Sunniest city in Scotland (?)

I feel like I haven’t emphasised the “bagpipe”* aspect of this blog a lot, so a short thought-train on Scotland, for a change:
I remember interviewing for the job here, and a professor that had lived his in California before moving to Dundee, told me that the Scottish weather is exactly how it’s always portrayed: dreary. However, a Dutch professor assured me that it wasn’t too bad. I concluded that it’s just a matter of what you’re used to and that I’d probably do just fine.
Additionally, I have been told over and over again that Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. I started to consider myself Dundonian enough to claim the same someone asks me about Scottish weather (maybe unsurprisingly, this is one of the first questions I’m asked after telling people that I live in Scotland). I usually say something along the lines of “Well, I live in the sunniest city of Scotland you know, though that maybe doesn’t mean that much,” and then proceed to the most recent analogy I have conceived; It’s like saying “the best american chocolate” (well, I guess if you consider Hershey’s chocolate…) or “the best glass of Heiniken I’ve ever had” (yeah, best glass of water you mean?). After that, I usually add: “But seriously, it’s really not that bad.”
So I just spent an extensive 5 minute web-based research trying to confirm that Dundee really is the sunniest city of Scotland.
There are claims that Glasgow is the sunniest city, I found another article saying Aberdeen has the most hours of sunshine. The ever trustworthy wikipedia indeed says that Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland [citation needed], so that doesn’t help much either. Other sites make similar (unverified) claims. A weather site tells me that Dundee has 1426.3 hours of sunshine each year, which is 0.3 hours more than Edinburgh and about 200 more than Glasgow. However Aberdeen had an average of 1435.7 hours between 1981 and 2010, according to the same site. (I didn’t look any further.)
So have I been telling lies? Do I not live in the sunniest city in Scotland? It is clear that the East coast is the place to be, if you do happen to end up in Scotland for whatever reason, and it is also clear that you have to be prepared for every single type of weather (or season) within a day, so dressing in layers and having an umbrella on standby are musts.
In the end it doesn’t really matter. I took my refurbed bike for a first test drive the Sunday before last to Broughty Ferry. It was lovely weather for a 5 mile trip to a lovely beach. I encountered a Finnish cyclist, who had just embarked on a 4-week bike tour of Scotland, I think this was his day two. We both got lost at the same point (apparently the solution to opening to locked gate on our path was ringing the bell), and once we got back on track – national cycle route 1 -, we started chatting. As we split paths (mine led to locking up my bike and getting my feet icy cold wet), he said he was in heaven.
I’m sure that the fact that the sun was shining that day and that it was a pleasant 20-something degrees worked in favour of this sentiment, but I have to say that I was enjoying myself quite a lot as well. I’m definitely looking forward to my next bike outing. I probably wait for the next weekend that the sun is out, and cycle off into my own little bit of heaven.

Getting my feet wet at the beach of Broughty Ferry – check out my awesome bike (oh, it was abandoned and I gave it a clean and a new home, or shed), – view on the river Tay – and the HM Frigate Unicorn 1824 battleship I passed on my way back.

*The tagline used to be: Science, bagpipes, and hopefully a few “Eureka’s”

There is something marvellous about returning home at the end of a long trip…

… just as there is something inherently bittersweet about leaving a place that you ended up calling home.

A real Basilisk running from somewhere. Or running towards something. Or maybe both.

Reporting live, from Schiphol airport. (Note: most of this post was drafted in Basel airport, if you want the correct info).
I actually enjoy travelling, I find it calming to be at the airport ages in advance, sitting down with an overpriced coffee and a book. I just purchased Game of Thrones — beware, I will become one of those “I’ve read the book”-snobs. Wait, I already was one of those, just not for GoT.
It’s not the first time I’m leaving a place. I have spent two months in Switzerland, and for the past two weeks people have been asking me if I am happy to be going back to Dundee. And like those other times when I was leaving a home, the answer is: “I don’t know, a bit I guess.” Of course I’m happy be going back. It won’t be 30 degrees in Scotland (seriously, I’m not cut out for warm weather, and I sincerely disliked getting searched at security after carrying my heavy bag around and feeling a bit sweaty). I will be back in my own room, in my own bed, back with my friends.
But then on the other hand, I’ve had a wonderful two months. I’ve made a lot of friends in Basel. And it had started to feel like home.
I have learned a lot, mostly about handling stress and deadlines, about how things work in another lab, how to assertive about what you need and when you need it. I have met the most wonderful people. I have met up with friends that I hadn’t seen for months, or years even. I’ve travelled around, I’ve gotten a tan and seen a lot of sun (I know I live in the “Sunniest city of Scotland” but I think this was the most summer I will see this year). In short it was a superb experience. But suddenly it was already time to go, just when I got the hang of how to conduct my experiments, and just when I started to figure out where all the cool spots in the city were.
Maybe, two months was just too short.

One of the last nights I spent like a local Baslerin. With a beer by the riverside. I didn't swim in the river like everyone else, but I did get my feet wet!
One of the last nights I spent like a local Baslerin. With a beer by the riverside. I didn’t swim in the river like everyone else, but I did get my feet wet!

So I am a bit sad to go. There are things I will miss. But I’m glad to be going back as well, get back to the other aspects of my project, not having to attend meetings over Skype (quite often I just miss half the conversation, if Skype even holds up for the whole time). Have an after work beer in Duke’s. You know, back to the normal things.
Bye Basel. I promise I will be back.

View from the top of the Münster in Basel.
View from the top of the Münster in Basel.
Quasimodo's friends were there too!
Quasimodo’s friends were there too!
Basilisk fountains all over Basel. I will miss these dragon-winged chickens.
Basilisk fountains all over Basel. I will miss these dragon-winged chickens.

*Title slightly adjusted from a Lemony Snicket quote about returning home and tuna fish. The more you know.


A Sunrise over the university campus in Dundee
Sunrises (and probably sunsets as well) are particularly beautiful on this part of the world lately. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I live in the “sunniest city in Scotland” (and here I was thinking that was a silly thing to say) or it’s just the time of year…
In any case, I’ve been enjoying my walks to work lately, they seem to be perfectly times with the sun rising over the Tay river.
The wonderful colours during sunrises and sunsets due to the fact that sunlight has to travel much longer through the atmosphere than during midday. As sunlight travels, more blue and violet light is scattered out of the beam that eventually reachers our eye (this is called Rayleigh scattering, i.e. differential scattering depending on the wavelength – or colour – of the light), causing the sky to appear more red for the morning or evening observer.
When clouds are added into all this, sunsets become even more awe-inspiring. Clouds reflect the first rays of light (in the case of sunrises) back to the surface. With their interesting shapes, the result is fantastic.
So why are there so many wonderful sunrise views here? I have a few theories:

  1. Scotland is pretty Northern (at least compared to what I’m used to). That means the sun stays relatively low to the ground this time a year, prolonging the “best light” duration. Sunrises and sunsets do take a while here.
  2. Weather in Scotland can best be described as “temperamental”. Quite often we get all seasons in one day. The day can start out wonderfully, but end up in pouring rain. In any case, the chances of having the combination of sun and quite some clouds is probably quite high compared to some other places I’ve lived.
  3. I’m easily impressed.

Probably, the reality is a combination of all three. In any case, waking up and walking to work in this light often makes my day. It makes the lack of mountains all around – something that made me love my time in Grenoble, in the French Alps – completely bearable.
So before I head home for Christmas, let this be my present to you. The view from my flat followed by the room in my office. If I plan things right, that’s how my day starts (though in the summer I doubt I’ll be getting up at 4AM just for the view).
Sunrise views from the university building towards the river Tay

I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps…

Originally posted on 2 Oct 2014

I went to New York last week.
Before I went to the City, I went to Rochester. Apparently, Rochester has quite some optics going on, with the Institute of optics, a few university spin offs and small companies, giving me the opportunity to turn a personal trip into something slightly more professional. I didn’t though.
I did go to the George Eastman house. George Eastman was a rather peculiar and impressive person. He founded the Eastman Kodak Company about 20 years after he dropped out of school. He chose the name “Kodak” because it sounded good in every language and has the same letters to start and begin with. He was known to throw legendary parties in his big mansion. He used his fortune to establish a number of schools and academies. He loved art and music and hunting, there were a lot of paintings and dead stuffed animal parts and even an organ in his house. I’m pretty sure he needed a whole list of adjectives to adequately describe him.
Then, at the age of 77 years, he wrote this note:
Note saying: To my friends, My work is done, why wait?
and shot himself in the heart.
Strange man.
Unfortunately, Eastman Kodak Company (also known as Kodak), is not doing too well lately. Even though Kodak engineer Steven Sasson invented the first digital still camera. It was bit and bulky and looked like this:
Very old digital camera with a blue camera bit and a box for the electronics
but I’m sure it was innovative. You would think the invention of digital camera technology would put you right up there with the big shots. But it might have been one of those bad predictions. “There’s no real market for digital photography.” Right.
Anyway, if you’re ever in Rochester, the George Eastman house is definitely worth a visit!
On another note, I learned the other day that Rockefeller centre in NYC has science going on in it. If only I’d known, I just went up to the roof and enjoyed a magnificent almost-midnight view of the city… 😉
The Empire State Building as seen from the top of the rock at night
Pictures cannot do it justice.
By the end of the week, I’d decided that I love New York and that I want to live there someday. I’m pretty sure I’m the very first person ever to have that dream.