth's shadow cast onto the moon's surface is one thing, but seeing it is so much more wonderful.  I hope you got to see it.  If not, you'll find plenty of better photographs on the internet.

21 September 2015

Great Views Atop Mam Tor

My wife and I hiked to the top of Mam Tor back in 2009.  Yesterday, our girls joined us for a return trip.  Though only just over a kilometer in elevation, the summit of "Mother Hill" provides wonderful views of the Peak District.  I took the photo below with Castleton just visible on the right (click on image for a larger view).
Photos simply don't do the views justice.  I also got a photo of Winnats Pass, which we walked through after descending from Mam Tor (click on image for a larger view).
It was great walking through Winnats Pass, especially when a flock of sheep decided to cross the road.  I took a short movie of the sheep stopping traffic (click below on the YouTube movie).
A neat problem in animal behavior could surely be obtained from the video as both sheep and humans (in cars) show heard mentality!

18 September 2015

Rugby World Cup Time!

The 2015 Rugby World Cup begins today.  England and Wales are hosting and it's exciting being in England while the World Cup is happening.  Australia and New Zealand are always tough, but England and Wales will try to make good use of home pitch advantage.  I'll certainly root for the US, but we are one of the long shots here.  The US is in Pool B with a tough South Africa team and a Scotland team that won't have to travel far.  I doubt the Rugby World Cup will be noticed much in the US, but I'm glad to be in England right now where I can enjoy the action on telly!

12 September 2015

Beauty in Nature

My younger daughter and I walked and hiked in the Peak District today.  We were near Castleton and scenery was amazing, as it always is in the Peak District.  A heavy rainstorm greeted us about halfway into our hike.  Neither one of us was bothered by the rain, especially when we could behold such a beautiful rainbow (click on the image for a larger view).
What makes such phenomena as rainbows so much more wonderful is that we understand how they are created.  Humans have provided natural explanations of such beauty, and the explanations themselves are a source of beauty.  I became a scientist partly because I was so enamored by the physical laws that govern everything.  If you are not familiar with how rainbows are formed, read up on the topic.  You'll find there's a lot of beauty behind the beauty we behold in nature.

11 September 2015

Up Close with the Tour of Britain

Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain came close to Sheffield today, so I got out to the Peak District to see the cyclists up close.  It was my first time seeing professional cyclists in a tour race.  Watching events like the Tour de France on television is great because I can follow the action for an entire stage.  Seeing stage action in person is thrilling for a few minutes, but then all that's left after the cyclists pass is a trip to a country pub.  Watching the cyclists go by was thrilling for me, and grabbing great food and a pint at The Fox House made the afternoon all the more better.

The profile of Stage 6 may be found here.  A colleague and I took a bus from Sheffield to The Fox House and set up just below the summit of the first King of the Mountain point at Millstone Edge.  By the time cyclists reached that point, they had traveled 83.7 km (52.0 mi) of the 192.7-km (119.7-mi) stage, i.e. about 43.4% of the stage distance.  The image below is a photo I took of Ian Stannard of Team Sky as he was about to be the first cyclist to reach the King of the Mountain point (click on the image for a larger view).
Stannard came in 27th today.  Italian Matteo Trentin of Etixx-Quick Step won the stage in a time 4h 45' 27" for an average speed of 11.25 m/s (40.50 kph or 25.17 mph).  I was very impressed watching those guys cycle up the hill!

The movie below shows the peloton going by.
After so many years watching professional cyclists on television, it was wonderful seeing them in action as they cycled right by where I was standing.

07 September 2015

Birthday at Hogwarts

I turned 45 this past Saturday (05 September 2015).  To celebrate my birthday, my wonderful wife planned a weekend trip to Northumberland.  She knew I've always wanted to visit Alnwick Castle, which was used for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies.  It was also used for last season's Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.  Before visiting Alnwick Castle, though, we had one little stop to make.

The bus ride north from Newcastle provided us with great vistas as we rode along the North Sea coast.  We hopped off the bus at Warkworth to see Warkworth Castle.  Wow, that place is amazing!  Dating to the 12th century, Warkworth Castle is as fun a castle to tour as we've ever visited.  My daughters, wife, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the rooms that are still intact.  It was fun getting lost in the castle!  Check out the photo I snapped below (click on the image for a larger view).
The flag on top is that of English Heritage, an organization we rejoined recently.  After a fun time there, and lunch at a local pub, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Alnwick.

Alnwick Castles is glorious!  Check out the photo I took below and see if you spot any resemblance to Hogwarts (click on the image for a larger view).
The castle dates to the 11th century; the Duke of Northumberland and his family still live there.  Because of the Harry Potter success, and all the other films and television shows that have made use of the castle, Alnwick Castle is much more commercialized than English Heritage castles.  It was still neat to see the magnificent castle and grounds.  I even took a broomstick lesson, and learned to fly after just that one lesson!  Don't believe me?  Check out the two photos below (click on the image for a larger view).
After I figured out how to call my broom, flying was a piece of cake!

I'm not sure if I've ever had a better birthday.  If you're ever in England, I highly recommend visiting Warkworth Castle.  We could have spent hours exploring there.  Visit Alnwick Castle, too, but keep in mind that it's more commercialized and some parts of the castle are off limits.

01 September 2015

A Visit to the Highland Games

Yesterday was the Late Summer Bank Holiday in England.  My family took advantage of the holiday weekend and hopped on a train for Glasgow, Scotland on Thursday, 27 August 2015.  We had been in Edinburgh a couple of times and spent Christmas 2008 in Inverness, but we had neither been to Glasgow nor seen any of the western part of Scotland.  We loved what we saw!

On Friday, 28 August, we visited Bothwell Castle.  We very much enjoy touring castles and learning more history.  I snapped the photo below, showing that a castle dating back to the 13th century can always use a little restoration work (click on the image for a larger view).
We had great weather to tour a castle last Friday, but had to content with Highland weather on Saturday with a couple of downpours.  I got to see something I've wanted to see for many years now:  the Highland Games.  We made our way via train and ferry to Dunoon for the Cowal Highland Gathering on Saturday, 29 August.  As someone whose professional life is spent with sports physics, I relished the opportunity to see sports I'd never seen in person before.  The image below shows a competitor from Germany throwing the 26-lb (nearly 12 kg mass) Braemer Stone (click on the image for a larger view).
The athletes could throw those massive stones for a horizontal distance greater than an American football first down!  We also saw the open stone throw (like a shot put), the Scottish hammer throw, the weight throw, the weight over the bar toss, and my favorite, the caber toss.  The image below shows the caber in flight (click on the image for a larger view).
I recorded a short movie of the best caber toss of the day.  The YouTube video is below.
The idea is to have the caber land on the thick end, and then fall over and land at 12 o'clock position.  The caber is 19.5 ft (5.94 m) long and held at the tapered end, which means more mass is on the opposite end compared to the end that's held.  That makes balancing the caber before the toss rather challenging.  At a weight of about 175 lb (79.4 kg mass), one cannot hold the caber very long.  A great deal of strength is needed to toss that large piece of wood.

As much fun as I had watching the Highland Games for the first time, I had even more fun learning about all kinds of new sports.  I've got a lot of respect for the men and women who competed in the events we saw.  Great strength and even greater technique are needed to be the best.