Monday, July 31, 2006

By Heck

Our top mates Si and Sally have moved from Boston to the little Lincolnshire village of Heckington. They have got a little cottage with a big garden for our God daughter Millie to play in. Ali and I popped up to see their new house this weekend and as luck would have it our visit coincided with the Heckington Agricultural Show which they claim is the largest village show in the country. It was like being in The Archers. Largest leek contests and displays of Falconry, sheep shearing demonstrations and the local farrier showing how to shoe a horse. Fascinating - especially for 5 year old Millie. Simon was more bothered about how good he looked.

After the copious tractors, tug of war, Sealed Knotters, show jumping and stalls the obviously centre piece of any agricultural show is a trip to the beer tent. Millie sat quietly on her Uncle Ports' lap and didn't draw attention to herself at all.

Later on, back at the ranch, Millie persuaded Sally that is was a good idea to have sparkly stickers on every nail and her cheeks. She looks very quiet and demure in this picture but as you can see above, that is the calm before the storm. Especially when she found out that her generous Aunty and Uncle had bought her a rather fab Tumble Time Tigger

Friday, July 28, 2006

Keep it simple stupid

Last week I met up with a whole group of frollegues at the annual IT Specialists Institute in Nottingham. It is a chance for a load of IBM propeller heads and geek types to come together and "network". The idea is to speak with folks who work outside your usual sphere of interest to broaden your horizons and expand your mind. As a result they employ every trick in the book to try and get people talking. This obviously starts with opening a bar to get the social barriers down and then following that with giant games like Jenga and Connect four. It isn't as lame as it sounds.

Anyone who has been on any kind of teaming event will recognise the next trick. After dinner, an envelope of "bits and pieces" was left on each of the 20 tables. Instruction on the envelope showed that the aim was for all the people on the table to work together to construct a self propelled floating vessel. Of course everyone on our table cynically mocked this task until it became apparent that other teams were really going for it. Unfortunately by the time we decided to take it seriously there were only four of us left. So our diminutive gang was Cali, who works with Content and Document Management systems (and who also knows every fact in the world), Stu who work with Portals for Banks, John who works with security and finally your humble correspondent. Not a lot of boat making experience here. Looking round the room it was apparent that most teams were attempting to use either balloon power or rubber band energy to power their craft. The problem was that their inventions didn't look very much like boats.

So we decided to keep it simple. We made the hull by cutting the envelope with the instructions in half (since it was already sealed at either end) and then put a mast into it with a piece of A4 cardboard for a main sail. A couple of corks taped either side and a plastic dinosaur attached to the mast and our mighty vessel was born. It had taken close to 10 minutes. We were far from confident that it would even float, never mind go anywhere.

Our propulsion system came from Stu and I waving a couple of laminated table labels. There were various whinging complaints from other teams because they claimed ship wasn't self propelled, but the judge quite rightly dismissed their pathetic moans. How can using wind not be self propelled? To our amazement HMS Dino actually worked and didn't sink. Each of the 20 tables had to see how far they could get their ship down the paddling pool. With herculean wafting with our place labels we managed to create enough wind to get Dino all the way down to the end which put us in a semi final sail off. We were stunned to win the semi and as you can see below, went on to win the final. Even though it was just a laugh, it felt really good to win and Stu, Cali and I were whooping and hollering like a flange of baboons.

The Spoils of War. We actually won two bottles of quite nice Champagne to share with the whole table. Of four people :-)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A sporty little number

Well after the problems of Wednesday when my car seemed very poorly, you can imagine how happy I was to be accelerating down the motorway back from Liverpool at 90 70 mph. No longer were hills causing the car to slow down to 45mph and all an sundry were passing in my wake like when the Millennium Falcon enters hyperdrive. The only problem was that I was in a Vauxhall Astra whilst my beloved BMW was sitting embarrassed on a tow truck being returned to Heathrow. My previous unmitigated praise for HR Owen might have been a little bit premature.

By the time I had got to the customers in Liverpool the Beemer was struggling to even manage 25mph. It was clearly on the way out. The AA man who turned up was very friendly but when he plugged his box of tricks into the car it reported that there were no faults. Clearly it was lying. So there was no option but to arrange a hire car to get me home. Given that the trip back from Liverpool is around 220 miles I was hoping for something equivalent to my current car - so my heart sank a little bit when this gaudy Astra coupe came round the corner.

Despite looking a bit boy racer the 1.8 16v SRi was certainly quite fast. Being about the size of a roller skate and a similar weight it sure does shift but it doesn't feel quite as sturdy and safe as the BM. Also it is missing some rather nice features like four doors, a sunroof, 6 gears, comfortable seats - not to mention the credibility afforded one travelling in a machine from the Bavarian Motor Works. On the other hand I shouldn't be ungrateful since it got me home in one piece and was a whole lot better than walking.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Need for Speed

Just lately my car has felt as bit under powered. It's very difficult to be sure though. It can still manage to cruse along the motorway at a bit over the speed limit so it clearly isn't a major problem, but I have found myself being out accelerated by cars which I would not expect my 2 litre turbo diesel to be left standing by. I'm talking Nissan Micra's and VW Polo's. Anyway, I wasn't too worried because the ol' jalopy was due for a 36,000 mile service and I hoped that this would sort out my embarrassing little problem.

I have been using the BMW Heathrow (HR Owen) for servicing for over 10 years and they absolutely rule. Not only have they never put a foot wrong in terms of the standard of their servicing but they also pick up the car from work and drop it back before the end of the day - so no queueing or waiting for me. They also wash the car AND valet the interior. If they would only put the car seat back in the position I left it before they took it then they would be perfect.

So today they came and picked up the car as courteous as normal. However, at about 4pm I got a call. "Hi it's Fred at BMW Heathrow, I'm glad to say that the oil change and break service has all gone fine. When we plugged in the diagnostic computer it reported that the air compressor do-jam-ma-flip* (*not the actual name of the part he mentioed - can't remember what it was) needs replacing. We think this is the cause of your performance problem and why people are laughing at you when you are left at the lights by Smart Cars* (*He may not have said the last bit). Unfortunately since replacing the new part your car won't start.". Gah! They have broken my pride and joy. Fred* (*not his real name) started explaining that I would not be left in the lurch and that they would make sure that I had a replacement vehicle if they couldn't fix it. Fred was doing a good job and I felt he was looking after me properly and he was only slightly undermined when I heard his technician in the background say "I don't know why the f*ckin thing won't start. Let's just reboot the f*ucker.". So they rebooted my car and I got a call from Fred 15 minutes later to say the car was now fine. It's just like I remember when I worked in support :-) Bring on the Smart cars!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hot Jock

I have been up in Scotland this week spending a couple a days visiting some of our Lotus customers. I've been to Glasgow loads of times in the past and pretty much every time I have been their it has been drab, grey and washed in a miserable mist of drizzle. Because of this it has always impressed me how warm and friendly Glaswegian folks are in the face of such a cruel environment. Don't get me wrong, they are perfectly happy to have a pop at me for being a filthy sasanach but it is always with a wink and an offer for me to buy them a pint ;-)

So what a revelation this week has been! Along with the rest of Blighty the temperature has been a bit tasty but in Glasgow it was 29 degrees. To put that in perspective I'm told 30 degrees has never been recorded in Glasgow ever! So on Monday night my frollegue Simon, who has been on this Scottish tour together with me, and I were sitting out side in an Italian restaurant off Buchanan Street at 10:30pm in our T-shirts. In Glasgow! It could have been any cosmopolitan city in Europe. And the real revelation was that with a bit of sun on the case Glasgow is a really fine looking city. And it is really nice to seen all the people who are normally blue turning a bit more brown.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welsh Wales

So I was visiting an IBM Lotus Domino customer in Wales today. I won't go into the details of how much they love Domino and consider the competition to be initially slick but lacking in real enterprize deliverables. Because what I wanted to comment on is actually about the return of my Tom Tom One Satalite Navigation system. My poor TomTom went wrong a couple of weeks ago and to put it mildly I have missed my little navigational friend whilst it was off being repaired. However, I didn't expect this journey to Wales to overly stressfull since the trip basically involved travelling down the M4 from London until just before Cardiff.

But a few miles into the journey the radio started reporting that the M4 was closed between Junction 18 and 19 because of a lorry fire. Doh! Obviously I'm going to be late for my meeting. Not at all - at junction 17 I told the TomTom that I wanted to avoid the M4 and low and behold it charted me a new route that missed all the trouble. Welcome home little TomTom. You have been missed.

The only way it could be improved is if it could find a route that doesn't involve being charged £4.90 to enter Wales whilst it is free to return to England. I can't help feeling that the Welsh did this to wind up the English.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Reoffenders

I've never seen the Reoffenders before but my friends Glastonbury Jon and Heather are the singers and they have modestly told me that they are very good. Glastonbury Jon and I used to work together about 15 years ago when we both lived in Hull and we used to write depressing folk songs and play them at The New Adelphi Club amongst other places. Jon used to tell me that he used to be a Punk and used to play in a punk band when he was younger. I never believed him. He programmed computers.

So I was totally surprised that at the tender age of forty something he has started a new punk band, but more specifically, that they are really great! Ali and I travelled down to Devon this weekend where Jon and Heather live for the gig (I must stop calling him Glastonbury Jon - it is heroically inaccurate these days). It was a great weekend with great weather, great company, lovely location (Topsham if you fancy a nice historic village), great beer and wine. On the downside - terribly un punk vegetarian food - bleugh ;-) Anyway, back to the music ...

Heather looks like a punk Dennis the Menace

Like so many other bands, they perform lively and accurate covers of punk songs old and new. However, the thing that sets the Reoffenders apart is that they don't just play the songs - they put on a show. They are a show band for Punk in the same way the Blues Brothers are a show band for blues and Bjorn Again are a show band for Abba. They are that good.

Obviously there is nothing more punk than playing a Children's Dining Area :-)

The musical selections are inspired. The Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" may be followed by The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian" - then Green Day may be followed by Brittany Spears "Toxic". For the purist, the band also features some more obscure numbers like "So What" by the Anti Nowhere League or "Dress" by PJ Harvey. I won't list any more because I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. You will certainly be entertained. Go and see them next time you are in Devon. They play loads of gigs - just look here

Friday, July 07, 2006

Yeah! Niki has spawned!

Fantastic news. My sister in law Niki has given birth to Nathan Hugh. He's a little boy. Obviously. Niki sent a camera phone picture of the liddle fella to Ali and this is more or less what he looks like. Like all little sprouts. Without the bow tie. Obviously.

For some reason it is the form to mention his weight, which was 8 pounds. Like wise, mentioning that mother and baby are doing well seems to be the done thing. They are back home now. Hurrah! So good luck little Nephew dude - over time you will realise how lucky you are to have such an excellent and cool Uncle. And your Aunty Ali is already plotting how to spoil you. Expect to be cuddled :-)