08 Sep

Belgian Street Art


Belgian Street Art
Originally uploaded by tzunder.

Brussels has a sense of the comic book about, which makes sense for a country so wedded to the Bande Dessinée. I have been too dismissive of Brussels, it has a lot more charm than I gave it credit for. I walked a lot to and from meetings last week and started to discover squares and streets that have a quality and a style that is very appealing. I think I shall revisit some of them and do some night photography.

02 Sep

Orange Broadband

We I recently switched to Orange broadband. I got a free laptop from PC World, I pay less than I did on Onetel and I seem to have ben setup at a faster speed (1.5Mb rather than 1Mb). BUT there are some interesting surprises in the offer that they don’t tell you on the tin. First and foremost, you can only use their smtp server on port 25. Now most people wouldn’t mind this, but the mail server applies it’s own spam censorship and rejects mails it thinks are spam, and secondly, it is as flaky as hell and doesn’t accpet any mail at all for hours. The spam censorship is very crude, it rejects most of my work emails since they talk about business and have URLS, but I guess it might be better than Onetel where the mail servers there often featured on spam blacklists, so I couldn’t email the European Commission without having my emails rejected. So, how to solve this? Well I already had, in that I use Google Mail and use it to send my email through their secure smtp server which does not operate on port 25 and is not blocked by Orange. It works, it is a little fiddly since I have to change my default “From” email on Gmail, but all in all it’s okay. BUT I am a nerd, a techhead through and through, what do the poor sods stuck on the end of Orange’s shinky and censorious service do? I guess you get a Google Mail account and access your email online, I have to say that it increasingly looks the best solution all round. Now, I guess it’ll not surprise you that Orange also seem to have a firewall running that by default tries to stop p2p traffic. It doesn’t seem to work that well, Azureus and aMule seem to get round it well, but again it’s not something they warn you of when you sign up and since I went for the “unlimited” account it would have been reasonable to expect it.

Oh well, I’m okay, but I do feel sorry for some of the people this will bite in the ass.

29 Aug

Schmap Map

I am very chuffed that one of my CC licensed pictures has been shortlisted for the 3rd edition of the Schmap guide to Sheffield. I already have one of my Brussels pictures in the Schmap guide to Brussels, so I guess I must take not too bad pics after all! Schmap guides are multimedia travel guides to cities that, last time I looked, were free. They can be accessed online or downloaded in Windows or Mac versions. The Windows version seems to run fine using Crossover, I haven’t tested it with Wine but it may well work fine.

23 Aug

Matt got GCSEs

I am pleased as punch to say that Matt has got his GCSE results today, 7 A-s (1 an A*), 3 B-s and an ICT DIDA which is 4 GCSE equivalent at the highest level. So, better keep him after all..

11 Aug

Lord of the Rings Stage Show

Matt, Ann and I went to see the Lord of the Rings Stage Show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane last night and it was great!
Granted to fit the LOTR into 3 hours there is some compacting, conflating and most dramatically Theoden and Denethor are rolled into one and the Battle at Helms Deep with the Battle at Minas Tirith, but it works and is great. It is more about acting than singing, although there are some great songs and Galadriel is enchanting, but this is the best fantasy stage show I have seen, I loved it, Matt liked it but was niggled by the Theoden-Denethor thing and Ann who is not a fantasy fan at all thought it was absolutely great.

You may see some mixed reviews, and I have to say I suspect they are from critics going and expecting a Miss Saigon or a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which this is not. For those of you with multichannel TV look out for a documentary on the show’s staging on Nat Geographic and for those that saw the Hobbit in Leeds, this is better and a little lighter. It would suit kids from 8 upwards easily, the hobbits always make it fun, and the highpoints for me? Galadriel, Gollum and Sam..

http://www.lotr.com/home.php

26 Jul

Why are PCs so damned slow?

Con Kolivas is a famed Linux kernel developer who recently gave it all up. He makes some great points about how slow PCs are today even though they are so much more powerful than the PCs we all started with..

The standard argument people give me in response is ‘but they do such more these days it isn’t a fair comparison’. Well, they’re 10 times slower despite being 1000 times faster, so they must be doing 10,000 times as many things. Clearly the 10,000 times more things they’re doing are all in the wrong place

His departing interview, which is about PCs and speed in general, both Linux and others is here.

It does make some very good points, why is my uber turbo bastard PC basically no faster than the first 8080 PC I ever used in an office, or the Atari ST that I loved and adored for so many years?

Another PC blogger, Mary Jo Foley, notes with some disdain how the vaunted fast boot of Vista has failed to deliver.

15 Jul

Guilfest

We went to Guilfest as we have done for years, 13th-15th July. The weather was ok, it rained on the way down and on Sunday it alternated between baking hot and torrential rain. The lineup was good, and I particularly liked Supergrass on Friday who turned out to be a lot heavier than one might expect. It meant missing the Saw Doctors on the Ents24 stage but I felt it was a good call. On the Saturday I was pleased with MORCHEBA, Ghosts and to a lesser extent Squeeze who were hampered by Glen Tilbrook almost totally losing his voice. I was disappointed with Jimmy Cliff. On the Sunday I greatly enjoyed Skaville UK, made up as they are of many UK ska veterans. Toots and the Maytals also disappointed me, but The Beat and the Dub Pistols made up for it. In the last two slots I loved The Magic Numbers and should have enjoyed Madness, but somehow I was untouched by the Nutty Boys.

Sadly the toilets at Guilfest this year were a crying shame, which for a festival that has always succeeded to provide great bogs, was a crying shame. Still, I bet we’re back next year..

08 Jul

Club La Costa

Last Autumn we went to one of those timeshare presentations in Leeds. We listened to the blah blah and then, because we had friends in that club, we bought a trial membership. It was £3k for 6 weeks vacation over 34 months, which seemed difficult to beat.

We have just returned from our ‘Prelude’ week where they basically try and get you to upgrade to their ‘points’ scheme, at a cost of between £10-14k over and above the initial £3k which they will ‘trade-in’. We said no, after a very jolly day of hard sell from a quite nice but competent sales guy. [Remember that I am a Purchasing Manager by training and Ann had 25 years in Sales and Marketing, you might find the sell a little too hard.] They then came back and very quickly made us a more traditional and lower cost (maybe not better value for money, maybe it was) offer for a floating timeshare week at £7k. We said no. The week was GORGEOUS in a huge penthouse apartment with a roof, jacuzzi and opulent luxury. We haven’t got our full value from that week alone, but it goes a long way to making the money worth it.

Now we wait with nervous sweaty palms to actually book and use our 5 trial weeks. I have joined a members BBS and read all the ins and outs and ups and downs, I have looked closely at the resale market and seen that you can pay a fraction of what they want to sell to you new at.. We want it all to go well, and in fact we want it to be great and then we may well decide to buy in on the resale market sometime in the next 2 years.

Why have I told you all this? Well, timeshare is scary, it looks like you can spend a vast amount on it, you can get tied up in finance for a product that actually has a very low resale value and is not an investment. The maintenance fees are quite high, you still have to buy your flights and your food and the hard sell can be quite obnoxious sometimes. On the other hand, if you aren’t tied to school holidays, can play the system and have a moderately tough skin, you can get some great vacations in what look to be very nicely maintained resorts (I only speak now of the Club La Costa resorts I have seen, and they varied even on the same site.)

1: If you are tempted, do your research, find out what the second hand market is, what the terms and conditions actually say, check what you are actually buying, and who owns what.
2: If you can’t resist full on hard selling then IMHO avoid the whole thing. If you can face it out and simply keep saying ‘thanks but no’, then maybe you should try it and then make a decision in the resale market afterwards.
3: Always check your rights, if there is no cooling off period (and for products less than 36 months outside the UK there may not be) think very very hard.

Which? reports on clampdown on holiday clubs.
CLC Members Forum
Help Me Out Before I Sign!

and lastly, a fairly accurate report from the Guardian in 2003: http://tinyurl.com/37b3dl

I’ll keep you up to date, let you know how it goes..

06 Jun

NS needs to get into the modern world

Just a little rant, NS, the Dutch rail company really needs to get their act together and add the ability to take credit and debit cards on their ticket machines, or at least add note readers. Stations in Netherlands are currently full of international travellers having to go to the ticket desks and stand in long queues to pay by cash (even the ticket booth doesn’t take credit or debit cards). Silly, silly, silly..

31 May

Films

I have recently watched a big wodge of movies as I travel Europe. Oh the joys of laptops and mpeg decryption and PayTV in hotels. I watched Fun with Dick and Jane last night which was okay-ish, nothing wrong with it but nothing to get very excited about. I then watched Alien Autopsy which proved that Ant and Dec can still act, and that the quirky Brit. comedy still has legs. On the other hand it also didn’t set the world on fire, so so-so. I am now on a train watching Night At The Museum which, from the cast list, could be great.. or dire. Let’s all pause and wait until I watch it and tell you in the next sentence..

It was pretty good. CGI family fun. Great to see Dick van Dyke as the baddie. Stiller still never convinces me in a straight role. Rick Gervais is dull, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson have a lot of fun as Roman and Cowboy.