Saturday, 8 November 2008

Over to the weather now...

Off to Exeter in the week to visit the Met Office HQ. Fascinating, captain. I was shown around the 24/7 Weather Desk, where the forecasting is done, and given a brief on how it's all put together. Needless to say, there's quite a lot to it. My mind kept flashing back to O Level Environmental Science and the wonderful geekery of weather monitoring stations and Stevenson Screens as I watched the multiple monitors displaying graphical representations of forecast models and plotting radar scans of rainfall. I was told that terabytes of data are received at the HQ from satellites every hour, and observations are recorded at 700 (I think, but it could have been 70) different levels in the atmosphere.

But best of all was a quick look at the supercomputers in the basement. These monsters (of which there are only two of equivalent type in Europe, they said) are responsible for the site consuming as much electricity as half of the city of Exeter. We were told that we couldn't enter the room for the risk that we would contaminate the delicate innards of the beast. They were in the process of upgrading their second SX-6 to an SX-8, and so we were amused when a workman strolled out of the room with brick dust all over his jeans and a lump hammer in his hand. As the door opened, that familiar, slightly high-pitched rushing sound of a computer room (though this one was somewhat larger than those I have been used to) emerged and we were looking at potentially 65TFLOPS. Fantastic!

Back at the Weather Desk, we were told that a forecast takes 64 minutes to be completed, and by the time it reaches the Chief Forecaster's desk it may already be 2 hours old, so he has to use his knowledge and experience to run the model forward and try to iron out any inconsistencies he perceives in the data. Once set, there are conference calls with various parties (including the likes of Helen Willetts) to ensure that the message of the forecast remains consistent. All in all, a truly excellent day.

Exeter seems nice enough, but I'm increasingly depressed by the similarity within our towns and cities. Everywhere you go, the same old shops, the seemingly endless parades of Caffe Neros and Lushs and Ann Summerss. There's a lovely cathedral, and the city is in a great setting, but it actually feels quite soulless. Maybe I'm not giving it enough of a chance.

10 comments:

EP said...

Your instincts do not betray you:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/4610965.stm:

"Cathedral city Exeter has topped a poll to find Britain's blandest high street.

Researchers found chainstores dominated the main shopping street, with just one independent shop out of 50"

Myeral said...

Well I'll be! It really was quite a strong impression, and seemed a shame as the place had such potential I thought.

marie said...

The same in old France alas! Saint Girons is the only town in which the town centre is not -yet polluted by those bland chainstores. But it's the Couserans, and some say it's not really france... The independant shoe shops are the best, as the sellers actually make shoes and leather stuff with local leather. It's expensive but you know where your money goes. As for xmas shopping, the only toy shop in the place order anything you want from anywhere in the world, and you can
pay by instalments ( is it the right term? I'm not sure) without paying endless inerest fees... Vive Saint Girons! Vive Le Couserans Libre!

ep said...

Thing is, and I know it's not a fashionable view, but I really LIKE Starbucks. If globalisation means I can get a good cup of coffee it's not all bad.

In Seattle you can often lean out of the door of one Starbucks and see the next one just down the road. I'm not kidding.

Myeral said...

Sorry to say this, but Starbucks sucks. Upper Street is not too different to Seattle in he frequency of the shops, and I can't stomach their coffee (all 5,887 varieties of it) at all. It really struck me the other day, when I was left with a distinctly vinegary taint on my palate. Caffe Nero, on the other hand... Also a better class of barista, I find. Definitely warm-blooded

Myeral said...

What is Couserans? These days, I know it's possible to Google anything, but I think it's better not to sometimes. My guess is along the lines of Basque country, etc...?

marie said...

talking about censorship.Do you get cash for naming brands?
Starbucks... caffe nero... Listen to you guys.. Sainsburry? Tesco?
The Consorani is the name of a bunch of clans who gathered together south of the Garonne and next to the pyrenean mountains in Roman times, They gave birth to a French terroir
-like the Beaujolais, or the Berry- Just a bit of culture in such a lovable commercial world.

Myeral said...

I was just talking to my friend on my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic over a McDonalds the other day about the rampant commercialism in the world. He put me on to this great product. You really must try it! Giving birth to a terroir must have been terribly painful, especially if it was a big dog.

marie said...

wouaf wouaf

Myeral said...

Every one a winner!