Sunday 29 July 2012


We'll catch up on the banter from Scotland shortly, but meantime I thought I'd share a great thing that happened tonight. I was supervising Naomi in the bath and she started washing my face. Reaching out of the bath, she tipped some imaginary soap from one of the closed bottles on the side of the bath onto her hands, then reached up and rubbed my cheeks. She then followed up with a rinse, and this went on for a good few minutes until my face was completely done. All very gentle (some things like this that she does are quite firm!) and she was really enjoying it.

It's not really the first time, she's given it a go before and Jay informs me that she also received similar treatment while I was away, but tonight it went on for a good long time and it really hit me how quickly our little girl it learning and growing up. I also love how in her own wee way she's already good at looking after others :-)

Wednesday 25 July 2012


No - not this one - the United States of America. I was recently at GECCO (the genetic and evolutionary computation conference) in Philadelphia, so was away from home for a week. The conference is one of the two big ones in my field; both usually attract around 300-400 researchers from all round the world; both conferences are good and though in my opinion there is perhaps a more diverse crowd at the other conference, GECCO is a bit harder to get published at so the papers tend to be slightly higher quality. This year I had one full paper to present (and one rejected - boo to that) and if such things interest or even excite you, you can find a technical report which covers most of the findings here (the full paper will cost you a fair bit, and isn't available yet anyway, apparently).

Coupled with the conference, I also made use of the trip to visit my good friend Rick Conrad, a pastor in Pennsylvania that Jay and I knew quite well when he and his family were part of Oldmachar Church, while Rick was studying in Aberdeen. I'd hoped that Jay and Naomi could come too (we did much the same for a great trip in 2008) but it turns out that airfares have gone up a tad since then so we ruled it out. As it turns out, the timing of the trip was somewhat God-driven: Rick's son Grant died unexpectedly two weeks before my travel and I was privileged to be able to provide a break from the aftermath of that. I spent some time with Rick and his other son Ben, playing some fun card games and pretty much just hanging out.

Here's the view from Rick's house - I quite like how "American" it looks, especially the shed in the middle of the picture.

Rick took me for a visit to Cabela's - an outdoor store on a rather different scale to Tiso's in Aberdeen. This one is the local store for New York, Philadelphia and many of the other cities in the same vicinity. It's big enough that they have dedicated bus parking for the tours of people that come just for the experience! Also, being in America, it sells Matrix-level numbers of guns - quite an experience for someone from the UK - we counted something like 1000 just on display.

This is downtown Philadelphia as Rick took me to the conference...

and here is the city hall, right in the centre (or rather center) of their street grid. They know how to do "big".

Here's my room. I lucked out with a corner room which was a bit on the large side!

Here's the view from my hotel window. It was on the 7th floor, and though the hotel went up to about 25 floors, you could only see out by going into one of the rooms, so this was the best that I could see...

 And the view from the hotel restaurant - I try to go out for most meals but all my breakfasts were here.

Take a close look here and you'll see that my hotel was on the charmingly named Locust Street. Super.

Americans sure know how to do breakfast. At the hotel, I had on offer a buffet cooked breakfast, a "continental" breakfast, or one of the following. How could anyone turn down pancakes or waffles like these?
I don't really have any pictures of the conference to share, except some research posters that I found interesting. My talk went pretty well - at least no eggs were thrown! It was pretty much a work-in-progress so I've got good motivation to continue with that line of research. I met a number of interesting people who I now need to get in touch with to talk about things some more, particularly some who should be able to help with my project at Loughborough; and I got a few more ideas about the evolutionary music stuff I've been thinking about. All in all quite a worthwhile experience.

On the last day, the conference finished at 3pm, but my plane didn't leave until 10pm. Happily. Rick and Ben were able to join me for this time, so we went to see one of the big attractions in Philly, Independence Hall, where the American declaration of independence was signed. I also had the obligatory Philly Cheese Stake before heading to the airport for a lengthy journey back home.
The tower on Independence Hall where the liberty bell used to hang
The courtroom (liberty hall used to be the Pennsylvania colony's congress and courthouse)

Rick and myself in the room where the declaration was signed

Independence Hall itself
The trip back was fairly uneventful as long journeys go. I'm no good at sleeping on transport so I was considerably tired when I got in to Heathrow at 10am (5am Philly time) without having really slept. I was lucky to have two empty seats next to me at the back of the plane so at least I stretched out for a bit. I had a pleasant drive back up from London, and was greeted by a 10-minute long hug from Naomi, one of the tightest she's ever given me. I feel warm inside just now still thinking about it.


At the start of July (seems ages ago now!), my brother Ian got an apartment in the lake district for a week for a holiday with our parents. Jay, Naomi and I were able to join them for the first few days for a bit of a break before I shot off to America. It was a part of a bigger house (a former school) in the countryside near Boness on Windermere, a lovely place to stay.

It came with a big patch of grass that Naomi loved to run around in:

Here's the building itself, our apartment covered most of the left part of the first floor.

The view from our dining room, with Windermere visible through the trees:

Naomi arranged herself a special seat in the living room:

It was a relaxed few days, mostly just playing games and walking about. Ian and I had a shot on the putting green in some impressive rain! On the last day we went for a chocolate covered ice cream, and Naomi had a lot of fun as we were outside for much of the day. Here she is with her Uncle Ian:

Here's my dad being eyeballed by a swan:
A friendly swan greets Naomi on the way out...

All in all a great trip, and only a couple of hours drive from Loughborough. Unfortunately we had to cut it short as I had a meeting on 4 July, and was off to the US on the 5th...

Sunday 15 July 2012


Yes - I've been in the US for the past week or so. We're now back in Scotland, but before I do any posts on that, here's one that's been sitting half-written for a while...

Our house in Loughborough is just off Great Central Road, named after the Great Central Railway, which was the last mainline railway built in Britain (around the end of the 1800s) until the high speed stuff a few years ago. Those who know me particularly well know that I've a bit of an interest in such things, mainly to do with the engineering and layout of routes, bridges, stations and so on. The GCR is interesting because the vision for it was as a high speed line, to run from Manchester to a possible channel tunnel, so it was quite ahead of its time. The station in Loughborough was about 200 yards from our house, and much of line was closed in the 1960s (deemed to be inefficient as it duplicated a similar route from London to the midlands).

The Leicester to Nottingham part is preserved today as two seperate steam railways. A few weeks ago, the GCR (Loughborough to Leicester) was running a family fun day with various activities for children, so Jay treated me to a day there, and we all went for a bit of a trip. There's a few stations on the way to Leicester, and there was something to do at each.

The first train of the day was a steam one, choo choo! Here's Naomi freshly in her seat on the train, peering out at the platform...

Here we are at Leicester, just having got off the train...

In the station coffee shop at Leicester
... where one of the activities was a bouncy castle, which was very much enjoyed:

The return train that we took was headed by a diesel locomotive. (a Deltic I believe, if you must ask - but no, I don't collect numbers so wouldn't know that)

We took up a seat in an open carriage (with just loose tables and chairs instead of proper train seats), so there was space for the buggy. Naomi had a bit of a "dog in the boot" balance thing going on as she walked about.

One of the highlights of the day was a large bear who delivered sweets the the children. Naomi hought he was great the first time, but on subsequent visits he was deemed to be scary, and only mummy was able to offer protection.

At the end of a tiring but fun day. If you stay near Loughborough, definitely worth a go!

Tuesday 10 July 2012


Sandy is away in America at a conference right now, so Naomi and I have been hanging out together.  We are managing just fine, though I'm getting a little tired and all the extra lifting in and out of the bath and cot sees my pregnant back getting a little sore.  Hurry home Sandy!!

Anyway, every Tuesday Naomi and I go to a play group and one of the things we can do while we are there is play in a soft-play room, it has lots of squidgy shapes to play with, a slide and a ball pool.  Naomi loves it, she loves getting to run around and now that she's bigger she is a lot more confident to run up and down and go on the slide.

Today I managed to get a photo of her enjoying the ball pool, so I thought I'd share some of our fun

Hope you like it as much as I do!!