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Archive for the ‘Brussels’ Category

The Summer of 2015 and a new Phone

Lots going on right now…

izmir[4]After what seems like a lifetime as IT Director and National IT Chairman of the FSB, I’ve decided to give it a miss. The reasons aren’t simple and include changes in the FSB itself – it is simply not the organisation I joined. Every year for the past 14 years, I’ve re-applied for the post and have never been opposed.

I’ve had a rarely- equalled freedom to take things in the direction I’ve wanted IT to go with unqualified support from the other directors. This year, the job role and authority changed, in my view in the wrong direction and when it came to putting in the papers I just could not bring myself to doing it. At the time, I didn’t know if anyone else was going for the role as this was handled externally. I wrote in to decline and left it at that.

GibraltarI’ve only just found out that in fact someone did go for it – so perhaps it’s as well I stepped down – keeps my unopposed record intact if nothing else. Hah!

Dell Tech ThinktankThe role has been great fun and has helped me travel to Microsoft’s HQ in the USA, UK and Brussels, Google’s European and Irish offices and the Dell Thinktank in Amsterdam to name but a few. I’ve made friends with the EU ESBA team and travelled with them to Brussels, Ireland, Izmir and meetings at the top of the rock in Gibraltar where I’ve met with Gibraltar luminaries and learned so much about the place (as well as discovering what a pain the Spanish are being over there).

Would-beI’ve vice-chaired a multi-national EU team representing many nations, I’ve met Prime Ministers (and would-be Prime Ministers)  and countless ministers, been to Numbr 10 and the House of Commons many times, I’ve met stars of stage and screen, visited the various offices of Microsoft, Dell, Google and so much more – and now it is time for a break.

And so we’re planning a long summer in Spain, something we should have done a long time ago because Britain is NEVER going to have a fine summer whereas it is odds-on that when we stop over there until autumn, we’re unlikely to see more than a couple of days of heavy rain. Lovely.

BrusselsBut first, having just finished (more or less) work on Hollyberry Cottage which is now occupied through to the autumn, we’re working on Willow Cottage with a view to clearing the place out in the next few weeks (to rent as it happens) before we head off to the sun complete with cats. I am, accordingly, covered in paint.

Google - Peter McAvoyMeanwhile the change has prompted me to look at phones! My last contract phone was the excellent Samsung S4 and I had planned to move onto the S6, but recently, two things happened to the phone – firstly the chrome started to come away from the front a little and secondly, being someone who uses LOTS of apps, I found myself running out of internal memory (even though the Samsung can use external memory for Apps (I have a lot)– they still eat up a good chunk of the internal and limited memory) and having seen that Samsung are not entirely invincible I decided to have a look around, concentrating on features rather than name.

ToyahIt just so happened that a good and knowledgeable friend of mine had been trying out a Chinese phone and I asked him how the new phone was going – he replied saying that it was so good he’d bought more of them! I decided to investigate. I sold the Samsung to a friend who will love it…  and sent off my order for the new phone.

Now, in order to do this justice, you really are going to have to turn a blind eye to the name of the phone.. it’s called a Zopo (Mind you, even some of the big names sound silly – did you know that LG were originally called “Lucky Goldstar”). Yes, Zopo sounds like a cigarette lighter… but once you get past that, lets’ see why this might be a good phone or indeed, an excellent phone.

ThinktankThe model Z999 Pro Lion Heart is big, bigger than the S4 and the new HTC, but just as thin. It has two SIM sockets – rather handy for, erm, travelling to Spain! It also supports external microSD and it just so happens I have a fast 64GB microSim. It has 3GB of RAM – three times earlier phones… and finally it has 32GB of internal Flash memory – and to power all of that, an octal processor! My DESKTOP has an octal processor!!

ZopoWith an HD screen who’s pixels are so small as to be utterly invisible, rendering text as good to the eye as a quality magazine and with superb colour rendering, this phone was off to a good start but here’s the thing – it is cheap enough to buy – hence I’m on a SIM-ONLY contract with THREE (I stayed with them for two reasons – firstly you can use your minutes overseas and even some data overseas and secondly, they have a little app that allows the phone to work where there is no signal as long as you have WIFI. I also have a 3 BOX that sits in the window sill and does the same thing  – gone are the days of having to drive up the hill to use the phone.

The Z999 is powerful, great looking and cheap – it does not have infra-red which was a shame (most phone don’t but the Samsung S4 and 5 do) but there are ways around that. It does however have a VERY sensitive GPS which unlike many phones, works indoors a treat. It also has Bluetooth, NFC, an FM radio, compass and all the other sensors and features (gesture recognition etc.) you’d nowadays expect with a top phone.

It came (very unusually) with a screensaver already fitted to the glass and a spare included. The camera is a particularly sensitive 14Mpx job and contrary to various articles it does have HDR.

Battery life is not stunning but then it isn’t with any of the top-end phones so I’ve ordered a rather large solar charger to take to Spain with me. I finished the long process of installing satnav maps for Britain and Spain – and then on a trip to Manchester I took some pics to check out the claims of it being better than the Samsung camera – I would say YES. Up to now I am VERY pleased with the phone.

The King of Spain

Perhaps you though I was going to say something relevant about Spain? No… that’s a pub in Brussels – on the corner of Grand Place to be precise and the image you see is half way up the stairs. My trip this week to Brussels went well other than a shocker on timescales which means we need to work more quickly than we’d anticipated.

Our work with ESCO is about to be set in stone and translated into multiple languages – which is gratifying one the one hand but one always would like to do better. I’m like that with some of my electronics – I have to force myself to actually finish something off and move on because you can always improve what you’ve done.

King of Spain

Anyway I’m back – I’m down in London actually for another round of meetings but during my brief stay in Belgium I managed, despite the rather nasty tail end of the flu to meet up with some chums as well as getting a great deal of work done.  When I get a minute I’ll post some more of my pictures up.

Brussels

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.

Sound and Light at Grand Place

That’s my international travelling done for the year, another couple of local meetings and that’s me done until the new year, giving me time to get down to some solid research as well as checking out the first lot of PCBs from China.

I just spent the last couple of days in Brussels as Vice-Chairman of the ICT development group for the EU ESCO project. We’ve been working on skill definitions and putting together some standards to help ourselves and other groups.

Meanwhile of course our evenings are free and so I spent both nights at Grand Place where, at this time of year they have the most stunning visual and audio treats. A picture is worth a thousand works so here are some pictures… Also check out the video.. and go easy, I’m still getting used to the new EOS-M.

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Grand Place

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A Busy Week

Leaving the UKWhat a busy week. It all started last Sunday when I was supposed to board a Newcastle plan to Brussels. I’m vice-chairman of an EU group handling the ICT area of a project called ESCO. Suffice it to say we meet regularly over there regularly.

4am on Sunday morning an email turned up from BA to say my flight had been cancelled. This was a Newcastle-Heathrow-Brussels two-parter.

With that first flight scrapped, we had to cancel the lot and come up with a quick miracle – which appeared in the form of a new trip to Edinburgh – a direct flight to The flight to BrusselsBrussels (I often end up in Edinburgh because Newcastle Airport, in terms of flights and cost is basically rubbish especially near holiday times). No problem (other than the 6 weeks it will take to get a refund out of BA and Expedia).

Off I went to Brussels. I won’t go into the details of meetings here because to the outside world they are no that interesting but let me say this was not a holiday lest the pictures suggest otherwise. Not much point in taking pictures of a meeting room, either… on the other hand if you have a camera…

A bar in BrusselsI have to say, the weather in Brussels was crap… better than here in Wark but cold. There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting outside having a Leffe beer at a pub in downtown Brussels – nice heater on the wall but I still ended up with gloves on at one point. I really do like the Grote Markt in Brussels however, it’s a nice little area with great bars, friendly people, lots to see and importantly, Leffe on draft.

Parts of the city however, especially in Brusselspoor weather make me think of deepest Russia.  Our meeting involved travelling through such parts but the good side of that is I’m now a little more comfortable taking the tube and bus over there.

THe meeting itself took place in I guess what would be the outskirts, certainly looked that way from the view out of our window. I was there for 2 nights, the first was a Billy-no-mates night, the second with colleagues from Italy and Spain – quite nice – we went to a Greek restaurant – well, cafe.

Edinburgh airportAbout the only other exciting part of that trip was the return  – we blew the quick arrangements we’d made on Sunday – thanks to February having the same days as March and too short notice to do the job with care!! We’d ended up booking my return flight for the right time and day, but a month from now. I found out only hours before the flight was due.

Gibraltar airportNo sooner was I back in the UK and tackling the usual email mountain than I was off to Manchester overnight to de-stress – then an early flight to Heathrow and then on to Gibraltar. Another meeting, this time the bit I was interested in was a potential trading portal for the FSB – there was a presentation and the designers were there etc.

This time I struck gold with the weather. A little shabby when I got there, but by Saturday, Gibraltar weather was nothing short of magnificent. See the rock there in the photo (weather not so hot on the way in) – well, the meeting room is at the very top. Lovely. At the end of this blog are a boatload of photos which say more than 1000 words as it were.

Peter Scargill with ESBA membersThe afternoon I arrived as it happens there was a meeting to discuss the issues that traders had/have with the Spanish government – if you’ve not read about this – and bearing in mind these guys are Brits – it’s a worthwhile read – the Spanish people are very, very nice – but their government…. not so – indeed,  when reading about what they get up to, the term childish comes to mind – even the neighbouring town of La Linea is suffering through this agro – and that’s Spanish! Anyway after an informative conversation we ended up at the “Rock Hotel” for dinner, or rather, the Spanish FSB (GFSB) took us there – what a place – if you’re ever there, take a drive up – the views are amazing – not quite as amazing as the views at the TOP of the rock but amazing non-the-less and a nice hotel from what I saw.

On Friday the meeting I’d gone for took place and by Saturday, people were heading off in different directions to go home and I learned all about how to get there by train and bus – avoiding the up to 8 hour delays by simply walking over the border. Some day I may put that to use.

Anyway I took pictures at every opportunity. Enjoy and don’t forget you can usually click on these images for larger versions or (on a PC) hover for info.

Gibraltar Macaque

Gibraltar MacaqueGibraltar - the Rock

Main Street Gibraltar

Panorama from the Rock

Life and Belgium Chocolate

barThere I was, ogling the chocolate in the store in central Belgium, pondering the taste but convincing myself I should not be so silly aChocolate from Brusselss to indulge, when something hit me… it’s not about the cost, it’s about what the chocolate represents to the people here. This is a really big deal for them – and it’s not THAT bad, so in I went and stuffed myself. Well, that’s my excuse.

The rather cheesy bar here on the left is the very first bar that Maureen and I visited many years ago and had our first Leffe Blonde Beer… which I have to say is very nice. Then it was a far distant country, one we were stepping through…. and we thought little of Brussels other than it being a tad expensive.

Contrast that to now, thanks to friends here I know a lot about the city and can pretty much navigate the city centre back-streets without getting lost.

There is so very much old character here in Brussels but you have to go looking.

Downtown Brussels

BrusselsSo very much to do, so very little time – Brussels is a pleasant place with some great bars and restaurants  that really needs examining – Had a great night out with my pal Kenneth – and Brendan the night before – long may this great combination of business and pleasure last.

I arrived rather earlier than I expected, staying at the MOON hotel near the Grand Place (or Grote Markt). First stop bar beside the hotel to meet my friend Brendan. He was not enjoying his beer so we cleared off to the bar you see above – which thankfully has outdoor heaters and a 3 for 2 special offer on Leffe Blonde. Next morning – I recall something like 7.30am we headed off to the EESC – the European Economic Social Committee – this time merely dropping in to make use of the facilities – I’m still on guest badges at this point. That lasted most of the morning before I headed off to the nearby street where we held the first of two ESCO meetings. Back to the same bar area at night – next morning another meeting before heading back to the UK.

A short trip to Brussels

Brussels

I’ve been quite in here as we’ve had more than our fair share of bad luck recently and it’s still going on with a friend’s mum just dying last night. Last time I was here in Brussels, it was the middle of summer and hot. Now, it’s a lot cooler and wet – but still very pleasant. Arrived yesterday, meetings today and tomorrow then back home tomorrow night via our friend house overnight.  Last night I had another superb pizza just around the corner from the picture here, taken late last night before taking a pretty comprehensive walking tour of the place with an old friend who knows all about Brussels and who happened to be here at the same time as me. Anyone’s guess what will happen tonight.

For now I’m at the offices of the EESC and about to head off for an ESCO meeting – Google abbreviations if interested – can’t imagine why you would be : – )

More pics later – the editor I’m using isn’t converting them to JPG and I don’t want to slow readers down with huge files.

The Brussels Trip

Brussels Airport SouthIn an unusual break from my FSB activities, this week I headed off to Brussels to perform my duties as vice-chairman of the EESCO ICT group. This is a small-pan-European group involved in creating a language-independent reference for jobs, skills and qualifications in ICT – not a trivial task and something that will run for around 2.5 years.  We meet bi-monthly in Brussels and this is my second trip.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed off to Edinburgh airport for the mid-afternoon flight which would get me into Brussels early enough for dinner. I’d planned to meet one of the team, a fellow from Sweden called Kenneth OE Sundin with whom I get on well, for drinks. Sadly I got off to a bad start. Having not realised there are TWO airports in Brussels (the second being Charleroi South) and despite many trips there in the past , I ended up at the wrong one, a small affair situated an hour (by coach) away from Brussels centre and even then a further trip by taxi to my normal part of town. That pretty much kyboshed my early evening plans and I let Kenneth know I’d not be around.

Hotel La Madeleine in BrusselsAs it happened just as I arrived at my hotel expecting a quite night at the Hotel La Madeleine in downtown Brussels, a message came in from an old friend to say that the EESC (European Economic and Socwreckial Community) were having a bash which was going on late and if I got there quickly there was still time to salvage the night. I jumped in a taxi only to end up in the centre of Brussels not moving as there’d been a rather serious crash involving a motorcycle downtown and the traffic was gridlocked. After watching my fare jump from 5 to 10 Euros without actually moving, I jumped out of the taxi and took a brisk walk for the last half-mile to the venue.

Downtown BrusselsThe celebration was for the incoming Latvian President of the EU and the whole event was themed Latvian from the food to the (live) music and even some traditionally-clothed dancers. I was rapidly introduced to to a whole succession of Europeans involved in the EESC while enjoying a range of Latvian foods and of course the odd beer.

My meeting the next day was not until early lunchtime and I was invited to return to the EESC building for an early (8am) start, a chat and a visit to one of the plenary meetings, this particular one on the issue of a pending EU directive on smoking. I have to say I found the whole process fascinating and would not had had great difficulty in contributing to the arguments in a massive Auditorium with projectors and stage, banks of translators on the ready behind huge glass screen and some lively conversations going on. My headphones filled with live translations of the manu languages used and I stayed for a couple of hours during which time I also had a fascinating chat with one of the accountants who explained the funding setup and I have to say everyone I talked to made me feel quite at home. No doubt that won’t be the end of that.

Late morning I headed off on foot for my ESCO meeting a few blocks down downtown at Rue Joseph II – we ended up in EU offices smack in the middle of town with no air-conditioning and our pan-European team roasted for much of the afternoon while we listened to a series opizzaf talks and discussed how to progress our mission. The meeting ended at 5:30pm and we went our own separate ways.  Kenneth and I headed off down to our hotels near the Grand Plaza and agreed to meet up later on for drinks at the Plaza itself.

Brussels Central Plaza is a wonderful place in summer and just about every bar and restaurant had outside seating backed with enthusiastic travellers from all over the world. We picked a corner spot We’d previously visited but they were out of space so we went to the next bar along. That didn’t last long as they were charging 6 Euros for a Leffe beer whereas their competitors were offering 3 Leffes for 8 Euros!

Yes THAT much difference. Finally we settled down at a VERY reasonable pizza restaurant, had another beer and in each case one of the best pizzas we’d had in years (sign in the window “Pizzas au feu de bois”). The guy took great delight in telling us the place had 25 years experience- the bill came to under 20 Euros each – what more could you want.

Today I have a very full day with ESCO not to mention the usual FSB email mountain) then after the rather longer than planned trip to the airport I’m off home, arriving back in Wark at a not-unreasonable hour after the two-hour drive down from Edinburgh airport (Newcastle is just too unreasonable requiring a stop-over in London). Next week I’ve a fairly full week of FSB meetings before heading off to Spain for some real sun.

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.

The Brussels Trip

Following on from my trip to Lincoln, the next part of my week involved hopping onto the Eastern train down to Kings Cross – making the hop to the Chunnel and on to Brussels to attend various meetings hosted by ESBA (the European Small Business Alliance).

Speedo showing 184mph on the EurostarOf course, when I moved to THREE for mobile, it never occurred to me to check, with such an excellent deal in the UK, what Brusselstheir charges for overseas might be – and so you can imagine, surfing the web as we came up for air in Europe, I was rather dismayed by a constant stream of text messages “you have just spent £5 on data”…. “You have just spent £10 on data” etc..  Before switching the phone off in disgust, I did happen to notice on one of my navigation programs, the speed we were doing.  184mph. Very nice.

tmpB48BAs I was a guest of our Chairman, I travelled to Brussels with him – arriving there far too late to go out and enjoy the evening and so we headed off to our respective apartments – Brussels is very expensive, as you can imagine it would be and so we’d booked into a place called THON apartments, not the Ritz but self-catering apartments with a decent living and dining area etc.  Having been ripped on the way in for broadband we then discovered the apartments also charged for WIFI… so very different to my normal experience and the only downside of moving away from Vodafone who do a flat-rate £9 a day for using their dongles in Europe. It was a warm evening and so I settled down for the night, but not before European Parliamentnoticing a fine example of European wiring standards in action at the apartment which was otherwise very well maintained…

Brussels of course is just one of the places where the European Parliament meet to change our lives for better or worse but I have to say that it is very impressive indeed and you do get a definite impression of a place where important things happen.

Radisson BluOur meetings on Thursday took place in the Radisson Blu hotel just up from the parliament area but that didn’t stop me getting up first thing in the morning armed with camera to make sure I got my fair share of pictures. The area really is stunning and indeed Brussels generally has some amazing architecture both old and new. 

European ParliamentParliament BuildingsBreakfast of course consisted of croissants and powerful coffee and then the rest of the day was pretty much occupied with meetings, listening to and occasionally interacting with the various speakers. being relatively new to this I spend most of my time listening rather than talking.

StatueThe strangest thing happened…  at breakfast we were talking about an old pal of mine and in jest I said I would not be surprised if he was here. We walked into the Radisson and sure enough there he was standing in the foyer – I could not believe my eyes.  Turns out he has access to offices just down the road and so outside of the meetings we spent some time catching up – which gave me even more excuses to take some pictures.

At this point I’ll stop talking and let the pictures speak for themselves for a while… feel free to click on the images to see larger versions, especially the ones directly below…

 

Brussels

Brussels

Meeting rooms

The image you see below on the left is an actual part of the Berlin wall, as you can see, not that high really but with armed guards not too far away on the Eastern side, clearly there were effective. Parts of Berlin Wall shipped in

There is such a mix of stuff here, from amazing old architecture to super modern buildings that in themselves are works of art. Loved the place, though it’s not my first time there.

The second morning was taken up with an  ESBA meeting which I attended as a guest. ESBA is a pan-European small business organisation – you can find out anything you need to know from their website-  and that, basically was it. A short bus-ride back to the airport and a matter of a couple of hours later I was back in rainy Newcastle, all the better for the experience and the opportunity to get a tiny insight into how European bureaucrats work.

There are of course LOTS more photos and of higher quality – I’ve put the lot onto my Google Albums site and I recommend a trip here. The album also covers my trip to Lincolnshire (previous blog).