Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Commit the crime - do the time

Hey - I'm no hippy. If you commit a crime then you have to be prepared to do the time. So when I was photographed by a sneaky camera van on the M4 in Wales doing 93 miles per hour 3 years ago I didn't complain about it, I forked over the £60 and took the 3 points on my license. I was in the wrong and I admitted it. If anything I was fortunate because I subsequently learned that if you are caught doing over 95mph then it is an instant ban. Having those 3 points elapse off my license allowing it to return to its previously unblemished state was most gratifying a couple of months ago. So imagine my chagrin this morning when a new speeding fine presented itself in my post box!

Had I once more been hurtling along the Queens highway like Jenson Button? Had I been throwing caution to the wind and catapulting myself as if I had no fear? No. I was travelling at 53 miles per hour on a nearly empty M6. Now I know in America 55 mph is considered pretty racy, but here in Blighty that is virtually walking on a Motorway. And why am I being subjected to this ridiculous trumped up charge? Because apparently there were roadworks and the speed limit was reduced to 40mph. This reduction in speed being presumably to protect the traffic cones which are arranged neatly across the back of the hard shoulder. There were certainly no human beings performing any work or even in attendance. The supreme irony? I was on the M6 on the way to visit a northern police force :-(

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Barnes Grill Review

A little while ago I mentioned that AWT's Barnes Grill had opened and that we were going to try it out due to the inducement of a free glass of plonk each. Well last week Ali offered to take me there as a treat. To get the obvious over with, the food was superb. Ali braved steak tartar for her starter. She said it tasted a bit like pate. I had prawns which were very nice. Obviously since it was a grill restaurant it was steaks all round for the main course. Ali' s filet was so tender it was almost like slicing through butter and my sirloin was just as good. The main meals were very filling and neither of us finished the enormous side order of home made thick cut chips. Not being a pudding man I opted for an Irish Coffee whilst Ali opted for Creme Brule which turned out to be the only culinary disappointment. Whilst it tasted fine it did not have the crisp top which is clearly mandatory. Tsk Flump. Must try harder.

The said flump was not in attendance but had he bothered to turn up I would have complemented him on the excellent steaks and also the rather fine wine. The free glasses of House red were sufficiently nice that we ordered a bottle and it complemented the food superbly. However, where I would have to fault the little fella, it would be on the decor. The place is a mess. It has scatter cushions like a Moroccan banquet but then purple chandeliers that would get laughed off Antiques Roadshow and then the walls were covered with pictures of lions and tigers! It's like he asked Timmy Mallet to design it. So all in all a good place to go for a treat if you like good food and don't mind quirky stylings.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Table Tennis Tournament

So as promised a few posts ago, we held the first Barnes International Table Tournament yesterday to coincide with Ali's birthday. A few beers and a BBQ made sure that the atmosphere was spot on. Obviously the huge crowd of 12 people were waiting for the singles but we had the doubles first and Mr and Mrs Ports triumphed over a woefully poor Pink and Dawn. After some tight matches in the early rounds the final was set.

Marcus features a near oriental level of ping pong skill when it comes to fiendishly spinning of the ball but he hasn't really played seriously since leaving school so he needed to get his eye back in.

Ligntning Tom doesn't have Marcus' technique but certainly has youth on his side not to mention extra length gangly limbs that can almost reach the other side of the table.

But despite being as lithe as a gazelle, Lightning Tom was no match for Marcus' guile and spinning technique. So proud Marcus wins the prize which in this case is a couple of inflatables that Ali and I won for coming 3rd in a pub quiz last week.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ozzie to replace Gates at Microsoft!

Microsoft have just announced that in July 2008 Bill Gates will step down from being Chief Software Architect to be replaced by Ray Ozzie, the inventor of Lotus Notes, who immediately gets that job title and will spend the next two years working with Gates to transition the role. I guess we now know why Microsoft bought Groove Networks.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Just another Sunday

IBM sponsors all sort of events. From what I have seen this is mainly golf days. Even though my brother-in-law Stew is a fanatical golphist, I agree with Winston Churchill that golf spoils a nice walk. However , just recently I heard that IBM would have a Suite at the British Grand Prix. Now that is more like it. Unfortunately, a technical monkey like me would normally never get to attend one of these marketing events. However, for reasons I won't go into I managed to blag justify my ticket.

Brilliant, I thought, I get to go to the Grand Prix. It doesn't get much better than this. Or so I thought. I then got an email starting with "This is the time for your Helicopter transfer to Silverstone ...". Wahey!

Obviously the regular reader of my musings would be aware that from January this year I have move beyond mere helicopters since I had tasted the joy that is a Jetcopter. But I was prepared to swallow my pride and slum it in standard Heilo. Here is the one that I flew into Silverstone in.

After a 15 minute flight from a country house near Milton Keynes I was plonked in the middle of the track. Apparently helicopters land approximately every 10 seconds. It was like a motorway for aircraft. We were then transported to Copse paddock where the hospitality suite was located. Here you can see the sign to the IBM suite.

Much to my disgust, even though it was only 10 in the morning, I was forced to consume multiple glasses of lovely champagne. That loosened things up. To be honest I didn't pay much attention to the GP2 race since I was breathing in the atmosphere and the champagne, but at 11am the Red Arrows started an awesome display and Copse was the idea location to watch from. I have seen the Red Arrows many times, the first being with my Dad at an airshow for British Aerospace employees and their families when I was just a little sprout. In the intervening 30 odd years they have learned a few tricks. For example, do you remember the bit in Top Gun when Maverick and Goose fly their F16 inverted above a MIG and Goose flicks the Russian pilot the "bird"? The Red Arrows did this - except they did it in a 720 degree roll. And then they held the inverted position as they did a full 4g loop. That's just showing off. No photo can encapsulate a 25 minute display but here is one of the "classic" formations when they are flying approximately 6 feet apart.

Of course the reason for being there was the Formula 1 Grand Prix and it didn't disappoint. As soon as you arrive at the track you are issued with ear plugs and it is a good job you are. These machines create an amazing amount of noise. In fact, I have heard many "civilian" Mercedes cars over the years but the safety car sounded more like a Messerschmitt as it tore round. But that was nothing compared to the GP Cars. Obviously I was rooting for the home side so I was very pissed off vexed when Jenson Button's Honda blew it's engine after 10 laps when he had started in 19th position and fought his way up to 11th. Still, Jenson has never had much luck at Silverstone.

Because Copse was such a good location, being the exit from the Pits and just before a chicane, we got to see plenty of action. Alonso won the race with the ubiquitous Michael Shumacher trailing a few seconds behind. It is very difficult to take F1 pictures with a digital camera because of the lag but this is Shumacher's team mate Massa (because if the green helmet) followed by Fishicella.

On the way over to the heliports my boss Brian and a guest and friend also called Brian spotted a Lotus sports car. An obvious photo opportunity and so fortunate that we hadn't passed a toilet .

I think I mentioned earlier that whilst I am prepared to slum it in a helicopter I really require a JETcopter these days. So I was well chuffed to see that my ride home was a 5 seat Eurocopter. Shweet.

But did it make me happy? Wadda you think? And a big thanks to Mrs Ports for getting up at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to chauffeur me to the heliport and back so I could enjoy the punishment that is a free bar.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ticketless Flight

I'm flying to Munich tomorrow for a very difficult training course and most certainly not to drink vats of Weissebier out of gigantic steins. Oh no. At IBM we have a fantastic system for booking travel. It is called the Online Travel Reservations (or because we are IBM, OTR). You just go to the travel page on our Intranet and using the drop down menus select where you want to fly from and where you want to fly too. It figures out the best airports and the best times for you, works out what class you should use (in my case normally cattle) and books it for you. Of course it will also book hotels, hire cars and just about anything else you need for your trip.

However, the one thing it won't give you is a ticket. When you get to the airport you hoof your credit card into the self service ticket machines and it allows you to find your booking, pick your seat, check you in and spits out your boarding pass. Now that is really smart. Virtual service all the way through from booking to climbing on board the plane. The only problem is that I still can't get used to turning up at the airport without a ticket in my hand.