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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Hours to go

Hexham to Galera tripLess than 24 hours to go and we start our long trip to Spain. Very roughly the image describes our planned route – from the Northeast, stopping over at a friend’s place, 24 hour ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, then a couple of hours drive before another stopover before heading down to Galera.

Quite a trip armed with three cats and a car-full of “stuff”. But we’ve done it before so it’s not entirely new.

With rain and 13c max temperatures forecast for Hexham area for the coming week now is a great time to clear off. 

Galera on the other hand is forecast to have a constant 26c maximum for the coming week – that will do us just fine – great weather for fixing hosepipes and upgrading the solar panel.

Had a great winter here in the UK thanks to our friends – without which it would have been pretty miserable (the weather in the Northeast is always miserable) – looking forward to getting together with our friends in Spain for a great summer.

The Summer of 2015

Spain - Embalse Del NegratinWe’re currently spending our summer in Spain, having made some major changes to our lives. I’m no longer the National IT Chairman for the FSB – a role I held for 14 years without opposition. I decided in June that I’d spent enough time with the organisation and it was time to move on.

Maureen[4]Maureen is no longer teaching and we made the somewhat bold decision to clear off to Spain for the summer. Our old home in Wark is on long-term rent and Hollyberry Cottage is fully booked until our return in the winter. In the meantime the ESCO work I was doing for the EU had drawn to a close (at least for now – I’m sure it won’t be long before I see Brussels again).

Hence instead of making excuses for the British summer that never comes, we’ve been here in Andalusia (Andalucia if you’re from mid-Spain) now since July and despite some of the disturbing weather forecasts you might have seen for parts of Spain, we’ve had I think 2 days of rain and maybe 5 or 6 days of gloomy clouds all summer – the rest has been glorious – yesterday for example was 30c and sunny (general photos in this album). The last rainfall did a power of good for the lakes which are a bit on the low side this year, but wonderfully warm for it.

MIT BostonI spent a short amount of time in Boston this summer, invited by a Chinese group to help out at MIT and met some great people there. Mind you, the airlines lost my bags in the process but that’s another matter.

If you want to get into the whole Spanish thing – I maintain the Spanish Bedrock website where I detail our travels in the hope it is of interest to others… and there is also Facebook etc., the social media links are in here somewhere. Meanwhile on the technical front, the additional time this long break has given us has been great, I’ve been able to devote more time to various projects and learning on my tech website, something that just doesn’t work when you are flitting back and forth from one meeting to another.

Accordingly I’ve been learning all about Linux thanks to the Raspberry Pi 2 which has kind of forced me to make the effort – so my new home control project – detailed at http://tech.scargill.net has given me ample opportunity to start broadening my Linux skills – still very much a work in progress.

Spain

I guess most importantly we’re having fun and relaxing, something I’ve not done for a long time. We miss our friends in the UK but then that’s what the technology is all about – Skype, Facebook and other toys have changed the way people communicate, generally for the better though I am looking forward to face to face meetings with our pals on our return in November.

Spanish entertainmentThis morning, we’re off to Huescar for coffee and some bits and pieces then I have a day of wiring up to do, I’ve been re-designing the lighting here outside our cave and am trying to make the wiring as neat as possible. For now most of my updates are on the Bedrock site.

Boston

Public Transport

Virgin limitsToday once again, the Northern Line is in the hands of private industry and we were hoping for more as Virgin took over running this Scotland to London run.

Sadly it is not looking that way. I’m sitting on the Newcastle to London 14.00pm train to Kings Cross, first class. You will notice the screenshot on the left, taken from the Virgin sign-on page which looks for all the world like a re-branded version of that of it’s predecessor.

Note that “watch video streaming” is not allowed. I guess this is partly understandable because this uses up a lot of bandwidth – but then, that IS what people do these days – maybe it is time to modernise the creaking train connectivity which does not seem to have improved since it was installed years ago.

What is less understandable is “download large files” – by which they actually mean download ANY files. Dropbox is stone, cold dead, clearly blocked in an age where more and more of us use it for temporary file storage – i.e. for taking files on the road, today’s equivalent of the old idea of carrying a memory stuck around (and often losing it – ask the government, they do it all the time). File sharing is of course often used for downloading movies and again I could see that might be an issue – it is also used for transferring legitimate files however. Clearly they don’t want people doing business on the train, just as well they’re not currently running those deceptive ads showing people sitting comfortably doing business on the train.

Were we in a fixed location it would not matter as many of us have high speed connectivity of our own in our mobile phones which unless you were unfortunate enough to buy an iPhone contract as they tend to charge extra, can easily share a mobile connection with a laptop or tablet. But we’re not – and on the Northern run, just as on the A69, signal strength is, well, all too often a joke.

Maybe this is why they keep offering endless amounts of alcohol – to dull the senses so we don’t notice the other issues. Due to changing roles within our organisation, this could well be one of my last regular trips to London – I must say, the public transport journey won’t be missed.

I’m down here tonight to celebrate a colleague’s birthday at a nice Indian near Victoria no doubt and tomorrow morning we have an intense “Vision 2020” meeting, one of those ones with a facilitator and lots of buzzing – and then it’s back on the train again home, hopefully I’ll get a good shot at my home control development this week.

“Attention crew, disabled passenger alarm operating” – he’s probably cut his wrists.

A pleasant birthday

Crewe HallI have to say I did not hold a lot of hope out for today – this time in CREWE, stuck in a meeting the outcome of which I may not see as I’ll not be on the same committee when they next meet– however, the hotel is actually very pleasant. We’re staying at the Crewe Hall hotel which is a fabulous old building and the atmosphere is great – which is more than can be said for the food. I’d show you some pictures of the superb oak staircases but it’s all a little dark inside and every attempt at grabbing photos with my phone failed miserably.

It was my birthday today and I was quite stunned by the number of Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype good wishes – thanks to all for making my day and thanks to everyone who kept me laughing a good part of the day.

Crewe Hall[6]Spent the day in a long meeting – and in the process even managed a tiny trade that netted me enough to buy another Raspberry Pi (I think my enthusiasm in the blogs has contributed in some small way to the fact that everyone is now out of stock) and a complete set of surrounding toys (case, fan, WIFI dongle etc).

The day ended with a small number of us, mere remnants of the once-mighty curry club,  who, faced with the notion of supporting a large business with a not very nice restaurant, or a small restaurant with decent Indian food, decided to go out and do our bit for small businesses – and very pleasant it was too. Even that was not without incident as the management narrowly avoided a fight as one guy who’d finished the meal without actually having the funds to pay for it ended up in a slanging match with the manager. Ultimately he paid half the price and cleared off. As you’d expect, the police, no doubt tied up with something serious like a parking violation, eventually turned up long after the whole affair was over – that could have been exciting as we were material witnesses however they chose not to bother us.

And so tomorrow is another day – a day of meetings– and Ebay shopping.

Another busy week of travel

BrusselsThis week starts with a trip to Belgium via London – I can’t believe I have to sit around in Heathrow for a couple of hours – sitting here making sure my laptop is up to date so I can do something useful with the time. First stop this week will be Brussels  We have some work to complete rapidly for the EU ESCO project with the international team I’ve been working with now for, well, approaching a couple of years I guess and I’m hoping to meet up with an old pal while I’m over there for a few drinks at the King of Spain in Grand Place (that’s if the remnants of flu will allow it) on Monday night.

2 days of intense meetings in Brussels then I’m back to London – Victoria area for 2 days of FSB meetings – and that just about wraps the week up once you take travel into account. I’ve spent much of the weekend buried in paperwork but this evening we had a very pleasant wine tasting evening in Bellingham, Northumberland.

And that’s about it – I’ve been working on my technical blog which is topping 3,000 page views a day… who would have thought it. The outcome is a vast hike in knowledge thanks to being able to bounce ideas of so many people so next weekend I plan to start constructing some new kit to take to Spain with us in February to bring our home over there into the 21st century.

LondonBoth of us have been really bad this week with the flu but Maureen is now starting to come around, I think I have another couple of days to go, can’t stop sneezing right now. Nothing else is new.

A week from Hell

It’s been a reasonably awful week this week. Firstly I’m in holiday mode – as we’re off to Spain next week to do some work on the cave – so I’m basically counting the days.  I spent the start of the week battling with a new service provider, the one I’m using for this and other blogs. Just silly stuff like me not realising I could not add an email redirect until I’d actually set up an email account in the first place – makes sense really – but you don’t have to do that with 123-reg so I wasted a morning figuring that out.

The rest of the week was spent in FSB meetings. Tuesday morning I drove down to St Johns Hotel in Solihull – took me the better part of 5 hours as the traffic down there wasn’t too good – and what HAVE they done to the M6 down at that end? There are more bumps in the road than some of our rural roads… awful.

The hotel I have to say was about as nice as the weather – it’s a Principal Hayley hotel and the food was awful – others agreed.  Thankfully at night there was a cracking Indian restaurant and a few of us spent our evenings in there. I can’t go into details in a blog but the meetings were hard – culminating in elections. I came out of it well, starting my 13th year as National IT Chairman and member of the Executive Board – not unexpected but then one should never take things for granted. Others didn’t do so well and two people I respect lost their posts.

Woodall ServicesThe meetings finished yesterday afternoon and at 5pm I set off on the trip up North and stopped at the Welcome Break in Woodall which houses the slowest McDonalds on the planet. I then took a different route as I thought the A1M might be a little better than the overcrowded M6. BAD mistake – it was closed, or part of it was, so the traffic ended up being routed through a small town – thousands of vehicles – absolute nightmare.

Traffic on A1M diversionThe end result was that it took me 7 hours go get from Solihull to Wark-on-Tyne.  I don’t mind driving FAST but slow journeys like that I find quite depressing.

I’d planning on spending the day here today preparing stuff for Spain but as it happened I ended up spending most of the day on conference calls or Skype, phone calls or emailing… to add to the damage, I’m involved in a European (EU) project and there is “trouble at mill” there which needed attending to – so I managed to get all of an hour or so to do my own “thing” as it were.

And to add icing to the cake, the only decent part of the trip away – the Indian restaurant saw me lose a filling so tomorrow it’s off to the dentist to get some repairs done before heading off to see a friend and his wife. That, at least should see a nice end to the week. More meetings ahead before we finally head off to the sun mid-week.

Scargill’s 60th Birthday

60th birthday and I officially go from middle-aged to ancient – a joyous occasion, well, it might have been had EASTERN AIRWAYS not screwed it up for me.

The plan was to fly to Cardiff last night in time for a nice Indian dinner before embarking on a 3-day meeting session. I specifically booked flights to make sure I had plenty of time including the 1-hour trip and half-hour on-going journey in Wales. Sorted.

10 minutes before our flight was due to leave, the assistant announced that the plane would be delayed due to “engine testing”. No problem as the flight left a fair bit of time before dinner. 10 minutes later… “the flight has been cancelled”.

We were ushered back by the now hapless-looking assistant up to get our bags and go back to the checking desks where he had the NERVE to offer 2 Easy Jet seats – to the WRONG airport – and with an £80 surplus (yes, we pay them!!!) which of course they would refund – eventually. Given that the last cancelled flight refund is taking us 6 weeks to get back, I was not having that and said so quite loudly but it made no difference as two people, clearly desperate to take anything going, had already claimed the seats.

Here’s the best bit. Eastern Airlines had a flight this morning at 6:40am – but actually had the nerve to suggest that they could not put up passengers for the night if this was their originating location. I lost it I’m afraid – Maureen dropped me off here without any keys – why would I need keys – I’m being picked up in a couple of days! After I calmed down, the attendant, powerless to make any decisions other than when to go to the loo, went on the phone to ask permission to put me in a Hilton Doubletree hotel which just happens to be walking distance from the airport – and that is where I ended up – with a voucher which had just insufficient in it to buy a decent meal.

5am this morning I arose, cleaned up and headed off to the airport. After the usual anti-terrorist stuff, I ended up with minutes to spare for take-off – just in time for a message to say the flight was DELAYED. 2.5 hours later and with another £5 voucher – just enough to buy a sandwich but not coffee, we eventually set off and by 11am I was in Cardiff, a mere 16 hours later than planned.

Why did I chose to fly? To avoid nearly 6 hours of driving – on reflection – at least I would have arrived on time.

A Trip to the Channel Islands

AuroraSome months ago I received an email inviting me to the IT Directors Forum.  Usually such invites end up in the bin and I could not shake the feeling that there must be a catch, but as it happens I’d been pondering the fact that

I’ve not been to a decent event, well, pretty much since the recession started when I paused my annual visits to Microsoft’s TechED which had for some time been held in Barcelona and which were a constant source of "new thinking" for me.

The point of such trips of course is to play catch up and grab some inspiration, learning about the latest IT tools and meet peers to exchange ideas.

AuroraThis trip was to be run by Richmond Events and shortly after the invite I received a call from one of their senior executives, an enthusiastic Canadian. He explained that the event was free to attend for IT professionals, paid for by the sales companies who would host events, host dinner tables etc.

After about an hour on the phone he asked me if I would head up a round table meeting on the issues surrounding BYOD (bring your own device) and I agreed that might be fun.

I didn’t know it at the time but Dale from DRP was (who do the FSB’s stage stuff at our annual Conferences) was also to be there for a similar event (BIG ship).

AuroraI agreed to go. All went well until a couple of weeks ago when a personal tragedy set me thinking that I should cancel the trip. As it happened I had missed the bit that says that if you cancel at the last minute, you have to pay a £1000 fine and so, somewhat reluctantly, on Wednesday I headed off down to Southampton, meeting FSB employee and my head of IT,  Ian Martin, half way down the country, an ideal opportunity to catch up.

Midday Wednesday we arrived in Southampton by train and got on the free shuttle bus to the Aurora.

"Massively impressive" about covers my feelings on first seeing the ship. How DO people build things this big? Aurora is a cruise ship of the P&O Cruises fleet. The ship was built by Meyer Werft at their shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. At 76,000 tonnes, it is the fifth largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises.

That really does not do justice to the initial impression. On embarking the ship and being handed our room keys the first thing we noticed was the elegant staircase and impressive surrounds. The very first thing I said to Ian was "Titanic!!"

tmpCCC4Thankfully he has a sense of humour. Off I went to get changed and study the agenda. The room was tremendous – turns out the IT guys get the good rooms while the sales guys get the ones without windows – works for me.

Now, when I said I’d chair a talk, I was thinking I would see how others did their stuff to get a feel for it. Imagine my surprise (to quote VIZ) when I discovered I was on FIRST THING Thursday and had to do a repeat on the Friday morning.

Not only that but I was marked up as a speaker alongside people such as Jim Noble who is an advisor to President Obama and who has top USA security clearance. Oh dear.

The event opened Wednesday evening with a keynote speech by Michael Portillo and the evening ended with dinner, where Ian and I were assigned to different tables both hosted by companies who were there primarily to sell their services to the IT pros (who seem to have been chosen for their spending power).

AuroraBy 9am Thursday morning I was a bag of nerves ( the constant swaying of the ship, producing a feeling not unlike a severe hangover  didn’t help either).  As it happens the discussion went well and I got mainly "good" circles in the response forms for my efforts. Whew! Meanwhile Ian was elsewhere on board attending talks appropriate to his needs.

One kind fellow rewarded my efforts by handed me one "average" mark because I failed to say what "Bring your own Device" was about, even though it was clearly explained in the support papers which you had to read in order to select which talks you wanted to attend. Always keen to improve, I took that on-board for the next time.

I could not possibly describe the many great talks nor the wonder of travelling in such a great machine designed to making people feel ill, but one big event of Thursday stands out… A talk by Dr Steve Peters, the consulting psychiatrist who supported team GBs extraordinary cycling success in the London 2012  Olympics. I have to say that normally I’d give such stuff a miss but I can honestly say Chimp ParadoxI’ve not been so impressed since the American Mars landings! Suffice it to say that after a quick trip to Amazon, his book "The Chimp Paradox" is on my tablet. The rest of the trip was dominated by "inner chimp" jokes. Even the ship staff were at it. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the humour.

Friday morning I repeated my BYOD session, this time accompanied by violent storms and a ship vibrating madly as it compensated for the storm by shifting huge weights around. I must’ve learned something from the previous session as my meeting ended in more smiles and a bunch of "excellent" tick boxes.. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was chuffed.

The poolThroughout the event, Ian Martin and I (often separately) spent hours in discussion with industry peers and suppliers and I remember now why I used to be so keen to go to TechEd. 

Many inspirational talks and supplier meetings later, we departed the Aurora (which had spent the two days anchored off the Channel Islands) with some insights we simply could not have obtained any other way and a promise to meet some new colleagues again in the future.

Would I go again? Absolutely, but next time with travel pills!

Sunset

on board

Have a better one

It’s been one of those days today. After a late start due to overdoing the wine the night before while chatting via Skype to a pal overseas (and in a different time zone – hence the 3am finish) I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky. My Internet connection had been acting up for the last couple of days and I wasn’t expecting it to get any better.

It got worse – not only did the connection continue to go downhill, one machine stopped working altogether. By the time I was finished testing cables – NOTHING would connect to the Internet and I could not even talk to the local router!! I went through each cable one by one (these go up through the loft etc.) and finally it got to the point where even a connection straight to the router would not work.. then out of the blue, everything started to come back to life.

As I sit here at 11pm it’s as if there has never been anything wrong – all is working perfectly, I’m getting high speed Internet and I have not the FOGGIEST idea what that was all about!

All’s well that ends well – tomorrow I’m off to Blackpool (again), the only saving grace to that is the possibility of a nice Indian meal!

I’ve been doing some more studying on my pet hobby – Atmel processors and I reckon I’m about ready to go in at the deep end – accordingly I’ve ordered a cheap Chinese programmer so I can go deep into the chip registers and have a poke around – maybe I’ll have more luck with that than the Internet.

We’re planning a trip to Spain – unfortunately I’m likely to be coming home from Turkey just at the very time we’re due out (October school break) so getting a flight from Turkey to Alicante could be fun!

La Weekend

An early start this morning – had to drop Maureen off at the airport as she’s off to see her mum for a couple of weeks, leaving me to look after two lots of cats! Just watch the Russians getting to the Space station in 6 hours – fantastic.

BrusselsI just received this “In view of the relevance of your professional profile and expertise to ESCO’s work, the ESCO Secretariat appointed you as a member of the Reference Group "ICT service activities". This appointment decision has been endorsed by the ESCO Board.” which means sometime in April I’m off to Brussels for a couple of days. I do hope the weather is nicer there than it is here not that I’ll see much of it buried away in meetings but at least I’ll have a night or two to enjoy there – beer’s nice and I know the centre fairly well now.

Meanwhile the satellite broadband continues to work well, I should say the delays are a little annoying at times but considering our NEXT house starts with 2 meg broadband until some magical upgrade in the future, will make satellite just about essential. This’ll be good as I’ve never tried aligning a dish before and now I’ll have two of them to do!!

Leicester marketSo many things to do, so little time, but THIS weekend – I plan to do as little as possible. Didn’t really get a break last week as I was working at the FSB’s conference in Leicester and when I got home on Sunday I had to sort out some last minute Leicestervideos stuff that we didn’t have time to complete at the venue.  The new Chairmain’s first interview video which I did with him the morning after his election is at the FSB website for those who are interested – along with the Toyah Wilcox video and a ton of other stuff..

Got my new laptop so I’ve no doubt I’ll spend most of the weekend populating it and trying to get rid of the new STUPID and almost universally hated Windows 8 gesture controls which result in applications swapping in front of your eyes seemingly randomly.

If I’d not already installed a ton of stuff I’d rip the lot out and go back to Windows 7 but I guess one has to move on… the time will come when Windows 7 is now longer supported so may as well be ahead of the pack.

But for now – some TV and a bite to eat…  have a nice weekend, all.