Sunday 24 October 2004

Gone To Egypt

We're off today to Egypt for two weeks. First week we're on a tour of Cairo, Aswan and Luxor with The Adventure Company and the second week we fly to Sharm El Sheik to do some diving in the Red Sea. Tell you about it when I get back!

Saturday 23 October 2004

Friday 22 October 2004

Fun With Neodymium Magnets

Ok, I confess I'm a bit of a science geek and have a big warm spot for science education. It doesn't take much to convince me to buy anything that can be justified as teaching the kids about science.

I recently discovered the PowerMagenetStore. Magnets are, of coure, one of the coolest things to play with and this place sells N38 Neodymium rare earth magnets. I ordered 18 of them for £13.25 and they quickly arrived in the post.

They are incredibly strong. A 1/2" cube easily holds up Jenny's wok (not that she appreciated it). Let two 1/2" cubes stick to each other and it takes a major effort to seperate them. These magnets can crush fingers and pinch skin very badly. I've let the kids play with them a little but they have to be strictly supervised. These magnets can easily kill credit cards, monitors, watches and other devices.

Next step is to come up with some fun experiments and demonstrations of what these things can do. There are lots of ideas on Dan's Data, WonderMagnet or Bill Beaty's page.

Thursday 21 October 2004

R*s Birthday Wish List

It's coming up to R*'s 9th birthday and she's presented the following wish list to us:

laptop, game boy advanced, portable cd player, geometry set, calculator, money safe, action man, harry potter poster, wand, gallions, knuts, sikles, sewing book, dog (multy po), joey yu-gi-oh deck, £50, suitcase trunk, small gold in-out box, dip pen and ink, sweet maker, very strong magnets, 2 girl gerbils, £100 and a very happy family

Unfortunately, we will be on holiday on her birthday but she's having a big bowling party for all the girls in her class when we get back.

Roadtrip to Germany

This travelogue covers a roadtrip a friend and I did in September 2004. We drove from near London to the Nurburgring race circuit and then on to Munich for Oktoberfest. We drove home via Amsterdam.

A Whim

It all started on a whim. I sent an email to Sean, my buddy back in Canada:

Psst. Hey, ever been interested in a doing a road trip in Europe?

I've always wanted to take the Porsche and drive down to the Nurburing circuit in Germany and go for a lap. Could be a fun road trip. Maybe we could drop by Munich...

We've been friends since grade eight and grew up talking about things we'd like to do when we were "grown up" so it seemed about time to live some of those dreams. The amazing thing was than in two days we had a holiday planned out and a month later, Sean arrived and on the next day, we hit the road!

Before reading about the trip, you might want to watch the music video teaser that Sean put together.

Day One

We caught the 11:30 ferry run by Speed Ferries over to Boulogne-sur-Mer. They offer a superb service that's much cheaper than other channel crossing options. If you need to go to the continent, make sure you check them out. It only cost £80 to get both of us and the car to France and back and the crossing only takes 50 minutes. It ran on time without any hitches. Highly recommended.

We only stopped in Boulogne long enough for me to pick up some euro's from an ATM before jumping onto the A16/A10 heading past Calais, Dunkerque and Bruges to Brussels. But as we approached Bruges, I was just too tempted given it's reputation as beautiful day trip. We took a detour and cruised through the town packed to the hilt with tourists. It's a quaint medeival town riddled with canals. We had a drink and took a short walk around the town before driving on.

It took about another four hours of driving to get us to Auderath, Germany. I had heard Belgium is a tedious and boring place to drive and it's true. The only thing that made it interesting was driving fast and cranking the music right up.

We drove through the Parc Naturel des Hautes Fagnes which was torture on the suspension but you could tell as soon as we entered Germany. The road all of  a sudden was smooth. We drove along hilly rural backroads to Auderath. Very nice area. Very rural. As we got near Nurburg, we ran into a few drivers who considered the region a race track.

We had no problems with directions until the very end when we couldn't find the hotel. I called them on my mobile and as the proprietors were British, we had no troubles getting directions. We were soon ensconced in the hotel restaurant with a fine dinner and our first German beer.

Day Two

This was the big day! The most famous race circuit in the world would open for us to drive on it at 1pm. I felt a little edgy, but Sean was quite nervous. It didn't help much when I warned him it was standard practice in motorsports to wear cotton rather than acrylics in case of fire.

I had done quite a lot of preparation for this day so I was feeling quite good about it. I had memorized the entire circuit using a combination of playing an xbox racing game (Project Gothem 2) that had a simulation of the circuit and matching it up with a real map of the circuit that included race lines. I had also studied a photo lap sequence. I really must commend Ben Lovejoy on providing an extremely informative Nurburgring website. It was so useful, I sent him a donation.

We killed time in the Nurburgring Formula 1 circuit souvenir shop - had to get the T-shirt! Niether of us were very hungry, but we killed some more time nibbling on a light lunch before it was time to go.

Ready to goWe got to the parking lot at the entrace of the Nurburgring and it was buzzing. A couple of dozen cars were already there along with a couple of dozen superbikes. It was a quiet day compared to how busy it gets on a weekend. The cost is 14 euro's per lap so I bought two tickets and we battened down the car and put on helmets before edging up to the toll gate. All you do is put your ticket in, the barricade goes up and you're onto the circuit.

Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take pictures or video while you're driving on the track.

It was a lot of fun. I took it quite easy as I didn't want to misjudge the race line, run out of track and hit a fence or a concrete wall or go over the cliff edge. It happens! There's very little runoff around the Nurburgring and lots of armco. Plenty of other cars caught up and over took me and I didn't attempt to tail them. The Porsche kept its grip in the corners with only an occasional bit of understeer. The car was ready to do more than the driver. The tricky bit was deciding on what gear and when to shift while keeping aware of what was coming up behind me. Before building speed, the important thing is finding the right racing line and with 73 corners, it's a lot to figure out.

After the two laps, we were all smiles. The Nurburgring has been described as a rollercoaster and it's quite true. It's hilly with lots of blind corners and hill crests which is what makes it a dangerous circuit. But it's fun! I went back to the office and bought two more tickets. The 3rd and 4th laps were smoother and faster. I felt the racing line improving and fewer cars overtook us. It would have been awesome to spend the day there and remove all the tread from the rear tires but we had a good 500 miles to go that day and it was already 2:30.

For your viewing pleasure, here's a video of someone driving the Nurburgring in a Porsche RUF CTR (part1, part2).

145 mphI handed over the driving to Sean and he soon started feeling confident driving a right-hand drive Porsche in a left-hand country. By the time we hit the unlimited Autobahn approaching Stuttgart, he was enjoying it. I took over driving around Stuttgart and drove the last leg to Munich where we managed to video ourselves doing 145 mph.

For a motorway that doesn't have speed limits, the Autobahn isn't as smooth as I expected. It can be quite bumpy. These bumps don't matter at 100 mph but at 145 mph, it makes for a lively ride and keeps your mind incredibly focused. Also at that speed, you have to watch cars in the next lane very carefully for any hint that they intend to move into your lane. A Porsche has incredible brakes but slamming on the brakes at high speed isn't a safe maneuver. So, we never got a chance to get near the top speed of 170 mph.

By 10pm, we made it to our hotel in Wessling which just happened to have a cosy little bar. It was a nice way to end to a fabulous day of driving.

Day Three


No more driving for two days. We caught the local commuter train to Munich and made our way to the Oktoberfest arriving before noon.

It was pretty quiet which surprised us at first, but it was still morning. We wandered down the main fairway and hopped onto the Ferris Wheel to get a bird's eye view of place. Afterwards, we went on one of the big rollercoasters with five loops which left us with jelly for legs.

Time for beer! At this point, I had the naive idea would could have one beer in each of the fourteen tents. First tent, we sat opposite two middle-aged ladies who spoke no English and had our first litre of beer. Second tent, we had aother litre of beer at a table to ourselves. After that, we were quite pissed.

First BeerThird Beer

Mistake! Tried to sober up drinking water and coffee. By the time we were ready for another beer, there wasn't any tables availabe so we sat outside in a chilly wind chatting to some Brits. Then we wandered around to as many tents as we could. I picked two that would be our main tents to hang out at the next day.

Day Four

There's supposed to be over a 100 kinds of beers brewed in Germany so we figured we should try and sample some of them at the Hofbraeuhaus in central Munich. Got there only to find that even they only served one kind - at least during the Oktobefest.

We walked around the shopping district of the city centre getting cold. Shopping looks the same anywhere you go doesn't it? Warmed up by buying a sweater and having a latte. Found out later that the weather was unusually cold that week.

Time for a beer! We made our way back to the Oktoberfest grounds and were very lucky to squeeze onto a table occupied by a large group of Germans who, again, didn't speak any English. No problem. Beer is a universal language and it was a very jolly crowd.

Fourth BeerFifth Beer

I should take a moment to praise the traditional Bavarian Dirndl dress. It can look absolutely fabulous on the right girl. Very uplifting. Lots of people were wearing traditional costumes and we even met one named Heidi.

Dirndl Dress

After two litres of beer, we poured ourselves over to another tent full of wild foreigners. Overall, everyone is very well behaved. I don't think you could hold a beer festival like it in Britain. It would just get violent and completely out of hand. The Germans just drink, sing and are happy.

Oktoberfest shuts down around 11pm and by random chance, we later found ourselves at a bar called Coyote Nights. It was a small place but featured a lively show on the bar - anything from wet T-shirts to beautiful women dancing on a burning bar.

Coyote Nights

Day Five

No hang over! Not bad. The secret is to just keep drinking lots of water and resign yourself to a bazillion trips to the Gents. I just felt a little "delicate".

We were back on the road but the weather was crap. With high winds and heavy rain, it kept our speed down to British standards of slow driving. Of course, this is still faster than driving in North America. We even got caught in a few crawling traffic jams that made me feel like I was back at home. We spent the whole day just driving, chatting and listening to music with only a few breaks. At one point, I cranked up Autobahn by Kraftwerk; it had to be done!

The most significant break we made was a short stop in Rothenburg. Rothenburg is considered one of the most picturesque towns in Germany. I knew it was important because there's a minature version at Legoland! Yep, it's quaint and medieval and full of Christmas shops. If you want baubles to decorate your Christmas tree, it's the place. Germans know how to decorate a Christmas tree like no one else. It is their invention after all.

We arrived in Cologne around 10:00 pm and found a hotel and some dinner.

Day Six

We briefly admired the mighty Rhine as we left Cologne early heading to Amsterdam. The weather was good and we had a last taste of Autobahn speeds as we approached the border with the Netherlands. In the last few days, I had completely revised my opinion of Germany. It's actually a very nice country and worth touring.

It's pretty boring driving around the Netherlands. The most entertaining thing you can do is count windmills. We eventually made it to the Centrum district of Amsterdam before the boredom congealed.

At first we tried driving around looking for a nice hotel and then a place nearby to park. This didn't work as you simply can not find parking. In fact, I tried squeezing into a very tight parking spot at one point and tragically discovered that the car in front had a towing bar after it smashed through my front right indicator. Doh!

At that point, we switched strategies. You have to first find a parking spot and then look for a hotel nearby! We soon discovered a superb underground car park at the Stadhuis Muziektheatre Stopera. Most hotels were full, but we eventually found one and checked ourselves in by 4pm. We were within easy walking distance to the centre of Amsterdam.


If you notice in the picture, there are no safety rails stopping people from falling in the canals. You park right by the edge and you watch your step. And if you did fall into the canal, notice there's no way you're going to climb out! There's no steps or ledges or anything to help you except the moored boats. Now, in Canada or the US, there would be safety things all around it to protect you but not in Europe. I like that. It keeps natural selection working by killing all the idiots.

To describe Amsterdam as liberal is like saying there's sand in Saudi Arabia. It's liberal with a skyscraping capital 'L'. I'm not going to go into details of our Friday night but I'll just assure you that two fellows can find plenty of entertainment in Amsterdam. Here's a picture of Charlene, one of the lovely bartenders we met.


Day Seven

Despite having very little sleep, we made it to breakfast before 10 and checked out early. We were heading out of Amsterdam by 11:30 back to Boulogne-sur-Mer to catch a 5:30 ferry home. It took about 4 hours to navigate the web of motorways to get there. We arrived early enough to enjoy a very late and very French lunch before joining the ferry queue.

There And Back Again

So, it was a good road trip. The Nurburgring was great although it would need quite a bit more practice to do it justice. In some ways, the Autobahn was even better. It certainly allows you to get from place to place quickly, but I just wish it was smoother. The Oktoberfest lived up to my expectations although it would have been nice to sit with people who spoke English. The best part was just absconding from all family responsibilities and hanging around with a best mate whom I hadn't spent a lot of time with for many years.

If we had more time, I would have loved to have driven further. Prague is only four hours drive from Munich; North of Prague is Berlin. Munich is right at the foot of the Alps. We could have easily driven into Austria and Italy wasn't that far away. Hmmm. Driving in Italy? You would have to go in a Ferrari wouldn't you? Now wouldn't that be cool!

Wednesday 20 October 2004

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993)

I remember when this first came out and I made a mental note that I gotta see it. It's taken over 10 years but I finally watched it the other day. Simply another fabulous story from the strange mind of Tim Burton and wonderfully executed using stop motion animation. I wasn't too sure whether it would scare the kids but I let them watch it and they enjoyed it too. Great characters. Oogie Boogie is my favourite.

It would be very interesting to try and make it into a broadway musical. I'm sure it could work.

Cinema 16 (various, 2003)

I love short films. They take a simple idea and explore it. They take risks. They push the envelope of the media. They're punchy and out to challenge you. As a format, they're also hard to make since every shot and every word counts. A good short film is a very beautiful thing.

Cinema 16 is a compilation DVD of 16 short and student films by British Directors. Sure, there are some films in the collection I didn't like but quite a few are award winners and are well deserving. The collection includes "Boy on a Bicycle" which was Ridley Scott's first film back in 1965. It's nothing exciting but it clearly demonstrates his early skill with a camera. There's lots of variety in the 203 minutes of film that have been chosen. Give Hollywood dross a break and try something different.

Hero (Yimou Zhang, 2002)

There are three reasons for sacrificing your life: love, friendship and an ideal. This is the premise behind "Hero" and each case gets illustrated. It's a beautiful film although in a rather cliche way. Lovely scenery. I particularly liked the way the story is told as three different flashbacks. Each flashback is a different version of what may have happened. It kept me really involved and guessing what was really going on and how it was going to end. However, as with so many Chinese films, it's a tragic ending. English subtitles. Recommended.

Saturday 16 October 2004

Climate Change Tipping Point

A tidbit worth knowing. In the BBC article Carbon Reaching Danger Levels, its claimed that when carbon dioxide reaches 500 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, we get to irreversible climate change. It recently reached 379 ppm and its increasing by around 2 ppm each year. That gives us about 60 years to fix things or the sea level rises by 7 meters.

Chef Jenny

Jenny has been making progress with her career in the culinary world. Today she taught her first Malaysian Cookery workshop to five paying students. She covered Malaysian chicken curry, beef rendang, chicken satay, nasi lemak and accompaniments. It went very well and she really enjoyed teaching it.

She's also been baking every week and selling it through the local Women's Institute as a way of perfecting her recipes. She's managed to produce all kinds of cakes and goodies that people with food sensitivities can eat. It's got to the point where she's getting advanced orders for them.

I'm still trying to convince her to start blogging about food.

Friday 15 October 2004

Motorcycle Test

Over the last couple of weeks, I had my final three motorcycle lessons and today I went for my test in Reading. I was a bit nervous but not too jittery.

I passed!

Whew! Quite a relief since if I had failed, I would have had to wait until mid November for a retest. As it was, the day was rather chilly with some rain. The examiner, Mark, drove around behind me in a car for about 45 minutes giving me directions over a one way radio. I was particularly nervous doing the U turn in the middle of a narrow sloping street. All you have to do is misjudge your balance and put your foot down to get an instant fail.

At the end of test, I received a mild bollocking for10 minor faults I committed while my instructor, Lou, scowled as Mark described each mistake. Luckily, you can get up to 16 minor faults before you fail. All it takes is one major fault for an instant fail.

There was another student with us who did his test after me but unfortunately, he forgot to turn off his indicator. Instant fail.

So now I'm licensed to kill myself. I'm well aware that you're 38 times more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than a car accident. In London, motorcyclists account for 2% of traffic but 18% of road accident fatalities. Still, I'd like to get a motorcycle next year for casual fair weather riding. One day, I'd like to do a motorcycle trip in a country with not too many cars. Maybe Arizona or New Zealand or something like that.

Sunday 10 October 2004

Reasons Not To Vote For Bush

one term president

Here's some links for those who think Bush could still possibly deserve their vote. George Soros has a personal message worth reading. The Guardian has offered a good speech for John Kerry to make. Better yet, visit the One Thousand Reasons website which is "relentlessly documenting the failures of the Bush administration." Another fine site is One Term President which has a good list of other websites to visit. One of those is 525 Reasons to Dump Bush. If you're undecided, start reading soon.

BBC: UN probes sugar industry claims

Looks like the sugar industry got caught buying out and influencing an "impartial" investigation into the link between sugar and health. Just another example of how untrustworthy the food industry is.

Friday 8 October 2004

A Day At Harrods

I went down to the Egyptian Consulate in London on Thursday to get our visas. It was a bit of a pain in that you have to drop off your application forms and passports in the morning and then hang around to pick them up after 2:30 in the afternoon.

Where to kill time in Knightsbridge? Well, Harrods of course. I hadn't been there for almost ten years. The food hall is as wonderful as it always was. The cheese counter is second to none. I meandered around all five floors for four hours taking in some of the ridiculous opulence. Nice furniture. Great A/V department full of LCD and plasma TV's. Even a CD department with unused listening stations. Brilliant. But I'd never buy anything there as I wouldn't trust the prices to be good value. It's great for the absurd. You can have a children's electric lamborghini for £39,000 or 75 year old whiskey for £12,000. I eventually left starving as I couldn't bear to spend £12 for a sandwich!

Tuesday 5 October 2004

Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Sure glad to read Mr Kerry did well in the first televised presidential debate. The BBC has published the key points made. The best soundbite was the phrase "Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time" and I hope it sticks to Bush like a bad hangover. Did you notice that Rumsfeld recently got caught telling the truth? He admitted there was no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

Be sure to drop by the BushIn30Seconds website to watch some absolutely great spoof ads for Bush. It's sponsored by Some of the more fun things I've found include a calendar from BabesAgainstBush and protest panties from Axis of Eve. Or you can join with BillionairesForBush.

It still surprises me how much support Bush has with RealClearPolitics showing them about equal in the the polls. I recently listened to a BBC radio programme discussing the rife gerrymandering going on in the US so even if Bush does sink in the polls, there's still a good chance he'll win. So much for the US as a shining example of democracy. Not!

This all points to the boring but crucial issue of how elections are run and the need to support groups like The Center for Voting and Democracy. Closer to home, I noticed this page about the electoral reform in Canada.

Monday 4 October 2004

Skin Two Cabaret

Skin Two is a fetish style magazine reknown for organising the annuall Rubber Ball in London, a celebration of fetish style. Ok, so you're probably immediately wondering "What on earth is Ian into now?" I think the diversity in what humans do is fascinating and makes life interesting. Certainly, I don't think there's anything out there that surprises me anymore. So Jenny and I went to the Skin Two Cabaret since it didn't have a dress code and definitely sounded unusual.

The cabaret was a bit disappointing. I was expecting more of a fashion show but it was mostly lewd comedy which was fun nonetheless. The audience was the fashion show and some were pretty stunning. The last act was a Messy Girl who's, ummm, climax was spraying the audience with her enema. Nope, hadn't seen that before!

Friday 1 October 2004

Pesticides in Your Food

The Pesticide Action Network is offering a fabulously scarey poster entitled Pesticides in Your Food that nicely summarises the current state of affairs in the UK. You can download the PDF for free or buy a print to hang in your kitchen. Honestly, I would buy a print if I could think of a public place I'd be allowed to display it. The download page has a comprehensive list of links to documents backing up their claims. Definitely worth browsing. The truth is that you can often detect pesticides in food samples but they don't usually exceed the Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) set by the government. The key issue is do you trust the MRL's?

Well, personally, I don't trust these MRL's. The food industry lobby is strong and the government panders to business interests. There are plenty of examples where pesticides are later found to be much more harmful than orginally recognised. I'm sure some of the pesticides residues are alright but you are consuming a cumulative cocktail of about 500 of them. Delicious! We're buying much more organic foods these days.