Archive for Scotland

Peter Hall (1951-2016)

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by xi'an

I just heard that Peter Hall passed away yesterday in Melbourne. Very sad news from down under. Besides being a giant in the fields of statistics and probability, with an astounding publication record, Peter was also a wonderful man and so very much involved in running local, national and international societies. His contributions to the field and the profession are innumerable and his loss impacts the entire community. Peter was a regular visitor at Glasgow University in the 1990s and I crossed paths with  him a few times, appreciating his kindness as well as his highest dedication to research. In addition, he was a gifted photographer and I recall that the [now closed] wonderful guest-house where we used to stay at the top of Hillhead had a few pictures of his taken in the Highlands and framed on its walls. (If I remember well, there were also beautiful pictures of the Belgian countryside by him at CORE, in Louvain-la-Neuve.) I think the last time we met was in Melbourne, three years ago… Farewell, Peter, you certainly left an indelible print on a lot of us.

[Song Chen from Beijing University has created a memorial webpage for Peter Hall to express condolences and share memories.]

Glencoe skyline: my dream race!

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2015 by xi'an

I came upon the news by mere chance: the first Salomon Glencoe skyline mountain race took place last month, on Aug. 22, in one of my favourite mountaineering spots, the Valley of Glencoe. I have hiked and climbed in this valley six or seven times, and “bagged” seven of the nine local Munroes, mostly in Winter conditions. The race includes all of them in a 53km route with a 4,256m total ascent (and descent!), with a scramble of Buachaille Etive Mor via the classic Curved Ridge route and the west-to-east traverse of the Aonach Eagach. Absolutely awesome!

The winners completed the route in 7:36 for Joe Symmons and 7:44 for Emelie Forsberg, with the last runner finishing in 14 hours. I really wish I could enter this race but the organisers screen quite thoroughly entrances based on past experience, insisting on previous mountain races, and so this must remain a dream..!

from top of Stob Choire down towards northern plateau, Glencoe, Apr. 21, 2012

philosophy at the 2015 Baccalauréat

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2015 by xi'an

[Here is the pre-Bayesian quote from Hume that students had to analyse this year for the Baccalauréat:]

The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects, of which we have no experience, resembles those, of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations. But though, in proceeding by this rule, we readily reject any fact which is unusual and incredible in an ordinary degree; yet in advancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule; but when anything is affirmed utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits of such a fact, upon account of that very circumstance, which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of surprise and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events, from which it is derived.” David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,

Móskarðshnjúkar [hiking near Reykjavik]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2015 by xi'an

moskard1Today, as I had a free day (with 24 hour daylight!) in Reykjavik before the NBBC15 conference started, thanks to the crazy schedules of the low cost sister of Air France, Transavia (!), I went in search of a hike… Which is not very difficult in Iceland! moskard2I had originally planned to stop near Geysir as the dirt road beyond Gullfoss is off-limit for rental cars. Especially small 2WD like mine.

As I was driving the first kms of the Þingvellir road, I admired the Esjan range starting with the Esja mountain that we had climbed during our previous visit to Iceland. Especially the “last” peak that glowed with a warm yellow (and apparently no snow at all). More especially, because it had a top reminding me of the Old Man of Storr on its slope. (Not that I could spot it while driving!) And quickly decided this was a great opportunity for a nice hikemoskard4 and a minimum of driving as I was about 20 mn from down-town Reykjavik.

I thus took a dirt road that seemed to get closer to my goal and after 500m came to a farm yard where I parked the car and went hiking, aiming at this peak,  which name is Móskarðshnjúkar. Despite a big cut due to a torrent after the first hill, I managed to keep enough to high ground not to loose any altitude and sticking to the side of the ski station Skálafellmoskard5 (where a few people were still skiing with the noisy help of two snowmobiles), I crossed the brook easily as it was covered by snow and started moving to steeper if manageable slopes. I moskard6reached the bottom of the main peak rather quickly and then understood both its colour and the absence of snow.

As maybe visible from some of my pictures (?), the Móskarðshnjúkar peak is covered with gravel in a bright yellow stone that seems to accumulate heat very well. Climbing stramoskard3ight on the loose gravel was then impossible and I had to zigzag mostly up, trying to not lose too much ground to micro-avalanches. As I reached the tor I spotted two hikers above me and when I reached the top I realised there was a path coming from the west, connecting this peak with its neighbours. The normal route seems to come from a gravel road that starts close to Mount Esja, to the west, and as I followed the path down to the saddle between Móskarðshnjúkar and the rest of the range, I saw this path winding down to the valley with further hikers coming up. Before I crossed them, I went up again to the next peak, which was an easy if beautiful ridge walk, with moskard7still a fair amount of snow remaining on the north face (heavy enough to bear tracks of snowmobiles!). After following the ridge track for a while, it branched north to reach the main Esja plateau and I left the track to get down a rocky shoulder towards my starting point. However, I had forgotten about the torrent cut between the two ranges and this forced me to take a further detour. And to cross the torrent barefooted, as there was no stone ford on this off-path section. No big drama as the melted snow water was not that cold…

moskard8A last sight was provided by the final rocky outcrop, which enjoyed basaltic volcanic columns as on the picture above. A terrific hiking half-day with a sharp sunny weather and not too much wind except at the top. It was very pleasant to walk part of the way on moss and last year grass, with a surprising absence of bogs and mud when compared with Scotland.

the 39 steps

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2015 by xi'an

I had never read this classic that inspired Hitchcock’s 39 steps (which I neither watched before).  The setting of the book is slightly different from the film: it takes place in England and Scotland a few weeks before the First  World War. German spies are trying to kill a prominent Greek politician [no connection with the current Euro-crisis intended!] and learn about cooperative plans between France and Britain. The book involves no woman character (contrary to the film, where it adds a comical if artificial level). As in Rogue Male, most of the story is about an unlikely if athletic hero getting into the way of those spies and being pursued through the countryside by those spies. Even though the hunt has some intense moments, it lacks the psychological depth of Rogue Male, while the central notion that those spies are so good that they can play other persons’ roles without being recognised is implausible to the extreme, a feature reminding me of the Blake & Mortimer cartoons which may have been inspired by this type of books. Especially The Francis Blake Affair. (Trivia: John Buchan ended up Governor General of Canada.)

thumbleweed [no] news

Posted in Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by xi'an

Just realised today is the second year since my climbing accident and the loss of my right thumb. Even less to say than last anniversary: while it seems almost impossible not to think about it, the handicap is quite minimal. (Actually, the only time I truly forgot about it was when I was ice-climbing in Scotland this January, the difficulty of the [first] climb meaning I had to concentrate on more immediate issues!) Teaching on the blackboard is fine when I use a chalk holder, I just bought a new bike with the easiest change of gears, and except for lacing my running shoes every morning, most chores do not take longer and, as Andrew pointed out in his March+April madness tornament, I can now get away with some missing-body-part jokes!

hot X buns

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2015 by xi'an

hotXbun1Since this is Easter weekend, and given my unreasonable fondness for hot-cross buns all year long, I tried to cook my own buns tonight, with a reasonable amount of success (!) given that it was my first attempt. I found an on-line recipe, mostly followed it, except that I added the yolk mixed with sugar to make the buns brown and shiny et voilà. If I ever try again to make those buns, I will look for an alternate way to make the [St. Andrew’s] crosses!



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