Monday 31 August 2009

Road closures ahead

And this time it has nothing to do with Thames Water (there's a first time for everything). It's that time of year again... except that it isn't. No... no April but September... not the London Marathon but the London Half Marathon. Once again residents of the greater Charlton/Woolwich area are shut in by street closures (although the organisers claim that everywhere will still be accessible, you might just have to follow a diversion).

That is not my issue. I hardly ever want to go anywhere on a Sunday morning anyway. My issue is the noise. The newsletter which came through my letterbox assured me that they were working with the Council to keep noise within agreed parameters... we shall see I suppose what that turns out to be.

Run to the Beat - London's Music Half Marathon

Less paper on the seats

There has been a lot of news the last few weeks about the imminent demise of the London Paper. Time was that if you wanted to read an evening paper in London there was only one choice... the Evening Standard. That bastion of London journalism which back in May ran a bizarre advertising campaign apologising to readers. These adverts appeared on buses and tubes which had in large letters (using the Evening Standard masthead font) "Sorry" and then in smaller letters underneath a collection of things for which the Evening Standard wished to apologise for to London... "for being negative", "for being complacent", "for losing touch" and "for taking you for granted".

Most Londoner's wouldn't disagree with most of the Standard's apologies... so a few years back when the first the London Lite and the London Paper hit the streets they were a welcome addition. Yes, the Lite came from the same stable as the Standard (and indeed could have named itself the Standard Lite) but the free paper with "ink that doesn't come off on your hands" proved instantly as popular (and prone to causing litter) as morning sibling the Metro. The London Paper provided the "Sun" to the Lite's "Daily Mail". With more focus on celebrity and gossip I never much liked it. Also the strange font type used makes the articles hard to read as I find all the words run together.

The only positive that the London Paper had over the Lite was that they print more copies and the distributors stay out later, which means leaving the office at 7pm you can get a London Paper but not a Lite.

Yes the free papers are an immense cause of litter on the tube and the streets, but it would be a shame if the Lite and the Metro follow the London Paper into obscurity. I won't pay 50p (or more!) to read a paper, so it is the only way I read the news off the internet.

Monday 24 August 2009

Philosophy (1)

I've been reading "If You Fall..." by Karen Darke; at the start of each chapter is a quote, many of which I found extremely arresting. I therefore took the quotes and had some fun with PhotoPlus to make some of the motivitational postcards that used to adorn my walls when I was a student. This happy looking dog I met on a peaceful beach in Norfolk.

Non-productive internet time

The late great Douglas Adams once wrote "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so". In the 21st Century that could be amended to "Time is an illusion. Internet-time doubly so". You sit down at the computer for five minutes to catch up with a few things online, and you get up several hours later. Can you account for the time in between? Not in any satisfactory or meaningful manner.

My two biggest culprits for non-productive time spent on the internet are Facebook and Twitter, which I am sure is true for many people.

I originally started using Facebook to keep up with far-flung friends and family around the country and indeed around the world. I tried MySpace and didn't like it. Even though I wrote in my profile I wasn't much interested in contemporary music I was flooded with friend requests from bands hoping that theirs would be a fairytale and they would be discovered on the internet and become the next big thing.

Facebook is a great way to connect with people. You can chat, share photos, and I've even made a few new friends. It is also a massive drain on time (if you aren't careful) with an insidious raft of 'social games'. These are funny little 'worlds' where you become a farmer (or whatever) and perform various mundane tasks. The people who programme these games aren't really there to provide you with fun... no, they want to make money (of course, they are businesses). How do they do this? Well, to progress you need to have 'friends' in the game... you have to invite other people you know on Facebook to play with you. There also always comes a point where you need 'coins' or whatever - which you either gain large amounts of by paying money or by completing various 'partner offers'.

Sounds pointless? Pretty much. I know that it is a colossal waste of time... but it is also rather addictive. Top three this week - Farm Town, Farmville and Barn Buddy.

Worse, I think, than Facebook is Twitter. Pundits keep telling me that it is a business tool. I'm not sure that I see how. It is an endless stream of collective consciousness, a lot of banality from a small percentage of the globe. So - why Twitter then? I tried it first of all, because it was there. I started 'tweeting' because the internet etiquette I learnt back in the day was that it is bad form to be a 'lurker' - that is to frequent a social area but not to participate.
Twitter, like a lot of Social Internet, seems to be about 'popularity'. How many followers do you have... how many people do you follow? Who cares! Etiquette probably says if someone follows you then you should follow them. I don't. I check them out and see if they are likely to interest me first. I get enough tweets already without any more that I shan't read! Check your last tweet... you end up on a lot of people's radar because they are watching for certain words, and at least half the people who pick you up this way aren't interested in anything you have to say. They are businesses and are interested in selling you something.
Is there a word for a weekend Twitterer? A Wenditterer? That is a large part of my problem with Twitter. The office net-nanny (quite rightly) blocks it. I'm often too tired in the evenings to boot up my laptop... so that just leaves the weekend. You honestly can't catch up with a week's worth of Tweets.
Ninety percent of Twitter seems to be noise. Occasionally you learn something useful - but honestly... who is really interested that I am sitting in my pyjamas starting the day in style?

Underground hotspots

No, it isn't the coolest off-the-map clubs and night-spots to visit... it is the map produced by TfL showing the hottest stations and sections of track on the Underground. It comes as no surprise to regular commuters that parts of the network in central London regularly exceed 30 degrees centigrade. Once Spring arrives in the Capital it is time to discard coats and jackets in the Tube and once we get to Summer, well, best heed the warnings to carry a bottle of water.

Travellers welcomed the news that air-con was coming to the Underground. However, first to the Metropolitan Line followed by the District, the Circle, and the Hammersmith and City Lines. These set of lines together known as the sub-surface lines as they run (even in central London) largely above ground. Bad news for users of the other lines... no air-con in sight for you as the tunnels are just too small!

Map from Transport for London shows hottest spots on the Underground -Times Online

Thursday 20 August 2009

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 6

Back to Great Yarmouth today to do the tourist bit (for more on today's trip see the Occasional Tourist). We took a ride along the promenade in a horse and cart (sure beats walking) and then we visited the Sea Life Centre. Highlight of the visit must have been the four penguins and the shark tank (complete with walkway underwater).

We had lunch on the promenade attended by a flock of starlings and took a brief visit to the Scroby Sands Windfarm Visitor Centre.

This offshore windfarm has thirty turbines... each as tall as six double decker buses and with blades that are the size of a jumbo jet's wings.

In the afternoon my mother and I took a trip to the Hemby "Mega Maze" - or should that be "Mega Maize"?! This is a maze cut into a field of corn (maize). We managed to find our way out not once but twice! Maps are given out for a £1 deposit in a sealed envelope and your deposit is returned if the envelope is unopened.  How you use a map of a maze if you are lost I'm not sure... I wondered if when opened the envelope simply said "Ha! Ha!". We didn't open ours!

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 5, Part 2

We drove to a restaurant by one of the nearby Broads (you could see our local wind turbine on the far side from the restaurant). The nature of countryside roads meant a lengthy cross country trip instead of a few miles as the crow flies.

Filby Bridge Restaurant is not to be missed if you are in the Great Yarmouth area. An idyllic setting by the water the atmosphere is unhurried and the food is absolutely superb.

Looking out of the water just before sunset

Restaurant by night
Going home my mother decided rather than return the way we had come to take the 'alternative route'. This elicited gloomy prophecies of round trips to Norfolk from my father... and indeed we did take a few 'diversions' on our way. "Don't worry" said my mother at one point (after nearly taking us down a cul-de-sac, "I'll get us home". "Which home?" asked my father, "back to Kent?".

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Holiday in Nofolk - Day 5, Part 1

This morning we took a trip to the beach. We were hoping to see some of the local seals but we were probably a bit late arriving. We did spend an enjoyable couple of hours paddling in the sea and getting sand in our shoes.

It's a steep climb up the sand dunes from the car park
Waves crashing (well sort of) on the shore
Seagull keeping an eye on proceedings
Breakwater burried in the drifting sand
Looking towards Great Yarmouth
Top of the dunes

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 4

The objective for day four was a trip on the Broads. To accomplish this we drove to nearby (ish) Wroxham... via a slight detour when we missed the turning as the sign pointed the other way - I knew I should take my SatNav!

We booked places on a cruise boat (small altercation between parents as to whether we should self drive or cruise) and then after a small wait we were off down the broads and back for an hour and a half... for full details of the trip see the Occasional Tourist.

On the way back we stopped for a pub lunch in Potter Heigham (famous for its quaint bridge over the broads).

In the afternoon I took a day trip down to Suffolk. I was curious to see how my job in Lowestoft was progressing... and delighted to see it looking much further along finished than the previous time I had visited.

I had decided to cook dinner for the family in the evening, which necessitated a trip to the supermarket. The SatNav and I had a little disagreement at this point - for when it took me 15 miles to the nearest Sainsbury's in North Walsham apparently I could actualy have gone back to Great Yarmouth (which would probably have been quicker). Ah well, never trust a computer.

Monday 17 August 2009

Occasional Tourist

New Occasional Tourist post.

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 3, Part 2

After the incident of the washing machine and the flood we took a trip up the coast to Cromer. Here we found a town which doesn't seem to have changed a great deal since a day trip to the beach twenty years ago!

We parked the car at the high point on the Cliffs and then walked gradually down the hill into the town. Here we wandered around, bought some lunch, and then walked back up the cliffs again.

In the afternoon I took a trip to nearby  Horsey Windpump. This is a beautiful windmill which worked as a drainage pump for the Broads. The views from the top are quite stunning as is the surrounding area of the Broads.

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 3, Part 1

After another 8am alarm call (mother this time, not father) I went downstairs in search of breakfast. I found my mother in the middle of the kitchen, the floor awash whilst she swatted at it with a mop. I was about to take issue with her unorthodox and ineffective floor cleaning methods when it transpired that the washing machine had been subject to some variety of mechanical failure and the inundation was caused by water leaking from the door.

We mopped up the water and finally the floor was dried - having used half a roll of paper towels to finish the job. At this point my mother and grandmother decided to get the washing out of the machine. They opened the door and water cascaded out all over the newley dried floor.

So we started all over again.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Holiday in Norfolk - Day 2

Day 2 started at 8am when my father brought me a cup of tea, I explained that I thought it was a bit early as we were on holiday and all... apparently 8am is late by my parents' standards... mine too, if I'm going to work!

After breakfast we took a trip to the nearby Seal Sanctuary. First of all we were shown inside the barn where they kept the youngest pups who had been found alone (presumably orphaned) on the beach. One poor little mite had been hit by a jet ski - but they all seemed to be on the road to recovery. Outside we found the larger seals... some swimming around - one hiding under the water and popping out occasionally and another chasing her dead fish breakfast around and pretending to catch it. All will eventually be released when they are ready... apart from a big fat one whose name was Wanda who has, apparently, become too tame.

Next we took a trip to Great Yarmouth - mainly for the supermarket but also to have a drive around and see some sights (visit the Occasional Tourist for more!).

After we got home and had lunch we all tried sitting in the garden for a while. A beautiful summer's day the sheltered garden was too hot. I sat and sketched for a while until I was melting. Unfortunately I don't do flora and fauna only buildings so the house and garden didn't yield much to draw - except for the garden gate!

Once the afternoon had cooled a little my father and I took a walk down the lanes near the house. Here we saw a great deal of butterflies, some pheasants (I think), a lot of house-martins and some damsel-flies.

Holiday in Norfolk – Day 1

A lot of ‘Day 1’ was actually taken up getting to Norfolk. Two hundred or so miles from London it is quite a drive. Fortunately the Sat-Nav was there to guide me (very lucky as I’d have taken myself completely the wrong way) and the journey took about three and a half hours. Although I’m not a huge fan of driving having the Sat-Nav telling me where to go takes a great deal of stress out of the journey and my only real problem was how stiff I felt when I finally arrived!

Having arrived just in time for lunch and greeted my parents and grandmother who have already been here a week – we took a stroll to the nearby village in the afternoon to visit the Village Fete. Anyone who has ever lived in a country village (and I grew up in one) will be familiar with the annual fetes which are usually a fix of raffles, tombolas, stalls selling bric-a-brac and second hand books and lots of funny little games of chance. I managed to come away with some paperbacks but not a lot else.

Next on the agenda was a well earned nap – long drive and all that. After dinner it was time for an early night, but a hot room and a hard bed meant that I didn’t sleep very well – I was delighted when I looked out the Velux window at 2am to see hundreds and hundreds of stars (too far from a city for any light pollution), what I’d guess was some of the Milky Way and best of all, shooting stars.

Thursday 13 August 2009

The battle for interweb supremacy

Trying to corner the market in (just about everything has been the constant aim of all the major players since they first put their (silicone) chips in play.

From search engines to browsers to 'cloud' applications to desktop widgets and just about everything in between there is something for everyone - and more than often several somethings. So how to choose - who do you decide gets your business? I'm a putting-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket kind of girl. I mostly use Google. It is like the early days of computing when there were two (major) spreadsheet packages Word and Wordperfect. I preferred Wordperfect and so did a lot of other people I've asked - but Word won in the end due to the seamless integration with other parts of the Microsoft Office empire. For me it is the same with Google... I use them so much that everything fits seamlessly from Picasa to YouTube to Blogger to Gmail.

Having said this although at work I use the Google desktop side bar (it came installed on my PC) at home I use the Vista sidebar (it came installed on my PC) and I have no preference for either. I do however rather like the Yahoo! offering of Yahoo! Widgets which are a much slicker looking option.

The ultimate battle, of course, is the battle of the search engines. That is the market to corner. First of all Microsoft re-branded their 'Live' as 'Bing' (which meant that the internet filter at work blocked it for a week whilst it was 'assessed'!)... now Google unveil Caffeine. Not that you can see anything yet as the page is down for 'system maintenance' and will be up in a 'few hours' (since 10am this morning!).C'mon, you know you want to make the joke... de-Caffeinated Google!

Funny how things change... when I first ventured online (back in the mid-nineties) the browser of choice was 'Mosaic' (which used to crash all the time)  and accessed mostly gopher servers - which was followed by Netscape (ah, I loved Netscape) which of course is the grandparent (technologically speaking) of Firefox. Full circle!

Back in the day though (the  age of the information superhighway, remember that), Yahoo! was the search engine of choice. I'm using the term 'search engine' loosely here - the directory format meant that it was more a browsing/surfing experience than the queries that we expect our modern search engines to answer. You can still get the Yahoo! Directory try it if you haven't it is quite excellent for aimlessly wandering in cyberspace.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Night-time visitors

It gets pretty busy in our garden sometimes. During the day there are a variety of birds who come to eat from the wood pigeons and the blackbird to the sparrows, robins and tits. There are also a lot of snails and slugs who call it home... as we don't have a great deal of plant life apart from the shrubbery and they don't make visible impact we allow them to stay - apart from anything else they are good meals for the rest of the wildlife.

There are of course all the insects that inhabit the blooms of the shrubbery too... butterflies, bumble bees, honey bees, all sorts of other bugs - including the other day a three inch long dragonfly!

When the sun goes down the garden wildlife carries on. After dark there are the frogs and toads and the foxes. I was out last night admiring the huge amount of amphibian life enjoying the frog pond when I noticed a pair of eyes glowing in my torch light. At first I thought it might be a cat as it didn't run when I approached... but on closer inspection turned out to be a (very tame) fox. I think he was wondering what I was doing in 'his' garden!

I just hope he wasn't thinking about eating some of the frogs and toads out enjoying the evening!

Monday 10 August 2009

Food for thought

Environment Minister Hilary Benn today called for a radical rethink on how we consume and produce our food.

This is fair enough. I'm all for sustainability... not just environmentally but the triple bottom line which means socially and economically too.

The perplexing part of the story is that one of the problems is that we (as a nation) just throw away too much food. One of the difficulties (it would appear) is that people pay too much attention to the labelling on food packages. Yes, those little dates stamped all over things... "display until", "best before" and "use by". Apparently there are people who have difficultly distinguishing between these... I always thought that they were self explanatory:
  • display until - there for the retailer... tells them when to take it off the shelf and put it in the sale bin
  • best before - commonly seen on vegetables and the like... in the opinion of the labeller when that food is in its 'prime'
  • use by - mostly seen on meat and dairy - food should be used by this date... sensitive for avoiding e-coli, salmonella, etc.
Easy, isn't it. It makes you wonder how people managed back in the day when they bought their vegetables from a green grocer in brown paper bags and their meat from a butcher wrapped in grease-proof paper. No pesky dates to worry about then, everyone just used their common sense. Still I suppose assuming that in the modern world everyone has a modicum of common sense is opening a whole different can of worms!

I always remember when I was younger rejecting some fruit or vegetable on the basis that the 'best before' date had passed and my father saying to me "It says 'best before' - not poisonous after!".

Friday 7 August 2009

We're sorry...

Right now I can't even view my own blog! Google has taken against me... for no particular reason and all of a sudden. I filled out the form to complain... but I'm sure nothing will happen. Eggs and baskets... eggs and baskets.

One... Two... Three...

...Four ...Five ...Six ... Seven ...Eight ...Nine

Blink and you missed it.

Once a Century the numbers line up just so.

12:34pm (and 56 seconds) on 7th August 2009

Or 12:34:56 07/08/09

Thursday 6 August 2009

Just like the Forth Bridge

I'm sure that when someone can up with the phrase tag line "replacing London's Victorian water mains" it was intended to convey the essential nature of the work and to convey the long overdue nature of said work. This process, at least in my local area, seems to be an endless task - similar in nature to the painting of the Forth Bridge; as soon as completed to one side it is time to start again at the other. The roadworks around Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich seem to have been going on since at least Christmas 2007. I can date this because I remember getting stuck in the traffic jam for the temporary lights on the way back from the airport and a trip to Scotland for our company Christmas party. Since then they seem to have been forward and back, up and down the side streets, and still going strong!

At least this set have finished!

Coming soon to a road near you

The off/on diversion of the 486 is on again - not serving Repository Road

The diversion sign has moved a few feet along the road, still not clear what this is diverting!

One of the (many) sets of roadworks affecting the Borough.

I sometimes wonder whether my increasing dissatisfaction with modern life is because I'm getting older, or to quote Blur - 'Modern Life is Rubbish'. Recently my boss leant me the book "Is It Just Me or is Everything Sh*t?" and I found myself nodding along (and occasionally chuckling) as I read it. Sadly I think that the problem is people - and their lack of respect. That is a lack of respect for anything... for each other, for property and for the environment. This was underlined as I stopped to catch my breath walking to get the bus this morning and I saw a thicket full of rubbish.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Going by train

"Travel's a curse" sings the Master of the House in 'Les Miserables'. This is often a sentiment I agree with - especially when it works against me rather than with me. The other week when I was on my way to Lowestoft the train from London to Norwich was delayed on the way - twice. Once due to a defective train in front and the second time due to 'congestion on the line'. All of this meant that we were fifteen minutes late arriving at Norwich - too long a delay to hold our connecting train, which left without us. National Express East Anglia were very unsympathetic and told me there was another train in an hour... by which time I would miss my meeting. Fortunately I found (or was found) by someone else going to Lowestoft who offered to share the taxi... not an English person... English and taxing sharing doesn't really happy.

Fortunately today was nothing like that. The trains were all on my side... I even beat the Lowestoft train to Norwich and had to wait for it to arrive. That is the way it should be. My journey was peaceful and untroubled... although as usual (for that line) my ticket was checked on each train... never happens on South Eastern!