Archive for Scotland

the comforts of a muddy Saturday [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on March 12, 2016 by xi'an

Besides the fantastic No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which takes place in Botswana, Alexander McCall Smith has also written another series located in Edinburgh and featuring Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher plus occasional detective. While the detective story is light to the point of being evanescent (and me losing interest by the middle of the book), the book The comforts of a muddy Saturday was still pleasant to re-read as Isabel is the editor of a philosophy academic journal, Review of Applied Ethics, and reflects on her duties as editor as well as brings philosophical musings into the novel.

“In fact, sometimes we publish papers that I suspect next to nobody reads.”

There is also a somewhat melancholic tone to the book in that it takes place at a time when submissions and replies were sent by regular mails, and faxes were for administrative aspects and only those. The description of Isabel’s duties is such that I am not convinced she needs 37 hours per week (!) to handle the submissions and editorial duties connected with the journal, although she ponders and hesitates so much before sending a particularly poor piece on the trolley dilemma that this may indeed end up in a full time job! Light reading for a rainy Saturday afternoon, then…

fit for Les Calanques

Posted in Mountains, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by xi'an

Glen Coe Salomon SkyRace [sept. 16-18, 2016]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2016 by xi'an

After pondering a (little) while about whether or not joining the Skyline Scotland races, I decided to register for the Ring of Steall skyrace! It is a 25km trail run starting from Kinlochleven and going over the five Munroes of the Ring of Steall facing Ben Nevis, as well as down to Glen Nevis in the middle. Not as impressive as the Glen Coe skyrace the day after, with its 52km and 4600m positive differential!

I climbed this ridge in Winter with Jérôme Accardo (twice) and Peter Green (once), in the most beautiful day I ever had when mountaineering in Scotland. The route should be easier in September with (hopefully!) no ice or snow… although one never knows!

BunneinBeag, Ring of Steall, February 2003, with J. Accardo and P. Green, the most exhilarating and sunniest Scottish day ever!

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.

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